Andreessen Horowitz

5 top gaming investors explain how the pandemic is reshaping MMOs and social games

Posted by | Andreessen Horowitz, Club-Penguin, coronavirus, COVID-19, Extra Crunch, Gaming, Investor Surveys, online games, pantheon, Roblox, RPG, Social, social network, Startups, TC, video game, video gaming | No Comments

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions into isolation, video games are seeing a surge in usage as people seek entertainment and social interaction.

When we surveyed gaming-focused VCs in October, Andreessen Horowitz partner Jonathan Lai predicted that “next-generation games will be bigger than anything we’ve seen yet,” eventually reaching “Facebook scale.” This month, when we asked 17 VCs how this era would impact consumer startups, gaming was one of the top verticals they named.

We wanted to learn more about how the venture community thinks about the future of this sector, so we asked five experienced gaming investors about where they do — and don’t — see new opportunities within this trend:

Below are their responses, edited for space and clarity. We’ll follow up with surveys on other gaming categories in the next couple of weeks.

And if you’re interested in understanding the challenges for gaming companies aiming to become next-generation social platforms, be sure to read my eight-part series on virtual worlds.

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Libra rival Celo launches 50-member Alliance For Prosperity

Posted by | Anchorage, Andreessen Horowitz, Apps, blockchain, Coinbase Ventures, cryptocurrency, Developer, eCommerce, funding, Libra, Libra Association, Mobile, payments, Polychain Capital, stablecoin, TC, Venture Capital | No Comments

Some Libra Association members like Andreessen Horowitz and Coinbase Ventures are double-dipping, backing a competing cryptocurrency developer platform. Launching today with over 50 partners, non-profit The Celo Foundation’s ‘Alliance For Prosperity’ offers a way for developers to build decentralized mobile apps that are based on Celo’s blockchain platform and USD stablecoin.

The open-source Celo platform is still in testing with plans to officially launch its mainnet in April. The non-profit founded in 2017 has raised $36.4 million, including its Series A where Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Crypto bought $15 million worth of Celo Gold tokens.

The biggest differentiator of Celo’s network versus other blockchains is that payments in the Celo Dollar stablecoin can be sent to people’s phone numbers rather than complicated addresses. The goal is to make delivering utility via blockchain easier by building a flexible network of applications that doesn’t scare regulators like Libra has.
The Alliance For Prosperity includes Andreessen Horowitz (which funded Celo), Coinbase (Ventures), Bison Trails, Anchorage, and Mercy Corps — all of which are also Libra Association members. That could potentially create a conflict of interest regarding which cryptocurrency and developer platform they promote to their portfolio companies, integrate into their products, or focus on for delivering financial services to the needy.

Other high-profile Alliance partners include Carbon, GiveDirectly, Grameen Foundation, Maple, and Polychain. Partners have made a somewhat vague commitment to “backing development efforts of the project, building infrastructure, implementing desired use cases on the platform, integrating Celo assets in their projects, or collaborating on education campaigns in their communities to further advance the use of blockchain technology” according to Chuck Kimble, Celo’s cLabs head of business development and head of the Alliance. Anyone can apply to join the open network, and there’s no minimum financial investment like Libra’s $10 million prerequisite.

Celo isn’t trying to replace the dollar with its own synthetic currency, and its reserve is backed with other cryptocurrencies rather than fiat cash. That might make it more acceptable to regulators who were worried that Libra’s token and fiat currency bundle-backed reserve could impact the global financial system. The first of the decentralized apps on the platform, the Celo Wallet, is already available for iOS and Android.

Like many blockchain projects, there are some lofty intentions for social impact with Celo. Use cases include “powering mobile and online work, enabling faster and affordable remittances, reducing the operational complexities of delivering humanitarian aid, facilitating payments, and enabling microlending” says Kimble. The real driver of this potential is Celo’s promise of much lower transaction fees than traditional middlemen charge.

When asked what the biggest threats to Celo’s success are, he told me “Banking infrastructure improving faster than we expect” and “Mobile adoption or LTE data not expanding on their current trajectory.” He did not mention the developer fatigue, regulatory scrutiny, technical complexity, or slow adoption of blockchain utilities that have plagued other crypto for good projects.

Here’s the full list of members working towards these goals:

Abra, Alice, AlphaWallet, Anchorage, Appen, Ayannah, Andreessen Horowitz, B12, BC4NB (Blockchain for the Next Billion), BeamAndGo, Bidali, Bison Trails, Blockchain Academy Mexico, Blockchain.com, Blockchain for Humanity (b4h), Blockchain for Social Impact (BSIC), Blockdaemon, Carbon, cLabs, CloudWalk Inc, Cobru, Coinbase, Coinplug, Cryptio, Cryptobuyer, CryptoSavannah, eSolidar, Fintech4Good, Flexa, Gitcoin, GiveDirectly, Grameen Foundation, GSMA, KeshoLabs, Laboratoria, Ledn, Maple, Mercy Corps, Metadium, Moon, MoonPay, Pipol, Pngme, Polychain, Project Wren, SaldoMX, Semicolon Africa, The Giving Block, Utrust, Upright, Yellow Card, and 88i. [Update: Ledger joined this morning.]

“Many of these organizations have on-the-ground operations that will begin to get Celo into the hands of those who have been underserved by the current global financial system” Andreessen Horowitz general partner Katie Haun told me. “Our hope is that this partnership will start unlocking the potential of internet money”. To spur adoption, the Alliance will distribute ‘Prosperity Gifts’ in the form of financial grants to developers proposing Celo products that would benefit society. 

There are also some peculiar characteristics of Celo’s system. People exchange other cryptocurrencies for Celo Gold, then exchange that for Celo Dollars they can spend. The reserve is backed with other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum rather that fiat, and isn’t fully collateralized. That could make it vulnerable to a Celo bank run or crash in price of those currencies. Celo also lets arbitrageurs pocket the difference if Celo Gold and Celo Dollars get out of sync.

While it might not be a danger to the world financial system like Libra, it could be a danger to itself. At least on the anti-money laundering front, cLabs — the team that’s kicking off development of the Celo platform — has hired former Capital One head of enterprise risk management Jai Ramaswamy. Plus, the Celo founders come well pedigreed, including Marek Olszewski and Rene Reinsberg who spun out machine learning startup Locu from MIT and sold it to GoDaddy, as well as EigenTrust inventor and former MIT Media Lab professor Sep Kamvar.

So far, 130 teams have expressed interest in building on the Celo platform. For reference, Libra said 1,500 organizations had said they wanted to work on that project four months after its reveal. Celo Camp and Blockchain for Social Impact Incubator will also be fostering projects for the blockchain.

Celo could make banking cheaper and more accessible while power new fintech innovation. But for any of that to happen, it will need to get enough developers building truly useful products, make the blockchain and currency exchange simple enough for mainstream audiences in developing nations, and grow adoption to meaningful levels few cryptocurrency projects have yet achieved. The Alliance For Prosperity will have to throw their weight into this project, not just their names, if it’s going to succeed.

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Fintech’s next decade will look radically different

Posted by | Amazon, Andreessen Horowitz, Android, Angela Strange, bain capital ventures, Bank, BlackRock, equifax, Facebook, Finance, financial services, financial technology, GitHub, Google, instagram, Marqeta, Matt Harris, Open Banking, payments, PayPal, Shopify, stripe, TechCrunch, Uber, Venture Capital | No Comments

The birth and growth of financial technology developed mostly over the last ten years.

So as we look ahead, what does the next decade have in store? I believe we’re starting to see early signs: in the next ten years, fintech will become portable and ubiquitous as it moves to the background and centralizes into one place where our money is managed for us.

When I started working in fintech in 2012, I had trouble tracking competitive search terms because no one knew what our sector was called. The best-known companies in the space were Paypal and Mint.

fintech search volume

Google search volume for “fintech,” 2000 – present.

Fintech has since become a household name, a shift that came with with prodigious growth in investment: from $2 billion in 2010 to over $50 billion in venture capital in 2018 (and on-pace for $30 billion+ this year).

Predictions were made along the way with mixed results — banks will go out of business, banks will catch back up. Big tech will get into consumer finance. Narrow service providers will unbundle all of consumer finance. Banks and big fintechs will gobble up startups and consolidate the sector. Startups will each become their own banks. The fintech ‘bubble’ will burst.

Who will the winners be in the future of fintech?

Here’s what did happen: fintechs were (and still are) heavily verticalized, recreating the offline branches of financial services by bringing them online and introducing efficiencies. The next decade will look very different. Early signs are beginning to emerge from overlooked areas which suggest that financial services in the next decade will:

  1. Be portable and interoperable: Like mobile phones, customers will be able to easily transition between ‘carriers’.
  2. Become more ubiquitous and accessible: Basic financial products will become a commodity and bring unbanked participants ‘online’.
  3. Move to the background: The users of financial tools won’t have to develop 1:1 relationships with the providers of those tools.
  4. Centralize into a few places and steer on ‘autopilot’.

Prediction 1: The open data layer

Thesis: Data will be openly portable and will no longer be a competitive moat for fintechs.

Personal data has never had a moment in the spotlight quite like 2019. The Cambridge Analytica scandal and the data breach that compromised 145 million Equifax accounts sparked today’s public consciousness around the importance of data security. Last month, the House of Representatives’ Fintech Task Force met to evaluate financial data standards and the Senate introduced the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act.

A tired cliché in tech today is that “data is the new oil.” Other things being equal, one would expect banks to exploit their data-rich advantage to build the best fintech. But while it’s necessary, data alone is not a sufficient competitive moat: great tech companies must interpret, understand and build customer-centric products that leverage their data.

Why will this change in the next decade? Because the walls around siloed customer data in financial services are coming down. This is opening the playing field for upstart fintech innovators to compete with billion-dollar banks, and it’s happening today.

Much of this is thanks to a relatively obscure piece of legislation in Europe, PSD2. Think of it as GDPR for payment data. The UK became the first to implement PSD2 policy under its Open Banking regime in 2018. The policy requires all large banks to make consumer data available to any fintech which the consumer permissions. So if I keep my savings with Bank A but want to leverage them to underwrite a mortgage with Fintech B, as a consumer I can now leverage my own data to access more products.

Consortia like FDATA are radically changing attitudes towards open banking and gaining global support. In the U.S., five federal financial regulators recently came together with a rare joint statement on the benefits of alternative data, for the most part only accessible through open banking technology.

The data layer, when it becomes open and ubiquitous, will erode the competitive advantage of data-rich financial institutions. This will democratize the bottom of the fintech stack and open the competition to whoever can build the best products on top of that openly accessible data… but building the best products is still no trivial feat, which is why Prediction 2 is so important:

Prediction 2: The open protocol layer

Thesis: Basic financial services will become simple open-source protocols, lowering the barrier for any company to offer financial products to its customers.

Picture any investment, wealth management, trading, merchant banking, or lending system. Just to get to market, these systems have to rigorously test their core functionality to avoid legal and regulatory risk. Then, they have to eliminate edge cases, build a compliance infrastructure, contract with third-party vendors to provide much of the underlying functionality (think: Fintech Toolkit) and make these systems all work together.

The end result is that every financial services provider builds similar systems, replicated over and over and siloed by company. Or even worse, they build on legacy core banking providers, with monolith systems in outdated languages (hello, COBOL). These services don’t interoperate, and each bank and fintech is forced to become its own expert at building financial protocols ancillary to its core service.

But three trends point to how that is changing today:

First, the infrastructure and service layer to build is being disaggregates, thanks to platforms like Stripe, Marqeta, Apex, and Plaid. These ‘finance as a service’ providers make it easy to build out basic financial functionality. Infrastructure is currently a hot investment category and will be as long as more companies get into financial services — and as long as infra market leaders can maintain price control and avoid commoditization.

Second, industry groups like FINOS are spearheading the push for open-source financial solutions. Consider a Github repository for all the basic functionality that underlies fintech tools. Developers could continuously improve the underlying code. Software could become standardized across the industry. Solutions offered by different service providers could become more inter-operable if they shared their underlying infrastructure.

And third, banks and investment managers, realizing the value in their own technology, are today starting to license that technology out. Examples are BlackRock’s Aladdin risk-management system or Goldman’s Alloy data modeling program. By giving away or selling these programs to clients, banks open up another revenue stream, make it easy for the financial services industry to work together (think of it as standardizing the language they all use), and open up a customer base that will provide helpful feedback, catch bugs, and request new useful product features.

As Andreessen Horowitz partner Angela Strange notes, “what that means is, there are several different infrastructure companies that will partner with banks and package up the licensing process and some regulatory work, and all the different payment-type networks that you need. So if you want to start a financial company, instead of spending two years and millions of dollars in forming tons of partnerships, you can get all of that as a service and get going.”

Fintech is developing in much the same way computers did: at first software and hardware came bundled, then hardware became below differentiated operating systems with ecosystem lock-in, then the internet broke open software with software-as-a-service. In that way, fintech in the next ten years will resemble the internet of the last twenty.

placeholder vc infographic

Infographic courtesy Placeholder VC

Prediction 3: Embedded fintech

Thesis: Fintech will become part of the basic functionality of non-finance products.

The concept of embedded fintech is that financial services, rather than being offered as a standalone product, will become part of the native user interface of other products, becoming embedded.

This prediction has gained supporters over the last few months, and it’s easy to see why. Bank partnerships and infrastructure software providers have inspired companies whose core competencies are not consumer finance to say “why not?” and dip their toes in fintech’s waters.

Apple debuted the Apple Card. Amazon offers its Amazon Pay and Amazon Cash products. Facebook unveiled its Libra project and, shortly afterward, launched Facebook Pay. As companies from Shopify to Target look to own their payment and purchase finance stacks, fintech will begin eating the world.

If these signals are indicative, financial services in the next decade will be a feature of the platforms with which consumers already have a direct relationship, rather than a product for which consumers need to develop a relationship with a new provider to gain access.

Matt Harris of Bain Capital Ventures summarizes in a recent set of essays (one, two) what it means for fintech to become embedded. His argument is that financial services will be the next layer of the ‘stack’ to build on top of internet, cloud, and mobile. We now have powerful tools that are constantly connected and immediately available to us through this stack, and embedded services like payments, transactions, and credit will allow us to unlock more value in them without managing our finances separately.

Fintech futurist Brett King puts it even more succinctly: technology companies and large consumer brands will become gatekeepers for financial products, which themselves will move to the background of the user experiences. Many of these companies have valuable data from providing sticky, high-affinity consumer products in other domains. That data can give them a proprietary advantage in cost-cutting or underwriting (eg: payment plans for new iPhones). The combination of first-order services (eg: making iPhones) with second-order embedded finance (eg: microloans) means that they can run either one as a loss-leader to subsidize the other, such as lowering the price of iPhones while increasing Apple’s take on transactions in the app store.

This is exciting for the consumers of fintech, who will no longer have to search for new ways to pay, invest, save, and spend. It will be a shift for any direct-to-consumer brands, who will be forced to compete on non-brand dimensions and could lose their customer relationships to aggregators.

Even so, legacy fintechs stand to gain from leveraging the audience of big tech companies to expand their reach and building off the contextual data of big tech platforms. Think of Uber rides hailed from within Google Maps: Uber made a calculated choice to list its supply on an aggregator in order to reach more customers right when they’re looking for directions.

Prediction 4: Bringing it all together

Thesis: Consumers will access financial services from one central hub.

In-line with the migration from front-end consumer brand to back-end financial plumbing, most financial services will centralize into hubs to be viewed all in one place.

For a consumer, the hub could be a smartphone. For a small business, within Quickbooks or Gmail or the cash register.

As companies like Facebook, Apple, and Amazon split their operating systems across platforms (think: Alexa + Amazon Prime + Amazon Credit Card), benefits will accrue to users who are fully committed to one ecosystem so that they can manage their finances through any platform — but these providers will make their platforms interoperable as well so that Alexa (e.g.) can still win over Android users.

As a fintech nerd, I love playing around with different financial products. But most people are not fintech nerds and prefer to interact with as few services as possible. Having to interface with multiple fintechs separately is ultimately value subtractive, not additive. And good products are designed around customer-centric intuition. In her piece, Google Maps for Money, Strange calls this ‘autonomous finance:’ your financial service products should know your own financial position better than you do so that they can make the best choices with your money and execute them in the background so you don’t have to.

And so now we see the rebundling of services. But are these the natural endpoints for fintech? As consumers become more accustomed to financial services as a natural feature of other products, they will probably interact more and more with services in the hubs from which they manage their lives. Tech companies have the natural advantage in designing the product UIs we love — do you enjoy spending more time on your bank’s website or your Instagram feed? Today, these hubs are smartphones and laptops. In the future, could they be others, like emails, cars, phones or search engines?

As the development of fintech mirrors the evolution of computers and the internet, becoming interoperable and embedded in everyday services, it will radically reshape where we manage our finances and how little we think about them anymore. One thing is certain: by the time I’m writing this article in 2029, fintech will look very little like it did today.

So which financial technology companies will be the ones to watch over the next decade? Building off these trends, we’ve picked five that will thrive in this changing environment.

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Knowable launches its ‘not a podcast’ $100 audio classes

Posted by | Andreessen Horowitz, Apps, Connie Chan, eCommerce, Education, Entertainment, funding, Fundings & Exits, Media, Mobile, Podcasts, Recent Funding, Snackable Media, Startups, TC | No Comments

Books on tape were the lifeblood of self-help. But e-learning startups like Khan Academy and Coursera demanded our eyes, not just our ears. Then came podcasts that make knowledge accessible, yet rarely focus on you retaining and applying what they teach.

Today, a new startup called Knowable is launching to provide gaze-free audio education at $100 per eight-hour course on topics like how to launch a startup or how to sleep better. The idea is that by layering chapter summaries and eventually interactive activities atop premium, long-form, ad-free lessons, it can become the trusted name in learning anywhere. With always-in Bluetooth earbuds and smart speakers becoming ubiquitous, we can imbibe content in smaller chunks in new environments. Knowable wants to fill that time with self-improvement.

The big question is whether Knowable can differentiate its content from free alternatives and build a moat against copycats through savvy voice-responsive learning exercises so you don’t forget everything.

To evolve beyond the podcast, Knowable has raised a $3.75 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s partner Connie Chan, and joined by Upfront, First Round and Initialized. “The market is ready for a company like Knowable. Their timing is right and their team possesses the rare combination of product expertise and creative media experience necessary to win. That’s why I’m not just hosting Knowable’s first course, Launch a Startup, we’re also one of the earliest investors in the company,” says Initialized’s Alexis Ohanian.

Knowable Courses

There’s certainly a market opportunity, as 32% of Americans listen to podcasts monthly, up from 26% in 2018, with 74% of those citing the desire to learn. Half of Americans have listened to an audio book. The e-learning market is $190 billion today, but projected to grow to $300 billion as bloated and expensive higher education succumbs to cheaper and more focused options.

But to score consistent revenue, Knowable must build up its library and execute on plans to offer a subscription service with access to updates on prior lessons. A major challenge will be bundling classes on the right topics that don’t exhaust users so they keep listening and paying.

Building a school from sound

“My first-generation immigrant parents came here without college degrees. Great teachers let me move up the socioeconomic ladder pretty quickly,” says Knowable co-founder Warren Shaeffer. “The genesis of the idea came from our shared interest in education and the value of great teachers.”

Knowable ChaptersShaeffer and his co-founder Alex Benzer have already been through the struggles of startup life together. After meeting at MuckerLab in LA and splitting from their respective co-founders, in 2007 they created SocialEngine, a community website builder that sold to Room 214. Next they built up a video platform for independent creators called Vidme that raised $9 million but never became sustainable before selling to Giphy in 2018.

The pair had glimpsed how great content could rope in an audience, but felt like the true potential of the podcast hadn’t been explored. Why did they have to be produced on the cheap, distributed on generic platforms and supported by ads? Knowable emerged as a way to create luxury audio, delivered through a purpose-built app and paid for with direct sales or subscriptions. Instead of recording unscripted discussions as episodes, they mapped out course curriculum and filled them with structured advice from experts.

I’m a few hours into the Ohanian-hosted Launch a Startup. It’s certainly a lot more efficient than trying to learn the basics just through storytelling from podcasts like Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale or NPR’s How I Built This. One chapter breaks down the top ways startups die and the traits you’ll need to persevere. From optimism and resilience operating in unstructured environments to a refusal to make excuses why you can’t succeed, Ohanian cooly recaps the learnings at the end of the chapter. Open the app and you’ll get a written summary plus suggested blog posts and books for diving deeper. An accompanying 95-page PDF workbook collects all the key learnings for rapid review later.

The topic is huge, though, and Knowable is at its best when it’s distilling knowledge into neatly packaged lists and frameworks. The course’s weakest moments are when it feels most like a podcast, with somewhat meandering conversations with random founders discussing how they dealt with problems. Meanwhile, it currently lacks some basic tools like in-app notetaking and sharing, or as wide a range of playback speeds and rewind options as you’ll get on Audible. “We don’t think of ourselves as a podcast company,” Shaeffer says, but that’s still who he’s competing against.

pic.twitter.com/ZAC4oI5N1p

— Alexis Ohanian Sr. 🚀 (@alexisohanian) May 28, 2019

What’s also missing is any true interactivity. The downside of audio learning is that if you’re not paying full attention, it’s easy to zone out. Knowable needs to develop voice and touch-controlled exercises to help users apply and retain the lessons. There are plans to launch learning communities where students can confer about the classes, akin to Y Combinator’s “Bookface” forum.

However, Shaeffer says that “we’re on a mission to make education more accessible and quizzes might be an impediment to that,” which leaves questions about what the learning activities will look like, even though they’re crucial to users coughing up $100 per class. It’s easy to imagine Spotify/Anchor, Gimlet Media or other major podcast players developing their own interactive features and classes if Knowable doesn’t get there first.

Snackable audio education

The startup’s bid for virality is the ability to give a friend a code to take the class with you. Knowable is also hoping big-name experts and quality driven by a team cobbled together from NPR, The Washington Post, William Morris Endeavor, Masterclass and Vice will set it apart. They’ve got a lot of work ahead to grow beyond the six courses currently available on topics like climate change activism and real estate, especially because there’s a 100% money-back guarantee if classes fall short.

For the moment, Knowable feels a bit late with its homework. It has the potential and demand to reinvent audio learning but currently sounds too similar to what’s already everywhere. I was hoping for a Bandersnatch for education that made a broadcast experience feel more like a game.

But the opportunity will only continue to grow as we spend more of our lives in earshot of AirPods and Echoes. With a broad enough library and clever editing, one day you might tell Knowable “teach me something about venture capital in eight minutes” as you walk to the coffee shop. That’s going to have a much better impact on your life than just scrolling through another feed.

 

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Not all is predictable on Facebook’s social Horizon

Posted by | Against Gravity, Andreessen Horowitz, augmented reality, bigscreen, Facebook, Facebook Horizon, facebook spaces, Gaming, Google, HTC, Index Ventures, Media, Oculus, Oculus Connect, Oculus Rooms, Oculus Venues, Rec Room, sequoia capital, Social, Startups, TC, True Ventures, Venture Capital, Video, Virtual reality | No Comments

Most of the people I spoke with at Facebook’s Oculus Connect see the proliferation of virtual reality as a foregone conclusion, one that’s just a matter of timing at this point. For Facebook, the conference’s “The Time is Now” catchphrase showcased that they feel their hardware is ready for everyone.

But despite the success they feel like they’ve tapped into when it comes to hardware iterations, the company’s bread and butter social networking prowess feels like it’s barely improved in-headset in the past several years of VR experimentations.

“On the social side, looking back, it’s kind of embarrassing all of the stages we’ve gone through at Oculus,” Oculus CTO and veteran programmer John Carmack conceded onstage during his signature rambling annual keynote, noting that his own social APK was followed by Oculus Rooms, Oculus Venues, Facebook Spaces and now the company’s latest shiny pearl Facebook Horizon.

Horizon’s debut this year included a flashy trailer for what quickly seemed to be the company’s biggest gamble and first potential social hit, a massive multi-player online world. In introducing the software, Zuckerberg talked about people-centric software as Facebook’s “bread-and-butter,” noting, “We build a lot of the best social experiences for phones and computers, and we want to do this for virtual reality as well.”

But Facebook does not actually appear to hold that much of an advantage over much smaller game studios in terms of understanding how to make social virtual reality experience take off.

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Singularity 6 raises $16.5M from Andreessen Horowitz to create a ‘virtual society’

Posted by | a16z, Andreessen Horowitz, Gaming, Singularity 6, TC | No Comments

When Fortnite reached stratospheric popularity early last year, there were undoubtedly an awful lot of VCs on the sidelines looking enviously at the massive platform and wondering what opportunities could be gleaned from its rapid rise.

Epic Games went on to raise later that year at a nearly $15 billion valuation so some of those investors decided to invest directly in the Fortnite creator’s continued ascent, but others have been looking to get in on the ground floor of new operations that are aiming to rethink the line between video games and social networks.

Today, Andreessen Horowitz announced that it’s leading the $16.5 million Series A of a stealthy gaming startup called Singularity 6. The startup’s ex-Riot Games co-founders claim their venture is less focused on building a button-mashing competitive shooter than it is a “virtual society” where users can develop relationships with in-game characters powered by “complex AI”.

Singularity 6

Singularity 6 co-founders Anthony Leung (left)and Aidan Karabaich (right)

London Venture Partners (LVP) and FunPlus Ventures also participated in the Series A round. LVP led the company’s $2.5 million seed round last year.

“The near term focus is our first product, building a world that begins to tackle the community simulation space, and that’s really combining a strong virtual community with deep and compelling gameplay,” CEO Anthony Leung told TechCrunch in an interview.

He says that the company’s influences for its first title include “Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”

While the co-founder did specify that Singularity 6 is a “game and tech company” he didn’t have too much to say about what that tech was. “We actually have to roll out a lot of custom tech, because there aren’t really any off-the-shelf solutions for the MMO aspects or the virtual community features,” Leung told us.

A16z has already invested in a company building the underlying tech for MMOs, Improbable, which has raised $600 million+ for its server-stitching SpatialOS platform. Investors like Andreessen Horowitz are largely ambitious that the gaming market will continue to grow as major players invest heavily in platforms that make the titles more accessible to new user bases.

“Interactive entertainment has become more mainstream and approachable than ever before, as technology use is no longer for fringe or techy groups – this new generation of ‘gamers’ is becoming more inclusive of everyone – as immersive, digital experiences will become as accessible and commonplace as the social forums we know and love today.” wrote a16z Partner Andrew Chen, who is taking a seat on Singularity 6’s board as part of this deal, in a blog post.

Singularity 6 isn’t sharing a release date for its “virtual society” quite yet, but Leung tells me the title is “still a ways out” from launch.

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Facebook announces Libra cryptocurrency: All you need to know

Posted by | Anchorage, Andreessen Horowitz, Apps, blockchain, coinbase, cryptocurrency, Developer, eBay, eCommerce, Facebook, Farfetch, Finance, funding, Libra Association, Libra Cryptocurrency, Lyft, Mobile, Move coding language, payments, PayPal, Policy, privacy, Ribbit Capital, Social, Spotify, stablecoin, stripe, TC, Thrive Capital, Uber, Union Square Ventures, visa | No Comments

Facebook has finally revealed the details of its cryptocurrency, Libra, which will let you buy things or send money to people with nearly zero fees. You’ll pseudonymously buy or cash out your Libra online or at local exchange points like grocery stores, and spend it using interoperable third-party wallet apps or Facebook’s own Calibra wallet that will be built into WhatsApp, Messenger and its own app. Today Facebook released its white paper explaining Libra and its testnet for working out the kinks of its blockchain system before a public launch in the first half of 2020.

Facebook won’t fully control Libra, but instead get just a single vote in its governance like other founding members of the Libra Association, including Visa, Uber and Andreessen Horowitz, which have invested at least $10 million each into the project’s operations. The association will promote the open-sourced Libra Blockchain and developer platform with its own Move programming language, plus sign up businesses to accept Libra for payment and even give customers discounts or rewards.

Facebook is launching a subsidiary company also called Calibra that handles its crypto dealings and protects users’ privacy by never mingling your Libra payments with your Facebook data so it can’t be used for ad targeting. Your real identity won’t be tied to your publicly visible transactions. But Facebook/Calibra and other founding members of the Libra Association will earn interest on the money users cash in that is held in reserve to keep the value of Libra stable.

Facebook’s audacious bid to create a global digital currency that promotes financial inclusion for the unbanked actually has more privacy and decentralization built in than many expected. Instead of trying to dominate Libra’s future or squeeze tons of cash out of it immediately, Facebook is instead playing the long-game by pulling payments into its online domain. Facebook’s VP of blockchain, David Marcus, explained the company’s motive and the tie-in with its core revenue source during a briefing at San Francisco’s historic Mint building. “If more commerce happens, then more small businesses will sell more on and off platform, and they’ll want to buy more ads on the platform so it will be good for our ads business.”

The risk and reward of building the new PayPal

In cryptocurrencies, Facebook saw both a threat and an opportunity. They held the promise of disrupting how things are bought and sold by eliminating transaction fees common with credit cards. That comes dangerously close to Facebook’s ad business that influences what is bought and sold. If a competitor like Google or an upstart built a popular coin and could monitor the transactions, they’d learn what people buy and could muscle in on the billions spent on Facebook marketing. Meanwhile, the 1.7 billion people who lack a bank account might choose whoever offers them a financial services alternative as their online identity provider too. That’s another thing Facebook wants to be.

Yet existing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum weren’t properly engineered to scale to be a medium of exchange. Their unanchored price was susceptible to huge and unpredictable swings, making it tough for merchants to accept as payment. And cryptocurrencies miss out on much of their potential beyond speculation unless there are enough places that will take them instead of dollars, and the experience of buying and spending them is easy enough for a mainstream audience. But with Facebook’s relationship with 7 million advertisers and 90 million small businesses plus its user experience prowess, it was well-poised to tackle this juggernaut of a problem.

Now Facebook wants to make Libra the evolution of PayPal . It’s hoping Libra will become simpler to set up, more ubiquitous as a payment method, more efficient with fewer fees, more accessible to the unbanked, more flexible thanks to developers and more long-lasting through decentralization.

“Success will mean that a person working abroad has a fast and simple way to send money to family back home, and a college student can pay their rent as easily as they can buy a coffee,” Facebook writes in its Libra documentation. That would be a big improvement on today, when you’re stuck paying rent in insecure checks while exploitative remittance services charge an average of 7% to send money abroad, taking $50 billion from users annually. Libra could also power tiny microtransactions worth just a few cents that are infeasible with credit card fees attached, or replace your pre-paid transit pass.

…Or it could be globally ignored by consumers who see it as too much hassle for too little reward, or too unfamiliar and limited in use to pull them into the modern financial landscape. Facebook has built a reputation for over-engineered, underused products. It will need all the help it can get if wants to replace what’s already in our pockets.

How does Libra work?

By now you know the basics of Libra. Cash in a local currency, get Libra, spend them like dollars without big transaction fees or your real name attached, cash them out whenever you want. Feel free to stop reading and share this article if that’s all you care about. But the underlying technology, the association that governs it, the wallets you’ll use and the way payments work all have a huge amount of fascinating detail to them. Facebook has released more than 100 pages of documentation on Libra and Calibra, and we’ve pulled out the most important facts. Let’s dive in.

The Libra Association — crypto’s new oligarchy

Facebook knew people wouldn’t trust it to wholly steer the cryptocurrency they use, and it also wanted help to spur adoption. So the social network recruited the founding members of the Libra Association, a not-for-profit which oversees the development of the token, the reserve of real-world assets that gives it value and the governance rules of the blockchain. “If we were controlling it, very few people would want to jump on and make it theirs,” says Marcus.

Each founding member paid a minimum of $10 million to join and optionally become a validator node operator (more on that later), gain one vote in the Libra Association council and be entitled to a share (proportionate to their investment) of the dividends from interest earned on the Libra reserve into which users pay fiat currency to receive Libra.

The 28 soon-to-be founding members of the association and their industries, previously reported by The Block’s Frank Chaparro, include:

  • Payments: Mastercard, PayPal, PayU (Naspers’ fintech arm), Stripe, Visa
  • Technology and marketplaces: Booking Holdings, eBay, Facebook/Calibra, Farfetch, Lyft, Mercado Pago, Spotify AB, Uber Technologies, Inc.
  • Telecommunications: Iliad, Vodafone Group
  • Blockchain: Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase, Inc., Xapo Holdings Limited
  • Venture Capital: Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, Union Square Ventures
  • Nonprofit and multilateral organizations, and academic institutions: Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva, Mercy Corps, Women’s World Banking

Facebook says it hopes to reach 100 founding members before the official Libra launch and it’s open to anyone that meets the requirements, including direct competitors like Google or Twitter. The Libra Association is based in Geneva, Switzerland and will meet biannually. The country was chosen for its neutral status and strong support for financial innovation including blockchain technology.

Libra governance — who gets a vote

To join the association, members must have a half rack of server space, a 100Mbps or above dedicated internet connection, a full-time site reliability engineer and enterprise-grade security. Businesses must hit two of three thresholds of a $1 billion USD market value or $500 million in customer balances, reach 20 million people a year and/or be recognized as a top 100 industry leader by a group like Interbrand Global or the S&P.

Crypto-focused investors must have more than $1 billion in assets under management, while Blockchain businesses must have been in business for a year, have enterprise-grade security and privacy and custody or staking greater than $100 million in assets. And only up to one-third of founding members can by crypto-related businesses or individually invited exceptions. Facebook also accepts research organizations like universities, and nonprofits fulfilling three of four qualities, including working on financial inclusion for more than five years, multi-national reach to lots of users, a top 100 designation by Charity Navigator or something like it and/or $50 million in budget.

The Libra Association will be responsible for recruiting more founding members to act as validator nodes for the blockchain, fundraising to jump-start the ecosystem, designing incentive programs to reward early adopters and doling out social impact grants. A council with a representative from each member will help choose the association’s managing director, who will appoint an executive team and elect a board of five to 19 top representatives.

Each member, including Facebook/Calibra, will only get up to one vote or 1% of the total vote (whichever is larger) in the Libra Association council. This provides a level of decentralization that protects against Facebook or any other player hijacking Libra for its own gain. By avoiding sole ownership and dominion over Libra, Facebook could avoid extra scrutiny from regulators who are already investigating it for a sea of privacy abuses as well as potentially anti-competitive behavior. In an attempt to preempt criticism from lawmakers, the Libra Association writes, “We welcome public inquiry and accountability. We are committed to a dialogue with regulators and policymakers. We share policymakers’ interest in the ongoing stability of national currencies.”

The Libra currency — a stablecoin

A Libra is a unit of the Libra cryptocurrency that’s represented by a three wavy horizontal line unicode character ≋ like the dollar is represented by $. The value of a Libra is meant to stay largely stable, so it’s a good medium of exchange, as merchants can be confident they won’t be paid a Libra today that’s then worth less tomorrow. The Libra’s value is tied to a basket of bank deposits and short-term government securities for a slew of historically stable international currencies, including the dollar, pound, euro, Swiss franc and yen. The Libra Association maintains this basket of assets and can change the balance of its composition if necessary to offset major price fluctuations in any one foreign currency so that the value of a Libra stays consistent.

The name Libra comes from the word for a Roman unit of weight measure. It’s trying to invoke a sense of financial freedom by playing on the French stem “Lib,” meaning free.

The Libra Association is still hammering out the exact start value for the Libra, but it’s meant to be somewhere close to the value of a dollar, euro or pound so it’s easy to conceptualize. That way, a gallon of milk in the U.S. might cost 3 to 4 Libra, similar but not exactly the same as with dollars.

The idea is that you’ll cash in some money and keep a balance of Libra that you can spend at accepting merchants and online services. You’ll be able to trade in your local currency for Libra and vice versa through certain wallet apps, including Facebook’s Calibra, third-party wallet apps and local resellers like convenience or grocery stores where people already go to top-up their mobile data plan.

The Libra Reserve — one for one

Each time someone cashes in a dollar or their respective local currency, that money goes into the Libra Reserve and an equivalent value of Libra is minted and doled out to that person. If someone cashes out from the Libra Association, the Libra they give back are destroyed/burned and they receive the equivalent value in their local currency back. That means there’s always 100% of the value of the Libra in circulation, collateralized with real-world assets in the Libra Reserve. It never runs fractional. And unliked “pegged” stable coins that are tied to a single currency like the USD, Libra maintains its own value — though that should cash out to roughly the same amount of a given currency over time.

When Libra Association members join and pay their $10 million minimum, they receive Libra Investment Tokens. Their share of the total tokens translates into the proportion of the dividend they earn off of interest on assets in the reserve. Those dividends are only paid out after Libra Association uses interest to pay for operating expenses, investments in the ecosystem, engineering research and grants to nonprofits and other organizations. This interest is part of what attracted the Libra Association’s members. If Libra becomes popular and many people carry a large balance of the currency, the reserve will grow huge and earn significant interest.

The Libra Blockchain — built for speed

Every Libra payment is permanently written into the Libra Blockchain — a cryptographically authenticated database that acts as a public online ledger designed to handle 1,000 transactions per second. That would be much faster than Bitcoin’s 7 transactions per second or Ethereum’s 15. The blockchain is operated and constantly verified by founding members of the Libra Association, which each invested $10 million or more for a say in the cryptocurrency’s governance and the ability to operate a validator node.

When a transaction is submitted, each of the nodes runs a calculation based on the existing ledger of all transactions. Thanks to a Byzantine Fault Tolerance system, just two-thirds of the nodes must come to consensus that the transaction is legitimate for it to be executed and written to the blockchain. A structure of Merkle Trees in the code makes it simple to recognize changes made to the Libra Blockchain. With 5KB transactions, 1,000 verifications per second on commodity CPUs and up to 4 billion accounts, the Libra Blockchain should be able to operate at 1,000 transactions per second if nodes use at least 40Mbps connections and 16TB SSD hard drives.

Transactions on Libra cannot be reversed. If an attack compromises over one-third of the validator nodes causing a fork in the blockchain, the Libra Association says it will temporarily halt transactions, figure out the extent of the damage and recommend software updates to resolve the fork.

Transactions aren’t entirely free. They incur a tiny fraction of a cent fee to pay for “gas” that covers the cost of processing the transfer of funds similar to with Ethereum. This fee will be negligible to most consumers, but when they add up, the gas charges will deter bad actors from creating millions of transactions to power spam and denial-of-service attacks. “We’ve purposely tried not to innovate massively on the blockchain itself because we want it to be scalable and secure,” says Marcus of piggybacking on the best elements of existing cryptocurrencies.

Currently, the Libra Blockchain is what’s known as “permissioned,” where only entities that fulfill certain requirements are admitted to a special in-group that defines consensus and controls governance of the blockchain. The problem is this structure is more vulnerable to attacks and censorship because it’s not truly decentralized. But during Facebook’s research, it couldn’t find a reliable permissionless structure that could securely scale to the number of transactions Libra will need to handle. Adding more nodes slows things down, and no one has proven a way to avoid that without compromising security.

That’s why the Libra Association’s goal is to move to a permissionless system based on proof-of-stake that will protect against attacks by distributing control, encourage competition and lower the barrier to entry. It wants to have at least 20% of votes in the Libra Association council coming from node operators based on their total Libra holdings instead of their status as a founding member. That plan should help appease blockchain purists who won’t be satisfied until Libra is completely decentralized.

Move coding language — for moving Libra

The Libra Blockchain is open source with an Apache 2.0 license, and any developer can build apps that work with it using the Move coding language. The blockchain’s prototype launches its testnet today, so it’s effectively in developer beta mode until it officially launches in the first half of 2020. The Libra Association is working with HackerOne to launch a bug bounty system later this year that will pay security researchers for safely identifying flaws and glitches. In the meantime, the Libra Association is implementing the Libra Core using the Rust programming language because it’s designed to prevent security vulnerabilities, and the Move language isn’t fully ready yet.

Move was created to make it easier to write blockchain code that follows an author’s intent without introducing bugs. It’s called Move because its primary function is to move Libra coins from one account to another, and never let those assets be accidentally duplicated. The core transaction code looks like: LibraAccount.pay_from_sender(recipient_address, amount) procedure.

Eventually, Move developers will be able to create smart contracts for programmatic interactions with the Libra Blockchain. Until Move is ready, developers can create modules and transaction scripts for Libra using Move IR, which is high-level enough to be human-readable but low-level enough to be translatable into real Move bytecode that’s written to the blockchain.

The Libra ecosystem and the Move language will be completely open to use and build, which presents a sizable risk. Crooked developers could prey on crypto novices, claiming their app works just the same as legitimate ones, and that it’s safe because it uses Libra. But if consumers get ripped off by these scammers, the anger will surely bubble up to Facebook. Yet still, Calibra’s head of product tells me, “There are no plans for the Libra Association to take a role in actively vetting [developers],” Calibra’s head of product Kevin Weil tells me.

Even though it’s tried to distance itself sufficiently via its subsidiary Libra and the association, many people will probably always think of Libra as Facebook’s cryptocurrency and blame it for their woes.

Read our full story on the dangers of Libra’s unvetted developer platform

Libra incentives — rewarding early businesses

The Libra Association wants to encourage more developers and merchants to work with its cryptocurrency. That’s why it plans to issue incentives, possibly Libra coins, to validator node operators who can get people signed up for and using Libra. Wallets that pull users through the Know Your Customer anti-fraud and money laundering process or that keep users sufficiently active for over a year will be rewarded. For each transaction they process, merchants will also receive a percentage of the transaction back.

Businesses that earn these incentives can keep them, or pass some or all of them along to users in the form of free Libra tokens or discounts on their purchases. This could create competition between wallets to see which can pass on the most rewards to their customers, and thereby attract the most users. You could imagine eBay or Spotify giving you a discount for paying in Libra, while wallet developers might offer you free tokens if you complete 100 transactions within a year.

“One challenge for Spotify and its users around the world has been the lack of easily accessible payment systems – especially for those in financially underserved markets,” Spotify’s Chief Premium Business Officer Alex Norström writes. “In joining the Libra Association, there is an opportunity to better reach Spotify’s total addressable market, eliminate friction and enable payments in mass scale.”

This savvy incentive system should massively help ratchet up Libra’s user count without dictating how businesses balance their margins versus growth. Facebook also has another plan to grow its developer ecosystem. By offering venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures a portion of the reserve interest, they’re motivating to fund startups building Libra infrastructure.

Using Libra

So how do you actually own and spend Libra? Through Libra wallets like Facebook’s own Calibra and others that will be built by third-parties, potentially including Libra Association members like PayPal. The idea is to make sending money to a friend or paying for something as easy as sending a Facebook Message. You won’t be able to make or receive any real payments until the official launch next year, though, but you can sign up for early access when it’s ready here.

None of the Libra Association members agreed to provide details on what exactly they’ll build on the blockchain, but we can take Facebook’s Calibra wallet as an example of the basic experience. Calibra will launch alongside the Libra currency on iOS and Android within Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and a standalone app. When users first sign up, they’ll be taken through a Know Your Customer anti-fraud process where they’ll have to provide a government-issued photo ID and other verification info. They’ll need to conduct due diligence on customers and report suspicious activity to the authorities.

From there you’ll be able to cash in to Libra, pick a friend or merchant, set an amount to send them and add a description and send them Libra. You’ll also be able to request Libra, and Calibra will offer an expedited way of paying merchants by scanning your or their QR code. Eventually it wants to offer in-store payments and integrations with point-of-sale systems like Square.

The Libra Association’s e-commerce members seem particularly excited about how the token could eliminate transaction fees and speed up checkout. “We believe blockchain will benefit the luxury industry by improving IP protection, transparency in the product life cycle and — as in the case of Libra — enable global frictionless e-commerce,” says FarFetch CEO Jose Neves.

Privacy — at least from Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained some of the philosophy behind Libra and Calibra in a post today. “It’s decentralized — meaning it’s run by many different organizations instead of just one, making the system fairer overall. It’s available to anyone with an internet connection and has low fees and costs. And it’s secured by cryptography which helps keep your money safe. This is an important part of our vision for a privacy-focused social platform — where you can interact in all the ways you’d want privately, from messaging to secure payments.”

By default, Facebook won’t import your contacts or any of your profile information, but may ask if you wish to do so. It also won’t share any of your transaction data back to Facebook, so it won’t be used to target you with ads, rank your News Feed, or otherwise earn Facebook money directly. Data will only be shared in specific instances in anonymized ways for research or adoption measurement, for hunting down fraudsters or due to a request from law enforcement. And you don’t even need a Facebook or WhatsApp account to sign up for Calibra or to use Libra.

“We realize people don’t want their social data and financial data commingled,” says Marcus, who’s now head of Calibra. “The reality is we’ll have plenty of wallets that will compete with us and many of them will not be in social, and if we want to successfully win people’s trust, we have to make sure the data will be separated.”

In case you are hacked, scammed or lose access to your account, Calibra will refund you for lost coins when possible through 24/7 chat support because it’s a custodial wallet. You also won’t have to remember any long, complex crypto passwords you could forget and get locked out from your money, as Calibra manages all your keys for you. Given Calibra will likely become the default wallet for many Libra users, this extra protection and smoother user experience is essential.

For now, Calibra won’t make money. But Calibra’s head of product Kevin Weil tells me that if it reaches scale, Facebook could launch other financial tools through Calibra that it could monetize, such as investing or lending. “In time, we hope to offer additional services for people and businesses, such as paying bills with the push of a button, buying a cup of coffee with the scan of a code or riding your local public transit without needing to carry cash or a metro pass,” the Calibra team writes. That makes it start to sound a lot like China’s everything app WeChat.

A global coin

Facebook got one thing right for sure: Today’s money doesn’t work for everyone. Those of us living comfortably in developed nations likely don’t see the hardships that befall migrant workers or the unbanked abroad. Preyed on by greedy payday lenders and high-fee remittance services, targeted by muggers and left out of traditional financial services, the poor get poorer. Libra has the potential to get more money from working parents back to their families and help people retain credit even if they’re robbed of their physical possessions. That would do more to accomplish Facebook’s mission of making the world feel smaller than all the News Feed Likes combined.

If Facebook succeeds and legions of people cash in money for Libra, it and the other founding members of the Libra Association could earn big dividends on the interest. And if suddenly it becomes super quick to buy things through Facebook using Libra, businesses will boost their ad spend there. But if Libra gets hacked or proves unreliable, it could cost lots of people around the world money while souring them on cryptocurrencies. And by offering an open Libra platform, shady developers could build apps that snatch not just people’s personal info like Cambridge Analytica, but their hard-earned digital cash.

Facebook just tried to reinvent money. Next year, we’ll see if the Libra Association can pull it off. It took me 4,000 words to explain Libra, but at least now you can make up your own mind about whether to be scared of Facebook crypto.

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Apollo raises $22M for its GraphQL platform

Posted by | Andreessen Horowitz, Android, api, computing, data management, database, Developer, Enterprise, Facebook, graph database, graph databases, Javascript, Matrix Partners, meteor, Recent Funding, relational database, San Francisco, SQL, Startups, TC, Trinity Ventures | No Comments

Apollo, a San Francisco-based startup that provides a number of developer and operator tools and services around the GraphQL query language, today announced that it has raised a $22 million growth funding round co-led by Andreessen Horowitz and Matrix Partners. Existing investors Trinity Ventures and Webb Investment Network also participated in this round.

Today, Apollo is probably the biggest player in the GraphQL ecosystem. At its core, the company’s services allow businesses to use the Facebook -incubated GraphQL technology to shield their developers from the patchwork of legacy APIs and databases as they look to modernize their technology stacks. The team argues that while REST APIs that talked directly to other services and databases still made sense a few years ago, it doesn’t anymore now that the number of API endpoints keeps increasing rapidly.

Apollo replaces this with what it calls the Data Graph. “There is basically a missing piece where we think about how people build apps today, which is the piece that connects the billions of devices out there,” Apollo co-founder and CEO Geoff Schmidt told me. “You probably don’t just have one app anymore, you probably have three, for the web, iOS and Android . Or maybe six. And if you’re a two-sided marketplace you’ve got one for buyers, one for sellers and another for your ops team.”

Managing the interfaces between all of these apps quickly becomes complicated and means you have to write a lot of custom code for every new feature. The promise of the Data Graph is that developers can use GraphQL to query the data in the graph and move on, all without having to write the boilerplate code that typically slows them down. At the same time, the ops teams can use the Graph to enforce access policies and implement other security features.

“If you think about it, there’s a lot of analogies to what happened with relational databases in the ’80s,” Schmidt said. “There is a need for a new layer in the stack. Previously, your query planner was a human being, not a piece of software, and a relational database is a piece of software that would just give you a database. And you needed a way to query that database, and that syntax was called SQL.”

Geoff Schmidt, Apollo CEO, and Matt DeBergalis, CTO

GraphQL itself, of course, is open source. Apollo is now building a lot of the proprietary tools around this idea of the Data Graph that make it useful for businesses. There’s a cloud-hosted graph manager, for example, that lets you track your schema, as well as a dashboard to track performance, as well as integrations with continuous integration services. “It’s basically a set of services that keep track of the metadata about your graph and help you manage the configuration of your graph and all the workflows and processes around it,” Schmidt said.

The development of Apollo didn’t come out of nowhere. The founders previously launched Meteor, a framework and set of hosted services that allowed developers to write their apps in JavaScript, both on the front-end and back-end. Meteor was tightly coupled to MongoDB, though, which worked well for some use cases but also held the platform back in the long run. With Apollo, the team decided to go in the opposite direction and instead build a platform that makes being database agnostic the core of its value proposition.

The company also recently launched Apollo Federation, which makes it easier for businesses to work with a distributed graph. Sometimes, after all, your data lives in lots of different places. Federation allows for a distributed architecture that combines all of the different data sources into a single schema that developers can then query.

Schmidt tells me the company started to get some serious traction last year and by December, it was getting calls from VCs that heard from their portfolio companies that they were using Apollo.

The company plans to use the new funding to build out its technology to scale its field team to support the enterprises that bet on its technology, including the open-source technologies that power both the services.

“I see the Data Graph as a core new layer of the stack, just like we as an industry invested in the relational database for decades, making it better and better,” Schmidt said. “We’re still finding new uses for SQL and that relational database model. I think the Data Graph is going to be the same way.”

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Anchorage emerges with $17M from a16z for ‘omnimetric’ crypto security

Posted by | Anchorage, Andreessen Horowitz, Apps, blockchain, Chris Dixon, cryptocurrency, Enterprise, funding, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Recent Funding, Security, Startups, TC, Venture Capital | No Comments

I’m not allowed to tell you exactly how Anchorage keeps rich institutions from being robbed of their cryptocurrency, but the off-the-record demo was damn impressive. Judging by the $17 million Series A this security startup raised last year led by Andreessen Horowitz and joined by Khosla Ventures, #Angels, Max Levchin, Elad Gil, Mark McCombe of Blackrock and AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, I’m not the only one who thinks so. In fact, crypto funds like Andreessen’s a16z crypto, Paradigm and Electric Capital are already using it.

They’re trusting in the guys who engineered Square’s first encrypted card reader and Docker’s security protocols. “It’s less about us choosing this space and more about this space choosing us. If you look at our backgrounds and you look at the problem, it’s like the universe handed us on a silver platter the Venn diagram of our skill set,” co-founder Diogo Monica tells me.

Today, Anchorage is coming out of stealth and launching its cryptocurrency custody service to the public. Anchorage holds and safeguards crypto assets for institutions like hedge funds and venture firms, and only allows transactions verified by an array of biometrics, behavioral analysis and human reviewers. And because it doesn’t use “buried in the backyard” cold storage, asset holders can actually earn rewards and advantages for participating in coin-holder votes without fear of getting their Bitcoin, Ethereum or other coins stolen.

The result is a crypto custody service that could finally lure big-time commercial banks, endowments, pensions, mutual funds and hedgies into the blockchain world. Whether they seek short-term gains off of crypto volatility or want to HODL long-term while participating in coin governance, Anchorage promises to protect them.

Evolving past “pirate security”

Anchorage’s story starts eight years ago when Monica and his co-founder Nathan McCauley met after joining Square the same week. Monica had been getting a PhD in distributed systems while McCauley designed anti-reverse engineering tech to keep U.S. military data from being extracted from abandoned tanks or jets. After four years of building systems that would eventually move more than $80 billion per year in credit card transactions, they packaged themselves as a “pre-product acqui-hire” Monica tells me, and they were snapped up by Docker.

As their reputation grew from work and conference keynotes, cryptocurrency funds started reaching out for help with custody of their private keys. One had lost a passphrase and the $1 million in currency it was protecting in a display of jaw-dropping ignorance. The pair realized there were no true standards in crypto custody, so they got to work on Anchorage.

“You look at the status quo and it was and still is cold storage. It’s the same technology used by pirates in the 1700s,” Monica explains. “You bury your crypto in a treasure chest and then you make a treasure map of where those gold coins are,” except with USB keys, security deposit boxes and checklists. “We started calling it Pirate Custody.” Anchorage set out to develop something better — a replacement for usernames and passwords or even phone numbers and two-factor authentication that could be misplaced or hijacked.

This led them to Andreessen Horowitz partner and a16z crypto leader Chris Dixon, who’s now on their board. “We’ve been buying crypto assets running back to Bitcoin for years now here at a16z crypto. [Once you’re holding crypto,] it’s hard to do it in a way that’s secure, regulatory compliant, and lets you access it. We felt this pain point directly.”

Andreessen Horowitz partner and Anchorage board member Chris Dixon

It’s at this point in the conversation when Monica and McCauley give me their off-the-record demo. While there are no screenshots to share, the enterprise security suite they’ve built has the polish of a consumer app like Robinhood. What I can say is that Anchorage works with clients to whitelist employees’ devices. It then uses multiple types of biometric signals and behavioral analytics about the person and device trying to log in to verify their identity.

But even once they have access, Anchorage is built around quorum-based approvals. Withdrawals, other transactions and even changing employee permissions requires approval from multiple users inside the client company. They could set up Anchorage so it requires five of seven executives’ approval to pull out assets. And finally, outlier detection algorithms and a human review the transaction to make sure it looks legit. A hacker or rogue employee can’t steal the funds even if they’re logged in because they need consensus of approval.

That kind of assurance means institutional investors can confidently start to invest in crypto assets. That swell of capital could help replace the retreating consumer investors who’ve fled the market this year, leading to massive price drops. The liquidity provided by these asset managers could keep the whole blockchain industry moving. “Institutional investing has had centuries to build up a set of market infrastructure. Custody was something that for other asset classes was solved hundreds of years ago, so it’s just now catching up [for crypto],” says McCauley. “We’re creating a bigger market in and of itself,” Monica adds.

With Anchorage steadfastly handling custody, the risk these co-founders admit worries them lies in the smart contracts that govern the cryptocurrencies themselves. “We need to be extremely wide in our level of support and extremely deep because each blockchain has details of implementation. This is inherently a very difficult problem,” McCauley explains. It doesn’t matter if the coins are safe in Anchorage’s custody if a janky smart contract can botch their transfer.

There are plenty of startups vying to offer crypto custody, ranging from Bitgo and Ledger to well-known names like Coinbase and Gemini. Yet Anchorage offers a rare combination of institutional-since-day-one security rigor with the ability to participate in votes and governance of crypto assets that’s impossible if they’re in cold storage. Down the line, Anchorage hints that it might serve clients recommendations for how to vote to maximize their yield and preserve the sanctity of their coin.

They’ll have crypto investment legend Chris Dixon on their board to guide them. “What you’ll see is in the same way that institutional investors want to buy stock in Facebook and Google and Netflix, they’ll want to buy the equivalent in the world 10 years from now and do that safely,” Dixon tells me. “Anchorage will be that layer for them.”

But why do the Anchorage founders care so much about the problem? McCauley concludes that, “When we look at what’s potentially possible with crypto, there a fundamentally more accessible economy. We view ourselves as a key component of bringing that future forward.”

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Magic Leap One AR headset for devs costs more than 2x the iPhone X

Posted by | alibaba group, Andreessen Horowitz, AR, augmented reality, Gadgets, Google, Magic Leap, Magic Leap One, mixed reality, United States, Virtual reality, wearable devices, Wearables | No Comments

It’s been a long and trip-filled wait but mixed reality headgear maker Magic Leap will finally, finally be shipping its first piece of hardware this summer.

We were still waiting on the price-tag — but it’s just been officially revealed: The developer-focused Magic Leap One ‘creator edition’ headset will set you back at least $2,295.

So a considerable chunk of change — albeit this bit of kit is not intended as a mass market consumer device (although Magic Leap’s founder frothed about it being “at the border of practical for everybody” in an interview with the Verge) but rather an AR headset for developers to create content that could excite future consumers.

Here we go. Magic Leap One Creator Edition is now available to purchase. So if you’re a #developer, creator or explorer, join us as we venture deeper into the world of #spatialcomputing. Take the leap at https://t.co/8HbsM1yNQo #FreeYourMind pic.twitter.com/mpEqNFltlo

— Magic Leap (@magicleap) August 8, 2018

A ‘Pro’ version of the kit — with an extra hub cable and some kind of rapid replacement service if the kit breaks — costs an additional $495, according to CNET. While certain (possibly necessary) extras such as prescription lenses also cost more. So it’s pushing towards 3x iPhone Xes at that point.

The augmented reality startup, which has raised at least $2.3 billion, according to Crunchbase, attracting a string of high profile investors including Google, Alibaba, Andreessen Horowitz and others, is only offering its first piece of reality bending eyewear to “creators in cities across the contiguous U.S.”.

Potential buyers are asked to input their zip code via its website to check if it will agree to take their money but it adds that “the list is growing daily”.

We tried the TC SF office zip and — unsurprisingly — got an affirmative of delivery there. But any folks in, for example, Hawaii wanting to spend big to space out are out of luck for now…

CNET reports that the headset is only available in six U.S. cities at this stage: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco (Bay Area), and Seattle — with Magic Leap saying that “many” more will be added in fall.

The company specifies it will “hand deliver” the package to buyers — and “personally get you set up”. So evidently it wants to try to make sure its first flush of expensive hardware doesn’t get sucked down the toilet of dashed developer expectations.

It describes the computing paradigm it’s seeking to shift, i.e. with the help of enthused developers and content creators, as “spatial computing” — but it really needs a whole crowd of technically and creatively minded people to step with it if it’s going to successfully deliver that.

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