After months of jokingly referring to themselves as “And Others Capital” in their Twitter bio (a play on how cryptomedia will list well-known venture firms by name while newcomers are relegated to “among other investors” status), venture capital outfit Zee Prime Capital has emerged in the latter half of the 2020-2022 cycle as a leading investment group with a portfolio boasting early-round investments across various layer 1, infrastructure, DeFi, and play-to-earn projects.
Zee Prime’s rise is due in no small part to the ever-growing profile of one of their founding partners, Fiskantes. The pseudonymous, self-described “venture communist” is a quintessential part of the CryptoTwitter canon – effortlessly blending shitposts, market analysis, and social commentary behind the profile pic facade of an anime clown, Hisoka.
Among his highlights are correctly predicting that high-throughput blockchains eventually become clogged based on a 200 year-old energy consumption paradox, calling the NFT rise early, and contributing to Zee Prime’s ongoing success. The firm now counts multiple funds under management, including the flagship Zee Prime II, which closed with a $35 million cap in 2022.
However, Fiskantes’ journey has not been without ups and downs. Before his current success he was a prolific poker player and a would-be cheesemonger who wiped out his bankroll on a floundering Gouda business. Real estate investments helped get him back on his feet, and he eventually struck rich in crypto with a careful, cross-disciplinary methodology and approach.
In an interview with Nansen, we were surprised to learn that Fisk’s wide-ranging expertise is largely the byproduct of an autodidact’s reading habits; that Zee Prime is the force behind a notorious Smart Money NFT wallet; and that successful crypto investing requires “having something dead inside you.”
Read on for insight into how Fiskantes approaches investing, as well as a detailed breakdown of a Zee Prime wallet.
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How did you start investing? Did you have relevant training?
I remember in college, I was trying to save up as much money as I could doing summer jobs, like working security at events. I was working in IKEA, the warehouse. I was also reading some of these books about not working for someone else, you know, like Kiyosaki and very basic stuff like that. Studying Law was becoming very boring to me and I started feeling that I needed to do something else.
I discovered a challenge by some stockbroker that was promoting their services in our university. They gave you $100,000 of paper money for paper trading, and you could buy some stocks. And by the end of a year, they would pick the best performing portfolios and they would give them some money.
I come from a really small town in a really small country, so I didn't even know that some random dude like me can actually buy stocks or shares of companies, so it was mind blowing to realize I can open a brokerage account and start buying some American company shares. I randomly bought stocks that I didn't know much about, and I ended up with one of the better performing portfolios – just by sheer luck, I didn't know anything. That was the point when I said, ‘okay, now I need to save up money to start investing.’
At the time I was reading some online articles about investing and one of the articles was about poker. It was a PR article by a company called PokerStrategy.com which said, ‘Oh, everybody can be a professional poker player online and everybody can make money like this.’ And funnily enough, this article was written by one of my current business partners, Pavel, who was at the time working for PokerStrategy.com.
I actually went to Gibraltar to meet these people in person, because I wanted to work with them. This was a long time ago, like 12, 13 years, but this was how I met some of the people I work with to this day.
I started out building up the $50 in promotional money I got for free playing poker, and was able to build a decent bankroll playing for five or six years professionally, but I was also investing on the side and trying to make sense of investing in the stock market.
At that time it was around 2011. I started to study value investing, which is very different than most crypto or stocks that have generated huge returns in the past 12 years. There was another project built by the PokerStrategy.com team called Tradimo, which was for trading and investing. And I wasn't involved very deeply in that, but I helped with community building early on.
They were talking about the Facebook IPO and all these growth tech stocks. I was the one who tried to push more value investing approach content there, which nobody really cared about. Everybody wanted to chase the tech stocks, which in retrospect is the better strategy. If we take a look at the returns even now after the bubble burst, it is still better than most value investments, which Benjamin Graham or Warren Buffet would recommend.
I remember I tried all these wild Fukushima trades where, you know, there was “blood on the streets” in Japan. I burned myself pretty badly, and then I went back to the drawing board and asked, okay, so what's the best way to invest?
At Tradimo, one guy from Holland bought into Bitcoin, and that was my first contact with Bitcoin. He said, ‘This is some new thing and we should pay attention to it, we should write articles about it.’ I wasn't really a decision maker on this platform, but I said it was stupid. Let's focus on something serious, right? So my first contact with Bitcoin was that I was ignoring it for three years.
Later on I played some poker at online poker rooms that accepted Bitcoin. So this was how I slowly got into crypto and from being a big skeptic who was very pessimistic about all of it until I met some hackers from these crypto anarchy movements, I talked to them and I became very ideologically driven and oriented in 2016 and 17 – for me, crypto was much more about ideology than about making money at that point.
It sounds like you were learning multiple skills in multiple different areas at once. Do you think that helped your development? Did it stunt your development? How did that all work in tandem?
Actually sometimes I feel anxiety just because I know that I don't have enough time during my life to learn all the things that I would like to learn. My personality is very expansive when it comes to learning, but then I'm really unfocused – I cannot really spend too much time learning just one thing.
Compared to, let's say friends from the poker world, they were all very deep into just playing poker – almost like autistic guys that knew everything about every possible situation that can happen in poker. All the numbers, they were very useful. But they were useless anywhere else – like you couldn't send them to IKEA to buy a chair without them getting lost.
So these guys, when poker stopped being profitable, they basically didn't have many opportunities to pivot anywhere else besides crypto. Many of them are in crypto right now because it is also a very interesting sort of game. It's very different, but it also lets you get deep into something. But I always wanted to do more. I always want to do business. I always wanted to be out there like doing something more, let's say, value additive than just playing cards.
After I quit my legal studies I studied applied psychology for three years because I just wanted to have a college degree. Plus it was really interesting to me, figuring out how the human mind works, especially when I was playing poker under pressure. Sometimes I would get angry, I would stop being focused. I wanted to learn more about that.
So for me, it was imperative to learn as many different things as possible and figure out my way through life. I felt that having an edge is either about being very local – like if you invest in real estate, it's of course very helpful if you invest in some place you know very well, you know the prices, you know how the space will be developed further – or you need to invest in something that's on the frontier that's super new, that's not very well mapped.
Before crypto, I tried figuring out virtual reality, which had a small bull run or hype cycle in 2016, but it wasn't really something that was very actionable for me. It was just a funny hobby for a time, but I tried a lot of stuff and then just as crypto was starting, I actually took most of my money that I invested and that I made from poker – almost all of my bankroll – and I spent a lot of it investing in particularly one company.
This is a story I probably never shared, but it's super interesting. There was this company in Eastern Europe that was supposed to basically buy cheese, aging cheese like Gouda, then bring it to another country and let it age for a couple of months and sell it with a huge premium, because the 12 month or 24 month old Gouda is worth much more than young Gouda. So what you need is just some sort of infrastructure for storing this safely, and then you just need the distribution to sell it to supermarkets, wine shops, etc.
And this company, on paper the numbers looked fantastic. And I invested a lot of money into it. I kind of knew the founder – didn't know him as well as I probably should have, because then it turned out that he was doing a lot of shady stuff on the side, meaning he had a huge debt he never disclosed to anyone, and the business basically went belly up. And I lost a lot of my bankroll on that one.
That was around 2016 as I was getting more and more into crypto, not just this poker player using Bitcoin, but also someone who was reading white papers, doing some trading or buying some cryptos on the side. Looking back at that time, trying to invest in physical or real world business that actually tries to do something in the gastro industry is crazy for me now. It's so hard to imagine, because the gastro industry and these physical industries are so hard to penetrate.
So basically the business went belly up quite fast. When I'm looking at crypto, of course I feel that it won't be as easy going forward as it was in the last few years. But it's still so much more convenient to orient in this space than do something in the real world.
Were there any lessons that came out of getting hosed on this cheese company?
The big lesson would be, of course, risk management, although I already had some lessons prior, but I spent a bit more money on that than I should have. And the other is that there is a huge difference between an idea and numbers on the paper and the actual execution. That's my number one takeaway from that.
I'm pretty sure if the business was run by somebody else, maybe with a bit more resources, a better distribution network and better organization, I think it would make a lot of money quite fast, even compared to some tech industries. But it's all about the team and about the execution and that was something that I could have spotted much sooner if I was more experienced in dealing with people and talking about business with teams of people that try to build. But I wasn't. It was very different than investing in stocks or playing poker, right?
It seems like your early experiences were a perfect curriculum for getting into crypto. You studied psychology, you studied gambling strategy and the mental aspect of poker, you studied markets. You went into crypto with the exact skill set that you'd want someone to have.
To some extent. I think I was much better prepared than some people that I know who are lawyers or who do something else and then try to buy some crypto trading on the side. But still, crypto was such a different beast early on – I also made a lot of mistakes.
After the cheese business I never made a mistake again that would be critical. I never went on leverage or I never really let myself bust my ass by investing too much in one project. But I also saw these super early ICOs that promised huge total addressable markets and I invested in them. At the time I was still impressed by things like founders having ex-Google background, or having Vitalik Buterin as an advisor. And I was so sure in some of these projects, but it didn't work out.
Yeah, I think I definitely have a better sort of background for crypto than most people, even from a mindset or psychology perspective. I don't really mind volatility, I don't mind losing money. For me it's normal. I don't spend too much time being glued to price charts and obsessing about where the Bitcoin will go next. That's kind of an advantage.
We talked about an early loss in the lessons from that. Are there any notable early wins that shaped your perspective?
My stock value investing strategy was okay, but it never really produced any outsized returns, so I basically gave up and went into the ETF passive investing camp. So even though it did well, I wouldn't say I was overperforming with my stocks, but probably my biggest early success was buying an apartment in 2014.
Buying an apartment at the time was a really huge investment for me. I had a mortgage, but only for 50% of the equity. I paid the rest in cash. And for me, I was thinking, okay, this is probably one of the biggest purchases in my life, so I need to really make it matter and pay attention to it. Now the number is not even that big compared to what I'm doing these days, but back then it was a huge amount of money.
I actually spent a lot of time doing due diligence using my advisor. I hired an advisor who was some sort of a construction inspection authority who was doing these private inspections for people who want to buy real estate on the side. So I would pay him pretty reasonable money to accompany me when I was going to see the deals. And he would bring his tools with him and measure the moisture in the walls, he would see if the windows are well isolated from sound, and he would inspect everything and give me advice on how much I should negotiate for. He was very instrumental in my process – I saw at least 30 or so apartments and then I bought one that at first looked absolutely horrible.
It was in a pretty good area of town, but it looked horrible. Like if you are someone who decides based on emotions or like how things feel and how good they look, you wouldn’t buy it. And this guy said, okay, this is the best place we've seen so far. I know it looks horrible, but it will be very easy to do the reconstruction, and structurally everything is okay. It's in a great neighborhood. The price is great. You should buy it right away. So I did it.
Then I planned the reconstruction. I hired some workers and yeah, five years later I was able to sell it for much bigger upside than the average real estate market return during that period of time. It was actually something in the physical world I could see being reconstructed in real time. And it felt really good, and I thought that maybe I could do more real estate investing in this vein. But then crypto went ballistic and I basically sacked the idea, but that was probably my biggest non-crypto investment win, which was not just luck, but actually me doing my due diligence and work properly.
A consistent theme that I'm hearing here is talking to the experts. When you were first getting into poker, you went out to Gibraltar. Buying a house, brought in an advisor. Is that something you still do? Do you bring in sector experts before you guys make an investment at Zee Prime? How do you try to do that due diligence process now?
It's a bit different. I mean, crypto is such a fast moving and new industry, you don’t really have the sort of experts you would have in other industries. But, for example, what we are starting to focus on recently – although a bit less now because it's overhyped – but last year we started to focus on games. Mainly because some of our partners or especially Pavel, who I mentioned earlier, the guy from Gibraltar from this poker company, he built up this huge gaming company, not only for poker, but there were some other games as well. And he's been a gaming professional at C-level positions for 11 years. So he knows about gaming, how to make games fun and profitable – more than the vast, vast majority of VCs investing in crypto games now. So that was kind of a lucky coincidence that we have this guy on board, but he also had contacts from the esports scene, so we could hire some more people that are into that.
So for that, we kind of built our own little squad that is now focusing on games. And then apart from that, we are hiring – I wouldn't say experts but we hired pretty smart, young and hungry galaxy brains from traditional finance who are now analyzing some DeFi opportunities. Early on was more like a ragtag group of people from various backgrounds, but now as we are scaling, we are trying to methodically build a team or a suite of people that are directionally focused on the various areas we are investing in.
Whatever we do – maybe we are lucky, but we are making a lot of returns. We kind of want to not exactly pivot, but maybe extend our investments into some other areas that we feel are necessary to push human civilization forward. So we may hire some external experts and advisors to help us to invest in that, maybe more passively, not as hands-on as we do with crypto, but maybe next three to seven years, we will consider… I don't want to spill too much because it's just brainstorming within our ranks. But we are talking about, you know, like some sort of nuclear or alternative energy, especially now with the situation with Russia. We feel that Europe needs some sort of revival when it comes to dreaming about possible other sources of energy and heat. So that might be something that, with enough capital, we can help that materialize. That being said, we are not experts on this and we will never be. So we will probably need to have some external help and invest more passively.
That's something you've mentioned a couple of times during this interview, and I've seen you talk about it on Twitter. Investing with a higher purpose seems to be a motivation for you.
Yeah, I mean, flipping coins is fun. And I did my fair share of flipping – especially NFTs. It's fun, but it's never the main motivator. It's something that after some time you realize that you won't be any happier if you buy a bigger yacht, if you have a bigger number on your screen – or I don't know what else people do with money, but what you can do is either just stop being so focused on your career and investing and start doing something else like focus on your health and relationships, or at least have some higher purpose why you are amassing all these numbers and what to do with them in the future.
I'm kind of trying to do both. My partners and I all feel that we need to either give back or identify areas of human progress that are maybe underdeveloped, or maybe the capital is somehow misallocated or there are some inefficiencies, and we’ll try to figure out how to think about them differently, how to move them to where they may be more beneficial to all of us.
It feels a bit cliche, but I kind of feel that at the end of the day, this is the most pure, let's say, form of motivation. You have to have something bigger than yourself and try to help something that may even outlive you.
This will be the way with crypto. It's kind of interesting that so many people got very rich so early in their life without needing to build a company for 20 years. And I think we will see more and more of this line of thinking because we are still young, we still want to live another, I don't know, 50, 60, 70, 80 years. And we don't want to see the world burn in flames by the time we are older. So I think it makes more sense to switch gears from a pure, ‘let's make a number go up to something’ mindset to, let's say a greener and more pleasant world for us to live in.
With all these prodigies in crypto, do you think there are some people who are naturally suited to trading? Is it something that can be learned? Is it something that can be trained?
I think you need to have something in you to do it. Well, of course, a lot of it is trained – people don't really do well with the numbers if they are not, let's say, trained from a young age or if they are not used to taking a lot of risks.
Especially trading, where you really are glued to the screen and are trying to make quick decisions about lots of money very, very fast and in an environment full of noise. You kind of need to have some sort of a… I don't know, I don't want to sound cynical. But something needs to be dead inside of you.
Something needs to be dead inside of you?
Something needs to be dead inside of you. You know, some people get very worked up when they think about money. We had this game with poker players where we went to a bar and we would drink some drinks and then we would offer the bartender to flip a coin. If we lose, we pay triple the price. Or if we win, we don't pay anything, and he needs to cover it from his own money.
And the bartenders, even though that is clearly a plus-EV strategy, because you are risking one to win three on a 50-50 chance, the bartenders just weren't capable of even fathoming risking something like that.
So the majority of people are very risk averse, and the notion of loss is much more painful to them than the vision of winning an even higher amount is pleasurable. So I feel that you need to be someone who maybe doesn't feel risk too much, but at the same time, you shouldn't be prone to gambling. Many people get addicted to the dopamine boosts of numbers going wildly up and down.
So for me, the numbers are not that interesting. I remember playing poker, it was just a grind. I would just sit and play for hours a day and then go happily do something else. Some people are just glued and they can't leave. Leave the tables, you know, when the action is strong or whatever.
What is painful for you, though? There have to be things in trading that just really tear you up inside. What hurts?
Let's say I don't invest in something because of sloppy reasons or I'm missing something because of sloppy reasons. When everything goes up fast, I feel a bit overwhelmed just by the sheer amount of opportunities. And yeah, making sloppy mistakes is painful, even if I, let's say, don't really lose money on them.
But the other thing, and this is more from an investment perspective, the other painful thing I see is I empathize with builders who are under enormous pressure. They are the ones who are carrying the burden to actually create something important, interesting and innovative. And these people get so much hate and so much pressure on them. That's something that, you know, sometimes I want to just dump some coin or something that maybe isn't doing so well. But I just feel like these people are trying to really work hard for it. And we are just here flipping their tokens back and forth.
So I kind of feel that this is something a bit painful when I see very good projects with very good and well-meaning teams and they’re struggling just because the token just goes down because of the timing and the community piles on them. And yeah, that's when I want to leave the space or have a long break, it's usually connected with something like this.
I would consider myself Chaotic Neutral, meaning that sometimes I just want things to work out in weird ways and make a big splash and maybe even big headlines just because I want to see the space to test its limits.
We root for founders even though they may have quirky personalities or maybe their design is flawed and they probably should kind of be more proactive in addressing that. But I have a bias for people who make big waves and try to do something interesting and new. So sometimes even if the thing doesn't work out, but it's very talked about, I feel that the space is moving forward. So sometimes I'm weird like that, but usually my biggest pleasure is when I see something materialize in a way that it wasn’t intended and it makes the lives of people better.
I was a little surprised when I was looking through Nansen, we don't have many Zee Prime wallets tagged. Do you guys think about OPSEC a lot?
When it comes to OPSEC, because I'm probably the most public facing figure of our team I personally don't even control any substantial funds apart from my own, let's say small play money on the side that I sometimes use to test something myself. I play with some NFTs, but I personally don't even have direct access to many wallets. I am maybe I am on some multisigs as a backup, but I don't even actively sign stuff myself. I think I have the biggest target on my back, so I'm very, very careful.
So you can send me all the PDFs with all your bullshit. I will maybe even open it, but you won't get that much out of it. Maybe some Forgotten Runes Wizards.
Talk to me a little about NFTs, I was looking at your personal account history and there's a massive spike in activity around October 21st and you start playing the NFT game a little bit. Is there something about those markets in particular that interests you?
I was very contrarian for NFTs inside of our team. Almost everyone else said, ‘Nah, this is just some weird fad. Who cares about owning a pixelated picture?’ And I was the one who said, ‘Okay, I need to dig deeper and figure out if there is something there.’ It was also very entertaining for me. On normal fungible markets on exchanges you can only do arbs with bots, but you can do all kinds of interesting things with the very constrained and slow orderbook on Opensea.
When I was playing poker, there was a proprietary trading desk in Eastern Europe that was hiring traders who would be trading actively on the Warsaw Stock Exchange and Vienna Stock Exchange – small exchanges where stocks were very illiquid. So you can do by hand what market making algorithms are doing automatically these days, and you could make a lot of money against very stupid algorithms that were playing there. So as a poker player I was hired for a trial and I learned some tricks about how to play with orderbooks there.
I was there for three weeks and I realized I don't want to go to any office to wear a shirt or anything like that and I quit, but I learned some tricks. So last year I actually figured out that you can do some of those tricks in NFTs because these markets are so illiquid, they are very hard to automate. And so I was doing that, but I was actually also just trying to buy some lottery tickets to see if anything pops up. I was able to buy a CryptoPunk and a couple of other things after starting with a very small amount.
The order book strategies are not really that complicated. And by the way, you could do this on Kraken in early 2017 or late 2016. Basically what you do is you see a big spread between buys and sells in some asset, for example, the Prime Keys on Parallel, and there are periods of time where you could simultaneously buy for, let's say ten and sell for 12. You could have both legs of the trade open at the same time. And you would be earning on the spread a couple of times a week, for example.
I wasn't doing it that often, but I just figured out, okay, so this is a viable strategy and it would probably be the best place to learn how to do this sort of trading if it wasn't for super high Ethereum fees, so it wasn't for everyone.
I also try to do rarity or floor sniping sometimes when someone lists something with a rare trait accidentally. You quickly buy it and then you can sell it later. I did that as well, and if I was really focused on that, I think I could make quite a good return on that activity. But at that point we were already running our fund and I wasn't really interested in just clicking all day – that’s something I did for five years playing poker, so it's not something I want to keep doing for the rest of my life.
Now I feel very overwhelmed and saturated by NFT markets. They are full of copycats and not as exciting as they were when I was playing with them before. Anyway, after playing around I basically came back to the rest of my team and was able to pitch them, not to buy NFTs directly too much, but to kind of take a closer look into some NFT gaming projects or NFT infrastructure projects and formulate a thesis for what we wanted to buy.
There’s a sense in crypto that powerful market participants such as yourself control the entire industry behind the scenes. To what degree is that true?
So I'm not really the type of insider that would be in a lot of these private groups. If there are any chat groups that are so important that they move the markets, I'm definitely not in them.
Sadly, I kind of feel that it's a mixed bag. There are definitely backroom deals and insider information and other sort of, let's say, socially-enabled sources of alpha that that many bigger players use. But I wouldn't necessarily say it's different than other industries. It's just the space moves exponentially up and it's so new that it's much easier to exploit even small asymmetric info than it would be in some very traditional industry.
I would say that I'm a bit more jaded and a bit less starry eyed, naive, and ideological as I was four or five years ago when I was much more inclined to believe that all crypto is here to make opportunities equal and make everything more decentralized and more democratic.
In some ways it’s still going in that direction. Everybody anywhere in the world can build smart contacts, which is an equal opportunity for everyone. Then the common denominator is just the pure artistic skill of figuring out how to play the DeFi/MEV game better than anyone else without any backstops. And if the game is global, it can be anywhere. You just need your computer and suddenly you can be in it. You can make ten digits from your mom’s basement in Pakistan.
As part of the interview, Fiskantes discussed some of Zee Primes biggest wins, including early bets Synthetix and Solana as well as buying Luna at $1.
However, Fiskantes also revealed that Zee Prime is an increasingly complex group with multiple other entities operating under the same roof. This includes Sigil, a DeFi-focused liquid staking vehicle, and a new entrant to the family: Devmons.gg
Devmons may be a familiar name to active NFT traders as a prolific GameFi and NFT flipping wallet.
Devmons boasts a Parallel card collection of over 1,600 cards, and has enjoyed success flipping collections such as Goblintown and Forgotten Runes Wizards Cult.
Their current portfolio is dominated by Parallel, but has significant holdings in Forgotten Runes Wizards Cult derivatives, Loot, and Pudgy Penguins.
In recent months significant trades include adding to their Loot position, as well as attempting (largely unsuccessfully) to accumulate top-tier Frontier Game items.
However, Devmons is a Smart Money labeled wallet because they are an “Airdrop Pro” – an address that has received a significant amount of tokens across multiple airdrops. We can see this clearly in their recent Opensea activity, where they were the recipients of almost two dozen Forgotten Runes Warriors Guild NFTs worth at least 5.5 ETH – not a bad day.