Animoca Brands plans to add education to its multibillion-dollar NFT and gaming business

It’s been about 40 years since Yat Siu got into the technology space.

But just eight years ago, Siu co-founded Animoca Brands, a prolific software and VC company that has invested in over 220 portfolios across blockchain gaming, NFTs, decentralized finance and the metaverse, among other sectors, he told TechCrunch. In January, the company raised $360 million, valuing it at $5.4 billion.

But Siu wasn’t always in the crypto scene. He grew up in Vienna studying classical music against his own wishes but would use an Atari computer to utilize composition software, he said. It was then that he began immersing himself in tech — all before he even had a bank account.

In the early 1990s, he moved to Hong Kong and “built a few companies,” then went into the mobile gaming sector in the early 2010s. In 2017, he was struck with the NFT bug and “went all in” to the space when CryptoKitties boomed in popularity.

At the time, the firm invested in OpenSea, which became the biggest NFT marketplace; Sky Mavis, the parent company to Axie Infinity; Decentraland, a decentralized metaverse; and acquired the company that would later be known as The Sandbox.

“We’re really an operator, building games, products and metaverse projects centered around true digital property rights, which is NFTs to us,” Siu said. “We invest in everything and we hope we can expand and grow the network effects of NFTs beyond games, because that’s the tip of the spear and what brings adoption now.”

Animoca Brands has grown into one of the biggest firms in the metaverse, play-to-earn gaming and NFT worlds, but Siu told TechCrunch there’s a new sector Animoca Brands wants to enter: education.

No, not education about crypto topics, but more general educational tooling that could apply to more than one discipline.

While the company will continue to grow and focus on blockchain gaming, Siu said it wants to expand into new segments and markets like education to drive mass blockchain adoption.

“The reason we’re so focused on [education] is because we think of NFTs about creator economies, and what’s one of the largest creator economies in the world? Teachers,” Siu said. “Teachers are the one segment, just like artists in the NFT world in the past, are underserved and undervalued. So we think we can help unlock that.”

The company also plans on announcing a “big acquisition” in the education sector this month, but Siu and Animoca Brands declined to disclose further details.

While math is empirical, the way you teach it isn’t, Siu said. “It’s an authentic creation of content that people can compose on top of. Whoever made the content, you can add to it. That’s why there are different books and teaching methods.”

When YouTube first launched, people thought it would solely be a place for people to upload home videos, cute cat compilations and other nominal media files. But now, a lot of people use YouTube as a learning platform, and it’s one of the largest places to take in information today, Siu noted.

“People are learning to play the guitar on YouTube in different ways with different instructors in different areas because it appeals to them because we’re all different as individuals,” Siu said. “That’s where we’re hoping to take it with teachers and students.”

As the crypto ecosystem continues to implement new ways to earn rewards, Siu said he hopes to drive the teacher economy with a “learn-to-earn” or “teach-to-earn” model, so both teachers’ and students’ time can be rewarded in the form of a token or cash.

Animoca Brands also has over 10 blockchain-based products and nine cryptocurrencies under its belt, including The Sandbox, a community-driven platform — with a market cap of $1.5 billion — where gamers can monetize their experiences on the blockchain. The Sandbox is also reportedly raising $400 million, which could value it at $4 billion, according to a Bloomberg report.

For a second consecutive quarter, Animoca Brands was the most active investor in blockchain startups after it closed a record 34 deals in the first quarter of 2022, according to a report by CB Insights. The second most active investor was Coinbase Ventures with 30 deals, followed by Pantera Capital with 16 deals, the data showed. Crypto startups raised more capital than ever before in Q1 2022 and set records across a host of other metrics, a dataset from the CB Insights report showed.

“We are no longer a company riding the wave,” Siu said. “There are some companies that are riding a great wave and profiting from that, but we’re in a position where we’re shaping the space as well, and we want to make sure we shape it in the right way to make it as open as possible.”