Recently, I was invited to be one of the judges for the Columbia Venture Competition where I had a chance to review ten blockchain startups that had been founded by Columbia University students and alums. The quality of the projects and the development stage varied a lot. However, there was one initiative that caught my eye – not because it was something overtly flashy and complicated, or because it featured some highly-advanced technology, as there are plenty of those. It grabbed my attention because it was solving a real need, and the proposed solution was simple and elegant.
The Moon browser extension (currently in Beta) allows you to connect your wallet and then to pay with cryptocurrency for your online purchases. Currently, it only supports Coinbase wallet with four currencies (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether and Bitcoin Cash) and you can only use it on Amazon.
One more tidbit from the application stood out: Moon’s founder Ken Kruger had worked for over four years for Lockheed Martin, the biggest private contractor of the U.S. government, and the company behind some of the most advanced weapon systems in the world such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. Below is a snippet from our conversation.
Michael Kapilkov: One thing that stood out to me was your experience at Lockheed Martin, not many founders in the space have worked for a major defense contractor. Can you tell me more about your experience there?
Ken Kruger: Having earned a master’s degree in financial engineering from Columbia University I ended up at Lockheed Martin working on the Ohio class nuclear submarine project. It was a great experience, I learned a lot, but I always wanted to start my own company. At Lockheed, there was too much bureaucracy, too much red tape. When I left, I started a gesture recognition company, it didn’t go too well as no one cares about gesture recognition.
Michael Kapilkov: Lockheed Martin being a defense contractor, what kind of security measure did they have in place? Was security being handled by the company itself or by government agencies such FBI, CIA?
Ken Kruger: I had to obtain a security clearance. So, there was a background check, drug tests. When I traveled abroad, I had to let them know in advance. The security was being handled by various contractors, it also depended on who was your client – mine was U.S. Navy.
Michael Kapilkov: I have to ask you this – while at Lockheed Martin or after you left, were you ever approached by a foreign intelligence service, did anyone ever try to recruit you?
Ken Kruger: No, no (laughs).
Ken first discovered Bitcoin around 2009-2010, he was immediately intrigued by it – not by the technology, but from a socioeconomic angle. “You have this electronic currency that is not controlled by any government or corporation. I was surprised that no one had done before. I heard about that guy buying pizza with bitcoins. I wanted to invest like $100, but unfortunately, I never did. I made my first crypto investment around 2013”.
The company was founded about six months ago. Currently, it has a staff of four, with four interns helping. It has been financed by Mr. Kruger up to this point, but he is currently raising a seed round with several investors having indicated interest. One of the potential investors is a founder of one of the major cryptocurrencies (Mr. Kruger prefers not to name him publicly until he inks the deal).
As I mentioned, it’s a very simple solution: You install the Moon browser extension, then you sign in with either Moon or with your social media account (Google or Facebook are supported). I went this far but was hesitant to take the final step (over security concerns) – to connect with my Coinbase account. After that, you can start paying with cryptocurrency at Amazon. The user doesn’t get charged any dedicated fees. The economic model involves fees that get eaten up by the fiat payment processor, while Moon also gets paid by the intermediary.
Michael Kapilkov: I was hesitant to connect my Coinbase account because, as you know, there are a lot of scammers out there (nothing personal). How do you convince your potential users that your product is safe? Is it going to be an open source project?
Ken Kruger: We get this feedback a lot. At this early stage, it is important for us to understand the concerns that the users may have, so we can address them in the future. I don’t think we’ll open source it since it’s not a decentralized project.
Michael Kapilkov: Your initial market is the U.S.; wouldn’t it make more sense to go for one of the developing countries where you have a lot of people who are unbanked? Over here everyone has credit and debit cards, so it’s not a real pain point.
Ken Kruger: I agree. Some people ask me “The price is so low, why are you doing it?”, I believe that this technology will cause societal changes, one of the biggest potential applications for this technology is serving the unbanked. The reason why we are starting in the U.S. is because I understand this market, I live here, I speak the language… But in the future, we plan to expand globally.
Michael Kapilkov: Let’s say you able to close this seed round, how you are going to spend the money?
Ken Kruger: We have a hypothesis – that people want to shop with cryptocurrency. We have figure out if it’s true. We need to calculate CAC [customer acquisition cost], CLV [customer lifetime value]. Our biggest goal is to find the market fit. If we do that, we’ll be set up well for growth. Also, we are going to connect other wallets.
Michael Kapilkov: It seems to me, if your Moon takes off, a perfect exit strategy would be an acquisition by Coinbase.
Ken Kruger: Yeah, it’s one of the possibilities.
Michael Kapilkov: Who is your main competition and why do you think you are better than them?
Ken Kruger: Our main competition are crypto payment gateways and crypto backed debit cards. These are the two dominant ways with which people currently spend cryptocurrency at merchants. Unfortunately, only about 3% of merchants support a crypto payment gateway and I don’t believe debit cards are the future of payments. Our goal at Moon is to allow consumers to transact in crypto as if every merchant natively accepts crypto, which is the experience Moon currently provides on Amazon.
Michael Kapilkov: Have you considered an ICO?
Ken Kruger: We’ve decided to pursue more traditional startup investment vehicles for now. ICOs lead to different incentive structures for companies that are untested and ICOs are viewed by many as being associated with scams. We wanted to avoid both of those.
Michael Kapilkov: So, you are a part of this Columbia Venture Competition, has Columbia been helpful to you?
Ken Kruger: I was part of the first Columbia Startup Lab cohort with my other startup. Columbia entrepreneurship ecosystem is fantastic. Columbia has helped a lot. The caliber of the people you meet is great.
We’ll be closely following the progress of Moon whether it soars like F-22 or takes a deep dive like a submarine.
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