Teach Me How to Startup

Was Ashton Kutcher High Being Really Dumb During This Interview About Dwolla?

Mr. Kutcher, right, explaining "cusps." Ben Milne, founder of Dwolla, left, possibly mortified.

UPDATE, April 11, 4:02 p.m.: Numerous readers, including Ashton Kutcher’s publicist, objected to the suggestion that Mr. Kutcher was high during his interview with Dwolla. In truth, Mr. Kutcher appears sober in the interview; the word “high” was used to imply that his answers did not make sense—but this appeared to be due to the overuse of jargon and simplicity of ideas, not the influence of mind-altering substances. We have updated the headline.

Iowa native Ashton Kutcher returned to the homeland today to officially announce an investment in Dwolla, one of the hottest investments of the moment, and appear with Dwolla founder Ben Milne for a special episode of Silicon Prairie News’s PrairieCast. The A-list actor has invested in A-list startups from Skype to Twitter to Airbnb to Path to Flipboard Gidsy to Zaarly to New York’s Foursquare, GroupMe and The Fancy. He’s reportedly invested in some 40 companies. He’s the Real Deal, we’re told, and not an opportunistic dabbler who only got into the whole startup thing because a long time ago he challenged CNN to a race to be the first Twitter account to hit a million followers.

“Ashton as an investor is brilliant,” Mr. Milne said today.

“I’ve come to realize he’s one of the most insightful investors I’ve worked with,” David Lee, who co-founded SV Angel, told the New York Times.

Mr. Kutcher actually has a lot of suggestions about product, other founders have told Betabeat in the past.

So we were curious to hear the actor riff on startups at length in the live question and answer session with SPN’s live studio audience. Like Paul Graham’s on stage office hours at TechCrunch Disrupt, it offered a rare peek into what meetings between a famous investor and his investments must be like.

We came away… underwhelmed. Read More

New Money

Dwolla Being Sued by Bitcoiners for $2 M.


The proprietors of a major Bitcoin exchange have filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California alleging that racketeering, intentional misrepresentation, false advertising, breach of contract and other violations by payments startup Dwolla have cost them at least $2 million in damages, with the final amount to be decided by the court.

The plaintiff is TradeHill, a Bitcoin currency exchanger based in San Francisco and Chile that was at one time the second-largest processor of Bitcoin currency trades, but which recently shut down. The shutdown was largely due to losses sustained because of “chargebacks” or payments that cleared and then were rescinded by Dwolla, said TradeHill cofounder Jered Kenna, although other reasons were given at the time.

“We’ve been trying to resolve this for eight, nine months and they ignored all communication,” Pierre G. Basmaji, the Santa Monica-based attorney for TradeHill, told Betabeat by phone. “I have no idea why. I think… they don’t know how to handle it and were just hoping we would go away.”

Dwolla did not respond to requests for comment. UPDATE, 6:13 p.m.: Dwolla just released a statement. Read More

Bitcoin Drama

Banking Partners Force Paxum to Drop Bitcoin Due to ‘Potential Risk’


Established banks and payments processors are skittish about the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, it would seem, prompting Canadian e-payments service Paxum to drop its Bitcoin clients last week.

Paxum, an e-commerce payments solution popular with adult web sites, started working with Bitcoin exchanges more than a year ago. Paxum hooked up with leading Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox in December 2010, major Bitcoin exchange Tradehill in July 2011, and more recently with BitInstant, a service that speeds up Bitcoin transactions by fronting customers the credit, and others.

But on Friday afternoon, the operators of Paxum’s Bitcoin-related accounts received an email with the subject line “Bitcoin termination.” Paxum’s banking partners, which include MasterCard, had called off the Bitcoin party.

Paxum declined to name the partners that were responsible for the change. Read More

Million Dwolla Baby

Dwolla Announces Funding Led by Union Square Ventures

Mr. Milne.

Power to the prairie! That Union Square Ventures-led funding we reported on for investor darling Dwolla—the startup of the 700 name spreadsheet—is indeed happening. (Albeit for $5 million instead of the $10 million we expected.) Village Ventures, Thrive Capital, Marc Ecko of Artists & Instigators and angel investor Paige Craig participated.

Dwolla is doing a million dollars a day in transactions, CEO Ben Milne said in the announcement, and will use the money to build a payments network (a la Visa) that will use the power of the Internet to circumvent normal electronic payment processing fees. Read More

Million Dwolla Baby

Union Square Ventures Leading Series B in Iowa-Based Dwolla for About $10 M.

dwolla hoodie

Des Moines-based payments provider Dwolla, which enables seamless online payments for a quarter per transaction, has been a simmering hot new thing for a while. But recently the startup has had a flush of attention and VCs have been falling all over themselves to book flights to Iowa and get in on the company’s next round. Speaking of which, multiple sources have confirmed to Betabeat that Dwolla’s getting close to announcing a series B led by New York’s Union Square Ventures in the neighborhood of $10 million.

With its Shapeways investment, the startup’s Dutch founders move to New York and USV took out life insurance policies in case they got squished by taxis. But Dwolla leaving Des Moines—it’s only a three-hour flight, and VCs seem to be more than happy to make the schlep. Read More

Bitcoin Mania

Brooklyn-Based Bitcoin Startup BitInstant Raises Seed Round

bitinstant map

Brooklyn-based BitInstant, a startup that provides temporary credit in order to make Bitcoin transactions faster, has raised an undisclosed sum of seed funding from an angel investor. “We sold 15 percent of our company to Roger Ver, CEO of MemoryDealers, which is probably the largest used computer parts site on the West Coast,” co-founder Charlie Shrem told Betabeat by Gchat.* “He bought in for an undisclosed sum and is now our director of marketing and Asian operations, as he’s based in Tokyo.”

The original plan was to have three or four investors, but Mr. Ver offered in full and wanted to be on the team, Mr. Shrem said. “An offer I could not refuse!” Read More

8-Bit Traders

Bored With Bitcoin? BitInstant Is About to Goose the Market By Making Trading Faster

Wake me up when the markets move.

The Bitcoin markets have been sleepy over the past week or two, and Bitcoin traders are starting to whine. What happened to the drama of hacks, the excitement of skyrocketing prices? The biggest news out of the weekend’s Bitcoin World Conference and Expo was that the organizers teased future conferences in Thailand and Amsterdam. “As fun as it was, seems there were no great world-shattering announcements that would affect the world of bitcoin in the near future,” one Bitcoiner who was present told Betabeat. “Other than more conventions as announced by Bruce.” On the Bitcoin Forum at bitcointalk.org, user tacotime wrote: “Well, someone buy or sell a bajillion BTC and do something, it’s boring as hell right now out there.”

But the Bitcoin markets may soon pick up again as a Bitcoin start-up launching later today, in partnership with one of the better-known exchanges, is likely to encourage a new crop of casual traders and the Bitcoin-curious.  Read More