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Initiative Q is just a clever marketing ploy until proven otherwise

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Viral marketing campaigns on the internet are nothing new, but Initiative Q is something else. 

The project that calls itself “tomorrow’s payment network” has people buzzing, signing up, and sharing invites. For their troubles, users who successfully invite more users are promised a “future currency” called Q, with potential value that supposedly goes into tens of thousands of dollars. The project claims the value of all Qs might reach “several trillion dollars.” No wonder everyone’s jumping on board — on Oct. 30, the project boasted 2 million users. 

And yet, there’s no product here, nor is any being developed. At least, not yet. 

Initiative Q isn’t a new project. It launched several months ago, relying mostly on word of mouth and its clever marketing method to acquire new users. 

A marketing pyramid

This tactic is intriguing: Sign up with only your name and email, and you get a number of Qs (which the site often equates to dollars). Invite more members, and your Q count increases. For testing purposes, I’ve signed up and invited a couple of people, which increased my Q balance to 16,117. Not bad for a minute’s work. But what have I gotten myself into?

Pyramid schemes are businesses created in such a way that you have to pay to join.  Founders and early members invite new members, earning a commission when those new people sign up. The bigger the pyramid, the bigger the payoff for the folks on top. And even though such a company may offer a product and service, if it’s primarily making money off those commissions, it’s a pyramid scheme.

[unsustainable]

Initiative Q does a very similar thing, but the devil is in the details. When I asked Initiative Q about it, they told me what they’re doing is a “common marketing practice.”

“The key differentiator is that the potential future gains are a result of the currency becoming widely adopted, not from newcomers paying to join,” the company told me via e-mail. 

The important bit is that there’s no money changing hands here, at least not yet. One might argue that a database of names and e-mails holds a certain worth; just by providing your name and e-mail and using your time to promote the service, you’re giving something of value to Initiative Q. But the company claims that effort alone wouldn’t be worth the trouble. 

“A database of merely names and emails may be worth a few tens of thousands of dollars at most — not something worth getting into lawsuits and losing reputation for,” I was told. 

Making a service invite-only, and then giving members the ability to invite more members is a marketing strategy that’s been very effectively used by Google. The company famously made Gmail — a valuable service as it provided users with a ton of e-mail storage space — invite-only at first, and everyone went crazy about it. As a result, Gmail became the world’s most popular webmail client. 

Now, in the post-Bitcoin world, when people are aware that a valuable payment network/world currency can arise seemingly out of nothing, Initiative Q appears to have struck marketing gold. 

Initiative Q doesn’t exist yet

But Initiative Q is interesting for a different reason: There’s no product or service yet. The project’s website is pretty detailed and even offers a FAQ that answers how this or that aspect of the service might work. But there’s nothing solid there — no beta to sign up for, no test environment to try, no technical document that explains how the product works. 

And Initiative Q confirmed this, flat out. 

“Q is trying to gather a large user base of people who want it to succeed and then building the payment network itself — a network that is not limited by backward-compatibility requirements. Thus, the system itself has not been developed yet, nor is there a test environment.”

This is disarming in an odd way. With no product being developed yet, there’s nothing to try out, review, praise, or criticize. The stakes are both incredibly high (“trillions” of dollars, remember) and extremely low. 

The team is legit

Without a working product to check out, I tried to at least find out whether the team behind the project is legit. Initiative Q advertises itself as being built by ex-PayPal guys, but the website only mentions the founder, serial entrepreneur Saar Wilf, and one advisor, economist Lawrence White. 

Both people check out. White is a published author who taught economics at several universities, most recently George Mason University. Wilf is a bit enigmatic: His Twitter feed consists of two tweets (absent replies) and he’s known as a professional poker player. But he sold a startup called Fraud Sciences to PayPal/eBay in 2008 for $169 million, and he worked at PayPal for a while. He also started several more startups since, including Rootclaim, a crowdsourced platform for assessing the truth behind controversial topics. 

I asked Initiative Q who the other “ex-PayPal” guys are, and the company told me eight people are “involved at this point,” including another ex-PayPal employee, Aviv Cohen

It’s hard to say what results regarding Initiative Q has this team produced so far. But their credentials are real. 

Could be something, could be nothing

I’ve seen numerous projects like this in the cryptocurrency space. A fairly strong team, an extremely bold vision of changing the world’s finance system, and no working product… every other ICO fits the bill. 

But Initiative Q is different in several key ways. We don’t really know what it is. It’s not a cryptocurrency, the company told me that much. It’s not asking for your money (yet). 

In a way, it’s the epitome of internet in 2018: a project that values your attention above everything else, and makes a play for that first. It feels dirty, but it’s clever. If Elon Musk (the definitive ex-PayPal guy) said he’s changing the way money works, and asked you to give him his e-mail, you’d sign up just in case he actually succeeds. So that’s what Initiative Q’s “users” are doing: Signing up in the case these guys might be onto something. 

And yet, I feel cheated. All I did was leave my name and email on a website, but I still think Initiative Q should have at least some semblance of a product (or a paper, or anything) before inviting me in. So let’s call a spade a spade: Initiative Q is a clever marketing ploy with lofty promises but virtually nothing to show for them at this point. We’ll see whether it turns out to be more in the future, but don’t count on cashing in any Qs anytime soon. 

Disclosure: The author of this text owns, or has recently owned, a number of cryptocurrencies, including BTC and ETH.

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