Close friends since Class 8, Shaamil Karim and Yash Rathod from Chennai, realised their passion for computer science during their school days. Exploring their interests further, they eventually pursued entrepreneurship, straight out of their school, at the age of 18.
Their NFT startup, Diginoor.io, is one of the earliest NFT (Non-Fungible Token) marketplaces in India. It recently received seed funding of $1 million from Contrary Capital, Polygon Fund, Sandeep Nailwal, Kunal Shah, Abdul Wahab Al-Halabi (MD at Embassy Capital) and others.
Backed by blockchain technology, everything from photos, videos, music, games, movies, and even a tweet can be converted into an NFT, bought and sold online using cryptocurrencies. It is a unit of data stored on a digital ledger called a blockchain that certifies a digital asset to be unique and, therefore, not interchangeable.
In conversation with The Better India, Yash says, “We both used to do a lot of competitive programming during our school days and used to watch several shows on entrepreneurship, etc. This eventually made us think of doing a startup together. We had thousands of terrible ideas as well as a few good ones. But finally, we narrowed it down on doing something in NFT technology as we realised that it could take off in India just like crypto did.”
“In 2019, while we were in class 10, we noticed that NFTs were gaining popularity. So we bought a few NFTs like Cryptokitties. We held it for two years and then sold them off in 2021, making almost 50x profit. That’s when we decided to start Diginoor.”
Thus in 2021, they started their venture, Diginoor, by launching Rajinikanth movie NFTs which has contributed to an almost 60 per cent increase in their sales.
Noticing that in the US, NFTs in basketball and celebrities were taking off, Shaamil and Yash aspired to build that same kind of revolution targeting the Indian audience. “In India, for anything to take off, it’s preferred that we do it under the two Cs — Cricket or Cinema, and that’s how we decided to choose the cinema space to start with,” explains Shaamil.
Diginoor, the Delaware-headquartered startup, has partnered with several major production houses in India like AVM Productions, Reliance Entertainment, Sivaji Productions, etc. Diginoor has also introduced options to buy NFTs using debit and credit cards, a first in the industry.
“We did a lot of cold emailing while looking for partners, and while at it, we realised the skill of being a good salesman. We had to convince them about the concept of NFT and how they can monetise their content so that there’s always proof of ownership maintained. Whether they want to part with the IP or not, that can be hardcoded into the metadata of the NFT,” says Shaamil adding that they have sold out their first NFT from Rajinikanth starrer Sivaji and have recently launched NFTs on Chandramukhi and Kabali as well.
The film based NFTs included deleted scenes, iconic scenes, songs and even metaverse accessories. In addition, the customers can also access unseen behind the scenes (BTS) footage of the movies with NFTs starting from $12.
The NFT enterprise, which started with the cinema space, aspires to expand its content to music and celebrity-based NFTs. “We are also trying to explore two other applications of blockchains — one is Decentralized autonomous organisation (DAO) — it is like a community of shared interest with a shared bank account. We are trying to essentially crowdfund Bollywood movies where fans can buy 10% of a movie, take part in the creative process of producing the movie and rate the box office rewards,” elaborates Yash.
He continues, “The second is decentralised gaming, where people can use their crypto wealth to play games and also make more money in the process. So, we thought of taking casinos on the blockchain so people can play these games with their crypto and earn rewards in crypto.”
Besides exploring new content categories, Shaamil and Yash (who recently moved their base to Bengaluru) are now planning to use their funds to expand their team by hiring new talents.
Talking about the challenges faced by building up a venture based on NFT, Shaamil says that the general lack of awareness in the customer front was, in fact, a challenge. “Being under the banner of Rajinikanth has helped us a lot, but there’s still a long way to go in terms of exploring the potential of NFT, like in the Fintech space or copyright space etc.,” he adds.
Both Shaamil and Yash have decided to take a break from college to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. “Our parents have been quite supportive, and it wasn’t difficult to convince them as they understood once we explained it to them. Our universities also have been very understanding and have let us come back at any point to pursue our education,” says Yash.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)