Launched in February this year, alphaa.io is the newest venture of Alpha’a Inc; a startup co-founded by Brazilian entrepreneur Manuela Seve. What started in 2014 as an online, community-oriented platform offering tailor-made art collections for businesses across several industries, including hospitality, technology, and interior design, has given rise to a spin-off that combines blockchain and creative economy. With more than 7,000 artists in the portfolio of its original business, she saw blockchain as the next step to continue “democratizing” art. Through alphaa.io, artists and collectors (institutions, galleries, museums, etc.) can authenticate, certify and transfer ownership of digital and physical artworks through their tokenization (NFTs).
In times of NFTs linked to digital creations with dubious pricing, it is easy to confuse the proposal with something still far from reality. But apart from the buzz around the topic, the idea makes a lot of sense. It brings new technology closer to a real industry, to tangible assets, organizing them in a game-changing way.
Seve started her career in finance as an equity analyst at Gavea Investmentos. She also worked at Banco Modal before launching a think-tank called Quinto in 2014, where she led a team in developing a tech-enabled, crowdfunded art application that ended up being the seed of Alpha’a. Renata Thomé, co-founder of Alpha’a alongside Manuela, stepped down as COO a few months ago.
“Blockchain is blocks of information integrated into a chain, and this chain always goes ‘forward,’ which implies that you cannot ‘go back’ and delete the database, the past of an asset. All the information will always be associated with that asset. That’s game-changing for any market of collectibles. It brings price transparency and a tremendous upside potential because these assets are now comparable,” highlights Seve.
She explains that Alpha’a has been actively working with blockchain since 2017 — when it moved its headquarters from Brazil to the US — because it realized that the technology would be fundamental for issuing certificates of authenticity for the licensing of artworks it made for big hotel chains such as Four Seasons and Marriott, decor companies like West Elm, and hospitality platforms like Airbnb.
The big difference between the platform launched by Alpha’a and other similar initiatives is that it is much simpler. “We looked at the current process and kind of reinvented the structure. We don’t require the creation of a meta mask wallet, which is usually the first step when entering Open Sea, and it’s already a complicated step because you have to remember a password phrase, a random sequence of words. We also don’t charge gas fees [fees to conduct or execute a blockchain transaction]. How do we do all that? Because we are a Saas platform and not a marketplace [which connects two ends and usually makes charges this kind of fee] and we built the platform on top of EOS.IO, which is a blockchain 66,000 times less energy-consuming than Ethereum, which is where most other platforms are.”
In other words, artists and collectors can issue an NFT linked to their work as easily as posting a photo on Instagram. They take a picture, fill some information in, and set a price. A QR Code is generated and can be placed next to the physical work, allowing easy access to information. “If the artist sells the piece, the buyer takes its token along, which is also an easy way to pay royalties to the artists and, if a gallery represents them, the gallery’s resale royalty as well,” details Seve.
And the “democratization” of art applies to everyone in Alpha’a’s business model. Seve explains that historically, the primary market gallery does not participate in the secondary market, where the most significant volume of transactions in the art sector takes place. “When artists gain notoriety, they leave that first gallery and go to a bigger one. It’s a systemic problem, in which the people involved in the primary chain and who were so important to the artist, in the beginning, don’t reap the fruits afterward.”
Another critical point addressed by alphaa.io is the cost. Auction houses, for example, charge, on average, 25% of the value of an artwork to resell it — and not a cent goes to the artist. “Our fees, including platform fees, artist fees, and resale royalties, are under 10%. It’s an efficiency gain that benefits those directly involved in the creative part of the work.”
And this is just the beginning. In the future, NFTs can be used as collateral for a loan and even allow collaboration between creative industries in a more powerful way and as a form of art financing. “We have a case now of a film in which the producer is using the platform to finance its pre-production. We connected him with a visual artist who designed a piece for the film. The piece is physical, printed, and delivered to whoever buys it. This piece also opens up a world of benefits linked to the film, such as the right to an exclusive premiere and a share of the film’s future ticket sales,” says Seve.
There are just over 1,500 works registered on alphaa.io. Those who use the platform can also access a series of specific features for creators and collectors. Artists, for example, have access to one that pinpoints the location of their pieces around the globe, making organizing any exhibit easier.
Alpha’a currently has 23 people staff spread around the world. The development team is based in Sao Paulo and reports to a head of product in Palo Alto, California. The sales team is in New York. And the design team is based in Argentina, while Seve and the content team are based in Los Angeles.
So far, Alpha’a has raised only $1.5 million from external investors such as MetaProp (a NY-based VC firm focused on proptech), Gaingels (a diversity-focused VC fund), among others — none from Brazil. “And it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Brazilian market is still very sexist; it doesn’t invest in companies created by women, even more so founded by two like Alpha’a was,” stresses Seve.
The company is currently working on its Series A round. When Seve spoke to LABS in March, there were already $7 million “committed” to the new round by investors participating in a demo day at Stanford, where Seve is an alumnus.
“The most important thing for us is finding a round leader willing to support us throughout our IPO. And we are dreaming big, thinking about funds like Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and Bessemer [two global firms that raised crypto, Web3-focused funds recently].” Even Series A-linked NFTs are in the startup‘s plans as a way to attract investors of all sizes, who will then have some sort of right in a new round or the company’s IPO.