VC Firms Variant Fund, Atelier Ventures Merge to Focus on the ‘Ownership Economy’

The combined firm will focus on early stage investments in sectors including consumer platforms, gaming and DeFi.

Oct 19, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Oct 19, 2021 at 3:52 p.m. UTC

Variant Fund and Atelier Ventures, firms founded by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) veterans, are merging and launching a $110 million first-check fund to invest in the “ownership economy,” or products and services that are built, owned and operated by their users. The combined firm will be known as Variant.

Jesse Walden, who focused on blockchain investments at a16z, launched Variant Fund last year with the ownership economy in mind. Around the same time, Li Jin left a16z’s consumer team to found Atelier Ventures to target new platforms that enabled users to “monetize individuality” in a so-called “passion economy.” Last month, The New York Times called Jin “the investor guru for online creators.”

“Both of our funds are notably different in a sea of venture firms: They exist not just out of a desire for financial returns, but to support companies that catalyze greater social and economic equality,” Jin wrote in her personal blog post announcing the merger and the new fund. “Our missions were, and are, two sides of the same coin: Ownership is a cornerstone of financial freedom and enables greater enfranchisement of participants in the networks to which they contribute their time and energy.”

In a group announcement post from Variant, General Partners Walden, Jin and Spencer Noon wrote that “we believe that ownership will be a keystone of all next-generation products and platforms,” adding:

“The first to realize this were the developers and technologists who contributed to the movement by building and operating the first multibillion-dollar internet scale networks: Bitcoin and Ethereum. Now, a new generation of entrepreneurs are rebuilding the internet with this more meritocratic and competitive model in mind. From developer-facing infrastructure to financial marketplaces, social media, gaming, digital art and collectibles, ownership has unlocked a new design space for scaling products faster than predecessors because users are aligned with their success.”

Previous Variant Fund investments include financial exchange Uniswap, where users who make the exchange liquid are rewarded with fees and given tokens that carry governance rights, and publishing platform Mirror, whose users decide on how to grow the platform.

The new $110 million fund is designed for early stage investing across a broad range of companies from consumer platforms to gaming to infrastructure to decentralized finance (DeFi). The partners say the fund offers expertise in startup building, protocol design and consumer-focused, go-to-market strategies.

In an interview with CoinDesk, Walden said there’s an opportunity for Web 3.0 startups to build from the “ground up” with user ownership in mind. For that reason, Variant is interested in getting involved with companies at the earliest possible stage. “It’s literally never too early” for a startup to apply for funding, said Walden.

Variant says it is also embracing the concept of user ownership. The firm expanded the investor base to include over 100 members of Web 3.0, crypto and general technology companies, including Uniswap, Mirror and Yield Guild Games. The Variant community will also have an active role in shaping the fund’s future and supporting portfolio projects.

DISCLOSURE

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Brandy covers crypto-related venture capital deals for CoinDesk.