Last Friday, Dom Hofmann tweeted the launch of Loot, one of his new projects looking at games and game creation through the lens of NFTs:
– randomized adventurer gear
– no images or stats. intentionally omitted for others to interpret
– no fee, just gas
– 8000 bags total
available via contract only. not audited. mint at your own risk pic.twitter.com/uLukzFayUK
— dom (@dhof) August 27, 2021
If “NFTs,” “gas” and “minting” sound unintelligible, the short version is that this project lets you spend some money to create a unique list of items that you could keep in the same wallet (an app like Rainbow) where you’d keep cryptocurrencies or other digital collectibles, typically art (or, as skeptics gleefully note, JPEGs).
I repeat: a unique list of items. No artwork, stats to compare quality or even game rules that could inform such stats.
People spent money to get those unique lists. Thousands. And as happens in NFTs, a market quickly formed around these unique lists of items. The “floor,” or minimum price to buy into a Loot “bag,” shot to thousands of dollars worth of Ethereum. Certain kinds of items in these lists sounded cool and were found to be rare upon analysis of the entire set, and so bags containing them rose in value to extreme heights:
And people began to fill in those missing elements like art — not fundamentally changing the underlying lists, but creating new works that explicitly reference the items in particular lists:
— gremplin (@supergremplin) August 30, 2021
And like the lists themselves, people began taking an algorithmic approach to generating that art:
Creating AI-generated pixel art for @lootproject.
Made using @dribnet's Colab (CLIPIT/PixelDraw).
– Demon Crown
– Maelstrom Tear Amulet of Brilliance
– Holy Chestplate
– Ornate Belt pic.twitter.com/GGr0N7eMQg
— MOΞ (@moesalih_) September 1, 2021
By August 31st, there was a legible community of people…
Except, there’s still no game rules for these items — including what it would even mean to have a character equipping them!
Hey, what’s that? Oh right, people could make or generate stats too!
This tweet really nails the overall phenomenon:
Loot is NFT improv.
It is an invitation to respond with, "Yes, and…"
— Redefined Life Podcast (RedefinedLife.eth) (@redefined_life) September 1, 2021
In less than a week, a community has gone from lists of text to infinitely many illustrations of those items to worlds for those items to reside in and characters to wield them. All from taking simple primitives and generating context around them that gives them value.
It’s pretty magical stuff. But even if there’s some speculative angle to the creation happening, how many people get to participate if these bags cost tens of thousands of dollars at a minimum? On the one hand: If you just think the game of making up a game is fun, because all of these bags and items live on the Ethereum network, then you can still make things that incorporate them at no cost (short of the painful fees currently associated with using Ethereum).
And if it really matters to you to have those unique objects in a wallet of your own so you can really participate, people are thinking of interesting paths there, as well:
– returns a "virtual nft" of loot based on a given wallet
– b/c the wallet is the seed, only one bag per wallet
– because it's not a "real" nft, no minting, transferring, selling, etc
anyone with an ethereum wallet has synthetic loothttps://t.co/K2fx9Zw7qQ
— dom (@dhof) September 1, 2021
We need an ordained “basic” loot bag with free minting and unlimited supply so anyone can participate. https://t.co/aok9EqhlZX
— John Palmer (@john_c_palmer) September 1, 2021
If that’s all too jargon-y, I’ll again summarize: There are feasible paths to making it free to “have” these items for the purpose of playing with the growing set of inter-compatible apps or games that might incorporate Loot — you just won’t have a Legit Bag with rare items that could sell for lots of money.
Oh, and what if you like some of the items in a Loot bag, but wish your adventurer could mix-and-match with other items from the broader set that just dropped?
1. Connect wallet
2. Unbundle your Loot Bag into individual ERC 1155 Loot items
3. Trade your Loot items to upgrade your adventurer
4. Dominate the metaverse pic.twitter.com/d4WiHEWtKo
— Jon Yan (@jonjyan) September 1, 2021
Less than a week and already getting disrupted by unbundling!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe started with Marvel Comics taking out a billion-dollar loan to finance the first four movies based on its iconic superhero characters. The seeds of awareness of these characters had been planted in the minds of the masses through decades of appearances in comics and TV leading up to their first appearances in blockbuster films. Decades of perhaps hundreds of writers and artists were getting paid to create fantastical stories for those characters that people would want to read and that would get them hooked to come back for the next issue. People came to closely associate themselves with characters with kind of funny origins (bit by a radioactive spider!).
This all happened in a top-down, corporate, mass-production context. A few creatives at Marvel did high-leverage work on a freelance or in-house basis, printers made a ton of copies and a supply chain got those issues to comics shops and dime stores across the country. Like dominoes, Stan Lee thinks of some new superhero (pitch: this guy’s not a hippy, he’s a weapons manufacturer industrialist!) to five decades later, Avengers: Endgame and Black Panther warp the definition of blockbuster forever.
But what if someone wanted to create an MCU competitor as a community, instead of going head-to-head with Disney?
Extrapolating from the last week of Loot…
You’d release a contract to generate sets of superhero names and associated powers. People would mint those heroes and they would begin to trade on the open market. People would build tools that determine which powers are more rare, especially around ones that sound cool (“flight” is a gimme).
They’d imagine their hero, illustrate them themselves and commission artists who could make them look cool. Eventually more technical folks in the community would do the heavy lifting to piece together tools that could generate art for characters in a common style, or be customizable by some key parameters.
Eventually, people would commission crossover art, and then you’re only a step away from shared storylines (increase the value of multiple characters with a single commissioned piece!).
DAOs, or decentralized groups who come together to create new projects in the crypto space or even “just” invest together, might buy up more popular characters and commission more elaborate visual stories with the aim of boosting the value of that underlying item containing a hero name + powers and any popular artworks that they inspired.
And assuming the project’s originators went with the direction of the Loot zeitgeist, all of this would be IP that could be re-used and remixed by anyone. That might sound crazy — isn’t the point to own it, and the point of owning it is to control how it’s used?
That’s the Disney status quo. In a world of projects like Loot, you want to reinforce the value of the NFT you own — and that value reflects that NFT’s renown and reputation. Echoing the phrase “all press is good press”: Any remix is a good remix. To be referenced is to still be culturally relevant. So if you own an NFT describing Arachnid Person, you want to contribute to an environment where as many people want to include Arachnid Person in their works as possible so that Arachnid Man No. 1 becomes something worth owning.
I’m really just expanding on Dylan Field:
Feels like two paths are emerging in NFT space.
(2) Form a community to build a universe. Give all the IP away. See what happens. Ex: @lootproject
Personally like approach #2 better!
— Dylan Field (@zoink) August 31, 2021
And John Palmer rightly emphasizes something special: The lack of anybody who can say “no,” as people try to figure out how to make Loot cool:
Crucial decision *not* to have a company, or a team leading the way. Impossible to gate-keep any creative decisions.
— John Palmer (@john_c_palmer) August 31, 2021
California DoorDash workers protested outside of the home of DoorDash CEO Tony Xu on Thursday, prompted by a recent California Superior Court Judge ruling calling 2020’s Proposition 22 unconstitutional. Prop 22, which was passed last November in California, would allow app-based companies like DoorDash, Uber and Lyft to continue classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees.
A group of about 50 DoorDash workers who are affiliated with advocacy groups We Drive Progress and Gig Workers Rising traveled caravan style to the front of Xu’s house in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. They demanded that DoorDash provide transparency for tips and 120% of minimum wage or around $17 per hour, stop unfair deactivations and provide free personal protective equipment, as well as adequate pay for car and equipment sanitizing.
“Dasher concerns and feedback are always important to us, and we will continue to hear their voices and engage our community directly,” a DoorDash spokesperson told TechCrunch. “However, we know that today’s participants do not speak for the 91% of California Dashers who want to remain independent contractors or the millions of California voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 22. The reality is, the passage of Prop 22 has addressed in law many of the concerns raised today through its historic benefits and protections: workers earn 120% of their local minimum wage per active hour in addition to 100% of their tips, receive free PPE and enjoy access to healthcare funds.”
DoorDash drivers say getting paid for the time they’re “active,” meaning actively driving to either pick up food and drop it off, rather than when they’re online and waiting for gigs to come through, leads to inadequate pay. They also say much of their living wage comes from tips, which should be an added bonus, but ends up helping make ends meet based on DoorDash’s pay structure. Prop 22 is also meant to guarantee a reimbursement of 30 cents per engaged mile, which drivers say “would be great if it were true.” DoorDash did not respond to follow ups regarding its pay structure or claims from dashers that they have not been given free PPE.
Rondu Gantt, a gig worker who’s been working for DoorDash for two and a half years and also drives for Uber and Lyft to get by, says his base pay from DoorDash is often as low as $3 per hour, and that around 40% to 60% of his money comes from tips. Although this model sounds similar to the restaurant industry in the United States, which can be quite lucrative for servers and bartenders, for a delivery driver, it’s an unsustainable way to make a living because tipping culture isn’t nearly as strong.
“DoorDash pays so low because they want to make it affordable for the customer, but I would say for the driver it becomes unaffordable,” Gantt told TechCrunch, citing the costs of owning, maintaining, parking and fueling a vehicle as potentially crippling. “Last week, I drove for 30 hours and I made $405. That’s $13.50 per hour, which is below minimum wage.”
Gantt said drivers also have had to deal with pressure to drive in unsafe conditions, and we can look to the images of delivery drivers in New York City during Hurricane Ida as an example of some conditions drivers feel compelled to accept. Over the past two years, DoorDash drivers have also been deemed essential workers, interacting with and providing services for many people during a pandemic at the risk of their health.
Gig Workers Rising says DoorDash workers “have received little to no safety support” with some workers reporting “being reimbursed as little as 80 cents per day for cleaning/sanitizing equipment and PPE that they use to keep themselves and customers safe.”
“Right now gig work isn’t flexible,” a spokesperson for Gig Workers Rising told TechCrunch. “Workers are at the mercy of when there’s demand. If they were employees the work would change as they’d work in the knowledge that they’ve healthcare and can take a sick day off.”
Because Prop 22 was ruled unconstitutional, the spokesperson said by rights it shouldn’t be in operation.
“The gig corporations violate that law everyday by choosing not to comply with it,” he said.
For Gantt’s part, he doesn’t necessarily want to be an employee, he just wants to make sure that he’s being paid what he deserves.
“Which is not minimum wage,” he said. “Minimum wage would be unacceptable as well. The cost of doing this, the danger, makes minimum wage unacceptable pay. And realistically, they’re only sometimes paying you minimum wage before taxes. After taxes you’re definitely making less.”
TechCrunch was given access to DoorDash workers’ dashboards that break down their pay. For the week of July 12 to July 19, one dasher was paid a total of $574.21 for 53 deliveries, $274 of which came from customer tip. His “active time” was 14 hours and 21 minutes, and his “dash time,” or when he was logged onto the app waiting for gigs to come through and doing deliveries, was about 30 hours.
The dasher’s “guaranteed earnings” from DoorDash for the week was $300.21. (DoorDash did not respond to clarification on how guaranteed weekly earnings are calculated or what they’re based on, but a post on the company’s site says that guaranteed earnings are incentives for dashers in specific areas.) His base pay ended up at about $257.62, but DoorDash added an additional $42.59 to adjust to guaranteed earnings. If we divide the amount DoorDash paid by the number of hours of “active time,” the worker was paid about $21 per hour. If we divide it by the “dash time,” it looks more like $10 per hour.
Again, this is before tax. Independent contractors are usually advised to put aside around 30% of their paycheck because they have to pay self-employment tax, which is 15.3% of taxable income, federal income tax, which varies depending on tax bracket, and potentially state income tax. After taxes, this dasher’s total pay for 30 hours of work, including his $274 worth of tip, would be around $402, which comes out to $13.40 per hour.
Tips were of concern at the protest on Thursday as drivers called for transparency. Gantt says dashers can see a cumulative amount of tip earnings per week, as well as how much tip they’re receiving from each order, but they don’t trust the amount they’re receiving is actually the amount customers are tipping them.
Gantt and other drivers aren’t just being paranoid. Last November, DoorDash agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the company stole drivers’ tips and allowed customers to think their tip money was actually going to the drivers. The suit, filed by Washington, D.C. attorney general Karl Racine, alleged DoorDash reduced drivers’ pay for each job by the amount of any tip.
One of the rallying cries of the protest was for Xu to “share the wealth.” In 2020, the CEO was reportedly the highest paid CEO in the Bay Area, making a total salary of $413.67 million. During the second quarter, DoorDash saw a $113 million profit adjusted for EBITDA, but was overall unprofitable with a net loss of $102 million.
“We all work for money and how that money gets distributed when they go through their earnings is telling you who matters and who doesn’t matter,” said Gantt. “It’s a clear sign of who’s important, who has value. If they don’t pay you, they don’t value you.”
The BMW Group announced Thursday its intentions to commit to a 50% reduction from 2019 levels in global carbon dioxide emissions during the use-phase of its vehicles by 2030, as well as a 40% reduction in emissions during the life cycle of the vehicle. These goals, including a plan to focus on the principles of a circular economy to achieve a more sustainable vehicle life cycle, will manifest in the company’s Neue Klasse platform, which should be available by 2025.
Announced in March, the BMW “New Class” is a reboot of a line of sedans and coupes the German automaker produced from 1962-1977, a line that established BMW’s identity as a sports car manufacturer. The new line will feature “a completely redefined IT and software architecture, a new generation of high-performance electric drivetrains and batteries and a radically new approach to sustainability across the entire vehicle life cycle,” according to the company.
“With the Neue Klasse we are significantly sharpening our commitment and also committing ourselves to a clear course for achieving the 1.5 degree target,” said Oliver Zipse, chairman of the board of management of BMW AG, in a statement. “How companies are dealing with CO2 emissions has become a major factor when it comes to judging corporate action. The decisive factor in the fight against global warming is how strongly we can improve the carbon footprint of vehicles over their entire life span. This is why we are setting ourselves transparent and ambitious goals for the substantial reduction of CO2 emissions; these are validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative and will deliver an effective and measurable contribution.”
BMW says the utilization phase of its vehicles accounts for 70% of the group’s total CO2 footprint, which makes sense given the fact that most of BMW’s car sales are still ICE vehicles. In the first half of 2021, about 11.44% of BMW’s total sales volume were either electric or plug-in hybrid, according to its 2021 half-year earnings report. The company has expressed a goal of selling 1 million plug-in units, including hybrids, by the end of 2021. As of Q2, it’s already at around 850,000, but in order to reach its goal of halving emissions during the utilization phase, BMW will need to seriously up its sales of low or zero-emissions vehicles. BMW already has its i3 compact EV out and plans to launch two long-range models, the i4 sedan and iX SUV, later this year, with plans for more in 2022. But unlike GM or Volvo, the automaker has not yet announced plans to kill its ICE vehicles, nor has it begun to sell a full line of vehicles designed from the ground up to run on batteries.
This announcement comes just a couple of months after BMW, along with other German automakers Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, acknowledged its involvement in colluding on an emissions cartel since the 1990s. The automakers collectively hid technology that would have been able to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU emissions standards. The EU fined BMW $442 million, a slap on the wrist given BMW’s second-quarter profits of close to $6 billion.
In addition, the EU’s “Fit for 55” energy and climate package, which was released last month, upgraded the overall carbon emissions reductions goal from 40% to 55% by 2030, which means automakers need to pick up the pace of electrification, and BMW knows that. Other proposals reportedly under discussion in the European Commission involve a 60% emissions reduction by 2030, followed by 100% cut by 2035, which would make it near impossible to sell ICE vehicles by that time.
BMW says its Neue Klasse will further the momentum to get EVs to market. The automaker aims to have 10 million all-electric cars on the road over the next decade, with at least half of all BMW Group sales being all-electric and the Mini brand offering exclusively all-electric from 2030. As part of its circular economy focus, BMW also intends to incorporate an increase of use of secondary materials and promote a better framework for establishing a market for secondary materials with the Neue Klasse. The company says it aims to raise the percentage of secondary materials it uses from its current rate of 30% to 50%, but didn’t specify by when.
BMW says its use of secondary nickel in the iX battery, for example, is already 50%, with the battery housing containing up to 30% secondary aluminum, and the goal is to improve those numbers. BMW is also piloting a project with BASF and the ALBA Group to increase the recycling of plastics used in cars.
As part of what BMW is calling a comprehensive recycling system, “the ALBA Group analyses end-of-life BMW Group vehicles to establish whether a car-to-car reuse of the plastic is possible,” according to a statement by the company. “In a second step, BASF assesses whether chemical recycling of the pre-sorted waste can be used in order to obtain pyrolysis oil. This can then be used as a basis for new products made of plastic. In the future, a new door trim or other components could be manufactured from a used instrument panel, for example.”
To ensure an easier recycling process, BMW is also incorporating early-stage design of vehicles. Materials must be put together in a way that’s easy to disassemble at the end of life and then reuse. The automaker says it will increasingly build the interior of a car with monomaterials that can be transferred back into usable material.
“For example, the onboard wiring systems must be easy to remove, in order to avoid mixing steel with copper from the cable harnesses in the vehicles,” the company said in a statement. “If this mixing does take place, the secondary steel loses its essential material properties and therefore no longer meets the high safety requirements of the automotive industry.”
A circular economy also involves using higher-quality vehicles, which will reduce the overall number of materials used because those parts can be recycled or fixed more easily.
With this announcement, BMW promises transparency when it comes to the life cycle of its vehicles. The company does indeed publish life cycle assessments (LCAs), as does almost every other major car manufacturer, but there’s no standard in the industry yet, which means it’s sometimes difficult to compare different vehicles. Looking at the overall life cycle of a vehicle will be increasingly important if we actually want to cut emissions goals. The emissions that come from the supply chains and manufacturing processes to obtain all the materials needed to even build batteries and vehicles is a body of research that’s only just coming to light, and what that light reveals is the possibility that these moves could even increase emissions in the aggregate.
“Embodied emissions can be devilishly difficult to accurately quantify, and nowhere are there more complexities and uncertainties than with EVs,” writes Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in a recent TechCrunch article about what it takes to calculate the real carbon cost of EVs. “While an EV self-evidently emits nothing while driving, about 80% of its total lifetime emissions arise from the combination of the embodied energy in fabricating the battery and then in ‘fabricating’ electricity to power the vehicle. The remaining comes from manufacturing the non-fuel parts of the car. That ratio is inverted for a conventional car where about 80% of lifecycle emissions come directly from fuel burned while driving, and the rest comes from the embodied energy to make the car and fabricate gasoline.”
Everything is switching from offline to online mode, spurred by the pandemic, and that also has turned around things for the creative economy. Creative professionals continue to look for ways to monetize their talents and knowledge through online education platforms like CLASS101 that bring stable incomes and improve opportunities.
CLASS101, a Seoul-based online education platform, announced today it has closed $25.8 million (30 billion won) Series B funding to accelerate its growth in South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.
The Series B round was led by Goodwater Capital, with additional participation from previous backers Strong Ventures, KT Investment, Mirae Asset Capital and Klim Ventures.
In 2019, the company raised a $10.3 million (12 billion won) Series A round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia along with Mirae Asset Venture Investment, KT Investment, Strong Ventures and SpringCamp.
Co-founder and CEO of CLASS101 Monde Ko told TechCrunch that the company will use the proceeds to focus on hiring more talent, as well as expanding domestic business and overseas markets in the U.S. and Japan.
Ko and four other co-founders established CLASS101 in 2018, which was pivoted from a tutoring service platform that was founded in 2015, Ko said. It has 350 employees now.
“We will keep supporting creators to monetize their talents and we will also allow creators to expand their revenue streams by selling their goods, digital files and more products via our platform,” Ko said.
When asked about what differentiated it from other peers, CLASS101 provides and ships all the necessary tools and material “Class Kit”, Ko said.
The company offers more than 2,000 classes within a raft of categories, with drawing, crafts, photography, cooking, music and more. It also provides about 230 classes in the U.S. and 220 classes in Japan. There are approximately 100,000 registered creators and 3 million registered users as of August 2021.
CLASS101 launched its platform in the U.S. in 2019 and entered Japan last year. The company opened online classes for kids aged under 14 in 2020.
“CLASS101 is a company that combines the advantages of Patreon and YouTube, offering tailored support for creators while fulfilling users’ learning needs,” co-founder and managing partner at Goodwater Capital Eric Kim said, adding that it is the fastest growing company “in an economic phenomenon in which individuals follow their passions and do what they really enjoy while also making a living from it.”
In Europe and the US we are very much getting used to groceries being delivered within 15 minutes, with a huge battleground of startups in the space. Startups across Europe and the US have raised no less than $3.1 billion in the last quarter alone for grocery deliveries within 10 or 20-minute delivery promises. But all are scrambling over a market where the average order size is pretty low. What if it was in the hundreds, and didn’t require refrigeration?
This is probably going to be the newest “15/30minute” consumer battleground, as high-end consumer goods come to last-mile deliveries.
The latest to Arive in this space is… arive – a German-based startup that delivers high-end consumer brands within 30 minutes. It’s now raised €6 million in seed funding from 468 Capital, La Famiglia VC and Balderton Capital.
But stacking its shelves with well-known brands and spinning up last-mile delivery logistics, Arive is offering fitness products, cosmetics, personal care, homeware, tech and fashion. Consumers order via an app, with the delivery coming via a bike-only fleet in 30-minutes or less.
The behavior it’s tapping into is already there. It seems the pandemic has made us all work and play from home, leaving foot traffic in inner cities still below pre-Covid levels.
Arive says it works directly with brands to offer a selection of their products for on-demand delivery, offering them a new distribution channel to a new type of customer that wants speed and convenience.
arive is currently available in Munich and has recently launched in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. The 30-minute delivery guarantee means it doesn’t need as many micro fulfillment centers as grocery players, helping it to keep infrastructure costs low.
Maximilian Reeker, co-founder of arive, said: “While the space for hyper-fast grocery delivery is increasingly crowded, we found the brands we love are still stuck in a three-day delivery scheme. For today’s time-poor consumers, this is too long.”
Bardo Droege, investor at 468 Capital, commented: “Our cities are dynamic, fast-moving places, and people living there want the tools and services that reflect their lifestyles so it’s no wonder the 15-minute groceries category has taken off so quickly. We’re confident the arive team will take this on.”
The feature, first revealed in February, will allow users to subscribe to accounts they like for a monthly subscription fee in exchange for exclusive content. For creators, Super Follows are another useful tool in the emerging patchwork of monetization options across social platforms.
Eligible accounts can set the price for Super Follow subscriptions, with the option of charging $2.99, $4.99 or $9.99 per month, prices fairly comparable to a paid newsletter. They can then choose to mark some tweets for subscribers only, while continuing to reach their unpaid follower base in regular tweets.
Paid subscribers will be marked with a special Super Follower badge, differentiating them from unpaid followers in the sea of tweets. The badge shows up in replies, elevating a follower’s ability to interact directly with accounts they opt to support. For accounts that have Super Follows turned on, the option will show up with a distinct button on the profile page.
Super Follows aren’t turned on for everyone. For now, the process remains application only, with a waitlist. The option lives in the Monetization options in the app’s sidebar, though users will need to be U.S.-based with 10K followers and at least 25 tweets within the last month to be eligible.
U.S. and Canada-based iOS Twitter users will be able to Super Follow some accounts starting today, with more users globally seeing the rollout in the coming weeks. On the creator side, Super Follows are only enabled in iOS for now, though support for Android and desktop are “coming soon.”
Twitter says that Super Follow income will be subject to the standard, though controversial, 30 percent in-app purchase fees collected by Apple or Google. Twitter will only take a 3 percent cut of earnings for up to the first $50,000 generated through Super Follows — a boon for smaller accounts getting off the ground or anyone who uses the paid Twitter feature as a way to supplement other creator income elsewhere. After an account hits the $50,000 earnings mark, Twitter will begin taking a 20 percent cut.
Super Follows aren’t Twitter’s first monetization experiment to make it out in the wild. In May, Twitter introduced Tip Jar, a way for accounts to receive one-time payments through integration with the Cash App and other payment platforms. The test is limited to a subset of eligible accounts including “creators, journalists, experts, and nonprofits” for the time being.
Last week Twitter rolled out Ticketed Spaces for users who applied for the paid audio room feature back in June. Twitter’s cut from Ticketed Spaces mirrors the same fee structure it uses for Super Follows and users will be able to charge anywhere from one dollar to $999 for advanced ticketing.
The product is the latest in a flurry of activity from the social platform after a lengthy period of product stagnation. But Twitter has been busy in the last twelve months, from releasing and killing its ill-fated Fleets to finally showing signs of life on the kind of anti-abuse features many people have been calling for for years.
Giving users the ability to charge for premium content is a pretty major departure for Twitter, which mostly stayed the course until activist shareholders threatened to oust CEO Jack Dorsey. It’s also a major move for the company into the white-hot creator space, as more platforms add tools to empower their users to make a living through content creation — ideally keeping them loyal and generating revenue in the process.
In the United States, a 401(k) plan is an employer-sponsored defined-contribution pension account. However, with legacy institutional investing, most of these have at least some level of fossil fuel involvement and let’s face it, very few of us really know. Now a startup plans to change that.
California-based startup Sphere wants to get employees to ask their employers for investment options that are not invested in fossil fuels. To do that it’s offering financial products that make it easier – it says – for employers to offer fossil-free investment options in their 401(k) plans. This could be quite a big movement. Sphere says there are over $35 trillion in assets in retirement savings in the US as of Q1 2021.
It’s now raised a $2M funding round led by climatetech-focused VC Pale Blue Dot led the investment round. Also participating were climate-focused investors including Sundeep Ahuja of Climate Capital. Sphere is also a registered ‘Public Benefit Corporation’ allowing it to campaign in public about climate change.
Alex Wright-Gladstein, CEO and founder of Sphere said: “We are proud to be partnering with Pale Blue Dot on our mission to reverse climate change by making our money talk. Heidi, Hampus, and Joel have the experience and drive to help us make big changes on the short 7 year time scale that we have to limit warming to 1.5°C.” Wright-Gladstein has also teamed up with sustainable investing veteran Jason Britton of Reflection Asset Management and BITA custom indexes.
Wright-Gladstein said she learned the difficulty of offering fossil-free options in 401(k) plans when running her previous startup, Ayar Labs. She tried to offer a fossil-free option for employees, but found out it took would take three years to get a single fossil-free option in the plan.
Heidi Lindvall, General Partner at Pale Blue Dot said: “We are big believers in Sphere’s unique approach of raising awareness through a social movement while offering a range of low-cost products that address the structural issues in fossil-free 401(k) investing.”
A stealthy startup co-founded by a former senior designer from Apple and one of its ex-senior software engineers has picked up a significant round funding to build out its business. Humane, which has ambitions to build a new class of consumer devices and technologies that stem from “a genuine collaboration of design and engineering” that will represent “the next shift between humans and computing”, has raised $100 million.
This is a Series B, and it’s coming from some very high profile backers. Tiger Global Management is leading the round, with SoftBank Group, BOND, Forerunner Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures also participating. Other investors in this Series B include Sam Altman, Lachy Groom, Kindred Ventures, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Valia Ventures, NEXT VENTŪRES, Plexo Capital and the legal firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Humane has been around actually since 2017, but it closed/filed its Series A only last year: $30 million in September 2020 at a $150 million valuation, according to PitchBook. Previous to that, it had raised just under $12 million, with many of the investors in this current round backing Humane in those earlier fundraises, too.
Valuation with this Series B is not being disclosed, the company confirmed to me.
Given that Humane has not yet released any products, nor has said much at all about what it has up its sleeve; and given that hardware in general presents a lot of unique challenges and therefore is often seen as a risky bet (that old “hardware is hard” chestnut), you might be wondering how Humane, still in stealth, has attracted these backers.
Some of that attention possibly stems from the fact that the two co-founders, husband-and-wife team Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, are something of icons in their own right. Bongiorno, who is Humane’s CEO, had been the software engineering director at Apple. Chaudhri, who is Humane’s chairman and president, is Apple’s former director of design, where he worked for 20 years on some of its most seminal products — the iPhone, the iPad and the Mac. Both have dozens of patents credited to them from their time there, and they have picked up a few since then, too.
Those latest patents — plus the very extensive list of job openings listed on Humane’s otherwise quite sparse site — might be the closest clues we have for what the pair and their startup might be building.
One patent is for a “Wearable multimedia device and cloud computing platform with laser projection system”; another is for a “System and apparatus for fertility and hormonal cycle awareness.”
Meanwhile, the company currently has nearly 50 job openings listed, including engineers with camera and computer vision experience, hardware engineers, designers, and security experts, among many others. (One sign of where all that funding will be going.) There is already an impressive team of about 60 people the company, which is another detail that attracted investors.
“The caliber of individuals working at Humane is incredibly impressive,” said Chase Coleman, Partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “These are people who have built and shipped transformative products to billions of people around the world. What they are building is groundbreaking with the potential to become a standard for computing going forward.”
I’ve asked for more details on the company’s product roadmap and ethos behind the company, and who its customers might potentially be: other firms for whom it designs products, or end users directly?
For now, Bongiorno and Chaudhri seem to hint that part of what has motivated them to start this business was to reimagine what role technology might play in the next wave of innovation. It’s a question that many ask, but not many try to actually invest in finding the answer. For that alone, it’s worth watching Humane (if Humane lets us, that is: it’s still very much in stealth) to see what it does next.
“Humane is a place where people can truly innovate through a genuine collaboration of design and engineering,” the co-founders said in a joint statement. “We are an experience company that creates products for the benefit of people, crafting technology that puts people first — a more personal technology that goes beyond what we know today. We’re all waiting for something new, something that goes beyond the information age that we have all been living with. At Humane, we’re building the devices and the platform for what we call the intelligence age. We are committed to building a different type of company, founded on our values of trust, truth and joy. With the support of our partners, we will continue to scale the team with individuals who not only share our passion for revolutionizing the way we interact with computing, but also for how we build.”
Update: After publishing, I got a little more from Humane about its plans. Its aim is to build “technology that improves the human experience and is born of good intentions; products that put us back in touch with ourselves, each other, and the world around us; and experiences that are built on trust, with interactions that feel magical and bring joy.” It’s not a whole lot to go on, but more generally it’s an approach that seems to want to step away from the cycle we’re on today, and be more mindful and thoughtful. If they can execute on this, while still building rather than wholesale rejecting technology, they might be on to something.
As one of four general partners at Andreessen Horowitz who are now investing the venture firm’s third crypto fund, a $2.2 billion vehicle, Arianna Simpson is very focused on how to return that capital and much more to the firm’s limited partners.
Toward that end, she has been more focused of late on startups that combine crypto with gaming. Last month, for example, her team co-led an investment in Virtually Human Studio, the startup behind a digital horse racing service Zed Run, wherein users buy, sell and breed virtual horses whose value rises depending on their performance against other virtual horses. (Each is essentially a non-fungible token, or NFT, meaning it is unique.)
Simpson is relatedly intrigued with NFT-based “play-to-earn” models, wherein gamers can earn cryptocurrency that they can then cash out for their local currency if they so choose. Indeed, a16z is announcing today that it just led a $4.6 million investment in the tokens of Yield Guild Games (YGG), a decentralized gaming startup based in the Philippines that invites players to share in the company’s revenue by playing games like “Axie Infinity,” a blockchain-based game where players breed, battle and trade digital creatures named Axies in order to earn tokens called “Small Love Potion” that they can eventually cash out. YGG lends players the money to buy the Axies and other digital assets to start the game, so they can start earning money. (The obvious hope is that they earn more than they have to pay YGG for the use of its assets.)
We talked yesterday with Simpson — who joined a16z after first backing some of the same startups, including the blockchain infrastructure company Dapper Labs and the global payment platform Celo — to learn more about what’s happening at the intersection of crypto and gaming. She also shared which platforms a16z tracks most closely to identify up-and-coming crypto startups. Our chat, edited for length, follows.
TC: Zed Run is really interesting. How did you first come across this digital horse racing business?
AS: I think it was crypto Twitter, which honestly is where we’re finding a lot of our gaming investments. The community on there is really incredible and often one of the first places where really exciting new projects are surfaced.
Zed really marks the advent of kind of a new type of more involved gameplay in crypto. If you look at [the collectibles game] CryptoKitties, it was one of the first NFT-based games that really caught the attention of people outside of the crypto sphere. Zed is definitely a derivative extension in the sense that you have a digital animal that you’re playing with, but the gameplay is much more complex, and the thing that’s been incredible to watch is just how excited the community is. People are putting together all kinds of very sophisticated guides around how to play the game, to read [race] courses, how to do all kinds of different things in the game, and tens of thousands of people all over the world [are playing].
TC: Maybe these already exist, but are there endless opportunities across verticals here, like, say, a digital car racing equivalent or a UFC-style equivalent, or are people buying and betting on digital fighters and hoping they’ll rise in value?
AS: There’s an incredibly broad range of possibilities in terms of what’s happening and what will happen in the universe of crypto games. I think at the core of this movement is really the idea of giving more of the value and ownership in these game assets back to the players. That’s something that has historically been a problem. You might spend years and years building up your arsenal of skins or in-game assets, and then a game will change the rules, take [some of your winnings] away from you or do any number of things that can leave players feeling very disappointed and kind of ripped off. The idea [with blockchain-based games] is to make them more open and allow players to have actual ownership in the space themselves.
TC: Which leads us to your newest investment, Yield Guild Games, or YGG. Why did this company capture the firm’s attention?
AS: During the pandemic, a lot of people were put out of work and not able to provide for themselves and for their families. This time kind of coincided with the rise of a game called “Axie Infinity,” one of the first games to pioneer a play-to-earn model, which is becoming a very important theme in crypto games.
In order to play “Axie Infinity,” you need to have three Axies, and generally speaking, that means you need
to buy them upfront. Obviously if you’re out of work, you have no money [so buying these digital pets] can become a very challenging proposition. So [YGG founder] Gabby Dizon in the Philippines, who played “Axie Infinity” started lending out his Axies so other people could play the game and earn tokens that could then be converted to local currency. And so basically YGG emerged as sort of the productization of what they were doing here, so YGG either purchases or breeds in-game assets that are yield-earning, then loans them to out “scholars,” who are the recipients of these in-game assets, and YGG then takes a small cut of the in-game revenue that the players generate over time.
TC: Does a “scholar” have to be a sophisticated player?
AS: There are managers who basically manage teams of scholars; they’re the ones who effectively decide who to bring into the guild.
TC: So these Axies can be cashed out for currency, but where, and who is buying them?
AS: They can be bought or sold on exchanges and other players are buying them if they need to breed in “Axie” and needs some [Axies]; others are buying them for investment purposes. Also, they aren’t necessarily selling the NFTs but they may be selling the tokens that they earn as part of the gameplay.
TC: There are now 5,000 of these scholars playing the game. Are they mostly in Southeast Asia?
AS: A majority of the players and scholars are in Southeast Asia, but we’re seeing really strong international growth as well, both for “Axie Infinity” and YGG, in particular. At this point, scaling internationally is definitely a core focus for the YGG team.
TC: You mentioned crypto Twitter. What about Discord and Reddit? Where else are you looking around for new crypto projects that are bubbling up and capturing people’s imagination?
AS: All of the above. Discord in particular is very actively used by the crypto community, and the thing that’s interesting there is it really allows you to get a pulse for how active a community is, how engaged people are, how frequently they’re talking, and what they’re talking about. It gives you a look into the community at large and that’s a very important thing to consider when looking to make an investment or assess the health of a project.
The latest financing officially makes the Salt Lake City, Utah-based provider of crypto tax and accounting software a unicorn, with a valuation of $1.33 billion. It also brings the startup’s total raised to $230 million since brothers Austin and Justin Woodward founded the company with their cousin Brandon Woodward in 2017.
IVP and Insight Partners co-led the Series B, which also included participation from Tiger Global, Paradigm, 9Yards Capital, Sapphire Ventures, Madrona Venture Group and Anthony Pompliano.
TaxBit connects digital asset transactions across exchanges so individuals and enterprises can more accurately file their taxes, manage their portfolios and make tax-optimized trades through its platform, explains CEO and co-founder Austin Woodward. Put simply, its software automates all aspects of cryptocurrency tax compliance.
Since its early March raise, the company has tripled its headcount to about 100 people, launched an office in Seattle, deployed services with the IRS and inked partnerships with a number of digital asset platforms. For example, it’s connected to exchanges such as Coinbase, BlockFi and Gemini.
The digital economy’s need for tax and accounting software is growing with the industry as regulators require more formal reporting practices. As a result, TaxBit has seen impressive growth. In 2020, it issued over two million tax forms. This year, it is on track to issue over 50 million forms, according to Austin Woodward.
“The digital asset space experienced a watershed moment during the pandemic, resulting in an accelerated push toward digital payments and alternative stores of value,” Austin Woodward told TechCrunch. “The momentum of adoption across the digital economy is quickly becoming the new normal among the traditional financial institutions and disruptors.”
Indeed, the crypto world can be a very complex one and TaxBit’s products, designed by CPAs and tax attorneys, provide tax filing and accounting services to not just financial institutions but also to individuals and governments so they can “more easily” navigate those digital complexities.
Those products include Tax Center Suites, which was built for end users and automates back-office accounting functions for finance teams, and TaxBit Consumer, which aims to make filing taxes on digital asset investments “simple and painless, while equipping users with real-time directional insights to optimize their tax liability throughout the year.”
The startup also works with governmental agencies, including the IRS, to provide data analysis and tax calculation support for taxpayers with digital assets.
Dozens of financial institutions are integrating TaxBit’s Tax Center Suite technology, the latest being FTX US.
The company plans to use its new capital to scale its tax and accounting offerings across enterprise, consumer and government sectors. TaxBit also plans to double its headcount by year’s end and continue to open new offices in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Long term, the company has plans for global expansion, with the U.K. “on the horizon and other jurisdictions to quickly follow,” Austin Woodward said.
Its investors are bullish on the company’s offerings, and potential.
Tom Loverro, general partner at IVP, believes TaxBit is in the right place at the right time. He’s taking a seat on the company’s board with the raise.
“Almost every company touching crypto needs tax reporting software. As we all saw with the recent legislation, crypto tax reporting obligations are only getting more rigorous,” he said.
And crypto-native companies are not the only ones that need tax reporting. Every fintech and financial institution that is rolling out a crypto offering does too, Loverro added.
“And don’t forget about state and federal governments here in the U.S. and abroad,” he said. “Then there is the buy side, which includes both consumers and institutions. It’s a deceptively large and rapidly growing market.”
Loverro went on to say that a common refrain that he hears with regards to anything crypto is “Why can’t [incumbent] just add that as a feature?”
As a former board observer for Coinbase, the investor can attest that crypto is “incredibly deep and complex.”
“Crypto requires intense dedication and focus. Calculating taxes on buying and selling a single lot of bitcoin may not be that complicated from a tax perspective but what about airdrops, staking and DeFi,” Loverro asked. “Things get pretty complex quickly!”
Nikhil Sachdev, managing partner at Insight Partners, points out that crypto is already a $1.5 trillion market and that is continually expanding as new asset classes begin transacting on blockchains.
“Our current tax, accounting and ERP software infrastructure isn’t equipped to manage this shift, yet TaxBit has built a platform to help manage tax compliance financial reporting on crypto transactions across industries,” Sachdev said. “TaxBit is the only scaled B2B solution across crypto taxes and already won contracts with blue chip logos.”
With the pandemic digitizing every aspect of our lives, the Creator Economy has taken off like never before, with some estimates saying it’s now a $100 billion+ market. And yet, managing your professional life as a model, actor, writer or designer remains a mish-mash of emails, manual booking processes and dreaded PDFs. Creatives face late payments, and often opaque industry practices, even as top talent agencies have collectively achieved a valuation of $20 billion. But while modeling talent can be charged as much as a 20-40% commission fee, social media has been gradually displacing traditional agencies by reducing the barriers to entry and making talent more accessible. However, as everyone knows, social media is nowhere near a place anyone can manage their career.
Late last year the Contact platform launched, initially offering models a way to take bookings and manage some aspects of their work. It’s now looking to address the wider problems referred to above, with a new round of funding involving some key players in the creative industries.
It’s backed and supported by Maisie Williams, best known for her work on “Game of Thrones”, who has become Creative Strategist and Advisor to the startup after becoming a passionate advocate for better conditions for creatives in the industry.
Contact has now raised a $1.9 million (£1.4 million) seed round of funding led by Founders Fund. Also participating is LAUNCH (the fund led by investor Jason Calacanis), Sweet Capital (via Pippa Lamb), Rogue VC (via Alice Lloyd George) and Angel investors Simon Beckerman (co-founder of Depop), Eric Wahlforss (co-founder of SoundCloud and now Dance), Abe Burns and Joe White.
Although Contact’s initial incarnation is addressing the modeling world, its vision is far bigger. Contact co-founder and CEO Reuben Selby — a fashion designer who was formerly of William’s founding team, when she started her career — has worked with Nike, Thom Browne and JW Anderson. He says the platform aims to become a scalable back-end solution across the $104.2 billion Creator Economy, “democratizing” access to the world’s best creative talent.
Reuben Selby. Image Credits: Reuben Selby
Selby, who recently spoke about being a founder with autism, is also the founder and creative director of his own label, Reuben Selby, and co-founder of Cortex, a creative agency and community. Selby is joined by CTO Josh McMillan, previously of Deliveroo, Daisie, the Government Digital Service and others.
While its competitors might, broadly speaking, include Patreon, Creatively and The Dots, it’s fair to say that Contact’s vision to bring many aspects of these platforms under one roof could be described as ambitious; it is also tantalising.
In a radical move for what is an industry dominated by agencies, individuals and businesses can discover and book creators and creative services directly, without going through an agency.
Contact initially launched its platform in October 2020 with the ability to discover and book fashion models, but post-fundraising plans to roll out other creative verticals such as photographers, stylists, videographers, and more.
Selby says the idea for Contact has been informed by his own personal experiences trying to break into the creative industry as a model, photographer and creative director. After finding scant methods for secure and safe ways to get paid — while booking companies lacked basic technological tools — he realized that “middle-men” and agencies were the main players that benefitted, taking cuts on both sides and often still delivering a sub-par product.
So how does Contact work?
When a Creator joins, they are able to showcase their portfolio across different creative services and take direct bookings.
A business can then browse and discover talent using filters, shortlist creative talent, provide details about the job and book creators directly. Creatives can accept or reject jobs via the web platform or, soon, via a smartphone app. Once the job has been completed, the talent gets paid out via Contact.
Since soft-launching within the modeling vertical, Contact says it has onboarded almost 600 creatives and over 1,400 clients, including Depop, Farfetch, Nike, Vivienne Westwood and Vogue. Users of the platform have increased 100% YoY, says the startup.
Selby says Contact intends to remain in the background and allow the talent to brand itself independently across different verticals. Crucially, Contact does not take money from creators, only booking companies, from which it will levy a 20% fee on transactions.
Commenting, Trae Stephens, partner at Founders Fund, said: “We are always excited when we find founders who seem to have been born to build a specific company. Reuben definitely seems like one of those founders. We are really excited to watch the company scale and expand into new creative verticals.”
Pippa Lamb, partner at Sweet Capital, added: “The team at Contact have been pushing frontiers in the creator economy long before ‘the creator economy’ became a buzzword. Contact possesses a rare combination of world-class technical talent with the raw innovation of today’s most creative minds. We are excited about this next chapter.”
Williams, best known for playing Arya Stark on “Game of Thrones”, is no stranger to working on startups. She previously contributed to the Daisie platform, which continues to connect creators with one another to work on each others’ projects, helping creators find collaborators for their art.
But clearly her desire to disrupt the creative world largely controlled by “middle men” was not sated by the experience.
Speaking to me in an exclusive interview, Williams and Selby outlined their vision:
Selby said the existing marketplace for models is just the start: “The vision has always been about creatives, and getting creatives paid for their work. We basically started out in one vertical, the modeling industry… and we’re in the process of rolling out new verticals so bringing on photographers, makeup artists, stylists, etc. But that’s a very very small part of the overall vision.”
He said the focus now is “on the distribution of work, how that relationship works with that audience, how they can monetize it. So it’s basically giving them a toolkit to monetize their creativity rather than just the physical constraints. That’s what we’re exploring right now. We have this marketplace but we see that as being a very small part, but the larger piece.”
He said the marketplace model can connect brands directly to creators or creatives, but, he said, brands continue to have a great deal of power: “The creators are just sitting there waiting for somebody to give them something. So we’re now working out how they can just distribute their own work and monetize it in their own ways, with the back end of how all of the logistics work, and the operational side handled by the product that we’ve built, handling the payments and the licensing and insurance.”
Despite being a major Hollywood star, Williams told me the creative and entertainment industry she’s familiar with and works in remains stuck in an old world of emails and links, rather than the kinds of platforms the tech industry is used to building and using: “Being someone who has been represented by talent agencies for my career, that whole interaction online is emails. At no point are any of the assets digitised. There’s no ‘vault’ where all of my scripts go. There’s no place where I can upload all of my audition tapes. It’s always just a link in an email. There’s not really an industry standard. From an agency perspective, none of the work that they do is very streamlined or directional.”
She says that needs to change: “There’s a casting process and at the moment, it’s a hugely dated way of doing things between the casting directors and the actors, the writers etc. We want to build a very streamlined process.”
Speaking about the investors he’s assembled to back Contact, Selby said the team chose Founders Fund to be their lead investor because of their approach: “The way that they work with founders… I found that personally very empowering. [They] give you a lot of freedom and space to think creatively. So there was a clear alignment.”
Talking about the other angel investors in the round he said: “People like Eric and Simon are majorly connected in fashion and music culture in general.”
Speaking about how the entertainment industry might react to Contact, Williams said: “Actors have many other things that they do. Being able to have a platform that they can monetize all those other things is really important, especially because, as an actor you spend a lot of time unemployed.” But, she said, the system is constructed in such as a way that “you’re only as valuable as the auditions your agent puts you up for. It’s not very inspiring or rewarding. So a lot of actors make their own shows on streaming platforms or create their own documentaries or sell their work in other ways.”
She said Contact wants to be able to facilitate that through the platform, and for creatives to have more independence: “The film industry and the music industry is full of incredibly talented people who are multitalented across many different industries. But they are still, kind of held by representatives and agencies and record labels or managers who have a lot of power in, sort of, keeping them ‘small’. Being able to introduce something which can offer so many other tools, I think, is really important.”
It’s clear that the vision Selby, his co-founders and Williams have is very big. The question is, will they be able to pull it off?
It has to be said, however, that the combination of a passionate Gen Z-influential team (with added star power), a full-blown technology platform, heavyweight U.S. investors and angels pulled from creative industries certainly points to the potential for success.
After the bell today, Coinbase reported another period of impressive results in its second quarter earnings report.
During the quarter, Coinbase’s total revenue reached $2.23 billion, which helped the company generate net income of $1.61 billion in the three-month period. The company benefited from a one-time line item worth $737.5 million, which stemmed from what Coinbase described as a “tax benefit” from its direct listing earlier in the quarter.
This puts us in the odd position of leaning more heavily on the company’s adjusted EBITDA metric, a figure that we usually discount, rather than the stricter net income result. This quarter the adjusted metric is actually a bit clearer regarding the company’s regular profitability. Coinbase posted adjusted EBITDA of $1.1 billion in the period.
The company easily bested expectations, with the market expecting revenues of just $1.85 billion, and adjusted EBITDA of $961.5 million, per Yahoo Finance.
All that’s well and good, but the company provided a fascinating set of data for us to peruse that may help us better understand where the crypto economy stands today. Let’s get into the details.
There are two data sets from Coinbase’s Q2 that we need. The first deals with monthly transacting users, and overall trading volume:
Seeing Coinbase continue to add MTUs in the second quarter was impressive, as was the company’s Q2 trading volume result in light of the falling platform asset figure. Quite simply, Coinbase managed to accrete trading volume despite generally falling crypto prices over the time period in question.
Or as the company put it, “[d]espite price movements, we saw billions of dollars of net asset inflows and new customers added throughout Q2.”
The next data set deals with a breakdown of trading volume by source and type:
The incremental growth in retail volume from Q1 2021 to Q2 2021 is impressive for a single quarter, frankly, but the pace at which Coinbase added institutional volume in the quarter is even stronger. It’s a huge result.
For the more crypto-focused than financials-focused out there, the second set of numbers is even more notable. Ethereum trading volume beat bitcoin trading volume, while “other” was more than twice what bitcoin itself managed.
A changing of the guard? The company listed three reasons for why this happened, the second of which is the most interesting. Per the earnings report:
[The mix shift was driven by] meaningful growth in Ethereum trading volumes, surpassing Bitcoin trading volumes on Coinbase for the first time driven by growth in the DeFi and NFT ecosystems (where Ethereum is an important underlying blockchain), and increased demand driven by our ETH2 staking product.
Basically, the neat stuff that the Ethereum blockchain enables is driving volume in its underlying coin, ether. Bitcoin may be the oldest crypto, but its crown may be starting to rust. Bitcoin remains the largest asset on Coinbase, at 47%, however.
Now let’s talk revenues.
While institutional trading volume was an impressive source of growth for Coinbase, the company’s revenue breakdown remained retail-heavy. Here’s the data:
The transaction revenue growth from Q1 to Q2 speaks for itself, and was a key driver of the company’s strong second-quarter aggregate results. But perhaps more notable was the huge differential in subscription and services revenue at the company, growing nearly 100% from $56.4 million in Q1 2021 to $102.6 million in the most recent period.
Certainly, Coinbase remains a transaction-led company, but in revenue terms, its third line-item is becoming material.
Now, the somewhat bad news.
Let’s start with how Coinbase describes the start to its third quarter:
In July, retail MTUs and total Trading Volume were 6.3 million and $57.0 billion, respectively, as crypto asset prices and crypto asset volatility declined significantly relative to Q2 levels. August month-to-date, retail MTUs and Trading Volume levels have slightly improved compared to July levels but remain lower than earlier in the year. As a result, we believe retail MTUs and total Trading Volume will be lower in Q3 as compared to Q2.
In contrast, Q2 MTUs were 8.8 million and total trading volume, pro-rated for each month of the quarter, came to $154 billion. Therefore, Coinbase had a far smaller July than what it managed on a monthly basis in Q2. That August is trending better than July is a small consolation, but it does appear that Coinbase will be a smaller business in Q3 than it was in Q1 or Q2.
If you were curious why Coinbase’s stock is not flying in the wake of its strong Q2 results, this is likely why. Of course, any serious investor in a crypto exchange is aware of how variable results can be in the sector. So a decrease after a few periods of strong results is not a huge lump to swallow.
Coinbase is worth $267.55 per share in after-hours trading as of the time of writing, off around three-quarters of a percent. That’s not even a haircut.
All told, Coinbase’s second quarter was excellent.
With the rise of Open Banking, PSD2 Regulation, insurtech and the whole, general fintech boom, tech investors have realized there is an increasing place for dedicated funds which double down on this ongoing movement. When you look at the rise of banking-as-a-service offerings, payments platforms, insurtech, asset management and infrastructure providers, you realize there is a pretty huge revolution going on.
European fintech companies have raised $12.3 billion in 2021 according to Dealroom, but the market is still wide open for a great deal more funding for B2B fintech startups.
So it’s no surprise that B2B fintech-focused Element Ventures has announced a $130 million fund to double down on this new fintech enterprise trend.
Founded by financial services veterans Stephen Gibson and Michael McFadgen, and joined by Spencer Lake (HSBC’s former vice chairman of Global Banking and Markets), Element is backed by finance-oriented LPs and some 30 founders and executives from the sector.
Element says it will focus on what it calls a “high conviction investment strategy,” which will mean investing in only around a handful of companies a year (15 for the fund in total) but, it says, providing a “high level of support” to its portfolio.
So far it has backed B2B fintech firms across the U.K. and Europe, including Hepster (total raised $10 million), the embedded insurance platform out of Germany which I recently reported on; Billhop (total raised $6.7 million), the B2B payment network out of Sweden; Coincover (total raised $11.6 million), a cryptocurrency recovery service out of the U.K.; and Minna (total raised $25 million), the subscription management platform out of Sweden.
Speaking to me over a call, McFadgen, partner at Element Ventures, said: “Stephen and I have been investing in B2B fintech together for quite a long time. In 2018 we had the opportunity to start element and Spencer came on board in 2019. So Element as an independent venture firm is really a continuation of a strategy we’ve been involved in for a long time.”
Gibson added: “We are quite convinced by the European movement and the breakthrough these fintech and insurtech firms in Europe are having. Insurance has been a desert for innovation and that is changing. And you can see that we’re sort of trying to build a network around companies that have those breakthrough moments and provide not just capital but all the other things we think are part of the story. Building the company from A to C and D is the area that we try and roll our sleeves up and help these firms.”
Element says it also will be investing in the U.S. and Asia.
It all seems so simple. Instead of the dreaded back-and-forth on email, what if there was a solution that helped two parties (or multiple parties) schedule a call or a hangout?
Calendly was born out of that question. Today, the company is worth more than $3 billion, according to reports, and has more than 10 million users. The growth of the product is insane, with more than 1,000% growth from last year.
But that kind of success doesn’t come without hard work and dedication.
To hear more about the journey from bootstrapped to billions, Calendly founder and CEO Tope Awotona will join us at Disrupt this September.
Awotona put his entire life savings into Calendly and managed to bootstrap it for years before taking a $350 million funding round led by OpenView and Iconiq.
We’ll chat with Awotona about the early days of Calendly, how he navigated the hyper-growth phase, what made him choose to finally take institutional funding, his thoughts on pricing and packaging, and much more.
Awotona joins an incredible roster of speakers, including Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Mirror’s Brynn Putnam, Chamath Palihapitiya, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and more. Plus, Disrupt features the legendary Startup Battlefield competition, where startups from across the globe compete for $100,000 and eternal glory.
Disrupt’s virtual format provides plenty of opportunity for questions, so come prepared to ask the experts about the issues that keep you up at night.
One post can’t possibly contain all of Disrupt’s events. Don’t miss the epic Startup Battlefield competition, hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley expo area, special breakout sessions — like the Pitch Deck Teardown — and so much more.
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
Catch is working to make sure that every gig worker has the health and retirement benefits they need.
The company, which is in the midst of moving its headquarters to New York, sells health insurance, retirement savings plans and tax withholding directly to freelancers, contractors or anyone uncovered.
It is now armed with a fresh round of $12 million in Series A funding, led by Crosslink, with participation from earlier investors Khosla Ventures, NYCA Partners, Kindred Ventures and Urban Innovation Fund, to support more distribution partnerships and its relocation from Boston.
Co-founders Kristen Anderson and Andrew Ambrosino started Catch in 2019 and raised $6.1 million previously, giving it a total of $18.1 million in funding.
It took the Catch team of 15 nearly two years to get approvals to sell its platform in 38 states on the federal marketplace. Anderson boasts that only eight companies have been able to do this, and three of them — Catch included — are approved to sell benefits to consumers. The other side of the business is payroll, and the company has gathered thousands of sources based on biller.
“More companies are not offering healthcare, while more people are joining the creator and gig economies, which means more people are not following an employer-led model,” Anderson told TechCrunch.
The age of an average Catch customer is 32 years old, and in addition to current offerings, were asking the company to help them set up income sources, like setting aside money for taxes, retirement, as well as medical leave without having to actively save.
When the global pandemic hit, many of Catch’s customers saw their income collapse, 40% overall across industries, as workers like hairstylists and cooks had income go down to zero in some cases.
It was then that Anderson and Ambrosino began looking at partnership distribution and developed a network of platforms, business facilitation tools, gig marketplaces and payroll companies that were interested in offering Catch. The company intends to use some of the funding to increase its headcount to service those partnerships and go after more, Anderson said.
Catch is one startup providing insurance products, and many of the competitors either do a single offering and do it well, like Starship does with health savings accounts, Anderson said. Catch is taking a different approach by offering a platform experience, but going deep on the process, she added. She likens it to Gusto, which provides cloud-based payroll, benefits and human resource management for businesses, in that Catch is an end-to-end experience, but with a focus on an individual person.
Over the past year, the company’s user base tripled, driven by people taking on second jobs and through a partnership with DoorDash. Platform users are also holding onto 5 times their usual balances, a result of setting more goals and needing to save more, Anderson said. Retirement investments and health insurance have grown similarly.
Going forward, Anderson is already thinking about a Series B, but that won’t come for another couple of years, she said. The company is looking into its own HSA product as well as disability insurance and other products to further differentiate itself from other startups, for example, Spot, Super.mx and Even that all raised venture capital this month to provide benefits.
Catch would also like to serve a broader audience than just those on the federal marketplace. The co-founders are working on how to do this — Anderson mentioned there are some “nefarious companies out there” offering medical benefits at rates that can seem too good to be true, but when the customer reads the fine print, finds out that certain medical conditions are not covered.
“We are looking at how to put the right thing in there because it does get confusing,” Anderson added. “Young people have cheaper options, which means they need to make sure they know what they are getting.”
On Tuesday, the Open Cap Table Coalition announced its launch through an inaugural Medium post. The goal of this project is to standardize startup capitalization table data as well as make it far more accessible, transparent and portable.
For those unfamiliar with a cap table, it’s a list of who owns your company’s securities, which includes your company shares, options and more. A clear and simple cap table should quickly indicate who owns what and how much of it they own. For a variety of reasons (sometimes inexperience or bad advice) too many equity holders often find companies’ capitalization information to be opaque and not easily accessible.
This is particularly important for the small percentage of startups that survive in the long term, as growth makes for far more complicated cap tables.
A critical part of good startup hygiene is to always have a clean and updated cap table. Since there is no set format and cap tables are generally not out in the open, they are often siloed rather than collaborative.
Cap tables are near and dear to me as someone who has advised hundreds of startups over the past two decades as the founder of an accelerator, a venture partner and a senior adviser at a government-funded startup launchpad. I have been on the shareholder side of the equation as well and can assure you that pretty much nothing destroys trust between shareholders and startups quicker than poor communication, especially around issues such as the current status of the cap table.
A critical part of good startup hygiene is to always have a clean and updated cap table.
I really like the idea of a cap table being an open corporate record, because the value proposition to the companies is clear. From the time a startup creates a cap table, it’s prone to inaccuracy, friction and mistakes. What this means in practice is that startups may spend money on cap-table-related issues that they should be spending on other things. From a legal process perspective, the law firm that is brought in to help with these issues has to deal with tedious back-end work, so the legal time isn’t high value for either the startup or the law firm.
The value proposition for equity holders is equally clear. All equity holders have a general and legal interest in a company’s capitalization information. They have the right to this information, which they may need for a variety of reasons (including, if things ever get really bad, an aggrieved shareholder action). So making this information clear and easily accessible is a service to equity holders and can also encourage more investment, especially from less experienced investors.
When I imagine what this project could become in the next couple of years, I think back to late 2013, when Y Combinator announced the SAFE (simple agreement for future equity). I think the SAFE is a good analogy here, as no one knew what it was and people wondered if this was a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for startups. But the end result was a dramatic improvement in the early-stage capital-raising process.
While the coalition’s founders include Morgan Stanley’s Shareworks, LTSE Software and Carta, it’s also heavy on Big Law, with Cooley, Goodwin Procter, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Orrick, Gunderson Dettmer, Latham & Watkins, and Fenwick & West rounding out the group of 10 founding members.
So what’s the real motivation of seven law firms, which together saw revenue of over $10 billion in 2020 to collaborate on an open cap table product for startups? Deal flow.
Big Law has been trying for a couple of decades to build relationships with startups at the stage where it makes no sense for a startup to be dealing with a massive and expensive law firm. Their efforts to build startup programs have often fallen short and received mixed reviews. They have also been far too heavy on the self-serve and too light on the “we’re going to give you our regular Big Law level of services at a small fraction of the costs just in case you make it big and can one day pay our regular fees.” So these firms are trying to separate themselves from the rest of the Big Law pack by building this entrepreneur-friendly tech.
The coalition has already produced its initial version of the open cap table. The real question is whether this is going to be a big deal, as the SAFE was, or whether it’s going to be a vanity solution in search of a real problem. My best guess is that if this coalition gets all the relationships right, doesn’t get greedy and understands that there is a social good component at play here, this could be, reasonably quickly, as impactful as the SAFE was.
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.
TechCrunch Disrupt 2021, the world’s original and most epic conference dedicated to tech startups, takes place September 21-23. Are you ready to take full advantage of this opportunity-packed event? Start right now and buy a Disrupt pass for less than $100. But don’t wait — the early bird prices disappear on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).
Experience the full range of the global tech startup culture. Disrupt draws thousands of attendees from around the world, ready to learn, network, inspire and inform. You’ll hear from the leading voices across the tech spectrum — people like Coinbase CEO, Brian Armstrong, Pear VC’s Mar Hershenson and Accel’s Arun Matthew. And even a few tech-savvy celebrity founders (we’re looking at you, Seth Rogan).
Head to the Disrupt Stage for compelling interviews, panel discussions and presentations. And if you’re hot for tips, strategies and advice you can put to work in your startup right away, head on over to the Extra Crunch Stage. Our virtual platform makes it easy to pop in and out as your schedule permits, and you’ll have three months of video-on-demand access to all presentations when the event ends. You won’t miss a thing.
Startup Alley, our legendary expo area, is already sold out. Do not miss this collection of innovative startups showcasing their impressive tech and talent. Stop by their virtual booths, schedule 1:1 video meeting, ask for a product demo. You might just find a new collaborator, the perfect solution to a nagging problem or a promising addition to your investment portfolio.
Pro Tip: Every Startup Alley exhibitor will take part in one of our pitch feedback breakout sessions. It’s not only an opportunity to learn about the company — the feedback they receive from the Team TechCrunch can help you improve your own pitch.
Of course, Startup Battlefield is where the best-of-the best take the virtual stage to pitch for glory, global exposure and, oh yeah, $100,000 in equity-free prizemoney. It’s the startup world’s best launch pad and, since its inception, 922 companies have collectively raised $9 billion and generated 117 exits. Here’s how Rachael Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars described watching Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2020.
“The Startup Battlefield translated easily to the virtual format. You could see the excitement, enthusiasm and possibility of the young founders, and I loved that. You could also ask questions through the chat feature, and you don’t always have time for questions at a live event.”
Tune in to watch this thrilling throwdown. You never know — this year’s cohort might produce a future unicorn or two.
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Sorry Mr. Putin, but there’s a race on for Russian and Eastern European founders. And right now, those awful capitalists in the corrupt West are starting to out-gun the opposition! But seriously… only the other day a $100 million fund aimed at Russian speaking entrepreneurs appeared, and others are proliferating.
Now, London-based Untitled Ventures plans to join their fray with a €100 million / $118M for its second fund to invest in “ambitious deep tech startups with eastern European founders.”
Untitled says it is aiming at entrepreneurs who are looking to relocate their business or have already HQ’ed in Western Europe and the USA. That’s alongside all the other existing Western VCs who are – in my experience – always ready and willing to listen to Russian and Eastern European founders, who are often known for their technical prowess.
Untitled is going to be aiming at B2B, AI, agritech, medtech, robotics, and data management startups with proven traction emerging from the Baltics, CEE, and CIS, or those already established in Western Europe
LPs in the fund include Vladimir Vedeenev, a founder of Global Network Management>. Untitled also claims to have Google, Telegram Messenger, Facebook, Twitch, DigitalOcean, IP-Only, CenturyLinks, Vodafone and TelecomItaly as partners.
Oskar Stachowiak, Untitled Ventures Managing Partner, said: “With over 10 unicorns, €1Bn venture funding in 2020 alone, and success stories like Veeam, Semrush, and Wrike, startups emerging from the fast-growing regions are the best choice to focus on early-stage investment for us. Thanks to the strong STEM focus in the education system and about one million high-skilled developers, we have an ample opportunity to find and support the rising stars in the region.”
Konstantin Siniushin, the Untitled Ventures MP said: “We believe in economic efficiency and at the same time we fulfill a social mission of bringing technological projects with a large scientific component from the economically unstable countries of the former USSR, such as, first of all, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but not only in terms of bringing sales to the world market and not only helping them to HQ in Europe so they can get next rounds of investments.”
He added: “We have a great experience accumulated earlier in the first portfolio of the first fund, not just structuring business in such European countries as, for example, Luxembourg, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Cyprus and Latvia, but also physically relocating startup teams so that they are perceived already as fully resident in Europe and globally.”
To be fair, it is still harder than it needs to be to create large startups from Eastern Europe, mainly because there is often very little local capital. However, that is changing, with the launch recently of CEE funds such as Vitosha Venture Partners and Launchub Ventures, and the breakout hit from Romania that was UIPath.
The Untitled Ventures team:
• Konstantin Siniushin, a serial tech entrepreneur
• Oskar Stachowiak, experienced fund manager
• Mary Glazkova, PR & Comms veteran
• Anton Antich, early stage investor and an ex VP of Veeam, a Swiss cloud data management company
acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $5bln
• Yulia Druzhnikova, experienced in taking tech companies international
• Mark Cowley, who has worked on private and listed investments within CEE/Russia for over 20 years
Untitled Ventures portfolio highlights – Fund I
• Sizolution: AI-driven size prediction engine, based in Germany
• Pure app – spontaneous and impersonal dating app, based in Portugal
• Fixar Global – efficient drones for commercial use-cases, based in Latvia,
• E-contenta – based in Poland
• SuitApp – AI based mix-and-match suggestions for fashion retail, based in Singapore
• Sarafan.tech, AI-driven recognition, based in the USA
• Hello, baby – parental assistant, based in the USA
• Voximplant – voice, video and messaging cloud communication platform, based in the USA (exited)
As Twitter launches Super Follows, YouTube adds new monetization tools, and Instagram embraces e-commerce, the social media sphere is heating up with new ways for creators to make a living. Now, Tumblr is joining the fray with Post+, the platform’s first attempt at allowing users to monetize their content. Post+ is debuting today in limited beta for an exclusive selection of creators in the US, who were hand-picked by Tumblr.
Like Twitter’s Super Follows, Tumblr’s Post+ lets creators choose what content they want to put behind a paywall, whether that’s original artwork, personal blog posts, or Destiel fanfic. Creators can set the price for their subscriber-only content starting at $3.99 per month, with additional tiers at $5.99 and $9.99. The process of making content under Post+ is the same as any other Tumblr post — all creators will have to do is check a box to indicate that the post is for paying subscribers only, whether that’s a video, audio clip, text post, image, etc.
Image Credits: Tumblr
“Not reserved only for professionals, or those with 10K followers or higher, Tumblr’s Post+ will push the boundaries of what’s considered money-making content on the internet: Shitposters, memelords, artists, fan fiction writers, all of the above and everyone in between will be able to create content while building their community of supporters, and getting paid with Post+,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.
For millennials who live-blogged their reading of the last “Hunger Games” book on its release day in 2010, Tumblr might seem like a relic of the past. Founded in 2007, the platform has gone through plenty of change over the years. In 2013, Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 billion, and then Yahoo was later acquired by Verizon.
But a massive shift came for Tumblr in December 2018, when the platform banned all sexually explicit content and pornography. A month prior, the Tumblr app had been removed from the iOS App Store after child pornography passed through the app’s filtering technology, which led the platform to ban pornography entirely. Four months after the ban, Tumblr’s monthly page views had declined by 151 million, or 29%. Since then, the platform has retained a core userbase, hovering between about 310 million and 377 million page views per month, according to SimilarWeb, though the analytics still indicate a slight downward trend. Tumblr declined to provide its monthly active user numbers, but shared that the platform has over 11 million posts per day and 500 million blogs.
In 2019, the platform was sold to Automattic, the company that owns WordPress. Though Tumblr hasn’t exhibited significant growth since the fateful porn ban, under its new ownership, it’s exploring new ways to generate profit by creating features that appeal to its now younger demographic. According to Tumblr, over 48% of users are Gen Z. These Gen Z users spend 26% more time on the platform than older bloggers, and their average daily usage time is increasing over 100% from year to year.