On the Chain Reaction podcast this week, Lux Capital’s newest investor, Grace Isford, joined us to talk about the opaque but crucial world of web3 infrastructure. At Lux, Isford invests in the companies working behind the scenes to make sure crypto exchanges are secure and reliable enough to avoid being hacked.
Before joining Lux this February, Isford was an investor at Canvas Ventures focused on enterprise software and fintech. A data infrastructure investment she worked on at Canvas revealed to her the opportunity in the web3 space for companies to “share data immutably at scale,” motivating her pivot to crypto, she said.
“That led me down the rabbit hole, and then I ended up investing myself personally,” Isford said. “I got into yield farming, which coincided with my move to New York, where many of my friends are also in the crypto and VC ecosystem.”
Isford says her investing approach in web3 is rooted in what she calls her “circle of competence,” or the area where she can be competitive compared to others in the space.
“NFT investing is quite different than DeFi investing, which is quite different than crypto data infrastructure investing, and I would argue that any person who says they invest in web three shouldn’t invest in all of that — they should probably choose their sweet spot in their core competency,” Isford said.
Isford’s own “circle of competence,” based on her prior experience, is in enterprise and fintech infrastructure, so we asked her what she thinks some of the biggest challenges are for web3 infrastructure providers.
Compared to web2, Isford said, web3 lacks enterprise-level security solutions. Alchemy and Infura are the only two major node service providers in the industry, meaning that most of crypto is reliant on two infrastructure providers to manage their data.
“There seems to be a new security hack reported every week [in web3],” Isford said, citing the recent Metamask and Ethereum dApp outage that originated from Infura and February’s Wormhole bridge hack.
While a number of startups are working on developing security solutions, Isford said, the tech is “still quite nascent” when it comes to developer tools, data infrastructure monitoring, and storage.
Another major challenge is managing fraud and downside risk, Isford added.
“I think [that issue] is really keeping a lot of folks out of the crypto world right now [because they’re] afraid of losing all their money if they venture too deeply into crypto,” Isford said.
Isford is optimistic that through the massive inflows of investment into web3 startups in the past year, companies will be able to build more reliable solutions.
“I think TRM Labs, Chainalysis, and several other companies in this space have 10x potential in terms of compliance and monitoring because you just do not have that yet at scale in the same way that we’ve kind of created these sophisticated AML systems on the financial infrastructure side in the web2 world,” Isford said, referring to traditional financial institutions’ anti-money laundering technology.
Better fraud and risk management systems are a …read more
It’s not an inexpensive transaction, but thanks to a “go-shop” provision that gives VMware 40 days to “solicit, receive, evaluate and potentially enter negotiations with parties that offer alternative proposals,” there’s market speculation that another bidder could enter the fray.
After chewing through analyst notes on the deal, Ron and Alex wound up on opposite sides regarding whether a higher price or another bidder would make sense. Ron’s view is that the company’s value is higher than its recent financial results may imply, while Alex feels the company is not sufficiently performative to deserve a higher price.
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We’ve long speculated who might buy VMware, and after Dell spun out the company, TechCrunch listed Amazon, Alphabet, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM as potential acquirers. The fact that we did not foresee Broadcom as a potential suitor underscores our view that we don’t fully grok if it’s the correct buyer for VMware.
So let’s talk about the pros and cons of the matter, ask what VMware is worth, and how it may have value over and above its recent quarterly results. Ron is taking point!
With $61 billion on the table, it’s hard to imagine anyone paying more, and research firm Bernstein agrees with the perspective. Before we put the idea to bed, though, it’s worth taking a moment to think about the value of VMware.
VMware’s value goes beyond what its balance sheet or its profit and loss statement tells us at the moment. While the company might not have had a perfect first quarter, it has a particular set of skills that could fit nicely with any of the big cloud infrastructure providers.
In fact, cloud infrastructure-as-a-service exists today only because the early crew at VMware figured out virtualization at scale in the early 2000s. Until then, people used servers, and if a server was underutilized, well, too bad. Virtualization lets you divide a computer into multiple virtual machines, paving the way for cloud computing as we know it today.
While cloud computing has changed some since its early days, virtualization remains a core tenet of the market. Imagine for a moment if one of the three or four cloud vendors — think Amazon, Microsoft, Google or even IBM (although this deal is a bit rich for its blood) — brought VMware into its fold.
VMware brings more to the table than virtualization, of course. Over the years, it has gained various capabilities by acquiring companies like Heptio, a containerization startup launched by Craig McLuckie and Joe Beda, two of the people who helped create Kubernetes.
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We’ve all been keeping up with the recent drama of Stripe vs. Plaid. Rather than rehash all that here, I’ll point you to some of our recent articles on the topic and just summarize: The two fintech startups have recently grown (much) more competitive.
If things weren’t turbulent enough, another startup has very publicly emerged as a formidable competitor to StripeFinix.
Now, Finix is not coming out of nowhere. The SaaS startup — which started out in early 2020 by selling its payments tech to other businesses — raised a $35 million Series B led by Sequoia. In an unusual twist, Sequoia just 1 month later walked away from the deal in which it reportedly wrote the self-described payments infrastructure company a $21 million check. As TC’s Connie Loizos reported at the time, Finix told employees that soon after issuing its check, Sequoia concluded that Finix competes too directly with Stripe, the payments company that represented one of Sequoia’s biggest private holdings and that in turn counted Sequoia as one of its biggest outside investors.
Fast-forward to last week. Finix announced that it was becoming a payments facilitator, in addition to enabling other companies to facilitate payments. This move puts it in direct competition with Stripe, something that CEO and co-founder Richie Serna is not shy about admitting.
In an interview this past week, Serna elaborated by noting that Finix indeed started out to build software that gave any software company a way to become their own payment facilitator.
“We were building technology that would take a three-year in-house build by dozens of engineers, with tens of millions of dollars of technical R&D and investment, and taking that down to a number of months by getting developer-friendly APIs to start monetizing their payments,” he said. “That was our biggest core offering. What we’ve done now is become the payments facilitator ourselves, so that we can not only provide the payments, but also all the back office requirements and compliance certifications, so that our customers can get up and running in a matter of days, rather than months.”
He says the move gives Finix the ability to work with companies and software platforms who have $0 in processing volume all the way up to companies with billions of dollars in processing volume.
“This allows these customers to get a better product experience and faster speed to market, and allows us to take on those non-technical aspects of rolling out and monetizing, and getting payments,” Serna added.
You see, historically, companies needed to hit a certain volume threshold before Finix could work with them. But now, according to Serna, they can start working with them in their earliest states.
“Customers can start working with us from day one, use finance APIs, and when they’re ready to take on …read more
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