Mitch: 0:04 Welcome to Layer’s Licensing In Games podcast. We’re going to have an awesome intro for this month’s podcast. My name is Mitch. I am joined once again by Rachit. Hello, Rachit! How are you? You’ve already told me you good. Yeah!
Rachit: 0:18 Hi, Mitch! I’m good for the fifth time. If anyone hasn’t guessed, we have had to record this intro a few times now.
Mitch: 0:24 And I’m not even going to make any jokes about Jesse Aglet from Rubin. I’m just going to introduce Jesse Rubin from Aglet, Senior Partnerships Director. Welcome, Jesse! Thanks for joining us today.
Jesse: 0:34 Happy to be here. Sorry for the technical difficulties!
Mitch: 0:38 First of all, talk to us a little bit about Aglet. Give us a bit of an intro. And if you could explain maybe what makes you different from other games, that will be helpful as well.
Jesse: 0:49 Yeah, sure. So, Aglet is a geolocation-based sneaker and apparel collecting game, as you alluded to. Very simply put, it’s like Pokémon Go for sneaker and apparel collecting. So, it’s a mobile game. You download the app. You create an avatar. And I think one of the things that really differentiates us from the other games in the Marketplace is, we pride ourselves on being a game of brands. One of our co-founders, Ryan Mullins, he worked at Adidas. He headed up innovation for them. And while he was there, it dawned on him that gaming mechanics are eating the world. And as a result of gaming mechanics eating the world, a lot of the gaming mechanics are skewed out of favor of the true consumers of the culture. So, whether that’s trying to get a very coveted pair of sneakers on sneakers app or confirmed for Adidas, or trying to get a very coveted restaurant reservation, unless you want or super connected and can get the inside track on certain things, or you can afford to buy something on the secondary market at a pretty considerable markup, just a lot of people are boxed out of really participating in the culture. So, taking all of that into consideration, his thought was: “How can you create this game where for a lot of consumers--? You’re getting these digital products for the first time. How can you explore the world around you use these maps based on game mechanics in order to, one, interact and play the brands that you love, and two, also have the opportunity to earn physical goods tied to your digital engagement, as opposed to how much money you have in your wallet?” So, I’m in LA right now. Based on where I am in the world, there’s dynamic stash spots that you’ll see on the map. And basically, you’re incentivized to walk around the world around you. And the more we do certain activations of brands, the more you interact with a brand, whether that’s Adidas, Puma. We just did a big thing with MAAD city in Japan and Korea, which I know we’ll get into. But the more that you play the brand in this digital world, the more opportunities you have to get physical goods or discounted experiences as a result of your digital patronage.
Mitch: 3:12 Awesome. You did a far better job explaining Aglet than I ever could. So, very well done. And talk to me a little bit about how you straddle the line between Web 2 and Web 3. Because I know the game. You can play it as just a Web 2 experience if you want to, but you can-- There’s also a collectibles element to it as well, right?
Jesse: 3:33 Yeah, totally! So, we very much pride ourselves on being a web 2.5 platform. So, I don’t think that I’m speaking out of term when I say that, or the term rather, that crypto is inherently very intimidating. And especially, considering where the market was a year and year-and-a-half ago, we didn’t want to alienate any of our players that are super into crypto or just want to have a fun casual game experience. So, we have NFTs. A lot of the partnerships we do, there are NFTs. It is the most elevated asset class in the game. But the thing that’s interesting, I mean, we were partners with immutable. And all of our NFTs are on the mutable blockchain. But they live within the Aglet ecosystem. You can’t take them out and sell them on open sea or other third-party platforms. So it’s really just-- And obviously, within the blockchain code, there are certain things that you have access to as a result of owning it, depending on the partner or the certain activation, we’re doing in a given month. But at the end of the day, there’s no arbitrage opportunities to really exploit by buying an NFT. It’s really just for those players that are more crypto-curious, I suppose. They have an opportunity to collect NFTs. They can flex them in the game. But there isn’t really that opportunity to sell it on a third-party marketplace, which, for us, works well. Because a lot of brands are still a little reticent to fully embrace the Web 3 ecosystems. So, definitely love straddling that Web 2.5.
Mitch: 5:17 Web 2.5 for the crypto curious. Love it.
Rachit: 5:21 I mean, it’s super interesting. I think by doing that, like you said, you can’t take it outside of the ecosystem. I’m guessing you reduced some of the investor speculator types that are not there for the game or for the community. What do you players look like on average? Are they more sneakerhead? Are they more like game AR fan? Are they more Web 3 fan? What do they look like in general? And why did they come to tackle it? I know, you mentioned earlier one of the founders came from a background at Adidas saying/understanding the sneaker head community, that whole collection aspect of the hype aspect. Is that the main driving factor? Or is it is some of these other things like the AR or Web 3 side of things?
Jesse: 6:11 Yeah! So, I mean, about a year-and-a-half ago, we blew up in Japan. We were the number one app in Japan for 2 weeks — bigger than Niantic, Google, Facebook, etc. And we did see a lot of these “crypto bros” coming in that were looking to buy NFTs. And we’re pretty bummed when they learned that you can’t take them off the platform and seek arbitrage money making opportunities. But at our core, our audience is, I mean, we skew heavily male. We’re pursuing a lot more partnerships to get more females in the game, but we skew more male, definitely, I mean, we’ve done some polling. And I mean, 50% of our users identify as fans of streetwear, vintage clothing, just general consumers of hot couture and things like that. And they spend a lot of their disposable income on set things. So, I think about 50% of our user base is 18-34. So, I think, it really is this cohort of people that maybe gaming-curious. But also at the same point, they’re avid consumers of streetwear. They grew up with supreme and Nike drops and things like that. And maybe they’ve been displaced, maybe they’re looking for new ways to express themselves digitally with also the opportunity to get physical goods and just explore this new gaming way of playing brands. But, yeah, generally, I would say, for us, we’ve had a spell in which we had a lot more crypto centric people, but where we are right now, it’s much more of like an everyday general consumer who likes games, but I think that fashion and clothing and just how we’re doing this new way of expressing yourself in the digital world with the opportunity for physical goods, this gamified commerce experience, I think, this is what intrigues them.
Mitch: 8:21 And I think you answered this in the intro when you spoke about one of the founders coming from Adidas, but it feels like Aglet was built for brand partnerships. So, was it always built with wanting to collaborate with brands in mind? Or when did you decide on doing your first brand collaboration?
Jesse: 8:44 Yeah! So, in full transparency, I’ve been with the company for a little over a year and three months or so. We’ve been around for 3.5 years. And within our first couple months of being a stand-up company, we worked with Gucci. That was one of our first partnerships. And we did a Gucci drop in the game. And I think that, for us, with a lot of these brands, they’re not obviously super gaming centric in the last couple of years, they’ve added Metaverse divisions and things that are more catered towards expressing brands in this gaming ecosystem, but for a lot of brands that are looking to just dip their toe into this world. And I think, the Web 2.5 stuff really plays nicely into that. But I think the name of the game has always been like, “Let’s tell stories. Let’s explain why said brand, whether you’re a blue-chip brand like Adidas or Puma or you’re some small brick and mortar shop in Scandinavia that has a big fan following, and it is known as one of the best buys in all the world. How can we tell that story? How can we use our map-based play to advertise and get people activating around that? And by playing that brand, whether it’s big or small, create these cool opportunities to get some type of status and get some exposure to it?” And I think, obviously, it’s tough because it requires outreach all across the globe. I work across a lot of time zones with businesses, both big and small, which poses their own interesting pain points. But, yeah, I think, the thought has always been, “This is a game of brands. We have our own Aglet endemic brand as well, which we’re trying to tell the story of, and generate excitement of.” And we’ve created physical products. We’ve dropped about three Aglet one silhouettes, which-- I can share some images with at some point. But, yeah, it’s always been a game of brands. And what we found, at least in the year and a half that I’ve been here is that Aglet is a really meaningful play advertising platform, just because if you think about like these AAA titles in Tony Hawk or in Fortnight, sure, you could be wearing a skin or you could be wearing a pair of shoes in the game. But at the end of the day, there’s no real storytelling around those items. There aren’t a lot of games out there, where when we do an activation with a brand like a man city or Puma or Adidas, we really double down on why we’re doing this, why this is significant, and create actual gameplay tied to the brand itself. So, yeah, I know that I’m being a bit redundant, but definitely a game of brands where we’re storytelling and creating these unique consumer opportunities has always been the name of the game for us.
Mitch: 11:54 And do you think that being AR-based is that actually-- Do you think that helps in telling the story of these brands compared to if you’re a AAA console game a fortnight, for example? Do you think does that actually give you a leg up?
Jesse: 12:13 Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think especially considering the map-based nature of it, it further contextualize it. So, if we’re doing something with an Adidas or Gucci, we can create actual map based stash spots where the Gucci store is on 5th Avenue in New York or in Tokyo. And basically, we can create the gameplay around these locations that are meaningful to the brands. And so, we can, basically, with the right storytelling, get people walking around, checking into the Gucci store, checking into XYZ place, and really interacting with the brands, and we have a buy IRL button in the game as well. So, if you’re wearing a certain pair of trainers or a shirt, we can directly link you out to the physical product. But if there’s some map-based gameplay, where you check-in to some location and you check into a bunch of different locations across the map, you get some type of prize. Definitely, I mean, it’s additional marketing opportunities. It’s just a way to keep people thinking about the brand, keep it top of mind. And I think that is certainly an interesting way for consumers. As I said, the game is really centered around the brands. So, as a result of that, the brands are really front of mind. And I think that’s why a lot of brands like working with us. There aren’t a lot of platforms out there where they are the true sole focus of a given activation or event that we’re doing in game.
Mitch: 13:46 Yeah, absolutely. And like with those partnerships that you do, are they--? I’m always curious to understand how a game developer or whoever it is, it’s working with a brand or a licensed IP, how do they determine that they want to work with that brand or that IP? So, is that something that you sit around internally at Aglet, and you say, “We want to work with Gucci,” for example? Or is that something that’s player driven? And how do you evaluate each brand and say, “We want to go off to that, and we want to work with them?”
Jesse: 14:22 Yeah! It’s a great question, Mitch. And I think for us, so we have a really killer community within Aglet. We have a discord that’s very lively. And our support team is the best in the business. And they’re very quick to cycle back feedback about things that the players like. If they don’t like-- And to the best of my abilities, I try to, using that feedback, go to brands and see if we can spin up partnerships. I mean, selfishly, I’ve been I’m a major consumer of fashion and streetwear. I call myself a recovering hypebeast, because when I was 13 years old, I was big on buying and selling shoes all over New York. So, a lot of that influences how I think about brands, because I keep up on the trades. And I feel like I have a good read of what’s hot, what’s not. But at the end of the day, as I get older, I’m less and less the target consumer. So, we try to lean on what our user base is really keen to play in the game, keen to have an opportunity to get physical products or unique physical experiences tied to those. So, it’s a mix of both. I mean, I have an exhaustive spreadsheet of every brand across the world, across different verticals, but-- For example, our discord recently was talking about how they want to have more K-Swiss in the game. And because of that, I’m going to go and try to find a partner at K-Swiss and see if we can find a way to work together. And I guess the second part of your question is, for us, especially considering where the gaming market is right now, we feel like doing a partnership where we just drop a sneaker or apparel in the game isn’t the most meaningful way for a brand to express themselves in Aglet. We really want to ensure that they trust that we can storytelling together and create some quests and challenges tied to the brand in order to get people outside exploring the world around them. Maybe outside of just going to brick and mortar stores, they go to a park or they go to a museum or something and check-in with a brand. They’re like-- We’re just trying to create these-- I guess, an excuse isn’t the right word. But these reasons for people to go out, explore the world around them, interact with these brands, and have fun doing so. So, as long as the brand is down to clown, as we like to say, and is willing to get a little uncomfortable in this digital world, just trust that we’re not going to get too crazy with it. I think that’s really what we hope for with these partnerships, just someone that isn’t a little bit too rigid. At the end of the day, we have an amazing design team. And we don’t take any creative liberties with designs, especially with partners. But we just want to ensure that we’re able to really lean into the step based play, mission quest challenges, things of that nature. And then from there, we can obviously do drops and things like that. But we don’t see that as like particularly meaningful of an activation purpose.
Mitch: 17:30 It is all about the story and how you integrate them into the world. So, it sounds like how you figure out what your players are looking for. It’s more qualitative, right? You’re just monitoring the discord. You’re seeing what they’re talking about. It’s not like you have an insane amount of data or surveys or things that you’ve run. It’s really just you keeping your finger on the community pulse.
Jesse: 17:54 Yeah, totally, Mitch. And I mean, I think at some point, we’re still a growing startup. I would love to get to a place where it’s more data driven and just a little bit more-- Yeah, just a little bit more numbers-based. But at the same time, I think that, especially at the Fashion consumer space as a whole is really just trend forecasting and having a good understanding of where the kids are going and making informed decisions there. So, it’ll always be a little bit more art than science. And that’s fine for us at least for now.
Rachit: 18:32 It’s good way to put it. I’d love to ask a little bit more about it. You’ve said that storytelling is important. It’s not just about shoe drops. I think for someone listening to this, if they’re not familiar with Aglet, if they’re not familiar with the concept of what a brand story might look like, it’d be really good to talk about what does a partnership look like. What a brand collaboration looks like? I know that you recently, in July, partnered with both Man City and Puma for, I think, a treasure hunt. Can you visually step us through what that was? And what did that experience feel and look like for a player just so that we can understand the nature of a collaboration?
Jesse: 19:16 Yeah, totally! So, first and foremost, I mean, working with Puma and Man City was a dream for us. I mean, Man City, as I’m sure you know, is the most successful soccer or football club in the world right now that just won the treble. And as I think I’ve alluded to, we have a pretty sizable audience in Japan. And luckily enough, Man City was doing their Asia exhibition in Tokyo and Seoul this summer in July. So, it seemed like a good opportunity for us to use our Aglet platform to really explain to our Japanese audience who might not know necessarily what Man City is. It is as crazy as that sounds why Man city is so meaningful on the global cultural like the sports arena, but also, how can we further sweeten the pot and create these experiences using the map, using these exhibition matches to get people excited about it and really express their fandom of Man city. So, it was two-fold what we did with them on a more local level. So, they played three matches in Asia, two in Tokyo, one in Seoul. For the local matches, we had some branded stash bots in key locations across Tokyo and Korea. So, they were releasing their third kit simultaneously with the exhibition matches. So, we highlighted the Puma store, we highlighted another soccer retailer out in Asia, and we had a bunch of brand new stash spots near the stadiums in which they were playing. And so there was-- The more that you checked into these Man City branded staff spots and also Puma mustache spots as well, you had an opportunity to earn rare assets in the game. So, initially, we got a pair of Man City socks. And as you continue to check-in and interact with Man City in the game, you would get kits, shorts, etc. At Puma locations, they released a new shoes. You’re able to get a new pair of trainers. And to further generate excitement, we created a step challenge where you had to be wearing these Man City branded trainers in the game. And basically, it was a step competition for a week. And as you accrued steps in these Puma trainers, you got in game reward. So, at 10,000 steps, you got a certain digital asset. As you got 25,000 steps, you got an additional more rare asset. But the real kicker was that if you got 100,000 steps plus throughout that week, you are entered into a raffle to get a free signed Man City football jersey. So, I mean, people love free things, especially free sign memorabilia, especially if you’re a citizen. So, that definitely caused a lot of hysteria. And in addition to that, we also had a NFT. It was a location based NFT that you can only get at the stadium during the matches. So, we had a lot of people on our discord on Twitter saying like, “I’ve never gone to a soccer game before. Honestly, I don’t even know what Man City is, I just thought the color of blue on their jerseys was cute. Checking in to the Tokyo National Stadium, getting this NFT, and using this as an experience to dip their toes further into this world and get an understanding of what Man City was super cool.” And then on a global level, just so everyone could participate, we did a Man City drop in the game with trainers, kits, Puma sneakers, gallery items, and things of that nature. So, we tried to make it a global experience. So, all of our user base could enjoy and get a better understanding of what Man City is on a more localized level for the people that were there creating these really unique experiences where you had the opportunity to win free jerseys, things like that. So, it was super successful and a lot of fun. And we’re definitely trying to replicate it for the coming season with them as well.
Rachit: 23:40 Super cool. I think it’s interesting that you’ve been able to definitely showcase the fact that not everyone in the world knows who or what Man City is. And you can take new fans. You’ve got your own existing players and introduce them to a club. And I think that’s important for the brand. It’s not just about the licensing of the advertising. It’s actually about the fan engagement audience that you’re building. But in terms of results, what can you share? I know specifics are hard. But talk to us through some of the key trends or numbers if you can around it, whether that’s engagement or downloads or purchases, anything like that.
Jesse: 24:23 Yeah! I mean, I’ll keep it a bit high level just because I don’t want to get in trouble with Man City team. But I mean, we generated tens of thousands of people checking in to Tokyo National Stadium, the Seoul stadium where the Tokyo or the Seoul match was held. So, we got-- I mean, there’s one in the deck that we share with partners. We have an image of what Tokyo National Stadium looked like before the activation and then what it looked like during and after, and it’s just an invasion. Basically, there’s this throngs and throngs of people swarming all over the stadium and based on our data that was thousands upon thousands of people checking in. And speaking candidly, we got off to a late start. We announced the partnership very close to the actual match. So, considering certain time constraints, fact that we were able to get tens of thousands of people who might not necessarily know what Man City was, based on just our overall ferocious audiences. It is pretty encouraging and meaningful, which obviously translated to a lot of in game impressions. I mean, we’re big on brand step. So, it’s basically the steps taken and a pair of shoes or while walking in the game wearing certain clothes. And there was multi-millions, hundreds of millions of brands steps taken in a Puma and Man City gear while this activation took place. So, from a digital standpoint, it was super meaningful. From a physical standpoint, it was really encouraging. And consider this, we do this in a place like Tokyo where soccer isn’t necessarily their main sport, where Man city isn’t their homegrown club, if we did this around the Manchester Derby or Man City Arsenal during the Premier League season, and you have signed jerseys as collateral to participate and activations, we feel like there could be riots in Manchester, London over opportunity like that. So, it was definitely a very--
Rachit: 26:43 Think of another reason!
Jesse: 26:45 Yeah, no more riots. But, yeah, it was all in all a very invaluable test, as it’s really our first foray with a major sports property and just further underscored our hypothesis. This could be a really meaningful fan engagement tool. And as a result of that, there’s a lot of partners we’re talking to now about further expanding this and creating additional storytelling with the big blue chip leagues in addition to more nascent up and coming leagues as well. So, it was an amazing experience.
Rachit: 27:15 Super cool. And I think, as you mentioned, one of the largest sports properties in the world and one of the largest exporting goods or clothing brands in the world, what are the takeaways or the key learnings? And what do you think you got really right? Because it sounds like it went pretty well. But also, what would you change. As you’re replicating or trying to do more of this, what’s going to be different?
Jesse: 27:41 Yeah, I mean, I think at the end of the day, more times than not, my team wants to kill me because I bring these partnerships to the table. And you guys know, partnerships take a little bit of time to materialize and to execute. So, I think for us, especially as we continue to scale as a business and grow and take on more partners simultaneously, we just need to get better at just planning further ahead, so we don’t have to do something necessarily two weeks before a big activation. I just want to give our team as much runway in order to adequately convey stories. I think, for us, it just goes to show that with time, with adequate amounts of time to storytell, we can really create a meaningful activation, whether it’s with a man city, or we’ve done things with smaller brands across the globe that have been super impactful. And I think that’s just as opportunity to earn physical good type of digital engagement. It is really meaningful to partners and consumers, especially those that might not have an opportunity to go to a Man City match or get a free sign Man City thing otherwise. So, the more that we can think of new ways to unlock the map, get people congregating and just expressing their fandom in unique ways, it’s obviously something that we want to keep further exploring. And I think just giving ourselves that runway that as we get bigger as we have, I mean, the future state of accolade is like thousands of brands across the world activating at different times and not the sexiest way to explain it, but just like, Aglet serving as this quasi loyalty reward program where you can get certain discounts or access to certain goods based on your play in game, we just need to give ourselves the time and really look at the calendar and plan ahead. So, it was a mad dash. I give Man City and Puma an immense amount of credit. I have the best team in the world. They hate me a lot of the time, but we do a lot of good work especially when our back is against the wall. But, yeah, it was a mad dash and just for there to ensure that they don’t go into cardiac arrest or lose all their hair, just ensure that we give them a lot more runway to execute these partnerships.
Mitch: 30:06 You don’t complain when you’re collaborating with Man city and Puma. Even if it is a mad dash, it’s--
Jesse: 30:12 Yeah!
Mitch: 30:13 The proofs and the pudding. So, even if the team dies, it’s a necessary sacrifice, right?
Jesse: 30:23 Exactly! They were like [Unclear 30:25]. They die for our good cause.
Mitch: 30:27 Sorry to the Aglet team when you watch this.
Jesse: 30:31 Yeah!
Mitch: 30:31 I am curious though, in the future, what collaborations might look like for you? I’m wondering if you might go beyond. And I guess, you already have with the city collaboration. But collaborating with more than just sneaker brands, right? So, you mentioned then, just then, the future vision is multiple brand activations all around the world going off at once. But do you see where you integrate characters or other types of musicians or celebrities or sneakers or fashion items that might not even exist in real life? Is that something that you see happening in the future?
Jesse: 31:18 Yeah, absolutely! And I mean, as I’ve alluded to, we’ve found that Aglet drives really meaningful in game impressions, physical impressions, interacting with the world for brands. So, considering how expensive it is for brands to market on Facebook or TikTok or things like that, we see Aglet is a very viable solution for brands that are looking to get into gaming and are actually looking for deeper engagement as opposed to just getting served an ads or someone ignores it. It is like really wearing the brands in game, interacting with it via the map and challenges, buying it in the shop is really, for us, we see as a really meaningful way for brands to. We serve as this top of the funnel engagement tool where you’re playing the brand and-- For a lot of consumers, they’re curious. They’ve learned about the brand. And then, they ultimately end up buying physical products. So, I mean, we’re talking to everyone from consumer goods, companies to musicians, to famous celebrities, and gaming IP property. So, we can basically sell anything within Aglet. And we can find a function for wave a play advertising deck that is very robust. It’s 20 pages. And I think it just goes to show that, we can create bespoke activations for any brand depending on what they’re looking to do. And we take a lot of pride in being flexible. So, while we started as the Pokémon Go for sneaker and apparel collecting, the next generation of what Aglet is, is really going to be anything under the sun. Anyone that’s looking to reach an audience in a new way and have their audience try to earn physical goods type digital engagement, I think, it is the name of the game. So, yeah, everything from fashion brands to-- I mean, we’re talking to a bunch of live events, companies, and tourism boards. Anyone that’s looking to get people out and about interacting on a map is a viable potential partner for Aglet.
Rachit: 33:38 Sounds like you’ve had a great track record right now. You can use that to leverage to open up new avenues and new types of integrations. So, it’s really cool to hear that. I got story, including some of the bigger wins today. I think that’s a pretty good place to wrap it. We’ve had a couple of internet issues as well. So, we’ll cut them out. But before we wrap up, I know you mentioned early on that as a 13-year-old you, you run around New York buying and selling kicks. I am going to ask and might have to look it up. But what’s the grail? What’s the grail of a pair of Kicks? And is it a dream or do you own them already?
Jesse: 34:18 It’s a great question, Rachit. I mean, they have these [unclear 34:22] that have now or I think are like $100,000 that I really wanted when I was 13 years old in 2007. But for myself, I mean, I’m a big fan of hip hop, MF Doom. I am big fan of him. And he did a Nike SP collaboration, which I still have to this day. So, I would say the MF DOOM, Nike Dunk ESPYS were certainly a grail. And I’m happy that I have them. I still have. As I said, I’m in recovery. So, it’s hard to really pass over my transgressions. But I have a pair of Nike SP HUFs that I still have. I’ve had them for 15 years. But I think, the Grail at this point-- Honestly, I’m big into collectibles. Like, if I could get a Michael Jordan sign shoe, that would be pretty sweet. But obviously, I wear a size 9. So, just be cool to look at and admire as opposed to being down stuff.
Rachit: 35:27 Well, the way it sounds like it’s going with Aglet, I think it won’t be too far off between doing the Michael Jordan’s or the SV Paris. I think, you can take your pick.
Jesse: 35:37 I hope! I’ll take your word for it. We’ll see.
Rachit: 35:39 Yeah! Hold me to it. I appreciate the time Jesse. Mitch, anything else on your end or should we wrap there?
Mitch: 35:46 No! I think that’s a good place to wrap.
Rachit: 35:48 Awesome. Thanks, everyone.
Mitch: 35:49 Appreciate the time.
Rachit: 35:50 Thank you so much, Jesse.
Jesse: 35:51 Thank you much. I really appreciate it.