Tom Bilyeu is unlocking the power of storytelling with NFTs
Tom Bilyeu appeared on the Crypto Conversation podcast. The following is an edited transcription of the podcast highlights.
Tom Bilyeu: “I first got into business because I was trying to get into film and I had written a screenplay. It got turned into a feature length film, but I was very unhappy with how it came out. I met two successful entrepreneurs. And they said, ‘If you want to control the art, you have to control the resources. We're going to start a company. Why don't you come with us?’ I thought let's do that. We ended up starting a bunch of companies. I thought it would take 18 months. It took 15 years, but it did work.”
The company that Tom has just exited was a little company called Quest Nutrition. Tom and his partners took it from zero to being valued at over a billion dollars in five years.
Tom Bilyeu: “Now I can finally start the studio that I’ve always wanted to build, it’s called Impact Theory. My goal is to build the next Disney. And so we make stories, comic books, TV, the lot. Our goal is to tell one kind of story from a thousand different angles, we want to create the most empowering place on earth. It’s called impact theory because telling stories is my theory on how to best impact people at scale.”
One of the ways that Tom and his team plan to make an impact is through NFTs. But it took a persistent employee to convince Tom that he should consider crypto at all.
Tom Bilyeu: “My crypto induction was an employee who just kept saying, ‘Tom, you must look at crypto.’ And I was like, ‘I'm not an investor. I know how to make money. I have no interest in learning how to invest money.’ But he wouldn't let up and eventually I realized it was about digital scarcity. And now of course we call it NFTs, but back then they didn't exist. When I looked at it again I realized that this is going to change my business and I immediately understood it as a product guy. And so six or seven months ago, when NFTs started popping, I was like, whoa, this is true digital rarity, it’s here and we need to go all in on this.”
When Tom says he went all in, he means it. Tom’s crypto portfolio is a mix of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Chainlink. And NFTs, of course.
Neon Future by Steve Aoki
Tom Bilyeu: “I started investing millions of dollars into crypto. I really believe in the thesis as eloquently explained by Michael Saylor, he does a way better job than I could ever hope to do. The information is out there. People can take this freely available information and you can radically change your financial outlook just by getting some knowledge. For creatives, if you understand what's happening at the technology level, NFTs are a game changer. I’ve been working with DJ Steve Aoki for several years. We created a webcomic called Neon Future, which is based on his album series. That became quite popular, and NFTs are just a super interesting way for us to extend that universe in new and exciting ways. The first project we did was a collaboration with an artist called Maciej Kuciara who has worked on the Marvel cinematic universe and Ghost in the Shell.”
Art by Maciej Kuciara
For Tom’s team, mythology and storytelling is a deep part of everything they do. While he is trying to build the next Disney, it is anime and manga that has captured his imagination.
Tom Bilyeu: “I am trying to impact culture with stories. So I looked at who is telling stories best. I can't go straight to film and TV. It's just too expensive because in any creative endeavor, you're going to fail roughly 19 out of 20 times. So if I were trying to do TV or film, I'd go out of business. So for me we are starting with comics. To give you an idea of the scale difference between Western comics and Eastern comics, one title in manga, it's called Demon Slayer, it outsells the entire Western market. It sells more than Batman, Superman, Marvel and DC combined. There's just something different happening in the east in terms of how they tell stories. I then read a book called _A Billion Wicked Thoughts_. It is not for the faint of heart, as it's looking at what Google searches tell us about human sexuality. But it is so fascinating and the most interesting thing to come out of that is the idea that between the ages of 11 and 15, all sexual fetishes are developed. And when I read that, I realized, if I'm trying to influence you, this is when people go through this incredibly culturally malleable period. The Japanese understand this, and they give young people at that age the stories they want. So for the last three years, I have clocked an unreasonable amount of hours and I have fallen in love with anime and manga in a way I would have never predicted, but I'm just completely captured by it creatively, by the way that they tell stories. Now if you combine it with what's going on in the world of blockchain and NFTs, you put all this together, and I've got a shot at beating Disney, which is ultimately my game.”
To tell a good story is one thing, but the uniquely interactive properties of NFTs allow for entirely new layers of storytelling as Tom explains.
Morning Routine NFT
Tom Bilyeu: “It’s still early but the way that people are responding to NFTs should tell you everything you need to know to imagine where this can go. I love Mecca. So it's robots, right? So I'm going to take, let's say, an NFT series of cars, whatever. Maybe it's a 10,000 run of generative art, whatever it is. I create all these robot parts that you can then put together into one robot fighter and now you have an NFT and hey, maybe it's just art. And if it's raining in real life, it's raining in your NFT, right? So now my NFT takes cues from the real world. That's already the coolest toy I've ever had because it reacts to the real world. Then on top of that, well, what if I could battle? So I spent all this time buying these parts that have utility by putting them together. So now I have a robot that's unique visually, but also is unique from its attributes. And so now I fight that against another robot that somebody built. Now, imagine that my NFT of this is connected to my art that I have on my phone or hanging on my wall. And now it looks different whether it won or lost. If I lose a battle my robot looks defeated and battered, and the only way to restore it is to fight it again. And now that win or loss is recorded on the blockchain. So now if I'm winning I can raise the value and if I'm a 12 year old kid, that has real value to me. So now you just get this relationship. The things that you invest in are actually yours and anybody that underestimates that I think is going to get caught off guard by what's about to happen because we see kids pouring thousands of dollars, every birthday, every Christmas, mom and dad buy skins in Fortnite. This is just the next level of that same thing and really, this is just this beginning. it’s gonna be incredible.”
The mecca robot battle NFTs described above sound like a lot of fun but Tom goes further. Once you add layers of VR and AR, NFTs can unlock even more exciting possibilities.
Tom Bilyeu: "I think we're still a few years away from Ready Player One. But as a digital studio we can use NFTs to do things like showcase concept art, so you can see the evolution of the IP. Right now we can go put billboards inside of a space in Decentralland. Soon there'll be a seamless exchange between you and an NFT that gives you access to a certain area on one of these worlds, which then allows you to play a game that nobody else can. The bit avatar that you bought as an NFT, you can download new dance moves or motions or different sorts to play in the game. It will all be so integrated. AR is even more exciting because it's near term. When Apple glasses come out in the next 24 months you'll have your favorite NFT just hanging out on your shoulder. I could appear as a mecca to other people. Or as a Mecca enthusiast, I could have my Mecca three stories, four stories, tall walking behind me in VR. How cool is that? The way that we'll be able to signal to other people, to find people that are in our tribe, this gets so interesting so fast. So yeah, that is near term.”
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