Why This Monk-Turned-Entrepreneur Is Betting His NFT Lounge Can Survive the FTX Fallout

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Why This Monk-Turned-Entrepreneur Is Betting His NFT Lounge Can Survive the FTX Fallout
Photo: Rafi Lounge

Set in the foothills of Eastern Malibu across the street from Robert de Niro’s Nobu, the Rafi Lounge, a NFT-powered wellness center and coworking space, somehow looks like both a beachfront country club and a swank monastery. On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island across the ocean. The sign above the entrance says, “Welcome, please allow us to reintroduce you to yourself.”

Pushing through the braided rope entryway and passing a tranquil stone Buddha head waterfall, I arrived just after a yoga class former playboy model-turned “Dancing With the Stars” host Brooke Burke finished. The central open space that usually houses yoga mats or stationary bikes has been cleared off, and the giant projection screen behind the small stage is playing a tranquil plant video – an hour earlier, a larger-than-life Burke was on it helping clients “booty burn.”

The building – which used to belong to a venture capital firm – has been totally transformed to look like nature’s reclaimed it, dotted with lemon trees and cloaked in ornamental faux grass carpeting. Buddha statues are in every corner, some larger than five feet. On the way to one yoga room, there’s a small shop selling pricey essential oils, Rafi Lounge merch, and CBD gummies. On the wall of the shop hang three breathtakingly detailed portraits of indigenous peoples made by the founder with charcoal. There’s some construction ongoing, as they’re converting former corner offices into hot yoga saunas and a spa.

On the day of my visit, the place is bustling with staff who are lugging boxes of Himalayan salt panels to install in the hot yoga room. Israeli-born Kung-Fu master and former monk Rafi Anteby, the founder of the eponymously named space, tells me that after our chat he plans to paint them all black to match the walls. No detail is too small to notice, something evident in his Mandala work.

Rafi Lounge founder, Rafi Anteby, pictured here with his Mandala and sand collections. Photo: Rafi Lounge

The Rafi Lounge opened last year on November 10—the day before crypto exchange FTX went bankrupt. “Everyone said Rafi, go into a shutdown, don’t do it,” Anteby said. “I said I can't, because I pre-sold to members and I promised them [the launch is] what will happen.”

Still, Anteby felt he couldn’t renege on his promise to open the lounge to those who did buy in, so he forged ahead. So, what do NFTs have to do with a wellness center?

Each, according to Anteby, corresponds to a level of access. The least expensive, Unity, is the lowest tier and gives holders access to virtual classes. The second tier, Mindful, encompasses physical and virtual access to the Lounge. And the highest tier selling for $5,500, Awakened, are the ones Rafi is selling individually that act as an all-access pass to the Lounge and its benefits and events (including, Anteby said, “spiritual yacht parties”). Both Mindful and Awakened NFTs are lifetime memberships to Rafi Lounge, and include free access to annual retreats it hosts.

But facing the changing seasons of the crypto market and unwilling to sacrifice his brand by letting the Rafi Lounge tokens be resold to oblivion on public markets, Anteby took the drastic step to control his NFT inventory – buying up the remainder a mere day after the minting.

Anteby admitted he “lost a quarter of a million dollars” between creating and buying the NFTs back. But he said it was worth it: “I'm going to take each because I want to control who's coming to my lounge. I want to know that they will be my advocates as well.”

A view of the Rafi Lounge in the afternoon, before a yoga class. Photo: Rafi Lounge

Currently, there are 100 members, 55 of which are lifetime NFT holders. The 6,000 square-foot rooftop lounge is also open to the public. Which is to say, anyone can buy a 10-day pass for $250, pay the $40 fee for individual classes or come to public events. One of those people is Amie Yaniak who was diagnosed with stage four cancer last May that has since metastasized into her bones.

“I’ve never been anywhere like this. This was the first class I’ve done since the cancer, and it was just so cleansing,” Yaniak says. While she’s not a member, Yaniak told me she was interested in returning for more classes.

In addition to people like Yaniak, Anteby is also curating a more select crowd of well-to-do celebrities that can act as brand ambassadors for the lounge. He said he wants it to be a sort of more laid-back SoHo house, where top minds converge on the Pacific Ocean to make deals and network. Some of the names dropped during my tour of the property included Jamie Foxx (who Anteby calls a good friend), Chris Noth, Gladys Knight, and Equinox co-founder Lavinia Errico, whom I actually briefly met, since she’s a member of the Lounge’s advisory board.

The lounge's entryway and check-in. Photo: Samson Amore

As Tame Impala wafts from the lounge’s speakers, Anteby tells me stories of getting Taoist monks drunk at karaoke bars and studying medical qigong and tai chi in China. Anteby hung the intricate mandalas on the walls of a yoga room and he says they take around two years to complete as he carefully places individual grains of sand and uses tree sap to preserve their form. The mandalas are meant to be a contemplation of man’s relationship with nature, which is partly why Anteby designed the NFT versions of them to resemble a sort of elemental fusion that combines water, fire and earth.

Owning an NFT also corresponds to owning a fraction of the Malibu Mandala Rafi made that hangs in the lounge.

Anteby, right, speaks with a partner at his lounge in Malibu.Photo: Samson Amore

While Anteby admits the launch hasn’t netted him any profits yet and said he’s out around $1 million launching the place, he’s determined to turn the Rafi Lounge into a franchise and has plans to open future locations in other cities big into tech and wellness like Miami, Scottsdale, Ariz., Newport Beach, and Austin.

Besides the obvious cases like Yaniak’s, Anteby said he thinks the larger tech community needs a breather. “They all have digital burnout,” he said. “It's more than just me helping you to breathe. You need to take care of yourself, and here people do that all the time.”


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How Token and Tixr Plan To Take on Ticketmaster in L.A.
Evan Xie

When Taylor Swift announced her ‘Eras’ tour back in November, all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Swifties — many of whom were verified for the presale — were disappointed when Ticketmaster failed to secure them tickets, or even allow them to peruse ticketing options.

But the Taylor Swift fiasco is just one of the latest in a long line of complaints against the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster has dominated the event and concert space since its merger with Live Nation in 2010 with very few challengers — until now.

Adam Jones, founder and CEO of Token, a fan-first commerce platform for events, said he has the platform and the tech ready to take it on. With Token, Jones is creating a system where there are no queues. In other words, fans know immediately which events are sold out and where.

“We come in very fortunate to have a modern, scalable tech stack that's not going to have all these outages or things being down,” Jones said. “That's step one. The other thing is we’re being aggressively transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So with the Taylor Swift thing…you would know in real time if you actually have a chance of getting the tickets.”

Here’s how it works: Users register for Token’s app and then purchase tickets to either an in-person event, or an event in the metaverse through Animal Concerts. The purchased ticket automatically shows up in the form of a mintable NFT, which can then be used toward merchandise purchases, other ticketed events or, Adams’s hope for the future — external rewards like airline travel. The more active a user is on the site, the more valuable their NFT becomes.

Ticketmaster has dominated the music industry for so long because of its association with big name artists. To compete, Token is working on gaining access to their own slew of popular artists. They recently entered into a partnership with Animal Concerts, a live and non-live event experiences platform that houses artists like Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Robin Thicke.

“You'll see they do all the metaverse side of the house,” Jones said. “And we're going to be the [real-life] web3 sides of the house.”

In addition, Token prides itself on working with the artists selling on their platform to set up the best system for their fanbase, devoid of hefty prices and additional fees — something Ticketmaster users have often complained about. Jones believes where Ticketmaster fails, Token thrives. The app incentivizes users to share more data about their interests, venues and artists by operating on a kind of points system in the form of mintable NFTs.

“We can actually take the dataset and say there’s 100 million people in the globe that love Taylor Swift, so imagine she’s going on tour and we ask [the user], ‘Would you go to see her in Detroit?’ And imagine this place has 30,000 seats, but 100,000 people clicked ‘yes,’” he explained. “So you can actually inform the user before anything even happens, right? About what their options are and where to get it.”

Tixr, a Santa-Monica based ticketing app, was founded on the idea that modern ticketing platforms were “living in the legacy of the past.” They plan to attract users by offering them exclusive access to ticketed events that aren’t in Ticketmaster’s registry.

“It melts commerce that's beyond ticketing…to allow fans to experience and purchase things that don't necessarily have to do with tickets,” said Tixr CEO and Founder Robert Davari. “So merchandise, and experiences, and hospitality and stuff like that are all elegantly melded into this one, content driven interface.”

Tixr sells tickets to exclusive concerts like a Tyga performance at a night club in Arizona, general in-person festivals like ComplexCon, and partners with local vendors like The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to sell tickets to the races. Plus, Davari said it’s equipped to handle high-demand, so customers aren’t spending hours waiting in digital queues.

Like Token, Tixr has also found success with a rewards program — in the form of fan marketing.

“There's nothing more powerful in the core of any event, brand, any live entertainment, [than] the community behind it,” Davari said. “So we build technology to empower those fans and to reward them for bringing their friends and spreading the word.”

Basically, if a user gets a friend to purchase tickets to an event, then the original user gets rewarded in the form of discounts or upgrades.

Coupled with their platforms’ ability to handle high-demand events, both Jones and Davari believe their platforms have what it takes to take on Ticketmaster. Expansion into the metaverse, they think, will also help even the playing field.

“So imagine you can't go to Taylor Swift,” Jones said. “What if you could purchase an exclusive to actually go to that exact same show over the metaverse? An artist’s whole world can expand past the stage itself.”

With the way ticketing for events works now, obviously not everyone always gets the exact price, venue or date they want. There are “winners and losers.” Jones’s hope is that by expanding beyond in-person events, there can be more winners.

“If there’s 100,000 people who want to go to one show and there's 37,000 seats, 70,000 are out,” he said. “You can't fight that. But what we can do is start to give them other opportunities to do things in a different way and actually still participate.”

Jones and Davari both teased that their platforms have some exciting developments in the works, but for now both Token and Tixr are set on making their own space within the industry.

“We simply want to advance this industry and make it more efficient and more pleasurable for fans to buy,” Davari said. “That's it.”