VC #1: Interview with Jenkins and SAFA Pt. 1
Jenkins the character / person, licensing Book 1, WriteList, community-generated approaches, NYT Bestsellers
At its core, the Writer’s Room is about stories. The story of a truly innovative and foundational Web3 company, Tally Labs. The story of it’s founders, lifelong best friends Jenkins and SAFA. The story of Jenkins the Valet, who spent years behind the closed doors of the Bored Ape Yacht Club, and is now ready to spill it’s secrets. The story of Azurbala, the Azurian legends, and the five factions battling for control of the capital city in the jungle. And the story of a community of thousands of strangers seeking to co-create new content, because they believe that is the way forward, and we are better together. We’re going to tell all of those stories, and whatever else we can all dream up, here, at Valet Confidential.
In the metaverse I go by FilmBook. I’ve been a constant theorist and proud community member of the Jenkins project for six months now, and am constantly blown away by the creativity, innovation, and scope. I could not have been happier when my fren SpaceWalk asked me to join his team and lead our coverage of Jenkins and the Writer’s Room (WR). We hope this becomes your go-to source for WR deep analysis, wild speculation, updates, random rants,… and apparently interviews? SpaceWalk will make regular appearances here as well, as he is also a proud WR community member (and licensor!). Head to our first piece of Jenkins content, a bridge article on MetaVault that compares and contrasts Jenkins and the WR to Pixel Vault.
It’s an honor that for our first post at Valet Confidential, we got a sit-down (virtually) with the co-founders themselves, SAFA and Jenkins. They chopped it up with us across a variety of topics concerning Tally Labs, the future for Jenkins, RM 2.0, Book 1, Azurbala, and so much more. I’m happy to report that Jenkins and SAFA are as passionate, brilliant, and devoted to the ethos of Web3 as they appear in their tweets, spaces, and regular Discord appearances. Fingers crossed that this is the first of many times that the co-founders and WR collaborators will join us.
Working Together as Co-founders
Valet Confidential (VC): One thing that is really interesting to us is this idea of co-founders starting, and running a company, versus being a sole founder, and the advantages that may provide. Do you think that has been part of the project’s success?
Jenkins: We've known each other for a really long time. We went to school together, all the way from third grade through college.
SAFA: Our skill sets are so complimentary. And I think both of us feel that if we had to go at this on our own, I don't think it would have been possible. I hope Jenkins feels the same way?
Jenkins: No chance I could’ve done this without you.
SAFA: We both just do such different things, but also have similar passions. We look at it like a Venn diagram. There's things on the left that Jenkins does that I don't do, there's things on the right that I do that he doesn't do, and then there's this middle area where it's just an awesome collaboration. So forgetting the work and the skill sets, just building anything is a grind, and a journey, and it's emotionally draining. Going through that with a partner, let alone a best friend, is really really important.
Jenkins as a Character, Jenkins as a Person
VC: There’s Jenkins the character, who’s featured in stories and in Book 1. Then there’s the person we’re talking to now, also Jenkins. As you continue to build out this character, thinking specifically about the audio version, how do you see that evolution moving forward?
Jenkins: I was the initial voice of Jenkins in that I wrote the stories, and SAFA obviously provided really important revisions and helped us think through how to actually bring them to market and grow the community, but at this point, me being interviewed here as Jenkins the Valet and joining town halls as Jenkins is more of a legacy thing that we haven't pivoted out of. Jenkins has grown significantly larger than me, and Jenkins is really both me and SAFA. So especially around the contribution of significant ownership interest in Jenkins to the Character DAO, I will probably introduce a new persona that is me. And that's me, the co-founder of Tally Labs.
One-hundred percent I feel a massive connection to Jenkins the Valet. I'm really proud of everything we've done. I'd like my new persona to have some nod to the fact that you interacted with me as Jenkins for a really long time. But, I'm not Jenkins the Valet. Sometime in the next six months, there's a very good chance that I’ll have a different avatar and a different name.
VC: So for the audio version, did you secure Morgan Freeman to be the voice of Jenkins?!
Jenkins: We’ve spent some time thinking about the (actual) voice of Jenkins. Obviously, we wrote about the Jenkins Audio Experience in the Roadmap 2.0 article. Because NFT avatars are cartoons, animation is sort of an obvious thing that a lot of people talk about. Jenkins, and so many of the yacht holder characters, will come to life in the book by Neil, but that's a little less immersive than when you've got your AirPods in and you’re hearing voices, or when you're watching something. We have not secured Morgan Freeman, but the most important thing we can do for that audio experience is bring in really amazing voice actors into the fold, so that both Jenkins and our communities’ avatars that are featured in the work are represented in really fun ways. (Editor’s Note: for more details on their audio plans, check out this article in Variety!)
Licensing Book 1
VC: Licensing Book 1 was obviously very important to you guys. The amount of dedication both of you displayed in coordinating hundreds (thousands?) of licensing agreements between WR holders and BAYC / MAYC holders was crazy to watch from the sidelines. The final days had to be a blur.
Jenkins: I think I took about two or three days off of Discord after that, because it was a hustle for sure. It was a great opportunity to bring a bunch of WR holders into the profit share through licensing royalties who otherwise wouldn't be in it. And that's why we're doing this. We truly believe that community-generated, and community-owned content is the future, and is inevitable, and will be better than what people can make without it. And the opportunity to spend a couple of days rolling up our sleeves to bring more people into that, was an honor, quite frankly. Because it's what we think is going to happen.
I will say, we learned a lot. The members portal v2 is going to be a lot better. So in part because we spent time helping people with hundreds of licenses, on both sides, helping people send them out. As a product person, because that's my background, that's the dream to get to “dog food” a product like that and learn what works, and what doesn't. And I think people will see improvements because of that experience.
SAFA: In true degen fashion, people waited until the absolute last minute to sign licensing agreements. The couple hours before licensing close was such an electric time in our Discord. You had people saying “I’ll take 40%” or “ I’ll take 50%”! In the last 24 hours you had roughly 20% of the licenses signed…after it was open for 6 weeks.
VC: How many of the people that licensed their WR NFTs and Apes actually provided a backstory?
Jenkins: There are 3,658 instances of something being filled in on the licensing survey. By and large, there's a birthplace and some of the backstory at least. That cast page is a bit of an MVP (minimum viable product), in featuring user-generated content. You could imagine, not that we're keen on building a whole social platform for avatars, but there are so many ways to bring characters and stories to life that can exist on the periphery of a Hollywood work. And we think of the cast pages as being that. We've got probably a backlog of 20 ideas for improvements that we can make to cast pages going forward where people get to keep adding to them, partner with other people to add to them, connect and create side stories, and little quests and things like that.
And so, if we make a dozen pieces of content over the next two or three years, there could be hundreds more that spin out of them, just because we surface these great ideas that people have. I think that there are two Playboy apes in the book. Straight up, there's a Ape Hefner and a Hugh Apener. Then there's probably another 20… I mean every Ape that wears a robe is like, “I'm a playboy!” And so if we could surface those 20, and connect those people together, and say, look at all this stuff that you all are doing, and figure out a side story with them. The fact that folks contribute like that is incredible. And it's actually why we're here today because when we started writing as Jenkins, what stood out was how many amazing ideas existing community members also had, and they wanted us to help them tell those stories and it would snowball and snowball until we're here today.
Book 1: Minting, Drops, and the “WriteList”
VC: You guys are always in the Discord, interacting, answering questions, saying “gm.” You made the decision recently to hear your community out, and make a change to your previous plan and add a “WriteList” to the WR NFT holders. What led you to ultimately “WriteListing” all holders, as well as including any Apes or Mutants that were licensed to the project and didn’t have a WR NFT?
SAFA: We thought about it quite a bit. People were asking for additional whitelist spots for book owners or for apes who license, and we were able to suss that out and then pivot, and make a quick announcement. You only get that from being ground level, talking to your community every day. We also think that having a potentially larger fraction of the entire mint whitelisted will help in terms of gas wars.
Jenkins: We looked at existing supply that we were already thinking about, and moved some of it to be available first to a set of whitelisted addresses rather than adding more units. We try to be pretty analytical about thinking through quantity and price. We look at what is out there, comps that we think have been successful. Not necessarily only focused on floor, but focused on an NFT that you're proud to own. And because we do that research, we have a great idea of where we want to be.
But we haven't announced quantity and price yet because there are a few other things that we're keeping our eyes on that we want to be sure about. So let’s say we have this rough idea of where we want to take it. And then we've got this obvious demand from the existing community to participate in early access, not only with the free claim, but also to actually have the opportunity to mint before others.
The number one principle for us is that we accrue value back to our community. The next thing we want to do is give folks who can't come in at the current WR NFT secondary price, the opportunity to come into the ecosystem, because that's better for everybody. And then third, we want to try to set a standard in the space that we have equitable drops. It sucks when the only people who get onto the whitelist are the biggest names, and we don't want to participate in the FOMO culture of drops. Although partly, it's sort of unavoidable.
So when we weigh those three things together, the decision to take some supply and move it from the public mint into a community first mint seemed like the right thing to do.
SAFA: And thinking a little bit further down the line, we have some interesting mechanisms for how to avoid gas on the avatar path when you burn a book. I think at this point for Book 1, it's probably going to be somewhat of a traditional drop. We feel that this current method of distribution takes care of our community, which is our top priority, and then also lets people in, in a big way.
Jenkins: Yeah, there's also some innovation that we're interested in on the Solidity side, concerning ways that we can do a drop, but have that drop potentially avoid gas wars. I don't think we're going to try to do that innovation on the book drop, because a lot of that is tied to licensors. And we don't want to mess around with that and risk botching something that has a really huge impact on Writer’s Room members and licensors. So playing it a little more conservatively and going with a more traditional drop, and then innovating on the Solidity side for smaller things that we do in the future, to test out ways that we can do something that's a little more customer friendly, is definitely a priority for us.
VC: You also had your genesis NFT drop you can reflect on and learn from. How was that experience?
Jenkins: Our first drop was exciting for sure. It was also horrible and really stressful. I don't know if you recall, but the website crashed. Half the people who minted were in our Discord “When do the PFPs reveal?” They didn’t know what they were minting. But obviously, a lot of time has passed. I was just reflecting, it's been 10 months since we started writing as Jenkins, so as time goes on, people pivot from being pissed at us to being proud about how that went. And so that's one lesson that we've learned, is that if we stay heads down working for the community every day, even though some people are going to be frustrated after the drop, long term, those people who stick with us will be happy. (Editors note: Yes, they are very happy)
VC: Can you share a little bit with us about Neil’s process, and the WR NFT holder’s access to that process going forward. And then, how you see the process evolving for future projects?
SAFA: Yeah, I think it's interesting because there's not necessarily a hard and fast rule here. I think as we produce more and more content, it’s going to be totally up to the author, and/or producer, and/or director — whatever the creative field is that we're working with. Neal, we've learned throughout the process, is private. And he's very, very meticulous and careful with his work. He will probably be someone who opts to release a working draft that he's really excited about.
That’s opposed to a piecemeal approach, which I think in some instances could be great, because who knows, there could be a lot of opinions on chapter one or chapter two. And that could then affect how the creative approaches the rest of the book. But potentially, in future instances, we'd welcome feedback, sort of bit by bit. So we'll adjust that based on however the author wants to proceed and whatever will yield the best work.
Then as far as ancillary activations, our intention is for Neil to continue to do interviews in the Discord, and continue to flesh out characters.
Additionally on licensing, we had to take a hard and fast approach on editable backstories after the licensing date, because Neil needed to start writing and there's always going to be more edits. If we let one person edit and then another and another, that’s probably untenable, as the characters become very fluid. So we had to draw a line in the sand.
But Jenkins always says that, with the Writer’s Room, not only are you sort of in the writer’s room, but it's almost like you're getting a courtside seat as well. And so we want to continue providing that experience. And we want Neil to be hosting town halls and sharing how he views the creative process and giving people that non-monetary, amazing experience. So we're gonna keep doing that transparently.
He's been head down, writing the book. And we've made the decision as founders that it's probably in the best interest of our business and community to let him continue to do that, so that we can meet all of our other deadlines that everyone's so pumped about.
But we're all ears. We want to make this experience what people want it to be. So we're going to certainly collect feedback around how we can get people more involved, so on and so forth. And there will also be more questions in the portal obviously.
Book 1 Surprises
VC: As a follow-up to our minting discussion, do you plan on having any rarity traits or special editions for the Book 1 covers?
SAFA: At the moment, the plan is for all covers to be the same. However, we're bringing the heat with the cover. We’re in pretty deep conversations with some amazing, really well-known artists. Artists that certainly, people know. We’re really excited about the cover.
And then we're also going to be doing some fun stuff on the audio side as well, where it's not just going to be a static image, but there's going to be some underlying audio as well. And based on how it looks that will also be by someone that people know. I hesitate to say soundtrack, but essentially, the NFT will be rotating on a circular axis while a custom produced beat or track plays behind it.
VC: Wow! Very very cool. If jakethedegen is any indication of the type of art you guys go after, I’m sure it will be fire.
SAFA: Yeah, we love it. We're not an art project specifically, but being able to integrate the best of crypto art and NFT art into what we're doing is super exciting. So much of our community loves collecting art. Our goal is to just stack the deck on this NFT with as many “firsts” as possible. It's the first community-generated novel entirely written by holders. It's the first instance of mass licensing with 4,000 characters featured. And then just kind of continuing to build on that and make it a sought after NFT. Plus, obviously, the utility that comes comes along with it.
NY Times Bestseller in a Web3 World
VC: The topic of becoming a NY Times Bestseller, especially with Neil as the author, seems to be persistent when discussing Book 1 in the community. The Book 1 NFT will surely be a massive seller, but our understanding is the marker is total sales volume. NFTs live in a purposefully supply-constrained ecosystem, while book publishing is all about “more!” How are you thinking about that and the fact you may need to go the traditional publishing route to chase that prestigious honor?
Jenkins: The most important thing, and I think this is really at the crux of it, is what is the role that Web3 plays in mainstream media? And also, what is the role that like the New York Times plays in Web3 media, because in many ways they are in conflict with each other.
Here's how we're talking about it with CAA. We are going to release the book as an NFT first. And that book is going to be a limited release, as in there's never going to be more Book 1 NFTs made. And it may not necessarily be enough Book 1 NFTs to hit the bestseller list. But the other thing that's really important to note is that the New York Times wouldn't even recognize NFT sales as books. To get onto the New York Times bestseller list, you have to sell a certain number of books in a certain period of time, through New York Times approved sellers. And so Amazon, Barnes & Noble, those kinds of sellers. We are working with CAA to basically say, what are the metrics that we need to hit on the NFT sales, to have a ton of leverage to go to traditional publishers, and get them to pick this up? Because it's a little unconventional, to sell a book first and then go try to publish it. But we believe that if we sell out the Book 1 NFT, we'll have enough momentum behind us to go to traditional publishers and get a positive response.
From there, we consider the two tracks separate. You've got the NFT, and all the utility that comes with the NFT. And you can sort of think of it as a first edition book. And then there's probably seven or eight months of publishers doing what publishers do to make these books. Those books wouldn't be NFTs obviously, but maybe there'd be some type of “scan yours to get something commemorative” aspect. Because if it does become a bestseller, it'll be a lot of people's introduction to the NFT space. So it would be fun to do something for them.
And then what we would hope is that all of us, as a community who see upside in this book (especially licensors who would receive 50% of net profits derived from traditional publishing as well), we all go buy this book. In the first week, we go hard. And it's not a lot of books. I think we need to sell roughly 10,000 books to be a New York Times bestseller. And if the first work that this community ever comes to market with ends up being a best selling book, the sky's the limit for future content, and for derivatives of this work. Maybe someone will want to make it a TV series?
And so that's the way we think about balancing scarcity on the NFT side, and also giving ourselves a chance to succeed mainstream with something outside of the space.
SAFA: Jenkins touched on adaptations, and this book potentially getting picked up as a film or TV show. In the same way that our literary agents at CAA are guiding us through metrics and KPIs to put us in the best position with traditional publishers, our animation agent is doing the same thing to help us give this legs to live in other forms outside of the book. Our animation agent at CAA has been behind Bojack Horseman, Rick & Morty, Family Guy — animation at the highest level — so we have our feet on the gas there as a parallel path.
Wow. The scope of this company blows us away. And yet, they’re humble builders who value the community over everything else. They’re in it for all of the right reasons. Talking with them felt like four frens geeking out about their favorite sports team, video game, TV show, or… book. There were times where SAFA would say, “Jenkins I don’t think I’ve told you this yet, but…” and it was like we were flies on the wall in their two-person Writer’s Room. So cool.
We’ll publish part 2 soon with a focus on Azurbala, Azurians, and the DAOs (Character, Media).
Some Disclaimers: None of this is financial advice. DYOR. And yes, SpaceWalk and FilmBook are WR collectors and long-term hodlrs.