Biz Stone and Mark Cuban are backing an Instagram for NFTs
This is the web version of The Ledger, Fortune’s weekly newsletter covering financial technology and cryptocurrency. Sign up here to get it free in your inbox.
NFTs remain all the rage in crypto-land, and projects leveraging that yen for blockchain collectibles are coming fast and furious. Robert wrote last week about Cent, an NFT platform aimed at becoming a social platform akin to Discord. Another startup with an impressive pedigree, Nifty’s, is eyeing a slightly different model: Instagram.
“We think about it in two parts,” says Nifty’s CEO and cofounder Jeff Marsilio of the platform, which he says will launch in a matter of weeks. “There’s the multiplayer mode and the single player mode. Instagram has this tremendous multiplayer mode, but I think part of their secret sauce is they have a good single-player mode: It’s a good tool for casual photography. Similarly, with Nifty’s, we want to have a great community, but we also want to have a really powerful single player mode that makes it easier for publishers, especially premium publishers, to enter the space.”
Nifty’s “multiplayer mode” will come in a few forms, including gallery pages for artists, collectors, and curators. NFT images and videos will be pulled into the Nifty’s platform directly from NFT infrastructure, and the app will display metadata helping establish each piece’s provenance and (remember this word) authenticity. Nifty’s will also enable collaboration between artists, a potentially major draw for engagement.
Nifty’s (not to be confused with Nifty Gateway, an NFT marketplace) is still very early in its development, having announced its pre-seed fundraising round just last week on March 23. But it features a staggering lineup of talent and backers that earn it early attention. Marsilio led the working group within the NBA that developed NBA TopShot, the most successful NFT project so far. The platform’s investors include Twitter cofounder Biz Stone and increasingly vocal crypto advocate Mark Cuban.
To top it all off, Nifty’s is part of a consortium presenting NFTs from artworld megastar Damien Hirst. That partnership ties it closely to Consensys, sometimes described as the Google of blockchain technology. And Nifty’s has acquired the technology stack of the Meme Protocol, an NFT project that went viral during the summer of 2020, helping pave the way for the current mania.
“So while we’re brand new,” Marsilio told me, “Our product is six or seven months in the making.”
As I’ve written before, the social element of NFTs (and crypto more generally) is crucial to their long-term success. Like any collectible, you’ll want to show them off to friends. And with NFTs in particular, it’s vital to build up a sense of authenticity to distinguish them from, well, just another .Jpeg posted on an app.
“What you really care about is the real thing,” says Marsilio, “And the real thing is more of a social understanding than it is anything else.”
That sort of social understanding takes time to develop – consider the decade or so it took people to start treating Bitcoin as something akin to real money. If Nifty’s can create an experience that conveys the “real thing”-ness of NFTs, it will be an important step to blockchain art’s progress along the same path.
Before you go: Subscribe to CFO Daily
Fortune is pleased to welcome veteran business journalist Sheryl Estrada to the team. Sheryl is launching a new Fortune newsletter, CFO Daily, and based on her first few installments, you’ll probably want to subscribe here. Check out her conversation with Square CFO Amrita Ahuja, who says there’s “absolutely a case for every balance sheet to have Bitcoin on it.”
David Z. Morris
Robinhood files for IPO ... Fidelity wants to start a Bitcoin ETF ... PayPal will let users pay with crypto ... Dapper Labs, makers of NBA TopShot, scores $305m in new funding ... Crypto acquisitions doubled to $1.1 billion in 2020 ... "Stranded energy" could fully power Bitcoin ... Greenwood, the Killer Mike-cofounded challenger bank, raises $40m from Visa and others ... Russian dissidents Pussy Riot issue NFT series for charity ... Ripple to buy 40% of Asian payment processor Tranglo ... Generate your own Beeple artwork (NFT value not guaranteed) ... Coinbase hires former SEC official ahead of stock debut.
Fraudulent iPhone app steals $600,000 in Bitcoin ... Family office Archegos loses billions in a flash, with help from complex derivatives ... Man attempts to steal Pokémon cards by scaling a building ... Your million-dollar NFT could break tomorrow ... In the post-Trump era, payments are political.
FOMO NO MO
Their plan failed spectacularly, leading to international humiliation for the French, English, and Israelis ... the United States was able to force Britain into withdrawing troops for economic reasons.
From a panoramic overview of the economics, technology and politics of canals at Jamie Catherwood's excellent Investor Amnesia. The failed plan, hatched in 1956, was for Israel, the U.K. and France to gin up a war that would allow them to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt. The U.S. didn't like that plan, and forced a British-French withdrawal in part by threatening to cut off those country's international credit.
The entire head-spinning roundup is full of jewels. In one fascinating coincidence, both the canal and the U.S. transcontinental railroad were complete in 1869. That marks a watershed in global connectivity comparable to the 1565 opening of the Spanish sea route to Manila, which first connected all of the Earth's landmasses. While the Ever Given has demonstrated how important those physical connections still are, they also offer a framework for understanding the power of new digital connections.
The amount of venture capital invested in financial technology startups in 2020. That's up from just $1.1 billion in 2009, according to the New York Times.
THE LEDGER'S LATEST
Next Insurance doubles valuation to $4 billion - Robert Hackett
Xi Jinping's tech crackdown risks proving Jack Ma right - Clay Chandler
Why digital currency will make the economy more inclusive - Dan Shulman, CEO, Paypal
Are NFTs a bubble? One artist weighs in - Martine Paris
Don't put Big Tech or big government in charge of the truth - Jessica Melugin, Competitive Enterprise Institute
How crypto can fix its carbon problem - Aaron Grunfeld and Brennan Spellacy, Patch.com
Inside the NFT house that sold for $500,000 - Chris Morris
OpenSea raises $23 million to be the ‘Amazon of NFTs’ - Robert Hackett
(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)
MEMES AND MUMBLES
This edition of The Ledger was curated by David Z. Morris. We are currently accepting pitches for guest columns. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our mission to make business better is fueled by readers like you. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.