Blade raises $4.3M from Coinbase, SV Angel to reshape cryptocurrency derivatives trading

Exchanges like Coinbase have ballooned in size by taking the mechanics of equity markets and fitting them to cryptocurrency markets, but as the space expands in its scope and craftiness, new exchanges trading asset classes native to cryptocurrency are taking off and attracting the attention of top Silicon Valley VCs. Oh, and Coinbase, too.

Blade is a new cryptocurrency derivatives exchange launching in three weeks. Prior to starting the company, CEO Jeff Byun and his co-founder Henry Lee founded OrderAhead, a delivery startup platform that was eventually acquired in-part by Square in 2017. The pair’s newest company shares little in common with their previous venture, but they are bringing aboard some of the same investors to support them.

Blade is announcing that they’ve raised $4.3 million in seed funding from a host of investors, including Coinbase, SV Angel, A.Capital, Slow Ventures, Justin Kan and Adam D’Angelo.

The exchange is tackling perpetual swap contracts.

Perpetuals are a crypto-native trading instrument that Byun says are “arguably the fastest growing segment of cryptocurrency trading.” They allow traders to bet on the future values of cryptocurrencies in relation to another and the instruments have no expiration dates, unlike fixed maturity futures. Traders can bet on how the price of Bitcoin can increase relative to USD, but they can also make bets relative to other altcoins like Monero, DogeCoin, Zcash, Ripple and Binance Coin. Here’s what’s on the Blade menu at the moment.

Blade’s noteworthy spins on perpetuals trading — compared to other exchanges — are that most of the contracts will be set up on simplified vanilla contracts, the perpetuals will also be margined/settled in USD Tether and the company is offering higher leverages (up to 150x on BTC-USD and BTC-KRW) on trades.

BLADE Image 1 for TC Trading Dashboard 1

Blade is raising funds from Silicon Valley’s VCs, but U.S. investors won’t be legally able to participate in the exchange. U.S. government agencies have been a bit more stringent in regulating cryptocurrencies, so there’s more trading activity taking place on exchanges outside the jurisdiction. Blade itself is an offshore entity with a U.S. subsidiary; its primary market is East Asia.

“It’s kind of a bifurcated market,” Byun tells TechCrunch. “Either you have exchanges like Coinbase or Gemini or Bitrex that cater to the U.S. market that are highly regulated or the exchanges that cater to the non-U.S. market that are much less regulated, but that’s where most of the volume is.”

While the company is still three weeks away from launch, the founders have bold ambitions.

“In the long term, we want to be the CME (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) of crypto,” Byun tells me. “Coinbase and Binance are building this foundational structure for crypto, but I think we are too and in a sense that derivatives are at their core about risk transfer, we want to be building the foundational layer for risk transfer in the crypto markets.”

London edtech startup pi-top sees layoffs after major contract loss

London-based edtech startup pi-top has cut a number of staff, TechCrunch has learned.

According to our sources, the company has reduced its headcount in recent weeks, with staff being told cuts are a result of restructuring as it seeks to implement a new strategy.

One source told us pi-top recently lost out on a large education contract.

Another source said sales at pi-top have been much lower than predicted — with all major bids being lost.

Pi-top confirmed to TechCrunch that it has let staff go, saying it has reduced headcount from 72 to 60 people across its offices in London, Austin and Shenzhen.

Our sources suggest the total number of layoffs could be up to a third. 

In a statement, pi-top told us:

pi-top has become one of the fastest growing ed-tech companies in the market in 4.5 years.  We have a unique vision to increase access to coding and technical education through project based learning to inspire a new generation of makers.

As part of this vision we built up our global team with a view to winning a particularly exciting national project in a developing nation, where we had a previous large scale successful implementation. We were disappointed this tender ultimately fell through due to economic factors in the region and have subsequently made the unfortunate but unavoidable decision to reduce our team size from 72 to 60 people across our offices in London, Austin and Shenzhen.

Moving forward we are focusing on our growth within the USA where we continue to enjoy widespread success. We are rolling out our new learning platform pi-top Further which will enable schools everywhere to access a world of content enhanced by practical hands-on project based learning outcomes. We have recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign and we look forward to releasing our newest product pi-top [4].

We are also proud to have appointed Stanley Buchesky as our new Executive Chairman. Stanley brings a wealth of experience in the ed-tech sector and will be a great asset to our strategy going forward.

Pi-top sells hardware and software designed for educational use in schools. It’s one of a large number of edtech startups that have sought to tap into the popularity of the “learn to code” movement by piggybacking atop the (also British) low-cost Raspberry Pi microprocessor — which provides the computing power for all pi-top’s products.

Pi-top adds its own OS and additional education-focused software to the Pi, as well as proprietary cases — including a bright green laptop housing with a built-in rail for breadboarding electronics.

Its most recent product, the pi-top 4, which was announced back in January, looks intended to move the company away from its first focus on educational desktop computing to more modular and embeddable hardware hacking that could be used by schools to power a wider variety of robotics and electronics projects.

Despite raising $16M in VC funding just over a year ago, pi-top opted to run a crowdfunding campaign for the pi-top 4 — going on to raise almost $200,000 on Kickstarter from 521 backers.

Pi-top 4 backers have been told to expect the device to ship in November.

Postmates to drop IPO filing next month

Postmates plans to make its IPO paperwork public in September, TechCrunch has learned. Despite previous reports indicating the on-demand delivery company is seeking an M&A exit, sources close to the matter say Postmates is on track to go complete an initial public offering this year.

With the S-1 dropping in September, San Francisco-based Postmates is expected to debut on the stock exchange by the end of the third fiscal quarter of 2019. The company has tapped JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America Corp. as lead underwriters, Bloomberg previously reported, though other details of the float, including the size and price range of the proposed offering, have yet to be announced.

“We can’t comment on the IPO process and we don’t comment on rumor or speculation,” a Postmates spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In February, Postmates confidentially filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an IPO. Shortly after, Postmates held M&A talks with DoorDash, another food delivery unicorn, according to people familiar with the matter, but failed to come to mutually favorable terms. DoorDash declined to comment for this story.

Postmates has raised $681 million to date with its latest round coming in earlier this year at a $1.85 billion valuation. DoorDash, on the other hand, reached a $12.6 billion valuation in May with a $600 million Series G.

As Postmates gears up for its IPO, the food delivery business continues to consolidate. DoorDash last week purchased another food delivery service, Caviar, from Square in a deal worth $410 million. Uber is said to have considered buying Caviar, which had been looking for a buyer at least since 2016, according to Bloomberg.

DoorDash has been under heavy scrutiny as of late for the way it pays its drivers. Back in February, we reported how DoorDash offsets the amount it pays drivers with tips from customers. It wasn’t until after much backlash that DoorDash finally said it would change its policies. DoorDash has yet to implement the new policy.

How Postmates will fare on the public markets is up for debate. The billion-dollar company will go head-to-head with other public businesses in the space, including powerhouses Uber and Grubhub.

Uber last week shared disappointing second-quarter earnings. The company’s food delivery unit, UberEats, however, continues to grow at an impressive rate. UberEats did $3.39 billion in gross bookings last quarter with monthly active platform consumers (MAPCs) growing more than 140% year-over-year. Still, the unit is years away from profitability, Uber chief Dara Khosrowshahi told CNBC on Thursday.

Postmates’ updated IPO plans follow a report from Bloomberg that WeWork expects to make its IPO prospectus available in the next week. Eyes will be on both WeWork, which hopes to raise more than $3.5 billion, and Postmates, as the companies occupy two unproven categories.

Postmates follows Uber, Lyft, Pinterest and many others to the public markets in 2019, a year when many of Silicon Valley’s most notable unicorns finally decided to make the transition from private to public.

Postmates, founded in 2011 by Bastian Lehmann, is backed by Spark Capital, Founders Fund, Uncork Capital, Slow Ventures, Tiger Global, Blackrock and others.