“We've had a lot of trouble collaborating in the past, funny enough,” Griffin Cock Foster said of his identical twin and Nifty Gateway cofounder, Duncan Cock Foster. “We rowed crew in high school, and that didn't go well.”
“We actually flipped the boat,” Griffin recalled.
It’s hard to imagine the Cock Fosters capsizing a boat today, given that their teamwork has yielded a promising startup.
The 25-year-old brothers cofounded Nifty Gateway in 2018, a platform built on blockchain dealing with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), or “nifties.” Their venture into the NFT-space was validated just one year later, when their startup was acquired by another set of identical twins, who happen to also row crew and work in blockchain: Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss.
What are NFTs?
NFTs are digital objects that you can own. A NFT can take the form of digital artwork, for example. They have value, scarcity, and most importantly, permanence.
“A NFT is a fundamentally better type of digital good,” Duncan explained. To illustrate this claim, he contrasted NFTs with another example of a digital good: a skin acquired in the game Fortnite, which changes the appearance of a player’s avatar.
“There are some issues with digital goods like that. For example: if Fortnite shuts down or your account gets deleted, your skin disappears forever,” Duncan explained. “Digital goods right now don’t really behave the way we expect them to behave.”
A NFT, on the other hand, does behave predictably and like a real object, insofar that it has object permanence. Once you purchase your NFT, it is yours to keep forever.
The Cock Fosters’ first iteration of Nifty Gateway was a tool similar to PayPal. It allowed users to buy NFTs with a credit card while browsing NFT websites like OpenSea, CryptoKitties, and Axie Infinity. An NFT purchased with Nifty Gateway would then be delivered to the customer’s blockchain wallet of choice.
Nifty Gateway 2.0, which launched in March, provides a full NFT collecting experience. Users can now buy and sell NFTs for fiat currency, and display their collection, all on the Nifty Gateway platform.
The Origin of Nifty Gateway: Bicoastal twins, Gods Unchained, and the Boost VC Accelerator
Duncan started Nifty Gateway in 2018 with the goal of making it easier to access NFTs by enabling purchases with credit cards, as opposed to cryptocurrency. At the time, he was living in San Francisco and Griffin was in New York. The twins ultimately quit their jobs to work on Nifty Gateway in Silicon Valley.
The Cock Fosters posted about the launch of Nifty Gateway on the Discord channel for Gods Unchained, a digital trading card game through which players can buy and sell their digital cards for real money. The Nifty Gateway platform could be used to purchase trading cards with credit cards for the first time.
“When we launched it and we posted about it on their Discord, nobody believed us,” said Duncan. “It took us time to convince people that the portal actually worked and we weren’t just putting up something to scam people for money.”
“It gained popularity quickly because there was a lot of demand for people to buy NFTs with a credit card, and no one else had put out a solution that let people do that before,” Duncan continued. “So we sort of immediately fit this need in the NFT community.”
That initial traction with the Gods Unchained community got Nifty Gateway into the Boost VC Accelerator, according to Duncan. The accelerator gave the young entrepreneurs critical support, and what would turn out to be a key introduction.
Enter: the Winklevoss Twins
“It was actually very funny, because Duncan and I were joking about being identical twins who worked together in crypto to the head of the accelerator, Adam Draper,” Griffin said.
Griffin was referencing Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, the identical twin tech entrepreneurs who entered pop culture parlance through the 2010 film The Social Network. Today, they are the founders of Gemini, a cryptocurrency exchange. As it turned out, Draper knew the Winklevoss twins, and connected them with the Cock Fosters.
Tyler and Cameron had been eyeing the NFT space and their interest was piqued by Nifty Gateway. "They invited us to come fly out to New York to meet with them,” Griffin said. “They saw NFTs as being comparable to bitcoin back in 2012."
The Winklevoss twins were early believers in bitcoin; they invested $11 million in 2013, and their stake grew to over $1 billion by 2017, The Verge reported. Gemini acquired Nifty Gateway in June 2019 for an undisclosed value. The Cock Fosters said part of the acquisition was paid in bitcoin, most of which they have retained. Nifty Gateway is Gemini’s first ever acquisition.
“Gemini has some of the best crypto custody technology in the world, which is a very difficult thing to build, and it’s very costly to get it wrong,” Duncan said. “We really wanted to leverage that to build Nifty Gateway 2.0,” Duncan said.
Nifty Gateway is taking the practice of art collection digital
Nifty Gateway 2.0 launched in March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic started to hit the US. “We were terrified to launch in the midst of the pandemic,” Griffin said, “But really, everybody being locked up and all the art galleries being shut down has only increased the demand for digital art.”
But what is the purpose of buying digital artwork in the form of NFTs?
“Anyone could print out the Mona Lisa and hang it up on the wall, but only one person or one museum has the actual, original Mona Lisa,” Duncan explained. “Essentially, NFTs are just a way to make digital art collectible and scarce, the same way that physical art is.”
The artists working with Nifty Gateway designate a specific number of their NFTs as authentic and original. “Those in perpetuity become a certificate of authenticity and ownership,” Duncan continued. “That’s really why people are so into collecting them.”
NFT artwork on Nifty Gateway costs between $200 and $500 on average, according to Duncan. The most expensive NFT sale on the platform so far was $10,500, the result of a bidding war for a one-of-a-kind CryptoKitty titled “Koshkat” by illustrator Momo Wang.
Every Thursday night at 7 PM Eastern, Nifty Gateway drops limited quantities of new NFT artwork by a few hand-picked artists. These NFTs are sold at a set price, and generally sell out rapidly. Users can either keep their new NFTs as part of their growing digital art collection displayed on the platform, or they can resell their new acquisition on Nifty Gateway’s secondary marketplace to other users who may have missed out on the original drop. Artwork can be marked up exponentially on the secondary marketplace.
Nifty Gateway’s Drop 8 in June featured a particularly popular NFT: an animation by 3D artist Steven Baltay. The piece titled “Take Another Look” features a cream-colored, fleshy mask adorn with gold charms and chains. Pink droplets drip down the face, which wears an iridescent pink and blue bucket hat. The mask wriggles as two enormous eyeballs push through its eye sockets with a slimy sound effect, finally falling off the face and out of the frame with a pleasant plop.
Drop 8 made just 20 copies of “Take Another Look” available for sale at a $250 price point. The piece sold out quickly, and it is currently being resold on Nifty Gateway’s secondary marketplace for up to $916,777.
In the long term, the Cock Fosters are working on developing 3D NFT display screens for 3D NFTs. Presently, they’re excited to be working with artists to transform their work into NFTs.
“Having the opportunity to be here at the birth of this new creative medium, and to help play a role in shaping it, is my favorite part of the job,” Duncan said.