Serena Ventures backs SoLo Funds as finance platform tops 1M registered users

SoLo Funds has acquired over 1 million registered users and over 1.3 million downloads to make it “the largest and first Black-owned personal finance platform” to do so, Rodney Williams, co-founder and president of SoLo, told TechCrunch.

The community finance company defines the claim “as a business-to-consumer personal finance banking solution, U.S.-based and Black-owned with registered users or downloads above 1 million. Black-owned is defined as Black majority ownership.”

“It’s a huge testament to the product we’ve built, that it is actually addressing a real problem,” Williams told TechCrunch. “The system is somewhat discriminatory or selective, in that it’s extremely expensive to start a financial services company. That cost is a significant barrier of entry for the average American who are the ones that need these financial services. It’s challenging across the board.”

SoLo has been on a mission to right-bank some 254 million underserved Americans since launching its platform in 2018, Williams said. The company enables its members to set their own borrowing terms and lend to other members to make returns or a social impact. After borrowing, some 30% of members have even turned around and lended money, he added.

The 1 million registered user milestone hasn’t come without some blood, sweat and tears, though. Before we profiled the company in 2021 when it raised $10 million in Series A funding, SoLo basically ran out of money, causing the founders to shut down the platform toward the end of 2019, Williams said.

SoLo Funds lending marketplace

SoLo Funds’ lending marketplace Image Credits: SoLo Funds

SoLo was relaunched in April 2020 with what Williams said was a better product and new features, including protection for lenders. That paid off: In less than a year, the company had aggressive growth — like 2,000% — and a Series A.

Williams also credits the registered user milestone to that perseverance. Not to mention, it is why the company recently landed a seven-figure investment from Serena Ventures and other investors and funds.

Speaking about the investment, Serena Williams, managing partner at Serena Ventures, said in a written statement: “SoLo is transforming the lives of everyday Americans with democratized access to capital and returns that’s truly rooted in community. Community finance is working and SoLo is proof of that.”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles–based company continues on its growth streak. Since its relaunch in 2020, SoLo has amassed nearly 100 employees and processed over 600,000 loans, some 45,000 of those in the last month. Over 80% of those loans were taken out by members from underserved zip codes. The number of loans per month has steadily grown over six months when the company processed around 30,000 loans, Williams said.

In addition, those 600,000 loans accounted for $300 million in transaction volume. Williams said the company is on pace to more than triple that transaction volume to over $1 billion by the first quarter of 2024.

“We have a strong network effect: for every loan funded, we attract five or six users,” Williams added. “We always wanted to be an alternative to payday loans, and the best part is we are finally making the impact we envisioned.”

SoLo members get a consumer deposit account, but coming down the pipeline the company will be releasing some new features, including access to debit cards, credit lines, credit cards, high-yield savings accounts and an auto lending account that will be launched later this year. It will enable members to upload capital into an account and set risk tolerance and the account will lend automatically.

Serena Ventures backs SoLo Funds as finance platform tops 1M registered users by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

Watch Serena Williams talk about the biggest investment she missed out on and more

Serena Williams was our guest at TechCrunch Disrupt 2022, and joined TC Deputy Editor-in-Chief Jordan Crook to talk about Serena Ventures, the investment firm she founded with Alison Rapaport Stillman. She talked to us at length about her approach to startup investing, including how much her investor persona differs from her tennis persona, and also about the one investment she really wished she’d managed to nail down — if she hadn’t been distracted by the French Open. Watch the whole discussion via the video above.

Watch Serena Williams talk about the biggest investment she missed out on and more by Darrell Etherington originally published on TechCrunch

How Serena Williams brings her killer instinct to early-stage investing

In a move that broke the hearts of many a tennis fan around the world, Serena Williams recently announced that she would stop playing professional tennis. But today onstage in front of a packed auditorium at TechCrunch Disrupt, she reminded us that while she brings that competitive mindset to running Serena Ventures, an early-stage VC firm, she says that her professional mindset is “quite the opposite” of her investor persona.

“I think that’s a different Serena. I’m very serene,” she says. “I’m the one that brings that very calm disposition.”

Just don’t mistake that tranquility for passivity. Williams still brings her killer instinct to investing out of her fund, along with her general founding partner, Allison Rapaport Stillman.

She also makes diversity a non-negotiable. About 40% of her LPs are women and people of color, something that is practically unheard of in the venture industry. Williams also invests – in the pre-seed, seed and Series A stages – with the mindset that financial inclusion is far more than a buzzword.

We spend a lot of our time in consumer-facing technology because we want to build products for the communities we want to serve…” she said. “We spend a lot of time on gender and racial equity within the healthcare system. mental health, mental health and wellness. These are problems that are facing every community, but especially facing women and people of color, there’s not enough tools and services there for them. So that’s something we’re really focused on.”

Beyond that, Williams prides herself on authenticity and passion and unsurprisingly, those are characteristics that she looks for in founders, too. According to Stillman, one of Williams’ biggest strengths is being able to read people with just one meeting – being able to tell if a founder really quickly if a founder is someone she wants to get to know better, or not. 

One of the questions she asks potential portfolio companies is are they operating because “it’s a white space” or are they doing it “because it’s something near and dear to you.”

“I’ve found that usually when it’s near and dear to you, and there’s a space available for it – that’s the winning combo,” Williams said. “But if you’re doing it just because you see it’s a great opportunity, then no matter how big and open it is, it is generally never as good as someone that really has something that they’re actually passionate about.”

“We like to keep things very authentic,” she insisted. “SV has its own brand. We’re not going to do something that’s not authentic to us or something we don’t believe in.”

[gallery ids="2428003,2428002,2428007,2428006,2428053"]

She also is curious about more than a founder’s previous successes. She wants to know what founders have not been successful at.

“That shows me that when times get tough, you know what’s coming and you know what to expect and failure is great,” Williams added. “I think it’s a great opportunity to learn and I don’t even like the word failure. I feel like it should be called: ‘I had an opportunity to learn that’s what it should be called to me because I feel like that really creates the very next best thing.”

For the unacquainted, Williams’ husband is venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian – founder of 776 and former co-founder of Reddit. Despite having done a couple of deals together in the past, Williams said the couple doesn’t talk about business at all at home and work to “stay in their own lanes.”

“We are both so competitive,” she said. “I’m internally so competitive. You can’t read my face if inside I’m screaming and dying. We don’t want that so we keep it very separate.”

Speaking of past investments, Williams and Stillman do have a regret or two.

Early on in her investing career, Williams says she passed on a French startup because she “just didn’t have the infrastructure or the time.”

While she wouldn’t name the startup, she did say it was “before people were doing ride-shares.”

But just the fact she saw its potential is validation for Williams: that her instincts were right. Stillman also says the firm passed on investing in the Series B round for delivery giant Instacart – which is now on the verge of going public – because it was a bit late stage for them.

“There was still a lot of room for growth, though,” she laughs.

How Serena Williams brings her killer instinct to early-stage investing by Mary Ann Azevedo originally published on TechCrunch

Serena Williams will discuss her expanding focus on VC at TC Disrupt

Yes, you read that right. Serena Williams, widely recognized as the greatest of all time (GOAT) to ever step onto a tennis court — or any other playing field — will join us onstage at TC Disrupt on October 18–20.

In her first interview since announcing her retirement, Williams joins us in her role as founding and managing partner of Serena Ventures (SV), the VC firm she founded in 2014. We’re also thrilled that Alison Rapaport Stillman, the firm’s founding general partner, will also take part in this fireside chat.

This year, following nine years of angel investing (including 13 unicorns and six exits), SV announced it raised a $111 million inaugural fund focused on founders with “unconventional thinking and diverse points of view.”

Williams’s firm has invested in more than 78 companies, including Billie, CoinTracker, Daily Harvest, Impossible Foods and MasterClass. Its website notes that 76% of the startups that received Fund 1 investments are helmed by underrepresented founders.

Case in point: SV recently cut a $5 million check leading an early-stage round for Wondermind, Selena Gomez’s mental health startup. That investment made Gomez one of only a few Latinas to raise more than $1 million in VC funding.

We look forward to learning what Serena Williams looks for in a founder and to gaining a better understanding of her investment thesis. We’re also curious to hear her take on what she brings to the VC table and what overarching goals she’s setting as she turns her GOAT status and champion mindset to expanding her career as a venture capitalist.

As a world-class athlete, businesswoman, philanthropist and mother, Serena Williams knows what it takes to win. She has persevered to become one of the top tennis players in history with 23 Grand Slam titles. Williams began actively investing nine years ago when she saw the impact that startups had on everyday lives; in building Serena Ventures, she has been able to multiply that effort with more than $110 million in investment capital.

Alison Rapaport Stillman is a founding general partner at Serena Ventures, overseeing portfolio management and sourcing new investments. In addition to growing the reach and impact of the SV portfolio, Stillman is the person founders turn to when they need pointed advice, detailed feedback and tough love. She holds a BS from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is a CFA charter holder.

TechCrunch Disrupt takes place on October 18–20 in San Francisco. Buy your pass now and save up to $1,100. Student, government and nonprofit passes are available for just $295. Prices increase September 16.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TechCrunch Disrupt 2022? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

TechCrunch+ roundup: Usage-based billing, web3 fundraising, Serena Williams’ next act

Netflix lost almost a million subscribers in the last quarter, and the streaming giant expects to shed hundreds of thousands more this year.

Does that mean consumers are suffering from “subscription fatigue?”

Or are there just more options to choose from as studios set up new platforms (and withdraw their content from the big red N)?

Full TechCrunch+ articles are only available to members.
Use discount code TCPLUSROUNDUP to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.

“Subscriptions are not dying; they are just evolving,” says Chargebee CMO Sanjay Manchanda, who notes that more than half of all SaaS companies plan to roll out usage-based billing by next year.

To help founders capitalize on this trend, he identified some of the ways companies are evolving as they strive to copy the success of firms like Twilio, Snowflake and Frog.

“Subscriptions are not going anywhere,” says Manchanda. “They have been around since at least the 17th century for a good reason — people like them.”

Thanks very much for reading,

Walter Thompson
Editorial Manager, TechCrunch+

How to take the BS out of your TAM

On Wednesday, October 19, I’m moderating “How to take the BS out of your TAM,” a panel at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco.

Calculating a company’s prospective market share is notoriously difficult for inexperienced entrepreneurs, and getting it wrong is a red flag for investors. To help founders overcome this hurdle, I’ll talk to three VCso learn more about how to measure TAM in an era when tailwinds are turning into headwinds:

  • Kara Nortman, managing partner, Upfront Ventures
  • Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner, Felicis Ventures
  • Deena Shakir, partner Lux Capital

Some frank advice for open source startups seeking product-market fit

Open source startups must seek product-market fit like other companies, but their path to market is slightly different: They must attract a critical mass of users, but they’ll also need to foster a community of developers who’ll support their product.

“In this regard, the go-to-market journey for an open source company is often less about acquiring new customers and more about conversion sales — upselling add-on paid features to existing free users,” says Arnav Sahu, an investor at Y Combinator Continuity.

“The playbook to build in the early days is identifying who is a good customer and who may not be.”

How should web3 companies approach fundraising during a downturn?

A classic snowman built and photographed at Cuddyback dry lake bed in the Mojave desert California, USA. Photographed with a Canon 1DS Mark II.

Image Credits: Stephen Swintek (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Most web3 startups are in the same leaky boat: They haven’t reached product-market fit, hiring technical talent is difficult at best, and many of the investors who were eager to take their calls a year ago are ghosting them today.

Thirsty travelers who know where to look can still find water, however, according to Jenny Q. Ta, CEO of

In a TechCrunch+ guest post, she offers suggestions for approaching angels, accelerators and traditional VCs, along with some thoughts that may help web3 entrepreneurs level-set.

“Don’t let anxiety call the shots. This too shall pass, but don’t waste the moment.”

VCs set sights on African countries beyond the ‘Big Four’

Arrows on the African landscape pointing up and down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Taken together, Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria absorb more than 70% of all African venture capital. Known as the “Big Four,” these nations collectively raised around $5 billion last year.

However, in recent months, Nairobi-based TechCrunch reporter Annie Njanja found that investors are increasingly hunting for deals elsewhere.

“Outside the Big Four, investments ballooned to $1.4 billion, up 382% year on year.”

Serena Williams’ next act in venture capital is essential in this moment

US player Serena Williams celebrates after beating Czech Republic's Barbora Strycova during their women's singles semi-final match on day ten of the 2019 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 11, 2019. (Photo by Adam DAVY / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo credit should read ADAM DAVY/AFP via Getty Images)

Image Credits: ADAM DAVY / Contributor / Getty Images

Since founding Serena Ventures in 2014, tennis champion Serena Williams has invested in companies like Impossible Foods, Daily Harvest, Billie and MasterClass.

All told, she’s invested in nearly 80 companies, including 16 unicorns, reports Dominic-Madori Davis. And in just a few weeks, she’ll retire from tennis.

“She knows her balancing act and has mastered the art of what it takes to win and lose — essential skills for running an early stage venture fund.”

Serena Williams’ next act in venture capital is essential in this moment

Lights, camera, another backhand winner down the line. It’s hard to imagine that in two weeks, Serena Williams is playing what could — and most likely will be — her last tennis tournament after 23 Grand Slams and decades of dazzling on center courts.

She announced her retirement in the latest issue of Vogue magazine, writing that she will be “evolving” away from the sport to focus on family and her career as a venture capitalist. Williams founded her own firm, Serena Ventures, in 2014 and raised a $111 million inaugural fund this year to invest in “founders with diverse points of view,” she previously told The New York Times.

When Serena Williams steps from away tennis, she’ll be walking into an arena as white as the one she just left.

LPs include CapitalG, LionTree Partners and Norwest Venture Partners, and with a team of six, the firm’s already invested in 20 companies with that capital, Fortune reported.

In tennis, she and her sister, Venus Williams, helped break the color barrier for Black girls looking to play a sport still associated with whiteness and privilege. Following the trail they blazed includes Naomi Osaka, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and countless others preparing for the day when they too can walk into the blinding lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Calico attracts Serena Williams to $2.1M seed to build fashion supply chain software

A few years ago Kathleen Chan, the CEO and founder of Calico, launched a couple of small fashion companies, but as those companies scaled quickly with the help of Shopify and Facebook ads, she noted a lack of tools to help her manage the back office of a business specifically geared to fashion.

As she pointed out, she couldn’t afford to buy SAP or even Netsuite, so she was managing the business in spreadsheets. She longed for something that was purpose-built for what she was doing. So like any good entrepreneur, she set out to build it. Along the way, she managed to attract the attention of tennis star Serena Williams, whose tech investment firm, Serena Ventures, recently launched a new $111 million fund.

“Basically, I launched my third business, Calico, to create a solution that I wish I had. So very, very quickly we went to Forum Ventures’ accelerator, raised a pre-seed round, and now we are raising our seed with the help of effectively one of the greatest athletes in the world,” Chan told me.

The solution Chan came up with was designed to help brands manage their supply chain starting with design and moving through manufacturing. “You can bring your own package on board and have a dedicated workspace to work together collaboratively to get a collection of products to market. Or if you don’t have one of those, we have a global network of the most coveted factories,” she said.

These factories work with some of the biggest fashion brands in the world, giving a small manufacturer the same access as these big brands. You can also filter factories by region, sustainability and so forth, and the platform will match you with a facility that meets your requirements. You can get bids and quotes from various factories to get the best price, and when you’re ready, they can begin production for you and you can manage the whole process inside of Calico.

Overview of Calico management dashboard with total orders, samples created, completed orders, etc.

Calico management dashboard Image Credits: Calico

Chan had the subject expertise to build her company, but she’s not an engineer, so she brought on Khalid Khatib from Freightos as head of engineering to help build the product she had envisioned.

It’s still early for the company, but it has a range of customers from emerging small brands to larger entities. The startup recently more than doubled its employees from 4 to 9. As she builds the company, Chan thinks a lot about how to build a diverse company, and that starts with the job posting.

“For me, it’s about the way we phrase the ad and what we’re looking for, how we recognize our own biases and how we move past that, and how we make sure that there are people who can access our postings to access the job opportunities we have,” she said.

Chan acknowledged that being an Asian-American, solo woman founder presents its own set of challenges when it came to fundraising. In fact, a report released by venture firm Work-Bench at the end of last year, found that only 1.9% of venture funding is going to female enterprise founders.

She said going through the Forum accelerator certainly helped give her access to investors, and she was able to work the network she built and raise a $2.1 million seed round.

Williams was drawn to the company after experiencing this problem herself when launching her own branded apparel business and that’s what attracted her to this investment. “From running my own brand, I have experienced the exact problem Calico is solving. It’s rare to see a founder and product that is so in tune with the industry’s challenges and current limitations like Calico is” she said in a statement.

Her investors included not only Williams’ firm, but also Maple VC, Inovia Capital, Hyphen Capital and a host of industry angels.

Esusu becomes unicorn with SoftBank Vision Fund 2-led $130M funding

More than 100 million Americans spend an average of $1,100 (over $1.4 trillion per year) on their largest monthly household spend: rentBut reports say 90% of these people don’t get credit for paying their rent on time.

On a sub-level, over 45 million people in the U.S. don’t have credit scores, according to a 2020 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Most of this demography are financially marginalized due to their background and race.

Esusu, a fintech that targets immigrant and minority groups and provides rent reporting and data solutions for credit building, said Thursday it has raised $130 million in a Series B fundraising round.

The investment gives four-year-old Esusu a valuation of $1 billion, placing it as one of the very few black-owned unicorns in the U.S. and globallySoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the funding round, with participation from Jones Feliciano Family Office, Lauder Zinterhofer Family Office, Schusterman Foundation, SoftBank Opportunity Fund, Related Companies and Wilshire Lane Capital.

Immigrants, particularly African Americans, have lower or non-existent credit scores than other populations. To a large extent, immigrants also witness more predatory lending, putting them in a cycle of financial insecurity. So, while they need strong credit scores to build wealth, they do not have access to build credit.

Esusu co-founders and co-CEOs Nigerian-born American Abbey Wemimo and Indian American Samir Goel grew up in immigrant homes and experienced firsthand this financial exclusion. They started the company in 2018 to build the credit scores of this marginalized group and “leverage data to bridge the racial wealth gap” via rental payments.

The New York-headquartered fintech partners with property owners and housing providers and works with 35% of the largest landlords on the National Mult-Family Housing Council (NHMC) list. Its partners include Goldman Sachs, Related Companies, Starwood Capital Group and Winn Residential.

Esusu captures on-time rental payment data of renters who opt-in to its platform and reports to the three major credit bureaus–Equifax, TransUnion and Experian–to strengthen their credit scores. This way, renters can work their way to better credit scores over time while Esusu helps property owners mitigate against initiating evictions. 

Esusu charges property managers and owners a $3,500 set-up fee and $2 per unit monthly. Renters, on the other hand, pay an annual subscription fee of $50 to report their rental payment data to credit bureaus.

The founders told TechCrunch that Esusu has a 600% year-over-year growth rate. Over 2.5 million homes currently use its service, representing over $3 billion in Gross Lease Volume (GLV) across the U.S., up from 2 million homes and more than $2.4 billion in Gross Lease Value the company reported six months ago.

In April 2020, Esusu launched a rent relief fund after carrying out a survey on its platform that showed that 62% of its users would not be able to pay their rent on time due to the pandemic’s effects. The company raised almost $500,000 via crowdfunding and nonprofit impact investment funds.

Two years on, that program still runs and Esusu has scaled it to keep thousands of renters in their homes. The program has garnered partners with more than $1.7 billion on their balance sheet, Esusu founders told TechCrunch.

“We founded Esusu with the vision of using data to bridge the racial wealth gap and create more equitable financial opportunities for low-to-moderate-income households in this country,” Wemimo and Goel said in a statement. “By establishing and improving credit scores, we are strengthening financial identities while empowering individuals, families, and communities to meet their long-term financial goals.”

Esusu plans to use the funding to scale its team (triple its employees to be exact), “turbocharge growth through product innovation, and build the most comprehensive financial health platform in the market.”

Motley Fool Ventures, the lead investor from its $10 million Series A round last July, re-invested in this new financing round. Other existing investors Concrete Rose Capital, The Equity Alliance, Impact America Fund, Next Play Ventures, Serena Ventures, Sinai Ventures, and TypeOne Ventures, doubled down too. In total, Esusu has raised over $144 million.

With this funding, Esusu joins a coveted small group of black-led and owned startups globally that have achieved the coveted unicorn valuation out of more than 900 companies. They include U.S. scheduling app Calendly valued at $3 billion; U.K.-based fintech Zepz at $5 billion and digital insurance startup Marshmallow at $1.2 billion; and African fintechs Flutterwave ($1 billion), Chipper Cash ($2 billion) and Interswitch ($1 billion).

Foody cooks up marketplace for culinary creators

Husband-and-wife co-founders Daniel and Brenna Stitzel are developing a way for foodies to monetize their culinary creations and closed on a round of $1.5 million in pre-seed funding to officially launch Foody.

The investment was led by Serena Ventures, with Goodwater Capital and a group of angel investors joining, including Patreon’s Jack Conte, former Postmates exec Vivek Patel, Greenoaks Capital’s Neil Mehta and KeepTruckin’s Shoaib Makani.

Most Americans — 98% of them — cook at home at least once a week, but finding recipes means long internet searches and wading through food blog stories and ads to get to the recipe.

Foody enables users to buy recipes, or upload their own, and keep them in one ad-free place. It also is partnering with Michelin-star chefs, like Jeremiah Tower, and food bloggers to monetize their recipes and other content while building relationships with fans.


Foody app. Image Credits: Foody

The idea for the company came about when Brenna Stitzel decided to go to culinary school in 2020 after a career in banking. When the global pandemic shut down her school and available food items on store shelves dwindled, Stitzel began getting inquiries from friends about what they could make with the pantry staples on hand.

“People were looking for content, so I started putting out recipes, but I wasn’t satisfied with the tools available,” she added. “There was not one great software to help food creators of all kinds, from restaurants to authors, to monetize their content and get it out there, nor was there one central place for home chefs to save, share and store their recipes.”

The Stitzels then set out to build a tool for creators to publish and share recipes that they can push out to fans with QR codes and URLs. Foodies can sign up for free to use the site, and then be able to put together a collection of recipes for a small fee.

Foody is launching with over 30 creators, including a curated list of a dozen featured creators, including Tower, Brandon Jew (Mister Jiu’s), Evan and Sarah Rich (Rich Table), Harold Villarosa, Gaby Dalkin, Amanda Frederickson, Amanda Haas, Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz, A16 Restaurant and Tu David Phu.

In Serena Ventures, the Stitzels said they found partners “who share our vision for building amazing software that empowers creators and improves the day to day lives of home cooks.”

“Food and cooking are such big parts of my life, both for my profession and with my family,” Serena Williams, founder and managing partner of Serena Ventures, said in a written statement. “I’m so excited to try new recipes on Foody, and I believe it’s time culinary creators from every culture and background have an opportunity to turn their creativity into income.

The company intends to use the new funding to grow its team of 10 in engineering and development to build out new products and features, Dan Stitzel said.

“We have a big vision for what amazing kitchen software could be that includes planning weekly meals and integrating with grocery delivery services,” he added.

Dapper Labs backs art hardware startup Infinite Objects in $6 million seed raise

The NFT world is all about reshaping the idea of digital ownership, but art hardware startup Infinite Objects sees a big opportunity in making physical copies of those assets as it looks to reshape digital art and collectibles.

The startup makes screens that show a single video from a single artist and don’t do anything else. You can’t download apps to the screens or upload your own photos to them or check the time or weather. If you even want another piece of art from Infinite Objects, you can’t just download it, you have to actually go to their site and buy another display with that artwork on it. Each screen boasts information about the work, edition numbers and serial numbers etched on the back of it, inextricably tying the physical display to the work that it displays.

Infinite Objects CEO Joe Saavedra tells TechCrunch they’ve raised $6 million in seed funding from a host of backers including Courtside VC, which led the deal, and NBA Top Shot creator Dapper Labs.

For the longest time, Infinite Objects was an NFT platform without the NFTs. The company has worked with artists since 2018 to make (often limited run) series of physical display frames highlighting a specific digital work of the artist that looped forever. Sure, users could watch that looping video on the Infinite Objects website whenever they wanted, but the value was in owning an official copy of that artist’s work. Sound familiar?

When the wider popularity of NFTs as a speculative asset hit earlier this year, Saavedra saw a huge opportunity as internet users began discussing the future of digital art and digital scarcity. His team had already flirted with NFTs, partnering with artist Beeple back in December — months before he would spring out of relative obscurity in art circles with a $69 million sale at the Christie’s auction house — to release “physical tokens” of NFTs he was selling on the platform Nifty Gateway.

Saavedra sees a bigger opportunity for companies and creators in the NFT world to make their assets more approachable and understandable to a general audience with what his company is building, but he also sees a chance to transform NFTs from blind ownership to something more focused on actually appreciating the digital art that’s been purchased.

“When it comes to ownership, it’s exciting to be buying an NFT for $500 or $5,000, but what’s not exciting is having to open Safari on your phone to show it off,” Saavedra tells TechCrunch. “This physical vessel that we’ve designed is just so understandable for people who maybe don’t even understand what the blockchain at all, but they certainly understand limited edition physical merchandise.”

Saavedra is dismissive of other digital displays that cycle through artwork and says that art owners could also just toss images of their NFTs onto the TV if they wanted to, but that they all only serve up art as “glorified screensavers.”

The team at Infinite Objects sees broader opportunities in the NFT world but they’ve been tight-lipped on exactly what these efforts will look like. You can see some potential hints in the list of backers in this round, including most interestingly NBA Top Shot creator Dapper Labs. The startup has been building out its own blockchain called Flow and Saavedra was quick to sing its praises in our conversation, noting that its more scalable and sustainable than the Ethereum network. Dapper Labs recently announced its first major third-party NFT platform, partnering with avatar startup Genies –another investor in this round — for a digital accessories storefront that’s being launched this summer.

Serena Ventures, Betaworks, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, GFR Fund, Kevin Durant & Rich Kleiman, Genies, and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures also participated in the round.