What’s Behind the $575 Million TaTaTu Private Sale?

TaTaTu Founder, Andrea Iervolino and Lady Monika Bacardi.

On Thursday, social entertainment platform TaTaTu revealed that it recently raised USD 575 million in a private sale of its token TTU, according to CoinDesk, making it the third largest initial coin offering (ICO) ever. Founded by 30-year old Italian film producer Andrea Iervolino, the startup aims to build a content distribution platform that rewards both producers and viewers with TTU tokens for their engagement with the site, funded by advertising proceeds.

Although far from the first blockchain startup to reimagine the economic model of video entertainment (VideoCoin and Viewly are just two of the project’s competitors), TaTaTu claims a couple of advantages over other content platforms: star power and big-ticket investors.

Whether Iervolino’s platform lives up to any of its enormous marketing (he aims for a billion users in six years, which would eclipse Facebook’s growth rate), he will have succeeded in at least joining eager money with famous names. How else to explain the massive ICO for this relatively undifferentiated project?

In an inversion of Netflix’s infrastructure-first model, TaTaTu is launching primarily as a film studio. A number of projects have already been greenlit and attached to impressive names like Antonio Banderas, Alec Baldwin, and Mira Sorvino, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Not all the name dropping makes sense, however. One baffling project is to be a documentary about Jeremy Renner recording the soundtrack for an animated movie he is also producing for TaTaTu, according to a blog post.

Regardless of whether that project can find an audience, Iervolino’s decision to develop content concurrently with the product is a gamble on his ability to generate buzz. The company has nowhere close to the USD 8 billion Netflix spends annually to develop original content, but if one project catches on and drives signups, more investment could follow.

Ultimately, TaTaTu’s appeal does seem to hinge on the founder himself. After building up some early-career success in Italian cinema and relentless self-promotion on social media, Iervolino has earned himself a few European film accolades and an Instagram account brimming with famous faces. In a coincidence worth noting, the news of his massive ICO dropped the same day as paparazzi coverage of him with Selena Gomez in Rome. The company’s announcements tie its prospects directly to its founder’s taste and influence; his biography forms half of the press release announcing the creation of the company.

The tabloid speculation might not be relevant if the crowd investing in the idea didn’t seem to be the sort of investors interested in pedigree over substance. Instead of putting  TaTaTu’s currency, TTU, up for a crowdsale. Iervolino got all the backing he needed from a small coterie of extremely wealthy scions; TaTaTu’s investors are a veritable who’s who of hereditary wealth: Carlos Slim’s son, a Bacardi rum heiress, Prince Felix of Luxembourg, and more. Investor Allan Cassis’ company, Lvna Capital, which invested in VideoCoin, did not invest in TaTaTu. But his family did.

To be sure, TaTaTu as a concept has potential. If the alpha test indeed hit 200,000 users in two hours, as the company claims, an audience could be waiting to propel the platform onward. But TaTaTu has to sell the idea to advertisers and build a highly scalable platform too, and, if they have time left over, begin producing the limitless “360-degree entertainment” they’ve promised to seed the network.

Iervolino has sold himself as an emergent media impresario to some rarefied company. Whether he’s able to sell the platform to the blockchain-savvy market — and deliver better than the raft of competitors already ahead of him — is the USD 575 million question.