Are you ready to navigate the digital landscape of Web3 with industry veteran, Brent Annells, CMO at Smart Token Labs? Prepare to delve into the world of Web3 as we navigate its intricacies with Brent, who has not only been at the helm of tech giants like Uber and Facebook but has also experienced the shifts from Web1 to Web2, and now Web3, with 11 different startups under his belt. Brent will shed light on how to simplify the complex world of Web3 and share the importance of storytelling and strategic partnerships in getting your brand ahead in this digital era.
Our conversation also takes us to the realm of tokenization and how it can be a game-changer in web-to-web services - imagine a tap-and-go experience, similar to credit cards, to make your web three journey seamless. All this will be anchored in Smart Token Labs' vision of creating a smart layer—an integration layer between web three and web two. However, we also acknowledge the challenges in this transition, from securitization to the complexity of implementation, and discuss possible solutions.
Lastly, we explore partnerships and communities in Web3 and how they differentiate from Web2. As we anticipate the metaverse and AI trends, we evaluate the different types of partnerships, their effectiveness, and the role of tokenization in reducing friction in web-to-web services. This episode promises to be an enlightening discussion on the future of the web and marketing strategies in the rapidly evolving digital landscape. Join us and gear up to master the world of Web3.
This episode was recorded through a StreamYard call on June 22, 2023. Read the blog article here: https://webdrie.net/unveiling-the-future-of-web3-with-brent-annells-ex-uber-ex-facebook
If you're interested in our W3X Mastermind, please send me a DM on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.
But I think, you know, some of the principles always remain the same. You know, my guiding principle, probably with most things, is I just try and try and find the simplicity in a world of complexity. And if I have one thing that I've become reasonably good at, I think, over the years, it's that it's just making the complex simple.Joeri:
Hello everyone and welcome to the Web3 CMO story Podcast, season 3, episode 7. My name is Joeri Billast and I'm your podcast host, and today I'm so excited to be here to be joined by Brent Annells. Brent is a visionary chief marketing officer currently paving the way for Web3 with a talented team at smart token labs With a solid track record that includes roles at giants like Uber and Facebook. Brandt is no stranger to leading and scaling businesses. Moreover, Brent has been a part of 11 startups navigating the transitions from Web1 to Web2 and now Web3. He's an expert in marketing, sales, and partnerships with UniqueNAC helping startups and scaleups succeed in their go-to- market strategies. I'm really excited to have you on the show, Brent. Welcome.Brent:
Thanks, Joeri. It's terrific to be on. I'm really looking forward to our chat.Joeri:
So, guys, me too, and I have a couple of questions for Brent, of course, and there are so many questions to ask you, but just start with the beginning. With all this extensive experience that you have and working with these startups in Web1, Web2, and Web3. Could you share some of your key learnings about adapting marketing strategies to these different digital landscapes?Brent:
Yes, sure I mean. Yes, I'm in the career. My career started all the way back in 1990, which dates me a fair bit. It started in public relations and I did a journalism cadetship for four years. I learned how to write And then, from the mid-90s onwards, I started my startup journey and I've worked in, as you say, 11 different startups spanning Web1, 2, and 3. So lots of different ways of technology innovation, and lots of different types of companies. I love working with tech companies. I love working in this type of startup ecosystem. I've worked in very small startups. My first startup was called Exciting Alternatives. The only cool thing about that startup was the name. It failed spectacularly, as with a few others, and I've also worked at large startups, and rocket ships like Facebook and Uber, and learned very different things at them. So I mean overall, I've written a few posts on my top 11 of learnings across all those startups, okay, but I think some of the principles always remain the same. My guiding principle, probably with most things, is I just try and find the simplicity in a world of complexity, and if I have one thing that I've become reasonably good at, I think, over the years, it's that It's just making the complex simple.Joeri:
Right, actually, that's what I also like to do with my podcast, you know about We b3, because it's quite a complex you know thing for many people. They don't understand what it is. So trying to invite guests like you, trying to talk about that, to educate people, because it's really important I think Now you mentioned it there You have worked for Uber, you have worked for Facebook. I guess that has offered some unique perspective to you, and so have you used those experiences to shape your current, I would say, marketing role at Smartoken Labs.Brent:
Yeah, I mean without question, you know I had very different experiences. So at Facebook, I, you know, I led a sales team and then I ended up doing a brand innovation program around the introduction of paid ads on Instagram and video ads in news feeds. So you know, at Facebook, you know that was the whole, I guess, the Web 2 transition. And at Facebook, from you know, a promise around word of mouth marketing, you know, at scale, to hyper-personalized media targeting. And so, at its simplest form, I was selling ads and it's more complex for you know, selling connection and the world being a better place. I think what I learned at Facebook is you know innovation is just as important in sales and partnerships as it is in marketing. And what I really learned, the most powerful thing that happened to me at Facebook is I was able to turn the worst performing sales team in Australia into the second best team in APAC by basically going to selling ideas and stories instead of selling spots and dots. So complex strategy without a, you know, a creative front end, just like everything, doesn't work. People switch off. So you know that was my most powerful lesson at Facebook is, once everybody had heard the sort of hyper-personalized targeting at scale. We've got every audience we can target, based on their likes and preferences, etc. Etc. Etc. You know, basically, media buyers and large brands. Once they'd heard that once or twice, it just sounded like everything else, so we needed to sell in a completely different way. So that was the experience I had there and Uber was quite different but similar. So you know, trying to deliver very large trajectory, changing growth, partnerships with banks, or you know, insurance companies, that sort of thing really new ground but similar in a way that you needed to find the motivation for the partner, what's the wind for them and what's the idea behind the partnership that can motivate and mobilize an entire team of executives at a telco to want to partner with Uber.Joeri:
Right, you mentioned two things for me, like storytelling, which is really important. One of my past guests, Jay Acunzo, is not really in Web 3, but he talks about storytelling a lot and then partnerships throughout the different conversations I had on my show. Partnerships are really important if it is in Web 1, Web 2, or Web 3, maybe even more Web 3. So, yeah, I can really align with that what you are saying. Now, today you are working for smart token labs. Can you explain a bit more about your mission and how you are working on making tokenization I think that's what you are doing easier for developers and brands.Brent:
Yeah, sure. So I mean, you know we're Smart Token Labs, we make token smart. So we're a technology company that's built technology over the last four or five years around you know an innovation called smart tokens And basically, it's a shift in tokenization. We've, you know, we've had collectibles, we've had currencies, we've had sort of tokens as these digital assets that people trade and speculate on and not saying that's all going to go away, but we've sort of moved through a whole phase of that. We think the next wave of tokenization is going to be a big step forward. It's going to be based on tokens as integration points that remove friction from major services sort of context. So if you think about an airline ticket as a smart token, we're building technology that means you can have a token that's issued by American Airlines. It presents the airline ticket that you hold, it sits in your wallet and that smart token will be seamlessly integrated into all these related services around your travel experience. So hotel booking, car rental, visa application, if you need immigration status, if you need an SD visa to get into the US, that sort of thing, and basically the token in your wallet will connect with the web services from the visa, the immigration department or a hotel booking site and you will basically, seamlessly, you'll visit one of those sites, it will recognize the token that you have in your wallet and it will seamlessly issue your visa or it will give you a priority hotel booking or it will automatically update your hotel booking because your flight status has changed. So in many ways, what we're building is we're bringing tokenization into the Web2 mainstream world, and we're removing friction from that. I like to think of it a little bit like, you know, tap and go and tap and go with credit cards. You know you can walk into a store today and it used to be quite a complicated process of getting out your credit card and swiping it and signing it and then handing over the stuff. Maybe they'd call the bank to check that you had the balance covered. Today you just tap and go and it's seamless and frictionless. So that's what we're bringing. We're creating a thing called smart layer, which is a new integration layer between Web3 and Web2, based on the Smart Tokens.Joeri:
Right. Yeah, it's all about friction. these days I always take the example when I explain to people about Web3. Yeah, now you don't ask yourself the question if you pay with your credit card, how it is working? It should also be like that with Web3 and it's just like there is so much friction for people and if companies like you, people like you, make it easier, it will on board more and more people and we will really be making progress. You mentioned this friction. Are there other obstacles that you are seeing today that you see with your company, at your clients? you know before they are, I would say, convinced to step into the Web3 world.Brent:
Yeah, I mean well. So today I think the fundamental question with most brands is kind of web three is a bit of an inflection point for them. So it was NFTs and NFTs as representations of the brand. It says something about what I feel about the brand if I hold it. But then it's also this trade of the last set And that was kind of the idea around that was, you know, I associated with the brand, I held something from the brand. I was then part of this community. I then would shake the brand, I'd have part ownership and that's run into a series of issues right around everything from securitization to complexity of implementation, etc. So what we're seeing today is part of what we're doing with smart tokens is we're? we just did, for example, a project with a digital membership with one of the biggest cricket stars in the world. Cricket is a sport that's very big in Australia, it's very big in the UK, it's very big in India, so the top five global cricket superstars and we issued a token which was a digital membership past, a collectible, customizable digital pass. But we issued it to people as an off- chain token. So basically they're able to go into a website, customize this digital pass, change all different things, configure it how they want how to configure it, and they get cryptographic proof that they own this pass. That cryptographic proof will, in this case, it stores in their web browser, so then they can go and basically visit a whole series of sponsors of the game that have specific offers and rewards only for holders of this membership pass. So it's token dating right, because I've got the pass. I've got cryptographic proof of that pass stored in my local browser storage. I visit a website from Kookaburra, the cricket bat manufacturer, or as, or a cricket sports streaming website, and they recognize, hold the pass and they give me the offer. Now I don't have to log in. I don't have to share any private information, I just am demonstrating. I have proof of that. All of that's made possible without a wallet and without minting an NFT. So basically, we onboarded 16,000 pass holders into a web 2.5 experience inside seven days, and what that's doing is it's opening up the aperture so that more people can get the benefit of tokenization without having the impediment of having to navigate a wallet or having to mint an NFT. They can mint their passes and NFT if they choose to, which means then they can go and trade it if they wish to, but we're removing those barriers to open it up so more people could participate. And I think that's kind of the inflection point for most brands today. If they're going to get real business ROI out of this sort of stuff, they need more people to be able to participate.Joeri:
Right, and I also think that the language that you are using is important, like most people, you talk about Web 2.5. So about these passes, people see them as passes and not as tokens or NFTs. But if they understand it, they can mint it More like. That is more optional.Brent:
Yeah, that's exactly right.Joeri:
So what's also important, what you said is about these partnerships and collaborations. Can you talk a bit more about that? How can people establish those relationships Or can they build them today in the Web 3 space?Brent:
Hmm, that's interesting, isn't it? In the Web 3 space, it's an interesting challenge, right? So partnerships of substance. Typically, I mean, the way I look at partnerships is there are a few different categories of partnerships. There are brand partnerships, there are product integration partnerships, and then there are distribution partnerships. And they all take very different forms And most partnerships, I would argue in Web 3, which is kind of like you know you've got a community, you've got a discord, I've got a community, I've got a discord. Let's shill each other's stuff to each other's communities and then your member becomes my member. You know it's kind of reasonably superficial. It's a way to introduce people who are into Web 3 to other projects. So it's legitimate, but it operates at a very surface level. Product integration partnerships in Web 3, you know, then obviously you're starting to get into. You know, depends on the blockchain you're on. And if you're part of the polygon ecosystem or the immutable ecosystem, then you know you've got grants and incentives, so you're building product effectively on top of their blockchain. You know we build a bunch of different point solutions. We have a bunch of different partners that you know want to integrate our brand connector, which is a token-gating solution. So there's a lot of that spinning around, but the fundamental problem is there's just not the volume in Web 3. So I guess where I'm going with all of that is like I can talk to you about. You know, in Web 2 partnerships, when I'm doing partnerships at Uber, you know those three different categories and give you lots of examples and show how they can be trajectory-changing partnerships around growth and that sort of thing In Web 3, most of them are sort of like spinning around inside the Web 3 ecosystem echo chamber where there's just not a lot of users right, so they're not really driving out-material outcomes for users or the brands. So I think that's going to change. I think we're at the beginning of a new, you know a whole new wave of tokenization, what's going to happen, but right now it's all a bit superficial.Joeri:
Yeah, I know what you were saying. I think it's also important to start building those relationships now when it is early. You mentioned also the word community building community. So it's also different in Web 3, of course, I see businesses that have already a community in Web 2 and then make the transition to Web 3. They have their community, but if you are building it in Web 3, it's kind of different. How do you look at communities in Web 3 and how perhaps they are different from Web 2?Brent:
Hmm, it's a challenging one because you know, on one hand, I think it's been overhyped And I think, you know, I think they're basically communities of incentivized believers, you know. So the token goes up, the community is strong, the token goes down, and the community is no longer strong. And then you have all these people wrapped around that saying community is the new marketing and everybody in Web 2 doesn't get it. You know, we're leaving you behind because you just don't understand right? So that's kind of like a bit of a misfire, and it's happened in every Web cycle Web 1, 2, and 3. It's always been The new thing has come and new technology led marketers to say the old guys, old people don't get it. And it's never, really, never, really that simple. But you know, on the other hand, mobilizing communities of people based on token incentives, is the heart of what cryptocurrencies can enable New types of governance, new types of economic incentives to mobilize people at scale to do things that they may not otherwise do. I still think we're coming out of an experimentation phase in that The marketing stuff is all a bit not really that material around that. It's not really changing the trajectory of brands. There's lots of experimentation. I totally applaud all the experimentation. I love what brands like Nike and Adidas and Hugo Boss and Time Magazine I love what all of them have been doing. I think it's fantastic On the other side where you're mobilizing communities around things. One of the things I like is Climadow. Climadow was a DeFi 2.0 experiment, but it was based on a really good It was coming together of mobilizing people to invest in carbon credits, to drive up the price of carbon credits so that the world's polluters could no longer buy carbon credits to offset their pollution. By buying them, I am taking a stake in something that actually gives me an economic return as well. It's just a fantastic way to basically mobilize people in a way that governments aren't taking enough action We can. I think that directionally is one of the superpowers of Web3, blockchain, decentralization, DAOs. I'm not really up to speed with the moving part of the pun but I'm not really fully up to speed with the move to earn, but I really like the idea of it. I really like the idea that I'm going to be incentivized to move more. What the economic model is there? but just intuitively, those sorts of things learn to earn. That isn't just about learning how to play Axie Infinity, it's about learning about the world. Those sorts of things. I think we're just going to see heaps of innovation coming down the pipe over the next few years and we'll move to a whole new stage.Joeri:
That's where I get excited about community, what I've been doing for Mark Schaefer and also for the Gem Community, Jeff Kaufmann's organizing events in the metaverse to just enforce the community, not only in real life or on this court, but also in the virtual world. I am curious, Brent, are you looking at these evolutions, about these experiments, about the evolution of the metaverse? Do you have an opinion about it?Brent:
Not a super strong opinion. No, I think I always get a little bit tricked up by the purist debates about whether is Roblox a metaverse or is it just a game. What is just an unquestionable truth is that people are spending more and more time in virtual worlds and really interesting things are happening in those. I've had some experiences with using I think it's called an air table, maybe just doing meetings. I did this course called Kernel as a Web3 Fellowship Program run by Gitcoin a couple of years ago and people all over the world, and we use this tech I think it's called air table and you go into this virtual cocktail party kind of thing with seats and tables and you could go and see people in their avatar and you could sit down and have a conversation and you'd be part of that conversation. Then it pops up in five of you on a little mini zoom and then you finish that chat and you go and find someone else. It's amazing, just amazing technology to bring you closer to what feels like a physical presence and have a new type of connection and experience. I don't have any doubt that we're just going further and further down that path. Some of it will be good, some of it will be bad. I definitely like everything. You've probably got a bit overhyped in terms of it's all going to happen tomorrow, but it's clear.Joeri:
Yeah, what's also a high piece we see every day is the AI hype. I mentioned Metaverse. Do you have, I guess you like lots of us, who are using technology or in the tech space? what is your opinion about all these AI trends? Is it a hyper bit at the moment, but what do you see as advantages? or what is your opinion about what we're seeing today about evolution with AI?Brent:
Well, it's one of those moments in time where it's just such a disruptive force. It just had such an impact. It's a technology, you know, I mean it used to talk about. You know, you look at, like, you know, desk. The nineties was the, you know, desktop computer revolution, right, and Microsoft on that. And then the two thousand was the internet revolution and google one that and 2010, the decade of 2010, was the mobile internet and Facebook one that, right, you know, I kind of thought at one point the web three was going to be the two thousand twenty Decade, but I think it's gonna be a, you know, I think, when three super important, but I do believe it's the technology. It is just transformative in so many ways you decide to see it today. You know, I see Examples of people using it to generate. You know, just, I mean, you know my boss at Smart Token Labs is, you know, Chinese. Originally from China, I speak fluent English, but he's really, do you know, to create a seamless memo, right, isn't as good as you spoke in English, but I can speak any Chinese. It's super impressive to me, right? but I watched him just over the last few months and, like you know, take quite complex things that need to be communicated to the team and he's a very good IT degree, a computer science degree, right, so he's very, very technical. So he's just taken to this and he I watch watch him sort of like craft these things and communicate to the company. I'm i'm just blown away by the way that he's just transformed Take, just going to a whole nother level in taking complex concepts and communicating them simply and effectively to how our whole company and so You know I just look at that as an example, go, wow, that is. And there are limitless examples, I think, today already a product with it to be the efficiency of what's gonna be an apple. So I am an I'm of the view that this is a transformative wave of change that's happening right now and you know I've been in quite a few transformative waves of change. My experience around that it's been there's often a lot of phones around. I saw if you're there sitting here, I'm sitting here as a marketing person. In that, I'm, you know, you bombarded by all this messaging that. You know he's the if you're not doing these 85 things and you're falling behind. You know my experience with that is You know we can just take it slow, right, you should put your toe in the water. You should learn how to use some tools, you should learn some prompts, and you should try and play around with different types of tools it's not going to get away from you completely, but you should keep it. Keep it going the water and it's interesting and exciting to do it if you have the right mindset right, yeah, and I also see the metaverse is evolving up to evolving, devolving this.Joeri:
Technologies come together and do even make more exciting stuff. Yesterday I was at a round table in the metaverse discussing. Really interesting to see what everyone came up with. So brand, yeah, so many things. So you mentioned already you're excited about the future. Is there maybe one tip for people that feel a bit overwhelmed with everything that's going on at the moment marketers, entrepreneurs what advice you would give them?Brent:
Yeah, I think I'm a little bit in line with what I've just said, right, so I think the most important thing is to have to be open- minded and have a bias to action. So, you know, just do it. I mean, I had experience with web three. I got into Web3 I don't know almost two years ago, and I get an approach about a job and I had no, I really had paid no attention, and so I was really behind the sort of like a lot of my P is in terms of, like, understanding the tech, and I got a project about this job and the three- month interview process, and so I just, you know, I just basically started, I committed myself to an hour a day of learning and what that I would, what I would listen to a podcast or I would watch a youtube explainer or I would go and sign up for You know, I'm trying to sign up for actually infinity. I would just, I would just do these little tasks every day and basically, I resisted the urge to get overwhelmed. You know, if I just at any point I found it was just complicated or I had foam, I was just this anxiety that I'm not learning fast enough. I just put everything down for the day, I just pick it up again the next day and what I found is, over the course of a few months, everything just sort of Found its own level. I found myself knowing a lot more than I realized I knew and a lot of my historical experience with technology, marketing, partnerships all these things that I was learning about started to filter through my consciousness and find their own level within three months. I was doing interviews and people say, wow, you're really not sure about Web3. And you know and I think that's the rub I remember going to silicon valley in May 2000 for a technology start- up called my metrics and we were the vanguard of personalization and one- to- one marketing when it was really hot and new, and I remember trying to. I had no experience in technology, I had no experience in personalization. No, I did experience in technology, trying to catch all these notes of learning all this stuff. I get really stressed and I was landing in silicon valley to try and sell this stuff. I totally overwhelmed I hear people talk about I was so fluent and I felt so out of my depth. And You know I don't. I just never had that experience again. Because I just realized someone's always going to know more than you and if you just take it slow and just do it in bite- size chunks, do you know just that? then it becomes kind of enjoyable. And farm or it's just a new way of learning that seeps in progressively so But if you don't do anything you never get anywhere. So bias to action. Be open- minded, don't get too stressed about it.Joeri:
That's my yeah, I think you know, Brent, that's what I did when I started. My podcast, in the beginning, was more general marketing podcast. You know, I'm from Belgium, so English is not my native language was just started, you know. And then I said, okay, now it will be only web three guests. And so I start to learn to talk to those people. And because of my background, I had a business analytics company before I had an investment collapse over the financial IT part, together with the marketing part, came together. As you say, my past makes sense to me. I have like a different background than other people have so I can have my unique perspective, so can add some value, so can really resonate.Brent:
But you're saying yeah, yeah, that's it And it's, you know, I think I think it's just to have default confidence in that. you know, it's really easy with new tech to get overwhelmed by the people who understand all the new tech, it just and they know the jargon and then you just feel like then you don't do anything.Joeri:
So you end up with paralysis and you just don't do anything, you know okay, so for me, the conclusion is indeed yeah, take, take the action and start your diving into web three. So, Brent, it was so amazing to have you on the show. I guess people still have questions, or you made them think about where would you like to send people to if they want to connect with you or to follow up with you in one or another way?Brent:
Yeah, sure We'll like to check out our new project that we're launching in a week. It's a smart layer network. That's where you know smart token labs with our go- to market for our technology offering. Or, if you want to hit me up personally, it's the best way to get me is on LinkedIn, just Brent, and also okay with people, so love to chat.Joeri:
Okay, great guys. As you know, for every podcast episode there are show notes. There is a blog article that you can find on my website, web3.net, or web3.com, which is actually Dutch for Web3. As always, you find the links that Brent has mentioned over there. So if you are not yet following the show, I think this is a good moment to do that. And, Brent, if people are listening and they hear a lot, what you're saying is interesting to people around them, they can share the episode. And, of course, guys, I would like to see you back for the next podcast episode. Take care, bye. Web3 can take your biz to new heights And you're ready to harness its power, but feeling lost and overwhelmed. Therefore, join my W3x web3 mastermind. Send me a personal message for more info. You can find me everywhere on social media. There's only one person with my name, Joeri Billast. Talk soon.