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Bling’s vision, based in Irvine, Calif., Is to make money fun by providing an entertaining and risk-free way for first-time crypto users to enter the market by playing simple games that reward them. with points that can be converted into Bitcoin.
The round included a strategic investment from Coinbase Ventures, which when the time comes, could be a reliable partner for crypto custody and exchange. Previously, the company had raised funds from pre-seed investors including Wavemaker Genesis, Gumi Cryptos Capital and Blocktower Capital.
Bling does not disclose the amount of money they have collected from Coinbase Ventures. But it was a good reward for a company that had to make a major pivot and found itself handing out Bitcoin to gamers curious about making money playing games. This is another example of what I call the Leisure Economy, where we all get paid to play games.
“I think one of the reasons we’ve been so successful is that we’ve made it so easy, like you’re no longer risking your money,” Wan said. “It’s risk-free. It’s like a fun experience that you earn Bitcoin, that you don’t really know how to get into it.
The company is the brainchild of Wan, a fintech veteran and former securities lawyer, and Dan Rice, a veteran software engineer and blockchain and games expert. In 2017, Wan was getting a lot of calls from crypto entrepreneurs who wanted to make initial coin offerings (ICOs), and they were later ruled illegal by the Securities & Exchange Commission. She stayed away from it. And was it good.
She got pregnant with her first child, but she still had an idea of the opportunity in smart contracts, which were automated programmable elements on the Ethereum blockchain.
“I said to myself: what do I have yet to lose? Right.’ I’m a founder of a pregnant solo minority, so I might as well give it a try, ”she said in an interview with GamesBeat. “I contacted the person who is now my CTO, Dan, and we discussed it. And we found that we had very similar views on this. So originally we started as a dispute resolution infrastructure company for smart contracts. “
In mid-2018, they raised pre-seed funding that included Miko Matsumura, general partner of Gumi Cryptos Capital. Wan found that the initial product did not match the market, as ICO creators were often oblivious to the risks and other companies did not understand smart contracts.
The largest of the pivots
“We had to sit down and think about shutting down the business,” Wan said. “Do we really want to pivot and do something else?” So we ended up launching a bunch of different experiments.
Wan tried to find a security token. And Rice pursued an idea around games. They told Matsumura that they were moving from legal infrastructure to games and he wasn’t thrilled at first.
“It was just as the crypto bucket fell. And we’ve had a good summer and a good fall trying to make it work. And then realize it’s way too difficult, ”Wan said. “It was at the start of winter 2018 that we realized we had to do something else. Dan has experience in entertainment and games companies, as well as in financial technology. So he left with the idea that it would eventually work.
In 2019, they developed a game called Bitcoin Blast, which was a simple match-3 game where players earned points that they could turn into Bitcoin. Bling has developed a platform which consists of a proprietary Software Development Kit (SDK) that provides game developers with a Bitcoin rewards system, fraud detection and user value detection. He never spent a dime on marketing. And it started to take off. Then Matsumura became much more engaged.
“As the pivot was such a radical departure, we were naturally concerned,” said Matsumura. “But Amy was ruthlessly methodical in testing ideas and quickly eliminating the things that didn’t work out.”
Other competitors are raising the bar, requiring PayPal withdrawals, and paying in US dollars. The high transaction fees meant it took a long time before people could cash out. But Bling let the players take it on the first day. By using Coinbase and Bitcoin as their base system, they were able to perform very small microtransactions with no transaction fees.
“And today we have over five million users,” Wan said. “We have over $ 5 million in annualized revenue. We have six games on Android and one on iOS. And that’s a bad word in Silicon Valley, but we’re profitable. We find it hard to spend this money faster than we do. And we just got an investment from Coinbase. And I’m pregnant again. So I guess every time I get pregnant I can fundraise. “
The titles are simple games including Sweet Bitcoin, Bitcoin Pop, Bitcoin Blocks, Bitcoin Solitaire, and Bitcoin Food Fight. These games are on Android. And Bitcoin Blast is on both iOS and Android. I played Bitcoin Blast. At first, he ran an advertisement. Then I played part of the match-3 game, where I had to match rows of Bitcoin coins. As I won each game, I watched video ads.
At the end of a handful of matches, I had 15,980 Bling Points. I was ready to get my Bitcoin back. I hit the “cash out” button and he told me I had a very small amount. It amounted to a few “satoshis”. A satoshi is one hundred millionth of Bitcoin. I cashed. Here you have the option to send to a Coinbase account by typing the email or create a brand new Coinbase account. He told me that I would see Bitcoin appear in my account within 24-48 hours.
“We have developed a very unique audience of people who have shown they are curious [about crypto], but they’re never going to spend 50 hours to really get in and follow the ecosystem, ”said Amy Wan, CEO of Bling, in an interview with GamesBeat. “And so I think we have to create products for them, right. Coinbase, for us, is a very good partner because in many ways they have done the same, albeit for much more speculative people. We have a much more secular audience. Maybe they don’t even think of it as an investment.
The Bling platform has seen tremendous organic growth in less than two years, with one million monthly active users. The platform allows those new to cryptocurrency to own their first Bitcoin risk-free, making it appealing to a crypto-curious audience. In fact, some 70% of its users say they have never opened a Coinbase account before.
“We have discovered that our player base is literally curious crypto,” Wan said. “Many of our users have never owned crypto before, or this is their first exposure to Bitcoin or crypto.”
Matsumura said Bling has been one of the greatest entrepreneurial stories he has ever seen, and this funding round brings additional seasoned and strategic investors to Bling’s growth and momentum.
“When we first spoke, we were impressed by Amy Wan, rational and lucid as the first CEO funded by venture capital,” said Matsumura. “It has a proven track record in making a dramatic pivot from smart contract infrastructure to casual mobile gaming, a whole different field.”
This could go two ways. To scale users up and really support a platform infrastructure game more, Bling has developed an internal SDK dubbed the Bling SDK. Other developers can use it and plug it into their games, and it basically provides this developer with Bitcoin reward system, fraud detection, and user value detection. These publishers can then get lots of users and a monetization structure overnight.
Bling also has the option of taking those crypto-curious players and getting them to automatically invest a dollar in Bitcoin every month or so. And it could help them earn cryptocurrency over time. Other companies like Acorn have done it, and there are a number of ways that this type of business can make money.
With the new money round, the company will expand its workforce from 11 to more people. And it will begin to test the acquisition of paying users. Most of the staff are based near Irvine in Orange County, but they will likely adopt a hybrid routine of remote and office work.
It’s hard to hire engineers now because most of them want to work remotely and charge big salaries, Wan said.
“We’re hearing a lot of interesting stories and trying to figure out how we’re going to handle this,” she said. “I want to let people do a lot more things from a distance. But at the same time, I think companies that can’t get their staff to come to the office could end up losing competitiveness.
When it comes to things like non-fungible tokens or NFTs, Wan knows a lot about fintech. But it is not yet ready to dive into it when the regulatory picture is not clear.
“I think the ecosystem is very focused on how the technology is so awesome. And they forget a lot of practical real-world things like user behavior or laws and regulations, ”Wan said. “I think the NFTs have a future. I think tokens have a future. But the way they’re being used right now sounds a lot more like security to me. “
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