A startup co-founded by crypto influencer Irene Zhao is raising fresh financing in a private round led by Blockchain Capital.
The round values Zhao’s SO-COL — which aims to ‘supercharge’ influencers’ output with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) — at $100 million, according to people familiar with the matter. Zhao confirmed those details in an interview with The Block. The exact size of the round is yet to be determined, as discussions with investors are ongoing.
“We are helping all the creators and influencers who are completely web2 to get into web3 by giving them a very simple user interface,” she said. “They can actually use their Apple Wallet, any wallet they have, to buy anything on our platform.”
Zhao, an Instagram model and entrepreneur, demonstrated how NFTs might be used to monetise a social media following earlier this year, when she dropped a collection named IreneDAO. Some 2,600 ether (roughly $6.5 million) of the digital stickers — depicting Zhao in various poses accompanied by crypto catchphrases — have changed hands on OpenSea.
Zhao described the IreneDAO project as a proof of concept for the SO-COL platform.
Founded by Zhao and co-founder Benjamin Tang, SO-COL closed its $1.75 million seed round as recently as February this year. Animoca Brands and DeFiance Capital co-led that raise, alongside Three Arrows Capital, Mechanism Capital, Global Founders Capital, Double Peak Group, Antifund, Genblock Capital, and Kronos Research.
Zhao describes SO-COL as a ‘web2.5’ play — bridging the gap between crypto natives and internet users who are as yet unfamiliar with tools like NFTs. The company is working with Stripe to offer traditional payment methods for fans, and with StarkEx, the Ethereum scaling platform, to try to trim creator fees, she added.
SO-COL is yet to officially launch, but Zhao sees that changing within the next month. Proceeds from the raise will be used for hiring developers, to continue building the app, and for marketing.
Zhao has already recruited celebrities to help with a promotional push but declined to name them. One partnership involves a Michelin star chef who will use SO-COL to roll out NFTs that grant holders exclusive memberships at their restaurants.
SO-COL will assist creators with a wide variety of NFT-based projects, providing both technology and consulting services.
Sterling Campbell of Blockchain Capital said in a statement that he sees web3 technologies like SO-COL allowing influencers “to token-gate deeper access, exclusive merch, masterclasses, and more.”
“The willingness to pay for deeper engagement is higher than the value that many web2 platforms provide, and web3 brings that engagement directly to the fan,” he continued.
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