Up until last week, I had never heard of TradeIX, or its most recent incarnation, the oddly titled Marco Polo Network.
However, the more I read and learned about the business last week, the more intrigued I became.
It was not just that the company was operating at the cutting edge of blockchain for the financial industry, boldly proclaiming that it was challenging the “status quo”.
Nor was it because just four months ago, the business was valued by Bank of America at a whopping $150 million.
Instead, it was the fact that just four months after that lofty valuation, the company has run out of road. As I reported last week, accountants from Interpath Advisory were installed as provisional liquidators following a petition by the business.
Heavily insolvent and unable to secure funds to keep going, the company had run out of both time and money.
Legal papers filed as part of the High Court application set out, in stark and precise detail, the company’s rapid collapse.
Standing back, it is a cautionary tale of excessive valuations in a sexy sector – valuations that were based on the possibility of the company’s future potential as opposed to its underlying business model or its capacity to generate a profit.
In 2020, the company had revenues of $2.7 million but lost $23.7 million. In 2021, revenues increased to $5.2 million, but losses remained high at $17.9 million.
Management accounts have been made up to January 31, 2023, which indicate gross revenue of €96,000 and a loss of €1.2 million in January 2023 alone.
Undeterred, Marco Polo Network raised $6 million just eight weeks ago as bridging finance while it sought to close a bigger round.
A large cohort of technology companies are feeling pain right now. Many will be forced into down rounds. The Marco Polo Network is an extreme example, a cautionary take that begs a simple question: How do you go from a multinational investment bank valuing you at $150 million to collapsing within 12 weeks?
The business was established in August 2016 as TradeIX Limited and built and developed a “proprietary enterprise software platform” for the financial services sector.
In 2017, TradeIX was selected as the technology platform for the Marco Polo Network, a joint undertaking by R3, TradeIX, and many of the world’s foremost financial institutions including BNP Paribas, ING, Commerzbank, LBBW, Anglo-Gulf Trade Bank, NatWest, Natixis, and SMBC.
It got the backing of the state, through IDA Ireland, when it pledged to create 70 jobs back in 2019. Around that time, the company began to develop a blockchain trade finance application, as part of a bank consortium under the “Marco Polo” brand. This was the primary reason for the company changing its name.
However, when it became clear that the technology was not scalable, the company pivoted, with legal filings stating that it began the process of “re-architecting the technology to build a second-generation product”.
Last year, a so-called “receivable discounting platform” was released and used by SMBC Bank.
The company then sought to develop a strategic partnership with Bank of America to replace the bank’s own internal open account automation service. This happened in the second half of last year.
In the final quarter of last year, on the back of its intended strategic partnership with Bank of America, it began talking to the US bank about an equity investment in the company of $5 million, and a commercial fee for the use of its Supplier Pay product totalling $9 million to be paid out monthly during the course of 2023.
Legal filings highlight of scale of the valuation:
“The balance sheet of the Company does not necessarily record a fair value of the underlying assets, as Bank of America was willing to underwrite an Enterprise Value of over $150,000,000.00 in November 2022 and the last fund raise in December 2022 was underwritten on a post-money valuation of $62,000,000.00 on the back of the revenue commit and the customer base provided by Bank of America.”
Then Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX happened, prompting Bank of America to make a decision not to invest in blockchain-related businesses. The deal was off.
The company scrambled and raised $6 million, albeit at a valuation of just $65 million.
It was not enough, and the company called time last week. No one is sure how much its assets are worth.
According to legal filings: “While it is not currently possible to place a definitive value on the assets of the Company, it is hoped that the sale of the asset would result in a substantial dividend being paid to the creditors.”
It is a sad end to a business that employed more than 120 people just months ago.
But it highlights the fickleness of the sector. Had the Sam Bankman-Fried calamity not unfolded, it might have raised its money at a stellar valuation. Who knows, it might have even made a profit one day.
It is nonetheless an instructive tale for investors and founders. Potential is one thing. Profit and the ability to cover costs is something else altogether.
Elsewhere last week, I caught up with Sinead Donovan, the first female partner with Grant Thornton in Ireland and now the firm’s chairperson.
Donovan has strong and forthright views on the future of accountancy and the wider corporate boardroom, and as the incoming president of Chartered Accountants Ireland, she will have a platform to advance her agenda.
The Bridget Jones director Baroness Beeban Kidron has always followed her interests. In recent years, that has meant swapping filmmaking to become a global advocate for online child safety. She spoke with Francesca.
Francesca also interviewed the Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. With just a year left in the job, she took aim at her critics and explained why the privacy watchdog is delivering the goods.
Sadly, it is now more than one year since Russia began its illegal invasion of Ukraine. We had a number of pieces to mark the sombre anniversary, with Rosanna talking to the American financier turned justice campaigner Bill Browder about the next escalation of Putin’s war on Ukraine and Ireland’s approach to the conflict.
Johnny O’Reilly reported from Ukraine for a piece published on Friday. As Johnny put it:
“With a limited window to drive home its numerical advantage before Ukraine regroups in the late spring with superior equipment, we may soon find out if the tactics deployed in Stalingrad will be successful in a modern war of the digital age.”
Our thoughts, as ever, are with the people of Ukraine.