Because cryptocurrency prices are almost comically volatile owing to challenges involved in valuing them, it’s hard to know when or why to sell.
Enter crypto-asset backed loans, around which a small but growing number of startups is beginning to spring up. The idea is to lend money to cryptocurrency holders who don’t want to offload their holdings but also don’t necessarily want so much of their assets tied up in cryptocurrencies.
Among these upstarts is Lendingblock, a London-based startup that enables holders of crypto assets to lend them out and accrue interest on their holdings. Other outfits — and we aren’t vouching for these so much as letting you know they exist — include CoinLoan, a 1.5-year-old outfit in Estonia that is itself trying to raise money through an initial coin offering; Nexo, a Switzerland-based platform powered by a Bulgarian consumer finance company called Credissimo; and SALT Lending, a Denver-based outfit that started crypto lending earlier this year, and recently told American Banker that it has already made just shy of $40 million in loans and has had no losses. (AB notes that the company’s founder, Blake Cohen, refers to himself at “The Blockchain Cowboy.”)
Still, it’s already looking like if there is one to watch in this new world, it might be BlockFi, a year-old, 12-person, New York-based non-bank lender that had raised roughly $1.5 million in seed funding earlier this year from ConsenSys Ventures, SoFi and Kenetic Capital, and just today quietly announced a massive infusion of capital — $52.5 million — led by Galaxy Digital Ventures, the digital currency and blockchain tech firm founded by famed investor Mike Novogratz.
Most of the capital — $50 million — will be used to loan to BlockFi’s customers. The rest — $2.5 million — is an equity investment in the company from Galaxy and earlier backers, including ConsenSys.
Founder Zac Prince comes from a background of consumer lending, having worked recently as a senior vice president with the company Cognical (now operating as Zibby). He’d also logged time as a vice president at the broker dealer Orchard Platform (since acquired by the lending company Kabbage).
As he told us of BlockFi’s origins earlier today, Prince started personally investing in crypto in early 2016 and also started attending related events. It was there that he “watched the crowd shift from purely computer scientists and anarchists to [also] VCs and bankers.”
As it happens, he was in the process of getting a loan for an investment property around the same time. Instead of using a traditional bank, he decided to list his crypto holdings to see what would happen, and the response was overwhelming. It was, he says, a “lightbulb moment. I realized that there was no debt or credit outside of [person-to-person] margin lending on a few exchanges and I had the feeling that this was a big opportunity that I was well-suited to go after.”
Clearly, Novogratz agrees. So does former Bank of America managing director Rene van Kesteren, who ran a seven-person equity-structured financing business before joining BlockFi in May as its chief risk officer.
Currently, BlockFi allows investors to take out a loan as high as $10 million using either bitcoin or ethereum as collateral.
Prince wouldn’t say how much money the company has lent to its retail, corporate and institutional clients. He did offer that the number is “seven figures,” adding half-kiddingly that it “may be eight” figures by later today.