It’s 2022 and the metaverse is real. Several companies, including Big Tech players, are urging more and more people to duplicate their physical worlds on digital counterparts, with “enhanced” experiences, avatars and offers.
But how real is this digital “you”?
Lokesh Rao and Sunil Arora noted that avatars – digital representations of users – can help individuals present themselves as they wish that would otherwise be impossible in the real world, where we are frequently judged, scrutinized and mocked simply because that we are us.
The duo decided to launchin 2021 to help individuals not only craft real-life, human-looking avatar NFTs, but also replicate their way of life in the metaverse.
In a conversation with The story deciphered, explains Lokesh: “Today, most avatars in the metaverse are either cartoons or caricatures. We wanted to change that.
“Our avatar is called Buddy. We wanted the avatars to be a replica of an individual – with the same physical attributes – so they could move around, shop, play, and most importantly, be themselves, because avatars should essentially be the manifestation of a individual in the metaverse. We allow users to incorporate their own real life styles into the metaverse,” he adds.
Sunil and Lokesh have worked together in the fashion industry for decades. Lokesh, an IIM alumnus, was working as a senior consultant for World Fashion Exchange when he met Sunil who was leading global business development at the same firm.
In 2018, Lokesh saw the frenetic nature of bitcoin and started attending blockchain events hosted by Web3 companies. He says, “While attending these events, I realized that bitcoin was just acting like fuel.”
The duo noticed that blockchain technology goes far beyond bitcoin and tokens. “It’s a powerful technology that could solve several problems,” he adds.
In 2020, during the pandemic, they saw people struggling to communicate while in isolation and in different places.
Lokesh says, “People who thrived on everyday social interactions found it harder to communicate or deal with their loneliness. We wanted to solve the communication barrier, but we didn’t know how.
At the same time, they came across the concept of the digital twin in the metaverse, where individuals – in their avatars – could communicate with others without geographic restrictions.
“The idea really piqued my curiosity. I kept wondering how revolutionary this concept of coding a real person in a virtual space could be. Individuals in their avatars could be anywhere, in any time zone, which is not possible in the real world,” says Lokesh.
All of these factors led the duo to launch Trace Network Labs, which allows individuals in their avatars to interact with others, hold business meetings, watch a movie together, and engage in other activities. .
“The idea was to allow an individual’s virtual alter ego to come to life in the metaverse,” adds the co-founder.
In the world of avatars
Trace Network Labs launched its dApp in January, where individuals can mint their Avatar Buddy NFTs using theblockchain.
Lokesh explains, “In the dApp, we let people take a selfie, upload their photo, and then create the avatar that would show off their physical features. Then, individuals can start using their Buddy NFT avatar in different metaverses.
Avatar friends of industry experts, Ari Meilich (founder of Decentraland), Vitalik Buterin (co-founder of Ethereum), Sandeep Nailwal (co-founder of Polygon)
The startup is also building an NFT marketplace called Bling, which will focus on digital apparel and lifestyle products for avatars to personalize.
To enable on-chain communication in the metaverse, Trace Network Labs has integrated an RTC (real-time communication) protocol to enable peer-to-peer communications for avatars in the metaverse while shopping.
On top of that, the startup is building a tech stack, which will enable virtual shopping experiences in the metaverse for Buddy’s avatars, as the co-founders believe shopping is much more than buying products or services. . It’s more about experience.
“We are changing the way commerce is viewed from transaction-based commerce to experience-based commerce,” adds Lokesh.
Lokesh believes businesses such as global fashion brands will be able to create their own experiential stores in the metaverse that engage customers in whole new ways with experience-based shopping.
“While shopping online [in Web2], individuals just scroll and zoom through photos of their outfits. But in the metaverse, individuals can enter a virtual store using their avatar, check out the store’s offers, try on the outfit on their avatar, and see how it looks on them,” he adds.
The startup plans to integrate with brands’ e-commerce websites so that NFTs can be stored in Web3 wallets. In some cases, users will also receive a physical product in the real world. This means that the person who purchased the NFT can claim the physical product sent to their shipping address.
Other than that, all interactions of avatars in different virtual events or brand stores in the metaverse will be recorded on-chain to help users record memories of all events their avatar participates in.
Operating on both B2B and B2C models, Trace Network Labs derives its revenue from different sources. B2C revenue comes primarily from sales of Buddy NFT, which costs $25.
In the B2B model, he earns money from the sales of the experience store.
Along with the tech stack, the team is also building a metaverse theatrical experience, where they would earn revenue through ticket sales. Trace Events is also on the cards, where the company expects to generate revenue by renting space in the metaverse.
The startup has various technology partners, including Polygon, Bitkey, Metamask, EPNS, Siri Network, Mogul Productions and others.
Experiential Commerce in the Metaverse
Experiential commerce is changing the way people buy online as marketers focus more on simply selling products than connecting with customers.
Lokesh says, “Experiences are important because they have the power to shape a consumer’s opinion, create memories and mark their next move. Today, the experiential economy is booming and will continue to grow in the years to come.
According to Emergen Research, the global metaverse market is expected to reach $1,607.12 billion by 2030, registering a CAGR of 43.3% during the forecast period.
There are several companies that rely on the metaverse. Globally, Dimension Studio, a virtual production startup, creates digital humans and virtual worlds for brands. In 2020, she collaborated with luxury brand Balenciaga, among the first companies to virtually launch their collection through a video game fashion show in 2020. Then, in the video game Fortnite, Balenciaga dressed characters for the new Fall 2021 collection, which brought them a little closer. in the metaverse.
Other promising global startups like DressX helped H&M design its first virtual clothing collection, and Dematerialized produces both digital clothing and NFTs.
“Recently, Nike partnered with the RTFKT blockchain and launched NFT sneakers, which were auctioned off, where the winners got to hold physical shoes, but the real coveted asset is still the digital ones,” adds Lokesh.
Several global fashion brands, including Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Moschino, Valentino, Prada, and Marc Jacobs, have forayed into the metaverse.
However, Trace Network Labs thinks it has an advantage because there aren’t enough startups enabling experiences and avatars, as well as building an infrastructure layer for the metaverse.
“Even though everyone wants to enter the metaverse world, we don’t see much competition. As our Buddy NFTs can be used in different metaverses and few startups do that,” Lokesh adds.
Currently, Trace Network Labs has a team of 22 members. He plans to expand the team in the coming months.
The co-founders announce that the Trace Events and Fashion Brand’s Experience stores will launch in late August or early September.
The startup intends to empower creators, developers, and builders in the future. “We want to support the creator economy so that we let individuals build anything, whether it’s a store or a theatrical experience, and on top of our tech stack. Then an individual can sell his product to the end customer and earn money.
In 2021, the startup raised $1.8 million in a seed round and is looking to raise Series A funding.