Going into 2022, diversity and equality remain at the forefront of community conversations around the globe. Yet, the crypto and NFT market continue to be dominated by men. Women reportedly only make up 15% of bitcoin investors whilst females account for just 16% of the NFT art market.
Singapore’s Heartbreak Bear NFT project aims to break these barriers by providing education and inspiration to encourage women to participate in the space. Intrigued by their work, we spoke to co-founders Ming Shuang (Cherie) Tan and Eugene Lim to learn more about their mission.
Cherie first explained to us that although Heartbreak Bear was founded by herself and Eugene, the team is female dominated in terms of its community. The development side of the project is also run by three women.
“At the forefront, the girls are the faces of the team. This is important because the crypto space is very male dominated,” Cherie said.
“When people look at female-led projects, they mostly look past them as they feel less confident. Maybe because they think girls don’t really know what they are doing,” Cherie assumed.
Nonetheless, Cherie believes times are changing. “I think female projects are more well received in the space; a lot of them are actually supporting female projects.”
For Eugene, women are deterred from entering the space. “I think one thing that’s always related to tech stuff is that for the female counterpart, they tend to be more wary of diving deep. It’s very common across the world for guys to be dominant in the space. For example, tech forums are always male dominated.
“Whenever a female comes in, the guys tend to make fun of them and look down on them because the assumption is that they don’t know what they are talking about in the tech space. It’s true for the gaming sector too.”
Eugene recalled that when their team started out in the space, projects were “led by guys and females were just artists” or were “helping out with certain small roles in the community.” He added that even though he helped found the project, he now deals with more of the backend, standing aside for female empowerment.
Heartbreak Bear’s communities, both online through Discord and in real life, are very female-led too. “The guys are open to listening to the girls. We have girls who have flipped NFTs and have made a lot of profit – not only the guys can do that,” Cherie tells us. “We’re a very inclusive group.”
Heartbreak Bear’s work also goes beyond their project to inspire female-led projects. “In terms of collaborations, we’re very open,” Cherie explains. “We’re looking for projects that might have the same passion like we do but are just finding it hard in the space – those that just need a little push to have a step closer to success.”
“Through this we are all becoming a bigger community. We have a second home on Discord and it’s actually pretty cool. For Heartbreak Bears, we even go out and physically meet community members. We want to include everyone.”
As well as gender equality, diversity is also at the forefront of Heartbreak Bear’s concerns. “Because we are in Asia, most of our crowd is local or from nearby countries”, Cherie explained.
She cited diversity as one of the challenges the project are facing, but is planning to overcome it through collaborations, and is working with an alpha group that provides advice on such matters. (An alpha group is a closed Discord server in which members of the NFT project share information with those running the project. Whitelists and giveaways are also shared inside the alpha group. Members of these alpha groups tend to be members of other Alpha groups too, so information is spread around quickly.)
Eugene added that since the project’s inception, the team was “very worried” about being from Asia. Although Singapore’s small size allowed the space to move quickly, and Western markets “appreciated what the Asian markets could do”, Eugene said their Red Dot origin still flummoxed people.
“When we launched and people realised we were from Singapore, they were like ‘what country is that? Are you guys Chinese?’” Eugene said with a laugh. “That changed very rapidly though”.
“Recent NFT launches such as Ali and His Friends, from China, also helped too. These are really big projects that gain traction, and are wins for the Asian community. But there is still definitely room to push in terms of diversity of Asians in Western markets”.
Eugene brought up the point that the community is creating something unique because it’s all online.
“If we’re all speaking English, ethnicity is not easily identifiable. When you build a rapport without knowing where you’re from or your ethnicity, that transforms into friendships without knowing where each other is from”, he said.
Eugene also highlighted key opinion leaders such as Malaysia’s Takoa as proof that Asians are making headway in the NFT space.
The first season of Heartbreak Bear showed great potential, but the team felt the project needed a revival. For Season 2, the Heartbreak Bear team wanted to implement real-world utility into their NFTs.
“The real-world utility we have seen in a lot of NFTs are like passes for parties, drinking and a ‘networking session’”, Cherie explained. “It’s cool but not something we think is sustainable. What we did think was sustainable was to create a brand and actual business out of Heartbreak Bear. Because we didn’t see that around, that’s what inspired us to do Season 2”.
Cherie added that real world utility will provide a safety blanket for the brand too. “If the NFT scene dies, Heartbreak Bear won’t die”, she said. “And if the real world dies and everything goes onto NFTs, we also have it!”
In terms of lessons learnt from Season 1, Cherie humbly shared the team was “quite reserved” and “scared to do a lot of things” due to limited funding.
“We didn’t have money,” she explained. “So we actually pumped in our money from the company and we had to be very tactful with what we spent on. We were too conservative in spending money on marketing.” Cherie also said she felt she could have done better in community management. “Our community got really, really close, to the point where they had a group outside of Discord! I kept having to remind them to come back!!” Cherie said with a laugh.
With Season 2, Heartbreak Bear now has the luxury of choosing who to collaborate with. “We weren’t very well known back then [Season 1], so nobody wanted to collab with us,” Cherie says. “Now, we’re very picky about collabs because we realised it does affect our image and brand.”
“Connections are very important in the NFT world, so we need to be constantly making connections with people and big players,” she added.
For Eugene, one of the biggest mistakes in Season 1 of Heartbreak Bear was to not dedicate at least one team member to build connections within the space.
“In the real world there’s always someone who reaches out to business owners – we didn’t move on this part,” Eugene verasciously says. “One thing we should have done from the very get go was to reach out to other founders, especially KOLs to build rapport. Let’s say we build rapport with another founder that has 20,000 – 30,000 people in their discord, these are the people that could make a change in the project.”
This isn’t just conjecture either. Eugene tells us how “it’s something we managed to capture post-mint. That’s when I was constantly trying to engage with other founders and we got the breakthrough. I decided to DM the alpha group and thought they weren’t going to respond. But, this particular group actually helped us mint out the entire project within three hours!”
Looking ahead, Heartbreak Bear plans to launch a P2P game, scavenger hunts and raffles, as well as a series of merchandise including apparel and figurines. “People might not be collectors of NFTs but there are people who collect figurines to display in their house,” Eugene says. “It could be a really interesting story about how NFTs became real world collectibles.”
Advice for project founders
As well as reaching out to other founders, Heartbreak Bear offered advice for NFT project newcomers. “Dont give up, loh!” Cherie said. “It’s really going to be very hard. We’ve seen so many projects that leave halfway when they realise it’s so easy. I don’t think you can do NFTs as a side job”.
Eugene added that whilst projects think utility is the most important aspect, building trust in the community should be “the key focus from the get go”.
He also emphasised that building proper traction is not as easy as people think. “We always tend to see the good stuff, like making millions in an hour post launch, but no one sees behind the scenes in the networking that’s created before that”.
“You need a strong team that’s really resilient and is willing to put in the time. At one point both of us were putting in at least 19 hours a day with not much sleep. We were really grinding to make this happen”.
Eugene went on to say that “minting is just the beginning, it’s a life-long journey. As long as the NFT space doesn’t go away, you’re in it for real”.