The buyer of Beeple’s NFT artwork “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” was Vignesh Sundaresan, a cryptocurrency investor and the founder of the Metapurse NFT project. The artwork was purchased for $69.3 million at Christie’s in March 2021, making it the most expensive single non-fungible token (NFT) ever sold. Sundaresan bought the artwork under his pseudonym Metakovan, which can partially be translated from Tamil to mean king of the metaverse. The purchase was financed from his personal investments in cryptocurrencies.
“Sundaresan represents a new generation of investors: the cryptocurrency kings who have created fortunes out of sight of financial regulators. Their true net worth is obscure because their assets exist mostly on the semi-anonymous blockchain, a kind of digital ledger that underpins cryptocurrencies, not in bank accounts, shares or property”.Angus Berwick and Elizabeth Howcroft in their Reuters special report “From Crypto to Christie’s, How an Indian metaverse king made his fortune”.
Sundaresan was born in 1988 in the Indian city of Chennai. In 2006, he started a mechanical engineering degree at a university in Dubai. His family expected him to find a stable job and become a mechanical engineer like his father – but Sundaresan had different ideas. Back in high school he had learnt how to code and built websites for local companies in exchange for cash. As a youngster he was obsessed with Apple Inc co-founder Steve Jobs and the other “rock-star” tech entrepreneurs, outside of India.
“Society had a plan for me,”Vignesh Sundaresan
In May 2013, Sundaresan quit his job as a developer at a newspaper and launched an online crypto exchange called Coins-E, which enabled customers to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. This was a side-project he had been developing for years in his spare-time. He moved to Canada and in September the same year enrolled in a technology innovation master’s program at Ottawa’s Carleton University. His focus however, remained on Coins-E which already had thousands of customers. He sold the business a year later for 315 bitcoins – about $180,000 at the time.
Together with three other crypto enthusiasts, Sundaresan co-founded the start-up BitAccess, making Bitcoin ATMs. They all contributed to the ICO (initial coin offering, a capital funding tool) for Ethereum (blockchain) – Sundaresan bought about 20,000 ether worth $6,000 at the time. In 2016, he wanted to launch his own ICO to fund an Ethereum-based trading platform he was building together with his BitAccess colleagues, but they considered the project too risky and a frustrated Sundaresan left BitAccess in November 2016.
In 2017 Sundaresan founded Metapurse, a venture capital firm that invests in NFTs and other digital assets. In December that year, Sundaresan successfully canvassed prospective investors about his ideas for Lendroid, a “lending pool” of deposited crypto that would facilitate peer-to-peer loans, by allowing users to lend and borrow crypto funds directly, without an intermediary. In February 2018 he launched a fundraiser for an initial coin offering with a target sum of 50,000 ether, the equivalent at the time of almost $48 million. It was raised within two days.
Progress on the Lendroid project however stalled and development largely halted after 2019. Lendroid investors grew angry over delays of the launch of the platform and a collapse in the price of the coin they received from the ICO, called a “Lendroid Support Token,” or LST. A whistle-blower report was submitted to the Ontario Securities Commission, accusing Sundaresan of fraud. Sundaresan was living in Singapore.
“Crypto is like walking in a street in Somalia with cash in your pockets”Vignesh Sundaresan
Sundaresan went on a virtual spending spree in the emerging NFT market. In 2019, he paid $112,000 for a digital representation of a diamond-encrusted Formula One car from an online racing game, the most expensive NFT that year. He bought hundreds of acres of digital land in online worlds to build a virtual property empire. In mid-2020, he unveiled a fund called Metapurse to invest in NFTs. At a series of NFT auctions that December, the fund bought 20 artworks by Mike Winkelmann, the American digital artist known as Beeple, for $2.2million in ether.
In January 2021, MetaKovan opened the exclusive Metapalooza “party” at his virtual art gallery in Origin City. Attendees could buy a digital token called B20 to get a stake in MetaKovan’s Beeple collection. Metapurse issued 10 million B20 tokens, with 25% allocated for public sale, initially priced at 36 cents each. Half of the tokens were held by MetaKovan and the other half was split between the public, friends and business partners.
In mid-February 2021, Christie’s announced the auction of Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days.” Marketers predicted the sale’s publicity would boost B20’s price. By the time of the auction, B20’s price was booming, hitting a high of $29 per token on exchanges including Uniswap, according to cryptocurrency tracker CoinGecko. Around the time the Christie’s auction closed, B20’s price collapsed. Data collected by blockchain analytics firm Nansen shows a handful of wallets helped to drive the crash by selling several millions of dollars’ worth of B20. The wallet publicly labelled as belonging to MetaKovan did not sell its holdings. Investors were left with a token valued at a fraction of what many of them paid.
The winning bid for Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” was paid with 42,329 ether through the crypto exchange Gemini. In early September, Metapurse unveiled the work’s “first physical event.” Fans were invited to view the Beeple piece on a giant screen at the November exhibition in New York. Cost of admission was up to $2,500 a person.
The value of “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” has fluctuated since it was purchased. In December 2021, the NFT was valued at around $70 million. However, the value of the NFT has since declined, and at the end of 2021 was valued at around $40 million.
Despite the decline in its value, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” remains one of the most valuable single NFTs in the world. It is a landmark work of digital art that helped to legitimize the NFT market. The artwork is still owned by Sundaresan.
Read Angus Berwick and Elizabeth Howcroft brilliant article on Sundaresan in their Reuters special report called “From Crypto to Christie’s, How an Indian metaverse king made his fortune”.