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When Zach Bruch and Trevor George met at the University of Michigan, they had no idea they would be making headlines together one day. After graduation, Bruch went on to become a crypto industry expert. To date, he has worked and held leadership positions at Kraken, Cumberland/DRW and JST Capital. He also founded Manna, which is an active investment firm that has backed numerous prominent crypto projects and most recently incubated Switchboard, a Solana based oracle network. While Bruch was becoming a leader in the crypto world, George was becoming known as a digital licensing industry pioneer. He served as the owner of Trevco and of the digital marketing agency, Blue Wheel. Today, they are the co-founders and co-CEOs of RECUR, a technology company that designs and develops on-chain branded experiences that allow fans to buy, collect and re-sell digital products and collectibles (NFTs). Bruch and George sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss their company, their 50-million-dollar Series A and their advice for anyone looking to get into the NFT space.
Jessica Abo: What inspired the two of you to join forces after college?
Trevor George: Well, we both went to U of M and when we graduated, we took our own paths. Zach went into crypto. I went into licensing and direct-to-consumer. When we regrouped on the topic of NFTs, we realized that the careers we had built to date were really the perfect blend to help bring global IP into the NFT space. We formed RECUR earlier this year to do just that.
You talk a lot about the metaverse. What is the metaverse, and where do NFTs live inside the metaverse?
George: The metaverse is a hot topic right now. It’s not any one thing but a combination of many things. The first thing that we as humans have done in this digital world, the metaverse, is represent ourselves by an avatar. We’ve been doing that for years in gaming, and especially now. The next thing you do once you have an identity is you buy things and you collect things. It’s those things that you come together as a society and talk about, and hang about, and rave about, and become emotional about. NFTs are those things in the metaverse.
Is it exciting to own a digital item of something? Is it more exciting than owning the thing that you would actually wear or hang on your wall?
George: For many, probably not at this time. But also, for equal amounts of people, it is extremely exciting. NFTs are an item that a group of people come together around. It’s no different than when you walk down the street and you see someone wearing a pair of Yeezys and you say, “Oh, how did they get those Yeezys?” In the metaverse, or the digital world, someone might say, “I can’t believe they have that NFT”, and it creates this community around something no different than something you collect in the physical world.
What is RECUR doing for the original creator of these items?
George: We are the gateway to the metaverse for the IP. Many companies claim they are the same. They create an NFT marketplace, but we are the first chain-agnostic platform that will help bring global IP into the metaverse. Meaning that when an owner buys an NFT and takes it off of our platform and resells it somewhere else, we ensure that that recurring royalty goes back to the original IP holder forever.
What do you think the metaverse means for licensing?
George: The metaverse is an entirely different channel. For the past 50 years, licensing has looked at channels like brick and mortar and e-commerce. In contracts moving forward, metaverse will be the newest and most exciting channel, where it’s a massively new revenue stream for these global IPs.
How does a brand create an experience or revenue inside the metaverse?
George: The first thing a brand should do is recognize that it took them many years to become a brand and they shouldn’t go to market and do a quick cash grab. They need to do it authentically. What’s true to them and their brand? And why would their audience and fans and community care? The second is they need to make it easy for their consumers to enter and buy an NFT.
How can someone enter the NFT ecosystem?
Zach Bruch: Well, the amazing thing about the NFT ecosystem and the metaverse is that it’s open to anybody. Anyone can participate. So, get out there, get an NFT. Experience the vibrant community and how welcoming it is, and you yourself can experiment and explore all things NFT metaverse.
What should someone consider before purchasing an NFT?
Bruch: Definitely do your own research, but at the end of the day, buy what you love. An NFT is a digital asset that you’re going to take with you throughout the entire digital ecosystem, throughout the metaverse it will live on with you. So find what you love, because you’ll have it with you today, tomorrow, 10 years from now, and no matter how the market ebbs and flows, you will have this asset. Find something you love, and that can be your first NFT.
Let’s talk about your series A. You raised $50 million in six months. What do you think made the two of you so successful?
Bruch: Well, I think it’s a testament to our entire team. We have an amazing best-in-class team on the licensing and brand side, and similarly on the crypto side. Our team pioneered original crypto markets, some of the existing infrastructure on the crypto side and on the brand side they’ve been part of the licensing community for decades. So, we are uniquely positioned to bring and welcome all of the global IP into the metaverse.
How do you plan on using the funding?
Bruch: We need to scale. As you look at this NFT ecosystem, I’d say it’s gone hockey sticks in growth, but really it’s more like a giant vertical line. We need to keep up with that growth, so we’re looking to hire the best-in-class talent, across so many sectors, to scale, welcome new IP into the space and tackle our vision of bringing a billion people into the metaverse.
All of this is coming on the heels of another big announcement for the two of you. What can you share about NFTU?
Bruch: NFTU is going to house the official collegiate NFT experience. We are proud to have partnered with Veritone and the Collegiate Licensing Company to make that a possibility, where fans, athletes, students, alumni, whoever, will be able to go and purchase digital assets from their favorite sports, memories, traditions, mascots, you name it. We’re excited to share more about NFTU soon.
I’ve heard you say that you want to bring one billion people into the metaverse, is that by 2022, 2025? And why is this important to you?
Bruch: We feel that the metaverse is a place where anybody can be who they want to be, find communities that they love, rally around things that they are inspired by, and it’s an incredibly powerful thing. As our world is becoming more and more digital, each and every day the metaverse is going to become a more meaningful part of our lives. We are trying to usher as many people as possible into this new world, help build the infrastructure behind it, bring the world’s largest IP into it, and allow all sorts of people to experience things that they may not have been able to experience prior.
Overall, what’s your advice for the people out there who are about to start fundraising?
Bruch: Take risks. If you already are at the point where you’re out there fundraising, then you’ve already taken some risk in starting a business. All too often, entrepreneurs get nervous and start following some playbook that VCs say you need to follow in order to raise capital, but what got you there is taking risk and being a little unconventional. So, take risks and don’t be afraid to be unconventional.
When it comes to bringing an NFT to market, what advice do you have for people who are struggling with how to do that?
George: I think it comes down to three things. The first is looking at your own fan base and community and asking yourselves, “What would be authentic to them?” Then entering the market authentically. The second would be, what does it mean for the NFT holder, long-term? Are you telling them that there’s a roadmap, or some community they could be a part of? And lastly, make it easy to access. If it’s too difficult, rest assured it’s going to be too difficult for your community to enter.