“Hustle is the only activity of success.”
Benny Giang, Co-founder of CryptoKitties, took some time out of his crazy busy schedule during the China Joy week to speak to Dapp.com about his personal hustle and grind, cats, blockchain, and startup as a whole.
We sat down with Benny in his hotel lobby. It was just an ordinary day for him, but it was certainly an inspiring day for us - it's a story about a true hustler.
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Read the full script of the interview here. (Please note that Question 1 and 2 are not included in the video):
I grew up in a small town in Canada and always want to build things. I dropped out of the college in my third year and I was looking for a startup to join. Later I joined Axiom Zen, the parent company of CryptoKitties based in Vancouver. The company works on software, AI, machine learning, and blockchain. We started creating the CryptoKitties brand almost one year ago. We were experimenting a lot. Finally, we have decided to create a blockchain-based game about cats.
The company has a strong culture. It’s startup right, people learn, share and build things together. Some people want to work at big companies, like Google, and have family stuff. So they left and went to the big company to work at. And then after a while, they came back - and it has happened 6 times. Because we have such a strong company culture. Those people who came back, they also share something they learned from big companies, which is nice.
Every Friday night, we have a study session. Everybody feel free to join different groups to do the case study, learning, and engineers hack something together over the weekend.
We want to build a strong community on social, so people here can gather together but no just for CryptoKitties but gather together on WeChat or QQ to discuss this whole scene of blockchain gaming and non-fungible tokens. Because we are really talking about you have cryptocurrency and also you have dapps, and also you have digital assets. I don’t think there are enough conversations of digital assets and it’s one of the reasons you created Dapp.com.
So for CryptoKitties, that’s one thing. The second thing is we have developers building on top of CryptoKitties since it’s permissionless, you can own cats as the person you own cats you can take the cats to whatever you want, you can go play the racing game, the fighting game, or decorate the cat. So for KittyVerse, we have 1 million dollar fund and when we find really really good projects around the world, that is building on top of CryptoKitties, we will create a graft or we will fund their project. So that’s one of the things we are doing here expanding KittyVerse to Asia. It’s more like short-term, at least 6 months.
For the long-term, we think that CryptoKitties has very strong IP, meaning that a lot of people who know about CryptoKitties, but they don’t own cats, they don’t play the game, and I think the reason... it’s too much friction, too much difficulty. Even if you love CryptoKitties as a brand, you are not going to convert, because the buying Ether or doing all these steps, it’s too much work for you. So as any brand, like Coca-cola, you know the brand, and you probably drink the Coca-cola. For us, it’s the opposite at this point, so we want to expand the brand and make it easy for people to interact with it. Maybe create other experiences that are free to play, maybe just teaching people about the Blockchain. Because right now education is lacking, not a lot of education.
Cats are all relatively the same size, dogs are small dogs all the way to the big dogs. It’s hard to draw those. And frog, rabbit, and bugs, they are all in the same shape. But I don’t think there are many people who have frog pets or rabbit pets. But people have cats.
Besides all the things we just talked about cats, cat is a symbol for a very long time, all the way from fortune cat to the symbol of the internet.
Because cats are the symbol of the internet, weird and fun at the same time. We thought what don’t we put cats on the blockchain, because no one has done it, people already use to the fact of cats. So it’s pretty a simple thing to put cats on the blockchain.
Most of the dapps they died because of the economy, token economy and etc. It’s very short-sighted. Lot of them are basically betting, lottery and gambling. Lot of like Fomo3D, or Crypto Celebrities.
So those (games) kind pop up, and there are so many copycats of Fomo3D now because everybody wants to make that easy money. But they are not really coming from the gaming side, where people play games, because of the entertainment, because there’s a balance of the economy - The prices go up when there’s a demand, the prices go down, there’s less supply. Just like the economy here in real life.
And their game design is very poor. The other part is in this space, it’s just not enough players. There are not enough people who understand the blockchain and also understand the gaming and combine this together. So for most of these games, they’re all looking for new users, and they wanna have more players. But it’s very difficult to do it. Distribution for these dapps not that easy, you can’t really distribute in the App Store. And there are different blockers are prevented a game like a normal game - it has many channels, if you do advertising, for us, for the longest times in North America, we couldn’t even do digital ads, because facebook, twitter, Google all blocked the blockchain ads. So for us like how to get the new users? And that’s for every other dapps as well.
We got very lucky in the beginning. Because we have a huge curve and we captured a lot of people, are the community is growing organically. And the other part is how we gonna grow users is like going to the events in Shanghai. I did 9 talks in 7 days, talk to the new people who don’t know about the CryptoKitties, and introducing them to this concept.
I started on Monday and went to Sunday, and someday had 2, someday had 3. It’s pretty intense. So it’s a lot of manual work that needs to be done because people want to see your face, meet you. A lot of people know about CryptoKitties, but they don’t know the team, they don’t know the people behind it. So for us, we have to go to these places, and talk and tell people what are we actually doing, we are not like building the game and leave that type of things.
User experience is very important. For us, we come from the startup space, the tech space. As you know, UX is hugely important. Think about all the other apps, they are not blockchain, like social media apps, WeChat, Airbnb, Facebook. You see how smooth they are, how they always to make it easier bottoms, A/B testing.
We have a similar thing, CryptoKitties is always changing. We always try to make the user experience smoother. It’s very clear sign because when we launch CryptoKitties, we spent a lot of time thinking about “what should the marketplace look like, where should the cats be, how do people navigate to it, make it easy, right.” So essentially the entire industry of blockchain games at least the first waves that try to build the similar game as CryptoKitties, they just took the UI/UX. Because they know that - well it’s really good, it’s really easy to use. But one thing is that we always improving, so in a month the UX will change and even be better, we always constantly improve.
I’m sure that we will set again for the new standard for blockchain games. So I think it’s hugely important. To answer your questions, these teams are really small, sometimes they are just like 1, 2, 3 people, and they just don’t have time and capacity to focus on UI/UX. If they hustling, they just want to build the game, they wanna market the game, and they will probably design later. I understand that. If you don’t have the resource and you can’t do it. But they should consider having the resources.
The way I look at is there are about 6 waves of innovation. Each of the waves has basically changed the entire world. With the invention of the silicon chip, it allows the computer to be in the huge room to tiny, There were companies building this and they became huge like Intel and Nvidia. And you have the invention of the computer, it’s like Apple, or Microsoft, IBM. That change the world too. The third one is the invention of the internet. We all know that how the internet changes everything, it connects human together and connects human with services easily together.
The fourth thing is the user experience of the internet.
The fifth is AI machine learning, it’s still in the development and very early stage.
And the sixth is blockchain. Some people compare blockchain to AR/VR, or other types of technology, IoT. But if you see how I listed in the order, the blockchain is as important as the internet.
The whole thing about ownership and value was missing the piece of the internet, and the blockchain is basically filling in those holes of the internet with cryptocurrencies. So now can exchange things and digital assets what I have it and give it to you, and you have it and I don’t have it. Looking at that, I think we are in such early stage with the blockchain are kind forming and a lot of people are getting interested in it. The reason why we motivated and I motivated is you have the potential to catch the train, not very often you had the chance to ride one of those 6 trains. These trains are huge. If you work really hard, try to build the community and to meet people who think alike, you have the opportunity to create the entire new company to become the next Alibaba, the next Tencent.
That opportunity to ride on a fast moving train is exciting to me, it’s a big challenge, and that’s the one thing really motivates me. There are people make different decisions in life, you either go to school, get the job, make family and that’s fine, that’s how you wanna live your life. For me, I personally think that if I see a huge-ass train coming, I’m gonna hop on this train, and I’m gonna ride it as long as I can. Because I know that if you make those decisions, there’s gonna be a big reward in the end. Personally, I don’t see the future of me just laying on the beach, that seems very bored to me, but I just want to keep on building things, building things, impacting and helping people and creating things that provide more value to people’s life. That’s the purpose of doing all of this.
I don’t really have many mentors. All the startup I work at, I’ve been really close to the CEO. The CEO from the startups I learn a lot from them. Most of them actually are the first time ever did a startup, but they have a different personality. What motivates me is one part is the family thing. My grandparents are from China, they flit from China to go to Vietnam. They had to start all over to build everything from the ground up. And the war came and basically, they sold everything they had in Vietnam to put my entire family, my mom and my aunts to be on a boat to go to Canada.
When they went to Canada, my parents dropped out of high school, they worked at a labor job, my mom clean the office building. They are not very smartest, but I love them, they are my parents, they worked really hard to put me in the school. We were living in the shitty house.
For me, it’s like I want to show that coming from this circumstances you can make (something) happen. Even you start from zero, your family is poor, you are not wealthy, you could shape your own path. You could do what you want. For me, the biggest driver is that I wanna see how high is the goal. And I can go back to the kids in this ghetto schools and I’m telling them,”hey, you can do it, if you really think about it. Because you’re in the circumstances but it doesn’t mean you are not gonna be here forever.” So I think about that all the time. And I got another when I was a teenager in junior high. I got suspended twice for fighting a lot.
I realized internally that I have a lot of energy and I have a lot of creativity, I shouldn’t channel it to violence or whatever, I should channel it into being creative, meaning people and building things. And since then I’m a kind move to that direction, redirecting energy to somewhere else. And here I am now. I think it’s a good way to think about my parents and in the future how to bring back what I work so hard for them.
The inspiration of the fancy cat usually come most basic level, holidays, Christmas, Halloween. The other inspiration for fancy cats is working with influencers, brands, or athletics. Sometimes we just create original cats. I don’t create it, but we have an art director, his name is Guile and he is from Brazil. Very very good, he is one of the best animators and illustrators. So sometimes he just has some really weird ideas, but most of the time it looks really cool. It’s in his brain that how he thinks designing these fancy cats.