Opinion

People Crave For Human Connections And Interactions | Reimagine 2021

Interview by Mousebelt

August 18, 2021

The full transcript of Webblen's interview at Imagine 2021.

Watch the full interview here or scroll to the bottom of the page.


Roshan Mirajkar  

Welcome to the 10th anniversary of Reimagine 2020 presented by Mousebelt. Coming up next, Webblen.

Welcome back to reimagine 2021 version 10. So we've been doing these virtual conference events for a whole year now, and really bringing you the latest and innovative project, the founders out there. And you know, the latest breaking news, our space moves at lightspeed.

I'm your host, Roshan Mirage car. And I'm very excited to you know, bring you kind of a different interview here today. So with me here, I have the Webblen team. And we first discovered them through our Mousebelt startup school program. It's a program for early stage blockchain and crypto projects. So, you know, I let the Webblen team kind of introduce themselves. And I think just to get started, it would be great to give everybody some perspective on you know, what you guys are building right now. And yeah, why choose like this time to, you know, build a crypto startup?

Kai Selekwa  

Sure thing. So my name is Kai along, co founder CEO of Webblen along with my partners, Nate Thorson, CMO, co-founder of Webblen, and Carter Razik, CTO, co-founder of weapon and what web one is, is a socio digital economy that pays people to get involved in their communities through local media events and events, while improving on the relationship that local businesses have with consumers within their area. The main thing that we're really focusing on with Webblenis being able to address the triple bottom line in our cities and communities. The triple bottom line being revenue, environmental impact, as well as social life, we are aimed to make a system that pays us to be involved in what's going on around us, what we do in real life is able to have an effect on what happens on the internet and vice versa.

Typically, these days with the rise of technology, and COVID-19 there's been a rise of loneliness, depression, anxiety and isolation. And people are gradually becoming more and more disconnected from one another. The consequences being two out of three people specifically in the US have been reporting feelings of loneliness, not having anything to do with those around them feeling disconnected. We're spending over $960 billion each year when it comes to the ailments of loneliness, depression, such as depression, social anxiety, suicide, and when it comes to small business contribution to the GDP of the country, it's been declining since the late 90s. And it's dropped a total of 20%. So far, the biggest factor driving this is lack of community engagement. So with our system things that do not intrinsically have any value or monetary value such as humanitarianism, volunteering, attending events, watching streams, people like you and me are able to earn a living get paid to be involved in what's going on around us.

Roshan Mirajkar  

Yeah, that's awesome. We've talked multiple times. And, yeah, it's a huge problem in the world right now. I'd say like, not enough, you know, not enough of the actions we do on a daily basis can be tokenized right now, or there's a lot of value that's lost. But yeah, kind of like, what are some of the problems you guys see that are in the crypto space right now and how is your approach different and you know, how you're trying to get people into the crypto space?

Nathaniel Thoreson  

One of the biggest problems that I see with cryptocurrency right now is there are a bunch of really cool ideas out there. But how valuable can they really be? That's where it comes into the question where you have a majority of coins that are out there that, they might have some products underlying them that some people might be using. But a majority of them are just as a way for people to buy the crypto, hopefully it goes up and make some money. What Webblen is all about is we are first a mission oriented company, and second, a crypto company. So yes, Webblen has the ability to make a bunch of money. But if it doesn't accomplish its goal, then if we don't accomplish our mission, then what was it all really for? So one thing that's really cool about Webblen is we take out all of the barriers to entry that normal people are intimidated by so my parents, for example, won't get into crypto because they just don't understand it. So for Webblen, if you download the app, and you're able to talk or you're able to see things happening in your area, and then get paid to go to them, that immediately brings up people bringing being brought into the crypto market.

So we really do see weapon as being a way to not only adopt people into Webblen, but people bring people into the fold more generally. So getting the numbers up from about 15% of people in the country, I think have crypto right now and tried to pump that up, bring them into Webblen and then let them see the vast array of things that they can do with cryptocurrency generally. So that's one of our biggest things with Webblen of bringing people into the fold with as little friction as possible. And some people might not even know that it is cryptocurrency, all they need to know is that they get paid to do things that are cool in their community.

Carter Razink  

And I do want to hit on that a little bit hard. I think that's a massive issue right now in in the whole in the space entirely with defi for example, right? defi is revolutionary on multiple fronts. They are changing the way we deal with money fundamentally, and I'm a huge fan personally. And so we've seen this with adoption. It's changed the way we look at money and looked at crypto and blockchain technology in general. But the issue like Nate said is you need to know what a private public key is. I mean, fundamentally, like there are very important factors you need to educate yourself on that very few people understand. And that's that's kind of an issue across the space. If you want to play crypto games, you've got to understand the tech, at least to some degree. And so like Nate said, we're trying to remove that that friction, that knowledge, so that hopefully we can kind of instigate change across the space to where you don't need to know very much about the technicals in the same way. I'm trying to go on Twitter, watch YouTube, I didn't need to know what you know, secure socket layer encryption is I'm just watching the video.

You could say, in a nutshell that what's important to take away is we all use the internet. And not everybody knows how it works. But we all use it for specific solutions, the crypto space, the blockchain space defi, we need more solutions that are able to be of value easy to understand, outside of just the technology itself. You're not selling technology to people, you're selling solutions. How can we get more people into this space without them worrying about how it works?

Roshan Mirajkar  

Yeah, I think that's awesome. I love your guys's approach to like, kind of being crypto second, but at the same time, you know, allowing like everyday people to benefit from crypto. I mean, a lot of people have talked about it. But I think there's a vast array of different products, like you guys said in the Define crypto space where a lot of them are just retail based. And, you know, you need a lot of knowledge, you need to know how a wallet works. And there's multiple steps. But you know, just in general, what do you guys think is the proper incentive models like also play to earn has been really popular all these blockchain games? Do you think more people will, you know, get into the space through participation like you guys are working on or gaming? Or can it also be commerce like an existing process?

Kai Selekwa  

It really is all over the board, isn't it? sure the angle we're taking it is from participation on your end. But isn't that what every platform is focused on? How do you get the consumer, the end user, the person who's actually going to be involved in the system? How do you get them to participate? How do you get them to be engaged? There's a huge push. I'd I strongly believe along with the rest of our team, that when it comes to projects that are really blazing the path Axie Infinity has specifically been using it even on our own for a few months here. And for the fact they've recently broke in, is it a billion over a billion in transactions? I think like Nate and Carter can actually talk more about the specific numbers.

Nathaniel Thoreson  

Yeah, I just got an email this morning about I think they're the first dap to get over a billion in revenue. I think it was a billion.

Carter Razink  

It I think that's interesting, because you like you said, we're showing you the, the pay the play to earn model is super unique, right?  You can kind of subsidize it with ads if you want it to like the conventional non crypto approach. But something unique to Axie Infinity is in the crypto industry with games in general, as they have a super high retention rate. If you look at their numbers, it's somewhere on the lines of 90%. And if you're trying to compare that to something, we can look at other conventional tech, Google. Google has about an 87% retention rate.

So if you're going to look at that, you're going to say crypto has the ability to change retention rates, because of the way it integrates your currencies in the play to earn model and adoption and engagement. You can apply that to many other fields. And that's kind of the approach we're trying to we're trying to take, you know, empower the users so that they are more incentive, they have higher incentives to be engaged, they're doing it for themselves, people are.

Roshan Mirajkar  

Yeah, it's very true. And yeah, yeah, exactly. We've never seen these economic models in traditional finance, or even in traditional games. Like, it's crazy how there's going to be a combination of everything. But I think if you really look at it still, though, one thing that stays consistent is the community right?

It's like very valuable community members, people to support your same goals. So can you guys talk about like, you know, starting off, you know, how many years have you guys been working on this? And how did you guys find your initial community? And like, what are some advice or things that you guys have learned along the way of doing?

Kai Selekwa  

This is pushing this project exactly pushing six years now. And originally, what it was, was a platform to put all social media in one place with an event notifier. And we wanted to essentially be that de facto social experience of being really able to integrate not only virtual social life, but digital as well. However, we kind of scrapped like trying to put working with larger social media sites into our company, because you know, why would you want to have a business that's so dependent on other businesses like that?

So we were getting a lot of reception with the event, notifier and hone that in and found ourselves in the position of, Okay, so we have a glorified event calendar, what is going to make somebody want to go to these events? And that's when we really started to understand the issue with not only how engagement is, in the physical world, how people get engaged, what's going on around them, but the same question can be applied to virtual products as well, what really makes somebody want to stay engaged and come back and stay involved.

This was around 2017 that we had seen. Bitcoin was kind of having a moment, right, it was really starting to get some mainstream attention. And around this time, we had stumbled on another social, a social economy called Steemit. And we saw, hey, they are able to create a social economy, from people being involved through posts, a social media, that is also a social economy. And we saw, hey, this can be applied in a lot of different ways. And in fact, we may have just found our answer for what is going to make somebody want to stay involved and get engaged in the community.

And through that, through our focus of that getting people's feedback on the idea, being able to hone it in iteration after iteration. That's how Webblen and other projects in the crypto space can really see success as opposed to just trying to use cryptocurrencies or technology for the sake of cryptocurrencies and technology,

Carter Razink  

I do want to touch on that a little bit more specifically to. That's very interesting. I think something slept on by a lot of projects and startups is the value of community and human engagement.

You can't have a project that isn't that doesn't have a community and isn't engaged in human experience, in some fact, is some some interaction some way. And I think across the board, for our team, in our in our project and our mission, we want to be human centric, our goal is to have that social and technology interwoven together. So that it's, it's a, it's a very unified experience. And without you can't have one without the other, you're not going to watch YouTube, if it's just, you know, procedurally generated videos, that doesn't make any sense. You need the human interaction. And so that's a very, very, very big point that we like to touch on is the human centered focus. It's it's the human attention that's valuable. Not that not the content itself.

Roshan Mirajkar  

Very interesting. You know, we're living in a period in the crypto and blockchain world where everyone is trying to build different rails, like NFT rails for content creators, and then you have Defi, trying to be like the new finance rails, but it's hard to forget sometimes that they're real people behind the thing and real problems. So how do you guys think, you know, even with what you guys are working on kind of the socio-economic, you know, conditions and situations, like kind of the macro world we live in right now.  COVID is still present, we have things like inflation. What you guys are building? And maybe what are some other crypto products, you guys think can can actually solve some of these situations? If the traditional products can't, right?

Nathaniel Thoreson  

Yeah. So I think you bring up a really good point. So there's a couple of things like as Mukai mentioned at the beginning, about how people are starting to crave being involved with one another again. Tt's only been, you know, two decades ish, that we've been in the age of the internet, where you can connect with somebody on the other side of the planet, like we're doing right now. And Facebook, for example, their original mission was to correct connect the world and make people be more engaged with one another. But they did exactly the opposite.  All of these social platforms, saying, Yeah, you can connect with people from all over the world but is there really any true human connection there?

And I think now, people are starting to see that social media is dangerous in a lot of ways. And people need human connection, because for 10s of 1000s of years, we've all been dependent on to our communities, and now we're starting to crave that again. And then COVID, just put that in the limelight of everybody was spending all of the time on social media because they had nothing else to do. And now that we're kind of coming out of that people are starting to really crave human interaction, human attention. So from a macro perspective, Webblen, I think is in a perfect position to help people realize those needs of wanting to get back into the world, wanting to get back into the fold, but also still have that digital aspect, which is so important to our lives now.

Kai Selekwa  

And then from like, the economic perspective, where it's kind of funny, within the next few transactions, there's like a 60% chance within the next five transactions of you spending $1 that it's going to be going towards big tech and you're not going to get really anything out of it. It's just them acquiring more data and more value, in order to, you can say have a stronger hold of how our socio economic situation is globally.

And cryptocurrency projects outside of Webblen are really able to provide a means of generating value in a way that is that evens the playing field as opposed to just a given few that is able to create that has created a system that ultimately does not empower you, as an individual or a community as a whole. It just empowers the people who've put the system in place, which is kind of sad.

It's like trying to put on shackles on to your users and saying and asking them to say thank you for the experience and If we're able to, if we're able to not provide shackles to the end user to the people who are using these products to anybody who is actually trying to use what you have to offer to benefit not only themselves but those around them.

I will come back to Axie Infinity because what they're doing is so incredible and a prime example and even the way they have their system that so economic system set up that we are even looking at them as role models for what cryptocurrency projects in blockchain is promising us to be able to empower us individually in receiving and creating value in more ways than one.

Roshan Mirajkar  

Yeah, definitely, like living living up to the the branding and all the advertisements of what our space is about is super important. You know, especially for the new entrants or people that as in any new technology, you know, you have like a adoption curve, you always have those later subset of people, they need to be able to see how it adds value directly to their lives. We live in certainly a weird time just in general, when you have companies like Facebook mentioning the metaverse, you know, in their earnings report, and other companies, you think this is gonna be a term for the next year? When you guys see things like that, like, what's kind of your response? Do you think you think companies like Facebook and big tech? Have the know how to, you know, build things in this so called metaverse? Or do you think that a lot of the things in our in our space right now? I feel like they're already in the metaverse? I mean, do you guys agree with that or feel kind of different?

Kai Selekwa  

These people, though they have a lot of money in their bank accounts, these people have been behaving in a way they are morally bankrupt. And if we're talking about the future here, and what is value, the value can shift and change and how it's going to look in the future. They may have it technologically speaking, but unless they actually decide to look at the world for what it is in respect to humanity. It's a it's a losing game that they're on.

Carter Razink  

Yeah, I think it's tough to because you say with big tech, they have big aspirations, they have big money, right? But outside is that they're not as quick to move on a lot of these ideas. So they're not as agile as these small community based projects. And so you can see this with Libra. Essentially, you're taking what is built in the physical world with financial aspect, and make a metaverse of financial instruments is what they were trying to do. And they failed. They there's too many hurdles. They're too big, it didn't work.

So let's take a step back. And let's look at someone like us as well when our team and what we're trying to do. You could say in a sense, what Webblen is trying to do is we're trying to take the technology and augment it with the physical world to make a augmented metaverse of social value is really what we're trying to do. And so  that overlap is not something that's super achievable with these big companies. They don't have the they have the tech, like I said, they have the people they have the capital, they don't have the community insight in the same way that we do. We're engaged we are literally the people that are pushing the path, the the the innovation, down the road to where we believe it should go. And we're working with people in the same industry. And we're all on the same path. And they're kind of in their in their, you know, their ivory tower, and they're not as connected as we are. So it's a little bit tough for these big companies to do what we're doing.

With regards to the metaverse, I think that's for sure the future. It's the next step in integrating technology in what we do. And I think getting the physical world socializing and interacting with people integrated with technology. The conventional approaches the rhetoric player one metaverse, right you have the whole infinitely creative, crazy augmented reality with, you know, the headset and the haptic feedback suit. And that's what most people think of when they think of metaverse. That's not the first step.

The first step is probably going to be, if I can I can see what's going on around me I can party up with people like I can in video games, but in in real life, or I can I can earn points for doing things with my friends that I enjoyed that redeemable for real goods. That's the first step. That's the metaverse, that's that most people are gonna be aware of, in 15 years. That's kind of what we're trying to do here at Webblen.

Roshann Mirajkar

That's a great point. And I think I agree with you on that as well. Like the big tech, they're gonna have their, their engineers and many of them, you know, they literally own the cables under the sea, right, like web 2.0. But that doesn't mean, you know, they might have that that same connection, and people will be as friendly to them as amiable in the future as they learn more about, you know, how they actually control data and what Kai said as well. Like, what what do people actually get in the end if if you are the product, but you know, I kind of learned about Webblen, you know, through our Mousebelt startup school, we had for early stage, blockchain and crypto companies. That's how I kind of discovered Mukai. Mukai, you want to just talk about like, well, how was your experience, like so far, and startup school? And, you know, how has it been just just building an COVID? Like, we're telling the positives and negatives.

Kai Selekwa

The timing was great. And, honestly, to this moment, we are extremely lucky that we managed to get involved with startup school at the time we did because we're in a position where, yes, we're iterating, through a product and starting to get more eyes and attention to what we're doing. And to be able to connect with other projects that are in the same position, as well as having an easier time to connect with groups and individuals who have a interest in the blockchain crypto space, outside of just the speculative speculation, and the value of cryptocurrencies that we currently see in mainstream media today. But people who are actually trying to solve problems and solutions, and being able to see how this stuff is happening on the ground floor is quite amazing. And the amount of support and the connections that you're able to make with other people, and other blockchains and organizations, priceless, priceless experience.

Roshan Mirajkar  

Yeah, awesome. Can you give him some advice as well? What does it take to kind of build through COVID? What, you know, what are some struggles or things that have gone better just building in this weird time where you guys talk about a lot of a lot about human interaction, but it's been lacking in the world? So how did you guys like overcome some of these problems,

Carter Razink  

We really had to look at what are all the ways that people can engage with one another beyond physically. And as we, we've all seen how we are able to connect with each other, like we're not together in a room right now. But we're still able to talk to each other. And to look at how that process takes place.

Kai Selekwa  

For example, we did not have the ability to stream media, or post video on our platform prior to COVID. That's not where our focus was. But when COVID was a thing we saw, okay, there are levels to human engagement interaction. And we have to really look at these different avenues in which we connect with one another. And how can we hone in further to using these systems and solutions that fits wetlands mission, and improves on the engagement that we have in the physical realm as well like with what's going on around us. COVID really put us in the mindset of there is so much to the human condition, how we connect with one another, that we probably would have not been able to really understand unless we had experienced it for ourselves.

Nathaniel Thoreson  

I'll piggyback off that a little bit too, with what he said about streaming. Like I said earlier on the community and the local areas, still our highest mission, which is why oftentimes we say that Webben is a hyper localized platform.

For example, I'm in Fargo, North Dakota, I look at the app, I see a certain culture, a certain feed, I see different streams, I see events, things like that. Versus Roshan if you're on the East Coast, you'll see something completely different. So Webbelen is super hyper localized, and I think it's really cool. That with our streaming platform, we're able to disrupt local news, we're able to basically make, local influencers, local celebrities, kind of, which is kind of cool.

Whereas every person in that area, for example, if I'm streaming it Fargo, only people in Fargo will be able to see it, that I think is super powerful for saying the internet is great. It's great to connect the world. But it's also fantastic to keep your local communities connected, even when we can't see each other through COVID. So, like I said earlier, COVID, obviously, net bad, not good for the world, obviously. But it came at a very good timing. For us specifically, it's been a challenge. But we've had the opportunity to improve a lot, and really hone in our mission and expand our features and stuff.

Carter Razink  

You hit it on the head. Again, I think it's super interesting. I look at a bunch of different startups across the board. A big factor is timing. And if you were to ask any of our teammates, prior to COVID will how pandemic would affect our our platform, we would probably say that that's probably not a good thing. Originally, we were like, oh man, what are we going to do? This is like our core value. Like that's, that's what we are. And so in addition to the fact that we had the chance to do a whole development cycle, we reviewed what are what we were as a company as a team, what our values were something that I think was revealed to all of us was the timing, the timing that in COVID, and what it what it showed people, not just us, but regular people was how valuable socializing is. And so I think following this whole pandemic, and the impact, it's made on people's ability to socialize, allows Webblen's core value prop to really shine. It's now the place to go for socializing, for seeing what's going on, you know, now that you have the chance to go out and interact with new people, we are the platform to do that.

Roshan Mirajkar  

100% and, you know, whether people realized it or not, you know, the whole hyper localized thing you guys are talking about, that's exactly what people had to rely on, like everyone in this entire country, right?

Like, you couldn't necessarily go too far, or there's a lot of restrictions, but what you could rely on was your community members, you know, we're short on resources, and yeah, even socializing. To kind of stay sane in this world and, you know, not lose all of our human touch, definitely. Even myself, I congregated with, you know, people in my community.

So I love how you guys took a lot of these problems in the world and, you know, kept learning kept iterating and kind of turned it around to a positive note. So I love that balance. You guys are really building like the human touch, but also kind of evolving to where we're going like back to the metaverse thing. Yeah, we might live a, maybe some portion of our lives let like online, so to speak. So my last question for you guys is tell us like a little bit of your your future vision. And also, you know, kind of your short journey of like, how did you guys win the algorand? grant? And like, what that process looked like?

Nathaniel Thoreson  

I'll talk on the vision a little bit. So for our vision for the future, we really do believe that Webblen is going to be the platform that people use to get involved in their communities. And as Kai mentioned, in the very beginning of being able to hit the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, that is going to be huge. Humans, we have dominion over the planet, we have the ability to change things. And if we have a tokenized way to encourage positive engagement and positive actions, then I really do think that the world is going to change for the better.

At the center of every one of our conversations, whether we're adding a new feature or anything like that, we think, how is this going to affect our communities? And how is this going to affect the human psyche? If and I've already told Kaii and Carter this if we start to deviate off of our mission, I'm out, like I quit. So our mission is number one, that is what we focus on and the money will come second.

I really do see it as being employed by cities and companies to retain their people retain their customers and have a much more engaged presence with their communities.

I hope that Webblen does something to put the big social media companies, not necessarily out of business, but knock them down a  peg. As Gen Z, we've seen firsthand the negative effects that they've had. And somebody has to be the hero to stop it. They're killing us, man! We have to do something. They are literally killing us. So that's where I see Webblen, and so far where we're on the way.

Carter Razink  

Yeah, and so basically, all those really high value points that Nate made, we kind of realized that, hey, this is something that we should take to the next level. And so stuff about the triple bottom line and cities adopting what we're using as a platform and a digital dashboard for auditing a city, if you will. And then take it to the next level, how is this going to impact people on a fundamental level? And how is blockchain going to integrate into that, and all these little pieces came together into our grants and Algorand saw the value that we offered, and saw that what our path is, is upward and in a positive direction. And so they they agreed and aligned with us, and they kind of had that stamp of approval, and they they partnered with us, and we partner with them.

They kind of, they kind of had the foot in the door for us. And so that's, that was kind of the process, we just we showed what we were doing and what that value was to somebody who could have a foundation who could help us. And they agreed. And here we are.

Kai Selekwa  

There's a reason for everything right? We chose them, for multitude reasons, ranging from the speed, their vision with their technology, and that they're carbon negative. So therefore, using Webblen, because we're built on Algorand, it's actually making the environment a better place. On our end, we've created a system in which we reward engagement and social behavior. Thus, communities and cities have the ability to employ tools and solutions to improve on the health audit the health and environmental impact the revenue of a certain city in the near future with a upcoming update.

For example, to kind of give a visual how that experience looks, that people in the community, like you and me are able to look and just click on the city. And we're able to see how much revenue does it have? What is the air quality? What is the population that we're working with? What are a carbon emissions looking like? Neing able to really look at the information of a city, the community that you're in understanding its health, provides so much opportunity and empowers all of us to want to make the world a better place, and to be able to pay attention to the leaders of who is focused on helping sustain not only Earth, but the human species? That's pretty much what our vision is.

Roshan Mirajkar  

I mean, I love your guys's huge vision. And as, Nathaniel said, you guys are so mission driven. So I really love that. And it's really great how you guys are combining, you know, multiple, like spokes, like taking the incentive models and, and also trying to be socially aware. So yeah, thank you so much for you and your team. being here today. And yeah, we look forward to you know, helping you guys grow and in startup school, and yeah, maybe we help you guys win more grants. That would be awesome. And lastly, tell us you know, I'll give you guys a chance to shout out How can people get more involved with web login and your website and even you know, your guys's contact information.

Kai Selekwa

We are currently on a race to see who is going to employ wetland whether it be assist city or community to be the first smart, sustainable city. And we have systems in place to make it so and right now we're in talks with specifically Miami, Florida, Boston, Massachusetts, and Fargo, North Dakota where we are based and where our strongest connection is.

And if you have an interest in seeing your city, your area your community doesn't matter if it's in the US. It is this is an opportunity even in underdeveloped areas to employ a solution that incentivizes community engagement and helps create value. And within a community in a way that we've never seen before. There is a lot of opportunity here and what the relationship that you'd like to employ with us is really up to you. As well as we focus on the technology and the experience of what weapon is the culture, how the solution is used, is going to look different from each community and city. And hopefully, maybe when we go to Mars, what system do we have in place to make sure that people actually get rewarded to be engaged in the community? Is it gonna be a country? Is it gonna be some individuals rules? Now, we should probably all agree with how we should go about that.