Binance will disclose listing fees and donate them to its own charity

The biggest cryptocurrency exchange wants to make its coin listing process a bit less sketchy. In a Medium post on Monday, the company said that moving forward it would disclose fees that arise in the process of getting a coin listed on the exchange and donate all listing fees to charity. Specifically, its own charity: […]

The biggest cryptocurrency exchange wants to make its coin listing process a bit less sketchy.

In a Medium post on Monday, the company said that moving forward it would disclose fees that arise in the process of getting a coin listed on the exchange and donate all listing fees to charity. Specifically, its own charity: Blockchain Charity Foundation, “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of blockchain-enabled philanthropy towards achieving global sustainable development.”

According to the blog post, Binance will allow any team trying to get listed to name its own fee, which the company now calls a “donation.” Binance says that it will not “dictate” that amount nor is there a minimum fee for a project to get listed.

The decision to open up about its listing fees is likely a response to prior accusations that Binance charged as much as $2.6M for projects that sought to get listed. At the time, the company denied those claims, made on Twitter.

While Binance suggested that it will disclose the amount of “donations” moving forward, it’s certainly possible for money to find its way back out of an in-house charitable arm.

“Binance will continue to use the same high standard for the listing review process,” Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao or “CZ” said in the post. “A large donation does not guarantee or in any way influence the outcome of our listing review process.”

Crypto giant Binance looks to the future with fiat trading and a decentralized exchange

Binance, the one-year-old startup that appeared from nowhere to become the world’s top crypto exchange, is making major moves as it enters the next phase of its business. That includes a plan to offer fiat-to-crypto trading in international markets and the release of a decentralized exchange to complement its current trading site. The company routinely […]

Binance, the one-year-old startup that appeared from nowhere to become the world’s top crypto exchange, is making major moves as it enters the next phase of its business. That includes a plan to offer fiat-to-crypto trading in international markets and the release of a decentralized exchange to complement its current trading site.

The company routinely trades more than $1 billion in crypto volumes daily — even in this current bear market — but to date it has only allowed crypto-to-crypto trading. That’s primarily down to the need for regulation in order to offer fiat currency conversation, but that’s set to change.

Speaking at a Coindesk event in Singapore last week, CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao revealed plans to launch a slew of local exchanges offering fiat conversation in markets across the world and he provided further details in an interview with TechCrunch.

“Right now, we are centralized crypto-to-crypto,” Zhao told us. “We don’t offer fiat gateways and so we rely on others to do that. But through discussions with different regulators across the world, we now have those channels. We want to make it easier for fiat currency to get into the crypto world.”

There’s certainly a need for institutional money. Crypto prices are down as much as 55 percent on January’ highs, according to analysis from Bloomberg, so it figures that major players like Binance need the backing of big names and large amounts to reverse the trend. While many in the space say they are happy to see a low price since it drives out less sincere operators, dwindling interest in crypto isn’t ideal for those who get paid by facilitating trades.

Zhao said the plan is to open three fiat exchanges this year with a view to growing the number to 10 in 2019, with “ideally two per continent.” Part of the goal is to help larger, institutional investors bring money into the crypto ecosystem, a move that would help Binance and the rest of the industry, too.

“We want to” reach both retail and institutional investors he added. “Our target has always been more retail focused, but now institutions are coming into crypto and we are seeing that.”

Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao speaks at TechCrunch’s blockchain event in Zug in July 2018 [Image: Daniel Vaiman/Explore To Create]

Already, Binance has opened a joint venture in Lichtenstein, it has announced plans to offer fiat in Malta, and it is working on a launch Singapore. Currently in a limited beta, Zhao said the Singapore-based exchange should go live within the next month after stress testing on areas like KYC, trading flow and scalability is done.

While he didn’t specifically call out other markets that Binance is looking at, he did rule out launching in China, Japan and the U.S, which are three major markets for crypto despite respective legal roadblocks. China banned ICOs and exchanges some time ago, the U.S. has begun cracking down on crypto and Japan has tight licensing around exchanges which, for one thing, imposes regulations on what tokens can be listed on exchanges.

“Japan is progressive on crypto but their exchange regulation is too strict,” Zhao said. “It makes it very hard for exchanges.”

Indeed, it stands to reason that Binance — which once had an office in Tokyo before deciding against operating a local entity — would need to modify its token selection in line with Japanese laws were it to gain a license to operate in Japan. Either way, Zhao doesn’t seem key to reevaluate the country just yet.

Elsewhere, Zhao said he “respects” China’s decision to ban ICOs and exchanges, while he is happy to let others do the heavy lifting in the U.S.

“We are interested in the U.S. but that’s not a top priority and we will probably let the other guys go in first,” he told TechCrunch.

That’s hardly surprising since Binance is one of three exchanges mentioned by in a report by New York attorney general Barbara Underwood who believes they may have violated state trading law. Zhao declined to comment. Either way, it seems like a lot would have to change — either on the U.S. regulation side or Binance’s side — in order for the exchange to operate in the U.S. within the law.

Binance — which has flocked to crypto-friendly nations like Malta and Bermuda instead — said it would open an office in Singapore should the proposed exchange rollout go successfully.

Beyond fiat, the company is also getting closer to launching a decentralized exchange (dex) which would allow buyers and sellers to trade tokens directly without the exchange acting as an intermediatory.

High-profile figures have criticized central exchanges. Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin went so far as to say that they should “burn in hell” for their position controlling asset selection, price and more. Binance seems to be making as much progress as anyone with its dex which, simply because of the company’s market position, could force others to follow suit.

The Binance dex would significantly alter the trading flow as it stands today, but Binance itself — which Zhao told Coindesk made a profit of $350 million over the past six months — would still draw revenue. That’s because the dex would operate on Binance’s own blockchain with the company operating a number of nodes itself. Zhao said that when its nodes are used in transactions, it would gain some of the network fee.

While, equally, the firm stands to profit from increased dex use because that could make Binance’s BNB token more valuable, Zhao argued.

The company recently released a very early demo of the dex — spoiler alert: it is underwhelming — but Zhao said a fully-working service should be available by the end of this year or early 2019 at the latest. The Binance CEO, who once build software for futures trading for Bloomberg, is leading the development of the project.

“Development is going well,” he added. “Our dex is very simple but it’s fast.”

Beyond its exchange business, Binance is also putting itself to work on growing the crypto industry. Earlier this year it announced an investment fund that it said is worth $1 billion and would invest directly into companies and new crypto investment funds, too. It also has aggressive plans to run early-stage accelerator programs across the world to help develop new businesses that support the crypto ecosystem.

Ellie Zhang, who runs the Binance Labs division that manages both projects, candidly told TechCrunch last month that real use cases for blockchain and crypto are crucial if Binance is to “thrive” as a business.

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

Singapore is the crypto sandbox that Asia needs

Singapore Blockchain Week happened this past week. While there have been a few announcements from companies, some of the most interesting updates have come from regulators, and specifically, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). The financial regulator openly discussed its views on cryptocurrency and plans to develop blockchain technology locally. For those who are unfamiliar, Singapore historically […]

Singapore Blockchain Week happened this past week. While there have been a few announcements from companies, some of the most interesting updates have come from regulators, and specifically, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). The financial regulator openly discussed its views on cryptocurrency and plans to develop blockchain technology locally.

For those who are unfamiliar, Singapore historically has been a financial hub in Southeast Asia, but now has also gradually become the crypto hub of Asia. Compared to the rest of Asia and the rest of the world, the regulators in Singapore are well-informed and more transparent about their views on blockchain and cryptocurrency. While regulatory uncertainties still loom over Korea and Japan, in Southeast Asia, the MAS has already released its opinion “A Guide to Digital Token Offering” that illustrates the application of securities laws to digital token offerings and issuances. Singaporean regulators have arguably been pioneering economic and regulatory standards in Asia since the early days of the country’s founding by Lee Kuan Yew in 1965.

Singapore is the first stop for foreign companies in crypto

In the past, I’ve said that Thailand is one of the most interesting countries in crypto in Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, for any Western or foreign company looking to establish a footing in Asia, or even for any local company in any Asian country looking to establish a presence outside of their own country, Singapore should be the first stop. It has become the go-to crypto sandbox of Asia.

There are a number of companies all over Asia, as well as in the West, that have already made moves into the country. And the types of cryptocurrency projects and exchanges that go to Singapore vary widely.

A few months ago, a Korean team called MVL introduced Tada, or the equivalent of “Uber” on the blockchain, in Singapore. Tada is an on-demand car sharing service that utilizes MVL’s technology. The Tada app is built on MVL’s blockchain ecosystem, which is specifically designed to serve the automotive industry, adjacent service industries, and their customers. In this case, MVL was looking to test out its blockchain projects in a progressive, friendly jurisdiction outside of Korea, but still close enough to its headquarters. Singapore fulfilled most of these requirements.

Relatedly, Didi, China’s ride-sharing company, has also looked to build out its own blockchain-based ride-sharing program, called VVgo. VVgo’s launch is pending, and its home is intended to be in Toronto, Singapore, Hong Kong or San Francisco. Given Singapore’s geographic proximity and the transparency of its regulators, it would likely be a good testing ground for Didi as well.

This week, exchanges such as Binance and Upbit from Korea have also announced their plans to enter the Singaporean market. A few days ago, Changpeng ZhaoCEO of Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, announced the launch of a fiat currency exchange that will be based in Singapore. He also mentioned his company’s plan to launch five to ten fiat-to-crypto exchanges in the next year, with ideally two per continent. Dunamu, the parent company of South Korea’s largest crypto exchange Upbit, also just announced the launch of Upbit Singapore, which will be fully operational by October.

The team at Dunamu mentions how they are encouraged by MAS’s attitude towards cryptocurrency regulation and the vision of the country’s government to establish a strong crypto and blockchain sector. They also believe Singapore could be a bridge between Korea and the global cryptocurrency exchange market.

From a high level, the supply of crypto projects and trading volume in Singapore is certainly strong, and the demand also appears abundant. Following China’s ICO ban in late 2017, Singapore has become home to many financial institutions that can serve as potential investors for ICOs.

As recently featured on the China Money Network, Li Dongmei wrote that:

What is supporting such optimism is the quiet preparation of capital on a massive scale getting ready to act the “All In Crypto” mantra. “In recent months, there have been over a thousand foundations being established in Singapore by Chinese nationals,” said Chen Xianhui, an agent specialized in helping Chinese clients to register foundations in Singapore. Most of these newly established foundations are used setting up various token investments funds.

Singapore has become the first choice when crypto companies from both the West and the East are initially scoping out their market strategies in Asia, and companies want an overarching idea of what’s going on in the cryptocurrency world in the region.

In fact, it’s often the case that Southeast Asian crypto companies and leaders gather in Singapore before they go off and do crypto businesses in their own countries. It’s the place for one wants to tap all of the Asian crypto markets in one single physical location. The proof is in the data: in 2017, Singapore ascended to the number three market for ICO issuance based on the number of funds raised, trailing the United States and Switzerland.

Crypto is thriving due to regulator openness

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) takes a very practical approach to crypto. Currently, MAS divides digital tokens into utility tokens, payments tokens, and securities. In Asia, only Singapore and Thailand currently have such detailed classifications.

While speaking at Consensus Singapore this week, Damien Pang, Singapore’s Technology Infrastructure Office under the FinTech & Innovation Group (FTIG), said that “[MAS does] not regulate technology itself but purpose,” when in conversation discussing ICOs in Singapore. “The MAS takes a close look at the characteristics of the tokens, in the past, at the present, and in the future, instead of just the technology built on”.

Additionally, Pang mentioned that MAS does not intend to regulate utility tokens. Nevertheless, they are looking to regulate payment tokens that have a store of value and payment properties by passing a service bill by the end of the year. They are also paying attention to any utility or payment tokens with security features (i.e. a promise of future earnings, which will be regulated as such).

On the technology front, since 2017, Singapore authorities have been looking to use distributed ledger technology to boost the efficiency of settling cross-bank financial transactions. They believe that blockchain technology offers the potential to make trade finance safer and more efficient.

When compared to other Asia crypto hubs like Hong Kong, Seoul, or Shanghai, Singapore can expose one to the Southeast Asia market significantly more. I believe market activity will likely continue to thrive in the region as the country continues to act as the springboard for cryptocurrency companies and investors, and until countries like Korea and Japan establish a clear regulatory stance.

Tokens can better incentivize startup employees than equity

Token structuring and tokeneconomics are among of the most important considerations when designing a blockchain. When thinking about how best to distribute these tokens, founders often think about how the tokens will impact external stakeholders such as their investors, the community, and stakers (people that can mine or validate block transactions according to how many coins […]

Token structuring and tokeneconomics are among of the most important considerations when designing a blockchain. When thinking about how best to distribute these tokens, founders often think about how the tokens will impact external stakeholders such as their investors, the community, and stakers (people that can mine or validate block transactions according to how many coins he or she holds). But token economies are also bringing disruption to organizations internally, especially when it comes to HR and compensation.

If the tokens are structured properly for a blockchain, external stakeholders will be directly aligned with the goal of the project. Those incentives can encourage participation on the blockchain platform and/or drive token demand with community-building and marketing. Similarly, if internal stakeholder incentives are structured correctly, the project could accrue long-term value by motivating employees to work towards the same goal, while reducing adversarial behavior and also bad actors.

For any blockchain company to succeed long-term and scale, it’s inevitable that they need to structure their tokens to retain and reward the best employees sustainably. This is as important it not more important than incentivizing external token holders.

How does an employee look at tokens vs equity? 

Currently, equity in the form of stock options is widely distributed as part of compensation packages amongst startups. When employees join a company, they are usually offered a combination of cash and stock options. The options become a way for the employees to meaningfully participate in a company’s upside should they succeed. Often, employees can negotiate between taking a higher cash comp or higher options amount, depending on their risk appetite.

There are many ways tokens and equity are similar. For one, both assets motivate individuals to align their goals with that of a company’s. If the company becomes more successful, the value of its tokens and equity should theoretically go up. Nonetheless, one of the downsides of stock options is that they usually require a liquidity event for an employee to convert them to paper money. Historically, that was when a company went public and the employee could convert their options into stocks and then sell them in the public markets.

However, in the last decade, with the increasing amount of private capital and subsequent larger private fundraising rounds, companies are taking way longer to IPO. Companies such as Dropbox took eleven years from founding to IPO, while Airbnb has been around ten years and still hasn’t gone public. As a result, private companies started doing option buybacks to provide liquidity for their employees. Simultaneously, this phenomenon has caused the secondary market to thrive in Silicon Valley.

Token liquidity changes the game

One of the largest differences between tokens and equity is that tokens are immediately liquid, assuming that they have already been listed on an exchange. To put simply, equity options only prove their value at the end, whereas tokens have certainty values from the beginning.

Now in cryptocurrency and blockchain companies, employees could get paid in tokens in lieu of equity or cash, primarily outside of the U.S. Many tokens have a liquidity advantage over equity. For example, it can be immediately sold upon reception, assuming that the token has been listed on an exchange and there is enough trading volume.

This is also one of the reasons why exchanges are so important for the cryptocurrency space because 1) it’s one of the easier ways to gauge the value of a company given that the industry has yet to figure out a proper valuation methodology, and 2) it provides immediate liquidity for employees who have been burned by the hopes a billion dollar company not coming to fruition and all the options going to zero.

For an employee looking for a job in a technology-based company, consider two companies that are exactly the same, with the same team quality and same targeted industry, but one company has a token incentive structure instead of an equity incentive structure, and the token is already traded on an exchange. Why would the employee ever want equity? With tokens, you’d still share the upside in the company’s success, but also have immediate liquidity.

Additionally, outside the U.S., often employees can also get paid in tokens or stable coins in lieu of cash to take advantage of tax benefits given the lack of regulatory sophistication. That may change very soon, however. Token structure, therefore, is a disruption to a company’s internal structure and we will share some examples below of how that’s already affecting a number of Chinese crypto companies.

Token incentives will disrupt traditional ways of compensating employees

These changes to employee compensation have already become popular in places like China, where a number of Chinese blockchain companies have started on the foundation of distributing tokens as compensation. Companies like Ontology, NEO, Huobi, and Binance pay their employees in their own tokens. Many of these teams operate worldwide but they are able to manage hundreds of people, often with just a handful of HR staff, through a shared incentive structure.

In the case of Neo, the original founding team, in fact, didn’t have anyone with a computer science background. When they were looking for developers, they would pay tokens to people to do development work for them. For Ontology, it was even more extreme. The founding team initially set up the Ontology Foundation. They didn’t want to hire people, so instead, they listed out a list of things that needed to be developed and paid tokens to all the developers who contributed.

Binance, similarly, paid their employees in tokens. They would then use their quarterly profits to burn tokens, which subsequently boosted the value of the remaining tokens. It is possible that partially due to these effective token incentives, Ontology has been the best performing token this year while Binance continues to hold the lead in the exchange space.

China has taken a lead here compared to the U.S. partially because of regulatory uncertainties, but there are examples in America as well of these changing compensation norms. In the early days of cryptocurrency when it was (even more) wild west, Consensys got started by compensating their employees in tokens until their first legal hire came along. That story is similar to Coinbase, where initially a number of first employees were given the choice of being paid in coins and/or cash.

Token compensation also seems to be particularly powerful incentives for Chinese blockchain companies, more so than their U.S. counterparts. Maomao Hu, Partner at Eigen Capital and CTO of Calculus Network, talks about the psyche of the young generation of Chinese developers: “Being Chinese, Chinese engineers, especially the young ones, have a hunger that you only see in some parts of Silicon Valley, and that’s like everyone. They are just doing 80 hours 100 hour weeks because they hate being poor and they hate not having an opportunity and they don’t have other ways to get an opportunity, and that’s like everyone.”

It may also be that because there have been fewer technology cycles in China, and the rise of the largest technology companies happened only in the last decade, equity compensation remains a relatively new concept to local citizens. With token compensation introduced, this is the first time for many Chinese people to be able to participate in a company’s upside so directly.

Despite their growing popularity, these incentive schemes are still early and experimental, and there are unforeseen risks associated with token issuance as compensation. In particular, the appeal of short-term, quick gains from tokens is ever more attractive. If wrongly incentivized, people could end up spending time hyping up their tokens instead of building product, allowing employees to cash out quickly without producing.

As a result, serious founders of new token-based companies should be aware of such short-sightedness when designing employee token incentives. They can potentially introduce long-term token vesting schedules, and also hire people who care about driving long-term value. For CEOs, this is going to be an increasingly important role they will have to take in the token economy. I’m certain though that the next set of large unicorns will be coming from tech companies with great token incentives structures, in or outside of the U.S.

Crypto exchange Binance buys Trust Wallet in first acquisition deal

Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange based on volume, has made its first acquisition after it snapped up mobile wallet company Trust Wallet. The deal is undisclosed, but Binance confirmed to TechCrunch that the compensation is a mixture of cash, Binance stock and a portion of its BNB token. U.S.-based Trust Wallet will remain independent following the […]

Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange based on volume, has made its first acquisition after it snapped up mobile wallet company Trust Wallet.

The deal is undisclosed, but Binance confirmed to TechCrunch that the compensation is a mixture of cash, Binance stock and a portion of its BNB token. U.S.-based Trust Wallet will remain independent following the deal, but Binance, which is headquartered in Malta these days, will assist running the admin side of the business and in non-technical areas like marketing.

“The Trust Wallet team shares the same values as us and the products are very complementary,” Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao told TechCrunch in an interview. “For users who like to withdraw funds into a wallet now we have a product they can use.

“We plan to keep the app as independent as possible. There will be more features going into it but not so much from a Binance demand perspective. We are like the addition of a godfather for the baby… there’ll be some cooperation,” he added.

Trust Wallet may not be as well known as wallets such as Imtoken, Delta, or Blockfolio, but Zhao called the company a “diamond in the dirt” with “strong technical skills.”

“They haven’t done much marketing which is where we can help. They are strong technically but don’t like doing marketing, HR etc… now merging with us they don’t have to worry about money,” he added.

Money is, indeed, not a huge issue for Binance these days. The company made a profit in the region of $450-$500 million (dependent on token prices) from its first year of operations. That’s according to figures from the company, which uses 20 percent of its quarterly profits to buy back and ‘burn’ its BNB token.

(Left to right) Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao and Trust Wallet founder Viktor Radchenko

Indeed, Trust Wallet did hold an ICO to raise capital but last month it decided to cancel the sale and return money to its investors.

Trust Wallet founder Viktor Radchenko, who is based in Mountain View, told TechCrunch that the decision was about getting back to developing the app and technology.

“I’m a product person and developer. I spend my time thinking about solving problems for the end-user. I never liked dealing with investors and money people, it is so much hassle,” he said. “Having resources will help us grow quicker and so I can focus on adaption for the users that don’t even have wallets.”

Radchenko said he is now setting his sights on growing the team from five developers right now to 10. The app is currently focused on Ethereum and Ethereum-based tokens, but the plan is to add support for other blockchains including Bitcoin, EOS, NEO.

Trust Wallet will also be one of a number default wallets supported by Binance’s upcoming decentralized exchange, which will remove the shackles of a decentralized exchange and allow users to trade directly with one another. Zhao said the highly-anticipated project is in “active development” although he was hesitant to put a date on when it will be ready.

This Trust Wallet deal is likely the first of many strategic acquisitions for Binance. The company announced plans for a $1 billion fund this summer, and Zhao said that the intention is to make 10-20 investments per year but also augment that with three to four strategic.

“We’re looking for strong tech teams,” he explained. “Acquisition will be a very key component to continuing to grow and contributing to this industry.”

Zhao said that Binance had considered buying companies to accelerate the development of its decentralized exchange, but it wasn’t able to identify the right match.

“Our requirements are very specific, we are looking for speed, there’s no need for fancy smart contracts,” he explained. “We didn’t find the right match for an acquisition [but are] still very open to someone who makes an ultra-fast blockchain.”

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