The Metaverse has opened up a whole new world of business and career opportunities. Republic Realm is one of the platforms in the metaverse space, focused on metaverse innovation and investment. Joining Jeff Kelley, Eathan Janney, and Josh Kriger today is Republic Realm’s CEO, Janine Yorio. Janine discusses developing the Metaverse and pioneering its innovation through her community. John Paller also drops by for a conversation about ETHDenver & Bufficorn NFTs. Tune in to learn more about how Janine sees the investment, development & infrastructure innovation across the global Metaverse & NFT ecosystem and know more about what John has to say about the latest ETHDenver Conference.
Listen to the podcast here:
Janine Yorio Of Republic Realm On Leading Metaverse Innovation, Investment, And Education, Plus: John Paller Talks About ETHDenver & Bufficorn NFTs
This episode features Janine Yorio, CEO of Republic Realm, a metaverse innovation and investment platform. Republic Realm is among the largest owners of digital real estate NFTs in 24 metaverses, including Decentraland, The Sandbox and Axie Infinity and among the most active developers of in-metaverse developments, including the Metajuku Shopping Center and The Fantasy Island’s ultra-luxury, master-planned community NFT project.
Janine was previously the CEO of Compound, a FinTech app focused on real estate investing backed by leading VC firms, NEA and Founders Fund, which was acquired by Republic in 2020. She also previously worked in private equity for Northstar Capital and real estate and hotel development at The Standard Hotels. She is a graduate of Yale University.
Janine, welcome to the show.
How are you?
We’ve got another Yale grad deep in this show’s commercial real estate business. It’s not Eathan and me, so take a guess who?
We’re both refugees from the real estate industry. Clearly, we find this a lot more compelling.
When I met you and the whole team in Miami, I was so pumped because we’ve been watching you since the news broke about Republic Realm and what you’re doing. It sounds like you have been very busy. It would be great to understand the genesis of this concept and how it came together. Let’s dive in deeper.
As you already revealed, I used to work in the real estate industry and did for a very long time. Like any good real estate, FinTech, PropTech entrepreneur, I’m always a little bit too early in doing things that are new. I’m a bit of an early adopter. One of the things I had been following with some of my colleagues was metaverse real estate because it has the words real estate in it, so we felt like we had to.
A bunch of us put our money together and bought lots of land in Decentraland in the fall of 2020. We had a lot of fun doing it. We didn’t sell, so we didn’t make money, but we were certainly watching price appreciation happen. We felt like if we were doing this, then other people might want to do it too. We had sold our startup to an equity crowdfunding company called Republic that was in the business of creating investment products for retail investors.
We thought, as an experiment, “Let’s put up a card on their website that says metaverse real estate investments and see if anybody clicks on it.” One of the first people that clicked on it was Galaxy Digital. We went from this investment product or concept that was meant to be something on the third page of the Republic website to suddenly being thrust to the fore and that was in March of 2021.
An article came out about how Mike Novogratz’ Galaxy Digital was investing in this vehicle. It’s been history made ever since. We very quickly had some early successes. We invested in Axie Infinity before people started talking about it, largely on the basis of doing what I call very active social listening. We saw Twitter and Telegram exploding with excitement over what was happening at Axie Infinity. We knew there was something special there, so we bought land when they first started selling it.
We were big buyers of Decentraland and The Sandbox before everybody focused on it. We made the largest acquisition in Decentraland, which is $900,000 for a plot of land there. We have since blown that record out of the water. We bought a plot in The Sandbox in November 2021 for $4.3 million. As you can see, the dollar amounts have gotten ever larger over time. We’re one of the most active investors in metaverse real estate. We own over 3,000 NFTs, but more importantly, we’ve built an entire company around this concept.
We started making investments on behalf of other investors. We do lots of different things and see ourselves as one of the key developers of the metaverse ecosystem. We build metaverse NFTs and create metaverse games. We have our own gaming guild that’s at DAO. We continue to invest. We’ve invested in 25 different metaverse investment platforms, but it all started as a happy accident last March of 2021 when we put this card up on the Republic website. That metaverse card has over $75 million of reservations from investors. There are 15,000 people who have reserved and it’s now on a waitlist situation. We had an idea that this might be something. We had no idea it would be something quite this big.
March 2021 was when we started the show and now we have NFT LA and all sorts of other stuff cooking. It’s been a remarkable year for the industry.
What’s exciting is even after we’re all on the edge of our seats watching what’s happening in the crypto markets, clearly, we’re all having mild panic attacks when we’re not doing a show. On the one hand, you have the crypto markets crashing and on the other hand, you have the NFT markets exploding, which I think is interesting. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to shake out, but it’s certainly an interesting statistic to watch.
I’ve been very vocal about my thoughts on how Corporate America is approaching NFTs. I’ve written an op-ed about why Corporate America is getting NFTs all wrong. If you look at what LooksRare did, they did it right. They started with the community and figured out how to incentivize the community for building and participating. What’s going to be a recurring theme in this space is how do you make the community feel like they’re part of the project not later but in the very early days. Bring them along for the ride and help them to feel like they’re building the roadmap.
This isn’t a corporate money grab or something that’s being pushed down from a boardroom, but rather something that’s being built from the ground up. LooksRare is a perfect example of how that can work. Let’s see what happens. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, but the early traction is certainly very impressive.
Speaking of building things from the ground up, we’re talking about metaverse real estate and a lot of what you guys have done and are doing. How would you describe it to our readers who aren’t in the world of metaverse real estate yet? How do you view this as a part of the broader crypto sphere?
That’s a very multi-layered question. First of all, I hate the phrase metaverse real estate, especially as somebody who comes from real estate. I know that sounds particularly ironic, but I’ve been on a bit of a bandwagon lately, trying to get people to think about it differently. I think it’s very misleading. It’s led a lot of people down the wrong path. It has nothing to do with real estate.
Real estate is the thing you do with your money when you’ve made a ton of money in a windfall and you want to make sure you don’t lose it. If that’s what you’re thinking about here, you’re thinking about it all wrong. You should be prepared to lose it. It’s crypto, a derivative trade of crypto, so it’s as risky if not more so. It doesn’t trade like real estate and has income-generating prospects like real estate does. It’s highly speculative.
It’s more like early-stage venture capital investing than it is real estate investing. The skills required to invest in real estate have almost nothing in common with the skills required to invest in metaverse platforms, which, again, I realize the irony as somebody who comes from the real estate investing world, but I’ve also spent 2021 learning a lot. It’s the only thing I do all day, every day. I think that it’s required me to rethink how we approach this asset category.
It took me nine months to come to the conclusion that metaverse real estate is the wrong way to describe it. You are basically investing in a dedicated block of pixels in a software application. That’s what it is. Mostly, you tend to invest before that particular software. I hate to use the word metaverse because even that confuses people. It’s software and it’s usually prelaunch.
You’re buying a part of the software before the software is even available to the public. It’s a dedicated piece. You can’t do whatever you want with any part of that software. You can only work with a very specific set of pixels that are designated to you. You’re betting on a lot of different things happening. Number one is that the team that’s building this platform can execute and that they can continue to evolve the platform in a way that draws end users.
They can market the platform so that people show up for it and that they are able to create a viable ecosystem and economy of people that buy the pixels, develop the pixels, do interesting things there so that more and more people come and keep building. It’s a complicated and almost sequential order of things that you have very little insight into when making the investment.
Usually, when you’re investing, even if you look at Decentraland, what are you investing in? You’re investing in the future prospects of that platform. Whether you believe that there is room to grow in that particular NFT’s price, it’s based on what you think is happening in the market and the platform? Do you think more people are going to show up and make this thing more valuable?
That’s fascinating and I appreciate that inside perspective from somebody who’s viewing it. It’s all a whole new world. We have to invent and clarify these terms and all of that. You mentioned it is more like venture capital funding or startup funding too. There’s always due diligence in that process of maybe meeting the founding team and seeing a pitch deck and stuff like that. I’m guessing initially that wasn’t a part of your process, but maybe once you’re writing bigger checks, is this part of how you investigate where to invest? Are you talking to founders? Are you looking at their roadmaps and plans? Are you making agreements around that? I don’t even know if that’s how it goes.
It’s always been part of our process. We are a team that came out of professional investing. We’ve always looked at things with a healthy dose of cynicism, trying to find whatever information we can find. It’s not like we spent time on the phone with the founders of Axie Infinity before we invested, but we invested small and watched what happened. We wanted to see if the traction continued at the same pace that we were seeing.
We spent a lot of time researching who the team was behind it, whether we believed in their ability to navigate nimbly a lot of the changes that we saw as inevitable to the space. We certainly approached it as an early-stage venture investment, but it’s more nuanced than that because you can do things to it when you buy it.
It’s like betting on whether their technology is going to allow us to customize it in a way that adds value or allows us to create alpha. It’s a very interesting category and a lot of fun. You’re buying an NFT that’s attached to a platform. You have an NFT, an early-stage venture investment tied to a platform and then you have “How creative can I be as the developer of those pixels and building something that’s going to create even more value for me as the holder.” It’s very layered, creative and it very much depends on the platform itself, the human ingenuity can come behind it and build collaborative things that can make the owners a lot of money.
I’ve been hanging out in our Discord a bit lately, and Upland’s topic came up. I noticed something we listed in what you’re into but is that a platform that counts for what you pay attention to?
For sure, they’re on our list. I don’t believe we’ve invested in an Upland and have a clear answer for you exactly why not? Sometimes, it’s not a function of not liking the platform. We might love it. We might be a little bit scared of the valuation. I don’t know exactly why we haven’t invested. Maybe it’s in process. We have a lot of investments that we’re looking at simultaneously, so it might be something we’re looking at now. We’ve tracked over 300 different platforms already. We don’t focus on them all equally. Some we do a much deeper dive. Some we invest small and then we get larger over time. If you go to our website, RepublicRealm.com, you can see a list of all the logos on the portfolio page and see what we have invested thus far. We keep it very up-to-date.
To piggyback on that question, how do you pick what you invest in? Are people coming to you at this point? Do you have a research team that’s selecting based on certain criteria? Maybe a few details before we move on to the next topic.
We approach this like professional investors. We have a team of analysts. We have one who is a nationally ranked gamer whose job is to spend time in the space, getting to know everybody, talking to users, test driving platforms when that’s even a possibility and seeing the alpha and beta versions of things. We have somebody on our team who looks at Discord channels. He is one of the moderators of Reddit’s WallStreetBets channel.
He’s particularly qualified at assessing the health of an online community. He spends time literally lurking in those channels, telling us where people are positively inclined, saying good things and are blowing up. That’s how he describes it. He means that people are buzzy about a specific thing. They’re excited about what’s coming and happening.
We view that as one of the early tells that something has traction, a lot like a venture capital fund would. Long before a company has metrics, they have things like social media follower accounts or a number of press hits or web hits on their website. Things like that are very helpful when we’re trying to assess the viability of a platform in the very early days and whether we want to spend more time looking into it.
On a similar note, when you’re thinking about what to build and value creation, how does that relate to your days in the real estate world? In the early metaverse real estate days, a lot of focus was on sex, drugs, rock and roll and gambling. Has that changed?
Metaverse Innovation: The metaverse is already here. It’s here for children who have spent years in lockdown in Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft.
No, it’s the same basic human drivers. We try to think creatively. The first project we did was an experiment. We built this shopping mall called Metajuku that I came up with within the back of a taxi where I thought, “I love Japan, Tokyo.” The metaverse looks very cartoonish. We wanted the theme that was loud. It can’t be subtle in the metaverse. It doesn’t fly. You can’t do beige and neutrals. You have to do neon lights and flashing.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Tokyo, but the signage is incredible. There are light-up signs and everything. We borrowed from the video game district of Japan and the stripper district, which is part of Juku and called it Metajuku. We put all the lights and the signage on it to evoke Tokyo. We leased it to tenants selling digital clothing that they can buy for their avatars.
That was the first real estate project that put us on the map. We did it intentionally to be a little bit quirky and weird. I think that’s what the metaverse is about. I think a lot of people come to us and they say, “I own a bunch of hotels and apartment buildings in the real world. I don’t want to duplicate them in the metaverse.” I have to tell them, “Unfortunately, buddy, nobody cares. Nobody wants to go to your office building in the metaverse. I’m not going to the metaverse to do more boring things like I already can do in the real world. I want to go to the metaverse to do things I can’t do in the real world. I want to go fly.”
It’s like Westworld. I don’t know if you guys have ever watched the show, but nobody wants to travel back in time to go work in a cubicle. They want to travel back in time to shoot people and have a Wild West adventure. It’s the same with the metaverse. It has to be trippy and otherworldly. It has to be pushing the envelope of what people can do because, in order for a metaverse experience to be compelling, you have to lure people away from playing on their phones, sleeping, Netflix, social media or video games. You’re competing with a lot of choices. Nobody has to be in the metaverse.
You’re choosing from all the other forms of procrastination when you decide to spend your time in the metaverse. In order to bring people into those experiences, you have to push the envelope and think, “What do people want? What is their lizard brain want to do when they’re stuck at home? The bar was a lot lower when we’d all been locked in our houses from the pandemic. Now we’re starting to get out, and we’re a little more choosy. “I don’t want to do a Zoom birthday with my uncle from Iowa anymore. I want to go out and do things.” We’re becoming more stingy with our time and therefore, things have to draw set.
It also takes good partnerships to make things happen in this world of NFTs and Web 3.0. You guys are working with Polygon, Galaxy and Animoca Brands, who’s also a partner of ours. We’d love to know what your roadmap looks like in terms of other partnerships we can expect.
We haven’t announced a lot of the partners we have intentionally because we wanted to do so with great fanfare. We can talk specifically about one, which is the partnership we’re doing with Atari. We see ourselves as landlords in the metaverse, which is bad because it relates back to real estate, which I told you earlier that I didn’t like.
We create content in the metaverse, and I find it helpful to people when that content comes in the form of things they already understand. Architecture, buildings and places are something people can grab onto. We’ve built an NFT store called the GFT Shop and their NFT is designed for gifting. Each GFT is a gift box that opens on a specific date in time and inside it is something that relates to a cult brand.
The first brand collab we’re working on is with Atari, which is one of the most loved brands. We love it because it’s all about video gaming. It’s where video gaming started. As anybody in the metaverse will tell you, we have to give the nod to the video gaming industry, which is where this all came from. That’s our first GFT product launch that we are offering through the GFT Shop.
In time, we’re doing collaborations with other beloved brands that will be gifts. They’re designed so you can buy it as a gift and give it to somebody else, but it’s an NFT. It has all of the typical NFT bells and whistles in a sense. Some are rarer than others. There’s a scarcity chart and a roadmap of cool things that you’ll be able to do with it in the future.
There’s so much cool stuff retro-wise and nostalgia around brands like Atari and others. I feel like there’s not enough of that, honestly, yet. Many of the things that we love don’t yet have a presence in the space. I’m curious, do you have a phrase that you want to use for virtual real estate or what it is that Republic Realm hasn’t nailed it yet?
I put it up on Twitter and got a bunch of responses. Quite frankly, they all sucked. I’m waiting for it to come to me or somebody else. Maybe we should have a contest and give somebody an NFT if they come up with a good name that we choose. We’re in a unique position of being able to pick the next name, but I still haven’t hit on it. People say, “What about digital estate or digital land?”
I’m like, “Nope, you’re right back where you started.” You are recalling this connection to real estate and things that are low-risk and income-producing. This isn’t that. I don’t know, but I think it’s also important to get out ahead of it so that people don’t think I’m being misleading when I talk about it like metaverse real estate. I think it’s very important that everybody who comes to the space understands how risky it is.
Let’s talk a little bit about potential partnerships and other collaborations you’re doing. What about the roadmap in general for Republic Realm? What else is on that roadmap that we can share with our readers to get excited about?
Lots of things, not all of which we can talk about because they are not yet live or we have deals with our partners that we don’t talk about them, but I can tell you that we’re doing lots of cool things across different genres from sports to culture to music and fashion. We’re spending a lot of time in the fashion digital wearable space. We think it speaks to me more so than sports or shooting things. We think it’s an easily used case. People understand dressing up your avatar.
It’s very easy to understand why you’d want to spend money on that. In fact, I have a daughter who spends a pretty embarrassingly high amount of time in Roblox. She routinely shakes me down. I posted something on Twitter once I made her rerecord it and she said, “Mommy, I need Robux.” Robux is the money in Roblox.
I said, “Why do you need Robux this time?” She goes, “Because my shirt got deleted and all of my friends are making fun of me because my avatar doesn’t have a shirt.” Her generation cares more about the shirt that our avatar’s wearing than the shirt she wears to school. They’re being conditioned to grow up and to spend money on dressing their avatars. Roblox calls things that you buy in Robux NFTs. It stands for Not For Trading.
They literally are conditioning an entire generation of children for this new world order where assets are NFTs and that’s how we buy them and sell them. They’re completely digital but very valuable. They have a hierarchy of value. There’s a game called Adopt Me on Roblox where you collect your dream pet. Different animals are rarer than others. You trade these NFTs with your friends in the game.
It’s literally creating a generation of children who will be buying whatever the next 4 to 8 competitors are when it comes down the pike and they’re old enough to have a MetaMask wallet. The metaverse is already here. We’re too old to know about it. It’s already here for children who have spent years in lockdown in Fortnite. Roblox and Minecraft buy and sell digital assets and conduct their socialization online. They are walking into 3D environments where there’s audio chat and a full social immersive experience.
It was having nightmares about not going to school naked but ended up in Roblox without a shirt.
It’s here and it’s only going to get bigger.
It’s like a delicate balance for folks that aren’t in that metaverse native generation or whatever. What do we hold onto from the past? There’s always this evolution of technology. I know personally, there’s an attachment to encouraging people to be outside and in the “real world” and engaging offline. At the same time, this is the direction things are going.
I don’t think it’s either/or. There was an entire generation of grandparents who were saying, “Video games are going to ruin our youth.” Maybe it hasn’t had the best impact, but we also haven’t had a world war in a very long time. It’s hard to say who was right. If you think about things like VR, you cannot do VR outside. You will walk into a hole or get hit by a car. VR is truly a wasteland if you want to think about how to make sure that we all have the death of civilization.
If it’s something that’s a lighter touch that you can do while you talk to people or more like the way we play on our phones while we do everything, I don’t think it’s the end of civilization as we know it. I think it’s the evolution of the internet. It’s what happens when websites start behaving more like video games. That’s all.
It’s not about people checking out from life. It’s about a generation of people who expect something different from technology, just like our generation expected something different. You don’t look at data or information in an encyclopedia. You never did and had to. You went straight to the internet. Their generation doesn’t do that either. They want to watch YouTube videos or consume information and technology in a different way. They’re expecting things to be interactive and immersive instead of a 2D scroll that you do by yourself. They want to walk into a store and meet their friend.
What can you tell us about the guild you mentioned earlier that you are working on? What’s cooking there?
I don’t think we can announce that yet. It’s cool, though. We can’t talk about it. It’s going to be on our website soon. In this space, you got to do a lot of stuff in style because it moves so quickly that I always say to my team, first of all, I steal lines from smart people. Jeff Bezos is one of them, “Speed matters in business.” That’s a Jeff Bezos line, which we use all the time here.
The second thing I say is, “While you were talking about it, we built it already.” We try not to talk about things, we try just to build. I think we’ve done an amazing job of that in a very short period of time. The metaverse real estate investment vehicle that we launched in March, April 2021, was 1 of 15 things we were working on at the time.
It wasn’t until July 2021 that we decided to focus on that exclusively. It wasn’t until September, October 2021 that we decided to build an entire company around it. If you think about all we’ve done in such a short period of time, it’s been about hunkering down, focusing, building and shipping very quickly as opposed to talking about it. We’ve also benefited from lots of media attention, so we’ve also talked about it too, but while I’m talking about it, there are lots of other people building it.
It might sound like simple and silly advice. You’re not going to have a chiropractic dentist office that’s going to make your rental income or something like that. You said, “You can’t invest in the traditional way that you do in real estate.” It’s not like a medical office or something. It’s something totally different. On the type of note, we want to know what advice you do tend to give people or our readers in exploring the metaverse and real estate there. What’s their first point of entry? What are some common pitfalls to avoid? What’s a good direction to go?
I’m trying not to make this too self-serving. Obviously, if you want to invest in a broad, diversified portfolio, I suggest you go to Republic.co, which is the equity trust platform that has our investment vehicle on it and join the waitlist. If you are discouraged by the fact that there is a waitlist, which may mean you’d never get into that vehicle, you can try doing it yourself.
The risk there is that it’s hard to build a diversified portfolio. In any category, diversification is important. In this one, even more so, because it is so risky, early and volatile. You should enter the space with a lot of humility. Just because it’s called real estate doesn’t mean it’s anything like buying a home, investing in a REIT, or doing anything remotely like real estate.
You should spend a lot of time learning and fully aware of the most likely outcome, which is a total loss of principal. It’s true of anything in crypto and this is no exception. You should invest small, get to know the community first, join Discord for whatever platform you had invested in. If you’ve invested in multiple, try to be a part of the community and understand what it is people are excited about. I think that’s true of anything in this metaverse ecosystem, whether it’s an NFT or buying digital real estate. You shouldn’t do it unless you join the community and become part of it and build on it.
The other thing is this space, these individual metaverses will fail if people buy, squat and don’t develop the real estate because there will be nothing to do when people get there. Metaverse is only interesting if there’s something for people to do when they get there. If everybody buys in the squats, they are going to sink their own ship collectively.
This is an analog to real-world real estate. You can’t go and invest in a crappy neighborhood and expect everybody else to improve it. You’ve got to be one of the people developing, making things better and improving the neighborhood.
Adding value in the community and not thinking about waiting for other people to risk it for you. You got to go in there and spend the time and money, invest in the project, think of something unique and do it.
Metaverse Innovation: The skills required to invest in real estate have almost nothing in common with the skills required to invest in metaverse platforms.
We can’t draw too many parallels to the world of real real estate. We’ve already said, “We’re completely against that.” We can’t do that.
It is somewhat similar to the idea of being a pioneer, building things, getting your hands dirty, and not speculating. It’s not like building a building. The metaphor is that because it’s not a terrible one. It’s not awful. It’s just misleading. When you say you’re building a video game, people say that all the time, “I’m developing a game.” They don’t confuse it with an apartment building. It’s very risky. Everybody knows what a video game is. The word development is used in many different industries. It so happens when you stick it with the word real estate. People think of something very different from what you’re building in the metaverse.
We’re circling something interesting in there. There’s a building something. We’ll figure it out. One last question here before we move over to Edge Quick Hitters. Outside of the Republic Realm world, what other projects do you look to for inspiration in the NFT space?
We look at lots of them. I’m always very cautious about suggesting one project over another because we try to be very agnostic. Our own project is a great deal. We look at Bored Apes a lot. I think you have to look at how that has worked, changed the landscape, and put NFTs into a place that made them not about art much more about community and what you can get when you have one. I think all of the derivative projects that look like Bored Apes are not at all interesting to me. I don’t think the world needs another profile picture project based on apes or any other animal.
That being said, I thought 0:30:06 was very interesting when it came out because it was like the anti-Ape. I have to eat my own words. We’re watching the World of Women. That’s interesting, but again, not that innovative. I love bringing women into the fold. I think what’s more interesting is what’s the next evolution of NFT going to bring? What are we going to see from music?
We’ve been hearing about music for a while now and I still haven’t seen anything personally that I find to be that compelling, but I think it’s coming. Nobody’s quite cracked the code yet, but they will. We have a project but it’s on an online university called Republic Realm Academy where the tuition is an NFT. I think things like that become interesting. Your diploma is your admission ticket, but it’s also your NFT that gets you into class.
In any aspect of crypto, the ownership is also a record of the transaction. It’s the same thing in an educational format. Owning the NFT means that you graduated from the program or you’re attending it. I think things like that have a lot of practical applications, not to universities, but to any event or conference.
That being said, I think when people do an event and they make the tuition or the admission an NFT, it can get very hokey very quickly. It’s complicated unnecessarily. You have gas fees that you don’t always need to pay in order to go to a conference. I think it cuts both ways. We’re still in the early days. I’m excited to see what people are doing that’s different.
Some of the roadmaps we’ve been seeing are clever. It’s visually very intriguing. How can you be completely non-committal while still alluding to the fact your project is moving forward? I think the whole NFT industry has mastered that. Literally no dates and nothing firm, but here’s the roadmap. No other industry would satisfy the holders’ bar for explaining what’s coming next. Somehow on this one, it works fine picture. We’re guilty of this as well, but we all know in crypto, if you promise hard and fast deadlines, you will inevitably miss them. The entire industry is very forgiving when it comes to firm deadlines, but they’ve also been incredibly forgiving when it comes to firm anything. I think that era will soon come to a close.
I think you’re right, but exciting times still. We’re pumped to see where you go next with Republic Realm. It’s amazing what you’ve done so far in such a short period of time out there building. What’s around the corner? We’ll find out soon.
In the meantime, we wanted to take a step back and ask you some questions that’ll get a personal perspective and give our readers a little more understanding of you and how you think. It’s a section we call Edge Quick Hitters. There are ten questions. We are looking for short, a single word or a few word responses, but feel free to expand if you get the urge. Are you ready to dive in on these?
I’m a little scared, but sure.
Question number one, what’s the first thing you remember ever purchasing in your life?
Are you from someplace of a cooler climate?
No. I remember this ugly blue sweater. I think I was probably 8 or 9. My mom gave me money. I think it was like $25 or $50, which I thought was like a fortune. I bought a sweater by myself. I walked up to the cash register and paid for it. It was a splutter.
Question number two, what’s the first thing you remember ever selling in your life?
That was easy, snow cones.
We need a little bit of the background on this one.
I have been an entrepreneur my entire life. I have not had a company. I sold snow cones at the community pool. Do you remember there was like you-made-it-at-home snow cones?
I had one of those. Those things are hard on your fingers.
That’s how badly I wanted to win. I’m from a place where it’s hot. You’re sitting there grinding the ice in the heat, little slivers of ice come out and people are getting angry because you’re taking so long to make it.
Those machines were not made for scalability.
They were not made for industrial use poolside, but lo and behold, and I made it work.
Question number three, what is the most recent thing you purchased?
Could you divulge the contents of that lunch?
I had sushi.
Question number four, what is the most recent thing you sold?
I sold some shares in a company.
Question number five, what is your most prized possession?
I don’t want to say that on a show. What if somebody tries to take it? My second most prized possession is my cat.
Does your cat have a name?
It’s Cannoli. She looks like a cannoli.
Question number six, if you could buy anything in the world, digital, physical, service or an experience that’s for sale, what would that be?
That’s a very open-ended question. Eternal youth, is that for sale or is that not for sale?
Metaverse Innovation: For a metaverse experience to be compelling, you have to lure people away from playing on their phones, from sleeping, from Netflix, from social media.
It depends on where you’re shopping.
If it’s not for sale yet, it will be soon.
I definitely want to buy that. Can you guys find out who’s making that? I will be their first customer.
Question number seven, if you could pass on one of your personality traits to the next generation, what would that be?
Question number eight, if you could eliminate one of your personality traits from the next generation, what would that be?
Needing sleep. I don’t need that much sleep, but I could get those five hours back.
Question number nine, what did you do before joining us on the show?
I screamed to my Head of Marketing, asking if we’re going to have a giveaway on this show and whether we should have one and I think the answer was yes.
The last one, question number ten, what are you going to do next after the show?
Probably check all my various different messaging apps from Telegram to Signal, WhatsApp, Discord, email, Slack, text message and figure out what I missed while I was on the phone with you guys.
Hopefully, nothing too crazy, and that’s it. Thanks for playing with us here for Edge Quick Hitters. That was ten questions. I think that’s a wrap for our time with you. We know you’re busy and want to get back to the building, but we appreciate you spending this time with us. Before we let you go, though, we wanted to do two things. Number one, let folks know where they should follow you and Republic Realm. What’s the best place they should go to?
Is there anything on socials that we need to share with folks?
The second thing was we had a little giveaway that we wanted to share with our readers. What’s the story there?
We will be giving away three GFT limited edition NFTs.
We’ll be sharing all the deets on our socials. Keep an eye out for that. We’ll be doing a lot of fun little releases there and a few requests for our followers to partake in this amazing giveaway. Thanks so much.
When we launched NFTs in the past, we sold speedboats and they went out for 0.1 ETH and now they’re worth 4 or 5 ETH each. We sold a super mega yacht for 150 ETHs. We have a track record of creating NFT projects that turn out to be very valuable. Definitely, you want to stay tuned for that giveaway.
Thanks for the generosity. We appreciate it and even more so, thanks for your time.
Thank you, guys.
Next up, we got very special hot topics. We’re going to talk about ETHDenver with John Paller. He’s a Denver-based Blockchain Entrepreneur, Inventor, Futurist as we all are, the Founder and Executive Steward of ETHDenver. John, welcome. We got to chat a little bit before this but looking forward to chatting some more.
I’m looking forward to it. How are you?
We’re doing great. Going to ETHDenver was a very meaningful moment in my history of this industry. You guys create the vibe, the overall objectives, and the bigger picture of the “let’s make the world better” attitude. Everyone I met at ETHDenver was incredible. It’s what got me pumped about this industry. Thank you.
You’re welcome. You’re not the only one that said that. We’ve had hitters like David Hoffman, Austin Griffith and countless others tell us the same thing, different installations. We’ve had dozens of top projects get incubated and founded at the Hackathon. That’s the whole hallmark of ETHDenver is it’s the only event in the world of its size that has the Hackathon is the main event. Everything else is a conference first and does the Hackathon thing as an afterthought and nobody does it.
This is the main reason we’re getting together. It’s totally a different vibe. We don’t even call it a conference intentionally because it’s not. We call it a community innovation festival. That more represents the vibe. The vibe is much more creative, big tent blank canvas, like expressing who you are and being rewarded for it.
Let’s go back to the beginning, though. How did ETHDenver start? What inspired you to launch this event? How is the event evolved to include projects from all different chains?
In 2016, the Ethereum meetup in Denver was like ten people in a shitty bar and sitting around and talking about smart contracts and stuff that I didn’t understand to begin with. In the early spring of 2017, when the initial ICO boom was kicking off, the interest in the Meetup swelled to max capacity. We had like 300 and something people every month plus a waitlist. We were sitting around. We had no idea that these many people were paying attention to this. Our little dorky Meetup before with ten people, pizza and beer are lame.
After about 4 or 5 months of that, I was getting my entrepreneurial itch of like, “We should build some stuff. We’ve got a lot of people that want to build, so let’s do a hackathon.” The founders of the Meetup were like, “We’ve already done that. Nobody cared.” I’m like, “No. I’m talking about bigger ambitions. Let’s bring in the international community and some luminaries. Let’s build Colorado as a destination of choice for Web 3.0 in blockchain innovation.”
Those were the talking points that we always wanted to do. You’re not going to do that if all you do is have a couple of dozen nerds building some things on the weekend. You need to build it bigger. In the first event, the goal was to have 401 people that we wanted to have. The reason for the number is in October of 2017, and the initial hackathon happened at ETHWaterloo in Waterloo, Canada, outside of Toronto. The reported number is round, but they said they had 400 people.
We set out to have 401 people for posterity. We’re the biggest one ever for locker room comparison. It’s dumb, but whatever. Lo and behold, we had 1,500 people show up from 60 countries. The timing was right. The market was primed. We went through some pretty volatile times with Ethereum back then. It went up to almost 1,500 and then it tanks to 500 and then went back down to 80 or 90 at one point. It was nuts, but the net result was that people had a very different experience.
Metaverse Innovation: They conditioned an entire generation of children for this new world order where assets are NFTs, which are completely digital but very valuable.
Conferences are typically very centralized. They run like businesses. You operate them as a business. From the very get-go, we’ve depended heavily on the community to help us execute. It feels very much like a community of communities. It’s a very deep community here in Colorado now because we have built Colorado into a destination of choice for Web 3.0 in blockchain innovation. That became a reality. That’s happening.
Our governor is the co-founder of Techstars and our securities commissioner is the former chief counsel of the Ethereum Foundation. This will be our fifth installation now. We’re going to ticket 7,000 or 8,000 people and we’ve got 12,000 applications. We don’t have anywhere near the capacity to handle everybody that wants to come. Now that doesn’t mean that everybody is going to be hacking. There are quite a few people that want to attend. The priority is on builders. If you’re trying to get in last minute, we use the meme BUIDL. We invented that in 2018. That got adopted as the counterpoint to like HODL, which is the Bitcoin meme, OG.
You asked the question about how did we get so cross-chain friendly? The thing that we’ve always focused on is building the decentralized future and web. Even though Ethereum has a pretty large head start, we never wanted to be a bunch of Ethereum maxis. There are plenty of possibilities that we have a multi-channel, a cross-chain universe, and all sorts of different things. We were the first ones to do this. We got a lot of flak for it where we invited other chains to come and participate. That created a lot of EDM compatibility and a lot of other things. A lot more collaboration, not every chain is highly collaborative, but most of them are that come and participate in our community
The community gets to decide where they want to allocate their time and attention because it’s a community of community. Because you show up, even if you’re a sponsor, it doesn’t guarantee anything. You’ve got to add value create activations and engagement. I always say the community is the new IP. The projects that are going to be successful in the end have very little to do with their technology and how good it is.
There are some damn good technologies out there that I’ve seen. It’s like, “That’s cool.” They operate it as a corporate hierarchy and nobody in the community wants to use it. It doesn’t matter how good. It’s a very interesting paradigm shift as compared to Web 2.0. That’s where we are. It’s going to be absolutely bananas. We’re literally airdropping thousands of people into Denver. The state’s thrilled. We’ve got our COVID protocols and everything ready to go. To keep everybody safe, we’re paying for everybody’s testing onsite. We’re offering to test as you walk into the venue for free, instant rapid tests.
I’m glad that my team is figuring out our accommodations because I don’t need any more hype interfering with my Airbnb booking.
I would get it in because I get emails every day. Typically, I have a block of rooms that I can allocate. We’re already full. Everything’s blowing up at the seams. I’ve been around the events scene a long time in crypto. I’ve seen OG consensus evolve, all sorts of different things from Ethereal to ECC to whatever. I’ve never seen the FOMO like this. NFT NYC got close, but it was a different population. This is like developers. This is like nerdy coders, crypto-economics experts and super hardcore builders. Not just, “I’m excited about the next NFT project.” There’s nothing wrong with that. We got to get to mass adoption in a lot of different ways, but I’ve never seen anything like it. In one way, we’re excited and the other way, I’m terrified. It’s taken on a life of its own.
It has. I think you’ll find that as you’re identifying, the culture of the event itself is evolving based on the number of interests you’re gaining and the diversity of attendees across all different backgrounds, whether developers, investors, or fans of the space. I’ve participated in several of the ETHGlobal hackathons online, and every single time was blown away by the projects coming out of it, the ideas, the community. It’s all going to come to a head here, live and in-person in Denver.
The average ETHGlobal Hackathon and we’ve not been affiliated with ETHGlobal for some time. We helped them launch at ETHDenver in 2018. We collaborate with each other on a lot of things, but we’re a separate organization. We’re now sparked out as the master community for ETHDenver. The average size of one of those is about 300, 400 people for an online hackathon. We’re talking about 10X that for hackers. We’re talking about 20X, 30X that for total attendees. We were looking at content. It’s hundreds of hours. We have six stages running concurrently of free content from the largest luminaries in the world.
To get access to this, you’re looking at a $500 ticket, probably to be able to come to something like this. We are the world’s largest freest hackathon buildathon innovation festival in the world. It’s free to come. We’ve reduced economic barriers literally almost to zero. There are some time-based economics, travel, and things that might get a little sticky for people, but we even have travel scholarships coming from three different groups. There are some people that will not make money, but they’ll get their projects funded and have zero expenses coming up.
There’s a lot to look forward to. Is there anything in particular that stands out to you as something you’re super excited about as the event here comes to a head?
Every year, we’ve had predictions or set the tone for the year of the fill-in-the-blank. In 2019, we said it was the year of DeFi. It was a little early. We were one year early. In 2020, we said it was the year of the DAO. That was about two years too early. In 2021, we said it was the year of the creator economy, which we were 100% right on that, the NFTs and all this other stuff that’s going on. In 2022, we’re saying it’s the year of mass adoption. The thing I’m most interested in is the technology, the protocols, and the toolsets that have evolved to a place where we’ve got a lot of interesting primitives, natives and tools that can be used.
I’m dying to see how the builder population is going to create the next wave of mass adoption vectors. It’s common. My day job is a good example of that. I work on a project called Apolis. It’s an employment DAO and replicates the feeling of employment with group health care benefits, all the bells and whistles all the way down to get a W-2 for those that work in DAOs and metaverse. These people don’t have employers. They’re generating income.
We’ve created a protocol to plug those people in, to create the bridge between both worlds. We didn’t use a ton of crypto primitives. Under the hood, it’s not Web 2.0 tech. We’re building a public utility infrastructure for this service that’s owned by the community. That’s why we call it an employment DAO or a digital employment cooperative. It has a legal wrapper, but it’s owned and operated by the members like any other DAO would be.
It’s very interesting. The thing I’m most excited about is to echo your point about how amazing it is to see the creativity and the cleverness of the builder population. BUIDL-ers are fascinatingly genius. Every year, it blows my mind at the stuff you see and how they’re pressing the edges. From a group think standpoint, there’s no other possible way to generate so much innovation so quickly than to do something like this, which is why we love doing it.
I don’t know if we’re going to be able to send me there. I love that hackathon environment. We’ll see if this gets to happen. What about speakers? You mentioned luminaries, but is there anybody you’re particularly excited about? I’m so amped about the speaker.
We’ve invited Kimbal Musk to come and talk about his new DAO project. He’s in Colorado. He builds, lives and works in Colorado. As part of our showcase of what’s happening in Colorado, he’ll be here to talk about things like the DAO that’s focused on sustainable food, cultivation and even education for people who want to grow their own food, those kinds of things. It’s cool stuff. Adding in token economics, incentives and all these other cool things, it could be fascinating.
Governor Polis will be back. He’ll be talking about Colorado as the first digital state. That’s an announcement he made at the 2021 installation, his intention to see that as reality. He’ll be giving an update on what we’re doing. Obviously, the pandemic has made things go a little bit slower than I think everybody would like because he’s had his time and attention directed in one emergency or another at times. We have made some progress. I’m interested to hear about that.
Danny Ryan’s going to be in attendance talking about ETH 2.0. Everybody’s wondering what’s going on with ETH 2.0. We’ve got a series of folks that are going to be talking about their stories. Austin Griffith who’s famous for his tooling with BuidlGuidl and Scaffold-eth and his work at the foundation. I remember in 2018, he showed up to ETHDenver in a suit and a bow tie. He had no idea what was going on and now to see him as such a bright contributor in the space is fabulous to see. He’ll be there giving his crypto journey and backstory talking about how ETHDenver was a catalyst for him.
David Hoffman from Bankless will be doing something similar. He’ll be co-emcee. John Mann will be there. He’s been with us since 2019. He launched a successful cooperative DAO for his Song A Day. He holds the Guinness Book of World Records for creating songs every day. He NFTIs them. He’s a good friend of ours. We were part of his meager revenue stream when nobody gave a shit about this stuff.
We were like, “We were NFT-ing his songs and doing all this stuff back in the day.” Now it’s like a big thing. We’ve done that many times where we do things. We had our first NFT art gallery in 2018. Nobody was talking about this. We had our first scavenger hunt. You go to all the crypto conferences and they got POAPs. POAP was also founded in ETHDenver in 2019. It’s Proof Of Attendance Protocol. It’s a Patricio Worthalter out of Argentina.
I think it was like ’18 when I was there and the award went to an ETH-base game and look where we’re at now?
We were predicting that years in advance of when that stuff took off. We’ve had the good fortune of being right on predictions early in most cases. We’ve overestimated the development time, but I think this is the time we’re going to see things accelerate quite a bit. The rapid-fire of innovation is insane. You can have an idea about something. It’s like, “Wouldn’t that be cool?” You find out that somebody has been building it for a year. You’re like, “I had no idea that they were even doing that.” The decentralized nature and the open permissionless ability to build are pretty remarkable. We’re harnessing that in a week-long event to catalyze it even more.
Before we go, I got my acceptance as an attendee and we’ll be doing some episodes. I started poking around and I came upon these Bufficorn NFTs. I immediately aped in and minted one without knowing what I was even buying. It turns out from sharing with you. It’s a pretty rare one. What’s going on with these Bufficorn NFTs?
Your previous guest was on PFP profile picture things and I am too. The only projects that I’m interested in are those that have utility and communities. The good news about our situation is we already have a community. We’ve got a huge community in 106 countries. We’ve had 40,000 people attend, both in person and virtually. People know the ETHDenver brand, Bufficorn and what it represents.
The Bufficorn is the strength of the buffalo and the magic of the unicorn. Buffaloes are uninteresting animals. They’re big and strong, but they don’t do much. The unicorns are assholes. I don’t even know if I can say that. You don’t ever see them with anybody else. They don’t collaborate. When was the last time you saw a unicorn with another unicorn or any other animals for that matter?
We bred them and made up this whole backstory about this war of Etherea and all this stuff and then we came up with the Bufficorn as the patriarch or the leader of this group of characters. There are all these different characters that represent different components of what it means to build this community. The Profile project was launched in November 2021 during NFT.NYC. We’re about 50% sold out. I’m assuming by the time the event comes around, they’re going to be gone.
There is utility at the event. You can only get in private spaces and events if you have a Bufficorn Buidl Brigade PFP NFT. The mint price is 0.1 ETH due to the market conditions. There’s a discount. You can mint up to twenty in a batch. We’ve seen some big mints. We’ve got some bullish community members that love this project. We’ve seen a few of them already sell on the secondary market for some decent amount of money, considering that we haven’t even sold out of the mints yet. Because of the scarcity of the particular assets, the one that you guys got has the Austin grip at the bow tie and shirt, which is super rare.
It’s like 0.3% or something. It might even be less than that. It’s a super tiny population. The characteristics are super fun. They’re mostly geared around things that you’ll see at ETHDenver. There’s one that holds a year of a Matte because we give out free every year. There’s a Bufficorn children’s book that we wrote. There’s a bunch of other little hidden meanings and stuff like rare stuff. Interestingly, some of the rarest ones, if you get a naked Bufficorn where it doesn’t have a lot of stuff going on and is in the picture, are some of the rarest because they don’t have that many traits. Don’t think you didn’t get a rare one. In fact, I almost gave one away for Christmas.
I always check these rarity, so I’m not giving away a top 100 or something. It was like 43 in total rarity. I was like, “I didn’t realize that.” It only had four characteristics versus most of them having 6 or 7, and it’s super rare. Anyway, it’s a ton of fun. It does represent being a part of the community. All of the funds maintain our free status and provide new educational opportunities for people in the space. This isn’t a get-rich-quick thing for our community.
Communities owned by Spork DAO, which the Spork tokenizes, will support the community of communities that we’ve built. It’s a cool thing to say that you were a part of. Communities that build these kinds of art projects into real engagement, if you execute it well, I think it will be beautiful.
You’ve convinced me. During this conversation, I did mint another Bufficorn. I jumped on the train again. This has been amazing. I am excited to see you in person and appreciate you taking a moment to spend some time with us. I think we’re going to do a giveaway, a Bufficorn for our readers.
We are. We will give away a Bufficorn PFP. The instructions for participation in that will be listed on the website. We’ll share it with our social channels as well. Light lifts stuff, go like the pages and do some other things and we’ll give one away.
It may be the most popular Bufficorn in OpenSea. John, how can folks stay in touch with you and learn more about ETHDenver?
We do a live stream every Friday from our Twitch channel. If you haven’t joined Discord yet, I highly suggest doing that. You can find that on our Twitter profile or at ETHDenver.com or on SporkDAO.org. You can find it all over the place. You can come to check in with us there. As far as me, I’m @PallerJohn on Twitter. You can find my public ENS address there if you want to send me any NFTs. I won’t say no to them. That’s probably the best way.
If you want to keep up with the current events on what’s happening leading up to ETHDenver, Friday morning, 10:00 AM Mountain Time, we have a live stream that happens every week to talk about the next thing that’s happening. We drop the next piece of alpha or help orient like what’s going on, where to go, what to do, how the schedule will be, and when I need to come into town. All of those things are there and it’s going to be an insane nine days. It goes from the 11th to the 20th in its totality.
The real meat and potatoes are going to kick off on the 15th after Valentine’s Day. I’m hearing about a ton of things that are happening that first weekend. The list of events that are happening on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday is like pushing 100 side events. It’s insane. The main event kicks off on Friday. Technically, Thursday evening is the opening ceremony. That’ll be action-packed.
Metaverse Innovation: It’s not about people checking out from life. It’s about a generation of people who expect something different from technology.
The real big day is Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is the judging and final competition. We also have a three-venue after-party that will host up to 6,000 people. It will be the biggest. We’re flying in DJs and artists that are very friendly to the NFT space. We’re throwing down. That happens on the evening of the 20th. Before that, we’ll have our closing party with our Colorado Food Show. We’d even got IPA custom beer that we’ve made in partnership with Boss Brewing here in town. There will be 5,000 cans of that running around. It’s going to be insanely fun.
Connect, build and do something awesome. February 11th to the 20th, ETHDenver. John, thanks so much for joining us.
We do have space now that will be dedicated to introverts. If you want a quiet, more chill space without a lot of the crazy stuff, we’ve got that.
The conference is large enough to have indicated a special place for introverts.
I think we’ve reached the outer limit of the show. Thanks for exploring with us. We’ve got space for more adventures on the starship, so invite your friends and recruit some cool strangers to make this journey much better. How? Go to iTunes right now, rate us and say something awesome and go to EdgeOfNFT.com to dive further down the rabbit hole. Remember, we always invite you to co-create and build with us at Edge Of NFT.
We’re unlocking a whole new way to connect and collaborate with us through our own NFT drops, Spirit Seeds, leading to Living Tree NFTs, which light the way to our own event. NFTLA is one of a kind immersive and unforgettable experience at LA Live in Los Angeles from March 28th to the 30th. Check it out at NFTLA.live and move quickly on early bird tickets as they are now live and selling out fast. Lastly, be sure to tune in next time for more great NFT content. Thanks again for sharing this time with us.