Ant Veteran Turns To NFT Verification For SXSW Festival VIP Party

As funding for web3 projects cools during the crypto winter, space startups are increasingly focusing on building bridges for mass adoption and exploring monetization opportunities to stay afloat. The key to mass adoption? Deliver experiences so seamless that users don’t realize blockchain is involved.

One company showing how blockchain can come in handy in real life is Kansas-based Redeem, which allows users to claim non-fungible tokens using phone numbers instead of having to set up crypto wallets. Following the recent $2.5 million pre-seed funding round led by Kenetic Capital, the startup is deploying its NFT solution this week to host a VIP dinner at the SXSW technology festival.

Its co-founder and CEO Toby Rush is a third entrepreneur who sold his biometric company EyeVerify to Ant Group, Alibaba’s fintech affiliate, for $100 million in 2016. Few other companies in the world are as adept at building intuitive fintech products as Ant is. Together with his nemesis Tencent, Ant popularized the use of scan-to-pay among more than a billion people in China.

Rush was then acquired by Ant’s corporate venture team, which focused on blockchain deals. It was an experience that paved the way for finding practical use cases for blockchain.

“As you know cryptocurrencies are not allowed in China. NFTs that we have here are not really a thing in China. But hardcore business use cases are. How can blockchain make companies better? That was my investment focus,” Rush told CoinTech in an interview.

“So when I started learning about blockchain, it was very practical, realistic. It’s not how we’re going to trade NFTs, how we’re going to create a new token, it was much more what I would call hardcore business cases,” he added.

Rush eventually identified a use case for NFTs and launched Redeem early last year. He was fascinated by the technology “not as images, but as a digital asset that can live outside the walled gardens of Apple, or Google, or Facebook, Ticketmaster, or Visa,” he admitted.

“If I can own a small piece of data outside of their walled gardens, many other people can collaborate with me in an open ecosystem.”

The challenge of using NFTs, he believed, is that the onboarding process and even using them after onboarding is very difficult. Instead of building an NFT infrastructure from scratch, Toby looked to an established, ubiquitous global phone book system: phone numbers.

“Carriers have spent billions of dollars making sure only one device in the world can use my phone number right now. There are already 6.8 billion smartphones in use, so take advantage of that — if you’ve got your phone, you’ve got a wallet,” he explained.

This is how Redeem brings users to web3 by opening their first wallet, the gateway to all things crypto. Suppose they attend an event that spreads NFTs as swag, they will first scan a QR code with their phones. Two links appear: on board via SMS or WhatsApp. Supposing the users choose WhatsApp, Redeem will automatically create wallets for them in the backend, place NFTs in their wallets and send them a message on WhatsApp with a link to their newly created wallets.

In fact, Redeem uses users’ phone numbers to verify who they are and create unique wallets. Instead of making them go through the process of signing up for a wallet and writing down the 16-word recovery phrase, it uses the popular methods of scanning QR codes and texting.

“When you’re sending a message, there’s only one device in the world that can send a message from your phone, and that’s you. When you get to choose your preferences, it creates a message, so it pre-populates who it’s sending it to, and this is the NFT you want to claim. When you hit submit, your phone number will claim this NFT. So we create a wallet and send you a response, and you’re on board.

The system can similarly be used to authenticate people’s access to events. At the VIP dinner in SXSW hosted by Arkive, a company building a decentralized museum, Redeem’s solution helps verify the identities of more than 200 attendees. Once they scan the QR code at the gate, Redeem’s backend checks if they have the required NFT ticket in their wallet associated with their phone numbers.

Redeem doesn’t try to be a wallet itself, but more of a connectivity layer through a B2B2C strategy. Users can bind their wallet, be it Metamask or Phantom, to redeem as their default solution.

And why should event organizers use NFTs instead of the traditional ticketing system? The differences are in the control. In existing practices, centralized ticketing enablers such as Ticketmaster monitor users’ data. In web3, any group can communicate with an audience through NFTs without having to ask Ticketmaster for permission.

Redeeming is already gaining traction from event organizers. While Rush declined to reveal who his company is in talks with, he hinted that these are “brands that do a lot of sponsorship and marketing and live events.”

“So they want to do activations on-site, but they don’t want activations to stop on-site. If they get NFTs, there’s a way for them to be involved a lot after the event,” Rush said.

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