Crypto-collectibles and Kitties marketplace Rare Bits raises 6M

Rare Bits wants to be eBay for the blockchain, where you buy, sell and trade non-fungible crypto-goods. After CryptoKitties raised $12 million from Andreessen Horowitz last month for its digital collectibles game, there’s been an explosion of interest in the space. But without a popular marketplace, it’s hard to find the goods you want at the right price. Now a team of former Zynga staffers is building out the Rare Bits crypto-collectible auction and commerce site with a $6 million round led by Nabeel Hyatt at Spark Capital, and joined by First Round Capital, David Sacks’ Craft Ventures and SV Angel.

“Because of the Ethereum ledger, for the first time, users can truly own their digital items,” says co-founder Amitt Mahajan. “Previously in mobile or social games, virtual items earned through play or by spending money were actually owned by the company operating the game. If they shut down their servers, the items would go away and users would be out of luck. We believe this new asset class represents a paradigm shift in digital property whereby centralized assets will be moved onto decentralized systems.” For now, Rare Bits isn’t slapping any extra fees on its marketplace, compared to paying 1 percent to 4 percent on other marketplaces like Open Sea and Wyvern Exchange. Instead, if a crypto-item developer charges a fee on secondary sales, say 5 percent, they’ll split that with Rare Bits for arranging the transaction.

Rare Bits lists more than 500,000 items from a dozen games, including CryptoPunks, Ether Tulips, CryptoBots, CryptoFighters, Mythereum and CryptoCelebrities. Users get the benefit of having all their crypto-collectibles in a single wallet. They can see historical pricing before they buy anything thanks to the transparency of the Ethereum ledger, whether they want to “Buy Now” or win an auction. The collectors can also see related items rather than transacting in a vacuum. One item sold for more than $10,000, and sales in the 5-10ETH range ($555 each today) aren’t uncommon.

Rare Bits founders from left: Danny Lee, Payom Dousti, Dave Pekar and Amitt Mahajan

Mahajan, Danny Lee and Da

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Walmart launches ‘Check Out With Me’ for on-the-spot checkouts in hundreds of US stores

Walmart announced on Thursday it’s beginning to test new technology that arms store staff with mobile devices for checking out customers from the floor. The devices will first be put into use in Walmart’s “Lawn & Garden Centers” in over 350 U.S. stores, where there’s the most need for a mobile checkout experience like this.

Before, customers shopping for items like mulch, soil or flowers may have had to go inside the physical store to pay for their Lawn & Garden purchases, which was often challenging due to the size and weight of these items. Now, th aey’ll be able to pay on the spot with store staff’s help.

The new service, which Walmart is calling “Check Out With Me,” involves store employees wearing a small carrying case equipped with a Bluetooth receipt printer. Their cellular device works as the barcode scanner and the credit card swiper for the transactions.

Staff assists the customers by scanning large items – like bags of mulch – while it’s still on the shelf, so customers don’t have to load heavy carts and push them through the store. They can just carry them straight to their car parked nearby.

This isn’t the first time Walmart has used mobile technology to speed up checkouts. The company also offers Walmart Pay for in-store checkout, which involves scanning a barcode on customers’ phones to pay at the register. And its Sam’s Club warehouse club offers Scan & Go, which lets customers skip the checkout line by scanning items as they shop, then showing their e-receipt at the door on their way out.

Upgrades that make checkout quicker are especially important to retailers today in light of increased competition from Amazon, which has now established a physical presence through Whole Foods, its own bookstores, and its new Amazon Go stores.

In the latter, customers don’t have to check out at all – cameras, A.I. systems, and sensor technology let them simply grab items and leave. The idea is to offer a faster way for consumers to buy items, while also tying their day-to-day purchases to their Amazon account to get a more holistic view of the shoppers’ habits. Other companies are offering similar systems for other retailers, like AiFi, IMAGR, and Standard Cognition. And Walmart has been said to be testing checkout-free technology as well.

In the meantime, C

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3D printing marketplace Shapeways raises a 30 million Series E

Investors, it seems, aren’t entirely soured on the world of 3D printing. The technology is still making progress in the enterprise sector, and Shapeways is certainly continuing to make a case for it in the world of online marketplaces. This morning, the New York-based company announced the closing of a $30 million Series E. 

The round, led by  Lux Capital, puts its total funding north of $100 million. That’s no small chunk of change, particularly as 3D printing has lost much of its luster in the consumer world over the past several years. But the company has been a bit of a quiet success in 3D printing, selling the technology as a service along with an Etsy-like online marketplace, rather than attempting to convince early adopters to spend $500-$1,000 on a desktop machine.

After a long search, the company appointed Gregory Kress its new CEO, back in February. At the time, he explained his vision of playing a stronger role in the world of hardware prototyping/startup incubation. “We can help them to market it and develop and sustain a small business,” said Kress. “I see Shapeways shifting from delivering one niche of that customer experience to truly helping our creators from almost a platform perspective and allowing us to become a one-stop shop.”

Now flush with extra cash, Shapeways is going to take that expansion further. “The capital will be used to accelerate company growth and launch additional services to support Shapeways’ overall vision to become the complete end-to-end platform helping creators ‘design, make, and sell,’ regardless of 3D modeling experience,” the company writes in a press release tied to the funding announcement.

That starts with the introduction of the new Design With Shapeways tool, which is designed to walk creators through the 3D printing process, starting with a 3D file, 2D drawing, or even just an idea. The new Spring & Wonder line, meanwhile, offers a hands-on approach to creating personalized jewelry through the service.

Jaquet Droz is shipping its mechanical signing machine

Watchmaker Jaquet Droz announced its Signing Machine – a mechanical device that will sign your name for you using a series of miniature gears and springs – in 2014. Four years later, the company is ready to ship their miraculous contraction just in time for you to ink the deal you’ve made with Cybereus, lord of the digital underworld.

This exquisitely baroque gadget is essentially a little cartridge full of clockwork. You wind it up, stick a pencil in its tiny retractable claw, and let it go. The gears and levers recreate your signature with a series of flowing strokes generated by the movement of the gears.

Droz, a 18th century watchmaker and automaton manufacturer, was famous for his miraculous contraptions including a Draughtsman and Writer, two human-shaped robots that could draw and write, along with his beautiful singing birds that used tiny pipes and bellows to recreate birdsong.

The Signing Machine is activated after you enter your four digit code into the the device and each unit is individually decorated for the owner.

How much does this bit of titanium jimcrackery cost? It starts at $367,500 and goes up depending on your signature. Too much? Just remember: making deals with the cryptodemons of the digital underworld isn’t cheap. You’ll need something like this oddly tactical piece of metal to truly widen their hooded, red-shining eyes.

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MoviePass’s parent company is getting crushed after offering new stock

Helios and Matheson Analytics is looking to push additional capital into its prime and wildly popular asset, MoviePass, by raising money in a new stock sale that appears to be giving Wall Street fits.

Looking to raise additional capital, Helios and Matheson said it would sell up to $150 million in a stock sale that essentially seems geared to fund MoviePass’s expansion. Helios and Matheson is the largest shareholder of MoviePass, which is an increasingly popular service for going to watch movies. MoviePass’s parent company saw a sharp decline in its stock price today, with its value dropping around 40% as a result of the announcement.

“Helios and Matheson may use the net proceeds from this offering to increase the Company’s ownership stake in MoviePass or to support the operations of MoviePass and MoviePass Ventures; to satisfy a portion or all of any amounts payable in connection with previously issued convertible notes; and for general corporate purposes and transaction expenses,” the company said in the release. “The Company may also use the proceeds to make other acquisitions.”

Helios and Matheson recorded a net loss of around $150 million in 2017 (attributed to its acquisition of the majority stake in MoviePass). The company acquired a majority stake in MoviePass toward the end of last year. At the end of 2017, the company had around $25 million in cash and cash equivalents, according to their last annual report.

MoviePass allows users to spend around $10 per month to get one ticket to a movie every day, albeit with some strings attached. But it offers a way for theaters to fill seats and still acquire revenue from concessions and other products while allowing viewers to actually get in the door without paying a steep ticket price that might come with that movie.

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