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Creating Killer Whales and bringing web3 to masses: a conversation with Hello Labs CEO Sander Görtjes

Interviews
Creating Killer Whales and bringing web3 to masses: a conversation with Hello Labs CEO Sander Görtjes

The article has been updated for clarity Feb. 12, 11:54 am (UTC).

You’ve likely heard about the business reality television show called Shark Tank, where aspiring entrepreneurs and founders from around the globe pitch their ideas to investors in the hopes of securing funding.

It features names like Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary and has disbursed millions in deals over 15 seasons. Crypto just got its version of Shark Tank, sort of.

Enter Killer Whales. Produced by Hello Labs and boasting a roster of leaders and influencers from the crypto industry, the web3 series showcases crypto and NFT entrepreneurs and the stories behind their concepts.

Hello Labs focuses on building intellectual properties (IPs) with the hope of demystifying web3 and exposing crypto to the masses. The firm’s native token HELLO runs atop the Ethereum and BNB Chain networks.

Sander Görtjes, Hello Labs CEO, told crypto.news about how the web3 startup founded by Paul Caslin, a Grammy-nominated MTV VMA’s creative director, started with a self-funded blockchain game called Doge Dash back in 2021.

The company also launched its HELLO token, which gives holders an in-game currency and utility with Hello Labs NFTs. Also, the token would eventually become a key part of the Hello TV streaming platform.

As crypto garnered mainstream adoption and attention, narratives formed around protocols promising to onboard the next hundreds of millions of users. But a question remained: who is actually going to build the entertainment IP to bring these people in?

Cushioned by individual backgrounds in television production, music awards, marketing, software, and business development, to name a few, Hello Labs set out to simplify crypto and web3 using entertainment.

Naga Avan-Nomayo: How did the idea of Killer Whales come to light? 

Sander Görtjes: We said, let’s go back to the basics, and let’s build a television show that highlights the best projects in the space, projects that are actually building, that can pitch their idea in front of a group of KOLs, and get opinionated feedback so they get a sink or swim. That was the general idea.

NAN: Was there more to it than just the entertainment? Or perhaps there was a problem that Killer Whales was trying to solve? 

SG: The Killer Whales give an honest opinion, but we eliminate the entire aspect of investing. The show is a real-life entertainment show with founders from across the globe showing their technology, ideas, and traction to the whales. Because Killer Whales focuses on founders and their stories, we quickly decided no investments were needed. We’re trying to solve that first contact point for projects with a new base of users for web3 technology. It’s about the unbiased stories of founders that you and I would have loved to hear when we first started in web3.

Season one of Killer Whales has five episodes, and each episode revolves around a specific web3 sector, from real-world utility to NFTs.

NAN: Killer Whales features an impressive roster of judges from the crypto ecosystem and the world of digital finance. How were these personalities picked?

SG: What we were looking for were whales and well-informed people who have been in the web3 industry for a while, who understand what type of projects are around, and who have an opinion. They are not shy to voice and explain why they give that feedback. So we went out searching for KOLs that had either a big following, a VC background, a technology background, or an exchange background. We carefully selected who we thought would have a profound impact on the show because of their entertainment value, expertise, and credibility.

NANWhat was production like working with this pool of personalities as judges?

SG:  All the whales on the show have their own businesses, they’re extremely busy, they have strong personalities, they are experienced, and they know what they want. But what I definitely have to say is that these people are all super-professionals. Everybody understood [that] ‘we’re doing this to make the space bigger, it’s good for our brands, and it’s good for the space.’ Having come from a high-performance marketing and TV background, I was confident that they would execute flawlessly, and they did.

Görtjes also mentioned that there were 12-hour recording sessions on some days, with panelists sometimes working in the back of a studio van, taking calls, and working together on the process.

A focal point in developing Killer Whales initially began with building a business model capable of generating revenue through sponsorships and distribution income, partially from pre-sales tied to the Hello TV platform, the CEO added.

NAN: How long did this production take? What was the cost of it, and where did the funding for this project come from?

SG: I think that the beginning to the end was about two years. Partnerships started around March 2022, with production in June 2023, and the launch is now, February 2024. We started with onboarding Altcoin Daily as a producer of the show then CoinMarketCap as a co-producer and data partner and Hacken as a security partner. Eventually, we made deals with half a dozen crypto entities.

NAN: Was there a process for deciding which projects made it to Killer Whales and which did not? 

SG: We work with several partners together in the space, they’re either an official partner or a search partner to Killer Whales and Hello Labs. They are allowed to inform us about projects they’ve found or know that would fit the show. For instance, projects that want to come onto the show need to have a valid legal opinion, have a thorough business setup, founders need to be doxxed, need to pass criminal and legal background checks, need to have some funding and a working product.

All that needs to be in place, and then it goes through a selection committee that consists of Hacken, CoinMarketCap, the production companies, all our story producers, Hello Labs, and then legal as well. We have a say, but we do not have veto control over who gets in. And there’s no scripting or deep preparation for the founders. We do help them with their pitch and how to behave in front of a camera. What’s cool is that the founders get into the studio and see the whales for the first time.

NAN: What can projects that feature on Killer Whales expect after the show in terms of support and, perhaps, investment?

SG: Hello Labs itself will not make any direct capital investments into these projects, but partners and associated brands may decide to interact with founders they consider interesting after the show, just as any other organization could. We have plans for a weekly X Spaces that features Killer Whales projects, but we see the show itself as the biggest way to raise awareness for the solutions being built in web3.

NAN: Killer Whales is the inaugural show by Hello Labs. What should we expect next, and when?

SG: We started as a gaming project. Now, we’re very much focused on television and creating these bigger IPs. But in the future, we would definitely revisit the gaming aspect of the company. We also look at Killer Whales as something that can go on for 10, 15, or 20 seasons.

Just as a comparison, Shark Tank is in its 15th season, and the format hasn’t really changed a lot. So we view Killer Whales as a multi-season IP and a flagship product that, hopefully, web3 natives can point to when they want others to get a feel of what the space is about. It’s a little bit faster, more modern. It’s about technology and the folks behind it.

Hello Labs doesn’t have any investors so we have complete creative freedom to develop new initiatives in the future and play with ideas.

NAN: Will the show stream on non-blockchain platforms after debuting on Hello TV?

SG: This is a show made for the masses, and we’re targeting some mainstream platforms, but I can’t comment on the streamers just yet. It’s a well-kept secret to be announced by Hello Labs in the coming weeks.

NANWill production on Hello TV remain an exclusive right of Hello Labs, or is there a plan to open the platform up to user-generated content? 

SG: For now, there are no announcements on whether the platform will incorporate user-generated content.

NAN: Can HELLO token holders expect any additional utility like staking or perhaps voting on what shows appear on Hello TV?

SG: We have several initiatives in development that further increase the utility of the HELLO token, as we always have. We have a tradition of building utility and surprising our community with it, as we believe in the mantra underpromise, overdeliver.

NAN: Who would Hello Labs consider as its competitor on and off-chain?

SG: Hello Labs is sort of a multi-legged IP beast with activity in several categories. Looking from the viewpoint of game IPs, TV show IPs, and brand IPs, a comparison may be drawn with Disney. If streaming technology and content production were the focus, maybe you could compare us to web2 studios. 

But I think what makes us unique is that we built the narrative of web3, and we are able to position that in the web2 space. So I would say we’re a little bit in between. And we like to think that we’re trying to set a standard for the entertainment category in web3. But it’s up to the people to define what that is and where we’re at.

NAN:  Would Hello Labs consider a cross-over between Shark Tank and Killer Whales?

SG: Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary coming out to Killer Whales — that would be the dream. I think the biggest thing that we can do as Killer Whales is set that standard for what the web3 space feels like. This is the Shark Tank of web3, and I’m pretty sure that mainstream celebrities will have a look at this and want to be a part of it. But let’s see, it’s a dream, right?

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