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The new king of crypto

Emily Stewart   

The new king of crypto

Crypto.com is everywhere. Its name is plastered on the home of arguably the most famous NBA franchise, the Los Angeles Lakers. It's sponsoring Formula 1 races and UFC matches. Its ads are back on the airwaves, with Eminem declaring during the NBA playoffs that "fortune favors the brave."

Crypto.com is also nowhere. It doesn't have a flashy CEO like FTX's Sam Bankman-Fried (who is currently in prison) or Binance's CZ (who is headed to prison). Unlike with Coinbase, regulators don't seem to be sniffing around. Sure, the company has high-profile marketing efforts, but day to day, Crypto.com doesn't really come up much at all.

Crypto.com is one of those things I've long placed in my "I wonder what the deal is" column, along with Jojo Siwa, bird flu, and the difference between F1 and NASCAR. It seems impossible to watch a sporting event without seeing its name somewhere, and yet I rarely chat with someone who uses it or come across its name in headlines. Part of the issue is that I live in New York, where its services aren't allowed. (That's not a knock on the company — for a lot of crypto exchanges, the Empire State is a tough nut to crack.) But it's also a rather nebulous entity in the American market. It says it's got 100 million users globally, but it still seems to fly a little under the radar.

Often, when I mention Crypto.com to someone who works in the crypto industry, they tell me they know about it, of course. When I ask exactly what they know about it, they come up pretty empty. Maybe it's mainly popular abroad, they speculate, or only for novices. Google data indicates that while a good chunk of the search interest does come from America, more comes from outside the US, notably from Singapore, Nigeria, and Bulgaria.

"Huh, I guess bigger than I thought," one crypto evangelist remarked after looking up its trading volume.

"They own the Lakers' arena? I've always been so confused on how they did that," another crypto entrepreneur said. (To be fair, the company doesn't own the arena; it just bought the naming rights.) He'd set up a Crypto.com account during the 2021-2022 market cycle to do a specific maneuver not allowed on Coinbase at the time, but he hasn't really used it since then.

When I asked Nic Carter, a general partner at Castle Island Ventures, about the company, he replied in an email, "It's kind of a mystery, yes."He added that, like me, he doesn't know anyone who uses it. "But I think that reflects the user base — it's not necessarily crypto-natives but rather retail that wants a casual and accessible experience (is my understanding)," he said.

Crypto.com is positioning itself as the new face of crypto, even as it remains rather faceless itself. It might prove to be a smart move — it's boosting its brand and, in turn, its consumer base while avoiding much of the scrutiny other exchanges have faced. For the time being, Crypto.com is balancing between notability and infamy. It's walking softly but carrying a big ad budget.


While Crypto.com only really burst onto the American scene over the past four years or so, it's been around for a while. Originally named Monaco, the exchange was founded in 2016 in Hong Kong by Kris Marszalek, a Polish-born entrepreneur with a colorful past, and a handful of others. Amid the 2017 crypto run, it raised money from the public via an initial coin offering — creating and selling a digital token of its own, similar to a stock-market IPO. In 2018, the company landed the coveted Crypto.com domain name, purchasing it for an undisclosed amount from an academic who had long refused to sell it. (Even more confusingly, Crypto.com is technically operated by Foris DAX Asia, which, according to a scan of Reddit, can befuddle many users when their tax paperwork comes in. It's also the name Crypto.com lobbies under.) Crypto.com's primary business is its cryptocurrency exchange, which works as a middleman for people buying and selling crypto, but it also offers other products, including crypto Visa cards.

The 2021-22 market cycle is when Crypto.com, now headquartered in Singapore, made its big splash. In late 2021, it bought the naming rights to what was then the Staples Center in Los Angeles as part of a 20-year, $700 million deal. It signed sponsorship deals with UFC and F1 while also rolling its "fortune favors the brave" ad campaign, which originally featured Matt Damon. Crypto.com was seeking brand awareness, and it was willing to spend millions upon millions for it.

"This is one brick in a bigger wall of introducing Crypto.com as a brand to the world and communicating what our core values are," Steven Kalifowitz, Crypto.com's chief marketing officer, told Business Insider at the time.

A lot of crypto's mini-emperors turned out to have no clothes.

In the moment, it all sort of made sense. FTX was flying high and had paid $135 million to slap its name on the Miami Heat's stadium. Its founder, SBF, was running around with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the Bahamas and suggesting he'd spend $1 billion on the 2024 election. Binance's CZ was talking about investing $200 million in Forbes, saying it would push media companies toward adopting crypto and lead to the decentralization of the industry. But we know how the story ends: FTX imploded, along with some other high-profile crypto projects, and crypto winter set in. A lot of crypto's mini-emperors turned out to have no clothes.

Crypto.com, however, managed to weather the storm, though not perfectly. The company accidentally sent some $400 million to the wrong account in November 2022, prompting some users to pull their money out of the platform. At the start of 2023, it laid off 20% of its workforce, blaming economic headwinds and FTX's collapse. The Financial Times reported last June that Crypto.com was operating internal proprietary trading teams, which US regulators had dinged Binance for, even though Crypto.com insisted it was fine. The regulatory environment in the US appears to have made the company a little nervous — it shut down its American institutional exchange in the middle of last year.

In the US, Crypto.com has managed to avoid much of the blowback its competitors have faced. (This isn't the case in other countries — in the Netherlands, for example, it was fined for operating without registration.) While the Securities and Exchange Commission has gone after Coinbase and Kraken for operating unregistered securities exchanges, it hasn't made a peep about Crypto.com. Crypto.com has so far ducked notice, even though it's running a lot of the same playbook. In April, the company's chief operating officer acknowledged in an interview with Decrypt that its big-budget marketing efforts could put a target on its back but said the trade-off was worth it.

Crypto.com's determination to push ahead, both loudly and quietly, has set it up to try to capitalize on the market's recent run. Bitcoin is once again on the up and up, and so too is Crypto.com. The company is hiring again, it's advertising aggressively again, and it's talking a big game about its business prospects — its CEO, Marszalek, told Bloomberg in April that it was looking to triple its number of registered users.

Data from the marketing-intelligence firm Sensor Tower indicates crypto advertisers' digital spending in the US increased by 185% year over year in the first quarter of 2024. Crypto.com spent eight times as much as Coinbase on digital advertising during that period. (It's worth noting that back in the first quarter of 2022, Crypto.com actually outspent FTX on digital ads by a bit.)

But the thing about all Crypto.com's advertising dollars is that they seem to be only effective-ish. Data compiled by CCData shows that Crypto.com has a 2.3% market share by trading volumes on the spot market globally, which is about half of Coinbase, which has 4%, and only slightly above Kraken, which has 1.4%. (Globally, Binance is still dominant.) According to Sensor Tower, Crypto.com saw a 140% increase in downloads in March from the prior month, though it fell slightly behind Coinbase, which had a 160% increase.

All that buying of stadiums and renaming stuff, it's just kind of viewed as lame by most people in crypto.

Crypto.com didn't respond to multiple requests for interviews or comments for this story. Most of the people I did speak to gave the verbal equivalent of a shrug when I asked what they thought of the company.

One crypto executive said part of the issue was that Crypto.com, being an upstart from Asia, is a little outside Silicon Valley's mainstream crypto circles. Similar to the clubby "PayPal Mafia" that dominated software in the 2010s, a sort of Coinbase crew has its hold on the crypto industry of the 2020s. The exec wasn't too keen on Crypto.com's flashy advertising either, describing it as "decadent" and irresponsible.

"All that buying of stadiums and renaming stuff, it's just kind of viewed as lame by most people in crypto," they said. "I think the tackiest thing and frankly irresponsible thing to do is to roll out FOMO ads. 'Buy crypto or get left behind' is a really irresponsible message. JPMorgan doesn't do that."

And despite the company's ability to dodge serious regulatory scrutiny, it hasn't engendered a lot of goodwill among some crypto evangelists.

"I'm supportive of bitcoin, but I think Crypto.com is overall a big negative for the American public. It's very confusing. It's a casino," said Alex Gladstein, who as the chief strategy officer at the Human Rights Foundation has argued that bitcoin is important for advancing human rights and freedom. "When you go to the website, they encourage you to try and bet on these coins that go to zero. I don't think it's anything to do with financial empowerment for people or any sort of alternative wealth building."

To be sure, the casino thing could be said about most crypto exchanges — and sports-betting apps, and many regular trading apps. Crypto.com seems to be careful about coloring within the regulatory lines. The head of its legal department in the Americas just put out a "crypto legal handbook," which, OK.

Crypto.com is embedded in our culture, and it isn't. It's sort of taken on the FTX mantle but with a more anonymous bent. For the company, it's a pretty savvy space in which to operate: ubiquitous but relatively anonymous. For everyone else, mileage may vary on how you feel about the whole thing. It's a good reminder that, whatever the company, it's better to use exchanges only for trading your crypto assets, not for storing them.

Maybe Eminem won't come to regret voicing those ads like Matt Damon did. Or maybe in five years we'll be looking back at this moment and saying: "Remember that one crypto company? Is it still where the Lakers play? Or is it now something else?"


Emily Stewart is a senior correspondent at Business Insider, writing about business and the economy.


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