All posts in “cryptocurrency”

Stock trade app Robinhood raising at $5B+, up 4X in a year

By adding a cryptocurrency exchange, a web version, and stock option trading, Robinhood has managed to quadruple its valuation in a year, according to a source familiar with a new round the startup is raising. Robinhood is closing in on around $350 million in Series D funding led by Russian firm DST Global, the source says. That’s just 11 months after Robinhood confirmed TechCrunch’s scoop that the zero-fee stock trading app had raised an $110 million Series C at a $1.3 billion valuation. The new raise would bring Robinhood to $526 million in funding.

Details of the Series D were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The astronomical value growth shows that investors see Robinhood as a core part of the mobile finance tools the next generation will rely upon. The startup also just proved its ability to nimbly adapt to trends by building its cryptocurrency trading feature in less than two months to make sure it wouldn’t miss the next big economic shift. One million users waitlisted for access in just the five days after Robinhood Crypto was announced.

The launch completed a trio of product debuts. The mobile app finally launched a website version for tracking and trading stocks without a commission in November. In December it opened options trading, making it a more robust alternative to brokers like E*Trade and Scottrade. They often charge $7 or more per stock trade compared to zero with Robinhood, but also give away features that are reserved for Robinhood’s premium Gold subscription tier.

Robinhood won’t say how many people have signed up for its $6 to $200 per month Gold service that lets people trade on margin, with higher prices netting them more borrowing power. That and earning interest on money stored in Robinhood accounts are the startup’s primary revenue sources.

Rapid product iteration and skyrocketing value surely helped recruit Josh Elman, who Robinhood announced yesterday has joined as VP of product as he transitions to a part-time roll at Greylock Partners. He could help the company build a platform business as a backbone for other fintech apps, they way he helped Facebook build its identity platform.

In effect, Robinhood has figured out how to make stock trading freemium. Rather than charge per trade with bonus features included, Robinhood gives away the bare-bones trades and charges for everything else. That could give it a steady, scalable business model akin to Dropbox, which grew by offering small amounts of free storage and then charging for extras and enterprise accounts. From a start with free trades, Robinhood could blossom into a hub for your mobile finance life.

Sierra Leone just ran the first blockchain-based election

The citizens of Sierra Leone went to the polls on March 7 but this time something was different: the country recorded votes at 70% of the polling to the blockchain using a technology that is the first of its kind in actual practice.

The tech, created by Leonardo Gammar of Agora, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results.

“Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora’s blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate,” said Gammar. “This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology.”

“Sierra Leone wishes to create an environment of trust with the voters in a contentious election, especially looking at how the election will be publicly viewed post-election. By using blockchain as a means to immutably record ballots and results, the country hopes to create legitimacy around the election and reduce fall-out from opposition parties,” he said.

Why is this interesting? While this is little more than a proof of concept – it is not a complete voting record but instead captured a seemingly acceptable plurality of votes – it’s fascinating to see the technology be implemented in Sierra Leone, a country of about 7.4 million people. The goal ultimately is to reduce voting costs by cutting out paper ballots as well as reducing corruption in the voting process.

Gammar, for his part, sees the value of a decentralizes system.

“We’re the only company in the world that has built a fully-functional blockchain voting platform. Other electronic voting machines are ‘block boxes’ that have been increasingly shown to be vulnerable to security attacks. For that reason, many US states and foreign nations have been moving back to paper,” he said. “If you believe that most countries will use some form of digital voting 50 years from now, then blockchain is the only technology that has been created which can provide an end-to-end verifiable and fully-transparent voting solution for this future.”

One election in one country isn’t a movement – yet. However, Gammar and his team plan on expanding their product to other African countries and, eventually, to the rest of the world.

As for the election it is still unclear who won and there will be a run-off election on March 27. The winner will succeed President Ernest Bai Koroma who has run the country for a full decade.

Robinhood hires Josh Elman as VP of product, who’ll stay at Greylock

Zero-fee stock trading app Robinhood is getting some product firepower as it dives into cryptocurrency and weighs platform aspirations. Investor Josh Elman will join Robinhood as its VP of product while remaining a partner at Greylock, though in a reduced capacity.

With 4 million registered users, $176 million raised and a $1.3 billion valuation, the five-year-old fintech startup is shifting from a period of finding product-market fit to building a serious business. Elman’s experience with rapidly rising companies like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn could help guide Robinhood toward maturity.

“In January, I started talking with a few of my partners about how I want to spend the next decade of my professional life. What gets me the most energized is when I can dig in on product with a hyper-growth company. To that end, I’m joining Robinhood to lead product, where we will continue building powerful tools to give everyone broader access to our financial system,” Elman tells TechCrunch. “I am going to continue my role at Greylock as a venture partner, and will continue to represent Greylock on the boards in my portfolio. I am grateful to my partners for their support, and excited for what is next.”

Greylock has always been known as a fund run by veteran operators like Reid Hoffman, who joined as a partner while still the CEO of LinkedIn . A Greylock spokesperson tells me, “Josh is a sharp product-thinker who has backed excellent entrepreneurs and innovative companies that we are proud to have as part of the Greylock portfolio. We are supportive of Josh as he takes on this new operating role, and look forward to continuing our work with him as a venture partner.”

That term ‘venture partner’ typically means someone who won’t lead investments and/or isn’t a full-time permanent member of the firm like a “partner” as Elman previously listed himself. Some might view the shift as a demotion, or the start of a transition out of the firm.

The new role could create some conflicts, though. Greylock recently invested in cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase’s August Series D. But Robinhood just launched its own cryptocurrency trading platform in December, undercutting Coinbase’s 1.5 percent to 4 percent fee on trades in the U.S. by charging zero commission. Coinbase might worry that plans it shares with Greylock could make it back to Robinhood.

Read our post on the roll-out of Robinhood Crypto

Elman has dealt with this before, having hyped text fiction app Hooked whose seed round Greylock funded before it backed competing app Yarn’s parent company Mammoth Media with Elman joining its board. Elman declined to comment about the matter.

Josh Elman at TechCrunch Disrupt SF

An eye for interfaces

Elman began his career after a bachelor’s degree in symbolic systems with a focus on human computer interaction at Stanford in 1997. Elman worked on product for music company RealNetworks, and growth and job boards for LinkedIn before joining custom merchandise startup Zazzle . His big break came working on the launch of the Facebook Connect platform. He was then a PM at Twitter until joining Greylock as a partner in 2011.

In my experience, Elman is one of the best investors at spotting emerging social trends and helping companies find winning product strategies. Despite being in his 40s, he’s quick to dive into teen-focused social apps, understanding and funding them before they blow up. He was on the boards of Musically (sold to Toutiao) and SmartThings (sold to Samsung), plus was one of the few investors in honest feedback app tbh, which sold to Facebook. He’s currently on the boards of Medium, Houseparty and Discord — which are redefining blogging, video chat and video game communities.

Robinhood’s Bay Area HQ

Robinhood could use Elman’s skills as it tries to unite the traditional stock and cryptocurrency worlds using free trades up front while monetizing with subscription bonus features. The way Facebook and Twitter turned friends and thought leaders into a feeds of content to consume, Elman could assist as Robinhood does the same to financial markets.

Robinhood founders Baiju Bhatt (left) and Vladamir Tenev (right)

“I’ve known Josh for a couple years now and he’s always struck me as one of the most thoughtful product builders,” says Robinhood co-founder and co-CEO Baiju Bhatt. (Disclosure: I know Bhatt and his co-founder Vlad Tenev from

college). “We’re lucky to have him lead our product initiatives and join our leadership team as we take Robinhood to the next level.” Robinhood now has 170 team members across the Bay Area and Orlando, Florida. It’s planning to hire a VP for engineering and for customer support while scaling those teams, as well as legal and biz dev.

Having jumped the regulatory and engineering hurdles to offer cost-efficient stock trading, Robinhood has a huge opportunity to become the backbone of a new generation of fintech apps. The company declined to comment, but the startup could one day build APIs so other products could interact with your Robinhood balance and bank account. Elman worked with Facebook to let partners piggyback on your identity, and he might have ideas for turning Robinhood into a fintech platform.

Cryptocurrency ad bans are a step in the right direction

Google just banned cryptocurrency and ICO ads, a move that follows Facebook’s decision to do the same. The language is stark: You are no longer allowed to advertise “Cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice).”

This is good news.

In the Wild West of crypto things can head in one of two ways. First, the industry can ignore rationality and decorum and pump and dump ICOs all day long until the SEC, the FBI and European authorities shut down every single one. Or, if the industry takes the slow and steady route, builds self-regulatory bodies and avoids scammy pump-and-dump tactics, then perhaps the industry can grow into maturity.

Currently the methods for token sale marketing are ridiculous. Most recently I spotted a token advertisement that featured a scantily clad young lady in a compromising position — all in an effort to see financial instruments. Further, “crypto geniuses” like James Altucher have polluted all of our feeds for the past few months with strange claims and spurious product offerings. Enough is enough.

The sad part is that cryptocurrencies have to become boring before they can work. I always go back to the early days of Linux. There were flame wars, screeds and practitioners of dark FUD. No one could agree if KDE or Gnome was a better desktop environment and woe were you if you picked the wrong one. The world was full of angry, aggressive and passionate people.

Fast-forward a few decades and now those same people are typing softly in cubicles making millions of dollars. Their early zeal, while seemingly silly, paid off. And now Linux is completely boring, a tool programmers use to spin up and down servers in a heartbeat.

Cryptocurrency has to head in this same direction.

Until it is hidden, until it is unclear where the blockchain stops and the rest of the world starts, and until we rid ourselves of the get-rich-quickers and the outright scams, the industry will not rise to the rank it deserves. Fools and their money are soon parted. Google and Facebook are right to do something to protect them.

Cryptocurrency exchange puts $250,000 bounty on hackers

The hunter has become the hunted and so on.
The hunter has become the hunted and so on.


Binance is done playing nice. 

The cryptocurrency exchange was the target of an attempted hack last week, and although the company claims that the attackers were largely unsuccessful in their efforts, they nevertheless still made someone at the exchange mad. So mad, in fact, that on Sunday, Binance announced the equivalent of a $250,000 bounty on the hackers. 

“To ensure a safe crypto community, we can’t simply play defense,” read the statement. “We need to actively prevent any instances of hacking before they occur, as well as follow through after-the-fact.”

That follow through just so happens to come in the form of a fat cryptocurrency reward, and is all but guaranteed to kick off a mad digital vigilante rush. 

“The first person to supply substantial information and evidence that leads to the legal arrest of the hackers, in any jurisdiction, will receive the equivalent of $250,000 USD in BNB [Binance Coin],” continued the modern day version of a wanted poster. 

Binance appears to relish being on the offensive — a fact emphasized by the company’s CEO, Changpeng Zhao.

“As in a football match, you can’t just play defense,” he tweeted

Regardless of how this particular case gets resolved, it doesn’t look like the idea of exchanges putting bounties on hackers is going away any time soon. In fact, it’s probably going to pick up steam. 

“Binance has currently allocated the equivalent of $10,000,000 USD in crypto reserves for future bounty awards against any illegal hacking attempts on Binance,” noted the same announcement. “We have also invited other exchanges and crypto businesses to join our initiative.”

So all you would-be cryptocurrency exchange hackers out there, consider yourselves warned.

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