Web3 has seen many instances of Bored Ape holders monetizing their NFTs, taking full advantage of their IP rights through ape-branded clothing brands, food retailers, or other ventures. While there are 10,000 Bored Ape NFTs, some have gained more popularity than others due to these creative business endeavors.
A prime example is Jenkins the Valet, a fictional character created by Tally Labs and dramatized around Bored Ape #1798, who acts as the Head Valet of the Bored Ape Yacht Club. But Jenkins’ story isn’t that straightforward. To help tell it, along with the story of Tally Labs’ subsequent controversial Azurbala project, we spoke with co-founders Valet Jones (VJ) and Safa. We discussed the lessons they’ve learned over the past six months, how they intend to rebuild trust with their community, and the beta launch of their software platform, Avenue.
Who is Jenkins the Valet?
Jenkins the Valet started as an internet personality who shared stories about other apes and current events on Twitter. After growing a big following and a community, Jenkins’ creators decided to launch their own collection, The Writer’s Room. Holders of the genesis NFT could contribute to Jenkins’ storyline in the metaverse and vote on the creative direction of Jenkins’s debut novel.
After launch, the Writer’s Room began to rise in prominence as an example of a successful literary NFT project known for utilizing its community’s imaginative resources to cultivate fictional metaverse narratives. In 2021, Jenkins became the first NFT to sign with Creative Arts Agency to be represented across mediums of books, TV, film, and podcasts. CAA’s A-list roster of Hollywood talent boasts the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ariana Grande, and Ryan Gosling.
Azurbala: A world within a world
In July 2022, the Tally Labs team digitally published Bored & Dangerous, a community-generative NFT novel set within the fictional world of Azurbala written by ten-time New York Times bestselling author Neil Strauss. The project attracted 4,075 Ape and Mutant holders to license their characters and was positively received by the community, selling 14,800 NFTs upon mint.
Tally Labs saw this as a proof-of-concept for mass-scale licensing of NFT intellectual property and as an opportunity to launch a profile picture project (PFP) called Azurians. The project would center around Azurians, an innate species within the jungle capital of Azurbala, a fictional destination located in the metaverse. Given the team’s past accomplishments, expectation was high for the project’s success.
However, in September of 2022, when the Azurian PFP art was revealed, fanfare quickly faded. The Azurian characters were immediately met with widespread criticism from the community and the larger NFT space. It was a near-unanimous disapproval.
The artistic quality of Azurians became the brunt of memes and public mockery. “How on earth is this not a prank,” replied one Twitter user. Another wrote, “The art is even better when I close my screen.” As a result, the floor prices of Jenkins the Valet Writer’s Room assets plummeted by hundreds of dollars as investors scrambled to exit the project.
Reflecting on the communities reaction to the Azurian PFP reveal, VJ told nft now that in the month that followed, the pair felt “a massive mix of emotions – a ton of embarrassment, a lot of regret,” and found it “really hard to figure out what went wrong.”
“As challenging as it was for us, it was probably more challenging for our community,” added Safa. “They put a lot of trust in us, had spent countless hours engaging, and were super excited for the reveal. We can only imagine what it felt like for the wind to be taken out of their sails.”
In the immediate aftermath of the reveal, VJ and Safa hosted a two-hour Twitter Spaces, allowing their community to openly share criticisms and concerns around the quality of the art.
Feedback on the art included dissatisfaction with the Azurians’ expressionless faces, an absence of 3D perspective and proportion, and a visual mismatch between their reptilian humanoid form and photorealistic clothing. Additionally, some observed that the creatures lacked a sense of aspirational familiarity, often called the uncanny valley effect. Without this quality, they argued that people would be less inclined to purchase an Azurian and display it as their PFP.
Rebuilding from the ground up
After collating vast community and council feedback, the team returned to the drawing board and started from scratch. “We were in the war room that night looking at actionable next steps,” Safa explained. In the following weeks, the founders adopted a democratized approach, opening up a token-gated portal for Writer’s Room holders to share written feedback with the desire to reimagine the innate design and thematic influences of the Azurians.
Recognizing the strategy of brands such as Bored Ape Yacht Club, Doodles, and Pudgy Penguins in using their static PFPs as a foundation to expand into derivative markets of animation, film, and music, VJ and Safa said that they understood they must follow a similar path.
“We underestimated the importance of the PFP,” admitted VJ. “We were originally making characters to bring to life in all these different animated ways, but we didn’t test them in the way that everybody was going to use them — in the [Twitter] circle.”
Additionally, holders were able to upload images that creatively inspired them. VJ revealed that though some participants opted to share hand-drawn works, around 75 percent of the art uploaded was sourced from AI image-generating platforms Midjourney and Open AI’s DALL-E 2.
“Our goal wasn’t necessarily to use AI,” said VJ. “But we’ve certainly been impressed with how many people used that medium as a way to express the direction they think things should go.”
Following this, the team established an art council consisting of Waheed (AllSmilesss), Bryan Brinkman, Mando, and OSF to advise the team’s new Creative Director, Ty Carter, an Art Director at Netflix Animation with previous experience at Disney and Pixar. Additionally, an eight-member community council was brought together in November and tasked to oversee the redevelopment of the Azurian PFPs.
Community Council Member Lola told nft now that they were given pretty much total autonomy to share their ideas, noting that a digital vision board on Figma became a place to “give visual inputs about the traits that we want to see Azurians wear.”
“From weapons to headpieces, facial expressions to wardrobe, Tally has shared all of our ideas with Ty and his artists, who have, in turn, adapted some of them into Azurian traits or gathered inspiration from it,” she revealed.
Tactical advice from investors
In May 2022, Tally Labs raised a $12M seed round led by a16z crypto with additional participation from Dapper Labs, Odell Beckham Jr, and Lionel Richie, among others. The blog post announcing the round outlined the team’s diligent evaluation process for investors, stating, “Can we call them with bad news and expect to find a partner?” A16z crypto led PROOF Collective’s $50 million Series A investment in August 2022, and their portfolio includes the likes of Yuga, OpenSea, and VeeFriends.
VJ and Safa were keen to reiterate the importance of partnering with people who you can turn to and trust when things go wrong.
“One mistake we made in the first round was we didn’t really show anybody [the artwork],” said VJ. This time he revealed that the artwork has been shared to a wider internal audience, with much more feedback and perspective requested. Additionally, figures such as Chris Dixon, general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), have been on hand to offer “tactical advice.”
“There’s nothing he hasn’t seen,” said VJ, calling individuals of his caliber “students of the space” who are closely connected to both the upper echelons of the business world and on-the-ground community trends.
Beta launch of Avenue
Tally Labs recently announced the beta launch of Avenue, a software platform where Writers Room, Azurbala, and many other projects within the space will be able to foster their community in a token-gated social space and reward holders via gamification for engagement. Collections that have been granted access to the platform to date include Tankies, Justin Bieber’s Inbetweeners, Moshi Mochi, and more.
Started from the PFP, now we’re here
Six months later, after much revision, the team believes the new Azurians are visually incomparable to their predecessors.
“One thing that we focused on a lot for v2 is don’t reinvent the wheel. Innovate where it makes sense, but also lean on best practices and look at what makes a great PFP and what has made them successful,” said Safa. “I think we do a really good job of capturing familiarity but also pushing the boundaries in other areas.”
The new Azurians are thematically categorized as ‘jungle punks.’ Additionally, they are two-dimensional models which resemble a more human-type figure than their animal predecessors. Aesthetically, there has been a transition from James Cameron’s Avatar to a character more analogous to the science fiction fantasy Dune in terms of its vibe and clothing apparel.
“We feel really confident about the team and the steps we’ve put forward. We feel that we’ve put as good of a foot forward as any PFP project ever has from an art and preparedness perspective,” said Safa.
Time will tell as the PFPs will be revealed in May 2023. Details on minting requirements and burning mechanics are yet to be announced but are expected to fall similar to those announced during the initial mint.
Editor’s note: The list of collections that have been granted access to Avenue has been updated. Further, the article was updated to note that PFPs will be revealed in May.