OnChain Studios raises $7.5M seed round led by a16z to develop Cryptoys NFT platform

Cryptoys will soon launch on Flow for consumers of all ages

It all started as a weekend passion project with his young daughter. Today, Miami serial entrepreneur Will Weinraub is announcing the  official launch and seed funding for OnChain Studios, an NFT studio that is developing Cryptoys, an interactive toy, gaming and entertainment universe built on the blockchain.

OnChain Studios has raised $7.5 million led by Silicon Valley venture titan Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Draper & Associates, CoinFund, Sound Ventures, Dapper Labs, Collab + Currency, WndrCo, Miami-based Pareto Holdings, Miami angel Mark Kingdon and others.

The funding will help bring OnChain Studio’s flagship product, Cryptoys, to digital life. Cryptoys, launching soon on Flow, are fully digital NFT (non-fungible token) toys that consumers can buy, sell, collect and play with inside an immersive world built on the blockchain. Each Cryptoy can gain capabilities as it is played with and unlock new fun experiences.

“Cryptoys is a perfect example of the compelling new NFT gaming and entertainment experiences that are now possible with the advent of Web3 – a fully interactive 3D universe with custom toys for each participant,” said Arianna Simpson, General Partner with Andreessen Horowitz. “We’re thrilled to partner with the world-class team at OnChain Studios to bring Cryptoys to life and introduce the joys of NFT gaming to mainstream audiences.”

Along with CEO Weinraub, the founding OnChain Studios team (pictured above) include his two co-founders from LiveNinja: Emilio Cueto is OnChain’s CTO and Alfonso Martinez is CXO. Together they launched LiveNinja, a messaging platform for businesses, in 2012 and sold the venture-funded startup to Net2Phone in 2017. Also on the co-founding team is Freddy Oropeza (Chief Creative Officer), who brings 3D graphics and gaming expertise, and COO Jhonathan Torres, an FIU alum with tech and finance operational experience.

With a mission to empower, educate and entertain the next generation of collectors, “we’re focused on building the onramp for mainstream consumers to get introduced to NFTs in a more accessible way,” Weinraub said in an interview with Refresh Miami.

How it started …

Miami is now exploding with crypto and NFT enthusiasts, but Weinraub’s interest in NFTs reaches back several years when people thought he was “officially lost and going off the deep end” when he would  pull out his phone to show people a digital panda he was working on with his young daughter. But the global momentum of NFTs began to take off in late 2020, marked by the release of NBA Top Shots, one of the first mainstream NFT product launches, and continued to accelerate this year.

“When the market turned, we were ready for lift off and we have some amazing investors on board,” said Weinraub, a #MiamiTech OG who is also a founding partner of the startup investment group Flamingo Capital and leads Local Leaders Collective, a YPO-style organization for startup founders. “I feel blessed to be building OnChain Studios with such an incredible team.”

Weinraub’s daughter was already interested in collecting hot, rare physical toys, and she was excited about the prospect of a digital toy rather than a physical one.  “It  started organically, as a little passion project for my daughter that I could work on with her to build something cool,  show her what it’s like to build software, and expose her to entrepreneurship,” Weinraub said. But then, he said, “I just got immersed with the possibilities of what NFT’s could bring to all different kinds of industries, because what it effectively does is introduce scarcity to digital items for the first time ever. What NFTs allow you to do is to create ownership across the entire internet — it makes the internet ownable.”

When he started thinking about opportunities, the father of three young children had a front-row seat to the toy industry. He also wanted to involve his family more in his second startup – and they are. “My two oldest, Victoria and Kevin (now ages 8 and 7), are my R&D Department. I’m saying, ‘hey, do you guys like this?’ ‘We’re working on this gaming element, what do you think of this?’ And they’re giving me amazing feedback.” They love hands-on market research, and at the end of the workday, they demand a full report, too. (His youngest, at 7 months, isn’t giving advice quite yet but his gummy smiles are major stress relievers.)

How it’s going …

OnChain Studios’ adorable characters are made in-house so OnChain has its own intellectual property, but the startup also plans to open up the platform to other toy companies. “We’re talking with incredible household brand names,” leveraging the full-stack Cryptoys platform, Weinraub said. “That’s going to be cool –  you might see some really recognizable characters that will be in the Cryptoyverse.”

He’s talking about an open world experience that will allow users to play with their toys in a digital environment, with P2E (play-to-earn) features so players can earn in-game items and rewards as NFTs – what OnChain sees as the new wave of gaming.

“If people are spending hours and hours of their time playing games and in these digital worlds, then they should earn certain things for that time and have full ownership of it, rather than the old world of gaming,” Weinraub said.

It’s an all-ages platform, much like Nintendo is made for a younger audience but everybody loves Mario, he said. “We think a lot of the potential buyers of Cryptoys are going to be folks who are NF T collectors and enthusiasts, no matter what the ages.”

With the funding, OnChain has been building up the team, now at 22 full-timers. The company has been hiring across the board, including Web3 engineers, Unity developers, 3D artists, animators and a marketing team, Weinraub continued. “And then everything’s going to be spent on engineering, 3D animation, and Unity development, which is for the gaming component of the platform. So that’s going to be the big lift right now.”

What’s next?

OnChain plans to launch its first line of original toys – its initial drop that will be available for sale –  in the next few months, Weinraub says. Then after that, OnChain hopes to start rolling out other lines of toys as well as the gaming layers of the platform.

That will include mini-games, he said, and of course you will be able to accessorize your Panda or Corgi Cryptoy, and all the accessories are also NFTs that you’ll be able to buy, sell and trade with other players and users, Weinraub said. “We are going to release a lot of cool stuff over the next few months that we’re really excited about.”

Weinraub, you may have guessed, believes Miami could be an epicenter for crypto and Web3, with its favorable tax environment and “super welcoming” crypto-friendly mayor. He also pointed to the new MiamiCoin as a beacon for what’s possible. “I’m super bullish for Miami being one of the top places for crypto in the country.  I already know dozens and dozens of amazing web3 blockchain and NFT entrepreneurs building companies in Miami.”

As for Weinraub, bringing the LiveNinja co-founders back together is quite special, too. “We really feel like brothers. It feels like we’re just picking up right where we left off and there were so many lessons we learned from LiveNinja that we carry on to this company. It is just making everything so much more seamless, and I’m enjoying every minute.”

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Nancy Dahlberg