The Woz and the crypto wonga


You might be aware that Steve “the Woz” Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, has been getting into crypto of late. Last year, a few months after telling CNBC that he thought bitcoin should become the single global currency because “that is so pure thinking”, he joined a crypto venture that had failed to complete its ICO. That was Equi, a venture founded by Lady Mone of Mayfair — the lingerie tycoon-turned-Tory-baroness-and-QVC-saleswoman — and her soon-to-be-husband, Doug Barrowman, a businessman linked to tax avoidance schemes for contractors who are now being pursued by HMRC. (A somewhat motley crew, it seems fair to say.)

And as of a few weeks ago, it seems the Woz has “co-founded” another crypto venture. As reported by Coindesk, Wozniak has joined a start-up called Efforce — tagline “energy efficiency. reinvented” — that has set up shop under that most stringent of regulatory regimes: Malta.

Malta has taken what those in the crypto “space” like to call “a progressive approach” to crypto, encouraging some of the biggest crypto players — like Binance, the world’s biggest crypto exchange — to base themselves in the small island-state.

It has also passed a regulation that gives those issuing tokens — in what used to be called initial coin offerings (ICOs) but which have been rebranded as “security token offerings” (STOs) or “initial exchange offerings” (IEOs) — guidelines as to how they can issue crypto tokens while sticking within the strict Maltese law. As of November 2018, future token issuers have therefore been able to apply for approval to the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA), and are now waiting for the green light.

And it seems that this “friendly” approach towards ICOmedians hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Woz. According to Coindesk, he said at a crypto event on an island in July that “the Maltese government’s enthusiasm for blockchain was a key factor in the company setting up shop there”, while co-founder Jacopo Visetti enthused that Malta was “the most open-minded country we could find in the world in terms of new technology”.

Open-minded is one way of seeing it. Open-door (ed?) is another. And it seems that if you have Woz on board, that door gets opened even wider. Take a look at this screenshot from the official Efforce Telegram group:

That’s a reference to Joseph Muscat, the Maltese prime minister who promotes Malta as “blockchain island”, and who has now endorsed Efforce, publicly thanking Woz for choosing his fair island for his crypto adventures.

But surely that approval wouldn’t affect how fast the company would get approved by a supposedly independent financial regulator, as Visetti seems to insinuate in the Telegram group? (A group, it should be pointed out, that is specifically aimed at those who will be buying the tokens when it launches.)

We called up Visetti to ask him what he could have possibly meant in his response. He wanted to be very clear that the prime minister’s endorsement and the project’s celebrity “co-founder” would not mean the company was given any special treatment by regulators, and that the prime minister had absolutely nothing to do with the MFSA.

But he did, however, tell us this:

I don’t need to queue for MFSA approval. Once Steve Wozniak joined the prime minister approved the project.

Which kind of felt like it might mean exactly that. He then clarified (emphasis ours):

We’re going to go through the same process as others, but I guess — and this is my interpretation — that yes, there is a priority access for some superstars, like there is everywhere in the world. There’s nothing to be confused about here. If you get into a queue in the cinema or anywhere else and you try to get a ticket, you get served first.

And then he clarified still further:

But no, we are not in the same queue as the others, for a simple reason: because the prime minister wanted Woz to be at the forefront, to sponsor the Malta government.

Bingo.

Visetti also said that, contrary to what he implied in the Telegram group, Efforce had in fact been “among the first” to apply to the MFSA for approval. He pointed out, though, that they hadn’t yet been given the green light for their token offering (which is probably going to be an STO, apparently, which of course is very different from an ICO. The contact email address for investors is ICO@efforce.io).

We also asked about Woz’s apparently sudden involvement because, the thing is, Efforce isn’t a new project. It was planning to raise between $15m and $53m in an ICO back in mid-2018 with a white paper and all, and the Woz was nowhere to be seen in any of the literature. But like many ICOs that were planning to launch from mid-2018 onwards, Efforce never got off the ground.

It has deleted its white paper and other online materials, including an article it had posted on Medium, and Visetti says the company never actually even tried to launch an ICO because the regulatory framework wasn’t yet in place. But there remain many traces of it online and it didn’t look like they were planning to wait for regulatory approval, or that Woz was working on the project in the background back then.

According to Visetti though, Woz had been involved since 2018, but they had wanted to keep him under the radar until they were sure that the technology — specifically linking data from smart meters to a blockchain — could work “on an industrial level”. It seems a touch perplexing that you wouldn’t advertise the fact that you were working with the co-founder of Apple in your promotional materials, but there you go.

As to the level of Woz’s investment, he has taken an 11 per cent stake in the company. A source with knowledge of the company told us that Wozniak has bought 66 shares at a nominal value of €1 from each of the two originalco-founders,making the size of his investment… €132. Efforce neither confirmed nor denied this figure.

We have contacted Wozniak’s business partner to ask if we may speak to the man himself about his participation in Efforce, and also about the Equi project, which appears to have gone a little… quiet. We haven’t had a response but will of course update the story if and when we get to chat to the Woz himself.

Related links:
The baroness, the ICO fiasco and enter Steve Wozniak – FT Alphaville
Is Baroness Mone’s true idol Steve Wozniak or Sylvester Stallone? – FT Alphaville
It’s really happening… Woz joins Baroness Mone’s blockchain company – FT Alphaville


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