When we launched Bonsai in January 2021, everything was different - our core mission was to democratize career success, and our first product was a 1:1 video chat platform for professional networking and advice. We partnered with companies like Google and CD Baby to provide fresh entrepreneurs, emerging musicians, and everyone in between with advice and connections necessary to make career progress, and a few months later, we closed a $3m Seed round, led by our friends at Activate Venture Partners.
While initial growth was slow-going, in December 2021, we noticed unexpected spikes in usage - creators began using Bonsai to interact with their fans. As a resilient and determined team hungry for answers, we got to work, interviewing dozens of creators, to uncover why, exactly, this was happening. And thanks to this research, a clear picture rose to the surface - creators were coming to Bonsai to do three things:
build and engage community in an authentic and intimate way
earn money in a direct-to-consumer fashion
make fans happy through fun experiences that inspire creative expression
As we hit this inflection point in our journey, we became more and more inspired to build a product and company centered around empowering creators to unlock value from new forms of fan engagement, and in order to succeed, we knew that we had to:
pick a lane and serve a specific type of creator, because, “you can’t be everything to everybody”
invent our “purple cow” - the thing that was going to separate us from the pack, push the envelope of innovation, and, most importantly, deliver undeniably real value to users
After meeting hundreds of creators in a compressed 3-month-timeline, we decided to double down on, specifically, supporting the careers and communities of recording artists and musicians. This decision felt natural for a few reasons:
In the era of streaming, recording artists are consistently getting the short end of the stick, earning as little as $0.0033 per stream across platforms.
We have an unfair competitive advantage in the music industry, given my co-founder, Patrick Sullivan, and his experience founding two music tech companies, RightsFlow (acquired by YouTube) and Source3 (acquired by Facebook), which have generated billions of dollars for recording artists.
The music industry, holistically, embraces innovation, like NFTs, in exciting and entrepreneurial ways.
If you walk into my NYC apartment, you will see a Tyler, the Creator vinyl on my shelf. If you walk into my dentist’s office, you will see a framed degree from the University of Pennsylvania on his wall. At Bonsai, we envision a future where we are able to represent ourselves - online - via showcasing the objects that we own - online.
The extra cool aspect of this future is that these digital objects will be verifiable and securely linked to our individual online identities because they are… yes, NFTs. The primary value driver associated with owning these NFTs will not be flipping them for profit, nor will it be opining on the complexities of the underlying technology. We, as average internet users, will own these digital objects and collectibles because they will help us communicate and showcase who we are and what we, as individuals, identify with and stand for… just like that physical vinyl record in my apartment does. And at some point in the near future, these objects may not even be referred to as, “NFTs”.
Over the last two years, our team grew both excited about the future of web3 and NFTs and, simultaneously, frustrated by the “get rich quick” reputation that the ecosystem was developing. And as we became more and more interested in making a mark on the space by proving that NFTs represent much more than speculative investments in JPEGs, we spent sleepless nights, tense debates, and gratifying “aha” moments, navigating the intersection of:
our excitement for web3
empowering creators to identify, engage with, and monetize their super fans
leveraging exciting new technology to unlock ownership, giving consumers new ways to express their tribes, values, and fandom
the reasons creators started using Bonsai in the first place
building and engaging community in an authentic and intimate way
earning money in a direct-to-consumer fashion
making fans happy through fun experiences that inspire creative expression
And at that intersection, we found the answers we were looking for…
We are thrilled to reveal the (re)birth of Bonsai, and at the center of it all is our brand new AMA feature that is launching today, in partnership with a cohort of talented, innovative, and inspiring recording artists.
How it works:
Ask your favorite artist a question
Want to know what life event inspired your favorite song? Or how the pandemic changed their creative processes? Pay the artist’s price and ask away.
Get an audiogram answer
An audiogram pairs an artist’s audio answer with generative one-of-one video art. It’s like digital merch anyone can view and share.
Support and collect
Opt to mint your audiogram collectible as an NFT, which could unlock income for both you and the artist if you sell it in the future.
The opportunity for Bonsai artists to earn additional income via royalties from secondary sales is one of the exciting results of us, as a platform, facilitating the creation of fan-and-artist-generated-NFTs because it leads us closer to the holy grail - helping artists earn money and gain momentum “while they sleep”.
We are thrilled to share that, at this point in our journey, 25 artists have joined our beta cohort to cook up magic together, and we are honored to work with the likes of:
Every feature launch over the next several months will center around the mission of turning fans into supporters by facilitating fan and artist collaborations. We strive to:
turn cultural moments into collectibles used to display and communicate tribes, values, and fandom
become a poster child for “patronage+”, empowering fans to share in the upside of an artist’s growth
leverage artist-centric collectibles as an onramp for the next wave of web3 participants
Annual global revenues across the music industry are projected to grow to $53.2bn by 2030, and in 2021, the recorded-music business in the US, alone, posted a near-record $15bn in revenue. Additionally, in 2021, the resurgence in vinyl records continued for the 15th consecutive year, as revenues grew 61% to $1bn, and, as our friend and Disc Makers CEO, Tony van Veen, said to us earlier this summer, Bonsai is “creating the digital version of a vinyl”.
Artists and their teams are hungry for new revenue streams, and the big dogs such as Spotify, Roblox, Epic Games, and Meta, are feeding that hunger with new experiments. Spotify has partnered with Roblox to create “metaverse concerts”, looking to capitalize on the same consumer behavior that unlocked the opportunity for Travis Scott and Fortnite to gross $20m selling digital concert tickets and merchandise, while Meta now lets users in the US showcase their NFTs directly on Instagram profiles.
Regardless of whether or not we are in a bull or a bear market, at Bonsai, we remain excited to bet big on the future of digital collectibles and NFTs. Over the summer, Sarah Travel published an awesome post, titled, “Long Live Web3!”, in which she suggests that “a focus on the consumer, not speculator” will help web3 “graduate from the crypto-native sphere into the bigger world”... and we could not agree more!
If you were to construct a Venn diagram, with one circle representing all of the Frank Ocean fans in the world, and the other circle representing all of the crypto-native people in the world, the overlapping section would be tiny. To that end, we are building Bonsai by unapologetically putting the consumer - artists and fans - first, focusing on serving the large circle representing all of Frank’s fans rather than the sliver of fans that compose the middle section of our Venn diagram.
As a fan on Bonsai, you can ask questions and play and share audiograms, all without a crypto wallet, and as an artist on Bonsai, you can answer questions and get paid for the audiograms you create, all without a crypto wallet. The most profound technologies are those that seem to disappear, and we are proud to be removing a lot of the friction typically tied to transacting with NFTs so that we can ultimately keep user values - intimacy, connectivity, and support - front and center.
The people that make up Bonsai are the most empathetic and resilient individuals that I have ever had the honor of working alongside. None of this would be possible without our shared commitment to helping artists engage fans and unlock support so they can focus on doing what they love - making art.
If you are an artist, a huge music fan, or have questions related to partnerships or press, let’s talk! I can be reached at jake [at] joinbonsai [dot] co. You can also follow us @joinbonsai to keep a pulse on updates and fun content that our artists and fans are creating - let’s go!
Jake Rosenfeld, Co-founder