#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.

INVESTMENTS

OQmented
+++ 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”.

Thermosphr
+++ 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.

Brickwise
+++ 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.

Evrlearn 
+++ 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.

Liquiditeam
+++ 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”.

Snackhelden
+++ 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”.

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

Bikeleasing
+++ 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”. 

Mivavo
“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.

VoiceLine
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
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.”

#asia, #blockchain, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #payments, #stablecoin, #startups, #taiwan, #tc

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.

#articles, #banking, #blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #marketing, #onlyfans, #sex-work, #venture-capital-firms, #video-hosting

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.

#blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #donald-trump, #facebook, #forward, #jack-dorsey, #operating-systems, #president, #real-time-web, #social-media, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #tc, #technology, #text-messaging, #twitter

Regulating crypto is essential to ensuring its global legitimacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The travel rule conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not anti-regulation, just anti-unworkable regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of the outlaw era

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

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

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

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

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

Hacker is returning $600M in crypto, claiming theft was just “for fun”

Hacker is returning $600M in crypto, claiming theft was just “for fun”

Enlarge (credit: Yuriko Nakao | Getty Images)

The hacker who breached the Poly Network crypto platform says the theft was just “for fun :)” and that the hacker is now returning the stolen coins. The hacker also claimed that the tokens had been transferred to the hacker’s own wallets to “keep it safe.”

Poly Network first disclosed the hack on Tuesday, saying that the hacker, or hackers, had stolen crypto coins worth about $600 million at the time of the heist. The thousands of tokens included $270 million on the Ethereum blockchain, $250 million on the Binance Smart Chain, $84 million on the Polygon network, and a smattering of other smaller coins, like Tether, Shiba Inu, and Matic.

As of 4 am this morning, Poly Network says $342 million has been returned. The remainder, which is apparently all in Ethereum, is being “gradually transferred,” the company said.

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#blockchain, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #hackers, #policy, #theft

Coinbase crushes Q2 expectations, notes Q3 trading volume is trending lower

After the bell today, Coinbase reported another period of impressive results in its second quarter earnings report.

During the quarter, Coinbase’s total revenue reached $2.23 billion, which helped the company generate net income of $1.61 billion in the three-month period. The company benefited from a one-time line item worth $737.5 million, which stemmed from what Coinbase described as a “tax benefit” from its direct listing earlier the quarter.

This puts us in the odd position of leaning more heavily on the company’s adjusted EBITDA metric, a figure that we usually discount, rather than the stricter net income result. This quarter the adjusted metric is actually a bit clearer regarding the company’s regular profitability. Coinbase posted adjusted EBITDA of $1.1 billion in the period.

The company easily bested expectations, with the market expecting revenues of just $1.85 billion, and adjusted EBITDA of $961.5 million, per Yahoo Finance.

All that’s well and good, but the company provided a fascinating set of data for us to peruse that may help us better understand where the crypto economy stands today. Let’s get into the details.

Trading volume

There are two datasets from Coinbase’s Q2 that we need. The first deals with monthly transacting users, and overall trading volume:

Seeing Coinbase continue to add MTUs in the second quarter was impressive, as was the company’s Q2 trading volume result in light of the falling platform asset figure. Quite simply, Coinbase managed to accrete trading volume despite generally falling crypto prices over the time period in question.

Or as the company put it, “[d]espite price movements, we saw billions of dollars of net asset
inflows and new customers added throughout Q2.”

The next dataset deals with a breakdown of trading volume by source, and type:

The incremental growth in retail volume from Q1 2021 to Q2 2021 is impressive for a single quarter, frankly, but the pace at which Coinbase added institutional volume in the quarter is even stronger. It’s a huge result.

For the more crypto-focused than financials-focused out there, the second set of numbers is even more notable. Ethereum trading volume beat bitcoin trading volume, while “other” was more than twice what bitcoin itself managed.

A changing of the guard? The company listed three reasons for why this happened, the second of which is the most interesting. Per the earnings report:

[The mix shift was driven by] meaningful growth in Ethereum trading volumes, surpassing Bitcoin trading volumes on Coinbase for the first time driven by growth in the DeFi and NFT ecosystems (where Ethereum is an important underlying blockchain), and increased demand driven by our ETH2 staking product.

Basically, the neat stuff that the Ethereum blockchain enables is driving volume in its underlying coin, ether. Bitcoin may be the oldest crypto, but its crown may be starting to rust. Bitcoin remains the largest asset on Coinbase, at 47 percent, however.

Now let’s talk revenues.

Top line

While institutional trading volume was an impressive source of growth for Coinbase, the company’s revenue breakdown remained retail-heavy. Here’s the data:

The transaction revenue growth from Q1 to Q2 speaks for itself, and was a key driver of the company’s strong second-quarter aggregate results. But perhaps more notable was the huge differential in subscription and services revenue at the company, growing nearly 100 percent from $56.4 million in Q1 2021 to $102.6 million in the most recent period.

Certainly, Coinbase remains a transaction-led company, but in revenue terms, its third line-item is becoming material.

Now, the somewhat bad news.

What about Q3 2021?

Let’s start with how Coinbase describes the start to its third quarter:

In July, retail MTUs and total Trading Volume were 6.3 million and $57.0 billion, respectively, as crypto asset prices and crypto asset volatility declined significantly relative to Q2 levels. August month-to-date, retail MTUs and Trading Volume levels have slightly improved compared to July levels but remain lower than earlier in the year. As a result, we believe retail MTUs and total Trading Volume will be lower in Q3 as compared to Q2.

In contrast, Q2 MTUs were 8.8 million and total trading volume, pro-rated for each month of the quarter, came to $154 billion. Therefore, Coinbase had a far smaller July than what it managed on a monthly basis in Q2. That August is trending better than July is a small consolation, but it does appear that Coinbase will be a smaller business in Q3 than it was in Q1 or Q2.

If you were curious why Coinbase’s stock is not flying in the wake of its strong Q2 results, this is likely why. Of course, any serious investor in a crypto exchange is aware of how variable results can be in the sector. So a decrease after a few periods of strong results is not a huge lump to swallow.

Coinbase is worth $267.55 per share in after-hours trading as of the time of writing, off around three-quarters of a percent. That’s not even a haircut.

All told, Coinbase’s second quarter was excellent.

#blockchain, #coinbase, #cryptocurrency-exchange, #earnings, #tc

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unintended consequences

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

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

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

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

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

Picking winners and losers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cent, the platform that Jack Dorsey used to sell his first tweet as an NFT, raises $3M

Cent was founded in 2017 as an ad-free creator network that allows users to offer each other crypto rewards for good posts and comments — it’s like gifting awards on Reddit, but with Ethereum. But in late 2020, Cent’s small, San Fransisco-based team created Valuables, an NFT market for tweets, and by March, the small blockchain startup was thrown a serendipitous curveball.

“We just wrapped up for the day, and I was about to go eat dinner, and all these people started texting me,” remembers CEO Cameron Hejazi. Then, he realized that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had minted Twitter’s first ever Tweet through Cent’s Valuables application. “I was basically like, mildly shivering for the rest of the night. The whole team, we were like, ‘Okay, battle stations, prepare to get hacked!’”

Dorsey ended up selling his NFT for $2.9 million, and he donated the proceeds to Give Directly’s Africa Response fund for COVID-19 relief. But for Cent, it was as if the small company had just been handed a free marketing campaign. Now, about five months later, Cent is announcing a $3 million round of seed funding with investors like Galaxy Interactive, former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, Will.I.Am, and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.

On Valuables, anyone on the internet can place an offer on any tweet, which then makes it possible for someone else to make a counter-offer. If the author of the tweet accepts an offer (logging into Valuables requires you to validate your Twitter account), then Cent will mint the tweet on the blockchain and create a 1-of-1 NFT.

The NFT itself contains the text of the tweet, the username of the creator, the time it was minted, and the creator’s digital signature. The NFT also includes a link to the tweet, though the linked content lives outside the blockchain.

There’s nothing proprietary about minting tweets as NFTs — another company could do the same thing that Cent is doing. Even Twitter itself has recently dabbled in giving away free NFT art, though it hasn’t tried to sell actual tweets as NFTs like Cent. Still, Hejazi sees Dorsey’s use of Cent like an endorsement — he thinks it would be difficult for Twitter to shut them down, since Dorsey made $2.9 million on the platform himself. After all, Dorsey chose Cent instead of taking a screenshot of his first tweet, minting the .JPG as an NFT, and posting it on a larger NFT platform, like OpenSea.

“We’ve spoken with people at Twitter. I’m positive that we have a healthy relationship going,” Hejazi said (Twitter declined to comment on or confirm whether that’s true). “We thought about applying this approach to other social platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, but we hypothesized that this is particularly suited for Twitter, because it’s a conversation platform, and it’s where all of the crypto people are actually living.”

With Cent’s seed funding Hejazi hopes to continue building the platform. The company’s goal is to enable anyone creative to make an income through the use of NFTs — that means developing tools to make it simpler for its users to mint NFTs, but also, building out its existing creator-focused social network. The content people post on Cent is usually creative work, like art and writing, rather than short posts — it’s closer to DeviantArt than it is to Reddit. These are lofty goals for a $3 million seed funding round, but there are aspects of Cent’s Beta platform that make it promising.

“There’s already value in what we post on social media. It’s just being proxied through ad dollars, and it doesn’t have to be the case that there’s so much wealth concentration in a single entity. We can work toward a system that decentralizes that wealth,” said Hejazi. “These networks as they exist have monopolies on distribution — you can’t take your Twitter audience, download it as a .CSV, and send them all an email.”

A screenshot of Cent’s social platform.

In addition to independent distribution lists, Hejazi wants to move away from the ad-supported internet. He references Substack as an example of a company where the creator has control of their list, and at the same time, the platform can remain ad-free, since the money that propels it comes from the users who pay to subscribe to newsletters (and also, venture capital helps).

But Cent does something different by allowing users to essentially invest in creators who they think have the potential to take off on their platform.

Users can “seed” a post, which is how you subscribe to a creator participating on the creatives side of Cent’s platform. As the seeder, you pay a set fee of at least one dollar per month. There’s an incentive to support up-and-coming creators on the platform, because seeders get a portion of the creators’ future profit — it’s like making a bet on them that they will continue to make great content in the future. Five percent of profits go toward Cent, but the remaining 95% is split 50/50 between the creator and all of their past seeders. Participating on this platform would allow creators to network and show support for one another, but doesn’t prevent them from more directly monetizing their work on other creator platforms, like Patreon.

In addition to seeding posts, users can also “spot” other people’s posts — Cent’s version of a “like” button. Each “spot” is the equivalent of one cent from the user’s crypto wallet. Cent’s argument is that getting 1,000 likes on a post on other platforms yields nothing but a vague sensation of social clout. But on Cent, if a user gets 1,000 “spots,” that’s $10. Still, a project like this can only work if enough people use the platform.

“When we started Cent, we chose cryptocurrencies because we loved the idea of someone being able to earn money with nothing more than their creativity and a crypto address,” Hejazi said. “Over time, we’ve found it to be limiting as a payment type — very few people actually own it and have it ready to spend. We’re working on ways to make payments to creators using Cent easier, and are exploring both crypto-native and non-crypto options.”

This mindset echoes other NFT startups like Yat, which allows payments via credit card as part of its “progressive decentralization” model. So much of these companies’ success depends on public buy-in toward an eventual decentralized, blockchain-based internet. But until then, companies like Cent will continue to experiment in reimagining how creatives can get paid online.

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Yat thinks emoji ‘identities’ can be a thing, and it has $20M in sales to back it up

I learned about Yat in April, when a friend sent our group chat a link to a story about how the key emoji sold as an “internet identity” for $425,000. “I hate the universe,” she texted.

Sure, the universe would be better if people with a spare $425,000 spent it on mutual aid or something, but minutes later, we were trying to figure out what this whole Yat thing was all about. And few more minutes later, I spent $5 (in USD, not crypto) to buy ☕👉💩❗, an emoji string that I think tells a moving story about my caffeine dependency and sensitive stomach. I didn’t think I would be writing about this when I made that choice.

Kesha’s Yat URL on Twitter

On the surface, Yat is a platform that lets you buy a URL with emojis in it — even Kesha (y.at/🌈🚀👽), Lil Wayne (y.at/👽🎵), and Disclosure (y.at/😎🎵😎) are using them in their Twitter bios. Like any URL on the internet, Yats can redirect to another website, or they can function like a more eye-catching Linktree. While users could purchase their own domain name that supports emojis and use it instead of a Yat, many people don’t have the technical expertise or time to do so. Instead, they can make one-time purchase from Yat, which owns the Y.at domain, and the company will provide your with your own y.at link for you.

This convenience, however, comes at a premium. Yat uses an algorithm to determine your Yat’s “rhythm score,” its metric for determining how to price your emoji combo based on its rarity. Yats with one or two emojis are so expensive that you have to contact the company directly to buy them, but you can easily find a four- or five-emoji identity that’ll only put you out $4.

Beyond that, CEO Naveen Jain — a Y Combinator alumnus, founder of digital marketing company Sparkart, and angel investor — thinks that Yat is ultimately an internet privacy product. Jain wants people to be able to use their Yats in any way they’re able to use an online identity now, whether that’s to make payments, send messages, host a website, or login to a platform.

“Objectively, it’s a strange norm. You go on the internet, you register accounts with ad-supported platforms, and your username isn’t universal. You have many accounts, many usernames,” Jain said. “And you don’t control them. If an account wants to shut you down, they shut you down. How many stories are there of people trying to email some social network, and they don’t respond because they don’t have to?”

Yat doesn’t plan to fuel itself with ad money, since users pay for the product when they purchase their Yat, whether they get it for $4 or $400,000.

In the long run, Yat’s CEO says the company plans to use blockchain technology as a way to become self-sovereign. Yats would become assets issued on decentralized, distributed databases. Today, there are several projects working to create a decentralized alternative to the current domain name system (DNS), which is managed by internet regulatory authority ICANN.  DNS is how you find things on the internet, but uses a centralized, hierarchical system. A blockchain domain name system would have no central authority, and some believe this could be the foundation of a next-gen web, or “Web 3.0.”

Today, words like “blockchain” and “cryptocurrency” don’t appear on the Yat website. Jain doesn’t think that’s compelling to average consumers — he believes in progressive decentralization, which explains why Yats are currently purchased with dollars, not ethereum.

“Something we think is really funny about the cryptocurrency world is that anyone who’s a part of it spends a lot of time talking about databases,” Jain said. “People don’t care about databases. When’s the last time you went to a website and it said ‘powered by MySQL’?”

Y.at, however, was registered at a traditional internet registrar, not on the blockchain.

“This is laying the foundation — there are certain elements of the vision that are certainly more of a social contract than actual implementation at this point in time,” says Jain. “But this is the vision that we’ve set forth, and we’re working continuously towards that goal.”

Still, until Yat becomes more decentralized, it can’t yet give users the complete control it aspires to. At present, the Terms & Conditions give Yat the authority to terminate or suspend users at its discretion, but the company claims it hasn’t yet booted anyone from the system.

As Yat becomes more decentralized, our terms and conditions won’t be important,” Jain said. “This is the nature of pursuing a progressive decentralization strategy.”

In its “generation zero” phase (an open beta), Yat claims to have sold almost $20 million worth of emoji identities. Now, as the waitlist to get a Yat ends, Yat is posting some rare emoji identities on OpenSea, the NFT marketplace that recently reached a valuation of $1.5 billion.

A still image of a Yat visualizer creation

“For the first time ever, we’re going to be auctioning some Yats on OpenSea, and we’re going to be launching minting of Yats on Ethereum,” Jain said. Before minting Yats as NFTs, users can create a digital art landscape for their Yats through a Visualizer. These features, as well as new emojis in the Yat emoji set, will launch this evening at a virtual event called Yat Horizon.

Yat Creators will now have more rights,” Jain said about the new ability to mint Yats as NFTs. “We are going to continue to pursue progressive decentralization until we achieve our ultimate goal: making Yat the best self-directed, self-sovereign identity system for all.”

Consumers have a demonstrated interest in retaining greater privacy on the internet — data shows that in iOS 14.5, 96% of users opted out of ad tracking. But the decentralization movement hasn’t yet been able to market its privacy advantages to the mainstream. Yat helps solve this problem because even if you don’t understand what blockchain means, you understand that having a personal string of emojis is pretty fun. But, before you spend $425,000 on a single-emoji username, keep in mind that Yat’s vision will only completely materialize with the advent of Web 3.0, and we don’t yet know when or if that will happen.

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