Room for non-techies in the Web3/DeFi/NFT Start Up race?

Apologies if this post is all over the place, but I'm a humanities grad (studied a mix of history, polisci, ethnic studies etc.) turned tech banker with the long term aspiration to build something on my own at the nexus of tech / music (my passion!) / digital media / finance.I recently got super deep into the whole web3 revolution stuff on Twitter and discord due to major music artists like Takeoff starting to mint NFTs. I think the whole decentralized blockchain technology is fascinating and the more research I do - the more the use cases seem more realistic. I'm definitely not bullish on all the shitcoins, but I do think Bitcoin is a real, tangible store of value and likely will be the most legitimized one long-term - it would be the only currency I would hold besides maybe Ethereum, which (from what my non computer science coding brain can understand) functions as a "digital oil" or allows people to build applications and stuff on top of the decentralized blockchain - income NFTs, which allows users to tokenize any digital item they can think of - images (which some consider to be fine art worth hundreds of thousands of $), individual songs, videos etc. These tokens prove ownership of digital items so they can increase in value according to demand - with the potential for great upside in secondary markets.

Okay okay cool, besides web3 being so nascent and rife with a bunch of scammers, critical security flaws (SOL if you lose your private key), shitcoins and pump / dump schemes, terrible UX design for the vast majority of applications, and a HIGH barrier of entry due to super technical language that the average user won't invest the research hours to truly understand blockchain - it's a VC hotspot and in 20 years from now, can be super normalized.I don't want to miss the boat of the next big thing, but I also don't want to learn how to code, and probably won't ever be able to truly understand the intricate mechanics behind building a safe, aesthetically, pleasing, and useful web3 product / startup.

So where do us finance folk fit in the innovation of this wave + the creator economy at large? I love the value proposition for NFTs for music artists (ability to own masters, fund their projects via fan base, track / directly interact with the earliest fans in a tangible way IRL) and I think some startups seems to be way ahead on this wave, like Audius. Where do you guys think the banker/private equity/consulting guys fit into this narrative? What's still left to be built? If not web3 native, something to help facilitate the transition for the average user or beneficial to the budding "Creator Economy" - which I'm bullish on.

I'm rambling now, but essentially - I'm a humanities person from a tech university in tech banking and see myself going down the entrepreneurship route in the near future. How much do I need to know about this space to know what needs to be added to the ecosystem - and how do I go about building that team? I'm super interested in the rest of WSO's thoughts on the entire Web3 wave generally, as I do think the most fruitful information comes from conversation.

Comments (17)

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Dec 13, 2021 - 5:55pm

Why this post longer than a New Yorker article  

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Dec 13, 2021 - 6:04pm

Practicing for my mindless Medium account for when I'm a big time VC 🚀🚀🚀 the longer the article the bigger the brain right?!

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Dec 14, 2021 - 1:15am

I don't want to sound like a dick but you really oughta put some more thought into the whole concept before rushing to put eggs in that basket lmao.

Like, for example, that point w/r/t owning the masters on the blockchain is something you might read from a medium post but it's more or less incoherent. Masters are the master file - the location from which you create imprints (more or less). The point being that you own both the file (not the same as whatever you might download from spotify etc.), as well as clear-cut legal rights. If you put the file on the blockchain (not currently the way NFTs are done fwiw, they seem to be more or less links to jpegs hosted on sites rather than the image as an entity on the blockchain), you're just giving away the master rather than claiming any stake to it. Then on top of that, the idea of ownership is already solved with legal rights pretty clearly. It's not like artists are struggling to own their stuff because they're legally being screwed, they just have a very low-leverage position and are mostly kinda dumb - leading to signing away said clearly defined rights for peanuts.

I'm not saying this is some sort of slam-dunk against you, but these sort of logical points underline why much of Web3 is really really dumb, and the same points made here can be amalgamated to form a pretty closed-loop argument against much of the NFT ideology

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Dec 14, 2021 - 3:32am

Not taking it as a slam dunk, but that extra layer of understanding is not transparent - so I appreciate you explaining the distinction there (and that's exactly what I mean by stupidly high barrier of entry knowledge wise to sift through the shit). There are no eggs in the basket yet, obviously I'm on the risk-averse banking route and trying to do my own research, but I'm skeptical to accept that all of the web3 stuff is really dumb outright. VCs are no measure of validity as 90% of their investments fail but is the whole neoliberal "we're gonna OWN everything and no big tyrannical oversight of currency >:)))" narrative the only thing driving innovation and growth of this sector?

You seem to understand the tech somewhat, do you think there are any real use cases of NFTs / web3 infrastructure in the future? If not, why?

Most Helpful
  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Dec 14, 2021 - 3:21pm

Valid question, and admittedly I struggle with making those two concepts whole myself - "can seemingly smart people really be so stupid?"

1. It's easy to shield yourself from these sorts of realizations and the whole space is super heavy on NFT/crypto-evangelists that have bullshit excuses around every corner.

2. This is gonna sound really mean, but take an honest look at https://twitter.com/ariannasimpson https://a16z.com/author/arianna-simpson/ (some random partner at a16z specializing in crypto, I just found the first one off their website) and tell me this person is really analyzing the nuances of why web3 is bullshit.

3. Similar to what you mentioned, VC firms have come around to the realization/hypothesis recently that the top firms hold a near monopoly on budding tech influence in the valley, and their attempts to supercharge returns have been to build out the ecosystem surrounding their VC firm to artificially boost hype/ease of later fundraising for their portfolio companies. a16z is one of the most crypto-focused of the big firms, and it just so happens they've began to build out the whole a16z future website recently to advertise for their investment theses as well as portcos. Also a firm who has a very very solid grasp on PR in tech news... Web3 has their fingerprints all over it, as well as some other firms in the big leagues, and smaller firms following their footsteps hoping to hit it big on the wave created by big players.

4. Crypto investments have potentially really really good economics for investors. No shit they're trying to push selling art via NFTs when they're invested in the 100% margin auction-house that (due to how NFTs are actually being set up on the blockchain) acts as an (ironically) central authoritative force in the ecosystem. Many such cases ancillary to this as well in their investments.

5. Look at dot-com boom type shit - yes, people who seemingly know what they're doing and have extremely vested interests in not making stupid bets, can make REALLY dumb bets. Yahoo bought Broadcast.com from Mark Cuban for nearly $6B, and shut it down 3 years later lmao. But in 2000 it would have been a good point - how can broadcast.com be dumb when Yahoo validated its existence so much?!

As to actual use cases, honestly I think they're pretty slim.

1. Gaming seems like an awesome use-case, but has (following a theme here!) really endemic flaws that ensure its failure. For some staked-claim asset in the blockchain to be usable in a game, it requires an authoritative force (the game creators) to validate its existence and code in 3d assets to the game that actually correlate to whatever the NFT claims to be. Why not just skip the NFT step, and have your in-game assets that you have way more control over economically? Oh that's right, it's exactly what they do (see: CSGO, TF2, etc.) And regardless, if it requires an authority to validate its existence, isn't that defeating the point of the NFT in the first place? Game companies WANT to exert control over the items in their game to make money off of them, that's a feature not a bug.

In this example of games, if a company were to accept NFTs as proof of some in-game asset, there's the reverse that some other company could then accept proof of the same asset in their game, defeating any moat accrued by the original game through ownership of in-game skins. Why doesn't anything come and kill CSGO? - people have invested thousands of dollars into the game and they're not going to abandon them for a slightly slicker new game, but what if another game could come in and hijack the value structure of the game's skins, and even offer a swap from NFT to valued ingame asset. The new game co. could essentially burn the original, giving themselves control over the value chain of skins. This would be almost akin to another country being able to peg their currency to the US Dollar without US permission, but then the new country ALSO has monetary control over the currency. The original game company would NEVER want this to happen, and thus would never actually put control in the players hands - because that's fucking stupid from their perspective.

2. DeFi seems a bit more legit until you look at the recent wave of hundreds of millions of dollars being stolen through poorly-written and (necessarily) open-source software with no legal recourse lmao. Why would anyone peg themselves to such a system, particularly risk-averse financial institutions? Maybe this could be useful if it was tied into the legal system, had frictions purposefully introduced that necessitate human control over the system, had fail-safes outside the software to prevent catastrophic failures in the software from resulting in billions of dollars of theft, aaaaaaand we've arrived at the current financial system. Whoops.

3. Creator-driven art sales through NFTs is just fucking stupid from the outright.

a. There's no real underlying asset, just an arbitrary claim (that, once again, requires a central authority or mass-agreed authority to provide any real agreed upon proof of ownership for).

b. It's all people trying to buy beanie babies with the purpose of making money - but when all the demand is derived from people trying to make money off the same assets, it's just a question of bag holding. There's no real end-value to anyone, particularly when the art sucks ass (as is the case).

c. Electronic art sucks and is worthless. Like, all those memes around "right click, save as" are right lmao. People like art for exclusivity, as well as impressiveness. NFT art gives neither unless its some unique case like Beeple where auction houses help validate their value through the peddling of influence within the art world (oh look, another central authority giving value to "democratized assets").

d. There's a valid use-case in tax evasion, but tax-evasion arbitrage is a really dumb horse to hitch your wagon to.

There's probably going to be some use-cases, but I really don't think we've found them yet, and they're likely not going to be nearly as impactful as current valuations might have you believe. People always say NFTs/DeFi are solutions in search of problems, but I think it's even worse. It's like we have a small, cleverly designed mechanism, and we're trying to build a roller-coaster centered on using said mechanism, because the patent owners are pushing it really hard.

(Now who's practicing for Medium?)

Dec 14, 2021 - 7:02am
tech_monkey, what's your opinion? Comment below:

There will always be finance guys as part of VC or growth equity financing it. I have seen the growth of tech knowledgeable people becoming more prominent in investing and leadership over the last 5 years primarily due to enterprise software. Maybe this is just a push to get further into the tech side. The trend of more and more CEOs or investors asking for more technical talent is something to be considered. As for people I know in the Web 3.0 space, most of them are just NFT bros who are non-technical. 

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Dec 14, 2021 - 12:42pm

I have someone in my network who went from a "top" IB to a start up in the crypto/NFT space. They're in a non-technical role, although I have no idea if they built a technical skillset in their free time. Imo it doesn't matter that they were at a top bank. In my experience crypto people are more focused on your experience/skillset/what value you can add rather than the prestige of your background.

Dec 14, 2021 - 7:25pm
ConfusedGuru, what's your opinion? Comment below:

No one cares about the "prestige" of your background when it comes to the tech space. They care about your working skillset and technical knowledge, and how you've applied both in the past to build some sort of product. IB falls nowhere in this category. They'll be last in line if there ever is a Web3 revolution or the like. Maybe they can make an excel PowerPoint on the benefits of Web3 or something lmao

  • 1
Dec 14, 2021 - 11:44pm
maplesyrup334, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Agreed - the whole industry is immune to technological progress. They still use excel which is not great with dealing with large data sets and is pretty basic in my opinion. They force analysts to commit hours to adjusting tomb stones, logos, font, when none of that shit matters. They waste analysts time by sending them comments late in the night, etc. If you want to get smart in the industry, you should have a very strong understanding of chain analysis with regards to bitcoin, understand proof of stake and the economics behind it and how it secures the network for ETH and various blockchains, understand basic cryptography and various systems (Proof of work, proof of stake, proof of history, lachesis), the framework for analyzing a crypto's value - mainly the trifecta (decentralization, speed, and security, learn how to analyze developer teams, etc. The crypto industry is growing and getting way more technical. Next year will be pivotal as smart contracts will deployed and we will see who the real winners are. Good luck.  BTW - Crypto M&A is coming. Blockchains will be acquiring other blockchains as you are seeing with proposed takeovers with Avalanche / Sushi. 

Dec 16, 2021 - 12:49pm
dedline, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I think an exotic product trader could find plenty of space to operate in the DeFi space.

I think you're right about the gaming stuff, but there is no "spec" for commissioning universal in-game items that work across games and platforms. Until that exists and whatever it looks like, I don't see anything taking off here.

The music shit is retarded in crypto world right now. The equivalent to creating "a golden record". I don't think anyone will care in the future. The real novelty is cracking DRM / fucking the publishers and paying the artists. A massive undertaking.

I've been in the space for a while (blockchain architect in 2016, several patents, etc…) and I think the space is largely full of shit.

Happy to FUD an article or two from your favorite A16Z analyst.

  • Analyst 3+ in CorpFin
Jan 5, 2022 - 11:53am

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