Metaverse growing pains and opportunities.

From Joe’s Desk: MetaSaaS and Music’s Future In the Metaverse II

Metaverse growing pains and opportunities.

Last time, I shared my reactions to the recent metaverse hoopla and my hopes for the future of the medium after finishing Sarah Pinsker’s A Song for a New Day and watching Justin Bieber’s #BieberWAVE virtual concert in quick succession. I hope you did your homework and checked out both. Before I dig in (in this article the ones following) I want to be clear about the scope of this discussion.

First off, there are a couple of things about A Song for a New Day that makes it so relevant, which is why I’ll keep referring back to it.

  • For one, the characters are living in a post-pandemic world, with some widespread terrorism added as a complicating factor. I was struck by how closely Pinsker’s world matches our current circumstances, right down to the talk about finding “a new normal,” which has been a guiding principle in my investments since the beginning of this thing. Had I read the book when it was first published in 2019, I might not have been convinced that elaborate virtual worlds could go mainstream this decade, but two years of nonstop Zoom meetings and event cancellations have given me a different perspective.
  • Also, despite the book’s ode to traditional live music and critique of the mainstream entertainment industry, I couldn’t help wondering if Pinsker has also been a VC in a past life. The pain points she lays out echo the exact same doubts I have about the feasibility of every metaverse-related project I’ve been pitched or have read about in the media. In the chapter “Little Boxes,” for example, Pinsker describes in vivid detail the kinds of technical and human-generated obstacles that startup founders gloss over in pitch decks, to the frustration of VCs everywhere.

These two points considered, as a VC myself who’s fascinated by how technology expands and shapes what we consider entertainment, I want to add that I’m more optimistic than Pinsker about the promise of metaverse entertainment — while still acknowledging the potential downsides. And I believe that we in venture capital have both the resources and responsibility to anticipate these downsides and invest accordingly. Luckily, the “metaverse” most people are envisioning is still a long way off, at least for mainstream audiences, which means there’s still time to build it thoughtfully.

Secondly, while we’re on the subject of the long-term future, I will refrain from getting into the inevitable revolution in consumer wearables that’ll transport us to the futuristic, fully immersive metaverse of science fiction.

“Immersive hardware has got to become as affordable, comfortable, and multifunctional as mobile phones while also providing a 1000 percent better experience — along the lines of the Hoodie™ Pinsker describes in A Song for a New Day.“ - Joseph Huang.

While we wait for hardware breakthroughs, the nascent metaverse is still going to be experienced by casual users through the devices we’ve already got, namely: phones, tablets, and desktops.

Then again, judging by the fact that Oculus rocketed to number one in the app stores for both iOS and Android over Christmas and how VR developers were celebrating spikes as well, consumers are finally starting to believe VR headsets are viable alternatives to consoles like the Xbox Series X or the PS5. Yet another example of how COVID-19 and its supply chain disruptions are changing our habits in unexpected ways.

M & M (the conglomerates, not the candy) have made their priorities clear. I’m also not gonna focus on the “enterprise metaverse” technology that Microsoft and the Corporation Formerly Known as Facebook want to bring to your office. Let them duke it out for huge clients whose employees will still gripe about how the latest metaverse meeting could have been an email. As an early stage investor, I’m much more interested in the layer of purpose-built metaverse software tools that the heavyweights will neglect to build, leaving huge niches like entertainment open for forward-thinking startups.

But while many VCs like me are old enough to remember the internet before modern SaaS, a lot of enthusiastic entrepreneurs out there are younger than the World Wide Web itself (which turned 30 just before the pandemic, by the way). That means that the folks who’re really going to shape our virtual future may not have suffered through all the annoying growing pains (and therefore opportunities) that come with a technological shift like the one before us. So let’s take a step back to a time before social media, before smartphones, and even before Wi-Fi…

…Okay, so not quite all the way back to 1912, but back to the early days of the web, before WYSIWYG page builders and payment gateways went mainstream. Anyone trying to build a reputation on the Internet (as it was known before we all got tired of capitalizing the “I”) mostly had to outsource their web presences. If you had neither the budget to hire a webmaster nor the bandwidth to build your own tech expertise, you got left out until good DIY tools came along. Heck, even Blogger and LiveJournal didn’t start until 1999, so it was hard to build online audiences if you weren’t active on listservs or IRC. And if you did have a mid-90s web presence, you couldn’t exactly do SEO because there weren’t really any SEs to O yet. (You could eventually, however, submit your link to “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web.”)

Here in 2022, as long as you’ve got something special to offer (be it a music album, podcast, novel, physical good, or service) you don’t need to know even a lick of HTML to have a robust brand online. Build a Squarespace website as your home base. Design your cover art and online ads with Canva. Amass a paying audience for your ongoing work via Patreon, sell your finished work on platforms like Pinkoi or Steam, pre-sell your new release on Kickstarter, or get revenue from ads on your YouTube vids, and do it all without even leaving the house.

Of course, you need a device with a stable internet connection, some starting capital, and a lot of time and patience, and not everyone has all of these things. However, for those who do, the technical barriers to reaching an audience for your work have largely been toppled. You still have to have talent at whatever it is you do or make, but you don’t have to be (or hire) a full stack developer AND a full stack marketer just to be able to compete.

It's happening again.

It's happening again.

Hopefully, the parallels between the 1990s and the 2020s are becoming clearer here, and entrepreneurs who are pumped up about the possibilities of the metaverse are starting to take a step back and look at the landscape. While others are still busy figuring out better ways to mint NFTs or transposing existing websites and apps into VR without adding much value, what can you be building that really matters? What MetaSaaS tools can you build for musicians, educators, influencers, or SMEs so they won’t need a small fortune or an engineering team to be part of metaverse culture as it matures?

There are countless avenues to explore in MetaSaaS, which is what I’ll do next time, continuing with live music as an example framework. See you soon for Part 3.

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