Posts from blockchain

Dapper Labs, Flow, and NBA Top Shot

I have written about all of these things here at AVC before. But I am writing again as there is likely to be a bunch of chatter about Dapper, Flow, and NBA Top Shot as the news of a financing round comes out today.

Financings don’t really interest me but companies do. And this is a fascinating company.

Dapper Labs came out of an incubator called Axiom Zen back in 2017. The Axiom Zen team was looking at interesting things they could build using Ethereum. They contributed to the ERC 721 standard for non-fungible tokens and started building an NFT collectible game that became Cryptokitties. That got our attention and led to a financing that spun out the team and Cryptokitties into Dapper Labs. I wrote a short post on the USV blog announcing that we had invested in Cryptokitties, but in truth, we invested in much more. We are only seeing the entire vision now.

After building a few more collectible experiences on Ethereum, the Dapper Labs team concluded that the NFT experiences they wanted to create needed a different blockchain and they started building Flow. Flow is a proof of stake blockchain that was designed from the ground up for consumer experiences that require scale and performance and more.

And then they started building NBA Top Shot on Flow. That required a deal with the NBA which they made happen a few years ago. And it required Flow to launch. And it required a crypto wallet experience that was tightly integrated into the game that allowed new users to fund their wallets with credit cards in addition to crypto assets. Building all of that was quite a task but they got it all done by the middle of last year and launched NBA Top Shot into beta last summer.

Slowly but surely Dapper let more users into NBA Top Shot and iterated on the experience and by the end of the year, they had a hit on their hands. Hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions a month happen between collectors on NBA Top Shot. Pack drops sell out more or less instantly.

The success of NBA Top Shot has led many developers to Flow seeking to build additional collectible experiences and I expect that we will see many more great games and experiences on Flow in the coming months and years.

It is rare in the crypto sector to find a team that has successfully launched a blockchain, a wallet, and a number of popular applications. The Dapper team has done all of that and I am excited to watch what they do next.

#blockchain#crypto#digital collectibles#Games

How Not To Regulate Innovation

The Secretary Of Treasury, in his last month in office, is giving us a textbook case of how not to regulate important technology innovation. The issue is “unhosted wallets” and how regulated exchanges and other “hosted wallets” interact with them.

Let’s start with why this is important. Our current financial systems are old, creaky, expensive, and do not serve enough people. According to a 2017 survey by the FDIC, 25 percent of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked. That is close to 100mm people, mostly black and brown. This is a big deal. This is a piece of the structural inequity that exists in the US and around the world.

Technology can, will, and should change this. When a bank account can simply be a wallet on our phone or computer, it should be massively less expensive and much easier for anyone to have one. And when that wallet can connect to any other wallet or bank and send, receive, sell, buy, etc, as easily as a browser can connect to AVC.com, then you have the architecture for an open financial system that is several orders of magnitude less expensive and more available than what we currently have.

What I have just described is how blockchains and cryptocurrencies work today. You can download a cryptocurrency wallet onto your phone, you can send some Ethereum to it from your Coinbase account in the cloud (called a “hosted wallet” and/or “exchange”), and then you can send that Ethereum to anyone else using any other crypto wallet. All of this is built upon open protocols in the same way that the web was built on open protocols. It is completely and totally interoperable, like the web or email, unlike our current financial system.

The crypto sector is building a new financial system, that requires much fewer “middlemen” taking a piece of the transaction, that anyone can adopt and use by simply downloading some software onto their phone, and that is secured with state of the art technology.

But the Treasury Secretary and his advisors are concerned about bad actors using this new open global financial system to do bad things. That is a legitimate concern, but it turns out that only about 2% of transactions that go between regulated exchanges and hosted wallets and unhosted wallets are “illicit” according to Chainalysis.

So in late December, the Treasury Department issued a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking to make the rules around sending cryptocurrencies to unhosted wallets much more restrictive than cash.

The notice of proposed rulemaking is a long-standing approach to regulating new things. But this notice of rulemaking is not like any other. It was shortened to 15 days from the customary “at least 30 days and often much longer” and it was issued in late December making comments due yesterday. That means that comments were due over two holiday weeks in the midst of a global pandemic. And then the Treasury Department intends to wade through all of those comments and issue a rule before it leaves office in a couple of weeks.

That is madness and no way to regulate an issue at the very heart of a new open financial system that is poised to open access and massively reduce the cost of financial services for everyone.

One can only come to one conclusion about the Secretary’s intentions here and it is that this was done intentionally to stifle debate and discussion and jam bad regulation through on his way out of the door.

USV and many others in the tech sector, venture capital sector, and crypto sector have issued comment letters opposing this rulemaking. Our comment letter is here:

I hope the Secretary and his advisors come to their senses and realize that this is no way to regulate important new technology. This would be a terrible legacy to leave office with.

#blockchain#crypto#policy#Politics

NBA, NBA Top Shot, and Intangible Market

The NBA is back in business. Our family watched a ton of basketball over the long weekend including the Knicks huge win over the Bucks last night. It’s great to have my favorite sport back in action after a short layoff.

Also back in action is NBA Top Shot, the digital trading card game from the NBA and our portfolio company Dapper Labs. New packs will be dropped in the new year featuring all stars, rookies, and more.

But you can shop right now in the marketplace and buy cards from other players.

The trading opportunities in NBA Top Shot are exciting. I have purchased 11 packs since the game launched, for about $250 in cash and crypto. I have sold a few cards and now hold 61 “moments” that are estimated to be worth about $2800.

That estimate comes from a third-party app called Intangible Market that allows crypto collectors to estimate the value of their collections.

Intangible Market is an example of why building games and other experiences on crypto blockchains is so exciting. It means that others can build on top of your work and make it even more fun and interesting to use and play.

Crypto has a built in business model, tokens, that means that these platforms can be open to everyone to build on and enhance and evolve. That is radically different from the web and mobile ecosystems of the last twenty-five years and why developing on crypto is such an exciting and wide open opportunity right now.

#blockchain#crypto#digital collectibles#Sports

Innovation In Capital Markets

A few years ago, maybe in 2016, we held a discussion of blockchain and crypto technologies at the annual meeting of our limited partners. I recall someone in the audience suggesting that the NYSE and Nasdaq could rebuild their markets on top of these technologies. I replied that I thought it was more likely that new markets built on blockchains and existing for crypto assets would emerge to compete with them.

And here we are, with a 24×7 global marketplace for crypto assets that has a market capitalization of over half a trillion and daily volumes in the hundreds of billions. This pales in comparison to the legacy capital markets, but that is always the case with a new entrant on the scene.

The legacy capital markets are not sitting still. There is real innovation happening in the IPO process for example.

But if you want to see the world we are headed into, I think it is better to look at the crypto markets. They operate day and night, they are global, and anyone can buy, sell, hold, and send these assets as long as they have a crypto wallet and a browser or a phone. You don’t have to be wealthy to invest in crypto startups. Anyone can do it.

The crypto markets are also innovating in areas like lockups, vesting, and governance. In a traditional IPO, the existing shareholders are typically locked up for 180 days and then the lockups come off entirely. In the crypto markets, we see all sorts of different forms of vesting and lockups being tried. What is emerging are lockups for existing holders that are much longer, but with small amounts of early and regular liquidity.

We are also seeing a lot of innovation around governance, with crypto projects working on ways to allow the community of token holders to have real say in the way a crypto project operates. We have seen a number of communities make very significant changes in things like total supply of tokens, inflation rates, and technology roadmaps in recent months. I cannot think of a public company that allows its shareholders that level of impact on their direction.

Right now these markets are operating as parallel universes, but I don’t think that will be the case forever. It is fairly simple to tokenize equity securities and trade the tokenized version in the crypto markets. That is not really happening just yet, but I expect that it will in the not too distant future. Then we will have the opportunity to see two identical assets trade in the traditional and emerging markets. There will be arbitrage opportunities and more when this happens and the new markets will put pressure on the traditional markets to adapt and change and evolve as fast as they can. That will be hard, if not impossible.

The global nature of the crypto markets is also a challenge for regulators, who have stood in the way of innovation and continue to do so. Why, for example, does one have to be wealthy to invest in startups in the US? That’s simply a way to keep the wealthy rich and everyone else not rich. If you trade crypto assets and something is not available in the US, you can trade or lend or stake elsewhere. And many/most do that. This allows innovation to happen in crypto even when some jurisdictions, like the US, are slow to embrace and hostile toward innovation in capital markets.

So if you want to see the future of capital markets look here, not there. That’s where all of the innovation, experimentation, and new stuff is happening.

#blockchain#crypto#hacking finance#stocks

Digital Dollars

I have written about stablecoins a bunch here at AVC. I believe cryptocurrencies that are not highly volatile are important for use cases like e-commerce. I explained why here.

So we need crypto assets that are price stabilized and one of the best ways to do that is to peg a crypto asset to a fiat currency like the dollar. You do that by fully reserving the asset with dollars.

The two most popular digital dollars are USDT (Tether) and USDC. There is almost $20bn of circulating supply of USDT and just over $3bn of USDC.

There has always been some concern that USDT is not fully reserved. I share that concern. I am more confident that USDC is fully reserved and it is the digital dollar that I hold and use.

We got some big news yesterday about USDC which is that the VISA card network is going to “help select Visa credit card issuers start integrating the USDC software into their platforms and send and receive USDC payments.”

I think this is going to give more payment networks and financial services platforms the confidence to also integrate USDC. I could imagine USDC having a circulating supply of the current size of Tether by this time next year. We will see.

There are concerns for those, like me, who are big fans of digital dollars. A few members of Congress yesterday proposed a bill requiring stablecoin issuers to be banks. I appreciate that our elected officials want to provide for consumer safety and confidence. But forcing all of this innovation into the banking system is the surest way to kill it that I have ever heard of. Maybe that is what they want to do. We cannot allow that. The crypto sector and innovative financial services companies like VISA will need to spend time on the Hill educating our elected officials on what good regulation looks like and what bad regulation looks like. All we seem to be getting out of DC right now is on the bad side.

Finally, I should mention that while we are debating the role of digital dollars here in the US, China is rolling out its own digital Yuan. Goldman Sachs estimates that over a billion people will be using the Digital Yuan within a decade. I think that is way too pessimistic.

I think everyone who uses fiat currency right now will be using digital/crypto versions of these fiat currencies within a decade. The only question is which ones we will use the most. If we want the Digital Dollar to be in the top two or three, we had better get behind the ones that are out there and support the issuances of new ones too.

#blockchain#crypto#policy#Politics

Crypto Wallets Are Not Bank Accounts

We learned last week that the US Treasury wants to regulate crypto wallets like bank accounts. On the surface, one can understand that temptation. If people store, send, receive, and sell crypto assets in crypto wallets, then surely they should be regulated like bank accounts.

Except that is only one use case for a crypto wallet. It happens to be the primary use of crypto wallets right now but it is not likely to be the primary use of crypto wallets in a decade.

Regulators need to think of crypto wallets like web browsers. They are software applications that open up access to the decentralized internet and over time they will reduce our reliance on applications like Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. But only if they are allowed to exist without crushing regulation, like we treated the web broswer when it came out in the mid 90s.

Brian Armstrong, the founder and CEO of Coinbase, pointed this out in a series of tweets last week and these two are particularly good examples of ways that crypto wallets are used that are not like bank accounts:

These are just early use cases for crypto wallets that don’t resemble bank accounts. There will be many many more soon if we don’t strangle crypto wallets with suffocating regulation.

Crypto will eventually lead to a decentralized internet but the first industry it is decentralizing is finance. It reminds me of the web browser that started in media. The issue with decentralizing finance first is that regulators are tempted to regulate crypto like it is just finance and that could not be more wrong. And it will take everything the industry has to push back on this temptation.

#blockchain#crypto#policy

Bitcoin - The Gateway Drug

The first crypto asset most people purchase is Bitcoin. It has the highest market capitalization. It has way more search interest.

But Bitcoin is not all there is to the crypto sector. There is about $160bn of market value in the crypto sector outside of Bitcoin.

The “non-Bitcoin” portion of the crypto sector has risen over $100bn in 2020 and is up 2.7x this year.

Bitcoin is up about 2.2x in 2020.

What seems to happen is that individuals, and increasingly institutions, purchase Bitcoin to start their crypto portfolios and journeys, but over time they move some of their gains into other assets.

According to Coinbase, there are now 24 crypto assets with a market capitalization of greater than $1bn. I expect that list to expand greatly over this crypto bull run we are in that started this past spring.

We are starting to see sectors of the economy decentralize using blockchain technology, starting with the finance sector, naturally. This is a ten to twenty year trend that is just getting started. And owning crypto assets is the way to play that trend. Starting, but not ending, with Bitcoin.

#blockchain#crypto

Educating Electeds

A number of members of Congress sent a letter to the Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) on Tuesday. I have embedded it below but readers via email may need to click here to read it.

Letter to the OCC on Fintec… by CoinDesk

These elected officials are correct that way too many people in the US are unbanked or underbanked. They are also correct that community banks and minority owned banks are closing at a rapid rate, which is contributing to these alarming unbanked and underbanked numbers.

However, I think that the OCC and, more importantly, the crypto industry, owe these elected officials an education on how crypto can address these important issues and why it is not a distraction from them.

In the letter, the members of congress mention “the immediate needs of millions of at-risk individuals who have not yet received an economic stimulus check and/or cannot deposit their funds in a bank.”

If the United States was developing (as is China), a digital currency stablecoin (a digital dollar), then those millions of at-risk individuals would have been able to receive their economic stimulus funds via any one of the popular mobile apps that support or will soon support digital assets, like Coinbase, Square, PayPal, Robinhood, and many more.

It would have been less expensive (by an order of magnitude or more) and much simpler to get funds to these at-risk individuals with blockchain based assets vs outdated technologies like paper checks.

I am not taking a swipe at these well-meaning elected officials. I am saying that the crypto sector needs to sit down with them and their staffs, pull out their phones, have them do the same, and send them some money. And then talk about regulations that will accelerate the adoption of these new technologies among the at-risk communities instead of what we have now which are regulations that are holding all of this progress back.

#blockchain#crypto#policy#Politics

Rosetta

Our portfolio company Coinbase released an open source framework for crypto asssets to make it easier to list them on crypto exchanges. It is called Rosetta. Coinbase is encouraging blockchain projects to integrate Rosetta so that they can more easily list new assets on the Coinbase Exchange.

But as this Coindesk post outlines, any crypto exchange can adopt Rosetta so this could be something that levels the field for everyone.

Coinbase is putting Rosetta out to the broader community under an Apache license in the hopes that other exchanges will kick the tires on it. “All the code is available, it can be forked, it can be edited, so if there’s another exchange or another project that wants to put their code on it they can do that and also suggest their own changes,” Dalal said. “In a perfect world there are people building on top.”

https://www.coindesk.com/coinbase-open-sources-technical-standard-to-streamline-token-listings

Because different blockchains work differently, each crypto exchange needs to build their own interfaces to the blockchains in order to list them. That takes time and slows down listing new assets.

An open source middleware framework like Rosetta should make it much easier for exchanges to list new assets and allow them to support new assets more quickly. This would be great for innovation in the blockchain sector.

#blockchain#crypto

Flow Playground

Our portfolio company Dapper (creator of Cryptokitties among other crypto games) has been developing a new blockchain designed for high throughput consumer experiences (like crypto games). That blockchain is called Flow.

Today, Dapper is opening up the Flow Playground so that developers can start building things on Flow.

The Flow Playground is the first taste of what building on Flow feels like: it is an interactive web environment where developers can write Cadence smart contracts and run them against the Flow Emulator being hosted by Dapper.

Cadence is the smart contract programming language for Flow and it uses resource-oriented programming concepts to deliver a faster, safer, and better user experiences when it comes to writing smart contracts.

Here are some screenshots of what it is like to develop in Cadence in the Flow Playground:

If you are a developer who likes to create fun consumer experiences and wants to build something on a blockchain, you should check out Flow and the Flow Playground. You can get started here.

#blockchain#crypto