All posts in “money”

SpankChain spanked

SpankChain, a cryptocurrency aimed at decentralized sex cams, has announced that a hacker stole about $38,000 from their payment channel thanks to a broken smart contract. They wrote:

At 6pm PST Saturday, an unknown attacker drained 165.38 ETH (~$38,000) from our payment channel smart contract which also resulted in $4,000 worth of BOOTY on the contract becoming immobilized. Of the stolen/immobilized ETH/BOOTY, 34.99 ETH (~$8,000) and 1271.88 BOOTY belongs to users (~$9,300 total), and the rest belonged to SpankChain.

Our immediate priority has been to provide complete reimbursements to all users who lost funds. We are preparing an ETH airdrop to cover all $9,300 worth of ETH and BOOTY that belonged to users. Funds will be sent directly to users’ SpankPay accounts, and will be available as soon as we reboot Spank.Live.

The hacker used a ‘reentrancy’ bug in which the user calls the same transfer multiple times, draining a little Ethereum each time. The bug is the same one that previously affected the DAO.

The company pointed out that a security audit on their smart contract would have cost $50,000, a bit more than the amount lost. “As we move forward and grow, we will be stepping up our security practices, and making sure to get multiple internal audits for any smart contract code we publish, as well as at least one professional external audit,” they wrote.

I’ve reached out to the company for clarification but in short it seems the spanker has become the spankee.

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.

Venture capital investment in US companies to hit $100B in 2018

So many new unicorns valued at $1 billion-plus, countless $100 million venture financings, an explosion of giant funds — it’s no surprise 2018 is shaping up to be a banner year for venture capital investment in U.S.-based companies.

There are more than 2.5 months remaining in 2018 and already U.S. companies have raised $84.1 billion — more than all of 2017 — across 6,583 VC deals as of Sept. 30, 2018, according to data from PitchBook’s 3Q Venture Monitor.

Last year, companies raised $82 billion across more than 9,000 deals in what was similarly an impressive year for the industry. Many questioned whether the trend would — or could — continue this year, and oh, boy has it. VC investment has sprinted past decade-highs and shows no signs of slowing down.

Why the uptick? Fewer companies are raising money, but round sizes are swelling. Unicorns, for example, were responsible for about 25 percent of the capital dispersed in 2018. Those companies, which include Slack, Stripe and Lyft, have raised $19.2 billion so far this year — a record amount — up from $17.4 billion in 2017. There were 39 deals for unicorn companies valuing $7.96 billion in the third quarter of 2018 alone.


Some other interesting takeaways from PitchBook’s report on the U.S. venture ecosystem:

  • Nearly $28 billion was invested into early-stage startups in 2018, with median deal size increasing 25 percent to  $7 million last quarter.
  • Ten funds have raised more than $500 million this year and another five, including Lightspeed Venture Partners and Index Ventures, have closed on more than $1 billion.
  • Companies based on the West Coast were responsible for 54.7 percent of deal value in 3Q but other regions are catching up: New England (12 percent), the Mid-Atlantic (20 percent) and The Great Lakes (5 percent).
  • Investment in U.S. pharma and biotech has reached a new high of $14 billion already in 2018.
  • Corporate venture capital activity is heating up. This year, CVCs invested $39.3 billion in U.S. startups, more than double the $15.2 billion invested in 2013.
  • VC-backed companies are exiting via buyouts more than ever.

Sequoia backs Maven, a virtual health clinic for women

Despite the increase in women in the U.S. workforce and public pledges from several high-profile CEOs to close the gender pay gap, women, especially working mothers, often find themselves without the resources necessary to succeed at work.

Maven, a digital health startup and benefits platform focused on improving access to healthcare for women, has emerged specifically to help businesses help their female employees.

Maven has garnered the support of Sequoia Capital, a household name in Silicon Valley and a venture capital firm that has seldom backed female-focused businesses. Today, the company is announcing a $27 million Series B co-led by Sequoia and Oak HC/FT. Existing investors Spring Mountain Group, 14W and Female Founders Fund have also participated in the round.

As part of the deal, Sequoia’s Jess Lee and Oak’s Nancy Brown will join Maven’s all-female board of directors.

The company was founded by Kate Ryder, a journalist-turned-venture capitalist-turned-founder. Before joining Index Ventures as an early-stage investor in 2012, Ryder was a reporter at The New Yorker and The Economist.

During her time as a VC, digital health and telemedicine were the nascent sectors to watch. Professionally, Ryder realized the huge market opportunity, meanwhile, personally, she was reminded of the major lack of resources for women at work.

“A lot of my friends started having kids while I was working in venture capital, so I started hearing about the difficulties of having kids or postpartum depression,” Ryder told TechCrunch. “It’s not like you as a woman get educated on what all this is while you’re in school.”

In 2014, Ryder left her VC job to create Maven . Her goal: become a one-stop shop for working women starting families. Since launching the company, Ryder herself has become a mother of two.

“You go through this enormous life experience; it’s hugely transformative to have a child,” she said. “You do it when your careers is moving up — they call it the rush hour of life — and with no one supporting you on the other end, it’s easy to say ‘screw it, I’m going home to my family’ … If someone leaves the workforce, that’s fine, it’s their choice but they shouldn’t feel forced to because they don’t have support.”

Maven partners with companies, including Snap and Bumble, to provide employees access to its women’s and family health provider network. The platform connects users to OB-GYNs, pediatricians, therapists, career coaches and other services including resources for families interested in adoption, IVF or maternity care.

Users can also video chat or direct message healthcare practitioners using the Maven app.

Along with the Series B financing, Maven is announcing the launch of a breastmilk service, Maven Milk, which it says is its next step toward closing the resource and care gap for working mothers.

VCs say Silicon Valley isn’t the gold mine it used to be

In the days leading up to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018, The Economist published the cover story, ‘Why Startups Are Leaving Silicon Valley.’

The author outlined reasons why the Valley has “peaked.” Venture capital investors are deploying capital outside the Bay Area more than ever before. High-profile entrepreneurs and investors, Peter Thiel, for example, have left. Rising rents are making it impossible for new blood to make a living, let alone build businesses. And according to a recent survey, 46 percent of Bay Area residents want to get the hell out, an increase from 34 percent two years ago.

Needless to say, the future of Silicon Valley was top of mind on stage at Disrupt.

“It’s hard to make a difference in San Francisco as a single entrepreneur,” said J.D. Vance, the author of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ and a managing partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Fund, which backs seed-stage companies based outside Silicon Valley. “It’s not as a hard to make a difference as a successful entrepreneur in Columbus, Ohio.”

In conversation with Vance, Revolution CEO Steve Case said he’s noticed a “mega-trend” emerging. Founders from cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit or Portland are opting to stay in their hometowns instead of moving to U.S. innovation hubs like San Francisco.

“The sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

“We are seeing the beginnings of a slowing of what has been a brain drain the last 20 years,” Case said. “It’s not just watching where the capital flows, it’s watching where the talent flows. And the sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

Farewell, San Francisco

“It’s too expensive to live here,” said Aileen Lee, the founder of seed-stage VC firm Cowboy Ventures, amid a conversation with leading venture capitalists Spark Capital general partner Megan Quinn and Benchmark general partner Sarah Tavel .

“I know that there are a lot of people in the Bay Area that are trying to work on that problem and I hope that they are successful,” Lee added. “It’s an amazing place to live and we’ve made it really challenging for people to live here and not worry about making ends meet.”

One of Cowboy’s portfolio companies opted to relocate from Silicon Valley to Colorado when it came time to scale their business. That kind of move would’ve historically been seen as a failure. Today, it may be a sign of strong business acumen.

Quinn said that of all 28 of Spark’s growth-stage portfolio companies, Raleigh, North Carolina-based Pendo has the easiest time recruiting folks locally and from the Bay Area.

She advises her Bay Area-based late-stage companies to open a second office outside of the Valley where lower-cost talent is available.

“We often say go to [flySFO.com], draw a three-hour circle around San Francisco where they have direct flights, find a city that has a university and open up a second office as quickly as possible,” Quinn said.

Still, all three firms invest in a lot of companies based in San Francisco. Of Benchmark’s 10 most recent investments, for example, eight were based in SF, according to Crunchbase.

“I used to believe really strongly if you wanted to build a multi-billion dollar company you had to be based here,” Tavel said. “I’ve stopped giving that soap speech.”

Underestimated talent

A lot of Bay Area VCs have been blind to the droves of tech talent located outside the region. Believe it or not, there are great engineers in America’s small- and medium-sized markets too.

At Disrupt, Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton announced the firm would launch an accelerator to further amplify companies led by underestimated founders. The program will have cohorts based in four cities; San Francisco was noticeably absent from that list.

Instead, the firm, which invests in underrepresented founders and recently raised a $36 million fund, will work with companies in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London and one more city, which will be determined by a public vote. Aniyia Williams, the founder of Tinsel and Black & Brown Founders, will spearhead the Philadelphia effort.

“For us, it’s about closing that wealth gap to address inequity in tech,” Williams said. “There needs to be more active participation from everyone.”

Hamilton added that for her, the tech talent in LA and London is undeniable.

“There is a lot of money and a lot of investors … it reminds me of three years ago in Silicon Valley,” Hamilton said.

Silicon Valley vs. China

Silicon Valley’s demise may not be just as a result of increased costs of living or investors overlooking talent in other geographies. It may be because of heightened competition abroad.

Doug Leone, an early- and growth-stage investor at Sequoia Capital, said at Disrupt that he’s noticed a very different work ethic in China.

Chinese entrepreneurs, he explained, are more ruthless than their American counterparts and they’re putting in a whole lot more hours.

“I’ve had dinner in China until after 10 p.m. and people go to work after 10 p.m.,” Leone recalled.

“We don’t see that in the U.S. I’m not saying the U.S. founders oughta do that but those are the differences. They are similar in character. They are similar in dreams. They are similar in how they want to change the world. They are ultra-driven … The Chinese founders have a half other gear because I think they are a little more desperate.”

Much of this, however, has been said before and still, somehow, Silicon Valley remained the place to be for investors and startup entrepreneurs.

The reality is, those engaged in tech culture are always anxiously awaiting for the bubble to pop, the market to crash and for “peak Valley” to finally arrive.

Maybe, just maybe, Silicon Valley is forever.

Here’s more of our coverage of Disrupt 2018.