Imagine the wisdom in a room of more than 150 world-class speakers, trailblazers, and thought leaders who are shaping the future of industries. Relive the moments from VeeCon 2023 in today’s episode! Our hosts give us three great interviews that dive deep into the power of blockchain, NFT, and the future of Web3. Andy Krainak, the head of VeeFriends, shares where VeeFriends is heading, their vision, and their ambitious IP project. Avery Akkineni of Vayner3 talks about how they are navigating the next era of the Internet. And Nick Robinson, Global Brand Marketing of Meta Quest, lets us in on their partnerships with NBA, creating interesting experiences and access to fans of the game. Don’t miss out on the insights from so many amazing tastemakers in the industry.
Listen to the podcast here
Outer Edge At VeeCon 2023: Vayner3, VeeFriends, Meta& World Of Women
It’s day one here with Andy Krainak, the Head of VeeFriends. Andy, it’s great to have a chance to chat with you before all the fun action in the next few days.
Thanks so much for being at VeeCon.
I expect that there’s going to be a more active display of all this IP that you guys have been building. Can you keep us a little bit of a sneak peek of what we can expect?
My favorite thing will probably be the amount of selfies I’m going to see online of VeeFriends holders and VeeFriends attendees taking photos with VeeFriends Mascots. We had five mascots in attendance last 2022. We have four more that we produced and manufactured for this VeeCon. That’s going to be awesome. Aside from that, there are going to be songs, character IP, and all decorating across Lucas Oil Stadium.
I got to ask. How do you pick who gets to be a mascot? I feel like that’s a pretty important interview process.
We want a diverse array of character types and gender types. Also, I will give you the alpha that Hype Horse is a mascot this 2023. That was specifically selected because we are going to be in Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. There’s a big horseshoe when you walk inside the stadium. Hype Horse is going to be holding down the horseshoe this 2023.
I was the original minter of VeeFriends, but I’m not sure the one I chose would make a good mascot. It was the Bold As F Bat.
I will give you some additional alpha. Halloween is a big time of the year for VeeFriends, and Bold As F Bat as you put it is a Halloween character. That character will come to life during the October season.
That’s appropriate. I’m from Salem, the original home of Halloween and all the witches and whatnot. My first interview was with the official witch of Salem, so it was meant to be my relationship with the Bold As F Bat. Tell us a little bit more about where you are going with VeeFriends and the vision. We heard Gary at the press conference talk about the deep building of IP. What does that look like on the ground in terms of the roadmap for the next few quarters?
VeeFriends is such an ambitious IP, company, and project. We have 283 characters. We are throwing a super conference here at VeeCon. To do it to the level that we want to, we have to think long-term. Gary spoke about building a character guide. We have a character guide for every single character, the design, the voice, the style, and the general vision and purpose for that character and the vehicle in which we want that character to communicate. Aside from that, it’s thinking about the ways in which we want those characters to come to life across social channels, whether it’s YouTube Kids, TikTok, or Twitter. How can we best impact the storytelling natively on those platforms with the characters selected?
Any partnerships that you can talk about that have culminated to bring these characters to life?
I thought of Anwar Carrots because I did another fashion interview. Anwar Carrots is a well-known streetwear fashion designer. He selected a character. Because his brand name is Carrots, he collected stuff or hare, and I thought that was a meaningful and interesting way to bring a character’s life through a fashion collaboration.
We did Toys “R” Us and Macy’s. We had ten different characters for that. Six of them had 3D animated shorts, which is cool. You scan a QR code and you watch this 3D short on YouTube. It’s going to be a continual evolution of the ways in which we can select characters, collaborate with different brands, and try to bring them to life in a meaningful way.
I ran into Jeremy in Austin, Texas and he threw the giraffe at me. I feel like I need to return the favor. Let’s pretend the Grateful Giraffe gets it tossed to you. What are you grateful for?
I got Gratitude Gorilla. I will say I’m grateful for two things. One, I will always be grateful for the health of my family and my friends. That’s it. If I wake up every day healthy and my mother’s healthy and my friend’s healthy, I feel great. Aside from that, I am grateful that it is sunny in Indianapolis. We have a field day coming up. The sun is shining. I can’t wait to have everyone have an amazing time at VeeCon.
Thank you for having us and thanks for your time.
I’m here with Avery Akkineni. I’m excited to catch up with you. It’s been a minute about what you have been up to. Gary talked a little bit at the press conference about the evolving conversation with brands and how they are intersecting with Web3. How are you approaching these conversations and collaborations with brands and Web3 these days relative to years ago?
We launched Vayner3 years ago, and it’s been such a fun roller coaster of so much hype and excitement around NFTs, and then it was metaverse and now it’s AI. It’s been a fun journey to work with our partners through navigating the next era of the internet because relevance is always transitory. Hot new thing changes every few months.
For us, we have been spending a lot more time listening, learning, and strategizing than activating. Think if this were 2022, everyone was still very hot on like, “I need to launch something yesterday.” Now it’s a little bit of a different climate. People want to be a little bit more thoughtful and ensure that anything that’s happening in their innovation group is laddering into business objectives in a very clear way. The economy has also shifted pretty dramatically in the past months.
People are a little bit more in listen, learn, and strategize mode than activate mode, which has been a fun journey to be on. We have shifted our team’s focus to broaden our purview to encompass everything that’s in this next era of the internet. We are doing a lot in the world of blockchain but also in the world of advanced computing via AI and immersive experiences via some cool partnerships that we have, like some of these metaverses and AR. It’s all coming together and manifesting as this nice package. That’s resonating with our partners and helping them make sense of putting some of these pieces together.
The convergence is here. We are launching a new show, Edge of AI, because it’s an important contemporary conversation. Let’s dive in there a little bit. How are you personally day-to-day using AI?
When I first became aware of Midjourney, I was blown away because I have spent my whole career in digital marketing. We do a lot of decks, storyboards, and mockups. I was like, “Anyone can type prompts in and it generates something.” You don’t need a designer who knows how to use Photoshop the same way we have. That’s going to free up my team to be so much more creative.
Last time, I was like, “Everybody in Vayner3, you have three months to get proficient at using this because this is going to change how we work. We need to understand this so deeply ourselves before we can take it to our partners.” We are getting our hands in a hang of that, starting to mark all of our decks generated with AI and get all of our licenses, and then ChatGPT happened. I was like, “This is another exponential change in the way that people are going to access information and communicate.” Also, they are going to have this whole new generation of expectations of how personalized their internet experience can be.
We leaned into that as well just teaching ourselves. The first time you typed something in, everybody was horrible. My first prompt was ten couches on a purple rug. I didn’t know what to put, and then you get better and you are like, “In the noon light in Indianapolis. Felt couch.” You add more descriptions and it gets better and better, “Photorealistic style.”
We started to internally get quite good at prompt engineering. The person who is leading our task force for this is a creative director and he’s also an artist. He has his artistic style, a guy called Nate Bear. His name is Bear Brains’ first art. He posted a video that had won a competition outside of work for generative AI. He has gotten so good that his AI-generated art reflects the style that he does for his colorful illustrations.
I have seen that same thing happen with many folks on my team who have gotten so good at embracing it internally. Just like anything with Vayner, we get to understand it ourselves and then we go bring it to our partners, and that’s the place where we are now. The last time was too early. We were still getting our hands on it.
At the beginning of 2023, we started to introduce our partners to this and show them and demonstrate the power of this technology. Now we are in a place where we are working with a lot of them to capability build within their organizations and start mapping use cases to their business. Like with NFTs, there’s a host of legal and ethical questions and we need to be extremely sensitive to that, but we are on that journey of how to move from AI as a novelty to AI as a utility for business building.
It’s funny you mentioned that acumen and building that acumen. My girlfriend decided to start battle rapping with ChatGPT. Now these battle raps have gotten quite entertaining I must say. They have improved over time. Bringing all this conversation together, are there specific brands that you are working with that are launching things that you can talk about or have done things around this convergence that are coming up that are able to be discussed in public at this time?
We have something pretty fun coming out working with our partners at Red Bull on Red Bull Doodle Art. This is a competition that they have been running for decades for student artists and they always add some fun new element. This 2023, they added the element of collaborating on an NFT. There are 61 finalists from different countries who got to collaborate with Burnt Toast on doing a cool piece. This is publicly available in the press.
It’s fun. There’s going to be a final in Amsterdam, which will be amazing that’s happening. I’m excited about that as a way to onboard the next generation of artists into the world of NFT, Web3, and digital collectibles. We are stoked about that. A sneak peek coming for one of our partners at Crocs, they are doing some fun stuff. Crocs is such a fun beloved brand in that space. We have got great partners like Johnny Walker, AB, and Pepsi activating a VeeCon as well.
Those are great iconic pioneering brands. Red Bull has always been at that intersection of culture and technology, so it makes a lot of sense for them to lead the way. I’m excited to learn more about these projects and see all these activations and actions at VeeCon. Thanks for spending a little bit of time together.
I’m with Nick Robinson, Global Brand Marketing at Meta Quest. It’s great to have you here.
It’s great to be here.
I notice a pretty meaningful presence here for you all. What brings you to VeeCon?
This is the second year they have done it, and it’s such a dynamic conference that brings together so many amazing tastemakers from the industry. It’s a chance to come and be a part of such a tight-knit community and learn about what’s happening at the forefront of tech, NFTs, Web3, and all the above, and hear some great amazing talks and speakers. It’s a moment that we wanted to be a part of.
You guys are also evolving with the times. Everyone is curious about what’s been cooking and you mentioned a little bit about that to me. Maybe we can talk to the readers about your partnerships with MBA and what’s going on there.
We renewed our agreement with the NBA. Over the next couple of years, we are looking to lean in a major way. We view the NBA as one of the most dynamic professional sports leagues out there. The huge multicultural fan base is oftentimes on the bleeding edge of culture in general. We felt like that was a great entity and organization to align our brand with.
We have some great interesting experiences in VR headsets and Meta Quest for NBA fans. Fans this season had a chance to watch up to 52 games in the headset. Many of those were what we call immersive games. As a fan, you can be sitting on your couch but also sitting courtside of Madison Square Garden at the same time. It is believing in giving fans that access and what other piece of the device can make you feel like you are sitting courtside in that way.
I can think of so many use cases, like if someone has a disability or maybe they don’t live close to where their favorite team plays.
Let’s be honest. Games are expensive. The cost of a courtside ticket is much more expensive than the cost of a Meta Quest headset.
I took my mom to see the Celtics play the Hawks in game two of that series. Fortunately, Celtics did their magic, but she was like, “How much does this ticket cost?” “Mom, it doesn’t matter.”
Just come and enjoy the experience.
It is that accessibility. For the NBA, imagine that they are thinking about attention spans and how to invigorate a younger crowd and get them more excited about the game.
The younger generation’s viewing habits are evolving. League and brands like us need to learn how to evolve with them. How can we provide experiences that meet their wants and needs now and in the future? Not only can you watch NBA games on the headset, but in Horizon Worlds, we have a world called NBA Arena. You can go there and interact and chat with different NBA fans. There are mini-game experiences you can have, and then we have a cool jumbotron that runs the NBA highlights. Dress up your avatar in an NBA shirt. There are lots of different experiences. We are trying to help propel these fans.
What hardware is required to experience this?
You will need a Meta Quest VR headset. We have two in the market now, Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro. These are free experiences in headsets. Once you have the headset, you are watching NBA games for free.
That’s a little life hack right there. You don’t have to go to some cable subscription service for $1,499 a month.
I’m talking year-round. You have NBA games during the NBA season, but the WNBA season is starting up. We have WNBA games all summer long. There are G League games. Through our partnership, we have access to the 2K Sports. Tune into those matchups as well. There is a lot of exciting content.
For those that don’t know, what’s the 2K Sports League?
It’s an eSports league that the NBA created a partnership with NBA 2K, where teams are playing head-to-head in the game. There are a lot of good matchups. Almost every NBA team has an affiliate 2K Sports League team. That’s been growing crazy.
To do your job properly, you got to be able to play the game.
It’s only right that you know.
I showed you a little. I flexed my NBA 2K team. What’s your team all about? Is it stack?
It’s a stack squad. I got Shaq at the center position.
I had him for a while, but I have to say that Giannis is performing for me more consistently.
I got Dirk at the fore just so I can spread the fore a little bit. At the point guard position, I got Baron Davis. He was a dog. For the shooting guard, I got CJ McCollum to give me those three-point strokes. At wing, I got KD.
We are going to have to play sometime in VR. If folks want to do this to get the headset, where do they go to sign up? How does that work?
Once you have the headset, we have NBA experiences in our Horizon Worlds app. You will download that app. It’s free to download and then you can go into that experience. We also have another app that’s fairly new in the headset called X Stadium. This is our hub for sports content and headset. Not only can you watch basketball games. We have other sports like tennis, golf, and so forth. We are going to be adding new sports content to that platform in 2024. That’s exciting. Back to Hulu’s campaign, Hulu has live sports. Quest also has live sports. It makes you feel like you are there.
I learned something new. I’m glad we could spend a little bit of time together chatting about what you are working on. Is anything else coming up on the roadmap that you can mention this time?
We should be having some exciting innovations come to the floor. They have to keep an eye out and see what comes with that.
A little bit of pre-alpha there. If folks want to stay in touch and learn more about all this, where do they go?
You can go to Meta.com. We have all the information there. We have a Meta Quest blog as well. We are always editorializing all of our news updates so you can keep track of cool experiences or cultural moments that we took part in, but then also what we have coming up as well. That’s also great. You can follow @MetaQuest on Instagram and Twitter as well. There are lots of ways to stay connected.
Who knows? You can find Nick on the 2K court somewhere in the metaverse.
You can find it. I’m around. I don’t hide.
Thanks for spending a little time with us. I look forward to seeing you in the metaverse and keeping tabs on what you guys are up to.
This has been great. Thanks.