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

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

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

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.

#apps, #articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #ceo, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #emoji, #ethereum, #facebook, #ion, #mysql, #naveen-jain, #online-identity, #opensea, #social-network, #startups, #technology, #twitter

Tenderly raises $15.3M to help Ethereum developers ship decentralized apps faster

Blockchain infrastructure startups are heating up as industry fervor brings more developers and users to a space that still feels extremely young despite a heavy institutional embrace of the crypto space in 2021.

The latest crypto startup to court the attention of venture capitalists is Tenderly, which builds a developer platform for Ethereum devs to monitor and test the smart contracts that power their decentralized apps. Tenderly CEO Andrej Bencic tells TechCrunch his startup has closed a $15.3 million Series A funding round led by Accel with additional participation from existing investors. The Belgrade startup already raised a $3.3 million seed round earlier this year led by Point Nine Capital.

The startup’s aim to date has been ensuring fledgling blockchain developers aren’t left finding out about contract errors when users discover issues and complain, instead allowing users to discover these bugs proactively. While the company’s Visual Debugger is already used by “tens of thousands” of Ethereum developers, Tenderly hopes to continue building out its toolset to help more developers build on Ethereum networks without dealing with the headaches and irregularities that they’ve had to.

“Tenderly, from its inception, has been a solution to one of our own problems,” Bencic tells TechCrunch. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible to observe and extract information from Ethereum and the adjacent networks.”

Bencic hopes the company’s product can help developers get their products out more quickly without compromising on usability.

To date, the majority of Tenderly’s customers have been relatively small startup efforts aiming to tap into the exciting world of blockchain-based computing with a particular focus on decentralized finance. Tenderly itself is a small company with its team of 14 based in Serbia. Bencic says this funding will help the company expand its global footprint and build out engineering and business hires in other geographies.

Climbing cryptocurrency prices have historically aligned pretty closely with developer uptake in the blockchain world so there is some concern that bitcoin and Ethereum’s downward-trending price corrections will lead to less stability in the pipeline of new developers embracing blockchain. That said, volatility is far from unusual to the crypto world and many developers have learned that riding its ebbs and flows is just part of the experience.

“We built most of Tenderly in the bear market, and one thing we saw is that even though you get these concerning prices, people that are excited about the tech are excited about the tech whether the coins are up or down,” Bencic says.

#articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #cardano, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #ethereum, #finance, #joseph-lubin, #point-nine-capital, #smart-contract, #tc, #technology

European Investment Fund puts $30M in Fabric Ventures’ new $120M digital assets fund

Despite their rich engineering talent, Blockchain entrepreneurs in the EU often struggle to find backing due to the dearth of large funds and investment expertise in the space. But a big move takes place at an EU level today, as the European Investment Fund makes a significant investment into a blockchain and digital assets venture fund.

Fabric Ventures, a Luxembourg-based VC billed as backing the “Open Economy” has closed $120 million for its 2021 fund, $30 million of which is coming from the European Investment Fund (EIF). Other backers of the new fund include 33 founders, partners, and executives from Ethereum, (Transfer)Wise, PayPal, Square, Google, PayU, Ledger, Raisin, Ebury, PPRO, NEAR, Felix Capital, LocalGlobe, Earlybird, Accelerator Ventures, Aztec Protocol, Raisin, Aragon, Orchid, MySQL, Verifone, OpenOcean, Claret Capital, and more. 

This makes it the first EIF-backed fund mandated to invest in digital assets and blockchain technology.

EIF Chief Executive Alain Godard said:  “We are very pleased to be partnering with Fabric Ventures to bring to the European market this fund specializing in Blockchain technologies… This partnership seeks to address the need [in Europe] and unlock financing opportunities for entrepreneurs active in the field of blockchain technologies – a field of particular strategic importance for the EU and our competitiveness on the global stage.”

The subtext here is that the EIF wants some exposure to these new, decentralized platforms, potentially as a bulwark against the centralized platforms coming out of the US and China.

And yes, while the price of Bitcoin has yo-yo’d, there is now $100 billion invested in the decentralized finance sector and $1.5 billion market in the NFT market. This technology is going nowhere.

Fabric hasn’t just come from nowhere, either. Various Fabric Ventures team members have been involved in Orchestream, the Honeycomb Project at Sun Microsystems, Tideway, RPX, Automic, Yoyo Wallet, and Orchid.

Richard Muirhead is Managing Partner, and is joined by partners Max Mersch and Anil Hansjee. Hansjee becomes General Partner after leaving PayPal’s Venture Fund, which he led for EMEA. The team has experience in token design, market infrastructure, and community governance.

The same team started the Firestartr fund in 2012, backing Tray.io, Verse, Railsbank, Wagestream, Bitstamp, and others.

Muirhead said: “It is now well acknowledged that there is a need for a web that is user-owned and, consequently, more human-centric. There are astonishing people crafting this digital fabric for the benefit of all. We are excited to support those people with our latest fund.”

On a call with TechCrunch Muirhead added: “The thing to note here is that there’s a recognition at European Commission level, that this area is one of geopolitical significance for the EU bloc. On the one hand, you have the ‘wild west’ approach of North America, and, arguably, on the other is the surveillance state of the Chinese Communist Party.”

He said: “The European Commission, I think, believes that there is a third way for the individual, and to use this new wave of technology for the individual. Also for businesses. So we can have networks and marketplaces of individuals sharing their data for their own benefit, and businesses in supply chains sharing data for their own mutual benefits. So that’s the driving view.”

#accelerator-ventures, #articles, #blockchains, #china, #chinese-communist-party, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #earlybird, #ethereum, #europe, #european-commission, #european-investment-fund, #european-union, #fabric-ventures, #felix-capital, #google, #managing-partner, #mysql, #north-america, #paypal, #railsbank, #rpx, #sun-microsystems, #tc, #technology, #united-states, #verifone, #yoyo-wallet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Element, a messaging app built on the decentralized Matrix protocol, raises $30M

After Element acquired Gitter last year to bring in more users and features into its own decentralized, Matrix-based messaging app, the startup is announcing some funding to invest in its growth.

Element has picked up $30 million in a Series B round of funding. Some of the funding will be used to expand its technology to continue catering to use cases among the large organizations already using it. They include the French government covering some 5.5 million civil servants; Dataport (which is incorporating it into Germany’s education and public administration systems); and BWI, which supplies the communications system used by the German armed forces — in all, some 10 government engagements, the company said.

Matthew Hodgson, Element’s CEO and the technical co-founder of the open source, non-profile Matrix protocol, also said that some will be used to continue investing in the company’s peer-to-peer architecture to eliminate any need for servers. And a third area of investment will be building out the company’s decentralized voice and videoconferencing services.

“It will be transformational in terms of security,” he said in an interview.

Element today is available as an on-premise systems or a cloud-based platform. Most public sector customers choose the former, and private sector ones opt for the latter, the startup said. Cloud revenues grew 300% in the last 12 months, and although the company didn’t disclose how much that is in actual money, it’s a sign that Element is growing (another reason for taking funding now, even though as co-founder Amandine Le Pape noted, it didn’t need it).

This round includes investments from Protocol Labs (the open-source R&D lab behind libp2p, IPFS and Filecoin) and Metaplanet (a fund set up by Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype). WordPress parent Automattic and Notion — both past investors — are also participating. No valuation is being disclosed. Element has raised $48 million to date.

Matrix, the not-for-profit protocol on which Element is based, was built to shake up how the internet worked by creating a place where multiple, siloed communications environments could be integrated and engaged with in a cohesive, single platform, and those communications in turn can be “owned” by the entity organizing it. The idea here is that by bringing it all together, it’s easier to manage those conversations from the perspectives of security and practical use.

Matrix has been growing in its own right, with usage up 190% in the last 12 months, now up to 75,000 deployments with over 35 million “addressable” users. Those deployments can be on something as small as a Raspberry Pi or a giant server run by a government. But to be clear, “active” is a significantly smaller number than addressable users. While Matrix, much less Element, cannot “see” how others are using Matrix (that is one of the security advantages that governments like), Hodgson notes that on its own servers there are 1.2 million active users.

Element — which originally had been called Riot — was set out as a kind of Slack/Discord rival that was a native messaging platform on top of Matrix, there to capture audience already doing something else with the protocol to give them a clean and secure alternative at a time when only a handful of platforms control the majority of the world’s messaging data.

“We’ve been building messaging technology for more than 15 years,” Le Pape said. “It just felt crazy that you have a few players [dominating] and keeping everyone’s data hostage. This is to open anyone’s communication. That is what we are trying to fix, data sovereignty.”

In the regard, Element (and Matrix) sit at the heart of a much bigger trend in technology, where some of the brightest minds in the field are reckoning with the defaults of how it all works, have decided that an alternative, a less centralized approach, must be a part of the bigger equation as data becomes more valuable and communications channels only become increasingly essential.

“Internet communication protocols have become fundamental for humanity. Today, most messaging happens over fickle proprietary centralized walled gardens who hold us hostage to their short-term business outlook,” said Juan Benet, CEO of Protocol Labs, in a statement. “Matrix is a beacon of hope: an open network for secure, decentralised communication, built with sound internet infrastructure principles. Element — both product and company — empowers organizations with control, ownership, and a great user experience for all their conversations.”

While there are a number of other encrypted messaging platforms on the market that are seeing mass adoption — they include Telegram, Signal and even to some extent Facebook’s WhatsApp — Element (and Matrix’s) early adopters have been large organizations. However, with Matrix, the engine underpinning Element, also doing early work with the likes of Twitter on its Blue Sky decentralized platform efforts, that could potentially give Element another boost of users, beyond those early adopters.

But just as clouds have silver linings, so too do sunny outlooks cast shadows… As with other decentralized communications platforms like Telegram and Rocket.chat, end-to-end encryption can cut both ways: it can help keep communications from being hacked, but it might also be used to evade detection when planning something malicious. Matrix (and by default Element) has been exploring alternatives to backdoors into encrypted systems, which is one route that governments are considering to fix this, the argument being that mandating one will simply move the bad actors to another.

Ultimately, the investment here, and the usage of Element, is a vote in the direction of sticking with decentralization despite those misgivings and existing issues.

“When communication is centralised it becomes a very appealing target for abuse; whether that’s through propaganda, surveillance, censorship or worse,” said Metaplanet’s Tallinn. “Consumers need rescuing from surveillance capitalism, and organisations need a secure neutral way to communicate.  Matrix is the most advanced platform to provide that missing communication layer.”

#decentralization, #element, #matrix, #tc

NFT market OpenSea hits $1.5 billion valuation

It’s been a wild 2021 for NFT auction marketplace OpenSea. The startup was exceedingly well-positioned in a niche space when NFTs exploded earlier this year seemingly out of nowhere. Since then, the startup has found its user base expanding, the total volume of sales skyrocketing and more investor dollars being thrown at them.

The startup announced in March, it had closed a $23 million Series A, and now some four months later, the company tells TechCrunch it has raised another $100 million in a Series B round led by Andreessen Horowitz at a $1.5 billion valuation. Other investors in the round include Coatue, CAA, Michael Ovitz, Kevin Hartz, Kevin Durant and Ashton Kutcher.

Despite a fall from stratospheric heights in the early summer, the broader NFT market has still been chugging along and OpenSea is continuing to see plenty of action. The startup saw $160 million in sales last month and is on track to blow past that figure this month, CEO Devin Finzer tells TechCrunch.

One of the company’s clearer growth roadblocks has been infrastructure issues native to the Ethereum blockchain that its marketplace has been built around. The Ethereum blockchain, which has a number of network upgrades outstanding, has struggled to keep up with the NFT boom at times, leaving users footing the bill with occasionally pricey “gas” fees needed to mint an item or make a transaction. Though these fees have largely cooled down in recent weeks, OpenSea is aiming to make a move towards long-term scalability by announcing that they plan to bring support for several more blockchains to its platform.

They’re starting with Polygon, a popular Layer 2 Ethereum blockchain which boasts a more energy-efficient structure that will allow OpenSea to entirely eliminate gas fees for creators, buyers and sellers on that blockchain. Losing these fees may give OpenSea a better shot at expanding its ambitions, which include finding a future for NFTs in the gaming world and in the events space, Finzer says.

Beyond Polygon, OpenSea has plans to integrate with Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain as well as Tezos down the road, the company says.

Operating across multiple blockchains could create some headaches for consumers operating across platforms with differing levels of support for each network. Some NFT investors are also more hesitant to buy items on blockchains they see as less time-tested than Ethereum, worrying that newer chains may lose support over time. But overall, the user-friendly changes will likely be well-received by the wider NFT community which has seen the explosion in new interest stress-test its systems and highlight need for user interface and user experience improvements.

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #ashton-kutcher, #blockchain, #blockchains, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptokitties, #decentralization, #ethereum, #kevin-durant, #kevin-hartz, #michael-ovitz, #tc, #tezos

Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou is coming to Disrupt

If you spent any time this year desperately trying to figure out what the heck NFTs are, you probably have Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou to thank for that.

His startup’s crypto trading card marketplace NBA Top Shot went viral earlier this year with users dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on digital NBA collectibles. At the end of last year, the Top Shot platform was averaging around $20K-30K in digital collectibles sales volume per day. By late February, the platform hit an all-time-high, moving more than $45 million in trading volume, according to analytics site Cryptoslam, as a wave of crypto newbies descended on the platform.

Within months, Gharegozlou’s company went from a niche crypto gaming startup largely known to industry insiders to locking in a hulking reported $7.5 billion valuation as venture capitalists chased the opportunity to get a piece of it.

Top Shot’s sudden popularity triggered a massive moment for NFTs, with billions of dollars moving through an asset class that few had heard of months prior. We’re thrilled to have Gharegozlou joining us at Disrupt this September 21-23, to discuss the future of NFTs, crypto gaming and the decentralized internet.

NBA Top Shot was an industry anomaly, but it wasn’t even Dapper’s first industry-shaking hit. In 2017, CryptoKitties — another trading game where users could swap digital cats — caught on among early adopters and brought the nascent Ethereum network to a crawl, inspiring the developers of the popular blockchain to make a number of key changes over time. Gharegozlou has his own vision for the future of the crypto web; Dapper’s big bet of late is on the proprietary Flow blockchain that underpins Top Shot. The company is gunning to bring more gaming platforms onboard to take advantage of the faster, more energy-efficient blockchain network, and investors are betting hundreds of millions of dollars on their ability to capture the market.

With the larger NFT market’s sales volume sliding significantly in recent months, can it make a comeback? Will developers move away from the popular Ethereum blockchain to embrace Dapper’s more centralized network? Could NFTs reshape the entire online economy? We’re excited to dig into some of these questions with Gharegozlou onstage at Disrupt — it’s a session you won’t want to miss.

Join him and more than 10,000 of the startup world’s most influential people at Disrupt 2021 online this September 21-23Get your pass to attend now for less than $99 for a limited time!

 

#articles, #blockchains, #ceo, #crypto-art, #crypto-economy, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptokitties, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #ethereum, #events, #joseph-lubin, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #nfts, #roham-gharegozlou, #startups, #tc, #tc-disrupt-2021

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

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

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

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

via Phantom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nansen raises $12M from a16z to help investors make sense of crypto markets

While the ambitions of crypto investors have swelled even faster than the market has in recent months, institutional players have had a mountain of blockchain data to try to make sense of without particularly mature analytics products at their disposal.

Blockchain analytics startup Nansen is building a product for crypto traders and hedge funds to more confidently navigate the world of decentralized finance. Their product analyzes public blockchain information across some 90 million Ethereum wallets to clue users into evolving opportunities.

“Nansen’s high quality data enables investors to follow where the smart money is moving, where influential investors are taking positions as well as for discovering new projects to invest and perform due diligence,” Nansen CEO Alex Svanevik tells TechCrunch in an email.

The startup just closed a $12 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), which recently unveiled a whopping $2.2 billion crypto fund designed to bankroll the firm’s crypto land grab. Other investors in the round include Coinbase Ventures, Skyfall Ventures, imToken Ventures, Mechanism Capital and QCP Capital.

Nansen’s primary product is a network of dashboards designed around specific verticals in the crypto space.

Beyond the very hot DeFi space, Nansen is tapping their labeled database to find investor opportunities in yield farming, liquidity pools, DEX data, and even helping traders scout out particular hot NFT collections. One of its popular dashboards called “Token God Mode” allows investors to tap into blockchain data on a particular ERC20 token, witnessing movement across exchanges over time as well as notable transactions across individual wallets.

Image via Nansen

As the crypto industry largely aims to bring more retail investors into its fold, Nansen’s pricing showcases an effort to bring in a fairly wide range of customers. The startup sells a $116 per month package designed to help traders tap into real-time analytics across a variety of market indicators, while also shopping a $2,500 per month plan designed to foster a closer relationship with more bespoke support access including weekly calls, exclusive chat groups and vertical-specific information sessions.

The team has been publishing some of its higher-level data publicly on its site, but saves the more granular up-to-the-moment data for its network of paying customers. Some of Nansen’s customers include crypto-centric funds like Polychain, Three Arrows, Pantera, and Defiance Capital.

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #blockchain, #ceo, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #ethereum, #finance, #retail-investors, #skyfall-ventures, #technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andreessen Horowitz triples down on blockchain startups with massive $2.2 billion Crypto Fund III

While the cryptocurrency market’s most recent hype wave seems to be dying down after a spectacular rise, Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto arm is reaffirming its commitment to startups building blockchain projects with a hulking new $2.2 billion crypto fund.

It’s the firm’s largest vertical-specific fund ever — by quite a bit.

Andreessen Horowitz’s 2018 crypto fund ushered in $300 million of LP commitments and its second fund, which it closed in April of last year, clocked in at $515 million. The new multi-billion dollar fund not only showcases how institutional backers are growing more comfortable with cryptocurrencies, but also how Andreessen Horowitz’s assets under management have been quickly swelling to compete with other deep-pocketed firms including the ever-prolific Tiger Global.

With this announcement, Andreessen now has some $18.8 billion assets under management.

LPs are likely far less wary to take a chance on crypto after Andreessen Horowitz’s stake in Coinbase equated to some $11.2 billion at the time of the direct listing’s first trades, though the stock has slid back some 30% in recent months as the crypto market has shrunk.

Some of the firm’s other major crypto bets include NBA Top Shot maker Dapper Labs which hit a $7.5 billion valuation this spring. Blockchain infrastructure startup Dfinity raised at a $9.5 billion valuation this past September. Last year, the firm led the Series A of Uniswap, which is poised to be a major player in the Ethereum ecosystem. In addition to equity investments, a16z has also made major bets on the currencies themselves.

An earlier report from Newcomer last month reported a16z was targeting a $2 billion crypto fund and that they had already unloaded some of their crypto holdings before most cryptocurrencies took a major dive in recent weeks.

Crypto Fund III will continue to be managed by GPs Chris Dixon and Katie Haun, but the firm has also begun spinning out a more robust management team around the crypto vertical.

Anthony Albanese, who joined the firm last year from the NYSE, has been appointed COO of the division. Tomicah Tillemann, who previously served as a senior advisor to now-President Joe Biden and as chairman of the Global Blockchain Business Council, will be a16z Crypto’s Global Head of Policy. Rachael Horwitz is also coming aboard as an Operating Partner leading marketing and communications for a16z crypto; leaving Google after a stint as Coinbase’s first VP of Communications as well.

A couple other folks are also coming on in advisory capacity, including entrepreneur Alex Price and a couple others who will likely be a tad helpful in regulatory maneuverings including Bill Hinman, formerly of the SEC, and Brent McIntosh, who recently served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs.

#andreessen-horowitz, #blockchain, #blockchains, #chairman, #chris-dixon, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #entrepreneur, #ethereum, #finance, #google, #gps, #joe-biden, #joseph-lubin, #katie-haun, #money, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #rachael-horwitz, #tc, #technology, #tiger-global, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uniswap

Internxt gets $1M to be ‘the Coinbase of decentralized storage’

Valencia-based startup Internxt has been quietly working on an ambitious plan to make decentralized cloud storage massively accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

It’s just bagged $1M in seed funding led by Angels Capital, a European VC fund owned by Juan Roig (aka Spain’s richest grocer and second wealthiest billionaire), and Miami-based The Venture City. It had previously raised around half a million dollars via a token sale to help fund early development.

The seed funds will be put towards its next phase of growth — its month-to-month growth rate is 30% and it tells us it’s confident it can at least sustain that — including planning a big boost to headcount so it can accelerate product development.

The Spanish startup has spent most of its short life to date developing a decentralized infrastructure that it argues is both inherently more secure and more private than mainstream cloud-based apps (such as those offered by tech giants like Google).

This is because files are not only encrypted in a way that means it cannot access your data but information is also stored in a highly decentralized way, split into tiny shards which are then distributed across multiple storage locations, with users of the network contributing storage space (and being recompensed for providing that capacity with — you guessed it — crypto).

“It’s a distributed architecture, we’ve got servers all over the world,” explains founder and CEO Fran Villalba Segarra. “We leverage and use the space provided by professionals and individuals. So they connect to our infrastructure and start hosting data shards and we pay them for the data they host — which is also more affordable because we are not going through the traditional route of just renting out a data center and paying them for a fixed amount of space.

“It’s like the Airbnb model or Uber model. We’ve kind of democratized storage.”

Internxt clocked up three years of R&D, beginning in 2017, before launching its first cloud-based apps: Drive (file storage), a year ago — and now Photos (a Google Photos rival).

So far it’s attracting around a million active users without paying any attention to marketing, per Villalba Segarra.

Internxt Mail is the next product in its pipeline — to compete with Gmail and also ProtonMail, a pro-privacy alternative to Google’s freemium webmail client (and for more on why it believes it can offer an edge there read on).

Internxt Send (file transfer) is another product billed as coming soon.

“We’re working on a G-Suite alternative to make sure we’re at the level of Google when it comes to competing with them,” he adds.

The issue Internxt’s architecture is designed to solve is that files which are stored in just one place are vulnerable to being accessed by others. Whether that’s the storage provider itself (who may, like Google, have a privacy-hostile business model based on mining users’ data); or hackers/third parties who manage to break the provider’s security — and can thus grab and/or otherwise interfere with your files.

Security risks when networks are compromised can include ransomeware attacks — which have been on an uptick in recent years — whereby attackers that have penetrated a network and gained access to stored files then hold the information to ransom by walling off the rightful owner’s access (typically by applying their own layer of encryption and demanding payment to unlock the data).

The core conviction driving Internxt’s decentralization push is that files sitting whole on a server or hard drive are sitting ducks.

Its answer to that problem is an alternative file storage infrastructure that combines zero access encryption and decentralization — meaning files are sharded, distributed and mirrored across multiple storage locations, making them highly resilient against storage failures or indeed hack attacks and snooping.

The approach ameliorates cloud service provider-based privacy concerns because Internxt itself cannot access user data.

To make money its business model is simple, tiered subscriptions: With (currently) one plan covering all its existing and planned services — based on how much data you need. (It is also freemium, with the first 10GB being free.)

Internxt is by no means the first to see key user value in rethinking core Internet architecture.

Scotland’s MaidSafe has been trying to build an alternative decentralized Internet for well over a decade at this point — only starting alpha testing its alt network (aka, the Safe Network) back in 2016, after ten years of testing. Its long term mission to reinvent the Internet continues.

Another (slightly less veteran) competitor in the decentralized cloud storage space is Storj, which is targeting enterprise users. There’s also Filecoin and Sia — both also part of the newer wave of blockchain startups that sprung up after Bitcoin sparked entrepreneurial interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain/decentralization.

How, then, is what Internxt’s doing different to these rival decentralized storage plays — all of which have been at this complex coal face for longer?

“We’re the only European based startup that’s doing this [except for MaidSafe, although it’s UK not EU based],” says Villalba Segarra, arguing that the European Union’s legal regime around data protection and privacy lends it an advantage vs U.S. competitors. “All the others, Storj, plus Sia, Filecoin… they’re all US-based companies as far as I’m aware.”

The other major differentiating factor he highlights is usability — arguing that the aforementioned competitors have been “built by developers for developers”. Whereas he says Internxt’s goal is be the equivalent of ‘Coinbase for decentralized storage’; aka, it wants to make a very complex technology highly accessible to non-technical Internet users.

“It’s a huge technology but in the blockchain space we see this all the time — where there’s huge potential but it’s very hard to use,” he tells TechCrunch. “That’s essentially what Coinbase is also trying to do — bringing blockchain to users, making it easier to use, easier to invest in cryptocurrency etc. So that’s what we’re trying to do at Internxt as well, bringing blockchain for cloud storage to the people. Making it easy to use with a very easy to use interface and so forth.

“It’s the only service in the distributed cloud space that’s actually usable — that’s kind of our main differentiating factor from Storj and all these other companies.”

“In terms of infrastructure it’s actually pretty similar to that of Sia or Storj,” he goes on — further likening Internxt’s ‘zero access’ encryption to Proton Drive’s architecture (aka, the file storage product from the makers of end-to-end encrypted email service ProtonMail) — which also relies on client side encryption to give users a robust technical guarantee that the service provider can’t snoop on your stuff. (So you don’t have to just trust the company not to violate your privacy.)

But while it’s also touting zero access encryption (it seems to be using off-the-shelf AES-256 encryption; it says it uses “military grade”, client-side, open source encryption that’s been audited by Spain’s S2 Grupo, a major local cybersecurity firm), Internxt takes the further step of decentralizing the encrypted bits of data too. And that means it can tout added security benefits, per Villalba Segarra.

“On top of that what we do is we fragment data and then distribute it around the world. So essentially what servers host are encrypted data shards — which is much more secure because if a hacker was ever to access one of these servers what they would find is encrypted data shards which are essentially useless. Not even we can access that data.

“So that adds a huge layer of security against hackers or third party [access] in terms of data. And then on top of that we build very nice interfaces with which the user is very used to using — pretty much similar to those of Google… and that also makes us very different from Storj and Sia.”

Storage space for Internxt users’ files is provided by users who are incentivized to offer up their unused capacity to host data shards with micropayments of crypto for doing so. This means capacity could be coming from an individual user connecting to Internxt with just their laptop — or a datacenter company with large amounts of unused storage capacity. (And Villalba Segarra notes that it has a number of data center companies, such as OVH, are connected to its network.)

“We don’t have any direct contracts [for storage provision]… Anyone can connect to our network — so datacenters with available storage space, if they want to make some money on that they can connect to our network. We don’t pay them as much as we would pay them if we went to them through the traditional route,” he says, likening this portion of the approach to how Airbnb has both hosts and guests (or Uber needs drivers and riders).

“We are the platform that connects both parties but we don’t host any data ourselves.”

Internxt uses a reputation system to manage storage providers — to ensure network uptime and quality of service — and also applies blockchain ‘proof of work’ challenges to node operators to make sure they’re actually storing the data they claim.

“Because of the decentralized nature of our architecture we really need to make sure that it hits a certain level of reliability,” he says. “So for that we use blockchain technology… When you’re storing data in your own data center it’s easier in terms of making sure it’s reliable but when you’re storing it in a decentralized architecture it brings a lot of benefits — such as more privacy or it’s also more affordable — but the downside is you need to make sure that for example they’re actually storing data.”

Payments to storage capacity providers are also made via blockchain tech — which Villalba Segarra says is the only way to scale and automate so many micropayments to ~10,000 node operators all over the world.

Discussing the issue of energy costs — given that ‘proof of work’ blockchain-based technologies are facing increased scrutiny over the energy consumption involved in carrying out the calculations — he suggests that Internxt’s decentralized architecture can be more energy efficient than traditional data centers because data shards are more likely to be located nearer to the requesting user — shrinking the energy required to retrieve packets vs always having to do so from a few centralized global locations.

“What we’ve seen in terms of energy consumption is that we’re actually much more energy efficient than a traditional cloud storage service. Why? Think about it, we mirror files and we store them all over the world… It’s actually impossible to access a file from Dropbox that is sent out from [a specific location]. Essentially when you access Dropbox or Google Drive and you download a file they’re going to be sending it out from their data center in Texas or wherever. So there’s a huge data transfer energy consumption there — and people don’t think about it,” he argues.

“Data center energy consumption is already 2%* of the whole world’s energy consumption if I’m not mistaken. So being able to use latency and being able to send your files from [somewhere near the user] — which is also going to be faster, which is all factored into our reputation system — so our algorithms are going to be sending you the files that are closer to you so that we save a lot of energy from that. So if you multiple that by millions of users and millions of terabytes that actually saves a lot of energy consumption and also costs for us.”

What about latency from the user’s point of view? Is there a noticeable lag when they try to upload or retrieve and access files stored on Internxt vs — for example — Google Drive?

Villalba Segarra says being able to store file fragments closer to the user also helps compensate for any lag. But he also confirms there is a bit of a speed difference vs mainstream cloud storage services.

“In terms of upload and download speed we’re pretty close to Google Drive and Dropbox,” he suggests. “Again these companies have been around for over ten years and their services are very well optimized and they’ve got a traditional cloud architecture which is also relatively simpler, easier to build and they’ve got thousands of [employees] so their services are obviously much better than our service in terms of speed and all that. But we’re getting really close to them and we’re working really fast towards bringing our speed [to that level] and also as many features as possible to our architecture and to our services.”

“Essentially how we see it is we’re at the level of Proton Drive or Tresorit in terms of usability,” he adds on the latency point. “And we’re getting really close to Google Drive. But an average user shouldn’t really see much of a difference and, as I said, we’re literally working as hard as possible to make our services as useable as those of Google. But we’re ages ahead of Storj, Sia, MaidSafe and so forth — that’s for sure.”

Internxt is doing all this complex networking with a team of just 20 people currently. But with the new seed funding tucked in its back pocket the plan now is to ramp up hiring over the next few months — so that it can accelerate product development, sustain its growth and keep pushing its competitive edge.

“By the time we do a Series A we should be around 100 people at Internxt,” says Villalba Segarra. “We are already preparing our Series A. We just closed our seed round but because of how fast we’re growing we are already being reached out to by a few other lead VC funds from the US and London.

“It will be a pretty big Series A. Potentially the biggest in Spain… We plan on growing until the Series A at at least a 30% month-to-month rate which is what we’ve been growing up until now.”

He also tells TechCrunch that the intention for the Series A is to do the funding at a $50M valuation.

“We were planning on doing it a year from now because we literally just closed our [seed] round but because of how many VCs are reaching out to us we may actually do it by the end of this year,” he says, adding: “But timeframe isn’t an issue for us. What matters most is being able to reach that minimum valuation.”

*Per the IEA, data centres and data transmission networks each accounted for around 1% of global electricity use in 2019

#angels-capital, #blockchain, #cloud-computing, #cloud-storage, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #dropbox, #encryption, #energy-consumption, #europe, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #gmail, #internxt, #privacy, #recent-funding, #spain, #startups, #storage, #tc, #the-venture-city, #valencia

Mythical Games raises $75M to build an NFT game engine

Even as NFT sales dip below their most speculative highs, startups aiming to tap into their potential are still scoring big funding rounds from investors who believe there’s much more to crypto collectibles than the past few months of hype.

Mythical Games, an NFT games startup based out of Los Angeles, has banked a $75 million raise from new and existing investors betting on the startup’s aim to expand the ambitions of their first title and locate a substantial platform opportunity amid helping developers build blockchain-based gaming experiences.

The round was led by WestCap. Existing investors were joined by 01 Advisors, Bilibili, Gary Vaynerchuk, the Glazer family, Moore Capital, and Redbird Capital in the Series B funding. The startup has raised a whopping $120 million to date.

The company has been building a title called Blankos Block Party that seems to be Fall Guys meets Roblox meets Funko Pop. The PC game capitalizes on a number of big social gaming trends around user-created content, while adding in a marketplace where users can buy avatar figures and accessories crafted by a variety of artists and designers that Mythical has partnered with. Users can buy or sell the limited run or open edition items through their marketplace. Unlike some other NFT platforms, the goods live on a private blockchain so they can’t be re-sold on public marketplace platforms like OpenSea.

Mythical Games is part of a growing movement to bring blockchain-based game mechanics mainstream while leaving behind elements of crypto platforms that are seen as less ready for primetime. Users can purchase avatars on the platform with cryptocurrency through BitPay but they can also pay with a credit card. Users don’t need to walk through the mechanics of setting up a wallet or writing down a seed phrase either.

While the company has big hopes for Blankos as it onboards more users, the bigger investor opportunity is likely in the game engine that the team is building. The startup’s “Mythical Economic Engine” is being designed to help budding game builders create NFT-based marketplaces that won’t get them in any regulatory trouble, marrying compliance across geographies and tools that help creators comply with anti-money laundering laws and know-your-customer frameworks.

“With any new market like [NFTs], it goes through all these different cycles,” Mythical Games CEO John Linden tells TechCrunch. “We think this will actually change gaming for the long haul. The more we talk to game studios, we’re finding more and more potential use cases.”

#advisors, #articles, #bilibili, #bitpay, #blockchain, #ceo, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #financial-technology, #funko, #gary-vaynerchuk, #los-angeles, #roblox, #tc, #technology, #westcap

Blockchain startup Propy plans first-ever auction of a real apartment as a collectible NFT

We previously wrote about Propy using blockchain technology to smooth real-world real estate sales by introducing the concept of smart contracts. Propy was the first blockchain startup to make that work. Now the company is pushing the boundaries again, by auctioning a real apartment as an NFT. Although one might want to brush this aside as a stunt, the event is designed to make the point that it could well be done legally. And, by golly, they are going to try.

The auction will be of the NFT attached to a modern, brand new, one-bedroom apartment in Kiev, Ukraine, that Propy previously made history with by making it the first-ever level blockchain-based real estate sale.

The NFT created by Propy will, it says, transfers real ownership of the property. Just in case you haven;t been paying attention, NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, are cryptographic ‘tokens’ that represent a unique asset — such as a piece of art, music, or other collectibles — and certify ownership digitally. NFTs have set the crypto-world alight with their potential to be applied to just about anything, including a work of art by Banksy which was then burnt.

Once someone has won the NFT of the apartment at auction, the NFT will include access to the ownership transfer paperwork; a digital artwork NFT by a popular Kiev graffiti artist, Chizz (a physical painting of the digital artwork is painted on a wall of the apartment)’ and the apartment pictures. But obviously, the apartment is the main asset here. 


The auction itself will happen over a 24hr period with the initial listing starting at $20,000. Details for the NFT sale are available here and will be updated with any new information as the auction proceeds.

The apartment in question is currently owned by Michael Arrington, founder of this very news site, and now a Crypto investor with Arrington XRP Capital.

Investors in Propy – which says it has so far processed $1bn worth of transactions via its platform – include Arrington himself and Tim Draper, former founder of DFJ.

Natalia Karayaneva, CEO of Propy said: “This NFT will go down in history. For Propy it is a major milestone in leveraging the promise of blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens (NFT) to achieve ‘self-driving’ real estate transactions and real estate participation in the decentralized finance economy.”

Here’s how this is all going to work: Arrington has signed legal papers designed by Propy’s lawyers for the NFT to transfer ownership to a future buyer. Propy then conducts the NFT auction and receives payment in cryptocurrency. The winner in the auction becomes the owner within a minute, after filling out KYC details.

The Kiev property is owned by a USA-based entity, and when the auction completes, the new owner of the NFT becomes the owner of the entity and thus the property itself. This process is repeated every time the NFT attached to the property is resold. 

In an interview with me, Karayaneva said: “We were brainstorming and this appeared to be a natural development of our white paper of 2017. And in fact, many things we transact, real estate, via property, we are actually already kind of doing NF T’s, but with our unique smart contracts. But now the NFT concept provides a different approach, where a property can be transferred between two wallets, peer to peer.”

“Thus we do not need to change the name of the owner in the land registry. And this applies to many countries, as well as the United States. This model will work for the United States, and overall, there is this notion of buying real estate via LLC in the United States to preserve the privacy of the owner.”

Over the same call, Arrington added: “Coming at this from a crypto angle, we’ve seen what happens how DeFi gets plugged into credit markets. If I have an NFT or any DeFI asset I can then borrow against it, without a middleman. Right now, if I have a real piece of real estate, there is no way for me to borrow against it, without a middleman, because I have to go through a bank and get a mortgage or whatever. And it’s also the friction all of the costs in terms of speed and how long it takes.”

“If we can find a way to plug real estate and other real-world assets into DeFi, I think that the amount of credit that can be created around that is in the trillions, eventually. And so I think that has to happen. The questions around this are legal and regulatory… The legal stuff around this is tough, and so Propy has done a lot of work with that. But if they do, I think that the idea of an NFT representation of a real-world asset purely from the point of view of ease of trade and ease of access to credit markets is a big idea.”

#arrington-xrp-capital, #articles, #auction, #bank, #blockchains, #ceo, #crypto-art, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #dfj, #ethereum, #europe, #founder, #michael-arrington, #peer-to-peer, #propy, #real-estate, #smart-contract, #tc, #tim-draper, #ukraine, #united-states

US Treasury calls for stricter cryptocurrency rules, IRS reporting for transfers over $10K

President Biden’s vision for an empowered, expanded IRS is poised to have a big impact on cryptocurrency trading.

According to a new report from the U.S. Treasury Department, the administration wants to put new requirements in place that would make it easier for the government to see how money is moving around, including digital currencies. The report notes that cryptocurrencies pose a “significant detection problem” and are used regularly by top earners who wish to evade taxes.

The proposed changes would create new reporting requirements built on the framework of existing 1099-INT forms that taxpayers currently use to report interest earned. Cryptocurrency exchanges and custodians would be required to report more information on the “gross inflows and outflows” of money moving through their accounts. Businesses would also be required to report cryptocurrency transactions above $10,000 under the new reporting requirements.

“Although cryptocurrency is a small share of current business transactions, such comprehensive reporting is necessary to minimize the incentives and opportunity to shift income out of the new information reporting regime,” the report states.

The Treasury Department notes that wealthy tax filers are often able to escape paying fair taxes through complex schemes that the IRS currently doesn’t have the resources to disrupt. According to the report, the IRS collects 99 percent of taxes due on wages, but that number is estimated to be as low as 45 percent on non-labor income, a discrepancy that hugely benefits high earners with “less visible” income sources. The Treasury calls virtual currency, which has some reporting requirements but still operates mostly out of sight in regulatory grey areas, a particular challenge.

“These opportunities are particularly available for those in the top end of the income distribution who can avoid taxes through sophisticated strategies such as offshoring, creating complex partnership structures, or moving taxable assets into the crypto economy,” the Treasury report states.

The report details a multiyear effort to bolster IRS enforcement that would bring in as much as $700 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years. The proposed changes, if implemented, would go into effect starting in 2023.

#biden, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-currency, #financial-technology, #government, #internal-revenue-service, #tax, #tc

CryptoPunks NFT bundle goes for $17 million in Christie’s auction

A lot of 9 CryptoPunks portraits ended up selling for just under $17 million in a Christie’s auction Tuesday evening, marking another substantial moment for NFT art sales. The lot of pixelated portraits were from the collection of the NFT platform’s co-creators Matt Hall and John Watkinson.

The CryptoPunks platform is one of the first NFT projects on the Ethereum blockchain. Back in 2017, ten thousand of the procedurally generated characters were given away for free. In the years since, a vibrant NFT community has developed around the ‘Punks. In recent months, on the back of a broader NFT boom, prices exploded.

Last month, TechCrunch profiled the community and some of its buyers who have paid tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars each to join the exclusive club of CryptoPunks owners.

Tuesday’s sale marks a substantial payday for the creators of the project, but comes just days after a much more substantial one: the release of their new project called Meebits which garnered nearly $80 million in sales in just a few hours.

The final Christie’s bid was for $14.5 million, $16.96 million after fees.

Many inside the crypto community had expected the sale to reach an even higher premium in recent weeks, something that had led to a substantial run-up in prices of CryptoPunks in the weeks ahead of the auction. Though the lot sold for a significantly higher dollar amount, when priced in denominations of the surging Ethereum cryptocurrency, the entire bundle sold for slightly less than the sale price of the last alien figure, which sold in March for 4,200 Eth (some $7.2M USD at the time).

#articles, #auction, #blockchain, #blockchains, #christies, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #cryptopunks, #decentralization, #ethereum, #joseph-lubin, #matt-hall, #nft, #tc

Crypto asset manager Babel raises $40M from Tiger Global, Bertelsmann and others

Three years after its inception, crypto financial service provider Babel Finance is racking up fundings and partnerships from major institutional investors. The startup said Monday that it has closed a $40 million Series A round, with lead investors including Zoo Capital, Sequoia Capital China, Dragonfly Capital, Bertelsmann and its Asian fund BAI Capital, and Tiger Global Management.

For years, traditional investors were reluctant to join the cryptocurrency fray. But in 2020, Babel noticed that many institutions and high net worth individuals began to consider crypto assets as an investment class.

Babel, with offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Singapore, wanted to capture the window of opportunity and be one of the earliest to help allocate crypto assets in investors’ portfolios. But first, it needed to win investors’ trust. One solution is to have reputable private equity and venture capital firms on its cap table.

“It’s more of a brand boost so we can attract more institutions and build up credibility,” Babel’s spokesperson Yiwei Wang said of the firm’s latest financing, which is a strategic round as Babel had “reached profitability” and “wasn’t actively looking for funding.”

To vie for institutional customers and wealthy individuals, Babel plans to spend its fresh proceeds on product development, compliance and talent acquisition, seeking especially banking professionals and lawyers to work on regulatory requirements. It currently has a headcount of 55 employees.

Mainstream investors are jumping into the crypto scene partly because many see bitcoin as a way to hedge against “solvency and credibility risks” amid global economic uncertainties caused by Covid-19, said Wang. “Bitcoin is not something controlled by the government.”

The other trigger, Wang explained, was what shock the industry in February: Elon Musk bought $1.5 billion in bitcoin and declared Tesla would begin accepting the digital token as payments. That sparked a massive rally around bitcoin, sending its price to over $40,000.

Babel’s evolution has been in line with the trajectory of the industry. In its early days, the startup was a “crypto-native” company offering deposit and loan products to crypto miners and traders. These days, it also runs a suite of asset management products and services tailored to enterprise clients around the world. It’s applying for relevant financial licenses in North America and Asia.

As of February, Babel’s crypto lending business had reached an outstanding balance of $2 billion in equivalent cryptocurrency, the firm says. It has served more than 500 institutional clients and sees about $8 billion in direct trading volume each month. 80% of its revenues are currently derived from institutions. The goal is to manage one million bitcoins within four years.

#asia, #babel-finance, #beijing, #bertelsmann, #bitcoin, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-currencies, #financial-technology, #funding, #sequoia-capital, #sequoia-capital-china, #singapore, #spokesperson, #tc, #tiger-global-management

Bitski raises $19 million from a16z to become the ‘Shopify for NFTs’

For every crypto-skeptic that see NFTs as yet another hype bubble, there’s an acolyte who sees NFTs as the key to unlocking the future of the creative web.

Bitski, an SF-based startup that builds custom NFT storefronts for brands and creators, is banking on the latter and they have new investors betting the same. The startup tells TechCrunch they’ve raised $19 million in a Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz. The firm joins a host of creators and celebrities including Jay Z, MrBeast, Serena Willliams and 3LAU in backing the startup.

The NFT space has gotten awfully crowded lately, riding a wave of investor hype and billions of dollars worth of transactions in the past several months. While the high-dollar artwork sold by artists like Beeple and exclusive crypto communities like CryptoPunks have been hotbeds of activity, founders like those behind Bitski believe that these blockchain-backed digital goods are going to inspire a massive transformation in how artists, influencers and brands monetize their online popularity.

Bitski is aiming to allow mainstream brands and celebrities to bypass the crypto complexity of early marketplaces, hoping to give customers like early partner Adidas an on-ramp to the NFT world that’s more approachable to consumers who understand digital items but might not have fully bought into crypto. The startup sells creators a variety of subscription plans to power custom NFT storefronts that they can sell through as their own channel rather than pushing users to wide-ranging marketplaces. 

There are plenty of arguments among builders and users of NFT platforms surrounding which elements of a service should be blockchain-based and which should default to more time-honed e-commerce flows. Bitski often errs on the side of user familiarity, allowing credit card purchases on the platform, “forgot your password” functionality and user wallets hosted on Bitski’s own server hardware. They’re controversial onboarding choices that won’t satisfy crypto purists and decentralization advocates but will likely help new users get acquainted with NFTs quickly.

With the company’s Series A closed, Bitski has raised some $23.4 million to date.

#adidas, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #bitski, #blockchain, #blockchains, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptopunks, #decentralization, #ethereum, #jay-z, #nft, #tc, #technology

With backers like Tiger Global, LatAm crypto exchange Bitso raises $250M at a $2.2B valuation

Bitso, a regulated crypto exchange in Latin America, announced today it has raised $250 million in a Series C round of funding that values the company at $2.2 billion.

Tiger Global and Coatue co-led the round, which also included participation from Paradigm, BOND & Valor Capital Group and existing backers QED, Pantera Capital and Kaszek.

The news caught our attention for several reasons. For one, it comes just four months after the Brazilian startup raised $62 million in a Series B round. Secondly, the company believes the funding makes it the most valuable crypto platform in Latin America. And lastly, it also makes the company one of the most highly valued fintechs in the region.

Last year was a good one for Bitso, which says it processed more than $1.2 billion in international payments — including remittances and payments between companies — during 2020 alone. Bitso says it also has surpassed 2 million users. These two milestones, the company argues, is evidence of the growing use of crypto as an everyday financial tool in the region.

Demand for crypto assets and crypto-enabled financial products have soared in popularity both for individuals and businesses in the region, according to Bitso, which aims to be “the safest, most transparent, and only regulatory compliant platform” in Latin America. The company also says it’s the only player in the region to offer crypto-insurance for its client’s funds.

“The growth of the crypto ecosystem this year has been remarkable. It took Bitso six years to get its first million clients. Now — less than 10 months later — we have reached the 2 million mark,” said Bitso co-founder and CEO Daniel Vogel. But the metrics he is most proud of are that Bitso has also more than doubled the assets on its platform in the last five months and that its transacting volume during the 2021 first quarter exceeded the transaction volume it did in all of 2020.

Bitso was founded in January 2014 and acquired its first customer in April of that year.

Bitso’s mission, put simply, is to build next-generation borderless financial services for consumers and businesses alike. “Cryptocurrencies are the future of finance and Bitso makes the future available today,” the company says.

“Bitso offers products and services for individuals and businesses to use crypto in their everyday life,” Vogel said. “In some parts of the world, crypto is associated with speculation. Bitso’s customers rely on the technology for everyday uses from receiving remittances to engaging in international commerce.”

Image Credits: Bitso

Bitso says its “global-minded” product offerings fit the needs of local customers in Mexico, Argentina and now Brazil, where it just launched its retail operations. The company plans to use its new capital toward broadening its capabilities and product offering. It also plans to expand its operations in other Latin American countries in the coming months. In January, the Financial Superintendence of Colombia announced Bitso as one of the authorized companies in its Sandbox and crypto pilot program.

Bitso’s upcoming products include a crypto derivatives platform and interest bearing accounts for crypto.

“This is a pivotal moment for the future of finance in Latin America,” Vogel told TechCrunch. “We see a significant amount of traditional financial infrastructure in the region being replaced by crypto. We plan to use this funding to continue that trend by expanding our product offering for individuals and businesses.”

Naturally, Bitso’s investors are bullish on the company’s potential.

QED Investors co-founder and managing partner Nigel Morris admits that in the past he was “a crypto denier.”

“For the longest time, we didn’t see a way crypto fit. It wasn’t clear until recently that the use cases for crypto expanded much beyond speculative trading. There are now a whole series of conventional banking products that we can wrap around it,” Morris told TechCrunch.

Bitso’s mission, he said, is to “make crypto useful” and QED believes the company is succeeding at doing just that.

“Daniel and the entire Bitso team is passionate about taking the mystique out of crypto. Crypto is not going away; it’s going to be here for the future,” Morris said. “By sitting at the intersection of crypto and traditional financial institutions, Bitso has a promise to provide lower-cost, friction-free financial services to entire populations of individuals who otherwise would be excluded — a laudable and unique mission indeed.”

Bitso, he added, is learning from the crypto experience in the U.S. and around the world.

“Not making the same mistakes and leaning into the emerging regulatory landscape has been a competitive advantage to Bitso’s success in Mexico,” Morris said. “As Bitso grows throughout the regions, they certainly have a leg up and might even leapfrog crypto adoption in the U.S.”

“Crypto is rapidly gaining adoption in Latin America,” said Tiger Global Partner Scott Shleifer, in a written statement. “We are excited to partner with Bitso and believe they have the right team and platform to increase share in this growing market.”

Founded in 2014, Bitso has more than 300 employees across 25 different countries. That compares to 116 employees last year at this time. In particular, its growth in Brazil is increasing exponentially.

“We’ve gone from 1 to 26 Bitsonauts already based in Brazil, with many more working from abroad, and plan to 3X our number of hires in Brazil by the end of the year,” Vogel said, who acknowledged that the pandemic really impacted his company via the shift to remote work. “As we expand our reach into new territories, it has become a lot easier to meet staffing needs when the requirements are based on knowledge over geography.”

Bitso’s leadership is mostly based in Mexico, but the company also has offices in Buenos Aires, São Paolo and Gibraltar.

#argentina, #bitso, #bond, #brazil, #coatue, #colombia, #crypto-economy, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #finance, #financial-infrastructure, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latin-america, #mexico, #pantera-capital, #paradigm, #qed, #qed-investors, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #scott-shleifer, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global, #united-states, #valor-capital-group, #venture-capital

Multicoin Capital debuts new $100M fund to bet on crypto startups and tokens

Crypto startups couldn’t be hotter as currencies push past all-time-highs and investor appetite reaches mania for new projects. Crypto investment firms that have been investing in blockchain startups for years are not only beginning to see major movement from their portfolio, but are gaining renewed appetite from LPs after a lengthy crypto winter to make bigger, more audacious bets.

Austin-based Multicoin Capital has been around since 2017 investing in blockchain startups, cryptocurrencies and tokens with a venture fund and separate hedge fund. Today, the firm announced its raise of its second venture fund as it aims to further capitalize on rampant excitement in the crypto world. The new $100 million fund will help the company back new entrants in the space including companies tackling DeFi, digital collectibles, Web3 and crypto-enabled infrastructure.

Multicoin’s team says that it has already been investing out of this fund for several months and it seems the timing is more aligned with the promotion of three of the firm’s employees — Matt ShapiroMable Jiang, and John Robert Reed — to Partner status. The team is just 12, but is looking to expand as they build out their remote presence in other geographies.

The firm’s previous bets include The Graph, Solana, Torus, StarkWare and Arweave, among others.

#articles, #austin, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #financial-technology, #multicoin-capital, #technology

EU-based digital assets platform Finoa inks $22M Series A funding led by Balderton Capital

Institutions need to keep their crypto assets somewhere. And they aren’t going to keep it on some random, or consumer-grade crypto operation. This requires more sophisticated technology. Furthermore, being in the EU is going to be a key barrier to entry for many US or Asia-based operations.

Thus it is that Berlin-based digital asset custody and financial services platform
Finoa, has closed a $22 million Series A funding round, to do just that.

The round was led by Balderton Capital, alongside existing investors Coparion, Venture Stars and Signature Ventures, as well as an undisclosed investor.

Crucially, the Berlin-based startup works with Dapper Lab’s FLOW protocol, NEAR, and Mina, which are fast becoming standards for crypto assets. They are going up against large players such as Anchorage, Coinbase Custody, Bitgo, exchanges like Binance and Kraken, and self-custody solutions like Ledger.

Finoa says it now has over 250 customers, including T-Systems, DeFi-natives like CoinList and financial institutions like Bankhaus Scheich.

The company says its plan is to become a regulated platform for institutional investors and corporations to manage their digital assets and it has received a preliminary crypto custody license and is supervised by the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin).

The company was founded in 2018 by Christopher May and Henrik Ebbing, but both had previously worked together at McKinsey and started working in blockchain in 2017.

May commented: “We are proud to have established Finoa as Europe’s leading gateway for institutional participation and incredibly excited to accelerate our growth even further. We look forward to supporting new exciting protocols and projects, empowering innovative corporate use cases, and adding additional (decentralized) financial products and services to our platform.”

Colin Hanna, Principal at Balderton Capital, who leads most of Balderton’s Crypto investments, said: “Chris, Henrik, and the entire Finoa team have built a deeply impressive business which bridges the highest levels of professionalism with radical innovation. As custodians of digital asset private keys, Finoa needs to be trusted both with the secure management of those keys and with the products and services that allow their clients to fully leverage the power of native digital assets. The team they have assembled is uniquely positioned to do just that.” 

May added: “We identified a lack of sophisticated custody and asset servicing solutions for safeguarding and managing blockchain-based digital assets that successfully cover the needs of institutional investors. Finoa is bridging this gap by providing seamless, safe, and regulated access to the world of digital assets.”

“Being in the European Union requires a fundamentally different organizational setup, and poses a very high entry to new incumbents and other players overseas. There are few that have managed to do what Finoa has done in a European context and hence why we now see ourselves in a leading position.”

#anchorage, #articles, #asia, #balderton-capital, #berlin, #binance, #bitcoin, #bitgo, #blockchain, #coinbase, #colin-hanna, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #digital-currencies, #europe, #european-union, #kraken, #mckinsey, #t-systems, #tc, #united-states

Lobus raises $6 million for an art management platform on the blockchain

Reshaping ownership proofs in the fine art markets has been one of the blockchain’s clearest real-world use cases. But in recent months as top auction houses have embraced NFTs and popular artists experiment with the crypto medium, that future has seemed more tangible than ever before.

The ex-Christie’s and Sotheby’s team at Lobus is aiming to commoditize blockchain tech with an asset management platform that they hope can bring creator-friendly mechanisms from NFT marketplaces like SuperRare to the physical art world as well, allowing art owners to maintain partial ownership of the works they sell so that they can benefit from secondary transactions down the line. While physical art sellers have grown accustomed to selling 100% of their work while seeing that value accrue over time as it trades hands, Lobus’s goal is for artist’s to maintain fractional ownership throughout those sales, ensuring that they earn a commission on sales down the road. It’s a radical idea and a logistical nightmare made feasible by the blockchain’s approach to ownership.

“We’re really on a mission of making artists into owners,” Lobus CEO Sarah Wendell Sherrill tells TechCrunch. “We are really leveraging the best of what NFTs are putting out there about ownership and asking the questions of how to help create different ownership structures and interrupt this asset class.”

The startup is encapsulating these new mechanics in a wide-reaching art asset management platform that they hope can entice users of the aging legacy software suites being used today. Teaming robust ownership proofs with a CRM, analytics platform and tools like dynamic pricing, Lobus wants to give the art market its own Carta-like software platform that is approachable to the wider market.

Lobus tells TechCrunch they have raised $6 million from Upside Capital, 8VC, Franklin Templeton, Dream Machine, Weekend Fund and BoostVC, among others. Angels participating in the round include Rob Hayes, Troy Carter, Suzy Ryoo, Rebecca and Cal Henderson, Henry Ward and Lex Sokolin.

A big goal for the team has been removing the complexities of understanding what the blockchain is and instead focus on what their tech can deliver to their network of art owners. While the NFT boom of the past few months has already produced billions in sales, efforts like Lobus are attempting to cross-pollinate the mechanics of crypto art with the global art market in an effort to put stakeholders across the board on the same footing. In addition to having partnerships with around 300 active artists, Lobus has also sold their platform to collectors, artist estates and asset managers.

At the moment, Lobus has around 40,000 art objects in its database, encompassing about $4.4 billion in asset value across physical and digital objects.

#articles, #artist, #asset-management, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #blockchain-art, #blockchains, #boostvc, #cal-henderson, #ceo, #christies, #crm, #crypto-art, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-art, #franklin-templeton, #henry-ward, #software-platform, #sothebys, #tc, #technology, #troy-carter, #weekend-fund