Mikko is the cofounder and CTO of TokenMarket Ltd, one of the leading token sale and blockchain crowdfunding platform at Gibraltar. Mikko has advised dozens of blockchain startups. He is also the former co-founder and CTO of LocalBitcoins, a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency exchange. Mikko holds MSc. in industrial engineering and management from University of Oulu. Mikko actively engages in open source communities and speaks in conferences. He is a cofounder of Pycon Finland, a Python programming conference. Mikko is also a member of Plone Foundation, the oldest of open source non-profit foundations.
AT: You’ve been in the crypto space since 2011. Could you share with us how you first became involved with cryptocurrency and blockchain?
Mikko: Back in my mobile software development days, I was asked to develop the first and original Bitcoin mobile wallet back in 2011 compensated by $10,000 worth of Bitcoin. I rejected it as I thought fiat would suffice at that point in my life. In hindsight, taking this offer might have been the last project I needed to do. Later I got involved in building out LocalBitcoins and from there I moved to establish TokenMarket.
AT: You’re listed as one of the original co-Founders of TokenMarket. What inspired you to launch this marketplace?
Mikko: The original goal of TokenMarket was to tokenise company shares. However, back in 2016, it was way too early for that. The term “token” had just been invented, many referred to tokens as ‘coloured coins’ looking at new digital assets as bitcoin with different ‘flavours’ and ‘colours representing different token attributes and purposes’.
We saw the ICO boom coming a little bit earlier than others in late 2016 when FirstBlood, Gnosis and other Ethereum based ICOs started to roll out. The catalyst was that the Ethereum technology had matured to the point that it was realistic to launch custom tokens with it. And oh boy, a lot of tokens were launched.
TokenMarket had the first tokenisation platform in the world and suddenly there was a spike in customer demand.
AT: When inspired TokenMarket to pivot from ICOs to STOs?
Mikko: I would not use a word pivot here. Security tokens are a natural continuum for unregulated token offerings. It is always better for investors themselves to get something with stronger investor rights. Securities offerings give investors rights which utility tokens never legally could, such as receiving dividends, yields and voting rights in the company you purchase a security from. For the investors, receiving passive income with security tokens becomes so much easier rather than moving toward a largely unstable and volatile utility token dragged up and down by bitcoin price.
Since 2016, it took some time for the global audience to learn about the benefits of tokenisation, including financial regulators. Now we are seeing interest from regulators worldwide on how to apply DLT and blockchain technology to regulated securities markets.
AT: TokenMarket recently announced a partnership with Loopring which is a protocol for decentralised token exchanges. Could you tell us more about this and what we should expect from this partnership?
Mikko: Loopring is one of the industry leading projects developing layer two scalability for decentralised exchanges and we will use Loopring’s technology to scale our own DEX.
As you might know, at the moment, decentralised exchanges have scalability issues and cannot match the volumes of exchange giants such as your Bitmexe’s and Binance’s. But from other aspects, decentralised exchanges are more secure and fair. Bitcoin exchanges get hacked every two weeks. Some exchanges are accused to trade with insider information and against their own users. Regulators like the decentralised aspects, as they guarantee that all the investors and traders can access the post trade data in equal manner, there cannot be irregularities with accounting and trading with something that is merely fabricated.
The good news is that the security tokens will have low liquidity, like Bitcoin back in 2012, when they start to roll out for trading. But for the future exchange technology, we want to build it better and more bulletproof what both traditional trading and crypto trading has today. We see the academic research and theory that allows us to get there, now it is just engineering over the next few years to fulfill this promise.
AT: Can you tell us what the listing requirements are for companies who wish to crowdfund via the TokenMarket platform?
Mikko: There are many crowdfunding platforms out there which operate on a ‘cater for all’ thesis, TokenMarket operates on an industry specific focus. We mainly look for global growth companies in sectors such as fintech, gaming and software services as this is what our investor audience has looked for in the last two years.
We mainly look for companies which are close to, or already have, some substantial revenue generated with a key commercial focus on B2C businesses.
AT:TokenMarket is current raising their own STO. Are you happy so far with the progress of this raise?
Mikko: This is a pilot raise under the UK’s regulator, FCA, sandbox. We need to demonstrate them that tokenised equity crowdfunding works: payments goes in, people get their tokens and are properly registered in Companies House as shareholders.
We do not expect huge intake of money for our pilot project due to the UK’s FCA’s Sandbox test limitations. Awaiting regulatory approval we will be able to raise up to €8M from self-accredited investors for all our STOs with no private funding cap restrictions.
AT: Are there any STOs that are launching on TokenMarket that have you personally excited?
Mikko: Yes there are! But at the risk of publicly endorsing or soliciting a securities investment go check out our pipeline of projects here.
AT: Where do you see the marketplace in 10 years?
Mikko: The change and transformation is not just about the technology or blockchain. There is an ongoing process of how new investors, millennials behave. There is an ongoing process to dial down the regulation for SME listings since the last financial bubble, especially in Europe. Then there is a change in globalisation as the future powerhouse economies of the world may come from countries like Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria.
The future investing is going to be more “marketplace driven” and less about relationships and network centric models. We are going to replace Silicon Valley and their venture capital networks with a website like Amazon did for retail commerce. Ironic, is it?
AT: Is there anything else that you would like to share about TokenMarket?
Mikko: If you are a high tech company looking for funding, contact us. If you are a fund, a family office or similar looking for alternative investments, contact us. We do not care which part of the world you come from. We want to create an equal playing field for opportunities and investors all around the world.
Openfinance Seeks to Raise $50 Million
The popular security token exchange, Openfinance filed a Form D with the SEC this week. The company seeks to raise $50 million to further development of its secondary trading platform and security token ecosystem. The news demonstrates growing interests in the security token sector, specifically, exchanges that add liquidity to the market.
According to the SEC filing, Openfinance seeks to secure around $50 million to accomplish its new strategy. Interestingly, the company already raised $8.6 million successfully according to executives. Notably, this initial funding came from a variety of international investors. In total, 19 different investors participated in the first stage of the crowdfunding event so far.
The Openfinance exchange is no stranger to headlines. The platform became one of the first regulated security token exchanges in operation back in August 2018. Since that time, the platform continued to develop its tokenization capabilities. Recently, the company saw heavy coverage for its tokenization of the media firm, Current Media.
Openfinance is the dba of Decentralized Securities Depository, LLC. The firm provides a regulated secondary trading market for digital securities. As such, the platform has an alternative trading system (ATS) license. This license allows the platform to service both individual and institutional investors.
As part of Openfinance’s strategy, the firm partnered with some of the largest tokenization platforms in the market. According to executives, the company has strategic agreements in place with Securitize, Harbor, and Polymath.
In addition to its valuable partnerships, Openfinance opens and operates a licensed broker-dealer named Sageworks. The company also provides enterprise-level financial analysis and risk management software.
Liquidity is King
While the advantages of security tokens are immediately visible, there are still some concerns that the market lacks liquidity. Platforms such as Openfinance provide the additional liquidity needed to further the development of the sector. Both traditional and non-traditional markets benefit from this newfound liquidity.
For example, Openfinance provides investors with 24-hour trading. Comparingly, traditional securities investors must trade between the regular market hours of 9:30 am and 4:00 pm. While these investors can still match with buyers in the after-hours markets, the entire process is cluttered and leaves investors without many options. Tokenized securities are able to transfer and process at any time, including holidays.
Additionally, the platform’s tokenization capabilities allow for the creation of new market opportunities. For example, tokenization allows firms to add liquidity to traditionally nonliquidable assets such as debt-equity. Also, tokenization allows for more streamlined crowdfunding campaigns.
On top of the added features, the platform is available to both US and EU investors. Developers seek to expand the platform’s reach in the coming months. This strategy makes sense when you consider how the EU market continues to show strong security token development.
Openfinance – Moving Forward
It’s easy to see a scenario in which Openfinance becomes one of the most dominate exchanges globally. The firm provides smooth integration between brokers, custodians, transfer agents, and investors. As such, Openfinance plays a critical role in security token adoption.
WeOwn Goes Live with Project Crowd ETO
European investors got some surprising news this week as the AI-driven freelance platform, Project Crowd announced it had chosen WeOwn to host the firm’s upcoming equity token offering (ETO). The ETO will be among one of the first regulated offerings to occur in Europe. The news demonstrates growing blockchain integration in the EU financial markets.
WeOwn is a Liechtenstein-based blockchain crowdfunding platform. The company offers businesses some significant advantages over traditional alternatives. For one, businesses can launch new campaigns in 4 – 10 weeks. Also, there are no settlement delays, so businesses receive the highest level of liquidity available.
News of the strategic partnership first emerged on October 15. Importantly, this crowdfunding campaign will be the first ETO launched in the region. Additionally, it’s the first registered ETO WeOwn launched since the company’s inception. Together, these factors make the entire campaign an important milestone.
WeOwn CEO and Co-Founder, Sascha Ragtschaa spoke on the advantages STOs have over traditional crowdfunding strategies. He pointed out the small number (25) of successful IPOs launched on the London Stock Exchange this year. These failures included some high-profile companies such as rideshare firms Uber and Lyft.
Ragtschaa explained that these failures scared investors. This fear helped drive the growing private crowdfunding sector. WeOwn gives companies a cost-efficient alternative to the status quo. Compared to hosting an IPO, an STO provides firms with an easier to initiate and more transparent process.
Project Crowd is a freelance platform that leverages a variety of new technology to streamline the entire hiring process. For one, Project Crowd employs advanced AI algorithms to better match service providers with businesses.
Additionally, blockchain technology enables the platform to better monitor and record the abilities, tasks, and the experience level of each freelancer. This information is then looped back into the AI to continue to refine the systems hiring capabilities.
The freelancing market exploded over the last five years with platforms such as Upwork raking in huge profits from connecting employers with trained professionals. One recent study highlighted the astounding growth the community endured over the last few years. According to the report, the number of freelancers doubled since 2014 globally.
Project Crowd Chose WeOwn
Discussing the decision to go with WeOwn, Project Crowd CEO, Kathrin Hauk explained the motivation behind the move. Notably, both firms share a desire to integrate blockchain tech into the capital markets. Hauk called Project Crowd STO a “historic moment” for the entire industry.
Project Crowd ETO
The Project Crowd ETO is open to qualified EU investors currently. According to the firm’s documentation, 1 million shares equal a 7.25% equity stake in the company. Notably, each share costs 1 Swiss Franc and there is a 200 Swiss Franc minimum (USD 201). Additionally, investors will receive dividends periodically. Lastly, token holders have no voting rights.
The Future is Today
The Project Crowd platform has its sights on the multi-billion dollar freelance sector. If successful, the firm could become a major player in the market in the coming year. For now, developers seek to expand the platform’s capabilities and network in the coming months.
Smartlands Set for Expansion into U.S. with New Agreement
This move was undertaken, as Smartlands looks to expand their operations into other nations. By partnering with IIP Securities, Smartlands is now able to reap the benefits of their existing broker/dealer licensure. This means that Smartlands can now support U.S. based investors on their popular platform.
The company indicates that this is just a first step into their U.S. expansion, as they look to soon establish offices stateside.
Expansion into the United States is a big move. Already expressing a desire to expand globally, the U.S. represents a major milestone for Smartlands.
Beyond the agreement with a U.S. based broker/dealer discussed here today, Smartlands is looking to fuel their expansion by raising funds. We recently covered their decision to host an equity sale through conventional means in the following article.
Upon announcing this development, multiple representatives from Smartlands took the time to comment. The following is what each had to say on the matter.
Ilia Obraztsov, CEO of Smartlands, stated,
“Initially, the talks with IIP Securities revolved around our Joint Venture program…but eventually we have broadened the scope of the discussion and are now examining several options far beyond the broker-dealer licence agreement. Allowing US citizens to purchase securities issued on Smartlands compliantly has always been an essential part of our roadmap for global development, and we’re happy that this stage of our plan is now complete.”
Yaroslava Tkalich, CMO of Smartlands, stated,
“The agreement with IIP Securities would allow Smartlands to meet one of the company’s main challenges of broadening and diversifying the current investor base…We have already created a proprietary solution for fractional ownership of the real economy assets for most jurisdictions around the world. Today, working with a FINRA-licenced broker-dealer, we’re in a position to provide US investors with a huge array of brand new opportunities.”
As Smartlands continues moving towards their goals, the company has recently repositioned a couple of its most prominent employees.
This move saw previous CEO, Arnoldas Nauseda, transition to ‘Chairman of the Board’. The change was undertaken, as Arnoldas looks to contribute more towards company expansion and business development.
With this move, Smartlands CTO, Ilia Obraztsov, assumed the vacant role of CEO. In doing so, he is now the lead in Smartlands day-to-day operations.
Speaking with Arnoldas
While he still resided as CEO of Smartlands, we had the priviledge of interviewing Arnoldas. In this exclusive interview, we discuss not only Smartlands, but tokenisation at large.
Operating out of London, England, Smartlands is a tokenisation platform which was founded in 2017. The company operates under the watch of the Financial Conduct Authority.
CEO, Ilia Obraztsov, currently oversees company operations.
Operating out of New York, IIP Securities is a brokerage firm, which was founded in 2011. The company is registered as such with, both, the SEC and FINRA.
In Other News
With Smartlands targeting global expansion, it should come as no surprise that we have covered a variety of their moves over the past few months, as they work towards this goal. The following articles discuss, not only their plans moving forward, but an on-going project of theirs.