An unconventional business strategy for a conventional business
Chanel Lee is not your average millennial. Whilst most of the flip-phone generation are busy flipping NFTs, Chanel has been busy flipping the entire economic structure of NFTs on its head. For most brands engaged in selling NFTs, the venture into blockchain assets is a no brainer; NFTs serve as a simple but effective extension of their pre-established brand.
It’s proven to be an effective strategy too. Adidas alone has sold over 22 million NFTs, not-so-subtly reminding us of their relevancy and brand strength. At this point, any brand worth their salt is seriously considering incorporating NFTs to compliment their business model.
But what if NFTs formed the brand inception rather than the brand extension? This is the pathway Chanel has embarked on. Curious to find out more, we sat down with Chanel to learn about her novel approach to NFTs and her journey thus far.
From the get-go, Chanel’s journey into crypto has been rather unconventional. As we sit down at a local coffee shop, she’s recounted how she bought her first cryptocurrency from an online stranger in a Starbucks.
“I actually got into crypto in the large huge bubble in 2017”, Chanel recalled. “That was when Bitcoin and Ethereum were breaking all-time high prices, but there was no Discord community I think. I found a lot of reading material on Reddit, so I would spend time after work reading about blockchain there”.
“I was so desperate to buy cryptocurrency but KYC for exchange of coms took two months! I somehow found someone online who was selling Ethereum P2P, so I made an appointment with him to go to Starbucks. I transferred him cash, and he transferred me Ethereum!”
Fast forward four years and Chanel has moved on from P2P exchanges with dubious internet acquaintances to developing her own brand with the use of NFTs.
Chanel’s long-term vision is to create a modern home decor brand, which rivals that of Hooga and HipVan. For Chanel, building a brand community is integral to establishing a loyal consumer base. So, instead of throwing capital at a brand with no community, Chanel is reverse engineering the traditional business model: developing a community ahead of launching the brand.
“Since 2016, I’ve wanted to start a home goods brand selling things like sleepwear and blankets – anything that makes you feel warm and toasty”, Chanel explained. “I was thinking about how to interpret that into a large collection.”
Four years later, NFTs proved to be the answer Chanel was looking for. In 2021, she stumbled upon the NFT world whilst job hunting. A job interview for a role in AI that involved NFTs piqued her interest in the space.
“I went on YouTube, Discord and everywhere on social media to learn about the [NFT] phenomenon”, she said. “This was right around the time just before Axie Infinity popped into the mainstream”.
“The world was just waking up to NFTs and I had just met someone who had been in the space for a few years, who was already talking about artificially intelligent NFTs”, she said, adding, “Furthermore, I saw how quickly Axie Infinity exploded onto the scene.”
After a month of learning about NFTs, Chanel made the plunge and decided to mint her first one in August 2020. “Within a few days of telling my friends and family about NFTs, I decided to make my own”.
The potential NFTs provide in building collections immediately struck a chord with Chanel, who realised the technology would perfectly compliment her “toasty” homeware concept. “I could make [my NFT collection] funny with pieces of cartoon bread, which could be inspired by Gudetama and Hello Kitty”.
Fortunately, Chanel’s brother had expertise in coding, and in two months, Tasty Toastys was born. Of course, building a brand is no easy feat, so Chanel made the tough decision of quitting her job and dedicating her time and energy to Tasty Toastys.
Reverse engineering the traditional business model of building a brand before building a community is not a strategy Chanel has taken to be radical for being radical’s sake. Instead, Chanel understands the value of establishing a strong and loyal community.
“Brand loyalty and brand community are the most difficult things to build”, Chanel emphasised. “They’re a function of time; the biggest brands in the world don’t become big overnight”.
To win over her audience, Chanel hopes that Tasty Toastys can serve as an introduction to the NFT world for ordinary folk. “For many people right now, they don’t even know what an NFT is”, she explained.
“If I can carve out a space where people can get it into the NFT space where it is safe from scamming and easy for people to learn about NFTs, it can be a really emotionally sticky thing. Tasty Toastys can be their first NFT and hopefully they can enjoy their time with the community”.
“You only get to do this once every era when there’s a new wave of tech”, Chanel continued. “I want people to have a good memory of what the Tasty Toastys brand is and a good experience. Over time, word of mouth will result in the most organic way to grow”.
Admittedly, Chanel knows that the online/offline concept isn’t necessarily a novel approach. “It’s something we’ve seen in e-commerce brands like Glossier and Love Bonito started as online blogshops. Eventually they had their own offline stores. I don’t see how it’s going to be any different here”.
“The reason is that online you can build a community at a lower cost without sinking in capital investment in physical retail space. We’ve seen brands in the last 5-10 years that didn’t exist before but now they’re global because they started early”.
The NFT space is rapidly evolving at lightning speed but Chanel is working to keep ahead of the game. After launching the concept of her brand, the young entrepreneur took off to New York City’s weeklong NFT.NYC convention to solidify her understanding of the wider NFT community. There, she was greeted warmly by leading figures in the NFT space, and was even invited to a Bored Apes Yacht Club party.
“The community is super open and inviting, and everyone was keen to learn more. The meat of it was seeing how the community organised parties. I got into the Bored Apes Yacht Club warehouse party. There were 2,000 people at the warehouse in Brooklyn and I saw the strength of what they built as a brand. It was really inspiring to see how that could happen even in the midst of a global pandemic”.
“The party was electrifying, everyone was hyped about NFTs. It’s very clear they’re going after the celebrity angle, and I think it makes sense because NFTs are in the business of influence. The Strokes, Beck, Aziz Ansari and others were there”.
“I also went to the Boss Beauties networking party as well and a couple of CyberKongz events”, she said. “For NFT.NYC itself, GaryVee did the opening and he mentioned that the energy we were experiencing was an ‘early SXSW conference’”.
Chanel said Vaynerchuk’s introductory talk left a lasting impression on her, and gave her the confidence to continue building Tasty Toastys.
“[GaryVee] said that he learned about NFTs in 2020 but he felt it was too early, waiting for the pre-dawn”, Chanel recalled. “For him the pre-dawn was around February 2021 and the NBA TopShot period. We were in New York in October, so if early 2021 was pre-dawn for him, the fact I was there in the same year, I felt it was a good time to be starting something.”
Feeling incredibly inspired, Chanel put into practice all of the intricacies she learned in New York when she returned to Singapore. In just a matter of a few months, Chanel has organically grown a Discord to over 2,000 people and has successfully sold all of her 7,600 randomly generated Toasty NFTs that were minted by her community.
In the Oven
Chanel is clearly thinking far beyond the scope of what NFTs are currently being used for, but her entrepreneurial mindset isn’t limited to digital. Looking ahead, she plans to collaborate with non-NFT businesses and to initiate grassroots events in Singapore.
“I’m looking to do online and offline events, depending on the Covid situation in Singapore”, Chanel revealed. “The vision would be to do pop ups in different F&B outlets where I can sit down with people who are new to NFTs, as well as people in my community. We can also do some interactive live events to educate people about something that is confusing and overwhelming for newcomers”.
Chanel then sees Tasty Toastys launching its own digital merchandise in the metaverse before launching physical merchandise in real life.
2022 will certainly be an exciting year ahead for Tasty Toastys, and we look forward to seeing their journey unfold.