Mona has raised $14.6 million to build a metaverse platform for 3D creators. It’s all about building worlds, not walls.
Justin Melillo, CEO of Mona (spelled MoNA by the company), sees it as a way to build an economy for artists and collectors to meaningfully participate in a shared digital universe. Mona opened up for creators in October and it has more than 3,000 users building virtual worlds in its metaverse. The artists can turn around and sell their worlds, which are all connected in the Monaverse, said Melillo, in an interview with GamesBeat. I spoke to him on a call while he was in a cab making his way around NFT NYC in New York last week.
“Mona is a Web3 metaverse, world-building platform and network built for creators by creators,” said Melillo. “We make it super easy, and also free, for any creator to build mint and sell a high-quality virtual world as an NFT,” or non-fungible token.
The company doesn’t sell virtual land or tokens. It doesn’t charge creators for anything upfront, and it is building tools, systems, and protocols for the open metaverse.
“We see creators and developers as the backbone for the metaverse,” Melillo said. “So we’re really excited to take a different position on things and move the conversation away from this emphasis placed on artificial scarcity, selling land, even selling passes for a creator to build.”
The scarcity economies make no sense to Melillo, as the metaverse should be limitless.
“There is no end to virtual land. And so we just want to be able to support creators as best we can,” he said. “I saw a lot of platforms were capitalizing on speculation and land scarcity. And so that’s what really motivated me to want to start Mona, and really place the emphasis on the creator.”
Creators have made more than $500,000 since October by minting and then selling their tokenized virtual worlds.
As a creator, you’re able to build in your existing toolset, upload those assets to a template that Mona has created. That requires no coding for creator. From there, the creator can mint the world as an NFT via Ethereum or Polygon. The 3D assets and the data gets stored on IPFS and becomes decentralized. The creators can list their virtual worlds for sale on the OpenSea marketplace for NFTs.
“By selling the tokenized worlds, creators actually get money and perpetual royalties on every resale of their world as well,” Melillo said.
San Francisco-based Mona also teamed up with decentralized cloud storage network Filecoin to send an open call to artists, architects, and gamers to spur the creation of new 3D art spaces as part of Filecoin Forum, the largest metaverse build bounty ever — with over $200,000 up for grabs.
Mona provides a platform and network for creators to build, mint, and sell interactive metaverse worlds as NFTs. The world-building platform is free for anyone to create and access via their web browser, and creators can mint their metaverse worlds on the Ethereum or Polygon blockchains.
Creators are using Mona to build and showcase photorealistic works of architecture, mesmerizing art, dynamic 3D gardens, immersive scavenger hunts, unforgettable virtual events and concerts, and mysterious escape rooms.
The metaverse refers to an interconnected network of virtual worlds where individuals can interact with each other online. While many companies aim to capitalize on the metaverse by selling land, real estate, and other virtual assets, Mona is dedicated to creating an open metaverse that does not require a purchase to enter or use.
The Mona team has been building in public since day one, and their platform allows collectors to invest directly in the creators of experiential virtual worlds. This allows creators to develop their art freely and make a living by building in the metaverse without facing financial limitations.
“Our mission at Mona is to make the metaverse a social network where creators can thrive. A place to build worlds, not walls,” said Melillo. “With the closing of this round, we will continue to grow our global, vibrant community of builders as we onboard thousands of new creators to the open metaverse and Web3. The metaverse doesn’t have to belong to big tech companies – it can, and will, be a place for everyone.”
“Mona’s vision for the metaverse – a real-time 3D social network experienced synchronously with others – innovates on the legacy design space of previous blockchain-based digital environments. It is a zero to one upgrade for digital environment creators and participants, powered by Mona’s open standards and powerful tokenization tools,” said Derek Edward Schloss of Collab+Currency, in a statement. “Mona’s metaverse has the potential to alter how society, culture, and economics weave together in a new digital paradigm.”
Melillo is a 3D artist and former stage designer for Drake and Charli XCX. In his previous roles at Magic Leap and DreamWorks Animation, he helped build the world’s first AR digital human AI (named Mica, a really amazing virtual creation) and a volumetric capture experience with the Royal Shakespeare Company. An industry expert in augmented reality (AR) experiences, Melillo has collaborated with musicians, such as Sia, Lizzo, Pearl Jam, Cardi B, and Maroon 5.
The oversubscribed round was co-led by Protocol Labs, Archetype, and Collab+Currency. Other investors include Placeholder, OpenSea Ventures, Polygon Studios, ConsenSys, Venture Reality Fund, and other crypto-native funds and angel investors.
Ash Egan, founder of Archetype, said in a statement: “The Mona team is leveling up metaverse experiences, and pioneering a new distribution outlet for Web3 creators. We’re excited to support the Monaverse capture metaverse mindshare around the world.”
Other investors in the round include Placeholder, Rogue Capital, Synergis, a_capital, Palm Tree Crew Crypto, Venture Reality Fund, SV Angel, Fourth Revolution Capital, OpenSea Ventures, Polygon Studios, LongHash Ventures, Taavet+Sten, ConsenSys Mesh, Big Brain Holdings, Everyrealm, Ready Player DAO, POAP Ventures, Gaingels, and The Grey Trust. Angel investors include gmoney, Rahilla Zafar, Conlan Rios (founder, Async Art), Miles Anthony (founder, Decentral Games), and Dennison Bertram (founder, Tally).
“Mona is building the tools, systems, and protocols to grow the open metaverse,” said Juan Benet, CEO of Protocol Labs, in a statement. “We are proud to support their innovative work as they develop the infrastructure for creators and developers to build and own the open metaverse. We will all spend countless hours inside of the high-quality virtual experiences hosted on Mona.”
Melillo realizes he may have raised money just in the nick of time, as the crypto winter has begun to set in and companies may have a harder time raising money during a downturn.
“There is definitely a bit of an economic change happening. We were able to actually be close the round just before Terra” collapsed and triggered another selloff in cryptocurrency markets.
“Obviously, there are a lot of speculators in the crypto markets and a lot of speculation happening specifically around metaverse and NFTs. I think it gives us a really great opportunity as an organization that is really truly working hard to build a better future for the open metaverse,” he said. “I’m really grateful that we have that opportunity. And with the market shaking out any other speculators or bad actors, I’m really grateful for that.”
Lots of things are getting called metaverses these days. Melillo sees the metaverse as an interconnected network of virtual worlds, many of which will underpin the physical world.
“Where Mona fits in is that it is dedicated to building the infrastructure to help grow the open metaverse,” he said. “Not only do we focus on the tooling and infrastructure, but we also have the highest quality, multiplayer experience that is all accessible in the web browser. So once an artist actually creates their world and mints it, it goes live right on our website where you can share your worlds with just a URL link. So that enables anyone to start a multiplayer hangout where you can have hundreds of people join in a multiplayer setting inside of any of your worlds.”
The company has customizable avatars through a partnership with Ready Player Me. It also has voice chat and text chat. It also has token-gated access, which is really great for people who have been wanting to actually sell tickets or even token-gate virtual worlds based on NFT or ERC 20 ownership.
“You can also link out to external platforms and websites, and bring it all back to this concept of an open metaverse,” he said. “Many users don’t want to stay in just one siloed environment, so we make it easy for anyone who wants to build a world to link to other websites as well.”
As for competition, there are the likes of Minecraft and Roblox, but you don’t see as wide a variety of art in those worlds. And other worlds tend to focus on the land sale model and artificial scarcity.
“We feel like we have a significant competitive advantage,” he said.
But he doesn’t mind having a lot of competitors because he wants the open metaverse to be a big, big thing.
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