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

By Amanda Silberling

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

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

Kesha’s Yat URL on Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We agree that this is early stage, there’s no debate about that,” said Jain. “This is laying the foundation — there are certain elements of the vision that are certainly more of a social contract than actual implementation at this point in time. But this is the vision that we’ve set forth, and we’re working continuously towards that goal.”

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

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

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

A still image of a Yat visualizer creation

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

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

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

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

By Lucas Matney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

European Investment Fund puts $30M in Fabric Ventures’ new $130M digital assets fund

By Mike Butcher

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

Fabric Ventures, a Luxembourg-based VC billed as backing the “Open Economy” has closed $130 million for its 2021 fund, $30 million of which is coming from the European Investment Fund (EIF). Other backers of the new fund include 33 founders, partners, and executives from Ethereum, (Transfer)Wise, PayPal, Square, Google, PayU, Ledger, Raisin, Ebury, PPRO, NEAR, Felix Capital, LocalGlobe, Earlybird, Accelerator Ventures, Aztec Protocol, Raisin, Aragon, Orchid, MySQL, Verifone, OpenOcean, Claret Capital, and more. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Dorsey says bitcoin will be a big part of Twitter’s future

By Sarah Perez

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed to investors that bitcoin will be a “big part” of the company’s future, as he sees opportunities to integrate the cryptocurrency into existing Twitter products and services, including commerce, subscriptions and other new additions like the Twitter Tip Jar and Super Follows.

Dorsey has been a staunch bitcoin advocate for years, but how it would be put into action on Twitter’s platform had not yet been spelled out in detail. However, Dorsey has often publicly touted the cryptocurrency, saying it reminds him of the “early days of the internet” and that there wasn’t “anything more important” in his lifetime for him to work on.

More recently, Dorsey launched a $23.6 million bitcoin fund with Jay Z and announced plans to lead his other company Square into the decentralized financial services market by way of bitcoin. Square also this year acquired a majority stake in Jay-Z’s TIDAL music service with an eye toward how blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies could change the music business.

Today, Dorsey also dubbed bitcoin one of three key trends for Twitter’s future, along with AI and decentralization — the latter which Twitter is pursuing through its “Bluesky” initiative.

He touted bitcoin to investors on Twitter’s second quarter earnings call, saying it could help the company move faster in terms of its product expansions, while explaining that it was the “best candidate” to become the “native currency” of the internet. (Incidentally, Square’s $50 million in bitcoin purchased in 2020 was worth $253 million by February 2021, and it purchased $170 million more earlier this year.)

Oh man, Jack Dorsey says he thinks Bitcoin is key to Twitter's future. Says it will "ensure people and companies can freely trade goods and services anywhere on the planet"

— Alex Weprin (@alexweprin) July 22, 2021

“If the internet has a native currency, a global currency, we are able to able to move so much faster with products such as Super Follows, Commerce, Subscriptions, Tip Jar, and we can reach every single person on the planet because of that instead of going down a market-by-market-by-market approach,” Dorsey explained. “I think this is a big part of our future. I think there is a lot of innovation above just currency to be had, especially as we think about decentralizing social media more and providing more economic incentive. So I think it’s hugely important to Twitter and to Twitter shareholders that we continue to look at the space and invest aggressively in it,” he added.

A Twitter rep confirmed this is the first time that Dorsey has spoken publicly about how Twitter could integrate bitcoin into its product lineup.

Dorsey also pointed out Twitter would not be alone in pursuing a crypto strategy, noting that Facebook was backing the digital currency Diem.

“There’s an obvious need for this, and appreciation for it. And I think that an open standard that’s native to the internet is the right way to go, which is why my focus and our focus eventually will be on bitcoin,” he noted.

Overall, Twitter delivered strong earnings in a pandemic rebound, which saw the company posting its fastest revenue growth since 2014, according to CNBC, which drove Twitter shares 9% higher in extended trading. The company pulled in Q2 revenue of $1.19 billion versus the $1.07 billion Wall Street expected, a majority ($1.05 billion) from its advertising business. It also saw earnings per share of 20 cents versus the 7 cents expected.

However, monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) — Twitter’s own invented metric meant to fluff up often flat monthly user growth — were only at 206 million, an 11% year-over-year increase, while analysts were counting on 206.2 million. The company blamed the decline on a slower news cycle and end of shelter-in-place in many U.S. communities, which may have impacted Twitter usage during the quarter.

 

 

3 critical lessons I learned while scaling RingCentral’s customer support team

By Ram Iyer
Shaun Spivak Contributor
Shaun Spivak is the senior director of Global Customer Support at RingCentral, a global leader in communication and call center software provider.

There are many things I wish I knew when starting out with my small customer support team at RingCentral, but in the end, we figured it out. I’m going to share some critical lessons I learned along the way that I wish I had known at the outset, so that when it comes to scaling your own support team, you’ll have an idea of what to expect.

When I first started with RingCentral, we were working with a small-scale support team undergoing rapid growth. Our main goal was to maintain an excellent level of customer service with smart operational decisions.

You have some choices when it comes to scaling up customer support:

  • Increase your employee headcount to cover the increase in customers. This is an expensive option, and onboarding employees too quickly can result in lower-quality training that results in lower-quality customer service.
  • Operate with a reduced staff and rely on decreased customer interaction. This increases wait times and can prove catastrophic to customer satisfaction.

Hiring the right employees is critical. You want to find people with the right foundational skill sets and not necessarily the technical know-how to execute the job.

But the real strategy to embrace, and the one we instituted at RingCentral, was investing in the employees we were onboarding and ensuring all our existing processes were running efficiently.

While automating processes and developing new strategies to address customer support is essential, building an efficient and empowered support team is the real key to scaling your customer support operation.

Hiring the right employees is critical. You want to find people with the right foundational skill sets and not necessarily the technical know-how to execute the job.

A foundational skill set combined with robust training enables employees to thrive with whatever is thrown at them, like adapting to remote support in the past year. An enabled employee can resolve support issues faster, making your whole operation more efficient. That’s a real win-win.

As you scale and onboard employees, make sure they know their importance — emphasize the stakes in their role related to the business and value that responsibility. We want our employees to feel engaged, so we offer them opportunities to pursue passion projects tied to business initiatives and the opportunity to shadow across different organizations.

As you adapt to growth by scaling your support team, you’ll develop operational elements and firm work streams that increase efficiency, enabling you to further grow without the need to hire additional support.

It’s been a team effort to get to where we are now, so keep that in mind as you plan your growth scaling. Your support team is your most important asset.

Lesson 1: Go beyond simplistic support

While it’s convenient to buy into the accepted truth that customer support consists of only two departments — inbound and outbound, at RingCentral, I encouraged diversity within our support teams.

With different skill sets come support agents who bring something unique to the table. While developing our support frontline, I soon learned that talents could be utilized in a query-specific function. By placing the support associate in the most suitable role, we increased job satisfaction for employees while remaining highly focused on the customer experience.

Here’s an overview of the teams we developed:

Professional services team

NFT market OpenSea hits $1.5 billion valuation

By Lucas Matney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou is coming to Disrupt

By Lucas Matney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

By Mary Ann Azevedo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

By Lucas Matney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Natasha Lomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re the only European based startup that’s doing this [except for MaidSafe],” says Villalba Segarra, arguing that the European Union’s legal regime around data protection and privacy lends it an advantage vs U.S. competitors. “All the others, Storj, plus Sia, Filecoin… they’re all US-based companies as far as I’m aware.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croatia’s Gideon Brothers raises $31M for its 3D vision-enabled autonomous warehouse robots

By Mike Butcher

Proving that Central and Eastern Europe remains a powerhouse of hardware engineering matched with software, Gideon Brothers (GB), a Zagreb, Croatia-based robotics and AI startup, has raised a $31 million Series A round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT), the venture and growth arm of Koch Industries Inc., with participation from DB Schenker, Prologis Ventures and Rite-Hite.

The round also includes participation from several of Gideon Brothers’ existing backers: Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of TransferWise), Pentland Ventures, Peaksjah, HCVC (Hardware Club), Ivan Topčić, Nenad Bakić and Luca Ascani.

The investment will be used to accelerate the development and commercialization of GB’s AI and 3D vision-based “autonomous mobile robots” or “AMRs”. These perform simple tasks such as transporting, picking up and dropping off products in order to free up humans to perform more valuable tasks.

The company will also expand its operations in the EU and U.S. by opening offices in Munich, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, respectively.

Gideon Brothers founders

Gideon Brothers founders. Image Credits: Gideon Brothers

Gideon Brothers make robots and the accompanying software platform that specializes in horizontal and vertical handling processes for logistics, warehousing, manufacturing and retail businesses. For obvious reasons, the need to roboticize supply chains has exploded during the pandemic.

Matija Kopić, CEO of Gideon Brothers, said: “The pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of smart automation, and we are ready to meet the unprecedented market demand. The best way to do it is by marrying our proprietary solutions with the largest, most demanding customers out there. Our strategic partners have real challenges that our robots are already solving, and, with us, they’re seizing the incredible opportunity right now to effect robotic-powered change to some of the world’s most innovative organizations.”

He added: “Partnering with these forward-thinking industry leaders will help us expand our global footprint, but we will always stay true to our Croatian roots. That is our superpower. The Croatian startup scene is growing exponentially and we want to unlock further opportunities for our country to become a robotics & AI powerhouse.”

Annant Patel, director at Koch Disruptive Technologies, said: “With more than 300 Koch operations and production units globally, KDT recognizes the unique capabilities of and potential for Gideon Brothers’ technology to substantially transform how businesses can approach warehouse and manufacturing processes through cutting edge AI and 3D AMR technology.”

Xavier Garijo, member of the Board of Management for Contract Logistics, DB Schenker, added: “Our partnership with Gideon Brothers secures our access to best in class robotics and intelligent material handling solutions to serve our customers in the most efficient way.”

GB’s competitors include Seegrid, Teradyne (MiR), Vecna Robotics, Fetch Robotics, AutoGuide Mobile Robots, Geek+ and Otto Motors.

Paramount+ will launch a $4.99 monthly ad-supported subscription

By Amanda Silberling

If you didn’t want to shell out $9.99 per month to watch the meme-worthy iCarly reboot, now you won’t have to. On Monday, Paramount+ will launch its ad-supported Essential Plan, priced at $4.99 per month.

This less-expensive plan will replace the CBS All Access plan, which included commercials, but also granted access to local CBS stations. If you’re currently subscribed to that $5.99 per month plan, you can keep it. But starting Monday, it won’t be around anymore for new subscribers. 

What makes the Essential Plan different from CBS All Access? Subscribers on the new tier will get access to Marquee Sports (including games in the NFL, UEFA Champions, and Europa Leagues), breaking news on CBSN, and all of Paramount’s on-demand shows and movies. This includes offerings from ViacomCBS-owned channels like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, the Smithsonian Channel, and more. But, local live CBS station programming will no longer be included. So, if that’s a deal-breaker, you might want to subscribe to CBS All Access this weekend. 

The existing Premium Plan ($9.99 per month) removes commercials and adds support for 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision. Like other streaming services, only Premium subscribers will have access to mobile downloads. 

Both plans include access to parental controls and up to six individual profiles. The service doesn’t have a watch list at this time. But that has become a baseline feature for being competitive in this space, so it’s not a matter of if, but when. 

For comparison, the basic Netflix plan costs $8.99 per month, but only lets you watch on one screen at a time. That makes it harder to share an account with family or friends. Their standard tier is $13.99, making it a bit pricier than Paramount+.

Earlier this week, HBO Max unveiled their own lower-cost, ad-supported subscription tier, priced at $9.99 per month. The WarnerMedia-Discovery merger could also have major implications for the popular streaming service, though how that shakes out in terms of content libraries, or even possibly a combined streaming app, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately, consumers will make their decisions about which services to pay for based on a variety of key factors including content, pricing, and user experience. On the content front, Paramount+ plans to announce a slate of big-name titles when the new plan goes live on Monday, in hopes of wooing new subscribers. But the low-cost plan may also appeal to those who don’t necessarily care about top movies – they just want an affordable add-on to their current streaming lineup that provides them with access to some of the programs Netflix lacks. 

Paramount+ owner ViacomCBS said it added 6 million global streaming subscribers across their Paramount+, Showtime OTT, and BET+ services in Q1, to end the quarter with 36 million global users. Most of those come from Paramount+.

Glovo splurges $208M on three Delivery Hero brands in the Balkans

By Natasha Lomas

The high stakes game of chess (or, well, consolidation chicken) that is on-demand food delivery rolls on today with a little more territorial swapping in Europe: Barcelona-based Glovo has agreed to buy three of Berlin-based Delivery Hero’s food delivery brands in Central and Eastern Europe — with deals that it said are worth a total value of €170 million (~$208M).

Specifically, it’s picking up Delivery Hero’s foodpanda brand in Romania and Bulgaria; the Donesi brand in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Pauza in Croatia.

There’s some notable symmetry here: Last year Delivery Hero shelled out $272M for a bunch of Glovo’s LatAm brands, as the latter gave up on a region it had already started withdrawing from in its quest for profitability.

Glovo said then that it would be focusing on “key markets where we can build a long-term sustainable business and continue to provide our unique multi-category offering to our customers”.

Earlier this month the Barcelona-based ‘deliver anything’ app also announced it was picking up Ehrana, a local delivery company in Slovenia. So it’s been on quite the (local) shopping spree of late.

Its existing operational footprint covers markets in South West Europe, Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. So its attention here, on the Balkans, suggests it sees a chance to eke out profitable potential in more of Central Europe too.

Glovo said the transactions in Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia are expected to close “within the next few weeks”, subject to fulfilment of closing conditions and relevant regulatory approvals.

While it said Romania will be completed following approval from the competition authority — but gave no timeline for that.

Its splurge on Central and Eastern European rival food delivery brands follows a $528M Series F funding round in April — so it’s evidently not short of VC cash to burn spend.

Commenting in a statement, Oscar Pierre, CEO and co-founder, said: “It’s always been central to our long-term strategy to focus on markets where we see clear opportunities to lead and where we can build a sustainable business. Central and Eastern Europe is a very important part of that plan. The region has really embraced on-demand delivery platforms and we’re very excited to be strengthening our presence and increasing our footprint in countries that continue to show enormous potential for growth.” 

In another supporting statement Delivery Hero made it clear it has bigger fish to fry (than can be served up to hungry customers in the Balkans) right now.

“Delivery Hero has built a clear leading business in the Balkan region in the last couple of years. However, with a lot of operational priorities on our plate, we believe Glovo would be better positioned to continue building an amazing experience for our customers in this region,” said Niklas Östberg, its CEO and co-founder.

A relevant, recent development for Delivery Hero‘s business is the decision to re-enter its home market of Germany — Europe’s biggest economy — under its foodpanda brand, starting in its home city of Berlin this summer (but with a national expansion planned to follow).

This is notable because back in 2018 it sold its German operations to another on-demand food delivery rival, the Dutch giant Takeaway.com — in a $1.1BN deal which included the Lieferheld, Pizza.de and foodora brands — temporarily stepping out of the competitive fray. (Meanwhile Takeaway.com has since merged with the UK’s Just Eat to become… Just Eat Takeaway so, uh, keep up.)

Delivery Hero is returning to Germany now because it can, and because the market is huge. A two-year non-compete clause between it and Just Eat Takeaway recently expired — allowing for reheating (rehashing?) of the competitive food delivery mix in German cities.

Speaking to the FT back in May about this market return, Östberg suggested Delivery Hero has girded itself (and its investors) for a long fight.

“We don’t see necessarily that we are going to go in and win the market in the next year or so. This is a 10-year game,” he said. “Of course we will definitely make sure we put in enough money to be the clear number two, the clear challenger [to Just Eat Takeaway.com].”

Winning at food delivery is certainly a(n expensive) marathon, not a sprint.

There are also of course multiple races being run in markets around the world, depending on local conditions and competitive mix — with the chance that the winner of the biggest and most lucrative races will reach such a position of VC-sponsored glory that it can buy up the top competitors from the smaller races and consolidate everything — maximizing economies of scale and gaining the ability to squeeze out fresh competition to grab a juicy profit for themselves.

Or, well, that’s the theory. Competition regulators are likely to take increasing interest in this space, for one thing. Rising awareness of gig economy workers rights is also putting pressure on the model.

For now, the thin-margin food delivery business needs the right base conditions to survive. The model only functions in cities and ideally in highly dense urban environments. Most of the players in this space also do not employ the armies of riders that are needed to make deliveries — because doing so would make the model far more costly. And in Europe political attention on gig economy workers rights could force reforms that raise regional operational costs, putting further pressure on margins.

Spain has its own labor reforms in train that will affect Glovo in its home market, for example.

Achieving sustainability (i.e. profitability without the need for ongoing VC funding injections) remains a huge hurdle for delivery apps. It will likely require massive market consolidation and/or convincing users to switch from making the occasional order of a hot meal on a weekend to relying on app-based delivery for far more of their local shopping needs — not just lunch/dinner but groceries and toiletries, and other fast moving consumers goods and household items.

It’s notable that super fast grocery delivery is a major focus for Glovo, for example — which has recently been building out networks of inner city dark stores to service in-app convenience store shopping.

Lots of other on-demand app players are also ramping up on that front. Including Delivery Hero — which has been paying more attention to groceries (picking up InstaShop last year in a deal worth $360M).

Glovo building out in Central Europe while exiting markets further afield suggests it believes it can use a concentrated market footprint to drive operational efficiencies and strong order margins through a tightly integrated meal delivery and dark store play.

If it can do that — and offer at least the whiff of profitability — it could make its business an attractive future acquisition target for a larger global giant that’s looking to up the ‘consolidation chicken’ stakes by bolting on new regions.

A larger player like Delivery Hero may even be a potential future suitor — having shown it’s happy to return to markets it left earlier. After all, it surely knows Glovo’s business pretty well since they’ve done a number of market swaps. But, for now, that’s pure speculation.

Zooming out, what the on-demand model of app-based urban convenience means for the future of urban environments is a whole other question — and one which both competition and urban regulators will need to ponder very carefully.

If the rush to scale delivery platforms drives unstoppable consolidation that sees smaller players gobbled up by a few global giants — that can then use their size and scale to outcompete local shops — it may spell even more dark times for the traditional High Street and its family-run bodegas.

Local retail in many places has already been hammered by Internet giants like Amazon. Delivery apps are another high tech threat to bricks-and-mortar shopping. Touch of a button convenience does carry wider costs.

 

Visa takes a swipe in fintech, builds new online marketplace

By Mary Ann Azevedo

The relationships between banks and fintechs are multi-faceted.

In some cases, they partner. In many cases, they compete. In other cases, one acquires or invests in the other.

Well, today, an announcement by global payments giant Visa is aimed at helping facilitate banks and fintechs’ ability to work together.

Specifically, Visa said today it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect, a program designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

I talked with Terry Angelos, senior vice president and global head of fintech at Visa, to understand just exactly what that means.

“Global fintech investment last year was $105 billion,” Angelos said. “There were about 2,861 deals in venture, PE and M&A. So literally over $100 billion is going into fintech, which is more than the combined tech budgets of every bank in the U.S. As a result, a lot of innovation that is occurring in fintech is funded by venture dollars. We’re trying to bring that innovation to our clients, whether they are banks, processors or other fintechs.”

The program initially launched in Europe in November of 2020, and now is available in the U.S., Asia Pacific, Latin American and CEMEA (Central Europe, Middle East and Africa). Visa has worked to identify fintechs that can help banks and financial institutions (that are clients of Visa’s) as well as other fintechs “create digital-first experiences, without the cost and complexity of building the back-end technology in-house.

Local teams will run programs in the respective regions, and vet and manage partners in the following categories: account opening, data aggregation, analytics and security, customer engagement and new cardholder services and operations and compliance.

So far, Visa has identified about 60 partners that offer a range of technologies — from back-office functions to new front-end services, according to Angelos. Those partners include Alloy, Jumio, Argyle, Fidel, FirstSource, TravelBank, Canopy, Hummingbird and Unit21, among others. Twenty-four are located in the U.S.

“So much of fintech focus and coverage is about disrupting existing banks. Everyone is trying to disrupt everyone, including fintechs like PayPal,” Angelos told TechCrunch. “Venture numbers are certainly very large. What we’re realizing is there is a significant opportunity to pair up a lot of venture-backed companies with our existing clients. It runs a little bit against us versus them approach you typically hear about.”

Visa clients can get in touch with program partners via the Visa Partner website and get benefits such as reduced implementation fees and pricing discounts. 

“The Fintech Connect program is about both helping to identify and curate interesting fintech companies and then create a favorable commercial partnership for our clients so they can engage with these Fintech Connect partners,” Angelos said.

So, what does Visa gain from all this?

“Our goal is that all of our clients are in a position to build better digital experiences for their consumers,” he told TechCrunch. “We would love it if every bank had the latest tools in order to onboard clients and build digital experiences.”

One of its partners, for example, is virtual card startup Extend. 

“There are fintechs that provide this today such as TripActions, Ramp and Divvy,” Angelos points out. “But what Visa is doing is looking at ‘How can we enable our banking clients to do something similar?’ So we’re bringing innovation into our ecosystem so that anyone can take advantage.”

It can also help companies such as TripActions, Ramp or Divvy with other complementary technologies for security posture, for example.

“The net beneficiary is to hopefully move more spending onto those rails,” Angelos said. “For example, if you look at B2B spend, there’s about $120 trillion of it annually. We believe about $20 trillion of that is card eligible. Today, Visa captures about $1 trillion of that. So, another $19 trillion is available for Visa to capture through our partners if our banks and fintechs can build these kinds of solutions to enable B2B payments.”

To be clear, Visa also invests in startups from time to time. But this initiative is distinct from those efforts, although a couple of its partners have been recipients of funding from Visa.

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