Vignesh Sundaresan and Anand Venkateswaran, once known only pseudonymously as Metakovan and Twobadour, made waves—or, more accurately, a tsunami—when they purchased Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5,000 Days for a whopping $69.3 million at Christie’s in March 2021.
The acquisition immediately shot NFTs to the forefront of the cultural conversation and remains the most expensive NFT ever sold. Suddenly, everyone wanted to know:
In the year and a half since their headline-making buy, Metakovan and Twobadour emerged as ambassadors for the NFT world and made the centerpiece of a sprawling empire that now includes more Beeple NFTs, music by 3LAU, and works by other NFT stars like Pak and Snowfro—much of which has been bundled together and tokenized by their company Metapurse’s B20 token. In their publicity tour after the Beeple sale, the pair revealed plans to create a fund to publish pro-NFT journalism, as well as provide more access to NFTs for people who, like them, identified with the Global South.
But with the NFT market all but wrecked in recent months, the dynamic duo have split. And their new directions offer insight into where the once-robust sector is heading.
Twobadour, who was a journalist focused on science and tech before joining Metapurse, announced via Twitter in April that he would be stepping down to focus on writing a memoir. Metakovan sounded wistful about the decision in his own post: “Though it was always part of the plan, and I do look forward to reading that memoir, I would rather he stayed,” he wrote at the time.
In addition to the promised memoir, Venkateswaran unveiled a new online persona, casting off the “exosuit” of Twobadour, and a new venture: eDAO, a Web3 access node for NFTs across sports, media, and entertainment, built together with Polygon co-founder Sandeep Nailwal. The DAO kicked off with an NFT artist residency affiliated with marketplace Rarible.
Although they have different strategies for approaching art and investing, it seems that Twobadour focused on relationship-building, while Metakovan was more interested in financing and collecting.
In a Zoom interview with Artnet News, Metakovan spoke highly of his relationship to Twobadour, but declined to speak more directly about the reasons for the split. “We are still friends,” he said. Twobadour declined to comment for this story.
The Origins of Metapurse
The story of Metapurse is, in some ways, the story of the evolution of the NFT space as a whole. It grew out of other crypto entities and became something much bigger that now, against the backdrop of an NFT market plunging by 70 percent since February 2021, must reinvent itself yet again.
Metakovan found Bitcoin in the mid-2010s. “I grew up in India where I had to borrow laptops to work,” Metakovan told Artnet News from his home in Singapore. “It wasn’t until 2013, when I left India, that I began looking into remittances to send money to my family back home. Doing a Google search, I just happened to learn about this thing called Bitcoin.”
After studying mechanical engineering in Dubai and Canada, he started a crypto exchange called Coinse in 2014. The platform allowed users to exchange what was back then an emerging market for alt-coins like Litecoin and Dogecoin. Notably, it was Dogecoin that nearly ruined Metakovan early on, after a divergence in the blockchain (or a “fork” in industry parlance) enabled people to freely access coins on his exchange for several hours while he was on a trans-Pacific flight. “Dogecoin nearly bankrupted me,” Metakovan said.
Still, he pressed on. He soon invited Twobadour, his longtime friend, to collaborate on creating a fund that would be focused on collecting something new: NFTs. A sometime journalist, Twobadour also worked as head of digital business at Sony music and led the content and media distribution business for the NBA in India.
In 2016, Vitalik Buterin began Ethereum, which enabled smart contracts to be used across all types of assets, from mortgages to digital art. Metakovan and Twobadour believed that if they focused their energies on early-stage venture capital projects related to Ethereum—ranging from finance to art, unique collectibles, and virtual real estate—they would be poised to make an impact on what, back then, wasn’t even called Web3. As smart contracts gained popularity, the duo felt like they were onto something.
“We got to work right away,” said Metakovan. Around this time, artists like Beeple and Snowfro, the founder of generative-art platform Art Blocks, were gaining attention. And Metapurse began acquiring their work—quickly.
By the first quarter of 2021, Metapurse had an estimated $189 million of digital assets under management. The $69 million Beeple represented about 36 percent of Metapurse’s total portfolio in the first quarter of 2021, according to data compiled by Coingecko. But there were plenty of other NFTs and projects, cryptocurrencies, and of course, their own B.20 token.
The Rise and Fall of B.20
The initial idea behind B.20 was to tokenize and package 20 different Beeple artworks. At the time, Metakovan and Twobadour both likened the B.20 project to a film production—a platform for other creatives to come together to build something greater than the sum of its parts.
Last year they opened a virtual museum to show off their B.20 NFTs in a variety of online worlds and held a huge party at Terminal 5 during the NFT.NYC conference, called “Dreamverse,” that featured a film version of Beeple’s and a performance by DJ Alesso. They also hosted “Metapalooza,” which Twobadour billed as the “first interoperable” event simultaneously taking place in two metaverses. Top crypto-literati (in avatar-form, obviously) were in attendance: Beeple, Jason Bailey, and Nifty Gateway co-founder Duncan Cock Foster all gathered for the launch of the B.20 token. At its height, the B.20 project employed 27 people, from architects to digital designers to coders, according to Metakovan.
The B.20 token still exists today and functions like a stake in a pool of NFTs under management. Once trading at about $25 per token, B.20 is now down to about .13 cents, largely due to the wider bear market around crypto and NFTs as a whole. (At one point, the duo tried to sell the token-holders on selling off a “master key” to the B.20 fund as a new NFT for $58 million, but this seems not to have happened.)
During the bull market, Metakovan and Twobadour also famously offered a $100,000 storytelling grant for NFT and crypto-art writers. Those grants eventually went to NFT artists Paradoxx and Pachoman—but they ultimately received considerably less than publicized: around $7,000 each to make films and projects, according to Metakovan.
Looking to the Future, With One Regret
Now, Metapurse is a thinned-down operation. Its NFT holdings remain as blue-chip as it gets, but whether that translates to increased recognition and engagement at the museum and institutional level remains to be seen.
On September 5, Metakovan and Acute Art announced a newly commissioned virtual reality artwork made by Olafur Eliasson, which, of course, includes an accompanying NFT. Entitled , the work will form an integral part of Eliasson’s upcoming exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, and is set to be exhibited internationally, including in Metakovan’s native India.
The mechanical engineer turned digital-art patron remains nonplussed about the bear market for NFTs. He has developed a new strategy to coincide with the changing state of play. Rather than focusing on several NFTs at once, he plans on shifting his attention to single NFTs over a longer period of time, as appears to be the case with his newfound interest in Eliasson.
His B.20 token, which is still tradable on different exchanges, is still backed by the collection and events that spawned it.
“I still, to this day, have never sold a single B.20 token,” Metakovan said. “I don’t care about material things, I look at the social value of projects. In the case of Beeple’s Everydays, I think it is part of a cultural history, and now my idea is to focus on single projects.”
Metakovan continues to live and work in Singapore, a jurisdiction he believes remains one of the best for crypto entrepreneurs, but frequently travels around the world in search of new projects. “I come from India, a nation of a million minorities,” he said. “I think NFTs hold great power. They have the ability to unlock our cultural memory, but also the keys to preventing the erasure of the cultural memory of others.”
Looking back, Metakovan says he regrets tokenizing access to B.20, which he resulted in more attention paid to the market price than the story and values behind the collection.
“B.20 is not a social, community, or utility token,” he said. “It was and always will be a shared experiment and collaboration that proved such an undertaking was even possible.”
He remains as committed as ever to seeing NFTs deployed in the real world, “I think the blockchain revolution is only just beginning,” he said. “Right now my focus is not on handling other people’s money, my focus is on art. It took a long time to get all that right.”