One of cryptos longest-running exchanges has been sold

One of the longest-standing crypto exchanges has new owners after Europe-based Bitstamp was sold to South Korea’s Nexon, marking the gaming firm’s second such acquisition.

The acquirer is NXMH, a Belgium-based PE and investment firm owned by NXC — the parent of Nexon — and it will take a majority 80 percent stake in the business for an unknown fee. The New York Times’ Nathaniel Popper suggested earlier this year that Bitstamp was in the process of being sold “to South Korean investors” for $400 million, but NXC declined to comment on the price when asked by TechCrunch.

NXC acquired 65 percent of Korea-based exchange Korbit one year ago for 91.3 billion KRW, or approximately $79.5 million at the time.

Bitstamp was founded in 2011 by Slovenian entrepreneur Nejc Kodrič with an initial €1,000 and it survived the heady early days of crypto, unlike a certain peer named Mt. Gox. Today, Bitstamp is ranked inside the world’s top 30 exchanges based on trading volume with more than 100 staff. Bitcoin and XRP are among its most traded tokens, according to data from Coinmarketcap.com.

The company has a license to do business across the EU but it also works with customers worldwide.

Bitstamp has been profitable since its early life, but Kodrič revealed the sale is down to the potential to work with NXC, which he sees as a like-minded partner.

Bitstamp has been regularly approached by suitors for quite some time. The reason why we finally decided to sell the company is a combination of the quality of the buyer, the quality of the offer and the fact that the industry is at a point where consolidation makes sense. A major factor in agreeing to the sale is that the mission, leadership and vision of the company remains the same.

We believe this acquisition is the logical next step in Bitstamp’s growth as a company and I look forward to the future with this team.

The Bitstamp CEO said business will continue as normal — he’ll retain his position as CEO and keep 10 percent of the company.

Interestingly, he told Fortune that regulatory compliance meant the deal took some ten months to close after first being agreed in December 2017 when crypto market valuations hit a peak — with Bitcoin, in particular, getting close to a record $20,000 valuation.

Bitstamp raised around $14 million in capital from investors along its journey, with U.S-based Pantera capital one of its major backers.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

A16Z and Founders Fund sink $28M into IRL asset blockchain Harbor

Harbor helps businesses legally issue cryptocurrency tokens that represent ownership of real-world assets like real estate, fine art, company equity, and investment funds. This “tokenization” might sound boring, but it could be a big business that unlocks trading of illiquid property.

Harbor‘s intention to become a fundamental bridge between the offline and crypto economies has attracted a $28 million strategic round led by Founders Fund and joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Pantera Capital, and more. Following its $10 million Series A in February, Harbor has now raised over $40 million to dissolve the legal barriers to private securities tokenization.

“We think there’s going be a far greater appetite for owning real-world assets using the blockchain” than digital only cryptocurrencies, Harbor CEO Joshua Stein tells me. He expects it be like the impact “email had on snail mail”, but with value instead of content being sent back and forth. Once someone like Harbor handles the technical necessities to make transfers instant, free, and secure, people will exchange a lot more frequently.

The Harbor team

Here’s how Harbor works. Clients pay it in cash to make their tokenization of an IRL private security legal. Traditional trading of these assets can be complicated and expensive given there are often financial regulations or licensing requirements restricting who can buy and sell them. For example, foreigners or unaccredited investors without enough net worth aren’t allowed to own certain securities. The lawyers to handle these sales can be expensive, and the process can take weeks.

Normally, businesses have to be very careful about who they let buy these securities because they’re liable for a 20-year criminal sentence if they violate SEC law. With Harbor, a white list of eligible owners is established by an outside law firm that takes responsibility, and Harbor’s smart contracts refuse to process an illegal sale. Harbor effectively bakes securities law compliance like know-your-customer and anti-fraud/money-laundering into the tokens themselves so trades can happen instantaneously without legal assistance on every sale.

Harbor is hoping to launch this Regulated Token (R-Token) system with its first client this summer. The tokens are ERC-20 compatible so they can be sold on lots of cryptocurrency exchanges and stored in popular wallets. Stein stresses that investors will have to trust the underlying securities they’re buying. But they’ll get more trust in who owns something through blockchain transparency rather than some signed contract locked in a desk or vault somewhere. And they won’t have to trust who they’re selling to since the smart contracts only execute the trade if its legal.

The idea of making the way hugely valuable assets trade faster, easier, and cheaper led Harbor’s latest round to be oversubscribed. That’s even though it only came out of stealth two months ago from Craft Ventures, the fund and incubator run by PayPal mafioso David Sacks who sold Yammer to Microsoft.

Craft Ventures, Vy Capital and Valor Equity Partners joined this that included other new investors like Future Perfect Ventures, 1confirmation, Abstract Ventures, and Signia Venture Partners. Nicolas Berggruen of Berggruen Holdings, Napoleon Ta of Founders Fund, and Kyle Samani and Tushar Jain of Multicoin Capital also put in their personal money.  Sacks knew Ta, which set up Founders Fund to lead the round. Meanwhile, Stein says Harbor wanted to team up with Andreessen Horowitz partner and crypto thought leader Chris Dixon.

Harbor will have to compete with the other blockchain-for-securities startups like Polymath, which runs decentralized and trustless infrastrucutre to the point that a source tells me you have to hope strangers want their deposit back enough not to screw you on legal compliance, and tZERO, which is building its own full-stack compliance system. Harbor’s reliance on outside legal firms to build the smart contract white lists makes it more akin to a traditional financial player.

Harbor could make a lucrative business out of letting clients sell American securities to the Chinese market, which has shown a strong interest in crypto assets. Stein talks about “a crypto nirvana of a trustless environment” like a true Bitcoin bro. But his new A-list investors show Harbor is no pump-and-dump.