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Money talk

Celebrities debate blockchain in chat room at 3am

Imagine Uber’s Garrett Camp, Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, angel investor Ron Conway, talk show host Stephen Colbert and a long list of marquee investors and movie stars putting their heads together on next-generation technology. And doing so between midnight and 3am.

That was the case in China during the Lunar New Year holiday when an online chat room community tagged the “3 a.m. no-sleep blockchain” focused on the technology behind cryptocurrencies and gained widespread attention – not just because of its hot subject matter, but thanks to its participants: lionised figures in the tech and investment world.

Among its 500 members are Sequoia China’s Neil Shen, photo app maker Meitu’s Cai Wensheng, internet security company Qihoo360’s Zhou Hongyi, polymath Gao Xiaosong (host of an online talk show, as well as chairman of Alibaba’s music unit), Bitfund’s chairman Li Xiaolai, and Patrick Dai, founder of Qtum the start-up that is trying to bridge the applications of Bitcoin and its peer Ethereum.

The group’s combined net worth probably crosses tens of billions of yuan, which explains why over Rmb1 million worth of red packets (known as laisee or hongbao, see WiC183) were doled out among group members to celebrate the Spring Festival, reports news portal Huxiu.

Some tried to philosophise about distributed ledgers, but things got edgier when bickering began over initial coin offerings (ICOs). Zhu Xiaohu, who runs early-stage financier GSR Ventures, argued with Chen Weixing, founder of ride-hailing services operator Kuaidi, which later became Didi Chuxing through a merger. (ICOs, now banned in China, are basically a way for blockchain start-ups to raise money outside the traditional venture capital world through coining new digital tokens.)

“Some opportunities I’d rather miss, some money I’d rather not earn,” said Zhu, referring to the practice, which he dismissed as 99.99% fraudulent. (We mentioned in WiC396 that Zhu is widely known to be an astute investor in the ‘sharing economy’, having exited various investments via sales to Alibaba including food delivery company, dockless bikes provider Ofo and Didi Chuxing.)

Chen argued that blockchain would one day replace Wall Street, allowing a fairer distribution of wealth. “He wants to die in the old society, whereas I want to live in the new world,” Chen said of Zhu in the lively exchange, adding that he would not support blockchain projects backed by Zhu in the future.

Chandler Guo, a Bitcoin mining pool operator and an investor in cryptocurrency start-ups, was then kicked out of the chat room because of his insistence that the real reason for the blockchain boom is speculation, not its practical value.

The lucrative allure of trading cryptocurrencies also attracted celebrities such as Tong Liya, a Xinjiang beauty-queen-turned-actress to join the group and add some glamour.

She was apparently the most welcomed guest, receiving hundreds of greetings upon entering the chat room. “I wish to learn more,” said Tong, “I am a layman on blockchain.”

If, like Tong, you need a backgrounder on blockchain, WiC recommends this site:

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