Nashville EC cohort CEO raises capital for Iconic Moments NFT marketplace
By Milt Capps
CHRIS CUMMINGS, an entrepreneur now enrolled in the Project Music and Entertainment business development program of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, announced he has raised $1.95MM in Seed capital to support launching Iconic Moments, a marketplace for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that is enabled by blockchain-powered smart contracts.
Iconic's parent is early-growth startup Pass It Down Inc., which CEO Cummings founded six years ago as a digital storytelling platform for brands, cities and cultural institutions.
Even though Cummings new business spent its formative years in Chattanooga -- and he still has an office there and staff in Nashville -- he's been riding-out the pandemic in his native state, Louisiana.
As with many interesting businesses that find their way to Tennessee's regional accelerators, whether or not this startup's growth will contribute longer-term to this state's economy must remain an open question.
That said, it's a good sign that during an interview for this story, Cummings vigorously praised Nashville Entrepreneur Center staff and their advisors, and particularly their collective networks, for providing him important guidance on SaaS and blockchain technologies and digital marketplaces.
The 34-year-old CEO and majority stockholder confirmed that Iconic's immediate priority lies in enabling enable museums, archives and cultural organizations to earn much-needed revenue through sales of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) derived from artifacts in each client's holdings.
Including Pass It Down's recent Seed raise to advance the Iconic marketplace, the company has raised north of $3.5MM in capital since inception.
Cummings said Iconic growth prospects and continuing investor interest since the Seed closed make raising another round of capital very likely.
The Iconic Moments marketplace is currently scheduled to go-live in the final quarter of CY 2021, and it is likely to be powered by the long-awaited Ethereum 2.0 network. If Eth2.0 is delayed, Iconic may, in the interest of reducing Iconic's computing carbon footprint and other benefits, consider relying on the existing Ethereum network, augmented by integration with Polygon.
While Pass It Down attracted individual Tennessee investors early-on, the majority of the money it has raised since inception has come from investors in other states.
Its institutional and professional angel investors include Greenville, S.C.-based VentureSouth; St. Louis-based Cultivation Capital; Boulder-based Techstars; Baton Rouge-based Red Stick Angels; and, Lafayette, La.-based Acadian Capital Ventures.
According to LinkedIn, Charleston, S.C.-based tech investor Paul Anuszkiewicz is among its board of directors.
He said that, partly as a result of pandemic-spurred client interest in internet presentations of content, Pass it Down reached breakeven-or-better operations on its core SaaS technology during 2020, and pulled the trigger on moving forward with Iconic, in January this year.
Cummings said he believes the company is destined to become both industry-transforming and global.
Asked about exit to a strategic bidder or other scenarios, he responded, "We have the means to grow and change an entire industry on a global scale," and he believes that ensures the company has a full array of options. "We keep all doors open," said the CEO.
In a 2016 interview with Venture Nashville, when the company was B2C, rather than B2B-oriented, Cummings acknowledged that exit to a strategic buyer could accelerate the company's achieving global reach. See VNC's previous Cummings coverage here.
Asked whether Iconic might be a candidate for spin-out, Cummings said there are no such plans, though naturally Iconic performance is being tracked closely as a brand unit.
Each NFT hosted in the new marketplace uniquely represents an artifact selected for the program by client organizations that contract for access to the marketplace. The owners of the artifacts retain full ownership.
Each owner collaborates with Iconic Moments staff to determine initial pricing for a pre-determined quantity of a given NFT edition. Assessments of bidding and demand within the Iconic marketplace influence NFT pricing.
Iconic and its clients also establish NFT promotion plans; set percentages of initial revenues to be shared by each artifact provider and the Iconic marketplace; and, establish percentages of after-market revenue flowing from any future re-sales of a given artifact by successive owners of individual NFTs.
Cummings said that after four years of working with museums, brands and others, the company has a good sense of what is required in terms of client engagement, NFT project definition, contracting and related matters.
Sales of all NFTs in the marketplace are executed via smart-contracts, employing distributed ledger technology secured by blockchain cryptography.
While serving art museums and cultural archives is the company's immediate priority, next steps call for supporting corporate brands and Sports sector clients that have artworks, video, audio content in their collections. The CEO said he expects to be able to announce further signings, soon.
Pass It Down's clients have thus far included such brands as Porsche and Procter & Gamble; institutions such as the Museum of Broadcast Communications; and, municipalities such as Portland, Ore., Chattanooga and Sarasota.
Asked about competitors, Cummings noted that NYC-based OpenSea, a Y Combinator grad, is currently the largest platform in the space.
But, he said that while OpenSea is home to millions of NFTs, Iconic will each month curate only 25 to 50 artifacts for a range of offerings. OpenSea investors have included Andreesen Horowitz ($120MM-plus committed) and actor Ashton Kutcher, among others, according to Crunchbase.
Pass It Down has seven fulltimers, plus at least seven contractors who address all its needs, including those for Iconic. Two significant hires for software engineering and product management are in-the-offing, said Cummings.
Currently, all full-time team members are working from home, with one or more in each Baton Rouge, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.
Pass It Down's outside advisors include attorneys with Chattanooga-based Chambliss Bahner. The firm banks with Bank of America; and, its accounting is with Chatt365.
Also advising: Atlanta-based Jason Freier, who is both principal of Hardball Capital and owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts and other MiLB teams.
Cummings, now 34, and his wife now live in Baton Rouge, in his native Louisiana, after several years residence in Chattanooga.
Cummings earned his law degree and undergraduate degrees in both political science and international studies at Louisiana State University. He pursued his law career for three years in Baton Rouge and Shreveport, serving at one point as a Federal Public Defender.
Later, in Chattanooga, he served as CEO of a small VC dubbed Swiftwing Ventures, founded by his father, Paul Cummings.
In 2019, Pass It Down was selected one of nine firms inducted into that year's Techstars Austin Accelerator.
Also, a very timely interesting panel discussion of the state and prospects of NFTs, including commentary by media and technology entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, who has a stake in several communications- and content-related businesses in Chattanooga, is right here. VNC
. last edited 0845 23 September 2021