The cryptocurrency industry is steaming hot. The total market value of cryptocurrencies is approaching $2 trillion – that’s bigger than the market caps of Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Bitcoin has been trading above $50,000 since March 8 and has a market value of $1.12 trillion, almost as much as all the silver in the world. FOMO-ed institutions keep pouring into the space. Tesla will start accepting payments for its electric vehicles in bitcoin, adding the cryptocurrency to its $2.5 billion bitcoin trove. One of the oldest banks in America, BNY Mellon, has launched a digital assets unit, Goldman Sachs has relaunched its crypto trading operations, JPMorgan has introduced a structured note offering tied to a basket of stocks with exposure to bitcoin, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have become the first major U.S. banks to offer their wealthy clients direct access to bitcoin.
But institutions and venture firms rushing to cash in on the surge don’t come empty-handed. Hoards of capital are pouring on crypto startups, minting new unicorns at a break-neck pace. Just in March, three crypto firms raised some of the largest capital raises in the industry’s short but rich history. There are now at least 18 crypto-native companies with unicorn status, according to data platform PitchBook.
In the heyday of ICOs, companies raised billions but the hype was short-lived. Low-quality projects, multiple scams, and the lack of institutional and regulatory oversight led to what is now known as the Great Crypto Crash of 2018, when an index that tracks the performance of the 10 largest and most liquid digital assets plunged by 80%.
Crypto bulls are hoping that this time it is truly different. Publicly listed companies like MicroStrategy and Square have amassed sizable bitcoin positions on their balance sheets and are seeing it as an alternative to gold. Meanwhile applications for a U.S. bitcoin ETF are piling up at the SEC’s doorstep and the market is buzzing in anticipation of Coinbase’s direct listing slated for April 14, the first major public offering for a cryptocurrency company. Amid the frenzy, Forbes analyzed data from PitchBook and compiled a list of the 10 largest venture capital deals for blockchain and crypto-native firms.
Bitmain: $422 million
Deal date: August 7, 2018
VC round: Series B1
Notable investors: Crimson Capital China, Bluebell (Asia), Jumbo Sheen Group, Lioness Capital, Palace Investment Company, Pavilion Capital
Post-money valuation: $15 billion
Previous valuation: $12 billion
The world’s leading bitcoin mining hardware manufacturer, Bitmain also operates Antpool, one of the top bitcoin mining pools, accounting for more than 12% of bitcoin’s network hash, or computational, power. Shortly after the $422 million capital raise, the Beijing-based company filed for an IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in September 2018, but the offering fell through amid the bitcoin crash and market cooldown.
BlockFi: $350 million
Deal date: March 11, 2021
VC round: Series D
Notable investors: Bain Capital Ventures, partners of DST Global, Pomp Investments, Tiger Global, Susquehanna Government Products
Post-money valuation: $3 billion
Previous valuation: $435 million
Founded in 2017, New-Jersey based BlockFi is now one of the leading cryptocurrency lending providers. Its products span multiple categories including crypto-collateralized loans and interest-bearing accounts through which investors can earn interest on their crypto holdings. Rumors of BlockFi’s potential IPO started to circulate last July following reports of a job opportunity, part of which involved helping the company go public.
Dapper Labs: $305 million
Deal date: March 30, 2021
VC round: 5th round
Notable investors: Coatue Management, Andreessen Horowitz, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant
Post-money valuation: $2.6 billion
Previous valuation: N/A
The Vancouver-based startup is best known as the developer of NBA Top Shot, an NFT marketplace for basketball video highlights or “moments.” The project, which has already surpassed the $400 million mark in trading volume, is largely responsible for the boom of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), essentially digital proofs of ownership trackable on a blockchain. Earlier, Dapper Labs developed a popular Ethereum game of breedable collectibles called CryptoKitties.
Blockchain.com: $300 million
Deal date: March 24, 2021
VC round: Series C
Notable investors: DST Global, Lightspeed Venture Partners, VY Capital
Post-money valuation: $5.2 billion
Previous valuation: $3 billion
Blockchain.com provides a variety of crypto services to retail and institutional clients but is most famous for its non-custodial digital wallets. Unlike its counterparts controlled by third parties, these wallets give users full control over their private keys that represent ownership of crypto assets. The London-based company claims it has processed 28% of all bitcoin transactions since 2012.
Bakkt: $300 million
Deal date: March 16, 2020
VC round: Series B
Notable investors: Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), BCG Digital Ventures, PayU
Post-money valuation: N/A
Previous valuation: N/A
In February 2020, the crypto venture of ICE (the New York Stock Exchange owner) announced the acquisition of Bridge2 Solutions, provider of loyalty programs, to power Bakkt’s one-stop shop retail platform. Called Bakkt App, the service lets users aggregate various digital assets, including loyalty points, rewards programs, gaming assets, and cryptocurrencies, all in one wallet. In January, Bakkt announced it is going public via a SPAC merger with VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings at an enterprise value of about $2.1 billion. Upon the deal’s closure in the second quarter of 2021, the combined company will list on the New York Stock Exchange as Bakkt Holdings, Inc.
Coinbase: $300 million
Deal date: October 30, 2018
VC round: Series E
Notable investors: Tiger Global Management, Andreessen Horowitz, Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), Polychain Capital
Post-money valuation: $8.04 billion
Previous valuation: $1.71 billion
On February 25, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the U.S. filed for a direct listing on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Coinbase was valued at $68 billion, based on the recent filings. On March 19, the company was fined $6.5 million by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) over allegations of false transactions reporting and wash trading between 2015 and 2018 on its GDAX platform, later rebranded as Coinbase Pro. The exchange’s direct listing is scheduled for April 14.
Bitmain: $292.7 million
Deal date: June 19, 2018
VC round: Series B
Notable investors: Sequoia Capital, Coatue Management, China Taijia, Blue Lighthouse Services
Post-money valuation: $12 billion
Previous valuation: $100 million
Hangzhou Qulian Technology: $235 million
Deal date: June 4, 2018
VC round: Series B
Notable investors: Xinhu Zhongbao Company, China Gaoxin Investment Group, State Development and Investment Corporation
Post-money valuation: $470.25 million
Previous valuation: $40.33 million
Qulian Technology provides blockchain products for China’s major organizations and institutions, including the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the State Administration for Market Regulation, the State Grid, and local governments. Its one-stop blockchain open service BaaS platform, FiLoop, is used by some of the largest banks in China, including China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and China Merchants Bank, according to the company. Qulian Technology’s partners also include Google and Microsoft.
Bithumb: $200 million
Deal date: Apr 19, 2019
VC round: 2nd round
Notable investors: Vidente, ID Ventures (South Korea), ST Blockchain Fund
Post-money valuation: N/A, valued at $888.27 million as of January 2021
Previous valuation: $868.42 million
In September 2020, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency has reportedly raided the offices of one of South Korea’s largest crypto exchanges on fraud allegations, linked to a $25 million token sale that never materialized and led to losses for investors.
Ripple Labs: $200 million
Deal date: Oct 1, 2020
VC round: Series C
Notable investors: Tetragon Financial Group, SBI Holdings, Transform Capital, 10X Capital
Post-money valuation: $10 billion
Previous valuation: $410 million (2016)
In December, Ripple Labs and its top executives were accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of selling $1.3 billion of XRP, the native asset of the payments network developed by the company, as an unregistered security. Following the charges, multiple exchanges and trading platforms, including Coinbase, Binance.US, and eToro, delisted XRP and suspended its trading. In January, U.K.-based investment firm Tetragon Financial Group filed a lawsuit to redeem its equity in Ripple but ultimately lost the case. Despite the fallout, XRP remains one of the top traded digital assets.