(This is a fictional news report. Nothing mentioned here happened. There are some real names here, but none of them said or did what is reported. Think of it as a fictional ‘postcard’ or news report from the future.)
Tokeni$eMe, a ‘controversial’ people funding play, becomes fastest-growing ‘decacorn’ after Tiger-led ‘round’.
10th December ’23 / techcrunch.com / Sarah Hegarty
Danny Chu, Asawari Kini and Noam Levine founded DAO Tokeni$eMe to help young creators access capital from, and enable membership for their fans, by creating tradeable tokens (effectively shares in themselves). In the process, the startup, which began less than two years ago, has created what many estimates say is the fastest growing asset class the world has ever seen ($200+ billion per the last count).
Danny Chu, a product manager of popular fintech + social app Public, Asawari Kini, who previously founded music startup Codetta, and ur programmer and inventor of the Godel programming language Noam Levine, met at a Miami mixer organized by Keith Rabois in the summer of ’21. They became friends and then cofounders after realizing that they were all equally obsessed with the problem of providing opportunities to young creators who were talented but cash poor. Their startup, which they structured as a DAO in late ’21, is today the fastest growing startup in history.
That growth, and success in scaling, has resulted in Tiger Global buying ‘primeval tokens’ worth $60m from the DAO founders, effectively valuing the complete token base at $10b. Primeval tokens, a term specific to Tokeni$eMe DAO, refers to governance tokens that enable primeval token holders to set strategic directions at the company.
Typically, at every primeval token sale, say DAO members, 80% of the purchase value is deployed as growth capital into the DAO while the remainder goes to the DAO founders. A second sale of primeval tokens extinguishes its primeval status.
The DAO has been reticent in sharing details. It is still not clear how much has been raised from external investors. The details of the $60m ’round’, was pieced together from chatter on their Discord as well as ‘on background’ messages with parties well-placed to comment. Multicoin, Paradigm and A16Z, three well known primeval token holders, did not respond to requests for comment. The DAO’s ‘shareholding’ as well as how the primeval token has been distributed among the holders remain unclear.
Polarizing play, or brilliant business model?
Tokeni$eMe’s business model has been a hot topic of debate. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called it the “new slavery.” Senator Elizabeth Warren was quick to label it as yet another “toxic creation” from Silicon Valley tech bros, even though one of the founders is a woman, and the founders are based in Miami. Creators who have benefited from token sales have complained about the pressure to keep token prices up, and the mental health challenges posed by token prices rising and falling.
The business model, however, has its supporters, too, especially from the creator and tech communities.
High profile tech prophet Balaji Srinivasan called it the most important development in investing since the venture capital model evolved in the 70s and 80s, and pointed to the opportunities that it affords to younger creators in the ascending world (a term he uses to describe developing countries such as India, Nigeria, Indonesia etc). Peter Thiel described Tokeni$eMe as the prime catalyst to speed up innovation and invention, and said it is a scalable update to his vision of the Thiel Fellowship.
Tokeni$eMe helps creators issue (fungible) tokens in themselves — either to access capital, or to create a membership layer. Creators are free to dictate the income shares that token holders have access to, and change it once every year. Every new token issuance gives Tokeni$eMe a 0.01% of the capital issuance while every secondary sale sees Tokeni$eMe get a 0.1% of the transaction value.
Nigerian schoolgirl Anwuli Okorie, whose WhatsApp novellas (literary works structured as WhatsApp group chats) became breakout hits, raised $50k from her fans (which includes investor Sam Lessin) six months ago, in exchange for a 10% (one of the standard income share structures on Tokeni$eMe) of her future income. Those tokens ($ANWUL1O) are worth over $2m now after acclaimed Hollywood studio Annapurna Pictures bought rights to her first novella ‘Banana Island’. It is rumoured that Jane Campion is directing the movie.
Indian rapper Kabir KT gifted $KABIR tokens to his fans. They were selected based on an algorithm created by Earworm Labs, which crawled Spotify and Gaana (a popular Indian music app) to discover the earliest listeners of his work as well as those who listen to it the most. The $KABIR tokens are membership tokens, and do not have any income share but allows Kabir KT to offer tickets to his concerts and merchandise at lower prices (as well as other benefits) to token holders who are in effect his superfans.
A unique growth hack
Tokeni$eMe also allows patrons to buy virtual tokens of people they admire who may not have tokenised themselves on Tokeni$eMe. This acts as a signal to creators that there’s an organic demand for their tokens. This product feature, pioneered nine months ago, has supercharged Tokeni$eMe’s growth. In a famous instance, Azadeh Taghipour, a young female Iranian mathematician and Professor at the elite Amirkabir University, responded to a popular post of mathematician Steven Strogatz on MathOverflow with a riposte and pointers of her innovative work on number theory. Steven Strogatz’s purchase of the Azadeh virtual token (when none existed), and subsequent support led to her releasing the $AZADEH0 token that garnered her $35k. Ms Taghipour is seen as one of the front runners for the AWM-Microsoft Research Prize, which is awarded to young female number theorists with outstanding promise.
Venture Capitalist Erica Cravitz converted her seed venture fund Exponential Ventures into an RIA to be able to invest in non-corporate structures. This year they expect about a third of their capital to be deployed directly in people rather than companies. She said “Investing in people is the new seed investing. Why wait to invest in their companies, when you can back them directly instead?”
A new asset class
This feature means that theoretically anyone can invest in anyone. There have been several instances of individuals, some affluent, some not so, as well as investors witnessing interactions on Twitter and backing those individuals by purchasing their virtual tokens. The first ‘investor’, i.e., who buys the first virtual token, sees his or her token becoming the prototoken, with special rights and privileges.
The idea of staking people, as commonly referred to by many in the industry, where you are literally betting that someone will succeed, is quickly becoming a new trend. Many high-profile investors, creators, and loyal fans have changed their Twitter handles and bios to mention token names that some say is reminiscent of the .eth domain names popularity in Twitter handles in ‘21.
The tokens issued by creators on Tokeni$eMe are collectively estimated to be worth $200b. The emergence of $200b of assets in under two years makes it perhaps the fastest growing asset class. Only certain crypto coins have grown faster, and virtually none have seen their growth shoot up to to $200b from zero in under two years.
Tokeni$eMe’s success has led to a feeding frenzy among venture capitalists and investors for tokens in the DAO. Many of the investors have purchased the cheaper beta tokens that do not have governance rights, but gives them a cut in the profits of the DAO. Keith Rabois (in his personal capacity), Multicoin, Paradigm, A16Z and now Tiger are the only recognised holders of the valuable primeval tokens that confer voting and governance rights. It is estimated that over 50% of the primeval tokens are with the three founders.
It is believed that Tiger beat Sequoia Capital and DST Global, which were rumored to be forerunners, till Everett Randle, who moved last year from Founders Fund to Tiger Global, reached out to his ex boss Keith Rabois to swing the deal in Tiger’s favour. Sequoia, DST Global and other VCs are now likely to look at smaller competitors to Tokeni$eMe such as Back.me and Aegis.fund.
Tiger Global declined to comment.