Framework for the Next NFT Unicorn

Let’s dive into the core components needed to reimagine NFT serial numbers away from monkey pictures, and towards representing all value on earth with real world assets.
November 2, 2023

Let’s dive into the core components needed to reimagine NFT serial numbers away from monkey pictures, and towards representing all value on earth with real world assets.

“Tokenization” of real world assets requires 3 things

  • Blockchain: - a (protocol) to securely store and share information in an incorruptible trusted way with a path to scalability
  • NFT: The ability to create and record discrete units aka (non-fungible) serial numbers onto a blockchain that represents something in the real world
  • Infrastructure: A way to move serial numbers around on the blockchain from one owner using smart contracts and cloud software.


But what blockchain? What kind of NFTs? and what kind of infrastructure? will the next RWA (real world asset) unicorn need to succeed..

Part 1: Why Ethereum is the infrastructure for tokenization

Remember it’s not the best technology that wins, it is the most widely adopted. Network effects are powerful things that once initiated, tend to stick around. Eventually we are all Ethereum

Which Blockchain: Ethereum and scaling equivalents


If the base layer becomes too expensive, use a copy/paste of Ethereum on a different chain, or even deploy your own. After all, you are reading this thanks to an Optimism L2. Is it possible Bitcoin Ordinals eat everything, or the whole ecosystem moves to Solana.. perhaps. Given the entrenched network effects at play.. a system in motion tends to stay in motion.

What kind of serial numbers: ERC721 standard


It’s the oldest and most trusted standard. Again don’t reinvent the wheel, use the same standard protecting the Punks and Apes. For certain use cases (gaming, etc) there are surely advantages to newer standards like ERC1155. What matters is creating a trusted serial number on-chain that can stand the test of time.

What Infrastructure: ERC Ecosystem (onchain)


ERC - Ethereum request for comment is the peer review process for adding new secure functionality to the Ethereum ecosystem.

One accepted, developers can trust the open source code to behave as intended - which log scales network effects by the number of tools at a developers fingertips.

  • ERC2535 multi proxy contracts
  • ERC2981 royalty standard
  • ERC 4337 account abstraction

are a few examples of exponentially valuable onchain infrastructure that proves why Ethereum continues to increase its dominance over time. The network effects of 7000 developers cannot be understated. Even if Solana’s Firedancer runs 1 million transactions per second, it will likely still have to compile EVM javascript.

What Infrastructure: Cloud (offchain)

Not everything can (or should be) onchain. Secure cloud environments allow for scalability while keeping data private and secure. Choosing where on the spectrum to place data is the critical design decision for each use case.

Components like Alchemy for full node syncing, Hashicorp ala OpenTofu for devops management, MongoDB Atlas for storing private information, et al still matter.

As this is an onchain first think piece, we’ll leave the glaring irony in the middle of the blockchain that everything runs on AWS for a different article.

Part 2: The RWA Unicorn Machine

Tokenizing any RWA requires 95% of the same underlying parts to work. Namely, the ability to create and transfer serial numbers inside of a secure environment.

Thus we arrive at our fundamental thesis that:

Any RWA unicorn will require the same 6 core components

  • Account creation - How is a user going to receive and manage serial number assets. Via custodian? Own their own keys? Social login? Multi-sig? Communal custody? Account management boils down to making a user accessible wallet with matching private key somewhere.
  • Minting engine - or how are assets created? How many to make? who can make them? what hierarchy exists inside the collection? Fixed supply, unlimited supply? Emission’s curve?
  • Metadata engine - What is the meaning behind each serial number? Is metadata stored onchain? A fixed pointer to a cloud host? Upgradeable (dynamic) pointers that interact with the blockchain ala dNFT?
  • Transfer/royalty engine - What rules that govern who can possess and dispossess serial numbers? How all parties are compensated? Are transfers immutable? or can they be clawed back for violating other rules?
  • Marketplace - What combined frontend, backend, and cloud infrastructure allows users to interact with each other? How secure is the user data that resides within? How is syncing with the blockchain being handled? Is data aggregated across systems or siloed within?
  • Unlockables (DRM) - What kind of offchain experiences can be unlocked by onchain credentials? Access to private data? Video? Video games? Merchandise?

Answer these and hundreds of other questions that stem from these 6 core components and we begin to arrive at our first real use cases.

A Tale of 2 Use Cases

Let’s use this framework to explore what seem on the surface like completely unrelated industries: carbon credits then medical devices.

Use Case 1: Carbon Credits

The most important question to answer is always - what is the core value proposition for X”?

  • For carbon credits we want a trusted unit of account representing one ton of carbon tied to some verifiable source of emissions reductions.

Where do carbon credits get into trouble? The same double spending problem and lack of transparency that plagues all other assets managed by opaque middlemen.

To configure NFTs to manage carbon credits, an outline of the core components looks like the following:

  • Accounts: Corporate accounts, end-consumer accounts, 3rd party verifier accounts, existing registry accounts, new producer accounts.
  • Minting: Unique 0x contract per individual carbon credit project. Subdivided into blocks of tons per NFT. Creation only by verified accounts.
  • Metadata: API connection to an approved underlying registry. Design specification around what critical data to write onchain, and what can be stored offchain.
  • Transfer/royalties: Timelock and account lock transfers. Perpetual royalty payout addresses. Burn mechanisms to retire credits
  • Marketplace: Bulk purchase and orderflow management systems. Fiat onboarding systems. AML/KYC systems. Metadata search and filter.
  • Unlockables: Audit reports, on the ground footage, sensor data

To date, no Ethereum based carbon credit NFT market systems exist at scale. Walled garden chains like Hedera and Hyperledger attempt to build permissioned systems - but are destined to fail for the same reason all non-Ethereum ecosystems fail - a lack of network effects.

Now is the time to strike this use case, as centralized incumbents are plagued with a lack of trust, and blockchain startup have not concocted the correct mix of technology and execution to capture meaningful marketshare.

Use Case 2: Medical Devices

Let’s context which completely. What core problem does a medical device solve?

  • A patient needs a device to perform life altering or life saving work inside of the their body.

Where do medical devices get into trouble? Information opacity about when the device was made, if they are compatible, how to install them properly, and godforbid recalls.

To configure NFTs to represent real world medical devices, our 6 component framework might look like the following:

  • Accounts: Doctor, manufacturer, and patient accounts. Likely custodial for compliance reasons and for fear of losing private keys.
  • Minting: Unique 0x contract per individual product line. Subdivided by sequential manufacturing ID.
  • Metadata: All pertinent product information, supply chain information, updateable by a trusted authority.
  • Transfer/royalties: Binding NFT serial numbers to patient accounts (no resales or transfers) Compensating sales reps onchain for each sale? Airdrop mechanisms combined with packaging to one-time claim NFTs.
  • Marketplace: Fiat onboarding systems. AML/KYC systems. Metadata search and filter. PHI safeguards and cloud compliance.
  • Unlockables: Instructional videos and eLearning materials to certify safe usage of products.

In aggregate, these 6 components create an immutable chain record of the entire life cycle of the device.. from manufacture, through to implantation, and ongoing patient support.

Now is the time to strike for this use case, as the first device manufacturer to adopt this framework has the opportunity to set a new global standard.

Emerging Pattern

Many similarities exist between these seemingly disparate use cases.

  • Creating serial number identifiers
  • Tracking discrete objects throughout their life cycle
  • Building a transparent database record of account

On the other hand..

  • carbon credit data is by and large open and accessible
  • while health information is extremely private

The configuration of what data exists onchain for all to see, and what data is secure behind cloud infrastructure is the key to building the next RWA unicorn.

That and the same SaaS struggles as any Web2 marketplace. Seed the marketplace with your product, find buyers, scale the product and sales teams, navigate compliance. At least when pitching an open standard, the potential TAM is the entire market.

The next unicorn scale company will arise from applying and executing on this 6 component framework in a niche high margin industry currently dominated by centralized incumbents (we’ve just identified 2 of them). The value proposition of upgrading to an immutable shared database is simply to great.


When NFTs become imbued with meaning, they can save the planet.

When NFTs become imbued with meaning, they can save lives.

Collectibles are fun, but played out. Long live ETH, long live RWA.