NEWS - Business Insider
June 12, 2022
Verse wants buying NFTs to be as easy as shopping on Amazon. It used this 14-slide deck to raise $2.4 million to help non-crypto users and artists buy NFTs.
- The London Web3 startup Verse has raised $2.4 million to build an accessible NFT platform.
- Its founders believe platforms face issues that deter artists and collectors from NFTs.
- Verse is building a platform that offers artists credibility and enables fiat purchases of NFTs.
Despite the multibillion-dollar boom in nonfungible tokens that has swept the crypto world since 2021, a high barrier of entry for non-crypto users and a minefield of digital tokens worth very little peddled on incumbent platforms have made it difficult for artists and the general public alike to know where to begin when getting involved with the technology.
One startup is hoping to get rid of the challenges of buying into NFTs, which are unique digital assets that represent ownership of items like art, video clips, and music.
Verse, a startup focused on the art market, raised $2.4 million in a seed round to build out an NFT platform that wants to make the buying of NFTs as easy a process as shopping on Amazon, while attracting artists in search of a reputable digital space where they can sell their work.
The London business was cofounded by CEO Jamie Gourlay, a former advisor on art deals involving the likes of Picasso and Warhol, and Augustinas Malinauskas, its chief technology officer, to rectify some of the challenges they identified in incumbent NFT platforms such as OpenSea.
"My mom would not be able to buy an NFT, so we wanted to make something for the moms," Malinauskas said. "We want to empower crypto people who know everything about crypto and also people who are maybe afraid or haven't yet had a chance to learn everything."
To make NFTs more accessible to participate in, Verse allows non-crypto users to take an intermediary step and create accounts with an email and password, as they would on any other site, and then lets them purchase digital-art tokens with their debit or credit cards.
For users who buy NFTs this way, their purchases will be stored on Verse's central platform, where they can be held while a user spends time becoming more comfortable with their crypto wallets before withdrawing the NFT from Verse for their own private ownership.
Verse also hopes to help artists get involved by offering a more curatorial element to online NFT displays, with Gourlay believing that the "incredibly snobby" attitude of the art world demands a more hands-on approach to exhibitions online that can prevent artists from "damaging" their brand.
For collectors, it means knowing that NFT artworks they're seeking to buy have been hand-selected by curators with an understanding of how to value art pieces.
A key challenge facing NFT platforms like OpenSea is that they attract opportunists who want to take advantage of their rising popularity and are "purely in it for the commerce side," Gourlay said.
"There are a lot of projects out there put together by people who know you can make a bit of money in NFTs," he said. "They put something together for the sake of it." He added: "We definitely only want to be showing artists who at least really care about what they're doing."
To boost its credibility, the startup has appointed Leyla Fakhr, a former curator for the Tate art institution, as its head of exhibition programming.
Verse raised the seed funds from angel investors such as Paul Forster, a founder of the job site Indeed, and Impala CEO Ben Stephenson, as well as Venrex and Michael Daffey, a former Goldman Sachs executive who's the chairman at Galaxy Digital.
Gourlay told Insider that his company got "very lucky" in raising its round before the crypto markets faced a steep crash that has wiped several billions of dollars off the valuations of startups and projects amid investor fears over uncertain macro conditions.
Sales in NFTs have dropped significantly in recent months, with roughly 19,000 NFTs sold in the first week of May, according to figures from the transaction-data site NonFungible — first reported by The Wall Street Journal — marking a significant drop from a high of about 225,000 sales in September.
The startup has a 14-month runway of funds, according to Gourlay, and will look to extend that runway to two years with additional capital in the future.