Michael Karnjanaprakorn believes he has the answer when it comes to fractional investing. Considering his favorite player growing up in Newport News, Virginia, was hometown star Allen Iverson, that’s an appropriate connection.
Just like Iverson, Karnjanaprakorn, 38, believes he has the answer when it comes to the arena of fractional investing. And he’s not talking about practice, either — Karnjanaprakorn has put on his game face and is playing to win.
Otis, the company Karnjanaprakorn founded in November 2018, bills itself as “the stock market for culture.” Like other sites that sell “passion assets,” such as Rally and Collectable, collectors select an Otis asset and buy fractional shares that reflect indirect ownership.
Otis takes a deep dive into different types of collectibles, including sports cards, memorabilia, sneakers, video games, Pokémon cards and comic books. Otis also uses the auction platform method to match orders, using the best price at which the greatest buy/sell orders can be traded.
“Our overall breadth is quite a bit wider than many of the other players in the space as we’ve also brought quite a few assets to market across other ‘cultural categories,’” Karnjanaprakorn said. “The second major difference is our strong focus on trading. So, whereas other platforms really think of their secondary markets as a supporting feature, we believe that the ability to easily buy and sell with other users should be the center of the experience.”
Some of the recent items Otis has offered include three pairs of 1985 Nike Air Jordan 1 sneakers. On Dec. 1, investors were offered shares in a set of the 1986-87 Fleer basketball set, with each card graded PSA 10, including the Jordan rookie card. A PSA 10 2003 LeBron James Topps Chrome Refractor rookie was also offered, along with a gem mint 1981 Topps Joe Montana rookie card.
Upcoming offerings include the pair of Air Jordan sneakers Jordan used when he shattered a backboard during a 1985 game in Trieste, Italy; shares of that asset will be available beginning Feb. 17, which happens to be Jordan’s 58th birthday.
Other offerings will include a 2004 Panini Mega Cracks La Liga card of Lionel Messi, which carries a 9.5 grade from Beckett Grading Services; and a 2002 Panini Futebol Cristiano Ronaldo rookie card that also grades 9.5 by BGS.
“We believe in a diversified portfolio,” Karnjanaprakorn told The New York Times in July 2019.
That even includes a painting by British street artist Banksy, known for his pointed political statements. The art was acquired through a dealer, Karnjanaprakorn said.
“The piece has been tremendously popular on our trading platform to date — and it makes perfect sense why,” he said. “If you ask anyone to name a famous living artist, chances are Banksy will be one of the first one or two names that come to most people’s minds.”
Karnjanaprakorn launched Otis launched in July 2019, and its first offering was a painting by New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley, noted for painting Barack Obama’s presidential portrait. The Wiley artwork for Otis, “St. Jerome Hearing the Trumpet of Last Judgment,” was bought by Otis for $237,500. It was then offered on the fractional market and was fully funded by 600 investors in August 2019.
The company now has nearly 70,000 subscribers, Karnjanaprakorn said.
Hitting the ground running is not unusual to Karnjanaprakorn. He was a track and cross-country runner and an honor student at Woodside High School in Newport News, so he is familiar with the view that success is more like a marathon, rather than a sprint. After graduating in 2000, Karnjanaprakorn enrolled at the University of Virginia and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2004.
In 2006, Karnjanaprakorn earned a master’s degree in advertising at Brandcenter, which is part of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business. After stints at Behance and Hot Potato, he founded Skillshare in 2011. It was created, out of his living room, as an alternative offline education platform that taught practical skills to students. In 2012, Skillshare went online. Karnjanaprakorn told the Chicago Tribune in 2015 that he viewed Skillshare as the internet’s school.
Karnjanaprakorn then walked away from Skillshare to start Otis from scratch.
“If I look at the through-line of my career, it’s always been about democratizing access,” he said. “I was an early employee at Behance where we were democratizing access to careers. Skillshare democratized access to education, and now Otis is democratizing access to investing. I think that mission — combined with my personal passion for culture and collectibles — were the big catalysts for me wanting to found Otis.
“In terms of challenges, I’d say they’re twofold. First, building any company is hard. Compounded on that with Otis is we’re building a company in an industry that didn’t exist a few years ago, so there’s no playbook to follow. Still, if we’re able to execute on our vision of building the ‘NASDAQ for Culture,’ the opportunity is enormous.”
Karnjanaprakorn enjoys collecting sports items, particularly basketball and mixed martial arts cards. In addition to Iverson, he likes Zion Williamson, and the UFC stars he collects include Israel Adesanya, Jon Jones, and “of course,” Conor McGregor.
Two items stand out in his collection: A 1996 Skybox E-X Credentials Allen Iverson PSA 9 (“still looking for the 10, only three exist”), and a 1992 Shaquille O’Neal Stadium Club Beam Team PSA 10 card.
“This is the card that I wanted as a kid,” Karnjanaprakorn said. “I finally got one.”
While Otis has a diverse portfolio for potential investors, the idea of plunking down cash for items you cannot physically own seems unusual. Karnjanaprakorn does not believe that is the case.
“There’s always a part of a market that’s inaccessible to someone,” he told Artsy in July 2019. “If you want to buy a print and put it in your home, you can definitely do that. But if you want to also own a piece of a (Jean-Michel) Basquiat painting — you can do that, as well. There’s the utility of privately being able to enjoy the artwork in your house, but there’s also the public utility of feeling like you’re a co-owner.”
Besides, if you live in the New York area, you can visit Otis’ studio in the East Village, where items are displayed on a rotating basis.
So, how does the sports collectibles industry fit into the model of fractional investing?
“We’ve seen relatively strong demand across all of our categories thus far. That said, sports collectibles are definitely having a moment and the demand there of late, especially with cards, has been off the charts,” Karnjanaprakorn said. “Rather than coming up with strategies to make sure the assets we launch fill, the conversation with sports collectibles has flipped where we’re actually needing to cap the amount people can invest so that more investors have an opportunity to get in on the item.
“If history is any lesson though, any asset class — whether that’s tech stocks or crypto or sports cards — will have times of tremendous enthusiasm and relative lulls. That’s one of the reasons breadth is so important for our platform. We want people to have the opportunity to diversify across a number of different types of cultural assets.”
Otis’ future moves will continue to “go pretty deep” into cards, and probably will branch out beyond baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Game-worn collectibles are also an area the company is examining for the future.
Karnjanaprakorn believes “the stock market for culture” is the perfect answer for future investors.
“I think that phrase describes really what we’ve always had as the vision for the company,” he said. “We believe that cultural assets, particularly collectibles, are going to be the new asset class of this generation.”