Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev’s dogecoin fixation

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Fintech. This Monday: Vlad Tenev’s curious fixation on dogecoin, BlueNorOff worries, and the Wolf of Wall Street’s new gig.

Off the chain

All this Elon Musk talk has gotten me nostalgic for the days when I knew him as an entrepreneur running a fledgling neobank called X.com. He’d gotten roughed around by the board of his first venture, which I’d covered, and maybe I felt a little sorry for him. I’d email him a leading question about his big-bank competitors, he’d send back something salty (but also suspicious — why was I asking?), and there was my next story. All these decades later, Musk is still moving money, but this time it’s denominated in the billions, and he’s doing the boardroom roughhousing.

— Owen Thomas (email | twitter)

Doggone strategy

Robinhood is in search of something that will restore its stock’s momentum. The same week the online brokerage listed shiba inu coin, CEO Vlad Tenev pondered the possibility that dogecoin could become “the future currency of the internet and the people.”

It’s an intriguing if slightly odd Twitter musing by the leader of a fintech powerhouse. But Robinhood is in Wall Street’s doghouse. Will this get it out?

Tenev sees promise in dogecoin. “I’ve been thinking about what that would take” to essentially make dogecoin the most important cryptocurrency in the world, he said.

  • A key step is to reduce costs. Dogecoin is making serious progress in making its transaction fees “vanishingly small,” Tenev said. “We’re already there” as dogecoin fees slip to roughly $0.003, he said. Compare that to the 1% to 3% network fees charged by major card networks.
  • Speeding up dogecoin transactions would also help, Tenev said. “Doge’s current block time is one minute,” which is “a bit on the long side for payments,” he said. Ten seconds “would be more appropriate,” he added.
  • Elon Musk, perhaps dogecoin’s biggest cheerleader, took time off from his Twitter takeover campaign to weigh in, saying six seconds “is about right.” Dogecoin co-creator, Billy Markus, who goes by Twitter handle “Shibetoshi Nakamoto,” said “the infrastructure of the web has improved enough in 8 years to experiment with speeding it up.” (The other dogecoin co-creator, Jackson Palmer, hasn’t weighed in on Tenev’s enthusiasm, but he did find time to slam Musk’s hostile bid for Twitter.)

Are we seriously focusing on dogecoin right now? Tenev is raving about a cryptocurrency which began as a joke at a time when Robinhood is grappling with serious issues.

  • Wall Street has increasingly taken a downbeat view of HOOD, which has shed 18% of its value this year. Goldman Sachs told clients it was time to sell, saying there was no clear path to “near-term profitability” and warning of “softening retail engagement levels (particularly among the low-end consumer).”
  • Tenev’s interest in dogecoin is not surprising, Chris McCann, partner at Race Capital, said. Crypto now makes up a big chunk of Robinhood’s revenue, and dogecoin has been a major part of that. In August 2021, Robinhood said more than 60% of its crypto revenues came from dogecoin.
  • There’s also trouble on the regulatory front. Robinhood scored a victory in Massachusetts where a superior court judge ruled against state securities regulators who argued that the company was turning stock investing into a dangerous game. But the company faces other serious hurdles, including a possible ban on payment for order flow, the controversial compensation scheme that’s its biggest moneymaker. Robinhood wants to bring payment for order flow into crypto, too.
  • But Tenev’s excited about the prospect of using dogecoin for payments, citing its low costs. Lower fees mean less room for profit, though. How does any of this add up to a business opportunity for Robinhood?

Dogecoin as the “currency of the people” is a tough sell. McCann is “skeptical” that will ever happen. Christine Parlour, a finance and accounting professor at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, said credit cards remain popular and convenient. And there’s really no “strong economic motive for merchants to move away from credit cards to something like dogecoin,” she told Protocol.

— Benjamin Pimentel (email | twitter)

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On the money

On Protocol: Coinbase’s head of State and Local Public Policy, David London, thinks that states are going to take the lead on crypto regulation. In an interview with Protocol, London elaborated on his journey to Coinbase and the crypto regulatory landscape.

BlueNorOff, part of the North Korean hacker group Lazarus, is allegedly planning to target prominent crypto players. The Lazarus Group is allegedly behind the $622 million Axie Infinity hack, and DeFiance Capital’s Arthur Cheong is raising the alarm about the possibility of more organized attacks in the crypto space soon.

The crypto wallet behind the Axie Infinity hack is still laundering money. While the wallet address has been listed in the U.S. Treasury’s sanctions list, the address reportedly sent about $8.8 million worth of ether to an unsanctioned wallet Friday morning.

Jordan “Wolf of Wall Street” Belfort wants to be a crypto bro. While he declined offers to launch a Wolf-themed NFT collection, he hosted a weekend-long crypto workshop at his Miami Beach house this month, and is now an investor in multiple Web3 projects.

OlympusDAO’s co-founders allegedly cheated an early investor out of about $20 million in OHM tokens. Investor Jason Liang claimed in a lawsuit that he entered into a private funding agreement with the DeFi project in exchange for 4 million pOHM tokens, but the Olympus team made it impossible for him to convert the pOHM to OHM tokens by deactivating smart contracts.

Overheard

Elon Musk thinks crypto spammers are among the problems he can fix at Twitter. “If I had a dogecoin for every crypto scam I saw, we’d have 100 billion dogecoin,” he said in his TED Talk Thursday.

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse is … pleased about being sued by the SEC? “The lawsuit has gone exceedingly well, and much better than I could have hoped when it began about 15 months ago. But the wheels of justice move slowly,” he said in a fireside chat at the Paris Blockchain Week Summit.

Crypto-friendly Sen. Cynthia Lummis wants Congress to keep up. “The need for some statutory framework is growing stronger every day because the advancements in the technology is outstripping the Congress’s ability to really understand and embrace this subject,” she said in an interview with CoinDesk.

Coming up

How is tech setting and measuring its climate goals? Join Protocol’s Brian Kahn and a panel of experts on Tuesday at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET to hear from those responsible for setting those goals as well as the experts who are monitoring them.

The Empire FinTech Conference is also on Tuesday. The event is part of New York Fintech Week. Participants can expect a day full of master classes, demos, keynote addresses, live podcasts and networking.

How is the infrastructure rollout going — and what does it mean for tech? Join Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky and a panel of experts on Thursday at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET to explore how the infrastructure bill rollout is going and what it means for you.

The Banking and Fintech Innovation Roundtable is set for Thursday. Also part of New York Fintech Week, the roundtable will have opening remarks by New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Adrienne Harris.

The AI in Finance Summit starts on Thursday. The two-day conference will feature speakers from BNY Mellon, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays and others.

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Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!