Jul
10
2019
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Visa funds $40M for no-password crypto vault Anchorage

Visa and Andreessen Horowitz are betting even bigger on cryptocurrency, funding a big round for fellow Facebook Libra Association member Anchorage’s omnimetric blockchain security system. Instead of using passwords that can be stolen, Anchorage requires cryptocurrency withdrawals to be approved by a client’s other employees. Then the company uses both human and AI review of biometrics and more to validate transactions before they’re executed, while offering end-to-end insurance coverage.

This new-age approach to cryptocurrency protection has attracted a $40 million Series B for Anchorage, led by Blockchain Capital and joined by Visa and Andreessen Horowitz. The round adds to Anchorage’s $17 million Series A that Andreessen led just six months ago, demonstrating extraordinary momentum for the security startup.

As a custodian, our work is focused on building financial plumbing that other companies depend on for their operations to run smoothly. In this regard we have always looked at Visa as a model,” Anchorage co-founder and president Diogo Mónica tells me.

“Visa was ‘fintech’ before the term existed, and has always been on the vanguard of financial infrastructure. Visa’s investment in Anchorage is helpful not only to our company but to our industry, as a validation of the entire ecosystem and a recognition that crypto will play a key role in the future of global finance.”

Anchorage Crypto 1

Cold-storage, where assets are held in computers not connected to the internet, has become a popular method of securing Bitcoin, Ether and other tokens. But the problem is that this can prevent owners from participating in governance of certain cryptocurrency where votes are based on their holdings, or earning dividends. Anchorage tells me it’s purposefully designed to permit this kind of participation, helping clients to get the most out of their assets like capturing returns from staking and inflation, or joining in on-chain governance.

As three of the 28 founding members of the Libra Association that will govern the new Facebook-incubated cryptocurrency, Anchorage, Visa and Andreessen Horowitz will be responsible for ensuring the stablecoin stays secure. While Facebook is building its own custodial wallet called Calibra for users, other Association members and companies hoping to dive into the ecosystem will need ways to protect their Libra stockpiles.

“Libra is exactly the kind of asset that Anchorage was created to hold,” Mónica wrote the day Libra was revealed. “Our custody solution , so that asset-holders don’t face a trade-off between security and usability.” The company believes that custodians shouldn’t dictate which coins their clients hold, so it’s working to support all types of digital assets. Anchorage tells me that will include support for securing Libra in the future.

Libra Association Founding Partners

You’ve probably already used technology secured by Anchorage’s founders, who engineered Docker’s containers that are used by Microsoft, and Square’s first encrypted card reader. Mónica was at Square when he met his future Anchorage co-founder Nathan McCauley, who’d been working on anti-reverse-engineering tech for the U.S. military. When a company that had lost the password to a $1 million cryptocurrency account asked for their help with security, they recognized the need for a more idiot-proof take on asset protection.

“Anchorage applies the best of modern security engineering for a more advanced approach: we generate and store private keys in secure hardware so they are never exposed at any point in their life cycle, and we eliminate human operations that expose assets to risk,” Mónica says. The startup competes with other crypto custody firms like Bitgo, Ledger, Coinbase and Gemini.

Anchorage CryptocurrencyLast time we spoke, Anchorage was cagey about what I could reveal regarding how its transaction validation system worked. With the new funding, it’s feeling a little more secure about its market position and was willing to share more.

Anchorage ditches usernames, passwords, email addresses and phone numbers completely. That way a hacker can’t just dump your coins into their account by stealing your private key or SIM-porting your number to their phone. Instead, clients whitelist devices held by their employees, who use the Anchorage app to submit transactions. You’d propose selling $10 million worth of Bitcoin or transferring it to someone else as payment, and a minimum of two-thirds of your designated co-workers would need to concur to form a quorum that approves the transfer.

But first, Anchorage’s artificial intelligence and human staff would check for any suspicious signals that might indicate a hack in progress. It uses behavioral analysis (do you act like a real human and similar to how you have before), biometric signals (do you look like you) and network signals (is your device what and where it should be) to confirm the transaction is legitimate. The same process goes down if you try to add a new whitelisted device or change who has permission to do what.

The challenge will be scaling security to an ever-broadening range of digital assets, each with their own blockchain quirks and complex smart contracts. Even if Anchorage keeps coins safely in custody, those variables could expose assets to risk while in transit. Now with deeper pockets and the Visa vote of confidence, Anchorage could solve those problems as clients line up.

While most blockchain attention has focused on the cryptocurrencies themselves and the exchanges where you can buy and sell them, a second order of critical infrastructure startups is emerging. Companies like Anchorage could make Bitcoin, Ether, Libra and more not just objects of speculation or the domain of experts, but safely functioning elements of the new world economy.

Jun
19
2018
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Brex picks up $57M to build an easy credit card for startups

While Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi were giving up on their augmented reality startup inside Y Combinator and figuring out what to do next, they saw their batch mates struggling to get even the most basic corporate credit cards — and in a lot of cases, having to guarantee those cards themselves.

Brex, their new startup,  aims to try to fix that by offering startups a way to quickly get what’s effectively a credit card that they can use without having to personally guarantee that card or wade through complex processes to finally get a charge card. It’s geared initially towards smaller companies, but Dubugras expects those startups to grow up with it over time — and that Brex is already picking up larger clients. The company, coming out of stealth, said it has raised a total of $57 million from investors including the Y Combinator Continuity fund, Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, Yuri Milner, financial services VC Ribbit Capital and former Visa CEO Carl Pascarella. Y Combinator Continuity fund partner Anu Hariharan and Ribbit Capital managing partner Meyer Malka are joining the company’s board of directors.

“We want to be the best corporate credit card for startups,” Dubugras said. “We’re don’t require a personal guarantee or deposit, and we can give people a credit limit that’s as much as ten times higher. We can get you a virtual credit card in literally 5 minutes, versus traditional banks, in which you’d have to personally guarantee the card and get a low limit and it takes weeks to approve.”

Startup executives go to Brex’s website, sign up, and then put in their bank account info. They then use that banking information to underwrite the card, with the idea being that the service can see that the start has raised millions of dollars and doesn’t have the kind of wild liability that those banks think they might have given how young they are. Once the application is done, companies get a virtual credit card, and they can start divvying up virtual cards with custom limits for their employees. The company says it has attracted more than 1,000 customers and is now opening up globally.

The cards are designed to have better spending limits, and also offer company executives more granular ways to assign those limits to employees. The cards have to be paid off by the end of the month, and the rolling balance for those cards is dependent on the amount of capital each startup has available. The total limit available is, instead, a percentage of the company’s cash balance available. So rather than having to go through the process of getting approved for a card, the service can look at how much money is in a startup’s bank account and adjust the spending limit for all those cards accordingly.

Another aspect is automating the whole expense and auditing process. Rather than just going through typical applications like Concur and inputting specifics, card users can send a text message of a receipt through Brex associated with each transaction. Users will just get a text message about a charge — like a cup of coffee for a meeting with a potential business partner — and reply to that text with a message of the receipt to log the whole process. Everything is geared toward simplifying the whole process for startups that have an opportunity to be a bit more nimble and aren’t bogged down with complex layers of enterprise software. Each expense is looped in with a vendor, so executives can see the total amount of spending that’s happening at that scale.

The ability to have those dynamic spending limits is just one example of what Dubugras hopes will make Brex competitive. Rather than slotting into existing systems, Brex has an opportunity to recreate the back-end processes that power those cards, which larger institutions might not be able to do as they’ve hit a massive scale and get less and less agile. Dubugras and Franceschi previously worked on and sold Pagar.me, a Brazilian payments processor, where they saw firsthand the complex nature of working with global financial institutions — and some of the holes they could exploit.

“It’s not like we’re two geniuses that came up with a lot of things that no one came up with,” Dubugras said. “Implementing them with third-party processors is hard, but we didn’t have any of [those integrations], so we can rebuild them from scratch. It’s hard for banks to throw money at a problem and build those tools. We’ve rebuilt the way that these things work internally — they’d have to change fundamentally how the system works.”

While there are plenty of startups looking to quickly offer virtual cards, like Revolut’s disposable virtual card service, Brex aims to be what’s effectively a corporate card — just one that’s easier to get and works basically the same as a normal card. Users still have to pay off the balance at the end of the month, but the idea there is that Brex can de-risk itself by doing that while still offering startups a way to get a card with a high limit to start paying for the services or tools they need to get started.

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