MobileCoin, which powers Signal’s anonymous crypto payments, appoints new CEO

by MMC
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Image credits: Signal

MobileCoin, the startup known for Creating Signal’s Crypto Payments Feature, has named a new CEO as it works to expand its crypto money transfer service to global users in need of a more modern money transfer solution. Sara Drakeley takes the helm as MobileCoin’s new CEO. Henry Holtzman, former chief innovation officer at the MIT Media Lab, replaces his former position as the company’s chief technology officer.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Drakeley highlighted the key role played by Bob Lee in the development of MobileCoin. Lee, who was killed in fatal stabbing attack in Aprilwas the CTO of Square and the creator of the Cash App before joining MobileCoin as Chief Product Officer because he saw the potential for crypto to enable peer-to-peer transactions on a global scale.

“Cash App is only available in the United States and what we’re building is global,” Drakeley said. “The other thing (Lee) recognized is that with the traditional financial system, it’s very complicated. He said, “You know, you think blockchain is complicated. Look at the traditional financial system. There are all these middlemen. You think things settle instantly, but in reality it’s just a queue and these big machines eventually settle at night.

“With blockchain, you only have one transaction between two parties. It’s a lot simpler,” Drakeley added.

MobileCoin, which has raised over $100 million investors, including Binance Labs, plan to eventually monetize through transaction fees and value-added services, such as lending. “Once you have a basic economy and money is flowing through a system, there are many ways to monetize it,” Drakeley said.

Privacy and regulation

In 2021, Signal, the end-to-end messaging popular among privacy-conscious users, launched the beta version of the MobileCoin-based payment solution. The feature has officially exited the testing phase, allowing any user around the world to instantly send MobileCoin’s native Mob token to other Signal users with negligible network fees, all without leaving any identifiable traces.

The combination of encrypted messages and anonymous transactions has raised quite a few eyebrows. A few worry that the technology could be exploited by criminal organizations to communicate, make payments and ultimately evade investigations. So far, Moby, MobileCoin’s standalone payment app, has partnered with Paybis, which runs standard Know Your Customer and Anto-Money Laundering procedures in converting between crypto and fiat.

What does the crypto wallet look like on Signal when first activated / Image: TechCrunch

When it comes to regulating on-chain activities, Drakeley said she feels “promising” about some of the technological developments that ensure people’s rights to “safety and security” while allowing them to “respect the compliance and regulations”.

“On-chain identity is a very hot topic right now, and many people are interested and invested in how this will develop, with the assumption that identity is part of how you finally resolve AML and KYC. It’s very important, I think, for regulators that there is a comprehensive identity verification solution,” she observed.

“There are other pieces of metadata that you can attach to a transaction that can help establish trust. And that can help establish that risk profile. These are things that you can attach even in a way that protects people’s data,” the CEO added.

Crypto payment wave

Drakeley, who worked at SpaceX and Disney Animation Studios before joining web3, steps into his new role at a time when crypto payments are attracting a lot of interest from investors and developers.

Nigerian startup Kotani, for example, recently raised $2 million to help African migrant workers send money home via stablecoins. Eco, backed by a16z, is a San Francisco player touting his Crypto-based “global Venmo.”

According to Drakeley, MobileCoin’s differentiator is that it supports “private” transactions, unlike other blockchain-based money movements whose details are publicly available on-chain. “Can you imagine if you go to a coffee shop and pay for your coffee, and in that moment, with that one payment, the barista knows your salary? said Drakeley, adding that unlike some Ethereum scaling solutions, MobileCoin’s network is fast and cheap enough to support microtransactions.

“As an industry, we’ve built so much technology that doesn’t have privacy, where it’s so difficult to get that privacy back. You can see how much effort has gone into trying to add layer 2 privacy to Ethereum. Even with all these efforts, it still doesn’t really solve the problem because there are also high fees and the time it takes for a transaction to settle,” she said.

To make crypto payments practical in everyday scenarios, MobileCoin has spent the last five years working on its privacy-preserving protocol, initially based on the Stellar blockchain, to power blockchain transactions that can run even on mobile devices low bandwidth. A focus on low energy consumption, in particular, has helped Moby attract interest from developing countries where remittances are high, such as Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines, according to Drakeley.

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