Lens Protocol, a web3 product that creates a decentralized social networking ecosystem, raised $15 million, its team told TechCrunch exclusively. Aave, a web3 technology company, is building a protocol that lets users lend and borrow crypto tokens. (Aave raised $49 million.)
Aave CEO Stani Kulechov said the protocol aims to combine the best of the web with web3 innovations to make social media networks “more equitable, fair and democratic.”
Kulechov stressed that large companies like Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, should not control future internet and social media infrastructure. In any industry, a powerful incumbent reduces user choice and voice.
Kulechov says the newly flush Lens Protocol gives users more control over their data and sharing. “We want to build a social media network that benefits users and contributors like developers.”
Kulechov said Lens will use its $15 million to develop the protocol’s ecosystem. It’s unvalued.
IDEO CoLab Ventures led the new capital round, which included General Catalyst, Varian, Blockchain Capital, Flamingo DAO, DAOJones, Punk DAO, DAO5, and Global Coin Research.
Uniswap CEO Hayden Adams, OpenSea co-founder Alex Atallah, Balaji Srinivasan, Sébastien Borget, and Sandeep Nailwal were angel investors.
Lens has had a few beta users since May 2022. “Our roadmap is going to continue to be on a beta phase for a while and down the line our goal is to completely open the protocol access, but the infrastructure and ecosystem has to grow further,” Kulechov said.
The CEO hopes it will be a “neutral and flexible” protocol that developers can use for gaming and social media. Kulechov noted that Orb, Riff, and Enso Collective are developing desktop and mobile apps.
“We’re filling the ecosystem with applications that are familiar to traditional social media, [and] we envision a future where all these applications and algorithms share monetization from different use cases and features,” he said.
Kulechov hopes the protocol will solve social media and business problems in crypto and other markets in the long run. “Web3 is an environment where everyone can contribute, and that’s where we want to go.”
“What’s most valuable for us is to create a protocol that’s open for contribution,” Kulechov said. “A protocol where we can’t make all the decisions for users and developers, where we can have an open platform and discussion on Lens Protocol’s future.”
BitClout, another crypto social network, has over 200 applications built on its blockchain DeSo, according to its website. Crypto wallets like Thred aim to provide a Yelp-like service with simple interfaces. They’ve gained some traction from crypto players and users, but there’s little intentional effort to grow outside the ecosystem.
Lens builds protocols, not networks, so developers can build on top of its system. Kulechov compared Lens to HTTPs, IP, and email. TechCrunch considers it a Web platform.
Web3 social protocols and networks must offer accessible options to a wider, less crypto-insider audience to gain real adoption. Lens or another team may succeed.