Meet Vermont Startup Betting Amazon, Gucci And Google To Be Disney In The Metaverse

JThe future cultural center of the Metaverse will be 3,000 miles from Hollywood and Silicon Valley, in a century-old brick and wood warehouse in Burlington, Vermont. On the shores of Lake Champlain, superplastic founder Paul Budnitz and a team of designers have spent the past five years creating a roster of digital characters and intricate stories designed to attract millions- millions of fans – and possibly billions of dollars – in entertainment, music and fashion. . , NFT and crypto in the evolving Web3 world.

Walt Disney used early cinema to launch his entertainment juggernaut. Marvel takes the same trick out of comics. Budnitz, a 54-year-old serial entrepreneur, has set up a wacky media character content studio designed to thrive on the future metaverse. The world with a black Superplastic theme like The Matrix rather than Wonderland. Its colorful residents make millions from their own social media. They also made $ 20 million selling thousands of NFTs along with Christies and others. They partyed with Paris Hilton, hung out at Fortnite, collaborated on physical collectibles with rapper-singer J. Balvin, and even got paid as Gucci models.

“Our business is an ever -growing universe of characters,” Budnitz said. “As they become popular, they can live in any digital market. I am willing to do anything in any market where I can understand and care about the public and I can do something good.

Inspired by newspaper comics from the early 1900s, Superplastic debuted its first characters in 2020 before NFTs even became part of the mid-pandemic zeitgeist. But unlike comics, the metaverse nature of their origin allows everyone to travel between different locations, online and offline, through digital content and physical collections. Janky, a cat -like character, loves pop culture, music, and sneakers. Guggimon, a rabbit known for the most arrogant personality, loves horror movies and fashion, but also posts content about controlled substances and downward spirals. Later came Dayzee, a rapper who knew all about business and technology.

“Our work is very contemporary,” Budnitz said. “The characters are evolving. And also, I’m very nervous about someone not sitting around for long.

Investors in technology, entertainment, retail and fashion are betting on Superplastic’s uniqueness. Since its funding phase in 2018, the company has raised $ 46 million from a mix of backers including VC heavyweights (Google Ventures and Index Ventures) and showbiz angels (Ashton Kutcher, Justin Timberlake, The Chainsmokers and Jared Leto) .

Now Budnitz says Forbes that Superplastic received an additional $ 4 million in strategic investment from Amazon, Sony Japan, Animoca and Kering, the parent company of Gucci and Balenciaga. New sponsors bring money, cache, and critical access to global media and commerce channels.

The Amazon deal will help develop longer -lasting movies and comics. Sony will be the key to music and film distribution in Asia. Animoca has already partnered with Superplastic on NFTs within Rev Racing and The Sandbox. Kering, who previously partnered with NFT’s Superplastic and hand -crafted porcelain sculptures of characters by Gucci – is exploring new types of digital and physical products.

Superplastic is just one of several startups Kering backed last year to explore disruptive business models without overexposing luxury brands like Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent. Other new investments include second-hand fashion platform Vestiaire Collective, UK luxury handbag subscription platform Cocoon.Club and buyable streaming platform NTWRK. Gregory Boutté, Kering’s Chief Client and Digital Officer, says early experiences show that there is already a “huge appetite” for NFTs and that their exclusive and creative nature is in line with the characteristics of luxury items.

“We see that this trend is going to have a lot of implications for our industry,” Boutté said. “We didn’t know how, so we wanted to stay home.”

A A serial entrepreneur, Budnitz founded toy and entertainment company KidRobot in 2002 before selling it in 2013. In 2014 he founded Ello, the ad-free social networking platform, and a decade ago he launched Budnitz Bicycles, a bike shop in Burlington that was closed during the pandemic.

Next to his desk was a poster on the wall that read “Death to Nostalgia,” a rally cry he had carried with him since his days at KidRobot. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t inspired by the past. His characters were inspired by past comics such as Krazy Kat and Ignatz, which were published in a newspaper from 1913 to 1944. He also liked the Belgian comic duo Asterix and Tintin.

In some ways, Superplastic is a second action for Budnitz. Under his leadership of more than a decade, KidRobot has secured deals on a wide range of movies and brands. He has produced action figures for The Simpsons, Iron Man, South Park and Family Guy. They also partner with different brands such as Volkswagen and Louis Vuitton as well as shoes for Nike and snowboards for Burton. A dozen Budnitz figures are still on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The experiences with KidRobot also taught him an important lesson that is now a staple for Superplastic: don’t give up on intellectual property. He remembers creating new KidRobot characters that were selected for future movies that were never made and shelved in one studio or another. However, he said he still gets royalty checks for a film that hadn’t been made 12 years ago.

“If you look at how animated media is traditionally done,” he said. “An artist usually has a good idea, they sell it to a big studio, and then the studio takes all the money, control, and usually ruins it.”

Budnitz was also inspired by Walt Disney himself from the 1950s, when Mickey’s creator controlled all of his intellectual property. This control allows Disney to “do its kind of wonder and create a truly transformed vision of a new world” in movies, TV shows, physical movies. products, and theme parks.

DDigital celebrities and virtual characters are becoming more popular. In March, former Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that he had invested and joined the board of Genies, a $ 1 billion startup that allows people to create their own 3D avatars. While, leading Hollywood talent agencies have signed on to represent a variety of popular NFT -born digital characters such as Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), CryptoPunks and Meebits, each collection has its own network of brands, fans, content and business.

“This space, we look back on as we look at social media,” said Sarah Early, marketing manager at UTA. “Everyone has to have a part in it and intervention without a strategy is not enough.”

With Superplastic, the plan is always focused on the characters and all the movies, music, stories, and sponsors that go with them. But the growing interest in digital collectibles is the perfect timing for Budnitz, who has a long history of making and selling limited edition physical items.

Bryan Rosenblatt, a partner in the San Francisco -based venture capital firm, invested in 2019. When Superplastic announced its Series A, Rosenblatt said Forbes that Budnitz is a “creative genius” with a track record of “building these cult brands and with a good eye on art, entertainment and business.”

“It’s a completely different vibe than any tech company I’ve invested in or worked for,” said Moshe Lifschitz, managing partner of Shrug Capital, which also invests in Superplastic’s Series A. “There’s something about the approach. of Paul on approaching building a business and a cradle to be happy. “

Real -world ambition also helps differentiate Superplastic. He recently launched a new vinyl art toy collaboration with BAYC. In June, he plans to open a store in New York that will sell physical goods and have a secret room for NFT owners. He also worked with a partner to open a sushi restaurant and with another on a “comedy-hip-hop-horror” animated film starring Janky and Guggimon.

The big question is whether Janky and Guggimon fans will follow them to the box office, listen to their albums, buy their products, and travel deeper and deeper into their metaverse, no matter where the rabbit hole is.

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