NFTs or non-fungible tokens were first introduced in 2017 to solve a problem. Bitcoin and similar tokens leveraging blockchain technology had valuable attributes, but one was interchangeable with another and therefore not very useful for supporting the exchange of distinctive items. While also “minted” on the blockchain, NFTs differ in two important aspects. First, every NFT is unique. Second, an NFT cannot be divided or merged.
These new attributes open new possibilities. They improve the tokenization of individual assets and make it possible to transfer ownership with a clear chain of custody. It also allows the original creator to share in any resale proceeds, typically 10% of a transaction. This generates new incentivize for artists, athletes, and others to create more supply.
NFT marketplaces have popped up across art, sports, media, and music to display and transact digital items. The releases or “drops” organized by these marketplaces have driven some eye-popping sales in Febuary and March. In the timeline below, I list some of the biggest sales.
While there is significant froth in the current market, NFTs appear set expand the market for digital collectables via the existing marketplaces and a raft of new entrants. Big money is now flowing into the space from VCs and other investors.1
It is hard to grow NFT platforms without talent. If you follow various NFT projects, you will find the slate of open positions has expanded significantly in the past several weeks alone.
What is the composition of these jobs?
A peak into the growing demand for NFT marketplace talent can be gleaned by examining the current open positions at Dapper Labs. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Dapper has been innovating in the NFT space from-the-get-go. The company pioneered the NFT powered CryptoKitties platform, a gaming market which allows players to purchase, collect, breed, and sell virtual cats.2
In October 2020, Dapper moved into sports in a deal with the NBA. With an official license in place, Dapper created NBA Top Shot an online marketplace where NBA fans can buy, sell, and trade game highlights. These “virtual moments” are made up of short highlight videos from actual NBA games sold as part of virtual ‘packs’. The platform sparked a sensation on February 22nd when a moment of LeBron James making a spectacular dunk against the Sacramento Kings back in 2019 sold for $208,000. Since it was launched in 2020, the Top Shop platform has racked up nearly $500 million in sales from 3.2 million transactions.3
In addition, Dapper is the original developer behind Flow, a decentralized blockchain and cryptocurrency designed specifically for digital collectibles.4 Dapper intends Flow to be the foundation for the next generation of decentralized applications, which it is building with partners including Warner Music Group, Ubisoft, and Animoca Brands. Armed with a new financing round of $305 million announced on March 30th, and a market capitalization bumped up to $2.6 billion, the company plans to expand its NFT and blockchain products into new areas. One project underway is to create an NFT marketplace with the WNBA.
Open Positions at Dapper Labs
Dapper currently has 44 open positions.5 If all 44 positions are filled this will represent a 40 percent increase on its current base of 110 direct employees. The positions are distributed across eight categories. The largest number of open positions is for engineering with 17. This is followed by growth (largely marketing and community roles), business operations, data management, design and creative, product development, general and HR.
A further breakdown of the open roles is presented in the table below.
The scope of this hiring reflects a platform company experiencing rapid growth and the need to expand its talent pool to keep pace with the surge in demand. The company needs to enhance its systems and processes.6 More than once, key functions of Top Shot have been temporarily closed for maintenance. There is an extensive backlog in account verifications needed for users to withdraw any money earned from reselling moments. In addition, the platform has had to contend with an influx of bots seeking to buy the most valuable packs.
The heavy emphasis on engineering indicates that the company is also creating the capability and capacity to build tailored NFT platforms. Dapper executives have indicated that what has worked for the NBA cannot be applied in cookie-cutter fashion to other sports leagues. Each platform will need to be custom-built to reflect specific fan culture and how network effects operate within particular league dynamics.
Speaking at the State Of The Industry SportTechie conference Caty Tedman, Head of Marketing & Partnerships at Dapper Labs stated: “When we think about the kind of products that we would build with other partners, we think about customizing it for those fan bases. We can’t just slap NFL players on NBA Top Shot and make it work. I think the NFL could be incredibly successful [with NFTs]."7
Future of collectibles
As the publication TechCrunch stated in a recent article, “the future of collectibles is digital.”8 How big is the market? Nobody knows exactly but it is likely to be large. An indication of the scale and scale can be gleaned from examining the physical collecibles market. Research indicates that there are 75 million collectors globally who spend up to $200 billion annually on everything from autographs to classic cars.9 The chart below provides shows the categories and relevant size of this market.
NBA Top Shot demonstrates that NFTs combined with platform marketplaces can set the stage for rapid adoption of digital collectibles. Indeed, the application of NFTs to the habit of humans to collect things presents new cutting-edge opportunities for platform professionals.