Blockchain media startup Civil is issuing full refunds to all buyers of its cryptocurrency

Many doubted The Civil Media Company’s ambitious plan to sell $8 million worth of its cryptocurrency, called CVL. The skeptics, as it turns out, were right.

Many doubted The Civil Media Company‘s ambitious plan to sell $8 million worth of its cryptocurrency, called CVL. 

The skeptics, as it turns out, were right. Civil’s initial coin offering, meant to fund the company’s effort to create a new economy for journalism using the blockchain, failed to attract sufficient interest. The company announced today that it would provide refunds to all CVL token buyers by October 29.

Civil’s goal was to sell 34 million CVL tokens for between $8 million and $24 million. The sale began on September 18 and concluded yesterday. Ultimately, 1,012 buyers purchased $1,435,491 worth of CVL tokens. A spokesperson for Civil told TechCrunch an additional 1,738 buyers successfully registered for the sale, but never completed their transaction.

Civil isn’t giving up. The company says “a new, much simpler token sale is in the works,” details of which will be shared soon. Once those new tokens are distributed, Civil will launch three new features: a blockchain-publishing plugin for WordPress, a community governance application called The Civil Registry and a developer tool for non-blockchain developers to build apps on Civil.

ConsenSys, a blockchain venture studio that invested $5 million in Civil last fall, has agreed to purchase $3.5 million worth of those new tokens. The purchase is not an equity; all capital from the token sale is committed to the Civil Foundation, an independent nonprofit initially funded by Civil that funds grants to the newsrooms in Civil’s network.

In a blog post today, Civil chief executive officer Matthew Iles wrote that the token sale failure was a disappointment but not a shock. Days prior, he’d authored a separate post where he admitted things weren’t looking good.

“This isn’t how we saw this going,” Iles wrote. “The numbers will show clearly enough that we are not where we wanted to be at this point in the sale when we started out. But one thing we want to say at the top is that until the clock strikes midnight on Monday, we are still working nonstop on the goal of making our soft cap of $8 million.”

A recent Wall Street Journal report claimed Civil had reached out to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Dow Jones and Axios, among others, but failed to incite interest in its token.

Separate from its token sale, Civil has inked strategic partnerships with media companies like the Associated Press and Forbes, both of which confirmed to TechCrunch today that the failed token sale doesn’t impact their partnerships with Civil. 

Forbes became the first major media brand to test Civil’s technology when it announced earlier this month that it would experiment with publishing content to the Civil platform. As for the AP, it granted the newsrooms in Civil’s network licenses to its content. 

Civil, of course, isn’t the only blockchain startup targeting journalism. Nwzer, Userfeeds, Factmata and Po.et, which was founded by Jarrod Dicker, a former vice president at The Washington Post, are all trying their hand at bringing the new technology to the content industry.

Which, if any, will actually find success in the complicated space, is the question.

Gartner picks digital ethics and privacy as a strategic trend for 2019

Analyst Gartner, best known for crunching device marketshare data; charting technology hype cycles; and churning out predictive listicles of emergent capabilities at software’s cutting edge has now put businesses on watch that as well as dabbling in the usual crop of nascent technologies organizations need to be thinking about wider impacts next year — on both […]

Analyst Gartner, best known for crunching device marketshare data; charting technology hype cycles; and churning out predictive listicles of emergent capabilities at software’s cutting edge has now put businesses on watch that as well as dabbling in the usual crop of nascent technologies organizations need to be thinking about wider impacts next year — on both individuals and society.

Call it a sign of the times but digital ethics and privacy has been named as one of Gartner’s top ten strategic technology trends for 2019. That, my friends, is progress of a sort. Albeit, it also underlines how low certain tech industry practices have sunk that ethics and privacy is suddenly making a cutting-edge trend agenda, a couple of decades into the mainstream consumer Internet.

The analyst’s top picks do include plenty of techie stuff too, of course. Yes blockchain is in there. Alongside the usual string of caveats that the “technologies and concepts are immature, poorly understood and unproven in mission-critical, at-scale business operations”.

So too, on the software development side, is AI-driven development — with the analyst sneaking a look beyond the immediate future to an un-date-stamped new age of the ‘non-techie techie’ (aka the “citizen application developer”) it sees coming down the pipe, when everyone will be a pro app dev thanks to AI-driven tools automatically generating the necessary models. But that’s definitely not happening in 2019.

See also: Augmented analytics eventually (em)powering “citizen data science”.

On the hardware front, Gartner uses the umbrella moniker of autonomous things to bundle the likes of drones, autonomous vehicles and robots in one big mechanical huddle — spying a trend of embodied AIs that “automate functions previously performed by humans” and work in swarming concert. Again, though, don’t expect too much of these bots quite yet — collectively, or, well, individually either.

It’s also bundling AR, VR and MR (aka the mixed reality of eyewear like Magic Leap One or Microsoft’s Hololens) into immersive experiences — in which “the spaces that surround us define ‘the computer’ rather than the individual devices. In effect, the environment is the computer” — so you can see what it’s spying there.

On the hardcore cutting edge of tech there’s quantum computing to continue to tantalize with its fantastically potent future potential. This tech, Gartner suggests, could be used to “model molecular interactions at atomic levels to accelerate time to market for new cancer-treating drugs” — albeit, once again, there’s absolutely no timeline suggested. And QC remains firmly lodged in an “emerging state”.

One nearer-term tech trend is dubbed the empowered edge, with Gartner noting that rising numbers of connected devices are driving processing back towards the end-user — to reduce latency and traffic. Distributed servers working as part of the cloud services mix is the idea, supported, over the longer term, by maturing 5G networks. Albeit, again, 5G hasn’t been deployed at any scale yet. Though some rollouts are scheduled for 2019.

Connected devices also feature in Gartner’s picks of smart spaces (aka sensor-laden places like smart cities, the ‘smart home’ or digital workplaces — where “people, processes, services and things” come together to create “a more immersive, interactive and automated experience”); and so-called digital twins; which isn’t as immediately bodysnatcherish as it first sounds, though does refer to “digital representation of a real-world entity or system” driven by an estimated 20BN connected sensors/endpoints which it reckons will be in the wild by 2020

But what really stands out in Gartner’s list of developing and/or barely emergent strategic tech trends is digital ethics and privacy — given the concept is not reliant on any particular technology underpinning it; yet is being (essentially) characterized as an emergent property of other already deployed (but unnamed) technologies. So is actually in play — in a way that others on the list aren’t yet (or aren’t at the same mass scale).

The analyst dubs digital ethics and privacy a “growing concern for individuals, organisations and governments”, writing: “People are increasingly concerned about how their personal information is being used by organisations in both the public and private sector, and the backlash will only increase for organisations that are not proactively addressing these concerns.”

Yes, people are increasingly concerned about privacy. Though ethics and privacy are hardly new concepts (or indeed new discussion topics). So the key point is really the strategic obfuscation of issues that people do in fact care an awful lot about, via the selective and non-transparent application of various behind-the-scenes technologies up to now — as engineers have gone about collecting and using people’s data without telling them how, why and what they’re actually doing with it.

Therefore, the key issue is about the abuse of trust that has been an inherent and seemingly foundational principle of the application of far too much cutting edge technology up to now. Especially, of course, in the adtech sphere.

And which, as Gartner now notes, is coming home to roost for the industry — via people’s “growing concern” about what’s being done to them via their data. (For “individuals, organisations and governments” you can really just substitute ‘society’ in general.)

Technology development done in a vacuum with little or no consideration for societal impacts is therefore itself the catalyst for the accelerated concern about digital ethics and privacy that Gartner is here identifying rising into strategic view.

It didn’t have to be that way though. Unlike ‘blockchain’ or ‘digital twins’, ethics and privacy are not at all new concepts. They’ve been discussion topics for philosophers and moralists for scores of generations and, literally, thousands of years. Which makes engineering without consideration of human and societal impacts a very spectacular and stupid failure indeed.

And now Gartner is having to lecture organizations on the importance of building trust. Which is kind of incredible to see, set alongside bleeding edge science like quantum computing. Yet here we seemingly are in kindergarten…

It writes: “Any discussion on privacy must be grounded in the broader topic of digital ethics and the trust of your customers, constituents and employees. While privacy and security are foundational components in building trust, trust is actually about more than just these components. Trust is the acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation. Ultimately an organisation’s position on privacy must be driven by its broader position on ethics and trust. Shifting from privacy to ethics moves the conversation beyond ‘are we compliant’ toward ‘are we doing the right thing.”

The other unique thing about digital ethics and privacy is that it cuts right across all other technology areas in this trend list.

You can — and should — rightly ask what does blockchain mean for privacy? Or quantum computing for ethics? How could the empowered edge be used to enhance privacy? And how might smart spaces erode it? How can we ensure ethics get baked into AI-driven development from the get-go? How could augmented analytics help society as a whole — but which individuals might it harm? And so the questions go on.

Or at least they should go on. You should never stop asking questions where ethics and privacy are concerned. Not asking questions was the great strategic fuck-up condensed into Facebook’s ‘move fast and break things’ anti-humanitarian manifesto of yore. Y’know, the motto it had to ditch after it realized that breaking all the things didn’t scale.

Because apparently no one at the company had thought to ask how breaking everyone’s stuff would help it engender trust. And so claiming compliance without trust, as Facebook now finds itself trying to, really is the archetypal Sisyphean struggle.

With Cred partnership, PwC wants to help make stablecoins legit

Audit giant PwC is the latest mainstream firm to show new interest in digital currencies. This week it announced a partnership with decentralized lending platform Cred to advise on better standards for stablecoins. While details of the partnership are light, Cred is working on its own stablecoin tied to the U.S. dollar, and is hoping to avoid […]

Audit giant PwC is the latest mainstream firm to show new interest in digital currencies. This week it announced a partnership with decentralized lending platform Cred to advise on better standards for stablecoins.

While details of the partnership are light, Cred is working on its own stablecoin tied to the U.S. dollar, and is hoping to avoid the mistakes of certain competitors by ensuring confidence in its operations from the ground up.

PwC’s overall interest here is to build broader trust so it can help millions of new users gain digital assets — and presumably create new revenue streams for its global professional services business in the process.

Like IBM and other companies large and small that are looking at stablecoins today, PwC is attracted to the blend of traditional and new monetary systems. Stablecoins are digital currencies pegged to a stable asset, such as gold or fiat currencies, or backed by collateral (that could also be a cryptocurrency); the arrangement is analogous to how some countries peg their national currencies to the dollar.

“Many investors are looking for crypto assets that can be pegged to a stable fiat currency such as the US dollar,” PwC and Cred said in the announcement. “But these assets require a reserve ledger built for decentralized assets, that can provide 100% transparency and value substantiation. PwC’s experience will provide valuable perspective on how standards can be enhanced to facilitate a more transparent set of reserve functions, stablecoins and deposit and yield products.”

PwC did not comment when we asked whether it has explored partnerships with other stablecoins, nor did it comment on the profile of customers that are looking to adopt these consulting solutions.

Today, stablecoin adoption and real-world implementation are still in the early stages. Despite more stablecoins getting introduced this year, there has not yet been any set of standards established for the space. Some stablecoins that have tried to go through traditional procedures, such as reserve auditing processes, have gone awry thus far, most famously Tether.

Still, optimism seems to be growing. Stablecoins have been in development for some time in the U.S., with multiple companies raising large sums of money to create a price-stable coin since early this year, including Carbon, MakerDAO and TrustToken. The company Basis appears to have raised the most to date, in a whopping $133 million round from top venture firms and financiers announced six months ago.

So far, stablecoin project teams have generally been heads-down developing detailed mechanics of their own coins, and they have been independently working with regulators to ascertain the future of stablecoins and their role in it.

Hence the lack of standardization. In most of the stablecoin teams’ mind, there should be only one or just a few stablecoin winners that could capture most of the mind share, and create products and an ecosystem that uses its cryptocurrency. This creates an invisible divide in the ecosystem, with the coins and tokens all trying to outcompete each other.

One outlier in the market has been USDT, a widely tradable stablecoin created by Tether, a company run by the same executives behind the exchange BitFinex’ed. Tether has been criticized for its failure to prove that the reserve has enough USD to back its digital currency on a one-to-one ratio, which it promises for its dollar-pegged cryptocurrency.

Among other issues this year, Tether “dissolved” its relationship with its first auditors, Friedman LLP, without an audit ever being completed. It then commissioned a law firm, not an auditor, to review its reserve balances. The result was its proof of funds’ “transparency update” highlighting that it should not be construed as the results of an audit. For more details, check out TechCrunch’s writeup back in August.

Meanwhile, PwC is just one of the traditional parties hoping to clean up stablecoins for mass adoption.

IBM most recently announced its exploration into stablecoins through a collaboration with Stellar by building a stablecoin on the Stellar blockchain. Additionally, a number of stablecoins have come out in the last few months, from the crypto exchange Gemini issuing the Gemini Dollar and financial blockchain solution Paxos issuing the Paxos Standard. There are also other stablecoins such as Terra, which is looking to implement a stablecoin through e-commerce.

Cred, for its part, has already been busy laying a strong foundation. It is founded by former PayPal financial technology veterans, with the mission to harness the power of blockchain to allow everyone to benefit from low-cost credit products. The team at Cred did not comment on whether they have worked with a consulting partner before, but they are currently in conversation with other consulting firms.

Cred is also the founding member of the UP Alliance, consisting of Uphold, Cred, Blockchain at Berkeley and Brave. Earlier this year, the Alliance announced a universal transparent reserve and custody standard that introduces what it calls “proxy” digital assets to the world, via the Universal Protocol Platform.

Given that cryptocurrency price volatility continues to be an obstacle for institutions looking to adopt the technology, it is likely that other financial and consulting institutions will turn to stablecoins as a way to support their existing customers and bring in interested new customers.

Origin launches protocol for building cheaper decentralized Ubers & Airbnbs

The sharing economy ends up sharing a ton of labor’s earnings with middlemen like Uber and Airbnb . $38 million-funded Origin wants the next great two-sided marketplace to be decentralized on the blockchain so drivers and riders or hosts and guests can connect directly and avoid paying steep fees that can range up to 20 […]

The sharing economy ends up sharing a ton of labor’s earnings with middlemen like Uber and Airbnb . $38 million-funded Origin wants the next great two-sided marketplace to be decentralized on the blockchain so drivers and riders or hosts and guests can connect directly and avoid paying steep fees that can range up to 20 percent or higher. So today Origin launches its decentralized marketplace protocol on the Ethererum mainnet that replaces a central business that connects users and vendors with a smart contract.

“Marketplaces don’t redistribute the profits they make to members. They accrue to founders and venture capitalists” Origin co-founder Matt Lie, who was the third product manager at YouTube. “Building these decentralized marketplaces, we want to make them peer-to-peer, not peer-to-corporate-monopoly-to-peer.” When people transact through Origin, it plans to issue them tokens that will let them participate in the governance of the protocol, and could incentivize them to get on these marketplaces early as well as convince others to use them.

Origin’s in-house marketplace DApp

Today’s mainnet beta sees Origin offering its own basic decentralized app that operates like a Craigslist on the blockchain. Users can create profile, connect their ethereum wallet through services like MetaMask, browse product and service listings, message each other to arrange transactions through smart contracts with no extra fees, leave reviews, and appeal disputes to Origin’s in-house arbitrators.

Eventually with the Origin protocol, developers will be able to quickly build their own sub-marketplaces for specific services like dog walking, house cleaning, ride sharing, and more. These developers can opt to charge fees, though Origin hopes the cost-savings from its blockchain platform will let them undercut non-blockchain services. And vendors can offer a commission to any marketplace that gets their listing matched/sold.

It might be years before the necessary infrastructure like login systems and simple wallets make it easy for developers and mainstream users to build and adopt DApps built on Origin. But it has plenty of runway thanks to $3 million in seed token sale funding from Pantera Capital, $6.6 million raised through a Coinlist token sale, plus $26.4 million in traditional venture funding from Pantera Capital, Foundation Capital, Garry Tan, Alexis Ohanian, Gil Penchina, Kamal Ravikant, Steve Jang, and Randall Kaplan.

“Marketplaces are at the core of what makes the internet so valuable and useful and the Origin team has one of the most promising blockchain platforms for the new sharing economy — with currency baked in — this could be really disruptive (and one of the best utilizations of the ethereum blockchain)” says Ohanian, the Reddit and Initialized Capital co-founder.

Liu and co-founder Josh Fraser came up with the idea after trying to imagine the downstream effects of Ethereum. Liu recalls thinking, “What if we could replace dozens of multi-million and multi-billion dollar companies with open source protocols that aren’t owned or controlled by anyone?”

Origin co-founders (from left): Matthew Liu and Josh Fraser

So why would marketplaces want to build on Origin instead of creating their own blockchain or traditional proprietary system? Fraser tells me smart contracts can save money, but that “these individual pieces are incredibly difficult to build” so he sees Origin as “analogous to Stripe — able to abstract away all the friction of building on the blockchain.” 40 marketplaces have already signed letters of intent to build on the protocol.

If Origin reaches critical mass, it could also benefit from the concept of shared network effect. Users only have to sign up once, and can then interact with any marketplace built on Origin. That means new marketplaces the builds on the protocol instantly has a registered user base.

Origin will face some stiff challenges, though. There’ll be a chicken-and-egg problem of getting the first marketplaces signed up before there are users on its self-sovereign identity platform, or geting those users aboard when there’s little for them to do. Liu admits that timing is the startup’s biggest threat. “We believe that decentralized marketplaces are inevitable, but a lot of smart people seem to think we’re too early and that we should be focused on building lower-level infrastructure instead” the co-founder says. For us, we’d rather be too early than too late.”

There’s also the trouble of leaving actors in a capitalist system to treat each other properly without a centralized authority. If an Uber driver treats you terribly, you can complain and get them kicked off the platform. Even with Origin’s review system, abusers of the system may be able to continue operating. It’s easy to imagine its arbitration service becoming completely overwhelmed with disputes. Luckily, Origin has made some strong hires to tackle these challenges, including Yu Pan who it says was a PayPal co-founder, former head of Dropbox’s NYC engineering tream Cuong Du, and Franck Chastagnol who previously led engineering teams at Paypal, YouTube, Google, and Dropbox.

Origin’s success will all come down to usability. Your average Uber driver or Airbnb host is no blockchain expert. They vend through those apps because it’s easy. Those centralized organizations are also highly incentivized to fulfill transactions quickly and smoothly in ways prohibited by eliminating fees. Origin will have to effectively make the blockchain aspects of its service disappear so all users and vendors know is that they’re paying less or earning more.

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 […]

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.

Overstock’s investment arm funded blockchain for wine

Of all the things to add to the blockchain, wine makes a lot of sense. Given the need for provenance for every grape and barrel, it’s clear that the ancient industry could use a way to track ingredients from farm to glass. VinX, an Israeli company founded by Jacob Ner-david, is ready to give it […]

Of all the things to add to the blockchain, wine makes a lot of sense. Given the need for provenance for every grape and barrel, it’s clear that the ancient industry could use a way to track ingredients from farm to glass. VinX, an Israeli company founded by Jacob Ner-david, is ready to give it a try.

According to a release, the plan is to create a “token-based digital wine futures platform based on the Bordeaux futures model” that lets you track wine from end to end “at a cost bearable to the industry.”

Investment banker Gil Picovsky joined Ner-david to build out the service.

“I was relating to Gil my frustrations with the way most wine is sold, and I had some early thoughts around using blockchain and tokens to radically remake the wine industry,” said Ner-david. “Together Gil and I developed the core concepts of VinX, and started to actively devote ourselves full time to VinX in November 2017.”

“VinX is democratizing the capital structure of the wine industry by bringing consumers in direct contact with producers early in the wine-making cycle,” said Ner-david. “We are riding the wave of direct-to-consumer. In addition, because we are registering all wine futures as tokens on a blockchain, we are bringing a powerful validating force that will go a long way toward reducing fraud.”

Overstock’s investment arm, Medici Ventures, is not reporting how much cash they are dumping into VinX but the company claims that “it is a seven-figure investment.”

The tool will help reduce the rate of fakery in winemaking. Experts estimate that 20 percent of all wine in the world is counterfeit. VinX will follow individual bottles from filling to drinking, ensuring a bottle is real.

Ner-david is also the co-founder of Jezreel Valley Winery, a boutique winery in Israel.

“We want to use modern technologies, including blockchain and tokening assets, in bringing consumers in direct contact with wineries around the world, humanizing the connection, and leaving more value in the hands of wineries and wine lovers,” he said.

Overstock’s investment arm funded blockchain for wine

Of all the things to add to the blockchain, wine makes a lot of sense. Given the need for provenance for every grape and barrel, it’s clear that the ancient industry could use a way to track ingredients from farm to glass. VinX, an Israeli company founded by Jacob Ner-david, is ready to give it […]

Of all the things to add to the blockchain, wine makes a lot of sense. Given the need for provenance for every grape and barrel, it’s clear that the ancient industry could use a way to track ingredients from farm to glass. VinX, an Israeli company founded by Jacob Ner-david, is ready to give it a try.

According to a release, the plan is to create a “token-based digital wine futures platform based on the Bordeaux futures model” that lets you track wine from end to end “at a cost bearable to the industry.”

Investment banker Gil Picovsky joined Ner-david to build out the service.

“I was relating to Gil my frustrations with the way most wine is sold, and I had some early thoughts around using blockchain and tokens to radically remake the wine industry,” said Ner-david. “Together Gil and I developed the core concepts of VinX, and started to actively devote ourselves full time to VinX in November 2017.”

“VinX is democratizing the capital structure of the wine industry by bringing consumers in direct contact with producers early in the wine-making cycle,” said Ner-david. “We are riding the wave of direct-to-consumer. In addition, because we are registering all wine futures as tokens on a blockchain, we are bringing a powerful validating force that will go a long way toward reducing fraud.”

Overstock’s investment arm, Medici Ventures, is not reporting how much cash they are dumping into VinX but the company claims that “it is a seven-figure investment.”

The tool will help reduce the rate of fakery in winemaking. Experts estimate that 20 percent of all wine in the world is counterfeit. VinX will follow individual bottles from filling to drinking, ensuring a bottle is real.

Ner-david is also the co-founder of Jezreel Valley Winery, a boutique winery in Israel.

“We want to use modern technologies, including blockchain and tokening assets, in bringing consumers in direct contact with wineries around the world, humanizing the connection, and leaving more value in the hands of wineries and wine lovers,” he said.

Circle Invest lets you buy cryptocurrency collections

With Circle Invest, Circle has been trying to make it as easy as possible to get started with cryptocurrency trading. And the company wants to go one step further with collections of multiple tokens. When it first launched, Circle Invest was pretty straightforward. You could download an app, sign up and buy Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, […]

With Circle Invest, Circle has been trying to make it as easy as possible to get started with cryptocurrency trading. And the company wants to go one step further with collections of multiple tokens.

When it first launched, Circle Invest was pretty straightforward. You could download an app, sign up and buy Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic and Litecoin in just a few taps.

But the company then started adding more coins. And if you’re new to the cryptocurrency industry, it’s hard to understand the difference between Ethereum and Ethereum Classic if you weren’t looking at the market when the fork happened.

That’s why Circle introduced a feature called “buy the market”. In one tap, you can buy all the coins on Circle Invest, weighted depending on their respective market capitalization. For instance, the total market capitalization of Bitcoin is much higher than the market cap of Monero. So you’ll end up with a lot of bitcoins.

30 percent of Circle Invest users are using this feature. People who buy this package probably don’t invest as much as users who build their own portfolio, so it might not be 30 percent of Circle Invest’s transaction volume.

Coinbase recently introduced a similar feature called bundles. In just a few taps, you can purchase all the coins on Coinbase. Of course, both Coinbase and Circle Invest provide a limited selection of coins. But it’s clear that they both want to list more assets in the future.

With collections, you can buy a subset of the tokens available on Circle Invest. There are three packages for now — Platforms, Payments and Privacy. For instance, you’ll find Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Stellar and Litecoin in the Payments collection. Once again, collections are weighted by market cap.

AI accelerator Zeroth bags investment from digital media firm Animoca

Asia-based accelerator program Zeroth is getting a major infusion of capital after digital media company Animoca Brands agreed to invest over $3 million into its businesses. Animoca is listed on the ASX with a market cap of around $40 million. It is best known for its range of mobile games which include the Doraemon and Garfield […]

Asia-based accelerator program Zeroth is getting a major infusion of capital after digital media company Animoca Brands agreed to invest over $3 million into its businesses.

Animoca is listed on the ASX with a market cap of around $40 million. It is best known for its range of mobile games which include the Doraemon and Garfield brands but it has been pushing to broaden its focus into artificial intelligence, blockchain and more.

The relationship is not new. Animoca previously invested US$1 million (A$1.39 million) in Hong Kong-based Zeroth last December, and now it is following up to take a majority stake in Zeroth’s operational business and also joining its fund as an LP.

According to an announcement, Animoca is paying up to US$1.08 million (A$1.5 million) for a 67 percent share of Venture Classic Limited — Zeroth’s operational business — in addition to a $2 million commitment to Zeroth’s fund, which it will join as an LP.

Zeroth founder Tak Lo played down suggestions that the deal constitutes an acquisition, telling TechCrunch that the deal represents an important addition of capital and know-how for the business.

He added that the program will continue to operate independently and there are plans to expand its scope and geographical focus, although he declined to provide more details. He added that the Zeroth fund remains wholly owned.

Zeroth has graduated 33 companies from three batches to date, taking an average of 6 percent equity. Some has gone on to raise from other investors, including Fano Labs (which is now Accosys) which raised from Horizons Ventures, the VC firm founded by Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-Shing.

Animoca has also been a part of the program. Its OliveX health and fitness spinout graduated Zeroth before going on to raise funding of its own.

“We were impressed by Zeroth’s rise to one of the most influential AI accelerators in Asia as well as a major investor in blockchain,” Yat Siu, co-founder and chairman of Animoca Brands said in a statement. “As Animoca Brands continues to expand its AI and blockchain initiatives, Zeroth provides us with an excellent strategic match, invaluable resources, and access to high-potential ventures and technologies.”

It’ll certainly be interesting to observe how Zeroth, which was founded 18 months ago, will continue with a third-party closely involved. Animoca has been a part of the business for some time, and TechCrunch understands that Lo and his team are talking to other prospective LPs who are likely to come on board soon to give more balance and capital.

How a Ugandan prince and a crypto startup are planning an African revolution

Crypto and blockchain enthusiasts have been railing for years against the centralized world of banks, but many have been doing so from the privileged vantage point of developed countries. But what if blockchain technology turned out to be most revolutionary in emerging economies?

Crypto and blockchain enthusiasts have been railing for years against the centralized world of banks, but many have been doing so from the privileged vantage point of developed countries. But what if blockchain technology turned out to be most revolutionary in emerging economies?

Take Africa for instance. Consumers in those countries became so frustrated with the banking fees imposed on their transactions every time they wanted to merely top up their mobile airtime, that airtime minutes alone actually became a form of money. Banking in the way it’s been developed for the developed world simply does not work when a transaction to top up a phone can cost more than the airtime itself.

South African-based startup Wala realized this early on. It developed a smartphone app that acted like a wallet, facilitating customer transactions via the app with existing banking infrastructures. But the high banking fees for nearly every function was hurting Wala’s customer base and the company’s early business model as a mobile wallet for the smartphone generation.

They needed a zero-fee solution, but the existing financial system just didn’t work. That’s when they realized they could switch to a cryptocurrency and allow payments across a peer-to-peer network for merchants, offering airtime, data, electricity bills — even the ability to pay school fees.

Today Wala, which raised $1.2 million selling Ethereum-based “$DALA” tokens in an initial coin offering (ICO) in December last year, is facilitating thousands of transactions in daily accounts across Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa, with most of those as micropayments under $1.

Since the launch of their $DALA currency in May 2018 (currently accessible through the Wala mobile application), more than 100,000 $DALA wallets have been opened and more than 2.5 million $DALA transactions have been processed, says the company. The multi-chain crypto asset — at least right now — uses Ether for the wallet and Stellar for transactions, though it is not locked to any one platform.

Through $DALA protocols (Kopa, Soko and Kazi), consumers have access to borderless, low cost, efficient and unique financial services enabling them to earn, save, borrow and transact in a new, decentralized, financial system.

But Wala does not plan to stop there.

Today, Dala, announced it has partnered with a gigawatt-scale solar program for Uganda to create a blockchain-enabled clean energy economy.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

Long-time energy company CleanPath Emerging Markets Uganda (CPEM) is partnering on the project with the Ugandan government and the Ugandan Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, which will mean Ugandans are able to buy solar energy from this massive new infrastructure project using $DALA.

CPEM will use the DALA blockchain platform to manage its ledger, its vendor contracts and its partner commitments. The company has more than 11,000 MWs of renewable energy experience already under its belt.

The $1.5 billion program aims to create a new clean energy economy in Uganda, not only creating employment and kick-starting a clean energy economy but new economic development in Uganda. Ugandan consumers will be able to buy solar power in $DALA, workers can be paid in $DALA and the program will even run on $DALA.

Tricia Martinez, Wala co-founder and CEO, told me at the recent Pathfounder event in Oslo: “The numbers we’ve seen since the launch of $DALA have been staggering, and a large portion of our current users are Ugandan, so this partnership is a natural next step to allow users the opportunity to further benefit from using $DALA. The high level of user traffic also shows us that Ugandans are ready to use crypto assets in their day-to-day transactions.”

But the story wouldn’t have come about without an enlightened African prince who could have stepped straight out of the mythical kingdom of Wakanda, as featured in the recent smash-hit movie Black Panther.

For the founder of CPEM is Prince Kudra Kalema of the Bugandan Kingdom (a Ugandan royal family), whose ancestry goes back to at least the 14th century. Buganda is now a kingdom monarchy with a large degree of autonomy from the Ugandan state.

“We’re truly excited about this program and our partnership with Dala”, says Prince Kudra Kalema of the Buganda Kingdom, who is also managing partner and co-founder at CPEM. “By providing Ugandans with an opportunity to access clean energy through $DALA, we’re fostering a more inclusive decentralized financial system not possible with legacy technologies.”

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Prince Kalema told me: “My family considers itself to be the custodian of the land, and I have been searching for about a decade to find solutions that would improve the country. But what could we work on when people couldn’t even switch their lights on?”

It became obvious to him that the biggest issue was affordable electricity. And to do it in a renewable way. And it had to be solar. Microgrids turned out not to be the solution. And it had to be at scale.

But the question is, why did he hit on cryptocurrency?

“We began using the $DALA protocol because it became very clear that the financial structure in Uganda was not adequate. It was clear we needed something. There is no way the Uganda shilling is stable enough for the type of program we are doing. Wala was already invested in the same country and wasn’t just about the idea of a running a crypto coin in an emerging market, but was also about creating the best type of financial institutions for the country. That goes hand in hand with what we are doing. It became a no-brainer.”

“Ugandans are saying that what we have right now does not work.” — Prince Kudra Kalema

He says the $DALA crypto combined with his solar project will be much easier to run in Uganda than in countries like the U.S.: “Over 80 percent of Ugandans are under 35, and very well-educated. I don’t like the term leap-frogging, but this is what this is. They don’t have to unlearn anything that was there before. They are eager to figure out and learn about a solution that will help them. When you look at how quickly mobile money was adopted by Ugandans — it became powerful not because it was imposed but because people yearned for it. Ugandans are saying that what we have right now does not work. The banking transaction fees, the cost of remittances… — it’s difficult for them to be enthusiastic about something they know doesn’t work already.”

Uganda continues to be a market hungry to adopt new technology, and the recent announcement that Binance is launching a fiat to crypto exchange in the country is a recent example of this.

He added: “Uganda has always been at the forefront of these types of things. Even before we were a protectorate of the British Empire, Uganda was part of the region where people would travel to find out how to deal with things in Africa. We had an intricate tribal system. The British didn’t invade, they made it a protectorate because of this.”

The details of the plan are ambitious. Prince Kalema’s CPEM plans to create a gigawatt-scale solar power development program in Uganda providing clean energy to 25 percent of the population and creating 200,000 new jobs in the clean energy economy.

The program would more than double the current electricity generation capacity in Uganda (equivalent of about two average U.S. coal power plants), where 75 percent of the population has no access to energy.

By using $DALA, Ugandans will be able to consume energy at zero transaction fees, use it for everyday purchases and also convert it back to fiat Ugandan currency via agents/merchants and cryptocurrency exchanges.

It will even allow CPEM and the government of Uganda to make grants of free power available to the poorest, while keeping a completely auditable and tamper-proof record of these grants.

The story of how a small startup came to take African markets by storm begins in 2014.

Initially backed by angel investor and a social-impact VC (Impact Engine) in the U.S., Tricia Martinez’s Wala (pictured above) joined the Barclays Techstars Accelerator in London in 2016. It later set up shop in Cape Town, South Africa and started growing its team (it’s now at a total of 12 staff).

Not long after, South African VC Newtown Partners invested and Wala then issued the $DALA crypto-asset and set up the Dala foundation. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Newtown is headed-up by Vinny Lingham (of the well-known Civic and Ethereum-based project).

Martinez is passionate that cryptocurrency is going to be the solution emerging markets like Africa have wanted and needed for years: “The fact that the unit of account and store of value for this program is $DALA proves its utility and shows its potential to become a preferred financial system across emerging markets. We’re excited to be involved from the ground-level and look forward to playing our part in creating a just and accessible financial system for consumers.”

She says both the prince and the Ugandan government “needed a partner that can help drive the financial inclusion to get them into a more efficient digital system. That’s when they heard about us. When we started talking we both saw the opportunity to actually build an entire ecosystem built on a crypto asset.

“So it’s not just that consumers are buying that energy cryptocurrency, but the workers who are building our energy grids will get paid in it. So they’ve become very passionate about blockchain especially from the energy perspective, to create transparency. Working with the government to create more accountable records of what they’re building out could even reduce the potential for corruption.”

As Martinez points out: “In the hands of over 100,000 users in Uganda, already people are purchasing their electricity needs, products and services. The goal with this project is for people who are getting the energy to be able to then tap into all these other services that we offer. We’re also going to be launching cashing agents so that people can go to those mobile money agents around the corner to cash in and cash out to their wallet.”

It’s clearly a big project. Some observers will see the words “Uganda” and “Cryptocurrency” in the same sentence and no doubt come out with some kind of trite, dismissive, assessment.

But Wala’s experience on the ground — and it cannot be emphasized enough how important that is, compared to the armchair commentators at most blockchain conferences in the Western world — combined with the hunger of an emerging nation, a passionate prince and the ingenuity of its people should not be underestimated.