Ripple is going after startups to build an ecosystem around the XRP cryptocurrency

It’s finally happening. Ripple is making a push to expand the use of the XRP cryptocurrency it created into new verticals and segments beyond the payment and banking space where the company is focused.

XRP is the world’s third-largest cryptocurrency behind only bitcoin, the original breakout artist, and Ethereum, the platform that most developers pomp for. XRP has a total ‘coin market cap’ of $28.7 billion today, according to Coinmarketcap.com, and yet it is barely used beyond a handful of pilot customer deployments that Ripple has announced.

That might change soon, however, after Ripple announced a new initiative called Xpring — pronounced ‘Spring’ — which is aimed at bringing entrepreneurs and their businesses over to XRP, both the cryptocurrency and the smart ledger, to build an ecosystem. The project will use a mixture of investment, grants, and incubation to lure companies and expand the use of XRP whilst allowing Ripple to continue to focus on its financial services business.

Ripple says it doesn’t control or own XRP — it’s hotly debated issue since it owns over 60 percent of all tokens — but it has a vested interest in seeing it succeed. Even in the short space of six months the need for variety has been clear.

The value of XRP shot up in December and January during a crypto surge which saw bitcoin reach an all-time high of nearly $20,000 per coin. The collective value of XRP was worth more than $128 billion at peak before a market crash in January walked those prices back significantly. Ripple has come under fire for a perceived lack of use for XRP, which has been marketed as a tool for banks but has attracted only cross-border payment services as customers.

Going beyond Ripple

Ripple has hired Ethan Beard, formerly director of Facebook’s developer network and an ex-EIR at Greylock Partners, to lead Xpring and more broadly Ripple’s developer program.

“The goal is to support businesses that we believe would see benefit from building upon the XRP ledger,” Eric van Miltenburg, Ripple SVP of business operations, told TechCrunch in an interview. “Support will come in a variety of ways: investment, incubation, and the potential of acquisition or grants. We’re focused on proven entrepreneurs who can use the ledger and XRP to really address their customers’ problems.”

Van Miltenburg said Ripple has been approached by entrepreneurs and companies wanting to work with XRP “for years,” but nothing came of discussions because Ripple is focused on financial services.

“There’s been enough interaction to say there’s something here [and] now is the time,” he added. “Over the last four to six months [the idea of Xpring] has really crystallized.”

Ethan Beard speaking at LeWeb in 2010 (via Adam Tinworth/Flickr)

If you’ve been keeping an eye on Ripple this year, the launch of the program won’t be a huge surprise.

Aside from the fact that many in the crypto space are pulling together their own funds — whether it be informally as a company, or more broadly across industries like the Ethereum Community Fund — Ripple has quietly upped its investment focus.

Initially, two Ripple executives took part in a $25 million investment in January for Bay Area-based startup Omni then in March CEO Brad Garlinghouse told TechCrunch that Ripple would “certainly partner with companies that are looking to use XRP in lots of different ways” whilst maintaining its focus as a business.

Xpring is that project.

Enter the Bieber… kinda

Van Miltenburg and Beard told TechCrunch that the kind of segments where they see the most potential for XRP are trade finance, gaming, virtual goods, identity, real estate, media and micro-payments.

When I put it to them that XRP is looking for reasons to justify its $28 billion market cap, van Miltenburg claimed that XRP is far less speculative than other cryptocurrencies.

“There’s a use case we have established for it: Ripple is one of the only enterprise solutions on the blockchain that’s out in production. We believe the XRP ledger and the asset has a performance profile that lends it to others,” he said.

He added that Ripple has seen interest from projects that “started on a blockchain that isn’t living up to their needs,” and that Xpring could focus on rehousing would-be blockchain migrants. However, it won’t be investing in ICOs, buying other tokens or hosting ICOs on the XRP blockchain, van Miltenburg said.

Aside from Omni — which said it will “soon” add XRP as currency in its marketplace service — Xpring has pulled in a couple of early names. Scooter Braun, the man best known for managing Justin Bieber, is “pursuing several endeavors that will use XRP to improve artists’ ability to monetize and manage their content.”

Neither van Miltenburg nor Beard could be specific on exactly what Braun is working on — there are already a number of blockchain-based digital rights and music streaming projects in development — but they said he isn’t one to jump on a bandwagon.

Braun said in a canned statement that he is “excited our team is among the first in the entertainment industry to lean into the blockchain movement.”

“This is only the beginning as we will continue to build out more use cases for XRP,” he added.

Other early partners being announced today include Ripple CTO Stefan Thomas who is transitioning out of his role to build micro-payment services using XRP via a new venture called Coil. In addition, Xpring has backed VC firm Blockchain Capital while Michael Arrington, the founder of TechCrunch, raised his latest fund entirely in XRP.

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse previously spoke of plans to partner with companies on XRP (via Christopher Michel/Flickr)

Building an ecosystem

Generally, the plan for exactly how Xpring will work seems fluid at this point.

Beard spoke of the next wave of innovation coming from the blockchain, much like Facebook’s Timeline and social graph helped scale companies like Spotify, Zynga and BuzzFeed from startups into major tech names. He believes that, in turn, Xpring and XRP can help “build new businesses and change how industries function.”

Van Miltenburg was non-committal in terms of goals.

“Our motivation is to ensure that the XRP ledger and digital asset reaches its full potential. We want to see an extremely healthy and robust XRP ecosystem; that benefits Ripple and all others,” he explained.

Ripple is known to incentive its partners with XRP bonuses for signing, but it isn’t talking numbers this time, either the specific incentives that it is giving to high-profile names like Braun, or the overall budget that it has put behind Xpring.

“For the right opportunities, we can be aggressive. There’s no hesitation or reluctance to make big bets with opportunities that require investment,” is all van Miltenburg would say.

You can bet a large chunk of capital (XRP) is supporting Xpring. The current system with hundreds of cryptocurrencies isn’t sustainable, those that make it through will be the ones that offer the most value, and ecosystems could well be a measure of that. XRP, as the third-largest cryptocurrency, has considerable expectations on it which, as the crash earlier this year showed, can wipe out money faster than it made crypto wealth.

You can bet that Xpring, while outside of Ripple’s core financial services focus, will be a very key focus for building a community and ultimately usage for XRP. The question is how the startup community will reach to a different kind of investment option.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

The silent recovery: how much longer can America’s long, slow boom last?

If it lasts till 2019, it will have run for a decade. But this upswing, marked by weak growth and inequality, is not a normal one

It all started in the summer of 2009. Barack Obama was six months into his presidency and desperate for some good economic news. The US had just suffered its deepest post-war recession, unemployment was heading for 10% and Washington had been forced to bail out the banks.

But in June of that year, the world’s second-biggest economy turned the corner. A recovery began that has continued uninterrupted ever since. At the end of this month, the US will have enjoyed its second-longest period of economic expansion in history, beating the upswing under John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson between 1961 and 1968.

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RBS profits treble to £792m in first quarter as costs fall

Bailed-out bank easily beats forecasts but US expected to impose multimillion-pound fine

Profits at Royal Bank of Scotland more than trebled in the first three months of 2018, easily beating expectations as income rose and costs fell.

The bailed-out bank, which is still majority owned by UK taxpayers reported first-quarter profits of £792m, compared with £259m for the same period last year.

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TSB crisis: Bank waives overdraft fees and calls in IBM to fix IT meltdown – business live

All the day’s economic and financial news, including a European Central Bank meeting and the latest on TSB’s technical problems

Related: Business Today: sign up for a morning shot of financial news

Q: Were you warned last week that you weren’t ready for this IT migration?

We were ready for the platform switch, CEO Paul Pester insists. TSB expected some turbulence, but no-one expected the issues that have hit the bank since the weekend.

Paul Pester is now being grilled on Radio 5 Live over TSB’s IT mayhem.

Q: Why didn’t you give more information to customers, and claim that everything was fixed when it wasn’t?

This is a fight worth fighting. TSB was created to bring more competition into UK banking.

#TSB boss Paul Pester has told us @bbc5live that businesses that have suffered consequential losses as a result of the IT crisis, do have a case for compensation, and the bank won’t be penny-pinching.

Asked whether he would be giving up a potential £1.6m bonus, Pester told BBC Radio 4 that it was a matter for the company:

“The last thing I’m worried about at the moment is bonuses and pay. I’m focused on putting things right for customers. It’s not my decision, that’s a focus for them [the board]. It’s a decision for the remuneration committee.”

Speaking on Radio 4, Paul Pester says he has taken control of TSB’s IT platform himself – to tackle the problems that mean only 50% of its customers can get online.

@TSB bank boss Peter Pester says he has drafted in IBM experts to fix the online banking problems. They will get to work today to get to the bottom of the problems, he tells #r4today

NEWSFLASH: TSB has announced that it will waive all overdraft fees and interest charges for retail customers and small business owners for April, as it tries to assuage the anger over its IT meltdown this week.

#TSB says: “We will be waiving all overdraft fees and interest charges for all of our retail and small business customers for April. We’ll be increasing the interest rate on our Classic Plus account to 5% AER.”

As we moved over to our new banking platform last weekend, the landing was an incredibly bumpy one for our customers, and for that I am truly sorry. This is not the level of service that we pride ourselves on providing – nor is it what our customers have come to expect from TSB….

“Of course, customers can rest assured that no one will be left out of pocket as a result of these problems. To begin to put things right, we will be waiving all overdraft fees and interest charges for all of our retail and small business customers for April.

Nope. App still incredibly slow and none of my transactions are showing pic.twitter.com/348rKJULXF

I still can’t log into my #Tsb business account. I will now be charging #Tsb for everyday I can not log into my account. I have a VAT return looming and people to pay. #tsb are lying to the media about being up and running. #TSBfiasco #tsbdown #tsbfail

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.

One of Britain’s worst IT botches of recent years continues to rumble on today. TSB customers are still reporting that they can’t access the bank’s online systems, nearly a week after they were taken down for a planned IT migration.

Related: TSB chief forced to backtrack as online chaos continues

Related: Facebook posts record revenues for first quarter despite privacy scandal

European Markets Opening Calls
FTSE100 is expected to open 6 points higher at 7,385

DAX is expected to open 50 points higher at 12,472

CAC40 is expected to open 22 points higher at 5,435

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Mobile money-saving app Qapital raises $30 million to spend on growth

Qapital, one of a slew of mobile applications trying to make it easier for users to save money (and spend it more wisely), has raised $30 million in fresh financing as it expands beyond savings to offer investment advisory services.

Since its launch in the U.S. in 2015, Qapital has amassed roughly 420,000 users that have saved nearly $500 million on the platform, according to the company.

But Qapital is more than just a Digit -style savings tool these days. The company has also folded in Qapital Spending through a linked Visa Debit Card that works with money saved through the app — as well as a budgeting tool called Qapital Weekly Spending Target.

The company now has designs on the robo-investment market through Qapital Invest, a new product that Qapital expects to roll out before the end of the year.

Financing that push into investment advisory is the $30 million warchest the company just raised from big Nordic investment firms Swedbank Robur, Norron, SEB Stiftelsen and Athanase, with additional participation from the Nordic venture capital firm Northzone.

Qapital’s approach combines tools that have been rolled out into financial services verticals by startups like Digit, Acorns, Betterment, Wealthfront and Clarity Money (which was recently acquired by Goldman Sachs) .

Using certain principles of behavioral economics, Qapital tries to encourage users to save money towards goals and make better financial choices overall.

The company’s executive team even includes the renowned fintech startup whisperer Dan Ariely, who serves as chief behavioral economist for Qapital when he’s not moonlighting as the James B. Duke professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and a ​New York Times​ best-selling author.

Ariely’s theories helped shape Qapital’s “rules” and “goals” approach to money management, where users set short term and long term goals for themselves and then create spending rules to help them achieve those goals. Rules can vary from “save a dollar every time I buy a coffee” to “save $2 when anytime I use a credit or debit card”.

“Building personal banking products that people love is hard, and traditional banks to date haven’t done enough to inspire and engage their customers,” said Pär Jörgen Pärson, Chairman of the Qapital Board and General Partner of Northzone, in a statement. “Qapital understands that through building a great product that is easy to use and winning its customers’ trust, we will inspire happiness and empower people to meet their goals.”

The new capital should provide some defensibility for Qapital as the industry looks to head into a period of consolidation. 

As George Friedman, Qapital’s chief executive and co-founder noted in an email, “banks haven’t done enough to inspire and engage customers, and … banks simply can’t match the innovation speed of start-up challengers.”

With the Goldman Sachs acquisition of Clarity Money, Friedman says,”there is real demand among consumers for financial products with financial management tools built in.”

 

Global debt now worse than before financial crisis, says IMF

Fund warns all economies look vulnerable as low interest rates lead to debt worth 225% of GDP

The global economy is more deeply indebted than before the financial crisis and countries need to take immediate action to improve their finances before the next downturn, the International Monetary Fund has said.

The IMF said a prolonged period of low interest rates had stimulated a build-up of debt worth 225% of world GDP in 2016, 12 points above the previous record level reached in 2009.

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European stocks open higher, oil falls as Syria fears fade – business live

Markets tense after western strikes on Syria

Analysts are cautious about whether WPP will be broken up, now that Sorrell is gone. Citi analysts Thomas Singlehurst and Catherine O’Neill reckon the main question is whether a new WPP chief executive goes for a “quick fix” or sticks with the existing “slow fix”.

In the last year, WPP has been seen by many to be losing its way. Against the backdrop of an improving macro environment, organic growth has been slowing. In practice this slowdown has been happening for years and has a multitude of explanatory factors. Anyone coming in to take over the CEO role at WPP will be entirely focused on turning this round. The debate is now whether a new CEO goes for a Quick Fix vs. (the existing) Slow Fix.

Paul Richards, media analyst at Numis, says Sorrell will be hard to replace with one person.

The succession has led to questions over the size and scope of WPP and we can see a change of management accelerating the current process of reducing overlap and increasing flexibility.

WPP has bought other holding companies (Y&R, Grey, Cordiant) as well as agencies and accordingly has grown to employ over 200,000 people in 400 businesses across 3,000 offices in 112 countries. In response to industry pressures including clients in-sourcing activity, pressure on CPG and structural challenges from the duopoly of Facebook & Google, WPP was already working to simplify its business and increase flexibility.

We expect a new CEO to continue and accelerate this process and a strategic review could lead to the group slimming its operations by a quarter to a third in our view.

Sorrell is free to start a new advertising venture because he has never had a non-compete agreement, the Financial Times reports.

In a farewell note to staff, Sir Martin underscored the role WPP had played in his career, saying the company was “not just a matter of life or death, it was, is and will be more important than that”. He also hinted at his next step when he signed off saying: “Back to the future.”

1975

European stock markets have opened higher, apart from the London stock market which has slipped slightly.

Shares in Whitbread have surged nearly 8%, replacing Shire as the top riser on the FTSE 100 index in early trading. Whitbread is under mounting pressure from hedge funds to break up its business by spinning off the Costa Coffee chain, after activist investor Elliott Advisors built up a stake of more than 6%.

Related: Hedge funds pressure Whitbread to spin off Costa Coffee

Shares in Shire have opened 2.6% on the news, making it the biggest riser on the FTSE 100.

Shares in WPP have dropped 5% after the departure of chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell.

London-listed drugmaker Shire, which specialises in rare diseases, is selling its oncology business to French drugmaker Servier for $2.4bn. The division generated revenues of $262m last year.

Shire, which is a potential bid target for Japan’s biggest drugmaker Takeda, said it would consider returning the proceeds of the sale to shareholders through a share buyback.

While the oncology business has delivered high growth and profitability, we have concluded that it is not core to Shire’s longer-term strategy. We will continue to evaluate our portfolio for opportunities to unlock further value and sharpen our focus on rare disease leadership with selective disposals of non-strategic assets.

The proceeds from the transaction increase optionality and Shire’s Board will consider returning the proceeds of the sale to shareholders through a shareholder-approved share buyback after the current offer period regarding Takeda’s possible offer for Shire concludes.

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.

Following another week of gains last week, with Germany’s Dax and the UK’s FTSE 100 index hitting six-week highs on Friday, European stock markets are set to open higher today. US stock futures are also up, pointing to a higher open on Wall Street later.

One of the main concerns last week was around the extent of the response by the US backed coalition on president Assad of Syria’s forces and any Russian reaction to it. The firing of over 100 cruise missiles over the weekend on various targets, with little in the way of casualties, appears to be tempered with relief that while it may reduce the risk of an escalation in the short term, it in no way means that we might not get a counter response further down the line. As such markets here in Europe look set to open cautiously higher this morning after shares traded slightly firmer in Asia.

The US also appears to be complementing its military approach by focusing on the additional sanctions route, after UN ambassador Nikki Haley announced that further sanctions were being discussed on Russian companies who have dealings with Assad and the use of chemical weapons, with details likely to be announced by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin later today.

CITY AM: Good Fortune #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/GnnX6G47GA

FINANCIAL TIMES: Trump vows to follow air strikes with more sanctions #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/Ce3UbhXOXJ

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Trump would reconsider TPP trade pact on ‘better’ terms – business live

As tensions over Syria ease, trade and US bank earnings are in focus

The FTSE 100 index is slightly negative, trading down some 6 points at 7251.70, while the FTSE 250 is also down, by 0.2%, or 41 points to 19732.13.

Shopping centre operator Hammerson is the biggest faller on the FTSE 250 index after bigger French rival Klépierre abandoned attempts to buy the company behind Birmingham’s Bullring and Brent Cross in London. Hammerson shares are down 12.7% at 454.1p, while Klépierre rose 4.3%.

Oil prices are slipping after Trump toned down his threat of missile strikes in Syria on Thursday. Brent crude in London is down 0.2% at $71.89 – but is up 7% this week – while US crude has edged down 0.15% at $66.92 a barrel.

Both benchmarks have risen about $5 this week, putting them on track for the biggest weekly gains since July. They hit their highest level since late 2014 on Wednesday after Trump warned “missiles will be coming” in Syria after a chemical attack on civilians and Saudi Arabia said it intercepted missiles from Yemen over Riyadh.

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.

As tensions over Syria ease, trade is back in focus today.

Would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama. We already have BILATERAL deals with six of the eleven nations in TPP, and are working to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan, who has hit us hard on trade for years!

If it’s true, I would welcome it.

If the United States, it turns out, do genuinely wish to rejoin, that triggers a whole new process.

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