All posts in “economy”

BRD crowdraises $32 million to build financial services into a mobile crypto wallet

Crypto wallets can’t remain crypto wallets for long. There is so much competition and so many scammers that value-added features like financial services are de rigueur. BRD knows this quite well and is putting $32 million behind the platform to grow out the features and cryptocurrencies supported on their popular app.

Founded by Aaron Voisine, Adam Traidman, and Aaron Lasher, the company started out as a side product called Bread Wallet. BRD, say the founders, was the first iOS bitcoin wallet in the App Store.

The team has 1.1 million users in 170 countries and 76% of those are iOS. They’ve received 71% of their customers in the past year, a fact that attests to the recent popularity of cryptocurrencies. They have $6 billion of crypto assets under protection.

The team has also partnered with Changelly to help transfer more tokens than Bitcoin and Ethereum – including their own BRD token.

How did they raise the money? By token sale, of course. They ran a $12 million presale and a $20 million crowd sale, resulting in a combine Seed and A round that would make most fintech orgs blush.

The team is most proud of their focus on decentralization.

“We’ve made our name around security, first and foremost. That’s what most the miners and dev crowd know us for, as the most secure way to hold and protect all their cryptoassets,” said Voisine. “The assets themselves are not stored in any centralized system within BRD. A transaction on BRD connects directly to the blockchain and are synced in real-time. There is literally nothing to steal from BRD, since we’re not holding a single asset ourselves… even though we have over $6B USD under protection.”

Further, they are offering BRD Rewards that will let BRD users get discounts and other benefits. This is an effort to “bring a much better balance between fees and utilization.”

“We want to be the service for first-time buyers of crypto. We want to be the most popular onramp for consumers into the crypto economy,” he said.

Lasher feels that his mission is far more interesting than just making an iOS wallet. He sees this as a philosophical change that will bring new understanding of the importance of crypto.

“If sending money globally as easily as an email doesn’t impress you, how about the ability to store your life savings in your head, then walking your family across a war-torn border to safety?” he said.

This three-axis tourbillon movement is a 3D printed marvel

The three-axis tourbillon is one of the most complex watch complications in the world. Originally based on a design by watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, this type of tourbillon – literally “whirlwind” – rotates the balance wheel of a watch in order to ensure that gravity doesn’t adversely affect any part of the watch. It’s a clever, complex, and essentially useless complication in an era of atomic clocks and nano materials but darn if it isn’t cool-looking.

Based on this original, simpler model, this new three-axis tourbillon is available for download here. It consists of 70 potentially fiddly parts and runs using a basic motor.

As you can see, the main component is the balance wheel which flips back and forth to drive the watch. The balance wheel is contained inside a sort of spike-shaped cage that rotates on multiple axes. The balance wheel controls the speed of the spin and often these devices are used as second hands on more complex – and more expensive – tourbillon watches. Tourbillons were originally intended to increase watch accuracy when they were riding in a vest pocket, the thinking being that gravity would pull down a watch’s balance wheel differently when it was vertical as compared to being horizontal. In this case, the wheel takes into account all possible positions leading to a delightful bit of horological overkill.

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Four MIT students have launched DeepBench to democratize access to expert networks

New European financial regulations requiring fund managers at investment firms to pay banks for research and trading services separately could open the door for new entrants in the professional advisory services marketplace.

The rules, which were approved in 2014, but only took effect in January, are proving to be a boon for four MIT students who launched a company last year to try to grab some of the market.

DeepBench, founded by Devin Basinger, Yishi Zuo, Derek Hans and Nikhil Punwaney, is proposing some novel business model solutions to address what the MIT students see as flaws in the existing market — particularly around the use of expert networks in financial advisory services.

DeepBench co-founders Devin Basinger, Nikhil Punwaney, Derek Hans and Yishi Zuo

Expert networks are communities of experienced professionals in a given field. Fortune 500 companies, hedge funds, private equity firms and other entities rely on individuals from these groups for their insights and expertise. The biggest company in the expert network industry, Gerson Lerman Group (GLG), has nearly 50 percent market share and was on track to reach $400 million in revenue in 2016.

But GLG has had its share of troubles. The company played an integral role in providing the expert that passed confidential information to an SAC Capital trader, which was used as evidence in an insider trading case against the firm and its owner, Steven A. Cohen. The hedge fund ended up paying a record $1.8 billion in fines to the SEC (they did not admit wrongdoing in the case).

There is a significant opportunity to disrupt the expert networking space. As more experienced workers retire, some may want to continue putting their skills to use, albeit in a reduced capacity. Being a part of an expert network allows them to be available for clients who request their expertise in a flexible, convenient capacity. Facilitating this specialized knowledge sharing is a billion-dollar market for the taking.

Aside from established players like GLG and its European competitors, AlphaSights and Third Bridge, other startups like Clarity, Slingshot Insights, Catalant (formerly known as HourlyNerd) and Dūcō are also looking to transform the way expert networking is done. GLG is known to charge a group of four within a firm $100,000 for basic access to their network for a year. In comparison, these startups have different approaches and business models to improving the way clients access the expertise they need. Their efforts reflect two main segments within the expert network market: expert calls and project-based work.

DeepBench and Slingshot Industries are focusing their efforts on expert calls. DeepBench launched its current service in March 2017, which uses its “technology-driven, human-assisted” platform to connect individual clients with available experts for a 30 to 60-minute conversation at an agreed-upon rate. In addition, the startup does not require “learners” to sign long-term contracts or prepay, unlike other firms, allowing for greater client flexibility. Slingshot Industries matches groups of clients with similar interests to an expert to answer their questions. The group would crowdfund the cost for chatting with the expert.

Catalant and Dūcō have aimed for matching clients that need long-term projects completed with the relevant experienced contractor. These clients are looking for experts who are interested in extended-duration work. Catalant leverages its algorithms to quickly match prospective clients with the experts they are looking for based on the former’s search criteria.

Their goal is to make this process seamless, so more experts and clients will feel enabled to collaborate outside of a conventional consulting framework or contracting arrangement. Dūcō appears to take a more conventional approach to connecting clients and experts. The D.C.-based startup vets its pool of experts before offering them up to potential clients. Like Catalant, Dūcō uses matching algorithms to match clients with project work needs to experts ready to assist them.

As investors seek information to keep their competitive edge, and firms need outside help in solving internal problems, on-demand access to expert networks will become necessary. DeepBench currently has more than 1,000 registered experts for their closed beta platform. Currently, more than 20 clients are using the service. Most are top consulting companies, investors and product designers.

“We are focused on finding quality high-fit advisors right now instead of increasing the volume we can have available for clients,” Basinger said.

With a shift in E.U. financial regulations, expert networks are using their momentum in the Asian and U.S. markets to establish themselves in Europe. This specialized knowledge sharing can be shaped by startups like DeepBench as competition between firms continues to intensify.

This robot can build your Ikea furniture

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who hate building Ikea furniture and madmen. Now, thanks to Ikeabot, the madmen can be replaced.

Ikeabot is a project built at Control Robotics Intelligence (CRI) group at NTU in Singapore. The team began by teaching robots to insert pins and manipulate Ikea parts and then, slowly, began to figure out how to pit the robots against the furniture. The results, if you’ve ever fought with someone trying to put together a Billy, are heartening.

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From Spectrum:

The assembly process from CRI is not quite that autonomous; “although all the steps were automatically planned and controlled, their sequence was hard-coded through a considerable engineering effort.” The researchers mention that they can “envision such a sequence being automatically determined from the assembly manual, through natural-language interaction with a human supervisor or, ultimately, from an image of the chair,” although we feel like they should have a chat with Ross Knepper, whose IkeaBot seemed to do just fine without any of that stuff.

In other words the robots are semi-autonomous but never get frustrated and can use basic heuristics to figure out next steps. The robots can now essentially assemble chairs in about 20 minutes, a feat that I doubt many of us can emulate. You can watch the finished dance here, in all its robotic glory.

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The best part? Even robots get frustrated and fling parts around:

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I, for one, welcome our Ikea chair manufacturing robotic overlords.

A minor cryptocurrency partners with a major porn network. What could go wrong?

Yesterday brought some interesting news in the cryptocurrency space. In a move that is at once sleazy and ridiculous, PornHub and its tech arm MindGeek announced a partnership with the creators of VergeCoin (XVG), an anonymized cryptocurrency in the vein of Monero that is currently trading at 7 cents, down from an all-time high of about 26 cents during a recent pump.

XVG is an epitome of a coin driven by mania. Originally billed as DogecoinDark in 2014, the currency has had some ups and downs but has always displayed the “move fast and break things” mentality that gives cryptocurrencies a bad name. The product is so hapless it can’t even get their Wikipedia entry right.

The currency developers recently beseeched its rabid fans — many of whom have been waxing confused on Reddit — to raise $2 million to build a secret partnership. Weeks of speculation followed as Vergins speculated about partners, including eBay and Amazon. The price went up and down and has settled below 10 cents, placing it at position 23 on the CoinMarketCap list. It’s doing well, but not great.

Yesterday the big announcement came, as it were. I received a few emails from PornHub PR announcing a crypto partnership but they refused to announce the currency. Now that the currency is officially announced, I’m sure there are some folks who are upset they bought a load of Titcoin.

Verge has partnered with PornHub to allow users to pay with the currency. Why? And why would you want to? This is unclear. Presumably the currency allows you to pay completely anonymously but you still have to acquire Verge to pay with Verge and associating a currency with porn pretty much gives the game away as to why you’d spend it. Further, the extensive marketing efforts make PornHub look far more interesting than Verge, especially since Verge shares the same name with the Verge tech site, something that is bound to confuse average buyers. Finally, you get no real benefit from paying with Verge and, in fact, you can’t get your Verge refunded if you decide you no longer want to pay $9.99 a month for premium PR()N.

Ultimately this is better for porn than it is for cryptocurrency. PornHub gets a little bit of a media boost and cryptocurrencies — including Bitcoin, Ether and ICO tokens — look like the only source for porn. While VHS and the internet grew out of porn, cryptocurrencies are already well-established and they don’t need any more “sin” associated with them. You can also pay for a number of services with crypto, including Flirt4Free, a cam girl site associated with LiveJasmin. Given that a series of stars in big trucks will be rolling through the U.S. over the next few months promoting cryptocurrencies — that $2 million had to go somewhere — it could be positive for crypto uptake but very bad for crypto perception.

While I agree that crypto needs a shot in the arm and a sense of mission, I doubt making it easier to see naked people is quite it. I’d like to see real remittances, real real estate transactions and even real voting systems put in place. Until then, however, stunts like this do little to help.