募资上亿美元的R3被指陷入财务危机,或在明年败光家底 - 互联网金融门户 未央网

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募资上亿美元的R3被指陷入财务危机,或在明年败光家底

区块链国际资讯

募资上亿美元的R3被指陷入财务危机,或在明年败光家底

初创公司R3去年募集了1.07亿美元的资金,旨在将区块链服务带入金融领域。然而,根据该公司两名前雇员所说,R3陷入了财务困境,很可能在明年年初其资金就会耗费殆尽。

与此同时,外界还在质疑R3及其搭建区块链业务的能力。据悉,该公司的目标就是创建一个连接多台计算机的安全账本以进行交易。

融资问题

R3成立于2014年,组建了一个银行联盟以提供区块链技术支持。该公司最初的计划是创建一个“许可式”(只有通过邀请才能加入)的区块链平台,为金融机构提供速度更快且更安全的交易。

该项目进展神速,一开始就说服了摩根大通和高盛等大型公司成为创始成员。与此同时,R3研发了Corda,其专属的区块链(该公司更喜欢用“分布式账本技术”这个词),而且还在不断吸纳新成员。

然而,R3在2016年遭到了不小的打击,其部分优质成员——包括高盛和桑坦德银行在内——离开了这个联盟。当时,高盛某内部人员透露,他们是故意放弃成员资格的,因为他们没有预料到R3的成员会迅速增加到70个,这样就导致其承诺显得不再具有吸引力。

创始成员的离开并未导致R3的计划搁浅,他们反而在去年5月募集了1.07亿美元的资金。当时,R3还暗示这只是第一笔资金,未来在扩充成员数量的同时,他们募集到的资金总额会是两亿美元。

但这个计划似乎已经落空了。据路透社报道,上周R3从金融结算供应商CLS等3家公司处募集到了1500万美元。而据这两位不愿意透露姓名的R3前雇员所说,该公司原本计划募集一大笔资金,但最终事与愿违。

R3在邮件声明中指出,他们计划通过出售旗下子公司股份的方式一次性募集这两亿美元,但随后他们就放弃了这个计划。

另外,R3前雇员表示,1.07亿美元的资金其实是被夸大了,因为其中还包含了前几年R3收到的咨询费,1.07亿美元中,只有9820万美元算是新注入的资金。

这两位前雇员还透露,R3并未实现1年前定下的财政目标,其收入比预计的少了10倍,他们说这一数字是“非常可笑的”。

R3总经理Charley Cooper否认了这一说法。他并未透露具体的数字但明确表示该公司去年收入已超预期,并且将在年底公开具体信息。

挥金如土

要为其全球客户提供区块链服务,R3在招聘和差旅方面的付出非常大。

其前雇员表示:

只需要查看公开信息,比如网站上的招聘计划和团队规模。另外他们在伦敦和纽约有天价房产。

该公司的文化也遭到了质疑,其高管和顾问频繁地飞往世界各地开会,而在普通员工看来,很多行程,还有一些商务舱和头等舱支出都没有必要,完全可以在网上操作。

R3 CEO David Rutter的工资也是引发争议的焦点,被形容成为“非常离谱”。该公司拒绝透露具体数字,但表示其薪资体系绝对合理。

但在R3不断扩张全球版图并且招募大量高管的同时,其是否拥有合理的业务模式就不得而知了。

尽管R3最初的构想是让其金融机构成员定期支付研发费用和Corda平台使用费,但随着摩根大通等大型银行的离开,其收入也在不断减少。

R3面临的挑战依然艰巨,因为很显然银行在软件开发方面没有实践经验,而且对于新技术他们通常很难迅速做出决策。

加密货币初创公司Messari的创始人Ryan Selkis说:

组建联盟是很难的一件事。

这或许也是近期R3开始和非金融公司合作的原因,其希望推广Corda区块链平台以推出企业级软件产品。Cooper指出,企业级区块链是新的销售机遇,R3希望能成为第一个受益者。

然而,这一领域非常拥挤,R3的一众对手包括超级账本(IBM向其贡献代码)以及企业以太坊联盟。而R3的竞争对手已经吸引了很多大型集团,比如摩根大通和微软,他们都希望普及区块链在各个行业的应用。

有人怀疑R3在创建区块链平台方面的工作陷入了瓶颈。主要是因为该公司没能吸引足够的开发者来搭建其Corda软件。开发人手不足对软件类项目来说是致命的,因为这预示着应用的缺失,同时还会让客户对产品的寿命产生怀疑。

这位R3前雇员表示:

尽管R3可能会说Corda的架构师有1300个,但如果你仔细研究R3的发布公告,你就会发现开发者不超过3个人。而以太坊的贡献者多达1万人。

除此之外,区块链金融领域某知名人士表示,很多开发者都不信任R3,因为他们存在“open washing”的问题,即把专用软件包装成是开源的。虽然Corda名义上是开源的,但他说R3一直对外隐瞒核心代码。

另一位来自知名投行的消息人士称,R3在共享代码时候“表现冷漠”。

Cooper说:

Corda有一个开源版还有一个企业版。开源版的所有代码都可以在Github上找到,企业版是用作商业流通的,因此在开源版的基础上还添加了一些商业内容。

他补充说,Corda代码库有350多个贡献内容,目前有50个活跃开发者在产出代码。

区块链领域的银行文化

那些熟悉R3文化和运作的人经常说:该公司自称是技术初创公司,但却表现得像个银行。R3更像是华尔街的成员或者一家豪华的咨询公司。回顾过去,其早期的成功可能是银行初尝区块链这一新趋势带来的结果,而不是其业务或技术上的重大突破。

R3前雇员指出:

他们招募的都是银行从业者和那些西装革履却不懂技术的人,而不是技术人员。

如今,R3面临的挑战是证明怀疑论者是错的,并且开辟一个新的收入来源维持其未来几年的运作。其前雇员指出,听取了R3近期与投资者共享的财务数据以后,他们认为找到新的收入来源是不可能的。他们预测这家公司会在2019年第一季度以前花光所有资金。Cooper否认了这一点。

目前我们资金充裕,暂时没有新一轮的募资计划。

不过,R3还可能从和瑞波的一场官司中获取大量的资金。去年,R3一纸诉状将瑞波告上法庭,称其拖欠50亿个XRP,价值约30亿美元。(瑞波方面表示他们签署的合约已经失效因为R3违约在先。)这场官司还在走程序,不过很可能在庭审之前就达成和解。

一旦双方无法和解或者R3输了官司,他们就会面临更加严峻的选择,或是成为区块链创业的反面教材。

R3前雇员说:

高管们都在开玩笑,说公司可能被收购……甲骨文、IBM、微软或者埃森哲可能会有收购意向。这将是一场大甩卖。

R3, a startup that last year announced it had raised $107 million to bring blockchain services to the financial sector, is floundering and could be out of money by early next year, according to two former employees of the company.

The company’s reported struggles come amid questions about R3 and its ability to build a business around its version of blockchain, a type of software that facilitates transactions by creating a secure ledger across multiple computers.

Fund-raising questions

R3 launched in 2014 with ambitious plans of supplying blockchain technology to a consortium of major banks. The company’s initial strategy involved an invitation-only version of blockchain that would let financial institutions carry out transactions in a faster and more secure fashion.

The project got off to a fast start as the likes of J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs agreed to be founding members of the consortium. Meanwhile R3 developed Corda, its own version of a blockchain (the company prefers the term “distributed ledger technology”), and rapidly added dozens of additional partners.

R3 encountered a setback in 2016, however, when some of its blue chip members—including Goldman Sachs and Santander—left the consortium. As a Goldman insider told Fortune at the time, the bank chose to let its membership lapse in part because it did not anticipate the group to mushroom to 70 members, which made the arrangement less attractive.

The departures didn’t deter R3’s ambitions, though, and the startup trumpeted a $107 million funding round in May of last year. At the time, it also suggested the round was just the first tranche of a larger plan to pull in $200 million as it built out the consortium.

That plan appears to have fallen far short. While Reuters last week reported R3 raised another $15 million from financial settlement provider CLS and two other companies, the news came after frantic efforts to raise a much bigger round, according to the former employees. These employees, like other sources in this story, asked to speak on the condition of anonymity in order to preserve professional relationships.

In an email statement, R3 said the $200 million figure—which appears in numerous media accounts—was based on a one-time plan to sell a stake in a research subsidiary, but that R3 subsequently dropped this plan.

Meanwhile, one former employee added that the original $107 million figure was overstated because it included consulting fees from prior years that R3 reclassified as equity under terms of its partner agreements. The company confirmed to Fortune that only $98.2 million of the $107 million was new money.

The former employees also claim R3 has widely missed internal financial targets set a year ago, with one estimating that revenues are “10X short” and another describing the figure as “laughably off.”

Charley Cooper, a managing director at R3, disputes the claims. He did not provide any specific figures but told Fortune that the company exceeded its revenue targets last year and will provide an update at the end of this calendar year.

Big Spenders

In its quest to build out a blockchain service to a global web of customers, R3 has made significant investments in staff and travel costs. It hasn’t been cheap.

“Just look at the public information. You see their hiring plan and the number of people on their website,” said one of the former staffers. “There’s also expensive real estate in London and New York.”

Another employee questioned a corporate culture in which executives and consultants flew to frequent meetings around the world. In the employee’s view, many of the trips, some of them business and first class flights, could have been conducted online instead.

The salary of CEO David Rutter is also reportedly a source of contention among R3 staff, and one person described it as “outrageous.” The company declined to provide a figure but said it is not excessive.

“David’s salary is commensurate with market rates for a leadership position and was approved by the board,” said the company in response to an inquiry about Rutter’s compensation.

But while R3 has built out an ambitious global operation and given ample support to its executives—including a “Chief of Staff to the CEO”—it’s unclear if the company has a viable business model.

Though R3 was originally conceived as a consortium in which financial institutional would pay ongoing fees to develop and use Corda, the departure of big banks such as J.P. Morgan (which also dropped out of the consortium) suggests interest in the company is waning.

R3’s challenge is harder still because banks typically do not have a hands-on role in software development, and are not structured to make rapid collective decisions on new technology.

“Building consortiums is hard,” said Ryan Selkis, a founder of the crypto startup Messari, and a longtime authority on blockchain.

This may be why R3 has recently announced partnerships with non-financial companies, including a Sydney-based startup called Bloxian Technology, in an effort to promote its Corda blockchain as a way to build corporate software products. According to Cooper, enterprise blockchain sales represent an enormous new opportunity that R3 is poised to be first to capture.

This field is a crowded one, however, and includes notable rivals like Hyperledger, which has received open source contributions from IBM, as well as a collective known as the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. These rivals have attracted corporate heavyweights, including JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft, in their bid to popularize industrial applications for the blockchain.

In this competition to create a blockchain platform for companies, skeptics say R3 has its work cut out for it. A big reason, they say, is because the company has been unable to attract a critical mass of developers to build out its Corda software. A lack of developers can be fatal to software projects because it can result in a dearth of applications, and create doubt among customers about its staying power.

“Although R3 will say 1,300 architects are contributing to Corda, if you look at the public release notes of R3, there will be no more than three people listed. The public version of Ethereum had 10,000 developers contributing,” said one former employee who nonetheless had praise for some of Corda’s features.

Meanwhile, a prominent figure in the blockchain financial world told Fortune that many developers mistrust R3 because it has allegedly engaged in “open washing,” a term that describes an attempt to portray proprietary software as open source. While Corda is nominally open source, this person said R3 has held back on key code contributions to public repositories.

Another source at a prominent investment bank described R3 as “lethargic” in sharing its code.

“There is an open source version of Corda and an enterprise version. All code for the open source version is available via Github, and the enterprise version is a commercial distribution and adds some commercial extensions to the open source version,” said Cooper.

He added there have been over 350 contributions to the Corda codebase, and there are currently around 50 active developers producing code for Corda. Cooper said the number is much higher if it includes informal contributors.

A Banking Culture in a Blockchain World

Those familiar with R3’s culture and operations repeated a common refrain: The company styled itself as a technology startup but acted like a bank. This dynamic meant that R3 acted more like a member of Wall Street or a plush consulting company rather than a hungry upstart. In retrospect, its early success may represent a decision by banks to get a taste of a new trend—blockchain—rather than any real bet on R3’s business or technology.

“Instead of hiring tech people, they started hiring bankers and guys in suits who don’t know much about technology,” said a former employee.

The challenge for R3 now will be to prove its skeptics wrong and create a revenue stream to keep it afloat in coming years. The two former employees—one citing familiarity with financial figures shared with investors during the recent fund-raising round—said this was a long shot, and predicted the company would run out of capital by the first quarter of 2019. Cooper rejected the claim.

“We currently have more than sufficient funding and at this point have no plans to raise additional money,” he said.

Meanwhile, R3 could also obtain a cash infusion via a high profile lawsuit with the cryptocurrency company Ripple. Last year, R3 filed a contract lawsuit saying Ripple owes 5 billion units of the virtual currency XRP, which is worth approximately $3 billion at current prices. (Ripple claims the payment is not due because R3 reneged on an agreement to provide services.) The lawsuit is currently tied up in procedural matters, and could result in a settlement before it goes to trial.

If a deal does not emerge or if R3 loses the case, it could face harder choices or become a cautionary tale about building a blockchain business.

“Executives were joking about getting bought out, saying ‘Look for the vultures in Q1 of next year, and predicting Oracle or IBM or Microsoft or Accenture will arrive with a buyout offer,” said a former employee.

He added: “It will be a fire sale.”


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