Out of prison, Shkreli plans “Web3 drug discovery” platform backed by crypto

Martin Shkreli being photographed for his role as CIO of MSMB Capital Management.

Martin Shkreli being photographed for his role as CIO of MSMB Capital Management. (credit: Getty Images)

Martin Shkreli—the notorious ex-pharmaceutical executive fresh from prison after his 2017 fraud conviction—announced his latest, eyebrow-raising venture Monday: creating a blockchain-based “Web3 drug discovery platform” that traffics in his own cryptocurrency, MSI, aka Martin Shkreli Inu.

The platform, still in the early development phase, is called Druglike, according to a press release that circulated Monday. The platform’s goals are ostensibly lofty, but the details are extremely sketchy, and Shkreli’s intentions have already drawn skepticism. It’s also unclear if the enterprise will run Shkreli afoul of his lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, which stemmed from the abrupt and callous 4,000 percent price hike of a life-saving drug that made him infamous.

Shkreli, who is named as a co-founder of Druglike, says the platform aims to make early-stage drug discovery more affordable and accessible. “Druglike will remove barriers to early-stage drug discovery, increase innovation and allow a broader group of contributors to share the rewards,” Shkreli said in the press release. “Underserved and underfunded communities, such as those focused on rare diseases or in developing markets, will also benefit from access to these tools.”

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#bitcoin, #blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #drug-discovery, #martin-shkreli, #science

Minecraft blocks the blockchain from its block game

Crypto projects built on top of <em>Minecraft</em>, like NFT Worlds, have been left scrambling by Mojang's decision.

Enlarge / Crypto projects built on top of Minecraft, like NFT Worlds, have been left scrambling by Mojang’s decision. (credit: NFT Worlds)

Minecraft will continue to be about blocks and not about the blockchain. That’s according to a new official blog post from Microsoft subsidiary Mojang stressing that “integrations of NFTs with Minecraft are generally not something we will support or allow.”

While players have long been able to charge for access to private Minecraft servers they control, the company’s usage guidelines stress that “all players should have access to the same functionality” in those servers. That’s in conflict with the main point of NFTs, which Mojang characterizes as “digital ownership based on scarcity and exclusion, which does not align with Minecraft values of creative inclusion and playing together.”

Aside from those kinds of philosophical problems, Mojang also expresses concerns about “instances where NFTs were sold at artificially or fraudulently inflated prices” and situations where NFT assets “may require an asset manager who might disappear without notice.” These kinds of issues mean that “some third-party NFTs may not be reliable and may end up costing players who buy them,” Mojang warns.

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#blockchain, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #mojang, #nfts



Top 10 AI marketing tools

 The marketing industry is turning to artificial intelligence (AI) as a way to save time and execute smarter, more personalized campaigns. 61% of marketers say AI software is the most important aspect of their data strategy.

  If you’re late to the AI party, don’t worry. It’s easier than you think to start leveraging artificial intelligence tools in your marketing strategy. Here are 10 AI marketing tools every marketer should start using today, along with a few more useful ones that are worth checking out.

1. Personalize

 Personalize is an AI-powered technology that helps you identify and produce highly targeted sales and marketing campaigns by tracking the products and services your contacts are most interested in at any given time. The platform uses an algorithm to identify each contact’s top three interests, which are updated in real-time based on recent site activity.

Key Features

  • Identifies  top three interests based on metrics like time on page, recency and frequency of each contacts
  • Works with every ESP and CRM
  • Easy to get up and running in days
  • Enterprise-grade technology at a low cost for SMBs

2. Seventh Sense

  Seventh Sense provides behavioral analytics that help you win attention in your customers’ overcrowded email inboxes. Choosing the best day and time to send an email is always a gamble. And while some days of the week generally get higher open rates than others, you’ll never be able to nail down a time that’s best for every customer. Seventh Sense eases your stress of having to figure out the perfect send-time and day for your email campaigns. The AI-based platform figures out the best timing and email frequency for each contact based on when they’re opening emails. The tool is primarily geared toward HubSpot and Marketo customers 

Key Features 

  • AI determines the best send-time and email frequency for each contact
  • Connects with HubSpot and Marketo

3. Phrasee

  Phrasee uses artificial intelligence to help you write more effective subject lines. With its AI-based Natural Language Generation system, Phrasee uses data-driven insights to generate millions of natural sounding copy variants that match your brand voice. The model is end-to-end, meaning when you feed the results back to Phrasee, the prediction model rebuilds so it can continuously learn from your audience.

Key Features 

  • Instantly generates millions of human-sounding, brand-compliant copy variants
  • Creates tailored language models for every customer
  • Learns what your audience responds to and rebuilds the prediction model every time

4. Hubspot Seo

  HubSpot Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an integral tool for the Human Content team. It uses machine learning to determine how search engines understand and categorize your content. HubSpot SEO helps you improve your search engine rankings and outrank your competitors.Search engines reward websites that organize their content around core subjects, or topic clusters. HubSpot SEO helps you discover and rank for the topics that matter to your business and customers.

Key Features 

  • Helps you discover and rank for topics that people are searching for
  • Provides suggestions for your topic clusters and related subjects
  • Integrates with all other HubSpot content tools to help you create a well-rounded content strategy

 5. Evolve AI

  When you’re limited to testing two variables against each other at a time, it can take months to get the results you’re looking for.Evolv AI lets you test all your ideas at once. It uses advanced algorithms to identify the top performing concepts, combine them with each other, and repeat the process to achieve the best site experience.

Key Features 

  • Figures out which content provides the best performance
  • Lets you test multiple ideas in a single experiment instead of having to perform many individual tests over a long period of time
  • Lets you try all your ideas across multiple pages for full-funnel optimization
  • Offers visual and code editors

6. Acrolinx

  Acrolinx is a content alignment platform that helps brands scale and improve the quality of their content. It’s geared toward enterprises – its major customers include big brands like Google, Adobe and Amazon – to help them scale their writing efforts. Instead of spending time chasing down and fixing typos in multiple places throughout an article or blog post, you can use Acrolinx to do it all right there in one place. You start by setting your preferences for style, grammar, tone of voice and company-specific word usage. Then, Acrolinx checks and scores your existing content to find what’s working and suggest areas for improvement. The platform provides real-time guidance and suggestions to make writing better and strengthen weak pages.

Key features

  • Reviews and scores existing content to ensure it meets your brand guidelines
  • Finds opportunities to improve your content and uses automation to shorten your editorial process.
  • Integrates with more than 50 tools and platforms, including Google Docs, Microsoft Word, WordPress and most web browsers.

7. MarketMuse 

MarketMuse uses an algorithm to help marketers build content strategies. The tool shows you where to target keywords to rank in specific topic categories, and recommends keywords you should go after if you want to own particular topics. It also identifies gaps and opportunities for new content and prioritizes them by their probable impact on your rankings. The algorithm compares your content with thousands of articles related to the same topic to uncover what’s missing from your site.

Key features:

  • The built-in editor shows how in-depth your topic is covered and what needs improvement
  • Finds gaps and opportunities for new content creation, prioritized by their probable impact and your chance of ranking

8. Copilot

Copilot is a suite of tools that help ecommerce businesses maintain real-time communication with customers around the clock at every stage of the funnel. Promote products, recover shopping carts and send updates or reminders directly through Messenger.

Key features: 

  • Integrate Facebook Messenger directly with your website, including chat history and recent interactions for a fluid customer service experience 
  • Run drip messenger campaigns to keep customers engaged with your brand
  • Send abandoned cart, out-of-stock, restock, preorder, order status and shipment notifications to contacts 
  • Send branded images, promotional content or coupon codes to those who opt in
  • Collect post-purchase feedback, reviews and customer insight
  • Demonstrate social proof on your website with a widget, or push automatic Facebook posts sharing recent purchases
  • Display a promotional banner on your website to capture contacts instantly

9. Yotpo

Yotpo’s deep learning technology evaluates your customers’ product reviews to help you make better business decisions. It identifies key topics that customers mention related to your products—and their feelings toward them. The AI engine extracts relevant reviews from past buyers and presents them in smart displays to convert new shoppers. Yotpo also saves you time moderating reviews. The AI-powered moderation tool automatically assigns a score to each review and flags reviews with negative sentiment so you can focus on quality control instead of manually reviewing every post.

Key features:

  • Makes it easy for shoppers to filter reviews and find the exact information they’re looking for
  • Analyzes customer feedback and sentiments to help you improve your products
  • Integrates with most leading ecommerce platforms, including BigCommerce, Magento and Shopify.

Albert AI

  Albert is a self-learning software that automates the creation of marketing campaigns for your brand. It analyzes vast amounts of data to run optimized campaigns autonomously, allowing you to feed in your own creative content and target markets, and then use data from its database to determine key characteristics of a serious buyer. Albert identifies potential customers that match those traits, runs trial campaigns on a small group of customers—with results refined by Albert itself—before launching it on a larger scale.

  Albert plugs into your existing marketing technology stack, so you still have access to your accounts, ads, search, social media and more. Albert maps tracking and attribution to your source of truth so you can determine which channels are driving your business.

Key features:

  • Breaks down large amounts of data to help you customize campaigns
  • Plugs into your marketing technology stack and can be used across diverse media outlets, including email, content, paid media and mobile

Final Saying

There are many tools and companies out there that offer AI tools, but this is a small list of resources that we have found to be helpful. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments below this article. As marketing evolves at such a rapid pace, new marketing strategies will be invented that we haven’t even dreamed of yet. But for now, this list should give you a good starting point on your way to implementing AI into your marketing mix.

#ai, #blockchain, #tool

Making blockchain stop wasting energy by getting it to manage energy

Image of solar panels.

Enlarge / Managing a microgram might be a case where blockchain is actually useful. (credit: Getty Images)

One of the worst features of blockchain technologies like cryptocurrency and NFTs is their horrific energy use. When we should be wringing every bit of efficiency out of our electricity use, most blockchains require computers to perform pointless calculations repeatedly.

The obvious solution is to base blockchains on useful calculations—something we might need to do anyway. Unfortunately, the math involved in a blockchain has to have a very specific property: The solution must be difficult to calculate but easy to verify. Nevertheless, a number of useful calculations have been identified as possible replacements for the ones currently being used in many systems.

A paper released this week adds another option to this list. Optimization problems are notoriously expensive in terms of computations, but the quality of a solution is relatively easy to evaluate. And in this case, the systems being optimized are small energy grids, meaning that this approach could partly offset some of a blockchain’s horrific energy usage.

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#blockchain, #computer-science, #energy, #science

What is Blockchain: Everything You Need to Know (2022)

What is Blockchain

If you want to pay online, you need to register an account and provide credit card information. If you don’t have a credit card, you can pay with bank transfer. With the rise of cryptocurrencies, these methods may become obsolete.

Imagine a world in which you can do transactions and many other things without having to give your personal information. A world in which you don’t need to rely on banks or governments anymore. Sounds amazing, right? That’s exactly what blockchain technology allows us to do.

It’s like your computer’s hard drive. blockchain is a technology that lets you store data in digital blocks, which are connected together like links in a chain. 

Blockchain technology was originally invented in 1991 by two mathematicians, Stuart Haber and W. Scot Stornetta. They first proposed the system to ensure that timestamps could not be tampered with.

A few years later, in 1998, software developer Nick Szabo proposed using a similar kind of technology to secure a digital payments system he called “Bit Gold.” However, this innovation was not adopted until Satoshi Nakamoto claimed to have invented the first Blockchain and Bitcoin.

So, What is Blockchain?

A blockchain is a distributed database shared between the nodes of a computer network. It saves information in digital format. Many people first heard of blockchain technology when they started to look up information about bitcoin.

Blockchain is used in cryptocurrency systems to ensure secure, decentralized records of transactions.

Blockchain allowed people to guarantee the fidelity and security of a record of data without the need for a third party to ensure accuracy.

To understand how a blockchain works, Consider these basic steps:

  • Blockchain collects information in “blocks”.
  • A block has a storage capacity, and once it’s used up, it can be closed and linked to a previously served block.
  • Blocks form chains, which are called “Blockchains.”
  • More information will be added to the block with the most content until its capacity is full. The process repeats itself.
  • Each block in the chain has an exact timestamp and can’t be changed.

Let’s get to know more about the blockchain.

How does blockchain work?

Blockchain records digital information and distributes it across the network without changing it. The information is distributed among many users and stored in an immutable, permanent ledger that can’t be changed or destroyed. That’s why blockchain is also called “Distributed Ledger Technology” or DLT.

Here’s how it works:

  • Someone or a computer will transacts
  • The transaction is transmitted throughout the network.
  • A network of computers can confirm the transaction.
  • When it is confirmed a transaction is added to a block
  • The blocks are linked together to create a history.

And that’s the beauty of it! The process may seem complicated, but it’s done in minutes with modern technology. And because technology is advancing rapidly, I expect things to move even more quickly than ever.

  • A new transaction is added to the system. It is then relayed to a network of computers located around the world. The computers then solve equations to ensure the authenticity of the transaction.
  • Once a transaction is confirmed, it is placed in a block after the confirmation. All of the blocks are chained together to create a permanent history of every transaction.

How are Blockchains used?

Even though blockchain is integral to cryptocurrency, it has other applications. For example, blockchain can be used for storing reliable data about transactions. Many people confuse blockchain with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum.

Blockchain already being adopted by some big-name companies, such as Walmart, AIG, Siemens, Pfizer, and Unilever. For example, IBM’s Food Trust uses blockchain to track food’s journey before reaching its final destination.

Although some of you may consider this practice excessive, food suppliers and manufacturers adhere to the policy of tracing their products because bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella have been found in packaged foods. In addition, there have been isolated cases where dangerous allergens such as peanuts have accidentally been introduced into certain products.

Tracing and identifying the sources of an outbreak is a challenging task that can take months or years. Thanks to the Blockchain, however, companies now know exactly where their food has been—so they can trace its origins and prevent future outbreaks.

Blockchain technology allows systems to react much faster in the event of a hazard. It also has many other uses in the modern world.

What is Blockchain Decentralization?

Blockchain technology is safe, even if it’s public. People can access the technology using an internet connection.

Have you ever been in a situation where you had all your data stored at one place and that one secure place got compromised? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to prevent your data from leaking out even when the security of your storage systems is compromised?

Blockchain technology provides a way of avoiding this situation by using multiple computers at different locations to store information about transactions. If one computer experiences problems with a transaction, it will not affect the other nodes.

Instead, other nodes will use the correct information to cross-reference your incorrect node. This is called “Decentralization,” meaning all the information is stored in multiple places.

Blockchain guarantees your data’s authenticity—not just its accuracy, but also its irreversibility. It can also be used to store data that are difficult to register, like legal contracts, state identifications, or a company’s product inventory.

Pros and Cons of Blockchain

Blockchain has many advantages and disadvantages. 


  • Accuracy is increased because there is no human involvement in the verification process.
  • One of the great things about decentralization is that it makes information harder to tamper with.
  • Safe, private, and easy transactions
  • Provides a banking alternative and safe storage of personal information


  • Data storage has limits.
  • The regulations are always changing, as they differ from place to place.
  • It has a risk of being used for illicit activities 

Frequently Asked Questions About Blockchain

I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about blockchain in this section.

Is Blockchain a cryptocurrency?

Blockchain is not a cryptocurrency but a technology that makes cryptocurrencies possible. It’s a digital ledger that records every transaction seamlessly.

Is it possible for Blockchain to be hacked?

Yes, blockchain can be theoretically hacked, but it is a complicated task to be achieved. A network of users constantly reviews it, which makes hacking the blockchain difficult.

What is the most prominent blockchain company?

Coinbase Global is currently the biggest blockchain company in the world. The company runs a commendable infrastructure, services, and technology for the digital currency economy.

Who owns Blockchain?

Blockchain is a decentralized technology. It’s a chain of distributed ledgers connected with nodes. Each node can be any electronic device. Thus, one owns blockhain.

What is the difference between Bitcoin and Blockchain technology?

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, which is powered by Blockchain technology while Blockchain is a distributed ledger of cryptocurrency 

What is the difference between Blockchain and a Database?

Generally a database is a collection of data which can be stored and organized using a database management system. The people who have access to the database can view or edit the information stored there. The client-server network architecture is used to implement databases. whereas a blockchain is a growing list of records, called blocks, stored in a distributed system. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, timestamp and transaction information. Modification of data is not allowed due to the design of the blockchain. The technology allows decentralized control and eliminates risks of data modification by other parties.

Final Saying

Blockchain has a wide spectrum of applications and, over the next 5-10 years, we will likely see it being integrated into all sorts of industries. From finance to healthcare, blockchain could revolutionize the way we store and share data. Although there is some hesitation to adopt blockchain systems right now, that won’t be the case in 2022-2023 (and even less so in 2026). Once people become more comfortable with the technology and understand how it can work for them, owners, CIOs and entrepreneurs alike will be quick to leverage blockchain technology for their own gain. Hope you like this article if you have any question let me know in the comments section



EVE Online’s success shows why gaming doesn’t need NFTs

In-game ships and structures like these have real value to <em>EVE Online</em> players even without NFTs.

Enlarge / In-game ships and structures like these have real value to EVE Online players even without NFTs.

Nearly 19 years after its launch, EVE Online still has one of gaming’s most robust virtual economies, as the game’s detailed monthly economic reports attest. So when developer CCP says it has “no plans to add blockchain technology into EVE Online… for the foreseeable future,” it should probably cause proponents of crypto gaming to wonder why.

In a Monday blog post, CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson wrote that the company is always “exploring new technologies and new possibilities” to help fulfill its mission to have “the EVE Universe outlive us all: EVE Forever.” But while he said that blockchain tech has “a lot of untapped potential,” he noted that there is “a lot of work needed before [blockchain is] ready for EVE-scale games.”

Pétursson leaves CCP a bit of wiggle room, though, by clarifying that non-fungible tokens will be absent from Tranquility, the main server cluster that serves as the home for the game’s global player base. So CCP may still experiment with blockchain technologies on production-testing servers like Singularity and Serenity, which have their own completely separate economies and player bases.

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#axie-infinity, #blockchain, #ccp, #eve-online, #gaming-culture, #nft-gaming, #nfts

How did a hacker steal over $600 million from a crypto gaming blockchain?

Artist's conception of Sky Mavis tracking down the hackers behind the $600+ million breach.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of Sky Mavis tracking down the hackers behind the $600+ million breach.

Axie Infinity developer Sky Mavis today announced a massive breach of its Ronin cryptocurrency sidechain. An attacker used “hacked private keys” to break through Ronin’s validator network, Sky Mavis says, transferring 173,600 ETH (worth approximately $594 million at current rates) and $25.5 million in USDC stablecoin as part of one of the largest breaches in the history of cryptocurrency.

To understand the nature of that breach, let us take you on a crash course in the short history of Axie Infinity and the complex web of crypto standards and technologies that helped allow the exploit to happen.

So you can, like, make money by playing a game?

Axie Infinity has been cited as one of the early success stories in so-called blockchain gaming. Such games use decentralized protocols to track ownership of certain in-game items and generally lets players have some control over the resale of those items.

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#axie-infinity, #blockchain, #crypto, #gaming, #gaming-culture, #play-to-earn, #sky-mavis

Bitcoin’s massive energy use faces $5M shame campaign from environmental groups

A technician inspects the backside of bitcoin mining at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec, on March 19, 2018.

Enlarge / A technician inspects the backside of bitcoin mining at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec, on March 19, 2018. (credit: Lars Hagberg / AFP)

Bitcoin has a voracious appetite for energy, a foundational characteristic of the cryptocurrency that some environmental groups say they are hoping to change.

A new pressure campaign, called Change the Code Not the Climate, launched Tuesday, and it’s seeking to encourage bitcoin luminaries like Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, and Abby Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments, to push for changes that would slash bitcoin’s energy use. 

The campaign is being organized by advocacy organizations Greenpeace and the Environmental Working Group. Chris Larsen, who cofounded Ripple Labs, a cryptocurrency and payments company, has pledged $5 million to fund the campaign, though his participation is reportedly not on behalf of the company.

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#bitcoin, #blockchain, #climate-change, #energy, #policy

#Brandneu – 6 neue Startups: PearlUp, academa, Eye Build It, Vayu, 1000 Satellites, arttrade

deutsche-startups.de präsentiert heute wieder einmal einige junge Startups, die zuletzt, also in den vergangenen Wochen und Monaten an den Start gegangen sind, sowie Firmen, die zuletzt aus dem Stealth-Mode erwacht sind. Übrigens: Noch mehr neue Startups gibt es in unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar.

Die Bildungsplattform PearlUp möchte Lehrkräfte beim Vorbereiten von digitalem Unterricht unterstützen. Unterrichtende können aus einer Auswahl von Unterrichtsmaterialien wählen oder ihre eigenen Materialien erstellen. Dabei bietet die Plattform auch modernes Lehrmaterial mit Gamification-Elementen.

Das GovTech-Startup academa aus Aachen, das von Patrick Neubert und Luis Hesemann gegründet wurde, kümmert sich um die Fort- und Weiterbildung innerhalb der öffentlichen Verwaltung. Zielgruppe sind unter anderem Behörden, Ministerien und Hochschulverwaltungen.

Eye Build It
Hinter Eye Build It aus Trier, das von Adrian Wegener gegründet wurde, verbirgt sich eine augengesteuerte Software für Menschen mit körperlichen Beeinträchtigungen. “In unserem 3D-Programm können die Nutzer:innen alle erdenklichen Modelle erstellen, online teilen und zum Schluss sogar 3D-Drucken”, teilt das Team mit.

Vayu setzt auf Low-Code basierte Softwareentwicklung.”Unsere Projekte, die über unsere Fast Development Engine-Plattform geplant werden, sind für Hotellerie, das Gesundheitssystem, digitalisierte Verfahresdokumentation für jedes Unternehmen, ob groß oder klein, und vieles mehr”, heißt es.

1000 Satellites
Das Team von 1000 Satellites hat sich zum Ziel gesetzt, dezentral gelegene Co-Working Spaces zu etablieren und betreibt aktuell sieben Büros in der Metropolregion Rhein-Neckar. Ein Tagesticket gibt es ab 35 Euro wer zweimal die Woche einen Schreibtisch nutzen möchte, zahlt aktuell 269 Euro.

Das Düsseldorf Startup arttrade möchte den großen Kunstmarkt “demokratisieren und für alle zugänglich machen”. Dazu segmentiert das junge Unternehmen Kunstwerke digital und tokenisiert diese über die Blockchain. So sind Kunst-Investments ab 250 Euro möglich. 

Tipp: In unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar berichten wir einmal in der Woche über neue Startups. Alle Startups stellen wir in unserem kostenpflichtigen Newsletter kurz und knapp vor und bringen sie so auf den Radar der Startup-Szene. Jetzt unseren Newsletter Startup-Radar sofort abonnieren!

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): Shutterstock

#1000-satellites, #aachen, #academa, #aktuell, #blockchain, #brandneu, #co-working, #dusseldorf, #e-learning, #edtech, #eye-build-it, #govtech, #heidelberg, #kunst, #low-code, #mannheim, #osnabruck, #pearlup, #trier, #vayu

Meta’s cryptocurrency ploy all but dead with Libra/Diem seeking to sell assets

With an image of Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Jerome Powell on a screen in the background, Facebook/Meta co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on October 23, 2019, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / With an image of Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Jerome Powell on a screen in the background, Facebook/Meta co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on October 23, 2019, in Washington, DC. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

After years of effort, Meta’s cryptocurrency initiative has collapsed under the weight of regulatory scrutiny.

The Diem Association, formerly known as the Libra Association, is considering selling its assets and returning money to investors, according to a Bloomberg report. There’s not much to sell, though. The company doesn’t have much in the way of physical assets—just some intellectual property. Perhaps the most valuable part of the association is its engineers. Diem is reportedly looking for a “new home” for them.

Mark Zuckerberg first announced the project in 2019, back when his company was named Facebook and the project was named Libra. He said the cryptocurrency would serve as the foundation for payments within Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Zuckerberg managed to convince dozens of companies to become founding members of the backing organization, including Visa, MasterCard, Uber, Lyft, eBay, Spotify, and Andreessen Horowitz.

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#blockchain, #calibra, #cryptocurrency, #diem, #facebook, #libra, #meta, #policy

#Brandneu – 9 frische Startups, die wir ganz genau beobachten

deutsche-startups.de präsentiert heute wieder einmal einige junge Startups, die zuletzt, also in den vergangenen Wochen und Monaten an den Start gegangen sind, sowie Firmen, die zuletzt aus dem Stealth-Mode erwacht sind. Übrigens: Noch mehr neue Startups gibt es in unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar.

Das Potsdamer Startup Mitigant, das von Nils Karn und Kennedy Torkura gegründet wurde, unterstützt Unternehmen bei der Erkennung, Absicherung und Prüfung von Cloud-Infrastrukturen. Das Motto dabei lautet: “Mitigant is on a mission to make public clouds secure and resilient”.

Preventio aus Frankfurt am Main entwickelt eine Software zur Vorhersage und Prävention von Leitungswasserschäden. “Mittels KI-basierter Analytik ermöglichen wir, datengestützte Entscheidungen zu treffen und präskriptiv Schadensfällen vorzubeugen”, teilt das Startup mit.

ArgumenText, ein Spin-off der Technischen Universität Darmstadt, filtert mittels KI-gestützer Algorithmen Kerninformationen aus unterschiedlichsten Texten heraus und fasst diese zusammen. “So lassen sich interne oder externe Datenbestände nutzen, um Entscheidungen schneller zu treffen”, schreiben die Gründer.

Enefty möchte es “Content Creators” ermöglichen, ihre Videos als digitale Assets an Fans zu verkaufen. Auf der Webseite von Enefty sollen Nutzer:innen künftig einzelne Sequenzen aus bestimmten Videos als “einzigartige Sammlerstücke”, also als NFT, ersteigern können.

Lokalmeister möchte kleinen Unternehmen dabei helfen, im Internet besser gefunden zu werden. Social Media, SEO, Bewertungen und Co  werden für einen monatlichen Pauschalpreis gepflegt für die Unternehmen gepflegt – auch eine Webseite kann man sich erstellen lassen. Ab 179 Euro monatlich geht es los.

Stadtguthaben aus Düsseldorf richtet sich an Städte, Stadtmarketingvereine, Gewerbevereine und Werbegemeinschaften, die ein digitales Gutscheinsystem einführen möchten. Stadtguthaben. übernimmt dabei auch die Verwaltung und Abrechnung der Gutscheine. 

Einen Marktplatz für Inhaber und Käufer von Internet Unternehmen bietet BitsForDigits. Nutzer:innen können sich über anonyme Inserate verbinden, um dann privat über eine Transaktion zu sprechen. Laut Webseite wird keine Kommission oder Listungsgebühr verlangt, der Verkauf ist kostenlos.

BuchhaltungsButler möchte den Prozess der Finanzbuchhaltung automatisieren. Die Software soll Rechnungen verstehen, Belege mit der Banktransaktion abgleichen und automatisch Buchungssätze erzeugen. Statt Sortier- und Buchhaltungsarbeiten durchzuführen, müssen Nutzer:innen die generierten Daten nur noch validieren.

Total Fansports
Total Fansports möchte den deutschen Amateursport fit für die digitale Zukunft machen. Amateur- und Breitensportvereine aller Sportarten können dazu das kostenfreie Vereinsticket-System inklusive Payments Modul des Jungunternehmens nutzen. Die Plattform wird laut Gründer-Trio durch Werbung finanziert.

Tipp: In unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar berichten wir einmal in der Woche über neue Startups. Alle Startups stellen wir in unserem kostenpflichtigen Newsletter kurz und knapp vor und bringen sie so auf den Radar der Startup-Szene. Jetzt unseren Newsletter Startup-Radar sofort abonnieren!

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): Shutterstock

#aktuell, #argumentext, #aschaffenburg, #berlin, #bitsfordigits, #blockchain, #brandneu, #buchhaltungsbutler, #cyber-security, #dusseldorf, #enefty, #frankfurt-am-main, #lokalmeister, #mitigant, #nft, #potsdam, #preventio, #stadtguthaben, #taxtech, #total-fansports

#Offline – Neufund schließt nun endgültig die Tore

Schon sehr lange war es ruhig um Neufund, eine Art Kleinanlegerplattform auf Blockchainbasis. Noch Ende Dezember 2020 investierten Atlantic Labs, Factory Berlin-Macher Udo Schloemer, Freigeist Capital, also Frank Thelen und Co., sowie und Dario Suter 4 Millionen Euro in das junge Unternehmen. Damals kündigte das Neufund-Team rund um Gründerin Zoe Adamovicz einen Neustart an. Daraus wird nun nichts, Neufund gibt auf.

In einer Mail schreibt das Team: “With a heavy heart, we’ve decided to close Neufund on 17.01.2022. We’d like to thank you – our incredible community, believers and progress lovers for all your support throughout these exciting past years. We, all together, made incredible things work. Our aim since the beginning has always been to make investing more inclusive. Our amazing team combined with you, our community, went down the right path. However, the existing environment of the regulatory system seems not to be equipped yet to support innovative fintech companies”.

Als wichtigsten Grund geben die Berliner dies hier an: “In short – Neufund’s technology was too early for the market. The regulating bodies were not yet ready to embrace the innovation of such scale”. Das FinTech, das 2016 gegründet wurde, wollte zunächst Kleinanleger helfen, sich über seine Blockchain-Plattform an Startups zu beteiligen. Das hat aber nicht funktioniert! “Erst im Oktober 2019 konnte sich mit dem E-Bike-Hersteller Greyp das erste Startup über Neufund finanzieren. Und gleich schritt die Bafin ein: Weil entgegen der Vorschriften kein Wertpapierprospekt veröffentlicht worden war, musste Greyp deutsche Anleger vom Angebot ausschließen. Drei weitere Projekte wurden angekündigt, aber nicht realisiert”, schrieb FinanceFWD bereits im vergangenen Jahr. Greyp Bikes konnte das Unternehmen vorher zum Anschluss bringen, das Unternehmen wurde an Porsche verkauft. Was das Ende von Neufund nun wohl auch formal möglich gemacht hat.

Via Coindesk meldet sich auch Nefund-Gründerin Adamovicz zu Wort: “Yet, we are closing the Neufund business. Why? Because today, more than two years after Greyp fundraised, we still are unsure whether regulation allows us to repeat the Greyp fundraising model with other similar companies. Despite engaging with regulators for years, we didn’t manage to get out of the limbo of legal uncertainty. And, I dare say, no DeFi (decentralized finance) company, aiming for regular investors on a bigger scale, has ever made it so far”.

In den vergangenen Jahren investierten Geldgeber wie Freigeist Capital, Atlantic Labs und diverse Business Angels rund 15 Millionen Euro in das Unternehmen, zumindest wurde diese Summe via Presseaussendungen kommuniziert. Auf Crunchbase sind rund 8 Millionen Euro als Investmentsumme aufgeführt. Im Handelsregister sind bis Ende 2019 rund 7 Millionen Euro Investment verzeichnet.  Atlantic Labs hielt zuletzt rund 17,1 % am Unternehmen. Auf Freigeist Capital entfielen 11,1 %. Vor allem Ex-Löwe Frank Thelen war aber medial massiv mit Neufund verbunden, er trommelte in den vergangenen Jahren gefühlt überall für das Unternehmen und das Konzept. Was vor allem unserem Dauer-Podcast-Gast Sven Schmidt mehrmals in Rage brachte.

TippStartups, die 2021 leider gescheitert sind

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): Shutterstock

#aktuell, #berlin, #blockchain, #fintech, #neufund, #offline

Square Enix signals major push into “blockchain gaming” mania

Which popular Square Enix franchises will be graced with a blockchain-based marketplace full of user-created items?

Enlarge / Which popular Square Enix franchises will be graced with a blockchain-based marketplace full of user-created items?

Square Enix President Yosuke Matsuda used a New Year’s message this weekend to telegraph the company’s interest in “blockchain gaming” and “decentralized games” as “a major strategic theme for us starting in 2022.” Specifically, Matsuda sees the blockchain as a way to give players “explicit incentives” to create “major game-changing content” and profit from those “creative efforts.”

While Matsuda puts the current majority of players in a “play to have fun” camp, he writes that he foresees “a certain number of people whose motivation is to ‘play to contribute,’ by which I mean to help make the game more exciting.” Most traditional games rely on “personal feelings as goodwill and volunteer spirit” to motivate that kind of user-generated content, Matsuda writes, which is “one reason that there haven’t been as many major game-changing [pieces of] content that were user generated as one would expect.”

But Matsuda sees “advances in token economies” giving players “explicit incentives” for creating in-game content, providing “a tangible upside to their creative efforts.” This will lead to more content being created, in turn attracting more “play to have fun” players and resulting in “self-sustaining game growth,” in Matsuda’s vision.

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#blockchain, #blockchain-gaming, #gaming-culture, #nfts, #square-enix

Ubisoft’s first NFT plans make no sense

A computerized skeleton has a headache and an UbiSoft logo on its face.

Enlarge / Galaxy brain, meet Ubisoft brain… (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images | Ubisoft)

Ubisoft became the first big-name game publisher to jump on the non-fungible token bandwagon Tuesday. After teasing its interest in the space last month, the company is officially rolling out Quartz, a system of in-game cosmetic items powered by a new kind of NFT, called “Digits.”

By using a decentralized NFT blockchain, Ubisoft promises its Quartz system will “grant players more control than ever” and “more autonomy and agency” in order to “genuinely make players stakeholders of our games.” But as currently described, Ubisoft’s Quartz system seems like an overcomplicated repackaging of a run-of-the-mill system of DLC cosmetics—but now with extra buzzwords and artificial scarcity layered on top.

And despite all the bold talk of “decentralization,” the Quartz system is still so deeply controlled by Ubisoft that we wonder whether a simple internal database managed directly by the company would be a better fit.

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#blockchain, #features, #gaming-culture, #ghost-recon, #nft, #nfts, #quartz, #ubisoft

#DealMonitor – Brockhaus Technologies übernimmt Bikeleasing (Bewertung: 300 Millionen) – seed + speed Ventures investiert in Thermosphr

Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 2. Dezember werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.


+++ IT-Farm, Leblon Capital und Deeptech-A investieren 9,3 Millionen US-Dollar in OQmented. VSquared Ventures, Helmut Jeggle und Co. investieren zuvor bereits in das Unternehmen aus Itzehoe. OQmented, 2018 von Ulrich Hofmann und Thomas von Wantoch gegründet, positioniert sich als Mikrospiegel-Systemanbieter. Insgesamt flossen nun schon 20 Millionen Dollar in das Unternehmen. Das frische Kapital soll “in den Ausbau des Geschäfts, die Beschleunigung der F&E-Aktivitäten und den Aufbau von Kooperationen mit neuen Partnern investiert werden”.

+++ Wi Ventures, seed + speed Ventures, der Frühphaseninvestor von TV-Löwe Carsten Maschmeyer, High Rise Ventures, Entrepreneur First und Business Angels “aus der Immobilienbranche” investieren in Thermosphr. Das Berliner PropTech, das 2021 von Nicolas Le Borgne und Mark Aaron Chan gegründet wurde, entwickelt SaaS-Lösungen für die Optimierung von Raumheizung- und Lüftungs- und Klimatechnik (HLK) in Gewerbeimmobilien.

+++ Der Münchner Geldgeber Yabeo, zwei Family Offices aus Deutschland sowie die österreichischen Unternehmen 42virtual und mantaray investieren 3,1 Millionen Euro in Brickwise. Das FinTech aus Wien und München, das 2019 von Michael Murg, Marco Neumayer, Klaus Pateter und Valentin Perkonigg gegründet wurde, setzt auf einen Marktplatz für Immobilienanteile. “Damit haben auch Kleinanleger die Chance, sich am prosperierenden Immobilienmarkt zu beteiligen”, heißt es in der Selbstbeschreibung.

+++ Das Buchhandelsunternehmen Orell Füssli Thalia investiert in Evrlearn. Das Startup aus Zürich, das 2019 von Felix Schmid und René Beeler gegründet wurde, betreibt eine “Community rund um das Thema lebenslanges Lernen in der neuen digitalen Welt”. Orell Füssli und Evrlearn wollen “in Zukunft auf verschiedenen Ebenen gemeinsame Projekte und Angebote für Endkunden, Weiterbildungsanbieter und Unternehmen” entwickeln.

Hopper Mobility
+++ “Eine Gruppe von Investoren” investieren eine sechsstellige Summe in Hopper Mobility. Das Augsburger Startup, das von Martin Halama und Georg Schieren gegründet wurde, entwickelt eine “innovative Mobilitätslösung für die Stadt”. Der Hopper fährt dabei als Hybrid aus E-Bike und Auto um die Ecke. “Mit seiner Fahrradzulassung darf das innovative Fahrzeug überall dort gefahren werden, wo auch Bikes zulässig sind”, teilt das Unternehmen mit.

+++ Der Beckenbauer-Manager Marcus Höfl investiert in das Blockchain-Startup Liquiditeam. Das Unternehmen aus Braunschweig,  das von Jonas Rubel, Oliver Krause, Hendrik Hoppenworth und Thomas Euler gegründet wurde, arbeitet irgendwo an der “Schnittstelle zwischen Profisport und Blockchain”. Das Motto des Startup lautet “Tokenizing Professional Sports”. Liquiditeam verspricht dabei “innovative Fan-Engagement- und Finanzierungslösungen für professionelle Sportclubs und Sportler”.

+++ Andreas Michael Belzek, Inhaber von Prior Design, und das Unternehmen Fensterbau Mai investieren in Snackhelden. Das Duisburger Startup möchte “Naschereien für Zwischendurch gesünder, ökologischer und vor allem leckerer gestalten”. Dafür setzen die Gründer David Herzmann und Kerstin Drazkiewicz auf sogenannte Snackballs, kleine Bällchen “voller Ballaststoffe und Nährstoffe”.


+++ Der Tech-Investor Brockhaus Technologies übernimmt die Mehrheit (52 %) an Bikeleasing. Das Unternehmen aus Vellmar, das 2015 gegründet wurde, setzt auf Dienstrad-Leasing. “Im Rahmen der Transaktion bleiben die Gründer und aktuellen Gesellschafter-Geschäftsführer Bastian Krause und Paul Sinizin weiterhin signifikant mit 40% an Bikeleasing beteiligt und werden das Unternehmen auch zukünftig operativ in der Geschäftsführung leiten”, teilen die Unternehmen mit. Im Zuge der Übernahme wird Bikeleasing mit seinen über 30.000 Unternehmenskunden mit 300 Millionen Euro bewertet. In den ersten neun Monaten dieses Jahres lag der Umsatz bei Bikeleasing, das von  Bastian Krause und Paul Sinizin geführt wird, bei 51,5 Millionen Euro.

Airgreets / keyone
+++ Die beiden Home-Sharing-Dienste Airgreets und keyone schließen sich unter dem Namen Airgreets zusammen.  “Möglich machten die Fusion die Leadinvestoren Falkensteiner Ventures und feratel. Robert Larcher, CEO, und Moritz Schröcksnadel, Gründer keyone und COO, leiten das Startup gemeinsam”, teilen die Unternehmen mit. Airgreets , das von Julian Ritter, Florian Bogenschütz und Sebastian Drescher gegründete wurde, kümmert sich seit 2016 um die Zwischenvermietung von Wohnungen. 2019 schlitterte das Unternehmen in die Insolvenz und startete danach neu durch. keyone wurde 2019 von Moritz Schröcksnadel als Ableger von feratel gegründet.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): azrael74

#airgreets, #aktuell, #augsburg, #berlin, #bikeleasing, #blockchain, #braunschweig, #brickwise, #brockhaus-technologies, #deeptech-a, #duisburg, #e-learning, #edtech, #entrepreneur-first, #evrlearn, #high-rise-ventures, #hopper-mobility, #it-farm, #keyone, #leblon-capital, #liquiditeam, #munchen, #oqmented, #orell-fussli-thalia, #proptech, #ruhrgebiet, #seed-speed-ventures, #snackhelden, #thermosphr, #venture-capital, #wi-ventures, #wien, #yabeo, #zurich

#Brandneu – 5 neue Startups: Atlas Metrics, Pectus Finance, Mivavo, VoiceLine, VoteBase

deutsche-startups.de präsentiert heute wieder einmal einige junge Startups, die zuletzt, also in den vergangenen Wochen und Monaten an den Start gegangen sind, sowie Firmen, die zuletzt aus dem Stealth-Mode erwacht sind. Übrigens: Noch mehr neue Startups gibt es in unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar.

Atlas Metrics
Das Berliner Startup Atlas Metrics, das von Wladimir Nikoluk, der in der Vergangenheit schon ImmerLearn ins Leben gerufen hat, gegründet wurde, setzt auf eine Software zur “Erfassung, Verwaltung und Berichterstattung von Umwelt-, Sozial- und Governance-Daten (ESG)”.

Pectus Finance
Das Unternehmen Pectus Finance, das von Peer Senghaas gegründet wurde, positioniert sich als Finanztool für Unternehmen. In der Selbstbeschreibung heißt es: “Collaborative financial planning and controlling in real-time empowering finance teams to drive business performance and make better decisions”. 

“Autist:innen, Menschen mit AD(H)S oder Intelligenzminderung brauchen eine starke Strukturierung, um im Alltag zurechtzukommen”, erklärt Gründer Michael Führmann. Mivavo bietet eine digitale Lösung für analoge Tagespläne und Anleitungen und möchte damit Nutzer:innen zu mehr Selbständigkeit verhelfen.

Das Münchner Unternehmen VoiceLine, das von Nicolas Höflinger und Sebastian Maurischat gegründet wurde, entwickelt ein Voice-Messaging-System für Unternehmen. “Experience the speed and convenience of voice across your daily workflow and create messages that people enjoy receiving”, teilt die Jungfirma mit.

VoteBase aus München entwickelt eine Wahl-App auf Blockchain-Technologie, die speziell für Wahlen mit extrem hohen Sicherheitsanforderungen, wie eine Bundestagswahl, gedacht ist. Das Unternehmen wurde von Payman Supervizer und Maximilian Pieters gegründet. 

Tipp: In unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar berichten wir einmal in der Woche über neue Startups. Alle Startups stellen wir in unserem kostenpflichtigen Newsletter kurz und knapp vor und bringen sie so auf den Radar der Startup-Szene. Jetzt unseren Newsletter Startup-Radar sofort abonnieren!

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): Shutterstock

#aktuell, #atlas-metrics, #audio, #augsburg, #berlin, #blockchain, #brandneu, #climatetech, #e-health, #fintech, #govtech, #mivavo, #muhlheim, #munchen, #pectus-finance, #voiceline, #votebase

Sorare raises $680 million for its fantasy sports NFT game

French startup Sorare has announced that it has raised a significant funding round. SoftBank's Vision Fund 2 has led a $680 million Series B round, which values the company at $4.3 billion.

Sorare has built a fantasty football (soccer) platform based on NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Each digital card is registered as a unique token on the Ethereum blockchain. Players can buy and sell cards from other players. Transactions are all recorded on the Ethereum blockchain.

What makes Sorare unique is that it has partnered with 180 football organizations, including some of the most famous clubs in Europe, such as Real Madrid, Liverpool and Juventus. It creates a barrier to entry for other companies in the space.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to expand to new sports, open an office in the U.S., hire more people and invest in marketing campaigns. You can expect more partnership announcements with professional sports organizations in the future.

In addition to SoftBank's Vision Fund team, Atomico, Bessemer Ventures, D1 Capital, Eurazeo, IVP and Liontree are also participating in the round. Some of the startup’s existing investors are also investing once again, such as Benchmark, Accel, Headline and various business angels.

Sorare generates revenue by issuing new cards on the platform. Players can then buy those new cards and add them to their collection. They can also manage a squad of players and earn points based on real-life performances.

Over time, the value of a card can go up or down. That’s why players often buy and sell cards from other players — there are even third-party websites that help you track auctions. $150 million worth of cards have been traded on the platform since January. Sorare doesn’t take a cut on player-to-player transactions right now.

While the volume of transaction is quite big, there is still a lot of potential for user growth. There are currently 600,000 registered users and 150,000 users who are buying a card or composing a team every month. Sales have grown by 51x between the second quarter of 2020 and the second quarter of 2021.

“We saw the immense potential that blockchain and NFTs brought to unlock a new way for football clubs, footballers, and their fans to experience a deeper connection with each other. We are thrilled by the success we have seen so far, but this is just the beginning. We believe this is a huge opportunity to create the next sports entertainment giant, bringing Sorare to more football fans and organisations, and to introduce the same proven model to other sports and sports fans worldwide,” Sorare co-founder and CEO Nicolas Julia said.

Sorare’s Series B is a huge funding round, especially for a French startup. Fantasy sports games are one of the best way to expose new people to the world of NFTs. That’s probably why NBA Top Shot is also incredibly popular for NBA fans.

And those platforms have become a great on-ramp to get started in cryptocurrencies. It’s going to be interesting to see whether it becomes more regulated in the future as more people start playing on Sorare.

#blockchain, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #europe, #fundings-exits, #nft, #sorare

Following SEC lawsuit threat, Coinbase cancels launch of ‘Lend’ product

Coinbase efforts to play hardball with the Securities and Exchange Commission didn’t last too long. The cryptocurrency exchange had garnered the ire of the regulatory commission over its plans to launch a crypto lending product, with the SEC sending the company a Wells notice which indicated that the agency would sue Coinbase if they launched their crypto lending product called Lend.

Less than a couple weeks after publishing a defiant blog post titled “The SEC has told us it wants to sue us over Lend. We don’t know why.” the company quietly announced over the weekend that it will not be launching the Lend product after all.

On Friday, the company quietly added an update to its launch post for Lend, detailing in part:

As we continue our work to seek regulatory clarity for the crypto industry as a whole, we’ve made the difficult decision not to launch the USDC APY program announced below. We have also discontinued the waitlist for this program as we turn our work to what comes next.

Lend was far from an anomaly in the crypto exchange world; investors can find similar functionality in platforms like Gemini which allow users to lend their crypto holdings back to the exchange for the promise of earning interest rates that are much, much higher than traditional savings accounts offer. Coinbase planned to launch the Lend product with the functionality for users to stake the stablecoin USDC and earn (as a starting rate) 4% APY.

The SEC, which has long complained about the limited resources at its disposal, has pursued a limited set of cases against crypto products but doesn’t seem to have been quite comfortable with the fact that users were essentially forfeiting custody of their coins to Coinbase and its partners, They has also indicated to Coinbase that the Lend product did indeed involve a security. Coinbase, which has made the fact that it coordinates closely with regulatory bodies part of its brand, had been trying to take things slowly while sticking to their belief that the product wasn’t security-related.

“The SEC told us they consider Lend to involve a security, but wouldn’t say why or how they’d reached that conclusion. Rather than get discouraged, we chose to continue taking things slowly. In June, we announced our Lend program publicly and opened a waitlist but did not set a public launch date. But once again, we got no explanation from the SEC. Instead, they opened a formal investigation,” a recent Coinbase company blog post read.

The big question is what this means for the other crypto exchanges and whether this act signals the start of a more aggressive streak for SEC chief Gary Gensler’s commission in the crypto world, especially in regards to DeFi mechanics.

Coinbase stock was dropping in intraday trading Monday, alongside a significant pullback in the price of bitcoin and other top cryptocurrencies.

#blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #tc

For the love of the loot: Blockchain, the metaverse and gaming’s blind spot

The speed at which gaming has proliferated is matched only by the pace of new buzzwords inundating the ecosystem. Marketers and decision makers, already suffering from FOMO about opportunities within gaming, have latched onto buzzy trends like the applications of blockchain in gaming and the “metaverse” in an effort to get ahead of the trend rather than constantly play catch-up.

The allure is obvious, as the relationship between the blockchain, metaverse, and gaming makes sense. Gaming has always been on the forefront of digital ownership (one can credit gaming platform Steam for normalizing the concept for games, and arguably other media such as movies), and most agreed upon visions of the metaverse rely upon virtual environments common in games with decentralized digital ownership.

Whatever your opinion of either, I believe they both have an interrelated future in gaming. However, the success or relevance of either of these buzzy topics is dependent upon a crucial step that is being skipped at this point.

Let’s start with the example of blockchain and, more specifically, NFTs. Collecting items of varying rarities and often random distribution form some of the core “loops” in many games (i.e. kill monster, get better weapon, kill tougher monster, get even better weapon, etc.), and collecting “skins” (e.g. different outfits/permutation of game character) is one of the most embraced paradigms of micro-transactions in games.

The way NFTs are currently being discussed in relation to gaming are very much in danger of falling into this very trap: Killing the core gameplay loop via a financial fast track.

Now, NFTs are positioned to be a natural fit with various rare items having permanent, trackable, and open value. Recent releases such as “Loot (for Adventurers)” have introduced a novel approach wherein the NFTs are simply descriptions of fantasy-inspired gear and offered in a way that other creators can use them as tools to build worlds around. It’s not hard to imagine a game built around NFT items, à la Loot.

But that’s been done before… kind of. Developers of games with a “loot loop” like the one described above have long had a problem with “farmers”, who acquire game currencies and items to sell to players for real money, against the terms of service of the game. The solution was to implement in-game “auction houses” where players could instead use real money to purchase items from one another.

Unfortunately, this had an unwanted side-effect. As noted by renowned game psychologist Jamie Madigan, our brains are evolved to pay special attention to rewards that are both unexpected and beneficial. When much of the joy in some games comes from an unexpected or randomized reward, being able to easily acquire a known reward with real money robbed the game of what made it fun.

The way NFTs are currently being discussed in relation to gaming are very much in danger of falling into this very trap: Killing the core gameplay loop via a financial fast track. The most extreme examples of this phenomena commit the biggest cardinal sin in gaming — a game that is “pay to win,” where a player with a big bankroll can acquire a material advantage in a competitive game.

Blockchain games such as Axie Infinity have rapidly increased enthusiasm around the concept of “play to earn,” where players can potentially earn money by selling tokenized resources or characters earned within a blockchain game environment. If this sounds like a scenario that can come dangerously close to “pay to win,” that’s because it is.

What is less clear is whether it matters in this context. Does anyone care enough about the core game itself rather than the potential market value of NFTs or earning potential through playing? More fundamentally, if real-world earnings are the point, is it truly a game or just a gamified micro-economy, where “farming” as described above is not an illicit activity, but rather the core game mechanic?

The technology culture around blockchain has elevated solving for very hard problems that very few people care about. The solution (like many problems in tech) involves reevaluation from a more humanist approach. In the case of gaming, there are some fundamental gameplay and game psychology issues to be tackled before these technologies can gain mainstream traction.

We can turn to the metaverse for a related example. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in gaming, you’ve almost certainly heard of the concept after Mark Zuckerberg staked the future of Facebook upon it. For all the excitement, the fundamental issue is that it simply doesn’t exist, and the closest analogs are massive digital game spaces (such as Fortnite) or sandboxes (such as Roblox). Yet, many brands and marketers who haven’t really done the work to understand gaming are trying to fast-track to an opportunity that isn’t likely to materialize for a long time.

Gaming can be seen as the training wheels for the metaverse — the ways we communicate within, navigate, and think about virtual spaces are all based upon mechanics and systems with foundations in gaming. I’d go so far as to predict the first adopters of any “metaverse” will indeed be gamers who have honed these skills and find themselves comfortable within virtual environments.

By now, you might be seeing a pattern: We’re far more interested in the “future” applications of gaming without having much of a perspective on the “now” of gaming. Game scholarship has proliferated since the early aughts due to a recognition of how games were influencing thought in fields ranging from sociology to medicine, and yet the business world hasn’t paid it much attention until recently.

The result is that marketers and decision makers are doing what they do best (chasing the next big thing) without the usual history of why said thing should be big, or what to do with it when they get there. The growth of gaming has yielded an immense opportunity, but the sophistication of the conversations around these possibilities remains stunted, due in part to our misdirected attention.

There is no “pay to win” fast track out of this blind spot. We have to put in the work to win.

#blockchain, #column, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #facebook, #gaming, #loot, #mark-zuckerberg, #metaverse, #nfts, #opinion, #roblox, #startups, #virtual-reality

Crypto’s networked collaboration will drive Web 3.0

Web 1.0 was the static web, and Web 2.0 is the social web, but Web 3.0 will be the decentralized web. It will move us from a world in which communities contribute but don’t own or profit, to one where they can through collaboration.

By breaking away from traditional business models centered around benefiting large corporations, Web3 brings the possibility of community-centered economies of scale. This collaborative spirit and its associated incentive mechanisms are attracting some of the most talented and ambitious developers today, unlocking projects that were previously not possible.

Web3 might not be the final answer, but it’s the current iteration, and innovation isn’t always obvious in the beginning.

Web3, as Ki Chong Tran once said, is “The next major iteration of the internet, which promises to wrest control from the centralized corporations that today dominate the web.” Web3-enabled collaboration is made possible by decentralized networks that no single entity controls.

In closed-source business models, users trust a business to manage funds and execute services. With open-source projects, users trust the technology to perform these tasks. In Web2, the bigger network wins. In Web3, whoever builds the biggest network together wins.

In a decentralized world, not only is participation open to all, the incentive structure is designed so that greater the number of participants, the more everybody succeeds.

Learning from Linux

Linux, which is behind a majority of Web2’s websites, changed the paradigm for how the internet was developed and provides a clear example of how collaborative processes can drive the future of technology. Linux wasn’t developed by an incumbent tech giant, but by a group of volunteer programmers who used networked collaboration, which is when people freely share information without central control.

In The Cathedral & The Bazaar, author Eric S. Raymond shares his observations of the Linux kernel development process and his experiences managing open source projects. Raymond depicts a time when the popular mindset was to develop complex operating systems carefully coordinated by a small, exclusionary group of people — “cathedrals,” which are corporations and financial institutions.

Linux evolved in a completely different way. Raymond explains, “Quality was maintained not by rigid standards or autocracy, but by the naively simple strategy of releasing every week and getting feedback from hundreds of users within days, creating a sort of Darwinian selection on the mutations introduced by developers. To the amazement of almost everyone, this worked quite well.” This Linux development model, or “bazaar” model as Raymond puts it, assumes that “bugs are generally shallow phenomena” when exposed to an army of hackers without significant coordination.

#blockchain, #column, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #ec-column, #linux, #operating-systems, #proof-of-stake, #web3

Avalanche raises $230 million from private sale of AVAX tokens

Avalanche, a relatively new blockchain with a focus on speed and low transactions costs, has completed a $230 million private sale of AVAX tokens to some well known crypto funds. Polychain and Three Arrows Capital are leading the investment.

The Avalanche Foundation completed the private sale back in June 2021 and is disclosing it today. Other participants in the private sale include R/Crypto Fund, Dragonfly, CMS Holdings, Collab+Currency and Lvna Capital.

Proceeds from the private sale will be used to support the Avalanche ecosystem, which is relatively nascent when you compare it to the Ethereum blockchain for instance. Among other things, the foundation plans to support DeFi (decentralized finance) projects as well as enterprise applications through grants, token purchases and other forms of investments.

Like Solana and other newer blockchains, Avalanche wants to solve the scalability issues that older blockchains face. For instance, if you’ve recently tried to buy an NFT on the Ethereum blockchain, you probably paid $50 or $100 in transaction fees, or gas fees.

The Avalanche Foundation positions its blockchain as a solid alternative to Ethereum. You can run Dapps (decentralized apps) for a fraction of the costs with a much faster time-to-finality. Avalanche supports smart contracts, which is a key feature to enable DeFi projects.

Here’s what Avalanche’s official website says about its blockchain performance:

Image Credits: Avalanche

Having better performance is just part of the problem when you’re competing with Ethereum and other blockchains. Avalanche also needs to attract developers and build a strong developer community so that it becomes the infrastructure of other crypto projects.

That’s why Avalanche wants to make it as easy as possible to port your Ethereum Dapp to Avalanche. Avalanche’s smart contract chain executes Ethereum Virtual Machine contracts, which means that you can reuse part of your codebase if you’re already active on the Ethereum blockchain.

Similarly, applications that query the Ethereum network can be adapted to support Avalanche by changing API endpoints and adding support for a new network. The Avalanche team has also been working on a bridge to transfer Ethereum assets to the Avalanche blockchain. The equivalent of $1.3 billion in crypto assets have been transferred using this bridge.

Those are technical incentives. As for financial incentives, private sales and grants could help bootstrap developer interest. The Avalanche Foundation says that 225 projects currently support the platform, including popular crypto projects that already run on other blockchains, such as Tether, SushiSwap, Chainlink, Circle and The Graph. Topps, an NFT-based game with partnerships with the MLB and Bundesliga, is also using Avalanche.

Avalanche and its underlying token AVAX is currently the 14th cryptocurrency by total market capitalization according to CoinMarketCap. With a current market cap of $13 billion, Avalanche is ahead of Algorand or Polygon, but behind Polkadot and Solana. Solana also suffered from a major outage earlier this week, raising questions about Solana’s ability to scale. It’s going to be interesting to see whether one of these blockchains can catch up with Ethereum or even surpass Ethereum in usage and value.

#avalanche, #avax, #blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #developer, #fundings-exits, #tc

SEC wants to regulate Coinbase’s crypto yield product, Coinbase disagrees

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong has reacted strongly to the company’s current relationship with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. According to him, the SEC is threatening to sue the cryptocurrency exchange if it launches its yield-generating product called Coinbase Lend.

With this new product, Coinbase wants to compete with popular decentralized finance (DeFi) products, such as Compound and Aave. The company wants to operate a lending pool focused on USD Coin (USDC), a stablecoin that is pegged to USD.

If the company manages to launch Coinbase Lend, users will be able to contribute to the lending pool by sending crypto assets to Coinbase Lend. Eventually, the company plans to lend out those crypto assets. What Coinbase users get in exchange to contributing to the lending pool is high interests. Coinbase promises 4% APY on its preview page.

According to Brian Armstrong, the company reached out to the SEC before releasing it. “They responded by telling us this lend feature is a security,” he said on Twitter.

“They refuse to tell us why they think it’s a security, and instead subpoena a bunch of records from us (we comply), demand testimony from our employees (we comply), and then tell us they will be suing us if we proceed to launch, with zero explanation as to why,” he added.

Coinbase’s Chief Legal Officer Paul Grewal also wrote about the events on the company’s blog. It appears that the company decided to move forward and pre-announce the new feature despite the SEC saying that Coinbase’s Lend program is a security.

“The SEC told us they consider Lend to involve a security, but wouldn’t say why or how they’d reached that conclusion. Rather than get discouraged, we chose to continue taking things slowly. In June, we announced our Lend program publicly and opened a waitlist but did not set a public launch date,” Paul Grewal wrote.

Here’s a pro tip for entrepreneurs reading this post. If the SEC tells you that you can’t launch something, don’t put up a waitlist with the words ‘coming soon’.

To no one’s surprise, Coinbase says that the SEC decided to open a formal investigation after that. One employee also had to spend a day with the SEC to answer questions.

“They asked for documents and written responses, and we willingly provided them. They also asked for us to provide a corporate witness to give sworn testimony about the program. As a result, one of our employees spent a full day in August providing complete and transparent testimony about Lend,” Grewal wrote.

As a result, Coinbase is now mad and has chosen to launch a PR campaign against the SEC. Brian Armstrong’s main argument is that other companies have been offering lending pools already, so there’s no reason why some companies can offer such a product and not Coinbase.

“Meanwhile, plenty of other crypto companies continue to offer a lend feature, but Coinbase is somehow not allowed to,” he tweeted.

This is a risky strategy as Coinbase could end up alienating the crypto ecosystem at large. There could be increased scrutiny on DeFi and industry-wide enforcement of stricter rules, as Sar Haribhakti pointed out.

“Ostensibly the SEC’s goal is to protect investors and create fair markets. So who are they protecting here and where is the harm? People seem pretty happy to be earning yield on these various products, across lots of other crypto companies,” Brian Armstrong said.

If you read the fine print, Coinbase doesn’t protect investors with its Lend program. Here’s what it says at the bottom of the Coinbase Lend page: “Lend is not a high-yield USD savings account, and Coinbase is not a bank. Your loaned crypto is not protected by FDIC or SIPC insurance.”

That’s not very reassuring for investors. At some point, Coinbase and the SEC will have to sit at the same table to discuss crypto lending products because a tweetstorm won’t solve the issue.

#blockchain, #coinbase, #cryptocurrency, #defi, #government, #lending-pool, #sec

CryptoPunks creator inks representation deal with major Hollywood talent agency

One of Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies is getting into the NFT game.

Larva Labs, the creator of CryptoPunks, just signed with United Talent Agency (UTA) in a representation deal that will bring one of the earliest and most iconic NFT projects into the entertainment and branding worlds.

“I would say that it is one of the first opportunities for an IP that fully originated in crypto-world to enter a broader entertainment space, and they earned it,” head of UTA Digital Assets Lesley Silverman told The Hollywood Reporter. “They really have hit the zeitgeist in a tremendous way.”

The deal could see CryptoPunks popping up across film, TV, video games and other licensing areas. Larva Labs’ other art projects, Meebits and Autoglyphs, will also be represented by UTA moving forward. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

As speculative investment in NFTs explodes, CryptoPunks remain one of the most recognizable — and valuable — pioneers in the space. Larva Labs launched 10,000 of the individual algorithmically-generated pixelated figures on the Ethereum blockchain back in 2017.

To the untrained eye, and arguably to the trained eye too, CryptoPunks are just little pixelated portraits of different characters, some wearing pirate hats, others in aviator glasses smoking pipes. But to the crypto world, punks are a social signifier, communicating early investment into NFTs, personal style and, importantly, wealth.

The value of CryptoPunks skyrocketed from zero (they were initially given away for free) and now even the least expensive collectible punks run for hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the most valuable selling for millions. In May, a bundle of nine CryptoPunks sold for just under $17 million in an auction run by Christie’s. And last week, even Visa got in the game, spending $150,000 on CryptoPunk #7610, a digital illustration sporting a mohawk and green face makeup.

It’s noteworthy that a traditional talent agency best known for representing A-list celebrities is getting into the NFT game, but it’s not the group’s first time getting its feet wet in the wild world of crypto. Earlier this month, UTA signed a company called Rally that runs a platform that helps creators issue branded social tokens that fans can spend on merch and exclusive content.

#blockchain, #blockchains, #christies, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptopunks, #ethereum, #larva-labs, #nfts, #tc, #united-talent-agency

Offchain Labs raises $120 million to hide Ethereum’s shortcomings with its Arbitrum product

As the broader crypto world enjoys a late summer surge in enthusiasm, more and more blockchain developers who have taken the plunge are bumping into the blaring scaling issues faced by decentralized apps on the Ethereum blockchain. The popular network has seen its popularity explode in the past year but its transaction volume has stayed frustratingly stable as the network continues to operate near its limits, leading to slower transaction speeds and hefty fees on the crowded chain.

Ethereum’s core developers have been planning out significant upgrades to the blockchain to rectify these issues, but even in the crypto world’s early stages, transitioning the network is a daunting, lengthy task. That’s why developers are looking to so-called Layer 2 rollup scaling solutions, which sit on top of the Ethereum network and handle transactions separately in a cheaper, faster way, while still recording the transactions to the Ethereum blockchain, albeit in batches.

The Layer 2 landscape is early, but crucial to the continued scalability of Ethereum. As a result, there’s been quite a bit of passionate chatter among blockchain developers regarding the early players in the space. Offchain Labs has been developing one particularly hyped rollup network called Arbitrum One, which has built up notable support and momentum since it beta-launched to developers in May, with about 350 teams signing up for access, the company says.

They’ve attracted some high-profile partnerships including Uniswap and Chainlink who have promised early support for the solution. The company has also quickly piqued investor interest. The startup tells TechCrunch it raised a $20 million Series A in April of this year, quickly followed up by a $100 million Series B led by Lightspeed Venture Partners which closed this month and valued the company at $1.2 billion. Other new investors include Polychain Capital, Ribbit Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Pantera Capital, Alameda Research and Mark Cuban.

Offchain Labs co-founders Felton, Goldfeder and Kalodner

It’s been a fairly lengthy ride for the Arbitrum technology to public access. The tech was first developed at Princeton — you can find a YouTube video where the tech is first discussed in earnest back in early 2015.  Longtime Professor Ed Felton and his co-founders CEO Steven Goldfeder and CTO Harry Kalodner detailed a deeper underlying vision in a 2018 research paper before licensing the tech from Princeton and building out the company. Felton previously served as the deputy U.S. chief technology officer in the Obama White House, and — alongside Goldfeder — authored a top textbook on cryptocurrencies.

After a lengthy period under wraps and a few months of limited access, the startup is ready to launch the Arbitrum One mainnet publicly, they tell TechCrunch.

This team’s scaling solution has few direct competitors — a16z-backed Optimism is its most notable rival — but Arbitrum’s biggest advantage is likely the smooth compatibility it boasts with decentralized applications designed to run on Ethereum, compared with competitors that may require more heavy-lifting on the developer’s part to be full compatibility with their rollup solution. That selling point could be a big one as Arbitrum looks to court support across the Ethereum network and crypto exchanges for its product, though most Ethereum developers are well aware of what’s at stake broadly.

“There’s just so much more demand than there is supply on Ethereum,” Goldfeder tells TechCrunch. “Rollups give you the security derived from Ethereum but a much better experience in terms of costs.”

#arbitrum, #articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #cardano, #chief-technology-officer, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cto, #decentralization, #ethereum, #joseph-lubin, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #offchain-labs, #pantera-capital, #polychain-capital, #redpoint-ventures, #ribbit-capital, #tc, #technology, #uniswap, #united-states, #white-house

CryptoPunks blasts past $1 billion in lifetime sales as NFT speculation surges

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review! Last week we dove into Bezos’s Blue Origin suing NASA. This week, I’m writing about the unlikely and triumphant resurgence of the NFT market.

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

If I could, I would probably write about NFTs in this newsletter every week. I generally stop myself from actually doing so because I try my best to make this newsletter a snapshot of what’s important to the entire consumer tech sector, not just my niche interests. That said, I’m giving myself free rein this week.

The NFT market is just so hilariously bizarre and the culture surrounding the NFT world is so web-native, I can’t read about it enough. But in the past several days, the market for digital art on the blockchain has completely defied reason.

Back in April, I wrote about a platform called CryptoPunks that — at that point — had banked more than $200 million in lifetime sales since 2017. The little pop art pixel portraits have taken on a life of their own since then. It was pretty much unthinkable back then but in the past 24 hours alone, the platform did $141 million in sales, a new record. By the time you read this, the NFT platform will have likely passed a mind-boggling $1.1 billion in transaction volume according to crypto tracker CryptoSlam. With 10,000 of these digital characters, to buy a single one will cost you at least $450,000 worth of the Ethereum cryptocurrency. (When I sent out this newsletter yesterday that number was $300k)

It’s not just CryptoPunks either; the entire NFT world has exploded in the past week, with several billions of dollars flowing into projects with drawings of monkeys, penguins, dinosaurs and generative art this month alone. After the NFT rally earlier this year — culminating in Beeple’s $69 million Christie’s sale — began to taper off, many wrote off the NFT explosion as a bizarre accident. What triggered this recent frenzy?

Part of it has been a resurgence of cryptocurrency prices toward all-time-highs and a desire among the crypto rich to diversify their stratospheric assets without converting their wealth to fiat currencies. Dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into an NFT project with fewer stakeholders than the currencies that underlie them can make a lot of sense to those whose wealth is already over-indexed in crypto. But a lot of this money is likely FOMO dollars from investors who are dumping real cash into NFTs, bolstered by moves like Visa’s purchase this week of their own CryptoPunk.

I think it’s pretty fair to say that this growth is unsustainable, but how much further along this market growth gets before the pace of investment slows or collapses is completely unknown. There are no signs of slowing down for now, something that can be awfully exciting — and dangerous — for investors looking for something wild to drop their money into… and wild this market truly is.

Here’s some advice from Figma CEO Dylan Field who sold his alien CryptoPunk earlier this year for 4,200 Eth (worth $13.6 million today).

Image Credits: Kanye West

Other things

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

OnlyFans suspends its porn ban
In a stunning about-face, OnlyFans declared this week that they won’t be banning “sexually explicit content” from their platform after all, saying in a statement that they had “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.”

Kanye gets into the hardware business
Ahead of the drop of his next album, which will definitely be released at some point, rapper Kanye West has shown off a mobile music hardware device called the Stem Player. The $200 pocket-sized device allows users to mix and alter music that has been loaded onto the device. It was developed in partnership with hardware maker Kano.

Apple settles developer lawsuit
Apple has taken some PR hits in recent years following big and small developers alike complaining about the take-it-or-leave-it terms of the company’s App Store. This week, Apple shared a proposed settlement (which still is pending a judge’s approval) that starts with a $100 million payout and gets more interesting with adjustments to App Store bylines, including the ability of developers to advertise paying for subscriptions directly rather than through the app only.

Twitter starts rolling out ticketed Spaces
Twitter has made a convincing sell for its Clubhouse competitor Spaces, but they’ve also managed to build on the model in recent months, turning its copycat feature into a product that succeeds on its own merits. Its latest effort to allow creators to sell tickets to events is just starting to roll out, the company shared this week.

CA judge strikes down controversial gig economy proposition
Companies like Uber and DoorDash dumped tens of millions of dollars into Prop 22, a law which clawed back a California law that pushed gig economy startups to classify workers as full employees. This week a judge declared the proposition unconstitutional, and though the decision has been stayed on appeal, any adjustment would have major ramifications for those companies’ business in California.

Image of a dollar sign representing the future value of cybersecurity.

Image Credits: guirong hao (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Extra things

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

Future tech exits have a lot to live up to
“Inflation may or may not prove transitory when it comes to consumer prices, but startup valuations are definitely rising — and noticeably so — in recent quarters. That’s the obvious takeaway from a recent PitchBook report digging into valuation data from a host of startup funding events in the United States…”

OpenSea UX teardown
“…is the experience of creating and selling an NFT on OpenSea actually any good? That’s what UX analyst Peter Ramsey has been trying to answer by creating and selling NFTs on OpenSea for the last few weeks. And the short answer is: It could be much better...

Are B2B SaaS marketers getting it wrong?
“‘Solutions,’ ‘cutting-edge,’ ‘scalable’ and ‘innovative’ are just a sample of the overused jargon lurking around every corner of the techverse, with SaaS marketers the world over seemingly singing from the same hymn book. Sadly for them, new research has proven that such jargon-heavy copy — along with unclear features and benefits — is deterring customers and cutting down conversions…”

Thanks for reading! And 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.

Lucas Matney

#analyst, #app-store, #apple, #bezos, #blockchain, #blockchains, #blue-origin, #california, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #distributed-computing, #doordash, #dylan-field, #ethereum, #extra-crunch, #figma, #judge, #kano, #kanye-west, #lucas-matney, #onlyfans, #peter-ramsey, #uber, #united-states

Founders Fund backs Royal, a music marketplace planning to sell song rights as NFTs

Founders Fund and Paradigm are leading an investment in a platform that’s aiming to wed music rights with NFTs, allowing user to buy shares of songs through the company’s marketplace, earning royalties as the music they’ve invested in gains popularity.

The venture, called Royal, is led by Justin Blau, an EDM artist who performs under the name 3LAU, and JD Ross, a co-founder of home-buying startup Opendoor. Blau has been one of the more active and visible figures in the NFT community, launching a number of upstart efforts aimed at exploring how musicians can monetize their work through crypto markets. Blau says that as Covid cut off his ability to tour, he dug into NFTs full-time, aiming to find a way to flip the power dynamics on “platforms that were extracting all the value from creators.

Back in March, weeks before many would first hear about NFTs following the $69 million Beeple sale at Christies, Blau set his own record, selling a batch of custom songs and custom artwork for a collective $11.7 million worth of cryptocurrency.

Royal’s investment announcement comes just as a broader bull run for the NFT market seems to reach a fever pitch with investors dumping hundreds of million of dollars worth of cryptocurrencies into community NFT projects like CryptoPunks and Bored Apes. While visual artists interested in putting their digital works on the blockchain have seen a number of platforms spring up and mature in recent months to simplify the process of monetizing their art, there have been fewer efforts focused on musicians.

Paradigm and Founders Fund are leading a $16 million seed round in Royal, with participation from Atomic — where Ross was recently a General Partner. Ross’s fellow Opendoor co-founder Keith Rabois led the deal for Founders Fund.

The company isn’t sharing an awful lot about their launch or product plans, including when the platform will actually begin selling fractionalized assets, but it seems pretty clear the company will be heavily leveraging Blau’s music and position inside the music industry to bring early fans/investors to the platform. Users can sign-up for early access on the site currently.

As NFT startups chase more complex ownership splits that aim to help creators share their success with fans, there’s plenty of speculation taking off around how regulators will eventually treat them. While the ICO boom of 2017 led to plenty of founders receiving SEC letters alleging securities fraud, entrepreneurs in this wave seem to be working a little harder to avoid that outcome. Blau says that the startup’s team is working closely with legal counsel to ensure the startup is staying fully compliant.

The company’s bigger challenge may be ensuring that democratizing access to buying up music rights actually benefits the fans of those artists or creates new fans for them, given the wide landscape of crypto speculators looking to diversify. That said, Blau notes there’s plenty of room for improvement among the current ownership spread of music royalties, largely spread among labels, private equity groups and hedge funds.

“A true fan might want to own something way earlier than a speculator would even get wind of it,”Blau says. “Democratizing access to asset classes is a huge part of crypto’s future.”

#blockchain, #business, #co-founder, #companies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptopunks, #founders-fund, #keith-rabois, #musicians, #opendoor, #paradigm, #startup-company, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

LOVE unveils a modern video messaging app with a business model that puts users in control

A London-headquartered startup called LOVE, valued at $17 million following its pre-seed funding, aims to redefine how people stay in touch with close family and friends. The company is launching a messaging app that offers a combination of video calling as well as asynchronous video and audio messaging, in an ad-free, privacy-focused experience with a number of bells and whistles, including artistic filters and real-time transcription and translation features.

But LOVE’s bigger differentiator may not be its product alone, but rather the company’s mission.

LOVE aims for its product direction to be guided by its user base in a democratic fashion as opposed to having the decisions made about its future determined by an elite few at the top of some corporate hierarchy. In addition, the company’s longer-term goal is ultimately to hand over ownership of the app and its governance to its users, the company says.

These concepts have emerged as part of bigger trends towards a sort of “web 3.0,” or next phase of internet development, where services are decentralized, user privacy is elevated, data is protected, and transactions take place on digital ledgers, like a blockchain, in a more distributed fashion.

LOVE’s founders are proponents of this new model, including serial entrepreneur Samantha Radocchia, who previously founded three companies and was an early advocate for the blockchain as the co-founder of Chronicled, an enterprise blockchain company focused on the pharmaceutical supply chain.

As someone who’s been interested in emerging technology since her days of writing her anthropology thesis on currency exchanges in “Second Life’s” virtual world, she’s now faculty at Singularity University, where she’s given talks about blockchain, A.I., Internet of Things, Future of Work, and other topics. She’s also authored an introductory guide to the blockchain with her book “Bitcoin Pizza.”

Co-founder Christopher Schlaeffer, meanwhile, held a number of roles at Deutsche Telekom, including Chief Product & Innovation Officer, Corporate Development Officer, and Chief Strategy Officer, where he along with Google execs introduced the first mobile phone to run Android. He was also Chief Digital Officer at the telecommunication services company VEON.

The two crossed paths after Schlaeffer had already begun the work of organizing a team to bring LOVE to the public, which includes co-founders Chief Technologist, Jim Reeves, also previously of VEON, and Chief Designer, Timm Kekeritz, previously an interaction designer at international design firm IDEO in San Francisco, design director at IXDS, and founder of design consultancy Raureif in Berlin, among other roles.

Explained Radocchia, what attracted her to join as CEO was the potential to create a new company that upholds more positive values than what’s often seen today —  in fact, the brand name “LOVE” is a reference to this aim. She was also interested in the potential to think through what she describes as “new business models that are not reliant on advertising or harvesting the data of our users,” she says.

To that end, LOVE plans to monetize without any advertising. While the company isn’t ready to explain its business model in full, it would involve users opting in to services through granular permissions and membership, we’re told.

“We believe our users will much rather be willing to pay for services they consciously use and grant permissions to in a given context than have their data used for an advertising model which is simply not transparent,” says Radocchia.

LOVE expects to share more about the model next year.

As for the LOVE app itself, it’s a fairly polished mobile messenger offering an interesting combination of features. Like any other video chat app, you can you video call with friends and family, either in one-on-one calls or in groups. Currently, LOVE supports up to 5 call participants, but expects to expand that as it scales. The app also supports video and audio messaging for asynchronous conversations. There are already tools that offer this sort of functionality on the market, of course — like WhatsApp, with its support for audio messages, or video messenger Marco Polo. But they don’t offer quite the same expanded feature set.

Image Credits: LOVE

For starters, LOVE limits its video messages to 60 seconds for brevity’s sake. (As anyone who’s used Marco Polo knows, videos can become a bit rambling, which makes it harder to catch up when you’re behind on group chats.) In addition, LOVE allows you to both watch the video content as well as read the real-time transcription of what’s being said — the latter which comes in handy not only for accessibility’s sake, but also for those times you want to hear someone’s messages but aren’t in a private place to listen or don’t have headphones. Conversations can also be translated into 50 different languages.

“A lot of the traditional communication or messenger products are coming from a paradigm that has always been text-based,” explains Radocchia. “We’re approaching it completely differently. So while other platforms have a lot of the features that we do, I think that…the perspective that we’ve approached it has completely flipped it on its head,” she continues. “As opposed to bolting video messages on to a primarily text-based interface, [LOVE is] actually doing it in the opposite way and adding text as a sort of a magically transcribed add-on — and something that you never, hopefully, need to be typing out on your keyboard again,” she adds.

The app’s user interface, meanwhile, has been designed to encourage eye-to-eye contact with the speaker to make conversations feel more natural. It does this by way of design elements where bubbles float around as you’re speaking and the bubble with the current speaker grows to pull your focus away from looking at yourself. The company is also working with the curator of Serpentine Gallery in London, Hans Ulrich-Obrist, to create new filters that aren’t about beautification or gimmicks, but are instead focused on introducing a new form of visual expression that makes people feel more comfortable on camera.

For the time being, this has resulted in a filter that slightly abstracts your appearance, almost in the style of animation or some other form of visual arts.

The app claims to use end-to-end encryption and the automatic deletion of its content after seven days — except for messages you yourself recorded, if you’ve chosen to save them as “memorable moments.”

“One of our commitments is to privacy and the right-to-forget,” says Radocchia. “We don’t want to be or need to be storing any of this information.”

LOVE has been soft-launched on the App Store where it’s been used with a number of testers and is working to organically grow its user base through an onboarding invite mechanism that asks users to invite at least three people to join you. This same onboarding process also carefully explains why LOVE asks for permissions — like using speech recognition to create subtitles, or

LOVE says its at valuation is around $17 million USD following pre-seed investments from a combination of traditional startup investors and strategic angel investors across a variety of industries, including tech, film, media, TV, and financial services. The company will raise a seed round this fall.

The app is currently available on iOS, but an Android version will arrive later in the year. (Note that LOVE does not currently support the iOS 15 beta software, where it has issues with speech transcription and in other areas. That should be resolved next week, following an app update now in the works.)

#a-i, #android, #animation, #app-store, #apps, #berlin, #blockchain, #ceo, #chief-digital-officer, #co-founder, #computing, #curator, #deutsche-telekom, #encryption, #facebook-messenger, #financial-services, #google, #ideo, #instant-messaging, #london, #love, #marco-polo, #messenger, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #serial-entrepreneur, #singularity-university, #social, #social-media, #software, #speaker, #startups, #technology, #whatsapp

Paxos renames its stablecoin from PAX to USDP

Paxos, the company behind the Paxos Standard stablecoin (PAX), has announced that it is changing the name of its cryptoasset. Paxos Standard is now Pax Dollar, and you’ll soon be able to identify it on your favorite cryptocurrency exchange, wallet or explorer under the USDP ticker.

Other than the name, USDP remains fundamentally identical to PAX. Like other stablecoins, USDP has been invented so that its value doesn’t fluctuate over time when you compare it to fiat currencies. The value of USDP is indexed to USD. At any point in time, one USDP is worth one USD.

Stablecoins provide many advantages. Sending money is as easy as moving crypto assets from one wallet to another. You don’t have to enter intermediary bank information, worry about local regulation, etc. Many people around the world don’t have bank accounts — stablecoins and cryptocurrency wallets could potentially become an alternative to traditional bank accounts.

You can also use stablecoins to take advantage of DeFi projects (decentralized finance). For instance, you can contribute to lending pools and earn interests from your stablecoin holdings.

In addition to USDP, other popular stablecoins include USD Coin (USDC) and Tether (USDT). As you can see, a naming convention has emerged over time. And Paxos says that it is changing the name of its stablecoin for this reason in particular.

Whenever Paxos issues new tokens, it stores some USD and USD equivalent in a bank account. Right now, Paxos uses US Treasury Bills with short maturities as USD equivalent. Auditing firms regularly check the company’s claims.

Paxos tries to position itself as a company that is deeply committed to regulation. It has recently written a report highlighting the differences between USDP, USDC and USDT. According to the company, USDC and USDT shouldn’t be considered as regulated assets because of their reserves. Paxos wants to emerge as the most legitimate player in the space so that big corporate clients choose Paxos as their preferred partners.

A couple of days ago, Circle announced that USDC would switch to cash and cash equivalent for USDC reserves. I’m sure we’ll hear more from cryptocurrency companies and their stablecoin reserve strategies in the future.

#blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #paxos, #stablecoin, #usdp

Blockchain startup XREX gets $17M to make cross-border trade faster

Blockchain startup co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang in front of the company's logo

XREX co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang

A substantial portion of the world’s trade is done in United States dollars, creating problems for businesses in countries with a dollar shortage. Blockchain startup XREX was launched to help cross-border businesses in emerging markets perform faster transactions with products like a payment escrow service and crypto-fiat exchange platform.

The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has raised $17 million in pre-Series A funding led by CDIB Capital Group. The oversubscribed round also included participation from SBI Investment (a subsidiary of SBI Holdings), Global Founders Capital, ThreeD Capital, E.Sun Venture Capital, Systex Corporation, MetaPlanet Holdings, AppWorks, BlackMarble, New Economy Ventures and Seraph Group. XREX’s last funding was a $7 million seed round in 2019.

Part of the new round will be use to apply for financial licenses in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa, and partner with banks and financial institutions, like payment gateways.

“We specifically wanted to build a regulatory-friendly cap table,” XREX co-founder and chief executive officer Wayne Huang told TechCrunch. “It’s really hard for a startup like us to raise from banks and public companies, but as you can see, this round we deliberately to do that and we were successful.”

Huang sold his previous startup, anti-malware SaaS developer Armorize Technologies, to Proofpoint in 2013. Armorize analyzed source code to find vulnerabilities, and many of its clients were developers in Bangalore and Chennai, so Huang spent a lot of time traveling there.

“We ran into all sorts of cross-border money transfer issues. It seemed almost unstoppable,” Huang said. “Growing up in the U.S. and then in Taiwan, we were not exposed to those issues. So that planted a seed, and then when Satoshi [Nakamoto] published the bitcoin white paper, of course that was a big thing for all cybersecurity experts.”

He began thinking of how blockchain can support financial inclusion in emerging markets like India. The idea came to fruition Huang teamed up with XREX co-founder Winston Hsiao, the founder of BTCEx-TW, one of Taiwan’s first bitcoin exchanges. Hsiao grew up in India and founded Verico International, exporting Taiwan-manufactured semiconductors and electronics to other countries, so he was also familiar with cross-border trade issues.

XREX Crypto Services give merchants, especially those in countries with low U.S. dollar liquidity, tools to conduct trade in digital fiat currencies. “They have to get quick access to the U.S. dollar and be able to pay it out quick enough for them to secure important commodities that they want to import, and that’s the problem we want to solve,” said Huang.

To use the platform, merchants and their customers sign up for XREX’s wallet, which includes a commercial escrow service called Bitcheck. Huang said it is similar to having a standby letter of credit from a commercial bank, because buyers can use it to guarantee they will be able to make payments. Bitcheck uses digital currencies like USDT and USDC, stablecoins that are pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Merchants pay stablecoin to suppliers and XREX escrows the funds until the supplier provides proof of shipment, at which point it moves the payment to them. XREX’s crypto-fiat exchange allows users to convert USDT and USDC to U.S. dollars, which they can also withdraw and deposit through the platform.

Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its fiat currency platform, though Huang said it doesn’t plan to add too many cryptocurrencies “because we’re not built for crypto traders, we’re built for businesses and brand really matters to them. Brand and compliance, so whatever the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency says is a good stablecoin is what they’re going to use.”

Some of XREX’s partners include compliance and anti-money laundering providers like CipherTrace, Sum&Substance and TRISA. Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its security and compliance features, including Public Profiles, which are mandatory for customers, and user Reputation Index to increase transparency.

In a statement about the funding, CDIB Capital Innovation Fund head Ryan Kuo said, “CDIB was an early investor in XREX. After witnessing the company’s fast revenue growth and their commitment to compliance, we were determined to double our investment and lead this strategic round.”

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OnlyFans’ porn ban is crypto’s opportunity of a lifetime

Today, OnlyFans dropped the massive bombshell that it will be banning “sexually explicit content” from the app later this year. This is obviously a wildly seismic shift for OnlyFans, which completely disrupted the adult content industry and gave performers a path towards greater independence by allowing them to connect directly with their fans via subscriptions. This shutdown is also the opportunity of a lifetime for the crypto industry which could capitalize on the shutdown and a recent wave of increasingly consumer-friendly crypto payments infrastructure products to create a platform that won’t crumble under the influence of payment providers.

OnlyFans, which has been trying to raise at a unicorn valuation and running into plenty of trouble doing so despite huge revenues, didn’t mince words on the reasoning for today’s fundamental change. “These changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers,” a statement on the news from OnlyFans partially read.

Despite popular culture’s ongoing destigmatization of sex work and adult content, banking institutions are still fundamentally conservative and wary to handle money flowing through these platforms. Most of the operators of these platform are forced to deal with constant uneasiness of knowing their platforms might one day lose favor among these providers and instantly lose everything. All the while, “vice clauses” present in plenty of venture capital firms’ underpinnings keep them from operating in these spaces as well and prevent these platforms from accessing growth capital. It’s clear that adult content platforms are probably never going to have a friendly relationship with these financial institutions and it’s likely time for the platforms — and the creators using them — to move on.

In a lot of ways, OnlyFans dumping porn seems like an outright betrayal of their creator network and one those creators will be sure to remember when embracing whatever copycats spring up in their wake. They are likely going to look at new platforms with renewed skepticism in how they’ll handle payment provider standoffs, but there likely isn’t going to be a different outcome for ambitious platforms looking to grow. That would likely be a different situation for crypto native platforms, but given the tiny adoption, it’s still a substantial risk for creators to embrace a platform their fans might not know how to pay for content on.

The porn industry has been embracing crypto payments, albeit slowly. In 2018, Pornhub first announced that they would begin accepting cryptocurrency payments, fast forward to 2020 when Visa and MasterCard dumped the platform, now crypto payments and ACH bank transfers are the only ways to pay for its premium subscription service. There are already a few crypto platform players in this space like CumRocket and SpankChain catering to niche audiences (and probably in need of rebranding), but with the OnlyFans juggernaut out of the way, there might actually be a space for an existing or upstart player to innovate and capture this market.

The real challenge is in making it simple to onboard new users to both a new platform and potentially their first crypto wallet — while staying compliant with regulatory guidelines — at a time when more conventional web payment structures have gotten so streamlined and free adult content is just as prolific as ever. Know your customer (KYC) guidelines that push users to upload their passport or driver’s license to verify crypto purchases probably aren’t the easiest onboarding ask for a new crypto porn site, but as the market matures a bit and the challenges of a user setting up their first wallet are decoupled from the onboarding process for the platform, there are plenty of benefits to be realized.

Porn has always been a launchpad of sorts for new technologies. While the popularity of crypto has surged in recent months and nearly eclipsed $2 trillion in total assets, crypto penetration among the apps that people are actually using remains extremely low. As new solutions and startups pop up aiming to demystify buying and sending crypto, it feels like there’s a chance the industry could be in the perfect place to fill the void left by OnlyFans’ exit and build a more innovative platform in its image that goes all-in on crypto.

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Twitter taps crypto developer to lead ‘bluesky’ decentralized social network effort

Twitter’s ambitious upstart decentralized social media working group “bluesky” took an important step Monday as the social media company appointed a formal project lead who will direct how the protocol develops moving forward.

Crypto developer Jay Graber was tapped by Twitter to helm the initiative, which the company hopes will eventually create a decentralized social media protocol that a number of social networks including Twitter will operate on. The separate bluesky organization will operate independently but to date has been funded and managed largely by employees at Twitter.

Graber had already been working in a less formal role inside the bluesky team, with Twitter paying her to create a technical review of the decentralized social ecosystem for a working group of developers in the space. Graber previously worked on the developer team behind privacy focused cryptocurrency Zcash and built out her own decentralized social network called Happening, designed to compete with Facebook Events. Graber eventually walked away from the effort after having issues bootstrapping a user base interested in the benefits of decentralization, something that has grown to be a near-insurmountable issue for most upstart networks in the space.

In an interview back in January, Graber told TechCrunch she saw a major opportunity in Twitter entering the decentralized social space due to the hefty user base on the Twitter platform, which will itself eventually migrate to the protocol, the company has said.

“The really powerful thing about Twitter doing a decentralized protocol move is that if you could design a protocol that works in an ideal way, you don’t have to go through the initial effort of finding the niche to bootstrap from because Twitter will bring so many users,” Graber told us.

In January, TechCrunch profiled the initiative as it gathered more attention following Twitter’s permanent ban of former President Donald Trump from its platform. Following Trump’s removal, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey highlighted the bluesky effort as one of the company’s ongoing initiatives to ensure that social media moderation could be less decentralized in the future. A decentralized social media protocol would allow for individual networks to govern themselves without one company or organization exercising monolithic control over the sphere of online conversations. 

“I think a huge focus for everyone involved has been thinking how do we enable better moderation, and not just coming from one source,” Graber told TechCrunch.

The bluesky organization is still in its earliest stages. Graber’s next task is bulking up the team with its first hires, which include a protocol developer and web developer.

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