By Josh Constine for Tech Crunch
Robinhood is rolling out its Coinbase-killer that’s already helped the fintech startup’s valuation grow 4X in a year. Zero-fee trading of Bitcoin and Ethereum is now available to all investors in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Montana. Everyone else is still on the waitlist. Robinhood users everywhere can already track 16 crypto coins including BTC, ETH, Litecoin, and Ripple, as well as trade traditional stocks with no transaction commission.
Announced in January, Robinhood Crypto vastly undercuts Coinbase’s U.S. fees that range from 1.5 to 4 percent. One million users waitlisted for Robinhood Crypto in the first 5 days after it was announced, and the app now has four million total registered users. Its lack of fees is proving to be a way to lure both veteran and rookie crypto investors to Robinhood, though it lacks support for trading as wide of a range of coins as Coinbase. Rather than charging per trade, Robinhood earns money from interest on money in users’ accounts and its Robinhood Gold subscription service. For for $6 to $200 a month in subscription fees, users can borrow between $1,000 and $50,000 to trade with.
Robinhood Gold’s success, adding options and web trading, and the new Robinhood Crypto helped the startup attract a $350 million Series D round led by Russian fund DST Global, which a source confirms will value it at $5.6 billion and bring it to $526 million in total funding. That’s up from the $110 million Series C at a $1.3 billion valuation it raised last year.
That massive valuation will put a ton of pressure on Robinhood’s co-CEOs Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt to keep it growing, build out its subscription and interest revenue, and invade the space of competitors. [Disclosure: I know the founders from college] Those include traditional brokers like Scottrade and E*Trade that can charge $7 or more per trade, crypto-specific exchanges like Coinbase, and news sources like CoinDesk.
Robinhood risks a down round if the heightened societal and regulatory skepticism about cryptocurrencies curtail investments from the public. Robinhood’s historical focus on younger, less wealthy investors who aren’t “accredited” could make it especially vulnerable to crypto backlash if users see the space as too volatile or scammy for amateur investors to join. There are also heightened cybersecurity concerns, as users might bail on the app if they fear their cryptocurrency could be stolen.
Robinhood might do well to get more serious about how it offers crypto education. It’s promised to provide a feed of crypto news to keep people informed about why markets are moving, though it’s still in testing with a small number of users right now. The problem is that the crypto journalism space is rife with integrity violations and reporters with questionable expertise. If Robinhood bought or built a truly neutral crypto news source, it could use that to attract investors to its crypto trading platform.