On Dapper Labs and going with the “Flow”
Dapper Labs leverages blockchain technology to create highly accessible entertainment and games apps for retail user adoption, with unparalleled brand partnerships such as those with the NBA, UFC, Dr. Seuss and more.
I had the privilege to speak with Weilei Yu, Head of Marketing at Flow. Created initially as a side project at a venture studio, Dapper Labs saw raging success with their first product: CryptoKitties. Since then they have released other projects such as NBA Top Shot — passing CryptoKitties as #1 in all-time transactions volume — which allows anyone to own basketball moments as collectibles, and Cheeze Wizards, “the world’s first blockchain battle royale.” However, it is the virtual felines that originally took the internet, as well as the Ethereum blockchain, by storm. Cryptokitties garnered so much traffic that it slowed transaction speeds across the entire Ethereum network during its boom back in 2017. This showed a point of weakness, and as Weilei Yu said, “no matter how good your dApp design or product is, if the underlying infrastructure can’t meet demand, you have almost an automatic break.”
Aside from latency issues, one of the other biggest grievances the Dapper Labs team had was the barrier of entry for users. Although simple compared to most blockchain based projects at the time, there were still quite a bit of steps to get set up with CryptoKitties and other decentalized applications (dApps). Users had to install the MetaMask plug-in, generate a seed phrase (usually a sequence of words for safe keeping — a common part of blockchain security, but also very easy to lose), make a CoinBase account to fund the “kitty” and more. All of this combined with worries of Ethereum “sharding” (the initial blockchain splitting into pieces) made the team ready to look for some kind of alternative solution. Weilei emphasized that as dApp developers, they knew “what the experience should be to sustain momentum and keep talent,” and that of course unhappy developers plus unhappy customers was a recipe for disaster. It was time for a new blockchain: Flow.
Weilei explained that Dapper Labs was the original creator of Flow, and they set out to make it with three goals top of mind:
- Build a scalable blockchain for mainstream consumer adoption
- Make it very developer-friendly and centric
- Offer smooth user onboarding
After months of hard work, the Flow main network (mainnet) launched in the summer of 2020 and saw glowing results. Weilei mentioned that the developers using Flow have generally been impressed with the infrastructure — one cool feature of Flow is that it allows developers to pay “gas” (processing power) fees on behalf of the users on the protocol level, without having to leverage complex and expensive workarounds (which are often necessary on the Ethereum blockchain).
On the user side, onboarding friction has been greatly reduced. You can create an account and use it right away, and if there are any additional steps that aren’t essential right away, they can be completed at a later time. This is a great feature for developers, as Weilei explained, because they can create experiences with gradual access to the users:
“If a user is completely new [to the space] they might require a bit more hand holding, and once they’re ready they can be granted full control. If it’s too hard right off the bat, it might chase a lot of people away from the space.”
The team strongly believes in straying away from the conventional difficulty of getting into the cryptoverse and is focused on being able to attract a mainstream user base to finally open up mainstream blockchain adoption. Speaking of mainstream adoption, how is Flow going to compete with Ethereum if there are already so many dApps and developers in that community? The way Weilei puts it, “Ethereum is heavily focused on DeFi (Decentralized Finance) but there’s a lot more that crypto can offer.” Most of the projects the Dapper Labs team works on and Flow revolves around focus on bringing blockchain empowered entertainment apps to mainstream consumers. Plus, in terms of competition, lack of users or developers has not been an issue for Flow — when TopShot launched on the Flow mainnet this past summer, they saw over $60M in marketplace transactions, and there are currently over 100 groups of developers building on top of the Flow blockchain. Additionally, according to CoinList, a record breaking amount of people (over 12,000) participated in the public sale of the Flow token (native currency of the Flow blockchain) — and Weilei was actually the one who led the campaign for the sale.
One of the special features of Flow that Weilei told me about is the ability for developers to not only receive grants, but also to get support with go-to-market strategy and user acquisition. “It doesn’t matter how many dApps you have, if the teams just build them and leave, and nobody uses them, their worth is 0.” It’s awesome to see the Dapper Labs team already delivering on their goals of creating a user and developer-friendly blockchain. As Weilei also said, there is “no one as powerful of a marketer than a community that really trusts and believes in the project,” and so they will continue to put people in the center as they build out Flow.
Even on a personal level, Weilei mentioned a passion for accessibility within the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. Prior to his work with Flow and Dapper Labs, Weilei worked as the Head of Developer Relations at Streamr, a crypto project dedicated to decentralizing accessibility of content. Two years later, he joined the Flow team, leading marketing across the globe. Aside from the successful Coinlist campaign, he focused a lot of his energy on the Open World Builders, a comprehensive free bootcamp open to anyone to learn about building blockchain empowered applications (that had over 400+ applicants, 20+ universition, 10+ professional fields, from 4 continents) and Open World Summit, the annual Flow summit (which offered panels hosted in 4 different languages). These events are meant to empower regional communities, as Weilei explained that “many global events are English-based, so it doesn’t benefit local communities as much, but only addresses the privileged few who know English well.”
As Christian Sullivan of Republic Labs often says, “Access and Inclusion is the new A.I.” so we are excited to see the Dapper Labs team making an effort to increase accessibility to information and technology that once seemed only available to an elite few. We look forward to seeing what progress they make with Flow and excited to see what 2021 will bring!
Republic Labs is the advisor to clients which have invested in Dapper Labs, nothing herein should be construed as investment advice.
By Elizabeth Olshanetsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) for Republic Labs.