Marketing is always evolving, and we must adapt to survive. What worked years ago may not apply to this day and age.
But which trends are here to stay, and which are just fads? And what adaptations must we make to thrive in this new environment? In this interview with my guest, Sani Abdul-Jabbar, we find answers.
Sani is the head of VezTek, a thought leader in emerging technologies and an evangelist of blockchain and cryptocurrency. His upcoming book, Makers, revolves around epoch-defining questions, such as how should people live alongside their AI creations? Hint: he believes in teaching AI human values, such as compassion, empathy, and kindness.
In this episode, Sani and I discuss ways businesses can incorporate blockchain and the Metaverse into their marketing strategies. We spoke about the Web3 ecosystem, crypto, AR/VR, and more. So if you’re eyeing becoming a frontrunner in the future of business and marketing, this is a conversation not to miss.
Speaking of Web3, I want you to be the first to know of my brand new website, worstofweb3.com. It’s a parody of all the worst attributes of web3 websites – the jargon, the gratuitous graphics and animation, non-intuitive navigation, unclear CTAs, and oh so much more. Check out the site and sign up for our free masterclass on Web3 marketing taught by me and conversion-focused design expert Greg Merrilees.
And now, on with the show!
In This Episode
- [00:20] – The interview begins with Stephan introducing Sani Abdul-Jabbar, Director of Product Management at VezTek USA, whom he knows from a global brotherhood– METal.
- [05:37] – In his role as a consultant or expert, what does Sani do for a company’s marketing strategy?
- [13:44] – Sani explains the practical application of blockchain technology.
- [19:12] – How is blockchain being implemented to prevent fraud? In what ways does the Basic Attention Token (BAT) play a role in the implementation?
- [21:37] – What is the KYC process, and how does it work on blockchain and claiming tokens? Are advertisers given access to it?
- [28:29] – Stephan wants to know what the Brave browser can do and how it improves the quality of life for people using it.
- [33:13] – As hyped, what does Metaverse have in store for us? Will it change our lives as described?
- [38:16] – How do smart contracts work?
- [44:09] – Is it possible to generate real business models from NFTs?
- [47:30] – Are you interested in working with Sani? Visit VezTek USA’s website and connect with him via LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/sani.
- [48:24] – Would you like to learn more about Web3 and AI Marketing? Here are some past interviews with Gabriel Rene, Ali Najafian, and John Wall. You can also sign up for a free masterclass on Web3 Marketing taught by yours truly and Greg Merrilees.
Sani, it’s so great to have you on the show.
Thank you, Stephan. Glad to be here.
We know each other from a mastermind that we’re both in, a brotherhood called METal. We’ve been in METal for several years now. Me, it’s probably been seven or eight, maybe more. So I’m curious to hear, what is the biggest value, epiphany, connection, or insight you’ve received by being a METal member?
That’s a question, Stephan, that I’ve thought about many times. I’ve been a member probably slightly longer than you, 9, 10 years roughly. I did not see the value of mentors and brotherhood until much later. METal was the first place where I realized that value. It was a light bulb moment for me.
I come from a culture where you’re supposed to have answers for everything. You don’t go to people asking for answers other than formal education through schools and whatnot. METal gave me that. Before that, I was very active in traditional networking-type organizations and events. I would spend a lot of time and money on those.
When I went to METal, I said it many times. I went there looking for deals, but I found my tribe. Deals happened. A lot of business happened over the years, more than I could ever imagine, more than I ever generated through any of those networking events. But it didn’t happen because business was first. After all, brotherhood and relationships were first. The business was the byproduct of that. So that was my biggest epiphany.
Since then, I’ve found mentors, teachers, friends, and brothers. I’ve found advice on personal business and all other aspects of my life from within this brotherhood. That’s what METal is to me.One of the biggest barriers in accepting and adopting emerging technologies in different industries is the people. It’s difficult for them to embrace change. Click To Tweet
Awesome. Do you teach any regular classes to the METal brothers? I know there are a number of METal brothers who do these weekly get-togethers on Zoom. It might only be 5, 10, 20, or 30 people showing up for those.
It’s mainly the Saturday get-together on Zoom, where you’ll get 200 METal brothers joining in for the big Saturday meeting. There are all these amazing guests from different walks of life, TED speakers, and all that sort of stuff. Don’t you have your own show during the week or something?
Yes. Those weekly master classes that our brothers are hosting have been of tremendous value. I host a class or rather an open office-type, roundtable-type conversation on Tuesdays at 2 PM Pacific, and it’s called Scaleup with Sani. It’s primarily tech and Web3 scaleups and startups, the conversations that we engage in. Although sometimes we talk about general business subjects and solving different business problems.
That’s a very generous thing for you to do, offering that kind of essentially free coaching and office hours to your METal brothers ongoing every single week. That’s really cool.
You know how they say, the best way to learn is to teach. It’s ongoing teaching for myself as well and also when we get together. Our METal brothers, who attend these conversations, are experts in their respective fields as well, so I get to learn a lot. It’s kind of a give and take, two-way kind of street.
Yeah, very cool. When you’re involved with a company helping them to scale and implement some new, whether it’s technologies, new processes, or conduct some sort of clever campaigns or whatever, what sort of work are you doing as a consultant or as an expert being brought in to, let’s say, a Web3 company that needs to do better marketing or needs to improve their go-to-market strategy?
That’s a big question. There are a few different types of customers that we deal with. We call them client-partners. They come to you with a very clear understanding of what it is that they need. Many of them have internal technology teams or, in the context of this conversation, MarTech teams and marketing technology teams. They understand what they need, they come to us, and we provide them tech or talent, whatever they need.
The other type is they come to us with a problem they don’t know the solution to. We would recommend a Web3 technology such as blockchain and its relevant technology, smart contracts, NFTs (Non-Fungible Token), etc. If they are the solution or we need to go back to more traditional tech, that will solve that problem. They come to us with a problem, we recommend a solution, and then we implement it.
The third kind is the most difficult kind. That’s the kind where they are the non-believers, and we have to convert them. They would say they have a problem. We present to them a few possible solutions, and the response is like, “Oh, I know it’s not going to work.”The best way to learn is to teach. Click To Tweet
Believe it or not, the third top biggest barrier for the new emerging technologies to be accepted and adopted in different industries is the people, the industry professionals. It’s that group—the users, the decision-makers, the people who hold the purse are the people who run the tech in those industries.
Because emerging tech is new tech. By definition, by nature, we have to advocate the new technology and teach it. Earlier, you asked me a question about teaching. The third group is where I do a lot of my teaching. More than selling, we do the teaching. Those are the three different types of customers.
Got you. Let’s say that our listener is a marketing manager, marketing consultant, maybe a business owner, or somebody who’s not necessarily embedded in Web3, all the tech around blockchain, cryptocurrencies, tokens, NFTs, and all that—that’s a little bit foreign to them—and they don’t know how or why it would even be relevant to them in the first place, in their job function or their organization. Could you explain why blockchain, or is it maybe just a solution looking for a problem?
Yes. That’s a question I’m often asked. I’ll start 20 years ago when I started working after school. Back then, digital marketing was meant to put up a website, run a few ads, and you just wait. People click, and customers usually come to you. Since then, things have changed. Now, I’d say digital marketing is not just about clicking and selling. It’s about user experience, and it’s about user relationships.
In the B2B world, it’s about increasing awareness to our potential customers.
Especially in the B2B world where I operate, it’s about providing ever-increasing amounts of awareness to our potential customers. It’s an ongoing relationship thing. In order to make that happen, you have to rely on data. Every time there’s a click, every time there’s a view, every time there are Twitter accounts, LinkedIn accounts, and other things like that, it’s all data that we’re collecting.
The challenge is that not every organization, not every person in the industry, has the skill to deal with that data. By its very nature, it’s a complex thing to do. First, dealing with understanding the data, then turning that into actionable insights. The bigger issue, overarching issue, is the reliability of that data. How do you know that it’s not about clicking those ads? We don’t.
An anecdotal knowledge that I have on this topic is that the majority of the ads budget goes into bots clicking on things. I don’t have the exact number in my mind right now, but it’s a pretty large number. How do we avoid all that? That’s a real problem.
In this case, it’s not a solution looking for a problem. We know the problem and what the solution is. The solution is to take the trust factor out of the equation because in order to bring the trust factor into that equation, am I looking at the correct data? Am I looking at trustworthy data? Then I have to bring third-party players into the equation.
The cost goes up, the speed goes down, and the efficiency reduces. Blockchain gives you the ability to take out the middlemen. Now you go back to the original model where you have the user, the publisher, and the advertiser. You have only three players in the mix. The data is free flowing.
You can ask that, well, in that case, how are we going to agree on terms and conditions, how are we going to agree on what’s a really valuable matrix, and other things like that? That all can be automated through something called smart contracts in the world of Web3. We can bring only these three players into the mix. You have the user, the publisher, and the advertiser, and then use smart contracts in the middle.
In the Web3 world, the user owns the data, not some large company sitting in the middle.
Automate the whole process where these three entities agree on certain terms; they agree on a matrix. They can agree on things like timeliness, accuracy, how to collect data, and privacy concerns because, in the Web3 world, it’s the user who owns the data, not some large company sitting in the middle when users own their data. That also allows the user to say whether I want my data to be disclosed or not. Or how I want my data to be used.
We have heard that conversation in the context of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that we’ll cover in a minute. The power goes back to the publisher, user, and advertiser. That’s the magic of things. The need for third parties and multiple third parties in the middle goes out the window. That’s the biggest value, in my opinion, that this technology brings to the conversation.
Yeah, but that seems like pie in the sky. Someday, hopefully in the future, we’ll see that. But in the meantime, the user doesn’t own their data. If the user isn’t paying anything, the user is the product. On Facebook and all these different platforms, the user is the product. Their data is what is being monetized by the advertisers.
You could say blockchain is going to revolutionize all this. It’s going to be great. We’re going to have users owning their data. Someday in the future, we’ll have babies born where they’re given an NFT upon birth instead of a birth certificate. It’ll be an NFT that includes their birth certificate and all their medical data, the government IDs, and all that sort of stuff.
Great, well, whenever that happens, that will change everything. But in the meantime, we’re not going to be blazing the trail here with blockchain. A new technology that allows people to wrestle control over their data again. They’re using one of just a couple of web browsers. They’re using one of a couple of different computing platforms.
There’s the illusion of choice there. You can’t come in and say, well, we’re going to change everything because the person in the front gets all the arrows in their back. Not that I’m trying to rain on your parade here. But given that, what’s the practical application for somebody who’s listening? Especially if they are contemplating cutting edge with their business and marketing.
Absolutely. I’m glad that you brought up this angle. It’s a new technology. Most people don’t understand it. More than that, many people don’t understand its use cases. So the doubt or “okay, what can I do with it today?” kind of angle, that’s very relevant, and that’s real. I’m glad you brought it up.Users are the ones who decide if a technology should be taken seriously or not. Click To Tweet
I’ll present use cases that might help answer your question with a few examples that come to mind. You mentioned browsers. A user uses a browser. They don’t care about what’s going on in the background. If I tell a user, well, you’re spending about $25 a month on things like bandwidth, your ISP costs, and just watching ads that you may or may not even care about.
The typical internet package these days is around $70-ish, so $20 is almost like 1/3 of that. If I tell you this, there’s nothing you can do about it. But if I tell you that today, you have a browser that gives you the ability. On the surface, it looks like an ad blocker, so it saves you that $20. But if you’re like me, I use ads for research sometimes.
We know that our smartphones are listening to us all the time. Sometimes when I want to do research, but I don’t want to do a Google search, I’ll bring my phone closer to my face and just say a few keywords. The next thing I know, I start seeing ads for that thing in all my browsers and social feeds. The point is that sometimes I don’t want to block all the ads. I want some ads to show.
If Stephan only sees ads relevant to him, then it’s advertisers’ money well spent. If he sees ads that are not relevant, he’s spending his bandwidth, and the advertisers are spending his money; it’s money wasted on all fronts. That’s one of the things today that are available to you.
The other thing is that we talked about it a little earlier, box clicking on ads and money wasted. This is from the publisher’s perspective. Blockchain allows you to collect and track your data in a way that cannot be corrupted. Unfortunately, it’s not easily possible. Everything is doable if you have enough knowledge, but it’s not very easy.
If I can show you the entire trail of who is doing what along the entire journey of an ad being consumed, that’s money well spent. From the advertiser’s perspective, the user’s perspective, and the tech’s perspective, it’s a problem plaguing the whole digital advertising arena, and it can be solved through the blockchain.
The challenge is that certain things in the digital advertising world directly conflict with blockchain technology. I’ll share one example: regulations. Regulations are evolving. I’m a big proponent of thoughtful, mindful, and careful regulation. But unfortunately, some knee-jerk regulation is going on in the world simply because regulators don’t understand the tech. But, again, it’s new tech. It happens every time there’s new tech.
GDPR is one of those regulations. We won’t talk about regulation. That’s still evolving. We don’t know what it will look like, but it can happen. Regulation changes such that we can’t use this technology in advertising because of implications around personal data.
GDPR is something that we understand. It’s out there. We know how it works. There are several clauses in GDPR that are in direct conflict with blockchain. One of them is the right to be forgotten in GDPR.
If the data is on a blockchain database, it’s there forever.
Blockchain doesn’t forget. Blockchain data cannot be changed, and if the data is on a blockchain database, it’s there forever. So now there is a direct conflict between the two. Then there is another clause in GDPR that data needs to be kept in the same jurisdiction where it’s collected.
If you’re using a public blockchain, the data stays on people’s machines. You don’t know who these people are. Now the data can go anywhere. Let’s say there was a person in the Netherlands, data was on his laptop, and he traveled to the US. Now that data has left the jurisdiction where it was collected, then there is a direct conflict. And there are several other clauses like that.
That’s another thing that we have to be mindful of. I haven’t encountered any direct regulatory issues between applying blockchain and digital marketing in the US. But in the international arena, there are some challenges. In the US too, as the new regulations are being created, they will impact it. So it’s something to be mindful of.
I got you. As you mentioned earlier, blockchain can be a way to avoid fraudulent ad clicks. How is that currently being implemented? Who is implementing that so that it’s getting solved? Is it Google? Is it certain advertisers?
There’s a concept. I think it’s called a BAT (Basic Attention Token). The idea is every time someone interacts with an ad, whether they publish it, whether they run it on their platform, or whether they click it, a token is issued. The token goes to the party that’s interacting with the ad.
Before making that happen, you need to know the person or entity interacting with that ad. That’s the whole KYC process from the banking world. Know Your Customer is the term that’s used.
In this context, a customer would be any entity dealing with an ad. Step one, I have to know who this entity is. Then, I have to have certain information about this entity, the interacting entity, publishing, launching, and clicking on the ad. Every time that happens, they are incentivized. They are sent certain tokens. The token is called BAT.
Basic Attention Token.
Thank you. Basic Attention Token. We cannot send that token if we don’t know who is on the other side. The process stops right there. If it’s a bot on the other side, they cannot accept tokens because we don’t know them. We haven’t done the KYC process for a bot.
In that case, the process is going to stop. It helps significantly in minimizing the bot clicking of those ads. That’s one example. Other services like that are coming into the market, but this is one that comes to mind right now.
Yeah. Have you tried it? Have you earned any BAT by looking at ads?
We did it as a test and then donated the tokens to the organization. That’s the ultimate option. You can donate it back. The value of each token is not that significant, so a few tokens weren’t going to do anything for us anyway. So we send it back to the organization to support and show our appreciation.
How did you earn the tokens? Did you have to use a certain browser? Did you have to use a certain browser extension or visit certain websites? How did that work?
Some people in my team ran the experiment, so I wasn’t hands-on with it. As a result, I don’t know the exact mechanics.
Okay. What was the outcome of the test? Presumably, you had a hypothesis or some sort of objective for doing the test.
The first thing I wanted to see was, does it work? What’s the user experience like? My associates who ran the test came back to us and said, well, there was nothing different in the user experience itself. You just click on the ad.
I’m curious, and now I’m going to go back and check if there was a browser extension or something. Most likely, that’s what it is. However, there was no change in the user behavior. That goes back to your earlier statement when you said users are only using a browser or a few browsers and doing whatever they’re doing.
Something that we try very hard in the industry is that we try not to change user behavior. Because the moment you ask a user to change their behavior, you’re creating more friction in whatever you’re trying to do. The goal here is to minimize and eliminate a need for change in user behavior and let them do what they’re doing as they always do.
When we say the user owns the data, it doesn’t mean they have to decide what to do with it because an average user doesn’t have the skill set to do anything with it.
When we say the user owns the data, it doesn’t mean that the user is sitting on these piles of data and they have to decide now what to do with it because an average user doesn’t have the skill set to do anything with the data. The data is being collected. We know that someone did something, but we don’t know who this person is, and all the KYC data is in the background.
For example, add clicking data. That’s public data within that ecosystem of that blockchain. It doesn’t mean every blockchain user can see who did what because the data is public, but identities aren’t. That’s how it works.
When we ran the BAT test, the hypothesis was, will it require any change in user behavior? The answer was no. Is it going to slow down the process? The answer was no.
We couldn’t verify from the publisher’s perspective if they saw any change in the number of clicks or if their ad spent went down after they started using the service. We don’t know that part. But from the users’ perspective, we didn’t notice any change. It was quite seamless.
Did the user give up any of their privacy since they had to do a KYC process to claim their BAT tokens?
Absolutely. They have to introduce themselves. There is some basic information they have to provide. We must know that this person is real and is not a bot. There is an identity verification process. All that stuff is there, which also makes some users nervous.
Our people knew that KYC was part of the equation, so they didn’t get nervous. But an average user would get nervous when you ask about their personally identifiable information.
Is that personally identifiable information shared with the advertisers?
That information is not shared with the advertiser or publisher. It’s shared with the blockchain itself. It sits on the blockchain. It’s not public information. The challenge is the user doesn’t know because they will always think my information is out in the open and anybody can use it and abuse it.
Yeah. I wouldn’t want to earn some tokens knowing that I’m earning them by giving away my private information to an advertiser and then having them hassle me, sending me unsolicited text messages and stuff. No, thank you.
Yes, we need to know the user in this particular case. Like any other technology, it’s the techies who are still the more active ones in the adoption of this new technology. It is becoming more mainstream.
A couple of months ago, I went to my doctor, and they offered cryptocurrency as one of the acceptable forms of payment. In my business, too, we use cryptocurrency. So when that happens, we do give information to each other.
Now in the case of BAT, when you are providing them your information, you’re not giving them your name, social security number, or anything. You’re giving them your wallet address. The wallet itself has KYC behind it.
These couple of steps involving an average uninitiated person will think that something is going on. However, they’re not giving their IDs, Social Security, and mother’s maiden name kind of stuff to the advertiser. They’re only giving it to wherever they have that wallet. Your wallet is maybe with Coinbase or some other exchange like that. That’s where you go through the full KYC process. What you give to this platform, you only give your wallet address, which is a long, alphanumeric string.
Yup. It makes sense. There’s another kind of related concept I want to talk about with you, and that’s Play to Earn games. Axie Infinity is one of the more famous ones. Supposedly, people in the Philippines make a good living just playing games all day, earning tokens from Axie Infinity.
I don’t know if that’s still the case because it’s been a tough market for crypto these days. Does that concept of playing to earn somehow gamify the idea of a BAT type of token, where you confirm that you’re not a bot and consuming the ads? It seems like there’s an opportunity there to make it more gamified.
Someone could game the system by sitting there all day and clicking on ads to earn. Not gamification, but gaming the system, tricking the system.
The short answer is yes. The longer answer would be, why would you want to do that in this particular case? Someone could game the system by sitting there all day and clicking on ads to earn. Not gamification, but gaming the system, tricking the system. I could sit there all day clicking those ads and earning the tokens. I haven’t gone that deep into the BAT token and its algorithm.
I have seen similar challenges in getting paid to respond to the service industry. In that industry, we worked with a client a long time ago. We looked at the user behavior, the click frequency, and the patterns in the clicks. We looked at how they were doing it.
We have also done that in the banking space, where based on the user’s activity, the clicks, the cursor movement, and things like that, we tried to predict if there was a risk of fraud. Those kinds of things can be done. I don’t know if BAT has implemented that yet, but this technology is already out there. Based on the user’s behavior, you can try to determine if there is a red flag.
Earlier, you mentioned the Brave browser. You said that you could train it. What are you training the Brave browser to do? How does that improve your quality of life or your user experience as a web user? And are you using it yourself, or are you just using Chrome?
I’m primarily using Chrome. No particular reason, just, I guess, habit. Brave, I played with.
Google thanks you for that, by the way.
Welcome. The training part is that you can say I don’t want to see any ads, end of the story. The other part is I want to see some ads. If I’m researching a topic, I only want to allow those ads, for example, and that’s the training part. I can allow those ads.
I do that in Chrome, to a degree. I use different methods. I mentioned the smartphone method earlier. Also, I use another extension within Chrome that does that kind of thing for me. But when I use this extension in Chrome, I don’t know how much information I’m giving away or how much control I’m giving this extension on my computer or browser.
When you do that with Brave, you know that the browser is designed for that purpose. It’s only taking the information that you allow it to take. It’s a very simple process. The change in user behavior is not that significant. I don’t see it as becoming friction or resistance in learning this new browser or a new way of working.
When we talk about blockchain or any other emerging tech, the Metaverse will likely be the next.
I seriously considered starting to use Brave. The reason why I’m using Chrome, I think the primary reason is we are a Google workplace company. We use all Google products, which have worked very well with Chrome.
The whole experience is integrated from communication to documents, spreadsheets, and design. You name it. All of that is kind of integrated. It’s more streamlined. Yes, you can make fun of me for using a MacBook and Android in parallel, but I’m just pushing the system’s limits.
Have you ever had an iPhone?
VezTek is the company that I head up. It’s an emerging tech company. The definition of emerging tech changes. For a few years, that was mobile apps. We did over 600 mobile apps. When we were doing mobile apps, I would always have the current and three previous versions of the iPhone on my desk because that’s how we tested apps. For my personal use, I have not used an iPhone.
You’re missing out.
Yeah. I went from HP iPAQ to BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Android.
Windows Mobile, that’s funny. So what do you think about mobile apps like iOS and Android apps? Are many still being developed and released these days, or has it jumped the sharks?
Absolutely. Mobile apps, think of it as the presentation layer. The magic happens in the background. When we talk about blockchain or any other emerging tech, the Metaverse is likely to be the next, and then you see big data and any other stuff. All of that is going to happen in the background. It’s not going to happen on the front. On the front, you still need to input information and give out information to the user.
For the short term, I think mobile apps and website-type stuff will be the way to do it. Farther down the road, you’ll see things like sci-fi stuff, a direct link between humans and machines, and other things. Smartwatches come on with some human and machine interfaces these days. That will keep happening in one form until we get to a point where we can directly link human and machine interfaces.
For now, yes, mobile apps are being built. There is a concept of consolidated mobile apps where one app does a bunch of things. But, unlike in the past, when we were doing one app, it does only one thing for several reasons.
Interestingly, the US was far behind in that movement. It was Asia that led the charge in creating those. If you have used Uber recently, within Uber, you can do car service, and you can do food delivery, you can do a bunch of other things.
There were apps in Asia 10 years ago where you could do ten or fifteen things in one app. Your ride-hailing app was also your banking app, was also your communication app, was also your social media app, was also your ecommerce app.
Recently I was in Turkey, and I experienced something similar there. The US is still behind on that trajectory, but it’s happening. More apps these days are those kinds of apps that provide more value than just one thing at a time.Blockchain gives you the ability to take out the middlemen. It goes back to the original model, where you have the user, publisher, and advertiser. Click To Tweet
Where does the Metaverse fit into all this for a typical marketer, a business owner, or a consultant? Is this going to change everything next week? Are we years away? Is it a bunch of hype, and we’re not going to see it change everybody’s lives like it’s being touted? What are your thoughts?
Yes to everything that you said. Every technology goes through a hype phase. I first came across blockchain through Bitcoin, I think around 2008, 2009 or 2010, probably around that time. I had purchased some bitcoins, and then I used them. For the purpose that I needed it, there was some leftover. I left it in the account because the value of each bitcoin was so small. It was like less than a dollar, I think.
I just left it there for years. At one point, it just occurred to me that I own some bitcoins. I went back, and I saw good value there in that account. It was a pleasant surprise, let’s put it that way. I couldn’t retire on it, but I was happy that day.
Blockchain has been in the hype phase for many, many years. It wasn’t until within the last few years, two or three years, four years maybe max, that it started to gain traction. Now we see a demand in the industry, and all kinds of industries are looking into it. Within the blockchain, then you have things like NFT. You saw recently that these two-bit images were being sold for ungodly sums. Why would you do that? That’s the hype phase.
Hype is what pushes technology forward. It’s needed, but that’s not when we need to take it seriously. We need to watch it. We need to watch the evolution of that tech.
The emergence convergence formula looks at when technology has reached that point where it needs to be taken seriously.
In my company, I created a formula called the emergence convergence formula. It’s based on my 20 years of experience pivoting every three to five years. The emergence convergence formula looks at when technology has reached that point where now it needs to be taken seriously. Is there enough demand? Is that enough profit margin? And that’s when we pivot.
Based on that formula, roughly, it’s been true in the last three pivots we did for the company over the last 15 years. So based on this formula, Metaverse looks about three years away from becoming a technology we need to take seriously for an average person.
Because we want to position ourselves to provide that service when that time comes, we’re already investing about 10%-20% of our company’s resources into developing skills and people for that future. So I feel it’s about three years away. That’s one part of your question. Is it hype? Is it real or not?
For now, yes, it’s going through that hype phase. We haven’t found business cases yet, but I think we are moving towards that future. The other part is, what are some of the possible business cases that a marketing manager, a business manager, or an agency leader might look into?
The first thing that comes to mind is just delighting your user and providing a delightful user experience. You want to demonstrate something. You want to demo some product. Instead of doing it on a computer screen, what if you did it in a 3D environment?
The younger generation now is digital natives. They are native to the whole AR/VR-type concept.
Especially the younger generation now who are digital natives. They are native to this whole AR/VR-type concept. They are very comfortable in that environment. Instead of inviting them to trade shows or Zoom calls, if you invite them to a VR experience on their HoloLens or some other VR glasses, I think they would find it more entertaining and delightful than just inviting them to good old trade shows and Zoom calls. That’s the first opportunity that comes to mind.
Recently, I spoke at a conference where it was very interesting. We were told, well, you’re going to be speaking in room number X. Then in this VR environment, you walk to room number X, and there are people. You talk to them. You tell people that if you want to meet for coffee afterward, let’s meet at a coffee shop down the road, then walk to the coffee shop.
It’s slightly different from going to Zoom rooms at METal, for example, every Saturday. It’s slightly different. We were talking to techies. It was a conference full of very young tech people, and they thought it was amazing. Users are the ones who decide if technology should be taken seriously or not. In that community, it’s already happening. They’re already taking it very seriously.
For the community at large, the business world at large, as I said, we are a few years away from that. We don’t know yet what the business use cases will be. People have tried real estate in the virtual world. People have tried office buildings in the virtual world. My office is right next to Microsoft Office in VR. There might be some value in that. I don’t know, but we’re moving towards that future.
Do you see any marketing use cases for smart contracts, NFTs, play-to-earn games, and all that stuff? What would be some examples of that if so?
Absolutely. We’ve been talking about blockchain, but I didn’t, I guess, present the complete picture. Think of blockchain as it’s the data component in the middle. That data has to come from somewhere, and then we need to do something with that data. First, we collect that data. That’s one side, and then we need to do something with that data. That’s the output side. The smart contracts come into play on the output side.
For example, I want you to take a certain action based on my data. When you do that, you earn something, and you earn tokens. That is part of the smart contract. The contracts are written between you and me. We agreed that if you click on my ad, you get a BAT token, for example. That’s in the contract.
When you click, that contract automatically gets executed. No one has to watch you clicking, no one has to verify whether you clicked or not, and no one has to issue the token. All those things happen simultaneously, automatically, when you click. That’s the smart contract part.
Another example of a smart contract for our listeners is, let’s say, you developed an NFT; it’s some sort of creative art project that you did. Somebody buys the NFT, and then somebody buys the NFT from the other person. So you can make money, a royalty, every time it changes hands instead of only the first time.
NFT is just ownership. What happens with that ownership doesn’t change when ownership is changing hands.
Absolutely. NFT is just ownership. What happens with that ownership doesn’t change when ownership changes hands or someone is getting rewarded for some action. That’s part of the smart contract. So these two things work together.
You asked about NFTs. If you think beyond those two-bit images, bored pandas, or bored monkeys, whatever it was, Bored Apes, those kinds of things, when you think beyond that, they are real business models that are emerging that are based on NFT.
A colognes and perfumes company from France, they launched an NFT base subscription. You buy an NFT, and that NFT shows that you’re subscribed to the service. When you own that NFT, there are smart contracts that kick in. That handles the subscription fee that you’ll get in exchange for the subscription. The interesting thing is that you cannot buy that subscription. You have to buy the NFT to make that happen.
We are working with a large publisher in the US. They own a large number of book titles. We are launching special editions of their books, which are tied to the NFT. But to buy the NFT, you have to buy their token. When you buy the token, the value of the token goes up.
Now I use that token to buy the NFT. Every time NFT changes hands, the ownership changes hands, and the publisher gets something, microtransactions. There’s a liquidity pool in the middle. Every microtransaction, part of that goes into the liquidity pool. The value of the liquidity pool goes up, so you’re building wealth over time. Real business models are coming on the scene pretty much every day based on these technologies.
Right. A business owner who is listening and thinking, well, I know I should get on that NFT bandwagon because there are even Saturday Night Live skits about NFTs now. Surely, I’m missing out. They could develop an NFT that’s a way to subscribe to a service.
For example, to attend the Permissionless conference as a VIP, you couldn’t buy a VIP ticket. You had to buy an NFT. That NFT included VIP access to the conference that year and general admission access for as long as the conference existed each year. That’s an example of NFT that has little intrinsic value in terms of its artistic value, but it was a utility. I wanted to attend that conference as a VIP, so it was worth it for me to get the NFT.
Absolutely. About two years ago, we launched an NFT for a stand-up comedian out of New York. We tied the NFT with this comedian’s career trajectory. If you’re buying the NFT, you’re saying, “I have faith in this comedian’s career that will grow.”
One of the benefits of owning the NFT is that you could attend his events without having to buy any other ticket as a VIP, any event for X amount of time. But, of course, it was as long as you owned the NFT.
As long as you own the NFT, you just go there. You have a little barcode on your phone; that’s what they scan, and you get VIP access to all his standup events. There were many other things, early access to things and whatnot. So that was one of the first business models launched on NFTs.
Did you buy one of those NFTs?
I built it.
Yeah, but did you get one? Do you own one as part of the project?
Do you still own it?
We still own it.
Okay. Have you used it? Have you gone to any of his shows?
I haven’t been to New York yet since then.
That’s fun. Okay. What would be the most awesome example you can share of a client project with some marketing relevance but also using some pretty innovative tech?
One example that comes to mind, I was introduced to a client out of Austin. This person, an elderly gentleman, was a retired Chinese art dealer. He primarily sold Chinese art. At this point, he’s retired and owns tens of millions of dollars worth of Chinese art. At least 90% of them are Chinese. We’re talking about Ming Dynasty paintings and things like that. Each of those paintings is multi-million dollars, very expensive.
That kind of stuff, you don’t hang on your walls in the house. You put them in environmentally controlled walls somewhere. So this gentleman told me, he’s like, “well, I have all this, and it’s sitting somewhere. I don’t know what to do with it. I’m too old to start another business. I know the moment I die, my kids will probably sell it off. I don’t want them to sell it off. So I want to do something with it. What can be done?”
We created a platform for him. First of all, we turned that art, which is very expensive, into NFT. Now, if you’re a proud Chinese person, you probably want to own that art. You may or may not have a couple of million dollars sitting aside, but you may have $10,000 or a few thousand dollars that you can use to buy a fraction of a painting. It’s like me saying, I own Tesla because I own stock, so things like that.
We did that. Then the question was, how are we going to sell these NFTs? If you can’t see the art, how will we convince you to buy the NFT? So we brought in these photographers who took pictures of the art, but the technology they used allows you to see the paintings layer by layer as the artist worked on them, so different layers of paint, for example. So you can see all that.
It shows you, at a deeper level, much better than looking at the painting in real life, I would argue. We did that. We put it on a by-invitation-only marketplace in an art gallery, which is online. Now, users get invited. They go there, invitation only, and then events hosted, viewing events. They can see all these paintings, and they can buy NFTs.
His paintings that were sitting there, millions of dollars worth, tens of millions that weren’t doing anything, now make him money, and he’s sitting at home doing nothing. Now his kids don’t want to sell those paintings because they’re bringing home money, even though they’re sitting in some vault. I wrote a piece about this project, published in Forbes Magazine as one of the early success stories in how NFTs can be used to generate real business models.
That’s cool. Do you own some NFTs of any art?
No. I don’t get to own NFTs in every project that we build.
You need to add a cool stuff clause to all your contracts. Awesome. If our listener or viewer is interested in working with you and your team to develop innovative tech and apply things like Web3 to their business and marketing, how do they get in touch? How do they find you?
The best way to reach me is via LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/sani.
All right. You have a website, though, right?
We do have a website. We barely ever use it on purpose. It’s called veztekusa.com, but this industry is very much a relationship space industry. It’s not the kind of business where someone goes on Google search and types, “find me a Web3 developer” and clicks buy. It doesn’t work like that. Website, it’s there in the background. But it’s veztekusa.com.
All right. Awesome. Sani, it was great to catch up again. Thank you for sharing your insights with us. Listeners, have a great week. Go out there and be innovative. We’ll catch you in the next episode. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.
LinkedIn – VezTek USA
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Teach to learn. Teaching benefits not only the people I teach but also me as I learn new things. In addition, learning by teaching can help improve my efficiency, confidence and communication skills.
Be open to new technologies. Adopting new technologies allows businesses to offer what only a few are offering. Doing so can boost revenue streams while providing value to customers.
Start automating business processes. Workplace automation could save a business money by eliminating costly errors and streamlining processes to help employees complete them more efficiently.
Collect relevant and reliable data. Having the correct data will allow me to fully understand how it works and create actionable insights.
Research more on how blockchain works. Blockchain increases trust, security, transparency, and the traceability of data shared across a business network. It also delivers cost savings with new efficiencies.
Try using the Brave browser. On the surface, the Brave browser looks like an ad blocker, but it can give additional control over what anyone wants and doesn’t want to see when browsing.
Know my customers. Understanding them is the key to giving good service, resulting in strong relationships and new sales through positive word-of-mouth recommendations.
Don’t try to change the customer’s behavior. The moment I ask them to change, it will cause some friction. The goal is to minimize and eliminate a need for behavior change and let them do what they always do.
Provide a delightful user experience. There must be a positive emotional effect on my client when interacting with my product or service.
About Sani Abdul-Jabbar
Sani Abdul-Jabbar is a thought leader in the emerging technologies space and an evangelist of cryptocurrency and blockchain. He has spoken at blockchain technology conferences worldwide and has frequently been published in Forbes and other publications.
He is constantly on the lookout for the next big thing in tech. His upcoming book, Makers, revolves around epoch-defining questions: How should people live alongside their AI creations? Hint: he believes that teaching AI human values – such as compassion, empathy, kindness etc. – might be the answer.
Sani heads up VezTek, a Los Angeles-based provider of software development and on-demand tech talent for Blockchain and Web3.0 initiatives. In that role, he leads teams that build blockchain platforms for the next iteration of the internet.