Antisocial Studios: Identify, Incubate, Accelerate

Introduction
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.

But First…
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.

In Summary
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.

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The ecosystem fund model is interesting for a number of reasons.

  1. It allows ecosystem funds to be vertical specific, attracting the talent and passion needed to correctly vet projects.
  2. It can return to the fund, though not as aggressively as a VC, so there can be long term collaboration with founders and a bit more experimentation e.g. not so valuation sensitive.
  3. It gives the whole ecosystem somewhere to go for support, though you risk becoming a King/Queen maker in the process. But is this any worse than centralizing decisions at the Foundation? No.
  4. It creates a community around one vertical, for founders. Also, I like the point about projects not being ready and having a support network to learn and grow.
  5. It may attract new investors and better/bigger projects to NEAR. When they see several vertical ecosystem funds with a strong pipeline. It’s good signal and easy to navigate for them.

I’m pretty inspired by your post and a lot of the ideas I see reflected in what we’ve set up at Proximity. We have a timely pipeline, different avenues for supporting projects, and of course investments. Our vertical is NEAR DeFi. It keeps things focused and allows us to stay on the cutting edge of DeFi to help projects the best.

I’m curious if the NEAR Foundation can build a relationship with a successful, passionate, technically capable group of NFT founders, and how evolving the funding model for NEAR NFTs will take shape in the next few months. One thing is for sure, there’s a lot of trust in setting up an ecosystem fund. It’s kind of like handing over the keys to your car.

Great work on this post! Looking forward to seeing the evolution here.

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I like some of the ideas in this post too

Art has been often mistreated in this community, I quote these lines because they are true, and I don’t think giving that much of value to tech efforts without caring for art will help the nft ecosystem to thrive on near.
Art is the value we are missing here.

Once I stared talking about setting up a pool of validators that want to invest in nft art, and I think that would be a great way to establish the fund you speak about, ensuring consistency of investment.

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Super curious to see this unfolding, I’m sure my team would look at this with excitement.

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Love the enthusiasm. Yes, the incubator model of YC works and it’s not trivial to replicate. Some context for consideration.

The Metaplex of NEAR is TENK DAO.

TENK contributed to the NEP-171 standard and released the open source generative art contract and minting page that enabled the PFP boom. TENK launched NEAR Tiger Academy and wished them the best with Jungle Launchpad, a TENK fork used by ASAC.

TENK received funding from NF. I hope we can all agree that was a good use of funds, benefited all of the projects, and helped put NEAR NFTs on the map. But tech alone doesn’t cut it.

After seeing TENK launch more than 25 collections with primary sales combined over 3M, a clear differentiator between successful and unsuccessful projects is marketing. Specifically, the ability to market outside of NEAR. The SOL collectors and capital ASAC and SSS brought to NEAR made it clear as night and day, these projects know how to sell PFPs.

All good stuff! Now for the shit part of the sandwich. :poop:

Selling PFPs and running an incubator are two different beasts. The scale of work that goes into running a program along these lines is massive.

TENK wound up in a services model incubating and accelerating projects towards launch. The technical part is a drop in the bucket of the hand holding required to get projects in the ball park of success. I can’t overstate how much work this is, and without an army you’re going to feel buried fast. From what I can see, NF Grants team is feeling the same crushing weight of work. It’s easy to disperse funds, it’s hard to follow up, and mentorship is a nice thought if there were any resources to help.

Back to the bun! :hamburger:

Scaling mentorship is something that’s been bouncing around the NEAR DAO world since the Creators and Communities Hackathon lead by @chloe and the community squad, including myself. It was an unusual format for a hackathon where teams were given specific goals & got funding for each stage, rather than at the end. Most projects didn’t make it to the final stage (shipped POC) but many of those teams and DAOs are still active in the ecosystem today.

Through months of refinement and onboarding hundreds of projects, we’re pretty happy with the DAOcubator model. It’s decentralized mentorship designed to scale. Anyone who makes it through the phases is given a seat of power. They can give microgrants and pay the mentorship forward. The mentors scaled from 2 to 10 with a goal of 10x-ing again this year. It’s open source / creative commons so I encourage you to take a look and see if something similar could help distribute the workload in your incubator.

It works because the grants are smaller, faster, and milestone based. It’s also important to pay mentors when their projects hit the milestones, as advisory work is real work.

The specifics of each phase will need tweaking per vertical, but the general shape works.

DAOcubator hasn’t been worried about returns, which is necessary for true VC, but if asked to implement it I think something like the Seed Club 3% of tokens launched to the VC DAO would make it sustainable.

Better marketing is needed across the board in NEAR ecosystem, DAOcubator included. That alone has me excited for ASAC opening the doors for incubation. :handshake:

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Happy to see where this is heading to.

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NEAR NFTs need to identify and support DAOs that constantly push the NFT market. Curators DAO is on top of my list.

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Love this @starpause!

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I think the NEAR Foundation should offer a $250k grant pool to start, have the team prove they can manage it properly, and then LP a formal NFT ecosystem fund after their expectations have been met

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Hey

Just made an application to NEAR grants [starter grant] to focus on developing a growth initiative for original non-mainstream cultural output on NEAR…as part of an ambition to create the conditions for a Fluxus type community to emerge on NEAR.

Appreciate that this is not an initiative to onboard the next billion to Web 3/ NEAR…or indeed to address some of the issues raised in the original post about the broader NEAR NFT marketplace…but it should be part of the cultural mix on NEAR…

Mantra:
NEAR has a reputation for ground-breaking original technology - it should also have a reputation for ground-breaking original culture

There is a lot more detail to post on this in the event that it goes forward. Either way, I will be doing a presentation at NEARCon in September on existing ‘Avant Garde culture on NEAR’…so anyone who is out here doing something original…in terms of ideas, concepts or process…in art, music, poetry…whatever…just something new…then please hit me up…and i’ll try to shine a light on it.

thnx :+1:

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In my opinion, onboarding more users is the greatest struggle the NEAR NFT scene faces right now. ASAC and SSS helped bring Solana money into the ecosystem, but most of them didn’t stay (or at least that’s what Near NFT twitter feels like). At most, I see maybe 10-20 active Near NFT twitter accounts. Even slacking myself, its tough with a 8-6 full time job to actively promote and grow the Near NFT scene.

Furthermore, Its extremely disheartening for a team to build and launch with only 50-100 people enthusiastically backing them. Whether the YC Model will help or not will all depend on the amount of users actively participating in the Near NFT ecosystem.

The main focus of this initiative should be to bring in more users and to keep them on NEAR.

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