The NFT craze just got very, very meta.
Today a new fantasy startup investment game launches. Players can buy and trade virtual shares in promising startups, and earn real crypto dollars for collecting the best portfolio.
It’s like being a VC — players scout companies, place bets, watch them boom or bust — without any of the pitching, board meetings or… equity.
“We’re on a real mission to democratise access to the excitement of startup investing,” says Jacob Claerhout, cofounder of the platform, Visionrare.
Its name is a nod to the wildly successful French fantasy football platform Sorare, which raised a monster Series B in September, and is backed by the VC firm Claerhout previously worked at, Partech.
How does it work?
Users can sign up to Visionrare for free. It costs upwards of $5 to buy a ‘VisionShare’ in a startup — fantasy shares in the form of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) — although some can go for much much more.
“If you want to own shares in really sexy startups, then you’re probably facing some competition in the bid,” says Claerhout: a share in OpenSea, the NFT marketplace, sold for more than $580 on Visionrare.
At the moment, Visionrare mints 100 VisionShares per startup, per funding round. VisionShares are auctioned off, and users have to up the price of the last bid by at least 10% to get their mitts on them.
So far, users can buy shares in dozens of startups, including Deel, Veriff, Duffel and Quit Genius, most of which have been part of the last few cohorts of Y Combinator and all of which must have announced at least one funding round to be included.
Dive into VC and meet the people holding the purse strings.
Players can also ‘scout’ startups — and receive a free VisionShare in each company which is added to the platform. “We hope to use the players in our game as a huge scouting network,” says Claerhout.
Founders can request to be listed and, down the road, the Visionrare community could vote on which startups to list — or not, adds Claerhout.
So far, 500 people have created an account on Visionrare and the platform has 150 active users. Some are “deep into NFT and play-to-earn games like Sorare and Axie”, says Claerhout. Others are “generally passionate about startups”.
Playing in the big league
Like Sorare, users can also play their VisionShares in leagues (once they own at least five shares), and earn crypto money (in the form of USDC stablecoins) if their cards perform well.
Startups’ ‘performance’ will be judged by factors like headcount growth, mentions in the press, growth on social, downloads and valuation. “Down the line, we also plan to look at what price shares are being sold for on the real secondary markets,” says Claerhout.
Visionrare plans to set up “thematic leagues” (ie. fintech, deeptech) and location- and stage-based leagues over time. Players will, however, only be able to play a VisionShare in one league, so will have to think strategically about whether to place it in, for example, the fintech league or the UK league.
“If you’re ranked in the top 50% of investors, you’ll get a notification as to where you are in the leaderboard,” says Claerhout. “It’s quite addictive.”
Why should startups care?
“We really hope this will be a strong net positive force for the whole startup ecosystem,” adds Claerhout. “We hope to be able to provide an easy way for startups to really have a community with aligned incentives, for free.”
As soon as you’ve bought a VisionShare, the only thing you want is for the company to become super famous.
“As soon as you’ve bought a VisionShare, the only thing you want is for the company to become super famous.”
Startups, Claerhout says, could offer their Visionrare backers’ early access to new features or waiting lists.
A route into VC?
Before launching Visionrare, Claerhout was working on a kind of training programme for wannabe VCs called Merit. He wanted to create a more meritocratic route into the industry by giving people a platform to prove their scouting and analysing chops, and then introducing the top participants to VC firms. However, after running two cohorts with over 2,000 participants, he found it hard to deliver on that promise.
“If you don’t own the conversion funnel, there’s only so much you can do,” he says.
It also became, frankly, a bit boring. “The game remained similar in terms of its dynamics; you were asked to do the same thing over and over again, like a junior VC.”
Visionrare could be an alternative.
“It’s easy to say you believe in something,” says Claerhout: any wannabe VC can create an Excel sheet of startups they think will be big one day. But by buying startup-share NFTs, “you’re putting your money where your mouth is.”