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Coinbase crypto partner Circle raises $440 million from Fidelity and others

May 28, 2021, 7:51 PM UTC

Cryptocurrency startup Circle has raised $440 million in new funding, the company said Friday, adding to the list of crypto-focused businesses that have benefited from a bull run by investors.

Participants in the latest financing included financial giant Fidelity and the fast-rising cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Digital Currency Group, which owns Grayscale Investments, maintainer of a popular Bitcoin investment trust, and also owns the crypto blog Coindesk, contributed too.

Circle declined to disclose the terms of the new financing deal, including its latest valuation. Last year, it received a cash injection of $25 million from Digital Currency Group, after raising $110 million in funding at a nearly $3 billion valuation in 2018.

The latest funding comes amid a huge appetite for crypto companies, led by the market debut of Coinbase, America’s biggest crypto exchange. Today, it has a $50 billion market capitalization with its stock trading at $237 per share, down from its opening day reference price of $250 per share.

Circle’s latest funding also comes as it eyes going public via a “special purpose acquisition company,” or SPAC, at a $4 billion valuation, reported The Block. A feverish enthusiasm for SPAC deals, which help companies go public quickly by avoiding some of the usual prep and paperwork, has cooled in recent weeks as the deals face new scrutiny from regulators.

A Circle spokesperson, Josh Hawkins, declined to comment on the “rumor.”

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“We’ve been pursuing this overall mission, this vision of making money work the way the Internet works. That’s been part of the vision from day one,” Jeremy Allaire, Circle’s chief executive and cofounder, said in an interview last week with Fortune. He said the company is focused on its U.S. dollar-backed USD Coin, a so-called stablecoin that is meant to maintain a fixed price.

Circle has cycled through a few business lines in its eight years of existence. Earlier, the company built a payments app, created an over-the-counter trading desk, and it acquired a cryptocurrency exchange, Poloniex, for around $400 million, as Fortune revealed in 2018. Circle has since gotten out of those businesses to focus on its stablecoin efforts.

USDC, a collaboration with Coinbase, is one of the most popular stablecoins used for digital payments across the crypto industry. Visa recently inked a deal to start accepting payments from businesses in USDC, which today has more than $22 billion in circulation.

The U.S.-dollar backed coin has benefited from an explosion of interest in “decentralized finance,” or DeFi over the past year. There are more than $22 billion worth of USDC in circulation today, a sum that has grown by 436% in 2021, and over 28,000% year-over-year, Circle said in a release. The stablecoin has been used in more than $615 billion worth of transactions over the past year.

Circle said it is building on its years-worth of crypto expertise and technology chops in pursuing its latest strategy. “We took all of the fundamental digital currency banking infrastructure we’d created in our first five years and turned it outward in an Amazon Web Services-like model,” Allaire said, referring to Amazon’s ultra-profitable cloud-computing business. Last year, Circle opened up its tech—based on APIs, or application programming interfaces—for other companies to tap, letting “anyone build on top, not just Circle,” he said.

Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of FTX, a new Circle-backer that is reportedly looking to raise funding of its own at a $20 billion valuation, commented in a statement that USDC has enabled Circle to “ease payments in crypto” for many businesses. (Bankman-Fried, a 29-year-old entrepreneur, gained a public profile after he was recently revealed to be one of the biggest donor’s to President Joe Biden’s campaign.)

Circle has been on a hiring spree recently, recruiting top executives from Facebook’s diminished Libra stablecoin efforts. In April, Circle brought on board Dante Disparte, a former leader of the Libra Association, a Swiss consortium corralled by Facebook to create its globe-spanning stablecoin, as chief strategy officer and head of global policy. This week Circle hired Mandeep Wahlia, formerly head of risk and compliance for Facebook’s Libra-linked digital wallet, Novi, as its chief compliance and risk officer.

“If digging for new blockchains is gold,” Disparte told Fortune in an interview last week, referring to the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, “then the shovel and the pickaxe—the tools that are powering these movements—are a really trusted digital currency in USDC.”

Other backers in the new round include Marshall Wace, Willett Advisors, Intersection Fintech Ventures, Atlas Merchant Capital, Breyer Capital, Pillar VC, and Michael J. Price and Friends, Circle said.

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