Working at OpenSea

OpenSea’s daily volume on my:

   First day: <$2 million

   Last day: >$320 million

What is OpenSea and what the hell is an NFT?

OpenSea is the first and largest marketplace for NFTs, which have rapidly accelerated in demand and interest over the past year. I could devote an entire essay on explaining NFTs and their history but here’s my shot at a succinct definition:

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are digital certificates that represent ownership and authenticity of a digital asset (artwork, collectibles, gaming items, and more.) They exist on the blockchain, a decentralized ledger of transactions, which makes them user-owned and transferrable between people.

NFT skeptics often argue: I can just download the artwork then I “own” it too! 

NFT enthusiasts often respond: You can print a copy of the Mona Lisa but you won’t “own” the original, and since the history of the art is verifiable, no one else would value your copy as the same.

This blog post isn’t dedicated to NFTs, so if this concept is new to you and the above context is insufficient, I encourage you to watch our promo video below! If you want more in-depth or analytical readings, check out The NFT Canon.

How did I get here?

I took a gap year to avoid remote college and spent 8 months interning at Spatial, a virtual reality startup. Spatial used 3D avatars, virtual spaces and headsets to redefine presence and collaboration in a digital future. As much as that is a rigorous technical endeavor, it is an interesting philosophical one.

The meta of building remote work tools at my (mostly) remote internship revealed to me how quickly our digital future was accelerating. I also recognized presence and collaboration weren’t the only challenges faced by moving further from physical to digital. Similarly important and philosophical was the question of ownership and value in that transition as well. That’s why when I discovered NFTs, I was easily sold on their role in the new paradigm shift of the Internet.

I discovered NFTs back in early Winter along with the rest of the media hype: 

   ·   NBA Top Shot sold NFTs of Lebron James’ dunks for a few hundred thousand dollars.

   ·   Digital artist Beeple sold his artwork “Everydays - The First 5000 Days” for $69 million.”

   ·   Dapper Labs tripled its valuation from $2.6B to $7.5B in just 3 weeks.

   ·   Shit, even Jack Harlow rapped about it.

After witnessing the interest accrue into different NFT projects (more sports-focused then) and venture capital flow into related startups, I knew the market for NFTs was already evolving.

Why OpenSea?

While following the trends, I stumbled across OpenSea, an NFT marketplace dwarfed by Dapper Labs but with experienced founders and a fresh $23M funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz after 100x-ing its monthly volume from December 2020 to March 2021. 

By then, I was no NFT enthusiast but was eager to continue my trend of exploring very new and different industries. I loved how small OpenSea was at the time (17 employees) and knew there was plenty of talent there for me to learn from. I cold-messaged a recruiter to ask if they’d consider hiring an intern for the summer, then interviewed with the CEO, CTO, some engineers and the rest of the leadership team.

And in late May, I started my first day as intern #1 and engineer #9. 

What happened?

Late Spring was an interesting time in the NFT space. Most marketplaces had seen a sharp decline in volume. The media declared “the NFT bubble” to have popped and news coverage diminished. 

OpenSea saw its monthly sales volume drop 35% from March to April 2021, but has seen growth ever since. Despite the headlines, OpenSea reached an all-time high $150M in monthly sales volume in June. 

In July, OpenSea announced its $100M Series B funding round at a $1.5B valuation led by Andreessen Horowitz. With just 32 employees at the time of announcement, OpenSea became the smallest Y Combinator unicorn. Also in that month, OpenSea doubled its previous monthly volume record and reached $325M in NFT sales. 

And then August came.

By the first week of August, OpenSea had already surpassed its volume for July (and surpassed Etsy.) OpenSea broke its daily volume record 10 times in August alone. Sales volume soared as OpenSea’s volume reached its first all-time $1B, then first monthly $1B and then weekly $1B in August.

August ended with OpenSea amassing over $3.2B in volume, a 10x increase over July.

How was it?

With COVID restrictions lifted in New York City, I was fortunate enough to meet most of my team in-person. I commuted to our CTO’s basement to work with a handful of my co-workers before we ultimately got an office.

Some of OpenSea’s NYC team members, including co-founders Alex Atallah and Devin Finzer, as well as angel investor Sabrina Hahn, pictured at the Pace Gallery.

I also attended several different in-person events and meetups with my team where I got to meet incredibly influential creators in the space, including  Fvckrender, Matt Hall (co-creator of Crypto Punks), 3LAU, and others!

We had a team offsite in mid-August where I got to meet team members from outside of NYC, learn more about the history of OpenSea and participate in strategic and organizational planning for the next year. There we competed in trivia, sang karaoke and played board games with co-workers, which really helped in cultivating our culture and camaraderie.

A late game night featuring our CEO (right), likely lying about his role in Ultimate Werewolf, and I (left), listening skeptically.

What’d I do?

Wherever there’s money, there are bad actors. The NFT community is no exception, with cases of scams, copyright violations and fraud rising by the day. 

I spent most of the summer building Dude (short for Duplicate Detection Engine), which was a system that automatically delists fraudulent, users, collections and NFTs from the marketplace in real-time. This project was an open-ended endeavor resulted in much experimentation, architectural design and computer vision research. I designed and tested different machine learning models to find similarity between images and ultimately developed a new hashing algorithm for the images.

Last week, it was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal!

There’s still much work to do in the industry to improve the safety of users, but I found it to be a really exciting and gratifying quest to endure. 

I made an effort to contribute beyond just technically as well - I proposed new business partnership ideas, engaged in discussion around product strategy and pitched OpenSea to several candidates for our open roles.

What’d I learn?

The staff at OpenSea is brilliant and incredibly experienced - team members have led 5 different startups through acquisition. Despite the record exponential growth in volume and usage, our headcount did not grow proportionally (still, I was the 18th employee in late May and by the end of my internship there were over 40 full-time hires.) This forced us all to recognize that ownership, prioritization and product planning even more quintessential. 

OpenSea always remained very user-focused and I think that has been and will continue to be a major factor in its success. Our community team is highly regarded by our users for its speedy responses and gracious policies. Our Head of Product, Nate Chastain, despite his high follower count and insane Twitter engagement, makes an effort to respond to nearly every single tweet to understand from our audience how OpenSea can be better.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pester the experienced members of the team with questions and one-on-ones. I learned about their experiences heading global business development at Lime, heading all software development at SpaceX, raising venture capital funding, selling multiple startups etc.

I joined OpenSea during the most pivotal part of its growth to date and witnessed, in just 3 months, a scrappy basement startup explode into one of the largest US marketplaces. That's an experience that comes with a wealth of knowledge that I'll forever appreciate and never forget.

Over the summer, I quickly became more bullish on the future of NFTs and OpenSea’s role in it. With its massive growth in a still very early market of NFT traders, the strong community it has fostered, the employee talent it harnesses and attracts, OpenSea could one day rise to become one of the next $100B startups as it cements itself as a cornerstone in the newly emerging digital economy.

What’s next?

I’ve returned to Harvey Mudd College in Los Angeles, California to continue studying Computer Science and Mathematics. As to where I will be next, I'll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading! If you want to chat about OpenSea, NFTs, startups, corn dogs, etc –– shoot me a DM on Twitter!