Updated: Nov 18, 2021
If there’s ever been a year for the mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain - 2021 seems to be it. The widespread coverage of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) by the mainstream media combined with Bitcoin reaching new all-time highs has put the industry in the spotlight. As a result, it is only natural for a team to come along to create products to guide mainstream audiences in experiencing their first feel of blockchain technology.
Calaxy is a token-based app co-founded by NBA star Spencer Dinwiddie and former Wall
Street financier Solo Ceesay. The platform allows creators and celebrities to raise money with their very own fan tokens and allows fans to interact with them through
engagement and private experiences such as private video calls, classes, and subscriptions.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Calaxy’s COO and Co-Founder, Solo Ceesay for a one-on-one Q&A to find out some of the exciting things that he and the Calaxy team have to share with Block Journal.
BJ: How did you first come across blockchain technology? What was your initial reaction?
SOLO: I came across it for the first time right after college. I graduated in 2017 from the University of Pennsylvania at Wharton and at the time I was highly skeptical of it just because I came from a very institutionalized view of finance. At the time, it was a lot less about the social media aspect of things and it was more focused on the infrastructural ways that blockchain could affect change in the current monetary system.
Coming from a Wharton education and then going to work on Wall Street, it was just something that we were not amenable to, so from my perspective, I shrugged it off. Because it was like “You mean to tell me that the current banking system as a structure makes no sense” - that didn’t really make sense to a Wharton grad. I didn’t pay all this money to go to grad school to have you tell me something completely different.
BJ: What was the moment that changed your view on the technology?
SOLO: I had initially been focused on my career in legacy financial systems very early on, however, when Calaxy’s Co-Founder Spencer [Dinwiddie] brought the concept of blockchain to me, I was intrigued out how progressive, versatile and applicable the technology was, so I decided to go all in. Together, our collective experience allowed us to sit at the intersection of personal finance and securitization. I was an expert in my field and Spencer was the first athlete to securitize his contract via the blockchain. That was the impetus of what we are building at Calaxy - the idea of personal monetization and how we can use these technologies, whether it’s blockchain or other financial technologies to empower monetization for people with IP or public figures in general.
BJ: Could you briefly explain to our readers what Calaxy is all about?
SOLO: I would say we are the open social marketplace for creators, by creators. Essentially that means we want to build a one-stop shop for creators to monetize themselves. Like I mentioned before, the idea was to be a securitization arm for people to unlock trapped liquidity in assets like a contract or music royalties.
We realized that the market still needed time to come to terms with understanding that terminology - there's a reason why Citigroup and Goldman Sachs haven't securitized LeBron James; because there isn't that much of a market for it, at least on the demand side.
If you’re, for example, Fidelity or someone else like that, you aren’t trying to buy that type of asset. There is a lot that needs to be flushed out. We pivoted into this sort of gig economy/creator economy focus, with people being very familiar and monetizing their time and services.
So we thought, okay, let’s take things like social tokens as a technology and then embed utility through interaction and behaviors that consumers are familiar with already. Cameo and Patreon served as models for this - people are already doing these things - by building it with blockchain infrastructure on the backend, this allows us to implement popular assets such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
There really isn’t a social token and NFT project that has created a very easy-to-use experience. The last thing I’ll say to you is this, you don’t need to know anything about blockchain or crypto to be a part of our platform as a creator or use our application. We want this project to be absolute streamlined technology that runs under the hood. At the end of the day, you don’t have to be an engineer to drive a car, you just have to drive it. And so we want it to be the case that people use this technology and are introduced to it in a way that they can actually hear us.
BJ: Walk us through the Calaxy app!
SOLO: The Calaxy App is now available in the app store for iOS devices, with android to come at a later date. . Essentially, we want to be that Instagram/Twitter-like interface that allows creators to create assets like NFTs and social tokens within a matter of seconds. Influencers like Ezekiel Elliott can get onto the Calaxy application, create a token, name it and then also add a lot of perks that are all accessible within the application itself.
Something like a video call, video message like on Cameo, or subscribing to premium content can all happen within the application, right then and there. The problem when you think about blockchain and crypto is that there are projects out there, but they’re protocol-based, so this means that Ezekiel Elliott will have to set up a variety of websites that cater to the services as well as finding a site that accepts certain forms of payment - all of that hassle to create the level of utility Calaxy is offering.
What I’m telling you is that Calaxy is that application layer that is missing in this sort of world, that makes it super easy for an influencer, or Instagram model who knows nothing about how to operate this stuff, to create a token, name it, charge for and offer a service directly within an ecosystem inside the application.
On the NFT side, we want to be the home for NFTs, whether that’s influencers or their fans hanging out, who want to showcase their collections. Imagine if Instagram had some sort of NFT experience. That would be more along the lines of what we’re trying to build versus something like OpenSea, which is a marketplace that you have to shuffle your fans to.
BJ: Walk us through the whitepaper.
SOLO: Two whitepapers have been released. There was The Creator’s Galaxy whitepaper, which is more synonymous to like a Rally protocol where you can create social money. Calaxy is the first application that is built upon that protocol, that is the easy-to-use interface, that you can use from your phone and do these things, right. It’s a convenience factor. Anybody on the Creator’s Galaxy protocol can create NFTs and social tokens, permissionlessly, its open-source. But Calaxy is an application that’s built on the protocol with the interface that makes it easy for influencers to do this kind of stuff. As well that, the Calaxy Inc. Whitepaper was released, which details specifically the vision for the Calaxy app, and what some of those features might look like.
Between Spencer and myself, we know a lot of these influencers personally, and these relationships have informed us in building something we know they want to use, versus some hardcore tech that sounds nice in theory but remains inaccessible to most.
BJ: Tell us about the Calaxy Token.
SOLO: So there’s three tokens that people need to know about: there’s the social token, there’s the $CLXY protocol token, which is not to be confused with Calaxy. Calaxy is the first application in the Creator’s Galaxy protocol, so it’s an homage to that. The Calaxy protocol is powered by the $CLXY token, which is synonymous to Ether for Ethereum, it’s the gas used for the entire protocol, so every time someone buys a social token they have to pay for it with $CLXY tokens. That’s really what you can use it for as a mechanism to buy creator tokens, or even buy NFTs, as well. But it’s really mainly a governance token for the entire protocol.
In terms of the creator tokens, it’s kind of up to them what they want to do with it. You can create your own creator token and then within the application you can set up different perks and offerings that you want to offer to you fanbase. So like a celebrity chef might offer something very different to Ezekiel or Teyana Taylor. Within a matter of seconds you create your tokens, then within the app you set your pricing in terms of those tokens. They are all stable coins to start. We want it to be very easy that 20 coins = 20 dollars. It’s easy for people to know, eventually they can move into dynamically priced tokens that are backed by $CLXY, but to start everything is going to be backed 1-to-1 by USDC. But essentially, this allows creators to easily set up perks and offerings to their fanbase from directly within the app.
BJ: Why did you guys decide to build Calaxy using Hedera Hashgraph?
SOLO: We are big fans of Hedera. Obviously, Spencer is a big fan of Hedera. We believe in their technology. Our CTO is actually Cooper Kunz, who came from Hedera. In addition to believing the technology and being able to align ourselves with the Googles, IBM’s of the world that collectively own that chain.
As well as this, we are driven towards the power of interoperability. Dapper Labs and the NBA just solidified a partnership, which was really encouraging to see. Roham Gharegozlou, CEO of Dapper Labs, is an advisor to Calaxy, with Dapper Labs also being a very welcomed partner of ours. We want to utilize bridges from the Hedera ecosystem to Polygon, Ethereum, and others in the future so we can expand utility for the user across the ecosystem.
We went with Hedera simply because we believe in the tech. Alignment with those companies is big, but also the throughput that is accessible on that type of chain is super important for consumer facing applications that we’re trying to build. And also on the NFT side, the fact that tokens are fixed to $1 is super key because when you’re doing offerings at scale, you’re not going to get smoked by gas fees. So that’s why we chose to do it that way, we’re big fans of Hedera, and they’ve been big supporters of ours.
BJ: When is the public release of the Calaxy application?
SOLO: We’re in a private beta right now. A couple hundred friends and family have been QA-ing the app. We’re looking forward to the more public rollout. In which case, we’ll be offering early access to certain fans and creators to drive some FOMO and excitement to the platform and then eventually, hopefully early next year have a more public, open launch.
BJ: How many people will you be giving early access to?
SOLO: We have a waitlist of about 10,000 people that signed up wanting to be a part of it. The growth has all been pretty organic just from the PR we’ve been getting from the creators themselves, which we are grateful for.
I would say that we will get a lot of people in the next couple of months and really see how it goes from there. I wouldn’t put a number on it yet, just cause it could be more than I’m thinking based on the feedback. But we’re really excited to get creators and fans in there.. At the end of the day, we're bringing pop culture to the blockchain and we're making it accessible in a way that is familiar to fans that currently live on Web2 platforms. Because Web3 is something right now that you have to learn about before you use, right? Web2 isn’t that. We need to get to a point were Web3 is just as accessible as Web2.
BJ: What are some core features that will launch with the application upon release?
SOLO: Influencers will be able to offer things like video calls. There’s no way right now for you to easily FaceTime LeBron James at this moment in time. You could offer him $1,000 in the DM’s but he’d probably ignore you. This is a very easy way for them to crowdsource information and access information and manage these requests. Video calls, video messages - Cameo-like stuff, we expect that to very popular amongst demographics like Instagram models and celebrities.
Things like having a fan club, similar to Patreon, you could charge a monthly fee to access this type of content. Creators will be able to create NFTs, as well. Buying shoutouts on Twitter. There’s a custom feature were super excited about where a celebrity chef could offer a cooking class, where a personal trainer can offer a custom exercise class. This is just some of the things we’re really excited about when we launch.
BJ: What are your current thoughts on the overall NFT market?
SOLO: I think that the NFT market was something that was so necessary for a long period of time and it sounds so crazy to think that something like this didn’t really exist until now. The idea of being able to monetize your IP on a perpetual basis is so key. I was talking to an Instagram model yesterday, and he was trying to get into NFTs and I was just thinking about the fact that they post so much stuff on Instagram that lives there forever and people take it and use their image.
It’s crazy that people can benefit off their image like that.. Giving them the tools to capture some of that upside is key. I think where the market’s going to go is utility. Everyone keeps saying it, but no one is really thinking about solutions to it. When you look at NFTs, it has got to be more than just a JPEG image that is going to be given to somebody or sold to somebody. It’s got to get you some sort of experience.
We are building an experience - an ecosystem where digital moments and assets can live. The types of opportunities that come with a platform like ours are very holistic, versus just being a minting service, coordinating with a designer, etc.
It’s crazy that people can benefit off their image like that and them not even know. Giving them the tools to capture some of that upside is key. I think where the markets going to go is utility.
This puts us in a position that allows us to do things that are uniquely different than others. I think from that perspective, that’s what we’re destined and excited for, and I think that’s where the market needs to go - utility driven. I think very importantly, there needs to be more places for you to brag about your NFTs.. There needs to be a way to verify your ownership when you upload your NFT as your profile picture. It will create more reason for people to want to own NFTS. That kind of stuff is going to be big for the market.
It is super important for that to happen because then that’s how you get people into the market, because right now the average person is like ‘Oh, cool. Why do I care? I can Google this image and see it here’, but to be able to verify that someone actually owns it and has the verified check. It’s different.
BJ: Any comments on the current valuation of some NFT projects (Bored Ape, CryptoPunks, etc.)
SOLO: I think the future valuation really depends on the access that will be granted and how these things evolve over time. I think the art itself is great, but I think it ultimately comes down to what the NFT grants you access to - the social impact, sales impact, status - is going to be what drives the value.
Like I said, I am a Wall Street guy turned into a salesman, it's a matter of how you really position things going forward. That’s my two cents.
With regards to the market, I think the price action is going to be pretty stable and positive, especially with the strong market dynamics that we have. So, I think from that perspective, we are in good shape.
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