Planet of the Billion Dollar Bored Apes
Is Bored Ape Yacht Club a Decentralized Disney?
Please imagine the following company:
- 1M+ followers on Twitter and Instagram
- $137M in 2021 revenue
- ~22K current users
- 93% Net Revenue Margins
- An average revenue per current user (ARPU) of $6,227
This is one of, if not the, most successful consumer companies of all time! Just one weird thing—many people think the product is utterly useless. But does that even matter?
This is the core conundrum (and 2021 financial performance) of Yuga Labs, the creator of Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC). The BAYC is well known in some circles, but for my readers who are unaware, they are the most popular and prominent NFT collection today. Their initial product was 10K unique pictures of monkeys that are tradeable and sellable. When they were first published, each went for roughly $200. The cheapest apes in the collection are currently going for roughly 100 ETH or $285K. If you bought in the beginning and held, you would be sitting at around a 142,400% return. So…pretty good. BAYC has since added in a few other products, all of which revolve around NFTs.
I’ve previously written about my dislike of these types of Crypto companies. They sell a product that is wholly reliant on convincing other people that the product is valuable. There is no utility besides that which current holders convince prospective buyers exists. They’re just MLMs for nerds. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are a really interesting technology, but I am skeptical that expensive profile pictures are the winning use case. And maybe it’s true that I just don’t “get it,” but we should also consider that the guy who invented Ethereum (the blockchain the monkeys are built on) isn’t impressed with BAYC either,
“One silver lining of the situation in the last three weeks is that it has reminded a lot of people in the crypto space that ultimately the goal of crypto is not to play games with million-dollar pictures of monkeys, it’s to do things that accomplish meaningful effects in the real world,”
Any company playing the NFT profile pic game knows that the music will eventually stop. They have to deliver some sort of additional value beyond speculative price inflation. Till recently, we haven’t seen anything more solid than some vague guesses at BAYC’s next moves.
Today, for paying subscribers, I’ll be analyzing screenshots from their latest pitch deck—highlighting their product roadmap, financial performance, and 5 year strategy. I’ll walk through the important slides, give analysis on top, and forecast the likelihood of their success. The company just raised $450M at a $4B valuation on the pitch of becoming the “decentralized Disney,” so some smart people must think this is a good idea!
It is important to note that ultimately I am rooting for all startups to succeed (yes, even BAYC). The world needs more competition and weirdness and bizarrehoods. The goal for today is not negativity but objectivity—an exercise where we hypothesize together what long-term success for BAYC could look like.
Is BAYC the future of media? Or just a weird blip in the history of technology?
The Pitch Deck
For brevity’s sake, I’ve cut the deck to only the most important slides with performance stats. If you are looking for the whole 90 slides in all their glory, you can find a tweet thread linking them here. In typical startup fashion, the company begins by listing their Ws: massive community, famous customers, and substantial social following. All of these are impressive.
The phrasing “Blue Chip NFT” is one that threw me a little bit. Blue Chip is a phrase that I associate with an asset class, not a technology product. It goes back to the historical positioning of NFT profile pic products, speculative assets. By starting the deck off with a reference to the speculative value of their product, they are likely reinforcing the unprecedented financial and cultural clout of the project, but to me, this reinforced the lack of inherent value for these jpegs.
Then, they show how many followers they have:
Pretty typical things to display, and impressive! But still—nothing unusual or challenging.
After that, the narrative turns towards the metaverse.
In this section of the deck, BAYC’s team argues that essentially every company will be a metaverse company. The whole world will change! Nothing will be as before! Again, super typical startup rhetoric. Additionally, they argue that everyone else’s metaverse kinda sucks. They are boring, blase, and bound for failure. What do they lack? Well according to the company, they lack…
This is the kind of assertion where my grandmother would say “bless their heart.” (In her Virginia backwoods homeland, this is the equivalent of calling someone a moron.) The slide above is not a good thesis by BAYC. By arguing that the metaverse needs “real stakes,” the company is positing that without financial stakes, communities are dead. The metaverse needs heart and soul and million-dollar monkeys to really succeed. (There are a ton of counterexamples to this perspective that we will get to in a minute.) But BAYC goes even further—they think there is a kind of metaverse that sorta already works.
And here it is! The grand vision! It’s a videogame metaverse! This is…not new. But this video game metaverse will be interoperable! This is new!…maybe. It depends on what you mean by interoperable. IP is absolutely interoperable. It is a tried-and-true tactic of major video games to bring in other companies’ intellectual property in an attempt to sell digital skins. Activision does it with anime skins in Call of Duty. Fortnite does it with Marvel and the NFL and Naruto and and and. Fortnite has a metaverse with basically every story under the sun. Creative IP partnerships are not differentiated.
This is just blatantly false. Cultural obsession does not equal the ability to make great video games.
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