Old coal plant is now mining bitcoin for a utility company

Old coal plant is now mining bitcoin for a utility company

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

Bitcoin’s massive power consumption is the cryptocurrency’s dirty secret. To mine bitcoin, computers across the globe chew through enough electricity to power a medium size country, somewhere on the order of the Netherlands or Poland depending on the estimate.

In fact, electricity has become such a significant factor that one private equity firm bought an entire power plant to mine bitcoin. The company, Greenidge Generation, said at one point that they could mine one bitcoin for less than $3,000. Even today—at $40,000 per bitcoin, some 30 percent off its peak—the potential for profit is real.

Which is why an investor-owned utility has dropped a containerized data center outside a coal-fired power plant 10 miles north of St. Louis. Ameren, the utility, was struggling to keep the 1,099 MW power plant running profitably when wholesale electricity prices dropped. But it wasn’t well suited to running only when demand was high, so-called peaker duty. Instead, they’re experimenting with running it full-time and using the excess electricity to mine bitcoin.

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#bitcoin, #coal, #cryptocurrencies, #electric-utilities, #fossil-fuels, #policy, #power-plant

Bitcoin outlawed in China as country bans all cryptocurrency transactions

China has cracked down on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in a bid to limit capital outflows.

Enlarge / China has cracked down on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in a bid to limit capital outflows. (credit: Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock Editorial)

China’s crackdown on cryptocurrencies intensified today, with the country’s central bank announcing that all crypto-related transactions are illegal.

“There are legal risks for individuals and organizations participating in virtual currency and trading activities,” the People’s Bank of China said in a statement jointly issued with nine other government bodies. Even Chinese nationals working overseas weren’t exempt, with the government saying that they, too, would be “investigated according to the law,” according to a report in the Financial Times.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies dropped on the news. Currently, bitcoin was down 4.5 percent at the time of publication, and ethereum was down 7.5 percent.

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#bitcoin, #china, #cryptocurrencies, #economy, #ethereum, #policy, #real-estate

SEC threatens to sue Coinbase over lending product

SEC threatens to sue Coinbase over lending product

Enlarge (credit: Chesnot / Getty Images)

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has warned that it will sue Coinbase if it launches a new digital asset lending product, and also issued subpoenas to the cryptocurrency trading platform to provide it with more information, according to executives.

Paul Grewal, Coinbase’s chief legal officer, said in a blog post that the company, which in April became the first major US cryptocurrency exchange to list publicly, had received a Wells notice from the regulator saying it would pursue legal action if Coinbase introduced a yield product called Lend.

Lend is designed to allow users to earn interest on certain digital assets on the platform.

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#bitcoin, #coinbase, #cryptocurrency, #ecoin, #policy, #sec

Coinbase erroneously reported 2FA changes to 125,000 customers

On Friday afternoon, Coinbase sent email and SMS text messages to 125,000 customers, erroneously telling them that their 2FA settings had been changed.

Enlarge / On Friday afternoon, Coinbase sent email and SMS text messages to 125,000 customers, erroneously telling them that their 2FA settings had been changed. (credit: SOPA Images)

Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase sent an automated message to a large number of its customers on Friday, saying “your 2-step verification settings have been changed.” Unfortunately, the message was sent in error—by Coinbase’s count, 125,000 of those messages were sent (via email and SMS text) to customers whose 2FA settings had not changed.

According to Coinbase’s own acknowledgment Saturday, its system began sending the erroneous messages at 1:45PM Pacific time on Friday, and kept sending them until the error was mitigated at 3:07PM.

In that Twitter thread, Coinbase acknowledges the mistaken 2FA messages’ potential for confusion—confusion which retiree Don Pirtle told CNBC led him to panic-sell more than $60,000 of cryptocurrency. Pirtle was holding this large wallet as an investment for his grandson, so the panicked sale may have been as much blessing as curse—he now questions whether cryptocurrency was a safe investment in the first place.

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#2fa, #bitcoin, #biz-it, #coinbase, #crypto, #crypto-exchange, #cryptocurrency

Man robbed of 16 bitcoin hunts down suspects, sues their parents

Man robbed of 16 bitcoin hunts down suspects, sues their parents

Enlarge (credit: KeremYucel / iStock)

Andrew Schober was almost all-in on cryptocurrency. In 2018, 95 percent of his net wealth was invested in the digital tokens, which he hoped he could sell later to buy a home and support his family.

But then disaster struck. Schober had downloaded an app called “Electrum Atom” after clicking a link on Reddit, mistakenly thinking it was a bitcoin wallet. Instead, it was malware that allowed hackers to steal 16.4552 bitcoin when he tried moving some of his tokens. At the time, they were worth nearly $200,000. Today, they would be worth over $750,000.

Distressed, Schober didn’t eat or sleep for days. He vowed to track down the culprits. After years of private investigations costing more than $10,000, Schober thinks he has found the thieves, and he’s suing their parents to get his bitcoin back. Krebs on Security first reported on the lawsuit.

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#bitcoin, #cryptocurrencies, #hack, #malware, #man-in-the-middle-attacks, #policy, #theft

Regulating crypto is essential to ensuring its global legitimacy

The past decade has seen several structural changes in know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations in Europe and globally. High-profile money laundering cases and the penetration of illicit funds into global markets have caught the attention of regulators and the public, and rightfully so.

The Wirecard scandal was a particularly salacious example, in which the investigation into widespread fraud revealed a chain of shell companies involved in illegal distribution of narcotics and pornography. Over at Danske Bank, some $227 billion was laundered through an Estonian subsidiary, going virtually unnoticed for nine years.

In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed an action against Ripple Labs and two of its executives, claiming they had raised over $1.3 billion through an unregistered, ongoing digital asset securities offering. That case is ongoing.

Traditional forms of regulation from the fiat world do not reciprocally apply to every aspect of crypto nor to the fundamental nature of blockchain technology.

As regulators and financial institutions improve their understanding of these criminal practices, AML requirements have likewise been improved. But these adjustments have been an overwhelmingly reactive, trial-by-fire process.

To address the challenges of the fast-evolving blockchain ecosystem, the European Union has begun to introduce more stringent financial regulations that further bolster the regulatory system in order to improve licensing models. Many member states now regulate crypto assets individually, and Germany is leading the way in being the first to regulate cryptocurrencies.

These individual regulations clearly prescribe the pathway for crypto companies, outlining the requirements for obtaining and maintaining a financial license from the regulator. Compliance naturally boosts investor confidence and protection.

As these financial crimes and crypto itself evolves, so have regulatory bodies’ efforts to monitor, address and enforce restrictions. Internationally, the most prominent monitoring body is the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which outlines general guidance and determines best practices in anti-money-laundering practices and combating the financing of terrorism.

Although FATF is considered soft law, the task force sets the bar for workable regulations within crypto assets. Especially notable is FATF’s Recommendation 16, better known as the “travel rule,” which requires businesses to collect and store the personal data of participants in blockchain transactions. In theory, access to this data will enable authorities to have better oversight and enforcement of crypto market regulations. In other words, they’ll know exactly who is doing exactly what. Transparency is key.

The travel rule conundrum

FATF’s travel rule impacts two types of businesses: traditional financial institutions (banks, credit firms and so on) and crypto companies, otherwise known as virtual asset service providers (VASPs).

In its original incarnation, the travel rule only applied to banks, but was expanded to crypto companies in 2019. In 2021, many of the FATF member jurisdictions began to incorporate the travel rule into their local AML laws. This regulatory shift sent shockwaves through the crypto sector. The stakes of refusal are high: Failure to incorporate the travel rule results in a service provider being declared noncompliant, which is a major obstacle to doing business.

But, the travel rule is also a major hindrance that doesn’t take into account the novelty of crypto technology. It is problematic for crypto businesses to integrate due to the major amount of effort it poses when obtaining KYC data about the recipient and integrating it into day-to-day business.

In order for crypto businesses to obtain this information for outgoing payments, data would have to be provided by the client and would end up being virtually impossible to verify. This is highly disruptive to the crypto’s emblematic efficiency. Moreover, its implementation presents challenges regarding the accuracy of the data received by VASPs and banks. Also, it creates further data vulnerabilities due to additional data silos being created across the globe.

When it comes to international standardization measures rather than those isolated within certain communities, there is a wide gap between exclusively on-chain solutions (transactions that are recorded and verified on one specific blockchain) and cross-chain communication, which allows for interactions between different blockchains or for combining on-chain transactions with off-chain transactions that are conducted on other electronic systems, such as PayPal.

We must eventually find a halfway point between those with valid concerns about the anonymity crypto assets provide and those who see regulation as prohibitively restrictive on crypto. Both sides have a point, but crypto’s continued legitimacy and viability within the larger financial markets and industry is a net positive for all parties, making this negotiation nothing short of crucial.

Not anti-regulation, just anti-unworkable regulations

Ultimately, we need to regulate with efficacy, which necessitates legislation that is applicable specifically to digital assets and does not hinder the market without really solving any AML-related problems.

The already global nature of the traditional financial industry underscores the value of and need for FATF’s issuance of an international framework for regulatory oversight within crypto.

The criminal financial trade — money laundering, illegal weapons sales, human trafficking and so on — is also an international business. Thus, cracking down on it is, out of necessity, an international effort.

The decentralized nature of blockchain, which runs contrary to the central-server standard we know and use nearly everywhere, presents a formidable challenge here. Rules and regulations for traditional financial institutions are being implemented part and parcel onto crypto — a misstep and misunderstanding that ignores the innovation and novelty this economic ecosystem and its underlying technology entails.

Traditional forms of regulation from the fiat world do not reciprocally apply to every aspect of crypto nor to the fundamental nature of blockchain technology. However well intentioned they may be, because these imposed regulations are built on an old system, they must be adapted and modified.

The creation of fair restrictions on the technology’s use requires a fundamental understanding and cooperation within the limits and characteristics of those technologies. In traditional financial circles, the topic of blockchain is currently subject to more impassioned rhetoric than genuine understanding.

At the heart of the issue is the fundamental misunderstanding that blockchain transactions are anonymous or untraceable. Blockchain transactions are pseudo-anonymous and, in most circumstances, can offer more traceability and transparency than traditional banking. Illegal activity conducted on the blockchain will always be far more traceable than cash transactions, for example.

Technology with such immense potential should be made accessible, regulated and beneficial for everyone. Blockchain and digital assets are already revolutionizing the way we operate, and regulatory measures need to follow suit. The way forward cannot simply be delivering old-school directives, demanding obedience and doling out unfair punishments. There’s no reason a new way forward isn’t possible.

The end of the outlaw era

Activity can already be monitored through a collective database of users known to abide by international standards. This knowledge of approved users and vendors allows the industry to spot misconduct or malfeasance far sooner than usual, singling out and restricting illegitimate users.

By means of a well-thought-through tweaking of the suggested regulations, a verified network can collectively be built to ensure trust and properly leverage blockchain’s potential, while barring those bad actors intent on corrupting or manipulating the system. That would be a huge step forward in prosecuting international financial crimes and ensuring crypto’s legitimacy globally.

Crypto’s outlaw days are over, but it’s gained an unprecedented level of legitimacy that can only be preserved and bolstered by abiding with regulatory oversight.

That regulatory oversight can’t just be the old way of doing things copy-and-pasted onto blockchain transactions. Instead, it needs to be one that helps fight criminal activity, shores up investor confidence and throws a bone — not a wrench — to the very mechanics that make crypto a desirable financial investment.

#bitcoin, #blockchain, #column, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #europe, #european-union, #finance, #know-your-customer, #money-laundering, #opinion, #policy, #securities-and-exchange-commission, #tc

Crypto’s coming of age moment

This week Danny and Alex and Chris took to Twitter Spaces to chat about the current state of the crypto economy, and hang out with friends in a live Twitter Space. We’re doing more of these, so make sure that you are following the show on Twitter.

As a small programming note, I forgot to tell the folks who chimed in during the chat that we were recording it, so we had to cut most the Q&A portion of the show. We got Ezra’s permission, thankfully. The mixup was a bummer as we learned a lot. In the future, we’ll not make that mistake and keep all the voices.

So, what did we talk about? The following:

Ok, we’re back Monday with your regularly scheduled programming!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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#bitcoin, #coinbase, #cryptocurrency, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #startups

Venmo to allow credit cardholders to automatically buy cryptocurrency with their cash back

PayPal-owned Venmo is expanding its support for cryptocurrency with today’s launch of a new feature that will allow users to automatically buy cryptocurrency using the cash back they earned from their Venmo credit card purchases. Unlike when buying cryptocurrency directly, these automated purchases will have no transaction fees associated with them — a feature Venmo says is not a promotion, but how the system will work long term. Instead, a cryptocurrency conversion spread is built into each monthly transaction.

Cardholders will be able to purchase Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash through the new “Cash Back to Crypto” option, rolling out now to the Venmo app.

Venmo had first introduced the ability for customers to buy, hold and sell cryptocurrency in April of this year, as part of a larger investment in cryptocurrency led by parent company, PayPal. In partnership with Paxos Trust Company, a regulated provider of cryptocurrency products and services, Venmo’s over 70 million users are now able to access cryptocurrency from within the Venmo app. 

The cash back feature, meanwhile, could help drive sign-ups for the Venmo Credit Card, by interlinking it with the cryptocurrency functionality. Currently, Venmo cardholders can earn monthly cash back across eight different spending categories, with up to 3% back on their top eligible spending category, then 2% and 1% back on the second highest and all other purchases, respectively. The top two categories are adjusted monthly, based on where consumers are spending the most.

To enable Cash Back to Crypto, Venmo customers will navigate to the Venmo Credit Card home screen in the app, select the Rewards tab, then “Get Started.” From here, they’ll agree to the terms, select the crypto of their choice, and confirm their selection. Once enabled, when the cash back funds hit the customer’s Venmo balance, the money is immediately used to make a crypto purchase — no interaction on the user’s part is required.

The feature will not include any transaction fees, as a cryptocurrency conversion spread is built into each monthly transaction. This is similar to how PayPal is handling Checkout with Crypto, which allows online shoppers to make purchases using their cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency is converted to fiat, but there are not transaction fees.

The feature can also be turned on or off at any time, Venmo notes.

The company views Cash Back to Crypto as a way for newcomers to cryptocurrency to enter the market, without having to worry about the process of making crypto purchases. It’s more of a set-it-and-forget-it type of feature. However, unless users make regular and frequent transactions with their Venmo Credit Card, these cash back-enabled crypto purchases will likely be fairly small.

The company has yet to offer details on how many Venmo credit cardholders are active in the market. So far, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman has only said, during Q1 earnings, that the card “is outpacing our expectations for both new accounts and transactions.” This past quarter, the exec noted that the company was also seeing “strong adoption and trading of crypto on Venmo.”

“The introduction of the Cash Back to Crypto feature for the Venmo Credit Card offers customers a new way to start exploring the world of crypto, using their cash back earned each month to automatically and seamlessly purchase one of four cryptocurrencies on Venmo,” noted Darrell Esch, SVP and GM at Venmo, in a statement. “We’re excited to bring this new level of feature interconnectivity on the Venmo platform, linking our Venmo Credit Card and crypto experiences to provide another way for our customers to spend and manage their money with Venmo,” he added.

The new option will begin rolling out starting today to Venmo Credit Cardholders.

#apps, #bitcoin, #credit-card, #crypto, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currency, #finance, #mobile-payments, #money, #paypal, #venmo

Equity Monday: Apple’s privacy flap continues as crypto regulation looms

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and me here.

It’s going to be a busy week, with a Samsung event and a host of earnings reports that we’ll have to pay attention to. But more important there are a few stories still dominating the news cycle:

All that and we also riffed on the Siemens-Sqills deal, Cornerstone OnDemand going private, and Delivery Hero buying a piece of Deliveroo.

And, for added flavor and fun, Canopy Servicing just raised a $15 million Series A, while Siga OT Solutions raised a $8.1 million Series B.

All that, and we got to talk stocks! Hugs and love from the Equity crew — chat Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#apple, #bitcoin, #canopy-servicing, #china, #congress, #cornerstone-ondemand, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #deliveroo, #delivery-hero, #equity, #equity-monday, #fundings-exits, #iphone, #siemens-sqill, #siga-ot-solutions, #startups, #tencent

Crypto community slams ‘disastrous’ new amendment to Biden’s big infrastructure bill

Biden’s major bipartisan infrastructure plan struck a rare chord of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, but changes it proposes to cryptocurrency regulation are tripping up the bill.

The administration intends to pay for $28 billion of its planned infrastructure spending by tightening tax compliance within the historically under-regulated arena of digital currency. That’s why cryptocurrency is popping up in a bill that’s mostly about rebuilding bridges and roads.

The legislation’s vocal critics argue that the bill’s effort to do so is slapdash, particularly a bit that would declare anyone “responsible for and regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets” to be a broker, subject to tax reporting requirements.

While that definition might be more straightforward in a traditional corner of finance, it could force cryptocurrency developers, companies and even anyone mining digital currencies to somehow collect and report information on users, something that by design isn’t even possible in a decentralized financial system.

Now, a new amendment to the critical spending package is threatening to make matters even worse.

Unintended consequences

In a joint letter about the bill’s text, Square, Coinbase, Ribbit Capital and other stakeholders warned of “financial surveillance” and unintended impacts for cryptocurrency miners and developers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, two privacy-minded digital rights organizations, also slammed the bill.

Following the outcry from the cryptocurrency community, a pair of influential senators proposed an amendment to clarify the new reporting rules. Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) pushed back against the bill, proposing an amendment with fellow finance committee member Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would modify the bill’s language.

The amendment would establish that the new reporting “does not apply to individuals developing block chain technology and wallets,” removing some of the bill’s ambiguity on the issue.

“By clarifying the definition of broker, our amendment will ensure non-financial intermediaries like miners, network validators, and other service providers—many of whom don’t even have the personal-identifying information needed to file a 1099 with the IRS—are not subject to the reporting requirements specified in the bipartisan infrastructure package,” Toomey said.

Wyoming Senator Cynthia Lummis also threw her support behind the Toomey and Wyden amendment, as did Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

Picking winners and losers

The drama doesn’t stop there. With negotiations around the bill ongoing — the text could be finalized over the weekend — a pair of senators proposed a competing amendment that isn’t winning any fans in the crypto community.

That amendment, from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA), would exempt traditional cryptocurrency miners who participate in energy-intensive “proof of work” systems from new financial reporting requirements, while keeping those rules in place for those using a “proof of stake” system. Portman worked with the Treasury Department to author the cryptocurrency portion of the original infrastructure bill.

Rather than requiring an investment in computing hardware (and energy bills) capable of solving increasingly complex math problems, proof of stake systems rely on participants taking a financial stake in a given project, locking away some of the cryptocurrency to generate new coins.

Proof of stake is emerging as an attractive, climate-friendlier alternative that could reduce the need for heavy computing and huge amounts of energy required for proof of work mining. That makes it all the more puzzling that the latest amendment would specifically let proof of work mining off the hook.

Some popular digital currencies like Cardano are already built on proof of stake. Ethereum, the second biggest cryptocurrency, is in the process of migrating from a proof of work system to proof of stake to help scale its system and reduce fees. Bitcoin is the most notable digital currency that relies on proof of work.

The Warner-Portman amendment is being touted as a “compromise” but it’s not really halfway between the Wyden-Toomey amendment and the existing bill — it just introduces new problems that many crypto advocates view as a fresh existential threat to their work. Prominent members of the crypto community including Square founder and Bitcoin booster Jack Dorsey have thrown their support behind the Wyden-Lummis-Toomey amendment while slamming the second proposal as misguided and damaging.

Unfortunately for the crypto community — and the promise of the proof of stake model — the White House is apparently throwing its weight behind the Warner-Portman amendment, though that could change as eleventh hour negotiations continue.

#biden, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #broker, #cardano, #chairman, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #democrats, #digital-currency, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #government, #internal-revenue-service, #jack-dorsey, #proof-of-stake, #proof-of-work, #republicans, #ribbit-capital, #ron-wyden, #tc, #white-house

Crypto infra startup Fireblocks raises $310M, triples valuation to $2.2B

Fireblocks, an infrastructure provider for digital assets, has raised $310 million in a Series D round of funding that tripled the company’s valuation to $2.2 billion in just over five months.

Sequoia Capital, Stripes and Spark Capital co-led Fireblocks’ latest round, which also included participation from Coatue, DRW VC  and SCB 10X – the venture arm of Thailand’s oldest bank – and Siam Commercial Bank. The latter is the third global bank to invest in Fireblocks in addition to the Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon and SVB Capital. 

In February, the New York-based startup raised $133 million in a Series C round at a $700 million valuation. The latest financing brings Fireblocks’ total raised since its 2018 inception to $489 million. And as for Fireblocks’ valuation boost, the growth correlates with its increase in customers and ARR this year, according to CEO and co-founder Michael Shaulov. 

Since January, Fireblocks has seen its customer base increase to about 500 compared to 150 in January. Its ARR (annual recurring revenue) is also up – by 350% so far in 2021 compared to 2020. Last year, ARR rose by 450% compared to 2019.

“We expect to end the year up 500%,” Shaulov said. “We’ve already adjusted our revenue predictions for 2021 three times.”

Put simply, Fireblocks aims to offer financial institutions an all-in-one platform to run a digital asset business, providing them with infrastructure to store, transfer and issue digital assets. In particular, Fireblocks provides custody to institutional investors and has secured the transfer of over $1 trillion in digital assets over time. 

Fireblocks launched out of stealth mode in June of 2019 and has since opened offices in the United Kingdom, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, France and the DACH region. Today, it has over 500 financial institutions as customers – a mix of businesses that already support crypto and digital assets and those that are considering entering the space. Customers include global banks, crypto-native exchanges, lending desks, hedge funds, OTC desks as well as companies such as Revolut, BlockFi, Celsius, PrimeTrust, Galaxy Digital, Genesis Trading, crypto.com and eToro among others. 

Of those 500 institutions, Fireblocks is working with 70 banks that are looking to join the cryptocurrency space, and start platforming their infrastructure, according to Shaulov. Siam Commercial bank, for example, is using the company’s infrastructure to transform into a blockchain-based bank.

“Our platform creates highly secure wallets for cryptocurrencies and digital assets, where institutions can store their funds or their customer funds, and also get security insurance,” he said.

Fireblocks’ issuance and tokenization platform allows for the creation of asset-backed tokens.

“We handle all the security or compliance, all the policies and workflows,” Shaulov said. “Basically all the complicated stuff you need to do as a business when you want to start working with this new technology. So it’s a bit like ‘Shopify for crypto.’ ”

Sequoia Partner Ravi Gupta is naturally bullish on the company, describing Fireblocks as “the leading back-end infrastructure for crypto products.”

“The team has the potential to build a large, enduring business serving crypto-native companies, consumer fintech companies, and traditional financial institutions alike,” he told TechCrunch. “Their growth has been tremendous, and the quality of their product and customer sentiment are remarkable.”

Image Credits: Left to right: Fireblocks co-founders Idan Ofrat, Michael Shaulov and Pavel Berengoltz / Fireblocks

Fireblocks has also started to see businesses outside of what would be identified as fintech or finance show interest in its platform such as e-commerce websites that are looking to create NFTs on the back of their merchandise. 

The Fireblocks platform, Shaulov said, helps spread the expansion of digital asset use cases beyond bitcoin into payments, gaming, NFTs, digital securities and “ultimately allows any business to become a digital asset business.”

What that means is that Fireblocks’ technology can be white labeled for crypto custody offerings, “so that new and established financial institutions can implement direct custody on their own without having to rely on third parties,” the company says.

Shaulov emphasizes Fireblocks’ commitment to staying an independent company after a wave of consolidation in the space. Earlier this year, PayPal announced its plans to acquire Curv, a cryptocurrency startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Then in early May, bitcoin-focused Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd. said it agreed to buy BitGo Inc. for $1.2 billion in cash and stock in the first $1 billion deal in the cryptocurrency industry.

“Consolidation can be painful for clients,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s Important for us that we stay independent and that’s part of the purpose of this round.

The company will also use the funds to increase its engineering and customer success operations, and expand geographically, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.  

“Fireblocks provides the most secure and flexible platform for a wide range of customer needs,” said Sequoia’s Gupta. “It uses world-class multi-party computation technology to secure digital assets in storage and in transit, and has the most flexible platform with controls for product teams to be able to build on and manage Fireblocks effectively.”

#articles, #asia-pacific, #bank, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #blockfi, #celsius, #coatue, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #curv, #decentralization, #digital-currencies, #etoro, #finance, #financial-technology, #fireblocks, #france, #funding, #fundings-exits, #galaxy-digital, #israel, #money, #new-york, #paypal, #ravi-gupta, #recent-funding, #revolut, #saas, #sequoia, #sequoia-capital, #shopify, #singapore, #spark-capital, #startups, #stripes, #svb-capital, #tel-aviv, #thailand, #united-kingdom, #venture-capital

Bitcoin surges as Amazon job posting suggests retailer may accept cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin surges as Amazon job posting suggests retailer may accept cryptocurrencies

Enlarge (credit: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto)

Amazon posted a job opening late last week that suggested the e-commerce giant may be considering accepting cryptocurrencies as a form of payment.

The posting sent bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies surging, with bitcoin and ethereum up 12 percent and 9 percent, respectively, over the past 24 hours. The development also came on the heels of an event last Wednesday where crypto boosters Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey reiterated their support for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Amazon is looking for a “Digital Currency and Blockchain Product Lead,” who will be a member of the Payment Acceptance and Experience Team, which the posting says is “responsible for how Amazon’s customers pay on Amazon’s sites and through Amazon’s services around the globe.”

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#amazon, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #policy

Equity Monday: China boosts pressure on its tech sector as Duolingo’s IPO looks to raise a few more bucks

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

Ever wake up to just a massive wall of news? That was us this morning, so we had to pick and choose. But since this show is about getting you caught up, we decided to focus on the largest, broadest new information that we could:

  • Asian stocks were down, European shares are lower, and American equities are set to open underwater. Bitcoin had a great weekend, however.
  • China’s edtech crackdown continued over the weekend, with the country’s ruling party setting new rules for online tutoring companies; they can no longer go public and will be forced to become non-profit entities. Chinese edtech stocks around the world fell.
  • China’s larger tech crackdown continued over the weekend and into the week, with new moves against the present-day business models of both food delivery companies, and Tencent Music. The former must ensure minimum incomes, while the latter must give up exclusive rights deals. Shares fell.
  • The Jam City SPAC is kaput. It will not be the last similar deal to fall apart.
  • And we chatted about this bit of Rivian news, as it stood out to us.

All that and we had a good time. Hugs and love from the Equity crew, chat Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#bitcoin, #china, #crypto, #edtech, #electric-vehicles, #equity, #equity-monday, #fundings-exits, #jam-city, #meituan, #rivian, #startups, #tencent-music

India considering phased roll out of central bank digital currency

India’s central bank is considering launching a digital currency, according to a top executive, giving a clear indication of its intentions for the first time after previously stating that it was studying the idea.

T Rabi Sankar, the deputy governor of Reserve Bank of India, said at a conference today that the central bank is considering introducing the nation’s digital currency in a “phased” manner while legal changes are made to the South Asian nation’s foreign-exchange rules and IT laws.

The digital currency, which will be backed by sovereign, will lower the economy’s reliance on cash, enable cheaper and smoother international settlements, and protect people from the volatility of privacy cryptocurrencies, he said.

“Every idea has to wait for its time, and the time for CBDC [central bank digital currency] is near. We have carefully evaluated the risks,” he told an audience at a conference held by think-tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

Sankar said the central bank’s “endeavor is that as we move forward [with the plan],” so that India’s digital currency “can reiterate its leadership position in payment systems of the world.”

The top executive’s remarks follows European Central Bank saying last week that it will begin a 24-month “investigation phase” that, if successful, could lead to the creation of a digital euro by 2025.

Also last week, China’s central bank said its digital yuan trial had reached $5.3 billion in transaction value by the end of June.

“Central banks have increased their attention on digital currencies,” said Sankar. “CBDC will be in the arsenal of most if not all central banks in the world. A calibrated and nuanced approach will be considered at the drawing board as well as with stakeholder consultations,” he said, adding that the central bank has been exploring the benefits and risks of issuing a sovereign CBDC for “quite some time.”

“We have studied specific-purpose CBDCs proposed by different central banks around the world for wholesale and retail segments. The launch of a general-purpose CBDC for population scale is being considered, and RBI is working towards a phased introduction strategy and examining use cases with little or no disruption of India’s banking and monetary systems,” he said. “However, conducting pilots in wholesale and retail segments may be a possibility in near future.”

In his remarks, Sankar also hinted that the central bank hasn’t changed its stand on private cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

In 2018, an Indian government panel recommended banning all private cryptocurrencies and proposed up to 10 years of jail time for offenders. The panel also suggested the government to explore a digital version of the fiat currency and ways to implement it.

At the time, RBI said the move was necessary to curb “ring-fencing” of the country’s financial system. It had also argued that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies cannot be treated as currencies as they are not made of metal or exist in physical form, nor were they stamped by the government.

“They are not commodities or claims on commodities as they have no intrinsic value; some claims that they are akin to gold clearly seem opportunistic,” Sankar said today.

The 2018 notice from the central bank sent a panic to several local startups and companies offering services to trade in cryptocurrency. Nearly all of them have either since closed shop, or pivoted to serve other markets.

This proposal was challenged by several exchanges and traders, who filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court. The nation’s apex court ruled in their favor last year. This ruling was seen as “historic” but it has yet to impact the earlier circular on the policy level. In the meantime, the country has hinted that it plans to introduce a law to ban private cryptocurrencies.

In the agenda published on the lower house website earlier this year, a legislation sought to “prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India,” but allow “for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology [blockchain] of cryptocurrency and its uses.”

#asia, #bitcoin, #cryptocurrency, #government, #india

Elon Musk says Tesla will ‘most likely’ accept Bitcoin again when it becomes more eco-friendly

Tesla will ‘most likely’ resume accepting bitcoin as a form of payment once the mining rate for the cryptocurrency reaches 50% renewables, CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday at a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Crypto Council for Innovation, remarks that are in line with statements he made last month on Twitter.

Tesla started accepting bitcoin as a form of payment in February, the same time that the company purchased a historic $1.5 billion in bitcoin – before reneging on its decision just three months later, citing environmental concerns.

Cryptocurrencies get a bad rap for energy usage because they do indeed use up an awful lot of energy, at least many of them do. Bitcoin and Ethereum, the space’s two biggest currencies, use a mechanism called proof-of-work to power their networks and mint new blocks of each currency. The “work” is solving complex cryptographic problems and miners do so by stringing together high-end graphics cards to tackle these problems. Major mining centers have thousands of GPUs running around the clock.

While Ethereum has already committed to transitioning away from proof-of-work to something called proof-of-stake, which vastly reduces energy usage, Bitcoin seems less likely to make this transition. So, becoming “eco-friendly” likely doesn’t mean making any major underlying changes to Bitcoin, but rather shifting what energy sources are powering those mining centers.

While Bitcoin’s global mining network does clearly lean on renewables, it’s pretty difficult to get exact insights on what the spread of renewables usage is given how, ahem, decentralized the grid is. What is clear is that it’s going to take some unprecedented transparency from the global network to even give Musk a starting point here to judge bitcoin’s current or future “eco-friendliness,” and in all likelihood Musk will have a lot of wiggle room to make this decision based on anecdotal data whenever he wants.

Today’s comments come as no surprise: he tweeted in June, “When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing Bitcoin transactions.”

His comments do give him plenty of wiggle room, however. “As long as there is a conscious effort to move bitcoin miners toward renewables then Tesla can support that,” he added later in the talk. A large portion of bitcoin mining was done in China, where cheap coal and hydropower made it slightly more economical; but Musk noted that some of these coal plants have been shut down (and a large portion of miners in China have started to migrate abroad, in response to mining crackdowns by the Chinese party).

It should also be noted that his concerns over bitcoin’s environmental impact have caused controversy in the bitcoin community, with some arguing that bitcoin receives an oversized amount of scrutiny relative to its actual energy consumption. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who also participated in the virtual panel, has actually argued that bitcoin can incentivize the transition to renewable energy. A white paper published by the Bitcoin Clean Energy Initiative, a program created by Square, argues that bitcoin mining could make renewables even cheaper and more economically feasible than they are today.

Musk’s comments, as ambiguous as they were, shows he still exerts considerable power over cryptocurrency markets. Bitcoin price fell below $30,000 on Monday, after hitting an all-time high of over $63,000 in April. But after the billionaire founder revealed more details about his and his companies’ holdings at the virtual panel, the price rebounded.

In addition to personal bitcoin holdings and Tesla’s bitcoin holdings, his aerospace company SpaceX also owns bitcoin. Musk added that he also personally owns ether and (of course) dogecoin. The price for all three cryptocurrencies rose after his comments.

#automotive, #bitcoin, #cryptocurrencies, #dogecoin, #elon-musk, #ethereum, #jack-dorsey, #spacex, #tc

Upgrade launches a credit card with bitcoin rewards

Fintech startup Upgrade is launching a new credit card today. The Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card is a classic Visa credit card that works across the Visa network. But you get 1.5% in bitcoin rewards when you make payments.

Upgrade isn’t the first company to announce a credit card with bitcoin rewards — but it’s the first one that is generally available. If your application is approved, you can start using the virtual card immediately.

BlockFi announced its own credit card with bitcoin rewards in December 2020. Gemini followed suit quickly after. But those cards are still not generally available. A couple of weeks ago, BlockFi started inviting people on its waitlist. So a general rollout should come sooner rather than later.

As for the Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card, the company offers credit lines from $500 to $25,000 depending on your credit score. It works with Apple Pay and Google Pay. Like other Upgrade credit cards, there are no monthly fees, late fees or returned payment fees.

Image Credits: Upgrade

Essentially, this new card works pretty much like Upgrade’s existing credit card. But instead of getting 1.5% cash back on all purchases, you get 1.5% back in bitcoin — there’s no specific category, no
partner retailer, no point system. It’s a straightforward, uncapped cash back program.

While you get rates that range between 8.99% and 29.99%, Upgrade encourages you to combine monthly charges into installment plans that you can pay back over 24 to 60 months. Once you’ve done that, you pay equal monthly payments at a fixed rate.

"Upgrade Card is already delivering over $3 billion in annualized credit to consumers," co-founder and CEO Renaud Laplanche said in a statement. "Starting today, anyone can apply for an Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card and enjoy the same affordable and responsible credit as with any Upgrade Card, plus the potential upside and fun of owning bitcoin."

The company has partnered with NYDIG for the bitcoin rewards. Right now, you can’t do much with your bitcoins. You can choose to hold them or sell them. There’s no way to transfer your bitcoins to another wallet for instance. If you choose to sell your rewards, there’s a 1.5% transaction fee.

It’s also worth noting that this card isn’t available in all 50 states. Customers in Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia can’t order a Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card at the moment.

Once again, Upgrade is diversifying its portfolio of products as a top-of-the-funnel strategy. By diversifying its credit card offering, it’ll lead to more personal loans down the road.

To be fair, Upgrade encourages you to pay down your debt as you receive your rewards when you make your monthly balance payments. But Upgrade wants to own the customer relationship so that you’ll think about them whenever you need a personal loan.

#bitcoin, #bitcoin-rewards-card, #cryptocurrency, #finance, #upgrade, #upgrade-bitcoin-rewards-card

What we learned from selling a blockchain service to African governments

A major attraction of Africa is its large population of 1.2 billion, which hints at a sizable addressable market. But what happens when your target audience is the governments of 54 countries?

In our situation, that was the case. We started Domineum Blockchain Solutions with the intention to help African governments solve problems with shipping and keeping records.

We knew it’d be hard work, but didn’t anticipate that getting our first customer would be the most difficult part.

It’s typical when entering Africa to want to focus on the big and popular markets like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. But what we’ve learned so far is that there’s a high probability that these countries might not be your first entry point.

Our first product was a cargo service that tracks shipment origin and movement and determines the contents of goods being imported or exported in any country. We built this to solve the problem of lost revenue due to shipments being passed through informal backdoor channels.

With our focus on sub-Saharan Africa, we approached four countries in 2019: our home country of Nigeria, plus Kenya, Gambia and Guinea-Conakry.

We started this conversation and didn’t get a substantial response from the four countries’ governments. They weren’t open to trying out our solution — it was new and they weren’t familiar with blockchain technology. Distraught, we decided to add a smaller country to our list: Sierra Leone.

The Freetown seaport, located in the country’s capital, is the main gateway for trade in and out of Sierra Leone, with 80% of trade passing through this port. The port has a long history as a trading hub and benefits from the country’s strategically important location midway between Europe and the Americas.

But Freetown isn’t one of the top ports in Africa or even sub-Saharan Africa; a fraction of a percentage point of the world’s trade shipment flows through its ports. The small African country, with about 0.1% of the world’s population, exports diamonds, cocoa and coffee and imports food, machinery and chemicals.

Notably, it faced big challenges in shipping these products in and out of the country. A Sierra Leonean supply chain manager described this situation, “We used to face big challenges during the export process. There would be long delays at the port. Our trucks would arrive before midnight and could be stuck in queue for hours, even days. The documentation process was so complicated.”

According to the World Bank, Sierra Leone’s “trade challenges can be attributed to several factors: lack of access to trade information; high levels of physical inspections; multiple fees, licenses, permits and certificates; manual processes; and the lack of coordination among agencies.” Domineum set out to solve this.

Our initial conversations with the Sierra Leone government went well. Fortunately, Sierra had developed a five-year plan (2018-2023), supported by the World Bank Group, to reduce the time and costs needed to move goods across its borders. The goal is to reduce trade costs by 10%. After three months of discussion, our cargo tracking system was implemented.

In late 2019, we started this partnership, and so far we’ve been able to capture $2 million in revenue that would have been lost. The business model is simple: We get a 40% commission out of extra revenue we’re able to capture for the Sierra Leone government via our cargo tracking system.

It’s typical when entering Africa to want to focus on the big and popular markets like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. But what we’ve learned so far is that there’s a high probability that these countries might not be your first entry point. A business-to-government model is a difficult one. There’s a lot of politicking that goes into working with the government.

What we’ve seen work is to approach other countries and gain a foothold, then use that as validation that the concept works. With the success of Sierra Leone, we’re hoping to return to other countries and get a better reception.

The success of Sierra Leone got us rethinking the services we were offering. The initial conversation started with a cargo tracking service, but then we wondered if we should offer a different service to countries that said no at first.

We identified that land registration was a common problem in Africa. More than 90% of rural land in Africa is undocumented and therefore vulnerable to land-grabbing. This hampers the growth of agriculture and other sectors because land is lost to other parties or taken forcefully by the government during times of conflict.

We returned to these countries, offering other services like land ownership registration via blockchain. We got a positive response from a state government in Nigeria to carry out a pilot program. We’re optimistic that once this pilot phase is over, we’ll be able to seal the next business deal.

What’s it like working with African governments? It’s a smaller addressable market. If you’re looking to pitch a product or service to governments in Africa, it’d be helpful to keep in mind that your first customer might be from a smaller country.

To seize other opportunities, we’ll keep looking to expand to other African countries with this mindset.

#africa, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #column, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #finance, #fintech, #kenya, #nigeria, #south-africa, #tc

Crypto startup Phantom banks funding from Andreessen Horowitz to scale its multi-chain wallet

While retail investors grew more comfortable buying cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum in 2021, the decentralized application world still has a lot of work to do when it comes to onboarding a mainstream user base.

Phantom is part of a new class of crypto startups looking to build infrastructure that streamlines blockchain-based applications and provides a more user-friendly UX for navigating the crypto world, something that can make the entire space more approachable to a non-developer audience. Users can download the Phantom wallet to their browsers to interact with applications, swap tokens and collect NFTs.

The crypto wallet startup has banked a $9 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) with Variant Fund, Jump Capital, DeFi Alliance, Solana Foundation and Garry Tan also participating. The round, which closed earlier this summer, comes as some venture capital firms embrace a crypto future even as volatility continues to envelop the broader market. Last month, a16z announced a whopping 2.2 billion crypto fund, the firm’s largest vertical-specific investment vehicle ever.

via Phantom

The co-founding team of CEO Brandon Millman, CPO Chris Kalani and CEO Francesco Agosti all come aboard from crypto infrastructure startup 0x.

At the moment, Phantom is best-known among the Solana community where it has become the go-to wallet for applications on that blockchain. The startup’s ambition is to interface with more and more networks, currently building out compatibility with Ethereum and looking to embrace other blockchains, aiming to be a product built for a “multi-chain world,” Millman tells TechCrunch.

Alongside building out support for other networks, Phantom wants to build more sophisticated DeFi mechanisms right into their wallet, allowing users to stake cryptocurrencies and swap more tokens inside the wallet.

The startup says they have some 40,000 users of their existing wallet product.

Building out a presence on the popular Ethereum blockchain, which already has a handful of popular wallet providers, will be a challenge, but Phantom’s broadest challenge is helping a new breed of crypto-curious users interface with a network of apps that still have a long way to go when it comes to being mainstream-friendly.

“The entire space is kind of stuck in this ‘built by developers for other developers mode,’” Millman says. “This bar has been kind of stuck there, and no one is really stepping up to push the bar up higher.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #blockchains, #ceo, #crypto-startups, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #ethereum, #garry-tan, #jump-capital, #retail-investors, #tc, #techcrunch, #venture-capital-firms

DeFi investor platform Zerion raises $8.2 million Series A

While crypto exchanges have demystified some of the largest cryptocurrencies for retail investors, many of the intricacies of decentralized finance are still lost on even more savvy investors as a result of DeFi’s weave of diverse offerings.

Zerion, a startup building a decentralized finance “interface” for crypto investors, has attracted venture capitalist attention on the back of recent growth. Amid a renewed crypto gold rush, the company has processed more than $600 million in transaction volume so far this year, now with over 200 thousand monthly active users, CEO Evgeny Yurtaev tells TechCrunch

The startup has also wrapped an $8.2 million Series A funding round led by Mosaic Ventures, with participation from Placeholder, DCG, Lightspeed, Blockchain.com Ventures, among others. Mosaic’s Toby Coppel and Placeholder’s Brad Burnham have joined Zerion’s Board, the startup also shared.

Zerion gives customers access to more than 50,000 digital assets and 60 protocols on the Ethereum blockchain through their app which streamlines the UI of DeFi. Users can access tokens and invest through the app similar to exchanges like Coinbase or Gemini, but do so using their own personal wallets like MetaMask, meaning user funds and private keys aren’t controlled by or accessible to Zerion, a sticking point for Yurtaev, a life-long crypto enthusiast and builder.

Image via Zerion

“There are a bunch of different tokens and protocols in the DeFi space,” Yurtaev says. “In theory, it’s supposed to be easy to navigate, but in reality, it’s all a mess… We try to demystify them.”

Alongside major growth in Ethereum and Bitcoin prices, DeFi volume has surged in 2021, up from just under $20 billion at the year’s start to nearly $90 billion this May. The DeFi market et large has proven just as volatile as Bitcoin, with market volume falling some 35 percent in the past couple months to just over $57 billion.

The startup’s mobile app on iOS and Android has become a particularly popular way for crypto investors to track the market and the tokens they’re backing. The average user opens the app more than 9 times per day, the company says.

Crypto’s 2021 upswing has drawn plenty of investor attention, not only to the assets themselves but to the platforms facilitating those transactions. Last month, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced that they had raised more than $2.2 billion to invest in startups building products in crypto spaces including decentralized finance.

 

#andreessen-horowitz, #android, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #blockchain-com, #brad-burnham, #ceo, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #decentralized-finance, #ethereum, #finance, #mosaic-ventures, #retail-investors, #tc, #toby-coppel, #uniswap, #venture-capital

Bitcoin power plant is turning a 12,000-year-old glacial lake into a hot tub

In this aerial photo of Greenidge Generation's power plant outside Dresden, NY, Seneca Lake is visible in the background. The lake receives warm water from Greenidge's operations.

Enlarge / In this aerial photo of Greenidge Generation’s power plant outside Dresden, NY, Seneca Lake is visible in the background. The lake receives warm water from Greenidge’s operations. (credit: Greenidge Generation LLC)

The fossil fuel power plant that a private equity firm revived to mine bitcoin is at it again. Not content to just pollute the atmosphere in pursuit of a volatile crypto asset with little real-world utility, this experiment in free marketeering is also dumping tens of millions of gallons of hot water into glacial Seneca Lake in upstate New York.

“The lake is so warm you feel like you’re in a hot tub,” Abi Buddington, who lives near the Greenidge power plant, told NBC News.

In the past, nearby residents weren’t necessarily enamored with the idea of a pollution-spewing power plant warming their deep, cold water lake, but at least the electricity produced by the plant was powering their homes. Today, they’re lucky if a small fraction does. Most of the time, the turbines are burning natural gas solely to mint profits for the private equity firm Atlas Holdings by mining bitcoin.

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#bitcoin, #cryptocurrency, #fossil-fuels, #policy, #power-plant, #private-equity

Mercuryo raises $7.5M for crypto-focused cross-border payments after crossing $50M in ARR

Mercuryo, a startup that has built a cross-border payments network, has raised $7.5 million in a Series A round of funding.

The London-based company describes itself as “a crypto infrastructure company” that aims to make blockchain useful for businesses via its “digital asset payment gateway.” Specifically, it aggregates various payment solutions and provides fiat and crypto payments and payouts for businesses. 

Put more simply, Mercuryo aims to use cryptocurrencies as a tool for putting in motion next-gen cross-border transfers or as it puts it, “to allow any business to become a fintech company without the need to keep up with its complications.”

“The need for fast and efficient international payments, especially for businesses, is as relevant as ever,” said Petr Kozyakov, Mercuryo’s co-founder and CEO. While there is no shortage of companies enabling cross-border payments, the startup’s emphasis on crypto is a differentiator.

“Our team has a clear plan on making crypto universally available by enabling cheap and straightforward transactions,” Kozyakov said. “Cryptocurrency assets can then be used to process global money transfers, mass payouts and facilitate acquiring services, among other things.” 

Mercuryo began onboarding customers at the beginning of 2019, and has seen impressive growth since with annual recurring revenue (ARR) in April surpassing over $50 million. Its customer base is approaching 1 million, and the company has partnerships with a number of large crypto players including Binance, Bitfinex, Trezor, Trust Wallet, Bithumb and Bybit. In 2020, the company said its turnover spiked by 50 times while run-rate turnover crossed $2.5 billion in April 2021.

To build on that momentum, Mercuryo has begun expanding to new markets, including the United States, where it launched its crypto payments offering for B2B customers in all states earlier this year. It also plans to “gradually” expand to Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

Target Global led Mercuryo’s Series A, which also included participation from a group of angel investors and brings the startup’s total raised since its 2018 inception to over $10 million.

Image Credits: Left to right: Alexander Vasiliev, Greg Waisman, Petr Kozyakov / MercuryO

The company plans to use its new capital to launch a cryptocurrency debit card (spending globally directly from the crypto balance in the wallet) and continuing to expand to new markets, such as Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

Mercuryo’s various products include a multicurrency wallet with a built-in crypto exchange and digital asset purchasing functionality, a widget and high-volume cryptocurrency acquiring and OTC services.

Kozyakov says the company doesn’t charge for currency conversion and has no other “hidden fees.”

“We enable instant and easy cross-border transactions for our partners and their customers,” he said. “Also, the money transfer services lack intermediaries and require no additional steps to finalize transactions. Instead, the process narrows down to only two operations: a fiat-to-crypto exchange when sending a transfer and a crypto-to-fiat conversion when receiving funds.”

Mercuryo also offers crypto SaaS products, giving customers a way to buy crypto via their fiat accounts while delegating digital asset management to the company. 

“Whether it be virtual accounts or third-party customer wallets, the company handles most cryptocurrency-related processes for banks, so they can focus more on their core operations,” Kozyakov said.

Mike Lobanov, Target Global’s co-founder, said that as an experiment, his firm tested numerous solutions to buy Bitcoin.

“Doing our diligence, we measured ‘time to crypto’ – how long it takes from going to the App Store and downloading the app until the digital assets arrive in the wallet,” he said.

Mercuryo came first with 6 minutes, including everything from KYC and funding to getting the cryptocurrency, according to Lobanov.

“The second-best result was 20 minutes, while some apps took forever to process our transaction,” he added. “This company is a game-changer in the field, and we are delighted to have been their supporters since the early days.”

Looking ahead, the startup plans to release a product that will give businesses a way to send instant mass payments to multiple customers and gig workers simultaneously, no matter where the receiver is located.

#africa, #app-store, #articles, #asia-pacific, #bitcoin, #bitfinex, #blockchain, #co-founder, #cross-border-payments, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-asset-management, #digital-currencies, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latin-america, #london, #money, #payments, #recent-funding, #saas, #series-a, #south-america, #southeast-asia, #startups, #target-global, #united-states, #venture-capital

a16z’s new $2.2B fund won’t just bet on the crypto future, it will defend it

The big news in tech this morning is a new a16z cryptocurrency-focused fund totaling some $2.2 billion. The new investment vehicle is worth around four times what the company’s preceding crypto fund — its second — was worth.

Andreessen’s wager on cryptocurrency is only accelerating over time as the investing house raises larger funds focused on the market with less time between them.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


It’s not hard to see why a16z is so enthused about the crypto market; its investments into trading house Coinbase paid off handsomely this year when the unicorn direct listed at a huge valuation premium to its previous worth. Why not put more capital into a startup cohort that was recently immensely lucrative?

But the venture capital group is up to a bit more than just writing new checks. We can tell that much from the firm’s short post announcing its new fund. Mix in a recent interview with a16z co-founder Marc Andreessen concerning the American regulatory environment, and we can understand that the firm is not simply planning a flurry of new deals.

Defending the future of crypto

The headline figure of $2.2 billion in capital available for crypto projects is driving headlines this morning, but the dollar figure should not be a surprise. There’s essentially infinite money in the market for name-brand venture capital firms today, it appears, and with a16z’s recent Coinbase win, I doubt it was monstrously difficult for the firm to compile a new, larger crypto-focused vehicle.

#a16z, #bitcoin, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #ec-fintech, #ethereum, #finance, #tc, #the-exchange, #venture-capital

How many lives does bitcoin have?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

For this week’s deep dive Danny, Alex, and a bunch of the TechCrunch crew took on the recent happenings in the world of bitcoin. In a break from our regular format, we recorded live from a Twitter Space — it’s like a Clubhouse, but closer to where your social network is — so the audio quality is not going to be Utterly Perfect. But we think the conversation will more than make up for it!

Before we get into the show notes, do not forget that we’re recording Equity live on Hopin Thursday the 24th. Come hang with us and have some fun. It’s free, of course, and should be a good time. Details here, sign up here!

So what did we get into? A lot!

  • Recent price changes to the value of major coins
  • The impact of China on the larger crypto ecosystem
  • What’s the latest from the NFT craze?
  • Are DAOs, you know, actually a thing?

And more. A big thanks to Romain Dillet and Lucas Matney for hanging with us, Drew Olanoff for hosting, and Chris Gates for snagging the audio and making it all work.

See you tomorrow!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#bitcoin, #cryptocurrency, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #startups

Monero emerges as crypto of choice for cybercriminals

Monero emerges as crypto of choice for cybercriminals

Enlarge (credit: 53 Studios | Getty Images)

For cybercriminals looking to launder illicit gains, bitcoin has long been the payment method of choice. But another cryptocurrency is coming to the fore, promising to help make dirty money disappear without a trace.

While bitcoin leaves a visible trail of transactions on its underlying blockchain, the niche “privacy coin” monero was designed to obscure the sender and receiver, as well as the amount exchanged.

As a result, it has become an increasingly sought-after tool for criminals such as ransomware gangs, posing new problems for law enforcement.

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#bitcoin, #biz-it, #cryptocurrency, #monero, #organized-crim, #policy, #ransomware

World Bank slams bitcoin, declines to help El Salvador’s cryptocurrency plan

World Bank slams bitcoin, declines to help El Salvador’s cryptocurrency plan

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Last week, El Salvador’s government passed a law to accept bitcoin as legal tender alongside the US dollar. The country receives $6 billion in remittances per year—nearly a quarter of its gross domestic product—and the hope is that bitcoin’s lower transaction costs could boost that amount by a few percentage points.

The move was first proposed by the country’s president, Nayib Bukele, who said he hoped that in addition to facilitating lower remittance fees, the bitcoin plan would attract investment and provide an avenue for savings for residents, about 70 percent of whom are unbanked. (What Bukele didn’t say, but what Bloomberg has reported, is that he and members of his political party have owned bitcoin for years.)

Adding the cryptocurrency to the roster isn’t a simple task, though, and the new law gives the country just three months to roll the plan out nationwide. No country has ever used bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency as legal tender, and challenges abound. To address those concerns, El Salvador turned to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for assistance; the latter is currently considering a $1.3 billion financing request from the country.

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#bitcoin, #cryptocurrency, #currency, #el-salvador, #imf, #policy, #world-bank

What does Uber and birth control have in common?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our morning coffee chat with you that is all about the weekend, what to expect this week, and some funding rounds you may have missed. I’m subbing in for Alex Wilhelm today, who is deservedly out on vacation. You can find me on Twitter @nmasc_, and Equity on Twitter (turn on those notifications!) @equitypod. 

Biden and world leaders are congregating at the NATO summit, which kicks off this week. Also, the Dublin Tech Summit is happening on Thursday with yours truly, other TC folks, and many entrepreneurs making a virtual appearance.

Now, onto the news!

  •  The weekend: The seat next to Jeff Bezos as he launches into space just got filled for $28 million. Also, Elon Musk tweeted about how Tesla might start accepting Bitcoin as a payment once at least half of it can be mined using clean energy. The comment sent Bitcoin up more than a few percentage points, hovering at $39,173 at the time of the recording.
  • This morning: The FT reports that Flagship Pioneering, which is responsible for incubating and launching Moderna, has raised a new venture capital fund at $3.4 billion. Flagship isn’t your traditional VC. It forms teams around problem areas and brainstorms solutions, incubates the most promising ones, and then eventually spins out and finances those companies.
  •  Funding rounds: Byju’s got a check from UBS and Zoom founder Eric Yuan, making it the most valuable startup in India. The company is now valued at $16.5 billion post-money. Plus, The Pill Club has raised an extension Series B round with former Uber exec Liz Meyerdirk newly at the helm of the company.
  • Finally, please take the Equity Listener Survey. We want to make the show better for you, so spending a few seconds filling out our survey and we will be very grateful.

And that’s all. Be kind with yourself this week, and take more than a 5-minute lunch because true glamour is being present and chewing slowly.

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Bitcoin now legal tender in El Salvador, first nation to adopt cryptocurrency

El Salvador now says both US dollars and bitcoin are legal tender.

Enlarge / El Salvador now says both US dollars and bitcoin are legal tender. (credit: Thomas Trutschel / Getty Images News)

On Wednesday, El Salvador’s president signed into law a proposal to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, making the Central American nation the first in the world to officially use the cryptocurrency.

The new law says that companies must accept bitcoin as a form of payment, and the government will allow people to pay taxes with it as well. The exchange rate with the dollar will be set by the market, and exchanges from dollars to bitcoin won’t be subject to capital gains tax. The law was passed by a supermajority vote of the legislature, with 62 of 84 deputies assenting.

President Nayib Bukele said the new law would make it easier for Salvadorans living abroad to send remittances back to friends and family in the country. Some $6 billion in remittances flowed into the Salvadoran economy last year, accounting for nearly a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. Around 70 percent of Salvadorans lack access to traditional banking and other financial services within the country, the president said. The 39-year-old leader hopes that sending remittances will become cheaper, too. Last year, the average fee was 3 percent per transaction. Eliminating that fee would net Salvadorans an additional $180 million.

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#bitcoin, #central-bank, #cryptocurrency, #currency, #el-salvador, #policy

US seizes $2.3 million Colonial Pipeline paid to ransomware attackers

US seizes $2.3 million Colonial Pipeline paid to ransomware attackers

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

The FBI said it has seized $2.3 million paid to the ransomware attackers who paralyzed the network of Colonial Pipeline and touched off gasoline and jet fuel supplies up and down the East Coast last month.

In dollar amounts, the sum represents about half of the $4.4 million that Colonial Pipeline paid to members of the DarkSide ransomware group following the May 7 attack, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing the company’s CEO. The DarkSide decryptor tool was widely known to be slow and ineffective, but Colonial paid the ransom anyway. In the interview with the WSJ, CEO Joseph Blount confirmed that the shortcomings prevented the company from using it and instead had to rebuild its network through other means.

Cutting off the oxygen supply

On Monday, the US Justice Department said it had traced 63.7 of the roughly 75 bitcoins Colonial Pipeline paid to DarkSide, which the Biden administration says is likely located in Russia. The seizure is remarkable because it marks one of the rare times a ransomware victim has recovered funds it paid to its attacker. Justice Department officials are counting on their success to remove a key incentive for ransomware attacks—the millions of dollars attackers stand to make.

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In search of a new crypto deity

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I wrote about tech taking on Disney. This week, I’m talking about the search for a new crypto messiah.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The Big Thing

Elon has worn out his welcome among the crypto illuminati, and the acolytes of Bitcoin are searching out a new emperor god king.

This weekend, thousands of crypto acolytes and investors have descended on a Bitcoin-themed conference in Miami, a very real, very heavily-produced conference sporting crypto celebrities and actual celebrities all on a mission to make waves.

Even though I am not at the conference in person (panels from its main stage were live-streamed online), I have plenty of invites in my email for afterparties featuring celebrities, open bars and endless conversations on the perils of fiat. The cryptocurrency community has never been larger or richer thanks to its most fervent bull run yet, and despite a pretty noteworthy correction in the past few weeks, people believe the best is yet to come.

Despite having so much, what they still seem to be lacking is a patron saint.

For the longest bout, that was SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk who bolstered the currency by pushing Tesla to invest cash on its balance sheet into bitcoin, while also pushing for Tesla to accept bitcoin payments for its vehicles. As I’ve noted in this newsletter in the past, Musk had a tough time reconciling the sheer energy use of bitcoin’s global network with his eco warrior bravado which has seemed to lead to his mild and uneven excommunication (though I’m sure he’s welcome back at any time).

There are plenty of celebrities looking to fill his shoes — a recent endorsement gone wrong by Soulja Boy was one of the more comical instances.

Crypto has been no stranger to grift — of that even the most hardcore crypto grifters can likely agree — and I think there’s been some agreement that the only leader who can truly preach the gospel is someone who is already so rich they don’t even need more money. It’s one reason the community has offered up so much respect for Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin who truly doesn’t seem to care too much about getting any wealthier — he donated about $1 billion worth of crypto to Covid relief efforts in India. A Musk-like cheerleader serves a different purpose though, and so the community is in search of a Good Billionaire.

The best runner-up at the moment appears to be one Jack Dorsey, and while — like Musk — he is also another double-CEO, he is quite a bit different from him in demeanor and desire for the spotlight. He was, however, a headline speaker at Miami’s Bitcoin conference.

Dorsey gathers the most headlines for his work at Twitter but it’s Square where he is pushing most of his crypto enthusiasm. Users can already use Square’s Cash App to buy Bitcoin. Minutes before going onstage Friday, Dorsey tweeted out a thread detailing that Square was interested in building its own hardware wallet that users could store cryptocurrency like bitcoin on outside of the confines of an exchange.

“Bitcoin changes absolutely everything,” Dorsey said onstage. “I don’t think there is anything more important in my lifetime to work on.”

And while the billionaire Dorsey seems like a good choice on paper — he tweets about bitcoin often, but only good tweets. He defends its environmental effects. He shows up to House misinformation hearings with a bitcoin tracker clearly visible in the background. He is also unfortunately the CEO of Twitter, a company that’s desire to reign in its more troublesome users — including one very troublesome user — has caused a rift between him and the crypto community’s very vocal libertarian sect.

Dorsey didn’t make it very far into his speech before a heckler made a scene calling him a hypocrite because of all this with a few others piping in, but like any good potential crypto king would know to do, he just waited quietly for the noise to die down.


(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things 

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Facebook’s Trump ban will last at least 2 years
In response to the Facebook Oversight Board’s recommendations that the company offer more specificity around its ban of former President Trump, the company announced Friday that it will be banning Trump from its platforms through January 2023 at least, though the company has basically given itself the ability to extend that deadline if it so desires…

Nigeria suspends Twitter
Nigeria is shutting down access to Twitter inside the country with a government official citing the “use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Twitter called the shutdown “deeply concerning.”

Stack Overflow gets acquired for $1.8 billion
Stack Overflow, one of the most-visited sites of developers across the technology industry, was acquired by Prosus. The heavy hitter investment firm is best known for owning a huge chunk of Tencent. Stack Overflow’s founders say the site will continue to operate independently under the new management.

Spotify ups its personalization
Music service Spotify launched a dedicated section this week called Only You which aims to capture some of the personalization it has been serving up in its annual Spotify Wrapped review. Highlights of the new feature include blended playlists with friends and mid-year reviews.

Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark case
Justices from the conservative and liberal wings joined together in a landmark ruling that put limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

This one email explains Apple
Here’s a fun one, the email exchange that birthed the App Store between the late Steve Jobs and SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet as annotated by my boss Matthew Panzarino.


illustration of money raining down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process
“The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution..”

3 lessons we learned after raising $6 million from 50 investors
“…being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.

The existential cost of decelerated growth
“Just because a technology startup has a hot start, that doesn’t mean it will grow quickly forever. Most will wind up somewhere in the middle — or worse. Put simply, there is a larger number of tech companies that do fine or a little bit worse after they reach scale.”

 

Again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

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