Research

Come for the points, stay for the frens

Edmund Tong

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This week's research piece focuses on friend.tech, an up-and-coming web3 social media application. friend.tech also has a designated dashboard on Token Terminal. Let's dig in!


Abstract

friend.tech is a social media decentralized application (dapp) built on Base, and allows users to monetize their social media presence. It has achieved the second-highest weekly revenue of all dapps within a month of launching, putting it ahead of long-established market leaders like Lido and Aave. Co-founded by pseudonymous Racer and Shrimp, friend.tech has recently received a seed investment from the prominent crypto venture fund Paradigm.

In this article, we observe what problems friend.tech solves for content creators and content consumers alike, and how this is achieved. We discuss why now is the time for friend.tech to launch, and the potential market size for friend.tech. We compare friend.tech against web2 and web3 competitors through a variety of metrics, such as revenue and active users. We analyze the product architecture of friend.tech and how it generates revenue. Finally, we examine the team behind friend.tech and the financial performance of the protocol so far.

Background

What is friend.tech?

friend.tech is a social media application built on Base, an Ethereum Layer 2 incubated by Coinbase.

How does friend.tech work?

Users are able to buy keys of other user’s accounts. By owning a key, the holder obtains access to an in-app private chat with the person (typically a content creator on X) whose key one owns. When a key of an account owner is traded, friend.tech takes a 10% cut of the key’s price and distributes half to the account owner as commission.

Why is friend.tech important?

friend.tech allows content creators to monetize their social media presence. It also introduces a financial framework (keys and their pricing mechanism) that incentivizes content creators to engage more closely with their fans or key holders.

When did friend.tech emerge?

friend.tech launched publicly on the 10th of August 2023, one day after the public launch of Base. [1]

How many users does friend.tech have at the moment?

There are currently over 149k unique wallets that have purchased a friend.tech key. [2] Approximately 70% of large crypto X influencers with a follower count above 50k have also joined friend.tech as account owners. [3] SharesV1, friend.tech’s main contract used to buy and sell keys, accounted for 20% of Base’s total gas consumption over the past 30 days.

Figure 1: friend.tech consumed 20% of total gas used on Base over the past 30 days [4]

How much does friend.tech generate in revenue?

Since launch, friend.tech has generated $7.2m in revenue. It has achieved the second-highest weekly revenue of all dapps within a month of its launch, which puts it ahead of long-established market leaders like Lido and Aave.

Figure 2: Weekly revenue of MakerDAO, friend.tech, Lido, and Aave [5]

1. Purpose

friend.tech aims to be the marketplace for your friends. It allows content creators to monetize their social media presence and introduces a financial framework that incentivizes them to interact with their followers.

2. Problem

We break down the problems with the current social media landscape from the perspective of both content creators and content consumers:

  • Content creators: Creators are unable to adequately monetize their social network. Different social media platforms have varying take rates for revenue, but these generally remain high across the industry (+90% for X and 100% for TikTok). Although X has launched a revenue-sharing program for top creators, the amount of value that creators capture pales in comparison to the value they create for the platform. As an example, X user @jason (748k followers) earned $4.2k over the course of five months through X’s ad revenue share program. In contrast, @cobie (735k followers on X) has made over $180k in revenue through friend.tech over the past month alone.

Figure 3: Comparison of monthly creator earnings for @jason (on X) and @cobie (on friend.tech) [6][7]

  • Content consumers: Consumers are mostly unable to interact closely with large content creators. Although many social media platforms allow content consumers to directly message creators, creators are rarely incentivized to respond. Certain social media platforms have even increased the barrier for consumers to contact creators. In July 2023, X enabled an option for users to limit direct messaging to other paying users only, further raising the difficulty of consumers to communicate with large influencers. [8]

3. Solution

friend.tech allows users to access private chats with social media personalities by purchasing their keys. When a key of a user’s account is purchased or sold, the account owner earns a 50% commission.

Figure 4: A message sent on friend.tech. [9]

We again examine friend.tech from the perspective of both content creators and content consumers:

  • Content creators: Content creators are now able to earn a much higher cut on the value they create (as shown in Figure 3). Since launch, content creators have generated a cumulative $7.2m in revenue [10], with the top 10 and top 50 accounts earning a total of $1.3m and $2.7m, respectively. [11] In addition, the key holder requirement places a higher barrier to entry for followers to message creators, which greatly reduces spam and increases quality engagement.
  • Content consumers: Content consumers are now much more likely to interact with large creators directly. As creators generate increasing revenue per key purchase (due to the rises in key prices after each purchase), they are financially incentivized to engage actively with their key holders. As a result, content consumers can now, for a price, purchase the attention and insights of major influencers and thought leaders. Furthermore, if the price of the key rises during the period of ownership, it is possible that the content consumer can obtain these insights for free (or even at a financial gain).

By solving the aforementioned problems, friend.tech has now attracted over 146k content creators/account owners to join the platform. The key holder retention rate remains high at 75% on a daily basis. The average key holder spends approximately 45 minutes per day on the friend.tech app, more than traditional social media platforms such as X (31 minutes) or TikTok (32 minutes). [12]

Figure 5: Cumulative unique friend.tech account owners since launch [13]

Figure 6: friend.tech 1 day and 7 day key holder retention [14]

Figure 7: Average in-app minutes of key holders [15]

4. Why now

friend.tech launched on August 10th, one day after the public launch of Base, a layer 2 blockchain built on Ethereum incubated by Coinbase. It is highly likely that friend.tech timed their launch to match that of Base, in order to maximize the activity on both the protocol and blockchain. The two are linked through Fred Ehrsam, the co-founder of Paradigm (friend.tech’s sole backer) and Coinbase.

Base has achieved $430m in bridge deposits and a consistent 60k-90k daily active users within a month of its public launch. This puts their daily user counts barely below the much more well-established OP Mainnet.

Figure 8: Base has reached $430m in bridge deposits within a month of its public launch (August 9th) [16]

Figure 9: The number of daily active users for Base now rivals those for OP Mainnet [17]

5. Market size

friend.tech needs to appeal to both X account owners (mainly influencers) and end-users (key buyers and sellers).

  • Account owners: Since launch, over 146k X account owners have already joined friend.tech. When examining 63 crypto X accounts with more than 50k followers across a variety of demographics (including developers, investors, and traders), our analysis shows that 70% have already joined friend.tech. This includes major accounts such as @cobie (735k followers), @HsakaTrades (454k followers) and more.

Figure 10: 70% of crypto X accounts with over 50k followers have already joined friend.tech [18]

  • End-users: There are currently over 149k and 70k unique key buyers and sellers respectively. These users have traded a total of $144m worth of keys since launch.

Figure 11: Cumulative unique buyers and sellers of friend.tech keys since launch [19]

Figure 12: Daily trading volume of friend.tech keys since launch [20]

6. Competition

friend.tech currently has no direct competitor. Other social dapps such as Lens or Farcaster operate via the open social-network model (i.e. X, Facebook), while friend.tech specializes in monetizing gated content. The current web2 competitors with the closest business model to friend.tech are Patreon and OnlyFans, while friend.tech competes mostly with X for users at its current stage.

Metricfriend.techLensFarcasterXTikTokOnlyFansPatreonYouTube
TypeWeb3Web3Web3Web2Web2Web2Web2Web2
Launch dateAugust 2023May 2022August 2021July 2006September 2016November 2016May 2013February 2005
Monthly active users135.7k37.5k5.5k541m1.6b320m8.2m2.7b
Revenue$80m (annualized)$0$0$4.4b$9.4b$2.5b$80m$29.2b

Figure 13: Comparison between friend.tech, web3 competitors (Lens and Farcaster), and web2 competitors (X, TikTok, OnlyFans, Patreon, and Youtube) [21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32]

7. Product

One of friend.tech’s biggest innovations and advantage is its use of a Progressive Web Application (PWA) model. PWA allows friend.tech’s mobile app (currently the exclusive way for users to access friend.tech) to be downloaded via a browser instead of through notoriously anti-crypto App Stores. [33] Circumventing the App Store also means that users avoid paying a mandatory 30% cut of all transactions to Apple or Google, allowing friend.tech and content creators to retain the full share of marketplace fees.

friend.tech’s product architecture can be separated into offchain and onchain components, and operates with the following process:

Figure 14: friend.tech’s operational flow [34]

  1. Trade. Users initiate a key purchase or sale via friend.tech’s mobile app.
  2. Authenticate. User accounts are authenticated using Privy, allowing users to sign-in without a direct wallet connection.
  3. Distribute. User requests are handled by AWS Elastic Load Balancing, which distributes the incoming web traffic and reduces congestion.
  4. Create wallet. User funds are deposited in a Privy-embedded wallet. Users do not control the funds deposited into this wallet, as private keys are stored within friend.tech's servers.
  5. Finalize. The wallet interacts with friend.tech’s main smart contract (Shares V1) that handles key transactions and finalizes the purchase or sale.

The final component of friend.tech’s product is their pricing curve. This is a mathematical equation that sets the price for each key according to the total supply of keys, thereby controlling price discovery. The price of keys grows exponentially as the number of holders increase, which encourage smaller private chats and a better UX for holders.

Figure 15: friend.tech key pricing curve [35]

8. Business model

The business model for friend.tech is to take a 50% cut of the marketplace fees paid by key buyers (revenue), while the remaining amount goes to account owners (supply-side fees). The marketplace fees are 10% of the traded volume, such that if a user buys a key worth 1 ETH, the buyer will need to pay an additional 0.1 ETH in marketplace fees. This revenue stream is particularly attractive because it is automated via a smart contract, and does not require resources from the team to scale.

Figure 16: friend.tech’s business model [36]

Figure 17: Daily revenue and supply-side fees for friend.tech since launch [37]

Due to their high fee cut, account owners are incentivized to engage with their key holders, which in turn drives more key purchases.

BusinessTake rate
friend.tech50%
Lens0%
iTunes30%
OnlyFans20%
Patreon5-12%
Steam30%
TikTok100%
X+90%
YouTube45%

Figure 18: Take rates of various web2 and web3 businesses [38][39][40][41][42][43]

It must be noted that friend.tech’s revenue generation relies solely on key transactions, and is hence highly dependent on speculation. For revenue to be sustainable during periods of low trading volume, friend.tech needs to find an additional revenue stream beyond key transactions.

9. Team

friend.tech was co-founded by the pseudonymous Racer and Shrimp in 2023. Racer previously founded numerous viral social media applications, including the viral TweetDAO and StealCam. TweetDAO allowed NFT owners to post via an official shared X account, and its NFTs saw over 360 ETH in trading volume in two weeks before being suspended. [44]

10. Financials

Since launch, friend.tech has generated $7.2m in revenue, even more than Base’s total revenue of $5.8m. [45] It must be noted that potential token incentives play a large role in friend.tech’s rapid growth. On August 15th, friend.tech announced an airdrop of 100m reward points to users over the upcoming six-month beta period. [46]

To support its development, friend.tech held a seed round to raise funds from prominent crypto VC Paradigm. Paradigm was the sole investor, and the funding amount and date remain undisclosed. [47]

friend.tech follows the same go-to-market strategy as Blur, an NFT marketplace similarly backed by Paradigm.

ComponentsWhy they matterBlurfriend.tech
Identify a valuable incumbent with unmet user needsAnchors the token valuation in the billionsPro NFT traders did not have a marketplace that met their needs. The incumbent OpenSea raised $300m at a $13.3b valuation in January 2022Crypto X influencers did not have a viable way to monetize their social media presence. X was privatized in October 2022 with a valuation of $44b
Fund a team with a proven track record to executeEnsures that a high-quality product and token gets shippedBlur was co-founded by Pacman, who previously founded DNS registrar Namebase (later acquired by Namecheap)friend.tech was co-founded by Racer, who previously founded viral web3 social media applications Tweet DAO and StealCam
Invite X influencers and Coinbase Ventures to take part in the funding roundEstablishes a brand multiplier, driving mindshare and usageReceived funding from Coinbase Ventures. Viral discussions around the protocol by multiple influencers on XBuilt on Base, with multiple major influencers being onboarded as users, including @cobie, @HsakaTrades, and Base creator @jessepollak
Focus heavily on token incentives and gamificationAchieves absurd growth rates fast. Free marketing and further support for a high valuationBLUR airdrop was based on heavy gamification of user activityfriend.tech points tease a token airdrop through gamification of user activity
Build using novel mechanismsIntroduce new products to the market. Improves differentiated brand positioningRelease of Blend, Blur’s NFT-based lending business line. Introduction of trader-focused features, such as visualization of market depth, real-time listings/bidding, and floor-sweepingProgressive Web Application (PWA) infrastructure to bypass App Store take rates. Novel key pricing mechanisms to encourage more intimate communication between creators and consumers

Figure 19: Comparisons between the go-to-market strategies of Paradigm-backed protocols Blur and friend.tech

11. Risks

In this section, we outline a number of risks that friend.tech may encounter and broadly categorize these into four types:

Technical risks:

  1. Smart contract risks. There is currently ~18k ETH (~$28.4m) stored in friend.tech’s Shares V1 contract on Base. As with all smart contracts, these funds are subject to potential exploits by hackers. As mentioned in Section 7 (Product), this risk is exacerbated by user private keys being non-custodial and stored exclusively in friend.tech's servers.
  2. friend.tech server limiting user growth. friend.tech’s server reached capacity twice on August 11th, leaving users unable to access the app. [48] Although the team has announced server upgrades since then, users have still sporadically complained of poor UX due to server limitations. [49]

Figure 20: Total value locked into friend.tech’s SharesV1 smart contract [50]

Business risks:

  1. Revenue is unsustainable if market speculation declines. As key trading is currently friend.tech's only revenue stream, revenue will decline substantially if users no longer speculate on keys actively.

Regulatory risks:

  1. Illicit and illegal content. Illicit or illegal content posted on friend.tech may potentially lead to scrutiny from law enforcement. friend.tech will most likely need to hire chat moderators to monitor chatrooms and remove inappropriate posts, which in turn drives up operating expenses.

Social risks:

  1. Trading activity may decline if account owners are not active. End-users are not incentivized to purchase new keys if account owners are inactive, as this represents a similar experience to them as those of traditional social media platforms. Likewise, account owners may be discouraged from contributing if their key is not actively traded, creating a self-perpetuating cycle for friend.tech’s decline.
  2. Team anonymity presents a higher risk of a deceptive exit. As both co-founders (Racer and Shrimp) have chosen to remain pseudonymous, this represents a higher risk of a fraudulent exit. However, it is likely that the team’s identity is known to Paradigm, which reduces this risk. Notably, Blur co-founder Pacman was also anonymous during the early stages of the protocol, only revealing his identity four months after Blur’s initial launch. [51]

Conclusion

friend.tech has gained immense traction within a month of launch, with over 149k unique wallets purchasing a key and dozens of major X accounts signing up. The protocol’s take rate is high at 50%, and when coupled with a scalable customer acquisition model, it becomes extremely attractive to investors. The team has experience in launching social media applications and has also received funding from one of the most prominent crypto VCs, Paradigm.

Despite this, it is important to note that friend.tech has relied heavily on potential token incentives to bootstrap initial user activity. For long-term success, friend.tech will need to find a sustainable revenue model that depends less on speculation and token incentives. As an example, protocols such as LooksRare saw their trading volume diminish rapidly as token incentives began to decline.

Figure 21: LooksRare trading volume and token incentives since launch [52]

The authors of this content, or members, affiliates, or stakeholders of Token Terminal may be participating or are invested in protocols or tokens mentioned herein. The foregoing statement acts as a disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and is not a recommendation to purchase or invest in any token or participate in any protocol. Token Terminal does not recommend any particular course of action in relation to any token or protocol. The content herein is meant purely for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as financial, investment, legal, tax or any other professional or other advice. None of the content and information herein is presented to induce or to attempt to induce any reader or other person to buy, sell or hold any token or participate in any protocol or enter into, or offer to enter into, any agreement for or with a view to buying or selling any token or participating in any protocol. Statements made herein (including statements of opinion, if any) are wholly generic and not tailored to take into account the personal needs and unique circumstances of any reader or any other person. Readers are strongly urged to exercise caution and have regard to their own personal needs and circumstances before making any decision to buy or sell any token or participate in any protocol. Observations and views expressed herein may be changed by Token Terminal at any time without notice. Token Terminal accepts no liability whatsoever for any losses or liabilities arising from the use of or reliance on any of this content.

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