OpenSea admits incident as top exec is accused of trading NFTs on insider information

The “eBay of NFTs” is running into a scandal as it admits one of its employees traded the crypto digital assets using insider information from the platform.

Yesterday, a top executive at NFT platform OpenSea was accused of front-running sales on the platform, purchasing pieces from NFT collections before they were featured on the homepage of the platform. According to Twitter user @ZuwuTV, the startup’s Head of Product was using secret crypto wallets to buy drops before they listed on the main page of OpenSea, selling them shortly after they were highlighted publicly by OpenSea, and funneling the profits back to his main account. Users linked to a handful of transactions from accounts linked back to the executive on the public blockchain including an NFT drop that was, at the time, actively listed on the front page of the platform.

Today, OpenSea seemed to acknowledge the incident, saying in a blog post that it had “learned that one of our employees purchased items that they knew were set to display on our front page before they appeared there publicly.” The company did not identify the employee but said that they were conducting an “immediate” review of the incident. The startup, which was recently valued at $1.5 billion after raising a $100 million Series B from Andreessen Horowitz, added in the unsigned blog post that this incident was “incredibly disappointing.”

“We’re conducting a thorough review of yesterday’s incident and are committed to doing the right thing for OpenSea users,” OpenSea CEO Devin Finzer said in a tweet.

OpenSea, which did a record $3.4 billion in transaction volume last month, appears not to have had any rules in places preventing employees from using confidential information to buy or sell NFTs on its own platform to its own users. The company detailed that it was now implementing a policy that team members could not buy or sell “from collections or creators while we are featuring or promoting them,” and that they are “prohibited from using confidential information to purchase or sell any NFTs, whether available on the OpenSea platform or not.”

Most NFTs are not generally assumed to be securities, despite little official guidance from the SEC on the crypto asset class. Some in the space have questioned whether different mechanics around buying and selling, alongside ongoing rewards structures may be pushing some NFT sales further into securities territory.

“Many have been enticed by dramatic jumps in the value of new digital assets,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown said in a hearing yesterday — as transcribed by The Block — where the relationship between crypto markets and SEC enforcement was discussed. “Some professional investors and celebrities make earning millions look easy. But, as we are reminded time and again, it’s never that simple – and too often, someone’s quick profit comes at the expense of workers and entire communities.”

We’ve reached out to OpenSea for further comment.

#andreessen-horowitz, #blockchains, #ceo, #chairman, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #distributed-computing, #ebay, #ethereum, #executive, #head, #opensea, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

CryptoPunks creator inks representation deal with major Hollywood talent agency

One of Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies is getting into the NFT game.

Larva Labs, the creator of CryptoPunks, just signed with United Talent Agency (UTA) in a representation deal that will bring one of the earliest and most iconic NFT projects into the entertainment and branding worlds.

“I would say that it is one of the first opportunities for an IP that fully originated in crypto-world to enter a broader entertainment space, and they earned it,” head of UTA Digital Assets Lesley Silverman told The Hollywood Reporter. “They really have hit the zeitgeist in a tremendous way.”

The deal could see CryptoPunks popping up across film, TV, video games and other licensing areas. Larva Labs’ other art projects, Meebits and Autoglyphs, will also be represented by UTA moving forward. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

As speculative investment in NFTs explodes, CryptoPunks remain one of the most recognizable — and valuable — pioneers in the space. Larva Labs launched 10,000 of the individual algorithmically-generated pixelated figures on the Ethereum blockchain back in 2017.

To the untrained eye, and arguably to the trained eye too, CryptoPunks are just little pixelated portraits of different characters, some wearing pirate hats, others in aviator glasses smoking pipes. But to the crypto world, punks are a social signifier, communicating early investment into NFTs, personal style and, importantly, wealth.

The value of CryptoPunks skyrocketed from zero (they were initially given away for free) and now even the least expensive collectible punks run for hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the most valuable selling for millions. In May, a bundle of nine CryptoPunks sold for just under $17 million in an auction run by Christie’s. And last week, even Visa got in the game, spending $150,000 on CryptoPunk #7610, a digital illustration sporting a mohawk and green face makeup.

It’s noteworthy that a traditional talent agency best known for representing A-list celebrities is getting into the NFT game, but it’s not the group’s first time getting its feet wet in the wild world of crypto. Earlier this month, UTA signed a company called Rally that runs a platform that helps creators issue branded social tokens that fans can spend on merch and exclusive content.

#blockchain, #blockchains, #christies, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptopunks, #ethereum, #larva-labs, #nfts, #tc, #united-talent-agency

Offchain Labs raises $120 million to hide Ethereum’s shortcomings with its Arbitrum product

As the broader crypto world enjoys a late summer surge in enthusiasm, more and more blockchain developers who have taken the plunge are bumping into the blaring scaling issues faced by decentralized apps on the Ethereum blockchain. The popular network has seen its popularity explode in the past year but its transaction volume has stayed frustratingly stable as the network continues to operate near its limits, leading to slower transaction speeds and hefty fees on the crowded chain.

Ethereum’s core developers have been planning out significant upgrades to the blockchain to rectify these issues, but even in the crypto world’s early stages, transitioning the network is a daunting, lengthy task. That’s why developers are looking to so-called Layer 2 rollup scaling solutions, which sit on top of the Ethereum network and handle transactions separately in a cheaper, faster way, while still recording the transactions to the Ethereum blockchain, albeit in batches.

The Layer 2 landscape is early, but crucial to the continued scalability of Ethereum. As a result, there’s been quite a bit of passionate chatter among blockchain developers regarding the early players in the space. Offchain Labs has been developing one particularly hyped rollup network called Arbitrum One, which has built up notable support and momentum since it beta-launched to developers in May, with about 350 teams signing up for access, the company says.

They’ve attracted some high-profile partnerships including Uniswap and Chainlink who have promised early support for the solution. The company has also quickly piqued investor interest. The startup tells TechCrunch it raised a $20 million Series A in April of this year, quickly followed up by a $100 million Series B led by Lightspeed Venture Partners which closed this month and valued the company at $1.2 billion. Other new investors include Polychain Capital, Ribbit Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Pantera Capital, Alameda Research and Mark Cuban.

Offchain Labs co-founders Felton, Goldfeder and Kalodner

It’s been a fairly lengthy ride for the Arbitrum technology to public access. The tech was first developed at Princeton — you can find a YouTube video where the tech is first discussed in earnest back in early 2015.  Longtime Professor Ed Felton and his co-founders CEO Steven Goldfeder and CTO Harry Kalodner detailed a deeper underlying vision in a 2018 research paper before licensing the tech from Princeton and building out the company. Felton previously served as the deputy U.S. chief technology officer in the Obama White House, and — alongside Goldfeder — authored a top textbook on cryptocurrencies.

After a lengthy period under wraps and a few months of limited access, the startup is ready to launch the Arbitrum One mainnet publicly, they tell TechCrunch.

This team’s scaling solution has few direct competitors — a16z-backed Optimism is its most notable rival — but Arbitrum’s biggest advantage is likely the smooth compatibility it boasts with decentralized applications designed to run on Ethereum, compared with competitors that may require more heavy-lifting on the developer’s part to be full compatibility with their rollup solution. That selling point could be a big one as Arbitrum looks to court support across the Ethereum network and crypto exchanges for its product, though most Ethereum developers are well aware of what’s at stake broadly.

“There’s just so much more demand than there is supply on Ethereum,” Goldfeder tells TechCrunch. “Rollups give you the security derived from Ethereum but a much better experience in terms of costs.”

#arbitrum, #articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #cardano, #chief-technology-officer, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cto, #decentralization, #ethereum, #joseph-lubin, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #offchain-labs, #pantera-capital, #polychain-capital, #redpoint-ventures, #ribbit-capital, #tc, #technology, #uniswap, #united-states, #white-house

CryptoPunks blasts past $1 billion in lifetime sales as NFT speculation surges

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review! Last week we dove into Bezos’s Blue Origin suing NASA. This week, I’m writing about the unlikely and triumphant resurgence of the NFT market.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

If I could, I would probably write about NFTs in this newsletter every week. I generally stop myself from actually doing so because I try my best to make this newsletter a snapshot of what’s important to the entire consumer tech sector, not just my niche interests. That said, I’m giving myself free rein this week.

The NFT market is just so hilariously bizarre and the culture surrounding the NFT world is so web-native, I can’t read about it enough. But in the past several days, the market for digital art on the blockchain has completely defied reason.

Back in April, I wrote about a platform called CryptoPunks that — at that point — had banked more than $200 million in lifetime sales since 2017. The little pop art pixel portraits have taken on a life of their own since then. It was pretty much unthinkable back then but in the past 24 hours alone, the platform did $141 million in sales, a new record. By the time you read this, the NFT platform will have likely passed a mind-boggling $1.1 billion in transaction volume according to crypto tracker CryptoSlam. With 10,000 of these digital characters, to buy a single one will cost you at least $450,000 worth of the Ethereum cryptocurrency. (When I sent out this newsletter yesterday that number was $300k)

It’s not just CryptoPunks either; the entire NFT world has exploded in the past week, with several billions of dollars flowing into projects with drawings of monkeys, penguins, dinosaurs and generative art this month alone. After the NFT rally earlier this year — culminating in Beeple’s $69 million Christie’s sale — began to taper off, many wrote off the NFT explosion as a bizarre accident. What triggered this recent frenzy?

Part of it has been a resurgence of cryptocurrency prices toward all-time-highs and a desire among the crypto rich to diversify their stratospheric assets without converting their wealth to fiat currencies. Dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into an NFT project with fewer stakeholders than the currencies that underlie them can make a lot of sense to those whose wealth is already over-indexed in crypto. But a lot of this money is likely FOMO dollars from investors who are dumping real cash into NFTs, bolstered by moves like Visa’s purchase this week of their own CryptoPunk.

I think it’s pretty fair to say that this growth is unsustainable, but how much further along this market growth gets before the pace of investment slows or collapses is completely unknown. There are no signs of slowing down for now, something that can be awfully exciting — and dangerous — for investors looking for something wild to drop their money into… and wild this market truly is.

Here’s some advice from Figma CEO Dylan Field who sold his alien CryptoPunk earlier this year for 4,200 Eth (worth $13.6 million today).


Image Credits: Kanye West

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

OnlyFans suspends its porn ban
In a stunning about-face, OnlyFans declared this week that they won’t be banning “sexually explicit content” from their platform after all, saying in a statement that they had “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.”

Kanye gets into the hardware business
Ahead of the drop of his next album, which will definitely be released at some point, rapper Kanye West has shown off a mobile music hardware device called the Stem Player. The $200 pocket-sized device allows users to mix and alter music that has been loaded onto the device. It was developed in partnership with hardware maker Kano.

Apple settles developer lawsuit
Apple has taken some PR hits in recent years following big and small developers alike complaining about the take-it-or-leave-it terms of the company’s App Store. This week, Apple shared a proposed settlement (which still is pending a judge’s approval) that starts with a $100 million payout and gets more interesting with adjustments to App Store bylines, including the ability of developers to advertise paying for subscriptions directly rather than through the app only.

Twitter starts rolling out ticketed Spaces
Twitter has made a convincing sell for its Clubhouse competitor Spaces, but they’ve also managed to build on the model in recent months, turning its copycat feature into a product that succeeds on its own merits. Its latest effort to allow creators to sell tickets to events is just starting to roll out, the company shared this week.

CA judge strikes down controversial gig economy proposition
Companies like Uber and DoorDash dumped tens of millions of dollars into Prop 22, a law which clawed back a California law that pushed gig economy startups to classify workers as full employees. This week a judge declared the proposition unconstitutional, and though the decision has been stayed on appeal, any adjustment would have major ramifications for those companies’ business in California.


Image of a dollar sign representing the future value of cybersecurity.

Image Credits: guirong hao (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Future tech exits have a lot to live up to
“Inflation may or may not prove transitory when it comes to consumer prices, but startup valuations are definitely rising — and noticeably so — in recent quarters. That’s the obvious takeaway from a recent PitchBook report digging into valuation data from a host of startup funding events in the United States…”

OpenSea UX teardown
“…is the experience of creating and selling an NFT on OpenSea actually any good? That’s what UX analyst Peter Ramsey has been trying to answer by creating and selling NFTs on OpenSea for the last few weeks. And the short answer is: It could be much better...

Are B2B SaaS marketers getting it wrong?
“‘Solutions,’ ‘cutting-edge,’ ‘scalable’ and ‘innovative’ are just a sample of the overused jargon lurking around every corner of the techverse, with SaaS marketers the world over seemingly singing from the same hymn book. Sadly for them, new research has proven that such jargon-heavy copy — along with unclear features and benefits — is deterring customers and cutting down conversions…”


Thanks for reading! And again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

Lucas Matney

#analyst, #app-store, #apple, #bezos, #blockchain, #blockchains, #blue-origin, #california, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #distributed-computing, #doordash, #dylan-field, #ethereum, #extra-crunch, #figma, #judge, #kano, #kanye-west, #lucas-matney, #onlyfans, #peter-ramsey, #uber, #united-states

Yat thinks emoji ‘identities’ can be a thing, and it has $20M in sales to back it up

I learned about Yat in April, when a friend sent our group chat a link to a story about how the key emoji sold as an “internet identity” for $425,000. “I hate the universe,” she texted.

Sure, the universe would be better if people with a spare $425,000 spent it on mutual aid or something, but minutes later, we were trying to figure out what this whole Yat thing was all about. And few more minutes later, I spent $5 (in USD, not crypto) to buy ☕??❗, an emoji string that I think tells a moving story about my caffeine dependency and sensitive stomach. I didn’t think I would be writing about this when I made that choice.

Kesha’s Yat URL on Twitter

On the surface, Yat is a platform that lets you buy a URL with emojis in it — even Kesha (y.at/???), Lil Wayne (y.at/??), and Disclosure (y.at/???) are using them in their Twitter bios. Like any URL on the internet, Yats can redirect to another website, or they can function like a more eye-catching Linktree. While users could purchase their own domain name that supports emojis and use it instead of a Yat, many people don’t have the technical expertise or time to do so. Instead, they can make one-time purchase from Yat, which owns the Y.at domain, and the company will provide your with your own y.at link for you.

This convenience, however, comes at a premium. Yat uses an algorithm to determine your Yat’s “rhythm score,” its metric for determining how to price your emoji combo based on its rarity. Yats with one or two emojis are so expensive that you have to contact the company directly to buy them, but you can easily find a four- or five-emoji identity that’ll only put you out $4.

Beyond that, CEO Naveen Jain — a Y Combinator alumnus, founder of digital marketing company Sparkart, and angel investor — thinks that Yat is ultimately an internet privacy product. Jain wants people to be able to use their Yats in any way they’re able to use an online identity now, whether that’s to make payments, send messages, host a website, or login to a platform.

“Objectively, it’s a strange norm. You go on the internet, you register accounts with ad-supported platforms, and your username isn’t universal. You have many accounts, many usernames,” Jain said. “And you don’t control them. If an account wants to shut you down, they shut you down. How many stories are there of people trying to email some social network, and they don’t respond because they don’t have to?”

Yat doesn’t plan to fuel itself with ad money, since users pay for the product when they purchase their Yat, whether they get it for $4 or $400,000.

In the long run, Yat’s CEO says the company plans to use blockchain technology as a way to become self-sovereign. Yats would become assets issued on decentralized, distributed databases. Today, there are several projects working to create a decentralized alternative to the current domain name system (DNS), which is managed by internet regulatory authority ICANN.  DNS is how you find things on the internet, but uses a centralized, hierarchical system. A blockchain domain name system would have no central authority, and some believe this could be the foundation of a next-gen web, or “Web 3.0.”

Today, words like “blockchain” and “cryptocurrency” don’t appear on the Yat website. Jain doesn’t think that’s compelling to average consumers — he believes in progressive decentralization, which explains why Yats are currently purchased with dollars, not ethereum.

“Something we think is really funny about the cryptocurrency world is that anyone who’s a part of it spends a lot of time talking about databases,” Jain said. “People don’t care about databases. When’s the last time you went to a website and it said ‘powered by MySQL’?”

Y.at, however, was registered at a traditional internet registrar, not on the blockchain.

“This is laying the foundation — there are certain elements of the vision that are certainly more of a social contract than actual implementation at this point in time,” says Jain. “But this is the vision that we’ve set forth, and we’re working continuously towards that goal.”

Still, until Yat becomes more decentralized, it can’t yet give users the complete control it aspires to. At present, the Terms & Conditions give Yat the authority to terminate or suspend users at its discretion, but the company claims it hasn’t yet booted anyone from the system.

As Yat becomes more decentralized, our terms and conditions won’t be important,” Jain said. “This is the nature of pursuing a progressive decentralization strategy.”

In its “generation zero” phase (an open beta), Yat claims to have sold almost $20 million worth of emoji identities. Now, as the waitlist to get a Yat ends, Yat is posting some rare emoji identities on OpenSea, the NFT marketplace that recently reached a valuation of $1.5 billion.

A still image of a Yat visualizer creation

“For the first time ever, we’re going to be auctioning some Yats on OpenSea, and we’re going to be launching minting of Yats on Ethereum,” Jain said. Before minting Yats as NFTs, users can create a digital art landscape for their Yats through a Visualizer. These features, as well as new emojis in the Yat emoji set, will launch this evening at a virtual event called Yat Horizon.

Yat Creators will now have more rights,” Jain said about the new ability to mint Yats as NFTs. “We are going to continue to pursue progressive decentralization until we achieve our ultimate goal: making Yat the best self-directed, self-sovereign identity system for all.”

Consumers have a demonstrated interest in retaining greater privacy on the internet — data shows that in iOS 14.5, 96% of users opted out of ad tracking. But the decentralization movement hasn’t yet been able to market its privacy advantages to the mainstream. Yat helps solve this problem because even if you don’t understand what blockchain means, you understand that having a personal string of emojis is pretty fun. But, before you spend $425,000 on a single-emoji username, keep in mind that Yat’s vision will only completely materialize with the advent of Web 3.0, and we don’t yet know when or if that will happen.

#apps, #articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #ceo, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #emoji, #ethereum, #facebook, #ion, #mysql, #naveen-jain, #online-identity, #opensea, #social-network, #startups, #technology, #twitter

Tenderly raises $15.3M to help Ethereum developers ship decentralized apps faster

Blockchain infrastructure startups are heating up as industry fervor brings more developers and users to a space that still feels extremely young despite a heavy institutional embrace of the crypto space in 2021.

The latest crypto startup to court the attention of venture capitalists is Tenderly, which builds a developer platform for Ethereum devs to monitor and test the smart contracts that power their decentralized apps. Tenderly CEO Andrej Bencic tells TechCrunch his startup has closed a $15.3 million Series A funding round led by Accel with additional participation from existing investors. The Belgrade startup already raised a $3.3 million seed round earlier this year led by Point Nine Capital.

The startup’s aim to date has been ensuring fledgling blockchain developers aren’t left finding out about contract errors when users discover issues and complain, instead allowing users to discover these bugs proactively. While the company’s Visual Debugger is already used by “tens of thousands” of Ethereum developers, Tenderly hopes to continue building out its toolset to help more developers build on Ethereum networks without dealing with the headaches and irregularities that they’ve had to.

“Tenderly, from its inception, has been a solution to one of our own problems,” Bencic tells TechCrunch. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible to observe and extract information from Ethereum and the adjacent networks.”

Bencic hopes the company’s product can help developers get their products out more quickly without compromising on usability.

To date, the majority of Tenderly’s customers have been relatively small startup efforts aiming to tap into the exciting world of blockchain-based computing with a particular focus on decentralized finance. Tenderly itself is a small company with its team of 14 based in Serbia. Bencic says this funding will help the company expand its global footprint and build out engineering and business hires in other geographies.

Climbing cryptocurrency prices have historically aligned pretty closely with developer uptake in the blockchain world so there is some concern that bitcoin and Ethereum’s downward-trending price corrections will lead to less stability in the pipeline of new developers embracing blockchain. That said, volatility is far from unusual to the crypto world and many developers have learned that riding its ebbs and flows is just part of the experience.

“We built most of Tenderly in the bear market, and one thing we saw is that even though you get these concerning prices, people that are excited about the tech are excited about the tech whether the coins are up or down,” Bencic says.

#articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #cardano, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #ethereum, #finance, #joseph-lubin, #point-nine-capital, #smart-contract, #tc, #technology

European Investment Fund puts $30M in Fabric Ventures’ new $120M digital assets fund

Despite their rich engineering talent, Blockchain entrepreneurs in the EU often struggle to find backing due to the dearth of large funds and investment expertise in the space. But a big move takes place at an EU level today, as the European Investment Fund makes a significant investment into a blockchain and digital assets venture fund.

Fabric Ventures, a Luxembourg-based VC billed as backing the “Open Economy” has closed $120 million for its 2021 fund, $30 million of which is coming from the European Investment Fund (EIF). Other backers of the new fund include 33 founders, partners, and executives from Ethereum, (Transfer)Wise, PayPal, Square, Google, PayU, Ledger, Raisin, Ebury, PPRO, NEAR, Felix Capital, LocalGlobe, Earlybird, Accelerator Ventures, Aztec Protocol, Raisin, Aragon, Orchid, MySQL, Verifone, OpenOcean, Claret Capital, and more. 

This makes it the first EIF-backed fund mandated to invest in digital assets and blockchain technology.

EIF Chief Executive Alain Godard said:  “We are very pleased to be partnering with Fabric Ventures to bring to the European market this fund specializing in Blockchain technologies… This partnership seeks to address the need [in Europe] and unlock financing opportunities for entrepreneurs active in the field of blockchain technologies – a field of particular strategic importance for the EU and our competitiveness on the global stage.”

The subtext here is that the EIF wants some exposure to these new, decentralized platforms, potentially as a bulwark against the centralized platforms coming out of the US and China.

And yes, while the price of Bitcoin has yo-yo’d, there is now $100 billion invested in the decentralized finance sector and $1.5 billion market in the NFT market. This technology is going nowhere.

Fabric hasn’t just come from nowhere, either. Various Fabric Ventures team members have been involved in Orchestream, the Honeycomb Project at Sun Microsystems, Tideway, RPX, Automic, Yoyo Wallet, and Orchid.

Richard Muirhead is Managing Partner, and is joined by partners Max Mersch and Anil Hansjee. Hansjee becomes General Partner after leaving PayPal’s Venture Fund, which he led for EMEA. The team has experience in token design, market infrastructure, and community governance.

The same team started the Firestartr fund in 2012, backing Tray.io, Verse, Railsbank, Wagestream, Bitstamp, and others.

Muirhead said: “It is now well acknowledged that there is a need for a web that is user-owned and, consequently, more human-centric. There are astonishing people crafting this digital fabric for the benefit of all. We are excited to support those people with our latest fund.”

On a call with TechCrunch Muirhead added: “The thing to note here is that there’s a recognition at European Commission level, that this area is one of geopolitical significance for the EU bloc. On the one hand, you have the ‘wild west’ approach of North America, and, arguably, on the other is the surveillance state of the Chinese Communist Party.”

He said: “The European Commission, I think, believes that there is a third way for the individual, and to use this new wave of technology for the individual. Also for businesses. So we can have networks and marketplaces of individuals sharing their data for their own benefit, and businesses in supply chains sharing data for their own mutual benefits. So that’s the driving view.”

#accelerator-ventures, #articles, #blockchains, #china, #chinese-communist-party, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #earlybird, #ethereum, #europe, #european-commission, #european-investment-fund, #european-union, #fabric-ventures, #felix-capital, #google, #managing-partner, #mysql, #north-america, #paypal, #railsbank, #rpx, #sun-microsystems, #tc, #technology, #united-states, #verifone, #yoyo-wallet

Shopify allows merchants to sell NFTs directly through their storefronts

Shopify has made it possible for eligible sellers to sell NFTs (non-fungible tokens) via its platform, which opens up a whole new world for e-commerce merchants.

On Monday, the NBA’s Chicago Bulls launched its first-ever NFTs –– including digital artwork of NBA championship rings –– by launching an online store on Shopify. Instead of having to go to an NFT marketplace, Bulls fans can now purchase the digital art directly with the team’s online store using a credit or debit card. In its first day of making them available, the NBA team sold out of the NFTs within just 90 seconds, according to Kaz Nejatian, Shopify’s VP of merchant services.

“You could buy NFTs on credit cards before, but honestly the NFT buying experience outside Shopify isn’t awesome for anyone right now,” he told TechCrunch “That’s why we decided to do this work. Merchants and buyers shouldn’t have to take a course in crypto to buy things they care about.”

It’s also about giving consumers more options to buy NFTs – especially those who are not well-versed in cryptocurrency.

By making it possible for merchants to sell NFTs directly through their Shopify storefronts, the company says it’s creating access for merchants who want to sell NFTs. They will eventually be able to choose which blockchain they’d like to sell on based on their products and customer base since Shopify supports multiple blockchains, Nejatian said.

“By contrast, if merchants want to sell on an NFT marketplace, they need to choose based on the blockchain supported by that marketplace,” he added.

The Chicago Bulls selected the Flow blockchain for their NFTs, for example. But overall, Shopify merchants can today choose from Flow and Ethereum, but soon “will have more choice with other blockchains on Shopify,” according to Nejatian.

The move was also driven by demand from merchants asking for the ability to sell NFTs and the desire to give creators and artists another forum to grow professionally.

“Many creators are already seeing the value of selling NFTs to their fans, but we’re removing some of the friction for themselves and their buyers, allowing them to better monetize their work and their connection to their audience,” he added. “We’re opening up a world where their fans feel meaningful connection to their brands, and where NFTs just increasingly become part of how we buy and sell online.”

#blockchain, #blockchains, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #ethereum, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #nfts, #shopify, #technology

NFT market OpenSea hits $1.5 billion valuation

It’s been a wild 2021 for NFT auction marketplace OpenSea. The startup was exceedingly well-positioned in a niche space when NFTs exploded earlier this year seemingly out of nowhere. Since then, the startup has found its user base expanding, the total volume of sales skyrocketing and more investor dollars being thrown at them.

The startup announced in March, it had closed a $23 million Series A, and now some four months later, the company tells TechCrunch it has raised another $100 million in a Series B round led by Andreessen Horowitz at a $1.5 billion valuation. Other investors in the round include Coatue, CAA, Michael Ovitz, Kevin Hartz, Kevin Durant and Ashton Kutcher.

Despite a fall from stratospheric heights in the early summer, the broader NFT market has still been chugging along and OpenSea is continuing to see plenty of action. The startup saw $160 million in sales last month and is on track to blow past that figure this month, CEO Devin Finzer tells TechCrunch.

One of the company’s clearer growth roadblocks has been infrastructure issues native to the Ethereum blockchain that its marketplace has been built around. The Ethereum blockchain, which has a number of network upgrades outstanding, has struggled to keep up with the NFT boom at times, leaving users footing the bill with occasionally pricey “gas” fees needed to mint an item or make a transaction. Though these fees have largely cooled down in recent weeks, OpenSea is aiming to make a move towards long-term scalability by announcing that they plan to bring support for several more blockchains to its platform.

They’re starting with Polygon, a popular Layer 2 Ethereum blockchain which boasts a more energy-efficient structure that will allow OpenSea to entirely eliminate gas fees for creators, buyers and sellers on that blockchain. Losing these fees may give OpenSea a better shot at expanding its ambitions, which include finding a future for NFTs in the gaming world and in the events space, Finzer says.

Beyond Polygon, OpenSea has plans to integrate with Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain as well as Tezos down the road, the company says.

Operating across multiple blockchains could create some headaches for consumers operating across platforms with differing levels of support for each network. Some NFT investors are also more hesitant to buy items on blockchains they see as less time-tested than Ethereum, worrying that newer chains may lose support over time. But overall, the user-friendly changes will likely be well-received by the wider NFT community which has seen the explosion in new interest stress-test its systems and highlight need for user interface and user experience improvements.

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #ashton-kutcher, #blockchain, #blockchains, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptokitties, #decentralization, #ethereum, #kevin-durant, #kevin-hartz, #michael-ovitz, #tc, #tezos

Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou is coming to Disrupt

If you spent any time this year desperately trying to figure out what the heck NFTs are, you probably have Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou to thank for that.

His startup’s crypto trading card marketplace NBA Top Shot went viral earlier this year with users dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on digital NBA collectibles. At the end of last year, the Top Shot platform was averaging around $20K-30K in digital collectibles sales volume per day. By late February, the platform hit an all-time-high, moving more than $45 million in trading volume, according to analytics site Cryptoslam, as a wave of crypto newbies descended on the platform.

Within months, Gharegozlou’s company went from a niche crypto gaming startup largely known to industry insiders to locking in a hulking reported $7.5 billion valuation as venture capitalists chased the opportunity to get a piece of it.

Top Shot’s sudden popularity triggered a massive moment for NFTs, with billions of dollars moving through an asset class that few had heard of months prior. We’re thrilled to have Gharegozlou joining us at Disrupt this September 21-23, to discuss the future of NFTs, crypto gaming and the decentralized internet.

NBA Top Shot was an industry anomaly, but it wasn’t even Dapper’s first industry-shaking hit. In 2017, CryptoKitties — another trading game where users could swap digital cats — caught on among early adopters and brought the nascent Ethereum network to a crawl, inspiring the developers of the popular blockchain to make a number of key changes over time. Gharegozlou has his own vision for the future of the crypto web; Dapper’s big bet of late is on the proprietary Flow blockchain that underpins Top Shot. The company is gunning to bring more gaming platforms onboard to take advantage of the faster, more energy-efficient blockchain network, and investors are betting hundreds of millions of dollars on their ability to capture the market.

With the larger NFT market’s sales volume sliding significantly in recent months, can it make a comeback? Will developers move away from the popular Ethereum blockchain to embrace Dapper’s more centralized network? Could NFTs reshape the entire online economy? We’re excited to dig into some of these questions with Gharegozlou onstage at Disrupt — it’s a session you won’t want to miss.

Join him and more than 10,000 of the startup world’s most influential people at Disrupt 2021 online this September 21-23Get your pass to attend now for less than $99 for a limited time!

 

#articles, #blockchains, #ceo, #crypto-art, #crypto-economy, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptokitties, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #ethereum, #events, #joseph-lubin, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #nfts, #roham-gharegozlou, #startups, #tc, #tc-disrupt-2021

Crypto startup Phantom banks funding from Andreessen Horowitz to scale its multi-chain wallet

While retail investors grew more comfortable buying cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum in 2021, the decentralized application world still has a lot of work to do when it comes to onboarding a mainstream user base.

Phantom is part of a new class of crypto startups looking to build infrastructure that streamlines blockchain-based applications and provides a more user-friendly UX for navigating the crypto world, something that can make the entire space more approachable to a non-developer audience. Users can download the Phantom wallet to their browsers to interact with applications, swap tokens and collect NFTs.

The crypto wallet startup has banked a $9 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) with Variant Fund, Jump Capital, DeFi Alliance, Solana Foundation and Garry Tan also participating. The round, which closed earlier this summer, comes as some venture capital firms embrace a crypto future even as volatility continues to envelop the broader market. Last month, a16z announced a whopping 2.2 billion crypto fund, the firm’s largest vertical-specific investment vehicle ever.

via Phantom

The co-founding team of CEO Brandon Millman, CPO Chris Kalani and CEO Francesco Agosti all come aboard from crypto infrastructure startup 0x.

At the moment, Phantom is best-known among the Solana community where it has become the go-to wallet for applications on that blockchain. The startup’s ambition is to interface with more and more networks, currently building out compatibility with Ethereum and looking to embrace other blockchains, aiming to be a product built for a “multi-chain world,” Millman tells TechCrunch.

Alongside building out support for other networks, Phantom wants to build more sophisticated DeFi mechanisms right into their wallet, allowing users to stake cryptocurrencies and swap more tokens inside the wallet.

The startup says they have some 40,000 users of their existing wallet product.

Building out a presence on the popular Ethereum blockchain, which already has a handful of popular wallet providers, will be a challenge, but Phantom’s broadest challenge is helping a new breed of crypto-curious users interface with a network of apps that still have a long way to go when it comes to being mainstream-friendly.

“The entire space is kind of stuck in this ‘built by developers for other developers mode,’” Millman says. “This bar has been kind of stuck there, and no one is really stepping up to push the bar up higher.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #blockchains, #ceo, #crypto-startups, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #ethereum, #garry-tan, #jump-capital, #retail-investors, #tc, #techcrunch, #venture-capital-firms

Andreessen Horowitz triples down on blockchain startups with massive $2.2 billion Crypto Fund III

While the cryptocurrency market’s most recent hype wave seems to be dying down after a spectacular rise, Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto arm is reaffirming its commitment to startups building blockchain projects with a hulking new $2.2 billion crypto fund.

It’s the firm’s largest vertical-specific fund ever — by quite a bit.

Andreessen Horowitz’s 2018 crypto fund ushered in $300 million of LP commitments and its second fund, which it closed in April of last year, clocked in at $515 million. The new multi-billion dollar fund not only showcases how institutional backers are growing more comfortable with cryptocurrencies, but also how Andreessen Horowitz’s assets under management have been quickly swelling to compete with other deep-pocketed firms including the ever-prolific Tiger Global.

With this announcement, Andreessen now has some $18.8 billion assets under management.

LPs are likely far less wary to take a chance on crypto after Andreessen Horowitz’s stake in Coinbase equated to some $11.2 billion at the time of the direct listing’s first trades, though the stock has slid back some 30% in recent months as the crypto market has shrunk.

Some of the firm’s other major crypto bets include NBA Top Shot maker Dapper Labs which hit a $7.5 billion valuation this spring. Blockchain infrastructure startup Dfinity raised at a $9.5 billion valuation this past September. Last year, the firm led the Series A of Uniswap, which is poised to be a major player in the Ethereum ecosystem. In addition to equity investments, a16z has also made major bets on the currencies themselves.

An earlier report from Newcomer last month reported a16z was targeting a $2 billion crypto fund and that they had already unloaded some of their crypto holdings before most cryptocurrencies took a major dive in recent weeks.

Crypto Fund III will continue to be managed by GPs Chris Dixon and Katie Haun, but the firm has also begun spinning out a more robust management team around the crypto vertical.

Anthony Albanese, who joined the firm last year from the NYSE, has been appointed COO of the division. Tomicah Tillemann, who previously served as a senior advisor to now-President Joe Biden and as chairman of the Global Blockchain Business Council, will be a16z Crypto’s Global Head of Policy. Rachael Horwitz is also coming aboard as an Operating Partner leading marketing and communications for a16z crypto; leaving Google after a stint as Coinbase’s first VP of Communications as well.

A couple other folks are also coming on in advisory capacity, including entrepreneur Alex Price and a couple others who will likely be a tad helpful in regulatory maneuverings including Bill Hinman, formerly of the SEC, and Brent McIntosh, who recently served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs.

#andreessen-horowitz, #blockchain, #blockchains, #chairman, #chris-dixon, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #entrepreneur, #ethereum, #finance, #google, #gps, #joe-biden, #joseph-lubin, #katie-haun, #money, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #rachael-horwitz, #tc, #technology, #tiger-global, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uniswap

Art app SketchAR to allow artists to list their artworks on NFT marketplaces directly

An update to an existing art app that allows artists to access NFT marketplaces directly, could have the potential to democratize access to the NFT world for artists not currently in crypto. SketchAR, is an existing mobile app that allows artists to turn photos into illustrations using its AI-based computer vision. It is now is launching a new feature that allows users to turn their art into NFTs directly inside the app, and then sell it. Content produced on the app can also include a public community feed and digital learning courses.

The app, which boasts it has almost a million users already, will start off selecting a single ‘Creator of the Week’ from its community for their art to be NFT’d on the OpenSea marketplace. But a new feature will shortly enable any artist using the platform to create and auction an NFT on-demand.

However, there a catch. The artwork will have to be created directly in the SketchAR app in order to prove the artist is the legitimate rights holder, says the startup. This is, however, an advantage, says the startup, since very few marketplaces monitor the derivation and authenticity of artworks uploaded proactively.

And for now, it looks like there is no real equivalent app on the market, although there are of course plenty of ways to create an artwork and then upload it to an NFT marketplace in a separate process.

Andrey Drobitko, CEO and founder told me: “It’s a unique offer since it allows even amateur designers to create an art piece and turn it into an NFT without diving deep into the ecosystem, connecting their wallet to their OpenSea account and paying significant gas fees to minting.”

He said: “Since the art piece comes from the app SketchAR, it also ensures it’s authentic and wasn’t stolen – something that happened quite a few times with NFTs.”

SketchAR said it also built its own infrastructure that allows it to use Ethereum and other 2-layer solutions like Flow, Immutable, or Binance Smart Chain, to reduce costs.

“Basically it competes with artists and designers learning a lot about blockchain, how to work with it, and working directly with marketplaces like OpenSea or Rarible” added Drobitko.

“15 years ago I realized I couldn’t make much money as an artist and only continued to make art for pleasure. It’s different now and we’re excited to support artists, help them develop creative skills, and successfully monetize their artworks,” he said.

It’s estimated there are roughly 50 million artists globally, but fewer than 10% are able to make it their primary source of income.

According to NonFungible.com more than $2 billion was spent on NFTs during the first quarter of 2021 representing an increase of about 2,100% from Q4 2020.

#artificial-intelligence, #artist, #blockchains, #ceo, #distributed-computing, #ethereum, #europe, #tc

Augmented reality NFT platform Anima gets backing from Coinbase

Augmented reality and non-fungible tokens, need I say more? Yes? Oh, well NFTs have certainly had their moment in 2021 but the question of what they do or what can be done with them has certainly been getting voiced more frequently as the speculative gold rush begins to cool off and people start to think more about how digital goods can evolve in the future.

Anima, a small creative crypto startup built by the founders of photo/video app Ultravisual, which Flipboard acquired back in 2014, is looking to use AR to shift how NFT art and collectibles can be viewed and shared. Their latest venture is an effort to help artists bring their digital creations to a bigger digital stage and help find what the future of NFTs looks like in augmented reality.

The startup has put together a small $500k pre-seed round from Coinbase Ventures, Divergence Ventures, Flamingo DAO, Lyle Owerko and Andrew Unger.

“As NFTs move away from being a more speculative market where it’s all about returns on your purchases, I think that’s healthy and it’s good for us specifically because we want to make things that are more approachable,” co-founder Alex Herrity says.

Their broader vision is finding ways for digital objects to interact with the real world, something that’s been a pretty top-of-mind concern for the AR world over the last few years, though augmented reality development has cooled more recently as creators have sunk into a wait-and-see attitude towards new releases from Apple and Facebook. Both the AR and NFT spaces are incredibly early, something Anima’s co-founders were quick to admit, but they think both spaces have matured enough that the gimmicks are out in the open.

“There’s a context shift that happens when you see AR as a vehicle to have a tactile relationship with something that you collected or that you see is a lifestyle accessory versus the common thing now where it’s a little bit more of an experiential gimmick,” co-founder Neil Voss tells TechCrunch.

The team has worked with a couple artists already as they’ve made early experiments in bringing digital art objects into AR  and they’re launching a marketplace late next month based on ConsenSys’s Palm platform where they hope to showcase more of their future partnerships.

 

#anima, #apple, #arkansas, #augmented-reality, #blockchain, #blockchains, #co-founder, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #consensys, #cryptocurrency, #ethereum, #facebook, #flipboard, #marketing

Dapper Labs backs art hardware startup Infinite Objects in $6 million seed raise

The NFT world is all about reshaping the idea of digital ownership, but art hardware startup Infinite Objects sees a big opportunity in making physical copies of those assets as it looks to reshape digital art and collectibles.

The startup makes screens that show a single video from a single artist and don’t do anything else. You can’t download apps to the screens or upload your own photos to them or check the time or weather. If you even want another piece of art from Infinite Objects, you can’t just download it, you have to actually go to their site and buy another display with that artwork on it. Each screen boasts information about the work, edition numbers and serial numbers etched on the back of it, inextricably tying the physical display to the work that it displays.

Infinite Objects CEO Joe Saavedra tells TechCrunch they’ve raised $6 million in seed funding from a host of backers including Courtside VC, which led the deal, and NBA Top Shot creator Dapper Labs.

For the longest time, Infinite Objects was an NFT platform without the NFTs. The company has worked with artists since 2018 to make (often limited run) series of physical display frames highlighting a specific digital work of the artist that looped forever. Sure, users could watch that looping video on the Infinite Objects website whenever they wanted, but the value was in owning an official copy of that artist’s work. Sound familiar?

When the wider popularity of NFTs as a speculative asset hit earlier this year, Saavedra saw a huge opportunity as internet users began discussing the future of digital art and digital scarcity. His team had already flirted with NFTs, partnering with artist Beeple back in December — months before he would spring out of relative obscurity in art circles with a $69 million sale at the Christie’s auction house — to release “physical tokens” of NFTs he was selling on the platform Nifty Gateway.

Saavedra sees a bigger opportunity for companies and creators in the NFT world to make their assets more approachable and understandable to a general audience with what his company is building, but he also sees a chance to transform NFTs from blind ownership to something more focused on actually appreciating the digital art that’s been purchased.

“When it comes to ownership, it’s exciting to be buying an NFT for $500 or $5,000, but what’s not exciting is having to open Safari on your phone to show it off,” Saavedra tells TechCrunch. “This physical vessel that we’ve designed is just so understandable for people who maybe don’t even understand what the blockchain at all, but they certainly understand limited edition physical merchandise.”

Saavedra is dismissive of other digital displays that cycle through artwork and says that art owners could also just toss images of their NFTs onto the TV if they wanted to, but that they all only serve up art as “glorified screensavers.”

The team at Infinite Objects sees broader opportunities in the NFT world but they’ve been tight-lipped on exactly what these efforts will look like. You can see some potential hints in the list of backers in this round, including most interestingly NBA Top Shot creator Dapper Labs. The startup has been building out its own blockchain called Flow and Saavedra was quick to sing its praises in our conversation, noting that its more scalable and sustainable than the Ethereum network. Dapper Labs recently announced its first major third-party NFT platform, partnering with avatar startup Genies –another investor in this round — for a digital accessories storefront that’s being launched this summer.

Serena Ventures, Betaworks, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, GFR Fund, Kevin Durant & Rich Kleiman, Genies, and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures also participated in the round.

 

#articles, #artist, #beeple, #blockchain, #blockchain-art, #blockchains, #brooklyn-bridge-ventures, #ceo, #christies, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #dapper, #dapper-labs, #ethereum, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #nft, #nifty-gateway, #serena-ventures, #tc, #ventures

Blockchain startup Propy plans first-ever auction of a real apartment as a collectible NFT

We previously wrote about Propy using blockchain technology to smooth real-world real estate sales by introducing the concept of smart contracts. Propy was the first blockchain startup to make that work. Now the company is pushing the boundaries again, by auctioning a real apartment as an NFT. Although one might want to brush this aside as a stunt, the event is designed to make the point that it could well be done legally. And, by golly, they are going to try.

The auction will be of the NFT attached to a modern, brand new, one-bedroom apartment in Kiev, Ukraine, that Propy previously made history with by making it the first-ever level blockchain-based real estate sale.

The NFT created by Propy will, it says, transfers real ownership of the property. Just in case you haven;t been paying attention, NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, are cryptographic ‘tokens’ that represent a unique asset — such as a piece of art, music, or other collectibles — and certify ownership digitally. NFTs have set the crypto-world alight with their potential to be applied to just about anything, including a work of art by Banksy which was then burnt.

Once someone has won the NFT of the apartment at auction, the NFT will include access to the ownership transfer paperwork; a digital artwork NFT by a popular Kiev graffiti artist, Chizz (a physical painting of the digital artwork is painted on a wall of the apartment)’ and the apartment pictures. But obviously, the apartment is the main asset here. 


The auction itself will happen over a 24hr period with the initial listing starting at $20,000. Details for the NFT sale are available here and will be updated with any new information as the auction proceeds.

The apartment in question is currently owned by Michael Arrington, founder of this very news site, and now a Crypto investor with Arrington XRP Capital.

Investors in Propy – which says it has so far processed $1bn worth of transactions via its platform – include Arrington himself and Tim Draper, former founder of DFJ.

Natalia Karayaneva, CEO of Propy said: “This NFT will go down in history. For Propy it is a major milestone in leveraging the promise of blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens (NFT) to achieve ‘self-driving’ real estate transactions and real estate participation in the decentralized finance economy.”

Here’s how this is all going to work: Arrington has signed legal papers designed by Propy’s lawyers for the NFT to transfer ownership to a future buyer. Propy then conducts the NFT auction and receives payment in cryptocurrency. The winner in the auction becomes the owner within a minute, after filling out KYC details.

The Kiev property is owned by a USA-based entity, and when the auction completes, the new owner of the NFT becomes the owner of the entity and thus the property itself. This process is repeated every time the NFT attached to the property is resold. 

In an interview with me, Karayaneva said: “We were brainstorming and this appeared to be a natural development of our white paper of 2017. And in fact, many things we transact, real estate, via property, we are actually already kind of doing NF T’s, but with our unique smart contracts. But now the NFT concept provides a different approach, where a property can be transferred between two wallets, peer to peer.”

“Thus we do not need to change the name of the owner in the land registry. And this applies to many countries, as well as the United States. This model will work for the United States, and overall, there is this notion of buying real estate via LLC in the United States to preserve the privacy of the owner.”

Over the same call, Arrington added: “Coming at this from a crypto angle, we’ve seen what happens how DeFi gets plugged into credit markets. If I have an NFT or any DeFI asset I can then borrow against it, without a middleman. Right now, if I have a real piece of real estate, there is no way for me to borrow against it, without a middleman, because I have to go through a bank and get a mortgage or whatever. And it’s also the friction all of the costs in terms of speed and how long it takes.”

“If we can find a way to plug real estate and other real-world assets into DeFi, I think that the amount of credit that can be created around that is in the trillions, eventually. And so I think that has to happen. The questions around this are legal and regulatory… The legal stuff around this is tough, and so Propy has done a lot of work with that. But if they do, I think that the idea of an NFT representation of a real-world asset purely from the point of view of ease of trade and ease of access to credit markets is a big idea.”

#arrington-xrp-capital, #articles, #auction, #bank, #blockchains, #ceo, #crypto-art, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #dfj, #ethereum, #europe, #founder, #michael-arrington, #peer-to-peer, #propy, #real-estate, #smart-contract, #tc, #tim-draper, #ukraine, #united-states

Decentralized Komorebi Collective launches to back female and non-binary crypto founders

As decentralized currencies have taken off in recent months, there’s been renewed attention around DAOs, or Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, as a means of bringing together groups of investors who can deploy capital as a unit while voting collectively on those investments. In the spirit of blockchain, they aim to bring greater transparency to investment decision-making.

A number of high-profile DAOs have launched in recent months as crypto mania came to a fervor. Komorebi Collective, launching today, is a new organization founded by women in the blockchain space that will be making investments exclusively in “exceptional female and non-binary crypto founders,” founding member Manasi Vora tells TechCrunch.

The group is comprised of a number of core team members largely assembled from the crypto nonprofit she256 and organization Women in Blockchain, including Vora, Eva Wu, Kristie Huang, Medha Kothari, and Kinjal Shah who will collectively do most of the heavy-lifting behind finding and presenting investments to the group. Other hand-selected members who committed a minimum of $5,000 USD will likely have a lighter commitment.

Each investment will be voted on by all the collective’s key signers, some 36 in total, the majority of which are female.

“DAOs level the hierarchy of a venture fund by ensuring everyone is going to have a seat at the table,” says Shah, who is also an investor at crypto VC firm Blockchain Capital. “We are very careful in approaching the backers that are really mission-aligned.”

Other members of the DAO include firms like Kleiner Perkins, Mechanism Capital, Dragonfly Capital, IDEO CoLab Ventures and Stacks Accelerator alongside a number of individuals and founders who work at firms like Twitter, Coinbase, Skynet Labs, Celo Labs and Gitcoin.

The organization itself is built on the Syndicate Protocol, a project that shares some of Komorebi Collective’s backers.

The group hopes the structure of their organization will be able to take a mission-driven approach that improves diversity in the crypto space while proving the sustainability of the DAO model. Despite an explosion in startup investments in the past year, women-led startups received just 2.3% of venture dollars invested in 2020, a study in HBR found.

“There’s so much more room to grow when it comes to female founders getting funding and I want to be part of the solution,” Shah tells TechCrunch.

#blockchain, #blockchain-capital, #blockchains, #coinbase, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralized-autonomous-organization, #ethereum, #kleiner-perkins, #tc, #technology

Vitalik Buterin donates $1 billion worth of ‘meme coins’ to India Covid Relief Fund

Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, on Wednesday donated Ethereum and “meme coins” worth $1.5 billion in one of the largest-ever individual philanthropy efforts.

Buterin transferred 500 ETH and over 50 trillion SHIB (Shiba Inu), a meme coin, worth around $1.14 billion at the time of transaction, to the India COVID-Crypto Relief Fund. The transaction sparked panic among some investors, with SHIB’s price dropping by over 35% in the past 24 hours.

The meme coin which courted retail investors in China and elsewhere following recent surges in the Dogecoin cryptocurrency, managed to garner billions (USD) worth of investment in recent days before today’s crash. Buterin’s donation of SHIB — which was sent to him without his consent in the first place — comes at a time when India is grappling with a surge in the coronavirus infections in the country.

Sandeep Nailwal, who put together the Indian relief fund and co-founded crypto organization Polygon, said in a tweet that he won’t do anything that hurts “any community specially the retail community involved with SHIB.”

Buterin, who became the youngest crypto billionaire at the age of 27 earlier this month, also transferred Ethereum and Dogelon Mars (ELON) — another meme coin — worth $336 million to Methuselah Foundation, a non-profit that supports efforts in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine therapies; and over 13,000 ETH to Givewell, a non-profit organization that works to curate the best charities around the world. Buterin also donated to Gitcoin Community, MIRI, and Charter Cities Institute.

 

India has been reporting over 350,000 daily infections and over 3,500 fatalities for the last two weeks. The second wave of the coronavirus has overwhelmed the South Asian nation’s healthcare system, leaving countless of people to scramble for hospital beds, medical oxygen and other supplies.

#asia, #blockchains, #china, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #distributed-computing, #dogecoin, #ethereum, #india, #joseph-lubin, #retail-investors, #tc, #vitalik-buterin

CryptoPunks NFT bundle goes for $17 million in Christie’s auction

A lot of 9 CryptoPunks portraits ended up selling for just under $17 million in a Christie’s auction Tuesday evening, marking another substantial moment for NFT art sales. The lot of pixelated portraits were from the collection of the NFT platform’s co-creators Matt Hall and John Watkinson.

The CryptoPunks platform is one of the first NFT projects on the Ethereum blockchain. Back in 2017, ten thousand of the procedurally generated characters were given away for free. In the years since, a vibrant NFT community has developed around the ‘Punks. In recent months, on the back of a broader NFT boom, prices exploded.

Last month, TechCrunch profiled the community and some of its buyers who have paid tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars each to join the exclusive club of CryptoPunks owners.

Tuesday’s sale marks a substantial payday for the creators of the project, but comes just days after a much more substantial one: the release of their new project called Meebits which garnered nearly $80 million in sales in just a few hours.

The final Christie’s bid was for $14.5 million, $16.96 million after fees.

Many inside the crypto community had expected the sale to reach an even higher premium in recent weeks, something that had led to a substantial run-up in prices of CryptoPunks in the weeks ahead of the auction. Though the lot sold for a significantly higher dollar amount, when priced in denominations of the surging Ethereum cryptocurrency, the entire bundle sold for slightly less than the sale price of the last alien figure, which sold in March for 4,200 Eth (some $7.2M USD at the time).

#articles, #auction, #blockchain, #blockchains, #christies, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #cryptopunks, #decentralization, #ethereum, #joseph-lubin, #matt-hall, #nft, #tc

Bitski raises $19 million from a16z to become the ‘Shopify for NFTs’

For every crypto-skeptic that see NFTs as yet another hype bubble, there’s an acolyte who sees NFTs as the key to unlocking the future of the creative web.

Bitski, an SF-based startup that builds custom NFT storefronts for brands and creators, is banking on the latter and they have new investors betting the same. The startup tells TechCrunch they’ve raised $19 million in a Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz. The firm joins a host of creators and celebrities including Jay Z, MrBeast, Serena Willliams and 3LAU in backing the startup.

The NFT space has gotten awfully crowded lately, riding a wave of investor hype and billions of dollars worth of transactions in the past several months. While the high-dollar artwork sold by artists like Beeple and exclusive crypto communities like CryptoPunks have been hotbeds of activity, founders like those behind Bitski believe that these blockchain-backed digital goods are going to inspire a massive transformation in how artists, influencers and brands monetize their online popularity.

Bitski is aiming to allow mainstream brands and celebrities to bypass the crypto complexity of early marketplaces, hoping to give customers like early partner Adidas an on-ramp to the NFT world that’s more approachable to consumers who understand digital items but might not have fully bought into crypto. The startup sells creators a variety of subscription plans to power custom NFT storefronts that they can sell through as their own channel rather than pushing users to wide-ranging marketplaces. 

There are plenty of arguments among builders and users of NFT platforms surrounding which elements of a service should be blockchain-based and which should default to more time-honed e-commerce flows. Bitski often errs on the side of user familiarity, allowing credit card purchases on the platform, “forgot your password” functionality and user wallets hosted on Bitski’s own server hardware. They’re controversial onboarding choices that won’t satisfy crypto purists and decentralization advocates but will likely help new users get acquainted with NFTs quickly.

With the company’s Series A closed, Bitski has raised some $23.4 million to date.

#adidas, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #bitski, #blockchain, #blockchains, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptopunks, #decentralization, #ethereum, #jay-z, #nft, #tc, #technology

Could NFT auctions be moving away from Ethereum? One new group is betting they will

NFTs were arguably already taking off when Beeple sold his NFT artwork for $69m. But another crypto project attracted attention when it bought an original Banksy artwork for $95,000.

The group literally burnt the artwork and sold its NFT on the OpenSea platform for $400,000. Although the stunt was covered by CBS News, BBC News, The Guardian, and others, it did actually make a significant point.

By removing the physical piece, the group – calling itself “Burnt Banksy” – proved that the value of the piece wasn’t affected by being destroyed, given that the NFT went up so much in value.

Now that project is turning that stunt into an actual blockchain platform for art auctions.

Burnt Finance says it has raised $3 Million for a decentralized auction protocol built on the Solana blockchain.

The project is being incubated by Injective Protocol (which recently raised $10 from investors and Mark Cuban, as well as Multicoin, DeFiance, Alameda, Mechanism, Vessel Capital, Hashkey, Spartan, Do Kwon (CEO of Terra), Sandeep (COO of Polygon), and others.

The reason why it’s worth mentioning all this is that in trying to auction the painting, the Burnt Banksy group stumbled on an increasing problem in the world of NFTs: the rising congestion on the Ethereum network is leading to larger and larger gas fees. This is making both the creation and bidding on NFTs increasingly expensive, just from a baseline.

As a result, team decided to build the Burnt Finance NFT auction platform away from Etherum and hit upon the Solana blockchain, which has comparatively good speed, performance, and lower transaction costs. It will use ‘Solana Wormhole’ which connects ETH and ERC20 tokens to SPL Tokens.

A spokesperson for Burnt Finance, ‘Burnt Banksy’ told me: “Most auctions are Ethereum based, and currently the Ethereum gas fees are extremely high. It can cost you up to $70 to make an artwork, which doesn’t work if you’re selling an NFT for $50. We chose Solana mainly because of the ecosystem. It’s fast-growing, in addition to the technical aspect of it.”

There’s another reason why we may see other Crypto projects move away from Ethereum as ETH rises in price and as gas fees increase: the potential for bad faith actors in NFT auctions.

If a bad actor tries to leverage the congestion on Ethereum and manipulate the transaction fee, they might sway the results of an auction. This would be quite something, if the auction was for, say, $69 million…

#bbc, #blockchains, #ceo, #coo, #crypto-art, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralized-finance, #distributed-computing, #ethereum, #europe, #joseph-lubin, #spokesperson, #tc, #terra, #the-guardian

CryptoPunks maker Larva Labs launches their new NFT project, Meebits

The creators behind CryptoPunks, one of the most popular NFT projects on the web, just revealed their latest project called Meebits. The project boasts 20,000 procedurally generated 3D characters that are tradeable on the Ethereum blockchain.

There have been hundreds of 3D avatar NFT platforms popping up over the past several months hoping to gain momentum and capture the enthusiasm of crypto buyers, but the traction of the Larva Labs team whose pixel portrait CryptoPunks project has netted more than $550 million in lifetime sales will likely make this platform another hit. Meebits arrives at a time of peak hype for their first effort CryptoPunks which is weeks away from a Christie’s auction that many are expecting to see fetch a price in the tens of million of dollars. It also arrives as Ethereum has had one of its best weeks on record, punching through all-time-highs nearly every day this week. Ethereum is currently trading at just shy of $3,300.

In a blog post, the Larva Labs creators posit that they hope that Meebits will eventually serve as avatars for “virtual worlds, games and VR.” Meebits not only boast a revised art style, but Larva Labs has made some underlying changes to the no-fee marketplace, the most significant of which is likely the ability to customize trades allowing users to swap Meebits with each other in a more complex manner.

In my profile of the company’s CryptoPunks project last month, the team’s founders hoped that their new project would lower the barrier of entry as CryptoPunks prices reached stratospheric heights, it seems that even by doubling the total supply (20,000 avatars versus CryptoPunks 10,000 figures) Meebits are poised to still be an expensive affair.

The company is distributing the Meebits avatars through a Dutch auction, meaning the price for buying and minting a Meebit will lower to zero Eth (plus Ethereum gas fees) over the course of a week. Currently users are paying 2.49 Eth to mint a Meebit a random, a nearly $8,500 investment at current prices. Nevertheless, around 2,000 of them have already sold, meaning the creators have already pulled in nearly $20 million worth of Eth after just over two hours on the market.

 

#blockchains, #christies, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptopunks, #distributed-computing, #ethereum

Lobus raises $6 million for an art management platform on the blockchain

Reshaping ownership proofs in the fine art markets has been one of the blockchain’s clearest real-world use cases. But in recent months as top auction houses have embraced NFTs and popular artists experiment with the crypto medium, that future has seemed more tangible than ever before.

The ex-Christie’s and Sotheby’s team at Lobus is aiming to commoditize blockchain tech with an asset management platform that they hope can bring creator-friendly mechanisms from NFT marketplaces like SuperRare to the physical art world as well, allowing art owners to maintain partial ownership of the works they sell so that they can benefit from secondary transactions down the line. While physical art sellers have grown accustomed to selling 100% of their work while seeing that value accrue over time as it trades hands, Lobus’s goal is for artist’s to maintain fractional ownership throughout those sales, ensuring that they earn a commission on sales down the road. It’s a radical idea and a logistical nightmare made feasible by the blockchain’s approach to ownership.

“We’re really on a mission of making artists into owners,” Lobus CEO Sarah Wendell Sherrill tells TechCrunch. “We are really leveraging the best of what NFTs are putting out there about ownership and asking the questions of how to help create different ownership structures and interrupt this asset class.”

The startup is encapsulating these new mechanics in a wide-reaching art asset management platform that they hope can entice users of the aging legacy software suites being used today. Teaming robust ownership proofs with a CRM, analytics platform and tools like dynamic pricing, Lobus wants to give the art market its own Carta-like software platform that is approachable to the wider market.

Lobus tells TechCrunch they have raised $6 million from Upside Capital, 8VC, Franklin Templeton, Dream Machine, Weekend Fund and BoostVC, among others. Angels participating in the round include Rob Hayes, Troy Carter, Suzy Ryoo, Rebecca and Cal Henderson, Henry Ward and Lex Sokolin.

A big goal for the team has been removing the complexities of understanding what the blockchain is and instead focus on what their tech can deliver to their network of art owners. While the NFT boom of the past few months has already produced billions in sales, efforts like Lobus are attempting to cross-pollinate the mechanics of crypto art with the global art market in an effort to put stakeholders across the board on the same footing. In addition to having partnerships with around 300 active artists, Lobus has also sold their platform to collectors, artist estates and asset managers.

At the moment, Lobus has around 40,000 art objects in its database, encompassing about $4.4 billion in asset value across physical and digital objects.

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Blockchain startup S!NG wants creators to lean on NFTs to protect their intellectual property

After a years-long crypto winter, it been the spring of NFTs, but as digital art prices sober up after an explosion in sales, blockchain founders are looking to find more stable opportunities in the space that can grow over time even as speculative interest in NFTs shifts.

One particular interest has been using NFTs to reshape the creator economy in a manner that actually benefits artists more than the platforms that host their work. A new flavor of this pursuit comes from the recently launched S!NG (pronounced sing) which has built a platform around simply letting user upload files to their servers and time-stamp those uploads on the Ethereum blockchain. It’s a dead-simple mechanic with an ambitious framing, ensuring that artists maintain credit for their work as they create it.

The team behind the app sees a future where artists use the platform as an autosave for their intellectual property during the creative process, enabling them to scribble down notes or upload a quick demo and save those moments on the blockchain, a step that they hope can eliminate or expedite rights disputes for creators that can point to a clearly time-stamped breadcrumbs trail. By virtue of the app’s name, it’s clear that they are aiming to attract songwriters and musicians in particular but the company’s onboarding also showcases wider ambition in the creator world, enabling users to designate if they are a photographer, writer or programmer as well.

“You have the best of both worlds with very public witnesses to a very private event,” says CEO Geoff Osler. “Your content is never out there, but you can have this massive attestation to the fact that it exists at a certain point in time.”

The iOS app itself is pretty straightforward. After uploading a piece of media, be it a photo, video, audio or text file, users can tack on additional files, make note of additional collaborators or add notes before submitting it and christening the work on the blockchain. The file itself is private with a hash hosted on the blockchain while the encrypted files are stored on S!NG’s AWS servers, so creators don’t need to worry about their early ideas being served up to a public audience. A concern here for early adopters is what happens if the blockchain startup eventually goes under and those servers go with it, but that’s an issue facing plenty of startups that are backing the underlying media files of NFTs on centralized servers.

Image via S!NG

Rights disputes might be something more top-of-mind to those who have spent substantial time in their specific creative industry, compared to to budding artists who are likely wholly concerned with getting their work seen in the first place. While public links allow a work’s origins to be tracked down once it’s complete and ready for public consumption, S!NG’s aim is to develop those moments earlier in the development of a work and aid artists who might be involved with more collaborative creative processes where ownership of ideas can appear more obfuscated from a legal standpoint.

“If I get something stolen from me, I’ve got a team that’s going to defend me and they’re probably going to win or settle any claims, but if you’re a 16-year-old kid, you don’t have that ability so that’s what we want to provide, but more as a deterrent,” musician and advisor Raine Maida tells TechCrunch. “I think when you see the S!NG watermark or you see that it’s saved and shared through the wallet.. you don’t have to understand blockchain but you’ll know S!NG is that company that protects you.”

For the time being, non-fungible token-based legal defenses are probably a bit unusual, but the team’s founders believe that blockchain-based ownership proofs will be entering case law organically just as technology like DocuSign has been accepted.

If the company can successfully push creators to weave the S!NG platform into their toolkits, the startup will have plenty of ripe opportunities to capitalize on in the incredibly young blockchain creator space. While many artists may see the NFT space as a speculative cash grab, the company’s founders seem publicly focused on sidestepping hype for the time being.

“Frankly I don’t give a shit about all of this crazy NFT stuff with things selling for a bazillion dollars,” Osler says. “I’m interested in the small artist who has 1,000 fans who will eagerly pay up $15 to keep that person in business.”

#articles, #aws, #blockchain, #blockchain-art, #blockchains, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-currency, #docusign, #ethereum, #nfts, #tc, #technology

ConsenSys raises $65M from JP Morgan, Mastercard, UBS to build infrastructure for DeFi

ConsenSys, a key player in crypto and a major proponent of the Ethereum blockchain, has raised a $65 million funding round from J.P. Morgan, Mastercard, and UBS AG, as well as major blockchain companies Protocol Labs, the Maker Foundation, Fenbushi, The LAO and Alameda Research. Additional investors include CMT Digital and the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund. As well as fiat, several funds invested with Ethereum-based stablecoins, DAI and USDC, as consideration.

Sources told TechCrunch that this is an unpriced round because of the valuation risk, and the funding instrument is “full”, so the round is being closed now.

The fundraise looks like a highly strategic one, based around the idea that traditional institutions will need visibility into the increasingly influential world of ‘decentralized finance’ (DeFi) and the Web3 applications being developed on the Ethereum blockchain.

In a statement on the fundraise, ConsenSys said it has been through a “period of strategic evolution and growth”, but most outside observers would agree that this is that’s something of an understatement.

After a period of quite a lot of ‘creative disruption’ to put it mildly (at one point a couple of years ago, ConsenSys seemed to have everything from a VC fund, to an accelerator, to multiple startups under its wing), the company has restructured to form two main arms: ConsenSys, the core software business; and ConsenSys Mesh, the investment arm, incubator, and portfolio. It also acquired the Quorum product from J.P. Morgan which has given it a deeper bench into the enterprise blockchain ecosystem. This means it now has a very key product suite for the Etherum platform, including products such as Codefi, Diligence, Infura, MetaMask, Truffle, and Quorum.

This suite allows it to serve both public and private permissioned blockchain networks. It can also support Layer 2 Ethereum networks, as well as facilitate access to adjacent protocols like IPFS, Filecoin, and others. ConsenSys is also a major contributor to the Ethereum 2.0 project, for obvious reasons.

Commenting on the fundraise, Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder, Ethreum said in a statement: “When we set out to raise a round, it was important to us to patiently construct a diverse cap table, consistent with our belief that similar to how the web developed, the whole economy would join the revolutionaries on a next-generation protocol. ConsenSys’ software stack represents access to a new automated objective trust foundation enabled by decentralized protocols like Ethereum. We are proud to partner with preeminent financial firms alongside leading crypto companies to further converge the centralized and decentralized financial domains at this particularly exciting time of growth for ConsenSys and the entire industry.”

With financial institutions able to see, ‘in public’ DeFi happening on Ethereuem, because of the public chain, they can see how much of the financial system is gradually starting to merge with the blockchain world. So it’s becoming clearer what attracts these major institutions.

Mike Dargan, Head of Group Technology at UBS said: “Our investment in ConsenSys adds proven expertise in distributed ledger technology to our UBS Next portfolio.”

For MasterCard this appears to be not just a pure investment – Consensys has been working with it on a private permissioned network.

Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president of digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships at Mastercard said: “Enterprise Ethereum is a key infrastructure on which we and our partners are building payment and non-payment applications to power the future of commerce… Our investment and partnership with ConsenSys helps us bring secure and performant Enterprise Ethereum capabilities to our customers.”

Colleen Sullivan, Co-Founder and CEO of CMT Digital said: “ConsenSys is the pioneer in bridging the gaps across traditional finance, centralized crypto, and DeFi, and more broadly, between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. We are proud to participate in this funding round as the ConsenSys team continues to pave the way for global users  — retail and institutional — to easily access the crypto ecosystem.”

TechCrunch understands that the fundraise was started around the time of the Quorum acquisition, last June. The $65 million round is in majority fiat currency as opposed to cryptocurrency and is an adjunct to the round done with JP Morgan last summer.

The presence of significant crypto players such as Maker Protocol Labs shows the significance of the fund-raise, beyond the simple transaction. The announcement also comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO, which makes for interesting timing.

ConsenSys’ products have become highly significant in the world where developers, enterprises, and consumers meet blockchain and crypto. In its statement, the company claims MetaMask now has over three million monthly active users across mobile and desktop, a 3x increase in the last five or six months, it says. This is roughly the same amount of monthly active customers as Coinbase.

The ConsenSys announcement comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO. While Coinbase is acting as an exchange to turn fiat into crypto and vice versa, it has also been getting into DeFi of late. Where there are also resemblances with ConsenSys, is that Coinbase, with 3 million users, is used as a wallet, and MetMask, which also has 3 million users, can also be used as a wallet. The comparison ends there, but it’s certainly interesting, given Coinbase’s $100 billion valuation.

As Jeremy Millar, Chief Development Officer, told me: “Coinbase has pioneered an exchange, in one of the world’s most regulated financial markets, the US. And it has helped drive significant interest in the space. We enjoy a very positive relationship with Coinbase, trying to further enable the ecosystem and adoption of the technology.”

The background to this raise is that a lot of early-stage blockchain and crypto companies have been raising a lot of money recently, but much of this has been through crypto investment firms. Only a handful of Silicon Valley VCs are backing blockchain, such as Andreessen Horowitz.

What’s interesting about this announcement is that these incumbent financial giants are not only taking an interest, but working alongside ConsenSys to both invest and build products on Ethereum.

It’s ConsenSys’ view that every payment service provider, banks will need this financial infrastructure in the future, especially for DeFI.

Given there is roughly $43 billion collateralized in DeFi, it’s increasingly the case that major investors are involved, and there are increasingly higher returns than traditional yield and bond or bond yields.

The moves by Central Banks into digital currencies is also forcing companies and governments to realize digital currency, and the ‘blockchain rails’ on which it runs, is here to stay. This is what is suggested by the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund’s (a Shenzhen / Hong Kong joint partnership) decision to get involved.

Another aspect of this story is that ConsenSys is sitting on some extremely powerful products. Consensys has six products that serve three different types of people.

Service developers who are building on Ethereum are using Truffle to develop smart contracts. Users joining the NFT hype are using MetaMask underneath it all.

The MetaMask wallet allows users to swap one token for another. This has proved quite lucrative for ConsenSys, which says it has resulted in $1.8 billion in volume in decentralized exchange use. ConsenSys takes a 0.875 percent cut on every swap that it serves.

And institutions are using Consensys’ products. The company says more than 150,000 developers use Infura’s APIs, and 4.5 million developers create and deploy smart contracts using Truffle, while its Protocols group — developer of Hyperledger Besu and ConsenSys Quorum — are building Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) for six central banks, says Consensys.

Consensys is also making hay with the NFT boom. Developers are using Consensys products for the nodes and infrastructure on Ethereum which stores the NFT files.

Consensys is also riding two waves. One is the developer eave and the other is the financial system wave.

As a spokesperson said: “Where the interest in money and invention started happening was on public networks like Ethereum. So we really believe that these are converging and they will continue to, and every one of our products offers public main net compatibility because we think this is the future.”

Millar added: “If we want to help the world adopt the technology we need to meet it at its adoption point, which for many large enterprises means inside the firewall first. But similarly, we think, just like the public Internet, the real value – the disruptive value – changes the ability to do this on a broader permissionless basis, especially when you have sufficient privacy and authentication available.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #blockchains, #co-founder, #coinbase, #consensys, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #firewall, #founder, #joseph-lubin, #jp-morgan, #mastercard, #player, #protocol-labs, #quorum, #shenzhen, #smart-contract, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #technology, #united-states

The Cult of CryptoPunks

Last month, hours before news of Beeple’s $69 million NFT sale grabbed the front pages of newspapers across the country, a pair of 24 x 24 pixel portraits of aliens wearing little hats sold separately for around $7.5 million each.

The sales, which occurred within 20 hours of each other, didn’t garner the same headlines that the Beeple auction received, but there was a bit of coverage in the tech press, mostly because one of the aliens was sold by Dylan Field, the CEO of design software startup Figma. In a Clubhouse conversation following the sale, Field said he hoped that a century from now the blocky image he had sold would be seen as the “Mona Lisa of digital art.”

Punk #7804, which recently sold for 4,200 Ether (about $7.5M at the time of sale)

The pixelated alien portraits belonged to an NFT platform called CryptoPunks. In the world of NFTs, the platform is as close to ancient history as it gets, meaning it’s almost four years old. There are 10,000 punks, all of which were procedurally generated and claimed for free when the project launched in 2017.

Since then, the economy built around trading these images has sauntered on with a small but passionate community, at least until a few months ago. That’s when it suddenly exploded, dragging into the fray Silicon Valley CEOs, prominent venture capitalists, famous YouTubers, poker stars and major business personalities. The platform has seen nearly $200 million worth of transaction volume in official deals since launch, according to NFT tracking site CryptoSlam, with 98% of that volume flowing through the platform in the past few months.

The sudden rise in punk prices is owed to an explosion of interest in NFTs largely brought about by climbing cryptocurrency prices, the rise in popularity of Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot and the resurgence of the physical collectibles markets, all of which have made some investors more comfortable with the idea of betting on digital goods.

Today, the cheapest punk you can buy will run you about $30,000 in Ethereum cryptocurrency, while the rarest may be worth just shy of $10 million.

CryptoPunks have captured plenty of attention, but even with all eyeballs on the project, people still aren’t sure exactly what they’re looking at.

“In NFT world, people are talking about selling Jack Dorsey tweets, Top Shots and Beeple in the same sentence right now,” Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart told TechCrunch in an interview. “The lines can get a little blurry. When you look at CryptoPunks, are they art? Are they collectibles? Are they… you know, well… what are they exactly?”

Image Credits: Lucas Matney

A ‘more honest’ stock market

Back in early 2017, John Watkinson and Matt Hall were playing with a pixelated character generator they built, and they were pretty enthusiastic about the fun little pop art portraits they had been cooking up. By June, they had created 10,000 characters with different hairstyles, hats and glasses for a project called CryptoPunks that would be hosted on the nascent Ethereum blockchain. Some punks had a handful of attributes, some had none, some were apes, some were aliens. While the creators had a hand in curating some elements, they let their generator take control of the creativity.

They launched to modest interest from a small community of blockchain enthusiasts who only had to pay a few pennies in Ethereum “gas” transaction fees to own their own punk. It was a novel idea, pre-dating the NFT platform CryptoKitties by months and NBA Top Shot by years, but it arrived at the cusp of crypto’s 2017 wave during the early throes of initial coin offerings, where scams were plentiful and attention was hard to come by. Hall said that about 20-30 punks were claimed in the days following launch.

Then a week later Mashable wrote a story about the fledgling crypto art project, and within hours every punk was gone.

Some users went all-in immediately. One user that went by the username hemba has become something of a cautionary figure in the CryptoPunks community, claiming more than 1,000 punks at launch and selling every one of them before the market took off this year, missing out on tens of millions of dollars in profits at current prices. Another user who goes by mr703 claimed some 703 punks in total at launch, hundreds of which they are still holding onto years later in a collection similarly worth tens of millions.

In a Discord chat with the pseudonymous mr703, we asked whether they felt they had enough or if there were any punks they still intended to buy. “I own all the punks I ever really want,” they typed back. Their public wallet shows they paid more than $37,000 for a punk in the minutes in between our question and their answer. They spent $35,000 on another one several hours later.

Some investors who have already gone all-in backing risky cryptocurrencies see NFTs as a way to diversify their crypto holdings. Others see CryptoPunks as more of a game.

CryptoPunks creators Matt Hall and John Watkinson

“I think that with each year that passes the definition of what is gambling and what is investing move closer and closer together,” says Mike McDonald, a 31-year-old professional poker player who recently bought his first punk.

Why are some punks worth tens of thousands of dollars while others are worth millions? Users in the thriving CryptoPunks Discord community have had to decide that on their own, combining objective analysis of the rarity of certain design attributes with the more subjective impressions of punk “aesthetics.”

Things aren’t always predictable. Earrings are the most common attribute for punks, commanding much lower price floors than those with beanie hats, which are the rarest attribute. But hundreds of punks are wearing 3D glasses, yet they tend to earn a hefty premium over those with green clown hair even though fewer of those punks exist. Some attributes gain market momentum randomly; for instance, the market for punks wearing hoodies has been particularly hot in recent weeks.

“Obviously this is a very speculative market… but it’s almost more honest than the stock market,” user Max Orgeldinger tells TechCrunch. “Kudos to Elon Musk — and I’m a big Tesla fan — but there are no fundamentals that support that stock price. It’s the same when you look at GameStop. With the whole NFT community, it’s almost more honest because nobody’s getting tricked into thinking there’s some very complicated math that no one can figure out. This is just people making up prices and if you want to pay it, that’s the price and if you don’t want to pay it, that’s not the price.”

As prices have surged, owning a piece of the CryptoPunks’ finite supply has become a “digital flex” in its own right, especially when used as an avatar on social media sites, several punk owners told us. That has drawn plenty of wealthy buyers outside the blockchain world, including influencers like YouTuber Logan Paul who uploaded a video last month detailing his $170,000 purchase of several punks.

“When you don’t have a punk, the ecosystem seems like this gentlemen’s club of the 10,000 people that can afford these kinds of avatars,” says McDonald.

There is some concern among the community whether all of this outside attention is a sign of an impending crash in prices, though many investors feel reassured by the historical value of CryptoPunks among NFTs. Nevertheless, some of the investors have a hard time convincing those in their lives that what they’re doing is anything but reckless.

After a recent six-figure punk purchase, user Chris Mintern says his girlfriend was exasperated that he had just dropped more money on a punk than her house was worth. “She says it’s all just a bunch of internet nerds who don’t appreciate the value of money. That to them, it’s just a game and numbers on a screen,” he told TechCrunch.

The community surrounding CryptoPunks has largely bloomed on the chat app Discord in a dedicated group where users that are verified as punk owners tend to drive conversations and can gather attention for up-and-coming NFT projects they’re betting on.

“It’s a bit of a cult,” said user thebeautyandthepunk in an interview.

Like many early users, thebeautyandthepunk has stayed pseudonymous since claiming a couple dozen punks at launch, telling us that no one in her life has any idea she’s sitting on an NFT collection likely worth millions — except her accountant. She did recently decide to make it known that she was one of the few female traders who have been present in the overwhelmingly male CryptoPunks community since the beginning.

“I really try to keep my real life and my crypto life completely separate,” she says. “But people need to know that women have been [in this space] for a while and we’re not going anywhere.”

Today, all 10,000 punks are scattered across some 1,889 wallets, according to crypto tracker Etherscan. Some of those accounts are inactive and feared dead, with the punks inside them lost on the blockchain forever. The largest single wallet of punks today belongs to the platform’s creators, holding some 488 punks. It’s their only ownership in a blockchain-based marketplace where most mechanics are already set in stone.

“We’re just users now, too. Nothing about our website is specific to us having created the project,” Watkinson tells TechCrunch. “Our only equity is through the punks we own. We don’t take a cut of the market or anything.”

Image Credits: Lucas Matney

The NFT high-rollers table

Today, CryptoPunks’ creators are working on NFTs full time. While they can’t make any underlying changes to the CryptoPunks contract, they have aimed to improve the website’s marketplace while hopping into the Discord group to keep an eye on the ever-growing community of users.

“It was never our intention for this to sort of be our careers,” Watkinson says.

In 2019, the duo debuted a follow-up project called Autoglyphs, which brought generative art to the blockchain. It didn’t boast the pop aesthetic of CryptoPunks, but it added a new layer to their exploration of blockchain art. Hall and Watkinson have built up a company around their various projects called Larva Labs, and they are in the process of building up a new NFT project that they hope will have a lower barrier of entry than CryptoPunks and Autoglyphs.

“As the CryptoPunks get more and more expensive, they’re just hard to get into,” Hall says.

At around $200 million in official marketplace sales, CryptoPunks’ total lifetime sales volume is about 40% of what Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot has achieved in its past several months. Though CryptoPunks has done so with 0.35% of Top Shot’s total transaction volume, which is fewer than 12,000 trades compared to more than 3.3 million, according to CryptoSlam. Those high transaction numbers spread across millions of NFTs mean much less value per transaction on Top Shot, but a much, much bigger pool of active users.

Last month, Dapper Labs announced they had raised $305 million at a $2.6 billion valuation as they look to expand their private Flow blockchain to other blockchain “games” through more high-profile partnerships. Hall and Watkinson have been watching Dapper Labs’ success, but don’t think Larva Labs will need venture funding to continue exploring what’s next for NFTs.

“Rather than looking at becoming a large company and doing a deal with the NBA or something like that, we’re more just looking forward to kind of just continuing to explore the tech possibilities,” Watkinson said. “What we love about CryptoPunks is the action, and so we’d like to find a way back to sort of that level of action, and our next project is going to try to find ways to sort of keep the deal flow going.”

They have few details to share on the new project, which they said will debut “relatively soon” this year.

Image Credits: Lucas Matney

The origin of the species

CryptoPunks lore is largely steeped in the assertion that they are the oldest NFT project on the Ethereum blockchain. It’s a line that was floated by almost all of the punk owners I spoke with as the main reason they had dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the platform. In Paul’s recent YouTube video, he justified prices to his skeptical friends by noting, “[CryptoPunks] is the first and that makes it special.”

But over the past few weeks, holes in that narrative have begun to emerge, as “crypto archaeologists” have begun to unearth abandoned NFT projects that were created in Ethereum’s earliest days, with at least one arriving before CryptoPunks. We recently spoke with Cyrus Adkisson, the creator of a project called Etheria, which he debuted back in 2015, just three months after Ethereum’s mainnet went live. The project allowed users to buy up, sell and build on hexagonal swaths of digital land on a large map. It didn’t develop much of a following at launch and sat abandoned for years on the Ethereum blockchain until Adkisson saw the “fever pitch” developing around NFTs and started searching for the passcode to his old account.

“I remember calling my parents toward the end of February, telling them I may be sitting on a goldmine here,” Adkisson told TechCrunch.

After ultimately gaining access to his Etheria account, he then fired off a few tweets from Etheria’s long-dormant Twitter account, detailing that the bulk of the 914 tiles across two externally tradeable versions were still available and could be claimed for 1 Ether each. Adkisson says by the end of that weekend, his previously empty wallet was filled with $1.4 million worth of Ethereum.

Age alone won’t make Etheria a hit; the major challenge from here is building up a community around the project that brings in more users and pushes the prices of land tiles higher. A tile recently sold for nearly $25,000 worth of Ether, but early adopters are struggling to balance waiting out the market’s development with liquidating enough tiles so that new users can get involved and the project can build hype. 

“With these projects, it’s like, yeah, you have the historical context, but now you need to build a solid foundation with your communities because your real measure is not now, but it’s going to be what your community, size and engagement look like in a year,” says Allen Hena, an NFT enthusiast who helped attract attention to the Etheria community last month with a series of blog posts.

 In the days following the project’s resurrection, the young community has already seen plenty of disagreement and infighting as Adkisson aims to maintain some level of control over the platform on which plenty have already pinned their retirement plans. Owners are mainly frustrated by Adkisson’s attempts to make an older version of Etheria externally tradeable, something that would likely make land tiles on the existing contracts considerably less valuable. Since our interview, Adkisson has left Etheria’s Discord server and admins in the group have vowed to continue on without him as he decides which direction he wants to take Etheria 1.0.

While punk owners we talked with are keeping an eye on these newly reemerged projects, they’re also skeptical that Etheria’s older status will do much to impact CryptoPunks’ value to NFT history.

“On paper it looks cool but it didn’t actually do anything for the community,” says user Daniel Maegaard. “CryptoPunks did all the hard work.”

Punk #6487, which Daniel Maegaard recently sold for 550 Ether (about $1.05M at the time of sale)

Maegaard, a 30-year-old crypto investor based in Brisbane, Australia, is more tied up in the value of CryptoPunks than most. He recently sold a particularly rare female “zero-trait” punk for more than $1 million. He’s also the owner of one of the rarest — some argue the rarest — punks, the only one with seven unique attributes, a qualifier that has earned it the nickname “7-atty” and a sacred place in punk lore. When he bought the punk for about $18,000 in Ethereum last year, it was the most anyone had ever paid. He isn’t keen to let it go anytime soon, saying he recently turned down a private offer for $4.2 million from a group of investors that hoped to tokenize the NFT and sell fractional shares of it to other users. Part of holding onto it is the potential for further gains, but the real reason, he says, is that he’s beginning to feel an emotional bond with his collection of digital files.

“These little pixelated faces, it should be easy to give them up. I’ve sold a few punks and I’ve regretted every sale, I experienced that when I sold my zero-trait punk,” Maegaard says. “Like, yeah, a million dollars is nice, but I really liked her.”

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