Cheeze allows users to mint photos as non-fungible tokens—but even its founder advises people to "tread carefully" as virtual art continues to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
OVER THE PAST few months, auctions of meme-art, twitter screenshots, music performances, and video clips of basketball shots have all managed to rack up hundreds of thousands (in some cases, millions) of dollars. People are shelling out big sums of cryptocurrency on online platforms such as Rarible, OpenSea, and Nifty Gateway (backed by the Winklevoss twins), to buy non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a blockchain certification of ownership (or bragging rights), to digital art, ephemera, and media.
The craze has skyrocketed during lockdown, as cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have boomed and people spent increasing amounts of time online. Investments in NFTs surged almost 300 percent in 2020, according to one report, as more than 222,000 people participated in $250 million worth of sales ranging from digital trading cards to virtual real estate.
Some anticipate that the NFT craze is merely fueling a bubble fated to pop. Others argue our collective NFT “hallucination” isn’t so out-of-character—and may even be here to stay. While digital artists rush to online trading platforms, some crypto-enthusiasts are betting that the NFT market can really enter the mainstream.
Simon Hudson, an entrepreneur shuttling between New York and Dubai, is one of the NFT bulls. He’s spent the past month tweeting about blockbuster NFT sales that have made the headlines, and says the space is “kind of like the internet was in the 1990s.” Over the past year, he’s gone down the “rabbit hole” of NFT tokens and platforms, and thinks there’s a market niche for everyday customers looking to mint their iPhone photos as NFTs. While platforms like Nifty Gateway curate collections from big-name artists and influencers, and platforms like OpenSea operate like a blockchain-based eBay, Hudson says that his platform, named Cheeze, is unique in allowing users to license and trade their photos.
If you think that the smartphone app Cheeze sounds a bit like a wannabe Getty Images for the blockchain era, you’re not alone. But Hudson, who also runs a photo-sharing app called Privy, points to the dramatic way in which photography has evolved with the advance of the iPhone, and suggests owning a DSLR camera is no longer a prerequisite for becoming a photographer. “Everyone who owns a phone is a photographer,” Hudson says, citing Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s pregnancy announcement, which included a picture of the couple taken via iPad. As news channels like CNBC and Bloomberg rely on Zoom interviews, Hudson says we’ve also grown more accepting of informal photo and video formats. He thinks these trends have paved the way for citizen-photographers, who can monetize some of the pictures they take on a day-to-day basis.
It’s a sales pitch that has won Cheeze advisors and investors including Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph, Startup Grind’s Derek Andersen, and recently, Dubai’s Mohamed AlRafi, (the chairman of SRG Holding, a company that manages operations in property development and hospitality, among other things). Hudson wants to base Cheeze’s back-end engineering operations in Dubai, and he says AlRafi was looking to expand his portfolio of investments into tech, so a partnership between the two seemed natural.
Why Dubai? There’s history, Hudson says. He previously ran a Dubai-based API agency called Brndster and got familiar with the city. There’s also a matter of Dubai’s fast-growing tech infrastructure: the emirate’s 5G push and its emphasis on blockchain have both made it an appealing place to go on a hiring spree, Hudson says. It also works out in terms of costs: running an engineering office in Dubai is cheaper than it would be in New York, for example.
Cheeze is set to roll out to users within the next six to eight weeks, Hudson says. It’s looking to bring both professional photographers and regular iPhone users onto the app, and has released an early waitlist for people to sign up. He’s excited about the NFT craze, the novelty of the market, and the kind of interest it may bring to the app. “Everyone’s coming from underground,” he says.
But Hudson says he isn’t brushing off any concerns that the frenzy might eventually pass.
“It would be naive not to notice or take that into account. In a market like this, where this is new for everybody, there’s no Google or Amazon,” to provide some comfort or knowledge of the market, he says. “Just tread carefully.”
Original article posted on http://wired.me