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How to Invest in Urbit

A guide to investing in stars, galaxies, and new companies.

I'm often asked by individuals and institutions how they can get exposure to the Urbit network. Here I'm publishing everything I know. Disclaimers: Nothing here is financial advice; investing in crypto is risky; I own some Urbit address space; I'm a small investor in companies mentioned here; I do some consulting for companies mentioned here.

You are fully responsible for any transactions you choose to make. I'm sharing my knowledge for purely informational purposes; I cannot guarantee that everything here is correct or up to date. In particular, Urbit galaxies are highly valuable and transfers are complicated. Please do your own research and use an abundance of caution.

We'll explain:

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The Urbit identity system—often referred to as Urbit "address space"—is represented as NFTs (ERC-721) on the Ethereum blockchain. Owning an Urbit ID is ownership over a private server on the Urbit network. There are different types of Urbit IDs, each with different rarity and different privileges on the network. This page will not explore nuances of the identity system. You can find that at Urbit.org, here and here.

How to Buy an Urbit Star

For most individuals, Urbit stars are the primary investable asset of interest. There are a finite number of stars, about 65,000 in total.

A star has a 16-bit name, such as ~ripwet.

Stars are distinct from planets, which are generally not considered investable assets. Planets are intended to represent one individual user of the network. Planets have less economic value than stars because there are about 4 billion planets. Planets have 32-bit names, such as ~hatryx-lastud.

Each star can spawn 65,000 planets.

Stars perform the important function of routing packets around the network.

There are currently a few places where anyone can buy an Urbit star through the now familiar process of paying with a crypto wallet.

How to Buy an Urbit Galaxy

At the time of this writing, Urbit galaxies trade for millions of dollars.

Technically, Urbit galaxies can be traded just like stars are traded, on open marketplaces like OpenSea. In practice, this is rare. Most galaxies are bought and sold in private transactions, given the high value of the asset and also because a complete galaxy transfer has a few extra steps.

A galaxy has an 8-bit name, such as ~zod. There are only 256 galaxies. Every galaxy can spawn 256 stars. Galaxies, like stars, perform the important function of routing packets around the network. In addition, the 256 galaxy owners share governance power over the smart contracts.

High-income individuals and institutions looking to obtain a galaxy (or more), will have three main objectives.

  1. Find an over-the-counter seller
  2. Check the integrity of the galaxy
  3. Execute the transaction safely, including the separate star-lockup contract

How to Check the Integrity of an Urbit Galaxy

Galaxies have all their stars spawned by default, but into a lockup contract that only releases stars on a defined schedule over time.

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The linear star release contract (i.e., "the lockup contract") address is 0x86cd9cd0992F04231751E3761De45cEceA5d1801 and it can be found on Etherscan here. 

To determine whether any stars from a galaxy have been transferred or used, we can examine the network explorer at network.urbit.org.

The first star to be released from the lockup contract is always ~fip*, therefore if ~fip* is still locked then all the stars are locked.

Here is an example of a galaxy (~wex) that has used its first star (~fipwex): network.urbit.org/~fipwex.

Here is an example of a galaxy (~ped) that has not used its first star (~fipped), and is therefore still fully intact: network.urbit.org/~fipped.

Note the difference: ~fipwex has been spawned, but ~fipped has not. This suggests that the ~wex galaxy is not intact, but the ~ped galaxy is intact.

A non-intact galaxy may still be highly valuable, but it should be less valuable than a pristine galaxy, other things equal.

You can also see in the network explorer that the ~fipped star is owned by the lockup contract mentioned above.

How Does a Galaxy Buyer Receive the Lockup Contract?

To complete a galaxy transfer—assuming a pristine galaxy—three things must happen.

At this point, the buyer will have complete ownership and control over the galaxy and its stars.

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Bridge is a web app that lets Urbit users conduct operations on Urbit address space.

Miscellaneous Notes on Buying an Urbit Galaxy

Galaxy buyers should take extra care with their purchase. Here are some additional things to consider.

Galaxy owners who wish to boot and run their galaxy have important responsibilities. If you haven't already, read the Galaxy Operator's guide on Urbit.org.

Galaxy Buyers Should Consider Atomic Swaps

Although there is no way to conduct an atomic swap with respect to the galaxy NFT and the lockup contract at once, you may still wish to conduct an atomic swap for the galaxy NFT.

From the Galaxy Operator's guide:

"it is advisable to use an atomic swap service like OpenSea to facilitate the transaction. Atomic swaps allow for trustless exchange of assets. Make sure you have funds in your receiving wallet to cover the transaction costs of accepting the transfer, and any proxy delegation or transfers you might want to perform." (operators.urbit.org)

This could also potentially be done on https://urbitex.io/, a newer exchange just for Urbit IDs. They are working on an atomic swap setup that would include the lockup contract transfer as well, but it's not ready at the time of this writing.

A Galaxy Could Sell Stars After the Galaxy is Sold

Beware this. Collect the purchase promptly.

"It is technically possible for a galaxy to spawn its stars after it has been sold on OpenSea, but before its purchase has been collected. This could potentially leave you with a galaxy significantly less valuable than what you paid for; treat this option with caution." (operators.urbit.org)

Consider a Broker and/or Traditional Written Contract

Given the nuances of galaxy transfers, they are not quite as trustless as a simple atomic swap of crypto assets.

Consider using a traditional written contract to legally bind both parties.

Also consider using a broker and/or escrow to complete the transaction.

Receiving a Galaxy in Bridge May Be Tricky

You'll find more details in the section labeled Receipt of Galaxy (operators.urbit.org)

However, because galaxy transfers are not extremely frequent, at the time of this writing the Bridge interface may not automatically show that you have an incoming lockup contract.

In some cases, you may need to manually enter a URL to receive the lockup contract. The URL will be like the one below, except with the address at the end replaced with the seller's address:

https://bridge.urbit.org/?kind=takeLockup&lock=linear&from=0x3172bCeEC3707045DA310E9074E01Cf4946A5cC8

Once You Become a Galaxy Owner

The bare-minimum expectation for new galaxy owners is that they will attest a planet in the private Galaxy Owners group on Urbit.

Needless to say, the Urbit community wants galaxy owners who will build on the network.

Galaxy owners are also expected to follow developments on the smart contracts (known as the "ecliptic contracts"). You should understand them, know what questions to ask, etc. At some point in the future, you may be asked to vote on how the contracts should be managed.

I hope you found this useful. If you're looking for sellers, or you need help making a deal, I know a few people who have bought, sold, and brokered galaxies. You're welcome to subscribe to the newsletter and hit reply to the welcome email.

Investing in Urbit Companies

Since app distribution arrived in October 2021, we're now seeing companies building on top of Urbit. In the past year, at least 3 new companies have raised capital (Uqbar, Holium, and Tirrel).

To invest in new companies building on Urbit, it's generally expected that you will also own address space and/or add value to the network.

Reach Out

If you'd like to invest in a bunch of stars, a galaxy, or new Urbit companies, you can DM me on Urbit (~hatryx-lastud), DM me on Twitter (@jmrphy), or email me at jstnmrphy@gmail.com. I will connect you with the right people.

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