Robinhood is now a stonk

Update: Trading of Robinhood shares has been halted due to volatility. The company’s stock paused at $65.60 on Robinhood itself. Yahoo Finance has a higher $77.03 price on the company’s equity, up a stunning 64.59% today. Things are fluid, but Robinhood may have been halted and then rose again when it resumed trading. Stonks indeed.

Shares of Robinhood, an investing-focused consumer fintech company, soared this morning in pre-market trading. The stonk phenomenon, which helped propel minor companies like GameStop and AMC earlier this year, appears to be impacting Robinhood’s own stock; that much GameStop and AMC trading took place on Robinhood’s platform during stonk-fever is irony not lost on this publication.

Here’s what things look like this morning, per Yahoo Finance:

Recall that Robinhood went public at $38 per share, the low end of its range, and sank in its early trading sessions to below its IPO price. Now, it’s worth $54 per share.

Cool.

Normally we’d crack a joke and close this small news item here, but with Robinhood’s IPO featuring a unique twist on the traditional public offering, we have to do a bit more work. When it went public, Robinhood reserved a chunk of its equity for purchase by its own users. The impact of this was that more retail investors likely owned Robinhood equity at the start of its trading life than would be normal with a traditional IPO.

One hypothesis regarding Robinhood’s somewhat slack early trading performance was that early retail demand for its shares was sated by its effort to allow its users to buy stock in its shares, leading to a less-skewed supply/demand curve when it debuted.

Things have changed. What’s going on? Last week, an analyst put a $65 per share price target on the stock. And there are a handful of other ratings to chew on. But the wild swing in the price of Robinhood today appears from our vantage point to be another stonk moment. The stock is being traded like a short-squeeze, even if some market participants are skeptical of the idea due to what they view as a limited short interest in the company.

Checking the Robinhood IR page, there’s no news. Robinhood did not recently report earnings. And the company’s recent 606 filings that deal with PFOF incomes seemed to match up with expectations in revenue terms regarding what the company detailed in its Q2 2021 flash numbers. Perhaps there was more crypto in there than expected, but nothing truly wild.

It appears that Robinhood is simply going up because it is. This happens in 2021; we just have to get used to it.

But what matters most for our purposes is that Robinhood’s decision to sell some IPO stock to its users did not manage to create so much float for the now-public unicorn to diminish weird trading. You can go public in an unusual manner and still catch a stonk wave. Now we know.

#fundings-exits, #gamestop, #initial-public-offering, #pfof, #robinhood, #startups, #stock-market, #yahoo

How Robinhood’s explosive growth rate came to be

This afternoon Robinhood filed to go public. TechCrunch’s first look at its results can be found here. Now that we’ve done a first dig, we can take the time to dive into the company’s filing more deeply.

Robinhood’s IPO has long been anticipated not only because there are billions of dollars in capital riding on its impending liquidity, but also because the company became something of a poster child for the savings and investing boom that 2020 saw and the COVID-19 pandemic helped engender.

The consumer trading service’s products became so popular and enmeshed in popular culture thanks to both the “stonks” movement and the larger GameStop brouhaha, that the company’s public offering carries much more weight than that of a more regular venture-backed entity. Robinhood has fans, haters, and many an observer in Congress.

Regardless of all that, today we are digging into the company’s business and financial results. So, if you want to better understand how Robinhood makes money, and how profitable or not it really is, this is for you.

We will start with a more in-depth look at growth and profitability, pivot to learning about the company’s revenue makeup, discuss a risk factor or two, and close on its decision to offer some of its own shares to its users. Let’s go!

Inside Robinhood’s growth engine

Before we get into the how of Robinhood’s growth, let’s discuss how big the company has become.

The fintech unicorn’s revenue grew from $277.5 million in 2019 to $958.8 million in 2020, which works out to growth of around 245%. Robinhood expanded even more quickly in the first quarter of 2021, scaling from year-ago revenue of $127.6 million to $522.2 million, a gain of around 309%.

Those are numbers that we frankly do not see often amongst companies going public; 300% growth is a pre-Series A metric, usually.

#dogecoin, #ec-fintech, #finance, #fundings-exits, #gamestop, #revenue, #robinhood, #short-selling, #startups, #tc

Don’t look now, but GameStop stock is approaching record highs again

Q-Bert can't tell what the @!#?! is going on with GameStop stock, either...

Enlarge / Q-Bert can’t tell what the @!#?! is going on with GameStop stock, either… (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

GameStop’s stock price is approaching the historic highs it reached during the zenith of its meme-stock volatility in January. The stock’s steady increase over the last months comes as the company prepares to announce its quarterly earnings after the market closed Wednesday evening. Shareholders, meanwhile, officially elected Chewy co-founder Ryan Cohen as chairman of the board.

As of Wednesday afternoon, GameStop stock is trading at around $325 per share, up nearly 10 percent from a Tuesday closing price of $300. That number is off slightly from the stock’s all-time high closing price of $347.51 on January 27 (though the stock spiked very briefly at an all-time high of $483 in intra-day trading on January 28). Today’s close could easily approach or surpass the January 29 closing price of $325, which was the stock’s second-highest in history.

After the historic highs of January, GameStop stock plummeted to under $60 per share by the time February rolled around, and it sank as low as $40.59 by February 19, just after it was a central subject in a House Committee on Financial Services hearing. By early March, though, enthusiastic retail investors had once again bid the price up to around $260, after which it slowly sank back down to a recent minimum of $143.20 just a month ago.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#gamestop, #gaming-culture, #ryan-cohen, #short-squeeze, #stock

GameStop FOMO inspires a new wave of crypto pump-and-dumps

Physical representations of virtual dogecoins sit atop computer components.

Enlarge (credit: peng song / Getty)

After the California Gold Rush, in 1870, two Kentucky swindlers whipped up a scheme to prey on thirsty financiers’ FOMO. They invented a diamond field out West. Investors sunk millions in today’s money into the scheme. All of it, of course, was for naught—a cautionary tale about believing anyone who claims they have a surefire plan to get rich quick.

A hundred and fifty years later, a new generation of amateur investors is equally desperate not to miss the next big thing in the finance world. After watching the great GameStop stock boom play out on sites like Reddit and Discord this winter, hundreds of thousands of hopefuls are joining Discord groups that promise big earnings from manipulating the crypto market—also known as crypto pump-and-dumps. Step 1: Buy in early, when the coin is low. Step 2: convince other people to join you—the more, the merrier, the bigger the potential gains as the price of the coin goes up. Step 3: Sell out before the price tanks. Get the timing right, these groups promise, and you come out a winner (and richer). Losers are left holding the bag.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bitcoin, #cryptocurrency, #day-trading, #discord, #gamestop, #gaming-culture, #policy

Injective Protocol raises $10M from Pantera Capital, Mark Cuban for its ‘DeFi Robinhood’

Back in December last year Injective Protocol, launched the testnet for its DeFi protocols for cross-chain derivatives trading, with backing from giant crypto exchange Binance. It has now raised $10 million in a “party” funding round. Participating in the round was Pantera Capital, BlockTower, Hashed, Cadenza Ventures (formerly BitMex Ventures), CMS, and QCP Capital. Billionaire NBA team owner and Shark Tank judge Mark Cuban has also made a strategic investment into Injective, according to my sources.

Injective’s main competitors (centralized and decentralized exchanges) include CME Group, BitMEX, LedgerX and OKEx, among others. The advantage of the approach used by Injective (it says) combines the advantages of decentralized exchanges: resistance to front running, scams, and hacks, with the speed, low transaction fees, and no gas fees associated with centralized platforms. Developers can also create their own derivatives and markets to trade.

Eric Chen, CEO of Injective Protocol said in a statement: “Legacy institutions and practices create a number of artificial delays and middlemen that prevent innovation in the financial markets ecosystem. At Injective, our goal is to enable an unparalleled decentralized trading experience, whereby retail traders globally can for the first time access limitless markets without the typical predatory fees and slow transaction times”.

The background to this is that Injective is essentially trying to build a decentralized competitor to Robinhood, because their platform allows the creation of synthetic tokens that represent stock in public companies like Apple and indices like S&P 500. This means meaning trading can happen 24/7 with instant finalization, as DeFi promises.

“Why do I invest in Injective: the whole stop out because of the capital requirements, Robinhood didn’t do it on purpose to hurt traders, they just didn’t have enough equity and they would have gone bankrupt because they had too many customers. But if you’re doing it in a decentralized manner every investor gets to see how much Injective has of all of this, there’s no hiding it and that creates an opportunity”, said Mark Cuban on his investment in Injective.

The potential here is that brokers wouldn’t be able to block trades on certain stocks, as they did with GameStop, as pointed out by Cuban above.

Injective’s team is drawn from Stanford University, came up with its project in 2018, and Chen was working at hedge funds and worked in cryptographic research at a blockchain-focused fund.

#apple, #binance, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralized-exchange, #decentralized-finance, #digital-currencies, #ethereum, #europe, #financial-technology, #gamestop, #injective-protocol, #mark-cuban, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #pantera-capital, #robinhood, #stanford-university, #tc

A ‘more honest’ stock market

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I talked about Clubhouse’s slowing user growth. Well, this week news broke that they had been in talks with Twitter for a $4 billion acquisition, so it looks like they’re still pretty desirable. This week, I’m talking about a story I published a couple days ago that highlights pretty much everything that’s wild about the alternative asset world right now.

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


The big thing

If you successfully avoided all mentions of NFTs until now, I congratulate you, because it certainly does seem like the broader NFT market is seeing some major pullback after a very frothy February and March. You’ll still be seeing plenty of late-to-the-game C-list celebrities debuting NFT art in the coming weeks, but a more sober pullback in prices will probably give some of the NFT platforms that are serious about longevity a better chance to focus on the future and find out how they truly matter.

I spent the last couple weeks, chatting with a bunch of people in one particular community — one of the oldest active NFT communities on the web called CryptoPunks. It’s a platform with 10,000 unique 24×24 pixel portraits and they trade at truly wild prices.

This picture sold for a $1.05 million.

I talked to a dozen or so people (including the guy who sold that one ^^) that had spent between tens of thousands and millions of dollars on these pixelated portraits, my goal being to tap into the psyche of what the hell is happening here. The takeaway is that these folks don’t see these assets as any more non-sensical than what’s going on in more traditional “old world” markets like public stock exchanges.

A telling quote from my reporting:

“Obviously this is a very speculative market… but it’s almost more honest than the stock market,” user Max Orgeldinger tells TechCrunch. “Kudos to Elon Musk — and I’m a big Tesla fan — but there are no fundamentals that support that stock price. It’s the same when you look at GameStop. With the whole NFT community, it’s almost more honest because nobody’s getting tricked into thinking there’s some very complicated math that no one can figure out. This is just people making up prices and if you want to pay it, that’s the price and if you don’t want to pay it, that’s not the price.”

Shortly after I published my piece, Christie’s announced that they were auctioning off nine of the CryptoPunks in an auction likely to fetch at least $10 million at current prices. The market surged in the aftermath and many millions worth of volume quickly moved through the marketplace minting more NFT millionaires.

Is this all just absolutely nuts? Sure.

Is it also a poignant picture of where alternative asset investing is at in 2021? You bet.

Read the full thing.


an illustration of a cardboard ballot box with an Amazon smile on the front

Other things

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

Amazon workers vote down union organization attempt
Amazon is breathing a sigh of relief after workers at their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse opted out of joining a union, lending a crushing defeat to labor activists who hoped that the high-profile moment would lead more Amazon workers to organize. The vote has been challenged, but the margin of victory seems fairly decisive.

Supreme court sides with Google in Oracle case
If any singular event impacted the web the most this week, it was the Supreme Court siding with Google in a very controversial lawsuit by Oracle that could’ve fundamentally shifted the future of software development.

Coinbase is making waves
The Coinbase direct listing is just around the corner and they’re showing off some of their financials. Turns out crypto has been kind of hot lately and they’re raking in the dough, with revenue of $1.8 billion this past quarter.

Apple share more about the future of user tracking
Apple is about to upend the ad-tracking market and they published some more details on what exactly their App Tracking Transparency feature is going to look like. Hint: more user control.

Consumers are spending lots of time in apps
A new report from mobile analytics firm App Annie suggests that we’re dumping more of our time into smartphone apps, with the average users spending 4.2 hours a day doing so, a 30 percent increase over two years.

Sonos perfects the bluetooth speaker
I’m a bit of an audio lover, which made my colleague Darrell’s review of the new Sonos Roam bluetooth speaker a must-read for me. He’s pretty psyched about it, even though it comes in at the higher-end of pricing for these devices, still I’m looking forward to hearing one with my own ears.


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
The StockX EC-1
“StockX is a unique company at the nexus of two radical transitions that isn’t just redefining markets, but our culture as well. E-commerce upended markets, diminishing the physical experience by intermediating and aggregating buyers and sellers through digital platforms. At the same time, the internet created rapid new communication channels, allowing euphoria and desire to ricochet across society in a matter of seconds. In a world of plenty, some things are rare, and the hype around that rarity has never been greater. Together, these two trends demanded a stock market of hype, an opportunity that StockX has aggressively pursued.”

Building the right team for a billion-dollar startup
“I would really encourage you to take some time to think about what kind of company you want to make first before you go out and start interviewing people. So that really is going to be about understanding and defining your culture. And then the second thing I’d be thinking about when you’re scaling from, you know, five people up to, you know, 50 and beyond is that managers really are the key to your success as a company. It’s hard to overstate how important managers, great managers, are to the success of your company.

So you want to raise a Series A
“More companies will raise seed rounds than Series A rounds, simply due to the fact that many startups fail, and venture only makes sense for a small fraction of businesses out there. Every check is a new cycle of convincing and proving that you, as a startup, will have venture-scale returns. Moore explained that startups looking to move to their next round need to explain to investors why now is their moment.”

Until next week,
Lucas M.

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

#alabama, #amazon, #app-annie, #apple, #bessemer, #blockchain, #bluetooth, #bluetooth-speaker, #christies, #coinbase, #cryptocurrency, #e-commerce, #extra-crunch, #gamestop, #google, #operating-systems, #oracle, #real-time-web, #smartphone, #software, #software-development, #sonos, #stockx, #supreme-court, #tc, #techcrunch, #text-messaging, #twitter, #week-in-review

The Cult of CryptoPunks

Last month, hours before news of Beeple’s $69 million NFT sale grabbed the front pages of newspapers across the country, a pair of 24 x 24 pixel portraits of aliens wearing little hats sold separately for around $7.5 million each.

The sales, which occurred within 20 hours of each other, didn’t garner the same headlines that the Beeple auction received, but there was a bit of coverage in the tech press, mostly because one of the aliens was sold by Dylan Field, the CEO of design software startup Figma. In a Clubhouse conversation following the sale, Field said he hoped that a century from now the blocky image he had sold would be seen as the “Mona Lisa of digital art.”

Punk #7804, which recently sold for 4,200 Ether (about $7.5M at the time of sale)

The pixelated alien portraits belonged to an NFT platform called CryptoPunks. In the world of NFTs, the platform is as close to ancient history as it gets, meaning it’s almost four years old. There are 10,000 punks, all of which were procedurally generated and claimed for free when the project launched in 2017.

Since then, the economy built around trading these images has sauntered on with a small but passionate community, at least until a few months ago. That’s when it suddenly exploded, dragging into the fray Silicon Valley CEOs, prominent venture capitalists, famous YouTubers, poker stars and major business personalities. The platform has seen nearly $200 million worth of transaction volume in official deals since launch, according to NFT tracking site CryptoSlam, with 98% of that volume flowing through the platform in the past few months.

The sudden rise in punk prices is owed to an explosion of interest in NFTs largely brought about by climbing cryptocurrency prices, the rise in popularity of Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot and the resurgence of the physical collectibles markets, all of which have made some investors more comfortable with the idea of betting on digital goods.

Today, the cheapest punk you can buy will run you about $30,000 in Ethereum cryptocurrency, while the rarest may be worth just shy of $10 million.

CryptoPunks have captured plenty of attention, but even with all eyeballs on the project, people still aren’t sure exactly what they’re looking at.

“In NFT world, people are talking about selling Jack Dorsey tweets, Top Shots and Beeple in the same sentence right now,” Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart told TechCrunch in an interview. “The lines can get a little blurry. When you look at CryptoPunks, are they art? Are they collectibles? Are they… you know, well… what are they exactly?”

Image Credits: Lucas Matney

A ‘more honest’ stock market

Back in early 2017, John Watkinson and Matt Hall were playing with a pixelated character generator they built, and they were pretty enthusiastic about the fun little pop art portraits they had been cooking up. By June, they had created 10,000 characters with different hairstyles, hats and glasses for a project called CryptoPunks that would be hosted on the nascent Ethereum blockchain. Some punks had a handful of attributes, some had none, some were apes, some were aliens. While the creators had a hand in curating some elements, they let their generator take control of the creativity.

They launched to modest interest from a small community of blockchain enthusiasts who only had to pay a few pennies in Ethereum “gas” transaction fees to own their own punk. It was a novel idea, pre-dating the NFT platform CryptoKitties by months and NBA Top Shot by years, but it arrived at the cusp of crypto’s 2017 wave during the early throes of initial coin offerings, where scams were plentiful and attention was hard to come by. Hall said that about 20-30 punks were claimed in the days following launch.

Then a week later Mashable wrote a story about the fledgling crypto art project, and within hours every punk was gone.

Some users went all-in immediately. One user that went by the username hemba has become something of a cautionary figure in the CryptoPunks community, claiming more than 1,000 punks at launch and selling every one of them before the market took off this year, missing out on tens of millions of dollars in profits at current prices. Another user who goes by mr703 claimed some 703 punks in total at launch, hundreds of which they are still holding onto years later in a collection similarly worth tens of millions.

In a Discord chat with the pseudonymous mr703, we asked whether they felt they had enough or if there were any punks they still intended to buy. “I own all the punks I ever really want,” they typed back. Their public wallet shows they paid more than $37,000 for a punk in the minutes in between our question and their answer. They spent $35,000 on another one several hours later.

Some investors who have already gone all-in backing risky cryptocurrencies see NFTs as a way to diversify their crypto holdings. Others see CryptoPunks as more of a game.

CryptoPunks creators Matt Hall and John Watkinson

“I think that with each year that passes the definition of what is gambling and what is investing move closer and closer together,” says Mike McDonald, a 31-year-old professional poker player who recently bought his first punk.

Why are some punks worth tens of thousands of dollars while others are worth millions? Users in the thriving CryptoPunks Discord community have had to decide that on their own, combining objective analysis of the rarity of certain design attributes with the more subjective impressions of punk “aesthetics.”

Things aren’t always predictable. Earrings are the most common attribute for punks, commanding much lower price floors than those with beanie hats, which are the rarest attribute. But hundreds of punks are wearing 3D glasses, yet they tend to earn a hefty premium over those with green clown hair even though fewer of those punks exist. Some attributes gain market momentum randomly; for instance, the market for punks wearing hoodies has been particularly hot in recent weeks.

“Obviously this is a very speculative market… but it’s almost more honest than the stock market,” user Max Orgeldinger tells TechCrunch. “Kudos to Elon Musk — and I’m a big Tesla fan — but there are no fundamentals that support that stock price. It’s the same when you look at GameStop. With the whole NFT community, it’s almost more honest because nobody’s getting tricked into thinking there’s some very complicated math that no one can figure out. This is just people making up prices and if you want to pay it, that’s the price and if you don’t want to pay it, that’s not the price.”

As prices have surged, owning a piece of the CryptoPunks’ finite supply has become a “digital flex” in its own right, especially when used as an avatar on social media sites, several punk owners told us. That has drawn plenty of wealthy buyers outside the blockchain world, including influencers like YouTuber Logan Paul who uploaded a video last month detailing his $170,000 purchase of several punks.

“When you don’t have a punk, the ecosystem seems like this gentlemen’s club of the 10,000 people that can afford these kinds of avatars,” says McDonald.

There is some concern among the community whether all of this outside attention is a sign of an impending crash in prices, though many investors feel reassured by the historical value of CryptoPunks among NFTs. Nevertheless, some of the investors have a hard time convincing those in their lives that what they’re doing is anything but reckless.

After a recent six-figure punk purchase, user Chris Mintern says his girlfriend was exasperated that he had just dropped more money on a punk than her house was worth. “She says it’s all just a bunch of internet nerds who don’t appreciate the value of money. That to them, it’s just a game and numbers on a screen,” he told TechCrunch.

The community surrounding CryptoPunks has largely bloomed on the chat app Discord in a dedicated group where users that are verified as punk owners tend to drive conversations and can gather attention for up-and-coming NFT projects they’re betting on.

“It’s a bit of a cult,” said user thebeautyandthepunk in an interview.

Like many early users, thebeautyandthepunk has stayed pseudonymous since claiming a couple dozen punks at launch, telling us that no one in her life has any idea she’s sitting on an NFT collection likely worth millions — except her accountant. She did recently decide to make it known that she was one of the few female traders who have been present in the overwhelmingly male CryptoPunks community since the beginning.

“I really try to keep my real life and my crypto life completely separate,” she says. “But people need to know that women have been [in this space] for a while and we’re not going anywhere.”

Today, all 10,000 punks are scattered across some 1,889 wallets, according to crypto tracker Etherscan. Some of those accounts are inactive and feared dead, with the punks inside them lost on the blockchain forever. The largest single wallet of punks today belongs to the platform’s creators, holding some 488 punks. It’s their only ownership in a blockchain-based marketplace where most mechanics are already set in stone.

“We’re just users now, too. Nothing about our website is specific to us having created the project,” Watkinson tells TechCrunch. “Our only equity is through the punks we own. We don’t take a cut of the market or anything.”

Image Credits: Lucas Matney

The NFT high-rollers table

Today, CryptoPunks’ creators are working on NFTs full time. While they can’t make any underlying changes to the CryptoPunks contract, they have aimed to improve the website’s marketplace while hopping into the Discord group to keep an eye on the ever-growing community of users.

“It was never our intention for this to sort of be our careers,” Watkinson says.

In 2019, the duo debuted a follow-up project called Autoglyphs, which brought generative art to the blockchain. It didn’t boast the pop aesthetic of CryptoPunks, but it added a new layer to their exploration of blockchain art. Hall and Watkinson have built up a company around their various projects called Larva Labs, and they are in the process of building up a new NFT project that they hope will have a lower barrier of entry than CryptoPunks and Autoglyphs.

“As the CryptoPunks get more and more expensive, they’re just hard to get into,” Hall says.

At around $200 million in official marketplace sales, CryptoPunks’ total lifetime sales volume is about 40% of what Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot has achieved in its past several months. Though CryptoPunks has done so with 0.35% of Top Shot’s total transaction volume, which is fewer than 12,000 trades compared to more than 3.3 million, according to CryptoSlam. Those high transaction numbers spread across millions of NFTs mean much less value per transaction on Top Shot, but a much, much bigger pool of active users.

Last month, Dapper Labs announced they had raised $305 million at a $2.6 billion valuation as they look to expand their private Flow blockchain to other blockchain “games” through more high-profile partnerships. Hall and Watkinson have been watching Dapper Labs’ success, but don’t think Larva Labs will need venture funding to continue exploring what’s next for NFTs.

“Rather than looking at becoming a large company and doing a deal with the NBA or something like that, we’re more just looking forward to kind of just continuing to explore the tech possibilities,” Watkinson said. “What we love about CryptoPunks is the action, and so we’d like to find a way back to sort of that level of action, and our next project is going to try to find ways to sort of keep the deal flow going.”

They have few details to share on the new project, which they said will debut “relatively soon” this year.

Image Credits: Lucas Matney

The origin of the species

CryptoPunks lore is largely steeped in the assertion that they are the oldest NFT project on the Ethereum blockchain. It’s a line that was floated by almost all of the punk owners I spoke with as the main reason they had dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the platform. In Paul’s recent YouTube video, he justified prices to his skeptical friends by noting, “[CryptoPunks] is the first and that makes it special.”

But over the past few weeks, holes in that narrative have begun to emerge, as “crypto archaeologists” have begun to unearth abandoned NFT projects that were created in Ethereum’s earliest days, with at least one arriving before CryptoPunks. We recently spoke with Cyrus Adkisson, the creator of a project called Etheria, which he debuted back in 2015, just three months after Ethereum’s mainnet went live. The project allowed users to buy up, sell and build on hexagonal swaths of digital land on a large map. It didn’t develop much of a following at launch and sat abandoned for years on the Ethereum blockchain until Adkisson saw the “fever pitch” developing around NFTs and started searching for the passcode to his old account.

“I remember calling my parents toward the end of February, telling them I may be sitting on a goldmine here,” Adkisson told TechCrunch.

After ultimately gaining access to his Etheria account, he then fired off a few tweets from Etheria’s long-dormant Twitter account, detailing that the bulk of the 914 tiles across two externally tradeable versions were still available and could be claimed for 1 Ether each. Adkisson says by the end of that weekend, his previously empty wallet was filled with $1.4 million worth of Ethereum.

Age alone won’t make Etheria a hit; the major challenge from here is building up a community around the project that brings in more users and pushes the prices of land tiles higher. A tile recently sold for nearly $25,000 worth of Ether, but early adopters are struggling to balance waiting out the market’s development with liquidating enough tiles so that new users can get involved and the project can build hype. 

“With these projects, it’s like, yeah, you have the historical context, but now you need to build a solid foundation with your communities because your real measure is not now, but it’s going to be what your community, size and engagement look like in a year,” says Allen Hena, an NFT enthusiast who helped attract attention to the Etheria community last month with a series of blog posts.

 In the days following the project’s resurrection, the young community has already seen plenty of disagreement and infighting as Adkisson aims to maintain some level of control over the platform on which plenty have already pinned their retirement plans. Owners are mainly frustrated by Adkisson’s attempts to make an older version of Etheria externally tradeable, something that would likely make land tiles on the existing contracts considerably less valuable. Since our interview, Adkisson has left Etheria’s Discord server and admins in the group have vowed to continue on without him as he decides which direction he wants to take Etheria 1.0.

While punk owners we talked with are keeping an eye on these newly reemerged projects, they’re also skeptical that Etheria’s older status will do much to impact CryptoPunks’ value to NFT history.

“On paper it looks cool but it didn’t actually do anything for the community,” says user Daniel Maegaard. “CryptoPunks did all the hard work.”

Punk #6487, which Daniel Maegaard recently sold for 550 Ether (about $1.05M at the time of sale)

Maegaard, a 30-year-old crypto investor based in Brisbane, Australia, is more tied up in the value of CryptoPunks than most. He recently sold a particularly rare female “zero-trait” punk for more than $1 million. He’s also the owner of one of the rarest — some argue the rarest — punks, the only one with seven unique attributes, a qualifier that has earned it the nickname “7-atty” and a sacred place in punk lore. When he bought the punk for about $18,000 in Ethereum last year, it was the most anyone had ever paid. He isn’t keen to let it go anytime soon, saying he recently turned down a private offer for $4.2 million from a group of investors that hoped to tokenize the NFT and sell fractional shares of it to other users. Part of holding onto it is the potential for further gains, but the real reason, he says, is that he’s beginning to feel an emotional bond with his collection of digital files.

“These little pixelated faces, it should be easy to give them up. I’ve sold a few punks and I’ve regretted every sale, I experienced that when I sold my zero-trait punk,” Maegaard says. “Like, yeah, a million dollars is nice, but I really liked her.”

#accountant, #blockchain, #blockchain-art, #blockchains, #brisbane, #crypto-art, #crypto-economy, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #dylan-field, #elon-musk, #ethereum, #figma, #gamestop, #jack-dorsey, #logan-paul, #matt-hall, #mona-lisa, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #nfts, #player, #sothebys, #tc

Why some investors are excited about Ryan Cohen as GameStop’s next chairman

Struggling video game retailer GameStop announced Thursday that it intends to name Chewy.com co-founder Ryan Cohen as chairman of its board of directors following its next stockholder meeting on June 9. The move seems likely to further encourage some investors who continue to be bullish on GameStop stock and see Cohen’s plans to “transform” the retailer as a key part of its recent sky-high rise in valuation.

Cohen, who sold pet-supplies retailer Chewy to PetSmart for $3.5 billion in 2017, has traditionally been cautious with his investing strategy, putting money into big, safe stocks like Apple and Wells Fargo. But Cohen bought a roughly 10 percent stake in GameStop last August, when short sellers thought the already-depressed stock would continue to lose value. He increased that stake to 13 percent in December, earning a number of seats on the company’s board in the process.

During his time with the retailer, Cohen hasn’t been shy about pushing for GameStop to “promptly pivot from a brick-and-mortar mindset to a technology-driven vision,” as he put it in a November SEC filing. “If GameStop takes practical steps to cut its excessive real estate costs and hire the right talent, it will have the resources to begin building a powerful e-commerce platform that provides competitive pricing, broad gaming selection, fast shipping, and a truly high-touch experience that excites and delights customers.”

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#cohen, #gamestop, #gaming-culture, #retail, #stock

GameStop (the stock) and GameStop (the retailer) continue to be worlds apart

It may take more than one bad earnings report to pop this bubble...

Enlarge / It may take more than one bad earnings report to pop this bubble…

The last time GameStop announced its quarterly earnings, in early December, the stock market valued the video game retailer at about $1 billion. Following a worse-than-expected earnings report released Tuesday night, the company now has a market cap of just under $10 billion as of Wednesday morning.

Sure, that’s down roughly 18 percent from Tuesday’s closing price, and off roughly 44 percent from a January peak that saw the stock offering become a poster child for the retail investor-driven “meme stock” phenomenon. Still there’s not much in this week’s report to suggest that GameStop as a company is worth ten times as much as it was just three months ago, much less the higher valuations it briefly enjoyed in the interim.

Signs of a turnaround?

Overall, GameStop’s latest earnings report shows a company still struggling to turn itself around. For the full fiscal year, the company lost $215 million on net, improving on a net loss of just over $470 million the year prior. Net sales for the year were down over 21 percent, to $5.09 billion, a decline GameStop blamed in part on its “de-densification efforts” (i.e. closing nearly 700 stores). Even taking that move into account, though, sales for comparable stores were down 9.5 percent for the year.

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#earnings, #gamestop, #gaming-culture, #retail, #stock, #value

Trading platform eToro to go public via SPAC merger in $10B deal

Multi-asset investing and trading platform and Robinhood competitor eToro announced Tuesday it will go public via a merger with SPAC FinTech Acquisition Corp. V in a massive $10.4 billion deal.

Once the transaction closes sometime in the third quarter, the combined company will operate as eToro Group Ltd. and is expected to be listed on the Nasdaq exchange.

The 14-year-old Israeli company was founded on a “vision of opening up capital markets.” It launched its platform in the U.S. just over two years ago and has seen rapid growth as of late. Last year, eToro said it added over 5 million new registered users and generated gross revenues of $605 million, representing 147% year over year growth. In January alone, the company added over 1.2 million new registered users and executed more than 75 million trades on its platform. That compares to 2019 when monthly registrations averaged 192,000 and 2020, when they grew to 440,000.

eToro said its platform is capitalizing on a number of secular trends such as the rise of digital wealth platforms, growing retail participation and mainstream crypto adoption. The company no doubt benefitted from the recent rise in retail investment interest, and in consumer investment apps and services specifically, which resulted from the so-called ‘meme stock’ activity that began with Redditors trading GameStop stock in order to frustrate institutional short-sellers.

The platform, which spans “social” stock trading and cryptocurrency exchange, in November 2019 acquired Delta, the crypto portfolio tracker app. eToro claims to be one of the first regulated platforms to offer cryptoassets. Its platform is regulated in the U.K., Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Gibraltar.

The transaction includes commitments for a $650 million common share private placement from leading investors including ION Investment Group, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Third Point LLC, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC and Wellington Management. The overall $10.4 billion implied equity value of the merger arrangement includes an implied enterprise value for eToro of $9.6 billion.

eToro currently has over 20 million registered users across 100 countries, and its social community is rapidly expanding due to the growth of its total addressable market, supported in part by secular trends such as the growth of digital wealth platforms and the rise in retail participation.

It expects to receivedapproval from FINRA for a broker dealer license, with plans to launch stocks in the U.S. in the second half of 2021. In a written statement, FinTech V chairman Betsy Cohen said that its sponsor platform Fintech Masala seeks out companies “with outsized growth, effective controls and excellent management teams.”

“eToro meets all three of these criteria,” she added. “In the last few years, eToro has solidified its position as the leading online social trading platform outside the U.S., outlined its plans for the U.S. market, and diversified its income streams. It is now at an inflection point of growth, and we believe eToro is exceptionally positioned to capitalize on this opportunity.”

#australia, #betsy-cohen, #broker, #cryptocurrency, #cryptocurrency-exchange, #etoro, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finra, #fintech, #gamestop, #ing-group, #money, #robinhood, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #spac, #tc, #third-point-llc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wellington-management

Don’t look now, but GameStop’s stock price is surging again

HODL!

Enlarge / HODL! (credit: Getty Images)

GameStop’s stock price saw yet another sudden surge in late trading hours on Wednesday. After opening at $44.70 that morning, the price shot up from $52.41 at 3pm to $91.71 just before the market closed at 4pm.

That 75 percent increase in a single hour was followed shortly after by a peak price of nearly $200 in post-market trading Wednesday evening. As of this writing, the stock is currently selling at about $132 in highly volatile early market trading.

The sudden surge obviously brings to mind GameStop’s similarly quick stock price run-up in late January. Since peaking at over $400 during that extremely volatile week, though, GameStop’s stock price had settled to something resembling calm, closing between $40 and $60 every day since February 8.

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#gamestop, #gaming-culture, #markets, #stock, #volatility

Robinhood says Gamestop volatility was a “1 in 3.5 million” black swan

Ready, take aim, and let fly...

Enlarge / Ready, take aim, and let fly… (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Robinhood’s move to temporarily limit purchases of GameStop and other highly volatile stocks in late January was the overwhelming focus of today’s House Committee on Financial Services hearing.

At the hearing, Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev said that extreme stock volatility that led to Robinhood’s restriction was a “five sigma” event with a “1 in 3.5 million” chance of happening. That made the situation practically impossible for the company to plan for, Tenev said. “In the context of tens of thousands of days in the history of US stock market, a 1 in 3.5 million event is basically unmodelable.”

As we’ve covered previously, the high volatility of GameStop and other so-called “meme stocks” last month meant Robinhood was suddenly forced to provide much more collateral to the stock clearing houses that actually process its trades. Tenev said Thursday that these collateral obligations increased tenfold between January 25 and January 28, as GameStop rose from $76 a share to over $347, then back down to $193.

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#gamestop, #gaming-culture, #hearing, #house, #policy, #robinhood, #wallstreetbets

Creating a prediction machine for the financial markets

Artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies have evolved a lot over the past decade and have been useful to many people and businesses, especially in the realm of finance, banking, investment and trading.

In these industries, there are many activities that machines can perform better and faster than humans, such as calculations and financial reporting, as long as the machines are given the complete data.

The AI tools being built by humans today are becoming another level more robust in their ability to predict trends, provide complex analysis, and execute automations faster and cheaper than humans. However, there has not been an AI-powered machine built yet that can trade on its own.

There are many activities that machines can perform better and faster than humans, such as calculations and financial reporting, as long as the machines are given the complete data.

Even if it was possible to train such a system that could replace human judgment, there would still be a margin of error, as well as some things that are only understandable by human beings. Humans are still ultimately responsible for the design of AI-based prediction machines, and progress can only happen with their input.

Data is the backbone of any prediction machine

Building an AI-based prediction machine initially requires an understanding of the problem being solved and the requirements of the user. After that, it’s important to select the machine-learning technique that will be implemented, based on what the machine will do.

There are three techniques: supervised learning (learning from examples), unsupervised learning (learning to identify common patterns), and reinforcement learning (learning based on the concept of gamification).

After the technique is identified, it’s time to implement a machine-learning model. For “time series forecasting” — which involves making predictions about the future — long short-term memory (LSTM) with sequence to sequence (Seq2Seq) models can be used.

LSTM networks are especially suited to making predictions based on a series of data points indexed in time order. Even simple convolutional neural networks, applicable to image and video recognition, or recurrent neural networks, applicable to handwriting and speech recognition, can be used.

#artificial-intelligence, #artificial-neural-networks, #banking, #column, #cybernetics, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #gamestop, #machine-learning, #private-equity, #venture-capital

Why GameStop couldn’t cash in on its briefly inflated stock frenzy

Hi, yeah, how much can I get by trading in this slighty used share of GameStop stock?

Enlarge / Hi, yeah, how much can I get by trading in this slighty used share of GameStop stock? (credit: Getty Images)

At the beginning of the year, the stock market as a whole valued video game retailer GameStop at roughly $1.15 billion. By the close of trading on January 27, at the height of the speculative mania surrounding the stock, that total value had surged to about $22.6 billion. Today, GameStop’s market cap has sunk back down to a more reasonable $3.34 billion.

You’d think GameStop would have tried to take advantage of this brief market mania, cashing in on its suddenly hot brand by trading inflated stock for real money that could help its struggling brick-and-mortar business. But a new Reuters report cites “three people familiar with the US video game retailer’s internal deliberations” in detailing the logistical and regulatory hurdles that prevented that from happening.

Insider red tape

The core of GameStop’s quick cash-in problem was the SEC’s insider trading rules, which define a specific “trading window” schedule outlining when company insiders can and can’t trade on quarterly earnings results that haven’t yet been made public.

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#gamestop, #gaming-culture, #stock, #stonks

VC Alexa von Tobel on the most overlooked driver of social-media-driven stock trading

Alexa von Tobel has always felt strongly that too many people are shut out of the stock market. She felt this as a 23-year-old who didn’t have $5,000 to open a brokerage account. She felt it while building LearnVest, a financial planning startup she launched in 2009 and sold in 2015 to Northwestern Mutual for what she says was ultimately $375 million. In fact, von Tobel — who two years ago launched her own venture firm with fellow entrepreneur and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker —  cares so much about the yawning gap between investors and non-investors that she has written books about how to take control of one’s money. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, she is also a certified financial planner.)

Little wonder that in late January, for a podcast that von Tobel routinely hosts for Inc., she interviewed Robinhood Vlad Tenev about the company’s quest to make investing accessible to all and how it had shaken up the brokerage landscape in the process. Neither foresaw what would happen days later, when a Reddit community of amateur investors didn’t try to occupy Wall Street so much as turn it upside down by using Robinhood, in part, to drive up the share price of companies like GameStop and AMC Theatres — then unwind those positions. As a 21-year-old college student who lost $150,000 over the course of several days told the outlet Vice, “This whole thing has numbed me to money.”

What went wrong? Education, in the view of von Tobel, who says it never became an integrated part of bigger picture. While the GameStop saga has “brought a lot of new learnings and new things that people have to process and consider,” paramount among these is the inadequate financial training that Americans receive.

“I want the tools to be democratized, where everyone can get equal access to the financial system,” said von Tobel in a lively chat with us late last week that you can hear here. “But I also want equal education, and that’s where we’re woefully falling behind as a society. It’s not taught in high schools, colleges, or grad schools. Very few schools even teach the basics.”

The issue only grows more important to address each year, she says. People are living longer, and they’re more responsible than ever for their financial well-being. Meanwhile, because of innovations in fintech, including at Robinhood — which became wildly popular very quickly precisely because it dispensed with many of the barriers to participating in the stock market — there is little to keep someone from making lousy decisions with outsize consequences.

So what’s to be done? For starters, she suggests that society begin to place as much emphasis on financial health as physical wellness. “If you’re close to having a major health crisis, doctors do a really good job of saying, ‘Here’s all the things that you need to do to protect yourself; here’s what needs to happen. The same needs to exist in the financial world.”

It will take a number of stakeholders, she believes. One of these is “platforms – all of them — that provide you with [financial] tools and resources, so you can understand the kind of risks you’re taking on [to the extent] that they can provide it.”

Another, she said, is regulators, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Created in 2010 to safeguard consumers in banking, mortgage, credit card and other financial transactions, the CFPB’s very constitutionality was called into question by the Trump administration, yet its guidance is sorely needed, suggests von Tobel. (“Regulation is always a step behind, and that’s a little bit of what we’re feeling” as a society right now.)

Of course, the third and biggest stakeholder of all is the U.S. educational system, says von Tobel, adding that “you need all three, working in unison” in order to have real impact.

As for any structural changes in the meantime that von Tobel thinks should happen — according to CNBC, for example, Robinhood is preparing to lobby against a trading tax that’s been floated as a way to dampen some of the frenzied activity seen in recent weeks — she declines to “pontificate too much.”

Still, she said she thinks that “getting a Citadel and everyday Americans on equal footing is where we want to end up,” and she isn’t without hope that we’ll get there.

For example, she thinks crypto is “here to stay” and that the infrastructure being created around it will be positive for innovators as well as end users. She’s also expecting “self-driving wallets” that pay bills and make investments to become the new normal, and she thinks they could minimize some of the financial distress we might continue to see otherwise.

Considering the chaos of late, the latter almost sounds too easy, but the “wallet is simply a math equation every day,” she says. “If you have so much [money] available free, where should it go? What’s the most optimal place? It’s a math equation that updates every single hour, and I do think elements of it will be self-driving based on your goals and what you want to accomplish.

As she puts it, “I can’t wait for the day that that actually exists in a way where it automates on its own. I do believe that’s the future.”

And that’s absent the other changes she’d like to see or, more ideally, in addition to them.

#airtable, #alexa-von-tobel, #education, #finance, #fintech, #gamestop, #inspired-capital, #learnvest, #lemonade, #robinhood, #tc, #venture-capital

Reddit raises $250 million in Series E funding

Reddit has raised a new funding round, totalling $250 million. This is the company’s Series E round of financing, and it comes hot on the heels of renewed public attention on the site that has dubbed itself ‘the front page of the Internet,’ owing to the role the subreddit r/WallStreetBets played in the recent meteoric rise (and subsequent steep fall) of the value of GameStop stock. Reddit also ran a 5-second Super Bowl ad on Sunday, consisting of. a single static image that looked like a standard post on the network itself.

This is Reddit’s 16th year of operation, and the company has raised around $800 million to date, including a Tencent-led $300 million Series D in February, 2019. Today’s round including financing from “existing and new investors,” Reddit noted in a blog post in which it announced the funding. In the post, Reddit notes that the company felt “now was the right opportunity to make strategic investments in Reddit including video, advertising, consumer products and expanding into international markets.”

Reddit’s 5-second Super Bowl ad.

It’s unclear how the round came together exactly, but given the network’s time in the spotlight over the past few weeks, culminating in yesterday’s very brief, but also very memorable and high-profile ad, it seems likely it was at least finalized fast in order to help the company make the most of its time in the spotlight. In terms of what kind of specific moves Reddit could make with its new cash on hand, the blog post also namecheck its acquisition late last year of short video sharing platform Dubsmash, and announced plans to double its team over the course of this year with new hires.

Reddit’s long history has also included some significant tumult, and efforts to clean up its act in order to present a better face to advertisers, and to potential new community members. The network still struggles with balancing its commitments to fostering a home for a range of communities with the potential for hate speech and discrimination to take root within some of these, and it was also in the news earlier this year for finally banning controversial subreddit r/donaldtrump following “repeat´d policy violations” surrounding the attempted insurrection a the U.S. Capitol by a mob of domestic terrorists.

 

#apps, #consumer-products, #dubsmash, #funding, #gamestop, #like-button, #recent-funding, #reddit, #robinhood, #short-selling, #social, #software, #startups, #super-bowl, #tc, #websites, #wikis, #world-wide-web

In 2021 everyone gets 15 minutes of wealth

Trades in the infamous Reddit-basket of stocks and trades are taking a pounding today, with GameStop down 52.7%, AMC Entertainment off 42.7%, the silver-squeeze flopping and more. CNBC has a longer list if you want to feast your eyes on the carnage.

What a surprise that the thing that was always going to happen, has happened.

While it was quite honestly entertaining as hell to watch WallStreetBets go from cult-classic to internet hero overnight, tempting scads of new traders (check out how much Public has been growing while Robinhood raced to the top of app store charts) to try and take on the professional investing world, this was always going to be the result. Always.

Why? Because the companies that Reddit’s legion of traders decided to pump were ultimately not selected for anything other than price plasticity. GameStop was picked because traders thought they could punish shorts, remember, not because it was going to bring a revolution to video game distribution. Like what Steam did precisely 8 billion years ago.

Let’s make our point by way of comparison.

Tesla shares are up 3.7% today, as are the broader American stock markets. Tesla is up not because it is fairly valued, per se, but at least it’s a company that’s growing, makes money and has a good argument for what the future should look like. It’s hard to kill an idea based on something durable.

Compare the Tesla situation to GameStop. There’s little relation.

The brick-and-mortar game sales company has lots more room to fall. So does the movie theater chain suffering from the pandemic. But the original trader is still comfortably up. DeepFuckingValue, the Reddit trading icon, was still up 2,800% yesterday. That’s probably lower today, if he didn’t sell.

What worries me is all these dorks are getting torched today, after promising to stay in the trade yesterday when DeepFuckingValue updated the world on his epic trade:

Those folks probably weren’t up 2,800%.

Most of the people who are going to take a bath on the Reddit trades are regular folks: my friends, your siblings. Whereas professional money is probably making money on the way up and down.

This is how these things go. Gravity is real, and no matter how many times you shout stonks in the mirror, crying, while clutching your smartphone, it’s hard to keep a bag of shit in the air forever.

In 2021 maybe we don’t get 15 minutes of fame. There are so many different social platforms the very idea of 15 minutes of fame is outmoded; there are more slots than ever for everyone to build an audience. Perhaps instead the thing that the common person really wants is their 15 minutes of wealth. That feeling of safety and security and having made it that modern society so reserves for the wealthy few.

Which the stock market gave to a bunch of folks last week. And is taking away this week.

Andy Warhol is generally credited with the 15 minutes of fame concept. Today, however, our own Ron Miller came up with the variation, and was kind enough to let me use it for this post.

#gamestop, #reddit, #startups, #tc

As Virgin Galactic gets swept up in GameStop mania, it gets back to flying

VMS <em>Eve</em> carries VSS <em>Unity</em> for its first captive-carry flight over Mojave.

Enlarge / VMS Eve carries VSS Unity for its first captive-carry flight over Mojave. (credit: Virgin Galactic)

At a time when non-traditional investors are buying up heavily shorted stocks like GameStop and AMC Networks, the hunt is on to find other targets among the most-shorted stocks in the market.

Among those stocks is Virgin Galactic, which has a “short percent of float” of about 70 percent. This means that institutional traders have shorted about 70 percent of the shares of stock that are available for public trading. This is a big bet by investors that the company will fail.

In the year or so since it joined the New York Stock Exchange as SPCE, Virgin Galactic has typically traded between $15 and $25 a share. This last week it spiked to $58.65 and has remained comfortably above $40 since then in trading attributed to shorted stock-buying mania.

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#gamestop, #science, #virgin-galactic

Hedge fund Melvin sustains 53% loss after Reddit onslaught

Hedge fund Melvin sustains 53% loss after Reddit onslaught

Enlarge (credit: Innocenti | Getty Images)

Melvin Capital, the hedge fund that was wrongfooted by retail traders who drove up shares in GameStop and other companies it had bet against, lost 53 percent in January, according to people familiar with the firm’s results.

The New York-based hedge fund sustained a $4.5 billion fall in its assets from the end of last year to $8 billion, even after a $2.75 billion cash injection from Steve Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management and Ken Griffin’s Citadel.

Melvin became the target of retail traders who coordinated to drive up the share price of GameStop on online message boards such as Reddit, after the firm disclosed its bet against the company in regulatory filings.

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#gamestop, #gme, #reddit, #short-selling, #stocks, #tech, #troll

Institutional trust is the real meme

Hello friends, this is Week in Review.

Last week, I dove into the AR maneuverings of Apple and Facebook and what that means for the future of the web. This week, I’m aiming to touch the meme stock phenomenon that dominated American news cycles this week and see if there’s anything worth learning from it, with an eye towards the future web.

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


Robin Hood statue in Nottingham

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

The big thing

This week was whatever you wanted it to be. A rising up of the proletariat. A case of weaponized disinformation. A rally for regulation… or perhaps deregulation of financial markets. Choose your own adventure with the starting point being one flavor of chaos leading into a slightly more populist blend of chaos.

At the end of it, a lot of long-time financiers are confused, a lot of internet users are using rent money to buy stock in Tootsie Roll, a lot of billionaires are finding how intoxicating adopting a “for-the-little-guy!” persona on Twitter can be, and here I am staring at the ceiling wondering if there’s any institution in the world trustworthy enough that the internet can’t turn it into a lie.

This week, my little diddy is about meme stocks, but more about the idea that once you peel away the need to question why you actually trust something, it can become easier to just blindly place that faith in more untrustworthy places. All the better if those places are adjacent to areas where others place trust.

The Dow Jones had its worst week since October because retail investors, organized in part on Reddit, turned America’s financial markets into the real front page of the internet. Boring, serious stocks like Facebook and Apple reported their earnings and the markets adjusted accordingly, but in addition to the serious bits of news, the Wall Street page was splashed with break neck gains from “meme stocks.” While junk stocks surging is nothing new, the idea that a stock can make outrageous gains based on nothing and then possibly hold that value based on a newly formed shared trust is newer and much more alarming.

The most infamous of these stocks was GameStop. (If you’re curious about GameStop’s week, there are at least 5 million stories across the web to grab your attention, here’s one. Side note: collectively we seem to have longer attention spans post-Trump.)

So, Americans already don’t have too much institutional faith. Looking through some long-standing Gallup research, compared to the turn of the century, faith in organized religion, the media, most wings of government, big business and banks has decreased quite a bit. The outliers in what Americans do seem to trust more than they did 20 or so years ago are small businesses and the military.

This is all to say that it’s probably not stellar that people don’t trust anything, and me thinking that the internet could probably disrupt every trusted institution except the military probably only shows my lack of creative thinking when it comes to how the web could democratize the Defense Department. As you might guess from that statement, I think democratizing access to certain institutions can be bad. I say that with about a thousand asterisks leading to footnotes that you’ll never find. I also don’t think the web is done disrupting institutional trust by a long shot, for better or worse.

Democratizing financial systems sounds a lot better from a populist lift, until you realize that the guys users are competing against are playing a different game with other people’s money. This saga will change plenty of lives but it won’t end particularly well for a most people exposed to “infinite upside” day trading.

Until this week, in my mind Robinhood was only reckless because it was exposing (or “democratizing access to” — their words) consumers to risk in a way that most of them probably weren’t equipped to handle. Now, I think that they’re reckless because they didn’t anticipate that OR how democratized access could lead to so many potential doomsday scenarios and bankrupt Robinhood. They quietly raised a $1 billion liquidity lifeline this week after they had to temporarily shut down meme stock trading, a move that essentially torched their brand and left them the web’s most hated institution. (Facebook had a quiet week)

This kind of all feeds back into this idea I’ve been feeding that scale can be very dangerous. Platforms seem to need a certain amount of head count to handle global audiences, and almost all of them are insufficiently staffed. Facebook announced this week in its earnings call that it has nearly 60,000 employees. This is a company that now has its own Supreme Court; that’s too big. If your institution is going to be massive and centralized, chances are you need a ton of people to moderate it. That’s something at odds with most existing internet platforms. Realistically, the internet would probably be happier with fewer of these sweeping institutions and more intimate bubbles that are loosely connected. That’s something that the network effects of the past couple decades have made harder but regulation around data portability could assist with.

Writing this newsletter, something I’m often reminded is that while it feels like everything is always changing, few things are wholly new. This great NYT profile from 2001 written by Michael Lewis is a great reminder of that, chronicling a 15-year-old who scammed the markets by using a web of dummy accounts and got hounded by the SEC but still walked away with $500k. Great read.

In the end, things will likely quiet down at Robinhood. There’s also the distinct chance that they don’t and that those meme traders just ignited a revolution that’s going to bankrupt the company and torch the globals markets, but you know things will probably go back to normal.

 

Until next week,
Lucas Matney


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things

SEC is pissed
I’ll try to keep these updates GameStop free, but one quick note from the peanut gallery. The SEC isn’t all that happy about the goings ons in the market this week and they’re mad, probably mostly at Robinhood. They got pretty terse with their statement. More

Facebook Oversight Board wants YOU
Zuckerberg’s Supreme Court wants public comment as it decides whether Facebook should give Trump his Instagram and Facebook accounts back. I’m sure any of Facebook’s executives would’ve stopped building the platform dead in its tracks in the years after its founding if they knew just how freaking complicated moderation was going to end up being for them, but you could probably have changed their mind back by showing them the market cap. More

Apple adtech-killing update drops in spring
After delaying its launch, Apple committed this week to the spring rollout of its “App Tracking Transparency” feature that has so much of the adtech world pissed. The update will force apps to essentially ask users whether they’d like to be tracked across apps. More

Robert Downey Jr. bets on startups
Celebrity investing has been popular forever, but it’s gotten way more common in the venture world in recent years. Reputation transfer teamed with the fact that money is so easy to come by for top founders, means that if you are choosing from some second-tier fund or The Chainsmokers, you might pick The Chainsmokers. On that note, actor Robert Downey Jr. raised a rolling fund to back climate tech startups, we’ve got all the deets. More

WeWork SPAC
Ah poor Adam Neumann, poor SoftBank. If only they’d kept their little “tech company” under wraps for another couple years and left that S-1 for a kinder market with less distaste for creative framing. It seems that WeWork is the next target to get SPAC’d and be brought onto public markets via acquisition. I’m sure everything will go fine. More

Tim Cook and Zuckerberg spar
Big tech is a gentlemen’s game, generally big tech CEOs play nice with each other in public and save their insults for the political party that just fell out of power. This week, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg were a little less friendly. Zuckerberg called out Apple by name in their earnings investor call and floated some potential unfair advantages that Apple might have. Them’s fighting words. Cook was more circumspect as usual and delivered a speech that was at times hilariously direct in the most indirect way possible about how much he hates Facebook. More


Extra things

Tidbits from our paywalled Extra Crunch content:
The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder
“I and the rest of the leadership team would work 12-hour days, seven days a week. And that trickled down into many other employees doing the same. I didn’t think twice about sending emails, texts or slacks at night and on weekends. As with many startups, monster hours were simply part of the deal.”

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021
“For the fourth straight year, the publicly traded fintechs massively outperformed the incumbent financial services providers as well as every mainstream stock index. While the underlying performance of these companies was strong, the pandemic further bolstered results as consumers avoided appearing in-person for both shopping and banking. Instead, they sought — and found — digital alternatives.”

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020
“What is driving generally positive venture capital results for Africa in recent quarters? Giuliani told TechCrunch in a follow-up email that ‘investment in Africa is being driven on the one hand by a broadening base for early-stage ecosystem support organizations, including accelerators, seed funds, syndicates and angel investing,” and “consolidation,” which is aiding both “growth-stage deals and a burgeoning M&A market.’”

 

#adam-neumann, #africa, #america, #apple, #apple-inc, #banking, #computing, #department-of-defense, #facebook, #gamestop, #lucas-matney, #mark-zuckerberg, #mike, #robinhood, #softbank, #supreme-court, #tc, #technology, #the-social-network, #tim-cook, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #week-in-review, #wework

This Week in Apps: GameStop madness hits trading apps, Apple privacy changes, Clubhouse becomes a unicorn

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone.

And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re taking a look at the biggest news in the world of apps, including how the GameStop frenzy impacted trading apps, as well as how Apple’s privacy changes are taking shape in 2021, and more.

Top Stories

The internet comes for the stock market, via trading apps

illustration of robinhood feather logo spraypainted on a brick wall

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Was there really any other app news story this week, beside the GameStop short squeeze? That a group of Reddit users took on the hedge funds was the stuff of legends, even if the reality was that Wall Street likely got in on both sides of the trade. Whether you found yourself in the camp of admiring the spectacle or watching the train wreck in horror (or both), what we witnessed — at long last, I suppose — was the internet coming for the stock market. The GameStop frenzy upended the status quo; it rattled the traditional ways of doing things — much like what the internet has done to almost everything else it touches — whether that’s publishing, media, creation, politics, and more.

“This is community,” explained Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, in an interview on AOC’s Twitch channel on Thursday.

“This is something that spans platforms and the internet, especially in the last 10 years — in particular social media and smartphone ubiquity. All these things have connected us in real-time ways to organize around ideas, around concepts,” he continued. “We seek out those communities. We seek out that sense of identity. We seek out that sense of connection. And the internet supercharges it because of scale,” he said. “I think one of the byproducts of where I think it continues to go is more of a push towards decentralization and more of a push toward individuals being able to take ownership — even individuals being able to get access — to do the same things that institutions, historically, had a monopoly on,” Ohanian noted.

Trading app Robinhood and social app Reddit, home to the WallStreetBets forum driving the GameStop push, immediately benefitted from the community-driven effort to squeeze the hedge funds — and jumped to the top of the App Store.

But Robinhood’s subsequent failure to be transparent as to why it was forced to stop customers from buying the “meme” stocks, like GameStop and others (it needed more cash), quickly damaged its reputation. Some investors have now sued for their losses. Others started petitions. And even more began downranking the app with one-star reviews, which Google then removed.

Other trading apps have gained not only during the frenzy itself, but also after, as Robinhood users looked for alternative platforms after being burned by the free trading app.

As of Friday, Robinhood remained at No. 1 on the App Store, but is now being closely trailed on the Top Free iPhone apps chart by No. 2 Webull, No. 6 Fidelity, No. 7 Cash App, No. 12 TD Ameritrade and No. 15 E*TRADE, among others.

Crypto apps are also topping the charts, as users realize the potential of collective action in markets not yet dominated by the billionaires. Coinbase popped to No. 4, while Binance-run apps were at No. 9 and No. 19, Voyager was No. 23 and Kraken No. 24.

In addition, forums where traders can join communities are also continuing to do well, with Reddit at No. 3, Discord at No. 14 and Telegram at No. 28, as of the time of writing.

Google says it will add those Apple privacy labels…sometime!

Image Credits: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google failed to meet its earlier promised deadline of rolling out privacy labels to its nearly 100-some iOS apps. Its initial estimate followed suggestions (aided by Apple’s typical quiet confirmations to press), that Google had been struggling over how to handle the privacy issues the updates would reveal. This week, Google again said its labels were on the way. But now, it’s not making any specific promises about when those labels would arrive. Instead, the company just said the labels would roll out as Google updated its iOS apps with new features and bug fixes, rather than rolling out the labels to all its apps at once.

However, some Google apps have been updated, including Play Movies & TV, Google Translate, Fiber TV, Fiber, Google Stadia, Google Authenticator, Google Classroom, Smart Lock, Motion Stills, Onduo for Diabetes, Wear OS by Google and Project Baseline — but not Google’s main apps like Search, YouTube, Maps, Gmail or its other productivity apps.

Apple’s IDFA changes to begin this spring

Image Credits: Apple (livestream)

Apple announced this week its tracking restrictions for iOS apps are nearing arrival. The changes had initially been pushed back to give developers more time to make updates, but will now arrive in “early spring.”

Once live, the previous opt-out model for sharing your Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) will change to an opt-in model, meaning developers will have to ask users’ permission to track them. Most users will likely say “no,” and be annoyed by the request. Users will also be able to adjust IDFA sharing in Settings on a per-app basis, or on all apps at once.

Facebook has already been warning investors of the ad revenue hit that will result from these changes, which it expects to see in the first quarter earnings. It may also be preparing a lawsuit. Google, meanwhile, said it would be adopting Apple’s SKAdNetwork framework and providing feedback to Apple about its potential improvements.

For years, Apple has been laying the groundwork to establish itself as the company that cares about consumer privacy. And it’s certainly true that no other large tech company has yet to give users this much power to fight back against being tracked around the web and inside apps.

But this is not a case of Apple being the “good guy” while everyone else is “bad” —  because the multi-billion-dollar ad industry is not that simple. With a change to its software, Apple has effectively carved out a seat at the table for its own benefit.

What many don’t realize is that Apple watches what its users do across its own platform, inside a number of its first-party apps — including in Apple Music, Apple TV, Apple Books, Apple News and the App Store. It then uses that first-party data to personalize the ads it displays in Apple News, Stocks and the App Store.

So while other businesses are tracking users around the web and apps to gain data that lets them better personalize ads at scale, Apple only tracks users inside its own apps and services. (But there sure are a lot of them! And Apple keeps launching new ones, too.)

With the new limits that impact the effectiveness of ads outside of Apple’s ecosystem, advertisers who need to reach a potential customer — say, with an app recommendation — will need to throw more money into Apple-delivered advertising instead. This is because Apple’s ads will be capable of making those more targeted, personalized and, therefore, more effective recommendations.

Apple says it will play by the same rules that it’s asking other developers to abide by. Meaning, if its apps want to track you, they’ll ask. But most of its apps do not “track” using IDFA. Meanwhile, if users want to turn off personalized ads using Apple’s first-party data, that’s a different setting. (Settings –> Privacy –> scroll to bottom –> Apple Advertising –> toggle off Personalized Ads). And no, you won’t be shown a pop-up asking you if that’s a setting you want on or off.

Apple, having masterfully made its case as the privacy-focused company — because wow, isn’t adtech gross? —  is now just laying it on. Apple CEO Tim Cook this week blamed the adtech industry for the growth in online extremism, violent incitement (e.g. at the U.S. Capitol) and growing belief in conspiracies, saying companies (cough, Facebook) optimized for engagement and data collection, no matter the damage to society.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple releases iOS 14.4 to iPhone and iPad users. The update patches three critical security vulnerabilities, adds Bluetooth audio monitoring to protect users from levels that could damage hearing, improves the ability for the camera to recognize smaller QR codes, adds a warning if the iPhone 12 has been repaired with non-Apple parts and fixes other bugs.
  • Apple reports record-breaking Q1 2021 with $111.4 billion in revenue. The company beat investor expectations on both earnings per share and revenues, with more than the expected $103.3 billion in revenues and $1.68 EPS versus the $1.41 EPS expected. Earnings were driven by new 5G iPhones and a 57% rise in China sales.
  • Apple dominates tablet market with 19.2 million iPads shipped in Q4 2020.
  • Separately, from the IDFA news, Apple announced this week that Private Click Measurement (PCM) will roll out at the same time as the IDFA changes. PCM measures app-to-web conversions, while SKAdNetwork focuses only on app-to-app conversions. This gives advertisers a way to track the performance of apps that run inside ads that send users to websites.
  • A researcher discovered a new iOS security system in iOS 14, BlastDoor, which offers a new sandbox system for processing iMessages data.
  • The Washington Post checks in on Apple’s App Store privacy labels and finds many of them were wrong.

Platforms: Google

  • Google Play Store updates its policies on gamified loyalty programs following confusion in India. Real gambling apps are still not permitted in India, but developers now will have better clarity on rules.
  • Google Play Store opened to Android Auto apps in December, but only for closed testing. This week, it expanded to open testing, meaning there’s no limit to the number of users who can download the app — the next step toward launching to all users in production.

Gaming

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • U.S. consumer spend in mobile simulation games up 61.8% in 2020, reports Sensor Tower. Top titles included Roblox and Township by Playrix.

Entertainment & Streaming

  • Netflix can now stream studio-quality audio on Android 9 and newer devices, specifically Extended HE-AAC with MPEG-D DRC (xHE-AAC). This codec improves sound in noisy conditions and adapts to variable cellular connections.
  • Spotify tests audiobooks. The company released a small selection of nine exclusive audiobook recordings from books in the public domain. The narrators included big names like David Dobrik, Forest Whitaker, Hilary Swank and Cynthia Erivo, to determine if there’s consumer demand for this sort of content.
  • Spotify also tests a feature that inserts “slow down” songs in playlists when users approach school zones. The feature was being tried in Australia.
  • YouTube said its TikTok rival, YouTube Shorts, was seeing 3.5 billion views per day during tests in India.

Security & Privacy

  • Apple says iOS 14.4 fixes three security bugs that may have been exploited by hackers. Details were scarce but two of the bugs were found in WebKit. Apple wouldn’t say how many users may have been impacted.
  • TikTok fixed a vulnerability that would have allowed for the theft of private user information.
  • WhatsApp added a biometric authentication to its web and desktop apps to make authentication more secure for its over 2 billion users.
  • A location broker called X-Mode was discovered to still be tracking users via Apple and Android apps, despite app store bans. The broker sold data collected in apps — like unofficial transportation app New York Subway, Video MP3 Converter and Moco — to U.S. military contractors.

Communication

Image Credits: Telegram

  • Telegram adds a new feature that would allow users to import their WhatsApp chats and others, making a switch easier. The feature appears in version 7.4, and supports WhatsApp, Line and KakaoTalk import on iOS and Android.

Social & Photos

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Instagram launches a professional dashboard for creators and small business. The new in-app destination offers centralized access to tools for tracking performance, discovering insights and trends, growing your business and staying informed through access to educational resources.
  • Facebook expands its Facebook News portal to the U.K., its first international market.
  • TikTok owner ByteDance’s revenue more than doubled in 2020, according to The Information, to about $37 billion.
  • Snapchat launched a digital literacy program aimed at educating users about data privacy and security. The program teaches users how to turn on two-factor and introduced a new filter that connects users to privacy resources.
  • Twitter launches Birdwatch, a community-based approach to handling misinformation on its platform. The system allows users to identify misleading info in tweets and write notes that provide information and context, in a sort of Wikipedia-like model. Eventually, these notes will be made visible directly on tweets for all to read, after consensus from a broad and diverse group of editors is achieved.
  • QAnon moves to a free-speech focused TikTok clone called Clapper, which is a new home to some of the Parler crowd. ToS violations coming in 3, 2, 1…
  • TikTok was found to be hosting a number of vape sellers who were clearly marketing toward minors, promising no ID checks and discreet packaging to hide vape purchases from parents.

Health & Fitness

  • Apple expands its new Apple Fitness+ service with “Time to Walk,” a feature that offers inspiring audio stories from guests like country music icon Dolly Parton, NBA player Draymond Green, musician Shawn Mendes, Emmy Award winner Uzo Aduba and others. The launch indicates Apple understands how to make the service more broadly appealing to reach beyond those who are already deeply committed to their regular exercise routines.
  • Health and Fitness app downloads grew 30% in 2020, reports App Annie, from $1.5 billion in consumer spend in 2019 to $2 billion in 2020, and from 2 billion downloads to 2.6 billion. On Android phones, time spent was up 25%.

Government & Policy

  • Italy’s data protection agency gave TikTok a deadline to respond its order to block all users whose age it can’t verify following the death of a 10-year-old girl who repeated a dangerous “challenge” on the social app.
  • Iran blocked the Signal messaging app after the WhatsApp exodus sent a flood of users to the open-source, encrypted communication service.
  • India said it will continue its ban on TikTok, UC Browser and 57 other Chinese apps that the country first banned last June, saying the responses the companies provided didn’t adequately address the cybersecurity concerns. TikTok owner ByteDance said it’s closing its India operations and laying off 1,800 employees.
  • Norway’s data protection agency notified U.S.-based dating app Grindr for violation of GDPR consent violations, which carry a fine of around $12.1 million USD.

Funding and M&A

  • Buzzy voice chat app Clubhouse raises $100 million, valuing the business at $1 billion. Despite being launched under a year ago and remaining an invite-only experience for the time being, the app has been carving out a new form of audio-based social networking. With now over 180 investors and a pandemic coming to an end — perhaps — with the vaccine rollout, Clubhouse will soon have to prove it has value in a reopened world where there’s more to do, including, once again, networking events and conferences. It will also eventually have to contend with what sort of app it becomes when it finally opens up to the public. So far, its private, insiders-only atmosphere has given it something of a protected status. Though conversations have turned toxic at times, only a few users ever heard them — and there’s no transcript. When the world piles in, however, Clubhouse could not only lose its exclusive appeal but also become host to conversations that do real harm.

  • Twitter acquires newsletter platform Revue, a Substack rival, to get its users a way to monetize their Twitter fan base. Despite only announcing this week, the company is already integrating Newsletters on its web app.
  • Edtech app ClassDojo raises $30 million led by Product Hunt CEO Josh Buckley. The app has boomed during the pandemic as schools and teachers needed a new way to communicate with families at home.
  • Scheduling startup Calendly raises $350 million for its cloud-based service that helps people set up and confirm meeting times with one another. The round values the business at $3 billion.
  • Virtual social network IMVU raises $35 million from China’s NetEase and others. The app lets users create virtual rooms and chat with strangers using custom avatars.
  • Short-form video app Clash acquires would-be TikTok rival Byte, created by a former Vine founder.
  • IAC’s Teltech, home to Robokiller, acquires encrypted messaging app Confide, in an unannounced deal. Terms were not revealed but included the app and IP, not the team.

Confide app

Image Credits: Confide

  • Opal raises $4.3 million for its digital well-being assistant for iPhone that blocks you from distracting apps and websites.
  • Finance tracking and budgeting app Brigit raises $35 million Series A led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, with participation from DCM, Nyca, Canaan, DN Capital, CRV, Core, Shasta, Hummingbird, Abstract, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Secocha, NBA star Kevin Durant, Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures and Flourish Ventures.
  • SoftBank-backed Travel platform Klook raises $200 million in a round led by Aspex Management. The startup, which helps users book activities in overseas destinations, had been impacted by the pandemic, so pivoted to “staycation” activities and service for local merchants.
  • Video software company Vimeo raises $300 million in equity from funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and Oberndorf Enterprises, LLC at a valuation in excess of $5 billion.
  • RuneScape publisher Jagex has been acquired by investment firm The Carlyle Group for at least $530 million. The British video game publisher creates both PC and mobile games, including a mobile version of RuneScape with 8 million installs in 2019.
  • Appointment booking app Booksy raises $70 million to acquire other salon appointment apps and expand internationally. The round was led by Cat Rock Capital with participation from Sprints Capital.
  • Fintech startup Albert raises $100 million in Series C funding led by General Atlantic. The funds will be used to expand its financial wellness service now used by over 5 million people to help save, budget and more.
  • Dating app S’More raises $2.1 million for its concept where users photos’ are initially blurred.
  • Stacker raises $1.7 million seed round for its platform that lets non-developers build apps using spreadsheets from Google Sheets or Airtable.
  • Kuaishou, ByteDance’s main rival in China, raises $5.4B in Hong Kong IPO, valuing the business at $61B

Downloads

Opal

Image Credits: Opal

Opal offers a digital well-being assistant for iPhone that allows you to block distracting websites and apps, set schedules around app usage, lock down apps for stricter and more focused quiet periods and more. The service works by way of a VPN system that limits your access to apps and sites. But unlike some VPNs on the market, Opal is committed to not collecting any personal data on its users or their private browsing data. Instead, its business model is based on paid subscriptions, not selling user data, it says. The freemium service lets you upgrade to its full feature set for $59.99/year.

Charlie

Image Credits: Charlie

Founded by a former mobile game industry vet, Charliegamifies” getting out of debt using techniques that worked in gaming, like progress bars, fun auto-save rules that can be triggered by almost any activity, celebrations with confetti and more. The app plans to expand into a fuller fintech product in time to help users refinance debt at a lower rate and bill pay directly from the app.

 

#adtech, #advertising, #android, #android-apps, #app-stores, #apple, #apps, #developers, #facebook, #gamestop, #google, #idfa, #ios, #ios-apps, #mobile, #privacy, #robinhood, #tc, #trading

Robinhood limits users to a single share of GameStop and other stocks

Robinhood has detailed its latest step in the complex quagmire of market manipulation that is this week’s GameStop hedge fund Reddit army debacle. Users will for the present be limited to holding a single share of GameStop and dozens of other stocks.

Several stocks were limited to five shares, and options contracts are likewise limited on many of the most-traded stocks this week, such as AMC and Blackberry. Positions exceeding these amounts will not be automatically sold, but they will apply if the user goes under them and tries to buy again. Fractional shares are also prohibited.

Any other specifics about positions, expiring options contracts and so on can be found in the announcement and related FAQs.

Robinhood has said that it has halted and now limited trading because of “financial requirements, including SEC net capital obligations and clearinghouse deposits” — essentially, the volume and value of the trading going on was beyond its ability to legally or realistically cover. Trading of certain stocks was halted or restricted earlier this week, but the new post details exactly which stocks are affected and how.

The company had to hastily raise funds totaling over a billion dollars from its existing investors after reportedly maxing out half a billion in credit lines.

With widespread outrage at the handling of the situation and the U.S. government taking notice, it’s unlikely Robinhood’s troubles (not to mention other trading apps and platforms) are anywhere near over. With new developments appearing seemingly every few hours, it’s hard to know how this particular story will develop.

#apps, #finance, #gamestop, #robinhood, #stonks

No, WallStreetBets isn’t robbing Wall Street to help the little guy

A closed GameStop store in Frankfurt, Germany, on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021.

Enlarge / A closed GameStop store in Frankfurt, Germany, on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. (credit: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

You’ve probably seen stories about GameStop, the struggling video game retailer that has improbably seen its stock quintuple since the start of the week. The stock isn’t up because GameStop announced strong financial results or a new turnaround strategy. Instead, it was the focus of a coordinated buying campaign by members of the WallStreetBets subreddit.

The effort has been so effective in part because its architects have convinced people that it’s not just a pump and dump scheme. Instead, they’ve painted a seductive story in which retail investors found a loophole that allows them to make money at the expense of hedge funds and other wealthy investors who had shorted the stock.

In reality, most of the gains captured by early GameStop investors will come at the expense of later investors who will be left holding the bag when the stock falls.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#gamestop, #lol, #policy, #reddit, #wallstreetbets

SEC issues statement on past week’s turbulent market activity prompted by Reddit-fueled GameStop run

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued an official statement on the tumult of the past week in the public stock market. It’s a relatively brief statement, and doesn’t mention any of the key players by name (aka GameStop, Reddit, Robinhood and others), but it does say acknowledge that “extreme stock price volatility has the potential to expose investors to rapid and severe losses” which could “undermine market confidence,” and basically says the Commission is watching closely to ensure that it doesn’t.

The SEC statement does specify that it believes the “core market infrastructure” remains intact despite the heavy trading volumes of the past week, which were prompted primarily by activity organized by retail investors acting in concert through organization on r/WallStreetBets, a subreddit dedicated to day trading. These retail investors resolved to collectively purchase and hold GME stocks (and subsequently, shares in other companies like movie theater chain AMC) in a bid to sweat out hedge funds with significant short positions in the same.

The ensuing high volume of trading activity from individual retail investors led to various actions from platforms that provide free trading to these individuals, including Robinhood, Webull, Public and M1. Robinhood initially cited “protecting” its users as the reason for limits imposed, but later revealed that a lack of funding to cover trade clearances likely caused the temporary measures, since it tapped $500 million to $600 million in credit facility and raised $1 billion in funding overnight.

The SEC’s statement includes a callout that seems specifically directed at entities like Robinhood, and it’s fair to interpret it as a warning:

In addition, we will act to protect retail investors when the facts demonstrate abusive or manipulative trading activity that is prohibited by the federal securities laws. Market participants should be careful to avoid such activity. Likewise, issuers must ensure compliance with the federal securities laws for any contemplated offers or sales of their own securities.

Robinhood has already had run-ins with the financial regulator for unrelated business practices. Meanwhile, lawmakers from both the House and the Senate, as well as NY AG Letitia James have all expressed their intent to review the event and all surrounding activities, which likely involves the role trading platforms like Robinhood played in the week’s events.

#amc, #economy, #finance, #gamestop, #investor, #letitia-james, #money, #robinhood, #senate, #startups, #stock-market, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

Robinhood raises $1B after trading halts to keep its platform running

After a turbulent week for the stock market and halts to the trading of certain speculative securities including GameStop (GME) and AMC, consumer investing app Robinhood has raised new capital. The new funds total more than $1 billion, with the company telling TechCrunch that they were raised from its existing investor base.

The New York Times reports that the company raised the new equity capital after tapping its credit lines for $500 to $600 million; the company did not answer a question from TechCrunch regarding its credit lines.

The reported drawdown matches reporting from yesterday indicating that Robinhood had accessed nine-figures of capital to ensure it had enough funds on hand to meet regulatory minimums and other requirements related to its users’ trading activity.

Individual retail investors, along with institutional capital, have attacked short positions in some stocks in recent weeks, leading to a tug-of-war between bullish investors and bearish wagers; the resulting tumult led to surging volume for volatile stocks, leading to Robinhood needing more capital to keep its gears turning.

In a post discussing its decision yesterday to restrict trading on select securities, Robinhood wrote that it has “many financial requirements, including SEC net capital obligations and clearinghouse deposits,” adding that “some of these requirements fluctuate based on volatility in the markets and can be substantial in the current environment.”

The unicorn consumer fintech company halted trading in stocks like GameStop that had become the center of the trading storm yesterday, leading to frenetic accusations from incensed users that something nefarious was afoot. Later in the day the clearing house entity powering trading for other consumer trading services also halted service for a similar set of stocks.

Robinhood told users that it would allow trading to begin in some fashion today in shares it had previously restricted.

It does not appear that the current trading scrap will abate soon. Shares of GameStop, the most famous so-called “meme stock” in the current trading war, is up just under 94% this morning in pre-market trading, implying that many investors are willing to continue pushing its value higher in hopes of breaking short bets laid by other investors.

One result of the current climate is a boom in demand for trading apps. Today on the US iOS App Store, Robinhood is ranked first; Webull, a rival service is second; Reddit, a hub for trading gossip mostly via r/WallStreetBets is third; Coinbase a popular crypto trading service is fourth in line. Square’s Cash App, which allows for share purchases is ranked seventh, Fidelity’s iOS app comes in tenth place, and TD Ameritrade is 16th. Finally, E*Trade’s own app is ranked 18th. That’s a good showing for fintech, both startup and incumbent alike.

No one knows what comes next, how the trades play out, and if the present-day surge in retail interesting in stock trading will persist. What does seem clear, however, is that today is going to be very silly.

#apps, #coinbase, #economy, #etrade, #finance, #gamestop, #money, #robinhood, #startups, #tc, #td-ameritrade, #the-new-york-times, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

Daily Crunch: Robinhood restricts GameStop trading

The GameStop stock saga continues, Apple releases more details about its privacy changes and Qualtrics goes public. This is your Daily Crunch for January 28, 2021.

The big story: Robinhood restricts GameStop trading

Robinhood has responded to an upsurge in retail investors buying shares in companies like GameStop, AMC and Blockbuster by restricting trading on “certain securities” to “position closing only,” meaning that users can no longer buy more of the companies’ stocks. (It says it will allow “limited buys” tomorrow.)

This comes after the current buying spree — targeting stocks shorted by institutional investors and spurred by the WallStreetBets forum on Reddit — took Robinhood and Reddit to the top of the app charts.

Now, Robinhood is being hit with numerous 1-star reviews, and the move also attracted criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez describing it as “unacceptable” and Senator Ted Cruz tweeting, “Fully agree.”

The tech giants

Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature will be enabled by default and arrive in ‘early spring’ on iOS — The plan is to launch these changes in early spring, with a version of the feature coming in the next iOS 14 beta release.

Qualtrics prices IPO at $30 per share, above its upgraded target range — The company sold 50.4 million shares in the process.

Twitter is already working on integrating newsletters on its site, following its Revue acquisition — It appears “Newsletters” will soon be the newest addition to Twitter’s sidebar navigation.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Workday acquires employee feedback platform Peakon for $700M — Peakon says companies have used its platform’s weekly surveys to ask more than 153 million questions since inception six years ago.

Fintech darling Nubank raises blockbuster $400M Series G at $25B valuation — The fintech company now has 34 million customers.

Flowhaven raises $16M to evolve brand licensing management beyond emails and spreadsheets — The media licensing business is a massive market, but much of the work involved is still handled manually through emails and spreadsheets.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Thirteen investors say lifelong learning is taking edtech mainstream — As learners become more multi-layered and nuanced, so have the edtech companies that back them.

Talent and capital are shifting cybersecurity investors’ focus away from Silicon Valley — Solving the cybersecurity problem will take more time and resources than we are currently allocating.

Mind the gap: E-commerce marketers should revise their TAM and SAM estimates — 2021 is going to be another glorious year for e-commerce.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Smartphone sales slowed decline in Q4, with a big assist from Apple — The past year was, of course, a major blow to an industry already suffering a slide.

GM pledges to be carbon neutral by 2040 with zero tailpipe emission vehicles by 2035 — It’s a big step for a company whose products are responsible for a large percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions.

UCLA is building a digital archive of mass incarceration with a new $3.6M grant — The “Archiving the Age of Mass incarceration” effort is being led by Kelly Lytle Hernandez, director of the university’s Bunche Center for African American Studies.

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