Startup NFT Unblocked Raises $90M Funding Round From Tiger Global, Dapper Labs, Jay-Z

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Harrison Wang has a theory: More people would buy non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, if this blockchain-based art and trading card category were called something else.

“I think when people think about NFTs, it’s just intimidating to them,” he says. “That’s why we call them ‘digital collectibles.’ This is also why we changed brands. Yes, feedback from investors and early customers informed him and his co-founders that the name of their The Non Fungible Token Company stinks. So they changed it to, simply, Unblocked, a nod to the startup’s mission to remove some barriers to buying NFTs.

These investors recently showered Unblocked with real money: it raised a $10 million seed round at a $90 million valuation, a high price for such an early round, even in crypto, where heady numbers abound. . Tiger Global led the investment, which included NBA Top Shots maker Dapper Labs; singer Shawn Mendes; Jay-Z’s Marcy Ventures Partners; and Oaktree Capital Management.

What exactly does Unblocked do? It is, basically, a consulting firm, which will build a big brand or a big celebrity a tailor-made NFT platform. They’ve done a few already, one for the hip-hop group Cypress Group, another for Billboard. (Billboard’s parent company, Penske Media, also contributed seed capital.) Unblocked platforms are meant to be as simple and visually appealing as possible. (Many of them are neither.) With this, Wang, who is CEO, takes direct inspiration from Dapper’s playbook: Dapper’s release of a sleek, easy-to-use marketplace. use for Top Shots – video trading cards of basketball players and highlights – sparked early fervor for NFTs a year ago. Together, they are now worth almost a billion dollars.

On an unblocked platform, a brand will be able to create and distribute NFTs, as well as establish a secondary market for collectors to continue trading them, theoretically continuing to fuel interest for original sales as well as resales. Additionally, Unblocked apps will feature a directory and allow users to list their social media IDs on sites such as Twitter and Discord, which will hopefully spark online communities around NFTs, which would also help keep the markets going. Everything is built on Flow, the blockchain launched by Dapper.

Unblocked’s decision to rebrand itself and refer to NFTs as the less silly-sounding “digital collectibles” is part of a larger discussion around NFTs and the so-called Web 3, a movement technology enabling more industries – beyond art and collectibles – to adopt blockchain. These proponents would like to see widespread adoption happen quickly, but continue to face resistance, largely due to the ongoing complexity of completing even the most basic tasks, like buying and selling.

Some have suggested the path taken by Wang and Unblocked: changing the marketing and conversation around technology to something more user-friendly. It’s not a path strongly advocated by crypto purists, so it’s interesting to see Wang trumpeting it publicly and raising so much money based on the idea, a sign that investors definitely see promise in a such rebaptism.

Wang has specific challenges ahead. The most obvious: Many NFT platforms and exchanges already exist, including industry-leading OpenSea, which has a huge first-mover advantage. OpenSea and the others offer many thousands of NFTs, not just single brand items.

The long-term success of an NFT platform selling only one brand relies heavily on the strength of that brand. That’s why Wang plans to produce them primarily for celebrities and other bold names – people famous enough to drive people away from big markets like OpenSea. Wang entered into an informal agreement with Dapper in which Dapper promised to cede certain non-athletic activities to Unblocked. (Going forward, don’t be surprised to see Dapper buy Unblocked or an additional corporate link in between.)

Celebrities have certainly embraced NFTs. Everyone from Quentin Tarrantino to Melania Trump has sold them over the past year. And it makes sense that stars would want to own their method of distribution, where they can make sure all of it – the website design, the resale market, the actual NFTs – meets their standards.

The NFT rush may seem at least opportunistic. “It’s not a cash grab,” promises Natalia Nataskin, content director at Primary Wave Music. (The music publisher and talent agency is another investor in Unblocked.) “It’s much more about building widespread engagement and super fans identifying with their communities.” Aside from marketing, there is a more existential reason. “With no touring for most of the past two years, NFTs and all the other ways fans and artists can interact with each other in the digital world have become really, really important.”

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