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10/14/2021North Mill breaks internal funding record
04/12/2021North Mill gets more competitive
04/02/2021North Mill hits all time high in March
03/24/2021North Mill announces $236M securitization



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North Mill Equipment Finance Hit All-Time Quarterly Loan/Lease Originations Record

October 14, 2021
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growthNorth Mill Equipment Finance just had its best quarter in 60 years. The company originated $129.1M in Q3. That was up from the record set the previous quarter of $120M.

Contributing to the company’s growth rate is the recent joint acquisition of 100% of the stock of parent company Aztec Financial, LLC.

“This has been an exceptional year,” said David C. Lee, Chairman and CEO, North Mill. “In addition to introducing a new category of equipment through the acquisition of Aztec, we recently purchased a $50.3 million portfolio of seasoned truck and trailer leases to help diversify our portfolio even further.”

The company is on pace to surpass $400M in originations in 2021.

North Mill Restructures Working Capital Solution and Expands Customer Benefits

April 12, 2021
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NORWALK, CT – North Mill Equipment Finance LLC (“North Mill”), a leading independent commercial equipment lessor providing small-ticket financing through its network of referral agents, announced today that it has restructured its working capital solution to make it more competitive with other, less cost-effective options on the market.

The financing arrangement, called “Cash Out,” allows a customer to borrow the equity of paid-up business equipment and channel the proceeds back into the company. Although similar in concept to a sale leaseback, Cash Out is structured as a loan. It delivers a well-deserved reprieve for borrowers looking for a less expensive alternative to finance day-to-day operating expenses.

“There are many ways a company can obtain working capital,” explained Paul Cheslock, VP of Customer Relations, North Mill. “Some of the more common include a merchant cash advance (MCA), a revolving line of credit and accounts receivable factoring. And while they all fill the same need, they are not created equal. Cash Out in particular offers a long list of customer benefits including better rates, monthly vs. weekly payments, and terms up to 60 months. It’s a powerful tool for our referral agent partners looking to grow their customer base.”

According to Cheslock, the product’s loan-to-value ratio was restructured to enable customers to borrow a larger percentage of equity from an unencumbered asset. One of the most significant advantages of Cash Out is that it includes an early pay-off feature. Customers can pay off the loan without premium or penalty after 18 consecutive, on-time payments — a benefit that other products simply do not offer.

“The product is simple and straightforward. There are no fees tied to accounts receivable, invoices, or credit card sales,” said Cheslock. “What’s more, the equipment that’s used for the loan stays put on site, so business operations remain uninterrupted. And if that were not enough, the borrower retains title.”

For more on Cash Out and other financial solutions from North Mill, register for the company’s upcoming webinar “Meet North Mill and Its Financial Solutions” on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 at 3:00 pm EST.

About North Mill Equipment Finance

Headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, North Mill Equipment Finance originates and services small-ticket equipment leases and loans, ranging from $15,000 to $300,000 in value. A broker-centric private lender, the company handles A – C credit qualities and finances transactions for numerous asset categories including, but not limited to, construction, transportation, vocational, healthcare, manufacturing, printing, franchise opportunities and material handling equipment. North Mill is majority owned by an affiliate of Wafra Capital Partners, Inc. (WCP). For more information, visit NMEF.com.

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CONTACT: Don Cosenza, SVP, Chief Marketing Officer
PHONE: (203) 354-1710
EMAIL: dcosenza@nmef.com

North Mill Continues Record-Setting Trajectory as March Volume Hits All-Time High

April 2, 2021
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North Mill Press Release

NORWALK, CT – North Mill Equipment Finance LLC (“North Mill”), a leading independent commercial equipment lessor providing small-ticket financing through its network of referral agents, announced today that the company reached an all-time high in monthly loan and lease originations in March. Funded volume surged to more than $24 million, a growth rate of 53% from last March and an increase of 22% from the company’s previous high-water mark last December.

“We’re firing on all cylinders,” said David C. Lee, Chairman and CEO, North Mill. “We reported a record breaking year in 2020 and I anticipate that we’ll continue to see an upward trajectory as the economy opens up. First quarter volume topped $54 million, an increase of more than 18% from Q1 of last year while our weighted average FICO climbed an additional 9 points to 717.” Average deal size also hit a record for March, according to Lee, as it reached nearly $90k per transaction.

A strategic initiative that has had a resounding impact on North Mill’s success is its continued commitment to financing assets across an array of industries. Transportation, which made up nearly 100% of the firm’s asset portfolio a few years ago, now accounts for about 40% of funded volume. The company has expanded into many types of equipment including, but not limited to, construction, health care, franchise opportunities and livery.

As referral agents continue to turn to North Mill to obtain financing for their customers, the capital markets have also demonstrated confidence in the company. Last month, North Mill closed NMEF Funding 2021-A, its fourth commercial equipment backed securitization (ABS), its largest ever. The $236,588,000 ABS issuance was well received by institutional investors as evidenced by strong oversubscription levels across all tranches of notes. Capital was raised from a total of 23 investors, more than double the number from the company’s previous issuance (NMEF 2019-A).

About North Mill Equipment Finance

Headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, North Mill Equipment Finance originates and services small-ticket equipment leases and loans, ranging from $15,000 to $300,000 in value. A broker-centric private lender, the company handles A – C credit qualities and finances transactions for numerous asset categories including, but not limited to, construction, transportation, vocational, healthcare, manufacturing, printing, franchise opportunities and material handling equipment. North Mill is majority owned by an affiliate of Wafra Capital Partners, Inc. (WCP). For more information, visit www.nmef.com.

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Liberis Secures $42 Million in Funding, Plans American Expansion

February 3, 2020
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Liberis HomepageLiberis, the London-based small business finance provider, secured £32 million ($42 million) in capital late last month following a round of equity fundraising. The firm, which has funded businesses through cash advances since 2007, has now raised a total of over £150 million ($197 million) via debt and equity.

Having already entered Nordic markets, Liberis looks to use this funding to further expand into Europe as well as make their mark in America. Speaking to deBanked, Liberis CEO Rob Straathof explained that the company would be working with its North American partner, Worldpay, to spread itself across all 50 states. Beyond Worldpay, Liberis is planning to create more partnerships with merchant acquirers, those payment platforms which serve merchants, or “SME champions,” as Straathof calls them.

Liberis will not be using brokers to provide cash advances to business owners in the States, the reason being that the company prefers to work with its affiliated partners. “We purely rely on our partners and integrating with our partners,” explained Straathof. “In the UK we still do brokers, but that’s kind of a legacy. It works very well for us and we have a great relationship with brokers. It’s a good channel for us, but we have no intention at this point to launch that in the US.”

The company will also use the funding to increase its staff by 30% in 2020, hiring around 50 people to bolster its 165-person workforce across their four offices in London, Dublin, Stockholm, and Denver.

Three Men Indicted in $345 Million Consumer Debt Ponzi Scheme

September 26, 2018
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ArrestedOn September 19, a federal grand jury indicted three men on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, identity theft and money laundering in connection with a $345 million ponzi scheme, tracing back to January 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Simultaneously, the SEC obtained a court order to shut down the ponzi scheme allegedly created by these men, Kevin B. Merrill, 53, Jay B. Ledford, 54, and Cameron Jezierski, 28. The SEC complaint alleged that these men attracted investors to their scheme by promising sizable profits from the purchase and resale of consumer debt portfolios. However, the defendants were allegedly fabricating documents and forging signatures in a complex scheme to entice investors and perpetuate the fraud.

The SEC complaint alleges that Merrill and Ledford stole at least $85 million from investors to maintain lavish lifestyles, spending millions of dollars on luxury items, including $10.2 million on at least 25 cars, $330,000 for a 7-carat diamond ring, $168,000 for a 23-carat diamond bracelet, millions of dollars on luxury homes, and $100,000 to a private fitness club.

According to a story from WBAL TV, a Baltimore-area NBC news affiliate, SEC employee Stephanie Avakian said that from one investor’s $500,000 investment, “Merrill allegedly used [it] for a $400,000 payment for a 2014 Bugatti sports car, made payments to prior investors and repaid $20,000 of his own credit card debt.”

According to the WBAL TV story, a related complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, alleges that the investors included small business owners, restaurateurs, construction contractors, retirees, doctors, lawyers, accountants, bankers, talent agents, professional athletes and financial advisers in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, Las Vegas, Texas and elsewhere.

“Most of these investors are just learning that they have been victimized,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. “The effects of this kind of fraud can be devastating. We urge anyone who thinks they may be a victim to contact the FBI at MerrillLedford@fbi.gov.”

If convicted on the criminal charges, Merrill and Ledford could face up to 262 years in prison and Jazierski could face up to 120 years in prison.

BlueVine doubles invoice financing credit lines to up to $5 million

January 30, 2018
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BlueVine also increases business line of credit to $200,000; opens New Jersey office

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – January 30, 2018 – BlueVine has doubled the credit line size for its invoice factoring product to up to $5 million, underscoring the online business lender’s push to offer fast and flexible working capital financing to small and medium-sized businesses.

BlueVine also increased the limit for its business line of credit product to $200,000 from $150,000, making its Flex Credit product an even more attractive financing option for larger or fast-growing companies.

“In just four years, we’ve dramatically increased our invoice factoring credit line to $5 million, and our business line of credit to $200,000,” BlueVine CEO and founder Eyal Lifshitz said. “We continue to be fully committed to providing business owners with robust financing options to help them thrive.”

BlueVine helped Mindstar Aviation unlock capital trapped in unpaid invoices. The Virginia-based company, which develops and writes software for flight simulators, used to wrestle with cash flow gaps while waiting for customers to pay their bills, which often took 45 days or longer.

BlueVine allowed Mindstar to get cash advances on those invoices.

“Because we have BlueVine in place to make a purchase, we could proceed immediately,” said Johnny Johnson, the company’s executive vice president. “We don’t have to wait, which could impact a project timeline. BlueVine financing is easy. It’s quick. No hassle. BlueVine is not nickel-and-diming people, charging fees here and fees there. It’s really straightforward and easy to understand.”

A business line of credit from BlueVine enabled entrepreneur Jesse Urrutia, owner of MarketMe, a video production company in San Carlos, California, to take on bigger clients and grow his business.

“In the past, if I didn’t have cash to pay for a production, I would just turn down the project,” Urrutia said. “It’s ridiculous to turn business down because you don’t have the money. BlueVine fixed that for us.”

BlueVine also announced the opening of its new office in Jersey City, New Jersey, from where the company hopes to better serve customers and partners on the East Coast. Aside from its headquarters in Redwood City, BlueVine also has offices in New Orleans and Tel Aviv.

BlueVine revolutionized business lending with a highly automated, completely online invoice factoring platform that allows businesses to get advances on unpaid invoices.

In 2016, BlueVine introduced a 6-month business line of credit called Flex Credit based on weekly payments. The company introduced a 12-month line of credit based on monthly payments in 2017.

About BlueVine

BlueVine provides flexible working capital financing to small and medium-sized businesses, giving them quick access to funds needed to purchase inventory, cover expenses, or expand operations. A fintech pioneer, BlueVine developed a fully-online cloud-based platform for invoice factoring, revolutionizing the 4,000-year old financing system that allows businesses to receive cash advances on outstanding invoices. BlueVine also offers FlexCredit, business line of credit financing based on 6-month and 12-month payment terms. Based in Redwood City, Calif., BlueVine has raised $273 million in equity and debt funding and is funded by Lightspeed Venture Partners, 83NORTH, Correlation Ventures, Citi Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Rakuten Fintech Fund and other private investors.

Lights, Camera, Crypto-Transaction – How a Lending Journalist Raised Millions to Build Magic Lamps Through the Murky World of Initial Coin Offerings

November 15, 2017

Magic Lamp

This past July, the winner of the Best Journalist Coverage category at the 2017 LendIt Conference Awards, announced that he would be stepping outside of his journalistic endeavors to raise money for a futuristic lamp company. The product, dubbed Lampix, is described as a lamp with a projector, a camera, specifically placed light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and a cloud-enabled computer. On the company’s “Medium” blog, Lampix promises that the product is “designed to transform any flat horizontal surface into an interactive computer.”

The man behind Lampix, George Popescu (whose Lending Times news site competed against and beat out fellow finalist deBanked at the LendIt Awards), makes for an interesting case study in alternative finance. That’s because Lampix shunned traditional capital-raising methods by relying on an Initial Coin Offering (or ICO), an unregulated blockchain-based corporate event which is similar to an initial public offering. Rather than purchasing shares, as is the case in an IPO, investors in an ICO receive digital tokens instead of shares. In August, Lampix raised $14.2 million through its ICO*.

Insolvency OrderPopescu’s name popped up again a few months after the LendIt award on a regulatory blotter in the UK.

In case details published by the UK’s Insolvency Service on August 1st, the agency announced that Popescu was disqualified from serving as a company director.

Mr Popescu breached his fiduciary duties to act in the best interest of Boston Prime Limited (“Boston Prime”) and/or failed to ensure that both Boston Prime, as the regulated firm, and him individually, as the approved person, complied with the Financial Conduct Authority (“the FCA”) rules and guidance.

$6.2 million was transferred out of the company to a company named FXDD. Boston Prime’s receiver is presently suing FXDD seeking the return of the funds to the company. Proceedings are ongoing. Mr. Popescu is not under investigation and there are no legal proceedings at this time against Mr. Popescu.

It’s an inauspicious beginning for someone financing the “lamp of the future” using an unregulated and controversial strategy. Even so, when its ICO concluded on August 19, Lampix declared its gambit a success after raising $14.2 million through the sale of its digital tokens, which are known as PIX.**

By mid-November, the market value of those digital tokens, which exist on the Ethereum blockchain, had dropped by 50%, causing Lampix investors to suffer losses of $7 million. Unlike shareholders in publicly traded companies, token buyers have few investor protections. It’s not clear they are even considered to be actual investors at all. Buried in the fine print of Lampix’s 85-page “white paper” – a convenient way to avoid the label of prospectus – is a disclaimer. “Buyer should not participate in the [PIX] Token Distribution or purchase [PIX] Tokens for investment purposes. [PIX] Tokens are not designed for investment purposes and should not be considered as a type of investment.”

Additional disclaimers, moreover, declare that the white paper is not a prospectus, that the tokens “are not securities, commodities, swaps on either securities or commodities, or a financial instrument of any kind.”

But the distinction has not deterred people from joining in the frenzy of buying digital tokens like PIX. So much so, TechCrunch reports companies employing this strategy had raised nearly $800 million by means of ICOs in the first half of 2017.

And the SEC is not exactly excited about ICOs. “Fraudsters often use innovations and new technologies to perpetrate fraudulent investment schemes,” a July 29 directive by the SEC states. “Fraudsters may entice investors by touting an ICO investment ‘opportunity’ as a way to get into this cutting-edge space, promising or guaranteeing high investment returns. Investors should always be suspicious of jargon-laden pitches, hard sells, and promises of outsized returns. Also, it is relatively easy for anyone to use blockchain technology to create an ICO that looks impressive, even though it might actually be a scam.”

On September 29, moreover, the SEC brought an enforcement action against REcoin Group, charging Los Angeles businessman Maksim Zaslavskiy and two companies he controls with defrauding investors “in a pair of so-called initial coin offerings (ICOs) purportedly backed by investments in real estate and diamonds,” an SEC press release said.

The SEC alleges that Zaslavskiy and his companies –REcoin Group Foundation and DRC World (also known as Diamond Reserve Club) — have been selling unregistered securities, and that “the digital tokens or coins being peddled don’t really exist.”

SEC BuildingMeanwhile, telephone calls and an e-mail to the SEC seeking the federal regulator’s view on Lampix’s ICO drew a terse response from Ryan T. White, a public affairs specialist, who replied that the agency would “decline comment.”

Deborah Meshulam, a partner in the Washington office of law firm DLA Piper and a former SEC enforcement official, told deBanked: “Regarding the lack of equity ownership, Lampix is seeking to establish that the tokens are not securities. Whether the SEC would agree should it decide to look into the offering depends on the facts and circumstances. The SEC staff would look past form to substance to assess whether the sale of the tokens constitutes an investment contract under legal standards. If so, then the SEC would view the Lampix offering as a securities offering. It may be that Lampix (or its lawyers) already vetted the offering with the SEC but I don’t know the answer.”

Popescu tells deBanked in an e-mail interview, “We had to respect all securities rules and regulations of course, respect the Howey test and so on. There were no hoops to jump through as we are not trying to avoid anything or prevent anything. We honestly built a token to build a community to help us crowdsource (mine) pictures for all applications among which, Lampix.”

“Each PIX token,” the Lampix website explains, “will be used as a form of payment to picture image miners, voters and app developers or to purchase a Lampix, cloud computing and apps.”

“THE ICO STUFF IS SO UP-IN-THE-AIR”

Meshulam also notes that the June, 2017, date of the Lampix white paper pre-dates the SEC’s enforcement activity in this area. She adds, “The statement that ‘token sales or ICOs are not currently regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission may be very literal in the sense that there is not a specific regulation, but the SEC has stated that, in the right situation, ICOs are subject to the US federal securities laws.”

Erin Fonte, an attorney in the Austin, Texas, office of Dykema Cox, and the leader of the firm’s regulatory & compliance group, says, “The ICO stuff is so up-in-the-air. The SEC is looking at it closely. But it’s fairly new. And some of them (ICO’s) have been tied to fraud and Ponzi schemes. If a client came to us (seeking advice), we’d want to vet the people behind the offering.”

But what of Lampix, the company that won the Augmented and Virtual Reality category of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Accelerator Pitch Event earlier this year in March – and put a pretty feather in the cap of Popescu?

Popescu’s resume is no doubt impressive. He holds a trio of master’s degrees in various scientific and technological disciplines, including one from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And he is a serial entrepreneur who lays claim to having founded 10 companies: they include, according to his LinkedIn profile, online lending, a craft beer brewery, an exotic sports car-rental space, a hedge fund, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and a venture-debt fund.

He’s charmed journalists like Forbes contributor Roger Aitken, who declared: “The founders (of Lampix)…believe that Lampix will impact humans as much as computers or smart phones in the future…Think Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Imagine your room in five years: you will be able to use any surface around you as if it was a computer. The ability to transform any surface into an interactive computer (augmented reality) is going to unleash applications we have not even conceived of.”

Lampix's Infographic
The infographic that appears on Lampix’s website touting their active product inquiries

The Lampix website hyped its ICO with the aid of an infographic listing “active product inquiries” the company has in its pipeline, the likes of which includes Amazon, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, IBM, BMW, Bloomberg, PwC, and the Aspen Institute. With all of these names seemingly lining up, it begs the question: Why did Lampix choose the controversial route of an ICO to raise capital?

But it’s hard to determine the seriousness of these corporate relationships. Florin Mihoc, Lampix’s Strategic Partnerships & Development Advisor, said he could not assist us with confirming any of them, citing the slow and cumbersome bureaucracy of dealing with Fortune 500 companies. He did invite us to try reaching out to some of them on our own, which we did.

Bloomberg is one of the few acknowledging a relationship with Popescu’s company. Chaim Haas, head of innovative communication at Bloomberg, told deBanked that the New York-based media and financial communications company “collaborated” with Lampix. Bloomberg, he says, “has used Lampix hardware in its fellowship program (Bloomberg AR Fellows) as a prototype for augmented reality applications.” But Haas declined to elaborate on whether Bloomberg’s relationship with Lampix was more than an experimental one.

Edward Caldwell, director of public relations for East Coast markets and sectors at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the Big Four accounting firm, declined to comment about Lampix. “We can’t discuss individual companies, clients or engagements,” he reports.

Douglas Farrar, senior manager for communications and public affairs at the Aspen Institute, told deBanked that he could find no business relationship between Aspen and Lampix. “I have gone down quite a few rabbit holes here,” he said in an e-mail, “But I’m coming up empty.”

When Popescu was directly confronted about this, he wrote, “The companies would only figure [in the infographic] if they actually themselves reached out to us and we exchanged emails with somebody from that entity. Most of these entities have many people and most of the companies’ people will have no idea [that] somebody else in the company is talking to us.”

Telephone calls and e-mail requests for comment to Microsoft were not returned.

A spokesperson using BMW of USA’s official twitter account, however, responded to an inquiry by saying they were a customer of Lampix, “but only for office usage.”

Making Millions with ICOsMeanwhile, George Popescu has been on the sales trail. A case in point was his October 5, Youtube interview conducted by Ian Balina, a self-described influential investor in blockchain technology and cryptocurrency – and someone with a reputation as an industry promoter and evangelist. (Balina caters to the get-rich quick crowd and publishes how-to guides trumpeting promises like “How ICOs can make you a millionaire in 3 years” and “make millions with bitcoin.”)

Balina asked Popescu the softball question, could he show viewers a demonstration of the product? Popescu admitted he wasn’t prepared to do that and when he attempted to set one up on the fly, it didn’t work. The incident is notable because Lampix has been promoting the video through its social media network.

Popescu corroborates a number of details about the ICO, however. He confirmed the ICO price of a PIX token to be 12 cents, the US dollar price people had to pay per token. Cryptocurrency exchanges, where token speculators can buy and sell tokens online, show the trading value of a PIX token currently hovering around 6 cents, which translates into roughly a 50% loss in value.

Investors feeling hurt by such a loss can’t contest the purchase of PIX tokens with their credit card issuers. That’s because of a requirement that token sales had to be purchased with ether (ETH), the currency of the Ethereum blockchain. While ether is arguably similar to Bitcoin, it operates on an entirely different blockchain.

To participate in the ICO, in a Youtube video, Lampix also explained to purchasers, for example, how they could first buy ether with dollars through an online exchange known as Coinbase** before forwarding the ether to a digital wallet. Next, investors were instructed to send the ether from the digital wallet to a specially designated PIX address. An automated “smart contract” would then release the appropriate amount of tokens to the buyers’ digital wallets 31 days after the ICO was consummated.

It’s a byzantine procedure. And for investors – especially for those who are not exactly tech-savvy – the rigmarole makes it nearly impossible for them to recover their money should they feel buyer’s remorse. Neither the video nor the Lampix white paper mentions any buyer restrictions. Indeed, Lampix’s white paper specifies that “anyone” in the global market can participate. That means that an investor could theoretically be underage or a citizen of Iran or North Korea. (When asked what steps Lampix took with regards to KYC/AML, Popescu said, we “implemented the standard ones with partners specialized in it.”) Investors could even be citizens of the UK where Popescu is banned from being a company director.

And global they are. deBanked interviewed Rudy (whose last name we are withholding), a graduate student who lives in Singapore that says he bought approximately $2,200 worth of PIX tokens during the ICO. The drop in value has gotten him so frustrated that he’s contacted securities regulators in the United States to investigate Lampix. Despite the caveat in the white paper that tokens are not an investment and should not be used for investment purposes, Rudy said he considered himself to be an “investor” and that his reason for buying the tokens was to sell them in the future for a profit.

Popescu, who wasn’t asked about Rudy’s experience specifically, told deBanked that Lampix is not selling PIX tokens as an investment but rather to primarily build a community. “What people do with the tokens is their choice and we cannot prevent them,” he asserted.

English is not his first language but Rudy said, “I think that [the] SEC should regulate ICOs in the USA. There are no rules currently, teams can promise anything before the ICO and forget everything after the ICO. Things have to change, there should be legal pressure on crypto teams.”

Rudy added that he was “so enchanted” by Lampix’s ideas that he had promised himself not to sell the tokens for at least two years even if they were losing value. He conceded that he was not a tech expert. But, he says, the award at the SXSW competition was an important milepost to him.

“PIX WILL BE THE REAL ALADDIN’S MAGIC LAMP”

deBanked found 700 more people interested in Lampix on the company’s official Telegram channel. The chat history since September 20, which we were able to obtain, has been dominated by talk of the PIX token’s trading value. Those bemoaning the low price regularly use the term “investors” to describe themselves – never mind that the white paper specifies that PIX tokens are not supposed to be an investment or to be used for investment purposes.

The chat’s administrator, who uses the nickname Chester, identifies himself as a “community manager” at Lampix. At one point he too refers to PIX holders as investors. “Hey guys,” he wrote in the channel on October 1, “Lampix is a company, not a single person, we don’t do things that quick, but pretty quick and we try not to confuse our investors by telling you unconfirmed news. Be patient, things will be just fine.”

Laura Toma, another community manager for Lampix, responded to complaints about the depressed price in the channel by saying, “The issue is that people want to get rich in a month.”

Indeed, investors hound not only the community managers, but also Popescu himself, who frequently joins in on the chat and fields questions about the trading price of PIX. “You should care more about the company revenue, clients, users.” Popescu replied to one user.

shooting up to the moon“Are you serious?” a user calling himself Dante fired back. “We are investors, and we care about the return on investment.” Another user with rough English tells Popescu, “As you know, most people come to ICOs for short-term profit. We cannot deny it.”

Others keep the faith. “PIX will be the real Aladdin’s magic lamp,” writes one user. Another hyperbolically predicts the price will “fly out of the earth, fly to the moon, and finally fly out of the galaxy.”

There is very little discussion about the use of the product itself while numerous inquiries are written in Mandarin. “Lampix has a lot of Chinese investors,” writes one. Other users self-identified as citizens of Russia, Romania, and France. Meanwhile, Toma writes, “Yes, there are investors from USA as well.”

Despite the losses that investors have so far experienced with Lampix, among other concerns, Popescu isn’t limiting himself to just one ICO. According to his online statements, Popescu is connected as an “advisor” to another company engaged in an ICO. AirFox, a Boston-based start-up launched by two Google alumni, provides free data to mobile phone users in return for eyeballing advertising. In early October, Airfox’s ICO raised $15 million. But a month later its AIR tokens, which sold for two cents apiece during the ICO, had lost 75% of their trading value. That means investors in AIR, the company’s ICO ticker symbol (which is becoming an increasingly ironic moniker) have seen more than $11 million go up in smoke almost overnight.

Popescu says in their defense, “The AIR tokens are meant to solve a real problem, of remunerating people who watch ads in exchange of getting more data and minutes on their mobile phone. The ecosystem is still being worked upon, the product is not live. Once the ecosystem is live we will see what really happens. Until then the token is mostly being handled by speculators. The price can therefore vary widely and it doesn’t reflect their true value.”

Even as Lampix and AirFox have been racking up massive losses for investors, Popescu announced on November 5 in a LinkedIn post that he would be involved in five more ICOs.

Among them is DropDeck Technologies, at which Popescu is listed as the chair of the advisor board; its ICO is scheduled for November 21. Another company, Factury, for which he is listed as an advisor, is initiating its ICO on December 15.

He’s an ambitious man.

“I FIND IT STRANGE YOU ARE DIRECTING 5 OTHER ICOS”

And his ICO familiarity hasn’t escaped the scrutiny of PIX investors. “I find it strange that you are directing 5 other ICOs,” writes one user in the Telegram chat on November 4. “To make Lampix big, this will require a CEO [who is working] full time working on the project.”

Popescu responds personally. “I am working full time on the project but people have asked me to advise on their ICOs and this grows Lampix’s notoriety a lot in the crypto space,” he writes. He offered further assurances that he wouldn’t be advising those companies’ projects beyond their ICOs.

In an email to deBanked, he writes, “I run right now Lending Times, Lampix and Block X Bank only. The ICOs are just customers of Block X Bank. I have built about a dozen companies in 9 years, sold a few, closed a few. Each company has a team to help me, I am not doing this alone. For the ICOs I am more or less involved as an advisor / helping them project-manage their ICOs. How to run 3 companies? It’s about being effective, organized, delegating, partnering and being productive. Oh and I don’t watch TV, so maybe I have a few more hours per day than the average person. I do work long hours.”

Block X Bank, through which Popescu extends his efforts toward other ICOs, is described on the company website as “a boutique investment consulting company specializing in connecting blockchain projects with funding.”

source code snippet
Above: A snippet of the PIX smart contract source code

In all of these ICOs, money is seemingly being created out of thin air. A consultant who was hired by deBanked to help analyze the technical aspects of both ICOs and smart contracts determined that Lampix raised much more than just the $14.2 million in token sales. In addition to the 114 million PIX tokens sold to investors, our consultant explained, the company also issued 220 million tokens to itself. At the ICO price of 12 cents apiece, those tokens would theoretically be worth $26.4 million – a huge piece of the total ICO pie that Lampix could sell on cryptocurrency exchanges if it wanted to rake in even more money.

There’s a kicker too. At scheduled intervals over the next four years, the smart contract that made PIX tokens possible in the first place is slated to automatically create – and allocate – 330 million new tokens to Lampix. Thus, when Lampix raised $14.2 million in August, the company reserved $66 million worth of PIX tokens for their corporate use.

Popescu said in his e-mail to deBanked that these company tokens are for “corporate usage like employee incentives, M&A, other company investments…etc.”

It’s a mind-boggling sum of money for the development of a futuristic lamp whose followers mostly seem to reside on internet chats like Telegram, reddit, and bitcointalk.org.

And this has occurred despite the company’s withholding any information regarding Popescu’s status in the UK. Balina, who interviewed Popescu on Youtube, told deBanked he wished he had known about his disqualification in the UK. “This is definitely a big issue and I wish I would have known about it so that either my audience or I could have asked him this directly on the live stream,” he said.

deBanked asked Paul Savchuk, Co-founder, CEO, and Chief Product Officer at Cryptocurrency Capital LLC, a US-based hedge fund that only invests in utility tokens as commodities, if Popescu’s ban in the UK would have been relevant information in the Lampix ICO. “Yes, that might be a red flag for us in some cases and require us to perform additional research,” he wrote in an emailed response. “We look at management very seriously – especially since a lot of projects are treated like startups and management is a key component to whether or not many of these ICOs can make it. We try to find such events and spot red flags whenever we conduct our due diligence research on ICOs. The reason: each project has something that needs to be improved. ‘Red flag’ – sometimes conversely can lead to a great opportunity when other market participants ignored it or were too skeptical.”

Mr. Savchuk further said, “Lampix is a perfect example of a coin that on the surface looks very promising, but when you dig a little deeper, you do find red flags that can dampen the excitement for this investment.”

And yet Savchuk spoke rather positively of the Lampix product after reading their white paper. “We believe the project is looking to change the current AR/VR tech industry,” he said, referring to augmented reality/virtual reality. “The project is promising for two reasons. First, they have multiple companies in their pipeline. Second, they have a legitimate product which they will manufacture and sell. They are one of the few blockchain products to offer a tangible product with the ability to disrupt the market.”

ICOs“Third,” he went on, “most companies have gaps in building a strong structure at the outset of their existence. Some have bugs in initial code that cause breaches in cybersecurity. Others release product with a low level of usability – the ones who are aware of such problems have a greater chance of success. We would prefer to see publicly known strengths and weaknesses of such companies. Management has to be transparent about their team and product no matter what. Whenever possible, we want to be in touch with the management team.”

With regard to the price drop, Savchuk said, “This is a danger for all purchasers of ICOs. Sometimes it’s caused by token purchasers (swayed by) fear and greed and (hoping for) easy money and fast money. I doubt somebody sold Apple Inc.’s stock right after its IPO. It is also very difficult to restrict exchanges from allowing massive pump and dumps. That’s not even mentioning the difficulty of measuring the value of tokens,” Savchuk concluded. “Consequently, such projects are struggling with low credibility. However, it also creates a possibility for those who believe in the idea and product on a long-term run.”

Popescu downplays the significance of the UK issue. The root of the debacle, he says, is the result of Boston Prime – the company he previously ran – being forced into bankruptcy by the actions of a company he is now suing called FXDD. “FXDD bought the companies and then bankrupted them and that’s why Boston Prime [went bankrupt],” he writes. “Myself personally and each company separately are suing FXDD for this. UK has archaic laws where if you are a director of a bankrupted company you get disqualified from being a director again for a time. Attorneys charge about 40,000 GBP to defend this automatic case and I weighed the pros and cons and decided to ignore it as I have no plans to be a director in the UK for time being.”

Investors unhappy with underperforming ICOs may be willing to challenge their legality. On October 25, for example, a class action lawsuit was filed against Tezos, a computer networking project that raised $232 million in one of the largest ICOs ever. In a complaint, the lead plaintiff alleges that, among other things, Tezos unlawfully engaged in the unregistered offer and sale of securities and fraud in the offer or sale of securities. “In July 2017, Defendants conducted an ICO in which they sold 607,489,040.89 tokens (dubbed ‘Tezzies’ or ‘XTZ’) in exchange for digital currency worth approximately $232 million at the time,” the complaint reads. The plaintiff, who purchased 5,000 Tezzies, feels he was misled about the company and the offering.

Tezos at Money2020
Above: Arthur Breitman, Tezos co-founder, center, looks at the camera at Money2020

Internal squabbling at Tezos which has delayed the release of its product and the sheer amount of money at stake have put the company on the map with the mainstream media and business press. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Fortune as well as news services Reuters and Bloomberg have all covered the allegations of fraud.

The day before the class action lawsuit was filed, moreover, a deBanked reporter attended an explosive session at Money2020 in Las Vegas that saw Tezos co-founders, Arthur and Kathleen Breitman, attempting to give a status report of the company. A crowd that had gathered outside prior to the doors opening had attendees speculating whether the Breitmans “would actually show their faces” in the midst of all the drama.

To date, no lawsuits have been filed against Lampix despite the drop in the token’s value.

At a cryptocurrency/ICO meetup in NYC in October, a deBanked reporter met with executives at one company preparing an ICO who said they would not allow American investors to participate because of securities-enforcement fears. Pressure is mounting in the Far East as well. Citing their illegality, Chinese regulators in September issued a blanket cease-and-desist order on all ICOs in their country. What that means for Lampix’s Chinese investors bears watching.

Popescu says that Lampix supports regulation in China. “Of course, all Chinese people have to follow Chinese regulation,” he writes.

“WE ARE HERE FOR 5-10 YEARS TO BUILD A $100 BILLION COMPANY AND COMPETE WITH APPLE”

Meanwhile, on the product front, Popescu says that right now a Lampix lamp can be purchased for $10,000, a tidy sum because they must be hand-made. “We plan to improve the manufacturing costs and then we’re planning to do a kickstarter early next year for around $500 [per] Lampix,” Popescu told deBanked in his e-mail interview.

But for investors, it always comes back to the trading value of PIX. On October 25, one investor asks Popescu if the company will buy back its own PIX tokens at the ICO price to pump up their market price. “If you want a pump and dump please go to other companies,” Popescu responds. “We are here for 5-10 years to build a $100 billion dollar company and compete with Apple.”

And it all began with an ICO.

“ICOs also help with bootstrapping the user base – breaking the chicken and egg problem,” Popescu also explains in his e-mail to deBanked. “In addition, given that Lampix is looking to crowdsource images, we prefer many different people hold PIX tokens rather than 2-3 VC funds. And last but not least I think tokens are better rewards for the community (liquid, mark to market, etc.) than illiquid instruments.”

Not everyone agrees that PIX is the most liquid instrument to grow the community. US Dollars come to mind, for example. “Let’s say I’m a customer,” one investor poses to Chester, a Lampix community manager. “I want to use the cloud computing service but then I see I have to pay with PIX. I have no experience in crypto and have no idea how to do that. I just want to use your service fast and don’t want to buy PIX coins first before I can make use of it. Will there be a fiat option?”

Chester is awed by the idea. “Well, you are so professional,” he writes. “Man, you are good. You are good, the question you threw just hit the spot seriously. I guess there is always something Lampix needs to figure out and choose the best solution. Technically speaking they are jolly good at this point, but it doesn’t mean it’s perfect.”

Chester, who assures him that he isn’t being sarcastic, goes on to refer to the investor who asked that fairly elementary question as a “big shark” that is “born to bite.”

LamborghiniIt remains to be seen if the PIX “user base” shares the same philosophy as Lampix. Ian Balina, who interviewed Popescu on Youtube, separately asked his social media followers: “What’s the first thing you’re going to do once you hit your goals in cryptos?”

The responses fly in:
“Buying my Lambo”
“Travel to Paris”
“Buy an island”
“Buy my mum her dream home”
“Quit my job and start up something for me”
“Pay off mortgage and be financially free”
“Buy house in Miami, buy Lambo, enjoy life”
“Retire”
“Easy. Buy more crypto”

Meanwhile on Telegram, where investors continue to engage Lampix management on a daily basis, Dante offers a sobering reminder of what they’ve bought into, “We don’t have equity, we only have tokens,” he writes. “And we are taking a big risk.”


* The amount of tokens sold multiplied by the 12 cent ICO price doesn’t exactly match the dollar amount Lampix says they had raised. That’s because Lampix not only issued bonus tokens to buyers at each stage of their ICO but also because the market value of ether, which users had to convert to from dollars to buy PIX, had fluctuated when they reported how much they raised. Like Bitcoin, the value of ether is volatile.

** The smart contract Lampix wrote to launch Lampix’s tokens into existence specifically named them PIX tokens and dubbed their publicly identifiable symbol to be PIX.

*** Coinbase is a respected digital currency wallet platform based in San Francisco.

Fintech Carries the Torch in Northern Delaware

June 14, 2017
Article by:
Glen P Trudel, Partner, Ballard Spahr
Glen Trudel, Partner, Ballard Spahr

Delaware’s history in financial services is rich. The Financial Center Development Act of 1981, for instance, which rolled back the limits on how much lenders could charge as interest on consumer credit, attracted some of the biggest names in banking to the state over the past several decades. Now fintech companies are carrying the torch, evidenced by alternative lender SoFi’s recent expansion into the region.

Glen Trudel, a partner at Ballard Spahr who specializes in fintech, described the view from the rooftop of his downtown Wilmington, DE office as evidence of Northern Delaware’s banking influence. “Many of the large buildings bear the name of a bank. Bank of America. Capital One. Citi. Chase. Barclays. They are all here. And it isn’t just the Financial Center Development Act that makes Delaware a financial services haven. In consumer lending and in certain other financial industry areas, Delaware law provides flexibility that the laws of other states do not. That has drawn a lot of companies from those industries here,” he said, adding that this includes fintech startups in some cases.

SoFi is among them, evidenced by its expansion plans in Claymont, Delaware, which is the home of its recent acquisition, Zenbanx. The alternative lender joins a fintech community that is already flourishing there. J.P.Morgan and Capital One, both of which are partners of Wilmington, Delaware-based non-profit school for coding, Zip Code Wilmington, similarly have an expanding presence in the region.

“That’s why we were created, as a result of that increasing demand for software developers. That increase is the genesis of Zip Code,” said Melanie Augustin, head of school at Zip Code Wilmington.

Rob Meck, SoFi’s senior vice president of operations, told deBanked that Delaware is key to the company’s growth.

“[Delaware is] a great talent bed for financial services, and with the acquisition of Zenbanx we have a team in the state and executives with ties here,” said Meck. Among those executives is Arkadi Kuhlmann, SoFi’s head of banking products, Zenbanx president and former chief executive of ING Direct USA, which brings Kulhmann full circle and plays into SoFi’s recent hand of applying for a bank charter in Utah, another business friendly state.

Rob Meck, SoFi
Rob Meck, SVP Operations, SoFi

“One bank that used to be here [in Delaware] that was bought by Capital One was ING Direct. Their European parent ran into some issues and needed to restructure, so they sold their U.S. online banking arm to Capital One. Guess who ran ING Direct here before?” said Ballard Spahr’s Trudel, pointing to SoFi’s Kulhmann.

In fact it is the presence of banking veterans like Kulhmann in addition to the placement of former Citi chief Vikram Pandit on Wilmington, Delaware-based fintech startup Fair Square Financial’s board that tie the fintech theme all together for Trudel, who spent more than a decade of his career as an in-house counsel at MBNA America, one of the banks that established themselves in Delaware as a result of the Financial Center Development Act.

“I don’t think it’s surprising that startups are getting into the fintech space or that SoFi is expanding here given the Kulhmann connection and given the management and people who are trained in various functions as a result of the history of banking here in Wilmington and other parts of Delaware,” said Trudel. “He has worked here. And there is a large labor pool of very experienced business and consumer lending people in all aspects – from marketing, to collections, to operations. This has been going on for many years,” he adds.

Fintech & The First State

SoFi is hiring across many different departments including engineering, business development and finance, with the bulk of the new jobs being in customer service and operations roles. “We’re hiring aggressively to be able to have 100 people in the office by the end of July and to scale from there over the next few quarters to several hundred,” Meck said.

Fortunately for SoFi and other fintech companies in the region, the talent pool from which they have to select is widening thanks to Zip Code. The coding school, which James Spadola, Zip Code’s director of business development describes as a nonprofit software development boot camp, trains people who might not have had the opportunity to learn to code before sending them out to the local workforce.

“We have 200-300 applications in each cohort and three cohorts per year. And our process is selective. We only accept 12 percent of applicants,” Spadola said.

The process seems to be working, evidenced by applicants from as far away as Wisconsin and Zip Code’s 93 percent job placement rate for students within three months of graduating.

Melanie ZipCode Wilmington
Melanie Augustin,
Head of School, Zip Code Wilmington

Incorporate vs. Operate

Delaware is the leading state for registering corporations, LLCs and other structures, evidenced by more than 1 million businesses domiciled there. Nonetheless most entities that incorporate in Delaware don’t actually operate there. Still there are benefits, such as generous tax savings including no state income tax for Delaware companies not operating in the state, as Zip Code Wilmington’s Augustin points out.

Another feature is the non-jury Delaware Court of Chancery that focuses on corporate legal issues using judges who are well versed in corporate legal issues and the generally favorable laws for corporations.

“The state of Delaware’s corporate law is cutting edge. There is a sort of partnership between the Delaware State Bar Association and the legislature. The Delaware corporate attorney bar keeps an eye on what is going on nationally and every year a panel of them recommend amendments to the corporate code and other entity codes to the legislatures. And the legislatures will typically pass those,” said Trudel.

Of course there are also a host of reasons for businesses to not only incorporate but also operate in the state.

“We’re in close proximity to I-95, which runs from Maine to Florida, there’s no sales tax and the residents are a microcosm of America. We have beaches, deep country and cities as well, so you get a little bit of everything. There is a general appeal to any employer,” said Spadola, who is also a University of Delaware alum.

Rodney Square in Wilmington, DE
Rodney Square in Wilmington, DE

Zip Code’s Augustin points to Delaware’s lower cost of living versus New York or the West Coast as another reason why companies don’t only want to incorporate but also operate in the state.

Spadola came to Zip Code Wilmington following a stint in politics including a recent run for State Senator. “Zip Code from the launch has been neat to watch. I’ve always attended civic events, including the launch of Zip Code. They did a boot camp in 2015, and I’ve been following the success of it. Through relationships and community outreach, this opportunity arose at the right time,” he said.

Prior to her role at the nonprofit, Augustin was working as an employment attorney in Washington, D.C. “I was looking for work I was passionate about. Zip Code filled that need,” she said

Meanwhile, although SoFi is not currently a Zip Code partner, their paths have crossed albeit indirectly.

“Speakers from Zenbanx have talked with our students before. We’re connected with them and are impressed with what they’re doing. We’re excited that they’re growing here,” said Augustin.



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