Multicoin Capital debuts new $100M fund to bet on crypto startups and tokens

Crypto startups couldn’t be hotter as currencies push past all-time-highs and investor appetite reaches mania for new projects. Crypto investment firms that have been investing in blockchain startups for years are not only beginning to see major movement from their portfolio, but are gaining renewed appetite from LPs after a lengthy crypto winter to make bigger, more audacious bets.

Austin-based Multicoin Capital has been around since 2017 investing in blockchain startups, cryptocurrencies and tokens with a venture fund and separate hedge fund. Today, the firm announced its raise of its second venture fund as it aims to further capitalize on rampant excitement in the crypto world. The new $100 million fund will help the company back new entrants in the space including companies tackling DeFi, digital collectibles, Web3 and crypto-enabled infrastructure.

Multicoin’s team says that it has already been investing out of this fund for several months and it seems the timing is more aligned with the promotion of three of the firm’s employees — Matt ShapiroMable Jiang, and John Robert Reed — to Partner status. The team is just 12, but is looking to expand as they build out their remote presence in other geographies.

The firm’s previous bets include The Graph, Solana, Torus, StarkWare and Arweave, among others.

CryptoPunks maker Larva Labs launches their new NFT project, Meebits

The creators behind CryptoPunks, one of the most popular NFT projects on the web, just revealed their latest project called Meebits. The project boasts 20,000 procedurally generated 3D characters that are tradeable on the Ethereum blockchain.

There have been hundreds of 3D avatar NFT platforms popping up over the past several months hoping to gain momentum and capture the enthusiasm of crypto buyers, but the traction of the Larva Labs team whose pixel portrait CryptoPunks project has netted more than $550 million in lifetime sales will likely make this platform another hit. Meebits arrives at a time of peak hype for their first effort CryptoPunks which is weeks away from a Christie’s auction that many are expecting to see fetch a price in the tens of million of dollars. It also arrives as Ethereum has had one of its best weeks on record, punching through all-time-highs nearly every day this week. Ethereum is currently trading at just shy of $3,300.

In a blog post, the Larva Labs creators posit that they hope that Meebits will eventually serve as avatars for “virtual worlds, games and VR.” Meebits not only boast a revised art style, but Larva Labs has made some underlying changes to the no-fee marketplace, the most significant of which is likely the ability to customize trades allowing users to swap Meebits with each other in a more complex manner.

In my profile of the company’s CryptoPunks project last month, the team’s founders hoped that their new project would lower the barrier of entry as CryptoPunks prices reached stratospheric heights, it seems that even by doubling the total supply (20,000 avatars versus CryptoPunks 10,000 figures) Meebits are poised to still be an expensive affair.

The company is distributing the Meebits avatars through a Dutch auction, meaning the price for buying and minting a Meebit will lower to zero Eth (plus Ethereum gas fees) over the course of a week. Currently users are paying 2.49 Eth to mint a Meebit a random, a nearly $8,500 investment at current prices. Nevertheless, around 2,000 of them have already sold, meaning the creators have already pulled in nearly $20 million worth of Eth after just over two hours on the market.

 

Avatar startup Genies scores $65 million in funding round led by Mary Meeker’s Bond

Over the past several years, I’ve covered my fair share of upstart avatar companies that were all chasing the same dream — building out a customizable platform for a digital persona that gained wide adoption across games and digital spaces. Few of those startups I’ve covered in the past are still around. But by netting a string of successful partnerships with celebrity musicians, LA-based Genies has come closer than any startup before it to realizing the full vision of a wide-reaching avatar platform.

The company announced today that they’ve closed a $65 million Series B led by Mark Meeker’s firm Bond. NEA, Breyer Capital, Tull Investment Group, NetEase, Dapper Labs and Coinbase Ventures also participated in the deal. Mark Meeker will be joining the Genies board. The company didn’t disclose the Genies’ most recent valuation.

This funding comes at an inflection point for the eight-year-old company, evidenced by the investments from NBA Top Shot-maker Dapper Labs and crypto giant Coinbase. As announced last week, the company is rolling out an NFT platform on Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain, partnering closely with the startup who will be building out the backend for a Genies avatar accessories storefront. Like Dapper Labs has leveraged its exclusive deals with sports leagues to ship NFTs with official backing, Genies is planning to capitalize on its partnerships with celebrities in its roster including Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Cardi B and others to create a platform for buying and trading avatar accessories en masse.

In October, the company announced a brand partnerships with Gucci, opening up the startup to another big market opportunity.

Genies’ business has largely focused on leveraging high-profile partnerships to give its entertainer clients a digital presence that can spice up what they’re sharing on social media and beyond. As they’ve rolled out avatar creation to all users through beta mobile apps, Genies has been focusing on one of the more explicit dreams of the avatar companies before it; building out a broad network of avatar users and a broad network of compatible platforms through its SDK.

“An avatar is a vehicle to be able to showcase more of your authentic self,” Genies CEO Akash Nigam tells TechCrunch. “It’s not limited by real world constraints, it’s an alter-ego personality.”

Trends in the NFT world have provided new realms of exploration for Genies, but so have broader pandemic era trends that have pushed more users to wholly digital spaces where they socialize and connect. “The pandemic accelerated everything,” Nigam says.

Nigam emphasizes that despite the major opportunity its upcoming NFT platform will present, Genies is still an avatar company first-and-foremost, not an NFT startup, though he does say he is believes crypto-backed digital goods are going to be around for a long time. He has few doubts that the current environment around digital goods helped juice Genies’ funding round which he says was “6-8X oversubscribed” and was an opportunistic play for the startup, which “could have gone years without having to raise.”

The company says their crypto marketplace will launch in the coming months, as early as this summer.

Facebook is buying the developer behind VR shooter ‘Onward’

After a steady stream of studio acquisitions in late 2019 and early 2020, Facebook has been a little quieter in recent months when its come to bulking up their VR content arm.

Today, the social media giant breaks that stream, announcing their acquisition of Downpour Interactive, the developer of the popular VR first-person shooter Onward. The title, which is available on the company’s Rift and Quest platforms, as well as through Valve’s Steam store, has been among virtual reality’s top sellers in recent years.

Facebook says that the title will continue to be available on non-Facebook VR hardware going forward.

It’s an interesting deal particularly after the company’s recent attempt to create an ambitious first-person shooter of its own, partnering with Apex Legends developer Respawn Entertainment and dumping millions into a Medal of Honor VR title that was tepidly received among reviewers after its release this past December.

Facebook didn’t share terms of the Downpour deal, though they noted that the entire team will be joining Oculus Studios. In a blog post detailing the deal, Mike Verdu, Facebook’s VP of AR/VR Content, called Onward a “multiplayer masterpiece.”

ByteDance CFO assumes role as new TikTok CEO

Eight months after former TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer quit in the midst of a full-court press from the Trump administration against the Chinese-owned social media giant, TikTok finally has a new permanent leader.

ByteDance’s recently-hired CFO Shouzi Chew will be assuming the role as TikTok CEO while still holding the CFO role at its parent organization, the company announced Friday morning. It’s a bold move likely signaling that the company believes that the worst of its tussles with the US Executive branch are over as President Biden has seemed uninterested in picking up former President Trump’s pet project.

Vanessa Pappas, who was serving as interim CEO, will take the role of COO going forward.

“The leadership team of Shou and Vanessa sets the stage for sustained growth,” ByteDance CEO Yiming Zhang said in a press release. “Shou brings deep knowledge of the company and industry, having led a team that was among our earliest investors, and having worked in the technology sector for a decade. He will add depth to the team, focusing on areas including corporate governance and long-term business initiatives.”

Prior to joining ByteDance earlier this year, Chew was an executive at Xiaomi with stints at DST and Goldman Sachs earlier in his career.

Lobus raises $6 million for an art management platform on the blockchain

Reshaping ownership proofs in the fine art markets has been one of the blockchain’s clearest real-world use cases. But in recent months as top auction houses have embraced NFTs and popular artists experiment with the crypto medium, that future has seemed more tangible than ever before.

The ex-Christie’s and Sotheby’s team at Lobus is aiming to commoditize blockchain tech with an asset management platform that they hope can bring creator-friendly mechanisms from NFT marketplaces like SuperRare to the physical art world as well, allowing art owners to maintain partial ownership of the works they sell so that they can benefit from secondary transactions down the line. While physical art sellers have grown accustomed to selling 100% of their work while seeing that value accrue over time as it trades hands, Lobus’s goal is for artist’s to maintain fractional ownership throughout those sales, ensuring that they earn a commission on sales down the road. It’s a radical idea and a logistical nightmare made feasible by the blockchain’s approach to ownership.

“We’re really on a mission of making artists into owners,” Lobus co-CEO Sarah Wendell Sherrill tells TechCrunch. “We are really leveraging the best of what NFTs are putting out there about ownership and asking the questions of how to help create different ownership structures and interrupt this asset class.”

The startup is encapsulating these new mechanics in a wide-reaching art asset management platform that they hope can entice users of the aging legacy software suites being used today. Teaming robust ownership proofs with a CRM, analytics platform and tools like dynamic pricing, Lobus wants to give the art market its own Carta-like software platform that is approachable to the wider market.

Lobus tells TechCrunch they have raised $6 million from Upside Capital, 8VC, Franklin Templeton, Dream Machine, Weekend Fund and BoostVC, among others. Angels participating in the round include Rob Hayes, Troy Carter, Suzy Ryoo, Rebecca and Cal Henderson, Henry Ward and Lex Sokolin.

A big goal for the team has been removing the complexities of understanding what the blockchain is and instead focus on what their tech can deliver to their network of art owners. While the NFT boom of the past few months has already produced billions in sales, efforts like Lobus are attempting to cross-pollinate the mechanics of crypto art with the global art market in an effort to put stakeholders across the board on the same footing. In addition to having partnerships with around 300 active artists, Lobus has also sold their platform to collectors, artist estates and asset managers.

At the moment, Lobus has around 45,000 art objects in its database, encompassing about $5.4 billion in asset value across physical and digital objects.

Blockchain startup S!NG wants creators to lean on NFTs to protect their intellectual property

After a years-long crypto winter, it been the spring of NFTs, but as digital art prices sober up after an explosion in sales, blockchain founders are looking to find more stable opportunities in the space that can grow over time even as speculative interest in NFTs shifts.

One particular interest has been using NFTs to reshape the creator economy in a manner that actually benefits artists more than the platforms that host their work. A new flavor of this pursuit comes from the recently launched S!NG (pronounced sing) which has built a platform around simply letting user upload files to their servers and time-stamp those uploads on the Ethereum blockchain. It’s a dead-simple mechanic with an ambitious framing, ensuring that artists maintain credit for their work as they create it.

The team behind the app sees a future where artists use the platform as an autosave for their intellectual property during the creative process, enabling them to scribble down notes or upload a quick demo and save those moments on the blockchain, a step that they hope can eliminate or expedite rights disputes for creators that can point to a clearly time-stamped breadcrumbs trail. By virtue of the app’s name, it’s clear that they are aiming to attract songwriters and musicians in particular but the company’s onboarding also showcases wider ambition in the creator world, enabling users to designate if they are a photographer, writer or programmer as well.

“You have the best of both worlds with very public witnesses to a very private event,” says CEO Geoff Osler. “Your content is never out there, but you can have this massive attestation to the fact that it exists at a certain point in time.”

The iOS app itself is pretty straightforward. After uploading a piece of media, be it a photo, video, audio or text file, users can tack on additional files, make note of additional collaborators or add notes before submitting it and christening the work on the blockchain. The file itself is private with a hash hosted on the blockchain while the encrypted files are stored on S!NG’s AWS servers, so creators don’t need to worry about their early ideas being served up to a public audience. A concern here for early adopters is what happens if the blockchain startup eventually goes under and those servers go with it, but that’s an issue facing plenty of startups that are backing the underlying media files of NFTs on centralized servers.

Image via S!NG

Rights disputes might be something more top-of-mind to those who have spent substantial time in their specific creative industry, compared to to budding artists who are likely wholly concerned with getting their work seen in the first place. While public links allow a work’s origins to be tracked down once it’s complete and ready for public consumption, S!NG’s aim is to develop those moments earlier in the development of a work and aid artists who might be involved with more collaborative creative processes where ownership of ideas can appear more obfuscated from a legal standpoint.

“If I get something stolen from me, I’ve got a team that’s going to defend me and they’re probably going to win or settle any claims, but if you’re a 16-year-old kid, you don’t have that ability so that’s what we want to provide, but more as a deterrent,” musician and advisor Raine Maida tells TechCrunch. “I think when you see the S!NG watermark or you see that it’s saved and shared through the wallet.. you don’t have to understand blockchain but you’ll know S!NG is that company that protects you.”

For the time being, non-fungible token-based legal defenses are probably a bit unusual, but the team’s founders believe that blockchain-based ownership proofs will be entering case law organically just as technology like DocuSign has been accepted.

If the company can successfully push creators to weave the S!NG platform into their toolkits, the startup will have plenty of ripe opportunities to capitalize on in the incredibly young blockchain creator space. While many artists may see the NFT space as a speculative cash grab, the company’s founders seem publicly focused on sidestepping hype for the time being.

“Frankly I don’t give a shit about all of this crazy NFT stuff with things selling for a bazillion dollars,” Osler says. “I’m interested in the small artist who has 1,000 fans who will eagerly pay up $15 to keep that person in business.”

Crypto market takes a dive with Bitcoin leading the way

Cryptocurrency prices continued to tumble Friday with Bitcoin leading the charge, with prices for the internet currency dipping below $50,000 for the first time since early March.

Bitcoin is down roughly 20% week-over-week, around 30% from its all-time-high of nearly $65,000 early last week. The market cap of the coin has dipped below $1 trillion. The tumble has been less severe for Ethereum which hit an all-time-high just yesterday but has since dropped 13% as the broader market has crawled back.

Plenty of altcoins have also taken a beating. Dogecoin erased the breakneck gains of the week and then some, nearly halving its price after a meteoric climb last weekend. XRP is down 35% week-over-week, Stellar is down 30% and Polkadot is down 25% since last week.

Overall, Coinmarketcap estimates the global crypto market has shrunk around 10% in the past 24 hours.

Crypto prices have been on a tear for the past several months, but the past week has been the clearest sign of a correction to climbing prices, though many see news of President Biden’s adjustment to the hikes on the capital gains tax as the most apparent reason for the market’s slide as investors cash out hoping their gains won’t be reached by a retroactive application of the rules.

Coinbase, which went public last week via direct listing, shaved about 10% off its share price this week, but was largely unaffected Friday in intraday trading.

Facebook is expanding Spotify partnership with new ‘Boombox’ project

Facebook is deepening its relationship with music company Spotify and will allow users to listen to music hosted on Spotify while browsing through its apps as part of a new initiative called “Project Boombox,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday.

Facebook is building an in-line audio player that will allow users to listen to songs or playlists being shared on the platforms without being externally linked to Spotify’s app or website. Zuckerberg highlighted the feature as another product designed to improve the experience of creators on its platforms, specifically the ability of musicians to share their work, “basically making audio a first-class type of media,” he said.

The news was revealed in a wide-ranging interview with reporter Casey Newton on the company’s future pursuits in the audio world as Facebook aims to keep pace with upstart efforts like Clubhouse and increased activity in the podcasting world. Zuckerberg notably didn’t give a timeline on the feature rollout of “Project Boombox” and it was not further detailed in a company blog post summarizing the audio announcements.

“We think that audio is going to be a first-class medium and that there are all these different products to be built across this whole spectrum,” said Zuckerberg. “Of course, it includes some areas that, that have been, you know, popular recently like like podcasting and and kind of live audio rooms like this, but I also think that there’s some interesting things that are that are under explored in the area overall.”

Spotify has already supported a fairly product relationship with the Facebook and Instagram platforms. In recent years the music and podcasts platform has been integrated more deeply into Instagram Stories where users can share content from the service, a feature that’s also been available in Facebook Stories.

Xbox Cloud Gaming beta starts rolling out on iOS and PC this week

The era of cloud gaming hasn’t arrived with the intensity that may have seemed imminent a couple years ago when major tech platforms announced their plays. In 2021, the market is still pretty much non-existent despite established presences from nearly all of tech’s biggest players.

Microsoft has been slow to roll out its Xbox Cloud Gaming beta to its users widely across platforms, but that’s likely because they know that, unlike other upstart platforms, there’s not a huge advantage to them rushing out the gate first. This week, the company will begin rolling out the service on iOS and PC to Game Pass Ultimate users, sending out invited to a limited number of users and scaling it up over time.

“The limited beta is our time to test and learn; we’ll send out more invites on a continuous basis to players in all 22 supported countries, evaluate feedback, continue to improve the experience, and add support for more devices,” wrote Xbox’s Catherine Gluckstein in a blog post. “Our plan is to iterate quickly and open up to all Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members in the coming months so more people have the opportunity to play Xbox in all-new ways.”

The service has been available in beta for Android users since last year but it’s been a slow expansion to other platforms outside that world.

A big part of that slowdown has been the result of Apple playing hardball with cloud gaming platform providers, whose business models represent a major threat to App Store gaming revenues. Apple announced a carve-out provision for cloud-gaming platforms that would maintain dependency on the App Store and in-app purchase frameworks but none of the providers seemed very happy with Apple’s solution. As a result, Xbox Cloud Gaming will operate entirely through the web on iOS inside mobile Safari.