Initiative Q wants to be seen as the next bitcoin even though its creators are adamant it will be nothing like a cryptocurrency but, despite a polished website detailing its plans, exactly how Initiative Q will usher in the next era of digital payments has remained something of a mystery.
Late last year, a bevy of articles in the likes of Forbes, the Financial Times (which branded it a “Pyramid scheme”), and throughout the non-financial press, asked the question: “what is Initiative Q?” and “why do the creators of it want my email address (and, it turns out, your computer’s location-bearing IP address)?”
Initiative Q’s creator Saar Wilf, who sold a tech business to Paypal for $169 million in 2008, and economics professor at George Mason University, Lawrence White, have now convinced some seven million people to hand over their email addresses along with their location data in exchange for a place in what they call “tomorrow’s payment network” and an eventual hefty payout.
Initiative Q, which is (understandably) planning to rebrand before it actually launches, if it ever does, is targetting between 30 million to 40 million signups and, according to Wilf, could reach that number as soon as next year—though based on average signups of 10,000 people per day, working out as almost four million per year, it will likely take far longer to reach those kinds of numbers.
If Initiative Q ever hits its target signups, or perhaps even if it doesn’t, Wilf plans to take that user data to potential investors to try to raise funds to build the promised payment network, though Wilf is already warning his grand payments plan might never materialize.
“Unlike other startups, this project relies heavily on the trust and support of millions of people,” Wilf said. “It is therefore very important for us that everyone understands there is a long way ahead with many risks. I don’t want anyone feeling they have been misled if the project doesn’t meet its goals.
“It’s definitely possible that none of this will happen,” Wilf added.
Initiative Q is gathering the location data of those that have signed up in order to plan its launches based on the regional variances in payment systems. Initiative Q’s potential launch in London, for example, would be different from a launch in Mumbai.
“Regionally there are unique challenges based on existing local services,” said Wilf. “We’re gathering information about how the payment networks within these different areas work.”
Growing a network of committed users before attempting to monetize them or sell advertising has become a tried and tested way of making money in the internet age, however, a rolling wave of privacy and data scandals have engulfed the one-time Silicon Valley darlings that popularised the model, leaving users and investors more sensitive to fresh attempts.
Wilf, who admitted Initiative Q has not yet begun thinking about the interface of the payments network app, nor how it will be used by retailers and those that have signed up to the network, has no plans to traditionally advertize Initiative Q, insisting people who have signed up need to help grow the network independently.
“It’s not a simple concept, how to create new money and build trust in a network like this. The only way we see to get it to spread is to get people to explain it to one another,” Wilf said. “We want to offer people an incentive for this to succeed.”
The Initiative Q website is currently promising an eventual value of $16,000 if you hand over your email address, your location, and invite five others to the network.
According to Initiative Q’s website timeline, a “roadmap … based on a series of steps towards widespread use of the Q currency,” the project should have begun “[developing] an advanced payment network, incorporating proven technologies,” by “mid-2019”.
Wilf refused to say how much he has personally invested in Initiative Q or how much he would be asking for from potential investors, promising that if he doesn’t feel the network has grown enough independently the entire operation would be dissolved.
“If we feel the project will not succeed we will erase all user data,” he said.