Building products in the NFT and DeFi ecosystems - an interview with Matt Liu, CoFounder of Origin
Origin’s story starts in 2017 as one of the early companies raising capital through ICOs. They’ve consistently focused on the evolving trends in Web3 and building products to serve those markets. I spoke with Cofounder Matt Liu about a variety of topics, including the Web3 UX challenge, how creators are viewing the NFT opportunity and the new trends Matt is seeing in Web3
The following has been edited for clarity and length.
Why did you start Origin, tell me about your products?
My cofounder and I started Origin in 2017. We had the vision that anyone should be able to transact on a blockchain. We wanted to disintermediate all the marketplaces that took hold of Web2 and think about how we could build a commerce protocol that allows people to buy and sell services or goods on-chain.
What we found was that user adoption just wasn’t there, on both the buy and the sell side, so we pivoted. We decided to dig deeper into Web3 commerce, thinking more deeply about what was actually relevant at the time. We built a decentralized e-commerce storefront, almost like a decentralized Shopify. It did a bit better, but it still didn’t get as much traction as we liked.
So we pivoted yet again. We were starting to see activity in NFTs, so we thought, why don’t we build a storefront for NFTs? Lo and behold, we were very successful in our first sale with the musician and producer 3LAU in April 2021. It was an $11.7 million sale.
Today we have an NFT platform called Origin Story. The idea is to enable creators of all types to launch their NFT storefront and engage with the ecosystem that they want to build around their NFTs. We have a second business line called OUSD, or Origin Dollar. The idea here is to make DeFi easy and accessible to the masses. You buy OUSD, you hold it in your wallet, and it automatically earns yield. It’s like a high-yield savings account, earning anywhere from 10 to 20%.
Right now in blockchain, there are a lot of people that are priced out and a lot of people at the borders, because the technology is so difficult and the user experience is so bad. To win as an industry, we need to expand from where we’re at by several orders of magnitude.
Why do you think user experience is such a challenge in crypto?
Crypto and Web3 is a fundamental paradigm shift. Web2 is today’s internet, and a lot of it is built around monopolistic companies that monetize users and their data. Web3 is about empowering users. They should own their own data, own their own funds, and they should have interoperability across platforms. But with that fundamental paradigm shift, users need to be more sophisticated. You can’t just have Facebook reset your password — now you’re responsible for your own wallet and funds, meaning you have to take extra care to make sure that it’s secure and that you don’t lose it.
Assuming you understand how to hold your own wallet and protect your funds, then you have to interact with applications using your wallet. By design, there’s no way to police some of the stuff you’re interacting with, and as a result, there are unfortunately a lot of scams and rug pulls. But on the other hand, there are a lot of really interesting new applications because we’ve taken away the monopolies and gatekeepers.
You’ve spent a lot of time working with creators and artists. What do they feel are their core challenges when it comes to participating in the NFT ecosystem?
Taking a step back, why are creators even interested in NFTs and Web3? Creators today pay taxes on platforms like YouTube and Spotify. They’re looking for a better way to monetize their work, which is where NFTs come in. They allow creators to engage with their audiences, especially super fans that are willing to pay extra for access to these creators.
One of the biggest challenges is that those fans aren’t necessarily on crypto yet and many are intimidated by it. For select creators on our platform, we allow their fans to purchase NFTs with credit cards, which is surprisingly difficult to do.
Another challenge that creators face is: How do you access the community that is savvy about NFTs and crypto? There are many examples of celebrities, brands, and athletes that have done NFT drops that flopped. The reason is that they haven’t been able to engage with the core community of early NFT adopters. It’s not just about the size of your audience, it’s who your audience is and how educated they are.
Is it no longer enough to mint NFTs related to your brand? Does there need to be utility to NFTs?
It depends on what the creator is trying to do. A lot of people see NFTs and they think that it’s about expensive digital art. That’s one aspect of NFTs, but I think of them as a fundamental technology, like HTML web pages were in the first dot com boom. Back then, nobody imagined the opportunity for users to produce their own content or use a web page to sell something. But the basic construct of HTML web pages unlocked multi-billion dollar industries like e-commerce, blogging, social networking, and online games.
NFTs are kind of like that. I see them as a base technology that will have many offshoots and use cases. Rather than just representing art, NFTs might be tickets to backstage experiences or unlock merchandise and meeting celebrities in person.
NFTs will also disrupt gaming. Gaming dominates both in-app purchases and subscription revenue for the Apple app store and Google Play. Imagine a case where these digital assets are NFTs. Because they’re interoperable, you could take your NFT in one game and potentially move it to another experience, like VR or AR. Users can have true ownership of those digital assets, across all of Web3.
We’re starting to see some of this. One of the unique things that Bored Ape Yacht Club did was give licensing rights to their NFT holders. We’re seeing holders create restaurants, music albums, and games with their Bored Apes. This isn’t being done by the parent company, it’s being done ground-up by the community and other companies.
What Web3 concepts are on your radar that you think people should be paying attention to?
NFTs are going to be a storyline that takes a decade or longer to play out. Even if people aren’t thinking about them from an investment perspective, think about how NFTs can unlock some of the opportunities I mentioned from a technology and business perspective.
I think DeFi will go global in the next couple of years, especially in emerging markets. We’re going to see that drive GDP growth and new businesses, changing the way people transact in Southeast Asia and Africa.
There are a lot of infrastructure issues that need to be solved. How do you make blockchains that are highly decentralized and secure but also scalable and fast? That hasn’t been solved, and that’s why there are so many competing blockchains right now.
A fundamental Web3 concept that will be explored deeply is “X to earn.” “Play to earn” games are one example, but we’re also seeing “move to earn,” “learn to earn,” and “shop to learn.” I think a lot of these concepts are going to be ported over to Web3, and as people contribute value to the products or platforms, they also get a piece of it. If you’re already spending your entire day on Instagram or TikTok, isn’t a better future one where you’re getting paid to do that?
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Hi, I’m Andrew Chang - I created the Web3 Roundup to share what I’m learning in this space. I’ve spent my career at the forefront of the technology industry in areas such as crypto/blockchain (Former COO @ Paxos, co-founding partner of Liberty City Ventures), video and adtech. I learn by meeting with founders, investors and other thought leaders and approach Web3 with the same enthusiasm – and skepticism – I had about crypto/blockchain technologies 10 years ago.