Building Deeply Social and Expressive Virtual Worlds with Yonatan Raz-Fridman of Supersocial
Yonatan Raz-Fridman, entrepreneur and host of the “Into the Metaverse” podcast discusses his journey to the metaverse, building social experiences on Roblox and Fortnite, the future of virtual worlds, advice for entrepreneurs, and the importance of spreading joy.
Today on Building the Open Metaverse.
I am grateful and proud that I was able to see a point in the future that I can point to and say this is where we should go. I was able to bring with me my co-founders who were crazy enough to believe that what I'm saying is not that crazy.
Welcome to Building the Open Metaverse where technology experts discuss how the community is building the Open Metaverse together, hosted by Patrick Cozzi and Marc Petit.
Hello and welcome back, metaverse builders, dreamers, and pioneers. You're listening to Building the Open Metaverse, season five, the podcast that is your portal into open virtual worlds and spatial computing.
My name is Marc Petit, and this is my co-host, Patrick Cozzi.
Hey Marc, I'm doing great, and I'm looking forward to today's conversation.
As you know, we bring you the people and the projects that are at the leading edge of building the immersive internet of the future, the open and interoperable metaverse for all.
Today we have a special guest joining us on that mission.
Yonatan Raz-Fridman is a pioneer of the metaverse through his company Supersocial, as well as a fellow podcaster on this very topic of the metaverse. Yon, welcome.
Thank you, Patrick and Marc, really delighted to be here. I've been an avid listener for your podcast, and finally great to be here.
Same here. I mean you started before us, we took inspiration and you were kind enough to welcome me on your podcast a while back now. It's about time we have you here.
If you're a listener, we like to start the podcast with the same usual question. Please describe your journey to the metaverse.
I'd like to think my journey probably started about over a decade ago when I came across this tiny thing called Raspberry Pi, which is a single-port computer, that, back in 2012, was invented by a group of people in Cambridge, UK.
I was flabbergasted by the power of a $35 single-board computer, and together with two co-founders, we decided to start a company that would make a computer that is easy and simple and fun enough for anyone to build and code themselves. As we started growing and building the company in 2013, it was very much in parallel to a couple of other things that have happened. Minecraft has exploded and has become the most successful video game, but it also became the first 3D social platform where kids not only socialize and play but can also create.
YouTube took that phenomenon to the next level with user-generated content making Minecraft really the first, now the first property on YouTube that reached a trillion views. Roblox started to pick up in 2015. As I was building the company, my first company Kano, I saw this trend and had a front row seat into how the human behavior of young people on the internet is really shifting to be much more immersive.
They feel very natural with avatars. They feel very natural in creating and not just consuming content. Ultimately when I started Supersocial in 2020, it was on the back of almost a decade of seeing that human behavior.
COVID, in my mind, was really a big accelerant. When COVID arrived, it dawned on me that what if this is the big accelerator of this human behavior that I've seen of how young people are using avatars to express themselves, socialize, communicate, play, and do a bunch of things together that until today we haven't really thought about seriously as grownups or the tech industry? Ultimately that propelled me to believe that a virtual world in 3D could potentially become the next frontier of the consumer internet as part of a broad trend of moving from 2D to 3D.
That's when I decided to make the leap forward and step into the metaverse.
You've been describing kids today as metaverse natives. I mean, were there other factors that played into that?
Every generation has come across a childhood with a new modality of technology or what I think of as a modality of interaction of human experience. We have the people who were born in the '80s like me, maybe you guys, I'm going to be 40 this month. My first computing interactions were really Nintendo, Game Gear, the Mega Drive, and Game Boy; these were computational devices that gave me access to virtual experiences for the first time.
Then you had people in the '90s, the game consoles became more proficient. PCs started to take off in the '90s.
In the 2000s you really started to have even more capable devices. You started to have mobile phones. Then the iPhone and the iPad really took us to a whole new domain of how cloud computing and mobile devices basically provided the most powerful handheld computer ever created.
I think it's not surprising that this generation that were born in the early 2000s and in the 2010s, they were exposed to these new devices that can access anything at any time affordably to some people, to some people it's not.
I think what happened next is game engines really started to evolve and provide access to many more people into 3D worlds. If we recall, back in the '80s and the '90s and the early 2000s, 3D worlds already existed, but it was really primarily focused on gamers, people who played World of Warcraft, and the curious people who went to Linden Labs’ Second Life.
If you're talking about those types, it was very much a core gamer community that wanted to look at a 3D world as a place of interaction, entertainment, and socialization. What's interesting is already then people made friends in 3D worlds, but it was very much within that core enclave of gamers. I think what's happening over the past 10, 15, years, and especially now, 3D worlds have become so much more mainstream.
The reason I think of young people today, anyone above age 18, as a metaverse native generation is because I believe this is the first generation where being immersed in a 3D world as an avatar and doing so in a form of socialization, not just play.
That is a whole new modality that I believe we're really just at the beginning of. I think if you look at a 12-year-old today, there is way more in common between me, who I'm 40, and my mother who is 70 than between me and a 12-year-old because I think their DNA and their modality of how they experience the internet is so very different.
I mean, all you need to do is give an iPhone with a Roblox app to a 45-year-old, and let them interact with the games and Roblox, most of them will be completely disorientated. Give it to a 12-year-old, they're liking their native habitat.
Great transition into your current company. I think it was very insightful for you to call it Supersocial.
Tell us what you're trying to do with Supersocial for players and also for brands.
Supersocial was really started in early 2020 at the early stages of COVID with a hypothesis that the internet is at the beginning of a transformation from 2D to 3D, number one. Number two, the belief that that will impact human behavior on the internet, what we talked about a few minutes ago. So I decided to start a company called Supersocial because I believed that game engines and this next generation of the internet would make us even more social, not less social because of that sense of immersion, that sense of deep connection. I still believe in that.
What we aspire to do with Supersocial is to really build the most iconic, the most prolific virtual worlds and gaming experiences on the world's most emerging platforms. We've recognized early on that Roblox is a key platform. We recognized early on that Fortnite Creative is a key platform now even more so with UEFN.
We recognize that Minecraft is interesting, but we really recognize that this is just the beginning of people starting to move from 2D to 3D. I wanted to start a company that is going to be part of that wave, and most importantly, really build meaningful digital communities that are empowered to express themselves, socialize, play, and do things together in this next era of the internet. With Supersocial, what we do today, we really build, publish, and operate live games, live experiences, live virtual worlds, some of which is our own IP games like Barista and Costopia, but many of which we work with partners anywhere from brands like Gucci and Walmart and Toyketo and NARS Cosmetics.
We have a few more really, really exciting IP owners and brands that we are going to launch with primarily on the Roblox platform until today because we believe Roblox is really ahead of its curve and is a much more mature platform in the category—but definitely thinking about the wider category and believing that there are going to be multiple platforms where we are going to be where the users are.
Most importantly, building things that make people feel good about themselves, making things that make people want to connect together, which I think in the metaverse is going to be ever more important because it's going to be in a way more intense, it's an avatar.
You're immersed in that world. You can feel, you can hear; you talked about spatial computing Marc. We're going to have more innovative 3D devices coming in, like Meta, Vision Pro, and more. All of those things and the fact that we're interacting as avatars in a semi-anonymous way are going to create an environment where it's going to be very easy to be a bad actor, and we want to make sure that we're building a meaningful metaverse that is actually going to make people feel great.
We can feel great about it. Your kids, and my two-year-old daughter, will flourish and enjoy being in this virtual world, and that is a key pillar of our mission as a company.
As a practitioner, where do you think we are? Are those platforms doing okay? Do you think we can harness the bad actors? They tend to be very resilient and persistent.
Look, I think the internet overall has never been able to completely eliminate bad actors. I think bad actors are also, in some cases, highly sophisticated, either as hackers or programmers, and I think there are always going to be bad actors. However, I do believe that we're seeing some really positive signals, at least my familiarity with what's happening on Roblox, is relatively good.
I've been collaborating very closely with certain people on Roblox, like Tami Bhaumik who oversees their trust and safety group, but also on the technical side. I think AI and machine learning can play a really important role in combating bad actors and bad behaviors. But I also think that these platforms, like Roblox and Fortnite Creative, have really passionate communities. I think communities and communities combating bad actors is always, and I believe will continue to be a really important way of how you report bad actors, how you take care of the community.
I think the studios and publishers like Supersocial, we play at least at the moment on the shoulders of these giants, Roblox, Epic Games, Microsoft, and so on, so forth. But I do think we can take a stand and stand by those trust and safety by building experiences that we believe are meaningful, but making sure that we empower the community to repair bad actors and bad behaviors on the platform.
The win, I think, is going to be where all of the things come together. The publishers and the studios are doing their part. The platforms provide technologies to combat these behaviors, and the community stands up for what it cares about, especially as we live in a world that is with more and more growing concerns around just civility in general; I think virtual worlds ultimately mimic real life, and I think that is why it's so important that we use technology to build environment that are really going to be meaningful for our kids, young people and future generations.
I love the passion around the world moving from 2D to 3D and the world moving from gaming to just immersive social virtual worlds, allowing all this creativity and self-expression.
I wondered if you could elaborate more or maybe even just provide an example or two of what folks are doing.
What's also interesting is not only what's happening in the "consumer side" of the metaverse, but also enterprise and industrial. A couple of things that I enjoy talking about, I'll give an example of what we do at Supersocial and I'll give an example of some of the things that I'm more excited about when we talk about the open metaverse, which I think is a big theme in your podcast. At Supersocial, some examples that I'm really proud of are bringing innovation around self-expression.
For example, we worked with NARS Cosmetics, a prestige beauty brand that actually 98%, maybe even more of the audience on the Roblox platform never heard about. It's a prestige brand that typically older people use, not old, but older than teenagers. We brought a brand like NARS Cosmetics and together with that brand, what we've done is created an environment on Roblox called NARS Color Quest that is really amplifying creativity, human expression. We created some really, really fun ways that included technical innovation on the Roblox platform where the level of customization of your avatar face really was able to be represented fully by what the users wanted.
We created this amazing tool essentially inside the app that allows you to customize your face of the avatar in any shape or form, any way you want, and encourages inclusivity and diversity. It's so important that we have avatars that represent the entire society. That's a great example where I'm proud of us using a brand and building with a brand like NARS to really build something that anyone feels they can relate to. That's one great example.
Another great example is what we've done with Walmart and Store No. 8, which is the innovation division at Walmart. We built an experience called Super Campus, a really fun, meaningful back-to-school virtual world on Roblox.
What was so unique about that is that we brought brands in anywhere from Walmart to Bic, Crayola, and 3M, but we didn't bring it in a way that felt like an advertisement. We brought them in a way that brands were meaningfully and innately integrated into the gameplay.
And I think that is so unique. Patrick, if I would've come to you five years ago and told you, “Patrick, Crayola, 3M, these brands, they're going to have their own video game in five years time,” you would've probably told me, "Yon, what are you talking about? This is absolutely insane. This is never going to happen. Brands are not even integrating in AAA gaming, maybe some ads and stuff like that, but actually having their own...”
Look what's happening now. At Supersocial alone, we've built now virtual worlds, persistent, with Gucci, with Walmart, with NARS Cosmetics; the slate is long. We have so many more exciting–both with brands and IP owners like movie studios, movie IP, gaming IP, and so on, so forth.
I think we're really evolving what gaming means, and what interactive virtual worlds mean for the broader consumer world. We're seeing that on Roblox. We're seeing that on Fortnite Creative and so on and so forth, and I believe we're still at a very early stage of that.
On the flip side, I also see super interesting things happening on the enterprise side. I am keeping a very close tab, although not building anything yet, but I'm keeping a very close tab on things like the Omniverse. Nvidia is building this amazing platform that allows digital twins and mimicking the real world in manufacturing, production, design, and planning. I mean they created and are creating something that mimics the entire earth so we can forecast and predict the implications of climate change.
All of those things are so incredibly profound, and I think that will impact not just consumer experiences but, to a greater extent, potentially the way we work, and what the workforce looks like in the future; how do you work with people collaboratively, remotely? That is also a profound technology that people are underestimating that I believe is going to make a huge impact on enterprises and organizations around the world in the coming decades.
Yeah, it's a good call out. I mean, Baszucki, at the latest Roblox developer conference, started to talk about the enterprise space that released our communication apps. They did their own recruiting center for Roblox on Roblox, which I think is always a good footing here on technology.
They seem to be keeping an eye on it as well, which is quite interesting because it has kind of this gamey, kiddy association, Roblox, but already you can see that they are envisioning a much bigger and brighter future for it.
There is a sentence that says, “All the great things in the world sometimes start as a toy,” and I think we're at a very toy stage of the metaverse, and that's what's exciting.
A lot of people look at it and like, “Oh, it's nice to have. Why would they want the 3D avatar? Why would they go and put on a VR headset and collaborate remotely? I can go meet someone in person; oh, these kids are buying clothes on Roblox.”
One out of five users on Roblox, or something like 15 million people a day, change their avatar outfits every day. “Oh, why do I need to buy virtual goods?” Well, maybe virtual goods might be as big as physical goods in the future. Jensen, I think, from Nvidia, talks about a virtual economy that can surpass our physical economy.
You've mentioned Marc, this really interesting feature that Roblox is launching this year. They announced it at RDC, the Roblox Connect. Essentially being able to have a phone operating system enabled avatar phone call that allows you to call one another as an avatar and jump into a game to play together. We're really looking at these modalities that are coming in, and to your point, Marc, oh, it's kids and teenagers using it, but these kids and teenagers in a decade are going to be in the workforce. They're going to be adults; they're going to be parents. And this is what gives me the confidence that what we're seeing now, although considered as a "toy," I believe is also going to be huge in the future.
Another thing from Jensen, he was on the Acquired podcast recently, and he said something really interesting. He said that he always makes sure he spends time on things that no one believes are going to be a trillion-dollar industry; he actually mentioned the omniverse as something he spends a lot of time on at the moment. So I encourage people to pay attention to what some of the CEOs of these companies are focusing on because they're running multi-thousand people companies that are building the future.
Switching gears a bit. As a practitioner on the technical side, can you elaborate for our audience, you use both Roblox and UEFN, kind of give us what you think as a user of those platforms; highlight some of the key differences between them.
First, I would say that I'm very bullish on both platforms, and I think that we're at a very interesting stage where Roblox and UEFN are at different stages of the revolution.
Let me kind of unpack that for a second. Roblox is a 17-year-old platform that became an overnight success, but it's a platform that has been built in its infrastructure. This means technology tools, developer tools, a virtual economy, the social platform, and the ability to develop and publish rapidly experiences. Roblox also doesn't develop any content, so it's what I think of as an agnostic landlord.
They bring you into the building, and they allow you to build whatever type of apartment you want. For that, they charge a significant part of the revenue share, which I think some people agree with, disagree with, but that's beside the point. But the bottom line is that Roblox is a very mature platform that provides a very cohesive environment for anyone to build, monetize, and grow their own 3D content; that's Roblox.
UEFN is very different because UEFN is built on what has been a game initially, which is Fortnite. Fortnite is a first-person shooter game, one of the most successful games over the past decade, with a core audience that is quite different at the moment than the core audience of Roblox. Based on public data, 90% of the audience on Fortnite is 18 to 25-year-old males. Roblox is a much more diverse age group from five to 25, female, male, much more diverse for a good reason because there are like 40 million titles. You can play anything you want on Roblox.
Fortnite introduced Fortnite Creative, which was the first step I believe in making Fortnite a platform. There is the famous tweet from, I think, Tim Sweeney, where he says, "Fortnite is a game today, but ask me next year, and I'll tell you what it is."
I think what's clear to me is that Fortnite with UEFN and the integration of the Unreal Engine is obviously on the trajectory of being a platform that is on par with Roblox. Where I think we are is UEFN is much earlier in the journey than Roblox is. There isn't yet a cohesive virtual economy. The integration still requires unlocking certain possibilities anywhere from saving modes to player progression, being able to allow developers and creators to create their own avatar goods and items, all of which I'm certain Epic is working on and will introduce.
It just shows me that Epic is at a much earlier stage as a platform than where Roblox is. But I do believe that both of them are going to play an instrumental role in popularizing the concept of the metaverse in the consumer internet. As a developer and as a studio, that introduces different types of opportunities and alternatives that we have as a company.
What's interesting now, though, is that while the platforms are at a different stage, they almost provide a similar developer payout potential. Roblox this year is estimated to pay about $800 million in developer payout, so that's money developers will make.
Epic Games mentioned earlier this year at GDC that they're allocating a certain portion; I think net it's about 16% of total income from Fortnite Creative because if you exclude the battle royale map. I believe that even at that level, you're really looking at Fortnite Creative essentially doubling the market size of metaverse experiences at the moment.
It's no longer just Roblox with the 800 million, it's probably Fortnite Creative with 6, 7, 8, 900 million. And that is really interesting because you have a similar developed potential for revenue with platforms that are at a different level of maturity, which explains why, as Supersocial, we're very adamant that UEFN is a platform we need to be in.
Epic allocated up to 40% of the Fortnite revenue to be shared with other third-party developers as to creator economy. Net is exactly what you said; it creates an opportunity that's equivalent to the one from Roblox.
Just a quick question: would you see the need to have a solution to author for those platforms at once?
Marc, we talked about it a bunch of times. I think interoperability is the holy grail and the dream for users, for developers, and I get asked a lot by brands, "Hey, if I build with you on Roblox, how easy is it, can we just put it on Fortnite?" I'm like, "No, you can't." I need to write the whole thing back again. It's completely different visual fidelity. I can do more on the Unreal Engine. Even when I push the boundaries of both, it's going to be different. I can use the inspiration of the IP, but I can’t just copycat. I need to recreate it.
To your point, Marc, I think the value for brands, for the ecosystem, for developers, for users to enable interoperability among these platforms, 100% that should be the way of the future in a very similar way to how the first generation of the web and HTML. That's why I'm so excited about initiatives like Open USD and making USD essentially the HTML for the metaverse hopefully, which I know you're very close to, but it's unclear if and how the individual companies are going to justify and collaborate to bring that eventuality to life.
It's definitely a desirable condition for the state of the metaverse.
If you refer back to the Fast Company interview from the team a couple of years back, it said we need to be able to jump from a UEFN experience to a Roblox experience and advocate for a hyperlinking and web-like architecture.
Yeah, it's interesting. They're all going at it. Tim believes that he needs to solve, believes that Verse is going to be the way to create portable gameplay. It's a big bet to create in your language. It's a long endeavor, it's very complex. So yeah, we'll see, we'll see. Time will tell, but you're right, USD is a great first step to share static control worlds and declarative content.
There's another factor there is the individual big companies like Roblox, Epic and so on and so forth. Then you have a second force, which is everyone else.
You're seeing interoperability efforts between small to medium-sized platforms that are kind of playing among themselves. You see things like Ready Player Me on the avatar side trying to integrate across everything, but it's not integrating with Epic and it's not integrating with Roblox or it's not integrating with Fortnite and it's not integrating with Roblox; these are the two big category leaders at the moment.
Then you have the third force, which no one really knows exactly what's going to be the impact, which is Apple and Google and Amazon and Meta and all their efforts are going to influence.
Apple certainly is going to influence these ecosystems because of their tight control of app ecosystems. So when we talk about the importance of open USD, I think it's a really fundamental invention that is going to have to be a key part of how a metaverse becomes an interoperable internet rather than what we see today, which is really two silos of the mobile ecosystem that are predominantly where content is created on the internet.
That's why this season we invited the Chrome team and tried to get an assessment and a status report on the viability of web browsers because wouldn't it be fantastic if we could play those games on the web and on those open platforms like web browsers. Very interesting episode.
Progress is being made, not quite there yet.
Yon, we're definitely very excited for an open metaverse and we think open standards like Open USD and interoperability at the center of that.
If you looked out five or 10 years, what do you think the metaverse will look like? What are you most excited about?
There's this famous quote “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” I don't know who said it, but apparently I'm sure there are a hundred people who claim to have said it. We'll get to the source of the truth, but I'm a big believer in that. Having said that, you're asking me a question. I'll try and give my best commentary on what I believe will happen.
In the next three to five years, it's such a long time in today's world, so much is happening. I mean, three years ago no one was talking about the metaverse, no one was talking about NFTs, no one was talking about generative AI, and here we are today.
The metaverse apparently, according to Fast Company, died multiple times this year even though it wasn't born yet. So let's put that aside. NFTs are obviously 99% down, so most people don't talk about it, even those who were excited about it; generative AI is the new kid on the block and even that would subside because it'll take time as well to evolve to autonomous agents and so on, so forth.
Let's look at what's real in front of us and what I see in front of us at the moment.
I see the emergence of two very important platforms on the consumer internet that provide what I believe is a prototype version of what a metaverse could look like in the future. Roblox is the more mature example of that. And because Roblox does enable interoperability, virtual economy, and so on, and so forth. I think I expect Roblox to continue and grow over the next three to five years and continue to be a category leader in this space.
I expect Fortnite with UEFN to become much more of a platform and as such, introduce completely new experiences and complexities that may not have been created until today. Marc, to your point, it would be great to see them collaborating. I don't see that happening anytime soon, not only in the next three to five, maybe not even in the next 10. Maybe I'm taking a bit of a pessimistic side of things, but definitely the next three to five years, I don't see how there is interoperability between UEFN and Roblox.
I do believe these two platforms will emerge and continue to grow as key category leaders. I think we're going to continue to see major efforts being made by Meta. I don't expect Mark Zuckerberg to abandon his metaverse ambition anytime soon. I think he thinks about the metaverse as an existential threat to Meta if Meta is not a part of that. He will do it both with devices and will continue to try and build Horizon.
That being said, I don't expect Horizon to get even near the level of scale that Roblox and UEFN have. I just don't see that happening because Meta is not a brand that young people want to experience and want to be a part of. I think that's going to happen at least in the world outside of China; I think we're going to see a much more global village in this platform, more than we're even seeing now.
There may well be a few other entrants if it's Rec Room, Yahaha, maybe ZEPETO will continue to pick up as an avatar-based social network, but I find it hard to believe that there will be another major platform at the scale of Roblox and UEFN anytime soon. That’s what I expect to see over the next three to five years.
The one other thing I expect to see is much more experimentation with regard to what the internet looks like, where avatars are the key way we're interacting on the internet. I think we're going to continue and see experimentation of that outside of these two major ecosystems, Roblox and UEFN.
In the consumer internet and with young people, I believe we're going to see more experimentation, especially ones that are powered by next-generation VR and AR devices, and unclear what that looks like. But I think this is an area I am definitely keeping an eye on and encourage people to think about.
Yon, you said there would be 100 billion people in the metaverse. How does this math work? Explain to us.
I know it sounds so dumb, right? How is that even possible? You really don't know math. I was asked one time, Yon, how many people do you think are going to be in the metaverse? And my immediate reaction was because of everything I know, everything I think ,everything I believe in, my immediate reaction was I think there's going to be about 100 billion. The person who asked me that question was, wait, how is that possible? Marc, exactly your reaction as well.
Here is my theory, and I might be completely wrong, but this is my theory. You're seeing today a modality of expression where kids and young people natively, intuitively, and organically spend hours a day interacting with their friends online as an avatar. That means that that type of representation either fully, virtually, or with an AR layered on real life, but that representation as an avatar is legitimate; it's something that I expect will continue to happen when 2 billion people around the world are under age 18.
Now, we already know that in some cultures, like in Asia, people are already accustomed to representing themselves with multiple virtual identities. It's not something that is new. I also believe that Asian cultures, especially places like South Korea, and Japan, have the tendency to sometimes be ahead of the curve of the Western world and Western culture.
Lastly, I believe that as the virtual world becomes more expensive, more complex, more interesting, and more differentiated, people are going to have an opportunity to experience it with different identities; there are no limits to how many identities we can have in the metaverse. That is where I kind of take a point of view that now, don't catch me on the number Marc, maybe it's 100 billion, maybe it's 90 billion.
As a statement, I believe that we're going to have multiple more billions of people who are interacting, many of which will be human-enabled, avatars that I control and activate. Some of which I believe will be completely AI-enabled, but still guided by humans. I think through that, seeing 100 billion avatars roaming the metaverse, I believe is not such a crazy statement.
I think the multiple identity thing is real, and I think we're not accustomed to thinking that. I mean, I'm a young baby boomer, so it's even worse for me, but I do believe you're right. I think brands could put out AI bots that represent the brand's value, and bots could have utility as well in the metaverse above and beyond conversation.
I think it's a great argument. I really wanted you to speak to that because I think it's great thinking.
Thank you, Yon.
I believe we're going to have much more free time as a species in the future. I do. Because of automation, because of AI, a lot of the things we do today that are mundane will be fully AI-operated and automated and we're not even going to know it. People who are going to be born in this decade and next will be the first AI natives just like metaverse natives and mobile natives. That's coming.
I imagine that my daughter who is 2 years old today when she's 12 or 15, and she experiences these fully immersive virtual worlds, I am certain or have a high level of confidence that she will have her own little army of AI avatars that she "assigns responsibilities for" or employs or does something with them that allows her for her to accomplish more, to learn faster, to work smarter, to achieve more, to experience more.
Again, it's not just like these 100 billion avatars roaming the world, just standing and waiting for something to do. I actually believe that this new virtual realm is going to be incredibly thriving, incredibly interactive, and doing things that at the moment, I don't think the three of us can even imagine what a 12-year-old, my 12-year-old daughter is going to want to do in the future.
That's the beauty of innovation. It's always more than you expect it to be.
So Yon, I wanted to switch gears a little bit and talk about entrepreneurship, but certainly a topic dear to my heart. Also, I think the metaverse platforms are making entrepreneurship easier to get into and we need entrepreneurs also building those foundational building blocks.
I just wanted to ask you, as an entrepreneur, your belief in focusing on people, culture, and communities, and why do you think these components are so critical for building great products?
It's such an important topic, Patrick, and I appreciate you asking me that question because entrepreneurship is very dear to me as well. That's why I'm an entrepreneur. I love the experience of creating something from scratch, but mostly I love the experience of creating something from scratch that many other people make it their own.
Here is the fundamental thing that I think happened over the past decade that is really a game changer. Part of that relates to my first point when we started the recording today talking about my first company, Kano in the Rasberry Pi. When we were building the computer that anyone any beginner could build and code themselves, what I envisioned was a world where kids and teenagers and young people can actually build the future while they are kids. I don't think we live in a world anymore where you need to go to university, graduate, get a job, and maybe at 22 you'll start working.
Look at Roblox, now I'm connecting the dots from Raspberry Pi to Roblox. What people don't talk about with Roblox, which is really interesting, and I'm only talking about Roblox because I think it's the most scaled example of that.
Roblox by default taught millions of kids to code, it then empowered those kids to build games, and now it empowers those kids to build businesses and make money and become essentially the new newspaper or lemonade stand or the mom-and-pop shop of the future. Sure, Supersocial and other professional studios are venture-backed, but we are a small portion of the community on Roblox.
The majority of the community on Roblox are 15-year-old kids, boys, girls, and non-binary, who in their garages, in bedrooms, in their dorms, and in their living rooms are building games and making money and monetizing. That's the world we live in already today.
To me, entrepreneurship is being liberated at the moment with technology. AI is going to take it to the next level because generative AI and AI, in general, will lower the barrier even further for entry and also increase the capability of what the top talent can create in big studios and big companies. But the majority of these communities in the metaverse, I believe, are going to be individuals or small teams that are building the 21st-century version of the mom-and-pop shop or the newspaper stand. That is a pretty dramatic evolution, I believe a paradigm shift.
I think we're going to see many, many more teenagers in the next decades that are actually becoming business people while they are 14 or 15. It's happening already now and it's going to be at a much bigger scale, and that is really, really exciting, I believe.
Therefore, what advice would you give founders or young entrepreneurs if they want to build ambitious companies and really impact people's lives like you're trying to do?
I think the first question I would encourage aspiring entrepreneurs and founders to ask themselves is why do you want to do it?
Life is so much easier when you just work for someone. You get a paycheck, you don't need to worry about stuff. I can tell you it's very stressful. Patrick, I'm sure would resonate with that. It's very stressful. Marc, I'm sure you too. Sure. It's very stressful to be an entrepreneur because there's no one to complain to.
When you're the founder and the CEO, there's no one to complain to. Everything that happens in the company for good is happening because of your team. Everything that is bad is because of you. That's the mentality that I have that people need to ask themselves: do you really want to be an entrepreneur? Because it's tough.
Again, I'm using Jensen because Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, because I just heard this phenomenal episode where he was hosted by Acquired, and they asked them, what would you tell the younger self of you? And he said “I would never start Nvidia. It's just too tough. It makes no sense.”
But look at the journey he's been through. I've been looking at my own journey being an entrepreneur for slightly over a decade now; it always brings me back to that first question: why do you want to be an entrepreneur? What is that impact you want to make on the world for yourself, and for your teammates who are going to trust you? So that's question number one.
Question number two is what are you truly passionate about? Is there an area of the world that you feel you can really make a dent in? Because when the going gets tough, it's that passion that will keep it going.
I find myself really every week, “Oh my God, this is so tough. Why are we doing this?” And then, “Okay, that's why we're doing it.” You go back to the passion, you go back to the why.
The third thing that I think entrepreneurs should ask themselves is what is going to make you stand out? What is going to be the differentiating factor of your endeavor individually or of the company you're building? Because probably whatever idea you're thinking about or space, there are thousands of other people that are thinking about it at the same time.
The magic is not just to be the surfer on the wave, because everyone can see the wave. The magic is can you be the best surfer? And to be the best surfer, you need to develop skills, you need to be curious, you need to be relentless, you need to have perseverance and grit; you need to make sure that you are able to do that on an ongoing basis because as I said, there is no one to complain to. There is no one to go to.
I really encourage anyone who thinks about being an entrepreneur and a founder to ask themselves these three questions as they ponder the possibility.
The last thing, I would say, the best way to know is to give it a try. You can always fall back on going and working for someone, but you'll never have many chances to be an entrepreneur. If you want to do it, experiment, give yourself the shot, and see if it works for you.
We had one other topic. You're the host of one of the most popular podcasts on the metaverse called Into The Metaverse.
Could you tell us about it and also maybe share some advice for folks who are also doing podcasts?
We're asking for two friends.
Well, thank you so much, Patrick. I really appreciate the feedback first and foremost about the podcast. It's been a labor of love. Talking about passion.
I started Into the Metaverse, for those who don't know, in the mid-to-late stages of 2021; it was about roughly a year after I started Supersocial and I felt that the narrative about the metaverse is growing. Then it exploded in October 2021 when Zuckerberg changed Facebook to Meta. We started the podcast slightly before, in its first incarnation.
The reason was that I really wanted to help educate and inform people about the metaverse because what became clear even more once Meta became Meta is that there are really incorrect associations with the metaverse. That the metaverse is a VR device, that the metaverse is something that Meta is doing. Now you're seeing all of that again with everyone associating still, or many people in media, associating the metaverse with Meta, with VR, and with NFTs and blockchain.
Every month I see an article, “The metaverse is dead.” And I always laugh because the metaverse is not even born yet, it's an iteration of the future. But the podcast really played a role in my desire to help inform and educate the population and the community around what the metaverse is, what are the opportunities.
What I've been aspiring to do, and we're now at episode 70 plus, Marc, has been one of the early guests on the podcast, which I'm very happy for that, is really bringing people who are either builders, executives, entrepreneurs, investors who are really in the weeds of helping to bring the metaverse to life; providing some depth, insight, and takeaways on what is really happening at the core of things so people have a slightly better understanding of what is real, what is not real, and have a point of view of what the metaverse can become and what it means for them.
A couple of the key lessons that I've learned from the podcast is how important it is to again, understand why you're doing it and why you're doing a podcast because it's so easy to make a podcast today. Anyone can make a podcast; I think if you don't know why you're really making the podcast, it's hard to keep the consistency. Consistency, as I'm sure you guys know, is key. When you produce a podcast, you want to build an audience, you want to build a community, and you want to make sure that content continues to flow in.
The challenge I've been facing, number one is how do I grow the podcast? How do I continue and expand the audience who is exposed to the podcast and is interested in the topic? What I've realized is that the metaverse, as much as we live in it every day, is still a very niche topic in the grand scheme of things.
And you know what? That's okay because one of my desires was I want to look back and look at all of these amazing episodes and conversations I've done and feel like I've contributed to some extent to the evolution of the metaverse as an idea and as a reality.
The second thing that I find really challenging is making sure that I can bring the right voices in and a diverse set of voices. People from the tech side, from the business side, from the brand side, men, women. And that is an ongoing challenge, finding the right people and finding the right people who can help create meaningful content for the audience that I'm serving. That's the second thing.
The third thing that both of you probably share as well is doing all of that while running a company or being an executive in a company. And so I'm grateful for the support I'm getting internally from my team. I'm grateful for the support I'm getting from the producer and editor of the show.
To be honest, if I may say so, I'm grateful to myself, for persevering, and for continuing to produce content even when sometimes I don't feel like recording and I'm too tired to do that. I'm grateful for myself for having the energy to continue and produce that because I know that the future Yon is going to be happy that I stuck around.
If you share any of those challenges, then I root for you and I'm happy to see you grow; I want to see you continue to make podcast content as well,
The two of us, I think it makes it a little bit easier, but you've been so prolific. I mean, you were doing your own editorial comments and everything, so thank you. Keep doing it. We'll try to keep doing it as well.
Together, hopefully, we root for the good cause.
Aside from the first several episodes where I had a collaborator, Matthew, a great individual, and great friend, and really helped me start the podcast. Once Matthew moved on, I believe the next 40, 45, 50 episodes, I have produced, edited, interviewed, created an agenda, emailed people, and scheduled, entirely on my own; I'm not sure how I've done it. I'm getting slightly more help now. Yes, it's been a lot.
I'm really proud I went through and regardless of the content or whatever type of podcast, the audience that is listening to the episode today produces, again, it goes back Patrick to the question you asked me why people do anything.
I think you need to be passionate about it. I think you need to have the perseverance to be consistent and continue to produce content. And that can only happen if you're really curious and really passionate and feel like you're contributing. That's what I try and continue to do.
Marc, to your point, it's been a great experience having a podcast and talking about stuff I'm passionate about, meeting great people like yourselves and all of the guests who come to our podcast. I think it's a really, really interesting, fun experience that requires a lot of energy for sure.
We've talked about the future. When you look back at everything you've been doing, what's the thing you are the most proud of?
I think there was a point in time when it was early COVID, it was April, or May. I was working on a previous company, a location-based VR company, and COVID arrived in March, and the whole world changed; I could sense it, I could sense the change. It was dramatic. And not just the existential threat of what's going to happen with my company, but I could see an opportunity.
In the time of the most despair, locked in a house, in my in-laws' house in Columbus, Ohio. With everything going on, we're talking about the days when people didn't even know they needed to wear a mask because it's the only way to protect us. I had a 15-person company that I had to pivot.
At that point in time, I am grateful and proud that I was able to see a point in the future that I can point to and say, this is where we should go. Most importantly, I'm proud that I was able to bring with me my co-founders, a group of people who were crazy enough to believe that what I was saying was not that crazy.
Yon, we love to wrap up the episode with a shout-out. If there's a person or organization you'd like to give a shout-out to.
I want to give a shout-out these days to all the people out there who are holding the flag of humanity and civilization and love and care and human rights. I want to give a shout-out to all those people who care about the world we live in enough to do something about it because I believe we're living in incredibly terrifying, uncertain times.
I'm not just saying it as an Israeli-born and as a Jewish person, I'm saying it in general. There is a lot of hatred in the world, there's a lot of uncertainty. And I hope that everyone out there finds a way to be loving and cherish what's really unique about the world we've built, which is we can all thrive and we can all love.
I hope that everyone will carry that message, find peace, and help the world heal and be better.
So Yon, you are an optimistic entrepreneur focused on transforming gaming into immersive social worlds. Most of all, you're bringing talented people together to spread joy and self-expression through virtual worlds. Your vision and ambition show innovation at the intersection of technology and human behavior, and this is fantastic.
Thank you for being with us today.
No, thank you guys. I appreciate you hosting me, and I'm grateful for the questions you asked.
And a huge thank you, of course, to our growing audience; you can reach us for feedback on our website, buildingtheopenmetaverse.org, as well as subscribe to our LinkedIn page, our YouTube channel, and most podcast platforms.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Yon, and thank you, Patrick.