During NFT NYC last June, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian made a surprising appearance from a distance to announce the latest company for which his VC firm 776 opened a lead funding round — a company he said would “set all sorts of standards” in what blockchain is. technology can do and has the potential to become a global entertainment brand. Considering Ohanian has been investing in the crypto space for over a decade, that’s not a projection to take lightly.
Doodles counts NFT influencers and celebrities, including Pranksy and DJ Steve Aoki, among their community. (Ohanian owns “a good few” himself that he says remind him of his five-year-old daughter Olympia.) Pharrell Williams came on board in June as the company’s chief brand officer. And 776 recently announced it closed a $54.5 million raise, giving Doodles a $700 million valuation — not bad for an NFT project in a bear market.
“Doodles is strongly positioned to continue to define the NFT industry, give millions to the blockchain and become one of the most inclusive, creative, joyful media brands in Web3 and beyond,” said Katelin Holloway, founder of 776. the Doodleverse, we see an incredible amount of potential that goes way beyond NFTs.”
It’s what many NFT holders and creators think about: how to elevate a digital image into something more than a social media flex. Of course, the race to Hollywood and beyond was grim with the NFT market still struggling to find its way amid a shaky market. The Doodles team explains how they’re overcoming a wave of volatility to scale Doodles into a next-generation entertainment empire.
A colorful past
Doodles is the brainchild of co-founders Evan Keast, Jordan Castro and Scott Martin. As Dapper Labs alumnae, Keast and Castro were key players in the development of Cryptokitties, the company’s groundbreaking 2018 game that allowed users to breed digital cats as NFTs. But in early 2021, the two began to envision what their own NFT project would be — one that, as Keast puts it, would “expand the space” in a way that would center the community with a collective treasury and a real sense of justice .
“In early 2021, tons of NFT projects came out, but there wasn’t much transparency,” Keast says regarding token allocations and ensuring fair drops.
Equally important was finding a signature look for their collection.
Projects with profile pictures or PFPs are the main drivers of the NFT market. According to the NFT analysis platform NFTGois the market cap for PBB’s $13.3 billion compared to collectibles, the second closest category, at just $3 billion.
Creating characters who could make their way into a market dominated by lethargic monkeys and pixelated punks was an uphill task, and it fell to artist and animator Scott Martin.
Around the time when Keast and Castro were chatting about ideas, Keast had the opportunity to work with Martin while advising for a Web3 company. Martin’s cartoonish character style with bold outlines, vibrant colors and eyes that struggle to stay attached to faces had already earned him quite a following on social media and clients including Google, DropBox and Adobe.
With NFT development company West Coast NFTs providing the technical infrastructure and Martin’s whimsical universe of people, fire flames, pickles and popsicles, Doodles launched in October 2021 with 10,000 generative NFTs – and a bit of controversy.
Locking up in the community, shutting out hype
About a month before Doodles went live, the team temporarily closed the Discord with just over 1,000 members. Critics accused the gatekeeping and FOMO ramping team. But most people saw it as what the founders intended: a way to lock up a solid community outside the gate.
“We were a bit annoyed by the amount of hype and noise that was in the room at the time,” Keast says. “There were tons of speculative NFT drops going on, artists or founders coming seemingly out of nowhere would do seven figure drops and they wouldn’t really work further on the roadmap. That’s why we wanted to try a different approach.”
After the initial minting, which sold NFTs at a relatively higher price at the time of 0.123 ETH to at least an initial treasury of 420 ETH, the Discord reopened welcoming new members and Doodles quickly started generating buzz as one of the next blue chip. -projects ; and as a PFP it’s not hard to understand why.
“These PFPs are all about the art – and there is some questionable art out there,” said Yohann Calpu, chief marketing officer of NFT analytics platform CryptoSlam. “But with Doodles, I don’t think there’s a question. It sure is beautiful.”
With its childlike design and pastel colours, Doodles is visual cotton candy. In addition, Martin believes that the success of Doodles comes from having such approachable and playful characters, as it makes it easier for people to identify with a Doodle.
“PBBs are naturally something you want to identify with. And if it’s angry or negative or masculine or hyper-detailed, it’s hard to feel good connecting your brand and your name to those kinds of images,” says Martin.
Up to that point, Martin also notes how inclusivity was at the forefront of creating his characters, which he says resonates with the community. “We wanted it to be inclusive, but not overlooked,” he says. “Only that anything and everything in this world can exist — and it does.”
The Doodles team had the basics in place: a community treasury, the Doodlebank, where holders vote on certain aspects of the business, such as creating official derivative projects Noodles and Pukenza, and an immediate roadmap for expanding the project with Space Doodles. , a February drop-in for holders of the original 10,000 NFTs to have a space-themed option for their Doodle.
However, for their long-term plan to become a global entertainment brand, the Doodles team needed a CEO with expertise in building IP. Enter Julian Holguin, the former president of Billboard which led the publication from a B2B commerce to a more consumer-oriented product.
Holguin was already thinking of an NFT project before Billboard when he met the Doodles team in early 2022 and did light consulting work for them. But his growing interest in space and admiration for Doodles forced him to make the full-time leap as CEO in May.
“There was already a lot of money on the balance sheet and the opportunity to turn this into a full-fledged tech and media company had never been greater,” says Holguin.
To do this, Holguin is looking beyond the massive commoditization of technology around NFTs to focus on strengthening Doodles as a brand.
“It won’t be a big deal to use blockchain technology or NFTs to create new experiences for your existing and potentially new customers,” he says. “The brands and storytellers are special. Likewise, making a T-shirt isn’t necessarily special, but being Gucci is. Similarly, recording your voice on a song isn’t special, but being Kanye West is. That’s what the Doodles team is to the NFT ecosystem.”
To ensure a cohesive brand message, Doodles has chosen to give NFT holders limited proprietary IP rights, which may not be to everyone’s taste.
Yuga Labs set a high standard for NFT projects by releasing full IP rights to holders of Bored Ape Yacht Club and then CryptoPunks and Meebits following the acquisition of Larva Labs earlier this year. It’s a move that clearly has utility, something that’s becoming increasingly important as NFT space has taken a nosedive in recent months. However, the Doodles team is betting on long-term value for the brand and its holders in general versus more direct personal gain.
“We are at such a delicate point in the evolution of a brand,” says Holguin. “We believe that controlling the story around Doodles is the best choice in the short term as there is a lot of brand activity that could weaken the greater good of the project.”
There has been talk of licensing Doodles from holders for the likes of comic books, TV shows and music videos – and the potential there, especially for the latter, could be on the horizon with the upcoming Doodles album Doodles Records: Part 1 produced by Pharrell.
But for now, the Doodles team is keeping their IP close to their chests for the most part. What that indicates to Calpu, the director of CryptoSlam, is that Doodles is looking for a high-level partnership or even being acquired later.
“If a project restricts the rights, it tells me they see the potential in the brand to work at a legacy company,” he says. “And I don’t agree at all. Creativity does not have to be outsourced to the [Doodles] community because the creativity within the team itself is quite strong.”
It seems that Doodles has the right image and team to fulfill their plans to create a global entertainment brand. But it’s hard to ignore the dark cloud looming over their pastel wonderland: the NFT market is still very much fueling.
Claws out of hibernation
An analysis by NFT media company BeInCrypto found that global NFT sales volume is a all time low this year, down more than $4 billion. And Doodles hasn’t been immune, as June sales fell more than $100 million.
According to Calpu’s estimation, the oversaturation and hype surrounding the collection of PFPs is giving way to more useful applications such as Ethereum Name Service (ENS) domains with cryptocurrency addresses, decentralized websites, and so on. But there are PBBs that certainly have the potential to come out of the market downturn.
“You go into their Discord and see that communities are still interacting and growing and meeting and going to conferences,” Calpu says. “That is usually the yardstick for a quality project.”
And according to Holloway from 776, the community around Doodles is one of the main reasons they decided to support the company. “No Web3 business can survive without a strong community,” she says. “This team has been community-led from day one. Alexis and I know a thing or two about what a healthy, inclusive and thriving community looks like.”
The Doodles community — and with 776 in their corner — is strong enough for Keast amid the shaky state of NFTs. He says the company is in a position to scale “far into the future” and they intend to continue building regardless of volatility.
“Everyone really feels that turnaround coming,” adds Holguin. “Whether in six months or twelve months, the real builders will be ready for when that moment comes. We have not been idle at all.”