Coinbase announces USDC Bootstrap Fund to support DeFi projects – gpgmail


Coinbase is announcing a new initiative called the USDC Bootstrap Fund. As the name suggests, the company wants to support developers with a fund composed of USDC tokens.

DeFi, or Decentralized Finance, is a recent trend in the blockchain space. DeFi projects are traditional financial products that you’d expect from a traditional bank, such as lending protocols and derivatives, built on top of a blockchain.

Thanks to the decentralized nature of these protocols, it’s harder to censor them and more people should theoretically be able to access those services.

Going back to Coinbase, the company thinks there’s not enough liquidity for some DeFi protocols. The startup wants to improve that by investing USDC directly in DeFi protocols. Those investments are smart contracts, and returns should be provided by a counterparty, such as a borrower or taker.

In other words, it’ll become much easier to borrow USDC using some DeFi protocols as Coinbase is providing a pool of USDC tokens. Counterparties will have to provide crypto collateral and pay some interest rate.

Coinbase is also announcing its first two investments through the USDC Bootstrap Fund. The company is handing 1 million in USDC to Compound, and 1 million in USDC to dYdX.


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Elliptic banks $23M to shrink crypto risk, eyeing growth in Asia – gpgmail


Crypto means risk. To UK company Elliptic it also means business. The startup has just closed a $23M Series B to step up growth for a crypto risk-management play that involves selling tech and services to help others navigate the choppy darks of cryptocurrencies.

The round was led by financial services and asset management firm SBI Group, a Tokyo-based erstwhile subsidiary of SoftBank . Also joining as a new investor this round is London-based AlbionVC. Existing investors including SignalFire, Octopus Ventures and Santander Innoventures also participated. SBI Group’s Tomoyuki Nii and Ed Lascelles of AlbionVC are also joining Elliptic’s board.

Flush with a sizeable injection of Series B capital, Elliptic is especially targeting business growth at Asia — with a plan to open new offices in Japan and Singapore. It says client revenues in the region have risen 11x over the past two years.

We last spoke to Elliptic back in 2016 when it had just raised a $5M Series A.

The 2013-founded startup began by testing the crypto waters with a storage product before zeroing in on financial compliance as a pain-point worth its time. It went on to develop machine learning tech that screens transactions to identify suspicious patterns and, via them, dubious transactors.

Now it offers an integrated suite of products and services for financial institutions and crypto businesses to screen volumes of crypto-flows that sum to billions of dollars in transactions per day — analyzing them for links to illicit activity such as money laundering, terrorist financing, sanctions evasion, and other financial crimes.

It’s focused on selling anti-money laundering compliance, crypto forensics and cryptocurrency investigation services to the private sector — though has also sold tools direct to law enforcement agencies in the past.

Billions of dollars in financial services terms is of course just a tiny drop in a massive ocean of money movements. And growth in the crypto risk-management space has clearly required more than a little patience, from a startup perspective.

Three years ago Elliptic’s first blockchain analytics product had 10-20 Bitcoin companies as customers. That’s now up to 100+ crypto businesses and financial institutions using its products to shrink their risk of financial crime when dealing with crypto-assets. But the more three than year gap between Elliptic’s Series A and B is notable.

“To date, we’ve focused on product development and assembling the right team as the market has matured. This new funding will help us expand in the right way, namely by making the push into Asia without diluting our focus on the US and EMEA,” says co-founder and CEO James Smith when asked about the gap between financing rounds.

He declines to comment on how far off Elliptic is from achieving breakeven or profitability yet.

“We provide best-in-class transaction monitoring products for crypto-assets, which are trusted by crypto exchanges and financial institutions worldwide,” he adds of its product suite. “Our products are used as key components of larger compliance processes that are designed to minimise money laundering risks.”

With the addition of SBI Group to its investor roster Elliptic gains a strategic partner in Asia to help push what it dubs “bank-grade risk data” at a new wave of established financial institutions it believes are eyeing crypto with growing appetite for risk as larger players wade in.

Larger players like Facebook . Elliptic’s PR name-drops the likes of Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency, Line Corporation’s LINK and central bank digital currencies, as markers of a rise in mainstream attention on crypto assets. And it says Series B funds will be used to accelerate product development to support “an emerging class of asset-backed crypto-assets”.

Regulatory attention on crypto — which has been rising globally for years but looks set to zip up several gears now that Facebook has ripped the curtain off of an ambitious global digital currency plan which also has buy-in from a number of other household tech and fintech names — is another claimed feed in for Elliptic’s business. More crypto implies growing risk.

It also points to the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force’s global regulatory framework for crypto-assets as an example of some of the wider risk-based requirements and now wrapped around those dealing in crypto.

The focus on Asia for business expansion is a measure of relative maturity of interest in opportunities around crypto-assets and localized attention to regulation, according to Smith.

“Revenue growth is certainly very strong in this region. We have been working with customers in Asia for a number of years and have seen first-hand how vibrant their crypto-asset ecosystems are. Countries such as Singapore and Japan have developed clear crypto-asset regulatory frameworks, and businesses based in these countries are serious about meeting their compliance obligations,” he says.

“We have also found that traditional financial institutions in Asia are particularly keen to engage with crypto-assets, and we will be working with them as they take their first steps into this new asset class.”

“We believe that crypto-assets will play an increasingly important role in our everyday lives and are shaping the future of banking. Our investment in Elliptic is a further commitment to this belief and to SBI Holding’s appetite to help build the digital asset-related ecosystem,” adds Yoshitaka Kitao, CEO of the SBI Group, in a supporting statement.

“Elliptic’s pioneering approach is enabling the transparency, integrity, and trust necessary for this vision to become reality. We are seeing a growing demand for their services across our portfolio of crypto-assets related companies and view Elliptic as best-placed to meet this considerable opportunity.”

While Elliptic’s business is focused on reducing the risk for other businesses of inadvertently transacting with criminals using crypto to launder money or otherwise shift assets under the legal radar, the proportion of transactions that such illicit activity represents in the Bitcoin space represents a tiny fraction of overall transactions.

“According to our analysis, approximately $1BN in Bitcoin has been spent on the dark web, so far in 2019, on items ranging from narcotics to stolen credit cards. This represents a very small share of all Bitcoin activity — less than 0.5% of Bitcoin payments over this period,” says Smith.

Not that that diminishes the regulatory risk. Nor, therefore, the business opportunity for Elliptic to sell support services to help others avoid touching the hot stuff.

“Crypto money launderers are continually developing new techniques to cover their tracks — from the use of mixers to transacting in privacy coins such as monero,” Smith adds. “We are also constantly innovating to keep pace with this and help our clients to detect money laundering. For example our work with researchers from MIT and IBM demonstrated the application of deep learning techniques to the identification of illicit crypto-asset transactions.”


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Overstock CEO resigns after ‘deep state’ comments – gpgmail


Overstock .com announced today that CEO Patrick Byrne has resigned from his role as chief executive and board member. Another board member, Jonathan Johnson, will be taking over as Overstock’s interim CEO.

This follows the company’s eyebrow-raising press release earlier this month titled “Overstock.com CEO Comments on Deep State, Withholds Further Comment,” in which Byrne said he was confirming reports by journalist Sara Cater.

“Starting in 2015 I (operating under the belief that I was helping legitimate law enforcement efforts) assisted in what are now known as the ‘Clinton Investigation’ and the ‘Russian Investigation’ (in fact, I am the notorious ‘missing Chapter 1’ of the Russian investigation),” he wrote, going on to say that this was “the third time in my life I helped the Men in Black.”

Byrne and his attorney subsequently said that these comments were tied to his “romantic” relationship with Maria Butina, and that he wanted to shed light on the way federal law enforcement investigated Butina (who’s been accused of working as a Russian agent, and who is currently in prison after pleading guilty to a lesser charge).

Since then, the publicly-traded e-commerce company has seen its stock price tumble.

Today’s announcement also takes the form of a letter from Byrne, in which he said he “came forward in as carefully and well-managed fashion” as he could, but that it’s still had a detrimental effect on the company.

“Though patriotic Americans are writing me in support, my presence may affect and complicate all manner of business relationships, from insurability to strategic discussions regarding our retail business,” Byrne said. “Thus, while I believe that I did what was necessary for the good of the country, for the good of the firm, I am in the sad position of having to sever ties with Overstock, both as CEO and board member, effective Thursday August 22.”

Byrne’s letter ends on an optimistic note about Overstock’s future, pointing to both its retail business and “blockchain assets that seem poised to revolutionize capital markets, finance, and governance for the poor.”

As of 12:51pm Eastern, Overstock shares are up 8.5% since the start of trading.


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Blade raises $4.3M from Coinbase, SV Angel to reshape cryptocurrency derivatives trading – gpgmail


Exchanges like Coinbase have ballooned in size by taking the mechanics of equity markets and fitting them to cryptocurrency markets, but as the space expands in its scope and craftiness, new exchanges trading asset classes native to cryptocurrency are taking off and attracting the attention of top Silicon Valley VCs. Oh, and Coinbase, too.

Blade is a new cryptocurrency derivatives exchange launching in three weeks. Prior to starting the company, CEO Jeff Byun and his co-founder Henry Lee founded OrderAhead, a delivery startup platform that was eventually acquired in-part by Square in 2017. The pair’s newest company shares little in common with their previous venture, but they are bringing aboard some of the same investors to support them.

Blade is announcing that they’ve raised $4.3 million in seed funding from a host of investors, including Coinbase, SV Angel, A.Capital, Slow Ventures, Justin Kan and Adam D’Angelo.

The exchange is tackling perpetual swap contracts.

Perpetuals are a crypto-native trading instrument that Byun says are “arguably the fastest growing segment of cryptocurrency trading.” They allow traders to bet on the future values of cryptocurrencies in relation to another and the instruments have no expiration dates, unlike fixed maturity futures. Traders can bet on how the price of Bitcoin can increase relative to USD, but they can also make bets relative to other altcoins like Monero, DogeCoin, Zcash, Ripple and Binance Coin. Here’s what’s on the Blade menu at the moment.

Blade’s noteworthy spins on perpetuals trading — compared to other exchanges — are that most of the contracts will be set up on simplified vanilla contracts, the perpetuals will also be margined/settled in USD Tether and the company is offering higher leverages (up to 150x on BTC-USD and BTC-KRW) on trades.

Blade is raising funds from Silicon Valley’s VCs, but U.S. investors won’t be legally able to participate in the exchange. U.S. government agencies have been a bit more stringent in regulating cryptocurrencies, so there’s more trading activity taking place on exchanges outside the jurisdiction. Blade itself is an offshore entity with a U.S. subsidiary; its primary market is East Asia.

“It’s kind of a bifurcated market,” Byun tells gpgmail. “Either you have exchanges like Coinbase or Gemini or Bitrex that cater to the U.S. market that are highly regulated or the exchanges that cater to the non-U.S. market that are much less regulated, but that’s where most of the volume is.”

While the company is still three weeks away from launch, the founders have bold ambitions.

“In the long term, we want to be the CME (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) of crypto,” Byun tells me. “Coinbase and Binance are building this foundational structure for crypto, but I think we are too and in a sense that derivatives are at their core about risk transfer, we want to be building the foundational layer for risk transfer in the crypto markets.”


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In a 130-page court filing, Kik claims the SEC’s lawsuit “twists” the facts about its online token – gpgmail


CEO Ted Livingston of Kik

Kik Interactive has hit back at the Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit that claims a $100 million token sale was illegal. The company, which owns Kik Messenger, filed a 130-page response today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that the SEC is “twisting” the facts about its token, called Kin, and asking for an early trial date and dismissal of the complaint.

One of the key issues in the case is if Kin was just an in-app token used to buy games, digital products and other services in Kik Messenger, or if it was meant to be an investment opportunity, as the SEC alleges.

Kik’s general counsel Eileen Lyon said in a press statement that “since Kin is not itself a security, the SEC must show that it was sold in a way that violates the securities laws. The SEC had access to over 50,000 documents and took testimony from nearly 20 witnesses prior to filing its Complaint, yet it is unable to make the case that Kik’s token sale violated the securities laws without bending the facts to distort the record.”

The SEC alleges that the token sale, announced in 2017, came at a time when the company had predicted that it would run out of money after Kik Messenger had been losing money for years, and that it then used proceeds from that sale to build an online marketplace for the app.

In the filing, Kik’s legal team denied that charge, claiming that the SEC’s allegations about its financial condition “is solely designed for misdirection, thereby prejudicing Kik and portraying it in a negative light” and that Kik began working on a cryptocurrency-based model after exploring monetization options that would help it compete against larger techc companies.

They added that “Kik’s Board and Executive Team alike believed that Kin was a bold idea that could solve the monetization challenges faced by all developers (not just Kik) in the existing advertising-based economy, by changing the way people buy and sell digital products and services.”

The SEC also alleges that the sale of digital tokens to U.S. investors was illegal because Kik did not register their offer as required by United States law, even though it claims that Kik marketed Kin as an investment opportunity whose value would increase. In its response, Kik denied that it offered or sold securities, or violated federal securities laws.

In the company’s press statement, Kik CEO Ted Livingston said “The SEC tries to paint a picture that the Kin project was an act of desperation rather than the bold move that it was to win the game, and one that Kakao, Line, Telegram and Facebook have all now followed.”


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BlockFi, which lends money to cryptocurrency holders, just raised $18.3 million led by Valar Ventures – gpgmail


Last year, we told you about a New York-based startup that had begun lending cold, hard, cash to cryptocurrency holders who don’t want to offload their holdings but also don’t necessarily want so much of their assets tied up in cryptocurrencies.

Today, that two-year-old company, BlockFi, is announcing $18.3 million in Series A funding led by Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, with participation from Winklevoss Capital, Morgan Creek Digital, Akuna Capital and earlier backers Galaxy Digital Ventures and ConsenSys Ventures.

Apparently, BlockFi is gaining some traction.

Last year, after raising $1.5 million in seed funding from ConsenSys Ventures, SoFi and Kenetic Capital, it secured $50 million led by Galaxy Digital Ventures (the digital currency and blockchain tech firm founded by famed investor Mike Novogratz) that is used to loan out cash to customers who use their bitcoin and ethereum holdings as collateral.

The minimum deposit required: $20,000 worth of cryptocurrency.

According to founder Zac Prince, who talked with Bloomberg about BlockFi’s newest round, enough people are now using those loans that BlockFi has seen its monthly revenue grow more than 10 times since January.

No doubt the uptick in loans correlates with the rebound in Bitcoin’s value, which was priced as low as $3,400 earlier this year but is now valued at roughly $11,400.

Prince also told the outlet that he expects annual revenue to hit eight figures by the end of this year. In startup land, that means it’s time to roll out new money-making services. BlockFi already introduced a savings account product earlier this year that it says enables investors to earn interest on their assets. They are not backed by the FDIC, though the company says it “operates with a focus on compliance with U.S. laws and regulations.” And while it won’t say exactly what’s coming up next, it says in a statement about the new round more products are being added to its existing platform.

Prince previously spent roughly five years in consumer lending and began investing his own money in crypto in early 2016.

He told us last year that his “lightbulb moment” for the company came as he was in the process of getting a loan for an investment property. Instead of using a traditional bank, he decided to list his crypto holdings to see what would happen, and the response was overwhelming. “I realized that there was no debt or credit outside of [person-to-person] margin lending on a few exchanges, and I had the feeling that this was a big opportunity that I was well-suited to go after.”

Other companies providing crypto-backed loans that are issued in fiat currencies include CoinLoan, SALT Lending, Nexo.io and Celsius Network, among others.


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Apple Card can’t be used to buy crypto – gpgmail


Cryptocurrency fans who were hoping to use Apple’s forthcoming credit card to splash on coin are out of luck. You also won’t be able to use the Apple Card to buy lottery tickets, casino gambling chips in any form, physical or virtual, or foreign currency or travelers checks.

Reuters spotted the detail in a customer agreement posted to Apple Card’s card issuer partner Goldman Sachs’ website which lists restrictions on transactions it describes as “cash advance and cash equivalents”.

The agreement defines these as meaning “any cash advance and other cash-like transaction, including purchases of cash equivalents such as travelers checks, foreign currency, or cryptocurrency; money orders; peer to peer transfers, wire transfers or similar cash-like transactions; lottery tickets, casino gaming chips (whether physical or digital), or race track wagers or similar betting transactions”.

Given the wild swings in crypto valuations the Apple+Goldman credit tie-up saying a firm ‘no’ to cardholders splashing on such shaky stuff is hardly surprising.

Apple announced it was getting into the credit card game back in March, saying the card would offer a 2% cash back incentive for using Apple Pay to make purchases. (The physical version of the Apple Card is slightly less generous vs the digital card.) While if you’re buying stuff direct from Apple there’s 3% cash-back.

There are also no late fees and no penalty rates. Interest rates for Apple Card are in the range of 13-24%, based on the user’s creditworthiness.

As with Apple Pay, there’s a privacy promise too — with a pledge that Apple Card transaction data won’t be sold for advertising or marketing, not by Apple, Goldman or any other partners. Though data may be shared with regulators for financial reporting purposes and so on.

The Apple Card is due to be released in the US next month.


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Blockchain (the company) launches an exchange (The Pit) – gpgmail


The company called Blockchain is mostly known for its cryptocurrency wallet. Today, the company is also launching an exchange so that you can buy and sell cryptocurrencies without going through a third-party exchange.

The company’s exchange is called The Pit and is focused on mainstream adoption and ease of use. It is available in 200 countries with support for a handful of cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies.

When it comes to depositing money in your account, The Pit currently supports USD, EUR and GBP via bank transfers. You can then buy and sell a handful of crypto assets — BTC, ETH, BCH, LTC, USDT and PAX.

Behind the scene, Nicole Sherrod has been heading the product for a year. She worked at TD Ameritrade and E*Trade in the past. And the company has opted for dedicated servers instead of a more traditional public cloud infrastructure, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure.

The startup is waving trading fees for the first 30 days. After that, in addition to spread, you’ll pay 0.24% in taker fees if you trade less than $100,000 per month, and 0.14% in maker fees. Fees get lower after that threshold, but you should probably consider an OTC desk for large transactions.

That’s 0.01 percentage point lower than Coinbase Pro fees, 0.02 percentage point lower than Kraken fees if you trade less than $50,000 per month and on par with Kraken fees if you trade between $50,000-$100,000. Binance fees are lower, but I don’t think The Pit and Binance address the same market.

Integration with Blockchain wallets will foster adoption compared to other companies starting an exchange from scratch. Blockchain users have created 40 million wallet so far. And those users can connect to The Pit using their Blockchain account. The company has developed a new Blockchain Connect API for this feature.

Disclosure: I own small amounts of various cryptocurrencies.


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