Proof of Capital is a new $50M blockchain fund that’s backed by HTC

It’s often said that the dramatic fall of crypto prices last year ushered in a new era for technology-focused startups in the blockchain space, and the same argument can be made for the venture capitalists who fund them. Proof of Capital is the latest fund to emerge after it officially announced a maiden $50 million fund today.

The fund is led by trio Phil Chen, who created HTC’s Vive VR headset and is currently developing its Exodus blockchain phone (he spent time as a VC with Horizons Ventures in between), Edith Yeung, who previously headed up mobile for 500 Startups, and Chris McCann, a Thiel Fellow whose last role was head of community for U.S. VC firm Greylock Partners.

The firm — and you have to give them credit for the name — has an LP base that is anchored by HTC — no big surprise there given the connections — alongside YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics, Ripple’s former chief risk officer Greg Kidd (who is also a prolific crypto investor) and a number of undisclosed family offices.

“For HTC, it’s obvious, they already have a product to go with it,” Yeung told TechCrunch in an interview, referencing the fact that HTC is keen to invest in blockchain services and startups to build an ecosystem for its play.

The fund also includes a partnership with HTC which, slightly hazy on paper, will essentially open the possibility for Proof of Capital portfolio companies to work with HTC directly to develop services or products for Exodus and potentially other HTC blockchain ventures. But other LPs are also keen to dip their toes in the water in different ways.

“Some of these backers are curious at the possibilities of blockchain,” continued Yeung. “For example, they’re giving us some ideas on how tokenization and gamification could be applied on different platforms.”

Proof of Capital founding partners (left to right) Edith Yeung, Chris McCann and Phil Chen

The fund itself is broadly targeted at early stage blockchain companies in fintech, infrastructure, hardware and the “consumer layers of the blockchain ecosystem.” Its remit is worldwide. Although Chen and Yeung have strong networks in Asia, the fund’s first deal is an investment in Latin America-based blockchain fintech startup Ubanx.

Yeung clarified that the fund is held in fiat currency and that it is focused on regular VC deals, as opposed to token-based investments.

“It’s a VC fund so the setup is traditional,” she explained. “There’s been a lot of interesting movements in the last two years, [but] we come from a more traditional VC background and are excited about the technology.”

“It’s still really early [for blockchain] and a lot of the hype — the boom and bust — is down to the crypto market and ICOs, but the reality is that a lot of these technologies are really nascent. Now, projects are raising equity, even if they have a token,” Yeung added.

Indeed, last year we wrote about the rise of private sales and that even the biggest blockchain companies took on VC fundingcrypto didn’t kill VCs despite the hype — and Yeung said that blockchain startup founders in 2019 are “taking a more concerted approach” to raising money beyond simply issuing tokens.

“Many projects that raised ICO really smelt like equity,” said Yeung. “We are seeing companies today delaying token issuance as much as possible; the whole thing has gone a little more back to earth.”

HTC is an anchor LP in Proof of Capital, and it is working with the fund to help its portfolio companies develop services for its Exodus blockchain phone, pictured above

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HTC's Viveport Video service will work on rival VR headsets


HTC

HTC has introduced a virtual reality video platform of its own on Vive’s third birthday, and it will even work on its competitors’ headsets. The new service called Viveport Video will give you access to a library of not just 180- and 360-degree videos, but also 2D ones, in a native VR environment. It’s now available as a free download on Viveport and Steam, and it will soon be out on the Oculus store.

HTC says Viveport Video is compatible with both PC VR and Vive Wave headsets — in other words, it’ll work not just on PC-powered devices like the original Vive and the Rift, but also on HTC’s standalone Vive Focus that’s powered by the Wave platform. While the application is not exclusive to HTC-branded devices, you’ll get access to premium content on top of its free videos if you have a Viveport Infinity subscription. A membership will set you back $13 a month or $99 a year for unlimited access to apps and games.

You can can fire up the service and enjoy Major League Baseball, Red Bull TV and MacLaren Racing videos in VR if you’re a sports fan. The app also features videos from musicians under Red Bull Records, 1Culture and CreekVR. And if you enjoy immersive virtual reality adventures the most, you can choose from offerings like Everest: The VR Film Experience, which gives you a 360-degree first-person view of the climb to the top of the famous mountain.

Rikard Steiber, President of Viveport, said in a statement:

“Immersive VR video experiences are an exciting and captivating way for users to connect with the things that interest them the most and with Viveport Video, they now have access to premium content across a variety of lifestyle genres. Through Viveport Video, we’re enabling the developer community to finally be able to monetize their premium video content and share these experiences with a large audience.”

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Google reshuffles its leadership in Asia Pacific

There’s a changing of the guard within Google’s Asia Pacific business. In recent weeks, personnel changes within two of its most important roles show the search giant is entering a new era of management for its fast-growing business across the continent.

Scott Beaumont, a British executive who previously ran Google in China and Korea, stepped into the role of Asia-Pacific president following an announcement made on March 18. Following that, Google revealed today that Rajan Anandan, the executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, would leave the company. VC firm Sequoia India said that Anandan, who has made a number of angel investments, is joining its ranks to oversee Surge, the early stage accelerator program that it announced in January.

A former consultant with McKinsey in the U.S, Anandan worked for Microsoft and Dell before joining Google in 2011. Under his tenure, the company executed a range of initiatives for India under its ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative which included its Tez payments service (now called Google Pay), public WiFi, local apps and a range of more data-friendly versions of apps like Maps and YouTube. Under Anandan, Google’s revenues surpassed $1 billion annually with reports suggesting that India-based income grew some 30 percent year-on-year last year.

Anandan will stay on at Google until the end of April. Vikas Agnihotri, Google India’s head of sales, will step into his role until a replacement is found, Google said.

Beaumont paid tribute in a statement:

We are grateful to Rajan for his huge contribution to Google over the past eight years. His entrepreneurial zeal and leadership has helped grow the overall internet ecosystem in India and Southeast Asia, and we wish him all the best in his new adventures.

Google certainly stands in a more competitive position in India today, but whoever replaces Anandan will need to deliver a strategy in response to Facebook’s phenomenal growth in India — where it is said to be close to $1 billion in annual revenue, with big plans for its hugely popular WhatsApp service — and continue to develop strategies for mobile.

Rajan Anandan, vice president of Google for South East Asia and India, is leaving the search giant to oversee Sequoia’s new early-stage accelerator program (Photo credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

It isn’t clear if Anandan’s departure is related to Beaumont’s recent promotion — you’d imagine that the two were among the main candidates for the top job at Google Asia — but heading to Sequoia is no slack move, particularly given the company’s increased focus on early-stage investing and Surge.

Now some words on Beaumont, who TechCrunch understands from sources is widely-liked within Google. His tenure in China is linked with the development of DragonFly, the secretive project to develop a government-friendly search service in China, but internally his star is rising thanks to Google’s improved business position in China.

DragonFly may (may) have been shuttered, but Beaumont is credited with helping Google build revenue in China through advertising deals, with The Information reporting that China-based revenue surged by more than 60 percent to more than $3 billion last year.

Scott Beaumont, Google’s newly-appointed head of Asia Pacific is widely credited with developing Google’s business in China in recent years, but that also included the controversial work on a proposed censored search service for Mainland China (Photo credit: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

Like Twitter and Facebook, that has included dealing with state-backed media and other organizations keen to lean on Western internet pillars to reach a global audience but, as an interesting report from The Information earlier this year showed, Google also set up robust on-the-ground systems to let SMEs and companies selling to the global market access Google services through third-party offices and resellers.

On the strategy side, Beaumont struck investments deals with e-commerce giant JD.com and HTC — which involved the acquisition of a smartphone division, in the case of the latter — inked a patent license with Tencent, put cash into some earlier stage startups and selectively launched some products in China.

It remains to be seen how Google’s China strategy will develop now that Beaumont has taken on more responsibility with a broader job and, indeed, what he will bring to Google’s overall strategy in Asia Pacific. The region accounts for around 15 percent of revenue behind the U.S. and Europe, according to Google parent Alphabet’s latest financials, with 33 percent annual growth second only to Latin America.

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HTC's Vive Focus Plus standalone VR headset will take on the Oculus Quest

Like the Oculus Quest, the Vive Focus Plus doesn't require a PC or a phone.
Like the Oculus Quest, the Vive Focus Plus doesn’t require a PC or a phone.
Image: htc

Facebook’s impressive Oculus Quest standalone VR headset will is getting a serious rival when it launches this spring.

To compete with the Quest, HTC’s releasing the Vive Focus Plus, its own standalone VR headset with built-in head and hand-tracking on April 15. The two headsets are pretty similar, except one kinda important thing: HTC’s headset costs $800, which is twice as much as the $399 Quest.

Announced at its Vive Ecosystem conference in China, the Vive Focus Plus competes directly with the Quest in just about every way. The headset will in over 25 markets and support 19 languages, according to HTC.

Both headsets have the same 2,880 x 1,600 total resolution (1,440 x 1,600 per eye) and are powered by the same two-year-old Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 mobile chipset. And both support 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) for head and hand-tracking; both come with a pair of hand-controllers. 

The differences are really in the details. The Vive Focus Plus has a faster 75Hz refresh rate compared to the Quest’s 72Hz. The Vive Focus Plus has a 110-degree field of view and the Quest has an FOV of about 100 degrees. And although both headsets have built-in speakers, the Quest has a headphone jack for your cans but the Vive Focus Plus doesn’t.

HTC’s detailed the Vive Focus Plus’ battery capacity (4,000 mAh), but Oculus has only said the Quest will last between 2-2.5 hours on a charge.

The Vive Focus Plus is kinda bulky-looking.

The Vive Focus Plus is kinda bulky-looking.

Image: htc

At the end of the day, the differences will be negligible and content is what will make or break the headsets. The Quest supports the full library of VR apps from the Oculus Go and has recently added “killer” VR games such as Beatsaber. Meanwhile, the Vive Focus Plus is focused more on enterprise applications, which isn’t nearly as exciting.

One app HTC showed off included a new video player that adds dimension to 360-degree videos, allowing users to step closer towards a video as if it really has depth, according to VentureBeat.

Another experience involved HTC’s 5G Hub and demonstrated HD video being streamed directly to the headset.

HTC says there will be about native 250 applications that’ll work with the Vive Focus Plus at launch via its Vive Wave platform. The new headset will also work with 70+ titles from its existing Vive Focus headset.

With both Oculus and HTC tossing their hats into the standalone VR headset ring, it’s pretty clear both companies strongly believe wireless VR headsets that don’t require PCs or phones are the next big thing.

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HTC Streamlink turns VR headsets into big screens for console gaming

One surprise announcement coming out of today’s Vive Ecosystem Conference in Shenzhen is HTC’s Streamlink, an in-house VR app that lets your PC-powered or standalone Vive headset — like the new Vive Focus Plus — receive HDMI signal from any USB video capture card — some of which can be bought for as low as $65 per piece in China, according to an HTC rep. There are many potential use cases here, of course, but HTC is specifically pitching this as a new way of playing games on your consoles — namely PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One S — as well as watching videos from your set-top box.

Just to be clear, HTC isn’t here to replace your PS VR nor Labo VR Kit. Instead, it’s all about playing your usual console games on a much larger virtual screen — and ideally on the sharp 2,880 x 1,600 AMOLED display on the Vive Pro and Vive Focus series. I was able to briefly try this feature with a Vive Focus connected to an Xbox One S, and the viewing experience was no different than the usual virtual theater apps on my own Focus — I could even resize the virtual screen if needed.

HTC Vive Focus with Streamlink

However, there seemed to be a slight delay between my controller input and the picture, and unless HTC can fix this (which is probably unlikely given the nature of capture cards), it’s probably best to avoid the more demanding titles in this mode. Another issue I noticed was the USB-C cable dangling from the top of the headset, so be sure to warn others about it in case they trip over. It’s also worth noting that HTC doesn’t offer its own capture card to go with your headset, so you may hit some bumps when trying it with different devices.

Streamlink is part of HTC’s new initiative to push multi-mode capability across its VR devices, making them more practical and versatile. Other features on the list include the new 360 camera streaming mode supported by the Insta360 Evo, along with the earlier phone streaming mode, PC big screen mode and PC VR streaming mode. Existing Vive users can already download the Streamlink app from Viveport today.

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