We recently had the opportunity to interview Marsha Lipton, CEO of Numeraire Future Trends (NFTrends). With a history of over 20 years in the finance industry, Marsha Lipton has made her mark as a trader at leading financial institutions, culminating her tenure on Wall Street as a Managing Director at JPMorgan Chase. Subsequently, she ventured into entrepreneurship, successfully establishing and steering a quantitative financial advisory firm and collaborating with premier banks and exchanges.
Before embarking on her financial odyssey, Marsha received a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the esteemed University of Chicago. At the same time, she received her MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, showcasing her broad-spectrum expertise and unique talent for merging diverse knowledge. In this insightful interview, Dr. Marsha Lipton talks about her professional path and personal experiences, debunking widespread industry myths while illuminating the future direction and offerings of her new enterprise, NFTrends.
We started the interview by asking, “What ignited your passion and led you to embark on your professional journey in this field?”
Marsha Lipton responds, “For many people, the Covid pandemic was a turning point; it provided an opportunity to reassess, realign, and recalibrate life’s priorities. Our family turned it into a very productive time, with my husband co-authoring three major books. At the same time, my US-based financial consulting business was struggling as banks and other financial institutions scaled back their operations. While proofreading my husband’s manuscript “Blockchain and Distributed Ledgers,” I got drawn into the new technology, especially the new kid on the block called NFTs.
While looking exciting and intriguing, it is evident that a critical component was missing from these digital assets: digital scarcity. Many people thought, and to my astonishment, still think, that NFTs are images when, in fact, they are tokens representing the ownership rights over a digital file. And here is the crucial issue: ownership over ANY digital file, which anyone can copy and then re-mint on the same or different blockchain. And that is precisely what has happened, underpinning the crush of the NFT market.
Yet, within every challenge lies hidden opportunity. My husband, alongside his colleague from MIT Connection Science, Dr. Thomas Hardjono, a renowned expert in blockchain interoperability, began to explore ways to embed digital scarcity within NFTs. Long before the term “phygital” entered the lexicon—a term I dislike—they were brainstorming a novel technological approach to fuse the physical and digital realms, proceeding to file patents on their innovations. This period of global upheaval became a time of deep exploration and innovation, pushing the boundaries of technology to address the gaps in digital ownership and authenticity.”
More About Marsha Lipton
We were curious to learn more about Marsha’s background and the advent of her business. So, we asked, “Share more about your background and the unique story behind the inception of your business. What sets it apart in the market?”
Marsha Lipton replied, “Long story short, in 2021, after experiencing many lockdown-related highs and lows with the rest of the world, we found ourselves in Abu Dhabi. There, I decided to leverage our extensive Intellectual Property portfolio into a viable business venture. Adapting to this new environment took a good half year of networking with locals and expatriates, understanding various corporate legal frameworks, and then, together with Dr. Thomas Hardjono, we launched a startup named Numeraire Future Trends, or NFTrends for short.
The choice of name was deliberate, echoing the acronym NFT without directly referencing it, with ‘Numeraire’ suggesting a standard or measure and reflecting our work’s technical and mathematical foundation. While my husband took on a role at one of the world’s premier sovereign wealth funds and joined our advisory board, Thomas and I set to work on developing the technology behind our new venture.”
Marsha Lipton added, “Broadly speaking, our edge comes from a deep understanding of the underlying technologies. Recently, ‘blockchain’ was a word shrouded in mystique, with many lacking knowledge of its inherent limitations. The widespread assumption was and still is that anything associated with blockchain is unchangeable without a nuanced understanding of which aspects are genuinely immutable versus those susceptible to manipulation. Take NFTs, for example: while the ownership token remains immutable, the digital image can be duplicated and re-minted.
In response, we’ve innovated a patent for a system that authenticates digital images in real time. Say an artist issues ten digital copies of a piece; our platform will visibly establish and track the provenance of those 10, clearly identifying any additional reproductions as illegitimate. At the same time, the unique nature of one-of-a-kind physical high-end, exclusive luxury goods, arts, and collectibles demands a slightly different nuanced approach using Digital Product Passports and immutably linking them to the items with Digital Product Fingerprints to ensure authenticity and security, an expertise we are refining at NFTrends.”
Busting Common Myths
To address some common industry misconceptions, we asked Marsha Lipton, “Identify a prevalent misconception about your industry or role that you believe needs clarification. How would you address and rectify this perception?”
Marsha Lipton shared, “The digitization of museum collections has become an even more urgent priority, underscored by the alarming incidents of theft in several prominent museums, including the British Museum. The vital role of digitally stored fingerprints embedded in the items’ Digital Product Passports has been proven indispensable in recovering stolen artifacts to their rightful original owners. A notable incident at the Deutsches Museum in Munich in September 2023 further illustrates this point, where an archivist replaced four original paintings with forgeries and successfully sold three, proving the vulnerability of physical records.
The common misconception that digitizing museum collections consists of mere cataloging and electronic record-keeping is dangerously naive. It grossly underestimates the complexity of ensuring items’ provenance and fails to provide a reliable method for establishing the immutable ownership of museum pieces.”
Plans We Discussed with Marsha Lipton
Eager to learn more about the goals Marsha Lipton has for her business, we asked, “Outline your professional aspirations and goals. What strategic initiatives are you implementing to achieve these objectives?”
Marsha Lipton shared, “Our goal is to establish ourselves as the authority for verifying the provenance, ownership, and authenticity within the high-end luxury and art sectors. This involves integrating our services across various prestigious platforms, from auction houses and luxury retail boutiques to elite car dealerships and art galleries, as well as partnering with insurance companies. In the purely digital domain, our vision extends to becoming the backend for high-end digital arts, creating a market that mirrors the physical one but for exclusive, creator-approved digital artworks.
In the long term, NFTrends wants to leverage its innovative technology within crucial parts of the supply chain, including the pharmaceutical, military, and aircraft equipment sectors. While current methods of supply chain tracking, such as QR codes, NFC, and RFID tags, serve their purpose well, they have inherent limitations. These technologies are designed to verify an item’s transition from one point to another but cannot guarantee the integrity of the item’s contents. This gap in the tracking process is precisely where NFTrends’ solutions can make a significant impact.”
“Another key aspect of NFTrends’ strategic vision involves expanding our activities within the UAE, a country distinguished by its ambitious vision and precise execution in developing the digital economy. As we witness the cultural landscape of Abu Dhabi taking shape, with major institutions like the Zayed National Museum and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi set to welcome visitors as soon as 2025, the urgency to integrate innovative technologies becomes increasingly apparent. Proudly rooted in Abu Dhabi, NFTrends, a tech company born in this city, aspires to deeply integrate into this vibrant cultural and digital fabric.” Marsha Lipton added.
Adaptability Amidst Adversities
While challenging phases are an indispensable part of every business, it is crucial to overcome them efficiently. So, we asked, “Reflecting on your journey, what significant challenges have you encountered in your business, and how did you successfully navigate and overcome them?”
Marsha Lipton replied, “Navigating the entrepreneurial path is challenging and filled with obstacles. It significantly diverges from more predictable trajectories within large organizations where financial constraints are less of a concern and staffing is relatively straightforward. Building a company from scratch is an endeavor that demands not just an innovative idea or a groundbreaking product but also considerable financial resources. This funding scarcity necessitates strict and uncompromising budgeting, with every dollar spent scrutinized for its potential return on investment.
Yet, even with a well-planned budget and a clear vision, one of the most significant hurdles I’ve encountered lies in human resources, specifically in filling senior positions within the company. The challenge isn’t in the quantity of applicants—many individuals are eager to join a startup with the promise of growth and innovation. The real issue is finding candidates who share the company’s vision and possess the necessary experience and skill set, particularly in areas critical to the company’s growth, such as business development. Our high standards for these roles include a blend of strategic thinking, market insight, and the ability to forge and nurture relationships that lead to real growth.”
She continued, “Unfortunately, this nuanced understanding of business development seems to be underestimated by many sales professionals, who may excel in direct sales but lack the broader strategic perspective necessary for this role. To overcome this critical difficulty, we forge many partnerships to leverage their existing relationships and deliver to their clients the services our unique technology offers. As mentioned, our business model doesn’t disturb the existing clients and business partners, enabling NFTrends to establish new relationships and onboard clients easily.”
Current Offerings, we asked Marsha Lipton
To stand apart from the competition, offering unique services and experiences is paramount. To learn more about Marsha Lipton’s business offerings, we asked, “Take a moment to introduce our visitors to the standout services and products your business offers. What unique value do they bring to the market or consumers?”
Marsha Lipton shared, “We are a specialized solution provider focusing on the authentication and immutable recording and tracking of provenance for physical items. This includes many products, from high-end luxury goods to unique collectibles and valuable art pieces. However, our services don’t stop at tangible assets.
We also extend our expertise to the digital world, offering real-time authentication for digital art and thereby creating digital scarcity. In the digital space, the concept of scarcity has been elusive and a complicated technological problem to solve. Digital art and collectibles, inherently replicable, face challenges in establishing uniqueness and value. This is where our technology comes into play.”
Marsha Lipton added, “While many businesses diversify their offerings to appeal to a larger audience, we strategically decided to focus on our strengths. Specializing in authentication, provenance, and ownership tracking, we steer clear of sales, listings, or promotions, leaving these activities to brands, galleries, artists, exchanges, and other market participants. Our service enhances these functions, empowering our clients to stand out from their competition by providing unmatched expertise and value to their clients. This approach also allows NFTrends to seamlessly integrate with existing services and businesses, enhancing them without disrupting established partnerships and relationships.
Also, we provide subscription services to our primary clients – brands, designers, museums, collectors, galleries, and artists. Yet, for end-users – those purchasing luxury items and art from our direct clients – an individual subscription is required to access Digital Product Passports. Moreover, for museums and established collections, we charge an initial onboarding fee to catalog a substantial volume of items, which includes digital fingerprinting and creating Digital Product Passports with ownership tokens recorded on the blockchain.”
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