Google Cloud partners with Tezos blockchain to bring web3 technology to its customers

Google Cloud has partnered with the Tezos Foundation to grow its web3 application development and provide new services for its customers, the companies announced on Wednesday.

“Tezos as an ecosystem has built a reputation in institutional and B2B onboarding,” Mason Edwards, chief commercial officer at Tezos Foundation, said to TechCrunch. “This is going to enable us to onboard institutions and even more massive institutions into this space. This is going to be jet fuel and octane for that.”

The partnership plans to make it easier for all Google Cloud customers to become Tezos “bakers,” or network validators. Bakers are a part of Tezos’ proof-of-stake mechanism, which helps run the protocol and receives rewards. Google Cloud will also become a baker and join existing bakers like gaming company Ubisoft.

Tezos is an open source proof-of-stake blockchain that has more than 2.3 million funded accounts across 158.6 million total transactions, according to its website. It has also partnered and is building with major brands and companies like Manchester United, McLaren and Société Générale, among others.

Last month, Tezos partnered with the California DMV to help the agency digitize car titles and put title transfers on a private Tezos-built blockchain to streamline operations.

“Institutions are paying attention and realize this will be a space for disruption; whether you’re a retailer caring about loyalty programs or consumer engagement or a large institution, blockchain will disrupt parts of your industry,” Edwards said.

Tezos also sees this partnership as an “extremely strong signal” for the developer community to have a massive infrastructure platform like Google Cloud on board, Edwards added.

“Web3 developers and enterprises are looking for enhanced developer tooling and infrastructure that can help accelerate their product timelines,” James Tromans, engineering director for web3 at Google Cloud, said to TechCrunch. “Developers know the value of great technology, and we see an opportunity to provide differentiated offerings that build on top of the foundation that similarly supports many of the products and services that blockchain developers seek to build.”

One example of how Google Cloud is trying to address that is through its Blockchain Node Engine on Ethereum, a dedicated node service that leverages Google Cloud for blockchain-based application development, Tromans noted.

“More companies, both large and small, also want to participate on-chain,” Tromans said. “They want the ability to read and write on-chain to deploy blockchain-based applications.”

To view on-chain data at scale, Google Cloud hosts several public BigQuery datasets on its Marketplace, including full blockchain transaction history for networks like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, Dash, Litecoin, Zcash, Theta, Hedera Hashgraph, Band Protocol, Polygon, XRP and Dogecoin.

Through its corporate baking program, new and existing Google Cloud customers will be able to build web3 applications as well as deploy nodes and indexers on Tezos’ protocol. This means companies and developers alike can leverage Tezos blockchain technology alongside Google Cloud’s infrastructure.

“Running nodes at scale is time-consuming, costly and ultimately pulls focus away from building the core products,” Tromans said. The “crux” of the partnership revolves around supporting Tezos’ corporate baking program, which aims to reduce friction for companies looking to participate on-chain and help developers deploy nodes on its blockchain, Tromans noted.

At its core, the Google Cloud partnership aims to lower the barrier to entry for developers to build on the Tezos blockchain, Tromans said.

“This is not only limited to reducing technological barriers, as we are aware that startups in the web3 ecosystem require other forms of support such as mentorship and ways to reduce their infrastructure costs,” Tromans added. “This is another area where Google Cloud is partnering with the Tezos Foundation to provide select startups in the web3 ecosystem with this type of support.”

In general, Google Cloud plans to continue partnering with “key players in the web3 ecosystem” to keep growing innovation for open source technologies, Tromans said. “It’s not about a transactional relationship; instead, it’s about looking for opportunities to empower and enable founders and developers to grow the ecosystem.”

Outside of partnerships, Google Cloud plans to focus this year on “the core principles at the base layer of blockchain technology,” Tromans shared. “We’re excited to build products that address those needs.”

Google Cloud partners with Tezos blockchain to bring web3 technology to its customers by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch

The FTX implosion is an opportunity to learn

At TechCrunch Sessions: Crypto 2022, Chainalysis CPO Pratima Arora, Tezos co-founder Kathleen Breitman and Ledger CEO Pascal Gauthier talked about security in the crypto industry. And a good chunk of the discussion was spent talking about the collapse of FTX.

“First of all, I don’t think it is over,” Pascal Gauthier said. “In the FTX story, it is starting to be a bit more clear every day that the vast sums of money have sort of disappeared and sort of been mismanaged by SBF and his management team.”

As a crypto exchange, FTX has become a sort of single point of failure for many users as well as for many of the moving parts of the crypto industry. It’s still not clear how many people, companies and projects have been affected by FTX filing for bankruptcy. But it makes you wonder if crypto has been a bit too centralized.

“Cryptocurrencies are basically meant to disintermediate — that’s explicitly their purpose. And I think if you’re not designing something where users can be empowered in some form or another, you’re not doing a good job of designing your protocol. Basically, you’re just shifting the onus from one centralized actor to another,” Tezos co-founder Kathleen Breitman said.

But it doesn’t mean that centralized exchanges will disappear overnight. Many crypto users simply don’t know how to store their crypto assets in a secure way — whether it’s a hardware wallet like Ledger or a non-custodial software wallet. That move to decentralized crypto is going to require some education — and it might be a good opportunity to learn.

“We need to unlearn web2 and learn web3. Web2 is something where you don’t control anything. You are the product for bigger companies. Therefore, you click yes, yes, yes on everything that you do without thinking twice and you sacrifice freedom for convenience,” Ledger’s Pascal Gauthier said.

“The problem is web3 cannot work if you click yes, yes, yes […] And there is some convenience that will go away as a result of this because you have just to be much more responsible in the sense that now it’s yours. It’s for you to worry about it,” he added.

People were already saying that we were in a crypto winter before the FTX saga. That’s why the coming months and years are likely to be a long bear market for the crypto industry. But people who have been working in crypto for long enough have already been through tough times.

“We will see some slowness on adoption,” Chainalysis’ Pratima Arora said. “I feel like this is the time to hunker down and build, and then the best companies will survive. We will weed out things that don’t work. And we will see that without bad actors we’re going to come out of it stronger. It’s like a cleansing round.”

The FTX implosion is an opportunity to learn by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch

Ledger, Tezos and Chainalysis talk web3 security at TC Sessions: Crypto

The crypto ecosystem may be experiencing fewer hacks and alleged fraud incidents, but they’re still occurring as bad actors take hundreds of millions of dollars from users in the space.

According to Immunefi’s Crypto Losses Q3 2022 report, crypto losses have declined for the past three quarters in a row, but it’s not clear whether that trend will continue for the rest of the year.

And as more people become crypto-curious or continue to build in this space, they might be susceptible to fraud or hacks. So how can people protect themselves? And how can startups, projects and protocols protect their users?

Answers to those questions and more are up for discussion during a panel with guests Pascal Gauthier, CEO of Ledger; Kathleen Breitman, CEO and co-founder of Tezos; and Pratima Arora, chief product officer at Chainalysis at TC Sessions: Crypto on November 17 in Miami.

During the conversation called “Securing Web3,” we’ll dive into how these executives navigate safety and security in the Wild, Wild West — aka crypto. Whether it’s through holding your own crypto wallet keys to making codes open source, we’ll find out what the panelists think are the best ways to keep users safe.

Too often, security is not at the forefront of crypto startup founders’ minds and might only be addressed in dire moments (like when they’re hacked for millions of dollars). So how can the industry encourage founders and developers to prioritize safety from an early stage?

We’re curious to learn more about how the current crypto market affects web3 security and what sectors need more work when it comes to protecting users. We’re also interested in hearing their thoughts on which blockchains, decentralized applications and projects are role models for security — and which ones they think need improvement.

Ledger has more than 4 million customers and is primarily known for its hardware wallets that let people secure, trade and hold their digital assets (NFTs included) on an external physical ledger. In June, Ledger partnered with VC firm Cathay Innovation to launch a $110 million fund dedicated to a broad range of segments across the crypto landscape, including DeFi, security and infrastructure.

Gauthier joined Ledger almost eight years ago and became president in 2019. Prior to that, Gauthier was a venture partner at Mosaic Ventures and focused on Series A companies. He also founded and is a non-executive chairman of Kaiko, a Bitcoin-focused data provider.

Tezos, a proof-of-stake blockchain, focuses on smart contracts and is seen as a potential competitor to the Ethereum blockchain. It had the biggest initial coin offering of all time after raising $232 million in 2017. Husband-and-wife team Arthur and Kathleen Breitman created the blockchain, which initially launched under the pseudonym “L.M. Goodman,” in 2014.

Lastly, Chainalysis is a blockchain data platform that provides data, software, services and research to any entity, ranging from government agencies to financial institutions. Its investors include Accel, Addition, Benchmark, Coatue, GIC, Paradigm and Ribbit.

Arora joined the Chainalysis team in June 2021 to lead its research and development. Prior to that, she was the general manager and vice president of Confluence — a revenue-generating product for Atlassian — and she also spent more than nine years at Salesforce in a variety of roles.

TC Sessions: Crypto takes place on November 17 in Miami. Buy an early bird pass today, save $150, and then join the web3, DeFi and NFT communities to keep up with the ever-evolving and always exciting crypto world.

Ledger, Tezos and Chainalysis talk web3 security at TC Sessions: Crypto by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch

Entrepreneur First launches partnership with Tezos to spin up Web3 startups

Entrepreneur First, an accelerator-come-company builder, is partnering with the Tezos crypto platform to attract new potential founders to web3. EF specializes in putting together early-career co-founders, developing their ideas, and putting them in front of investors. Technical training and guidance will be provided by experts from the Tezos community.

The new venture is called Entrepreneur First Web3 and will accept applications until the end of May 2022, selecting two cohorts of 40-50 founders to participate in an in-person six months programme in London.

Matt Clifford, co-founder and CEO at Entrepreneur First said: “This platform is ideal for founders who already have a clear conviction to build for a decentralized future, and want to do it as part of a tight-knit community of potential co-founders and collaborators.”

Tezos, a Proof of Stake layer blockchain (which makes it more energy efficient) is used by Red Bull Racing Honda, McLaren Racing, OneOf, Interpop, and marketplaces such as Hic-Et-Nunc, OBJKT, for NFTs.

Adobe’s Behance adds support for NFTs and paid subscriptions

At its annual MAX conference, Adobe today announced a number of interesting updates to its Behance portfolio site for creatives. According to Adobe over 160 million people visited the site in the last year and viewed the work of the creatives on the site over 2.25 billion times. That’s a highly active community and it’s maybe no surprise then that the company is adding a number of new features that will allow its users to directly — and indirectly — profit from this.

Maybe the most headline-grabbing feature Adobe is adding is the ability to better showcase NFT artwork on the site. Creatives can now connect their crypto wallets with Behance. The company is working to include blockchains like Polygon, Solana, Flow and Tezos. It is also partnering with NFT marketplaces like OpenSeaSuperRareKnownOrigin, and Rarible to display provenance data from the Content Authenticity Initiative — which is now built into a number of Creative Cloud tools — visible on their sites, in addition to Behance.

Will Allen, the Adobe VP in charge of Behance (among other things), noted that Adobe isn’t interested in creating its own NFT marketplace. “We’re really just focused on enabling these creators to showcase their work,” he said. “That’s the key focus of what I think we can do particularly well as allow them to showcase their work and then make these transactions wherever they want to be.”

Image Credits: Adobe

As Allen told me, a lot of Behance users are subscribing to fellow creatives to learn. “I do find a common theme is that they want to learn,” he said. “They want to seebehind the scenes of like, ‘Hey, this is a phenomenal illustrator, let me just watch them create and see how to do these things. Let me get access to their PSDs, so I use those as a template and take my creativity to the next level.'”

Creatives can now also sell subscriptions on Behance to sell access to their tutorials, workshops and live streams. Creatives can set their own prices for these subscriptions and Adobe tells me that it doesn’t take any commission from those sales.

Also new on Behance is the ability to indicate that somebody is available for work. Finding job opportunities has always been the goal of many Behance users, but with the help of a new button, creatives can now make this explicit. Creatives can indicate whether they are available for freelance or full-time work.

NFT market OpenSea hits $1.5 billion valuation

It’s been a wild 2021 for NFT auction marketplace OpenSea. The startup was exceedingly well-positioned in a niche space when NFTs exploded earlier this year seemingly out of nowhere. Since then, the startup has found its user base expanding, the total volume of sales skyrocketing and more investor dollars being thrown at them.

The startup announced in March, it had closed a $23 million Series A, and now some four months later, the company tells TechCrunch it has raised another $100 million in a Series B round led by Andreessen Horowitz at a $1.5 billion valuation. Other investors in the round include Coatue, CAA, Michael Ovitz, Kevin Hartz, Kevin Durant and Ashton Kutcher.

Despite a fall from stratospheric heights in the early summer, the broader NFT market has still been chugging along and OpenSea is continuing to see plenty of action. The startup saw $160 million in sales last month and is on track to blow past that figure this month, CEO Devin Finzer tells TechCrunch.

One of the company’s clearer growth roadblocks has been infrastructure issues native to the Ethereum blockchain that its marketplace has been built around. The Ethereum blockchain, which has a number of network upgrades outstanding, has struggled to keep up with the NFT boom at times, leaving users footing the bill with occasionally pricey “gas” fees needed to mint an item or make a transaction. Though these fees have largely cooled down in recent weeks, OpenSea is aiming to make a move towards long-term scalability by announcing that they plan to bring support for several more blockchains to its platform.

They’re starting with Polygon, a popular Layer 2 Ethereum blockchain which boasts a more energy-efficient structure that will allow OpenSea to entirely eliminate gas fees for creators, buyers and sellers on that blockchain. Losing these fees may give OpenSea a better shot at expanding its ambitions, which include finding a future for NFTs in the gaming world and in the events space, Finzer says.

Beyond Polygon, OpenSea has plans to integrate with Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain as well as Tezos down the road, the company says.

Operating across multiple blockchains could create some headaches for consumers operating across platforms with differing levels of support for each network. Some NFT investors are also more hesitant to buy items on blockchains they see as less time-tested than Ethereum, worrying that newer chains may lose support over time. But overall, the user-friendly changes will likely be well-received by the wider NFT community which has seen the explosion in new interest stress-test its systems and highlight need for user interface and user experience improvements.

NFT marketplace OpenSea raises $23 million from a16z

OpenSea has been one of a handful of NFT marketplaces to explode in popularity in recent weeks as collectors wade into the trading of non-fungible tokens on the blockchain. While new startups have been popping up everyday, platforms that launched in crypto’s earlier times are receiving rampant attention from investors who see this wave of excitement for cryptocurrencies and tokens as much different than the ones that preceded it.

Today, the startup announced that it’s closed a $23 million round of funding led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from a laundry list of angels and firms including Naval Ravikant, Mark Cuban, Alexis Ohanian, Dylan Field and Linda Xie.

OpenSea launched back in 2017, announcing a $2 million round a few months later from Founders Fund and a few crypto-centric firms. At the time CryptoKitties mania was most of what Ethereum had to offer and early NFT projects were being slowly embraced by a community that was enthusiastic but more curious than anything.

Fast forward to 2021 and NFTs are certainly having a moment, and while the specific shades of that moment may be heavily focused on high-dollar artwork sales from traditional auction houses or NFT memes being tweeted out by Elon Musk, proponents see a future for the tokens that upends the economics of content creation and influence on the internet. The enthusiasm accompanies a months-long rally in the value of cryptocurrencies themselves which have taken Ethereum and Bitcoin to multiples of previous-all-time-highs.

The market for digital goods expanding widely may depend heavily on further adoption among gaming giants and larger media organizations, but early-on there’s hope that digital-first creators can use these marketplace to connect more directly with fans and begin to bypass the massive platforms they depend on now.

There are still some early hiccups as the tech develops. While Ethereum has committed to moving from its energy-intensive proof-of-work standard to a more efficient proof-of-stake one eventually, the existing structure has been far from efficient, which has opened many of the early NFT artists to criticism surrounding climate change concerns and whether the stakeholders in crypto tokens should be prioritizing environmental worries over the specific challenges of certain proofs. In February, OpenSea announced support for more efficient Tezos-based NFTs.

A more nebulous challenge for marketplaces like OpenSea may be cutting through the noise of speculation and providing a marketplace for more users that are actually buying to own, an especially difficult proposition given the breakneck pace of growth for the digital currencies being used to purchase the digital goods themselves.

Is venture capital ready for companies with no founders?

Initial coin offerings (ICOs) — a funding mechanism based on the technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin — are a hot new way to launch a startup and they’re forcing investors to look at the startup process anew.

Venture firms like mine understand that ICOs can reinvent how entrepreneurs bring innovations to life, but no one is quite sure how this will play out.

The tech community is so perplexed by the swelling interest in ICOs, notable firms that traditionally compete to invest in the early stages of a company are trying to figure it out together, and often end up co-investing in the ICOs.

Until recently, investors in Silicon Valley were obsessed with finding founders who have a great sense of purpose and a vision for a product or service. All the great companies have been driven by visionary founders, from Bill Hewlett and David Packard, to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. So early-stage investors spend all their time looking for great founders and helping them build a company behind their instincts and leadership. This has been the model for 50 years.

In many ways, that model has been beneficial to the economy. We’ve built a lot of companies that have had an astounding impact on our lives and employed massive numbers of people. But the model has also created problems. The most formidable companies have accreted tremendous resources and power and are responsible for making profound decisions that affect whole industries and billions of people. Ultimately, all that power now lies in the judgment of a very few people — founders such as Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google’s Larry Page.

But all this could be about to change. Just like the origins of cryptocurrency were in deep dissatisfaction with hyper-scaled banks, initial coin offerings are in response in part to the lack of transparency and misalignment of interests between companies and consumers.

ICOs won’t just break traditional company models – they may also temper the concentration of power brought on by traditional company models. For instance, a company’s ICO could be set up to encourage responsible innovation that benefits society, and ICO-backed collectives owned and operated by billions of people worldwide could challenge tech monopolies and spread wealth beyond the richest 1 percent.

But first, we have to make ICOs work in an acceptable, repeatable way. Right now, the ICO frenzy seems like a whirlwind of experimentation, and none of the outcomes have had much commercial impact.

ICOs are based on blockchain technology. A key component of blockchain is that it allows two entities (or people) to exchange value without a central authority (like a stock exchange or bank) executing the transaction. The transactions are tracked and carried out in software that runs on computers distributed all over the world. This mechanism is great for issuing a kind of software-based stock called tokens.

These tokens can be embedded with software instructions that dictate the rules of that investment. A token doesn’t have to be a passive share of a company like traditional stock. It might instead include a promise to deliver a service or product, which is similar to the way fundraising campaigns work on Kickstarter. Tokens can govern themselves and track every transaction, so no central stock exchange is necessary and no nation’s government can easily regulate the instruments.

An ICO company might, for instance, decide it will reveal financial information weekly — or annually, or never –depending on how management wants to run the company. Investors get to see those rules and decide whether they like the idea of investing in such a company.

Unlike today’s startups, an ICO can be a completely decentralized way of founding and running an enterprise. A person or collective could set up an ICO and program it with all the parameters that govern the entity – what it will do, how it will operate, and so on – and start a company that builds itself. That’s a more sophisticated version of how Wikipedia became the biggest encyclopedia on the planet: it set up rules for writing and editing, and then the community took over.

Can this work in real life? Pavel Durov, the Russian founder of popular messaging app Telegram, got global press coverage for his $1.7 billion pre-ICO sale to create a cryptocurrency that would become a way for Telegram users to make payments anywhere in the world. But keep in mind that Durov is using his ICO to raise millions for a global project that so far has no product. If he’s successful, the resulting cryptocurrency can become a platform for apps and financial transactions. But whatever this becomes, the rules embedded in the ICO will operate it – not Durov.

Pavel Durov, Telegram CEO

Imagine services or applications built on blockchain that no company or person can dominate. A collective version of Facebook could make users and developers feel more in control, and less subject to Facebook’s whims. You could set your own rules on how much privacy to give up, or how much you’d get paid by every person who listens to the music you post. I’m convinced that at some point, someone will set up a blockchain social network that gets all the rules right and becomes an attractive alternative to Facebook.

As a long-time investor in startups, though, I have concerns about ICOs that I can’t yet resolve. Getting consensus among a large group is harder and slower than a powerful leader issuing orders. Social good is wonderful, but it won’t get anywhere unless the entity can execute and build great products and services – hard to do without a structure and dedicated staff.

The decentralized nature of ICO enterprises seems to often lead to chaos. One company, Tezos, raised $232 million in a 2017 ICO, but now seems to be falling apart. The founding team is fighting among themselves, the ICO participants can’t get access to the tokens they bought, and at least four class-action lawsuits have been filed, most charging Tezos with violating security laws and defrauding those who joined the ICO.

Then again, some run-of-the-mill venture-backed startups end up in similar messes.

I am keen to see early success with the ICO model because I believe it will benefit society. Entrepreneurs in small towns who have crazy ideas would typically find it impossible to even get a meeting with a top-tier VC. ICOs give them a way to get funded by a broader range of individual investors, and that should help spread wealth to more people in more places.

Blockchain today, as many have said, seems a lot like the internet in the early-1990s, when the internet’s rules were evolving and few people understood what it could be used for. Like the internet, blockchain is a free protocol on which all sorts of new products and services will ride. It’s going to drive massive innovation, and as investors, it’s our job to support that innovation and bring it to market. Now we have to figure out how to best do that.

As I orient myself to ICO-based opportunities, I’ve come to realize there are some important questions we have to ask of these new ICO ventures. Is there economic alignment between the company and its investors or token holders? Is the crypto-token model essential for the technology under consideration, or is someone just taking advantage of the cryptocurrency frenzy? Is an ICO raising the right amount of money – or raising a crazy amount of money that will never pay off?

I also think it’s more important than ever to ask if the ICO’s rules are aligned with society’s core values instead of with the motivations of a founder.

And then, odd as it can seem, VCs need to retrain themselves to assess blockchain-based algorithms in the way we’ve long assessed founders. After all, the next time we find ourselves considering an investment in a company that might change the world, we might be examining blockchain code and reading a governing white paper. There won’t even be a founder to talk to.