Exclusive: 1stDibs CFO joins $4B NFT fantasy sports startup Sorare
A few hours before Tu Nguyen caught a flight from New York City to her new Paris office, we had a chat about her new CFO role—in fantasy football.
“I’m a very competitive person,” she told me. “And I love fantasy gaming.”
Nguyen is the first CFO at Sorare, an NFT fantasy football (referred to as soccer in the U.S.) platform. She was most recently CFO at 1stDibs, (Nasdaq: DIBS), an e-commerce company that sells luxury items, everything from furniture to jewelry. Nguyen led the company through its IPO in 2021. Thomas Etergino has succeeded Nguyen as CFO.
Sorare was founded in 2018 by Nicolas Julia and Adrien Montfort. The startup is headquartered in Paris. A New York City office opened in December, where Nguyen will be based. Sorare is valued at $4.3 billion, according to the company. Last month, Sorare announced a partnership with Major League Soccer in the U.S., becoming the league’s official NFT fantasy game. Tennis star and venture capitalist Serena Williams recently joined the board of Sorare.
How does the platform work? Players can manage, buy, sell or trade their virtual team with player cards in the form of NFTs (non-fungible tokens). The game lives on the blockchain and is based on Ethereum. Sorare cards increased from $8 million trading volume in 2020 to $325 million in 2021, without paid marketing, the company said. NFTs represent real-world items like a painting, and in this case, soccer trading cards. Players can trade digital cards from more than 180 global football clubs.
I asked Nguyen why she made the switch to a virtual sports experience. She gave me three reasons. First, “I want to work for category leaders,” she explains. “1stDibs is a category leader in high-end design online. And Sorare is a category leader for sports NFT fantasy gaming. There’s still a ton of opportunity to continue to grow our marketplace.”
Secondly, Sorare’s technology was a big draw for Nguyen. “I want to work with technology that pushes frontiers,” she says. “I believe that blockchain is a once-in-a-generation technology.” And third, “I really love sports,” she says. “I love the community and the sense of belonging. Sports brings people together.”
If you just take a look at the Sorare’s Twitter page, she told me, the amount of excitement and a sense of community being built around the product is “second to none.” And Nguyen has used the platform herself. “Having a team and rooting for your players is super fascinating,” she says. The fact that you can own a team and trade and collect NFT cards, like traditional soccer card collectors would do, sets Sorare apart in the realm of fantasy gaming, she says.
But this isn’t her first foray into NFTs. Nguyen supported 1stDibs’ first NFT launch in 2021, which she said was exciting. But finance chiefs oftentimes have to educate others on something new. “From a CFO standpoint, to be able to help our auditors and other people involved in the marketplace really understand and appreciate the blockchain was a very fun process,” she quipped. “But I really enjoy being part of new technology, the conversation and the dialogue, and guiding the accounting standards.”
The Wharton Business School grad joined 1stDibs in 2013 as VP of finance, and became CFO in 2020. It was her first role as finance chief. She began her career at Deloitte as a strategy consultant for the financial services industry based in London.
Nguyen’s been in her new role at Sorare for about two weeks, she says. “I’ve been spending a lot of my time trying to understand the operating model of the business, the strategy, and how we’re allocating capital, today,” she explains.
Is there Bitcoin on the balance sheet? “We do have crypto on the balance sheet,” Nguyen says. “We need it for minting our cards and to facilitate all of the transactions that happen on the blockchain.”
But she made this distinction: “I really don’t think of Sorare as a crypto business.”
“We leverage NFTs, which is a technology, in order to deliver an experience,” she explains. “When a lot of people hear NFTs and crypto, they assume that every company that has this technology is in the crypto business. We’re building a community in a sports entertainment business around the blockchain.”
Nguyen learned the basics of blockchain early on from friends studying the technology about 10 years ago, she says. She continued learning on the job at 1stDibs, and now Sorare, and through her own research. “I always say, there’s no excuse for people not to get a better understanding of blockchain because of the number of materials out there,” she told me.
Another task at the top of her list as CFO is “ramping up hiring” with the company looking to bring on 200 new employees in the U.S. and France.
See you tomorrow.
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