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Superplastic has raised $20 million to build a global entertainment brand in the age of nonfungible tokens, virtual characters, and viral videos.
The funding comes off Superplastic‘s successful auction at Christie’s for nonfungible tokens (NFTs) based on the virtual celebrities Janky & Guggimon. The company is betting that NFT art and other new business models will help it monetize characters like Janky & Guggimon, who have become viral synthetic celebrities or virtual beings. In collaboration with Christie’s, the company and its characters have also sold over $7 million in NFTs in 2021.
Paul Budnitz, the CEO of Superplastic, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the company raised the money to expand its first-of-its-kind virtual ecosystem that fans can interact with through NFTs (which use the transparent and secure digital ledger of blockchain to authenticate unique digital items), animated films, retail experiences, and more. As such, he’s taking a page from other big brands such as Marvel and Disney.
“We’ve created virtual beings, but they also function as animated cartoon characters,” he said. “They’re fictional characters, and at the same time, they interact in the real world.”
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The market for NFTs surged to new highs in the third quarter of 2021, with $13.2 billion in sales in the first nine months of the year, according to DappRadar. NFTs have exploded in other applications such as art, sports collectibles, and music. NBA Top Shot (a digital take on collectible basketball cards) is one example.
Published by Dapper Labs, NBA Top Shot has surpassed $780 million in sales in just a year. And an NFT digital collage by the artist Beeple sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million. Investors are pouring money into NFTs, and some of those investors are game fans. The weekly revenues for NFTs peaked in May and then crashed, but in August and September, those revenues rose again, fell, and then held steady.
And Superplastic is one of the wave of virtual beings companies that are reaping rewards from celebrities who don’t really exist.
Budnitz has been following the wave of virtual influencers for a while. He said he loves characters that are born from toys, and he capitalized on that with KidRobot, which he sold in 2012. Budnitz (the creator of KidRobot, Ello, Budnitz Bicycles) started Superplastic as a global brand for entertainment.
With Superplastic, he thought it would be neat if the next famous universe of animated characters came from social media rather than TV shows or movies.
Many of the first ones were very realistic in their human appearance. But Budnitz believes that those look kind of creepy and that animated characters are going to rule.
“Using them, we were able to tell a story in a way that I think no one’s been able to tell before,” he said. “The stories are interactive, and so we get to tell these awesome stories. We can get into the fun stuff.”
About 18 months ago, he launched 3D-animated characters like Janky and others and it was a viral success. With the NFTs, the characters are the artists and people are collecting toys and art designed by those characters.
It has millions of followers, and its Instagram and TikTok sensations include Janky, Guggimon, Dayzee, Staxx, Pandakat, Kranky, Shüdog and many others. In June 2021 Guggimon became one of eight new playable characters in Fortnite.
“The character universe is expanding,” Budnitz said. “We’re working on other characters, we have an animated hip hop group coming next year, and we’re working on two movies, one of which is funded.”
The company has now raised $38 million to date. This round’s investors include Google Ventures, Index Ventures, Founders Fund, Craft Ventures, Galaxy Digital, Mantis VC/The Chainsmokers, Kakao, LINE Friends, Electric Feel Entertainment, Day One Ventures, Betaworks, Sean Qiao Ventures, and individual investors including Cyan Bannister, Jared Leto, Chamillionaire, Justin Timberlake, Scooter Braun, Scott Belsky and many more.
Budnitz credited Bannister for sitting down with him over a bowl of macaroni and cheese in New York City. They sketched out a plan for the company that made a lot of sense in the age of virtual beings, which Bannister has backed in a big way.
Superplastic wants to rewrite the rules of celebrity, social media, fashion, and entertainment through their metaverse in which intellectual property crosses over to other media properties and worlds, and where fans interact directly with Superplastic virtual celebrities on social media.
“This gives us some space to hire smart people,” he said. “And it means that some of us are going to get some sleep because we have a few more people here.”
With over 8 million followers, virtual celebrities Janky & Guggimon are also playable characters in online games including Fortnite, have collaborated with celebrities like J Balvin and Lil Nas X, and continue to work as models for high-fashion brands including Gucci.
In September, Superplastic dropped The Jankyverse Roadmap to its highly active Discord community, outlining future developments with the company’s NFTs, and announcing Jankykoin tokens and other digital art and blockchain-related projects. With the help of new funding, Superplastic will also begin production on an animated feature film starring characters from the Superplastic universe. The company also has retail store launches in Miami and NYC happening in early 2022.
On August 12, Superplastic’s King Janky toy dropped on its website with 4,000 units selling out in under three minutes. The same happened with the UberJanky J Balvin and Guggimon Chop Chop, collectible toys dropped in August and September respectively, both of which sold out minutes after launch.
“It has been awesome to watch Paul’s vision for a future of media and entertainment, that is fully integrated and built for the 21st century, come to life,” said M.G. Siegler (a former VentureBeat dude), general partner at GV, in a statement. “With Superplastic, he’s created a whole new world of animated characters that transition seamlessly between different mediums, including into the real world where they’re constantly being catapulted into the cultural zeitgeist. Superplastic has completely changed the rules of animated entertainment and is well on its way to creating its own Marvel-like universe of IP bolstered by hyper-engaged fans, designer toy enthusiasts, NFT collectors, and more.”
The company also has retail store launches in Miami and NYC debuting in early 2022, and it is expanding to the Asian market.