Around the Block from Coinbase Ventures sheds light on key trends in crypto. Written by Connor Dempsey, Ryan Yi & Justin Mart.
2021 was a historic year for both crypto markets and venture capital funding. Driven in part by institutional inflows, Bitcoin soared to new highs to start the year, the entire market followed suit nearing a record $3T market cap in November. Meanwhile, $30B in venture funding poured into the space: more than all prior years of crypto’s history combined.
2021 was also a record year for Coinbase Ventures, with just under 150 deals, averaging a new deal every 2.5 days. On a cumulative basis, more than 90% of the capital Coinbase Ventures has deployed since inception was deployed in 2021, reflecting an accelerated pace of activity in our fourth year of operation.
Coinbase Ventures is among the most active corporate venture funds in operation, with the mandate of increasing economic freedom around the world by supporting the leading entrepreneurs and projects in the ecosystem. Ultimately, we see crypto and Web3 as a rising tide that lifts all boats, Coinbase included, and Coinbase Ventures is dedicated to making investments that are crucial to the space’s overall growth.
In this edition of Around The Block, we’ll peer into the future through the lens of Coinbase Ventures’ 2021 activity. (Learn how Ventures aligns with Coinbase and its customers here).
Coinbase Venture’s portfolio now consists of over 250 companies, and broadly breaks down across the following verticals.
Let’s break down the pie, slice by slice.
Protocols & Web3 infrastructure
2021 saw crypto reach new heights in terms of utility, particularly in the nascent “Web3” space, which we generally think of as a trustless, permissionless, and decentralized internet that leverages blockchain technology: essentially, the plumbing that underpins everything from DeFi, NFTs, metaverses, and DAOs. At the bottom of the Web3 stack sit Layer 1 protocols, led by Ethereum, but 2021 saw Web3 begin to expand to other Layer 1s like Solana, Polygon, Avalanche, Terra, Flow, among dozens of others.
To help scale existing Layer 1s and enable higher throughput, we supported Layer 2 solutions including Matter Labs, Optimism, and Arbitrum. As multiple Layer 1s have proliferated, so has the demand to safely and easily move funds across blockchains. As such, Ventures’ was active in investing in projects working to facilitate this cross-chain movement, including Biconomy, Movr, LayerZero, Chainflip, and more. We also observed and funded new protocols working to bring better privacy to Web3 through various zero-knowledge solutions (Aleo, MobileCoin, and a third TBA).
We were also active across the infrastructure layer of the Web3 stack: primitives that form the backbone of user applications. Specifically, technologies that introduce standards to Web3 for data storage (Arweave), messaging (XMTP), and identity (Spruce). Given that 2021 was a great year for DAOs, we were active across infrastructure projects focused on enabling DAO creation/incorporation (Syndicate, Utopia), discovery/participation (Snapshot/Consensys’ Metamask), payroll/operations (Diagonal), and coordination (Orca).
Given investments made over the year, in 2022 we expect to see Web3 mature across multiple Layer 1 and Layer 2 ecosystems with UX that more closely resembles Web2 applications. Additionally, we expect to see the continued flourishing of DAOs in the year ahead, as well as better privacy features for Web3 applications.
While 2021 hinted at a future where Web3 activity takes place across multiple Layer 1 and Layer 2 platforms, DeFi activity already began its migration over the course of the year. Much of this activity took place within EVM compatible chains (Avalanche, Polygon, BSC etc.) and Layer 2 environments (Arbitrum, Optimism). Meanwhile, non-EVM chains (Solana, Terra, Cosmos, Polkadot etc.) also saw impressive growth.
We’re believers in the multichain future, and although we remained most active within Ethereum’s DeFi ecosystem, we also invested across Solana (Orca, Solend), Cosmos (Umee), Algorand (Folks), Polkadot (Acala, Moonbeam), NEAR, Polygon and Bitcoin. The multichain future of France appears bright, with just about every financial primitive one could imagine in development.
While DeFi made great strides in 2021, exploits of these nascent financial protocols hampered the ecosystem, amounting to over $10B. Better user protection remains paramount, which is why Coinbase Ventures supported DeFi insurance financial protocols including Neptune Mutual, Risk Harbor, Cozy Finance, and Nayms.
In 2022, the smart contract wars will rage on as Layer 1s and Layer 2s fight for user and developer mindshare. Hacking risks will persist but we’ll see increased maturity in DeFi insurance solutions. Lastly, it’s shaping up to be the year we see institutions enter the fray via “permissioned DeFi”, complete with KYC’d user pools and on-chain attestations.
NFT / Metaverse
2021 was also a year that saw the rapid rise of NFTs and renewed interest in “the metaverse.” Projects like CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club took NFT sales from $200M in 2020 to a staggering $25B in 2021. Meanwhile, NFT based game Axie Infinity put play-to-earn gaming on the map as people in the Philippines were able to turn the game into a full time job. And elsewhere, Facebook’s rebrand to “Meta” catalyzed excitement around the metaverse.
In large part, NFTs spent 2021 in their “V0” phase, with most activity centered around simple buying and selling on marketplaces like OpenSea and Rarible. 2021 also saw NFTs emerge across L1/L2 ecosystems such as Flow (MomentRanks, Eternal GG) and Solana (Magic Eden, Solanalysis).
Ventures has now invested heavily in the NFT “utility” phase — one in which NFT assets expand to new types of mediums such as audio (Royal, Mint Songs, Sturdy), avatars (Genies, OFF), AR (Anima, Jambo), and gaming/GameFi (Ancient8, GuildFi). This will allow interesting social features to be layered on top of the programmatic recognition of NFTs (Gallery).
These NFT and gaming investments can broadly be bucketed with the metaverse, as they inch us closer to a possible future where we have a series of decentralized, interconnected virtual worlds with fully functioning economies. In 2022, look for a host of new gaming titles and applications, including those launched by traditional gaming studios. Also expect metaverse applications to expand from both decentralized initiatives like Decentraland and the Sandbox and incumbent Web2 companies like Microsoft/Activision and Meta.
Platform & Developer Tools
Without developers, there would be no crypto or Web3 applications for anyone to use. As such, support for the tooling that developers need to make crypto and Web3 thrive is a critical part of advancing the ecosystem.
Over the year, we followed the “developer journey” from staging (Tenderly), collaboration (Radicle), query (Covalent), audit (Certik, OpenZeppelin, Certora) and real-time simulation/monitoring (Chaos Labs, Gauntlet). We also invested in developer toolkits like API providers (Alchemy, Consensys’ Infura).
We expect the industry’s collective investment made in dev tooling to pay dividends in the years to come. With all of the developers pouring into Web3 from Web2, they’re sorely needed.
Much of the value that finds its way into crypto initially does so through centralized platforms, and as such, centralized finance (CeFi) remains an active category. We believe that crypto is inherently global and there is a need for localized platforms that serve as onramps across distinct regulatory, banking, and infrastructure regimes. This is why in 2021, we were active investors in crypto financial service providers everywhere from LatAm, Pan-Africa, MENA, South Asia, Europe, and North America.
The year also saw a move towards traditional vehicles for crypto exposure — IRAs, IAs, ETFs, Trusts, etc. — punctuated by the approval of the BTC Futures ETF in the US. Coinbase Ventures actively invested in asset managers and brokers including AltoIRA, Onramp, Valkyrie, ForUsAll, Ledn, and One River Digital. We were also investors in various CeFi “picks and shovels”, with follow-on investments in TaxBit and CoinTracker, which automate crypto tax reporting across platforms. In addition, we supported projects helping startups integrate crypto with traditional fintech offerings, including Paxos, Tribal Credit, and Meow.
2021 set the stage for more regulated and compliant ways for institutional and individual investor capital to gain crypto exposure through centralized exchanges and traditional investment vehicles and fintech platforms in both the US and abroad. We expect this to be an ongoing theme in 2022.
2022 & beyond
Macro uncertainty has prices falling sharply into the new year, but one thing is certain: this is not the crypto ecosystem of 2018. Between the best performing asset class of the last decade being much more accessible to investors around the world, the maturation of the Web3 stack, and an explosion of exciting new use cases across DeFi, NFTs, DAOs, gaming, and the metaverse, this industry appears to be hitting escape velocity.
Just as the boom of 2017 fueled investments that laid the groundwork for the applications that are thriving today, what do you think the record $30B funneled into crypto and Web3 in 2021 will yield? The market appears uncertain in the near term, but the future appears brighter then it’s ever been.