Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.
Hello everyone! Disrupt was this week, which meant that I spent more time than usual with my feet up, watching panels and startup pitches. It was good fun, but also meant that I had fewer calls than I might in a more regular week. So, what follows is an abbreviated newsletter that is a touch more observational than reported, if you follow. Let’s have some fun!
Observation one: NFT speculation is good fun
I recently dipped a single toe into the world of NFTs. After covering the space, it was time to participate in a very minor fashion as you can learn a lot more by doing than merely reading. Of course I try to avoid any and all possible ethical quandaries, but I don’t think that my owning two-figures’ worth of crypto so that I could attempt to purchase a low-cost JPEG will really upset the apple cart.
It all went to hell, but an NFT that a kind Twitter user sent me is racking up bids. While I have not derived much pleasure from the particular image that I now own the digital signature to on a particular blockchain more than, say, most other online images, it has been sporting to watch folks try to buy it off me.
Several bids worth hundreds of dollars have cropped up (the latest sitting at $382.94), which made me sit back and wonder who really wants my image. I presume that I’m seeing speculation over value collection in the offers, but I do now better understand why NFT fans are stoked by their cottage industry. After all, who doesn’t want to magically generate real-world value from an image that, until recently, would have had essentially zero value? It feels like cheating. (To be clear, I am not selling my NFT as I don’t want to bother with the taxes, and it does seem like selling it for profit would generate some sort of ethics issue. So I guess I will hodl? Forever?)
Observation two: This is a great moment for fintech IPOs
The scalding public-market reception for Boston-based fintech unicorn Toast this week showed the world that it is possible to get software-like valuations for payments revenues, provided a sufficiently quick growth rate. Our read was that the warmth with which Toast was welcomed to the stock market indicated that it’s a great time for fintech unicorns to get off their collective duffs and go public.
I wouldn’t have guessed that Chime was in fifth place, but those figures imply simply huge payment flows which, as we have recently seen, are currently valued like rivers of gold. So NuBank and Chime and Dave and others, let’s do this thing? Please?
Observation three: Chinese tech is increasingly toxic
News this week broke that the Zoom-Five9 deal could be in for regulatory issues over the acquiring company’s Chinese roots. If Zoom having R&D operations in China means that it’s megabuy of Five9 goes poof, it would be an indicator not only of increasing distance between the two globally leading economies, but also a door-closing moment on a possible source of tech liquidity.
Also this week Lithuania warned that hardware from Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi is able to detect and block certain terms that China’s government likes to censor. Now, maybe that’s just how Xiaomi makes all its phones, but it’s not a great look. The country has “told its civil servants to jettison their Chinese-made smartphones after experts found they contained automatic censorship software and other security flaws,” The Times reported.