Celo is a blockchain protocol and smart contracts platform designed to serve the 1.1 billion people that lack access to financial services but have a smart phone. CELO, the native asset of the Celo blockchain, is used as collateral to create cUSD, the platform’s first stablecoin. However, CELO can also be used as collateral for other synthetic assets like money, equity or bond markets. This exposure to more advanced financial products creates additional opportunities for this group of 1.1 billion people to prosper. To access the blockchain, Celo has created a best-in-class mobile app that uses a lightweight phone number identity system. This makes the experience of sending cUSD as easy as sending a text.
Celo’s ability to send cUSD anywhere in the world within 5–10 seconds at a cost of pennies or less to the sender, make it well positioned for several use cases.
Global Remittances: About 1 in 9 people globally receive money from family members abroad and the amounts transmitted in these payments aggregate to ~$600B. However, the current remittance infrastructure is slow and expensive with average remittance fees of ~6.75% and payments sometimes taking days to process. Users in this system are painfully aware of its constraints and are tired of navigating pickup locations, banking hours, transfer limits, etc.
Payment Processor for Gig Economy: The size of the global gig economy is ~$300B and is projected to reach ~$450B in the next three years. Prompt payment is a critical part of the gig worker’s satisfaction with a platform, yet only 17% of platforms are in a position to pay workers as work is done. In fact, 84% of gig workers said they’d do more work if they were paid on the same day or the next day.
Mobile PoS: The mobile Point of Sale (PoS) market is expected to reach $2T by 2024 driven by the adoption of new business users like pop up stores and street vendors. Solutions like Square have been very successful in this market, but require merchants to purchase a $49 piece of hardware and take 2.6% of every transaction.
- Sending cUSD: Celo has a dedicated consumer-facing mobile application called Valora and lightweight phone number identity system that streamlines the user experience. To send cUSD, users can select a recipient from their contacts list or enter the recipient's mobile number into the app. They then select the payment amount and the cUSD is on its way. There’s no need for long, confusing alphanumeric addresses. What’s even better is that recipients can receive cUSD or CELO without having a Celo wallet thanks to the mobile identity system. If a recipient doesn’t have a wallet, the sent funds are held in escrow until the recipient downloads the Valora app and uses their phone number to claim their escrowed funds.
- Simplified Transaction Fees: Unlike Ethereum where many users need to hold ETH and the respective ERC-20 token to interact with a decentralized application, Celo users can pay transaction fees in a number of supported currencies (currently only cUSD and CELO). This simplification removes a giant pain point since users no longer have to manage multiple assets to interact with an application. Additionally, users in the developing world, who are more financially sensitive, aren’t forced to put a portion of their wealth in a volatile crypto asset to use the blockchain.
- Local Agent Onboarding and Alliance for Prosperity: Celo leverages a team of local agents to onboard merchants and users into the Celo ecosystem. The aim is to have 20 countries onboarded by the end of 2020. Additionally, Celo has a deep partnership network with over 100 organizations known as the Celo Alliance for Prosperity. These organizations combine to reach over 400 million people and can serve as a valuable conduit for onboarding users and builders into the Celo ecosystem. This combination of boots on the ground and a deep partnership network really differentiates Celo from other protocols.
MakerDao: Celo is similar to Maker in that both have a governance token that controls a cryptocollateralized stablecoin. However, unlike MKR, CELO can be used for protocol governance and as collateral. This should improve value capture for CELO holders. As the demand for Celo synthetic assets like cUSD increases, more CELO is needed to collateralize the new assets being created. This is in contrast to Maker which utilizes other currencies like Ethereum as collateral relegating MKR for interest fee payments.
Other Stablecoins: cUSD also faces competition from other stablecoin protocols like Tether, USD Coin, TrueUSD, Gemini dollar and Paxos Standard, but these protocols simply place USD in a vault and rely on third-party attestations and audits to confirm that the digital dollars are fully collateralized. I believe that over the long-term, users will prefer stablecoins backed by a basket of cryptocurrencies and locked in a smart contract in a way that is transparent, trustless and verifiable. The use of these coins is also mostly limited to DeFi applications and the go-to-market strategies for use as a medium of exchange aren’t as advanced or thorough as Celo’s local agent and Alliance for Prosperity approach.
Payments Protocols like Stellar: Celo also competes with payments-centric cryptocurrencies like Stellar. However, these systems are different from Stellar in a few key ways. The first is that the unit of account in Stellar is the XLM token which is subject to volatile price swings. Just this year, XLM had 59 days (~20% of the days in 2020) in which the price moved more than 5%. Additionally, Stellar doesn’t have a smart contract language or built in virtual machine to execute code. In contrast, Celo is a fork of Ethereum, which means that it runs the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) to support smart contract functionality. This ability will allow for a much richer ecosystem of financial primitives on Celo.
Lastly, Celo has a strong team of experienced founders with backgrounds in finance and technology.
- Rene Reinsberg: Co-founded business data startup called Locu which was acquired by GoDaddy; previous experience at The World Bank and Morgan Stanley’s capital markets division
- Marek Olszeweski: Co-founded Locu with Rene; previous experience at Google, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems
- Sep Kamvar: Co-founded personalized search company called Kaltix which was acquired by Google; previously head of personalization at Google and head of the Social Computing research group at MIT Media Lab; inventor of EigenTrust protocol for trust computation in decentralized systems
Disclaimer: I own CELO and cUSD. Nothing within this post constitutes (or should construed as being) investment, legal, tax or other advice.