Even the best clairvoyant would’ve struggled to predict the career trajectory of Charles Read, the trailblazing 28-year-old founder of blockchain investment firm Rarestone Capital. Growing up dirt poor in Aylesbury, South East England, Read spent the vast majority of his formative years either gaming or roaming the streets – often to the detriment of his academic studies. But as Read tells it, those misspent years were not in vain, fostering a love of technology and problem-solving that led him inevitably down the crypto rabbit hole.
“I was pretty misbehaved and troubled as a kid, I never knew what I wanted to do,” Read admits; the last remark could be a motto for the late-era Generation Y to which he belongs. “Although I mostly underachieved in school, I was still liked by the teachers and had a lot of friends from all social groups. Some of them, like me, spent a huge amount of time online/gaming. I can actually remember the first one I ever played, it was Tomb Raider 1 on the PS1 when I was about three or four. I think that’s my only real memory of my father during childhood…”
Navigating the Crypto Minefield
As if the family’s straitened financial circumstances weren’t challenging enough, Read’s dad departed when he was a child, leaving him as the proverbial man of the house. Adapting to the role quickly was a necessity, particularly with a little brother relying on him for guidance. With no paternal influence, scant interest in school and a discernible chip on his shoulder, the youngster hardly seemed destined for an auspicious career heading up a Web3 fund that has now invested in close to 100 companies.
“I definitely lacked a bit of direction when I finished school,” Read admits. “Like anyone at that stage of their life, I had to deal with societal pressure, and on top of that I put pressure on myself, because I wanted to figure out the right path. After bouncing around from one dead-end job to another, I eventually found the right one.”
Like many of his peers, Read’s interests in gaming and technology aligned neatly with the concepts at the heart of blockchain. He also loved the problem-solving aspect, the idea that you could absorb ideas and scrutinise systems in your own free time. “I think the most interesting eureka moment for me, when I figured out how just deep the rabbit hole went, was when I read Andreas Antonopoulos’ book The Internet of Money – and also when I spent hours trying to figure out what XRP actually did on the crypto subreddit and came up short,” Read laughs. “That’s when I knew that this industry would be a minefield and if nothing else, I’d have fun deconstructing it and figuring out my way through. I like solving problems and crypto has plenty of them.”
Still in his early twenties, Read acclimatised himself to the fast-moving crypto sector by voraciously reading books, blogs and forum threads, busily trading digital assets and developing a contact book that would later prove its use when he founded Rarestone in 2020. By then, decentralised finance – DeFi – was the talk of the town as trading, lending and savings protocols rolled off the production line at warp speed. Between June 2020 and June 2021, the total value locked (TVL) in DeFi applications rocketed from $1.05 billion to over $104 billion – and it’s more than doubled since.
Still an enthusiastic investor in DeFi, Read is increasingly fascinated by the booming blockchain gaming sector, a DeFi offshoot christened GameFi (gamified finance). Rarestone has invested in dozens of play-to-earn gaming ventures, from Solana-powered metaverse Solice to cross-platform fighting game Galaxy Fight Club. What attracts him to these projects?
“People who get it. There aren’t many, so it’s honestly not that hard. I like to look at teams who understand where the limitations and opportunities are; one thing I like right now is simulation-based gaming, because of the limitations of Unreal Engine and other high-fidelity gaming engines when you start to open up the worlds and make them multiplayer. I’d like to see more hardware projects, and more projects focusing on the identity layer that I think is really important. But the truth is, historically it’s just not an attractive or high-performing market segment.”
Go-Getting in GameFi
Once a mere accelerator, Rarestone now operates as a focused investment vehicle with half a dozen partners, an equal number of advisors who also serve as venture partners, and three associates.
Although the company has quickly become one of the most active funds in the business, Read doesn’t take the success for granted. “The market being what it is, you have to continually think on your feet and not get too comfortable. Ultimately, I want Rarestone to carve an edge in the spatial web, that’s where my interest lies.”
And what of GameFi’s future? Social media giant Facebook is spending billions on its ‘Meta’ rebrand as it focuses its energies on creating a vast, networked metaverse. Tokenised land plots – blocks of 3D space individuals and companies can buy and transform – are fetching millions at auction. And Web2 gaming studies are increasingly pivoting towards Web3 and play-to-earn.
“I think we’ll start to see more mobile edge computing, new game engines and new identity tools,” Read predicts. “That’s what excites me. Companies like Meta will obviously take existing business models thinking that they’ll work again, which we’re seeing with their creator fees. And to be honest, they’re partially right – there will always be people that use Facebook or their software, but I believe they’ll drive most elite creators away to more forgiving platforms. They’re still siloed and centralised environments, too.
“With Meta, Facebook is basically just making Roblox; I don’t see much mention of Web3 tooling. As far as a truly open metaverse is concerned, I’m still trying to figure out how we go about building it; it requires a very precise culmination of like 15 different technologies, and we’re on the trajectory to see it really speed up in the next 3-5 years.”
Read isn’t planning on slowing down either, though he’s learned to tune out from the market’s incessant buzz when necessary. “Sometimes I do get sick of it all,” he confesses, “especially when the market is down and everyone starts attacking each other on Twitter. There are also so many scams now with the NFT stuff, it’s pretty draining. But I can unplug when I need to. Spending time with my wife and kid helps me think less about the market and more about what I did it all for in the first place.”
In a sometimes cutthroat industry on tech’s cutting edge, Read is determined to stay true to his principles and support the projects and people that share his passion. Having recently started a family, he’s also exploring philanthropy, perhaps ultra-conscious of crypto’s Wild West image. Whatever happens in blockchain in the years to come, one senses Charles Read will blaze his own trail. And, perhaps, play as many blockchain games as he helps fund.
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