From the response we received on our previous post, we can tell the general consensus among the NEAR community is that something needs to change. Since our last post went up, we’ve witnessed a stall in the NEAR NFT ecosystem with some of the top NFT projects choosing to explore cross-chain opportunities. We are also still suffering from little to no secondary sales volume on NEAR NFTs. This has led a few members of the community to voice their concerns on social media. Identifying the existence of a problem is the first step in attempting to solve said problem. Unfortunately, this is usually the point where no further progress is made. It is important not to get stuck in an echo chamber of criticism and pointing out flaws without taking the action to remedy them. In this post, we will be outlining our long-term strategy to elevate NEAR NFTs to the next level.
Let us start off by introducing ourselves and what we’ve accomplished in the NEAR NFT ecosystem in the last seven months. We minted Antisocial Ape Club in late January. It has since grown to become the number one NEAR NFT project (by market cap and secondary sales volume) and is now entirely run by the ASAC community. Shortly after, we established Antisocial Labs, our development house, alongside the team that brought you NEARTracker. The Labs currently employs around twenty developers, three design teams, and tokenomics and legal experts. Our interview process is vigorous since we only aim to hire the best of the best. Antisocial Labs incubated NEARKits, a startup developing essential NFT infrastructure such as a NEAR NFT portfolio tracker. We have also recently acquired Haven, the company that built the first peer-to-peer NFT trading platform on NEAR. On top of that, Antisocial Studios is developing its own ventures NFData and Sakura. The following excerpt is from our introductory article (April 3, 2022): “At Antisocial Studios, our goal is to build projects for the greater good of the ecosystem. We want to scout talented minds and help them bring their ideas to life.” Antisocial Studios has been a blockchain accelerator since its inception.
The Y Combinator Model
Y Combinator is the most remarkable startup accelerator in the world. YC invests in startups at their earliest stage and supports entrepreneurs with all the resources they need to succeed. YC’s track record is impressive. It has accelerated multiple unicorn companies that are each valued at over one billion dollars. These include giants like Airbnb and Dropbox.
What exactly is Y Combinator’s business model? YC invests small amounts of capital into a large number of early startups in an attempt to strike gold among some of them. This has proven to be a very lucrative and successful strategy.
How is Y Combinator different from a traditional VC? YC offers more than just financial support. It has a three-month bootcamp program in place for the teams it invests in. Throughout this period, YC provides entrepreneurs with access to their extensive network, so they can get all the counsel help they might need. This allows the startup to hone in on its product. To put it simply, YC functions as an investor and an incubator simultaneously.
Ecosystem Patterns that Work
We touched a bit on Magic Eden in our previous post and its contribution to the success of Solana NFTs. There is no doubt that the marketplace has largely influenced the impressive growth of Solana NFTs. Magic Eden launched in September 2021 and only became popular in late October. However, Solana NFTs were around way before then and had been around for a few months. This brings us to the true unsung hero of Solana NFTs: Metaplex. What is Metaplex? It is an open source protocol that allows for the creation and minting of NFTs using a standardized format across wallets and applications. The Metaplex team was around in the very early days of the Solana NFT ecosystem guiding founders and helping them launch their projects on a blockchain that wasn’t Ethereum. In a way, Metaplex functioned as an incubator for all those early projects and got the ball rolling.
Identify, Incubate, Accelerate
Our ultimate goal at Antisocial Studios is to identify competent teams building attractive projects and encourage them to build on NEAR. We want to offer them all the capital and technical support they would need to make their projects successful. By adopting a startup accelerator model, we will enable more strategic and effective disbursement of funds. We plan on setting up an investment committee composed of experts in different fields. We classify NFTs into four different groups:
- Social: Culture projects focused on building their communities fall under this bracket.
- Gaming: Blockchain gaming will undoubtedly be massive in the future, so it deserves its own department.
- Infrastructure: This is a category dedicated to tech companies disguised as NFT projects.
- Art: Art-focused projects and 1/1 art are essential pillars for any NFT ecosystem.
We aim to have departments focused on their own niche. This will enable better due diligence and more accurate background checks on project teams.
We will have a pipeline in place for all projects to apply and a process to funnel them towards decisions as quickly as possible. The process is relatively straightforward. Founders fill out an application form with details about their project. Applications will be sifted through twice per week. Projects that look promising on paper will be contacted to arrange for an introductory meeting and subsequent pitch with the relevant department. Once a remarkable project is identified, we will work closely with their team on incubation and offer them all the support they need to bring their project to life. Financial support will come in the form of pre-seed investments or milestone-based grants. Advisory support with access to our vast network will also be available to these teams. We want to ensure projects we incubate fulfill their roadmaps and exceed expectations. Only the best projects, with strong teams, solid roadmaps, resources, and proven models for success will make it through. For more exploratory, experimental use cases of NFTs, we would defer to the community or the NEAR Foundation to further push the infrastructure exploration of NFT use cases forward.
Projects That Aren’t Ready
Adopting a model like ours means that not all projects will receive capital or technical support. Projects that are not quite ready for funding or support will receive a message, communication channels, and encouragement to improve and stay engaged in the NEAR ecosystem. We will connect these projects with educational resources and other successful NEAR projects, so they can find the mentorship and grow to a state where they are ready to flourish on NEAR. Projects that don’t make the cut initially will be observed closely and their progress will be monitored. Teams that show promise and hunger will be contacted down the line, and we will revisit their initial application to explore the possibility of incubating their projects.
The problem with the NEAR NFT ecosystem was never the lack of funds but rather:
- Misallocation of funds
- Lack of expertise related to fund allocation
- Absent community support for projects that are not ready for funding or technical support
- Absence of a technical support and incubation program
Most importantly, the NEAR NFT community is missing a sustainable ecosystem fund that can identify, incubate and grow with clear winners, returning profits to the fund when appropriate in order to stay competitive with the growing crypto investment landscape. We have proposed a Y Combinator-esque model that will address this problem and help the NEAR NFT ecosystem thrive.