Michael Terpin is founder and CEO of Transform Group, whose divisions include Transform PR, a global public relations firm that has served more than 200 clients in the blockchain field and helped launch more than 100 ICO’s, including Aion, Aeternity, Augur, Bancor, Dent, Ethereum, Factom, Golem, Gnosis, Lisk, MaidSafe, Neo, Qtum, SALT Lending, VideoCoin, and WAX Token; CoinAgenda, a global event series for cryptocurrency investors and blockchain innovators since 2014 (including the first blockchain conferences in the Caribbean), and Transform Strategies, the company’s advisory division. Transform Group is headquartered in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with offices in Santa Monica, Las Vegas, Silicon Valley, New York, Toronto, Cape Town and Seoul.
Terpin also co-founded BitAngels (www.bitangels.io), the world’s first angel network for digital currency startups, in May, 2013, and serves as its managing director; the network now also holds physical pitch events and angel meetings in two dozen cities globally, with a goal of reaching 100 city chapters by the end of 2020. Terpin is also co-founder of Aspire, a new asset creation blockchain platform scheduled to launch its main net in early 2020.
Previously, Terpin founded Marketwired, one of the world’s largest company newswires, which was acquired in 2006, later sold to NASDAQ for $200 million, and ultimately to West Corp, a division of Apollo Global Management (NYSE: APO). He also co-founded Direct IPO, one of the earliest equity crowdfunding companies, and founded his first PR firm, The Terpin Group, which represented many of the early Internet leaders, including America Online, Earthlink, Match.com and the Motley Fool. The Terpin Group was sold in 2000 to Financial Dynamics, now part of FTI Consulting (NYSE: FCN), the same year he received venture funding from Sequoia Capital and Hummer Winblad for Marketwired’s predecessor, InternetWire. He is co-founder of Blockchain Wire, a blockchain newswire partnered with the combined Marketwire/GlobeNewswire news distribution platform.
Terpin holds an MFA from SUNY at Buffalo and dual BA in journalism and English from Syracuse University, where he serves on the board of advisors at the top-ranked Newhouse School of Public Communications. Terpin is also an investor and advisor to many blockchain, media and technology companies, including Aion, Polymath, Purse.io, ShapeShift, VideoCoin and WAX. He is a general partner and heads up the ICO investment committee in Alphabit Fund (www.alphabit.fund), a Cayman Island registered digital currency fund with $400 million assets under management and a first-year return on investment of more than 750%. Terpin lives with his wife, Maxine, and three dogs in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he received the first Act 20 investor decree granted to a blockchain industry investor. He, along with Gabriel Abed and Roger Ver, co-founded the Caribbean Blockchain Association in 2015.
We caught up with Michael in the run up to WCC 2019 to look back over some of the key experiences of his career, to discuss his latest projects, and get his overall opinion on the market.
You’ve had an illustrious career in PR working with America Online, Earthlink, Jupiter, Motley Fool, Match.com, Shapeways and many more. What made you make the shift to start promoting ICO’s?
I’ve prided myself on recognizing important new technologies, often years before they’re in vogue (this can be both a blessing and a curse – the old saying is that you can tell the pioneers by “the arrows in their back”). My first agency launched the first consumer digital camera for Chinon (back when it was $1000 to take eight tiny black and white images at a time), the first national ISP (Earthlink), the first online financial advice site (Motley Fool), etc. Shapeways, which we launched through our work with the Philips digital incubator, was a true innovation in bringing 3D printing to the masses.
When I first discovered bitcoin in early 2013, I could see it was another massive innovation, and when I was given the chance to work with the first ICO, Mastercoin (and then MaidSafe, Ethereum and Factom in fairly rapid succession), I could see the disruptive appeal of having a “kickstarter” for a digital token, funded by its community of developers and enthusiasts.
Through the Transform Group, you have represented some of the crypto heavy-wieghts like Ripple, Ethereum, Tether and NEO. What do you think is the most important factor that is going to determine whether or not a project survives the current altcoin bear market?
What gap in the marketplace are you hoping to fill with BitAngels?
BitAngels was started by me and David Johnston in early 2013 as an online network of angel investors from around the world who were looking to support bitcoin by funding its infrastructure of new wallets, exchanges and applications. When BitAngels members funded the bulk of the Mastercoin ICO, its mission evolved a bit and I started the CoinAgenda conference series in 2014 to allow for more investors to meet in person with projects. This has now evolved into the BitAngels City Network, where early-stage blockchain projects can apply to present for free at any of the dozen current city chapters holding monthly meetings, with a goal of 100 cities by the end of 2020.
What qualities are you looking for in a cryptocurrency project founder and
Vision, experience and the ability to hire and make decisions quickly and well. Without vision, projects follow rather than lead (all great companies and tokens were first-of-their kind in some fashion). It’s also a deal-killer if they don’t know their industry and competition intimately; if I know more about their competitors than they do, I would not consider investing.
How would you suggest a new project should raise money in 2019?
We are at an awkward moment in time, when jurisdictional arbitrage is in full bloom and many countries who in five years will become hotbeds of blockchain innovation (I still have hopes for my native New York state, but it’s more likely that my current home, Puerto Rico, will be more of a leader in this regard, as Wyoming has already become to their great benefit).
Can you tell us a bit more about the project that you are actively working on with
BitAngels isn’t a venture fund (although there was a BitAngels Fund 1 in 2014, which has since been fully distributed and did very well); it’s an angel group with ongoing events in multiple cities around the world. We plan to offer global memberships by the end of the year to investors who want to see the presentations prior to the events, as well as some VIP dinners and events (including the first BitAngels VIP during World Crypto Con).
After starting a very successful cryptocurrency pr agency, what made you decide to
launch the CoinAgenda Global Conference?
I’m a serial entrepreneur, and at times I’ve been crazy enough to be a “parallel, serial entrepreneur” – I incubated two companies while running my first PR firm in the 1990s: DirectIPO, one of the first equity crowdfunding companies, and Internet Wire, which became Market Wire following our partnership with NASDAQ and is now part of Globe NewsWire, which is owned by NYSE giant Apollo Global Management. I decided to start CoinAgenda because I thought there was a need for a global conference on blockchain investing – not just technology, investing.
How does the work involved in organising and hosting a huge conference like
CoinAgenda Global compare to the promotional work at Transform Group?
We have separate teams for CoinAgenda and Transform PR. Both disciplines take dedicated teams of talented people, but the needs of PR clients are year-round (albeit with “spikes” around product launches), whereas our conferences take place over a defined period of days and take months to plan, but when they are completed, you pack up and then start planning the next one. PR campaigns are more fluid.
What is the easiest and hardest thing about getting the best speakers in the industry to gather in one place?
The hardest thing is coming up with themes and panel topics that will be relevant to days of the conference months ahead. Another key ingredient is getting the initial rock stars to commit (this year, we have Jed McCaleb and Brock Pierce as early lynchpins). The “easy” part are the fireside chats that I love to conduct; asking questions of brilliant minds creating innovation in an ever-changing sector is a fulfilling task.
You have been in this space since 2013, what are the biggest lessons you have learned from the last bull market ATH?
Don’t blink or you’ll miss something important. Both ATH’s happened pretty quickly, as did a few of the rapid crashes. This need to always be vigilant also goes for innovation and shifts in regulation, not just pricing.
Which project would you say isn’t doing enough promotion considering the work they are currently doing?
Bitcoin. Because it no longer has a particularly active foundation, it’s up to the leaders in the decentralized community to call out FUD coming from the banks and regulators when they see it and to help support one another with consistent messaging. Kudos to folks like Trace Mayer, Max Keiser, and Tim Draper for always staying on point in this regard.
How would you describe the change in attitude amongst institutional investors towards cryptocurrencies?
We are still very early. The vast majority of technology and financial investors have still not read the Satoshi white paper, much less own any cryptocurrency. There’s also a lot of confusion among angel investors not used to our space between equity-backed venture opportunities and investing in listed tokens, which tend to behave more like commodities. Simplistic FUD like “love blockchain, hate bitcoin” doesn’t help.
What is the worst idea that you’ve seen pitched to the BitAngels?
I hate to call out any well-intentioned entrepreneur, but a big beef of mine is when a founder can’t answer detailed follow-up questions about their growth, competition, the path to profitability (if it’s an equity play) or why the world needs them.
Last year’s CoinAgenda Global Conference was a huge success. What can we expect from the upcoming conference in Vegas?
This year, CoinAgenda Global is October 26-28 with a special focus on the rise of security tokens, enterprise applications, changes in the digital currency funding vehicles, and digital currency exchanges. Featured speakers include Jed McCaleb, Brock Pierce, Alex Mashinsky, Anthem Blanchard, and more.
What do you think about Ethereum’s scaling issues?
To quote David Johnston, I’d never bet against Vitalik over the long term.
What are your thoughts on Bitcoin maximalism?
It’s a distraction. Bitcoin has differentiated itself as the best, “incorruptible”, “un-confiscatable”, portable store of value, and it can certainly be useful in making large transactions, but it’s not the best way to buy a cup of coffee. Public blockchains are exploding with innovation, and just because the vast majority will fail (probably a similar percentage of failure as any other category of startups) does not mean that several hugely important ecosystems will not prevail. People laughed at the dotcom bombs, but the survivors included Amazon, eBay, eTrade, Google, and Priceline.
How do you think the current global uncertainty is going to affect cryptocurrencies?
It’s still a big question mark. Any credit crunch has consumers and businesses alike fleeing to their native currency and the US dollar. If the dollar loses its role as a world reserve currency, we will be facing a truly global economy, complete with sovereign digital currencies and gold-backed stable coins. The more familiar people become with using digital assets, the better is it for the market cap of all public blockchains, and bitcoin in particular.
What difference has the bear market made, if any, on the atmosphere at the last
CoinAgenda Global Conference?
Last year’s CoinAgenda was about half the size of 2017, in large part because the price of bitcoin was on its way up to $19,000 in late 2017 with a free-for-all in ICO investing versus a year later when the price was tanking on its way down to $3,200 and investors were both afraid to invest in tokens, as well as not particularly interested in early-stage equity. We expect this year to reflect the recovery of the bitcoin market (up 3x since last December) and the slow recovery of investment into new entities, including innovations like the IEO and STO.
What kind of projects would you like to see more of at BitAngels?
New paradigms. I personally get excited by a new platform that is looking to do something that has never been done before – and has a concrete plan and an experienced team to execute that plan. Early-stage investors don’t get rich on 20 percent returns; they get rich on having one of their portfolio companies or tokens return 100x or more (as Ethereum and bitcoin did).