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Crypto, coming out of quarantine?

Posted June 29, 2020

So how’s everyone doing? It’s been an interesting first half of 2020, eh?

We’ve spoken with a number of entrepreneurs working in the crypto and blockchain industry for this blog. While there is clearly a “wait and see” attitude in the air, there is a somewhat guarded optimism underlying a great number of the conversations I’ve had recently.

The temporary crash in all assets in mid-March, also gave crypto quite a punishing hit, dropping Bitcoin and Ethereum by nearly 50% from 6 March to 12 March. The sell-off on the 12th was so severe that it became known as crypto’s black Thursday. Ethereum suffered particularly acutely due to the shift over the past months by stablecoins, including Tether (USDt) to Ethereum, coupled with the advent of decentralised exchanges (DEXs). The success of these products on the Ethereum network led to an extreme increase in the demand for transaction bandwidth in the network, represented by gas prices, which shot from previous levels of 5-20 Gwei (unit of measurement) to 150-200 or greater. The MakerDAO, which allows users to create USD linked stablecoin DAI from ETH collateral, required rebalancing and due to the network congestion resulted in a number of users losing all of their underlying funds as they were unable to recapitalise their positions. Crypto markets quickly resumed, alongside equity markets, and have since regained all the mid March losses.

DeFi (Decentralised Finance) products, rather than being set back, have had a strong few months, ultimately culminating in the release of the lending platform Compound launching its successful COMP token, and holding more than $600 million in value on the platform, overtaking previous leader MakerDAO.

Looking beyond the crypto markets, despite a lockdown, crypto and blockchain companies kept announcing deals. With Coinbase announcing the acquisition of prime brokerage platform Tagomi, in late March, a deal rumoured to be on the cards late last year. Two months later, Genesis trading announced a deal to acquire UK-based Vo1t, a crypto custody provider, with similar aims to create a prime brokerage offering for institutional traders. The deals alone, coupled with wider worry about the global economic outlook provided some level of optimism towards the seemingly endless hope that institutional investors would eventually enter the crypto markets in a meaningful way.

Almost on cue, the CME announced strong increases in volumes of its Bitcoin futures products, including a 32% increase in May. This came in with the announcement that Billionaire investor, Paul Tudor Jones, shared his thesis on Bitcoin and news that he had made significant investments into the cryptocurrency. Late June saw Chicago commodities trading veteran Chris Hehmeyer take his own steps headlong into crypto with the announcement of his crypto focussed market making firm.

This all sounded like good news, so I asked Zeth, co-founder of Plexus, to give me his take, and was surprised by his upbeat views. He told me the following:

“We’ve seen a lot of activity from well funded companies in the space. There are a number of very well capitalised companies out there, some of them raised large rounds last year or early this year, several others are still sitting on ICO funds. We’ve also seen a number of acquihires including Tokenanalyst by blockchain.com, and outright acquisitions like Binance’s $450 million deal for coinmarketcap. Some of these are purely driven by expansion, while others are a play to build more rounded, regulatory friendly businesses with the addition of data services. Another area that is a bright spot seems to be staking businesses that are planning on catering to Ethereum 2.0’s move to proof-of-stake. Previously investors were on the sidelines for other staking platforms, but this is a strong signal by investors with Ethereum looking close to making the transition to staking.”

I asked him about how the lockdown was affecting companies logistically doing business and he said:

“What is interesting about crypto and blockchain businesses is that they tend to be digital first, and often remote first. This means the onboarding process during lockdown hasn’t been affected as much as more traditional companies, and in some cases not at all.”

While much of the industry, and indeed the world, is waiting to see what the fall-out of Covid19 and the lockdown will have, crypto and blockchain seem to be enjoying a relatively bright spot currently. Here’s to hoping that’s a durable trend.

As always, nothing here should be construed as financial advice, recommendation or endorsement of any project or cryptocurrency.

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Get the inside scoop on the new Argent wallet with Matthew Wright

Posted June 10, 2020

Colin Platt (CP): Hi Matthew, congratulations on the announcement of the release of Version 1 of Argent wallet last week, and thanks for coming on.

Matthew Wright (MW): Thank you, and looking forward to this.

CP: Absolutely, So for the uninitiated, can you tell us a bit about who Argent are?

MW: We have a wallet to help people access Ethereum based applications. We want to provide the ease of use and security of something like Monzo, Revolut or Robin Hood. Our goal is to make the user experience super simple and break down all the complexity and insecurity of crypto. So with Argent, you can do the basics such as holding, and sending tokens but more importantly you can access other dapps that help you earn interest, invest, exchange, borrow and you can do that in a tap or two. We are also non-custodial, so you keep your own keys, but there’s no seed phrase which we found to be one of the biggest barriers to entry for people. Instead we offer a solution where you can choose people or devices to help you recover access to your account if you lose your phone. We also abstract away the Ethereum transaction fees, the gas fees and things like the long cryptic addresses and instead allow a user to pick their username. The basic elements of getting setup is super easy for anyone, I think we’re the only people that have truly made crypto as accessible as sending email or sending a WhatsApp, So it’s a big advance in the usability of crypto. We have also integrated a couple of different payment providers so that you can buy crypto with Apple Pay or with a bank transfer, or with credit cards.

CP: Thanks, yes I’ve played around with it a bit and it is super straightforward. So, could you tell me a bit about what you do at Argent?

MW: Sure, I’m Head of Strategy & Operations at Argent but really came in as the first non-engineering hire in the team. My role is to help fill in any gaps in the group, as is often the case with start-ups, there are lots of things to do, from legal, to hiring, to community management, it’s very diverse. Recently I’ve done a lot of work around PR and planning of the V1 launch.

Argent was a new experience for me too, it’s the first time I’ve worked at a startup. Previously I was a strategy consultant at Founders Forum, we advised larger corporates and investors on how to partner with, and invest in startups. I’ve also done some work with startups on international expansion, but this was the first time actually being in a start-up.

CP: That’s really interesting, can you talk to me a bit more about what surprised you having made that transition?

MW: I think the thing that I really liked was the pace of the startup environment, whereas before, when I was a consultant, you did lots of research and provided analysis, and also worked on how you presented it, but you could only hope that someone would implement it. In a startup you actually take decisions and execute them and see how they fare, even if they’re not perfect you iterate and learn. I really enjoy that.

CP: One thing that really struck me was about how much fanfare Argent has received from inside the Ethereum community about how you could bring in new users. Can you talk about your plans to open crypto to the wider world?

MW: Because we want as many people as possible to have full control of their digital assets and their identity and we think Ethereum is currently the best way to help achieve that, every element of Argent from the actual architecture of the contracts is designed to be as accessible as possible. We avoid using jargon wherever possible, although we probably don’t always succeed in that. Because of how Ethereum dapps work, there are sometimes surprises that pop up but we really do everything we can to make it so that the entire flow is easy to understand even if you’ve never come into contact with crypto before. Part of that is using mental models that people are familiar with. One example is our recovery model, which mirrors banking, but for a non-custodial world. With your bank, if you lose your card you call them and they send a new one. With Argent, if you lose your phone you can use trusted people or devices to help you regain access.

CP: I saw that you just released v1 of your wallet, congratulations on going to live production. What has take up been like?

MW: We’re really happy with peoples’ reactions so far. Downloads and loaded wallet numbers have been very strong, and there have been some nice surprises. One of them was that Argentina has become our second largest market from a download perspective, after the US. There are some specific reasons for this, particularly because of the popularity of DAI (the MakerDAO stablecoin), and wider macroeconomic situation with inflation there. We realise that selling the story of crypto into the US or Europe will be different and less likely to appeal to a bank the unbanked audience, but places like Argentina really understand this benefit, and are looking to crypto as a way to protect their families’ savings, and the USD or DAI which tracks that is an appealing offer to them. Argent gives them the opportunity to do this simply and with just a few taps.

CP: What other types of features are people responding to?

MW: We have features that allow people to limit outgoing transactions, requiring a waiting period for sending above a defined limit. All of this is customisable by the wallet owner. One thing that people have told us is that they can use this feature to give them more security over their assets. Some people have told us that they keep these limits very low, matched with a whitelist function to help reduce the risk of loss. These are cool features that work because of how the wallet was built using smart contracts.

CP: Matthew, thank you very much for this, it has been a pleasure learning more about Argent.

MW: Thank you.

As always, nothing here should be construed as financial advice, recommendation or endorsement of any project or cryptocurrency.