CoolBitX, a blockchain security startup based in Taiwan, announced today it has raised $16.75 million in Series B funding, led by returning investor SBI Holdings, a Japanese financial group.
Korean cryptocurrency exchange Bitsonic, Monex Group, another Japanese financial group, and Taiwan’s National Development Fund also participated.
Founded in 2014, CoolBitX makes two products. One is CoolWallet S, a Bluetooth-enabled hardware wallet for cryptocurrency. The other is called called Sygna, a solution created to help virtual asset service providers (VASPs) become compliant with a new rule passed last year by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Referred to as the “travel rule,” it is meant to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorist acts by requiring virtual asset service providers to collect personally identifiable information (PII) from customers during transactions. All virtual asset service providers in FATF member countries need to comply by June.
With its new funding, CoolBitX plans to expand Sygna’s presence beyond the Asia-Pacific region. The startup says that 12 cryptocurrency exchanges have already signed memorandums of understanding with it and are currently using or testing Sygna, including SBI VC Trade, Coincheck, Bitbank, DMM Bitcoin, BITpoint, MaiCoin, BitoPro and Ace.
CoolBitX founder and CEO Michael Ou told TechCrunch in an email that Sygna’s deployment helps differentiates it from competitors like Shyft and Ciphertrace, which also offer travel rule compliance solutions, because it has been tested and proven by users.
“In addition, Sygna ensures that VASPs can quickly comply with new regulations with minimal disruptions to their day-to-day operations,” he added. “By focusing on seamless user experience, maximum security during the transmission of data, Sygna aims t facilitate the mainstream adoption of the crypto currency.”
In a press statement, SBI Holdings president and CEO Yoshitaka Kitao said, “As one of the early investors in CoolBitX, SBI Holdings is happy to see the breakthroughs made by the CoolBitX team to drive cryptocurrency adoption forward. As such, we are delighted to participate in our second tranche of investment in CoolBitX. The borderless nature of digital assets requires a solution that isn’t bound by geographical boundaries and we are proud to partner with CoolBitX on their journey to bring a secure and easy-to-implement system to the world.”
Much like private businesses, the United States government is in the process of moving workloads to the cloud, and facing a similar set of challenges. Today, CircleCI, the continuous delivery developer service, announced a partnership with AWS GovCloud to help federal government entities using AWS’s government platform to modernize their applications development workflows.
“What this means is that it allows us to run our server offering, which is our on-prem offering, and our government customers can run that on dedicated pure cloud resource [on AWS GovCloud],” CircleCI CEO Jim Rose told TechCrunch.
GovCloud is a dedicated, single tenant cloud platform that lets government entities build FedRAMP-compliant secure cloud solutions (other cloud vendors have similar offerings). FedRAMP is a set of government cloud security standards any cloud vendor has to meet to work with the federal government
CircleCI builds modern continuous delivery/continuous integration (CI/CD) pipelines for development teams pushing changes to the application in a rapid change cycle.
“What GovCloud allows us to do is now provide that same level of security and service for government customers that wanted us to do so in an on prem environment in a dedicated single tenant environment [in the cloud],” Rose explained.
While there are a number of steps involved in building cloud applications, Rose said they are sticking to their core strength around building continuous delivery pipelines. As he says, if you have a legacy mainframe application that changes once every year or two, using CircleCI wouldn’t make sense, but as you begin to modernize, that’s where his company could help.
“[CircleCi comes into play] when you get into more modern cloud applications that are changing in some cases hundreds of times a day, and the sources of change for those applications is getting really diverse and managing that is becoming more complex,” Rose said.
This partnership could involve working directly with an agency, as it has done with the Small Business Administration (SBA), or it might involve a systems integrator, or even AWS, inviting them to be part of a larger RFP.
Rose says he realizes that working with the government can sometimes be controversial. Companies from Chef to Salesforce to Google, have run afoul with employees, who don’t want to work with certain agencies like DoD or ICE. He says his company has tended to focus on areas where agencies are looking to improve citizen interactions, and steered away from other areas.
“From our perspective, given that we’re not super involved in a lot of those areas, but we want to get in front of it, both commercially, as well as on the government side, and determine what falls within the fence line and what’s outside of it,” he said.
The famous phrase “software eats the world” was originally coined to describe how technology gradually replaces the old industrial norms of production. But few realized that when Uber started to ‘eat’ the taxi industry it would also be among the first harbingers of a new wave of what it meant to be ‘employed’. As similar ‘gig economy’ platforms start to eat the old relationship between employer and employee — where some semblance of ‘duty of care’ had developed — the gig platforms have yet to develop much caring for the gig-worker. And as these platforms gain power, do they really want this to look like the re-emergence of serfdom? Gig work is coming to an industry near you, whether we like it or not.
Ideally, we need a new model that can deal with income minimums, benefits, insurance, pensions, etc. which responds to the dynamic way the world of work is evolving.
Collective Benefits is a startup aimed at tackling this growing ‘protection gap’ created by the gig economy where so-called ‘self-employed’ workers must often go without basic benefits such as family leave and sick pay, not to mention mental health support and critical injury pay.
The startup has today announced the closing of £3.3 million in Seed led by UK-based Stride.VC, alongside existing investors Delin Ventures, Insurtech Gateway and several angels from executives in Uber, Deliveroo, and Urban.
Collective Benefits has set out to build a tech platform that gives gig workers access to a full range of affordable, portable protections and benefits which they can carry around with them between the platforms they work on.
So instead of your benefits being tied to one employer, as is the current case, they can apply to any gig economy ‘employer’ someone works for.
It’s also working with a number of on-demand service platforms who are giving their workforces access to these benefits. The startup will use the funding to further its growth and offering for gig platforms. A consumer service aimed at freelancers will follow later this year.
Anthony Beilin, CEO and Co-Founder of Collective Benefits said in a statement: “There are six million self-employed workers in the UK, which includes both higher-paid freelancers and gig economy platform workers. Yet, neither group typically has a safety net – no holiday pay, no family leave, no mental health support, not even paid sick days. We are building Collective Benefits so that the gig economy workers are covered by the same protections typically reserved for full-time employees.”
The company provides a benefits platform for both gig economy platforms and self-employed freelancers (such as sick pay, family leave, and mental health support), but the platform is also designed to boost loyalty to the gig platforms amongst the workers, as well as reduce churn and talent acquisition costs.
Fred Destin, partner at Stride.VC Said: “We’re seeing services platforms gain unstoppable momentum in every segment of our lives, from rides to food delivery to freelancing. We need a new playbook. Collective Benefits addresses one of the core challenges in this brave new world of work, using technology to design and deliver a new type of safety net to all the participants in this fast-growing part of our economy.”
Robert Lumley, Director and Co-founder of Insurtech Gateway, said: “The insurance industry faces a massive challenge in keeping up with the extraordinary growth in self-employment. Collective Benefits has created entirely new insurance products for the self-employed not addressed by traditional insurers and accessible through a flexible tech platform that allows them to get the cover they need.”
The fact this startup has appeared just goes to show the market failure today due to the on-rush of new technology sprinting ahead of regulation. Some 96% of UK self-employed have no income protection, while 93% of UK self-employed have no health or critical illness cover. PWC estimates that self-employed will account for 20% of labour force by 2025.
The tech industry is built on the venture capital model where hockey stick growth and selling to a larger company or going public are markers of success. But the traditional VC model does not leave much room for startups that might not be the next unicorn but still generate revenue — just not the type of returns investors are looking for.
This is where exiting to the community comes in.
“A lot of times, selling to the public doesn’t necessarily make the company or its service a better experience for the user or the workers,” Start.coop founder Greg Brodsky previously told TechCrunch. “Often it gets worse. It’s only really better for the investor.”
Brodsky, who helps cooperative startups through the Start.coop accelerator, pointed to this exit to community idea as an option for startups looking to transition out of the more traditional Silicon Valley model. In this framework, some portion of the company is sold back to the workers or end users, he said. This idea is being spearheaded by Nathan Schneider, a Start.coop board member and professor of media studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“The idea with exit to community is how can you create a model where the whole point is to create a vibrant community that will become its eventual stewards,” Schneider tells TechCrunch. “It seems like a natural fit, especially in a moment where we’re looking for increased accountability and the wealth distribution problems in the startup economy.”
Through the Exit to Community project, Schneider is exploring ways to help startups transition from investor-owned to community ownership, which could include users, customers, workers or some combination of all stakeholders. Schneider is holding a series of meetings with people interested in this challenge to try to chart a clear pathway.
Another on-demand transport app is making a move into payments to expand the existing relationship with its customers (and subsequent margins that it makes from serving them). Bird today announced the launch of Bird Pay, a service that will let people use its app not just to hire e-scooters, but to purchase items from local participating businesses. The service is being tested first in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, the company said.
Bird Pay will work by way of a QR code, which you can be read via your app at the point of sale at participating businesses to make cashless purchases (after scanning the code, you enter the amount you are charging and swipe up to complete the purchase).
The company said that Bird Pay was created directly in response to requests from businesses themselves — who will be using the app to promote deals near to where Bird users pick up or drop off scooters. The link between local businesses and scooter rides is a strong one: Bird says that it found that 58% of all the rides through its app start or end at a local business, and claims that businesses in all of its areas of operation — it’s now live in some 100 cities — say that the presence of Bird scooters outside their establishments have increased footfall.
“An early insight that emerged shortly after introducing Bird in Santa Monica was that it had the potential to not only allow people to avoid the chore of circling a block to find parking resulting in congestion and frustration, but it could also foster a more direct connection between people and local businesses,” said Travis VanderZanden, CEO and founder, Bird, in a statement. “Store owners in the community often tell me, ‘Birds outside bring business inside.’ This phenomenon paired with our commitment to community resulted in Bird Pay which helps drive even more customers to local businesses.”
Adding in payments to on-demand transport apps has become something of a tested and successful formula. In Asia companies like Grab have built rather extensive payments operations on top of their transportation apps — businesses big enough to be raising hundreds of millions of dollars in their own right to expand. And several months ago, Uber also started to test the waters in this area with the launch of Uber Money.
Of course, services like Grab’s have a slightly bigger greenfield when it comes to winning business: in many of the regions where Grab operates, cash is often still king, and so having a relationship with a user, where a mobile app is already being identified with “virtual money” (with money either being preloaded into an app or linked to a payment card) gives the app publisher an easy opening to expanding that relationship and using that app for other kinds of transactions, such as payments for local goods and services.
The challenge in the US, where Bird is based and operates primarily, is somewhat different: people are already well used to using plastic cards, and their phones may already have one or more payments apps active already. Both Apple Pay and Google’s Android-based offering have had strong take-up, as have alternatives from Samsung, PayPal and many others. That means a much more crowded playing field for Bird or any other new entrant.
On the other hand, we are creatures of convenience, and if we already have the Bird app open to open or close off a ride, that could just be the lower friction we need to use it to buy something. Time will tell if this particular bird will, indeed, fly.
Bird last October raised some $275 million at a $2.5 billion valuation.