I have written about all of these things here at AVC before. But I am writing again as there is likely to be a bunch of chatter about Dapper, Flow, and NBA Top Shot as the news of a financing round comes out today.
Financings don’t really interest me but companies do. And this is a fascinating company.
After building a few more collectible experiences on Ethereum, the Dapper Labs team concluded that the NFT experiences they wanted to create needed a different blockchain and they started building Flow. Flow is a proof of stake blockchain that was designed from the ground up for consumer experiences that require scale and performance and more.
And then they started building NBA Top Shot on Flow. That required a deal with the NBA which they made happen a few years ago. And it required Flow to launch. And it required a crypto wallet experience that was tightly integrated into the game that allowed new users to fund their wallets with credit cards in addition to crypto assets. Building all of that was quite a task but they got it all done by the middle of last year and launched NBA Top Shot into beta last summer.
Slowly but surely Dapper let more users into NBA Top Shot and iterated on the experience and by the end of the year, they had a hit on their hands. Hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions a month happen between collectors on NBA Top Shot. Pack drops sell out more or less instantly.
The success of NBA Top Shot has led many developers to Flow seeking to build additional collectible experiences and I expect that we will see many more great games and experiences on Flow in the coming months and years.
It is rare in the crypto sector to find a team that has successfully launched a blockchain, a wallet, and a number of popular applications. The Dapper team has done all of that and I am excited to watch what they do next.
There are these news moments that we remember vividly forever. The plane flying into the World Trade Center. The mob breaking into the Capitol. Reagan at the Berlin Wall. Just writing the words, I can see the images in my head.
Our portfolio company Recount Media is all about these moments. Recount captures them quickly and concisely and shares them on social media and other digital platforms so that the world can see what is going on around them.
Today, they are trying an experiment that I am quite interested in. They have taken one of their most-viewed news moments, one they published exactly one year ago today, and they have minted it into a one-of-a-kind digital news moment and are offering anyone the opportunity to own it.
The auction is going on here and I just placed a bid. My goal is not to win this auction, although it is possible that I could. If I do, I will contribute it to a DAO that would allow group ownership.
Recount explains why they are experimenting with NFTs here. I particularly like this line:
So as we approached the one-year anniversary of the Calendar, our first runaway viral video, we thought it would be fun to celebrate that breakthrough in a manner that itself is an expression of our relentless aspiration to rethink how journalism works — its form, function, and economics — in this moment of intense fluidity and flux in digital media.
One of the challenges with digital media is the limited business models available to news organizations. You either sell ads or subscriptions, or both.
Who knows whether minting news moments can help stimulate new business models, but it sure can’t hurt to try. Sticking to the old ways of sharing the news and making a business out of it is not interesting to me. Coming up with new ways of sharing the news and making a business out of it very much is.
The NBA is back in business. Our family watched a ton of basketball over the long weekend including the Knicks huge win over the Bucks last night. It’s great to have my favorite sport back in action after a short layoff.
Also back in action is NBA Top Shot, the digital trading card game from the NBA and our portfolio company Dapper Labs. New packs will be dropped in the new year featuring all stars, rookies, and more.
But you can shop right now in the marketplace and buy cards from other players.
The trading opportunities in NBA Top Shot are exciting. I have purchased 11 packs since the game launched, for about $250 in cash and crypto. I have sold a few cards and now hold 61 “moments” that are estimated to be worth about $2800.
That estimate comes from a third-party app called Intangible Market that allows crypto collectors to estimate the value of their collections.
Intangible Market is an example of why building games and other experiences on crypto blockchains is so exciting. It means that others can build on top of your work and make it even more fun and interesting to use and play.
Crypto has a built in business model, tokens, that means that these platforms can be open to everyone to build on and enhance and evolve. That is radically different from the web and mobile ecosystems of the last twenty-five years and why developing on crypto is such an exciting and wide open opportunity right now.
I paid $330 for ten shares (out of a total of 1000 shares) implying a value of $33,000 for the five pairs, or roughly $6600 each.
This page shows the highlights of this sale, including a video, a link to the investment deck, and a link to the offering circular.
The Air Jordans offering sold out quickly but luckily I got a push notification on my phone alerting me to the “drop” and I was able to secure an interest in the collection in less than a minute. It was a lot of fun to do. I have bought interests in nine collectibles via the Otis app over the last few months.
The idea of breaking up collectibles into small interests and creating/making a market in them is a very interesting idea. It allows people who appreciate these items and understand their value to participate in the appreciation without having to be super wealthy. I like that very much.
I also like that Otis is a “crypto adjacent” business. Our friend Jesse Walden coined that term and I really love it. It suggests that there are non-crypto based applications, like Otis, that will deliver on some of the promises of crypto and prime the pump for what a fully crypto-based application can do for us. Otis could have been built on a blockchain and these security interests in Air Jordans could trade on a blockchain, but that is not how it works today. It may go there in the future. But regardless, we are starting to see how technologies like crypto can open up a market to everyone, or at least a lot more people, and that is very exciting to me.
Our portfolio company Dapper Labs, the maker of the popular crypto-collectible game CryptoKitties, is back with their second game, called Cheeze Wizards, also built on the Ethereum blockchain.
Cheeze Wizards is in “pre-sale” mode right now. You can “summon” your wizard in anticipation of the game which will be played this summer.
I summoned a wizard this morning from the fire wizards region. I spent a bit more than half an ETH on it and I am ready to rumble.
Dapper built this game for crypto enthusiasts who will be drawn by the large prize pool (322.6 ETH right now and growing) and that is why some of the most powerful wizards (like mine) are quite expensive. That said, you can summon a “neutral” wizard for 0.07 ETH right now which is less than $20. The focus on a smaller number of higher value players fits with where Ethereum is right now in its scaling efforts.
The best way to play Cheeze Wizards is to add the Dapper wallet to your browser. You can do that here. Then send some ETH to it from your Coinbase account (or any other place you hold crypto). Then go to Cheeze Wizards, you will log in with your Dapper wallet, and you are ready to summon your wizard.
The folks at Dapper wrote a great blog post explaining why they made Cheeze Wizards, how it works, and what they hope will happen with it. That post also reveals a lot about where Dapper is heading with CryptoKitties, Cheeze Wizards, and all of the other games they have under development right now.
Today, as is my custom on the first day of the new year, I am going to take a stab at what the year ahead will bring. I find it useful to think about what we are in for. It helps me invest and advise the companies we are invested in. Like our investing, I will get some of these right, and some wrong. But having a point of view, a foundation, is very helpful when operating in a world that is full of uncertainty.
I believe and have been telling those around me that I think 2019 will be a “doozy.” I think we will see major dislocations in the leadership of the United States, a bear market in stocks, a weakening economy, a number of issues with the global economy including a messy Brexit and a sluggish China. All of this will lead to a more cautious stance by investors in the startup economy. And crypto will not be a safe haven for any of this although there will be signs of life in crypto land in 2019.
Let’s take each of those in the order that I mentioned them.
I believe that we will have a different President of the United States by the end of 2019. The catalyst for this change will be a devastating report issued by Robert Mueller that outlines a history of illegal activities by our President going back decades, including in his campaign for President.
The House will react to Mueller’s report by voting to impeach the President. Which will set up a trial in the Senate. That trial will go so badly for the President that he will, like Nixon before him, negotiate a resignation that will lead to him and those close to him being pardoned for all actions, and Mike Pence will become the President of the United States sometime in 2019.
I believe this drama will play out through most of 2019. I expect the Mueller report to be issued sometime in the late winter/early spring and I expect an impeachment vote by the House before the summer, leading to a trial in the Senate in the second half of the year.
The drama in Washington will have serious impacts to the economy in the United States starting with our capital markets.
The US equity capital markets enter 2019 on shaky ground. Though the last week of the year brought us a relief rally, the markets are dealing with higher rates, some early indications of a weaker economy in 2019 (possibly due to higher rates), and, of course, the potential for the drama in Washington that we’ve already discussed. Here is a chart of the S&P 500 over the last five years:
I expect the S&P 500 to visit 2,000 sometime in 2019 and then bounce around that bottom for much of the year. This would represent a decrease in the S&P’s trailing PE multiple to around 15x which feels like a bottom to me given the recent history of the equity markets in the US:
Interest rates have been rising gradually in the US for the last three years. The Fed has taken its Fed Funds rate from essentially zero three years ago to almost 2.5% today:
The rates that are available to consumers and businesses have followed and I expect that to continue in 2019. Here is a chart of the interest rates on the three most popular mortgage products in the US:
When it gets more expensive to borrow, marginal projects don’t get funded. And what happens at the margin has a much larger impact on the economy than most people understand. No wonder the President wants to fire the Fed Chairman.
I expect the combination of higher rates, uncertainty in Washington, and storm clouds globally (which we will get to soon) will cause business leaders in the US to become more cautious on hiring and investment. Consumers will make essentially the same calculations. And that will lead to a weaker economy in the US in 2019.
The global picture is not much better. The eurozone is about to go through the most significant change in decades with some sort of departure of the UK from the EU (Brexit). It remains unclear exactly how this will happen, which in and of itself is creating a lot of uncertainty on the Continent. I don’t expect most businesses in Europe to do anything but play defense in 2019.
Probably the biggest unknown for the global economy is the resolution of the ongoing trade tensions between China and the US. It seems inevitable that China will make some concessions to the US to resolve these trade tensions. But, of course, what happens in Washington (first issue) may impact all of that. In the meantime, the uncertainty around trade and exports hangs over the Chinese economy. China’s GDP has been slowing in recent years as it achieved relative parity with the US and the Eurozone:
Any significant trade concessions from China could impact its growth prospects in 2019 and beyond, which will take the most powerful engine of global growth off the table this year.
So all of that is a pessimistic take on the broader macro environment in 2019. How will all of this impact the startup/tech economy?
The startup/tech economy is somewhat immune to macro trends. Many startups and big tech companies were able to grow and expand their businesses during the last financial downturn in 2008 and 2009. Some very important tech companies were even started in those years.
The tech/startup economy is driven first and foremost by technical and creative (ie business model) innovation. And that is not impacted by the macro environment.
So I expect that we will continue to see big tech invest and grow their businesses and do well in 2019. I expect we will see IPOs from big names like Uber/Lyft/Slack, although I also expect those deals will get priced well below the lofty expectations they have in mind right now. Some of that will be because of weak equity markets in the US, but it is also true that most of the IPOs in 2018 also priced below the lofty “going in” expectations of founders, managers, boards, and their bankers. The public markets have been much more sanguine about value than the late stage private markets for a long time now.
However, I do think a difficult macro business and political environment in the US will lead investors to take a more cautious stance in 2019. It would not surprise me to see total venture capital investments in 2019 decline from 2018. And I think we will see financings take longer, diligence on new investments actually occur, and valuations to come under pressure for even the most attractive opportunities.
But all of that is going to happen at the margin. I expect 2019 to be another solid year for the tech/startup sector as we are in a possibly century-long conversion from an industrial economy to an information economy and the tailwinds for tech/startup vs the rest of the economy remain in place and strong.
Any set of predictions for 2019 from me on this blog would not be complete without some thoughts on crypto. So here is where my head is at on that topic.
I think we are in the process of finding the bottom on the large, liquid, and lasting crypto-tokens. But I think that process could take much of 2019 to play out. I expect we will see some bullish runs, followed by selling pressures taking us back to retest the lows. I think this bottoming out process will end sometime in 2019 and we will slowly enter a new bullish phase in crypto.
I think the catalyst for the next bullish phase will come as the result of some of the many promises made in 2017 coming to fruition in 2019. Specifically, I think we will see some big name projects ship, like the Filecoin project from our portfolio company Protocol Labs, and the Algorand project from our portfolio company Algorand. I think we will see a number of “next gen” smart contract platforms ship and challenge Ethereum for leadership in this super important area of the crypto sector. I also expect the Ethereum open source community to ship a number of important improvements to its system in 2019 and defend their leadership in the smart contract space.
Other areas of crypto where I expect to see meaningful progress and consumer adoption happen in 2019 are stablecoins, NFT/cryptoassets/cryptogaming, and earn/spending opportunities, particularly in the developing world.
There will also be pressure on the crypto sector in 2019. The area I am most concerned about are actions brought by misguided regulators who will take aim at high quality projects and harm them. And we will continue to see all sorts of failures, from scams, hacks, failed projects, and losing investments be a drag on the sector. But that is always the case with a new emerging technology that allows anyone to set up shop and get going. Permissionless innovation produces the greatest gains over time but also comes with the inevitable bad actors and actions.
So that’s where my head is at on 2019. Do I sound pessimistic? I suspect I do, but I am not. I am incredibly optimistic, like my partner Albert and can’t wait to get going and make things happen in this new year. It is going to be a doozy.
Non Fungible Tokens (or NFTs) are one of the most interesting things to emerge in the blockchain sector in the last year. Dieter Shirley came up with the ERC721 spec and the name and I talked to him about both and a lot more on stage at Token Summit last week.
If it seems like I am shouting every time I talk into the mic, I was. It was very loud in the room and I wanted to make sure people heard us. The video is about 30mins long and we covered a number of interesting topics.