Where, oh where went the Iditacoins?
“IditaCoin will generate funding not only for staging the historic race, but for animal welfare grants and financial support for the rural communities that share the heritage and tradition of this great race,” an Iditarod media release proclaimed.
Hopefully none of those rural communities were counting on the cash because the Iditacoin has disappeared into a black hole in the Iditarod-created “IditaVerse.”
The only place the coin appears to exist today is in the press release still posted on the Iditarod webpage. And its existence there is sketchy.
The press release still guides a web surfer to the aforementioned “IditaVerse,” originally described as “a platform for (Iditarod’s) first two digital initiatives: 1) IditaCoin (DGZ), a crypto token for dog lovers around the world; and 2) the inaugural launch of commemorative Iditarod non-fungible tokens (NFTs).”
There, on a website that bills itself as “The Official Place For IDITAROD Fans To Share
The Adventure,” the search for coin gets interesting. The IditaVerse still sports links to a now unworking Iditacoin, the Iditarod 5000 (NFT Collection), and a description of the event that bills itself as “The Last Great Race.”
The latter needs no explanation because Alaskans know all about that. Most are probably less familiar with NFTs.
These can be roughly described as digital versions of signed artworks. They’re a little more complicated than that, but this is close enough. The art being sold by Iditarod is photographic, and it appears Iditarod NFTs are still available for purchase although the author didn’t go through the whole complicated process of trying to buy one on the website.
Hot to not
NFTs were a hot item only a year ago. Global sales of NFTs in the traditional art and collectibles category hit almost $5 million in January, according to Quartz, an online magazine. By October, however, Quartz was reporting “trading volumes are down more than 80 percent compared to one year ago, and off 94 percent from their peak this spring.”
Art lovers have apparently decided one-of art works that exist only in the cloud really aren’t worth much, and there have been other problems, most especially those involving the cryptocurrency coins used to purchase such art.
“The value of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, is plummeting amid renewed questions about what cryptocurrencies are worth,” NBC added only weeks ago. “The crypto world suffered a major blow last week when amid an $8 billion shortfall. The fallout is now affecting the digital collectibles realm.”
Not to mention the effect FTX’s collapse had on other cryptocurrencies. Set up as a monetary alternative to government-controlled currencies, cryptos are now being stalked by government regulators who say somebody needs to protect innocent buyers of crypto.
“Policymakers have for years highlighted the need for effective rules on the crypto industry, pointing to risks to consumers after a string of big market crashes and corporate failures,” Reuters reported after a major conference earlier this month.
It might be a good thing Iditarod has handed off Iditacoin to something called “Dogatopia,” which is where a click on the Iditaverse’s Iditacoin will now eventually land you.
To be exact, the “Buy Iditacoin” button doesn’t actually take you to Dogatopia. It takes you to a standard HTTP 404 page with the typical “PAGE NOT FOUND” explanation but if you go down the page to the “Go Back Home” button and click it, it takes you to “Dogatopia, the official place for dog lovers.”
The Dogatopia logo is nearly identical to the Iditacoin logo, but Dogotopia makes no mention of The Last Great Race although there is a subtle connection. A couple of photos of sled dogs at the bottom of the page are attributed to well-known Iditarod photographer Jeff Schultz.
Dogatopia is solicits “members” to join a “revolutionary, Web3 project dedicated to advancing the health and life span of our beloved canine companions….Unlike other projects, Dogatopia is a truly decentralized, global community of dog lovers who are passionate about taking connection and care to the next level.
“So, get ready – Dogatopia is about to unleash a dog lover’s platform that is unlike anything you’ve seen before!
”When you become a member of Dogatopia, you earn DGZ tokens, just by participating in our community via our smartphone app (see below).”
A “Lite Paper” linked on the website explains that Dogatopa is all about “promoting dog welfare and nurturing a vibrant community of dog lovers and owners.” It promises that “as our community grows, it will accrue a tremendous amount of network value which, in turn, will translate to earnings. These earnings will be reinvested in the ecosystem according to DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) governance decisions, as well as donated to dog-related charities and communities.”
Part of the pitch there clearly echoes Iditacoin’s earlier claim to provide “animal welfare grants and financial support” for “communities,” the main difference being that Dogatopia doesn’t limit these to “rural communities.”
The Lite Paper claims Dogatopia is more about creating a “virtuous ecosystem…than just earning tokens. While the nudge to gain a reward is still there, our ecosystem pairs alongside the prospect of rewards of participatory esteem – namely, the recognition that one is doing the right thing by dogs and supporting other people and organizations in the process.”
And though the website promises it will eventually be run by the aforementioned decentralized autonomous
organization, the fine print indicates that won’t happen for some time.
“When a threshold of 3 million users is reached,” the Lite Paper says. “The (Dogatopia) Team will invite users who demonstrate a high level of activity within the ecosystem to participate in governance matters. At which point: The DAO will divide among an executive board of no more than seven members who have the
ability to veto any proposal. This will prevent malicious takeovers of the DAO treasury or
generally undesirable matters for passing. The founders and early investors will want to hold a
position at this level.”
Until that time, the Team is in charge. Interestingly enough, Dogatopia says it is led by the same guy who in March was proclaiming that at “Iditarod, we have been creating a new way to use cryptocurrency as a self-sustaining resource. Our mission is to create the most exciting, useful canine coin in the market, and we want to launch this exciting new venture by offering it first to Alaskans and the Iditarod Nation.”
Yes, this would be Iditarod Chief Executive Officer Rob Urbach, who is identified on the Dogatopia website as the Dogatopia CEO. Dogatopia describes him as a “renowned leader, financer, and business builder. Rob’s experience is unparalleled when sports, finance and innovation intersect. He is well versed at taking a nascent project from the very early stages through successful exits – benefiting the organizations he represents and the shareholders involved.”
There is no mention of his well-paying day job as Iditarod CEO. The other members of his team are reported to be Sparrow Rogers and Josephine Mills.
Rogers is described by Dogotpia as a “serial entrepreneur…recognized as a leader in healthcare innovation, endurance event management and start-up fundraising….She was retained by the Iditarod to oversee the development of a 50th anniversary NFT catalog and to help design a broader blockchain strategy for their community.”
State corporation records say Stake49 was incorporated in early July of this year by Rogers and Brian Murkowski, an Alaska energy consultant and the brother of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Rogers’ Facebook page, meanwhile, says she moved to San Diego in November and is now “working to help restore coral reefs to secure a vital food source and part of our ocean’s fundamental health.”
It also reveals she was in Alaska last winter where she spent “several months…working as the Project Lead with team Iditarod – a favorite Alaskan charitable organization – to create their own crypto token, the IditaCoin (DGZ). The Iditarod is celebrating its 50th anniversary so this was a wonderful opportunity to bring old school and new school ops initiatives together.
“After a huge effort by a global team of people, it (Iditacoin) has now gone live and is getting an amazing response! We are currently holding a pre-sale event for our insider networks. If you’d like to get a chunk of DGZ before it goes onto an exchange, this is your chance.”
If you bought some of those coins, you would now appear to have a digital souvenir. Dogatopia appears to have no coins as of this time, but the website indicates those are in the works. Its “Sign Up” page says that “if you are interested in receiving news about the development and launching of Dogatopia, please complete the form below with your contact information and any comments or questions. Early sign-ups are rewarded with DGZ tokens!”
Who is in charge of the day-to-day oversight of these coins is unclear. The third member of the Dogatopia team, Mills, is reported to be busy studying in Indiana. A graduate of South Anchorage High School, Mills obtained a degree from Arizona University, came home to Alaska to spend a couple of years as a web designer, and then left again to attend Notre Dame Law School as the Iditacoin prospectus said she would:
“She will commence studies at Notre Dame Law School this autumn. While at Notre Dame, Josephine will specialize in block chain and cryptocurrency law. She and her family have been Iditarod fans and supporters for decades.”
Who, if anyone, is actually running Dogatopia on a day-to-day basis is unclear. The two key players in Iditacoin – “senior advisor” Sebastian Purcell, the founder of the online crypto trading school TheArtofTheBubble.com – and software engineer Ryan Dammrose appear to have left the venture when it morphed into Dogatopia.
New age gamble
Iditarod has not revealed how much it invested in its crypto scheme hoping to make big bucks, but it is not an organization with a lot of money available for gambling. As a non-profit charity, it is also required to annually provide some financial data to the Internal Revenue Service, but it has yet to file the required Form 990s covering 2022 which might reveal how much was spent.
The most up-to-date filings online are for the fiscal year 2020, which show that although the race reports an operating budget of about $4.5 million, close to a third of that comes in the form of contributions of goods and services.
That leaves only about $3 million in the cash available, most of which has in past years gone to fund the purse that pays the winning mushers and finances the race’s heavy logistical costs. Only about 20 percent of the money, or just over $706,000, was spent on staff salaries, benefits and compensation in FY 2020.
Though mushers sometimes accuse the organization of being top-heavy, the numbers don’t support that conclusion. The race still depends heavily on volunteers. Its staffing expenses are near equal to those of the average McDonald’s franchise as calculated by the MyMoney blog.
Still, Urbach’s annual compensation of $203,603 accounts for almost 30 percent of the race’s labor cost. The only other employee reported to be making over $100,000 is finance director Donald Patterson, who is compensated to the tune of $114,000 per year.
By the time they’re paid, about 45 percent of the budget for labor has been spent. The IRS says charitable groups like the Iditarod don’t have to report employees being compensated less than $100,000 per year, but with all but about $318,000 of the organization’s labor costs accounted for to pay two employees, there’s simply not enough money left to support much staff.
A crypto Bonanza would have been a big win for an event that has struggled financially since its inception, but the venture appeared highly speculative from the get-go. That said, the Iditarod was looking for new money-making ideas when it parted ways with longtime CEO Stan Hooley in 2018 and hired former USA Triathlon CEO Urbach, and Urbach did deliver that.