Spotlight: Brad Holden, Head of Investments at Protocol Labs

By  Will McKinnon February 15, 2024

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About Brad

Brad Holden leads PL Ventures which supports and empowers over 100 teams building the future of computing and propelling humanity forward as a part of the Protocol Labs Network. Prior to PL Ventures, Brad founded and led the Angel/Seed program at AWS and was a partner at TomorrowVentures, an early-stage fund founded by former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt. Brad has invested in 200+ early-stage projects over the last 15 years, including 10+ that exited over $1B. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and three kids.

Interview

1. You were working as a venture capitalist for Tomorrow Ventures, a VC firm founded by Eric Schmidt, the Former CEO of Google. How did you end up in crypto?

I was really excited by the mission at Protocol Labs , to drive breakthroughs in computing that push humanity forward. Projects developed and launched by Protocol Labs like Filecoin, IPFS and libp2 help establish and secure digital human rights. I think crypto and blockchain technology are exciting because they represent a significant shift from traditional financial and organizational systems and infrastructure towards a more transparent, trustless and censorship-resistant approach. Despite the global crypto market cap approaching $2T, it still feels like early days and the potential impact is still hard to comprehend. I am currently reading Read Write Own by Chris Dixon which does a great job of distilling the underlying principles of why blockchain technology can be so powerful and impactful.

2. What is your role at Protocol Labs?

I lead PL Ventures which was founded within Protocol Labs to leverage our capital, network and experience to empower teams that are building the future of computing and seeding the long-term growth of the decentralized web. We invest across three different areas or horizons Horizon 1: Ecosystem

Protocol Labs' protocols like IPFS, Filecoin and libp2p power Web3 and we can leverage our capital and resources to identify and fund the best teams coming out of our ecosystem.

Horizon 2: Emerging Crypto

Crypto networks and Web3 are the future of the internet and PL Ventures is well positioned to deploy capital and our network to accelerate the progress and adoption of new Web3 networks, protocols and businesses that align with our vision.

Horizon 3: New Computing Breakthroughs

Future computing breakthroughs will fundamentally alter the human experience and PL Ventures can deploy capital, combined with network-oriented thinking, to accelerate these breakthroughs.

3. How is this different or similar to a traditional VC model?

It is similar to a traditional VC model in that we are oriented around driving financial returns but we also have differentiated access and support from the Protocol Labs Network. Protocol Labs is in the process of transitioning from a centralized company to an innovation network. PL connects more than 600 tech startups, funds, accelerators, foundations, open-source projects, service providers, and other organizations. Their work spans the entire R&D pipeline, across fields like web3, AI, AR, VR, BCI, hardware, and more.

4. Having been in crypto for almost 3 years now, what has surprised you (good and bad) about the industry?

I continue to be impressed by the depth of knowledge and talent that is constantly onboarding into the industry despite the volatility of the market. There are a lot of smart and talented developers who are excited about the possibilities unlocked by web3. Unfortunately, I think there are also a lot of people building solutions in search of a problem without validating that there is a market for what they are building. That makes it hard to gain wider adoption.

5. How many companies has Protocol Labs invested in and what are the requirements for you to invest?

PL Ventures has invested in 100+ companies across stages that have collectively raised over $3B in external capital. We are looking for mission-driven founders with a unique insight into a growing market. While that is a broad mandate, our domain expertise really falls into web3 and frontier technologies.

6. Any specific themes you're excited for heading into 2024?

It is pretty clear that the market is starting to rebound and that usually leads to a fresh influx of builders and developers. We are excited to invest in founders that are leveraging web3 primitives to build solutions that are 10X better, faster, cheaper than was previously possible. Some areas we are excited about are decentralized compute, account abstraction, and Depin networks.

7. Filecoin is Protocol Labs' most well-known project. What is the latest update with Filecoin?

The Filecoin network continued to grow, despite the bear market, and the amount of data stored grew 3.8X to 1,800 PiB by the end of 2023, which represents 99% of the total data stored across all protocols. It has grown an amazing 19x in the last 18 months! Last year also included the launch of the Filecoin Virtual Machine (FVM), which is a runtime environment for smart contracts on the Filecoin network. FVM brings user programmability to Filecoin, unleashing the enormous potential of an open data economy. Since the FVM launched in March, TVL has grown to $145M, growing at 46% monthly and reaching the top 25 as measured by TVL. We are really excited about new technologies launching that will enable L2 projects to build on Filecoin's L1 storage capabilities. Filecoin will migrate from being a storage network to becoming the fundamental web3 infrastructure for planetary-scale applications.

8. Any other exciting things you want to discuss with the Protocol Labs ecosystem?

As I mentioned earlier, Protocol Labs is transitioning from a company towards an innovation network and as part of that, we launched the Protocol Labs Venture Studio (PLVS). PLVS is an initiative dedicated to growing and enabling new startups building breakthrough technologies, leveraging Filecoin, IPFS, libp2p, Ethereum, and other technologies in the PL ecosystem. These startups will join the Protocol Labs innovation network, which bridges connections to potential sources of capital, technical expertise, and web3-native services to accelerate the development and growth of the new startups. The ability to help empower new founders building amazing things is incredibly exciting and this initiative allows us to help from Day 0.

9. What's in your crypto wallet? Also, any token in particular you have a strong belief in?

Outside of the obvious FIL and the blue-chip BTC and ETH, I am bullish on Celestia (TIA) which is kind of a "Layer 1 for Layer 2s" because it provides the foundational layer upon which various execution environments, including rollups and other blockchain networks, can be built. I also love the team and mission of Braintrust (BTRST), a decentralized talent network.

10. Do you have a Bitcoin price prediction for 2024?

No ;) I don't think most price predictions in this space are grounded on anything other than a desire for clicks but I do think it will go up given the upcoming halving.