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October 19, 2018
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Venture capital investment in US companies to hit $100B in 2018

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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.

News Source = techcrunch.com

African financial technology startups move beyond payment services

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If mobile money was the first phase in the development of digital finance in Africa, the next phase of digital financial services on the continent will focus on lending, insurance and wealth management

In “Beyond Payments: The Next Generation of Fintech Startups in Sub-Saharan Africa,” the venture capital firm Village Global, and their reporting partner, PayPal, tip their hat to M-Pesa and mobile money in Africa, but say that there’s a wave of innovation still to come.

The investment firm identified f 12 companies it determined were “building solutions in fintech subsectors outside of payments.”

In partnership with PayPal, Village Capital has set up Fintech: Africa 2018, a program in that seeks to find and support startups bringing other “critical services” to Africa’s unbanked populations.

“We can’t do enough to highlight what the next generation of fintech startups will and should be driving….whether it’s in agriculture—helping farmers have access to the financial system—through alternative credit scoring and lending—so people can actually get access to loans or insurance—or building savings and wealth,” Village Capital Managing Director and report co-author Allie Burns told TechCrunch.

Village Capital’s work gives a snapshot of these four sub-sectors—agricultural finance, insurtech, alternative credit scoring, and savings and wealth—including players, opportunities and challenges, recent raises, and early-stage startups to watch.

In alternative credit scoring and lending it sees blockchain as a driver of innovation in reducing “both transaction costs and intermediation costs, helping entrepreneurs bypass expensive verification systems and third parties.”

The report highlights recent raises by savings startup PiggybankNG and Nigerian agtech firm Farmcrowdy. Village Capital sees the biggest opportunities for insurtech startups in five countries: South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria.

On non-payments fintech startups overall, Village Capital chose a cohort of 12 for its 2018 program. They included F-Pesa — a Kenyan foreign exchange app­ — and Nigerian installment e-commerce app CredPal. All 12 participated in three Village Capital and PayPal sponsored workshops to introduce them to mentors and investors. Two of the cohort (identity venture Youverify and Ugandan cloud focused microfinance company Ensibuuko) received funding offers from Village Capital.

PayPal’s involvement in Village Capital’s Fintech Africa program “is really about…our commitment to financial health and the democratization of finance,” PayPal head of social innovation Sean Milliken told TechCrunch.

PayPal provided financial resources for the Fintech Africa program and study and participated in the development of the curriculum “toward those participating ventures getting investment ready,” said PayPal’s Director of Corporate Affairs Tyler Spalding. They didn’t invest though: “our funds were not actually deployed in an investment capacity,” he added.

PayPal has increased its presence and payment activity in Africa over the last several years through a number of partnerships—including one to transfer funds through Safaricom’s M-Pesa product—and plans to deliver more remittances into Nigeria and South Africa through its Xoom subsidiary.

Village Capital is still mulling the possibility running another round of its Fintech Africa program in 2019. To date the fund has invested in 14 Sub-Saharan African startups.

Whether its payment or non-payment applications, the number of startups in Africa’s fintech space and the breadth of their activities continue to grow.

Big developments TecCrunch has covered this year have mostly been on the digital payments side including Paga’s global expansion and plans to take on providers such as PayPal and Safaricom. Then there have been big raises by payments focused Paga ($10), Cellulant ($47M), and Mines ($13) and by lending platform Jumo ($52) and South African business enterprise services startup Yoco.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Coinbase now lets users buy ‘bundles’ and launches its own index for the top 50 coins

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Coinbase is shaking things up quite a bit lately and its latest tools are geared toward cryptocurrency traders just getting their toes wet.

On Thursday, the company announced that it would add a feature called Coinbase Bundle. The new offering lets users purchase a market-weighted sampling of Coinbase’s five available cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin and Ethereum Classic. The idea is that a bundle of coins offers users a starter pack for cryptocurrency trading on the platform with stakes of their choosing. In reality, until Coinbase adds more coins, it’s not exactly a diversified portfolio so much as a slightly counterbalanced selection of Coinbase’s current limited offerings.

In June, Coinbase introduced index funds targeted toward institutional investors in the U.S. While those funds required an investment between $250,000 and $20 million, Coinbase Bundle is geared toward the casual individual investor with bundles that start at $25. For beginning traders that prefer to follow rather than beat the market, betting on broad growth over time, a product like Coinbase Bundle makes sense. Or rather it will when Coinbase adds a lot more coins.

Users who buy a Coinbase Bundle can expect to see the funds appear in their wallet like normal. There, the funds will behave like separate assets that can be sold and sent elsewhere.

Beyond bundles, Coinbase is also launching a few educational cryptocurrency tools geared toward anyone still learned the ropes. The first of those tools is Coinbase Asset Pages, the company’s own CoinMarketCap-like database where anyone can view details about the top 50 coins by market cap, whether they’re listed by Coinbase or not.

Like other resources, Coinbase’s new tool will provide “historic trading data, current market cap, a description of the cryptocurrency, and links to relevant white papers and project websites.” Unlike other resources, Coinbase artificially lists its own offerings at the top rather than depicting those coins where they actually fall in terms of market cap.

Coinbase is also launching a dedicated learning hub on its site where new users can browse topics like “What is blockchain?” and “Where do cryptocurrencies get their value?” — in many cases, a good question. Given Coinbase’s appeal to brand new users, it’s kind of surprising that this didn’t already exist. Particularly that it wasn’t implemented late last year when many wide-eyed investors bought it at all-time highs and were handed big losses in the months to come.

After mainstream interest in digital currencies cooled from the fever-dream highs of late 2017, making Coinbase’s famously user-friendly entrypoint into the cryptocurrency world even more approachable for first-time buyers, if many remain, can’t hurt. The company is also clearly readying for its plan to list coins well beyond its current limited offerings, a transformation that will see the platform evolve from its historical identity as a blue chip stock shop to something more akin to digital currency’s attractive, well-lit corner store.

Coinbase’s new top 50 asset pages and learning hub are live now. Coinbase Bundles, limited to the U.S. and Europe, will start showing up for users today and the rollout will continue through the next few weeks.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Crypto mining giant Bitmain reveals heady growth as it files for IPO

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After months of speculation, Bitmain — the world’s largest provider of crypto miners — has opened the inner details of its business after it submitted its IPO prospectus with the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. And some of the growth numbers are insane.

The document doesn’t specify how much five-year-old Bitmain is aiming to raise from its listing — that’ll come later — but it does lift the lid on the incredible business growth that the company saw as the crypto market grew massively in 2017. Although that also comes with a question: can that growth continue in this current bear market?

The company grossed more than $2.5 billion in revenue last year, a near-10X leap on the $278 million it claims for 2016. Already, it said revenue for the first six months of this year surpassed $2.8 billion.

Bitmain is best known for its ‘Antminer’ devices — which allow the owner to mine for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — and that accounts for most of its revenue. 77 percent in 2016, 90 percent in 2017, and 94 percent in the first half of 2018. Other income is generated by its mining farms, shared mining pools, AI chips and blockchain services.

The company is fabless, which means it develops its own chip design and works with manufacturing partners who bring them to life as physical chips. Those chips are then used to power mining hardware which lets the owner earn a reward by mining Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Bitmain claims over 80,000 customers with just under half of sales in China and the rest overseas.

The company said it posted $701 million in net profit in 2017, up from $104 million in 2016. For the first half of this year, it is claiming a gross profit of $743 billion. (Operational profit touched $1 billion for that period.)

That’s quite staggering growth, but there are some signs that 2018 comes with more challenges.

Margins are down. Gross margin in the first six months was 36 percent, down from 48 percent in 2017 and 54 percent in 2016. Contributing to that, the cost of sale percentage in the first half of 2018 rose to 64 percent from 51 and 52 percent in 2017 and 2016, respectively.

Interestingly, Bitmain accepts Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as payment for its miners, with some 27 percent of purchases last year paid for using crypto. As a result, those payments aren’t included in revenue but do show up as “investing cash inflow” when they are converted to fiat and used in the business. That’s a 2018 accounting problem right there.

As a result, Bitmain has a negative net cash used in operating activities position but those become positive when factoring in the crypto. The company said it received $887 million in crypto in the first half of 2018, $872 million in 2017, $56 million in 2016 and $12 million in 2015 — that’s based on rate at cost. Data appears to show that Bitmain cashed $484 million in crypto in 2017, and in the first half of 2018 that figure was $382 million.

The wild ride of 2017, however, led the company to over-estimated demand and, as a result, its inventory ballooned by $1 billion.

Here’s Bitmain explanation of how it managed to get it so wrong:

In early 2018, we anticipated strong market growth for cryptocurrency mining hardware in 2018 due to the upward trend of cryptocurrencies price in the fourth quarter of 2017, and we placed a large amount of orders with our production partners in response to the anticipated significant sales growth. However, there had been significant market volatility in the market price of cryptocurrencies in the first half of 2018. As a result of such volatility, the expected economic return from cryptocurrency mining had been adversely affected and the sales of our mining hardware slowed down, which in turn caused an increase in our inventories level and a decrease in advances received from our customers in the first half of 2018. Going forward, we will actively balance our business growth strategy, inventories and cryptocurrency asset levels to ensure a sustainable business growth and a healthy cash flow position, and we will adjust our procurement and prediction plan to maintain an appropriate liquidity level.

Despite an extra $1 billion in inventory, Bitmain estimates it has the working capital — including crypto pile and the result of its IPO — to sustain operations for at least another 12 months. That, according to its figures, is around $343 million in cash and cash equivalents but clearly it needs another megahit product or for the market demand to rise again.

Indeed, Bitmain just last week announced its newest mining chip — shrunk down to 7nm — which it believes will offer more power and greater efficiency for miners. That progress coupled with the rising value of crypto — i.e. what owners of Bitmain miners can earn — has helped the company steadily raise the price of its hardware.

Average selling price for its Bitcoin mining machines in 2015 was just $463, but that jumped to $767 in 2016, $1,231 in 2017 and $1,012 in the first half of 2018.

Bitmain co-founder Jihan Wu is the face of the company and one of its largest shareholders with a 20 percent stake

Beyond mining, the company is also developing AI chips, the first of which launched last year. They are used for developing cloud systems, as well as object, image and facial recognition purposes.

Citing third party figures, Bitmain claims to have a dominant 75 percent of the ASIC mining hardware market. It is investing heavily in R&D, which reached $73 million last year and $86 million during the first half of 2018. In addition, around one-third of its 2,594 employees are listed as working in research and development.

It’s likely that Bitmain sees more revenue in crypto than any other company on the planet

Bitmain’s document confirms the company raised some $784 million across Series A, Series B and Series B rounds.

Its investor roster is fairly public thanks to leaks and it includes the likes of IDG, Sequoia China, and Kaifu Lee’s Sinovation fund. However, the prospectus does confirm that shareholders include retailer NewEgg, EDBI — the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board — and Uber investor Coatue. Founders Ketuan Zhan and Jihan Wu are the largest shareholders and they control 36 and 20 percent, respectively.

We can expect Bitmain to flesh out the prospectus with more juicy information, including a target raise which will also generate its valuation. But for now there are over 400 pages of information to process, you can find them all right here.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

News Source = techcrunch.com

ICOs are increasingly just for venture capitalists

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The rollercoaster-get-rich ICOs of 2017 are over — crypto companies are waking up to the idea that VC investors aren’t so bad after all.

Companies used initial coin offerings (ICOs) to raise some $5.5 billion in cryptocurrency-based funding last year. As an emerging investment system with no regulation, nearly anyone was allowed in. The knock-on effect was that many who rode the wave made huge profits, often into the millions of U.S. dollars, as a 10X return seemed to become the minimum standard among those getting crypto-rich.

The trend went into overdrive in 2018, when the price of Bitcoin hit a peak of nearly $20,000 and Ethereum notched $1,200. ICO funding hit $6.3 billion in only the first three months of the year, as noted by Coindesk, but, fast forward six months and a new trend has emerged. Public ICOs, which allow anyone to invest, are increasingly replaced by a new approach of limited, private sales that consist only of accredited investors and close connections. Many ICOs today include no public sale component, with retail investors forced to wait until a token is listed on an exchange.

Private sale only

Telegram’s huge $1.7 billion ICO best exemplifies the change.

ICOs in 2017 began to include a private pre-sale before the ‘open’ public sale stage, the idea being to attract big bucks and in some cases give incentives like discounts. But Telegram opted to keep its entire sale public. It also stuck to accepting money from accredited investors in the U.S. — those who are legally certified to make investments — rather than opening its doors to anyone wanting to own a piece of its token sale.

That’s a trend that has been repeated in other ICOs, including the recent $32 million “seed” round for Terra and its stable coin project. Terra co-founder Daniel Shin explained to TechCrunch that it will hold a second round of private sale investment, but that’ll be reserved for investment professionals and others in the network.

Legally, of course, this makes absolute sense.

The SEC is steadily increasing its crackdown on ICOs, and it has long been standard for companies planning ICOs to overlook citizens of the U.S, China and often other countries where the legalities are unclear from taking part in the sales. But, actually, the rationale of private sales goes beyond legalities.

Professional investor benefits

The crypto industry has woken up to the reality that getting your capital from a handful of professional investors can be more advantageous than a bunch of regular people.

For one thing, dealing with a dozen investors is far easier than a Telegram group that numbers tens of thousands. Professional investors are more accustomed to giving a company money and letting it use it independently, but retail investors in the crypto space tend to be more demanding and unrealistic as they seek a quick return on their money. While liquidity is a major appeal for all in an ICO, VCs tend to hold a longer-term approach than retail investors who look to flip and move to the next money-making opportunity. Or, in times of downturn such as right now, investors have deeper pockets to ride out recessions.

There’s a popular refrain that ICOs mean not having to deal with “Evil Venture Capitalists”, but a community of retail investors is demanding in its own way. Plenty of ICO projects waste time and precious resources putting out mundane press releases that are devoid of news just to produce something that they hope will placate their thirsty community of retail investors, and miraculously give their token a price jump. For example, inking a “strategic partnership” with the American Chamber of Commerce Korea isn’t news — getting actual sales is.

This kind of distraction and allocation of resources makes no sense when you are setting out building a company or a product, which ultimately the founders of these projects are doing. As any experienced founder or investor will say, retaining focus is key in those early times.

Added to that, professional investors can actually help with the building by leveraging their network. Whether that is assisting on hiring in the competitive blockchain industry, introducing potential customers — American Chamber of Commerce Korea eat your heart out — bringing on other investors, etc.

That’s why in the aforementioned case, Terra opted to bring four crypto exchanges into its private sale — no doubt their influence will be key in building what remains a hugely ambitious project. Other companies that raised large ICOs, including TenX and MCO, have publicly expressed interest in holding new investment rounds to bring in professional VCs. That’s because money alone won’t open doors, but often connections can.

To recap: professional VCs can be more trusting, less of a distraction and more useful, but there are some instances in which a more open public approach should be a part of an ICO. That’s when it comes to building a community.

The exception: Community

The term “community” has been thoroughly bastardized by ICOs, but there are some projects that — at least on paper — can benefit by allowing specific types of people, people that will use the product, to get involved early.

Huobi, the exchange, developed a token for its users earlier this year, while chat app Line is also minting a token that it hopes will be used as part of its messaging platform. In both cases, neither company held an ICO, but they did use a crypto token to build a community.

Civil, the startup hoping to ‘fix’ media using the blockchain, is holding an ICO that’s open to members of the public. That’s also a community play, as the CVL token will be required to create newsrooms on its platform, and also to interact with them, such as challenging stories written by reporters.

Other technical projects out there are doing the same — focusing squarely on the community they are building for and adopting lower target figures for their ICO fundraising.

The technology space is so vast that there are exceptions, but it is certainly notable that there are relatively few credible projects planning ICOs that include retail investor participation. A report co-authored by PwC shows that the general pace of ICO investing settled in Q2 2018. If you ignore outliers such as Huobi, Telegram and EOS — the $6 billion project that fundraised for a year — then activity has certainly settled down after an explosive 12-months of growth.

Increased stability is likely to mean that the trend of private sales continues. Traditional VCs are launching dedicated crypto funds and those in the crypto space are formalizing investment vehicles of their own, all while the SEC and other regulators across the world intensify their gaze on ICOs. VC capital is likely to play a more pronounced role in funding ICOs than ever before.

That’s not to say that the retail investment phase is over. Speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt last week, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong sketched out his vision of the future in which all company cap tables are “tokenized.”

He foresees retail investors across the world being free to invest in security tokens that operate as a more accessible offshoot to traditional investment systems like the New York Stock Exchange, the NASDAQ etc. Whether that extends to participation in ICOs themselves remains to be seen.

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong believes retail investors have a big future in the crypto market

Disclosure: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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