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Benzinga Did Madonna Pay Too Much For Her NFT – Tokenized Investments With Tal Elyashiv Founder of SPiCE VC Podcast – Benzinga



Topics: Spice VC, FTX Bankruptcy, Crypto Regulation, Sam Bankman Fried,NFT ,Madonna, tokens,celebrity NFTs


Anthony Noto , Benzinga Editor @iamtonynoto

Featured Guest:

Tal Elyashiv, Founder & Managing Partner of SPiCE VC @TElyashiv

Tokenization is disrupting the financial industry. It is on a rapid growth path to becoming a multi trillion dollar industry.

SPiCE provides investors wide exposure to the massive growth of the Blockchain / tokenization ecosystem.
BZ: Hello, Tal Elyashiv. Welcome to Benzinga Interviews. It's nice to have you.

 Tal Elyashiv: Pleasure to be here.

BZ: So it's interesting that behind. Is a wonderful piece of artwork of Charlie Brown and Snoopy that you told me before we hit record that your daughter did. So for the listeners who might not be able to see it it's a beautiful painting.

And for those, watching this on YouTube or anywhere else where they have a visual it's obviously a wonderful work of art, and that ties into a lot of blockchain technology these days in the form of NFT.  We will discuss on this show as I understand that you are an NFT expert, right? But before we get into that, I want to talk a little bit about Spice VC.

This past year has been a. Pretty much an ugly one for the crypto space anything related to blockchain. But when it comes to Spice VC you guys have a lot of good news especially for investors. So I'd like to talk a little bit about the First Spice Fund. , which you would do a great job in better explaining than I would.So what was the accomplishment with that fund that just closed? 

Tal Elyashiv:  So Spice I  our first fund that is focused on the blockchain ecosystem launched in 2000. By the way, it was also a tough time to launch because you remember that 2018 was a year where crypto went down significantly.

And the fund is fully invested at this point. It's a venture capital fund we invest in Companies that build significant components of the blockchain ecosystem companies that build platforms and services that we feel will benefit the. From the growth of this ecosystem. And most of the investment period where we invested in portfolio companies was 2018, 2019, and 2020.

We made investments in 17 companies. The performance of the fund is through the roof. The IRR is over 50% and the multiple of the fund is above Six. But I think the most significant achievement this year, given everything that happened this year in crypto and blockchain is that we made we just completed our second distribution to investors.

It brings the distribution to. Investment capital to 82%, which means that 82% of the original capital that was invested in the fund was already distributed back to investors' accounts. And they're still invested in a fund that is way above five x what they invested, which is pretty significant for a VC fund.

Pretty significant for a year like this. So this is great. And. We're now in the process of capital raising for Spice II. The second fund focused on the same ecosystem with the same investment strategy. I think more exciting times. What happened in the crypto and blockchain space this year actually positions VC funds much better in terms of investing.

Reasonable valuations. And I think that if we continue with similar performance we will probably end up with a much better performance for Spice II  than Spice I

BZ: So say I'm an investor. I wanna get involved in this space, but I feel a little bit.  in recent months because of the FTX fiasco and all of the bankruptcies that are now piling up.

What do you tell me? I have plenty of money to spend. I don't really, I'm playing a role here, but if I did and I wanna get involved in Spice VC, what's your pitch? What do I get? How do I buy it?

Tal Elyashiv: There, there are two things I'll say about the blockchain ecosystem. One, any portfolio needs to have some exposure to the blockchain ecosystem.

I'm not talking about crypto, I'm talking about blockchain ecosystem. Blockchain ecosystem is way bigger than just crypto. Crypto. It's just a sliver within that. And the reason is that it's a revolutionary technology that. Impact almost every industry, definitely every transactional industry we're aware of over the next 10 to 15 years.

Investment in that ecosystem is expected to produce more than 50% c per year for the next 10, 15 years. This. Phenomenal and unheard of in terms of investment in a, in an ecosystem or set of industries. And this is why every portfolio needs to have an exposure to this. The problem is it's a very new domain, relatively speaking.

It's very complicated. It's very broad. It impacts many industries. And technology keeps changing at a rate that is totally. If you compare it to the internet revolution, for example, we're 40 years into that revolution and it's not done yet. You were talking about a revolution that will take 10 to 15 years and where with the internet revolution, the basic technology remains the same.

With blockchain, the underlying foundation technologies keep. So it requires a lot of understanding and staying up-to-date in order to invest in this industry. And so it's very hard for investors to make individual bets on companies and have a decent shot at success. And, FTX is good. An example to to that investing in a VC fund gives you broad exposure to this industry through a team that is focused on investing in multiple portfolio companies. Spice I was 17 companies, Spice II is going to be around 30 companies. And so you are spreading your investment increasing.

Probability of seeing significant returns from that. The VC industry, by the way, in general, is very uncorrelated. To market movements. People are very concerned about investing in current market conditions. Need to be aware that VC investments are totally uncorrelated to the market.

So it's a piece of the portfolio that needs to be there. If you can afford to have that that will give you long-term returns that are uncorrelated to short-term market move. How? , and I'll say that the last thing about Spice II, in terms of the pitch, it's already the second VC fund that is focused on this industry that we that we manage.

The first one performance is stellar. And hopefully the second one will be the same. There are very few, if at all, second funds in this ecosystem. Most of them are. First funds, so they're still building their track record. 

8:18 BZ: So you said before that Spice II is probably gonna have 30 companies in it.
How do you find your companies? What do you look for in a blockchain startup?

Tal Elyashiv:  It's not very different than any startup. We look and it's very hard to say what's more important because everything is important. But team is paramount for success of a company. We invest in early stage companies, not very much at the beginning, but after a company already has a product and market.

Presence and their market indicators that you can look at, clients, customers, and so on. So we're looking for a business model that we feel is right and reasonable with where the market is going. We're looking for, we're looking for a company that is in a domain that we believe will grow.

Significantly over the next five to 10 years we're looking at technology and products that are unique in a team that we believe. With their business plan, they can really dominate their corner of the market. And there are a lot of environmental factors as well because every company is really a piece of a bigger ecosystem.

It's very important that they're. Business assumptions on what will happen around them, jive with ours. So we believe that their model is sound given where the market is going. But at the end of the day, it's also important that the team is one that we feel is a fit. For the business model is strong enough to be able to navigate the waters even if things change and they can still navigate success.

And this is no different in the blockchain domain than any other startup. 

10:30 BZ:So you mentioned something that I always try to see how people find talent in this space because like you said, it's a very young industry. How do you deepen your bench? What kind of experts does Spice have that other firms don't have?

I imagine finding true experts in the blockchain space, because it's such a young industry,

Tal Elyashiv: It is very difficult. I come for many years in the financial industry and other transactional industries. So lots of operational experience technology experience and business experience.

And I'm also a serial entrepreneur, so I sat on both sides of that table. And I've also been involved with the blockchain domain since 2016, 2017 very very deeply. Spice is the first fully tokenized Spice I is the first fully tokenized VC fund. Our token, our digital security was the first digital security in the world to.

Traded on a fully regulated digital security exchange. And we've done a lot of firsts in the blockchain domain. Not only as investors, but in actually using blockchain to further our our business and building systems around that. It puts us very much in the heart of the blockchain ecosystem.

We know the ecosystem from the inside. We have a very strong. Brand name within the industry. So obviously our access to talent and our access to companies is very different than any outsider looking in, into the ecosystem. But you're right finding talent in the blockchain domain is not easy.

And my co-founder and partner and. In Spice Carlos Domingo has been in this domain even longer than I have and is also considered one of the visionaries in the digital security space. And it's not just about blockchain. We have other partners that come from a.

Long venture capital investing and private equity investing. So the discipline and being able to look at companies and being able. Assist companies in growing and moving towards healthy exits and so on is also very very significant. So my Swiss partner Renee Eichenberger, for example, started and managed seven funds before Spice, ranging from 200 million to 10 billion in.

In assets. You build your expertise, not just around blockchain, but around investing in companies, helping them succeed and and so on, and screening companies and and so forth. So with your background, you've, like you said, you've done a lot across all different corners of the financial world in different industries.

BZ: Why blockchain? You could have done anything. , 

Tal Elyashiv: it's actually very interesting when we started Spice in 2017 and started looking building our investment strategy and focus and so on. It was the height of the ICO Period in the world. And we looked at this and it was clear to us that this is gonna go away because it's it's not gonna jive with regulations and so on.

But the technology struck us as a an amazing technology that will impact. Capital markets industries and coming from capital markets you either see it or you don't. But I saw it back then and it was clear to me that blockchain technology and distributed ledger technology has the capability to solve a lot of the problems of financial industries that became more and more complex.

As those industries became more regulations and as more regulated and as more players started forming in those industries. And blockchain technology offers very simple solutions for automating a lot of the processes that make those industries really complex. So we. Financial industries is a huge cluster on its own, and it was clear that other industries like supply chain management and and so on, are gonna benefit from this as well.

It, it is a domain that is worth investing in. I know that a lot of people back then were thinking crypto. As the main thing that that will come out of this crypto is what contributed blockchain technology to the world. But then blockchain technology came got a life of its own and it was clear to us that this will be a very significant domain to invest in.

And we were betting that it would be experiencing an a an exponential growth that is unprecedented, which was the case.

16:25 BZ: So Benzinga has this event coming up on December 7th and December 8th in New York called The Future of Crypto, and a lot of the dialogue at this event, they expect to talk about this past year and what happened, and cryptocurrency and blockchain, they're intricate.

Tied together as the technology that underpins cryptocurrency. 

What surprised you in 2022? What? What did we learn? Because looking back there was a lot going on. 

Tal Elyashiv: It's a mixed bag. It is a mixed bag. 2022 was a very eventful year, and it's not over yet. So we have another almost a little bit more than a month of potential eventful period.

But I think we've seen several things. One the cryptocurrency industry has grown. Really fast. And it's grown wild with no regulations, no oversight. And if you look at some of the things that happened you mentioned those events anywhere from the Terra Luna crash Celsius collapse blockfi.

And and there were a bunch of others, but now FTX, a lot of things have nothing to do with crypto. They have to do with lack of regulations, lack of transparency, lack of corporate governance, lack of financial experience and lack of fiduciary responsibility of people running those.

And fraud. A lot of this was plain fraud. And this the, I think the reason we see this more here is because crypto has grown so fast and was very attractive for bad actors and also because there were no regulations To speak off at a decent level for financial activity, because this is financial activity.

You can argue about what crypto really is, but the type of activity that takes place, whether it's banking or or lending. Or trading or providing investment advice or managing risk between investments and lending and so on, are very complicated domains that require a lot of oversight and a lot of experience.

And this didn't exist here, right? , we, the industry grew based on technology and automation, and much less about learning from the traditional financial industry that is learned a lot of things that were written in blood over the last 40, 50, 60 years. So I think what will happen now is some maturation of the crypto industry.

We'll see. Definitely more oversight than and regulations, although US is in a very strange place because of the kind of deadlock situation in the houses and so on. It's gonna be very hard to. Any meaningful regulation in the NA or any meaningful legislation in the next two years, I would guess.

But I would see much more focus on regulation and oversight in in the industry. And even good players, not just the bad players are lacking someone that will focus in and. Prescribe ways to to act. If you look at Coinbase, for example Coinbase is publicly traded, so they're under a lot of scrutiny and have significant reporting.

Responsibilities and so on. And much more transparency than any other player in the crypto domain. But most of the licenses are still money transfer license. It's not an exchange, it's not licensed as an exchange. It's not licensed as a as a. Someone managing deposits. It's not, and, but a lot of those activities really happen there, right?

So unless it's looked at this way and and managed that way, then risk exists that doesn't exist in parallel organizations in the traditional finance. We'll see that I, to me, if you ask me what the, what surprised me is the magnitude. And the speed in which things happen this year. And I think

. I think anybody, including people who were predicting doom and gloom, I don't think anybody was predicting that fast of of the doom. Yes. But I, long term I think we'll see growth in. In the crypto portion of this market, we'll see much more institutional involvement.

And this will drive more oversight and and processes around things. And we'll see some changes in how crypto is run. That will make it more. Palatable to to more institutional investors. To me, what's, what was interesting is that if you look at the behavior of institutional investors, they're still focusing on the long term and still investing in creating crypto related capabilities.

There were news from. Fidelity, for example only a week ago about enabling free trading of crypto. We've seen news from. From Goldman Sachs with their digital assets categorization system, which is really significant here. All this investment is significant as part of maturing this market.

. So I think we'll see over time the recovery of this at what. I don't know. Nobody knows. I unfortunately don't have the crystal ball, but I think it will happen. But I think the interesting thing is that. Investment in blockchain capabilities, not crypto per se has continued full force.

Nothing has changed. Most banks, most financial institutions are focused on blockchain related technologies and adopting those capabilities within their processing environment. Whether it's in the securities industry where almost any major player is adopting blockchain technology for registration and for settling transactions and so on through payments, all the big payments players from.

MasterCard and and Visa to to PayPal and so on, are all engaged in blockchain technology. And they're not doing it because it's cool they're doing it because it is, . It's necessary. Absolutely. . And that circles back to why investing in blockchain, right?

24:30 BZ: I'd like to talk a little bit about NFTs. This year, the price of NFTs plummeted. We saw a lot of big companies over the past couple years get involved in this space. , you talked about institutional investors. They're in it for the long game. A lot of institutional investors are looking at NFT portfolios and ETFs.

It's definitely got a lot of people excited, but this year the price went down a lot. You had a lot of scrutiny and the board ape area and. I think Warner Media completely abandoned their NFT plans with CNN that grabbed headlines with no little to no explanation. And I'd like to read you a quote that I found from a blog that I liked.

So by Janice Greenwood, she said that  “NFTs are the obvious next iteration in an art world that has become more like the stock market and less like the keeper of our culture's greatest creative treasures.”  And I thought that was interesting because as an illustrator myself, and as you said your daughter is clearly an amazing artist. With that Charlie Brown artwork behind you, NFTs art, what is the point? 
I still think that it's not clear to the average person that this serves any benefit to. So NFTs blew out of proportion last year as in 2021. And I think the world forgot that NFTs are basically a framework.

Tal Elyashiv: NFTs are non-fungible tokens, and they're very different than the tokens that were used before, which are all fungible. And it basically says the token represents something unique. Okay, so it's just a vehicle. To do something. It's, it doesn't have a value on its own. It's a vehicle to do something.

And it started evolving in the art space, mostly because of digital art, right? The problem that it came to solve is in digital art. If I created the jpeg, how do I prove that? I'm the creator. And how do I prevent you from copying and saying it's yours, right? And the NFT basically said, I'm gonna wrap it in a token, and this token is gonna be registered on the blockchain, which is immutable, and then I can prove that it's that I, because I own it, it's mine, right?

And the date is the first date this NFT is written. So nobody can claim that they did it. Okay. But the NFT itself is just a container that is holding my art, right? In this case, if you're an illustrator, it can be an illustration. If you are a photographer, it can be a photo, it doesn't matter, right?

It can be a digital piece and it could be. Representing a a real-world piece, with the rights to that real-world piece that I can sell. And that means if I sell you the NFT, I also need to deliver the real-world art if it represents something in the real world. The value of NFTs should be driven by the value of the piece of art that you're buying.

And because it blew out of proportion and it becames the, rich person's the high tech person's Ferrari it got, NFTs, got value on their own because they're NFTs. But at the end of the day it's what they represent. And, it will come back to the reasonable situation where, what NFTs do is they create more accessibility to artists to artists, to their audience.

They help in establishing providence over pieces of art and so on. And also they facilitate some of the financial transactions. One of the concepts that were edited by NFTs. To this world where royalties to the creator that, go through the future generations and so on. So all these are very significant value propositions.

If you let things calm down and you look at the real value of what is it that the NFT represents, rather than an NFT is like, Value proposition on its own. And I think this makes a lot of this makes a lot of sense. I would also make a comment that NFTs as a framework are going to be extremely valuable technology solution to things we'll see them very useful in healthcare industry. It could be a concept that in the US one of the issues we've been dealing with is the lack of Lifetime healthcare record of people because we keep moving between healthcare plans and so on. This could be one of the keys to solving that problem and providing this.

And it has nothing to do with art. It has to do with the technology concept that wraps something that is unique. It's definitely used in supply chain management today already. For example a lot of. A lot of luxury good producers are using NFTs in order to prove providence and authenticity of items.

A good buying a Gucci or a Prada item, you get an NFT with it. And the NFT really proves the authenticity of that item because it goes back to the company's system. And you can see the whole chain of events that brought this item to. And it proves your ownership of that item. And it's used in the healthcare industry to approve authenticity of medicine in the pharma industry, the authenticity of medicine and the ability to track that these medicines have not gone through environmental exposure that voids their validity and so on and so forth. So it's a very useful concept beyond the art world. But I think that in the art world, it will still be very valuable to to creators and to collectors. And the fact that it calmed down is actually not a bad thing in the long run.

Because we needed to be, to go back to a rational way of valuing NFTs. . And remembering it's the art behind it. It's not the NFT itself.

30:59 BZ:  So celebrities like Madonna who paid half a million dollars for the board ape at NFT, did they over pay ?

Tal Elyashiv:   In my mind, yes. But, at the end of the day what determines the value of collectables in the market?

And I think you can look at board apes as as NFT as collectables, and not just the pure art collectables are. Valued based on supply and demand. That's all right. Something is really valuable if there's someone who's willing to pay a lot of money for it. So the market will decide if Madonna overpaid or didn't.

Obviously when we recover from the crypto crash. But it sounds more like I love that you mentioned that the benefits that it could bring to industries like healthcare, because that to me makes a lot of sense. And in the terms. And I love that. It's a, it solves a problem, whereas in the art world, it's almost like the art of the commerce.

It's the art of the buy, not the artwork itself. That's correct. Making an impression on people. That's right. 

BZ: This has been an excellent conversation. I'm so glad that you took the time to speak with us today and I hope to keep in touch and have plenty more conversations as we look forward to 2023.

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