MobileCoin, a cryptocurrency startup that counts founder Moxie Marlinspike of the encrypted messaging app Signal as its earliest technical advisor, has raised $66 million in Series B funding from a long list of investors. Among them is Alameda Research, Berggruen Holdings, BlockTower Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Vy Capital and earlier backers General Catalyst and Future Ventures.
The all-equity round brings the four-year-old, San Francisco-based company’s total funding to $107 million altogether, including a $30 million round led by Binance Labs back in 2018. According to founder and CEO Joshua Goldbard, the newest round values the outfit at $1.066 billion.
As we reported earlier this year, MobileCoin is focused on enabling privacy-protecting payments made through “near instantaneous transactions” over one’s phone. Indeed, a month after we published that piece, Signal rolled out support for MobileCoin as a payment feature that its users (only in the U.K. for now) can use to pay for a service or product while enjoying greater privacy than might be possible otherwise.
Marlinspike told Wired back in April that because MobileCoin is a so-called privacy coin designed to protect users’ identities and the details of their payments on a blockchain, that it’s an ideal fit for Signal. “There’s a palpable difference in the feeling of what it’s like to communicate over Signal, knowing you’re not being watched or listened to, versus other communication platforms. I would like to get to a world where not only can you feel that when you talk to your therapist over Signal, but also when you pay your therapist for the session over Signal.”
According to Goldbard, MobileCoin is also being used to transact by users of Mixin Messenger, a China-based open-source private messenger based on Signal Protocol that enables individuals to send cryptocurrencies to their phone contacts.
MobileCoin’s actual digital coins have fluctuated wildly in value since they began trading in December of last year on the cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, run by entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried, who also founded the quantitative crypto trading firm Alameda Research (which just invested in MobileCoin).
The cryptocurrency is also available to buy and sell on the non-U.S. crypto trading platforms Bitfinex, BigOne and HotBit.
Goldbard says there’s no reason that U.S. exchanges couldn’t also list the coin for trade, though that’s not the case currently. “It’s entirely up to [them] when they list assets, and no one knows ahead of time when your asset will be listed,” Goldbard offers, dismissing questions about U.S. regulators who’ve cracked down on similar efforts and pointing instead to MobileCoin’s relatively newness as its biggest challenge right now. “Most coins take a long time to list, to be honest.”
As for whether Goldbard or his early team members have sold some of the company’s coins — they spiked in price this past spring — he says that “management has not sold any coins.” Asked whether the same is true of Marlinspike, Goldbard says that he “can’t speak for Moxie.” (Marlinspike told Wired in April that neither he nor Signal owned any MobileCoins at the time. We’ve since asked the company whether Marlinspike has ever owned any MobileCoins and also whether he owns or previously owned shares in MobileCoin as an early advisor to the company and have yet to hear back.)
Even assuming that MobileCoin is more secure than other options, it is still not foolproof. Among the risks involved in storing cryptocurrency on a phone are potentially losing it if the phone is left unlocked or the radio on the phone is hacked or if, say, iOS itself is hacked.
It does offer another advantage, though, argues Goldbard. He says MobileCoin is more environmentally friendly than cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that rely on “proof of work,” where individuals on a network compete with computing power to solve cryptographic puzzles and consume large amounts of electricity along the way.
MobileCoin instead relies on a mechanism called a “federated byzantine agreement,” wherein different validators — people who agree to store data, process transactions and add new blocks to the blockchain to earn more cryptocurrency — decide which other validators they trust; when enough circles of trusted validators overlap, consensus is reached. The algorithm requires fewer people and less energy while remaining decentralized, says Goldbard.
MobileCoin currently has 40 employees and is “hiring as fast as possible,” says Goldbard. Tragically, the company’s head of engineering, Toby Segaran, who was previously an engineer with both Google and Reddit, passed away unexpectedly last week. Meanwhile, MobileCoin brought aboard is first head of compliance, David Ackerman, last month.