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When Online Retailers Go Blockchain: The Story of Overstock.com

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On today’s episode of the Tech Talk Tuesday podcast, Ryan McQueeney discusses the history and future of Overstock.com (OSTK - Free Report) , a former pioneer of the e-commerce industry that is poised to abandon its core business and double down on blockchain technology.

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Overstock.com was launched in 1999 as an online retailer selling surplus and returned merchandise at affordable prices. The website not only survived the dot-com bubble, but actually liquidated the inventories of several failed e-commerce companies of that era, eventually cementing itself as a viable online option for below-sticker-price goods.

However, the rise of Amazon (AMZN - Free Report) and widespread investment in e-commerce from traditional retailers has muted Overstock’s influence in the industry. Overstock, like many with strictly online businesses, has also struggled to maintain consistent profitability over the last decade.

But a new hope for growth emerged in 2014 when Overstock gambled on a promising new technology called “blockchain.” That word carries some serious weight in today’s world, but at the time, Overstock was making a relatively obscure bet that was not really connected to its core business.

Sure, Overstock brought its blockchain bullishness into the e-commerce side and became the first major retailer to accept bitcoin, but its belief in the technology extends far beyond the world of cryptocurrencies and online purchases.

Overstock in 2014 also launched a new blockchain subsidiary, Medici Ventures. Today, Medici has stakes in nearly 20 companies in the blockchain space, including tZero, a blockchain-based trading platform.

Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, a vocal blockchain proponent, now wants to ditch the retail business altogether in order to focus solely on the potential of the Medici umbrella. Byrne recently told The Wall Street Journal that he would like to get such a deal done as early as February 2019, meaning that Overstock could become a blockchain pure play in a matter of months.

But how far from profitability is Overstock’s blockchain business? How much cash would its retail business fetch on the open market? On today’s Tech Talk Tuesday, Ryan explores these questions and examines the history of both Overstock.com and Medici Ventures. Check it out to hear more!

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