Courtyard.io caught our eye a few weeks ago when its Pokémon card drop sold out in minutes. The trading card collectible site and NFT marketplace lets users secure and insure their physical trading cards and mint them as non-fungible tokens on Polygon.
Its clean site displays an array of cards rendered beautifully in 3D that can be bought, sold, and traded on the blockchain. But the NFTs aren’t just digital replications; they are linked to real-life cards that are vaulted with Brink’s, the global leader in protection trillions of dollars worth of assets, and they can be redeemed for the physical cards whenever the holder desires.
Last week, I was lucky enough to catch up with the CEO of the NFT collectible trading card platform, Nicolas le Jeune, and learn about how it all began, what issues the company faces so far, and what Courtyard.io has in store for the future.
* The following interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
Nate Kostar: Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of Courtyard.io? How did it all come about?
Nicolas le Jeune: Courtyard started about two years ago when I met with this guy called Dr. Burry. He was the first person who ever did bids on OpenSea, and he created the first bot on OpenSea. He introduced me to NFTs, and we recognized NFTs as a way to prove ownership. So we thought, “Why don’t we tie them to something physical?”
We realized that you would need a person to store those physical assets in a secure place. Brink’s came to mind, the biggest brand name in security. So, we talked to a few people there and explained to them that we’re this team of ex-Google people that have this great technology idea for leveraging the blockchain for providing a marketplace on top of what’s vaulted there. So, we signed an exclusive deal with them, and they ended up investing in us.
Then we thought what asset makes the most sense for the crypto community, and we thought of how everybody had Pokémon cards when they grew up. So, it’s kind of like nostalgia and we were like, “Let’s start with Pokémon cards and do a Pokémon card drop.”
So, I borrowed $500,000 from a friend of mine and we went ahead and bought 800 Pokémon cards. And that was the Genesis drop. That happened in March last year. The value of the cards ranged from $120 to $25,000, and you would get a pack where you don’t know what’s inside, but you can prove that the cards are inside the pack and nobody can mess with it.
Okay, to stop you for a second. You said you borrowed five hundred thousand dollars from a friend to buy Pokémon cards?
Did anyone in your circle think that was a crazy move?
My parents were not very happy that I left my well-paid job at Google to launch a startup on the blockchain. They were not very happy with that at all. But still, in the end, it all worked out. We sold everything. We paid back the money to that person, and yeah….
We sold out the first drop in about an hour, and that’s really the start of Courtyard. I think right now, Courtyard has changed quite a bit. We launched our own marketplace, but before we were simply an infrastructure for physical to digital assets. Now we’re really trying to build a better digital collecting experience for physical assets.
Why do you think the Pokémon drop was a success?
The goal was to abstract a lot of the Web3 complexities and bring core Web2 users to the platform. We really tried to shift the mindset to “This is an NFT that’s backed by something,” and to center the discussion around what we’re selling. We wanted people to get excited about those Pokémon cards and really grow the community towards that, if it worked.
That’s also why we have this marketplace where everything is in dollars and you can log in with a Google account, and we create a Web3 wallet for you. If you have one, you can link your own wallet. There’s also no signature or transaction gas fees.
We wanted to abstract a lot of the complexities of Web3 websites to appeal to collectors that collect Pokémon cards, because a lot of them have had negative association with Web3. We wanted to bring Web3 and Web2 together, and that’s where we are right now.
Tell us about the latest drop.
A few weeks ago, we sold 60,000 cards in 24 seconds and the packs were reselling. We did a drop that had a $5 pack that resold for up to 6,000% of its value—for $300 to $330 a pack. The reason for that is because people have the list of all the cards they could get, and they can check the prices.
We sell the drop at average value. But for a $300 pack that’s unopened, you might get a $5,000 card, or a $40,000 or a $40 dollar card. It’s all transparent and it’s all assigned on-chain, and you just know the name of the game in terms of what you can get, which is something that brings the degen element out.
How are the packs opened, or when are they opened?
We keep the packs closed for 24 hours. So nobody can open it for 24 hours after the drop. Following that, you have the choice to open it if you want to. And so, you can decide to open it, or you can keep it closed and resell it at a higher price.
If you decide to open it, you can open it, and maybe some of the best cards are going to be revealed, so other packs are going to lower in value. But if none of the “chase” cards are getting opened, your pack is going to increase in value, right? Then, after one week, we force reveal everything.
And why did you decide to go with Pokémon cards to kick things off?
I think collecting has a very nostalgic element. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, and I feel like many people actually owned Pokémon cards growing up. I did, and now those cards keep their value and their value increases.
And collectability. It’s kind of like going back to childhood to find your Pokémon cards that you used to have. That’s why the packs drops are called “Grails.” So many people have a story of how they had cards, but their mom or dad threw them out, and they could have been worth so much money and so on. It’s kind of like your “Grails” that you get them back.
I think it’s a nostalgic feeling that has a high value, and it’s also a very liquid market. If you buy stuff on Courtyard and you redeem the cards, you can sell them on eBay if you want. I think it brings a lot of people back to the times when they used to collect and it really fits well with the NFT crowd and NFT community.
And now [in the bear market], people are looking for other things to learn about since there’s not a super high-profile drop happening every week, right? So they’re looking to get back into something that they’re familiar with and are interested in.
This has been a tough year for the NFT community in general. I’m curious if you have anything to share about how you’ve been able to work through this bear market.
Yeah. It’s been tough. The other day I was looking at my portfolio of NFTs (laughing) — it’s been a tough year. I think for us what really worked is building trust in what we’re doing.
It’s not a normal NFT. It’s backed by something that you can redeem globally. We had to build trust that we store our cards with Brink’s correctly, that they are all insured, and so on. So, there’s a lot of build up to that.
As we started to have more and more assets on the platform, I think our main thing was trying to just build a better collecting experience and focusing on the cards we’re selling rather than the infrastructure.
We’re building physically backed NFTs. We’re on the blockchain. We’re Web3 as a backend, but we’re really focusing on the value we’re selling at the end of the day. We’re providing really cool digital experiences for buying and selling Pokémon cards, and you can have your collection and bring all the good stuff that Web3 has to offer.
The collecting experience is broken with traditional marketplace like eBay where you have to wait a long time, and pay shipping fees for the trading platform or auction house. And so here is just a much more liquid way of collecting that brings back the fun of collecting physical assets.
Is Courtyard.io only going to be dedicated to trading cards? Do you ever imagine other assets on the platform, or is that something that you guys will leave for other people?
I think long term, I really see cards and Pokémon cards specifically like the books for Amazon. We want to start with just one thing. It’s very hard to get people excited about one thing first and build a community to grow on top of it. But then we can move to sports cards, and then we can move to comics. And then we could move to coins or sneakers. But what we realized is somebody who collects watches is very different than somebody who collects Pokémon cards, and so on.
And so, if we do too much at once, you won’t have that community. If you go to our Discord right now, people are talking day and night about Pokémon cards. And that’s what we really want is people building a community around one theme. And if we had too many different things initially it would just be like somebody talks about a watch, but you care about sneakers. I think we will move to different categories over time, but whatever we build, we can reuse it for anything we do.
Can you tell me a little bit about a day in the life of a team member for you guys? Are you based all over the world?
Yeah, we’re fully remote. We have people in Tokyo, Brazil, Amsterdam. Brussels, Paris. LA, New York, Seattle, Pittsburgh — we’re all over the place.
I think it really depends on what type of team members. Most of our team is engineering. We have extremely good engineers, like a top tech company like Google. So, we are a very engineering-driven company, and we try to be very lean. We only have one person that leads everything from marketing to partnerships and so on, one person that’s fully dedicated to community, and one person who’s fully dedicated to 3D modeling.
In total, we’re 13 people. So, it’s a small team, but we’re extremely quick and efficient and I generally believe smaller teams can act faster because there’s no communication issues or bureaucracy. We know what we need to do, and we just execute and do it.
Are there any other issues that you’ve had since starting this company? Either things that were difficult, or perhaps even pleasant surprises?
I think it’s tough launching companies, especially something brand new that has never been really done before. And so, I think building trust was the key component that was really hard to do initially. But once you prove and you consistently deliver, you start to have more and more people trusting you. Which is really crucial and the key part of what we do. Because at the end of the day, you need to trust us with the custody of your collectible, which usually have value or meaning to you, right?
But it takes time to build the infrastructure for that. Things that we do, like redemption globally, means you have to learn different things. And every day you learn new things. For example, custom taxes are different in different countries, and we had redemption in 15-plus countries.
There’s this one country, I won’t say which one, that we wanted to work with but we realized Pokémon cards are illegal there. And so those are the type of things that you constantly need to work through, and it’s a daily grind. But at the end of the day, it’s worth it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
For us, it starts with cards, but it could be anything afterwards. We’re bringing the collectible aspect into the digital space and making it better. Traditional collecting needs to be disrupted, and so that’s what we’re doing.
Also, there is some spooky Halloween-themed stuff on the way.
Nate Kostar: Thanks for speaking with me today.
Nicolas le Jeune: Thank you.
Author’s Note: The Halloween-themed drop mentioned at the end of this article sold out in a matter of seconds.
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