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Crypto Tinhorn & Former Journalist Anand Venkateswaran Talks About Buying A $69M Digital Art Piece, Collecting Stories & Catalyzing Change
“I don't think there's any other choice but to look for these tiny elements of serendipity in our lives because with the way the world works right now, you can't depend on a linear path, can you?”
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host
Canada
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Anand Venkateswaran, also known as Twobadour, went from working as a journalist to virtual shopping with artists for the world’s largest NFT fund, Metapurse along with his business partner Vignesh Sundaresan (aka Metakoven).  The fund is estimated to be worth $189 million and is known for buying the $69 million Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 days” at Christie’s auction house.  Now, Anand uses the concept of storytelling to proliferate information about crypto and NFT to make it more available and accessible irrespective of your circumstances and geography. 

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How did you get from being a journalist to running the world’s largest NFT fund?

Well, the reason I became a journalist is because I had very little academic skills. I was not good at subjects likes math, physics and chemistry. The only option open to me and the only thing I was decent at was communications. I could write because I enjoyed it and so journalism was open to me. It took me about 8 years before figuring out that journalism wasn't my true calling but communications was.  Since then, I started looking for other avenues to express myself. I stumbled into corporate communications and wrote pretty much about everything before I stumbled into crypto. I started working with Metakovan (Vignesh) in 2017 where I found my groove after years in 2020 when I discovered NFTs for the first time. 

I read about the serendipitous nature of how Vignesh got to participate in the ETH ICO because of his work with the Bitcoin ATMs.   I bring this up as you weren’t as convinced right off the bat as Vignesh.  How do you put yourself out there to create opportunities? 

To be honest, I don't think there's any other choice but to look for these tiny elements of serendipity in our lives because the way the world works right now, you can't depend on a linear path. Let's say take a very narrow slice and examine it. My father spent 27 years in the same job and it wasn't his true calling, he’s a poet at heart; a poet in Tamil.  I spent about a dozen years in a career that didn't speak to me at all before I discovered NFTs. The people I work with might have wasted their lives into pursuits that didn't lead them to pursuit of happiness but that cycle is gradually becoming smaller.  It is  because there are so many other opportunities out there and obsolescence is creeping up extremely quickly. 

How did you and Vignesh meet?

I met Metakovan when I was a journalist at The Hindu way back in 2013. He knew a little bit of information about crypto and Bitcoin. This soon led him to land in Canada on a crypto entrepreneurial journey. A few years later in 2016 when we reconnected, it started to make a lot of sense.  By that time I wrote about financial technology, and I started to understand what he meant when he spoke of uncensor ability or financial independence.

Why do you call yourself Twobadour? 

One of the reasons we adopted pseudonyms,  I suppose, is for abstract reasons and instead of saying our full names, you could just our pseudonyms.  Not that the pseudonyms are any easier to pronounce on a stretch, but at least they're more fun to have. As far as origin stories go, mine is pretty boring. I had an idyllic childhood. I was born in Madurai in 1983, and I grew up in Vizag, which is a coastal town in Andhra Pradesh in the south of India. 

What did you and Vignesh (aka Metakovan) decide to make the $69 million Beeple purchase? 

My only job here is to find creative ways of spending his money.  I'm just a devil on his shoulder egging him to go and complete things.  However, the purpose of this fund is something that we've been trying to discover ourselves. In the six to eight months preceding the setting up of Metapurse, both Metakovan and I were on our independent journeys in the NFT space. We found out at some point our theories about the NFT space converged. The theory I just described is that NFTs are going to be the primary vehicle for crypto. That converged, and that's how Metapurse was born.

The purpose of Metapurse is to collect stories and catalyze change. Collect interesting stories from the metaverse which would then inspire other people like us to converge into this renaissance and to catalyze real-world change.  The reason why we want change to happen is this idea of decoloniality, which Metakovan spoke about recently. It's an interesting concept which I think people of our background can relate to. The idea is to increase representation of underrepresented cultures, which is currently not possible, not just financial opportunities but cultures, practices and forms of expression which were buried under the bulldozer of modernity. 

Now that a lot of people know who you are because of this purchase, how are you finding the experience of dealing with the fame/notoriety?

It's a mixed bag of feelings. There's no point in complaining about the bad press that comes. It's impossible to tell everybody every nuance, aspect of my story. However, as far as I see it, I think it has been overwhelmingly positive.  The big thing is really the opening up of more serendipitous doors. It forged relationships with some incredible people from all over the world, which we would not have met probably if this hadn't happened. I think it's worth it to just open some new doors, open up some new possibilities of collaboration and to help ourselves grow individually.

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What advice would you give a young person today if they wanted to make a living and create wealth? 

I'd say get into crypto. Try and understand it because it does represent the cutting edge of today's technology and finance. I think the richest way to get into crypto or into this new space is to earn crypto rather than invest in crypto because when you're already working on something you believe in. There's a lot of things the NFT space offers, irrespective of what your interest is. It can be sport, gaming, art, or it can be a variety of things. You can start anywhere or in a place that you deeply understand, instead of trying to start everything from scratch.  You will eventually start to appreciate the space even more. Not that it made me massively rich or anything close to it but it's the experiences you stumble upon won't leave you cynical. At the end of it, it won't leave you clutching your heart hyperventilating every time the market crashes.

I read about the “Metapurse Fellowship” which was created to find people to tell fascinating stories about this space ($500K among 5 creators) - did you end up finding your 5 people?

Actually, more like 52. We started off with five and then we teamed up with the Nas Academy (Nas Daily) and one major chunk of the Fellowship is now going into a program called the Crypto Creator Program where Nas Daily has practically brought in 50 creators to tell stories from the metaverse over a three to four month period.   We also have two storytellers who could work on the original plan of the Fellowship for over a 12-month time. We have found the people we need. We'll make that announcement shortly.

What are you so bullish on cryptocurrency, NFTs, etc.?  

For one, like I said, it's a cultural phenomenon. It's impossible to put it back in the box. Considering Metapurse has not sold a single NFT so far that was never the plan. We're bullish because of this aspect, as it's a better way to keep a cultural phenomenon than the NFTs, something that's vivid and also on the blockchain. I think we've only touched the tip of the iceberg as far as the possibilities of this.

I definitely believe, but I have moments of doubt as I see what happened with NBA Topshot and now Zed (with digital horses & horseracing), etc.  What you so confident about the future of NFTs?

The current explosion in the  NFT space has been all about acquiring NFTs, gobbling up as many NFTs as we can. The important question is what do I do with these NFTs which is going to lead to a real explosion. When all of these virtual worlds start to become extremely high fidelity, the utility of these NFT starts to increase and the ownership of these NFT starts to become more fluid. Maybe use them as collateral to gain loans, realize your financial potential, and finally the idea of interoperability where a single NFT can now represent different things in different metaverse worlds.  That's the endgame. Not what you're seeing right now, not the cyclical trends that we see right now.

Can you explain what the metaverse is?  People seem puzzled on why people would buy virtual land or landmarks.  Why do you think this is happening?

Metaverse is an online place where people can hang out but it’s a space that doesn't belong to an individual or entity. If you think of any of the metaverse worlds, whether it is Decentraland or Cryptovoxels. They're all decentralized. Like, let’s say a land parcel in Decentraland, it can't be taken away from you. You can't be bullied out of it like in the real world. It’s what separates virtual worlds in crypto from elsewhere.

It’s popular and people spend money on it because it's the real estate of the future. It's going to become 3D. There are hundreds of millions of websites, but there's just a handful that ruin your day. In the future I think it will become three-dimensional and the metaverse is part of that. It becomes part of your identity, your address, your go-to place which is permanent and set in stone. That's the massive potential that these virtual worlds have.

Since you are in the stage of what we call “post-economic” (term I learned from Balaji) where do you focus your time?  

We started off with how Metekovan described it as ‘The mindset of abundance’, post-economic as you call it. If you don't start having that kind of point of view, you never actually lose it. It's a difference between looking at the Beeple piece as an investment versus thinking about it and being open to the idea you have no clue on. 

We are open to a the realm of possibilities that are available to us - some we are aware of and some not yet.  Thinking about the reasons for what we do or need to do is also a constant process. It's a constant tiny little thought grinding away in your head. Am I on the right path? What am I trying to accomplish here? Is what I'm doing today taking me towards what I really wanted to do? I think that's a very human thing and it's not something that you can flip on and off like a switch.

What do you do outside of work for fun?

All of this work is fun. I don't know who I'm going to talk to next or know who I'm going to meet. This work involves the things I enjoy doing the most which are to communicate, write and think about new ideas. All of it is pretty much done within my work. Outside of work, there's family as I've got kids. Between the two, I don't see the need to relieve myself from any of these responsibilities as other people would see them. This is a good life for me.

Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?  

Three to five years is a long time. I think it's safe to say that the idea of decoloniality has started to really converge in our minds as a thing we're working towards. You're looking for things that people normally miss or things that are not in the mainstream. Even if you are looking to forge connections in the mainstream, it is to shine a spotlight on these gems that people have known about.

For instance, we know someone who is designing musical instruments which were first made over 2,500 years ago. All similar instances when it comes to cuisine, history, art, and the list goes on which all of that is part of it. Today the way I structure my day these days is around no more than three or four large projects which are currently underway and just trying to inch closer to a completion date all throughout.

How do you view money and investing?  Are you strictly investing only in cryptocurrency, NFTs, etc.?  

I never started off on money or investing. I am all-in on crypto. Metakovan also described it to say that Jeff Bezos has most of his wealth in Amazon and Mark Zuckerberg has all of it in Facebook. It only makes sense that if you're working in a particular industry and a company, you have all your eggs in that basket. Even if you do tend to diversify, you should do it within the basket. I am by no means a trader or an investor. I just have enough to float out and do not worry about it. 

What is your favourite book(s) you've read recently or a podcast(s) that you've listened to recently that's had an impact on you?

A couple of books Metakovan recommended to me have been life-changing. They are "Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari and "Daylight Robbery" by Dominic Frisby. I think these two are highly important books. They are made to make the readers slightly uncomfortable reading as they unveil what's happening around. It had a massive impact on me. For the younger listeners here, I recommend Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. If you are into Tamil, I'd say Jayakanthan. They are short stories that are incredibly evocative; the economy of words to describe real situations is just mind blowing. I think you should check all of these out.

What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?

The contradiction on that insecurity question is to believe in serenity, that it is real. I think that has changed my life over the past. It's made me less hesitant and more confident. 

In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?

Honestly, it doesn't matter. To me what matters is that the present time is fun with the people I know are okay with me and find me tolerable. I don't want to leave a legacy. I'm a very individual person–sort of a selfish person. I don't want monuments to myself, I just want to live in the moment and have a great life right now.

What's a piece of advice that you would give to your fellow aspiring Tamil creators out there?

First-mover advantage is absolutely real in crypto.  Get into the crypto space, try and understand it, and start creating today.

Who is one person from the global Tamil community that you admire and why?

Interestingly enough, the one person that I can think of is my father, Isaikkavi Ramanan. He is a spontaneous poet and a singer in Tamil. I realized his body of work and the kind of person he is has sort of become representational to me of everything that a Tamil should be. 

What do you think you would tell 16-year Anand looking back?

To be honest, I would have done what I've been doing for the last year and a half. My skills have not grown exceptionally in the last five to seven years. It’s still the exact same skill I’ve had when I first started, storytelling. To be able to remain awed by interesting phenomena has not changed. This has served me the best over the last year and a half. I’ll also tell my 16 years old self to just keep doing what I have been doing and have more faith in the non-technical, non-academic skills I had. Those might be more handy than anything else that I might be able to learn in school. 

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Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host | TamilCulture
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