Into the heart of WhaleShark’s NFT investing brilliance

We’ve trained a pair of neural networks to solve silly puzzles and we want you to help.

Jan 5, 2022 Collector Profiles

11 months ago

One of the most mythical characters in the entire crypto art world is WhaleShark, a legendary collector who has amassed one of the largest and most valued collections in the world. Slow moving, WhaleShark takes great care in finding the right investment, filtering through artists with his taste for popular NFTs.

A gentle giant, WhaleShark marks his prey.

Yet, no one knows much about the allusive WhaleShark’s true identity. In interviews, he goes by an avatar that looks like a steampunk version of the Monopoly guy. His Twitter account simply states: “I am the collector of all things Bleeding Edge and Scarce.”

The official origin story in the WhaleShark dossier gives scattered details of the man who is one of the largest holders of such esteemed NFT artists as Pak, XCOPY, and Hackatao – with a collection estimated at 220,000 NFTs.

In his eccentric modesty, he states, “I’m very fortunate to be able to have chosen those artists as well as have some amazing relationships with them as well.”

Speculation abounds that WhaleShark started his career as a big cryptocurrency guy from the U.K. – now based in Hong Kong, who began purchasing Bitcoin back in 2012 – and allocated roughly half his monthly salary towards that. Then, in 2015, he converted all his Bitcoin to Ethereum.

“trends HARD” by XCOPY from the Whale Vault

The big game changer was in 2019, when WhaleShark entered the world of NFTs and discovered he had a keen eye for crypto art, which was funny and intriguing because he had never once collected a single piece of traditional art.

“NFTs was really the first time I ever purchased my very first art piece. It allowed me to collect anonymously without any judgment and just to collect what I love,” he says. “The first NFTs that I purchased were from a game called ‘Gods Unchained.’” And from there, the floodgates opened, and Whale Shark was off to the races – collecting NFT art on SuperRare.

In May of 2020, WhaleShark took his most valuable NFTs and created The Whale Vault community, a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) with roughly 20,000 active members.

from The Whale Vault website

Now, with backstory firmly in place, it’s time to journey upriver into the heart of darkness to learn more about the mythical WhaleShark; his hopes and dreams, and what makes a good investment for a better NFT tomorrow.

The Perfect Storm for the NFT Surge

 

From his home base in Hong Kong, Whale Shark jumps into a Zoom call.  Ground rules: It can only be a voice call. But instead of spouting “The Horror. The Horror,” the Colonel Kurtz of the NFT world throws me off by calling me “bro.”

“My view on NFTs has always been that it’s a natural evolution of digital assets,” he says, adding that prior to NFTs, “digital art wasn’t being valued as it should.”

A collage of assets from the The Whale Vault

WhaleShark feels we’re in the midst of the perfect NFT storm. What excites him now is seeing the medium embraced by the mainstream.

The amount of mass adoption that’s happening right now, it just blows my mind. When you look at major auction houses like Sotheby’s, Christie’s, or lPoly Auction in China – all of a sudden they’re seeing this as the way for digital art in the future, which is why we’re seeing so many NFT auctions on these platforms.

— WhaleShark

The Investment Matrix

 

So, what does a man who has amassed a collection of 220,000 NFTs look for in a good investment? “I have a matrix where I evaluate certain investments,” he says. “The first thing I look at is the quality of the team. I look at background, I look at pedigree, I look at track record. After that, I look at trying to draw a parallel between the physical world and the digital world – and seeing if there is a physical counterpart, where you can actually see that long-term growth.”

The third thing, for WhaleShark, is the quality of the assets.

“Typographic Data City: Paris” by Brendan Dawes from The Whale Vault

A series using population density data to create typographic expressions of some of my favourite cities around the world. The denser each city, the denser the trails and the more they obscure the type. Color palette is derived from Boulevard Montmartre by Camille Pissarro. Typeface throughout is the beautiful DJR Crayonette by David Jonathan Ross.

“Some NFTs are designed very well; technologically as well as aesthetically,” he states.

From an individual art perspective, WhaleShark also looks towards investing in styles he enjoys. “Collecting art is a very personal thing,” he says. “I do enjoy collecting things like minimalism, like generated art and Vaporwave and stuff like that. I look at the quality of the work to make sure that the artist shows a very unique trait within what they’re developing.”

WhaleShark points out that stylistically, some artists have misconceptions of what it takes to create an NFT. “It’s not as easy as taking the pieces that you did in the physical world, and then just taking a picture or JPEG and calling that an NFT,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of physical artists think really hard about the way they need to translate their physical pieces into the digital – which is just really amazing.”

 

“The Last Son of Krypton Fights for Humankind” by José Delbo from The Whale Vault

Lastly, WhaleShark looks towards the social media of the artist – to determine if they have a mass following. His reasoning: “If you purchase the NFT collectible that doesn’t have mainstream appeal, then if it’s coming in from an investment perspective – you don’t have liquidity.”

Bubble Bursting

 

In the mystic words of WhaleShark, he’s been quoted saying that 99% of NFT current projects will fail. Thus, with his soothsayer proclivity, he looks for projects that will have longevity and outlast a bear run, a period of time when prices fall on a financial market.

“It’s very easy to get drowned out by the crowd of projects that come in,” he says. “So those without a good capital basis are going to exit relatively quickly.” WhaleShark feels that the NFT bubble burst back in May. He also sees an emperor’s new clothes aspect on the NFT investment landscape.

“When I look at Portrait projects, I liken it very much to Beanie Babies,” pontificates WhaleShark. “I do think that this portrait trend that you’re seeing at the moment is temporary.”

His reasoning for worrying about those who invest in such PFP projects as Bored Apes or the CyberPunk craze: “People are going to make a lot of money on all of these portrait-based projects in the short-term. But in the longer term, when the mass market comes to adopt, are they going to be paying a million dollars, $2 million for portrait pictures?”

A Whale of a Community

Most importantly, when determining what direction to go with an NFT investment – WhaleShark doesn’t do it alone; he leans towards his DAO because he knows that a group can provide more validation than a single collector.

I’m very proud to say that the Whale Community DAO was the very first one to be able to manage an asset base of that size with all of the members that we have. It increases the quality of decision-making because people are voting on whether to acquire or whether to sell.

— WhaleShark

His 20,000-member strong Whale Community looks at the market and highlights specific creators to determine if a piece of crypto art has mass market appeal.

WhaleShark concludes our Zoom call with some Buddhist-on-the-rock insight:  “The wisdom of the masses definitely exceeds the wisdom of one.”

And with that, WhaleShark signs off from Zoom – leaving his words echoing in my ears like a whale song bouncing through the sea.

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Harmon Leon

Harmon Leon is the the author of eight books—the latest is: 'Tribespotting: Undercover (Cult)ure Stories.' Harmon's stories have appeared in VICE, Esquire, The Nation, National Geographic, Salon, Ozy, Huffington Post, NPR’s 'This American Life' and Wired. He's produced video content for Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Timeline, Out, FX, Daily Mail, Yahoo Sports, National Lampoon and VH1. Harmon has appeared on This American Life, The Howard Stern Show, Last Call With Carson Daly, Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, MSNBC, Spike TV, VH1, FX, as well as the BBC—and he's performed comedy around the world, including the Edinburgh, Melbourne, Dublin, Vancouver and Montreal Comedy Festivals. Follow Harmon on Twitter @harmonleon.

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