Don’t Worry, Overstock’s New CEO Is Already ‘Drunk on Bitcoin’s Kool-Aid’

Digital retail platform’s new CEO is not planning any major changes to the company’s blockchain efforts after the departure of its founder.

Patrick Byrne, the now-former CEO of Overstock, made headlines Thursday after announcing his resignation as both the head of his company and a member of its board. He wrote in a letter to shareholders that he did not want to “disrupt possible strategic discussions” by remaining in his positions following his admission that he had a three-year relationship with Russian spy Maria Butina (at, according to Byrne, the FBI’s behest).

Over the past several years, Byrne has championed blockchain tools and projects, overseeing the growth of Medici Ventures, Overstock’s blockchain-focused subsidiary, and tZERO, the security token trading platform.

These projects will continue, said Jonathan Johnson, who was named interim CEO upon Byrne’s resignation.

“The fact that I am stepping into the CEO role means more of the same and more of the same focus for our blockchain business,” he said.

He told CoinDesk that he’s “all in” on Overstock’s blockchain efforts, noting that he had been running the day-to-day operations at Medici over the past three years and has even accepted his bonus in bitcoin in the past.

Johnson will retain his previous position as president of Medici concurrently with his new duties as interim Overstock CEO.

“I wasn’t just doing it for a paycheck, I’m doing it because I’m a full-on believer,” he said, adding:

“Not only have I drunk the Kool-Aid, I’m drunk on the Kool-Aid.”

As such, he does not expect much of Overstock, Medici or tZERO’s operations to change with his assuming command of the company.

“This isn’t an example of the board [of directors] saying, ‘We need a new CEO because the vision’s wrong,’” he said.

Specifically, Medici Ventures will continue to grow its portfolio, albeit more slowly than it has over the past three years.

Johnson said during Overstock’s Q2 earnings call earlier this month that the company would be less aggressive about growing its keiretsu (a Japanese term for a group of interlocking businesses), a statement he echoed Friday.

“We’re not stopping building out the keiretsu,” he said, adding that the company intends in particular to “flesh out the identity column.”

However, he noted, “In the last three years we’ve gone from four to 18 [portfolio companies],” and this rate would slow.

Moving forward

While Johnson does not have any specific plans at this stage for where to take Overstock, he expressed support for the various blockchain projects and hinted that the digital retail platform may begin accepting additional cryptocurrencies as payment methods (Overstock has accepted bitcoin since 2014).

“I would love to see Overstock accepting ravencoin, I just think that would be great. My view is any kind of widely accepted cryptocurrency, Overstock should be accepting,” Johnson said.

He did not speak to when Overstock may begin accepting other cryptocurrencies, noting he was “less than 24 hours into this.”

As for Overstock’s blockchain-focused subsidiaries, Johnson said they too will continue.

“I’m fully behind what we’re doing at tZERO, I’m chairman of the board,” he said.

Since its launch, tZERO has seen a limited amount of trading volume. The company opened the platform to non-accredited investors on Aug. 12, which likewise has not yet resulted in any massive growth.

Asked about what sort of timeline he was looking at before reassessing tZERO, Johnson said:

“I think the question is, once tZERO has five or 10 quality tokens trading on the exchange, ‘What has that done to the overall liquidity on the exchange?’ I think it’s about bringing in quality tokens not [putting it on a timeline].”

He also pointed to Voatz and Bitt as examples of two other portfolio companies Medici will continue to support.

“Someday in the not too distant future everyone’s voting on mobile phones on a blockchain app and we’ll wonder ‘How did we do it the old way?’”he said of Voatz in particular.

Overstock will hold an investor call on Aug. 26 at 8:30 a.m. EDT, where Johnson will seek to reassure shareholders.

“[The crypto community] should not see it as a seismic tremor, they should just see it as a passing of the baton,” he said.

Johnathan Johnson image via Nasdaq

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