- Oliver Blakey is a former poker whiz and a partner at crypto VC firm Ascensive Assets.
- Blakey shared his VC journey and the strategy that secured early investments like Yield Guild Games.
- He provided two investments he believes are flying under-the-radar.
There are two common paths into a career in venture capital: spend years working at grafting early stage startups, or work in the finance industry and secure a top-class MBA.
And even then, it’s tricky to break into VC investing.
Thirty-year-old venture capitalist Oliver Blakey took neither of those options. Instead, he found venture capital through bitcoin and poker.
Investing wasn’t even on his radar a few years ago.
“I grew up in a pretty poor town, rough town in England, like understanding the difference between a VC firm and a hedge fund or a private equity firm just was non existent,” Blakey said.
Poker whiz kid
For a long time, Blakey saw poker as a way to make money after being exposed to the poker boom on TV as a teenager.
“There were young 20 to 21-year-old kids playing for millions and millions of dollars at the time, like all in the US,” Blakey said. “For me, as a kid growing up in a rough area of the UK, that is how I escaped pretty much, that was what drew me into it.”
Blakey’s first taste of poker was gambling his school dinner money on cards and playing free online tournaments. At 18, he found success with online tournaments and opted to play full-time rather than find a 9-5 job or attend college.
After years travelling the world playing high-stakes poker, Blakey was starting to burn out and searching for another avenue to make money. One opportunity was the transition to playing poker on apps against retail players in China.
It was “insanely lucrative”, but involved being paid in bitcoin, Blakey said.
Forced to understand bitcoin, Blakey started to see the potential of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology and began angel investing.
Several years on, Blakey works with a small team at Ascensive Assets leveraging a hybrid of hedge fund and venture capital investing strategies.
The firm’s secret sauce is its focus on founders.
“The portfolio just generally came to be that way out of who we spoke to as founders,” Blakey said. “… if the founders have the hustler mentality of crypto, if the founders are going to be able to take a call at 4:30 on a Sunday morning, then that guy or that girl deserves our capital.”
This means Blakey is very rarely ruling out investments because of sector bias or the stage of investment.
In most cases, the best product doesn’t win, Blakey said. He would rather bet on founders who can graft hard and pivot on the fly.
“I would say the majority of founders that we’ve done that with have given us great returns and also great value back towards just learning,” Blakey said.
And by not having the traditional finance background, it also means the team is able to break the traditional VC rules and deploy capital quickly across the niche areas of the crypto industry.
Yield Guild Games
This founder focus helped them access the $1.3 million seed round of Yield Guild Games, a play-to-earn blockchain gaming guild.
Yield Guild Games just recently closed a $4.6 million financing round led by VC firm a16z.
The play-to-earn gaming trend is taking off right now. Leading blockchain game Axie Infinity is witnessing incredible user growth with its total number of daily users jumping by 233% since the end of June.
Players build up a collection of Axie creatures and use them across a universe of games. They are rewarded for their engagement. It’s particularly popular in the Philippines, where users have found earning the tokens and converting them to the local currency makes more than some traditional jobs.
To enter the game, individuals must buy three Axies upfront. To provide more individuals with access, Yield Guild Games lends Axies out and then takes a cut of the players in-game revenue.
Blakey met Yield Guild co-founder Gabby Dizon in Macau in 2017 when he was working on a gaming project. He couldn’t get it off the ground but Dizon’s ability to continue grafting all through the crypto
caught Blakey’s attention.
“When we got wind he was doing Yield Guild, I was like he just has to get a ticket from us,” Blakey said. “There’s not really a question about it … he’ll make this vision of success, no matter how long it takes him and he’s been in the gaming industry for 20 years.”
Dizon’s hustle mentality is what helped secure the initial investment, combined with the potential network effects on the play-to-earn platform.
“Now he’s got a ton of people in a country making more money playing an online game than they would get in a traditional job,” Blakey said. “And obviously, the domino effect that that’s gonna bring is just pretty insane when people start telling their friends.”
Blakey expects the play-to-earn gaming space to still experience significant growth since it won’t be a winner-takes-all scenario.
In addition to Yield Guild, Blakey flags two of the firm’s investments that have been flying under-the-radar:
1) Frax Finance
A fractional algorithmic stablecoin that is partly collateralized.
“We had a great round that we led back in last summer,” Blakey said. “That’s significantly undervalued at the moment, even though it’s still performed pretty awesome, they’re going to do great things, in our opinion.”d
2) Eden Network
A priority transaction network that protects traders from front running.
The network is gaining huge traction and crushing the competition, Blakey said.