Initiative Q is a project high on hype and low on details. Bursting into consciousness with a genius marketing scheme, Initiative Q has generated a massive userbase and many online articles, but nobody seems quite sure what it is. A two-line introduction on its official website begins with the claim that Initiative Q is “a modern payment network that will aggregate the best tech to make a new global currency.” What tech it is aggregating is anyone’s guess at this point. But the next line is crucial to understanding Initiative Q’s appeal: “Overcoming the adoption barrier by offering free Q.”
Everyone who signs up for Initiative Q is granted free Qs. But not just anyone can sign-up - you need to follow a referral link. Once you’ve been granted this link by an existing participant, you will be prompted to sign-in with a social media account or unique email/password combination, and then told the possible future value of your Q holdings. When I followed a referral link a couple of days ago, I was greeted with a message suggesting my Q holdings will one day be worth more than $21,000 - a grand more than Bitcoin’s all-time high. If I’d followed the link a few days earlier, that figure would apparently have been closer to $100,000.
But these funds are not yours automatically. To get the maximum Q allocation, you need to refer five new members. Without these referrals, you only get 10% of your maximum allocation. And this combined factor of urgency and impetus to spread the word have helped Initiative Q quickly amass an enormous userbase. An article published by Mashable a week ago said that Initiative Q had already secured 4 million sign-ups. Given it was reportedly receiving 100,000 new sign-ups per day, its likely to have risen considerably beyond this since.
It’s safe to say Initiative Q’s attempt to amass a huge userbase has been a resounding success. But the methods used have earned the project comparisons to a pyramid scheme, or at the least a multi-level marketing scam.
So what is Iniative Q: a staggeringly successful scam or the future of finance?
Initiative Q is a very 2018 idea, learning from some of the most successful projects of recent decades to create a massive triumph of marketing. Facebook and Gmail both utilized similar strategies to amass a userbase. Facebook was initially exclusive to Harvard University students, before slowly being rolled out to other high-level universities, and eventually opening itself to the general public. Google’s Gmail service was invite-only at first. Both projects created an air of exclusivity around their offerings that made people desperate to join. By the time they were open to all, Facebook and Gmail were already established names with large userbases.
Just check the comments section on any of the dozens of articles dissecting Initiative Q’s success to see the effectiveness of this strategy in action. Comment after comment offers referral links or asks referees to verify their application to join the platform. Critical posts on the /r/cryptocurrency subreddit are full of similar comments, all comically deleted and their users permanent banned for violating the subreddit’s zero-tolerance policy on referral links.
And this brings us to a question many have about Initiative Q: is it a cryptocurrency?
Is Initiative Q the new Bitcoin?
A large part of Initiative Q’s success is surely down to the explosive growth Bitcoin saw during 2017. People who feel like they missed out on Bitcoin’s meteoric rise don’t want to make the same mistake twice. And even if Initiative Q never reaches Bitcoin levels of success, what’s the harm in signing up?
If you visit the page explaining ‘The Q Payment Network’ on Initiative Q’s official website, you’re greeted with a text that promises to integrate and better current cutting-edge payment processing technology:
“Initiative Q is creating a modern payment network that will aggregate the best ideas, innovations, and technologies developed in recent years. The Q payment network will allow safe, fast, and low-cost transactions, using a global currency.
Many of the ideas that Initiative Q will include already exist in some form, but thus far they have gained only limited acceptance, and there is no universal system that integrates them all.”
This is followed by a long list of things that Initiative Q “could” potentially do better than current payment services. These kinds of grandiose claims will be nothing new to people who’ve followed Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency space for a while, as countless ICOs have appeared promising to revolutionize finance. But even in that context, Initiative Q is incredibly bold in its vagueness. There are no concrete details on how it will function as a payment solution, other than the promise of an app that will scan QR codes or RFID chips. Maybe. Possibly. Depending on how things pan out.
Is Initiative Q a scam?
The key difference between Initiative Q and a typical ICO is that Initiative Q is giving its tokens away for “free.” That’s “free” in inverted commas, because the social media business model over the past decade has centered on the mantra “if the product’s free, then you’re the product.”
But what of value is Initiative Q actually gaining from you? The worst-case scenario would be that they’re harvesting emails and passwords used to sign-up for the service and then using these to access accounts. There is no evidence that this is the plan, but it would probably be a good idea to avoid handing over a regularly-used password just in case. However, if you sign-up with an existing Google or Facebook account, they’ll only gain a limited amount of publically-available information. This could still be of value - a massive database of millions of people who are interested in potential get-rich schemes would definitely have some value.
Iniative Q founder Saar Wilf dismissed this idea in an interview with Mashable, stating: “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.”
Initiative Q’s stated aim is much loftier than this. Their official website explains that this a project that could ‘realistically’ overtake the $20 trillion spent annually on credit cards. The $21,000 my maximum Q allocation could be worth is based on Initiative Q’s annual volume hitting $10 trillion.
Is Initiative Q the future of finance?
The previously-mentioned Mashable article delves into the background of Wilf and Initiative Q advisor Lawrence White, a published economist who has worked at George Mason University. Some articles have incorrectly called Wilf a PayPal co-founder. The truth is that he created a security startup, Fraud Sciences, which was sold to PayPal/eBay for $169 million in 2008. He also worked for PayPal for a time, and has also dabbled in professional poker playing.
The team therefore has some legitimacy. With millions of potential users now invested in the platform’s future success, Initiative Q has built a very strong foundation, however ‘realistic’ you consider the chances of it processing $10 trillion in payments every year are.
Following the wild success of its initial marketing efforts, Initiative Q will look like an attractive prospect to venture capitalists with the means to help it achieve its vaguely-defined vision. Initiative Q has taken inspiration from startups that go public before turning a profit and ICOs that generate huge sums without a working product, then pushed this to a whole new level. Whether it will ultimately prove successful is impossible to say while it’s still impossible to define exactly what Initiative Q is aiming to be. But it’s a ludicrously zeitgeisty proposition that just might be crazy enough to work.