All posts in “blockchain”

Blockchain media startup Civil is issuing full refunds to all buyers of its cryptocurrency

Many doubted The Civil Media Company‘s ambitious plan to sell $8 million worth of its cryptocurrency, called CVL. 

The skeptics, as it turns out, were right. Civil’s initial coin offering, meant to fund the company’s effort to create a new economy for journalism using the blockchain, failed to attract sufficient interest. The company announced today that it would provide refunds to all CVL token buyers by October 29.

Civil’s goal was to sell 34 million CVL tokens for between $8 million and $24 million. The sale began on September 18 and concluded yesterday. Ultimately, 1,012 buyers purchased $1,435,491 worth of CVL tokens. A spokesperson for Civil told TechCrunch an additional 1,738 buyers successfully registered for the sale, but never completed their transaction.

Civil isn’t giving up. The company says “a new, much simpler token sale is in the works,” details of which will be shared soon. Once those new tokens are distributed, Civil will launch three new features: a blockchain-publishing plugin for WordPress, a community governance application called The Civil Registry and a developer tool for non-blockchain developers to build apps on Civil.

ConsenSys, a blockchain venture studio that invested $5 million in Civil last fall, has agreed to purchase $3.5 million worth of those new tokens. The purchase is not an equity; all capital from the token sale is committed to the Civil Foundation, an independent nonprofit initially funded by Civil that funds grants to the newsrooms in Civil’s network.

In a blog post today, Civil chief executive officer Matthew Iles wrote that the token sale failure was a disappointment but not a shock. Days prior, he’d authored a separate post where he admitted things weren’t looking good.

“This isn’t how we saw this going,” Iles wrote. “The numbers will show clearly enough that we are not where we wanted to be at this point in the sale when we started out. But one thing we want to say at the top is that until the clock strikes midnight on Monday, we are still working nonstop on the goal of making our soft cap of $8 million.”

A recent Wall Street Journal report claimed Civil had reached out to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Dow Jones and Axios, among others, but failed to incite interest in its token.

Separate from its token sale, Civil has inked strategic partnerships with media companies like the Associated Press and Forbes, both of which confirmed to TechCrunch today that the failed token sale doesn’t impact their partnerships with Civil. 

Forbes became the first major media brand to test Civil’s technology when it announced earlier this month that it would experiment with publishing content to the Civil platform. As for the AP, it granted the newsrooms in Civil’s network licenses to its content. 

Civil, of course, isn’t the only blockchain startup targeting journalism. Nwzer, Userfeeds, Factmata and Po.et, which was founded by Jarrod Dicker, a former vice president at The Washington Post, are all trying their hand at bringing the new technology to the content industry.

Which, if any, will actually find success in the complicated space, is the question.

Origin launches protocol for building cheaper decentralized Ubers & Airbnbs

The sharing economy ends up sharing a ton of labor’s earnings with middlemen like Uber and Airbnb . $38 million-funded Origin wants the next great two-sided marketplace to be decentralized on the blockchain so drivers and riders or hosts and guests can connect directly and avoid paying steep fees that can range up to 20 percent or higher. So today Origin launches its decentralized marketplace protocol on the Ethererum mainnet that replaces a central business that connects users and vendors with a smart contract.

“Marketplaces don’t redistribute the profits they make to members. They accrue to founders and venture capitalists” Origin co-founder Matt Lie, who was the third product manager at YouTube. “Building these decentralized marketplaces, we want to make them peer-to-peer, not peer-to-corporate-monopoly-to-peer.” When people transact through Origin, it plans to issue them tokens that will let them participate in the governance of the protocol, and could incentivize them to get on these marketplaces early as well as convince others to use them.

Origin’s in-house marketplace DApp

Today’s mainnet beta sees Origin offering its own basic decentralized app that operates like a Craigslist on the blockchain. Users can create profile, connect their ethereum wallet through services like MetaMask, browse product and service listings, message each other to arrange transactions through smart contracts with no extra fees, leave reviews, and appeal disputes to Origin’s in-house arbitrators.

Eventually with the Origin protocol, developers will be able to quickly build their own sub-marketplaces for specific services like dog walking, house cleaning, ride sharing, and more. These developers can opt to charge fees, though Origin hopes the cost-savings from its blockchain platform will let them undercut non-blockchain services. And vendors can offer a commission to any marketplace that gets their listing matched/sold.

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It might be years before the necessary infrastructure like login systems and simple wallets make it easy for developers and mainstream users to build and adopt DApps built on Origin. But it has plenty of runway thanks to $3 million in seed token sale funding from Pantera Capital, $6.6 million raised through a Coinlist token sale, plus $26.4 million in traditional venture funding from Pantera Capital, Foundation Capital, Garry Tan, Alexis Ohanian, Gil Penchina, Kamal Ravikant, Steve Jang, and Randall Kaplan.

“Marketplaces are at the core of what makes the internet so valuable and useful and the Origin team has one of the most promising blockchain platforms for the new sharing economy — with currency baked in — this could be really disruptive (and one of the best utilizations of the ethereum blockchain)” says Ohanian, the Reddit and Initialized Capital co-founder.

Liu and co-founder Josh Fraser came up with the idea after trying to imagine the downstream effects of Ethereum. Liu recalls thinking, “What if we could replace dozens of multi-million and multi-billion dollar companies with open source protocols that aren’t owned or controlled by anyone?”

Origin co-founders (from left): Matthew Liu and Josh Fraser

So why would marketplaces want to build on Origin instead of creating their own blockchain or traditional proprietary system? Fraser tells me smart contracts can save money, but that “these individual pieces are incredibly difficult to build” so he sees Origin as “analogous to Stripe — able to abstract away all the friction of building on the blockchain.” 40 marketplaces have already signed letters of intent to build on the protocol.

If Origin reaches critical mass, it could also benefit from the concept of shared network effect. Users only have to sign up once, and can then interact with any marketplace built on Origin. That means new marketplaces the builds on the protocol instantly has a registered user base.

Origin will face some stiff challenges, though. There’ll be a chicken-and-egg problem of getting the first marketplaces signed up before there are users on its self-sovereign identity platform, or geting those users aboard when there’s little for them to do. Liu admits that timing is the startup’s biggest threat. “We believe that decentralized marketplaces are inevitable, but a lot of smart people seem to think we’re too early and that we should be focused on building lower-level infrastructure instead” the co-founder says. For us, we’d rather be too early than too late.”

There’s also the trouble of leaving actors in a capitalist system to treat each other properly without a centralized authority. If an Uber driver treats you terribly, you can complain and get them kicked off the platform. Even with Origin’s review system, abusers of the system may be able to continue operating. It’s easy to imagine its arbitration service becoming completely overwhelmed with disputes. Luckily, Origin has made some strong hires to tackle these challenges, including Yu Pan who it says was a PayPal co-founder, former head of Dropbox’s NYC engineering tream Cuong Du, and Franck Chastagnol who previously led engineering teams at Paypal, YouTube, Google, and Dropbox.

Origin’s success will all come down to usability. Your average Uber driver or Airbnb host is no blockchain expert. They vend through those apps because it’s easy. Those centralized organizations are also highly incentivized to fulfill transactions quickly and smoothly in ways prohibited by eliminating fees. Origin will have to effectively make the blockchain aspects of its service disappear so all users and vendors know is that they’re paying less or earning more.

The Hack Fund will use crypto to give startups early liquidity

Now that “utility” tokens have become a popular and international way to fund major blockchain projects, a pair of investors are creating a new way to turn tokens into true equities. The investors, Jonathan Nelson and Laura Nelson, have created Hack Fund, an early stage investment vehicle that allows startups to launch what amounts to “blockchain stock certificates,” according to Jonathan.

“Our previous business model exchanged equity from startup companies for services, and wrapped that equity into funds that we then sold to investors. These fund investors have included family offices, institutions, and high net worth individuals,” said Jonathan. “However, Hack Fund represents a new business model. Because Hack Fund leverages the blockchain, investors all over the world at all levels can participate in startup investing by trading blockchain stock certificates. Also, its SEC compliant structure means that it is also available to a limited number of accredited investors in the US.”

The team originally created Hackers/Founders, a tech entrepreneur group in Silicon Valley, and they now support 300,000 members in 133 cities and 49 countries. Hack Fund is a vehicle to support some of the startups in the Hackers/Founders network.

“HACK Fund, through its Hackers/Founders heritage, has a large, unique global network,” said Jonathan. “This provides Hack Fund with unparalleled reach and deal flow across the global technology market. There are a few blockchain-based funds, but they are limited themselves to blockchain-only investments. Unlike typical venture funds, HACK Fund will provide quick liquidity for investors, leveraging blockchain technology to make typically illiquid private stocks tradeable.”

The idea behind Hack Fund is quite interesting. In most cases investing in a company leads to up to ten years of waiting for a liquidity event. However, with blockchain-based stock certificates investors can buy shares that can be bought and sold instantly while company performance drives the value up or down. In short, startups become liquid in an instant, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the founding team.

“HACK Fund is a publicly traded closed-end fund. The fund’s venture investments are valued on a quarterly basis by an independent third party, audited and posted to the blockchain for all token holders to review. There are no K-1 statements issued, there is no partnership/LLC, rather HACK Fund is an investment company akin to Berkshire Hathaway which invests in the same manner as early-stage venture capital,” said Jonathan.

The team is raising a little over $2 million in an ICO to build out the fund. They’ve already raised most of their $100 million total goal from individual investors but the ICO will let retail investors buy some of the tokens as they are made available on the BRD wallet.

Overstock’s investment arm funded blockchain for wine

Of all the things to add to the blockchain, wine makes a lot of sense. Given the need for provenance for every grape and barrel, it’s clear that the ancient industry could use a way to track ingredients from farm to glass. VinX, an Israeli company founded by Jacob Ner-david, is ready to give it a try.

According to a release, the plan is to create a “token-based digital wine futures platform based on the Bordeaux futures model” that lets you track wine from end to end “at a cost bearable to the industry.”

Investment banker Gil Picovsky joined Ner-david to build out the service.

“I was relating to Gil my frustrations with the way most wine is sold, and I had some early thoughts around using blockchain and tokens to radically remake the wine industry,” said Ner-david. “Together Gil and I developed the core concepts of VinX, and started to actively devote ourselves full time to VinX in November 2017.”

“VinX is democratizing the capital structure of the wine industry by bringing consumers in direct contact with producers early in the wine-making cycle,” said Ner-david. “We are riding the wave of direct-to-consumer. In addition, because we are registering all wine futures as tokens on a blockchain, we are bringing a powerful validating force that will go a long way toward reducing fraud.”

Overstock’s investment arm, Medici Ventures, is not reporting how much cash they are dumping into VinX but the company claims that “it is a seven-figure investment.”

The tool will help reduce the rate of fakery in winemaking. Experts estimate that 20 percent of all wine in the world is counterfeit. VinX will follow individual bottles from filling to drinking, ensuring a bottle is real.

Ner-david is also the co-founder of Jezreel Valley Winery, a boutique winery in Israel.

“We want to use modern technologies, including blockchain and tokening assets, in bringing consumers in direct contact with wineries around the world, humanizing the connection, and leaving more value in the hands of wineries and wine lovers,” he said.

Circle Invest lets you buy cryptocurrency collections

With Circle Invest, Circle has been trying to make it as easy as possible to get started with cryptocurrency trading. And the company wants to go one step further with collections of multiple tokens.

When it first launched, Circle Invest was pretty straightforward. You could download an app, sign up and buy Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic and Litecoin in just a few taps.

But the company then started adding more coins. And if you’re new to the cryptocurrency industry, it’s hard to understand the difference between Ethereum and Ethereum Classic if you weren’t looking at the market when the fork happened.

That’s why Circle introduced a feature called “buy the market”. In one tap, you can buy all the coins on Circle Invest, weighted depending on their respective market capitalization. For instance, the total market capitalization of Bitcoin is much higher than the market cap of Monero. So you’ll end up with a lot of bitcoins.

30 percent of Circle Invest users are using this feature. People who buy this package probably don’t invest as much as users who build their own portfolio, so it might not be 30 percent of Circle Invest’s transaction volume.

Coinbase recently introduced a similar feature called bundles. In just a few taps, you can purchase all the coins on Coinbase. Of course, both Coinbase and Circle Invest provide a limited selection of coins. But it’s clear that they both want to list more assets in the future.

With collections, you can buy a subset of the tokens available on Circle Invest. There are three packages for now — Platforms, Payments and Privacy. For instance, you’ll find Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Stellar and Litecoin in the Payments collection. Once again, collections are weighted by market cap.