Meet Project Venkman: The Austin Startup Behind Bill Murray’s NFT Collection
Sure the latest initiatives from the Teslas, Apples and Googles of the industry tend to dominate the tech news space — and with good reason. Still, the tech titans aren’t the only ones bringing innovation to the sector.
In an effort to highlight up-and-coming startups, Built In has launched The Future 5 across 11 major U.S. tech hubs. Each quarter, we will feature five tech startups, nonprofits or entrepreneurs in each of these hubs who just might be working on the next big thing. You can check out last quarter’s Austin round-up here.
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On Friday, Bill Murray will drop the final installment of his non-fungible token (NFT) collection, which pairs colorful portraits of himself with stories, anecdotes and other musings from the legendary comedian.
The Saturday Night Live alum is known for his versatility, ranging from a reclusive groundskeeper in Caddyshack to an eccentric oceanographer in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. His more dramatic role in Lost In Translation won him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.
Still, though, the choppy waters of the NFT world seem to be an odd fit for a man who can only be contacted through voicemail for a 1-800 number. So, how exactly did the star of Groundhog Day get involved in the NFT world?
The story starts with theChive, a viral humor website that launched back in 2008 and sold, among other things, T-shirts with Murray’s face on them. When Murray learned of the T-shirts, he asked that the licensing money they owed him be donated to his charity golf tournament.
Murray’s partnership with Austin-based Chive Media Group has evolved into a number of ventures throughout the years, including a golf apparel line called William Murray Golf.
To bring Murray’s fan base into the NFT world, Chive partnered with Gavin Gillas, who has been speaking about blockchain technology at major conferences for at least five years.
Gillas is a former IP attorney who first entered the Austin tech world a decade ago when he launched The Magazine Channel, which converted PDFs of print magazines into digital products. He went on to launch Giving Docs, an estate-planning platform that allows people to make a donation through their will.
The Chive Media Group team worked with Gillas and Giving Docs as part of their nonprofit Chive Charity division, which provides wheelchair-accessible vans, home modifications and medical equipment to military families, first responders and individuals with rare medical diagnoses.
Using his IP legal background and his interest in blockchain technology, Gillas launched a NFT startup with Chive Media Group and Murray as his first clients. The startup is named Project Venkman, a nod to Peter Venkman, the character Murray plays in the Ghostbusters movie franchise.
In addition to Gillas, the company’s CEO, Project Venkman’s co-founders include John and Leo Resig, the co-founders of Chive Media Group, as well as Chive executives Mike Grisko and Alen Durbuzovic.
“We were initially going to be an internal Chive project, but we decided to spin it out independently,” Gillas said.
Bill Murray on the Blockchain
This past summer, Project Venkman launched 100 NFTs of the Bill Murray 1000 Collection, which features stories, thoughts and observations from the legendary comedian. The stories are paired with various renditions of a portrait of Murray wearing a suit, bow tie and 3D movie glasses.
“This is a way for him to write a biography without doing a traditional biography,” Gillas said. “He told us that he doesn’t want to do a biography, that he still has stories to tell.”
The Chive Media Group and Project Venkman claim this is the first-ever biography on the blockchain.
Murray is the subject of many legendary stories, like crashing a kickball game in New York, photo-bombing a wedding shoot in South Carolina and washing the dishes at a Scottish house party. These are just a few of the stories chronicled in a 2018 documentary, The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man.
“When we asked him about [the documentary], he said there are better stories out there,” Gillas said. “The NFT collection has some of those better stories, like what he whispered to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation, how Hunter S. Thompson saved his life or the time he met JFK.”
The first 100 NFTs of the collection sold for $1,500 a piece, but each of those NFTs is now worth over $20,000, Gillas said. Project Venkman will drop another 700 NFTs on Friday, which Gillas said may catapult the collection from the top 100 NFTs to the top 10. Another 200 NFTs are being reserved for special offerings.
Building Brand Loyalty With NFTs
In addition to its work with Murray and Chive Media Group, Project Venkman also powers memberships and NFT programs for other celebrities and brands. Without giving away names, Gillas said his clients include major retailers, an airline and a large coffee company.
Gillas said his 10-person team helps these brands think beyond outdated loyalty points to create unique experiences and digital assets that have real value in the NFT market.
“Our technology focus is bridging the traditional enterprise technology or traditional consumer software with this Web3 component in a way that you don’t have to download a wallet, send in a picture of your face and verify your bank account just to sign up for a program,” he said.
Gillas said Project Venkman helps brands not only have a presence in the Web3 space, but it also gives brands’ customers the sense of ownership and loyalty that NFT users feel when an asset’s value rises or falls based on the collective efforts of the community.
“We have this whole new generation of consumers learning about … digital assets and owning things in games, but they don’t feel like they own things when they interact with their brands. They feel very much like a customer,” Gillas said. “The transition we’re trying to help brands with is to help their community, their customers, feel much more like owners.”
The options for brands to reward customers for their loyalty can take a variety shapes. While the public perception of NFTs is often limited to art, Project Venkman has been working with clients to offer loyalty points that can be used to get discounts, gain access to special member events or get early access to exclusive products.
“It gets people a lot more hyped up about their brand experience when, for example, their favorite shoe company has a new release and you have to have the NFT to get access to it,” Gillas said. “There’s this whole flurry of activity before a new drop of people trading into the right NFT or selling theirs off or buying into the collection in order to gain access to that special perk.”
With Project Venkman, brands and celebrities can also view the performance of their NFTs on a dashboard that shows the number of transactions, secondary sales and other information.
“Being able to advise on both the technology fundamentals as well as the intellectual property helps make these (NFT) things that we can believe in for five to 10 years,” Gillas said. “These are permanent assets, not just a quick flash because it’s trendy to do or because the marketing team has a budget for something metaverse.”