Happy Tuesday, Ledger readers—we hope you enjoyed the long weekend like we did. We’ll be back to Mondays next week.
Brock Pierce, a onetime Mighty Ducks child actor who helped found the cryptocurrency EOS (among other projects), has recently begun peddling an unexpected new venture. Called Gox Rising, it’s a plan to ostensibly resurrect Mt. Gox, the famed Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 and has yet to reimburse creditors.
Pierce is not the only one to float the idea of bringing back Mt. Gox, which shut down almost exactly five years ago after losing hundreds of thousands of Bitcoins. In late 2017, Mark Karpelès, the former CEO of Mt. Gox, raised the prospect of a “Mt. Gox revival?” in a post on his blog, suggesting that a new management team could purchase and take over the exchange for $245 million. It’s something I discussed with Karpelès when I interviewed him last year in Tokyo for a magazine feature on the Mt. Gox saga.
But instead of welcoming Pierce’s new proposal, Karpelès quickly shot it down in a very public Twitter fight. The spat stems from Pierce’s assertion that he already owns Mt. Gox, claiming to have acquired the 88% stake owned by Karpelès after the exchange went bankrupt in 2014, as well as the remaining 12% retained by Jed McCaleb, Mt. Gox’s founder. McCaleb, who also went on to found Stellar, confirmed to Fortune that he sold his Mt. Gox stake to Pierce’s group. Karpelès, on the other hand, disputes ever reaching a deal with Pierce to sell him majority ownership of the company.
Ultimately, though, whether Pierce or Karpelès technically own Mt. Gox is irrelevant. What’s left of the exchange is in the hands of a court-appointed trustee in Tokyo; Karpelès has been stripped of any authority in the proceedings, and is also facing a forthcoming sentence in a trial over his alleged misconduct at Mt. Gox (he denies the charges). In the court’s eyes, it’s unlikely that the shares of Mt. Gox—or anything but the cash and cryptocurrency it holds—have any value at all.
Brushing aside the controversy over the shares, Pierce’s plan appears more intriguing. In a FAQ released on the Gox Rising website last week, the company explains that it is offering to pay “fair market value” to acquire “intangible assets of Mt. Gox, including brand name, domains and other intellectual property.” The vision for the new Mt. Gox is a “decentralized exchange” that will not take custody of customer funds, reducing its vulnerability to being hacked or robbed. Pierce’s company and investors would own 83.5% of the revived exchange, while setting aside 16.5% for Mt. Gox creditors, who could then potentially recoup more of their losses through their ownership stake.
Beyond that, little is known about the proposal; Gox Rising planned to host a webinar to discuss more of the details, but has postponed it twice so far (it’s now scheduled for next week).
It’s unclear how much Pierce will bid for the Mt. Gox name and website, or what “intellectual property” exists beyond that (no one ascribes much value to the exchange’s technology, whose flaws contributed to it being hacked). The Japanese court is also a wildcard, as it could potentially kibosh the whole idea. Perhaps more curious is why Pierce would share ownership of a new Mt. Gox with creditors at all, given he himself did not lose money with the exchange (is he really just being charitable?). And of course, there’s a big question mark over whether Mt. Gox would even be able to attract customers again. As a creditor named Kolin Burges told me, “It’s like having another ship called the Titanic.”
That’s a question Pierce is ready to answer. (Indeed, the FAQ includes an entry for, “Why try to launch a new exchange under the Mt. Gox brand? Or: Why call our ship Titanic?”) Speaking at an event in Japan in January, Pierce said, “What if our story of Lehman Brothers, our story of Bear Stearns—what if our story as an industry had a different ending?” He continued, “What if our industry’s ending resulted in creditors having an optimal outcome?”
Then again, five years after Mt. Gox collapsed, many people would be happy to just let the memory of the scandal fade. It remains to be seen why Pierce wants to buy Mt. Gox now, and what’s in it for him.
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