Lens Protocol, a web3 product aimed at creating a decentralized social networking ecosystem, has raised $15 million, its team told TechCrunch exclusively. The protocol is being built by Aave, a web3 technology firm, that allows users to lend and borrow crypto tokens from one another, among other things (Aave has raised a known $49 million to date).
The protocol is trying to integrate the best of the web as we know it, but with a focus on the new innovations of web3 to make the internet “more equitable, fair and democratic for social media networks,” Aave Companies CEO Stani Kulechov said.
Kulechov said it’s important that future infrastructure for internet and social media networks isn’t owned by large entities like Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. When there’s a powerful incumbent, it creates less say for users and less choice as well, not just in web3 or on the internet, but in any industry.
The goal of the newly flush Lens Protocol is to allow individual users to have more control over their data, and how it is shared according to Kulechov. “We want to build a social media network that doesn’t only benefit the users but everyone who contributes to it like developers as well.”
The $15 million that Lens has raised will be used to help expand the protocol’s ecosystem and continue its development, Kulechov said. There is no valuation available.
The fresh capital round was led by IDEO CoLab Ventures with participation from venture capital firms like General Catalyst, Variant and Blockchain Capital, as well as DAOs like Flamingo DAO, DAOJones, Punk DAO, DAO5 and Global Coin Research.
There were also angel investors involved, including Uniswap CEO Hayden Adams, OpenSea co-founder Alex Atallah, entrepreneur and investor Balaji Srinivasan, Sandbox co-founder Sébastien Borget and Polygon co-founder Sandeep Nailwal, among others.
Lens has been in beta since May 2022 and has granted access to a handful of users thus far. “Our roadmap is going to continue to be on a beta phase for a while and down the line our goal is to completely open the protocol access, but for that to happen the infrastructure and ecosystem has to grow further,” Kulechov said.
It hopes to be a “neutral and flexible” protocol that allows developers to build various use cases ranging from gaming to social media, according to the CEO. And a number of desktop and mobile applications are currently being built by developers like Orb, Riff and Enso Collective, Kulechov noted.
“We’re filling the ecosystem with applications that are familiar to traditional social media, [and] we envision a future where all these applications and algorithms share monetization that comes from different use cases and features,” he said.
In the long term, Kulechov hopes the protocol will solve problems that social media users and companies alike face, not just in the crypto space, but also in general markets. “We don’t have all the answers but that’s the beauty of web3, it’s an environment where everyone can contribute and that’s where we want to go.”
“What’s most valuable for us, we want to create a protocol that’s open for contribution,” Kulechov said. “A protocol where we can’t make all the decisions for users and developers, where we can have an open platform and discussion on how Lens Protocol can evolve in the future.”
There are other crypto social networks that exist, like BitClout, which has over 200 applications built on its blockchain DeSo, according to its website, among others. There are also crypto wallets and applications like Thred, that aim to a service similar to Yelp, and provide easy-to-use interfaces. While they’ve gained some traction from crypto players and users, there seems to be little intentional initiative to grow outside of the ecosystem to date.
It’s important to distinguish between networks and protocols — Lens is building the latter, meaning that any developer can build on top of its system. Lens is similar to existing internet protocols like HTTPs, IP protocol or email, Kulechov said. TechCrunch views it as similar to a platform, in traditional Web terms.
In order for web3 social protocols and networks to gain real adoption, they need to create accessible options that can appeal to a larger, more diverse, and less crypto-insider group. Whether or not Lens — or another team — can manage the feat is yet to be determined.