The Big Ones
Spend enough time in venture and you can see the transformation in startups and the economy almost as if time has speeded up.
GCV’s first article on Coinbase, eight years ago to the day, described it as “a digital wallet for Bitcoin transactions”, which “had raised $600,000 from accelerator Y Combinator and publisher International Data Group’s corporate venturing unit IDG Ventures.
“Bitcoin was set up without central bank backing but with a predetermined limit of 21 million available to be issued from its software and has seen fluctuations in its value from $9 in January to $200 on 9 April 2013 and back down to $150 a day later.”
Now, Bitcoin’s price is $63,063.90 and investors have valued Coinbase at $75.9bn after its debut on Nasdaq stock exchange on Wednesday.
The Financial Times described it as “the first listing of a major cryptocurrency exchange and a moment of validation for the digital asset class some 12 years after the creation of bitcoin”. After a direct listing of Coinbase shares – rather than the more traditional initial public offering which raises new capital – the price fell to $328 from an opening price of $381 to give a market capitalisation of $85.8bn, including options and other kinds of stock-based awards.
However, after early support from CVCs, such as IDG and USAA’s Victor Pascucci and Jon Cholak, Coinbase cashed in with a $75m series C round in 2015 including from BBVA, NYSE and NTT and not looked back. Coinbase’s big investors include venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz, Ribbit Capital and Union Square Ventures.
Coinbase’s financial fortunes have surged with the cryptocurrency markets, producing a nine-fold jump in revenues to an estimated $1.8bn in the first quarter, translating to about $1.1bn in adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, the FT said.
But while still primarily a business-to-consumer exchange for people to buy and sell bitcoin and ethereum based on the blockchain, financial services firms are more interested in the underlying technology than its value as a monetary store or gold equivalent.
Jay Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, said: “No one is using them for payments, for example, like the dollar. It’s a little bit like gold . . . Human beings have given gold this special value that it doesn’t have from an industrial standpoint, but nonetheless for thousands of years they’ve done that. Bitcoin is much more like that.”
Behind the scenes, however, and the big asset managers and financial groups are working on pragmatic implementations of blockchain and crypto as platform or infrastructure to trade, price, settle and be the custodians. From there, products to deploy and engage on alternative assets and how even venture capital is affected can flow.
Similar riches are now being reaped from early investments in other emerging fields created in the past two decades.
Tuesday’s daily leader looked at the $25bn of cash returned from Naspers/Prosus selling four percentage points of its holding in Tencent over the past few years.
Netherlands-listed technology investor Prosus, formed out of the corporate venturing assets collected by South Africa-listed media group Naspers, has sold 2% of China-based gaming and social media group Tencent for $14.7bn.
This is the world’s largest-ever block trade – 191.89 million shares for HK$114.1bn – but leaves Prosus still holding 28.9% of Tencent, according to newswire Reuters.
The block trade – or the usually private, single trade of a large amount of securities – surpassed the previous record set in 2018 when Naspers also sold 2% of Tencent for $9.8bn, Refinitiv data showed. Its remaining stake is worth about $200bn, from an original $31m corporate venturing deal struck 20 years ago.
Bob van Dijk, CEO at Prosus, said: “The proceeds of the sale will increase our financial flexibility, enabling us to invest in the significant growth potential we see across the group, as well as in our own stock.”
Prosus, which also invests in online food delivery platforms, classified marketplaces and digital payments businesses, has built up its warchest for new and existing investments given the rapid scaling up of the innovation capital ecosystem at the later stage.
Global venture capital investments hit $125bn in the first quarter, the first time the figure has surpassed $100bn in a quarter, according to data published by Crunchbase, even though deal volumes held relatively stable.
The opportunity for social network or “platform economy” companies to dominate across sectors or verticals remains, especially as Tencent peer Alibaba’s share price rose on Monday after it was able to have the term written into law.
This is particularly the case as finance becomes embedded into media. As James Thorne, a venture capital reporter at PitchBook, noted at the weekend, Angela Strange, general partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z), made the case in 2019 that most people would be working in financial services soon, even if we don’t change jobs, as finance becomes embedded into software.
At that point, media and content becomes the differentiator, which is why A16Z calls itself a media company that monetizes through venture capital.
In his annual letter last week, Jamie Dimon, CEO at bank JPMorgan Chase, said: “Fintech’s ability to merge social media, use data smartly and integrate with other platforms rapidly (often without the disadvantages of being an actual bank) will help these companies win significant market share.”
And this helps explain why even in a world where media advertising is dominated by Facebook and Google that there remains so much attention and focus on social media and networks.
Things are heating up in Italy’s media landscape as a microcosm of wider changes in the sports and gaming ecosystem. The country’s main phone operator, TIM, has returned as a “long-term investor in venture capital” through the anchor commitment to a €100m UV T-Growth fund managed independently by United Ventures, while Nerio Alessandri, founder and executive chairman of Italy-listed fitness equipment supplier Technogym, has launched Wellness Ventures.
UV T-Growth, managed by Fabio Pirovano and Damiano Coletti, targets a wide swathe of digital innovation, including gaming. Similarly, Wellness is targeting digital projects in general but in particular in sports and fitness.
There are plenty of opportunities in sports and gaming in the digital age. Online gambling and advertising, electronic as well as physical sports and gaming and unbundling of viewers from cable or television packages are coalescing to create plenty of disruption.
The latest being Amazon, which acquired Twitch for in-game streaming and chats, paying $11bn for exclusive rights to stream Thursday night National Football League games on its Prime service.
There are now dozens of VC funds targeting games, which is a far bigger market than films. Most recently, the Games Fund has raised $50m for a game-focused venture capital fund to invest in early-stage games in both Europe and the US, according to VentureBeat.
Maria Kochmola and Ilya Eremeev started the fund having both previously worked at Russia-listed internet group Mail.ru’s My.Games division, which started a game fund called MGVC, VentureBeat said. Kochmola was the investment director at MGVC since its inception in 2017, and she led more than 35 investments (with six exits).
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