Yuga Lab’s Otherside land sale turns into a giant gas war

Yuga Labs launched a land sale for its upcoming metaverse project Otherside Saturday night, which quickly morphed into a gas war — and broke Ethereum. 

As part of their psychedelic-fueled business plans, Yuga Labs offered 55,000 NFTs called “Otherdeeds” for 305 APE each ($5,800, at the time). Apecoin was the only crypto accepted for the minting.  

The sale, which started on April 30, at 9 p.m ET, immediately became a land grab for the rich. People paid between 1.3 ETH to 1.9 ETH ($3,500 to $5,500), on average, just to get their transactions to go through. Some even paid 5 ETH ($13,500) and higher — double the cost of the land itself.

The high fees lasted several hours, making Ethereum virtually unusable for any other projects. [Reddit]

By the time the sale was over, Yuga Labs netted 16.7 million APE ($310 million), helping to recentralize a coin they can then claim is decentralized. All of the APE acquired in the sale are locked up for one year. 

Gas fees

Ethereum — a “world computer” — ambles along at 15 transactions per second. You have to pay a fee, called “gas,” to Ethereum miners to process transactions. 

When transaction volumes are high, miners get to selectively process only transactions paying the highest gas fees. The higher the gas fee you are willing to pay, the better your chance of having a miner include your transaction in the next block on the blockchain.  

If you happen to pay too low a gas fee, your transaction will fail, and you lose your gas money. The Otherdeed mint saw lots of failed transactions. [Dune]

What happened?

Originally, Yuga Labs were going to do a Dutch auction. 

In a Dutch auction, also known as a descending price auction, you determine the price of something after you collect all of the bids. Bidders indicate how much they are willing to pay for an item and the number of items they want to purchase at that price. If there are insufficient bids to sell all of the items, you lower the price until you find a price that works for everyone. 

The phrase dates back to the 17th century when Dutch auctions were used to sell fresh flowers in Amsterdam.

However, Yuga Labs decided to scratch that plan at the last minute because — “Dutch auctions are bullshit.” [Otherside blog post]

Instead, they opted to sell the land to pre-approved KYC’d wallets for a flat price of 305 APE.

There were concerns from the beginning about a gas war erupting. Yuga Labs assured everyone that everything would be fine, because they were going to do the sale in waves, initially limiting the number of mints to two per wallet “to ensure as broad a distribution as possible and dramatically soften the potential for a massive gas war.”

The plan failed, and the mint consumed over $177 million in gas fees. Only those with enough ETH on hand got the land. So much for wide distribution. [Etherscan] 

Demand for NFTs was so high that even Etherscan crashed, said Yuga Labs. [Tweet]

Yuga Lab’s smart contract had no gas optimizations at all. They waited until the last minute, and then uploaded poorly written crap to the Ethereum blockchain.

Yuga Labs say they’re sorry for the whole mess, and they promise to do better next time. [Twitter]

They also said that they will refund any failed transaction fees. [Tweet]

Yuga Labs’ business acumen consists of finding a reliable pool of suckers who they squeeze regularly for more money. Their business acumen does not extend to any form of technical competence or even how to run an auction. But it does exactly the job it is supposed to do: it gets them their money. In that sense, the land mint was a success. 

In collectors’ hurry to mint the metaverse land NFTs, some inevitably fell victim to phishing sites. Crypto sleuth Zachxbt found scammer wallets that netted $6.2 million in stolen NFTs. [Twitter]

What’s next? 

Otherside, a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game that Yuga Labs is working on with partner Animoca Brands, doesn’t even exist yet. At this point, they just have a website with a trailer with The Doors’ “Break on Through” playing in the background.  

Yuga Labs is now talking about developing their own blockchain to alleviate network congestion problems in the future. 

Ethereum doesn’t work for the job it’s intended to do, even though a16z, Yuga Lab’s backer, keeps talking up Web3 as the future of the internet. 

As a result, blockchain game developers often resort to creating their own blockchains. Dapper Labs eventually moved CryptoKitties over to a new blockchain called Flow, after the game caused Ethereum to slow to a crawl in 2017. 

Axie Infinity, another popular game, created a new blockchain called Ronin. However, they had to create a bridge so that Ethereum tokens, in the form of WETH, could be used on Ronin. The result was a $600 million hack. Bridges are a risky proposition. David Gerard calls them smart contract Pinatas. 

In addition to the 55,000 Otherdeeds it sold on Saturday, Yuga Labs plans to airdrop another 45,000 land parcel NFTs to Bored Ape and Mutant Ape holders, as well as Yuga Labs and other project developers. Another 100,000 parcels are expected to be awarded later to certain Otherdeed NFT holders, according to the Otherside website. [Otherside FAQ]

If you missed out on buying an Otherdeed NFT on Saturday, several are currently being flipped on OpenSea for a floor price of 6.5 ETH ($17,000).

APE, which was trading as high as $26 before the land sale, has tumbled to $17. 

(Update: In an earlier version of this story, I said Yuga would refund gas fees for Otherdeed purchases. They will only refund failed transaction fees.)

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Bored Ape Yacht Club: Unanswered Questions

I’m working on a chapter on Bored Ape Yacht Club for the NFT book that David Gerard and I are painfully slogging away on. It’s like dredging through a swamp full of stupid.  

Anyway, I’ve come across a series of unanswered questions that I need help answering. If you know anything, my DMs are open. I will update this document accordingly if I come up with more unanswered questions — which I’m sure I will. 

Why do we know so little about Yuga Labs’ founders? 

I can find almost nothing on Yuga Labs’ core founders, Wylie Aronow and Greg Solano, who operate under the pseudonyms Gordon Goner and Gargamel. 

Wylie Aronow and Greg Solano, founders of Yuga Labs

How is it these two have made it into their 30s with almost no Web presence? It just doesn’t make sense — unless, they never held down real jobs before. 

Their LinkedIn profiles, here and here, are blank.  

Most of what we do know about them comes from an interview they did with Rolling Stone, in an article published on November 1. This three months before Buzzfeed revealed their real names. (They weren’t doxxed; their names were clearly listed on public business records.)

Both grew up in Miami. They claim they met in a dive bar in their 20s and bonded over a heated discussion on David Foster Wallace. Apparently, they are somewhat literary, so this is likely true. 

While he was living in Chicago for a stint, Aronow was featured in the Chicago Tribune’s “Readers of the Week” in November 2014. 

Solano has some poetry reviews on ZYZZYVA, circa 2013 and 2014, but that’s all I can find on the two in terms of their literary obsessions.  

In the Rolling Stone interview, Aronow refers to his “gambling problem days,” and says he was a high-school dropout. He admits he never had a real job.  

On the other hand, Solano claims he did go to college and grad school. He previously worked as a writer and editor. His roommate from college was mining bitcoin in 2010, he said. 

Aronow and Solano became crypto traders during the crypto bubble/ICO period of 2017. 

If Solano went to college, where did he earn his degree? Where did he go to grad school? Inquiring minds want to know. 

Were the pair involved in any earlier crypto projects, like maybe a token offering? If so, did they use other pseudonyms?

What about Yuga Labs’ other two founders? 

Aronow and Solano hired two developers — Sass and Emperor Tomato Ketchup — who were also part of the founding team.

The two software engineers “doxxed” themselves in early February right after the Buzzfeed story came out on Aronow and Solano. They revealed their first names — Zeshan and Kerem — but not their surnames.  

Their full names are Zeshan Ali and Karem Atalay, as listed on Form D filed with the Security and Exchange Commission on March 22. 

Form D is a notice of an exempt offering of securities. These filings are specifically for the purpose of fully informing the public. Aronow and Solano’s names are also on the Form.   

The filing was so Yuga could sell shares in the company to accredited investors, such as A16z, and raise $450 million. It’s not clear that these shares were related to Apecoin.*  

Who did Aronow and Solano know? Early connections? 

Bored Ape Yacht Club has followed what appears to be a planned and well-strategized trajectory from launching an NFT project to getting a fungible token (APE) listed on Coinbase.  

The key to NFT collections is keeping holders holding, so they don’t sell their NFTs and go off to invest in other NFT collections, of which there are many. You want to keep the floor price up. 

This is usually done by airdropping holders more NFTs, which they can flip on OpenSea, and inviting them to networking events, where they can pitch their own NFT projects, etc.  

In their Rolling Stone interview, Aronow and Solano used words like “Web3” and “metaverse” and spoke about giving their NFTs real-world utility. This is investor speak. 

I suspect Solano and Aronow knew someone who advised them early on. What connections did they have? Who did they speak to before launching their project?

How are celebrities acquiring Bored Ape NFTs? 

Bored Ape Yacht Club has benefited from a number of high-profile celebrity endorsements. 

Celebs have been buying up Bored Ape NFTs, announcing their purchases on social media, and switching their Twitter profile pics to Bored Apes. 

Eminem, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Curry, Post Malone, Lil Baby, Paris Hilton, and Madonna currently own Bored Ape NFTs, along with about a dozen other Hollywood influencers. 

Did these celebs pay full price for their Bored Apes? Is someone gifting NFTs to them for the purpose of promoting the project? 

Crypto payments company Moonpay has played a role in onboarding many celebs. Who is sending Moonpay ETH or cash to buy the BAYC NFTs?

The Federal Trade Commission has social media guidelines for influencers. If you endorse a product through social media, you have to make it obvious that you have a material connection with the brand. How is Yuga Labs getting around this? 

*Update, April 27: In an earlier version of this story, I said the Form D was related to distribution of Apecoin. It could just be equity in the company.

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The Art Angle: ‘The Whole Bored Ape Yacht Club Phenomenon, Explained’

I was recently interviewed by Artnet News Editor Julia Halperin on Yuga Lab’s Bored Ape Yacht Club project for an Art Angle podcast. We talked about how Yuga Labs got its start, the launch of BAYC, and how Yuga is currently transforming itself into a gaming company. 

One thing I keep stressing is the importance of fungible tokens like Apecoin in these NFT projects. They allow investors and insiders to sell to the general public, while BAYC itself becomes just a publicity stunt. 

It’s very difficult to find buyers outside of the crypto universe for a $250,000 NFT. You are much better off creating an ERC20 token and getting it listed on Coinbase — which is exactly what Yuga Labs did in conjunction with its backer a16z.

In any case, it was a delight speaking with Julia. She asked a lot of good questions.

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes and on Spotify. The podcast was based on a related story I wrote on BAYC for Artnet News last month.

The gorilla in the room: Yuga Labs investors pretend to care about the planet. They don’t.

Yuga Labs, the startup behind the popular Bored Apes Yacht Club project, finally got its long-rumored investment from venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz. It now has plenty of funds to transition into a game company — and create the illusion that its newly launched Apecoin is something other than an unregistered securities offering. 

Apecoin, an ERC20 token that lives on Ethereum, is a path to liquidity from Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs, of which many more are soon to come in the form of virtual land. “Blue-chip” NFTs are too expensive for the average Joe, and you can’t buy a fraction of an NFT, the way you can a fungible token.

As with the Bored Ape NFTs, Apecoin has zero intrinsic value. The money you get when you cash out comes from new investors buying in. Unlike virtual land or ERC20 tokens, the supply of suckers in the world is finite. Eventually, the tokens will crash in value and retailers will get stuck holding the bag.

After acquiring the IP for CryptoPunks and Meebits, Yuga Labs now controls three of the most popular NFT collections. All three live on Ethereum, a proof of work blockchain that consumes a country’s worth of energy. Each transaction on Ethereum is equivalent to the power consumption of an average U.S. household over nine days, according to Digiconomist. 

Destroying the planet, one NFT at a time

Other participants in Yuga Labs’ $450 million round, which valued the company at $4 billion, include Animoca Brands, The Sandbox, LionTree, Sound Ventures, FTX, and MoonPay.  

Animoca Brands is the Hong Kong-based outfit behind the play-to-earn game Benji Bananas, which plans to incorporate Apecoin — an attempt to give the token utility and avoid regulatory scrutiny. P2E games have received criticism for being digital sweatshops. Players, often in poor areas of the world, are required to purchase an NFT, worth several months’ salary, to start “earning” tokens they then have to sell to recoup their initial investment in the game.  

The Sandbox, a subsidiary of Animoca, is the creator of a play-to-earn game that sells virtual land as NFTs. The company bills itself as “one of the pillars of the open crypto metaverse.” As of September, The Sandbox — ‘The’ is part of its name — owned 31 different BAYC NFTs. 

According to a leaked pitched deck, Yuga Labs plans to create a gaming metaverse and raise another $455 million selling virtual land NFTs. In a recent tweet, Yuga Labs hinted at a new project called “Otherside,” which will accept APE and launch in April. Yuga Labs can create as much virtual land as they want, so maybe they’ll create virtual forests for their virtual primates? 

In the real world, the one we all live in, great apes are running out of natural habitat. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos are already endangered or critically endangered. A combination of the climate crisis and the destruction of their natural habitats is threatening their very existence as a species. 

By promoting Web3 and Ethereum-based tokens, Yuga Labs is speeding the demise of these creatures. To compensate for this evil, Yuga is throwing chimps a banana by donating 1% of the Apecoin supply of 1 billion to the Jane Goodall Legacy Foundation. (I wrote to Jane Goodall to see how she feels about this. If I get a response, I’ll post the comments here.)

Investment bank LionTree is headed by Aryeh Bourkoff, who told investors in his 2021 year-end letter that climate change is something we should all care about: “Widening our gaze, as the market chases growth, the climate crisis is reminding us that infinite growth on a finite planet is irrational and that we must commit to a long-term outlook guided by purpose rather than short-term gains.” 

Bourkoff appears blind to the hypocrisy of backing an NFT project — or maybe he cares more about the money. Investing in tokens that resemble securities is a lucrative business. Just ask Marc Andreessen, who recently bought a $44.5 million house in Malibu down the street from the $177 million home he bought in October. Forbes estimates his net worth at $1.7 billion.

Sound Ventures is a fund controlled by Guy Oseary and actor-turned investor Ashton Kutcher, who also pretends to care about the planet.

Kutcher was a founding member of World War Zero, an American coalition launched by John Kerry in 2019 to fight the climate crisis. He and his wife bought a Hummer EV, and they live in a Los Angeles home powered entirely by solar energy.

“Ashton and Mila are concerned about the quality of the soil, the purity of the food they eat, and the water they drink. The ideals of sustainability and regenerative farming aren’t just abstract concepts to them,” the house designer told Architectural Digest.

Crypto exchange FTX is one of Tether’s biggest customers. (If you are not familiar with Tether, its web of lies, and the role it plays in the crypto economy, read my Tether timeline.) The company’s answer to the climate problem is to purchase carbon credits.

Finally, MoonPay is the company behind all the strange celebrity purchases of Bored Ape NFTs, where nobody is quite sure if the celebrities are buying the NFTs themselves, or if they are playing a part in promoting the project, without fully disclosing their motives.

MoonPay’s response to Ethereum’s waste is a similar greenwashing. It claims the media exaggerates the impact of crypto mining on the world and points out that Ethereum has plans to transition to a more energy-efficient proof of stake. Ethereum has talked about shifting to a proof of stake system since 2014. It has yet to make the big move.

These are the backers of Yuga Labs, full of contradictions. On one side of their mouths, they talk about saving the planet or they preach exploitive play-to-earn games as a way for players to “own their digital assets.” (They don’t, the assets are stored in central servers.) And on the other side, they promote Web3 and the metaverse, fuzzy marketing terms that point to ways to justify the creation of new tokens.

It all gets a little tough to stomach when you read reports that climate change is already worse than expected and see actual images of an ice shelf the size of Los Angeles collapsing in Antarctica. 

Another celeb joins the circus

On Thursday night, Madonna announced on social media that she now owns a bored Bored Ape NFT. It’s not clear if she bought the token — or if the token was gifted to her by a certain someone who is using her celebrity status to promote Bored Ape Yacht Club.

The material girl’s manager, Oseary, has known her since he was 17 years old. He’s probably been talking her ear off about Bored Apes since October when he signed a deal to represent Yuga Labs. Now he owns a chunk of the company via Sound Ventures as well. 

Oseary has a history of tapping into his celebrity connections to shill cryptocurrency. He also has a history of investing in alleged unregistered security offerings. 

He and Kutcher previously invested in Ripple. In 2018, they donated $4 million in XRP, the token widely associated with Ripple, to “save the gorillas” on the Ellen Degeneres show. Degeneres has a wildlife fund.  

Two years later, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Ripple and two of its execs for conducting a $1.3 billion unregistered securities offering. The firm is still battling the lawsuit in court.

History repeated?

Yuga Labs likely never contacted the SEC before launching APE — and there is good reason for that. If they had, the regulator probably would have told them, “No, don’t do this.” So they went ahead and did it anyway, figuring they could get away with it, or worst-case scenario, pay a multi-million-dollar fine years later.

The APE DAO or decentralized autonomous organization, which supposedly launched Apecoin, is not a legal entity. It is also neither decentralized nor autonomous. The Ape Foundation — the committee that enforces decisions made by the DAO — is registered in the Cayman Islands. 

The Ape Foundations’ five members get paid $125,000 in Apecoin for their six-month terms. The Apecoin community votes on whether they get reinstated. Votes are weighted by how many Apecoin you own. Since Yuga Labs and its investors hold the majority of Apecoin, ultimately, they decide who gets reinstated and what proposals get passed.

Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian serves on the Apecoin Foundation. (The other four members are Amy Wu, who leads a venture fund at FTX; Maaria Bajwa, a venture investor at Sound Ventures; Yat Siu, the cofounder of Animoca Brands, and Dean Steinbeck, cofounder of Horizen Labs, one of the companies that partnered with Yuga Labs in developing Apecoin.) 

Like all the others, Ohanian also talks a big story when it comes to combatting climate change. He recently launched the 776 Foundation, a fellowship that will give $20 million to young people over the next decade to work on climate solutions.

People who care about the planet, don’t back massive NFT projects. They just don’t. Every NFT transaction on Ethereum comes at a destructive cost to the environment.

Bored Ape Yacht Club is about creating perceived value where there is none to pump tokens. Not only do retail investors risk losing money, but the project itself is contributing to our last remaining chances at escaping climate disaster — all in the hopes of making a few grifters rich.   

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News: Yuga Labs goes APE, Meebits insider trading, ConsenSys raises another $450M to focus on Web3 buzzword

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BAYC: Money for nothing

Yuga Labs finally launched its Apecoin — oops, sorry, not Yuga, but the Apecoin DAO launched APE. On March 17, the same day the coin launched, it was listed on all the major crypto exchanges in the U.S., including Coinbase, Kraken, and Gemini. (My blog post)

Apecoin has a fixed supply of 1 billion. So far, about 130 million Apecoins have entered circulation, according to CoinGecko. Today, Apecoin is up to $11, and 40% of the volume is on Binance trading against two stablecoins with dubious backing — USDT (35%) and BUSD (5%).

Soon after Apecoin launched, Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT holders took to Twitter, proclaiming how rich they had become overnight. Each bored ape holder got ~10,094 APE tokens, valued anywhere between $80,000 to $200,000.

It’s the same Ponzi promotion story we have heard since bitcoin launched in 2009 — buy this token and you will get rich for free. Everyone who holds Apecoin now wants you to buy APE, so the value goes up, and they can cash out. That value right now is being artificially pumped by tethers.

Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Apecoin also went to Yuga Labs founders, Yuga Labs itself, contributors to the project, and to the newly formed Ape DAO. Just like that, everyone is rich.

What about Andreessen Horowitz (a16z)? How many Apecoins were they allotted? We may never be privy to the details.

“A spokesperson for Yuga said Andreessen received coins in exchange for assisting with ‘overall DAO governance design’……Yuga and Andreessen both declined to comment on the potential financing.” (FT)

Apecoin serves as a governance token, giving holders voting rights in the newly formed Ape DAO. Big holders, like Yuga Labs and a16z, have a greater say in the future of BAYC. This is the problem with the Ape DAO — it’s centralized decision-making. (Bloomberg)

Someone figured out a clever way to make $1.1 million by “borrowing” another person’s bored apes just long enough to claim Apecoin. (The block; Web3 is going just great)

Benji Bananas, the play-to-earn game that Yuga Labs is using via Animoca Brands to give Apecoin some utility so the SEC doesn’t sue its issuers, was bad and exploitative from the get-go. (Twitter)

The Block got a hold of Yuga Labs’ pitch deck. According to the deck, Yuga Labs hopes to make $455 million in 2022 through virtual land sales. It’s aiming to build a gaming metaverse called MetaRPG, compatible with a host of NFTs, powered by Apecoin. (The Block; Pitch Deck)

Yes, that’s right. Yuga’s next project is selling make-believe land. You can buy the land with APE.

Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs along with Apecoin are inherently worthless. The BAYC project doesn’t offer a service; it doesn’t manufacture a product. Its business model is based on filling a balloon with hot air and getting high-profile celebs to shill its product on prime-time TV.

Sure, holding a bored ape NFT will gain you entrance into a warehouse party — but they don’t even work properly for that. NFTs literally, don’t work for anything they are intended to do.  

Insiders acquire Meebits

​​On March 11, Yuga Labs announced it acquired the IP for CryptoPunks and Meebits collections from Larva Labs. It’s giving the NFT holders the IP, so they can create derivative products, like hoodies, T-shirts, and other merch. (Press release; Techcrunch) 

Yuga also got 423 Punks and 1,711 Meebits in the deal. The terms were undisclosed, so we don’t know how much they paid Larva Labs.

The floor price of Meebits doubled after the announcement, climbing to 6.134 ETH ($15,800).

Insiders took the opportunity to buy Meebits in advance and make some easy money.

Lesley Silverman, the head of digital assets at United Talent Agency, formally representing Larva Labs, is one of those people. She bought two Meebits in the days prior to the announcement. (Twitter)

All told, 14 Ethereum addresses, with no previous history of mainstream NFT collection purchases, quietly acquired 159 Meebits between March 5 and March 11. The top address purchased 24 Meebits at once on March 5. (Bloomberg)

Insider trading in the securities business is illegal and comes with harsh consequences, but NFTs are not regulated, so people get away with this stuff, literally, all of the time.

Smile for the camera

Yuga Labs and its partner Animoca Brands want bored ape holders to submit a government-issued ID and have their photos taken to confirm their real identities, so they can register for a mystery project. Bored ape holders are pissed off, some thinking they were going to be turned over to the IRS. (Cointelegraph)

The irony is that this all happened only a month after Yuga Lab’s founders made a big to-do about Buzzfeed revealing their true identities. They responded by directing an onslaught of anger and harassment from the crypto community toward Buzzfeed reporter Katie Notopoulos.

Coinbase class-action

Apecoin resembles a security, like a stock or bond, but that didn’t stop Coinbase from listing it asap.

​​SEC Chair Gary Gensler has already stated that Coinbase lists dozens of tokens that may be securities. According to securities laws, exchanges that list securities must register with the SEC as a securities exchange or a broker-dealer. Coinbase has not registered as either.

A recent class-action against Coinbase alleges that 79 tokens the exchange lists meet the definition of securities, but plaintiffs were not warned of the risks. The claim, filed by three Coinbase users, asks for monetary relief and an injunction enjoining Coinbase from offering the tokens without having to register with the SEC. (Complaint; Cointelegraph)

I think you should leave

Time magazine wrote a lengthy profile on Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, calling him the “prince of crypto.” Buterin is concerned about what Ethereum has morphed into.

“Buterin worries about the dangers to overeager investors, the soaring transaction fees, and the shameless displays of wealth that have come to dominate public perception of crypto.” (Time)

It’s funny Buterin should have these feelings.

Ethereum was literally designed for all of these things. It fueled the ICO bubble of 2017. Most ICO tokens live on the Ethereum blockchain, just as most NFT tokens today are bought and sold on Ethereum. And Ethereum’s proof-of-work consumes the energy of a small country.

Buterin is the guy in the hotdog suit in a sketch from the comedy series “I think you should leave.”

In the sketch, a hot-dog-shaped car has crashed through the window of a menswear shop. Everyone is looking around to see who is responsible. Suddenly a man in a hot-dog costume appears out of nowhere and says, “Yeah, whoever did this, just confess. We promise we won’t be mad!”

Never forget, Vitalik created Ethereum because World of Warcraft nerfed his favorite warlock

VCs shovel more millions into ConsenSys

Joe Lubin’s ConsenSys got another $450 million round of funding with a $7 billion valuation. This comes just four months after its Series C that raised $200 million and valued it at $3 billion.

The company has more than doubled in value, thanks to the venture capitalists.

Lubin is one of the cofounders of Ethereum who struck it rich in Ethereum’s early crowdfunding sale.

ConsenSys invested in ICO projects throughout 2017 — mostly hilariously bad ideas like Civil. When none of these projects had any hope of making it, and some like Airfox and Paragon, had to pay hefty fees to the SEC for securities violations, ConsenSys went through a “strategic transformation.” It cut staff and converted its failing portfolio business into a separate company called ConsenSys Mesh, effectively pushing the ugly mess off into the corner.

Nowadays, Lubin is busy hyping software like Infrura and Metamask to build Web3.

Stephen Dhiel explains why Web3 is “bullshit.”

The latest round will “accelerate the global adoption” of Infura and ConsenSys’s efforts to “drive NFT adoption for artists, content creators, brands, intellectual property owners, game publishers, and sports leagues.” (ConsenSys blog; Decrypt)

Anyone who thinks NFTs are going to crash soon has little understanding of how much money VCs are shoveling into this space. This money will keep the space propped up long enough for investors and insiders to cash out, just like they did with ICO tokens.

Elsewhere in cryptoland

Vice did a story on nocoiners — bitcoin skeptics, as we call ourselves. It has some good content, but also a misleading flaw: it makes it seem that nocoiners are insignificant because the “nocoiner industry” moves a tiny amount of money compared to the crypto industry. (Vice)

NYT reporter Kevin Roose wrote a lengthy story explaining crypto to the masses. Don’t be fooled. This is a piece of crypto boosterism, where Roose continually tries to convince the reader that he is a “crypto moderate.” The story is especially pernicious because of its “reasonable” tone. (New York Times)

Vice reporter Edward Ongweso went to the first SXSW post-covid, only to find out it was overtaken by crypto-mania and NFT nonsense, like 3D anthropomorphic rabbits plastered everywhere, “which I gathered were somehow related to crypto though it wasn’t clear how.” (Vice)

Mark Zuckerberg says that in the coming months you’ll be able to mint NFTs within Instagram. “I would hope that, you know, the clothing that your avatar is wearing in the metaverse, you know, can be basically minted as an NFT and you can take it between your different places,” he said. (Engadget)

There is no actual metaverse. Zuckerberg is lying. Metaverse is a meaningless marketing term used by companies in an effort to separate people from their money.

“Zuckerberg created this conversation to distract from his problems and made fertile ground for truly evil people to profit,” Ed Zitron wrote in a blog post last month.

Jorge Stolfi, a computer science professor in Brazil, says Web3 is nothing more than a new way to frame cypherpunk’s utopia: “The cypherpunks are a bunch of ‘socially challenged’ nerds who dream of building a society on the internet that is totally beyond the reach of governments. That the cops cannot monitor, regulate, or control.” (Reddit: here and here)

The CFTC is looking into Binance to see if the exchange permitted U.S. residents to buy and sell derivatives traded on its platform. (Bloomberg)

Also, Binance has stopped serving residents of Ontario, this time for real. (Binance Letter of Undertaking and Acknowledgment; OSC press release)

Münecat just came out with a brilliant video (100 minutes) explaining Web 3.0. Picture this: The year is 2063, and the global currency is Moosecoin. (Youtube)

Wikipedia editor and software engineer Molly White did a podcast with “Scam Economy” talking about her “Web3 is going just great” project. (Youtube)

If you haven’t read it yet, this Verge article on Tron CEO Justin Sun is an amazing piece of reporting. Sun has a huge tolerance for risk. The story also explains what happened with Poloniex, the crypto exchange that Circle bought in early 2018 for $400 million and spun out for a $156 million loss. (Verge)

Me in the news

I recently wrote a story on BAYC for Artnet News, and one on Ethereum’s move to POS for MIT Tech Review. I did a podcast for Artist’s Well and made some minor updates to my “Bitcoin Widow” review.

Artnet News: ‘The Creators of Bored Ape Yacht Club Want to Become the Amazon of the NFT Space. Can They Pull It Off?’

My latest story on the Bored Apes Yacht Club was published in Artnet News today. It’s paywalled but worth subscribing to Artnet News if you want to read it!

I spent a few weeks working on this nearly 2,000-word story, and Artnet News editor Julia Halperin really helped me pull it together. We had the story ready to go on Friday when suddenly, Yuga Labs announced they had just acquired the IP to CryptoPunks and Meebits from Larva Labs. So of course, that meant lots of last-minute editing along with a new headline.

Usually, you make big announcements at the beginning or middle of the week, not when people are clearing off their desks and getting geared up for the weekend. 

But then the floor price of Bored Apes was dropping, slipping below $200,000 in ETH—and Yuga Labs needed to act quickly. 

Yuga Labs is giving Punk and Meebits owners the IP for their avatars, so they can create derivatives and hopefully further the branding and marketing of the project.

They’ll probably also get to attend yacht parties and warehouse concerts, and benefit from all of the other perks and freebies, like NFT airdrops.

Token projects have been promising real-world utility since the ICO era of 2017, and NFT projects are no different. The goal is to somehow justify the insane prices of these things. 

When NFTs became “the next big thing” in early 2021, many people started asking: “What good are these? All they do is point to a JPEG on the internet. I can copy and download that JPEG myself.”

In response to the criticism, many NFT projects now promise utility, and BAYC is no different. Owning a bored ape is a key to a club. It’s culture. It’s a digital identity, or whatever Yuga Labs can think of next.

Ultimately, it’s about marketing. High-value NFTs are illiquid. It’s very difficult to find a 1:1 buyer for a $200,000 bored ape, outside of celebrities. So the goal is to keep bored apes in the public eye and to keep bored ape holders from selling off their NFTs.

In the meantime, Yuga is working on a fungible token that will likely “democratize” their high-priced NFTs. All the better for a16z, if they proceed with reported plans to invest millions into the project.

The Silicon Valley VC firm could potentially get ERC20 tokens in return for their investment, and see quick returns if the coin lists on Coinbase. A16z has two directors sitting on the Coinbase board.

A fungible token combines the best of both worlds — the scarcity of a collectible NFT with the liquidy of an ERC20 token. But it’s complicated, you see. Too often these things resemble securities offerings.

Yuga Labs knows the big money is temporary. Until they work out the legalities of a fungible token, they need to do everything possible to keep the price of Bored Apes Yacht Club tokens up. 

So far, the plan is working. Soon after the announcement on Friday, the floor price of Bored Apes went up again. As of today, the cheapest bored ape NFT is $227,000 (90 ETH), according to CryptoSlam.

NEWS: Wormhole hit by exploit, BAYC and its tangled celebrity web, HitPiece’s dirty dealings 

Software is inherently unforgiving. Stupid mistakes render stupid consequences. Recently, this led to one of the largest thefts in a DeFi protocol.

Wormhole, a bridge for connecting Ethereum and Solana and other DeFi blockchains, was hit by a hacker, who stole $326 million in cryptocurrency.

An exploit in the code allowed the attacker to mint 120,000 wETH (wrapped ether) on the Solana blockchain out of thin air. The hacker then exchanged 93,750 wETH for ETH on Ethereum and the rest for SOL, the native token of Solana, and USDC. (Elliptic, Cointelegraph)

Cross-chain bridges allow you to stake crypto (generally, ETH) so you can spend it like the native crypto on another blockchain. In the case of Wormhole, wrapped ETH, an ERC-20 token that represents ETH one-to-one, serves as a sort of I.O.U. The hack resulted in Wormhole sitting on lots of unbacked wETH. 

Wormhole developers offered the hacker a $10 million bug bounty for the return of the funds. Why the hacker would want to relinquish $326 million for $10 million, I’m not sure.

Security researcher Sam Sun explained how the thief carried out the heist: “Wormhole didn’t properly validate all input accounts, which allowed the attacker to spoof guardian signatures and mint 120,000 ETH on Solana, of which they bridged 93,750 back to Ethereum.” (Twitter)

How did the hacker even know about this vulnerability? According to DedmundFitzgrld: “The fix was pushed to GitHub a couple weeks ago but not deployed. So the attacker found the exploit by scanning the commits to GitHub. The vulnerability was out there for all to see.” (Twitter)

Jump, a high-frequency trading group with crypto ambitions, stepped in to save the day. The Chicago-based firm somehow came up with the funds to replace all of the 120,000 ETH. Apparently, it had a spare $326 million sitting around? (Twitter, Fortune)

What do we know about Jump? Last August, it bought Certus One, which helped develop the Wormhole bridge. Jump also executes some crypto orders for Robinhood. 

Jump holds a heavy bag of Solano tokens. It can’t risk a lack of confidence in the market, so it likely borrowed a pile of ETH to fix the problem. Who did it borrow the funds from? One guess: Tether, who last year issued the firm $1.1 billion in USDT, according to one analysis

Qubit also hacked

Days before Wormhole was hacked, Qubit Finance was breached for $80 million in crypto. Similar to Wormhole, Qubit operates a bridge between Ethereum and the Binance Smart Chain network.

In this case, the hacker was able to exploit a security flaw in Qubit’s smart contract code that let them send in a deposit of 0 ETH and withdraw almost $80 million in Binance Coin in return. (Verge)

Qubit has been trying to convince the bank robbers to return the money. They started by offering a bounty of $250,000, and eventually upped it to $2 million — still, a piddling amount compared to what the hackers stole.  

Now, they are resorting to threats:

“If you don’t come forward to claim the generous bounty and return the funds, you will face lasting consequences that vastly outweigh the benefits of holding onto funds that you can’t readily access,” Qubit said in a tweet.

Bored Ape founders revealed

Buzzfeed just identified the two main founders of BAYC — Greg Solano, a 32-year-old writer and editor, and Wylie Aronow, a 35-year-old originally from Florida. The pair don’t have any dark pasts, as far as anyone knows. (Buzzfeed)

“These 2 amazing partners of mine,” Guy Oseary tweeted with a pic of them at Apefest. Oseary is the music industry veteran who represents them. He also represents NFT project World of Women. And he is a buddy of Jimmy Fallon, so that explains a few things.

Oseary says the founders were “doxxed against their will,” which is a bizarre statement given you are talking about the founders of a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

As Buzzfeed puts it: “This reveals a unique problem with the idea of a billion-dollar company run by an unknown person: How do you hold them accountable if you don’t know who they are?”

A16z mulls buying a chunk of BAYC

Yuga Labs, the startup behind Bored Apes Yacht Club, is in talks with Andreessen-Horowitz (a16z), who is considering buying a major stake in the startup, which would value it at $5 billion. (FT

I’m losing count of all of the NFT projects a16z is funneling money into — over a dozen, for sure. The VC firm is a major force behind the frothy NFT market. 

Celebrities are shilling Bored Apes left and right to the point where it is downright nauseating and rumor has it the Bored Apes will make an appearance in the Super Bowl halftime show on Feb. 13.

The problem with investing in high-value NFTs is they are not easy to dump on retail. You have to find that special buyer with loads of disposable ETH. Fungible tokens, on the other hand, are much more liquid — especially if you can get them listed on Coinbase

This is why DAOs (with their ERC-20 governance tokens) and fractionalized NFTs are becoming the thing. It’s like the 2017 initial coin offering craze all over again. Only now we’re talking about Web3 and “democratizing” companies and JPEGs.

Sometime soon, expect Yuga Labs to issue an ERC-20 token with a huge pre-mine for investors. The token will likely represent its NFTs in some way or else give holders special access to future Yuga Lab NFTs — something like that. Bored Apes have been heavily pumped, so at this point, it’s just a matter of creating a fungible token to lure in suckers at a much greater scale. At the end of the day, it is all about creating the illusion of exclusivity or having access to something special.

Yuga Labs has talked about issuing ERC-20 tokens in the past, saying the plan was to work with law firm Fenwick and West and Horizon Labs — issuers of the ZEN token, which is already listed on Coinbase. So this is nothing new. It’s been in the works all along.

What a tangled Web we weave

We’ve been wondering a lot about why celebs are hyping Bored Apes. Who is talking them into this? What’s the deal? 

Max Read did the smart thing — he followed the money trail, and mapped out the celebrity NFT complex. Jimmy Fallon (who was shilling his Bored Ape on National TV) is represented by talent and sports agency Creative Artists Agency. Lo and behold, CAA is an investor in OpenSea and recently signed a deal to represent the NFT collector 0xb1, who owns NFTs from Bored Ape Yacht Club and World of Women. There’s more. Lots more. Take a look at the map. (Substack)

Last week Justin Beiber bought a Bored Ape NFT for $1.3 million (500 ETH), as one of several purchases he made on OpenSea within a short period. As Dirty Bubble Media explains, all of the NFTs were gifted. They were bought by the InBetweeners project, a collection of NFTs owned by artist Gianpiero D’Alessandro, who has designed merchandise for Bieber, Snoop Dogg, and others. 

Bieber never disclosed any financial relationship between himself and the inBetweeners project. As Dirty Bubble points out, this is a big no-no, according to FTC rules. (Substack)

Gwyneth Paltrow also has a Bored Ape, thanks again to MoonPay Concierge. Every time someone buys a Bored Ape via MoonPay, they seemingly have to announce it on social media. (Twitter)

HitPiece and its shady founder

A new project called HitPiece appeared out of nowhere and started scraping Spotify and “staking” songs as NFTs — without the artists’ permission. 

Naturally, artists found out and started hurling obscenities at the project via social media. 

“Yo a bunch of industrial scene acts (including me) have NFTs for sale on the site hitpiece.com I did not put it online and I assume you probably didn’t either, fucked up,” Choke Chain tweeted.

“Each HitPiece NFT is a One of One NFT for each unique song recording. Members build their Hitlist of their favorite songs, get on leaderboards, and receive in real life value such as access and experiences with Artists,” Hitpiece said on its website. (NNE)

The brains — or lack of brains — behind HitPiece turns out to be music industry guy, Rory Felton, who has a history of shady dealings. (Twitter thread) 

Felton launched HitPiece in December along with music exec and former rapper Michael Barrin (aka “MC Serch”), and venture capitalists Ryan Singer and Blake Modersitzki. (Festival News)

Anyhow, Hitpiece.com has been taken down. If you go to the website, all you get now is a message that says, “We Started The Conversation And We’re Listening,” whatever that means. (archive)

Gamers hate NFTs!

Gamers want nothing to do with NFTs. They see NFTs as a cash grab and forcefully push back on any game company’s efforts to incorporate NFTs in anything.

Clueless to that trend, GameStop has teamed with Immutable X to launch an NFT marketplace. They’re also creating a $100 million fund for grants to build on the platforms. While Gamestonk investors might think this is great, it should thoroughly piss of GameStop customers. (Verge)

Team17, the outfit behind the many Worms games, pulled the plug on its MegaWorms NFT project (they wanted to create NFTs of all the Worms games characters) only 24 hours after announcing the project, due to extreme backlash from customers, fans, and teamsters. (IGN)

Notice the editor’s note on the IGN story: “The subject of NFTs is currently a very controversial topic in the gaming community. IGN urges community members to be respectful when engaging in conversation around this subject and does not endorse harassment of any kind.

Electronic Arts, another game publisher, is also backtracking from earlier NFT enthusiasm. (Eurogamer

Other NFT news

Nike sues online sneaker reseller StockX for selling NFTs of Nike shoes. (Reuters) 

How did OpenSea take over the NFT trade and become a multibillion dollar company? (Hint: they got lots of help from a16z.) (Verge)

One of the founders of Larva Labs, the project behind CryptoPunks, sold all of his v1 Punks for 260 ETH. In response, Larva Labs released an official statement saying the v1 Punks are worthless, because the project re-released all the Punks in 2017 to fix a bug.

The NFT community feels differently. They are saying that v1 Punks are the originals! What’s on the blockchain, stays on the blockchain. (NFT evening)

Coachella is selling lifetime festival passes for the first time — but you have to buy an NFT to get one. The music festival launched an NFT marketplace built by FTX US, with three collections of NFTs going on sale on Feb. 4th. (Verge)

This is part of a trend, I mentioned before. NFTs are being used to give people special access to clubs, events, restaurants, breweries, and whatnot. Wanna be part of the exclusive group? Buy our NFTs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is retiring after 22 seasons with the NFL. His business ventures, including NFT platform Autograph, will keep him busy moving forward. (Fortune)

Last year, a16z-backed Meta4 Capital created a new fund to invest up to $100 million in NFTs. In a twitter thread, Meta4Capital justifies spending money on “historically significant” or “iconic” NFTs, as if any of this means anything. It doesn’t. At the end of the day, an NFT is just a number in a database.

A racist project called “Meta Slave” offered NFTs made from photographs of Black people (all algorithmically-generated). After a swift backlash, the project rebranded to also feature “white, Asian, etc.” NFTs. The project’s Twitter and Instagram accounts have been deactivated. The collection has also been removed from OpenSea where the NFTs were being auctioned. (Vice)

Artist bayneko airdropped NFTs of microscope pictures of SARS-COV-2 to all 96,186 users of NFT platform Hic et Nunc (HEN) who hold at least one NFT. The NFT description read: “Your wallet has been infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19… in an act symbolic of the invasive and ubiquitous nature of the virus and its psychological effects.” (Twitter thread)

Elsewhere in cryptoland

Quote of the day: “So much dumb stuff happens in crypto, and if you are a smart intermediary that dumb stuff is your profit margin. Crypto markets are lightly regulated and brutally Darwinian, and every day the smart find exciting new ways to take money from the dumb. The returns to smart are very high.” ~ Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

On that note, another day, another rug pull. Realux promised to democratize real estate at a “very low cost in a very easy way” using a complex system of tokens backed by real estate investments. After collecting everyone’s money, the project shut down and its creators vanished. (Motherboard)

Riot Blockchain, a large crypto miner located just outside of Austin shut down ahead of a cold blast. Bitcoin miners have been drawn to Texas because of the state’s cheap electricity. They’ve been lobbying Governor Greg Abbott to make things even easier for them. (Bloomberg)

How Facebook’s Diem died. A post mortem. (Washington Post)

Jeremy Allaire’s Circle, the company behind USDC, is running ads in everything. (Twitter)

The IRS is coming for you. Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi warned that Americans who invested in crypto or NFTs, and actively traded equities on commission-free websites, could be dumbfounded when they learn how much they own in taxes because “they were in essence gambling with their money.” (Bloomberg)

In a podcast, Sohale Mortazavi talks about his piece for Jacobin that went viral: “Cryptocurrency Is a Giant Ponzi Scheme.” (Youtube)

The CEO of US-based crypto exchange Cryptsy, Paul Vernon, was indicted on 17 counts, including tax evasion, wire fraud, money laundering, computer fraud, tampering with records, documents, and other objects, and destruction of records in a federal investigation. (IRS

This has been a long time coming. Cryptsy shut down in 2016, after announcing 13,000 BTC and 30,000 LTC were stolen two years prior. It was later discovered that “Big Vern” stole the money.

According to the indictment: “Between May 2013 through May 2015, Vernon used his control over Cryptsy’s accounts, known as wallets, to steal over one million dollars from Cryptsy’s cryptocurrency wallets. Once Vernon stole his customers’ funds from Cryptsy’s wallets, he deposited the funds into a personal cryptocurrency wallet and then transferred the same funds into his personal bank account.”

Sam Bankman’s FTX got a $400 billion funding round, valuing the company at $32 billion, as investors, including Softbank and Canada’s Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, hog piled into the madness. (I mentioned earlier that the exchange’s US arm also got a $400 million round.) (Bloomberg)

Taylor Monohan’s MyCrypto joined the Metamask team. ConsenSys acquired MyCrypto for an undisclosed sum and plans to merge MyCrypto with the MetaMask wallet. (Taylor appeared in the QuadrigaCX documentary “Dead Man’s Switch” along with me and David Gerard.) (Coindesk)

On the subject of QuadrigaCX — my review of Jennifer Robertson’s “Bitcoin Widow” was reprinted and is getting lots of attention. (Saltwire)

Steven Kimber, the Halifax author who helped author “Bitcoin Widow,” was interviewed on CBC radio about the book. He spent 50 hours listening to Robertson, he said. (CBC radio)

Douglas Johnston, a Winnipeg lawyer and writer, also reviewed “Bitcoin Widow.” His review was more critical than others. “This is autobiography, so it’s told in the first person. But Robertson puts herself at the forefront of far too much of the narrative.” (Winnipeg Free Press)

Also on the subject of Quadriga, Michael Patryn, the fraudster who was recently voted off his latest Ponzi scheme Wonderland, has been laundering his crypto. According to his wallet, he has been sending thousands of ETH through mixer Tornado Cash(Coindesk, Etherscan)

Crypto risks destabilizing emerging markets, says the International Monetary Fund. (FT)

Binance builds a $1 million insurance fund. (Bloomberg)

El Salvador’s Chivo wallet keeps breaking. (The Block)

Silvergate Bank is paying $50 million in cash and 1,221,217 shares to buy Facebook Diem’s “intellectual property.” Silvergate wants to do a stablecoin running on the Diem blockchain. (press release, CNBC)

USDC, the second biggest stablecoin next to Tether, crossed 50 billion in circulation. (Circle)

Meanwhile, Tether is still sitting at 78 billion USDT. No new prints in 2022 yet. (Tether)

Bitcoin has climbed back to $41,500 despite no new Tether prints. (It was down to as low as $34,000 recently.) Retailers who bought BTC for $69,000 in November are still hurting.

Corey Doctorow on the great crypto crash event looming in the future: “If you think Coinbase is looking shaky and take your money out, you’d better hope they last for at least three more months, or you might have to give the money back to the bankruptcy trustees.” (Twitter thread)

Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest launched a criminal case against Facebook, alleging the company failed to prevent scam ads that used his image, and breached Australian AML laws over the spread of crypto fraud. (BBC)

The search for a crypto use case continues. (One Zero)

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