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Crypto’s Celebrity Whisperer Plans to ‘Leverage’ Bieber, Drake & More to Drive NFTs to Mainstream

As fintech company MoonPay raises another $87 million — with help from a VIP list of investors — its millennial CEO raves about mass adoption of Web3.

On any given day, Ivan Soto-Wright could be cuddling up to Paris Hilton’s pooches at her estate, dancing behind Kygo’s DJ booth at a club in Miami, shooting the shit with Elon Musk, tossing back Bud Lights with Post Malone, hopping on a plane to Lil Baby’s couch, or FaceTiming with Snoop Dogg in the studio. In all instances, he’s talking crypto.

Soto-Wright is the 32-year-old co-founder and CEO of MoonPay — a future-minded fintech company that launched in 2018 to build crypto-payment infrastructures for websites. He’s also the man whispering in celebrities’ ears, encouraging them to drop hundreds of thousands — occasionally millions — on Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs, among other digital assets. Sometimes, he has MoonPay buy the virtual goodies for them.

Remember when Jimmy Fallon flaunted his ape on the Tonight Show? Soto-Wright was sitting next to him backstage as he bought it. That’s because MoonPay, which Fallon called “PayPal for crypto,” has what Soto-Wright calls a unique “concierge” arm. Through that, the executive hopes to educate stars, so they, in turn, educate their fans and drive crypto into the mainstream. He also manages to have some fun: When Soto-Wright helped Gunna buy an ape, the rapper took the process a step further, naming his cartoon creature “Butta” and getting its likeness tattooed to his leg.

“He asked me if I wanted to get tattooed as well,” says Soto-Wright, whose skin remains inkless. “I was supposed to, but I chickened out.”

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At the end of the day, Soto-Wright dreams about “transforming intellectual property into a new digital asset class.” He says, “Our job is to simplify the user journey. Our mission as a company is to onboard the world to Web3.” And they hope to do so while staying on top of compliance and the “really complex regulatory landscape.” MoonPay’s newest advisor is anti-money-laundering expert James Freis — who was, for five years, the head of the United States Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, before he blew the whistle on one of the biggest financial frauds in history, the Wirecard scandal.

While MoonPay isn’t the only company of its kind, it’s certainly getting the most mainstream attention. Since 2017’s Bitcoin boom inspired Soto-Wright to ditch traditional finance jobs for the decentralized approach — when he realized “the legacy financial system” is powered by outdated technology that predates the internet and doesn’t cater to a 24/7, global society — he’s grown his team from five people to around 200. In late November, MoonPay announced $555 million in series A funding at a $3.4 billion-dollar valuation. For context, competitor Wyre, which has a similarly sized team, raised a bit more than $29 million from eight funding rounds before it was acquired by e-commerce company Bolt for $1.5 billion earlier this week.

Bitcoin.com, leading NFT marketplace OpenSea and many other top players in Web3 have now integrated MoonPay into their platforms, allowing customers to use a credit card to buy cryptocurrency and — since January, with first-to-market technology — NFTs. (Previously, buying NFTs was an arduous and more expensive process that took customers off-platform to create a digital wallet, buy crypto, then return to spend it with several fees along the way.)

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On Wednesday (April 12), MoonPay announced another $87 million in fundraising from a VIP list of investors including Justin Bieber, Post Malone, Drake, The Weeknd, Paris Hilton, Snoop Dogg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary, Bruce Willis, Anthony Kiedis, Gal Gadot, Diplo, Jason Derulo, Shawn Mendes, The Chainsmokers, Matthew McConaughey, James Corden, Steve Aoki, and Scooter Braun.

“These are people who have some of the most valuable intellectual property in the world that they can now monetize directly to anyone who has an internet connection,” says Soto-Wright. “What I always think about with any aspect of our business is: How can we have the greatest amount of impact with the least amount of effort, and what are the biggest leverage points?” The first phase was all about leveraging Visa and Mastercard, he explains. Now, with NFTs, he targeted “the world’s biggest creatives,” betting that they themselves would be making some of the most valuable NFTs one day — and that they will sell them using MoonPay.

When asked how he’s gained access to so many A-listers, Soto-Wright chalks most of it up to word of mouth.

“A lot of them found me,” he says. “It’s one of those things where you light a fire, it turns into a small fire, and that turns into a bonfire.” On top of that, he says, investors like Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary — who in addition to managing U2 and Madonna now works with blue-chip NFT collections Bored Ape Yacht Club and World of Women — “made tons of introductions.”

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In his perfect world, Soto-Wright still doesn’t know which blockchain everyone will end up jumping on — whether it be Bitcoin, Ethereum, Solana, or something else — but he’s preparing for what he believes will be the new norm, wherein value moves quickly and fluidly across a transparent, publicly accessible network.

“Now, with NFTs, that definition [of value] broadens. The value can be in the form of a music file, of artwork, of a fashion piece.” He insists that anything in the physical world can be tokenized and traded in a peer-to-peer fashion, and that digitally native kids want that. “We’re cutting out intermediaries. We’re living up to the expectations of our new digital economy… As long as you have access to the internet, you can receive value from anyone anywhere in the world.” Wide-eyed, he adds that “billions of people around the world” don’t have access to a bank account. “In a developing country, this becomes really interesting.”

Soto-Wright’s not deterred by crypto haters and skeptics, some of whom have argued that the open nature of Web3 means hacks and scams could come from anyone anywhere in the world too. He confesses that the vast majority of NFTs still have no long-term potential, but insists this “experimentation phase” will lead to revolutionary change. The blockchain, he says, is “our universal source of truth.”