The investment values Zora at $600 million.
Zora says its open-source marketplace protocol stands out in a crowded NFT field.
In December, the high-flying crypto investor Katie Haun roiled the crypto world by announcing she was leaving Andreessen Horowitz to launch her own $1.5 billion venture fund. On Thursday, Haun Ventures made its first big move, leading a $50 million round in Zora, one of several NFT platforms looking to challenge industry giant OpenSea.
Coinbase Ventures, Kindred Ventures and others joined the round, which values Zora at $600 million.
Founded by three Coinbase veterans in 2020, Zora launched as a service that offered musicians and other artists the means to sell digital tokens tied to physical artifacts like cassettes. Since then, the startup has pivoted to focus on building an open source protocol that allows anyone to stand up an NFT marketplace.
Zora now likens itself to a Shopify or WordPress—companies that offer easy-to-use tools for building online stores and websites—but for NFTs and the emerging Web 3 economy.
Those using Zora’s protocol include the NFT music service Catalogue. Zora’s tools have also powered a number of high profile NFT drops, including a $4 million sale of aDoge NFT as well one for the Warhol Foundation. Zora also lets NFT buyers purchase carbon offsets to minimize their environmental impact.
Zora co-founder Jacob Horne told Decrypt that the company’s purpose has always remained the same. Namely, it aspires to provide artistic types with new ways to offer their creations online—but without having to use centralized Web 2 gatekeepers like Spotify or Amazon, which impose strict controls while taking a big cut of the revenue.
“The goal is the same—to help creators get as much value from their work,” said Horne. “[Zora] lets people create their own independent marketplace. It helps you go from ‘zero to marketplace.”
Horne predicts that, as the NFT market evolves, the demand will grow for niche verticals where communities of creators and their fans can congregate.
This thesis has been popular among Web3 watchers for some time, but is also challenged by the ongoing dominance of OpenSea, which remains by far the largest NFT platform and takes a kitchen-sink approach to its offerings. Even as the number of rival platforms has grown, OpenSea continues to own upwards of 90% of the market.
According to Horne, Zora is different because, unlike the likes of OpenSea or Coinbase’s NFT marketplace, the company does not use a centralized database to manage NFTs, but instead an open and on-chain protocol. He says that already more than 50% of Zora-related NFT transactions come from third party websites—a trend he expects to grow as more artists eschew OpenSea in favor of sites that use Zora’s tools to make marketplaces of their own.
As for revenue, Horne says Zora sells development tools to help companies customize its free protocol for their particular purposes—a model used by the likes of Linux provider RedHat. Meanwhile, the company is also building out a DAO that could one day raise money through the sale of governance tokens.
In announcing the Zora investment, Sam Rosenblum of Haun Ventures said the firm views the startup as part of the next generation of the web.
“Haun Ventures is dedicated to backing teams building a better internet,” Rosenblum wrote in a statement. “NFTs are a core building block that are central to the future of the web. We believe NFTs will produce a new generation of creators and makers who will enjoy more equitable economics thanks to a web built with better incentives that fairly values the contributions of those who create the culture.”
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