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What's an NFT? And why are people suddenly spending millions on them? – CBC.ca

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At first blush, Sheldon Corey’s Twitter avatar, shown above, isn’t the sort of thing you’d think is worth $20,000 US. But to the Montreal investor, it’s worth every penny — if not more.

The image is part of a collection of digital files known as CryptoPunks, which were first created more than three years ago.

Created by a computer algorithm by software developer Larva Labs, there are about 10,000 of them out there. They were given away almost for free when they were created, but over time they have come to be very valuable to a certain subculture of people because they are among the first examples of an emerging type of digital investment known as non-fungible tokens or NFTs.

While the image itself can be easily duplicated, what gives Corey’s NFT its value is that its digital ownership is unimpeachable. Logged on a digital ledger known as a blockchain that can’t be forged, the ownership can be publicly verified by anyone who cares to look, and Corey is its undisputed owner in perpetuity, or at least until he decides to sell it.

But he has no plans to sell.

“It’s something I’m going to hang on to,” he said in an interview. “It’s doubled in value already.” 

The “non-fungible” portion of NFTs simply means they can’t be exchanged for another asset of the same type, and can instead only be transferred in exchange for some sort of money, typically ethereum or bitcoin. (Conventional money is perhaps the best example of a “fungible” asset since it can be exchanged for others of the same type. Canadian dollars for a certain amount of American ones, for example. Or two dimes and a nickel for a quarter.)

NFTs are exploding in popularity right now, swept up in the mania for digital assets such as bitcoin. The most expensive CryptoPunk is currently valued at about $2 million. And about half of the 50 most valuable ones in the world have changed hands in the past month alone.

CryptoPunks may be among the oldest, but they are far from the only ones.

Digital artist Mike Winkelmann — better known by his online alias, Beeple — made headlines recently for selling the NFT of the 10-second video he created, shown below, to an investor for $67,000 US last fall.

The buyer, Miami-based art collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile, sold that NFT this week for almost 100 times what he paid, setting what’s believed to be a new record for NFTs at $6.6 million US. To him, he was buying a valuable piece of art akin to any other works from the great masters of their day, worthy of hanging in any museum you could name.

“You can go in the Louvre and take a picture of the Mona Lisa and you can have it there, but it doesn’t have any value because it doesn’t have the provenance or the history of the work,” he said this week. “The reality here is that this is very, very valuable because of who is behind it.”

Newer NFTs are starting to get into prickly issues such as royalties. But most, like Corey’s CryptoPunk, do not.

He says he’s also invested in a few newer types of NFTs called Hashmasks — one of which is shown below — that come with the ability to sell the naming rights.

“There’s a secondary market for naming them so they are generating their own revenue source,” he said.

Booming business

OpenSea, the largest marketplace for buying and selling NFTs, booked almost $90 million US worth of transactions last month. That’s up from $8 million US the month before and just $1.5 million this time last year.

Maria Paula Fernandez says even if NFTs are currently in a bubble, the underlying technology has real value that will last long after the bubble bursts. (The Golem Network)

Maria Paula Fernandez is an adviser to the Golem Network, a peer-to-peer marketplace for computing power that runs on the ethereum network. While NFTs have been around for a few years, she said in an interview that they are hyped right now due to a “very large influx of new users coming into ethereum by way of some very crazy incentives in the space.”

Translation? There’s a lot of new money pouring in.

Much like conventional art, the beauty of digital art may be in the eye of the beholder, but to Fernandez the real value of NFTs is in how they can certify ownership.

“They’re super versatile,” she said. “But the main benefit is the certificate of provenance and authenticity of an artwork.”

She says it’s not surprising that the artistic community has jumped on board, because the conventional business model for artists and art lovers has its own set of problems. She cites the example of a New York art gallery that came upon previously undiscovered works by Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and others, and sold them to dozens of investors for more than $80 million.

“The ink was right, the paper was right, people that know Rothko vouched for it,” she said.

Despite the way the gallery owner obtained them being “a bit shady” and the verification of their status “super opaque”, customers couldn’t wait to get their hands on rare gems from such revered artists.

There was only one problem: they were all fake, forgeries by a talented Chinese artist. “All these millionaires, including the owner of [auction company] Sotheby’s, got scammed because in the art world, provenance is created by a consensus,” she said.

“With NFTs there is no question, it’s either there or it’s not. Period.”

Going mainstream

It’s not just hobbyists with more cryptodollars than sense throwing money into the space, either. Canada’s Grimes and Tennessee’s Kings of Leon both made millions this week selling artwork and music, respectively, via NFT.

Billionaire technology investor Mark Cuban is a big backer of them, and auction house Christie’s is currently selling another Beeple work until March 11, calling it the first “purely digital” piece of art it has ever sold. Based on demand, the current record sale price for a Beeple mentioned above may be short-lived.

The NBA has jumped into the space with both feet, establishing something called NBA Top Shot, which is probably best described as sports cards for the digital era.

Instead of buying a pack of physical cards, fans and investors can buy NFTs of videos of memorable on-court moments. Since launching five months ago, the service has attracted 100,000 buyers and racked up more than $250 million in sales.

So far the most valuable is the NFT of a dunk by superstar LeBron James. It recently sold for more than $208,000. (The Mona Lisa may belong to the Louvre, but the NFT in question is owned by a Twitter user with the apt moniker of YoDough. You can watch it yourself for free, here.)

NFTs are a bit like hockey cards: collectibles that retain their value mostly because they are perceived to have it by those who care about them.

Speaking as an art lover, Fernandez says she wouldn’t personally poster her wall with the LeBron dunk, but she still calls Top Shot a “great use case” to show the value of NFTs.

“Of course it’s not as special as a [sports card] you can hold and love and feel all that beauty, but this one lives forever,” she said. “You don’t have to protect it or put it in a safe, [but] you can have a very expensive collectible for your life.”

Emelia Thiara is managing director at Kingswap, a Singapore-based decentralized marketplace that allows trading in cryptocurrencies and NFTs. While the technology has been around for a while, she says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in interest in NFTs, as digital assets become more mainstream.

Corey owns the NFT for this piece of digital art, which is a Hashmask currently called Watermelon, but he may sell the naming rights to the piece to someone else. (Sheldon Corey)

She says it’s easy to think some of the assets are trivial, but so are a lot of physical collectibles. People collect high-end watches such as Rolex and save them for decades. “All that has no value to anyone who’s not into the subculture, but to whoever is in the subculture it is hugely valuable,” she said.

“It may seem silly … and doesn’t make sense, but at least [an NFT] is recorded on a blockchain,” she said. 

Fernandez admits that the feverish activity and meteoric price rise of some NFTs could be evidence of a bubble, but she’s convinced the underlying technology will have real value even if the current frenzy fizzles out.

“The only way to prove this isn’t a bubble is if there are still creators willing to keep working, and technologists willing to keep investing in the platforms,” she said.

“Never in the history of art has it been easier to sell your work for millions.”

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Canadian Business During the Pandemic

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In 2019 the world was hit by the covid 19 pandemic and ever since then people have been suffering in different ways. Usually, economies and businesses have changed the way they work and do business. Most of which are going towards online and automation.

The people most effected by this are the laymen that used to work hard labors to make money for there families. But other then them it has been hard for most business to make such switch. Those of whom got on the online/ e commerce band wagon quickly were out of trouble and into the safe zone but not everyone is mace for the high-speed online world and are thus suffering.

More than 200,000 Canadian businesses could close permanently during the COVID-19 crisis, throwing millions of people out of work as the resurgence of the virus worsens across much of the country, according to new research. You can only imagine how many families these businesses were feeding, not to mention the impact the economy and the GDP is going to bear.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said one in six, or about 181,000, Canadian small business owners are now seriously contemplating shutting down. The latest figures, based on a survey of its members done between Jan. 12 and 16, come on top of 58,000 businesses that became inactive in 2020.

An estimate by the CFIB last summer said one in seven or 158,000 businesses were at risk of going under as a result of the pandemic. Based on the organization’s updated forecast, more than 2.4 million people could be out of work. A staggering 20 per cent of private sector jobs.

Simon Gaudreault, CFIB’s senior director of national research, said it was an alarming increase in the number of businesses that are considering closing.

We are not headed in the right direction, and each week that passes without improvement on the business front pushes more owners to make that final decision,”

He said in a statement.

The more businesses that disappear, the more jobs we will lose, and the harder it will be for the economy to recover.

In total, one in five businesses are at risk of permanent closure by the end of the pandemic, the organization said.

The new sad research shows that this year has been horrible for the Canadian businesses.

 

The beginning of 2021 feels more like the fifth quarter of 2020 than a new year,” said Laura Jones, executive vice-president of the CFIB, in a statement.

She called on governments to help small businesses “replace subsidies with sales” by introducing safe pathways to reopen to businesses.

There’s a lot at stake now from jobs, to tax revenue to support for local soccer teams,”

Jones said.

Let’s make 2021 the year we help small business survive and then get back to thriving.”

The whole world has suffered a lot from the pandemic and the Canadian economy has been no stranger to it. We can only pray that the world gets rid of this pandemic quickly and everything become as it used to be. Although I think it is about time, we start setting new norms.

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Shopify shares edge up after falling on executive departures

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By Chavi Mehta

(Reuters) -Shopify Inc shares edged higher on Thursday, recovering partially from the previous day’s fall, with analysts saying the news of planned senior executive departures may have limited impact due to the company’s deep talent pool.

Chief Executive Officer Tobi Lutke said in a blog post on Wednesday the company’s chief talent officer, chief legal officer and chief technology officer will all leave their roles.

“We remain confident it (Shopify) can continue to execute at a high level, despite the departures,” Tom Forte, analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co said, pointing to the company’s “deep bench of talented executives.”

Shopify, which provides infrastructure for online stores, has seen its valuation soar in the past year as many businesses went virtual during the COVID-19 lockdowns, turning it into Canada‘s most valuable company.

Shopify declined to comment further on Lutke’s statement suggesting current company leaders would step in to fill the three roles. After chief product officer Craig Miller left in September, Lutke took on the role in addition to CEO.

The Ottawa-based company is Canada‘s biggest homegrown tech success story, founded in 2006 and supporting over 1 million businesses globally, according to the company.

Jonathan Kees, analyst at Summit Insights Group, called the timing of the departures “a little alarming” but said the specific roles make it less concerning, given that the executives leaving are “more back-office roles.”

Lutke said each one of them had their individual reasons to leave, without giving details.

“I am willing to give Tobi’s explanation the benefit of the doubt,” Kees added.

Toronto-listed shares of Shopify were up 3.5% at C$1526.41 on Thursday, giving it a market value of C$188 billion ($150 billion). It ended down 5.1% on Wednesday.

“While we would refer to the departure of three high-level executives as ‘significant,’ we would not refer to it as a ‘brain drain,'” Forte added.

($1 = 1.2541 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Dan Grebler)

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Almost half of Shopify’s top execs to depart company: CEO

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By Moira Warburton

(Reuters) – Three of e-commerce platform Shopify’s seven top executives will be leaving the company in the coming months, chief executive officer and founder of Canada‘s most valuable company Tobi Lutke said in a blog post on Wednesday.

The company’s chief talent officer, chief legal officer and chief technology officer will all transition out of their roles, Lutke said, adding that they have been “spectacular and deserve to take a bow.”

“Each one of them has their individual reasons but what was unanimous with all three was that this was the best for them and the best for Shopify,” he said.

The trio follow the departure of Craig Miller, chief product officer, in September. Lutke took on the role in addition to CEO.

Shopify, which provides infrastructure for online stores, has seen its valuation soar in the last year as many businesses went virtual during COVID-19 lockdowns. It has a market cap valuation of C$182.7 billion ($146 billion), above Canada‘s top lender Royal Bank of Canada.

It is Canada‘s biggest homegrown tech success story, founded in 2006 and supporting over 1 million businesses globally, according to the company.

“We have a phenomenally strong bench of leaders who will now step up into larger roles,” Lutke said, but did not name replacements.

Shopify said in February revenue growth would slow this year as vaccine rollouts encourage people to return to stores and warned it does not expect 2020’s near doubling of gross merchandise volume, an industry metric to measure transaction volumes, to repeat this year.

Chief talent officer, Brittany Forsyth, was the 22nd employee hired at Shopify and has been with the company for 11 years. She said on Twitter that post-Shopify she would be focusing on Backbone Angels, an all-female collective of angel investors she co-founded in March.

Shopify shares fell 5.1% while the benchmark Canadian share index ended marginally down.

($1 = 1.2515 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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