While Bitcoin mania took center stage in recent years, it was easy to miss the emergence of TRON, a cryptocurrency platform that represents one of the largest decentralized networks in the world, and its 29-year-old founder, Justin Sun.
That's likely to change.
First announced in 2017, TRON is in the midst of a significant boom. Having acquired the file sharing service BitTorrent, TRON recently hosted its annual conference in San Francisco featuring NBA star Kobe Bryant as its keynote speaker, but its ambitions run even higher.
Tron's BitTorrent Token was Binance's first initial exchange offering (IEO), an alternative to the popular initial coin offering (ICO) that was used by most early blockchain projects.
Although the company's token isn't available in the U.S., TRON ranks among the ten largest cryptocurrencies by market cap, as it strives to create a decentralized internet by building the technological infrastructure to support a robust network of decentralized apps and smart contracts.
Sun, a Chinese-born crypto-enthusiast since the early days of Bitcoin, has attracted considerable attention both as an industry counterpart to Ethereum's Vitalik Buterin, who, like Sun, evangelizes for some form of a decentralized economy. Before founding TRON, Sun started PEIWO, a popular Chinese social network and streaming app.
His age and entrepreneurial success often draws comparisons to Jack Ma, the founder of the Chinese internet giant Alibaba (BABA) who Sun considers a mentor. Sun is comfortable in the public eye and has opinions that never fail to provoke a response from thought leaders in every camp of the blockchain community.
TheStreet recently had the opportunity to sit down with Sun, and he was eager to discuss not only his plans of TRON but also the temperature and trends of the current market -- and where he sees it heading next.
TheStreet: What do you think about the overall crypto market? Is it in trouble?
Justin Sun: There's that old phrase, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." That's very true of the crypto market as well. Remember, blockchain is a relatively new concept. It's something that most people have only slight knowledge of. The industry is in a period of retrenchment now. Most companies are focused on creating a viable use case and educating the marketplace about that plan. Some will succeed; many will fail.
If by "trouble," you're asking about a return to the heady days where crypto companies had giant market caps that only got larger -- even if they didn't have a very good explanation for why you should invest -- it may be awhile before we see something like that again. That isn't a bad thing, either.
TST: Can TRON's cryptocurrency catch up to Bitcoin in total market cap?
JS: At TRON, we don't spend a lot of time thinking about how to overtake Bitcoin in market capitalization. We're focusing instead on executing our plan, looking at our close competitors in the decentralized application space like Ethereum and EOS, and longer-term competition like the big companies that dominate the online world's status quo. If we execute the plan well, gains in market cap will logically follow.
TST: How do you think cryptocurrencies will eventually be regulated? And how do you think that will affect prices and adoption?
JS: I've said all along that cryptocurrencies should be regulated around the world. Regulation brings legitimacy and stability to the marketplace by giving people confidence that they're not being scammed. Understanding exactly where your money is going and being able to more accurately predict a return on investment is always important.
TST: TRON's stated goal is "to decentralize the web." What is TRON's game plan for 2019?
JS: Our game plan this year is to educate people on "Why TRON over anyone else?" We've started off 2019 with a bang by announcing BitTorrent BTT, a token to empower peer-to-peer users to accelerate media sharing across a global ecosystem. This month, we will distribute a number of tokens for free through a token airdrop to our holders outside the U.S. and China, and we're listing on a variety of crypto exchanges as well. We will follow with a live streaming product in some markets later this year.
On the TRON side, we're constantly improving the protocol to deliver a better experience for everyone. When we talk about decentralizing the web, we're thinking longer term about returning privacy and ownership online to the people, so that it's not concentrated in the hands of just a few very large companies.
TST: How do cryptocurrency investors in Asia differ from those in the U.S. and other regions?
JS: Investors in Asia, the Middle East, and to a lesser extent Europe tend to be fairly savvy. They follow a company on social media, through the news, and by going to events. In a way, this approach is essential because there's always a lot of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) that creates cognitive dissonance. In the U.S., the vast majority of people only know about one or two crypto or blockchain companies, so there's a lot of foundational education that must be done as well.
We actively exclude U.S. investors because of the current uncertainty about their regulatory environment. If you look at our BitTorrent Token (BTT) offering, for instance, Binance has a policy of checking passports, names, and addresses to prove people aren't U.S. or Chinese investors. And for the TRON ICO, we actively marketed it only in Asia, with no English-language promotion.
Self-regulation and an investment in compliance is crucial right now.
TST: Your latest acquisition of BitTorrent made waves. Why was the acquisition so important?
JS: BitTorrent, and the steps we've taken since our acquisition, ensure that 100 million active users are introduced meaningfully to blockchain, many of them for the first time. This move creates an ecosystem for developers to create and make money off applications that they haven't seen anywhere else at scale. It also provides a foundation for us to layer on many blockchain innovations over time.
TST: What does TRON envision for BitTorrent in 2019?
JS: Our team is excited about how they can incorporate blockchain into peer-to-peer technology already in use by millions. The BitTorrent community also is getting introduced to the TRON community, in particular, the 27 Super Representatives who govern the network's ledger with the consent of our decentralized community.
TS: What do you think could drive cryptocurrency adoption in 2019?
JS: Once people understand blockchain as a technology, and how cryptocurrency isn't just a get-rich quick scheme, adoption should grow. To do that, companies have to create use cases that make sense, and which benefit the global community. Think about how people invest in the stock market. Making money fast is a whole different idea when the market represented by equity in projects is more transparent and accurate.
Many more people need to understand why blockchain projects and tokens stand out over others, and over existing solutions, and whether they can stand the test of time.