NFT Startup Unblocked Raises Seed Round At $90 Million Valuation from Tiger Global, Dapper Labs, Jay-Z

    Harrison Wang’s theory

    Harrison Wang has a theory: If this class of blockchain-based artwork and trading cards was labeled something else, more people would acquire non-fungible tokens or NFTs.

    “I think when people conceive of NFTs, it’s a little intimidating,” he says. “That’s why they’re known as ‘digital collectibles.'” It’s also why we changed our name.” Yes, an early investor and consumer feedback told him and his founding members that their company’s name, The Non-Fungible Token Company, was terrible. As a result, they’ve renamed it to Unblocked, a tribute to the startup’s objective of removing some of the barriers to buying NFTs.

    Unblocked just received real-world funding: it secured a $10 million seed round into a $90 million valuation, a huge price mark for such an inaugural round—even in crypto, where big numbers abound. The investment was led by Tiger Global, with participation from Dapper Labs, the creator of NBA Top Shots, Shawn Mendes, Jay-Marcy Z’s Ventures Partners, and Oaktree Capital Management.

    What does Unblocked do?

    What precisely does Unblocked do? It is, in general, a consultant that will create a customized NFT platform for a major company or celebrity. They’ve already done two, one for the hip-hop group Cypress Group and another for Billboard. (The seed money was also given by Billboard’s parent company, Penske Media.) Unblocked platforms are intended to be as basic and pleasing to the eye as possible. (Many of the existing ones aren’t.) Wang, who is also the CEO, needs to take a page from Dapper’s playbook with this: The early frenzy for NFTs was sparked by Dapper’s unveiling of a sleek and easy-to-use market for Top Shots—video dealing cards of NBA players and highlights—a year ago. They’ve now valued nearly one billion dollars combined.

    A brand will be able to develop and distribute NFTs on an Unblocked platform, as well as build a second market for collectors to keep trading them, theoretically fueling interest in both original and resale sales. Furthermore, the Unblocked apps will include a directory that will allow individuals to post their social media handles on sites like Twitter and Discord, with the goal of fostering online forums around the NFTs, which will help keep the markets afloat. It’s all built on the Flow blockchain, which Dapper introduced.

    Long term success of NFTs

    Long-term success for an NFT platform that only sells one brand is largely determined by the brand’s strength. That’s why Wang plans to make them mostly for superstars and other well-known figures—those who are well-known enough to draw people away from major marketplaces like OpenSea. Wang and Dapper have established an informal agreement in which Dapper will hand over some non-sports businesses to Unblocked. (Don’t be shocked if Dapper buys Unblocked in the future, or if the two companies collaborate in some way.)

    Celebrities have clearly embraced NFTs. Over the last year, everybody from Quentin Tarrantino to Melania Trump has sold them. And it makes it logical for celebrities to want control over their distribution, so they can ensure that everything—the web design, the reselling marketplace, and the real NFTs—meets their expectations.

    The rush to NFTs may appear, at the very least, opportunistic. Natalia Nataskin, chief content director of Primary Wave Music, claims, “This is not a revenue grab.” (Another investor in Unblocked is the music producer and talent agency.) “It’s far more about super fans recognizing their networks and significant interaction development.” There’s a more existential motive, aside from the marketing. “With the lack of touring for the majority of last 2 years, NFTs or any digital avenues for fans and artists to communicate with one another has become extremely crucial.”

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