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Unlike many of his peers – those who describe themselves as blockchain evangelists and got rich trading alts – Charles Read does not believe the tech underpinning digital assets is a panacea to the world’s problems.
Charles Read isn’t your typical 28-year-old. While many of us spend our twenties aimlessly drifting from job to job and trying to get a foot on the property ladder, Read stumbled into the crypto sector and never looked back. These days he heads up investment firm Rarestone Capital, which cuts checks for blockchain-based tech startups. In less than two years, the trailblazing VC has bootstrapped close to 100 projects, many of them in the booming metaverse space.
“I love what I do, I have great freedom but I also like building and tinkering with cool stuff,” Read says, before adding, almost apologetically, that he doesn’t take success for granted: as a wayward kid growing up in Aylesbury, Southeast England, he frequently wrestled with insecurities that stemmed from his father’s abrupt departure when he was just 5.
“I grew up very poor and without my dad,” Read reflects, “and I definitely underachieved in school – probably because I was gaming when I should’ve been studying. But I guess that addiction wasn’t wasted, as I hold my gaming responsible for my success at the casino that is DeFi (decentralized finance), and more recently, GameFi. The economics of these RPGs is eerily similar to the cryptocurrency market as a whole.”
Down the Rabbit Hole
Read first learned about blockchain in 2016, when the price of bitcoin hovered around $500. Then working as an executive search consultant for a defense agency, the enterprising 22-year-old suddenly understood where his future lay. Stints as an analyst for several early crypto funds followed experiences that motivated some private investments in a personal capacity. Read was hooked: he likens the period to tumbling down a rabbit hole.
Today there are fewer surprises, though the industry still has a madcap quality: eye-watering selloffs (a recent headline: ‘Crypto assets shed $800 billion in market value in a month’), protocol exploits, raging Twitter debates involving the world’s richest man. “There’s never a dull day in this industry,” says Read, with a relish that suggests he’d have it no other way. “It’s a cliche, but no two days are alike. My routine’s a mirror of that, actually. Sometimes I’m awake at 6, in the gym by 6.30, at my desk by 9, and in bed by 9 pm. Other times I’ll sleep late and not make it back from the office till after midnight and I’ll sleep in the next day.”
On this particular date, Read has got the morning off to a bright start with an hour’s boxing training at 8 am. On arrival at the office, he checks his NFT listings before deciding to sell a CloneX. As has become routine, Rarestone’s co-founder spends the rest of the morning sifting through the chatter in several Telegram chats, “scanning for anything that will help me get an edge.” After skipping lunch to dial into Zoom for a catch-up with a new gaming client, he’s sitting down with a guest for his upcoming podcast.
“It’s kind of a talk show more than anything,” Read explains. “It’s funny because I keep seeing these memes about people starting podcasts once one of their tweets goes viral. I want to avoid doing something that’s easily done and to leverage my own network and experience to bring it all together.
“I’m thinking most of the episodes will be one hour or more; I’ll have guests from crypto and technology of course but also music, art and culture. I want to feed into this concept of the attention economy – people are buying people and not brands now, and I have a lot of cool people I enjoy talking to.”
One of those cool people is former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. Earlier this year, Read purchased a non-fungible token that entitled the holder to an unlockable experience with the Brownsville puncher once known as “Kid Dynamite.” Tyson dispensed wisdom as Read laced up the gloves and completed six rounds on the pads. A boyhood fan, he now wants to get Tyson on the podcast for a less sweaty tête-à-téte.
Looking to the Future
Unlike many of his peers – those who describe themselves as blockchain evangelists and got rich trading alts – Charles Read does not believe the tech underpinning digital assets is a panacea to the world’s problems. “Not everything needs to be built on a blockchain,” he sighs wearily, as if for the hundredth time. “To be honest, most things won’t even benefit from it in the grand scheme. The typical market froth of ‘X on the Blockchain’ is really a red flag for me and signifies the end of a cycle. You never saw that stuff in late 18, early 19, when things were really bad.”
Instead of arbitrary tokenization, Read is excited by ‘mobile edge computing, new game engines, evolving NFT use-cases, and advanced identity tools’. Metaverse gaming projects constitute a large swathe of Rarestone’s growing portfolio – the sort of immersive, crypto-powered releases that allow players to socialize, trade, play, explore and compete. In a world of digital avatars and Web3 wallets, sophisticated virtual experiences are increasingly seen as a way for brands to ‘stay relevant’ and adapt to a future where VR headsets are as ubiquitous as eyeglasses. Maybe.
Read believes there’s an ideological battle to be won too, though, pointing out a recent survey that found a third of US adults were more scared of the metaverse than excited. “Assuming people will just FOMO into the metaverse one by one is silly,” he says. “It needs to offer value and it needs to be accessible. Even then, many people will remain indifferent. But there’s a lot of cool stuff being built, I see it first-hand.”
In an industry rife with speculation, token scams, hubris, half-truths and relentless promotion, Read is keeping his feet on the ground. A father of three young children, he wants to find balance in his life, to come up for air on those occasions when the market is churning and Crypto Twitter turns into a dumpster fire. He also wants to give something back, and is currently in discussions with several UK colleges to give talks to students keen to develop their skills in Web3.
“Like anyone else in this industry, I’m excited by what the future holds. Now more than ever, I want to keep my head down, help push our clients to the next level, and as corny as it sounds, be the best husband and dad I can be. Everything else is immaterial.”