NFT: An Opportunistic Future or a Bubble?

by Sandeep Kumar | April 9, 2021

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An NFT is an on-chain token of an off-chain asset. At the most bare-bones, it is a social contract between the asset creator and the surrounding community.

So, what makes it different from a crypto currency and what is this fuss about non fungibility. An NFT is a digital token that’s like a cryptocurrency but can’t be exchanged for another NFT. This is what makes it non fungible. A bitcoin for a bitcoin, but not one NFT for another. Each NFT is different and unique.

This token is added to a blockchain that supports this special ‘NFT type’ token (such as Ethereum) recording the details of ownership of some commodity, somewhat like how a house deed records the ownership of a house.

The only catch is the commodity, the off-chain asset, must be ownable and somewhat nonfungible. So, you can’t have an NFT on currencies or gold (non-fungibility), nor on Mars or Niagara Falls or the Mona Lisa (unless you own the Mona Lisa of course, then you can do whatever you want, also its highly likely won’t be reading this anyway).

Examples of NFTs Trades: 

  • Digital Art: The $590,000 selling of the famous Nyan Cat Gif, for example, could have only happened because of the meme’s enormous success over the years. 
  • Sports Collectibles: Similarly, the NBA’s highest-selling NFT was a highlight reel of LeBron James, which sold for $200,000. Less well-known players, on the other hand, had reels that sold for as little as $9.
  • Tweets: In March, Jack Dorsey’s original tweet sold for $2.5 Million, paving the way for more similar deals.

Why all this chatter on NFT then?

Because NFT allows storing more data per block. Bitcoin blocks allow only 1MB of data for example, just enough to record a bunch of transactions and some other details. 

This single feature elevates the NFT from more than just a ledger that records transactions (essentially what a cryptocurrency is) to record/store the ownership of pretty much anything such as jpeg files, music files, videos, internet domains, real estate, vintage cars, in-game purchases, art pieces, ad spaces, unlisted shares, horses, just anything.

So just to make things clear, if you are an artist, this is an easy way to monetize your work securely. NFTs also allow a share to the artist each time the NFT changes hands.

As a buyer, which you most likely are, you can buy NFTs of an autograph or highlight reels of an upcoming sports star that you think may strike it big. If in case that happens, it is likely the value of the NFT would have climbed manifolds.

Role of the community in guaranteeing NFTs

Unlike the fiat currencies that are legally backed by central banks, gold, governments and who knows what, a particular NFT only falls back on its scarcity to back it up (the other two tenets of an NFT are its utility and authenticity, both of which are not as effective as an NFTs scarcity is). The ploy of scarcity is a delicate one. The artist or NFT holder may not be able to enforce his ownership, may not get any special rights to own it, may very simply be fooled into buying that NFT or the creator may break its promise. It is the community however that enforces scarcity and hence values it. The creator of the NFT has no say in it.

The value of the NFT comes not from the NFT or the art or the off chain assets that it brings on the chain, it is the NFT and on chain assets’ community and its interactions that hold and/or derive value. It is not the NFT, but the community that is holding value. Most NFTs are worthless, but a few NFTs are focal points of creators and admirers both. Call it a digital bandstand or an art gallery if you wish. 

NFT “An Opportunistic Future”

  • NFT can be a new revenue stream for gaming, sports, art and technology.
  • Like Decentraland, NFTs can transform our attitudes toward ownership and make it possible to own a real-world asset that’s thousands of miles away.
  • Many crypto unknowns could introduce cryptocurrencies for the very first time through NFTs.

Risk associated with NFT

  • It may end up like the initial ICO (initial coin offering) craze as people’s attention shifted to other technology and the space cooled down.
  • What may seem like a hot commodity today may not be as so in the future as seen in the case of Jack Dorsey’s tweet.  
  • Complaints of several pieces of art being stolen and purchased as NFTs leaving the original art creators with no proof of their work.
  • NFT owners must also trust that the maker will not produce another batch of tokens with nearly identical artwork, devaluing the NFT they paid for.

Why the craze of NFT holds despite the associated risk? 

NFTs can be called collectibles. People buy paintings or any other kind of physical art for the same purpose. Utility, authenticity, and scarcity are typically the driving factors behind their demand. 

The obvious one is utility. People are willing to pay for an NFT ticket because it helps them to attend a meeting. Alternatively, they are more likely to purchase art if they can view it in a virtual environment. They’re also willing to spend money on an object that gives them unique abilities in a game. The definition of authenticity explains how an NFT works. What was the source of it? Who has owned it previously? Finally, Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting “The Mona Lisa” better describes scarcity. There may exist millions of copies, yet there’s only one original Mona Lisa.

The big player of the NFT market

OpenSea is the first and largest marketplace for user-owned digital goods, which include collectibles, gaming items, domain names, digital art, and other assets backed by a blockchain-based in New York. The number of unique participants after the bubble of 2018 has grown steadily from 8,500 accounts in February of 2018 to over 20,000 accounts in December of 2019. The market is driven by a core group of power users. On OpenSea, the median seller has sold $71.9 worth of stuff, whereas the average seller has sold $1,178 worth of stuff, indicating a large number of power sellers.

Market sentiments and perception

The market for non-fungible tokens is quite small (yet). It is also harder to measure than cryptocurrencies due to the lack of spot prices. Focussing only on secondary trading volume (peer-to-peer sales of NFT, not the creation of NFTs) as an indicator of market size the current secondary market is expected to be roughly $2 – $3 Million USD in volume per month on average.

The total trading volume of non-fungible token (NFT) artwork hit an all-time high of $8.2 Million in December 2020 compared to $2.6 Million in November 2020.

It might sound like a gold rush right now, but the main question is how long will value be produced in all of these new forms if the supply is unlimited? And what would be the most prudent position to take?  A good way to get a piece of the action, yet to stay unharmed is to service the bubble, not to take part in it. Case in point: do now what Levi’s or Wells Fargo did then. NFTs will tokenize everything. It won’t be long before off chain assets get on the blockchains. All valuable assets will then be stored on a decentralised digital ledger, with the NFT being a token of digital representation of an object or person on the chain.

 

This article has been co-authored by Sayan Mitra and Khubaib Abdullah, who are in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

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Crypto Scare: Is the Hype Settling Down?

by Sandeep Kumar

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Crypto Volatility Index (CVI) hit a near one-year high of 127.03 on May 12th. The value of Coinbase, a big bitcoin exchange, has plummeted. A cryptocurrency that advertised itself as a reliable medium of exchange has gone bankrupt. A drop in cryptocurrency values has wiped away more than $300 Bn. The decline in cryptocurrencies is part of a broader shift away from riskier assets, which has been fueled by rising interest rates, inflation, and economic uncertainty resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These reasons have exacerbated a “pandemic hangover” that began when life in the United States began to return to normal, damaging the stock values of companies like Zoom and Netflix, which profited during the lockdowns. However, crypto’s collapse is more severe than the stock market’s overall decline. While the S&P 500 has lost 18% this year, the price of Bitcoin has plunged 40% in the same time. Bitcoin has dropped 20% in the last five days alone, compared to a 5% drop in the S&P 500. Let us have a look at the kind of impact the crypto slump is creating on various stakeholders.

How the fall of TerraUSD and Luna has created panic?

The crypto shock occurred primarily after the sudden crash of the stable coin TerraUSD and Luna token. For the past six months, investors bought UST in order to profit from Anchor, a borrowing and lending platform which offered a 20% yield to anyone who bought UST and lent it to the protocol. The idea was criticized as it was likened to a Ponzi scheme which would not be successful. Karma hit the founder, Do Kwon, hard enough who is known for calling out critics as “poor”. Former Terra employees and retail investors in the crypto are holding the Kwon responsible for the losses. While he is still optimistic about his plans to revive Terra, Kwon is facing some major backlash in the form of lawsuits, fines and penalties.

Since May 10th, when TerraUSD and Luna began to show indications of difficulty, cryptocurrencies used by South Korean gaming firms for in-game purchases and trading have experienced erratic trading. As of then, C2X, which formerly used TerraUSD as its main platform thanks to a collaboration with Terraform Labs, the firm behind TerraUSD, which is now depegged from the US dollar, was trading at roughly 1,000 won. According to industry officials, game firms with products that include virtual coins and other blockchain functionality are still on high alert due to the recent collapse of the TerraUSD and Luna cryptocurrencies.

Wemix, a cryptocurrency run by Wemade Co., the maker of the play-to-earn game “MIR4 Global,” dropped by 28 percent during the TerraUSD fiasco before recovering back to the 2,700 won level on May 16th. MBX, Netmarble Corp’s virtual currency, has also plummeted by more than 80% to roughly 11,000 won, compared to around 64,000 won on May 6. Klaytn, a blockchain platform established by internet behemoth Kakao Corp., was also down to roughly 500 won, down from over 650 won on May 10th. Companies are keeping a close eye on the newest developments and concerns in the Bitcoin market in general since a loss of user and investor confidence might jeopardize the gaming industry’s Blockchain ecosystem, which many companies have already extensively invested in. Several crypto exchanges including Coinbase, Binance, Coinswitch Kuber, CoinDCX, even temporarily delisted Luna coin.

Sector euphoria that fueled the NFT boom has given way to more pessimistic conditions, forcing the mostly speculative NFT market to face reality. NonFungible, an NFT data business, stated that transaction volume was down 47 percent in Q1 2022 compared to the previous quarter. The figures are even more dramatic when looking at daily average sales, which fell by 92 percent between September 2021 and April 2022. Such challenges are far from insurmountable. For an NFT market that has been weak on value proposition but strong on hype, a washout was always going to happen. This data will be seen by critics of NFTs as the beginning of the end for projects that have been marked by over-promises, rug pull scams, and flash over substance. A reduction in speculation is more likely to refocus entrepreneurs on adding clear value to digital assets. A more clearly defined use case with a highly motivated and well-capitalized stakeholder to assist drive forward development is required to propel innovation forward.

What to expect in the longer run?

The fall of USDT has reflected poorly over the entire stable coin industry. Developers created functional and safe algorithmic in order to make it less susceptible to government oversight and more resistant to inflation than fiat-backed stable coins. However, they have lost their peg and failed. Some crypto analyst even suggest that the idea of algorithmic stable coins will now be put to rest. On the other hand, despite the volatility in the crypto industry since the beginning of 2022, private equity and venture capital investment into the crypto and Web3 space have been optimistic. The recent shocker has led Terra’s major investors to decide whether to help bail the project out or pull back and escape. While Lightspeed Venture Partners, one of the investors of Luna token, is planning to double down specifically in infrastructure, DeFi and emerging use cases, there is a possibility that the DeFi hype may now calm down. Until economic growth and corporate earnings forecasts are altered, there will be a sluggish flow of fresh money into equities, commodities, bonds or cryptocurrency markets in the coming months.

The arising concerns due to the crashing crypto market have been drawing attention to the regulation of cryptocurrencies. From USA to India, public officials are calling out the need for a regulatory framework to guard against the volatility risks of crypto. The US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called for stable coin regulations to mitigate the risks, ensuring there are no gaps in the regulation. In India, experts are in a process to lay out tax policies for cryptocurrencies. However, naysayers believe that it could disturb the huge potential that the crypto industry brings in terms of intersection of blockchain, machine learning and job creation. Lack of clarity on policies is discouraging innovation in the sector and forcing job seekers to look for opportunities outside India where there are more crypto friendly policies.

A wake-up call for investors

There is no doubt that crypto is a volatile space. The crypto market has survived all this due to the underlying premise that the blockchain is a powerful tool that can change the way the next generation of digital products is built. However, some investors try to make quick money out of these volatile markets. Several people lost their entire life savings through crypto investments. It is advised that investors should research the projects, the technology and promoters before investing in tokens and not just follow returns blindly. Shocks like the recent one will act as a wake-up call and likely make investors mature. As per Sidharth Sogani, founder and CEO of Crebaco Global, a rating, research and intelligence firm focused on blockchain and crypto, more trouble is yet to come. He mentions that as for the crypto market is concerned, we might see a further down or a sideways movement for the next three to six months before it enters the bull market again.

So next time you make any investment decision, especially in a volatile market like crypto, be sure to be patient and do extensive research instead of running after quick returns.

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This article has been co-authored by Sayan Mitra and Tamanna Kapur, who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

Valuation Reset: Who are the gainers and losers?

by Sandeep Kumar

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From a year of record funding to valuation check, how have things changed?

For any startup, raising funds is an inevitable part of the journey, and it highly depends on how the company is valued. VC funding sky-rocketed in 2021 with over $643 Bn going into global venture investment. This marked a 92% growth compared to the previous year. Consequently, we witnessed more than 10 new unicorns being minted each week on an average, adding around $1.8 Tn in value.

The amount of funds that went to higher-risk, early-stage startups was notable in 2021 as it witnessed almost 100% YoY growth in early-stage funding, with $201 Bn in about 8,000 startups. However, the good times do not seem to continue in 2022. Often, startups overvalue themselves in order to raise funds without giving up much of their equity. This may be detrimental in the long run — in case the company struggles to meet the expectations of the investors, it will have to raise funds at a lower valuation in the future rounds. Moreover, external factors like geopolitical tensions, inflation, underperforming IPOs and public markets have also affected the startup valuations. Through this article, we try to understand the different reasons for the decline in valuations and the kind of impact it could have on investors and startups.

Source: Crunchbase

Valuation reset for overvalued tech unicorns

After the hyped market in 2021, venture capitalists are now renegotiating their deals. As reported by WSJ, Tiger Global Management which has been one of the most prolific startup investors is renegotiating the investments for several companies, reducing the valuations by more than 20%. Manhattan Venture Partners also noted a nearly 10% plunge in the stock purchases of certain private companies in the first month of 2022. Some high-growth startups are even scaling back the funding rounds or delaying their IPOs that could value them lower than expected.

Let’s have a look at some recent examples where startups have been revalued by the investors or have themselves reset their valuations.

  • Philadelphia-based growth startup, Dbt Labs Inc, scaled back its funding round that valued it at around $4 Bn instead of the initially negotiated $6 Bn.
  • Fidelity, which has an investment in fintech giant Stripe, recently marked down the value of the company by over 9%.
  • The delivery giant, Instacart slashed its valuation by about 40%, valuing the company at $24 Bn down from its earlier valuation of $39 Bn.
  • Startups like OYO and Pharmeasy, who were preparing to go public are now considering downsizing their IPO valuations considering the market conditions.

The effect of tech sell-offs in public market is also visible in the private secondary market as there is a heightened interest in selling shares at a discounted price, typically 10% — 30% lower than the last quarter of 2021. With fewer IPOs, shareholders are looking for liquidity solutions in the secondary market, ready to sell their shares at a discount.

VC pull-back and a shift in focus

As market correction started happening in the public markets, its effects have been trickled down to the private market as well. As a result of huge tech sell-offs and dropping valuations in the public market, many VC firms have tightened their grip on startup funding as well. Investors are rechecking the startups’ valuation at a lower level to account for the pressure on the public peers. Firms like Tiger Global Management and D1 Capital have pulled back from investing in late-stage startups. The growth stage and later-stage funding seem to be stagnated. At times like these, some startups may be in desperate need of raising funds, so they will have to lower down their valuation expectations to be able to raise some cash. Meanwhile, startups that had raised huge rounds last year are being advised to use their funds wisely and prepare for even worse times.

The plunging tech stocks facilitated by inflationary concerns and rising interest expectations added to the pessimistic lending behaviour. The stocks of public companies, which typically guide the valuation of startups, saw a decline in valuation. By the end of January, companies that went public last year were down an average of 32.6% since their listings. Less proven companies performed even worse. Not only did the drop hold back investors, but also delayed the startups from going ahead with the IPO. The reset in startup valuations was well predicted, but what is surprising is that historically there has always been a long lag in the private market’s reaction to a public market slowdown, now it’s much faster.

However, things are not the same for all the sectors. While consumer businesses have taken more brunt of the pullback, companies dealing with blockchain, cryptocurrency, and cybersecurity have continued to attract VC interest. Despite the tight funding hand, investors’ focus has been shifted to seed and early-stage startups. The risk may be high with early startups and they are far away from taking a meaningful exit, but they allow investors to write smaller checks that could still give them some returns.

How is the valuation reset going to impact the stakeholders?

A drop in valuations is a double-edged sword. Investors may welcome the dip in valuation as it would mean that they would get new deals at a meaningfully lower value. VCs would love to offer lower prices on new deals, but also want their existing portfolio companies to be marked up in subsequent rounds. There is also a significant chance that the public companies, that guide startup valuations, will normalize back to the mean of the last couple of years. Consequently, VCs have tightened their lending capacity and shifted their focus to early-stage startups. Many startups had raised huge amounts for the early rounds, which raised the expectations and hence the valuation of the company. Now, slashing their valuation in order to raise funds would mean that startups will have to dilute a greater chunk of their equity.

The kind of valuation reset that we have started to witness was much needed after all the craziness in 2021. However, whether this is just a minor correction or has a long-term impact is difficult to determine now and we will have to wait and see at least till Q2 or Q3 of this year to understand where this goes. Till then, startups need to utilize their available cash prudently.

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This article has been co-authored by Tamanna Kapur, who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

How will the Cybersecurity Sector Rise in a Digitized World?

by Sandeep Kumar

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Every now and then we keep hearing about instances of cyber threats and attacks wiping out millions of dollars from various organizations. The cases have risen as several companies went completely digital, especially post-pandemic. 2021 saw a record rise in cybercrime with ransomware attacks rising by 151%. As businesses realize the importance of digital security, they are taking steps to keep their digital stack secured, making cyber resilience a top business priority. As per a survey by WEF, nearly two-thirds of businesses find it difficult to deal with cybersecurity incidents due to a lack of skills. Hence, they need to rely on partnerships with security firms to secure their business from such threats. Cybersecurity is a massive market with over $150 Bn in annual spending. It has led to a positive outlook toward cybersecurity startups. As a result, VCs are betting their money on security startups. 2021 is considered a record-breaking year for the sector as cybersecurity startups raised over $29 Bn in venture capital, outpacing the previous two years combined.

Source: 2022 Cybersecurity Almanac | Momentum Cyber

VC activity and trends

VC investments in cybersecurity have grown gradually over the years. In 2021, VC firms had a really big appetite for cybersecurity as the deal volume crossed $29 Bn, seeing a YoY growth of over 136%. With this, the size of the funding rounds has also increased for security startups, as 82 financing rounds grabbed a deal of more than $100 Mn.

As the startups in the sector are attracting VC money, there has been significant growth in the number of unicorns. About 30 cybersecurity startups achieved the unicorn status last year, with a few of them achieving the mark in just a few years of their inception. For instance, Orca Security, which was founded in 2019, raised $550 Mn in October at a valuation of $1.8 Bn. Wiz, a cloud security provider which was founded in 2020, is now valued at $6 Bn!

According to Momentum Cyber, cloud security has been the favourite segment to receive financing with a total of $4.3 Bn, followed by identity and access management receiving $3.4 Bn in funding, and endpoint security with $2.8 Bn. Geographically, the majority of the cybersecurity startups that received funding, securing over $17.4 Bn, belong to the U.S. followed by Israel (as per Crunchbase data).

Source: 2022 Cybersecurity Almanac | Momentum Cyber

Cybersecurity investment trend forecast

Based on the current momentum and growing threat landscape, the cybersecurity sector could see an even bigger year in 2022. This year, cybersecurity startups could see a market opportunity in the following areas, thereby drawing investors’ interest.

 Cryptocurrency

The crypto market is booming across the world. However, the area is also prone to growing amounts of cyberattacks. Most recently, Axie Infinity was a victim of one of the biggest crypto heists worth over $600 Mn. There are multiple cases like these, hence crypto security platforms (like Fireblocks) are expected to see investors’ focus. According to the Managing Director at Insight Partners, areas within crypto security, such as coin monitoring will see a critical focus. It is expected that large payment companies and even traditional market exchanges will carefully look at the space around security.

 Compliance and Auditing

2022 is likely to see a move towards “shifting left of compliance”, which intends to find errors early in software delivery for compliance and third-party audits. This also includes smart contract security audits. Some startups already working in this space include CertiK, Certora, and OpenZeppelin.

 Web3 and Metaverse

A large number of startups are exploring the web3 and metaverse space. This means startups involved in securing user identity and ownership could attract VC money. Identity management and authentication have already been popular in 2021, however, startups looking beyond and into the future of the internet could win big.

How to spot promising early-stage cybersecurity startups?

The number of cybersecurity unicorns and new startups in the sector is multiplying. As many startups are attracting VCs and raising funds at higher valuations, it is important to spot promising startups early-on to get higher returns.

YL Ventures, an America-Israeli VC firm specializing in early-stage cybersecurity investments, suggests some benchmarks that you can look out for. Some of the early-stage startups backed by YL Ventures include Orca Security, Enso Security, Grip Security, Piiano, Valence, and Eureka.

 Initial Revenue:

Series A companies with $500k in ARR attract strong investors. Best startups in the sector manage to reach the $500k benchmark in less than 18 months of operation. From this level, top-performing startups can reach $1 Mn in 18–24 months, which largely depends on the company’s ability to get relevant customers.

 Average Contract Value:

Contrary to founders’ concern, Average Contract Value (ACV) is rather a misleading point of comparison as cybersecurity goods and services, along with their business models, sales motions, and customer profiles, are far too divergent when compared across the industry. However, despite the divergence, it is expected that growth-oriented companies can improve their ACV over time as the company develops additional features and improves their ability to secure large enterprise customers.

 Initial Paying Customers:

On average, successful US-based cybersecurity startups will have closed their first payment within 12 months of their seed round. A company should aim to secure at least one paying customer one full year from initial funding. As per YL Ventures, at around the 18-month mark, a startup should aim for at least 10 paying customers. However, security startups in traditional and heavily regulated sectors may have a smaller number of contracts. They should instead focus on the size of the contract.

 Hiring:

On average, successful startups will have a go-to-market (GTM) executive within the first year of securing seed funding. Apart from this, successful startups tend to have about 25 full-time employees by the 18-month mark, and the number doubles at around two years.

Cybersecurity’s demand on rise

The number of cyber threats is growing in current times, and they are not expected to decline in the near future. It is expected that over the next five years, global cybercrime costs will be rising by 15% per annum, and is estimated to reach $10.5 Tn by 2025. As businesses have made a shift towards a digitized economy, they need to protect themselves from such malicious attacks. Security companies are building themselves continuously with the necessity to deal with the present and possible threats. Contrary to the horizontal approach which focuses on enterprise applications, cybersecurity has now been focusing on the vertical approach so that specific pain points of each industry can be addressed.

The global spending on cybersecurity products and services is estimated to reach $1.75 Tn between 2021 and 2025. This number suggests the huge TAM potential that the industry holds in ensuring cyber safety. As the security concern comes to the forefront in business discussions, the cybersecurity bubble is going to rise and is not expected to burst any time soon.

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This article has been co-authored by Tamanna Kapur, who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

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