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How to buy NFTs: Trojans' venture Moonlight aims to make it easier – USC News

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Blake Asherian realizes that most people don’t have a spare $60,000 just lying around — which is about what you’d need to buy an NFT (non-fungible token) of any real value. He also understands that at a broader level, most people don’t even know what an NFT is or how to buy one.
That’s why Asherian and three other Trojans — Gabriel Perez, Matthew Hausman and Can Toraman — have started Moonlight, a fractionalized NFT marketplace that allows users to buy, own and sell fractions of an NFT in a simple and user-friendly way.
Moonlight — Blake Asherian, CEO and founder; Matthew Hausman, frontend architect; Can Toraman, technical advisor; and Gabriel Perez, product and community (clockwise from top left) — allows users to buy, own and sell fractions of an NFT in a simple and user-friendly way. (Photos/Courtesy of Blake Asherian, Matthew Hausman, Can Toraman and Gabriel Perez)
Despite gaining significant traction within the last year, NFTs are still in their infancy, and there are financial risks involved given their uncertainty and high price tags. Moonlight hopes to remedy that, or at least help bridge the gap between most people and this emerging space.
“If the average personal income is 63K, and the average cost of a blue-chip NFT is 51K, that’s a big problem,” said Asherian, a business administration undergraduate in the USC Marshall School of Business.
“Part of the reason why people are not as prone to getting into NFTs is because there’s such a high barrier in terms of knowledge, and technology,” Asherian added. “We’re breaking down that barrier.”
The concept of Moonlight is simple: A group of people will choose an NFT they want to crowdfund, and once the funding goal is reached, each crowdfunder becomes a co-owner. From there, co-owners can buy and sell their fractions on Moonlight’s platform.
Though the platform might be simple — or at the least the goal is to make it as simple as possible for people — the concept of an NFT isn’t widely understood and can seem a little daunting.
Essentially, an NFT is a unique piece of digital art that is certified using blockchain, an immutable record of ownership. The non-fungible part means that no two items are alike or equal. NFTs function similarly to how people collect and sell art or trading cards. Some items are worth next to nothing, while others fetch millions of dollars.
Moonlight’s goal is for people to have the opportunity to own fractions of NFTs of real value, which is why the company focuses on “blue chip” — or most valuable — NFTs, like Bored Ape or CryptoPunks, which have the potential to provide long-term returns and can easily go for six figures.
But why would a digital image of an ape or a pixelated person be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Well, why would someone pay over $7 million for a baseball card? Or thousands for any of the “contemporary art” listed on Sotheby’s?
All are fair questions, and the answers could vary depending on the person or item. The common factor is that collectors feel that these are assets that will increase in value. NFTs are just the newest version.
I would always argue with people: What is the difference between your trading card and an NFT? They took a picture of a guy and then put it on a piece of paper, and it has value somehow.
Matthew Hausman, Moonlight frontend architect
“I would always argue with people: What is the difference between your trading card and an NFT?” said Hausman, Moonlight frontend architect and 2021 USC Viterbi School of Engineering graduate.
“They took a picture of a guy and then put it on a piece of paper, and it has value somehow.”
For those who only read certain media accounts, it may seem like NFTs and the cryptocurrency used to buy them are a losing venture, and they might be for some. However, the creators of Moonlight were quick to point out that there are a lot of financial risks out there, and their platform’s crowdfunding feature can help eliminate some of those potential dangers.
With Moonlight, crowdfunding is key. Users select an NFT and then have a certain number of days to raise the funds. If the money is raised in time, the NFT is moved to the Moonlight platform where people can buy and sell shares. If the funds are not raised in time, then everyone who contributed gets their money back.
“No other protocol allows you to literally raise funds to buy cool stuff together,” Asherian said. “The secret sauce here is having a technology that can allow any number of people to put their money into something and as a group get anything they want.”
The next concept, fractionalization, is not necessarily new, but how Moonlight allows users to fractionalize is in direct response to a large issue within the NFT community. Right now, someone who owns an NFT can fractionalize it and sell those fractions at whatever price they see fit, regardless of the actual market value. People who are knowledgeable about and can afford a six-figure blue-chip NFT don’t have a need for fractionalization. So, the practice can take advantage of those who are new to the space — a problem that Moonlight wants to correct.
“For a bunch of people who are just entering the space of NFTs, how can they trust that that valuation is true?” Asherian said. “They don’t know enough about the protocols or the NFT collections. They’re kind of swayed in an untrue direction and it’s unfair to them.”
Asherian and his team at Moonlight emphasize that their platform is truly for everyone. NFTs — and even the cryptocurrency used to purchase them — might seem daunting for those who aren’t already in that world, but their hope is to take away some of that hesitance.
“At the end of the day, if you look at who’s into NFTs, it’s that 1%, right?” Asherian said. “We want to tap into the 99%, so we have to create a product that’s comprehensive for that group, which not too long ago included myself.”
The initial concept for Moonlight came to Asherian in late 2021, but his interest in NFTs started around two years ago when he was working for his cousin, Sean Rad, the founder and former CEO of the dating app Tinder. Rad — at one time at USC student — had invested in Genies, an avatar technology company, and Genies co-founder Akash Nigam started talking to Asherian about the company’s venture into NFTs. Though Asherian knew nothing about NFTs or blockchain, the concepts piqued his interest.
Soon after, he left his jobs to buy and sell NFTs full time. He admits that there were some definite growing pains early on because of the high barrier to entry, but those missteps put him in a position to succeed down the road.
He started drafting up the concept for Moonlight while studying abroad in Paris last year. He connected with fellow Trojans abroad which led to even more connections when he returned stateside. Asherian credits USC with introducing him to Perez, Hausman and Toraman, and making Moonlight what it is today.
Ever since I was a freshman, I’ve always heard that term ‘Trojan Family,’ but then I was really able to witness what it can do.
Blake Asherian, Moonlight CEO and founder
“I really believe in the Trojan Family and what it offers,” Asherian said. “Ever since I was a freshman, I’ve always heard that term ‘Trojan Family,’ but then I was really able to witness what it can do.”
A transfer student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Perez said his interest in NFTs has been a gradual progression since he was in high school. He started by selling stocks with his friends, and then in college he found a new interest in cryptocurrency.
“I kind of fell in love with the philosophy behind Bitcoin, which is a very anti-centralization of money, anti-central banks, power-back-to-the-people sort of thing,” said Perez, a junior economics major in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
“Then I learned about Ethereum, which was the first time I realized this has a huge potential to be the currency of the internet in the future.”
Ultimately, Perez, product and community lead at Moonlight, felt that if he wanted to further his career in the crypto world, he’d have to move somewhere where he felt it was more popular and valued. He found just such an innovative environment at USC, where USC Viterbi even offers a blockchain minor.
He came to USC before the fall 2021 semester and joined Blockchain@USC — a student-run organization that engages with blockchain-related topics, develops blockchain applications, and connects with industry professionals — as the director of external relations.
We started talking about fractionalizing NFTs and the ability for smaller capital players to be able to dive into these collections, and I was hooked from there.
Gabriel Perez, Moonlight, product and community
At USC, both within his field of study and social groups, Perez surrounded himself with other like-minded people that shared his passion, which is when he first heard about NFTs and eventually met Asherian.
“We started talking about fractionalizing NFTs and the ability for smaller capital players to be able to dive into these collections, and I was hooked from there,” Perez said.
By the end of the spring 2022 semester, Perez and Asherian had formed the Moonlight team formed and started the work to launch their idea.
The Moonlight crew is aware of some of the sustainability concerns with NFTs, primarily the proof-of-work blockchain system that is used by most cryptocurrencies so that transactions can be processed peer-to-peer in a secure manner without the need for a third party. Proof-of-work consumes a significant amount of energy. Rooms full of computers are needed to run complex mathematical equations, and coolers are needed to make sure those computers don’t overheat. By one estimate, mining 1 Bitcoin consumes as much electricity as a standard American home would use in nine years.
Most NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain, which currently uses proof-of-work. However, next month the Ethereum “Merge” will shift its blockchain to proof-of-stake, which uses 99.95% less energy by reducing the amount of computational work needed to verify the blocks and transactions that keep the blockchain secure.
“Fingers crossed that ‘Merge’ goes well because it’s a very anticipated catalyst in the crypto world,” Perez said. “If it does go correctly, NFTs are probably not going to have much of an environmental footprint at all, compared to something like a few office buildings downtown.”
But before they get to the point of using more sustainable blockchain, Asherian said they must establish their footing. Moonlight is projected to go live later this fall, and Asherian said once they’ve developed their community and built trust, they can influence people to move towards more sustainable methods.
“When you’re a huge marketplace that everyone starts suspecting has authority within the NFT space, then you’re able to sort of tell them what to do next,” Asherian said. “We really want to be able to gain that authority, and the way to do so is by being transparent, simple and fun.”
Trust and NFTs — or crypto, for that matter — might not go hand-in-hand just yet for much of the general population, but that’s exactly what Moonlight is hoping to fix. They see NFTs as an opportunity not just for those “in the know,” but for everyone.
“We believe there is power in numbers,” Asherian said. “At the end of the day, we want to give power to the people so they can own anything they want, together.”
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Ether Turns Deflationary Again, Led by Spike in NFT Sales – Yahoo Finance

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Ether has become deflationary again amid this year’s market rebound.
Data from ultrasound.money shows ether’s net issuance, or the annualized inflation rate, has dropped to -0.07%, meaning the volume of ether being burnt is outpacing the amount that is being minted.
Marcus Sotiriou, market analyst at digital asset broker GlobalBlock, attributed the recent surge in ether burnt to a spike in non-fungible token (NFT) sales driven by positive sentiment about the broader crypto market.
More than 14,600 ethers (ETH), worth around $23 million, have been burnt over the past seven days, according to ultrasound.money. Some 3,400 of these ETH were burned during NFT trades. NTF marketplace OpenSea is the top seven-day and 30-day Ethereum gas-guzzler among platforms, ultrasound.money found.
According to data from cryptoslam, NFT sales volume jumped more than 5% to $244 million over the past week, and 81% of sales volume, or approximately $198 million, is based on the Ethereum network.
“More NFT sales on Ethereum means more transactions are occurring, resulting in more ETH being burnt,” Sotiriou told CoinDesk.
Market participants widely expected that last fall’s Ethereum Merge, which shifted the platform’s protocol from a proof-of-work (PoW) to more energy-efficient proof-of-stake (PoS) protocol, would turn ether deflationary.
Ether’s inflation rate also depends on a separate mechanism known as Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP)-1559, where fees paid for transactions on the network are “burned,” or eliminated from circulation. The EIP-1559 is tied to the amount of ether burned with network usage: The more transactions on the blockchain, the more ETH is burnt.
ETH became deflationary in November when the amount of ether being burned rose amid market volatility triggered by crypto exchange FTX’s implosion. But ETH subsequently turned inflationary because of slow network usage as the crypto market remained in the doldrums.
As the market rallied more recently, usage of the Ethereum platform spiked and ETH turned deflationary again. Daily burn rates soared from a range of 1,000 to 2,000 ETH over the past six months to a high of over 2,700 ETH on Jan. 18, according to data from Etherscan.
ETH was recently trading at $1,618 Tuesday, up roughly 3% in the past seven days.
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Cathie Wood and Warren Buffett are two of the most well-known investors in the world, albeit for very different reasons. Buffett runs the large conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A)(NYSE: BRK.B) and has historically been a value investor, although he dabbles in a variety of investing strategies and in almost every industry. Wood, on the other hand, runs ARK Invest, which manages several exchange-traded funds (ETF) focused on growth stocks and is known for being a big-tech investor and a believer in crypto, as well.
This industry-leading company has been caught up in the bear market carnage, but it's setting the stage for a massive rebound.

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A buzzy NFT startup from Decentraland’s founder was supposed to be the future of crypto gaming. His $20M gamble on Genesis could cost the company its future – Fortune

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For a brief moment in 2021, it looked like crypto had finally found its killer application: video games. The “play-to-earn” game Axie Infinity had notched millions of users, and platforms like Sandbox raked in venture funding. Perhaps the most promising of all was a much touted metaverse project out of Argentina called Decentraland, whose token—known as Mana—exploded a whopping 6,000%. 
As the hype cycle for crypto gaming grew, one of Decentraland’s founders, Ari Meilich, set out to start his own title—an NFT-powered, multiplayer role-playing game called Big Time. The project raised $10.3 million from prominent crypto investors, enjoyed a successful test launch, and reportedly pulled in millions in profit. Then Meilich decided to invest in the crypto markets. 
As filings from bankrupt Genesis reveal, Big Time plowed a large chunk of its capital not into growth, but into the high-risk crypto lender in hopes of making upwards of 5%. Its $20 million wager is now frozen, making it one of Genesis’s top creditors. Experts say Big Time’s bet was not only a highly unusual move for a game still in an early phase of development, but a reckless gamble that could imperil the future of the company.  
Ari Meilich began developing Decentraland with Esteban Ordano in 2015 as part of a crypto-focused hacker house in Buenos Aires called Voltaire House, envisioning the metaverse platform as a kind of utopian alternative to the real-world economy.  
In the ensuing years, gaming emerged as a potential conduit for crypto to enter the mainstream—players could partake in role-playing or first-person-shooter titles and be rewarded with tokens and NFTs, which developers said would offer gamers more control and autonomy.
Decentraland positioned itself as a crypto-powered version of the pioneering virtual world Second Life, letting players purchase virtual land and other items by means of the metaverse’s token, Mana. While it attracted only a relative handful of players, Decentraland was the first metaverse project to incorporate blockchain technology, which quickly made it a darling in the crypto industry. Over the course of 2021 and early 2022, Decentraland’s Mana token soared, while big brands poured in like Dolce & Gabbana and J.P. Morgan, which opened a virtual lounge in the platform in February 2022.  
Because of Decentraland’s reputation, Meilich’s next project—Big Time—arrived with a torrent of hype at a time when crypto investors were salivating at the prospect of a Web3 game achieving mainstream adoption. While Axie Infinity had racked up an impressive number of players, the vast majority of them showed up in hopes of making money—most notably young workers in the Philippines and Vietnam who treated token farming as a full-time job. Big Time, however, promised to be the NFT-powered game that connected with real gamers.  
Fortune obtained a pitch deck that Big Time circulated in December 2021 ahead of a planned Series B funding round. Big Time was in the early “alpha” stage of development, with the game accessible to players who bought NFT passes. As the overall NFT market soared, Big Time boasted impressive stats for a game still closed to the public, including $38.5 million in primary NFT sales and over 89,000 users.  
The deck reveals that Big Time raised a $10 million Series A funding round in March 2021, with investors including Sam Bankman-Fried’s Alameda Research and Digital Currency Group, the parent company of Genesis. In the deck, Big Time also said that it was raising a $110 million Series B in January 2022.  
That funding round never materialized, nor did Big Time’s growth continue.  
According to data from Crunchbase, Big Time did not raise further funding after its $10.3 million Series A. And today, the game is still in closed alpha, accessible only to players holding NFT passes.  
Ari Meilich did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Fortune. 
Fortune also reached out to several of Big Time’s investors, including Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, North Island Ventures, and FBG Capital, but did not receive a response.  
With the onset of “Crypto Winter” in 2022, the NFT market evaporated and overall trading volumes fell as much as 97%.  
Because Big Time is still in closed alpha, analytics platforms like DappRadar do not yet track activity for many of the NFTs sold through Big Time’s private marketplace. Pedro Herrera, the head of research at DappRadar, said that once the game is live, players will start earning on-chain rewards through NFTs or tokens, which platforms will be able to track. Currently, the only way to track Big Time’s popularity is through public marketplaces like OpenSea and Binance, where Big Time sells the NFT passes that provide early access. 
The total value of two Big Time collections for sale on OpenSea is 2,000 ETH, or around $3 million at today’s prices, but trading volume has been anemic over the past 90 days. One collection has only seen 64 sales, amounting to around $5,000, and sales of the other have been even more sluggish. Together, the two collections have fewer than 2,000 owners.  
With the apparent drop-off in revenue, Big Time likely still had a sizable runway, thanks to profit realized during crypto’s boom cycle and the company’s Series A funding round. However, the Genesis filings reveal Big Time parked $20 million of its treasury on the now-bankrupt lending platform—an investment that is currently frozen.
A top crypto gaming venture capitalist, who spoke to Fortune on the condition of anonymity, described the move as “very strange, and very questionable.” 
Before the collapse of fraudulent crypto projects TerraUSD and Three Arrows Capital last May, the VC—who had not invested in Big Time or Decentraland—said that it was popular for companies to put some of their treasury onto Genesis, as the platform was offering yields upwards of 5%.
Big Time was likely holding a high percentage of its treasury on Genesis when it halted withdrawals, which the gaming VC said would be a poor decision for any company. Big Time, however, was still building a game not yet open to the public, making the move even riskier. The VC said the money instead should have been going to hiring and other development. Although discussions between Genesis and creditors may free up the frozen funds in the coming weeks, it is currently inaccessible to investors.   
Meilich, Big Time’s founder, was not alone among his Decentraland peers in trusting Genesis with their money. According to the bankruptcy filings, his cofounder, Esteban Ordano, had over $25 million on Genesis through a Panamanian company called Winah Securities. Current Decentraland CFO Santiago Esponda had over $55 million on Genesis through a different company called Heliva International Corp., headquartered at the same building as Winah in Panama City.  
The Decentraland Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees the metaverse platform, revealed last week that it also had a credit against Genesis of almost $8 million. Like Big Time, Genesis’s parent company, Digital Currency Group, also happened to be an investor, as well as one of the biggest owners of virtual land.  
With the circular flow of funding, the choice of name for Decentraland’s central square should not come as a surprise: Genesis Plaza.  
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Obscure NFT Collection Based on Memes Fetches $83M Market Cap – The Defiant – DeFi News

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Founded by Punk6529 The Memes Seeks to Change Up NFT Model and Pursue ‘Open Metaverse’
By: Owen Fernau    
On Jan. 19, something unusual happened in the NFT market — a CryptoPunk, which typically sells for a minimum of $100,000, was swapped for a full set of tokens from an obscure collection called The Memes
The transaction wouldn’t have been conceivable three months ago. The Memes, a collection that declares the viral images are “the most important thing in the world,” was little known in the NFT market. Now the value of the collection has skyrocketed 19-fold, to 52,916 ETH or $83M, according to data provider NFTGo
The idea behind The Memes collection is that memes, transmittable units of culture, can be owned in the form of NFTs. It may strike many as counterintuitive — the whole point of memes, of course, is to share takes through widely recognizable images. So how could you “own” one?
But Punk6529, a popular pseudonymous figure in the crypto community and the primary driver of The Memes project, has long argued  NFTs expressing “memetic ownership” are negotiable products. Punk6529 rose to fame in 2021 thanks to a slew of threads offering unique perspectives on crypto, with a particular focus on NFTs’ potential.
 “NFTs are the fastest, most scalable, most potent layer ever built to finance and transport ‘art,’ and ‘memes,’” Punk6529 tweeted in August 2021. 
The pseudonymous influencer thinks of symbols like American Flag and the Nike logo as memes. He thinks equally powerful memes, which he sees as forms of “myths,” will rise from the world of NFTs.
“In three to five years we will see global brands that were built off NFT collections,” Punk6529 said on a recent podcast with Raoul Pal, CEO and co-founder Real Vision, a media platform. 
In terms of art, Punk6529 may have a point. The artist Jasper Johns, after all, struck a chord in 1954-55 with his acclaimed painting of an American flag. While he used newsprint in the substrate, Flag was not stylized in any radical way. But the very act of its painting reflected Old Glory’s iconic power as symbol, especially in a post-war context.
By the same token, Andy Warhol revolutionized the conception of art by reproducing pop icons — the memes of their day — such as the Campbell soup can and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.  
Punk6529 isn’t making art, but with memes the new lingua franca of social media, the collector is spotlighting the idea that icons can be owned. 
It would appear that other collectors agree, at least for now. 
NFT Marketplace Is Betting On Multichain Strategy and Loyalty Program
Even so, the value of The Memes may have more to do with speculation than the appreciation of artistic concepts. Moreover, it’s difficult to prove that owning an NFT of The Memes collection actually means a person owns the culture unit at all — after all, memes are arguably freely transmissible by nature. 
Regardless, The Memes are on fire right now. And like all art, it’s hard to discern exactly why some collections get hot and others don’t. But The Memes uses a novel minting model that’s caught the eye of investors.
Instead of a one-time mint of 10,000 NFTs, a distribution method used by many projects, The Memes is continually minting new tokens, referred to as “cards” — the mint for the 58th card went live on Jan. 25. 
This generates continuous excitement, and, as new artists are consistently being brought in to create the image for the next card, significant reach as the fanbase of each creator gets exposed to Memes.
Adding to the excitement, each mint comes with its own allowlist, meaning the list of wallet addresses which are eligible to purchase the NFT. The list is typically some fusion of holders of other NFTs made by the card’s creator, as well as those who hold some of The Memes already in existence. 
The allowlist changes a bit each time, which keeps people engaged, and sometimes too much so — the pseudonymous buyer of the CryptoPunk cited the 2:30am mints as a reason they wanted to sell a full set of The Memes. 
The Memes also employs a novel way of categorizing its images. Meme NFTs are grouped by crypto-centric memes like “not your keys not your coins,” and “WAGMI,” which stands for “we’re all gonna make it.” 
Each meme has a subset of NFTs — some may have just a few tokens associated with it, others more — “GM,” which stands for the crypto greeting “good morning,” has 10.
The Memes are further divided into seasons, the second of which is in progress. Tens of different artists are behind the Memes — for example Drift, a famous artist known for taking pictures of his feet dangling off the roofs of 1,000-foot tall buildings, did a card for the first season of the “WAGMI” meme.
Taken together, this approach is redefining the way an NFT collection can be managed. Or at least, that’s what the market action appears to be demonstrating. 
The Memes collection plays into Punk6529’s larger vision of what he calls “the open metaverse” a permissionlessly accessed digital realm stitched together by NFTs and their holders — His outfit, called simply “6529,” is also working on a digital world, called “OM.”
Punk6529’s says the metaverse will be controlled by large companies, like Meta, which wanted to associate itself so much with the idea of a new digital world that it changed its name in October 2021.
The influencer asserts that the open metaverse is dependent on ownership of memes, rather than any specific plot of land. It’s an open debate — another metaversal project, Nifty Island, is also designed without a scarcity of land
Punk6529’s plans aren’t entirely distinct from other metaversal ventures, however. Like Meta, the influencer is promoting a digital world where one’s property is portable, rather than being confined to one application. And Punk6529 is collecting major NFTs under a “museum” venture which he believes will play a significant role in the metaverse he envisions. 
Top NFT Collections Fear Return of High Gas Fees and Look to Layer 1s
The museum also receives 10% of the supply of each minted card of the Memes collection.
Punk6529 has also announced a capital arm, an education arm, and more, all under the 6529 banner in the same month of Facebook’s rebrand. He has said on Twitter that he took on seed investors to develop 6529’s multi-pronged vision. 
For now, The Memes venture, underpinned by the idea that memes can be owned in the form of NFTs, has momentum — 5,889 wallets hold at least one NFT in the collection. Though as it grows, fewer and fewer can hold onto a full set. 
Many collectors may be betting that if they hold a full set of The Memes they will eventually be able to garner more than a $100,000 CryptoPunk. 
chainwire
Samuel Haig
Samuel Haig
Aleksandar Gilbert
Samuel Haig
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