Welcome back to Chain Reaction.
Last week, we looked at web3 without web2's winners. This week, we're looking at a crossover episode for meme investing.
You can get this in your inbox every Thursday afternoon by subscribing on TechCrunch's newsletter page.
power to the pumpers
A weekly dispatch from the desk of TechCrunch crypto editor Lucas Matney:
What happens when a meme stock and a meme asset class collide? Well, investors in each hope that the result is a tidal wave of very real money.
This week, GameStop launched an NFT marketplace. The reception wasn't particularly overwhelming, the marketplace reportedly raked in about $2 million in sales volume which equates to less than $50k in transaction fee revenue on the first day. Daily volumes have trended downward in subsequent days but it's far from an embarrassing launch, especially when one considers the failures endured by competing upstart marketplaces like Coinbase NFT.
GameStop is hoping to find a revenue-generating vertical that decreases its reliance on brick-and-mortar sales. The timing could be better for the company as NFT dollar volumes have plummeted as crypto prices have taken a hit, but this is clearly still a vision that has registered with the company's very unique breed of investor profile. GameStop is down more than 40% from its November highs but things have gotten much less bleak in the past couple months as the company stock has rallied some 50%.
Taking down OpenSea — the current market leader — will be no small task, but it doesn't particularly seem like GameStop is aiming at a straight feature-for-feature copycat and is instead aiming to contribute something different to the ecosystem.
Most secondary NFT sales happen on the Ethereum or Solana blockchains, GameStop is launching their marketplace on what's called a layer-2 of Ethereum, its a secondary network that handles most of the computation but still relies on the mainnet Ethereum when it comes to storing data on a blockchain.
This is vision of modular blockchains that Ethereum creator Vitalkik Buterin very much stands behind, but it makes things complicated because it forces crypto investors to rally behind a new network as there are many layer-2 options. GameStop is currently using a rollup network called Loopring to bundle transactions, the complication is that you can only transact on GameStop with NFTs that were minted on Loopring, meaning that you can't buy popular collection like CryptoPunks or Bored Apes on GameStop's storefront.
This remains a risky choice for GameStop which will probably add support for other chains down the road, but for now is left on a different set of rails that the majority of NFT dollars spent today. This does seem to signal the option as being a bit more future-minded than one might expect, if this was a pure cash grab they could have grabbed at the existing cash more effectively by playing it straight.
Having pure-ish intentions only takes you so far in the crypto world and GameStop realizing success here remains a vertical uphill climb, but meme stock buyers have realized more challenging odds over the years so their appetite for risk remains hard to satiate.
the latest pod
Lucas and Anita are back in action this week and they wasted no time getting into the headlines. This week’s news lineup had them chatting about everyone’s favorite meme stock, GameStop, and its bold foray into the NFT marketplace even after posting a $381 million loss last fiscal year. They also talked about yet another disappearing act from the founders of a crypto firm that lost billions of dollars of other people’s money (yikes) and ran through some of the numerous crypto venture fund launches they’ve seen in the past week.
Joining them on the show was Naveen Jain, founder and CEO of Yat, the company behind those emoji identifiers you’ve seen celebrities like Ke$ha use in their Twitter bios. Jain spoke with them about the concept of identity in both web2 and web3, and Anita used the opportunity to get him on board with the cause of lobbying Unicode for a long-overdue biriyani emoji. Y’all are welcome.
follow the money
Where startup money is moving in the crypto world:
- Crypto-focused donation API startup Change raised a $5 million seed round co-led by Freestyle and NEA.
- Farcaster raised $30 million led by a16z for Merkle Manufactory, its decentralized social network protocol.
- Animoca Brands brought in over $75 million from investors including Liberty City Ventures and Kingsway Capital to build the open metaverse in an extension to a funding round it raised in January.
- Digital asset management platform Safe raised a $100 million strategic round led by 1kx with participation from investors including Tiger Global and Digital Currency Group.
- DeFi lending platform Morpho Labs nabbed $18 million in a seed round co-led by a16z and Variant Fund.
- DEX aggregation protocol LI.FI raised a $5.5 million strategic round from investors including 1kx and Dragonfly Capital.
- Crypto derivatives trading platform Thalex closed a Series A of €7.5 million from Bitfinex, Bitstamp and others.
- Tenderize, a liquid staking platform, raised $3 million for its seed round led by Eden Block Ventures.
- Bravo Royale raked in $3 million in seed funding from the likes of Solana Ventures, 6th Man Ventures and others for its NFT-based battle royale video game.
- MetaOasis DAO, a metaverse real estate developer, scored $1.5 million in seed funding led by KuCoin Ventures.
the week in web3
A weekly window into the thoughts of web3 reporter Anita Ramaswamy:
Most crypto investors aren’t actually using their digital currency for transactions very often. They tend to prefer holding onto their crypto in the hope that it will appreciate over time. But there’s one notable exception that has motivated numerous U.S. crypto holders to part ways with their tokens – charitable giving.
Research shows that crypto donors are actually more generous in their giving than those who donate cash. The optimist in me says that this might be influenced by web3’s strong sense of community. The cynic in me knows that it’s also a smart financial move for these donors because of the significant tax benefits of donating crypto, given that it’s treated like an asset rather than cash under the U.S. tax code. Regardless of the motivation behind it, crypto donations could be a useful tool for charities looking for new ways to fundraise.
2021’s bull market was a boon for startups that help charities facilitate these crypto donations, including The Giving Block and Endaoment, which both saw donation volumes surge on their platforms during the year. But startup Change is taking a different approach, developing APIs to help companies and charities process donations. I caught up with the founders, Sonia Nigam and Amar Shah, this week to chat about the $5 million seed round they just closed to double down on the crypto space (you can read more about that here). They’ve historically focused on online fiat donations but see strong potential for crypto donations because they believe the blockchain can provide the transparency donors desire but isn’t always guaranteed to them.
We already know things are getting ugly during this crypto winter so it’s especially interesting to see a startup that’s using this time to invest more deeply into its web3 capabilities rather than pumping the brakes or running for the hills. Charitable giving on the blockchain has lots of potential but can be a difficult undertaking, so only time will tell if startups like Change are able to bring transparency to the opaque world of nonprofits or if they’ll end up running into intractable challenges despite their good intentions, like many of web3-native regenerative finance (ReFi) projects that rely on inefficient, easily misused carbon offsets to meet their environmental goals. The latter is a topic for another day, but I think it’s always worth giving some thought to how crypto could evolve as a force for good, even if the reality of implementation is much tougher.
Here's some of this week's crypto analysis available on our subscription service TC+ from senior reporter Jacquelyn Melinek:
The US government is digging into NFTs’ impact on intellectual property
After NFTs exploded over the past year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and U.S. Copyright Office are launching a joint study to investigate the digital assets’ impact on intellectual property rights. The study comes about a month after Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican, wrote to the offices asking them to look into NFTs given their exponential growth in a short period of time.
Despite falling NFT sales volume, there’s more underlying strength to the market than you’d think
Bearish sentiment in the crypto markets has trickled down to the NFT subsector. Over the past 30 days, NFT sales volume across the top 10 blockchains has fallen, according to data from NFT aggregator CryptoSlam. “The NFT market has not been great, but there is still great momentum,” Nick O’Neill, CEO and co-founder of The Nifty, said to TechCrunch. Even with that said, it’s hard to ignore bearish macro headwinds, O’Neill noted.
Have a great weekend and remember you can subscribe on TechCrunch's newsletter page to get this in your inbox every week,
Lucas & Anita