An Ethereum startup called Prodeum disappeared from the web on Sunday after raising a grand total of $11 USD from investors in a crowdsale. Shortly after the website disappeared, a message appeared on its homepage: “penis.”
Prodeum’s website now redirects visitors to the Twitter account of a cryptocurrency trader (they did not immediately respond to our request for comment), and its Twitter account has been deactivated.
Prodeum is at least the second Ethereum startup to pull up stakes after raising money from people in events called Initial Coin Offerings, or ICOs, in which a startup funds their enterprise by taking cryptocurrency from people in exchange for digital tokens. Some ICOs have managed to raise millions of dollars, and the last startup to vanish after conducting an ICO—Confido, which disappeared from the internet in late 2017—made off with roughly $374,000. (A message later appeared on Confido’s site stating that it would buy back investors’ tokens, but it’s unclear if that took place.)
Prodeum, by comparison, only seems to have raised $11 based on the Ethereum address that was advertised on Prodeum’s site as being the ICO address. (Update: After this article was published the contents of the ICO wallet were sent to another wallet. That wallet contains roughly $100, with the other funds all coming from a single wallet that predates the Prodeum ICO and contains 46 cents.)
Prodeum’s pitch, according to a cached version of its webpage, was to track vegetables in a supply chain using digital addresses on a blockchain—a decentralized ledger at the heart of Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
The Prodeum website, for what it’s worth, is flashy and overall very well done. To throw off the suspicious, if you click a photo of any of Prodeum’s staff, you’re taken to that person’s associated LinkedIn profile. It also appears, as Buzzfeed journalist Ryan Mac noted on Twitter, that the startup was paying people on Fiverr to promote the ICO by writing “Prodeum” on their bodies. Still, it doesn’t seem like all the promotion was enough to make Prodeum’s crowdsale profitable.
There’s one part of the ongoing Prodeum saga that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere neatly, though. It’s penis. What could it mean? It doesn’t have a goading quality—no “Ha ha we got you” vibe—probably because they only made enough to buy two Big Mac meals. It could feasibly be a simple troll, the equivalent of scrawling a dick in Sharpie across a bathroom wall. But Prodeum’s website was elaborate enough to suggest real care and effort on the part of the perpetrators.
To me, the small “penis” that was left on Prodeum’s site instead silently screams with nihilism. Because, I mean, what else is there to say?
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .
UPDATE: This article was updated when the funds from the digital wallet associated with the Prodeum ICO were moved into another wallet.