Flutterwave and Visa launch African consumer payment service GetBarter

Fintech startup Flutterwave has partnered with Visa to launch a consumer payment product for Africa called GetBarter.

The app based offering is aimed at facilitating personal and small merchant payments within countries and across Africa’s national borders. Existing Visa card holders can send and receive funds at home or internationally on GetBarter.

The product also lets non card-holders (those with accounts or mobile wallets on other platforms) create a virtual Visa card to link to the app.  A Visa spokesperson confirmed the product partnership.

GetBarter allows Flutterwave—which has scaled as a payment gateway for big companies through its Rave product—to pivot to African consumers and traders.

Rave is B2B, this is more B2B2C since we’re reaching the consumers of our customers,” Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga Agboola—aka GB—told TechCrunch.

The app also creates a network for clients on multiple financial platforms, such as Kenyan mobile money service M-Pesa, to make transfers across payment products, national borders, and to shop online.

“The target market is pretty much everyone who has a payment need in Africa. That includes the entire customer base of M-Pesa, the entire bank customer base in Nigeria, mobile money and bank customers in Ghana—pretty much the entire continent,” Agboola said.

Flutterwave and Visa will focus on building a GetBarter user base across mobile money and bank clients in Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, with plans to grow across the continent and reach those off the financial grid.

“In phase one we’ll pursue those who are banked. In phase-two we’ll continue toward those who are unbanked who will be able to use agents to work with GetBarter,” Agboola said.

Flutterwave and Visa will generate revenue through fees from financial institutions on cards created and on fees per transaction. A GetBarter charge for a payment in Nigeria is roughly 40 Naira, or 11 cents, according to Agboola.

With this week’s launch users can download the app for Apple and Android devices and for use on WhatsApp and USSD.

Founded in 2016, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad. It allows clients to tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber, Facebook, Booking.com, and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

Flutterwave has processed 100 million transactions worth $2.6 billion since inception, according to company data.

The company has raised $20 million from investors including Greycroft, Green Visor Capital, Mastercard, and Visa.

In 2018, Flutterwave was one of several African fintech companies to announce significant VC investment and cross-border expansion—see Paga, Yoco, Cellulant, Mines.ie, and  Jumo.

Flutterwave added operations in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October that saw former Visa CEO Joe Saunders join its board of directors.

The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

Flutterwave hasn’t yet released revenue or profitability info, according to CEO Olugbenga Agboola.

Headquartered in San Francisco, with its largest operations center in Nigeria, the startup plans to add operations centers to South Africa and Cameroon, which will also become new markets for GetBarter.

Contabilizei raises $20 million to ease Brazilians’ tax pain

Online tax filing and accounting service, Contabilizei, has raised $20 million in a new round of financing led by Point72 Ventures, the early stage investment arm associated with hedge fund guru Steven Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management.

Smart money in both the venture and private equity space has been long Brazil for a bit, and the new investment provides even more firepower to the thesis that Brazil’s startup ecosystem is on the move.

“For the Brazilian ecosystem, the investment represents the trust and the opportunity that we have here in the Brazilian market. For quite some time it was difficult to attract this kind of investment from abroad,” says Contabilizei chief executive Vitor Torres. Even though we had a recession there are technology companies that are growing,” Torres says, saying that the company has already staved off acquisition offers and will eventually eye a potential public offering in U.S. or domestic markets.

Though it was only founded five years ago, the company already has 200 employees and more than 10,000 customers throughout Brazil.

Contabilizei has already audited more than 2 billion reals in customer revenue and saved its users over 500 million reals in taxes. For new companies, Contabilizei will also offer free business registration and formation filings. So far, the company has helped 5,000 new businesses get their paperwork done around the country.

“In Brazil, one of the greatest frictions for a small company is meeting its tax reporting requirements,” said Pete Casella, Head of Fintech & Financial Services Investments at Point72 Ventures. “By building an automated tax accounting service that can deliver services at a fraction of the cost of a traditional accountant, we believe that Contabilizei has established the high trust relationships that will enable it to serve customers in many new ways over the coming years.”

New investors also contributed to the round including the International Financial Corp., an investment arm of the The World Bank, and Quona Capital, Quadrant, and the Fintech Collective. They joined existing company backers Kaszek Ventures, e.Bricks, Endeavor Catalyst, and Curitiba Angels.

“Our goal is to simplify the entrepreneur’s routine so they can focus on their own business and not on bureaucracy. We are only at the beginning, and in three years we want to grow 15 times more,” said Vitor Torres, chief executiver and founder of Contabilizei, in a statement. “We were pioneers in the debureaucratization of accounting in the country and we managed to do it with a quality that surpasses 98% of our customers’ satisfaction.”

American Express acquires Japan-based restaurant booking service Pocket Concierge

American Express has made an acquisition in Japan after it picked up restaurant booking service Pocket Concierge in an undisclosed deal.

The acquisition was announced in Japanese and in English by James Riney, the head of 500 Startups Japan which invested in Pocket Concierge as one of its first deals in the country.

The service was launched in 2013 to help book quality restaurants, including those that are Michelin-starred and others that have months-long waitlists for reservations. It currently works with 800 restaurants and is available in Japanese, English and Chinese, its closest competitors include OpenTable and local operator TableAll.

American Express said Pocket Concierge will continue as a wholly owned subsidiary. It plans to integrate the business with its card membership services.

Pocket Menu, the parent company, raised a $600,000 seed round, which included 500 Startups and others, before going on to raise an undisclosed Series A and other investments. Founder Kei Tokado is a former chef, and he was joined by co-founder and CFO Tatsuro Koyama in 2015.

“When we were just getting started, we talked about the opportunity for cross-border M&A in Japan. For foreign companies, acquiring locally is a viable way to unlock value in this country. A lot of people rightfully doubted that possibility, as it is so uncommon. Pocket Concierge not only proved that it is possible, but they also found a home at one of the world’s most well-respected companies,” Riney — the 500 Startups lead — wrote.

American Express acquisitions from last year included travel assistant Mezi and U.K-based fintech startup Cake.

Startups Weekly: Will Trump ruin the unicorn IPOs of our dreams?

The government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, upping concerns of potentially long-lasting impacts on the U.S. stock market. Private market investors around the country applauded when Uber finally filed documents with the SEC to go public. Others were giddy to hear Lyft, Pinterest, Postmates and Slack (via a direct listing, according to the latest reports) were likely to IPO in 2019, too.

Unfortunately, floats that seemed imminent may not actually surface until the second half of 2019 — that is unless President Donald Trump and other political leaders are able to reach an agreement on the federal budget ASAP.  This week, we explored the government’s shutdown’s connection to tech IPOs, recounted the demise of a well-funded AR project and introduced readers to an AI-enabled self-checkout shopping cart.

1. Postmates gets pre-IPO cash

The company, an early entrant to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, raised what will likely be its last round of private capital. The $100 million cash infusion was led by BlackRock and valued Postmates at $1.85 billion, up from the $1.2 billion valuation it garnered with its unicorn round in 2018.

2. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

To be fair, I don’t think many of us really believed the ride-hailing giant could debut with a $120 billion initial market cap. And can speculate on Uber’s valuation for days (the latest reports estimate a $90 billion IPO), but ultimately Wall Street will determine just how high Uber will fly. For now, all we can do is sit and wait for the company to relinquish its S-1 to the masses.

3. Deal of the week

N26, a German fintech startup, raised $300 million in a round led by Insight Venture Partners at a $2.7 billion valuation. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet spoke with co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf about the company’s global investors, financials and what the future holds for N26.

4. On the market

Bird is in the process of raising an additional $300 million on a flat pre-money valuation of $2 billion. The e-scooter startup has already raised a ton of capital in a very short time and a fresh financing would come at a time when many investors are losing faith in scooter startups’ claims to be the solution to the problem of last-mile transportation, as companies in the space display poor unit economics, faulty batteries and a general air of undependability. Plus, Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital.


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5. A unicorn’s deal downsizes

WeWork, a co-working giant backed with billions, had planned on securing a $16 billion investment from existing backer SoftBank . Well, that’s not exactly what happened. And, oh yeah, they rebranded.

6. A startup collapses

After 20 long years, augmented reality glasses pioneer ODG has been left with just a skeleton crew after acquisition deals from Facebook and Magic Leap fell through. Here’s a story of a startup with $58 million in venture capital backing that failed to deliver on its promises.

7. Data point

Seed activity for U.S. startups has declined for the fourth straight year, as median deal sizes increased at every stage of venture capital.

8. Meanwhile, in startup land…

This week edtech startup Emeritus, a U.S.-Indian company that partners with universities to offer digital courses, landed a $40 million Series C round led by Sequoia India. Badi, which uses an algorithm to help millennials find roommates, brought in a $30 million Series B led by Goodwater Capital. And Mr Jeff, an on-demand laundry service startup, bagged a $12 million Series A.

9. Finally, Meet Caper, the AI self-checkout shopping cart

The startup, which makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, has revealed a total of $3 million, including a $2.15 million seed round led by First Round Capital .

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Crypto mining giant Bitmain is reportedly getting a new CEO as its IPO plan stalls

Bitmain, the Chinese crypto miner maker, looks like it has reached an interesting point in its pathway to going public. There’s been little heard since the company filed to go public in Hong Kong in September, but now it appears that a new CEO has been hired and its two founders are leaving.

That’s according to a report from SCMP which — citing two sources — said Wang Haichao, Bitmain’s director of product engineering, has assumed CEO duties following a transition that began in December. Founders Wu Jihan (pictured above) and Zhan Ketuan will be co-chairs with Wang described as the “potential successor.”

The publication said that it isn’t clear when a new CEO will be named, or indeed whether an outside appointment will be made.

Bitmain declined to comment on the report when asked by TechCrunch.

The company, which is said to have been valued as high as $15 billion, certainly appears to have stalled with its IPO following the filing of an application on September 26. That document opened up a treasure trove of financial information regarding the company, which is estimated to supply around three-quarters of the world’s crypto mining machines.

Indeed, Bitmain’s IPO filing showed heady growth in revenue. The company grossed more than $2.5 billion in revenue in 2017, a near-10X leap on the $278 million it claimed for 2016, while sales in the first six months of last year surpassed $2.8 billion.

However, there were no figures for Q3 2018 and, since September, the price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency has plummeted further still, therein reducing the appeal of buying a mining machine and likely impacting Bitmain’s sales.

Bitmain saw impressive revenue growth as the crypto market grew, but it isn’t clear how the business weathered the price slump that affected the market in 2017

We reported that the company likely made a loss of around $400 million in that Q3 quarter. Things are likely to have been trickier still in Q4, as crypto prices dropped so low that mining companies in China were reported to be selling off machines because the cost of power to mine was lower than the reward for doing so.

Bitmain has diversified into non-mining services, to its credit, but its efforts to grow Bitcoin Cash — a controversial fork of Bitcoin — have been controversial and likely loss-making, to boot.

The price of Bitcoin Cash is currently $162 at the timing of writing, that’s down significantly from around $2,500 one year ago. That doesn’t bode well for Bitmain’s investment into the cryptocurrency, and it likely explains why the company has made layoffs, like others in the crypto space.

What a difference four months can make. The challenge for the company’s (apparent) new CEO is certainly a daunting one.

But Bitmain’s struggle isn’t unprecedented. Just this week, its closest rival — Canaan — was linked with a U.S. IPO. The company had planned to go public in Hong Kong last year but it allowed its application to expire as crypto market prices went south.

There’s plenty to watch out for in the mining space in 2019!

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

NYSE operator’s crypto project Bakkt brings in $182M

The Intercontinental Exchange’s (ICE) cryptocurrency project Bakkt celebrated New Year’s Eve with the announcement of a $182.5 million equity round from a slew of notable institutional investors. ICE, the operator of several global exchanges, including the New York Stock Exchange, established Bakkt to build a trading platform that enables consumers and institutions to buy, sell, store and spend digital assets.

This is Bakkt’s first institutional funding round; it was not a token sale. Participating in the round are Horizons Ventures, Microsoft’s venture capital arm (M12), Pantera Capital, Naspers’ fintech arm (PayU), Protocol Ventures, Boston Consulting Group, CMT Digital, Eagle Seven, Galaxy Digital, Goldfinch Partners and more.

Bakkt is currently seeking regulatory approval to launch a one-day physically delivered Bitcoin futures contract along with physical warehousing. The startup initially planned for a November 2018 launch, but confirmed this morning an earlier CoinDesk report that it was delaying the launch to “early 2019” as it awaits permission from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Along with the funding, crypto news blog The Block Crypto also reports Bakkt has hired Balaji Devarasetty, a former vice president at Vantiv, as its head technology.

ICE’s crypto project was first announced in August and is led by chief executive officer Kelly Loeffler, ICE’s long-time chief communications and marketing officer. Bakkt quickly inked partnerships with Microsoft, which provides cloud infrastructure to the service, and Starbucks, to develop “practical, trusted and regulated applications for consumers to convert their digital assets into U.S. dollars for use at Starbucks,” Starbucks vice president of payments Maria Smith said in a statement at the time.

Many Bitcoin startups floundered in 2018, despite record amounts of venture capital invested in the industry. This was as a result of failed initial coin offerings, an inability to scale following periods of rapid growth and the falling price of Bitcoin. Still, VCs remained bullish on Bitcoin and blockchain technology in 2018, funneling a total of $2.2 billion in U.S.-based crypto projects — a nearly 4x increase year-over-year. Around the globe, investment hit a high of $4.6 billion — a more than 4x increase from last year, according to PitchBook.

“Notably, 2018 was the most active year for crypto in its brief ten-year history,” Loeffler wrote. “This was evidenced by rising investment in distributed ledger technology and digital assets, as well as by blockchain network metrics such as daily bitcoin transaction value and active addresses. Yet, these milestones tend to be overshadowed by the more narrow focus on bitcoin’s price, which has been seen by some, as a proxy for the potential of the technology.”

Today, the price of Bitcoin is hovering around $3,700 one year after a historic run valued the cryptocurrency at roughly $20,000. The crash caused many to dismiss Bitcoin and its underlying technology, while others remained committed to the tech and its potential for complete financial disruption. A project like Bakkt, created in-house at a respected financial institution with support from noteworthy businesses, is a logical bet for crypto and traditional private investors alike.

“The path to developing new markets is rarely linear: progress tends to modulate between innovation, dismissal, reinvention, and, finally, acceptance,” Loeffler added. “Each step, whether part of discovery or adversity, ultimately strengthens the product. Twenty years ago, it was controversial to suggest that commodities or bonds could trade electronically on a screen, and many steps were required for that evolution to play out.”

SEC slaps startups Wealthfront and Hedgeable with fines for making false disclosures

The Securities and Exchange Commission appears to be keeping a close eye on financial services startups, with today’s news that the agency has settled cases with two robo-advisory companies over allegations that they misled investors.

Wealthfront Advisers, one of the darlings of the fintech investment sector with $11 billion under management and roughly $200 million in venture capital backing, was fined $250,000 for making false statements to investors about one of its newer automated financial services products. The company consented to the SEC’s censure without confirming or denying the SEC’s claims.

The SEC also fined New York-based startup Hedgeable, a company with $81 million in assets under management, for inflating performance figures for its service. Hedgeable also agreed to the SEC’s censure order without confirming or denying any wrongdoing.

“Technology is rapidly changing the way investment advisers are able to advertise and deliver their services to clients,” said C. Dabney O’Riordan, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit, in a statement.  “Regardless of their format, however, all advisers must take seriously their obligations to comply with the securities laws, which were put in place to protect investors.”

The charges against Redwood City, Calif.-based Wealthfront Advisers stems from alleged false statements the company made about a tax-loss harvesting strategy that the company offered to its clients.

Wealthfront told its customers that it would look for transactions in its automated service that might trigger a “wash sale” — which has tax implications and can limit the benefits of a tax-harvesting strategy.

According to the SEC, the company actually failed to monitor the accounts accurately and roughly 31% of Wealthfront account holders enrolled in the tax harvesting strategy were subject to penalties associated with wash sales.

Additionally the company promoted prohibited client testimonials and paid bloggers for client referrals without disclosing and documenting the payments. The company also failed to maintain appropriate compliance programs designed to prevent violations of securities laws, according to the SEC.

Wealthfront issued the following statement about the SEC action:

“We take our regulatory duties seriously at Wealthfront and are happy to have reached a settlement with the SEC. The settlement order addressed Wealthfront’s retweets of clients’ positive tweets from our corporate account and compensation to some bloggers for client referrals without proper disclosures.

Additionally, Wealthfront did not have proper disclosure in its tax-loss harvesting whitepaper concerning monitoring for any and all wash sales that could occur in client accounts.

For example, a wash sale can be triggered by infrequent events outside of tax-loss harvesting trading including a client changing their risk score or a withdrawal. During the period January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2016, wash sales made up approximately 2.3% of tax losses harvested for the benefit of clients. Therefore the average Wealthfront client received 5.67% in total annual harvesting yield versus 5.8%.”

At Hedgeable, another, much smaller robo-advisor, the SEC found that the company had manipulated results it reported to the public by cherry-picking the best-performing accounts it managed. Hedgeable then compared these rates of return with figures that were not based on its competitors training models to skew results in its favor. The company also lacked proper compliance programs that would prevent the company from violating securities laws. 

These penalties follow a crackdown that the SEC imposed on cryptocurrency companies that were also illegally promoting themselves via social media channels and famous influencers like DJ Khaled and Floyd Mayweather.

While Wealthfront and Hedgeable are real companies offering tangible services (unlike many of the obviously fraudulent cryptocurrency schemes that the SEC has been monitoring), the SEC investigations coupled with the botched rollout of brokerage accounts from the free trading service, Robinhood, show that even viable fintech companies are under the regulatory microscope.

As these services become more popular and their assets under management continue to grow, they may find that more regulators will be knocking at startups doors.

TNB Aura closes $22.7M fund to bring PE-style investing to Southeast Asia’s startups

TNB Aura, a recent arrival to Southeast Asia’s VC scene, announced today that it has closed a maiden fund at SG$31.1million, or around US$22.65 million, to bring a more private equity-like approach to investing in startups in the region.

The fund was launched in 2016 and it is a joint effort between Australia-based venture fund Aura and Singapore’s TNB Ventures, which has a history of corporate innovation work. It reached a final close today, having hit an early close in January. It is a part of the Enterprise Singapore ‘Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering’ scheme which, as you’d expect, means there is a focus on hardware, IO, AI and other future-looking tech like ‘industry 4.0.’

The fund is targeting Series A and B deals and it has the firepower to do 15-20 deals over likely the next two to three years, co-founder and managing partner Vicknesh R Pillay told TechCrunch in an interview. There’s around $500,000-$4 million per company, with the ideal scenario being an initial $1 million check with more saved for follow-on rounds. Already it has backed four companies including TradeGecko, which raised $10 million in a round that saw TNB Aura invest alongside Aura, and AI marketing platform Ematic.

The fund has a team of 10, including six partners and an operating staff of four. It pitches itself a little differently to most other VCs in the region given that manufacturing and engineering bent. That, Pillay said, means it is focused on “hardware plus software” startups.

“We are very strong fundamentals guys,” Pillay added. We ask what is the valuation and decide what we can get from a deal. It’s almost like PE-style investing in the VC world.”

A selection of the TNB Aura team [left to right]: Samuel Chong (investment manager), Calvin Ng, Vicknesh R Pillay, Charles Wong (partners), Liu Zhihao (investment manager)

Another differentiator, Pillay believes, is the firm’s history in the corporate innovation space. That leads it to be pretty well suited to working in the B2B and enterprise spaces thanks to its existing networks, he said.

“We particularly like B2B saas companies and we believe we can assist them through of our innovation platforms,” Pillay explained.

Outside of Singapore — which is a heavy focus thanks to the relationship with Enterprise Singapore — TNB Aura is focused on Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, four of the largest markets that form a large chunk of Southeast Asia’s cumulative 650 million population. With an internet population of over 330 million — higher than the entire U.S. population — the region is set to grow strongly as internet access increases. A recent report from Google and Temasek tipped the region’s digital economy will triple to reach $240 billion by 20205.

The report also found that VC funding in Southeast Asia is developing at a fast clip. Excluding unicorns, which distort the data somewhat, startups raised $2.6 billion in the first half of this year, beating the $2.4 billion tally for the whole of 2017.

There are plenty of other Series A-B funds in the region, including Jungle Ventures, Golden Gate Ventures, Openspace Ventures, Monks Hill Ventures, Qualgro and more.

Payment service Toss becomes Korea’s newest unicorn after raising $80M

South Korea has got its third unicorn startup after Viva Republica, the company beyond popular payment app Toss, announced it has raised an $80 million round at a valuation of $1.2 billion.

This new round is led by U.S. firms Kleiner Perkins and Ribbit Capital, both of which cut their first checks for Korea with this deal. Others participating include existing investors Altos Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Goodwater Capital, KTB Network, Novel, PayPal and Qualcomm Ventures. The deal comes just six months after Viva Republica raised $40 million to accelerate growth, and it takes the company to nearly $200 million raised from investors to date.

Toss was started in 2013 by former dentist SG Lee who grew frustrated by the cumbersome way online payments worked in Korea. Despite the fact that the country has one of the highest smartphone penetrations rates in the world and is a top user of credit cards, the process required more than a dozen steps and came with limits.

“Before Toss, users required five passwords and around 37 clicks to transfer $10. With Toss users need just one password and three steps to transfer up to KRW 500,000 ($430),” Lee said in a past statement.

Working with traditional finance

Today, Viva Republica claims to have 10 million registered users for Toss — that’s 20 percent of Korea’s 50 million population — while it says that it is “on track” to reach a $18 billion run-rate for transactions in 2018.

The app began as Venmo -style payments, but in recent years it has added more advanced features focused around financial products. Toss users can now access and manage credit, loans, insurance, investment and more from 25 financial service providers, including banks.

Fintech startups are ‘rip it out and start again’ in the West –such as Europe’s challenger banks — but, in Asia, the approach is more collaborative and assistive. A numbe of startups have found a sweet spot in between banks and consumers, helping to match the two selectively and intelligently. In Toss’s case, essentially it acts as a funnel to help traditional banks find and vet customers for services. Thus, Toss is graduating from a peer-to-peer payment service into a banking gateway.

“Korea is a top 10 global economy, but no there’s no Mint or Credit Karma to help people save and spend money smartly,” Lee told TechCrunch in an interview. “We saw the same deep problems we need to solve [as the U.S.] so we’re just digging in.”

“We want to help financial institutions to build on top of Toss… we’re kind of building an Amazon for the financial services industry,” he added. “We try to aggregate all those activities, covering saving accounts, loan products, insurance etc.”

Former dentist SG Lee started Toss in 2013.

Lee said the plan for the new money is to go deeper in Korea by advancing the tech beyond Toss, adding more users and — on the supply side — partnering with more companies to offer financial products.

There’s plenty of competition. Startups like PeopleFund focus squarely on financial products, while Kakao, Korea’s largest messaging platform, has a dedicated fintech division — KakaoPay — which rivals Toss on both payment and financial services. It also counts the mighty Alibaba in its corner courtesy of a $200 million investment from its Ant Financial affiliate.

Alibaba and Tencent tend to move in pairs as opposites, with one naturally gravitating to the rivals of the other’s investees as recently happened in the Philippines. It’s tricky in Korea, though. Tencent is caught in limbo since it is a long-standing Kakao backer. But might the Ant Financial deal spur Tencent into working with Toss?

Lee said his company has a “good relationship” with Tencent, including the occasional home/away visits, but there’s nothing more to it right now. That’s intriguing.

Overseas expansion plans

Also of interest is future plans for the business now that it is taking on significantly more capital from investors who, even with the most patient money out there, eventually need a return on their investment.

Lee is adamant that he won’t sell, despite Viva Republica increasingly looking like an ideal entry point for a payment or finance company that has missed the Korean market and wants in now.

He said that there are plans to do an IPO “at some point,” but a more immediate focus is the opportunity to expand overseas.

When Toss raised a PayPal-led $48 million Series C 18 months ago, Lee told TechCrunch that he was beginning to cast his eyes on opportunities in Southeast Asia, the region of over 650 million consumers, and that’s likely to see definitive action next year. The Viva Republica CEO said that Vietnam could be a first overseas launchpad for Toss.

“We’re thinking seriously about going beyond Korea because sooner or later we will hire saturation point,” Lee said. “We think Vietnam is quite promising. We’ve talked to potential partners and are currently articulating ideas and strategy materialized next year.

“We already have a very successful playbook, we know how to scale among users,” Lee added.

While the plan is still being put together, Lee suggested that Viva Republica would take its time expanding across Southeast Asia, where six distinct countries account for the majority of the region’s population. So, rather than rapidly expanding Toss across those markets, he indicated that a more deliberate, country-by-country launch could be the strategy with Vietnam kicking things off in 2019.

The Toss team at HQ in Seoul, Korea

Korea rising

Toss’s entry into the unicorn club — a vaunted collection of private tech companies valued at $1 billion or more — comes weeks after Coupang, Korea’s top e-commerce company, raised $2 billion at a valuation of $9 billion.

While that Coupang round came from the SoftBank Vision Fund — a source of capital that is threatening to become tainted given its links to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — it does represent the first time that a Korea-based company has joined the $100 billion mega-fund’s portfolio.

Some milestones can be dismissed as frivolous, but these two coming so close together are a signal of increased awareness of the potential of Korea as a startup destination by investors outside of the country.

While Lee admitted that the unicorn valuation “doesn’t change a lot” in daily terms for his business, he did admit that he has seen the landscape shift for Korea’s startup ecosystem — which has only two other privately-held unicorns: Coupang and Yello Mobile.

“More and more global VCs are aware that South Korea is a really good opportunity to do a startup. It is getting easier for our fellow entrepreneurs to pitch and get access to global funds,” he said, adding that Korea’s top 25 cities have a cumulative population (25 million) that matches America’s top 25.

Despite that potential, Korea has tended to focus on its ‘chaebol’ giants like Samsung — which accounts for a double-digital percentage of the national economy — LG, Hyundai and SK. That means a lot of potential startup talent, both founders and employees, is locked up in secure corporate jobs. Throw in the conservative tradition of family expectations, which can make it hard for children to justify leaving the safety of a big company, and it is perhaps no wonder that Korea has relatively fewer startups compared to other economies of comparable size.

But that is changing.

Coupang has been one of the highest profile examples to follow, alongside the (now public) Kakao business. But with Viva Republica, Toss and a charismatic dentist-turned-founder, another startup story is being written and that could just inspire a future generation of entrepreneurs to rise up and be counted in South Korea.

Coinbase abandons its cautious approach with plan to list up to 30 new cryptocurrencies

Coinbase is the most conservative exchange in cryptoland, largely because it operates in the U.S. under the watchful eye of the SEC. The $8 billion-valued company trades fewer than ten cryptocurrencies to consumers but on Friday announced it announced a major expansion that could see it list up to 30 new tokens.

The company said it is considering support Ripple’s XRP, EOS — the Ethereum challenger that held a year-long ICO that raised $4 billion — Stellar, a creation from a Ripple co-founder, chat app Kik’s Kin token and more.

The full list is below:

Cardano (ADA), Aeternity (AE), Aragon (ANT), Bread Wallet (BRD), Civic (CVC), Dai (DAI), district0x (DNT), EnjinCoin (ENJ), EOS (EOS), Golem Network (GNT), IOST (IOST), Kin (KIN), Kyber Network (KNC), ChainLink (LINK), Loom Network (LOOM), Loopring (LRC), Decentraland (MANA), Mainframe (MFT), Maker (MKR), NEO (NEO), OmiseGo (OMG), Po.et (POE), QuarkChain (QKC), Augur (REP), Request Network (REQ), Status (SNT), Storj (STORJ), Stellar (XLM), XRP (XRP), Tezos (XTZ), and Zilliqa (ZIL)

The company last announced new asset explorations in July, although today it did add four new ERC tokens to its pro service.

Coinbase recently revamped its policy on new token listings. Instead of abruptly adding new assets, a process that sent their valuations spiking along with rumors of inside trading, it now goes public with its intention to “explore” the potential to list new assets in order to lower the impact of a listing. It also doesn’t guarantee which, if any, will make it through and be listed.

“Adding new assets requires significant exploratory work from both a technical and compliance standpoint, and we cannot guarantee that all the assets we are evaluating will ultimately be listed for trading,” the company said.

Support for tokens is pretty nuanced. Coinbase lists some assets on its professional service only, with just nine supported on its regular consumer-facing exchange — those are Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, Litecoin, Zcash, USD Coin, 0x and Basic Attention Token.

The company may also introduce some tokens on a state by state basis in the U.S. in order to comply with laws.

Brian Armstrong told the audience at Disrupt San Francisco that Coinbase could list “millions” of cryptocurrencies in the future

Coinbase is looking into this glut of new tokens — some of which, it must be said, are fairly questionable as projects let alone operating with uncertain legal status — at a time when the market is down significantly from its peak in January, both in terms of trading volume and market valuations.

In recent weeks, sources at a number of top exchanges have told TechCrunch that trading-related revenues are down as much as 50 percent over recent months and, while the numbers for Coinbase aren’t clear, there’s no doubt that its revenue is taking a big hit during this ‘crypto winter.’ That makes it easy to argue that Coinbase is widening its selection to increase potential volumes and, in turn, its revenue — particularly since it just raised $300 million from investors at a massive $8 billion valuation.

Coinbase defenders, however, will argue that a greater selection has long been the plan.

Ignoring the reasons, that’s certainly true. It is well known that the company wants to massively increase the number of cryptocurrencies that it supports.

CEO Brian Armstrong said as much as our TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco in October, where he sketched out the company’s plan to be the New York Stock Exchange of crypto.

“It makes sense that any company out there who has a cap table… should have their own token. Every open source project, every charity, potentially every fund or these new types of decentralized organizations [and] apps, they’re all going to have their own tokens. We want to be the bridge all over the world where people come and they take fiat currency and they can get it into these different cryptocurrencies,” he said during an on-stage interview at the event.

That tokenized future could see Coinbase host hundreds of tokens within “years” and even potentially “millions” in the future, according to Armstrong.

The company has done a lot of the groundwork to make that happen.

Coinbase bought a securities dealer earlier this year and it has taken regulatory strides to list tokenized securities in the U.S, albeit with some confusion. In addition, its VC arm has backed a startup that helps create ‘digital security tokens’ and the exchange introduced a new listing process which could potentially include a listing fee in exchange for necessary legal work.

These 30 new (potential) assets might not be the digital security tokens that Coinbase is moving to add, but the fact that the exchange is exploring so many new assets in one go shows how much wider the company’s vision is now.

The crypto community has already reacted strongly to this deluge of new assets. As you might expect, it is a mix of naive optimism from those invested in ‘under-performing’ projects (shitcoins) who think a Coinbase listing could turn everything around, and criticism from crypto watchers who voiced concern that Coinbase is throwing its prestige and support behind less-than-deserving cryptocurrencies.

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