tZERO is off to a slow start.
In the three weeks since the long-awaited launch of Overstock.com’s alternative trading system (ATS) for security tokens, activity has been light. According to traders in a dedicated Telegram chat, daily volume has fluctuated between 7,000 and 23,000 units of the platform’s own tZERO Preferred (TZROP) token – the sole listed asset for now. The company itself gave a slightly higher range: 9,000 and 35,000.
Either way, that’s a tiny fraction of the 26 million TZROP issued after the $134 million security token offering (STO) last August. Of the 1,000 accredited investors who bought into the sale, only a few hundred were on-boarded on the trading platform at the time of launch, according to the company. Approximately 15 percent of the tZERO users now are newly registered traders who didn’t participate in the STO but came to the platform after the launch, the company’s CEO Saum Noursalehi told CoinDesk (and this number is growing).
Among this group, the sellers are prevailing, with the token’s price, quoted at $8 when trading opened on Jan. 28, falling as low as $3, traders said. (TZROP was sold for $10 during the STO, although some investors bought in for $8 or less during the pre-sale).
At one point, some traders were bidding at $1, although as of Wednesday the bid-ask spread had tightened to $3-$3.35. Some took an opportunity for arbitrage, selling some of their tokens and then buying them back at a lower price. (There is no public order book, so only participants can directly see trading activity.)
One trader, Mark Nelson, told CoinDesk he believes the selling pressure came from investors who had bought into TZROP during the initial coin offering (ICO) frenzy, hoping to make handsome profits soon and not understanding the real nature of the token.
“From discussions with other TZROP holders, many of them don’t really understand what tZERO is and what type of investment they were making, they clearly did not read the offering details and just jumped in on hype from the general ICO craze expecting to double their investment in short order — unrealistic expectations,” Nelson said, adding:
“Those investors and others who likely lost their shirts in the last 6 months on crypto and maybe even traditional market investments and the ones selling now.”
There have also been technical hiccups. Some users have been complaining that it took them a week or more to get their accounts verified by broker-dealer Dinosaur Financial and that wire transfers of fiat and token transfers to brokerage accounts also took some days.
Another trader, Andrew Marks, told CoinDesk that cash for the tokens he sold didn’t arrive as soon as it would on a traditional brokerage platform.
“I haven’t withdrawn cash yet, but I did sell some shares. It took one day for the sale proceeds to appear in my Dino account,” he explained. “I sold shares on Wednesday and the cash appeared Thursday. I was expecting cash to appear instantly — let’s just say I would expect to see my available cash in my Dino account immediately after the sale.”
Dinosaur didn’t answer CoinDesk’s request for a comment, redirecting the question to tZERO. Earlier, tZERO CEO Saum Noursalehi told CoinDesk that Dinosaur had been struggling to process all the clients’ requests in time as the KYC checks were conducted manually, but tZERO had been working with the broker to automate and speed up the process.
‘Patience will be key’
While the experience so far may be underwhelming, none of this is to say traders have given up on the grand vision for tZERO first laid out four years ago by Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne.
Quite on the contrary, they expect activity to pick up, and the token’s price to rise, when trading is opened to retail investors, once the company becomes or acquires its own broker-dealer, which tZERO’s CEO Saum Noursalehi previously told CoinDesk will happen in late summer.
“I do expect the value to only be depressed for a short period of time and recover fully and even be above $10 prior to August opening of trading for all investors,” Nelson said.
Moreover, Bruce Fenton, a board member at tZERO, says the company is working on getting more institutional players to partner with the platform.
“The bigger question is if tZERO can interface with other brokers and exchanges and the answer is yes, that’s the plan,” Fenton assured the traders in the Telegram chat. “tZERO has many hooks into Wall St. which could possibly help with distribution. … The whole space is very early so patience will be key.”
Aside from more traders, tZERO also hopes to get new assets on the platform soon. Byrne has said it plans to list at least one more token this year, to be issued by Elio Motors, a company producing light three-wheeled cars. However, the timeline for these plans is not public yet.
And it’s worth remembering that Overstock is working to sell its flagship e-commerce business to raise cash it can invest in its portfolio of blockchain startups, of which tZERO is the most prominent. More directly, Hong Kong-based GSR has a deal to invest $404 million in tZERO. Both transactions are supposed to close in the coming months.
All told, it’s still early innings for this platform. As Marks concluded:
“tZERO really isn’t launched. This platform is just for tZERO holders and other accredited investors to trade TZROP only. My understanding is the actual platform will be totally different. I imagine the experience to be better as well.”
UPDATE (15, February 19:30 UTC): This article has been updated to add volume figures provided after publication by tZERO.
Image of tZERO booth at the North America Bitcoin Conference via CoinDesk