Katherine Wu was up until 3 a.m. Wednesday annotating Kik’s response to its complaint from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
“That’s what I do for fun,” she told CoinDesk later that morning.
And now Wu is once again employed to dig deep, into startups.
Revealed exclusively to CoinDesk, Wu has been named a principal at Notation Capital, a venture capital firm that invests across the technology sector, including parts of the crypto industry.
Founded by Nicholas Chirls and Alex Lines, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Notation invests based on its teams’ areas of interest, which has included several blockchain-related investments, such as Filecoin, Livepeer and Bison Trails, to name a few. Notation is also known for investing in the very early stages of a company or project.
In a draft blog post shared with CoinDesk in advance, the company writes:
“We weren’t hiring for this role – and then we met Katherine. For anyone that’s been fortunate enough to spend some time with K-Wu, it’s clear within minutes that she has a unique talent to bring people together, ask the right questions, and then get shit done in a way that is very much her own.”
Last month, the firm hired crypto mining veteran Thomas Bailey. Wu makes it a team of four.
Down the rabbit hole
A graduate of the Cardozo School of Law in New York, Wu discovered crypto while studying to be a securities attorney.
“I fell into crypto first and then fell in love with the tech world later, which I feel like is the opposite of most people,” Wu said. “When I first got into crypto was when SAFT was starting to become a thing and ICOs were starting to become a thing.”
The legal questions raised by those token sales interested her first, but then she became more interested in the technology. “It was simply the most intellectually challenging topic I’d ever come across,” Wu said. “You’re constantly being questioned on every assumption you make.”
She was a member of the founding team at Messari, where she served as director of business development before leaving the crypto data firm in March.
While Wu will not be exclusively crypto-focused at Notation, she does expect to help the company source some of those deals. She’s reluctant to identify specific areas of the industry she’s on the lookout for.
“Because of how quickly the landscape changes and how quickly your assumption changes, it’s sometimes hard to hold onto one cool idea at a time and look at it on a long term horizon,” Wu said, concluding:
“It’s definitely really exciting for me to be given this role to write checks and support businesses if I really feel strongly about that.”
A small bank in New York City has started doing business with cryptocurrency firms, joining the very short list of U.S. financial institutions to embrace the sector.
Quontic Bank opened a checking account for a bitcoin ATM company a few weeks ago and is in the process of completing a contract to deliver banking services to another crypto startup. The bank wouldn’t name either client.
“We’re just taking steps so that when the regulatory environment becomes more crypto-friendly, we don’t have a lot of catching up to do,” said Quontic chief executive Steven Schnall, who acquired the bank in 2009. “We’re looking to diversify our product offering and our customer mix by entering into that field.”
While Schnall wouldn’t say how big he wants Quontic’s crypto business to be, he claimed the pending contract “could impact millions of Americans.”
Crypto-friendly banks are extremely rare, in part because of the extra work they have to do complying with know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations.
“Banks and other financial institutions have to look out for any suspicious activity,” said Joshua Klayman, head of the blockchain and digital assets practice at law firm Linklaters. “If you have a startup that raised money doing an ICO and didn’t do proper KYC or AML, that bank doesn’t know who the proceeds are from.”
Like those institutions, Quontic is a relative pipsqueak in the banking industry. With $420 million in assets, it is only 0.015 percent the size of JPMorgan.
Yet Quontic stands out because its leaders caught the crypto bug early on.
Students of crypto
Schnall, a longtime mortgage lender, became interested in bitcoin when it was worth less than $1, bought his first bitcoin at $75 in 2013 and lost 500 BTC in the Mt Gox debacle.
Patrick Sells, now the bank’s chief innovation officer, said Schnall began to educate him on bitcoin the first few times they met, while Sells was doing mortgage lead generation for Quontic through his own firm.
To learn more about the mechanics of cryptocurrency, Schnall and Sells built an ethereum mining operation, independent from Quontic, in January 2018. (Schnall said he is now more bullish on bitcoin than any other cryptocurrency.)
The two executives even came close to launching their own cryptocurrency, also separate from the bank, called QCoin. They lined up $2.5 million for an initial coin offering (ICO) but called it off after the market crashed.
Undeterred by the ups and downs, the bankers said that they believe banking and crypto can have a symbiotic relationship and are exploring what steps toward that goal might look like under the U.S. regulatory framework.
The bankers helped educate their staff of 180 by giving them each $20 in bitcoin when the price of bitcoin was around $3,000, and they’re looking to hire employees with experience in cryptocurrency.
“We can teach them the banking side,” said Sells, vaping in a white v-neck and jeans at Quontic’s Manhattan headquarters. “It’s easier to do that than vice versa.”
While the bank wants to let cryptocurrency companies know that it’s open to banking them, Quontic said it has high standards for crypto customers.
When the bitcoin ATM network approached Quontic a year ago, the company was not prepared for the bank’s compliance vetting.
It didn’t have a disaster recovery plan, it was not properly tracking the currency transaction reports (CTRs) filed to regulators, and the company’s reporting was not up to Quontic’s standards.
After working closely with the bank for a year, the company opened an account at Quontic a few weeks ago.
To Schnall, such professionalism is necessary for crypto startups to be taken seriously.
“You don’t have mom-and-pop financial institutions. You’re not going to have mom-and-pop crypto players of any significance,” Schnall said. “Crypto companies have to have strong controls, internal audit, and a very robust system of compliance.”
Additionally, the juice has to be worth the squeeze for Quontic to bank a crypto firm.
“There must also be a strong strategic motivation for us as well – such as meaningful deposit balances, etc.” Schnall said. “‘Meaningful’ is relative to how complex, risk-laden and labor-intensive the account will be.”
Blockstream has launched a colocation mining service and already counts the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman as customers.
On Thursday, the bitcoin and blockchain technology firm announced a new mining wing, Blockstream Mining, along with a BetterHash-based mining pool, Blockstream Pool. Led by cryptographer Dr. Adam Back, Blockstream is best known for its bitcoin-sidechain ecosystem, the Liquid Network.
Blockstream Mining will host colocation services across North America with its most recent installation in Georgia. The announcement stated that 300 megawatts, or 300,000 kilowatt-hours of energy, will be made available to customers.
That level of energy supply would be able to power up around 100,000 more-advanced ASIC mining models such as MicroBT’s WhatsMiner M20S or Bitmain’s AntMiner S17 Pro.
These machines on average have an electricity consumption of about 3 kWh per unit with a hashing power of around 55 terahashes per second. That could add about six exhashes per second to bitcoin network’s computing power (1 exhash = 1 million terahash).
Blockstream says its self-mining efforts currently make up one percent of the global bitcoin hash rate. The future relationship between Blockstream’s self-mining and Blockstream Mining was not specified.
Blockstream CSO Samson Mow says the firm’s mining efforts, even before the latest launch, were largely based on concerns about the network’s future:
“We began self-mining back in 2017 after being motivated by widespread concern that mining decentralization was declining. At the time it appeared that parties involved in ASIC manufacture, hosting, and pool operations were becoming a centralizing force and holding back Bitcoin from reaching its full potential. We figured we could use our Bitcoin expertise to improve the situation.”
In this vein, Blockstream also announced the launch of Blockstream Pool running the BetterHash mining protocol. Introduced in 2014 by Blocskstream project OpenHash, BetterHash decentralizes mining pool decisions, such as which block to mine, to individual owners. Proponents argue it further decentralizes and democratizes bitcoin mining.
Blockstream Pool is the graduate of a one-year testnet and is available to Blockstream Mining customers. As of now, Blockstream Mining is exclusive to enterprises and institutions.