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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Bitso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crypto boom continues as Chainalysis raises $100M, doubles valuation to over $2B

Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company, announced Friday it has closed on $100 million in Series D financing, doubling its valuation to over $2 billion.

The round comes just four months after the company secured a $100 million Series C round at a $1 billion valuation. Paradigm led the latest funding event while existing backers Addition and Ribbit doubled down on their investment in the company. TIME Ventures, Marc Benioff’s investment fund, also participated in the latest financing, which brings Chainalysis’ total raised to $265 million.

This latest round marks Chainalysis’ fourth raise in less than two years. Previous backers in the company also include Accel and Benchmark.

Chainalysis was founded in 2014 as the official investigators into the hack of Mt. Gox, then the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. Today, the New York-based company provides data, software, services and research to government agencies, exchanges, financial institutions and insurance and cybersecurity companies in more than 60 countries. Among its 400 customers are fintechs such as Square, financial institutions like Barclays and cryptocurrency businesses like Gemini, Bitstamp and BitPay.

Co-founders Michael Gronager and Jonathan Levin; Image courtesy of Chainalysis

Chainalysis’ self-described mission is “to build trust in blockchains to promote more financial freedom with less risk.”

The company says its data platform powers investigation, compliance and risk management tools “that have been used to solve some of the world’s most high-profile cyber criminal cases and grow consumer access to cryptocurrency safely.”

Chainalysis operates under the belief that eventually every company will use the blockchain to conduct their business, according to co-founder and CEO Michael Gronager.

“We’ve collected more information about what happens on blockchains than anyone in the cryptocurrency industry,” he said. “That information enables our customers to make better data-driven decisions.”

Over the past year, the company says it has achieved the following:

  • Increased its annual recurring revenue (ARR) by more than 100% year-over-year
  • Doubled its client base to include government agencies in over 30 countries and private sector businesses in over 60 countries
  • Grown its support to cover over 100 digital assets across 10 native blockchains, encompassing an estimated approximate 90% of cryptocurrency economic activity
  • Doubled its number of employees over the past year to 233 today
  • Expanded its partnership program, which now consists of more than 50 companies, including Fireblocks and Flashpoint
  • Looking ahead, Chainanalysis said it plans to hire hundreds over the course of 2021; it also plans to use its new funds primarily to expand its enterprise data offering

“We’ll continue to invest in investigations and compliance software, but we’ll also build out new data products both for our existing customer base and new audiences,” Gronager said.

The company is particularly focused on building out its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Cryptocurrency is global, and so is Chainalysis,” said Gronager.

To Chainalysis, cryptocurrencies present unprecedented transparency.

“They are the first global payment systems outside of any one organization’s control, but their blockchains create public, permanent records of all transactions, including illicit activity,” Gronager told TechCrunch.

Blockchain analysis comes in by helping people interpret those public blockchain ledgers. Chainalysis tools aim to help government agencies, cryptocurrency businesses and financial institutions understand which real-world entities transact with each other.

“For example, we can show that a given transaction took place between two different cryptocurrency exchanges, or between a cryptocurrency exchange and an illicit entity, such as a darknet market or a sanctioned organization,” Gronager said.

Paradigm co-founder Fred Ehrsam said his firm was drawn to the way Chainalysis provides key data infrastructure and software for the cryptocurrency ecosystem.

“The team knows the regulatory landscape better than anyone, has been refining their tools for years, and deeply know what their customers want. This is not an overnight success story – rather a team that has built with a long run vision, through multiple crypto cycles, that has created a market leading position for themselves, with the opportunity to compound,” he added. “As cryptocurrency adoption grows, so will demand for Chainalysis offerings.”

As further evidence of a cryptocurrency boom, BlockFi earlier this month announced it closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding at a $3 billion valuation. The financial services company for crypto market investors offers a retail and institutional-facing suite of products.

Notably, BlockFi is also a Chainalysis customer. In a written statement, CEO and co-founder Zac Prince said that Chainalysis provides BlockFi with data “that delivers insights beyond compliance that can help inform our business development activities, tailor our offerings, and identify new revenue streams.” 

#blockchain, #chainalysis, #crypto-economy, #finance, #funding, #paradigm, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #venture-capital

BlockFi lands a $350M Series D at a $3B valuation for its fast-growing crypto-lending platform

If there were any doubt about a cryptocurrency boom, we need look no further than at the explosion of growth of certain companies in the space.

One such company is BlockFi, which today announced it has closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that values it at $3 billion. While this news in and of itself is certainly attention-getting, it’s even more impressive when you consider the startup just raised a $50 million Series C last August at a $450 million valuation. The latest financing brings its total equity raised since inception to about $450 million, with the company raising $100 million across its seed and Series C rounds.

Zac Prince — who comes from a background in consumer lending —  founded BlockFi with Flori Marquez in 2017. The Jersey City, New Jersey-based startup raised $1.6 million in a seed round of funding that closed in 2018 and was led by ConsenSys Ventures and included participation from SoFi.  

Prince describes BlockFi as a financial services company for crypto market investors that offers a retail and institutional-facing suite of products. On the retail side of its platform, people can use its mobile app to earn a yield on their crypto holdings (6% on Bitcoin, 8.6% on stablecoins), buy and sell crypto and get low-cost loans secured by the value of their crypto portfolio “so they can get liquidity without selling,” he said. Specifically, clients can buy and sell digital assets (from Bitcoin, Ethereum and Link to Litecoin, PaxG and multiple stablecoins) directly on BlockFi.

The startup is also a lender and provider of trade execution services to institutions participating in digital asset markets. 

It’s a model that seems to be working in a big way. Since the end of 2019, BlockFi has seen its client base grow from 10,000 to more than 225,000. Today, BlockFi has 265,000 funded retail clients and over 200 institutional clients.

And it’s lent over $10 billion to its retail, corporate and institutional clients.

Over the past year, BlockFi has also accomplished the following:

  • Increased the number of assets on its platform to $15 billion, compared to $1 billion last March — with a 0% loss rate across its lending portfolio since inception.
  • Bumped its monthly revenue to over $50 million, up from $1.5 million a year prior.
  • Boosted its headcount to about 530 people, compared to 100 last March.

“In less than six months since we completed our Series C, Bitcoin and other digital assets have assumed a central role in many investors’ portfolios and in broader financial markets,” Prince said. “Our conviction that digital assets are the future of finance has been vindicated by our client base, which grew 10 times year over year in 2020 and has more than doubled since the end of 2020.”

New investor Bain Capital Ventures, partners of DST Global, Pomp Investments and Tiger Global co-led the Series D, which included participation from a slew of other firms including existing backer Valar Ventures, Breyer Capital, Susquehanna Government Products, Jump Capital and Paradigm, among many others. BlockFi employees who have been employed for more than one year have the opportunity to receive liquidity on a portion of their equity via a secondary tender offer as part of the financing round.  

BlockFi believes that investor enthusiasm for the Series D round reflects both the company’s strong business growth, as well as “broader conviction in cryptocurrencies as an asset class.” 

“Individual investors, institutional asset managers and corporate treasury departments are all exploring avenues to invest in cryptocurrencies,” the company said.

“Our goal for BlockFi has always been for it to facilitate cryptocurrencies going mainstream – and each day provides more evidence that is exactly what is occurring,” said Marquez, who serves as the company’s SVP of operations.

Bain Capital Ventures Partner Stefan Cohen agrees. He believes there are currently limited banking services available for crypto holders, which puts BlockFi in an opportune position.

“Bitcoin has already eclipsed $1 trillion in market cap and is likely headed higher to fulfill its store of value promise. As wealth accumulates to BTC holders, most will look for ways to earn yield or borrow against their holdings for more traditional asset purchases such as homes, cars and education,” he wrote via email. “BlockFi stands alone as the leader in bringing simple, secure, everyday financial services to cryptocurrency holders.”

The startup’s exponential growth over the past year proves “there was clearly a huge need for BlockFi’s services,” Cohen said.

“Their vision was to build an easy-to-use, trusted platform to bring cryptocurrency to the mainstream, and they’ve truly succeeded,” he added.

Meanwhile, Cohen said Bain Capital has had a long-term thesis on Bitcoin becoming a store of value and has actively invested in “picks-and-shovels businesses” that enable what is now a $1 trillion-plus market. 

“Trusted financial services are a critical pillar of the space, and we view it as a highly strategic component of the market,” he added.

Looking ahead, the startup has plans to launch in the second quarter a Bitcoin Rewards Credit Card, which will give BlockFi clients the ability to earn Bitcoin cash back on every transaction. It plans to use the new capital to continue growing its product suite, expand into new global markets and for strategic acquisitions. The company also plans to double its headcount by year’s end, according to Prince.

BlockFi already has a global presence and retail clients in over 100 countries. Last year, it opened institutional client service offices in London and Singapore.  This year, the startup is looking to add regional support in Europe, APAC and LatAm for its retail clients. 

Over the past week, BlockFi was making headlines for other reasons. The company was the victim of an “unusual assault” on March 7 when an attacker spammed the platform with fake sign-ups and abusive language.

To that end, the company acknowledges that it became aware that an unauthorized third party began attempting bulk sign-ups on its platform on March 7.

“We do not know the origin of the email addresses used for these ‘sign-ups’  but they did not come from us and they were not the emails of BlockFi clients,” the company told TechCrunch. “In general, we would characterize the event as vulgar spam’ and the total number of valid emails affected was less than 1,000.”

The company maintains that no data from BlockFi was accessed and its data was not compromised.  

“Our clients’ funds and data were safeguarded throughout the incident,” the company added. “Since then, our engineering and security teams have taken steps to prevent events like this from happening in the future. In addition, we reached out directly to all of the valid email recipients to apologize for the incident.”

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