Pivoting into Web3: Sam Huber on acquiring LandVault & building the Metaverse’s biggest land developer
Pivoting into Web3: Sam Huber on acquiring LandVault & building the Metaverse’s biggest land developer
Words Sam Huber
February 23rd 2023 / 8 min read
Being able to predict the future and foresee society’s next biggest trends is a big ask. But being able to recognise these trends at the right time, and tapping into them in such a way as to capitalise on them, can really set you apart as a founder.
Nearly five years into Admix, the in-game advertising and monetisation platform I founded, I recognised the trajectory of one of these trends—Web3—and rather than ignore or fight it, I pulled our whole company into its fast flowing waters. Now, we’re LandVault, the largest land builder and developer in the Metaverse.
Leaping from advertising technology into building virtual worlds is no mean feat: it involved pivoting our entire business model, merging with a company of 100+ people and creating a business valued at $300m. Here’s my story of identifying the Web3 opportunity, pivoting my business, and what I learned along the way.
From Formula 1 to building mobile games
I’ve always liked the idea of launching my own business: creating my own thing where the impact of the effort you put in is measurable.
My engineering background led me to the Formula One track, where I joined a Mercedes team on the brink of establishing its dominance over the circuit. I was building simulations to predict the point of failure for engines, helping our drivers identify the right engines for the right race. It was fascinating, but I couldn’t help feeling I was building someone else’s dream. I was itching to bring my creativity to a role that ultimately wouldn’t allow it.
Around this time, I saw the boom of mobile gaming apps. Gaming felt like the ultimate expression of creativity: a chance to create your own characters, your own narrative, as well as environments on top of which people can create themselves. There’s also a super low barrier to entry, at least compared to other businesses. For a SaaS, for example, you need a proper vision and a plan; with a game, you can just build something fun! This was ideal for me at the time. I didn’t have a big vision, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to be at that time. So it felt like the perfect opportunity to just create something fun, put it out into the world, and see how the world reacts.
I started off building ‘hyper casual’ games: games with really simple interfaces that are easy to play and understand. I moved to London, launched my own indie gaming studio, built a small team, and raised a little bit of funding. I started to get a sense of the lifecycle of a game: publishing content, growing it, monetising it.
One game—a binary trading simulator called Rogue Trader—actually started doing quite well, reaching around 10,000 daily active users. At this level, monetisation is so important. And yet, existing advertising solutions were barely fit for purpose. Why hadn’t the gaming world found a solution to such a large problem?
Solving in-game advertising through Admix
The origins of Admix stem back to the idea of supporting and empowering creators and solving their pain points. Here, I had an opportunity to revolutionise the way that game developers could monetise their content, while simultaneously allowing brands to tap into the fastest growing entertainment sector.
There’s no two ways about it: in-game advertising was terrible. No matter what we tried, it was too intrusive, it broke the game down, and ultimately you’d spend more time watching ads than playing the actual game. Gamers hated it, developers hated it, even brands hated it, but had no alternative. It was a necessary evil.
Our hypothesis was simple: what if we could create something that was actually good for all parties? That’s what we set out to do with Admix. Launched in 2017, Admix offered content creators the tools to monetise real estate within their games or the metaverse, via product placements. For a long time, it was just me and my CTO, with the singular aim of building amazing technology. Nearly two years into building, we raised a $2.4m seed round, and pulled in our first revenue through a campaign with National Geographic. Further raises followed—$8.5m Series A in 2019, then a $25m Series B in 2021.
While in-game advertising remained our focus, I could sense a bigger opportunity brewing in the background. A new channel was blossoming—a 3D internet, or as it’s now known, the Metaverse. Even then, the scope of it was hugely exciting. If you can get one million people into your virtual space to watch an eSports tournament, then that space is hugely valuable. It was intuitive to me that there was a new business model to build around monetising these new virtual environments.
Pivoting into Web3 & acquiring LandVault
I’m a believer in blue ocean strategy—rather than competing in crowded markets, creating new market space where you can dominate. I was aware that no matter how well we did at Admix, our upside was capped, and we’d always be competing with the scale of Big Tech companies. That’s why I wanted to follow where the waters were running fastest.
My hypothesis—that we’d spend more and more time in virtual environments, and these environments would become more valuable—became increasingly true over the five years of building Admix. To the point where the business opportunity became too large to ignore.
The demand really started from our clients. From the NFT bull market in 2021 to Facebook rebranding as Meta, their interest in Web3 and the Metaverse grew. Conversations quickly turned to advertising and other monetisation opportunities in the Metaverse, and our customers were turning to us for advice.
It was clear to me that what we were doing with gaming could easily be transported into the Metaverse. The issue was there weren’t enough people in the Metaverse to generate revenue from advertising. We had to be more creative, building engaging new virtual experiences that brands could possibly monetise in the future. Ultimately, we were a tech business, not a creative business. I knew that to do this properly, we had to find the right partners who were not only metaverse native, but could also help us grow creatively.
LandVault popped up as a suggestion in a Discord server I used—and I quickly realised they were the creative partner we needed for this next stage in our journey. All these businesses who’d made money from NFT launches during the NFT bull market were now paying them to build metaverse activation. Each time I spoke to the founders, they seemed to be doubling in size. They appeared to have cracked the code for finding high quality metaverse builders, as well as attracting the best metaverse projects.
What became apparent was that it was more than just a simple partnership: this was the direction I wanted us to head in. Our leadership and board members quickly came on board to the size of the opportunity to diversify and grow our revenue. And in June 2022, we announced that we’d be acquiring the business and merging under the name LandVault, with me as CEO.
Merging two businesses is no mean feat. We cut half of our team, and subsequently brought in another 100. Letting those people go was incredibly challenging—these were the people who’d helped me build Admix, and they’d done nothing wrong, it was simply reflecting the strategic change in direction of the business.
Since then, we’ve built culture from the ground up. It was a chance to bring real structure to our new colleagues, who until that point had just been growing in response to demand, and had no HR, no culture, no finance. In a way, this made things easier as we didn’t have to undo anything in their culture. Quickly, the teams have integrated well and our success is evident in the numbers.
The size of the Web3 opportunity
Many have asked me if pivoting my whole business into new, uncertain waters felt like a risk. Conversely, I couldn’t feel more confident in the size of the opportunity ahead of us.
The Metaverse is an entirely new channel which no brand can ignore. There is a new group of customers, Generation Alpha (born from 2010 onwards), who are native to this environment. They weren’t brought up watching TV or listening to music, they are growing up playing games. They’re also crypto native, and will know about things like NFTs and crypto wallets. So when older people say, “Oh, the metaverse isn’t for me, I'd never use it,” they’re probably right. Generation Alpha will be the citizens of the metaverse. And moreover, over the next 5 to 10 years, this generation will become the biggest customer segment in the market.
For brands, launching a metaverse strategy is insurance for staying relevant. When Gen Alpha comes of age, they’ll look to brands who appeal to them, who understand their interests, and understand these new exciting virtual environments. And it won’t be good enough to pivot once the demand arrives: you should start now, and make sure you’re there as they’re growing up. You can already see this with fashion brands like Nike and Balenciaga.
While platforms like Decentraland and The Sandbox have built their infrastructure for the Metaverse, LandVault is here to build reasons for people to stay there: content. Right now, a lot of this is funded by brands, capitalising on space that they may be able to monetise further down the line. But we’re also building our own content, new virtual experiences that will contribute to creating the Metaverse that we want to see.
So back to the question of does it feel like a risk? Well, if I were to rationally analyse my original decision at the time to build Admix, there were probably a thousand reasons not to build it: but we just started and did it anyway. This feels like the same situation: there are thousands of challenges and risks that might prevent any cautious person here, and yet we’re doing it anyway because I feel like we’re in the right waters moving forward. Ultimately, that’s as close to certainty that you can get in the startup world.
Sam Huber is the CEO of LandVault. He founded Admix and led their acquisition of LandVault in 2022. He’s founded a number of previous businesses in the gaming/gamification space including Kout, Betify, and RogueTrader. He also runs Good Morning Web3, a community educating around Web3.
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