Few debates in technology have been as intense over the past few years as the debate over privacy. As companies like Facebook and Google have swelled with all the minutia of our daily lives — our likes, our searches, our calendar invites — there is increasing awareness of the risks to our privacy as these large data guzzlers suck up our digital selves.
Worse, these companies have used their incumbent network effects to increasingly be the identity layer of the web. From Login with Facebook to being the repository of our data that we shuttle from service to service, it’s increasingly clear that a handful of companies have centralized our data into their own profitable silos.
3Box wants to undo that trend toward identity centralization. Building upon and extending the concepts of the Web3 movement, 3Box offers a decentralized identity cloud storage layer that allows developers to save identity information outside of the big tech stacks.
The company announced today that it has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by Brad Burnham through Placeholder Ventures, where he is a venture partner. Brunham is also a partner at Union Square Ventures, where he invested in developer-focused companies like StackOverflow and Cloudflare. Burnham will join 3Box’s board of directors.
3Box was founded by a trio of alums from ConsenSys, the Ethereum-focused decentralized blob of an accelerator/VC/incubator based in Brooklyn that rode the blockchain wave in 2017 and 2018 only to scale back its ambitions with the decline in asset prices. CEO Michael Sena and COO Danny Zuckerman worked together at ConsenSys company uPort, which was also focused on identity, and they are joined by ConsenSys engineer Joel Thorstensson as CTO.
“We were always interested in the smart identity space … aggregating all of your data and all of your stuff and having agency over that data,” Sena explained. After co-founding uPort though, he increasingly saw an opportunity in distributed databases rather than the mobile application-focused product that uPort was building.
A distributed database is critical for decentralized apps (dApps) to be able to store identity information. “The angle in the Web3 ecosystem that we are seeing, these developers want to write apps with limited backends,” Sena said. “And now they have a distributed place for user data.”
What exactly is identity data though? It “can be anything,” Zuckerman said. “We take the approach of being unopinionated about what kind of data is stored in there.” He added that it “can include data about yourself, browsing data, transaction history, photos.” Ultimately, “identity is the abstraction or emergence of all of that data.”
While there is obviously a privacy and political angle to 3Box’s technology as with many blockchain projects, Sena and Zuckerman see a much more pragmatic reason to use their platform. “It reduces the burden of on-boarding” a new user, Zuckerman said. “Not only can you pull in your profile information, but your other data can also be pulled.” Sena added that “3Box allows you to write a new minimally-viable dApp … our value proposition works best for dApps because they want to avoid the backend.”
While identity layers like 3Box are certainly offered by the big tech giants, other startups have made a play for the space as well. “We’re somewhere between Gravatar and Firebase,” Sena said. “We’re less about owning that [login] button, but enabling the quick on-boarding” of new users.
Right now, 3Box is built around the Ethereum ecosystem. Zuckerman foresees expanding that to other ecosystems as they scale, and the company has also published a roadmap for the rest of 2019 of the new features and themes it intends to focus on.
3Box is co-headquartered in New York City, where Sena and Zuckerman call home, and Berlin, where Thorstensson has his base. With its funding, 3Box intends to build out its team in both locations.
In addition to Placeholder, the round was joined by David Pakman at Venrock, Wendy Xiao Schadeck at Northzone, and Jake Brukhman at CoinFund. The company was funded through ConsenSys’ venture studio, and ConsenSys Global Lead of Media Mike Kriak also sits on the company’s board.