Investment Notes: Soul Æther
We’re excited to announce Blackbird Aotearoa’s lead investment in the pre-seed round for Soul Æther (pronounced Sole Ath-er). The round included Tom Staggs (CEO of Candle Media and Disney’s former COO and CFO), Matt Dravitski (Weta Digital), and Icehouse Ventures.
Over many years their kaupapa has involved telling stories that compel hearts and minds, through their work at Wrestler and Riot Games. Now they’re launching Soul Æther: a fictional world and a company in one.
“Our vision is to build an inter-influenced story world that covers film, television, graphic novels, games, mixed reality, the multiverse and everything in between. This world will be developed through a phased creative approach, however we want to co-create this world with the community who believe in it; shaping the direction and creation together as it evolves.” - Ben
Soul Æther is a new kind of media company that builds a portfolio of products around a single storyverse, delivered digitally, for a global fanbase.
A new chapter in storytelling
At Blackbird, we've been thinking about where enduring companies will be built in web3 - the emergent next-internet which is “owned by the builders and users, orchestrated with tokens.”
The combination of web2 + web3 platforms is particularly transformative for media projects:
Storytelling is increasingly transmedia:
- League of Legends, one of the most played online games (with 2021 annual revenue of ~US$1.4B), released the animated show Arcane to give stories to its in-game characters to critical and popular acclaim on Netflix.
Fans have a hand in what gets made:
- The Legend of Vox Machina was released on Amazon Prime this year as the animated show extension of Critical Role, an improvised series where voice actors play Role Player Games such as Dungeons & Dragons. This was driven and funded by fans: the creator-owned production company raised US$11M in 45 days via Kickstarter, taking the record for Kickstarter’s most funded TV/movie project, and their seventh-most funded project full stop.
Fans create some of the content:
- The Star Wars universe (which was sold to Disney under Lucasfilms for US$4.05B in 2012) is built on over 5,000 distinct media items. Wookieepedia (the fan-written Star Wars wiki) has over 170,000 distinct pages (the official Lucasfilm Star Wars world database (“The Holocron”) has 55,000). When fans love a world, story, characters, and community, they can and will expand it.
Distribution is direct:
- By building their own mobile experiences, content-producers can get more attention-share without having to navigate the old media distribution landscape of TV, radio, cinema, and physical stores. As an example, TikTok star Charli D’Amelio has organically grown a 138 million-strong following off the back of self-made and distributed content.
The opportunity is massive: the market for virtual goods and services was $880M in 2004, now it's $80 billion - a 100x increase.
Stories as products
Over a number of years, Soul Æther will launch a series of different "products" - character NFTs, a digital graphic novel, a web series, an immersive game - to seed and grow a single storyverse. They’re world building, starting with merchandise in the form of NFTs.
This is probably how George Lucas would have built the Star Wars universe in 2022:
Soul Æther is creating a world that empowers its audience in the real world, too. Its themes explore gender diversity, racial diversity and living in balance with the environment. A core feature of the story and audience interaction is reincarnation, allowing characters who would traditionally be older and wiser to be played by young characters who have tapped into the history of their past - allowing Soul Æther to explore character dimensions that haven’t traditionally been seen on screens.
Fans as customers
Coupling traditional media (graphic novel, a web series, feature film) with new means of engaging fans (NFTs, a community <> creator Discord) allows Soul Æther to unlock a deeper fandom flywheel.
For example, with its initial character NFT drop—
Soul Æther fans will gain utility:
- Because blockchains are programmable, Soul Æther can endow their NFTs with features that enable them to expand their purpose over time, or even to provide direct utility to their holders. NFTs can be structured to do things — or let their owners do things — in both digital spaces and in the physical world.
Their interaction will be two-way:
- Engaged NFT-holders will be able to directly shape the unfolding Soul Æther story, feeling a sense of involvement - and therefore ownership - that represents a step-change in the fandom experience
The project benefits from a referral effect:
- As with any new product, early adopters serve as product evangelists and a source of early feedback. With NFTs, these users also serve an even more essential role: Their decision to embrace the NFTs quite literally imbues those NFTs with their meaning and establishes their initial value. Communities built in this way are like sports fans who own their clubs' players.
For fans, it’s religion with rewards:
- As the project grows in popularity, NFTs grow in value, so evangelism is directly incentivised. Soul Æther will allow members to:
- Earn Element and Memory NFTs which they can use or sell on the marketplace
- Get early access to future Soul Æther NFT drops
- Monetise world assets: rental of spaces, staking of elements, staking of characters
Nau mai, haere mai ki te whānau
Blackbird exists to supercharge ANZ’s most ambitious founders: the wild hearts with the wildest of ideas.
Soul Æther is such an idea. It doesn't make widgets or sell software subscriptions. But it has the fresh and different potential for magic that we look for in early-stage companies.
Sam captured it best when she reflected:
"Technology, at its heart, is someone who does intellectual work to create an asset that can compound in value over time. Sometimes those assets are an autonomous vehicle, or knowhow around a new rocket engine, or a digital design platform… What they all have in common is that they have durability and ability to compound. Soul Æther also has that potential. Disney is still making money off sketches that were done by hand 100 years ago."
We are delighted to welcome Soul Æther’s band of storytellers to the Blackbird whānau. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
Investment Notes: Vow
We are delighted to announce we have followed on in the Series Seed round of Vow