AI Startups Are Facing a ReckoningRead more

The Year Startup Investors and Founders Went Ape Over Crypto

For years, crypto entrepreneurs struggled to get venture capitalists interested in their startups. That all changed in 2021. Now investors won’t stop bragging about their NFT purchases and slinging around crypto jargon to impress the hottest startups.

Illustration by Josh Brill
Illustration by Josh Brill
Dec. 17, 2021 6:00 AM PST

Erick Calderon is an entrepreneur down to his bones. In college, he opened a snow cone stand across from the University of Texas at Austin. For the past 18 years, the 40-year-old has run a business in Houston that imports high-end porcelain and ceramic tiles from Spain and Italy. But both ventures pale in comparison with Calderon’s success in his most recent and improbable career twist: crypto entrepreneur.

A year ago, Calderon launched a platform called Art Blocks that allows artists to create and sell computer-generated art stored on the blockchain. To his surprise, Art Blocks took off—its total sales volume has surpassed $1 billion, according to data provider CryptoSlam—and the resale value of its pieces has exploded on the secondary market. For Calderon, who has raised $6 million in venture capital funding for the buzzy startup despite never having worked in tech, the experience has been surreal.

“I’m the first to admit that I actually don’t know what I’m doing,” said Calderon. “I’m just blindly navigating what feels like a pirate ship with all these crazy people hanging on to it.”

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