New York-based Mediachain has become the latest blockchain startup to join the portfolios of VC heavyweights Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures.
The two firms announced today that they led a $1.5m seed round for the digital media startup. RRE Ventures, Digital Currency Group and LDV Capital also participated in the round, as did angel investors Alexis Ohanian, William Mougayar, Kanyi Maqubela, David Lee, Mathieu Drouin and Brian Message.
The funding comes four months after the launch of Mediachain's core product, a metadata protocol that envisions content creators timestamping their work to the bitcoin blockchain while also storing it with the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS).
In interview, Mediachain Labs co-founders Jesse Walden and Denis Nazarov expressed their enthusiasm for joining the portfolios of VCs that have backed some of the ecosystem's boldest bets, including Internet of Things startup 21 Inc and Coinbase, a bitcoin brokerage turned digital asset exchange.
Still, Mediachain's founders see this as "positive pressure" that will encourage their work on open data management.
Walden told CoinDesk:
"There's a lot of collaboration across the community. We're all helping each other, so joining this portfolio among these other name-brand projects is a boon for us and an incentive to learn more."
The investment is also indicative of an emerging strategy that finds Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Venture showing a preference for backing developer teams working on open-source blockchain technologies that seek to apply bitcoin's design principles to new business problems.
In June of last year, for example, the firms both backed OB1, the team behind the decentralized e-commerce platform OpenBazaar.
While surprising given OpenBazaar's connotations with the defunct dark market Silk Road, the move has nonetheless proven to be a savvy one. OpenBazaar has gained significant traction since its April launch, having been downloaded more than 100,000 times as of mid-May.
Nazarov sees Mediachain as a peer of these open-source projects, given that it ultimately hopes to be a platform for other innovators.
"We built this infrastructure for new kinds of innovation, and it just does not exist in the projects that exist today," he said.
So, what is Mediachain exactly? In the words of its founders, it's a bid to solve what to date has been an "impossible problem" on the Internet - helping those who create digital media to associate their identity with their works.
While one might be tempted to think of it as a tool for reducing "copyright infringement", Nazarov and Walden don't go that far in interview.
Rather, they envision Mediachain as a tool that would enable those who want to share digital media to find and locate the artists whose work they love. In this way, the founders perhaps see the core problem as being the loss of identity that has come with a culture where GIFs and remixes are freely exchanged.
"We created Mediachain not as a rights registry, but it's more of a knowledge base that preserves information about attribution and information about its creator," Walden said.
To jumpstart this process, Mediachain is prioritizing the cataloging of images from public organizations such as The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and for-profit image databases such as Getty Images. However, they stressed the platform is open source, and can be used by anyone who wants to participate.
Growing the team
Today, Medichain has seven employees, and Nazarov and Walden don't see that changing with the new funding round.
Rather, Walden said the capital will be put towards project development, including service and applications that can then encourage more users.
"As we approach the launch of the Mediachain Alpha network, we'll be able to devote some of our resources to building some of those applications and services," he said, adding:
"More importantly, we're really interested in building the community around the project."
The founders see those who want to build media applications as the first adopters of the project, and the size of the problem Mediachain is attacking as enough to attract developers.
Yet, Walden categorized the startup in terms that certainly put its scope on par with its peers in the Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures portfolios.
"We hope that Mediachain will one day become the universal library for all media ever created."
Image via Mediachain.io
Disclaimer: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Mediachain.