ConsenSys, a once promising blockchain venture firm, trims 13% of its staff as it teeters on brink of collapse

Cryptocurrency companies are laying off employees in an effort to survive the nascent market’s biggest selloff to date.

Blockchain venture firm ConsenSys said Thursday it would cut 13% of its staff, days after announcing an overhaul of its business model. Steemit, a firm that runs a blockchain-based social network, last week laid off 70% of it staff, citing the crypto selloff. A number of smaller firms that raised money during the manic 2017 cryptocurrency rally have retrenched sharply or quietly closed.

Last year’s market boom fueled a hiring spree at hundreds of startups developing new uses for blockchain, the ledger technology that underpins bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The young industry funded the expansion with billions of dollars raised through initial coin offerings, a method of capital raising that involves creating and selling bitcoin-like tokens to the public.

Then the market cratered. Bitcoin is down more than 80% from its December 2017 high, and the total market value of all cryptocurrency, currently about $111 billion, has fallen 87% from its early January high of $827 billion. About 86% of the ICOs from 2017 are trading below their listing price, according to accounting firm Ernst & Young, while 30% have lost nearly all of their value.

Last year, Didi Taihuttu sold almost everything he owned, poured it into bitcoin and moved his family into a trailer park. In this episode of Moving Upstream, WSJ’s Thomas Di Fonzo goes on a year-long journey with the “Bitcoin Family” as they bet everything on a decentralized cryptocurrency future.

“As things get real we have to be a lean, business-minded organization,” said ConsenSys founder Joseph Lubin. The company operates as a development house for startups looking to build services on the Ethereum platform, providing services and support in exchange for equity stakes in the new firms.

ConsenSys didn’t turn a profit in 2017 and won’t be profitable this year, either. Mr. Lubin, who also co-founded Ethereum, said he was more focused on growth. ConsenSys didn’t demand concrete goals for its projects. The startups it funded weren’t expected to produce revenue or profits, or a measurable return on investment. Now, he said, they will be.

Mr. Lubin said the selloff hastened the reorganization but wasn’t the driving factor. Rather, it was competition from other startups and platforms and from established companies such as International Business Machines Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

Job seekers appear to be losing interest in the business. The number of searches on for jobs related to blockchain or cryptocurrency fell 3% in the 12 months through October. A year earlier, there was a 482% increase. The number of employers listing blockchain-related jobs is still rising, but at a much lower rate.

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