GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota

Bezos, Branson and the Billionaire Space Race: What to Watch When Amazon’s Founder Blasts Off

Todd Bishop, GeekWire
Todd Bishop is GeekWire's co-founder and editor, a longtime technology journalist who covers subjects including cloud tech, e-commerce, virtual reality, devices, apps and tech giants such as Amazon.com, Apple, Microsoft and Google. Follow him @toddbishop, email todd@geekwire.com, or call (206) 294-6255.
Sir Richard Branson added new fuel to the billionaire space race July 11 when he and his Virgin Galactic crewmates floated in suborbital space.

"To all you kids down there, I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars," Branson said before unbuckling. "Now, I'm an adult in a spaceship with lots of other wonderful adults, looking down to a beautiful, beautiful Earth. For the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do."

Can Jeff Bezos top that? We'll soon find out. Amazon's founder is set to go even higher as a passenger July 20 on the first crewed flight for his space venture Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket.

On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued its formal approval for New Shepard's launch, which will carry Bezos and three crewmates.

On this special episode of the GeekWire Podcast: the dawn of a new era in space tourism, what to watch when the Amazon founder blasts off next week, and what's next for commercial space exploration.

Joining us is longtime space journalist Alan Boyle, GeekWire contributing editor, who has covered Bezos' space ambitions for years.

Listen above, subscribe to GeekWire in any podcast app, and continue reading for edited highlights from Alan's commentary.

What this launch means for Bezos and Blue Origin: I think that there's a little bit of redemption here, because Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos have been working on this and other projects for a long time. And it's a little bit elusive to see the payoff from all that.

He's working on an orbital class rocket called New Glenn, which has been delayed. Blue Origin competed in a couple of high profile competitions for government contracts from NASA or the US Space Force, and they lost out on those.

So New Shepard is really going to be a signal success, and probably the highest success that Blue Origin has encountered in its more than 20 years of existence. If it works as Jeff Bezos hopes it will … then it is a sign that Blue Origin has actually achieved something having to do with human space flight, high-profile space flight. And if they can turn this into more successes, then Jeff Bezos' vision has a much better chance of coming to fruition.

The personal risk to Bezos: There is a risk of death. That's always the case when you have something that's as explosive as a rocket ship that you're dealing with. It was risky for Richard Branson also, even though that rocket plane has been tested. There are three people who lost their lives in the ground test, and one test pilot died in the course of testing SpaceShipTwo. So it is risky.

Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft has an escape system if something goes wrong. During the ascent of the rocket, there is a solid rocket motor that is supposed to light up, and push the passengers to safety, in case an emergency occurs. But it's still rocket science, and there are things that can go wrong. Especially with this flight, I think there's a lot more attention to it, because this is the first one to fly with people on it.

What this month means for space tourism: I think it's a turning point. For a long time, I had talked about the two-year rule in private commercial space flight, that the era when regular folks fly in space always seems to be two years away. But now it's less than two weeks away, perhaps. So I think that's a big deal. It's a big deal for the business of space flight.

Strangely enough, I am feeling like this is just becoming a business, and for people who are well-versed in science fiction and all that, and love Star Wars and Star Trek, maybe it loses a little bit of an appeal, because now, it's just a business, and the filthy lucre is entering into the picture.

I'm of two minds about that. I'm kind of sad that it's no longer science fiction, strangely enough. But I guess the day that we all had been thinking was coming some day down the road is really approaching its dates on the calendar.

This article originally appeared on GeekWire

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Cadence

NFT Startup Unblocked Raises New Funding, Teases Collectibles Beyond Music

Harri Weber

Do you know something we should know about L.A. tech or venture capital? Reach out securely via Signal: +1 917 434 4978.

Harri is dot.LA's senior finance reporter. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Fast Company, VentureBeat and Flipboard. Find her on Twitter and send tips on L.A. startups and venture capital to harrison@dot.la.

Courtesy of Unblocked

Backed by venture giant Tiger Global, Jay Z’s Marcy Venture Partners and pop star Shawn Mendez, NFT startup Unblocked could soon move into ventures beyond music after closing on a $10 million seed funding round.

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How LA Beverage Startups Are Using NFTs to Build Their Brands

Perrin Davidson
Perrin Davidson is the publisher of⁣ LAeats, an L.A.-based food community covering the food industry, food entertainment and food tech.
Image courtesy of Bored Breakfast Club

While you can’t drink an NFT, that isn’t stopping some beverage startups from looking to capitalize on the blockchain-enabled craze.

Non-fungible tokens have gained traction in the art world, where artists and creators are using the digital assets to create closer connections with fans and collectors.

The idea of building a creative community around a product is not unfamiliar to beverage brands. After all, generations of beverage aficionados gave us the concept of the bar, the tea house and the coffee joint.

As brands increasingly take to the digital world to increase their exposure, many beverage companies are now experimenting with NFT technology to build interest around their products. Budweiser, for instance, recently signed a deal to mint collectible tokens, as have Bacardi, Fountain Hard Seltzer and the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Three new L.A.-based beverage brands–Bored Breakfast Club, Yerb and Leisure Project–are also using the blockchain to build their companies and engage with customers in different ways. Each is using NFTs to kickstart their direct-to-consumer businesses and build interest in their brands.

The goal is to use the transparency and equity inherent in blockchain technology to attract early adopters—giving them an opportunity to test ideas and products before they’re finalized—and encourage them to invest in a community built around their drinks.

Time will tell if each brand can deliver on that promise.

Bored Breakfast Club Bored Breakfast Club's NFT tokens feature the Bored Ape characters and serve as a subscription membership.

Bored Breakfast Club

One L.A.-based effort, Bored Breakfast Club, has looked to leverage the popularity of Bored Ape collectible NFTs to help jump start a new coffee subscription service.

Frogtown-based marketing agency Kley is leading the effort to use Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) and Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) intellectual property to build direct-to-consumer coffee subscription memberships that are sold as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. The tokens themselves feature a breakfast scene that include BAYC and MAYC characters, and each functions as a coffee subscription membership.

BAYC and MAYC are considered two of the most popular and expensive NFT collections, according to OpenSea, a secondary NFT marketplace that also tracks their value. BYAC NFTs are valued at approximately 74.69 ETH ($244,041) on the platform.

Kley co-founder Brad Klemmer said the idea was to parlay the success of the Bored Apes brand into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Owners of the NFTs get two free coffee shipments and the possibility of more, if the project is a success.

Klemmer said the idea is to build a regular clientele for his coffee brand by shipping it directly to consumers, rather than relying on them to go to a coffee shop or grocery store. “You need a brand and community that puts their product on [consumers’] doorstep on a weekly basis,” he said.

Bored Breakfast Club launched the project on Jan. 10, offering 5,000 NFTs for .08 ETH (approx. $250) each, and promising token holders they would receive a 12-ounce bag of a different variety of coffee for each of two NFT sales thresholds the company surpassed. The NFTs have since sold out, meaning that the project will ship two bags of coffee to each token holder by the end of the month. The company has also created a “community coffee wallet” that could entitle token holders to still more coffee.

Bored Breakfast Club A graphic explains Bored Breakfast Club's "wallet" concept.

That’s because the “wallet“ collects funds from a 5% royalty on its NFTs that are bought and sold on the secondary market. Once it collects enough funds, the company will send additional blends to its 5,000 token holders. (Klemmer said they’re waiting to get data from their initial shipments to determine how much it will cost to ship additional bags). That communal “wallet“ will also pay to produce extra bags of coffee and Bored Breakfast Club merchandise to sell to non-NFT holders.

Klemmer said he sees the NFT offerings as a “fun way to buy coffee.” Also, there were “similarities around NFT communities engaging with each other and what the DTC subscription model is trying to be.”

Bored Breakfast Club works with Yes Plz Coffee, which sources, roasts, packages and delivers the coffee to NFT holders.

Yerb yerba mate drink

Yerb

Yerb was born out of entrepreneur Brett Fink's habit of drinking yerba mate with friends, many of them creatives who were looking for a coffee alternative. The traditional South American drink is said to provide a calmer caffeine-imbibing experience than coffee.

Like Bored Breakfast Club, Fink is hoping to use NFTs to drum up interest in his business early on. But instead of relying on the popularity of a particular NFT brand, Fink sees an opportunity to use the blockchain to heighten awareness of his own brand and, hopefully, develop buy-in for its first product.

Fink, who has past experience building and growing consumer-packaged good (CPG) brands, including cannabis brands, thinks NFTs can help build a creative community around a product.

“If you believe what we believe, and want to create a product for the creative process, you can benefit from it, as there is a massive untapped opportunity in NFT and CPG projects,” Fink said. “You need to get people to believe what you believe, then have them be involved and take ownership of that product.”

Yerb’s first yerba mate drink will be bottled in 12-ounce cans but sold through NFTs that cost 0.039 ETH (approx. $77 USD). The company started offering the tokens in February of last year; each entitles the holder to six cans of Yerb’s first release, as well as an additional six-pack of cans every year that they hold the NFT. Yerb is hoping that the offer will help it identify early adopters who will buy-in to the brand as repeat customers.

Non-NFT holders will be able to purchase the drinks once token holders receive the first shipment. Yerb is targeting April 2022 for that release after hitting supply chain issues last year.

Leisure Project

Leisure Project

Venice-based Leisure Project is taking a similar approach to Yerb by targeting creatives with an emphasis on community development.

The startup, which bills itself as “the world’s first co-created beverage brand,” hopes to market a kind of natural Gatorade for entrepreneurs, creators and innovators.

Leisure Project was started by former NCAA Division I athletes and brothers Steve Michaelsen, who works at Nike LA, and Alex Michaelsen, who works at TikTok marketing agency GO Ventures in Beverly Hills. The brothers, who have been bootstrapping the project themselves, have spent almost two years creating the brand’s first three flavors.

In December, the Michaelsens announced plans to experiment with minting NFTs that would provide token holders with the first run of their beverages, cheaper pricing on additional flavors and the opportunity to pitch new products. Leisure Project has been sampling its drinks at local NFT events to drum up publicity.

Down the line, the company hopes to use the blockchain to give token holders access to a yet-to-be-defined “creator database” of potential partners and grants.

Leisure Project is in its early stages, but its founders hope establishing buy-in through NFTs and social platforms like Discord will help build an authentic community for their brand, and give them a potentially vital advantage over more-established competitors. “Big brands can’t go backwards and do something community-orientated after the fact,” Steve Michaelson said.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said Bored Breakfast Club would ship four bags of coffee to early NFT holders as sales thresholds were met. The company has since changed that number to two.

Office Hours: JibJab CEO Paul Hanges on Creating Viral Joy

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 75 companies and is incubating several more.

Image courtesy of JibJab

Even if people don't know the brand by name, JibJab CEO Paul Hanges is happy to see the company's greeting cards resonate and its mission to make people laugh continue to thrive.

On this episode of Office Hours, Hanges talks about JibJab, a pioneer of internet comedy that has evolved into a subscription platform for exchanging ecards, as well as a studio that produces video shorts and commercials for clients including Sony, Nickelodeon, PBS Kids, NBC in Disney. JibJab was acquired by Catapult Capital in 2019.

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