Sotheby’s Makes First Crypto Investment, Backing NFT Startup Using Ethereum Blockchain

Sotheby’s, the world’s largest art and luxury auction house, is betting on the digital art world by joining a $20 million seed round investment in Delaware-based NFT studio Mojito, joining the likes of Future Perfect Ventures, Creative Artists Agency and NEA’s Connect Ventures. 

The investment values the firm at $100 million, according to a statement, and Future Perfect partner Jalak Jobanputra will take a seat on the company’s board. Mojito plans to use the new capital to develop its engineering teams in order to continue building the Mojito platform, and to create more partnerships to launch brand-specific non-fungible token (NFT) marketplaces that work differently from today’s standard of Amazon and eBay-type platforms.

Sotheby’s joins the increasing number of traditional art dealers and collectors adopting NFTs as part of their repertoire, as digital art keeps gaining momentum. But Sotheby’s is taking its relationship with digital art a step further by making its first investment in a crypto company, betting on the success and prevalence of NFTs and other crypto assets as serious marketable goods.

“We believe in the future of using blockchain to expand ownership of digital assets,” says Charles F. Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO. “There is a huge amount of focus and interest in NFTs. We hear about these categories from most of our existing clients and collectors, but we are also engaging with a rather large new audience who is very focused on this category. Sotheby’s mission is to promote access and ownership of exceptional art and luxury objects, so focusing and developing this area makes a lot of sense.”

Sotheby’s first NFT sale took place less than five months ago, and it stood as a one-off event. Now, with a new customized marketplace specifically designed to auction NFTs and an investment in the startup behind it all, the auction house seems to be all in. Last week, Sotheby’s launched its NFT marketplace, Sotheby’s Metaverse, along with a new curated sale, Natively Digital 1.2: The Collectors, that will be taking bids through October 26. A second iteration of Sotheby’s first NFT sale, Natively Digital, the auction features 53 pieces from the holdings of 19 notable collectors including NFT Girl, Steve Aoki, AOI and Paris Hilton. In addition to tracking the assets on the ethereum blockchain, the marketplace lets bidders pay in ether, bitcoin and USDC cryptocurrencies, as well as fiat currencies.

Earlier this year, auction house Christie’s first NFT auction kicked off the crypto luxury goods explosion with the more than $69 million sale of “Everydays — The First 5000 Days,” by the artist known as Beeple. Not long after, Guggenheim Partners’ co-founder announced plans to build the world’s largest NFT museum just blocks away from the MoMA in a skyscraper overlooking Central Park. Over the past seven months, NFTs have been adopted as a way to generate revenue (and get attention) from an entirely new vertical for firms including Gucci, Burberry, and Balenciaga. Total NFT transaction volumes over the same period have increased from just over $52 million to $408 million, according to NFT market analysis platform NonFungible.com.

So, it’s perhaps no coincidence that Mojito is also the first startup to branch out from Serotonin, a marketing and venture firm that helps companies get attention using applications built directly on a blockchain, called Web3. Mojito builds and maintains NFT marketplaces — like Sotheby’s Metaverse — for companies to participate in the booming market on their own terms. Mojito’s marketplaces are compatible with Ethereum apps.

“The crypto space has gotten a bad rap for being inaccessible and hard. We want to help lower the barrier to entry, make it easy, make it fun, and give brands space to make it their own,” says Dan Kinsley, CEO and cofounder of Mojito. “I’m passionate about decentralization in general and helping bring users into the space, and this is a great conduit for that.”