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AMA Highlights: Vera Labs

By Daniel Dal Bello, Director.
August 16, 2021–10 min read.

On Thursday 12 August, we welcomed Denis Lam, cofounder of Vera Labs into the Hillrise Group Telegram chat for an AMA.

Vera is developing open, secure, and powerful applications to enable NFT-driven financial products. The main focus of the company is creating an ecosystem of products that enable a real NFT economy.

The company has backing from some large and prominent players in the NFT and blockchain space including Animoca Brands.

We were eager to learn more about Vera Labs and their approach to bringing more utility to NFTs.

In this post, we have compiled key questions and answers from the event.

Daniel Dal Bello
Hi Denis, we’re happy to have you here today. Can you please start with a brief introduction of yourself and Vera?

Denis Lam
Hey Hillrise community, my name is Denis, I am originally based in Silicon Valley, California, USA. Currently, I am in Vegas and just attended DevCon with 10k+ people, meeting a lot of cool and super smart hackers.

Here’s a little about my background.

I have a background in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and I am a serial entrepreneur and full-stack product engineer. I have 10+ years of cross-functional experience working with start-ups, Fortune enterprises, and venture capital funds.

My venture into cryptocurrency began at the start of 2017 when my company tasked me with exploring the feasibility of launching a venture arm into blockchain and AI technologies in Silicon Valley. What I’m nostalgic about are the several meetups I’ve attended that year. Where there were more discussions about the technology and philosophical debates regarding decentralization on why the technology will change the world as opposed to shill fests on which is the next coin that will 10x.

I’ve worked with several projects in the blockchain space from that point moving forward, wearing several hats ranging from founder, advisor, to investor. To this date, I am passionate about working with firestarters to democratize access to products/services and disrupt the status quo, especially with innovative technologies such as blockchain.

My cofounder Mike and I have worked with several large companies in the fintech and e-commerce space building blockchain projects. Examples include Dapper Labs/Flow, Northern Trust Bank (they built a blockchain on Substrate and Hyperledger), KodakOne (the IP image licensing blockchain), BitRail, and many others.

Some of our clients are government and research lab contracts as well (under NDA, can’t discuss), so let’s just say we’ve seen a lot and have a sense of what the “appetite” is for [the] NFT and blockchain space.

So, based on a lot of our work experience, we feel that a lot of the tech should be open-sourced and decentralized to help the free market instead of being controlled by some big tech or big government.

It just happened that some of our work in NFT smart contracts got picked up by [the] Web3 Foundation (Polkadot’s foundation) via Github and Dr. Gavin Wood’s team ended up giving us a grant.

From that point on, we got a lot of unexpected attention, investment offers, etc., and our project pretty much started consolidating from that point moving forward at the start of this year.

Raymond Reijnders
You mention Vera to be an open financial platform for non-fungible token (NFT) assets. We see many platforms popping up left and right saying that they’ll revolutionize the way we use NFTs however, most tend to not be able to gain traction for their products.

How are you approaching which product to build first, and how are you aiming to be one of the few who do gain traction?

Denis Lam
Currently, Vera is working on 4 products/services: Finance, Rent, Lend and Verify.

We feel these are essential financial services we all take for granted in the non-crypto world, but they are sorely lacking for the new asset class called NFTs.

If any game or app should not be building their own bank or PayPal, nor should dApps. Vera aims to be the cornerstone decentralized finance partner for any NFT app or marketplace that they can rely on.

To answer your question about which product we are building first and how we are aiming to be the first to get traction:

  1. The Finance and Rent products are getting massive traction now. Wouldn’t it be nice if NFTs can be financed for buyers that can’t afford to pay 100% of the price? And games to allow renting items from others? Solutions like this just do not exist in the marketplace now in a decentralized form — or at least I haven’t seen any.
  2. We already have traction. Our lead strategic investor is Animoca Brands (animocabrands.com), they are a billion-dollar blockchain gaming giant. We are now working hard to integrate our tech into several of their products/games/metaverses.

We also have several other NFT marketplaces and games, including one major VR metaverse we will be powering their entire metaverse economy.

We have a long pipeline of potential clients and customers we are linking up with every week.

Raymond Reijnders
To tie into this, in your documentation we’ve read about lending and leasing NFT assets. This is something more and more people have an interest in as especially NFTs like CryptoPunks, Penguins, and assets in games like Axie Infinity continue to soar in value.

Where do you see that Vera can / will improve upon some of the products we’ve seen on market, and how do you fairly value an NFT (e.g. make sure valuation doesn’t originate from wash trading)?

Denis Lam
We think secure access to financial services should be available to everyone.

If you bought a car and did a lot of custom work on it the value of the car may increase and you should have the freedom to try to rent it to someone.

NFTs allow us to do this with digital content without reliance on a platform. With more financial services such as the ones we provide, we are helping disrupt the market by empowering creators and asset owners where the platform will depend and beg for the most valuable NFT creators and owners to partner with them as opposed to creators needing the partner with the best platform.

NFTs are providing financial services in a decentralized manner that will be a great addition to the current NFT apps and marketplaces which can only allow buying/selling. New revenue streams will benefit those apps and creators. New direct-to-consumer business models will emerge.

My favorite use case, one of which we are working on, is our Subscription Pool feature from our Rental product.

Imagine you play a race car NFT game but you cannot afford an NFT Lamborghini. Thankfully you can rent one, for $10 per day as opposed to buying it for $20k.

But what if you want to try out different exotic cars in your NFT game?

We introduce a feature where you can have all NFT car owners pool together those NFTs — say all types of exotic cars. Now we can create a subscription product where for a little bit more — say $12 per month, you can subscribe to this pool and try out (rent) any NFT you want.

This will create amazing experiences never seen before in a game. Also, many other users can also subscribe to the same pool. This generates much more revenue for existing NFT markets and games.

And the pool by itself can become a more valuable asset than a single NFT alone depending on the business and use case.

Raymond Reijnders
Would it also be possible to create something like an ETF? With assets in a game like Axie or Zed Run?

Denis Lam
Absolutely. Essentially we are taking what is proven to work to power our global economy in the real world (we built this stuff for banks in the past!) and taking it to the DeFi-world and now applying it to use cases with zero to low legal risk such as games.

Animoca Brands is one of the early investors with Axie Infinity. There’s a lot going on with them now and when we are ready, I believe we definitely will be talking to them.

Daniel Dal Bello
Say someone buys a subscription to an NFT car owners pool because they are super keen to try a particular car in this example.

Can that car just be removed from the pool?

Denis Lam
Once you subscribe and rent out a specific car, other subscribers cannot choose that car until you return it. It's first come first serve.

We are basically providing custom tools for the game developer to design whatever they like, what I gave is just an example. If they want to limit the pool to 5 people they can. If they want to limit to X type of assets they can.

Vera really provides the steering, brakes, and windows. Go build your dream car!

Daniel Dal Bello
The borrowing concept you mentioned is very interesting. Leveraging your position to buy NFTs seems risky. How will that work?

Denis Lam
Borrowing something has several use cases. But regardless of which use case, Vera is introducing a unique secret sauce feature that does not exist now with NFTs: Seller Protection.

So basically how this works (not getting in the tech because there are a few ways to implement it), is if someone borrows your NFT — if they default in payment or stop paying rent or whatever, our smart contracts will automatically trigger that NFT to be returned back to the owner’s wallet.

This eliminates all the risks for the custodian or renter. And there’s no motivation to cheat or steal.

Daniel Dal Bello
Are you saying so long as the subscription stays valid and payments are made the original owner can’t take back that NFT(s)?

Denis Lam
The original owners always own the NFT. They will take it back when the contract terms are violated or completed. So it all depends on what the rental terms are just like when you rent a house to live in.

And all of this contract logic is powered by our smart contract.

Raymond Reijnders
We have seen a lot of buzz around play-to-earn, tradable in-game items, and massive in-game economies of scale.

To what extent do you see Vera tapping into gaming, and what are some of the things that you’d be interested in tackling within the niche?

Denis Lam
It helps us a lot to get into gaming because our lead investor and a few other early supporters are all from the gaming world. But we aren’t married to gaming.

With Vera, we may introduce a new aspect to Play2Earn called Play2Own. Basically, you buy an NFT and pay later, but if you do XYZ tasks you can get it for free. This creates new opportunities to gamify the NFT world within games.

Since gaming is a proven business model for NFT worlds and there is currently a lot of hypergrowth and traction, Vera plans to focus its initial strategy on expanding our adoption in many games and metaverses.

Raymond Reijnders
Can you tell us a bit more about Play2Own, or is it still early days?

Denis Lam
Still early. No NFT games have this concept live now, right? So, we offer the idea to our clients and they are working with game designers to see if they want to make this concept go live. If they choose to, Vera can power this feature.

Raymond Reijnders
Your team has previous experience with blockchain, building banking, and IoT products for Northern Trust Bank. Are there any key takeaways that you’ve come across at Northern Trust that you’re taking with you to Vera Labs?

We’d also be curious to hear more about your stance on security, and how you’ll be securing your products and smart contracts.

Denis Lam
Well a lot of our work with them is under NDA so we cannot discuss it. However, what I can tell you is there’s a crazy amount of interest in the enterprise world to use blockchain and the market has come a long way since a few years ago. However, what we see is NFTs will be even bigger than DLT especially with public chains and DeFi simply because:

  1. NFT use cases require public chains (DLT does not, in fact, most enterprise use cases want to be on private chains).
  2. Gaming, media, and entertainment are the early “low hanging fruit” use cases that are really trending now.

And companies will embrace what their customers are interested in for marketing and advertisements. For instance, Hollywood Oscar actor Anthony Hopkins is getting in NFTs too selling movies!

Daniel Dal Bello
What are some of the key milestones and next steps for you over the coming months?

Denis Lam
By the end of the year, we plan to have production-ready products integrated with some of our customers. We also plan to do formal verification certification tests on our smart contracts to ensure they are secure, and considering launching an open bounty program for white hat hackers to help test for bugs, vulnerabilities, etc.

As for our token, we are planning a launch over the next 1 or 2 months on IDO launchpads and CEXs.

We will also be launching a bounty campaign to educate the community more about our project and NFTs. I’ll share the details with you guys and your community soon.

Daniel Dal Bello
What’s your strategy for your token launch? What the market wants changes pretty quickly.

Denis Lam
How I see it is, a bullish market is just a bonus for us and our backers. We are quite long-term on our project, we have investors asking for several year locks because they are bullish on our tech and product-market fit. So, I believe as long as we work hard on our product and have adoption with high-quality partners, our community should have plenty of reasons to ‘fomo’ over us.

Raymond Reijnders
Do you see yourself more as an independent project, or to jump back to the earlier play2own example — a SaaS vendor that actively works alongside other projects for additional tooling?

Denis Lam
We are an open-source project with a token, so we won’t have a SaaS model. However, we can experiment with token staking designs for users to access our services.

There is also an opportunity much later once we have our platform live for us to help clients with many other things- it’s in fact what Dapper is doing to generate revenue, so I see us embracing the Red Hat and Linux business model.

But our current focus is to grow our open source code platform and ensure our existing products are fully fleshed out and secure for adoption.

Hillrise Group supports ambitious Web3 startups with early-stage venture capital and fundamental research.

Vera Labs is building open, secure, and powerful NFT financial products.

Connect with Hillrise Group
https://hillrise.group
https://hillrisegroup.medium.com
https://twitter.com/hillrisegroup

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Fundamental research arm of Hillrise Group. We bring simplicity to complex technology.

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Hillrise Group

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Hillrise Group is a blockchain-native venture capital and consulting firm supporting emerging Web3 startups.

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