In all the excitement of the latest cryptocurrency bull run –You’re here buy bitcoin, Ethereum hits all time highs, Snoop doge– it’s easy to ignore what makes the tech behind all this new loot so exciting. Most people just want to talk about big price movements. And the space shuttle cartoons.
(Not that I’m against the price talk. Wheee!)
But real innovators are tackling tough problems using blockchain technology, even if their efforts are getting less attention. One of these innovators is Celo, a four year old project it is the construction of a telephone payment system primarily for the “unbanked” people, those who do not have easy access to the global financial system. Unlike a lot of fly-by-night “Parts offers” that have proliferated while the big ICO bubble of 2017, Celo forged and made forays into a stubbornly thorny dilemma: cross-border remittances.
Even in normal times, sending money abroad is a challenge. Nonprofit groups often resort to sending prepaid cards or envelopes full of cash to those in need – a slow, expensive, sometimes dangerous, and completely inefficient status quo. During the pandemic, the problem was further compounded by increased economic need and, simultaneously, limited physical interaction.
Last year, cLabs, the San Francisco-based company behind Forehead, in partnership with the Grameen Foundation, a Washington, DC-based poverty alleviation group to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID assistance to thousands of women entrepreneurs in the Philippines. The pilot program taught people how to send and send money, for less than a penny per transaction, using a cell phone app called Value. You wouldn’t even know that a blockchain, originally adapted from Ethereum’s software code, underlies the system.
(Valora became available for consumer download on Wednesday, although when I tried to register on my iPhone, the app stuck on the phone number verification screen.)
René Reinsberg, co-founder of Celo and former director of GoDaddy and researcher at MIT, tells me he has high expectations for the growth of the platform, although it is little recognized today. The project “operates the largest social network there is, collecting people’s contact lists right on their phones,” he says. The number of smartphone subscribers worldwide is expected grow to 7.5 billion by 2025, covering much of the world, he notes.
Celo said on Wednesday that he raised $ 20 million Andreessen Horowitz and other venture capitalists who also see the potential. The cash injection brings the total financing of the project to $ 65 million. Previous raises have included supports such as Twitter and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square, co-founder of LinkedIn and PayPal mafioso, Reid Hoffman and Coinbase Ventures.
Morgan Beller, co-founder of Facebook’s Besieged Cryptocurrency Project, formerly called Libra and since renamed Diem, recently joined Celo as an advisor. The appointment of Beller, who is now a partner in start-up venture capital firm NFX, is remarkable, not least because his previous company obviously competes with it. (“I see them as an ‘and’ not an ‘or’,” Beller tells me, meaning she thinks they can coexist.)
What does Beller see in Celo? On the one hand, it is the emphasis on problem solving. “A lot of projects in the crypto world sometimes look like crypto for the sake of cryptography – running with a hammer for a nail, or trying to put a square peg in a round hole, or whatever. analogy you want to use, ”Beller said.
Celo, on the other hand, is “not necessarily a crypto company,” at least not for the end consumer, she says, “it’s like, we’re just going to help you solve ‘X’. You don’t really need to know how it goes. I think this approach is correct.
The recently rekindled crypto craze is exciting, of course; but what is really exciting is what comes after the infatuation ends. To quote another great innovator, “If you do it right, a few years after a surprising invention, novelty has become normal. People are yawning. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive. “
One day we all yawn on the blockchain.