Cryptocurrency, NFTs, and Tech for Social Good: A Conversation with Tesuji CEO, Benji Brown
ChickTech is thrilled to partner with Tesuji, a dynamic engineering and design company that has built a range of products from Augmented Reality Pet games, to video chat and live-streaming platforms. Watch as ChickTech Board President Nanci Schimizzi interviews Benji Brown – CEO & Founder of our newest partner, and learn about an exciting opportunity to win an NFT and presale list spots for Tesuji’s upcoming NFT collection!
Prefer to read the interview? Check out the conversation here:
Nanci Schimizzi, ChickTech Board President: This is Nanci Schimizzi. I am the Board President for ChickTech. I am also a technologist—I have been in the technology industry for many years. I am an IT consultant and I focus on IT strategy. But we’re really here today to talk about a company partnership that we have started with Tesuji. I wanted to introduce Benji Brown, and he can talk a little bit about himself and about the company.
Benji Brown, Tesuji CEO: Thanks, Nanci. Hi, everybody. I’m Benji Brown, CEO for Tesuji Games. We’re a company that started around 2017 that really focuses on connecting people through play. We’ve been building games, building apps, and have several clients. But we also have some really fun internal products. I’m going to be specifically talking about Vrumble today, and how we’re stepping into NFTs, leveraging blockchain, and connecting people through video chat, live streaming game shows and blockchain. It’s gonna be fun.
Nanci Schimizzi: Great, thanks, Benji. You know, so many of the terms are new to a lot of us. So as we’re talking, it’ll be very helpful if you can also give us some definition of terms that are now becoming part of our everyday language. But first, why don’t you tell me about what Tesuji does and what your non-fungible tokens (NFT) collection launch is all about?
Benji Brown: Yeah, for sure. At Tesuji, we like to build participatory experiences—the metaverse games that you’ve been hearing about. I think people are realizing that it’s really fun to play together, learn together, and do things together in these virtual spaces. At Tesuji, we built out a mobile product called Vrumble, which is a video chat, live streaming, and minigame collection experience that has game shows coupled into it. It’s really fun because people can video chat and hang out with each other.
But what we really are seeing now is that when people play [digital] games, they collect things: they get armor, or they get new attributes for their characters, or, for example, they play Candy Crush and get to level 3000 or something crazy. But they don’t really get to feel like they own those experiences. All that time and effort that they put into the game doesn’t really pay out. The game goes down, or they leave the game, and they can’t recoup much of their investment into that. And so I think the new paradigm that’s coming across the wire here is that with the advent of blockchain technologies, the ability for us to create these virtual tokenized experiences where people can start owning what they participate in.
So for example, with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), people are able to create the art, they’re able to sell it to people, and there’s a way to digitally track it through provenance, just through the blockchain itself. And because these items are digitally scarce—for example, you make only 7,000 art pieces—people can then buy, sell, and trade them on the secondary market, which is pretty fascinating. You know, I think there is maybe some difficulty in understanding how people are trading these digitally-scarce goods across these marketplaces: why can’t you just copy and paste the JPEG? But it’s really the blockchain tracking of this transaction, the concept of being able to have ownership tracked on that blockchain, that makes this very compelling.
So we’re stepping into that space. The players that we have within Vrumble will be able to take the NFTs that they purchase—or mint—on these markets, and be able to have an identity with them.
There are some pretty cool NFTs out there, like Bored Ape Yacht Club, which can be bought for $500,000. It’s pretty wild. The reason they cost $500,000 is because they’re digitally scarce. There aren’t many of them out there, and people are wanting to get in on the action. They want to be part of that exclusive club, in a sense. There are definitely perks of being part of that club. They’re creating a lot of events, they’re creating a mythos, and they’re creating a community. And that’s the big thing: this community is created around the ownership of these NFTs. So if you want, you can purchase a really expensive NFT—these bluechip NFTs as we call them—and flex on it, and talk about being in the community of Bored Ape Yacht Club or Cool Cats.
That gives us an opportunity in Vrumble to create an environment where all these NFT owners battle it out in an Olympic-Games-style tournament. It’s an environment where owners can play various minigames and level up their skills. We live in this participatory digital ‘Metaverse world,’ and we love competitions, so finding a way to compete with our digital identities from these NFTs is a really interesting methodology. I’m excited about it!
Nanci Schimizzi: That is exciting! What are the demographics of the participants?
Benji Brown: It’s actually quite broad. I would say it’s anybody that has gotten into cryptocurrency. There are 13-year-old kids right now flipping $400 to $400,000, up to seventy- or eighty-year-olds. It’s a very large age range of people who are super interested in how blockchain enables the digitally-scarce ownership of NFTs, or cryptocurrencies where you can move money to people across the whole entire globe. It allows people to not necessarily have to worry about working through a middleman, such as a bank.
Nanci Schimizzi: I would think that typically this is a male-dominated kind of activity. So if someone, a woman or non-binary person, has no experience in this space, what advice would you give them about getting started?
Benji Brown: Yeah, for sure. I’d say that the first step is to just go online and learn. Watch some YouTube videos, get a Twitter account—I think right now Twitter is a good place to go, where people talk about it all the time. But really, to get involved in NFTs you need to get some cryptocurrency. Sign up for a centralized exchange to purchase your first bit of cryptocurrency. The big one right now is Coinbase. There’s also Kraken, Gemini—there’s a ton of them out there. These centralized exchanges are where you can take your US dollars, and exchange them for Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), or other types of cryptocurrencies.
Those cryptocurrencies then live in your crypto wallet, which is one of the biggest benefits of all this: you have an identity on the blockchain that hosts your cryptocurrency, where everything can be hooked into. Once you have some cryptocurrency in your wallet, you can then start getting into marketplaces like OpenSea, which hosts a lot of NFTs that can be bought with Ethereum (ETH), or a layer-to-blockchain called Polygon. You can also make NFTs on the blockchains through sites like OpenSea with just the click on a button. After you start wading into the waters, you can start programming blockchain applications—that’s where it starts getting really exciting.
You know, I think now is the time for women and non-binary engineers to start getting into this space. Because you can be the thought leaders, you can be the individuals that really understand how Web 3.0 and blockchain can transform where we used to be technologically, to where we’re going in the future.
Nanci Schimizzi: So what is Tesuji’s social impact model and the fundraiser for ChickTech? Why was that such a priority for your company?
Benji Brown: As a company, we love education. It is one of those things that we just think is super important to pushing society forward. We have a product in our portfolio called Tracks, which is kind of an Animal Crossing plus Sesame Street Live mobile experience where kids can learn all about different subjects, like botany, science, mathematics, language. It all happens through this gamified ‘Metaverse’ world, where kids can learn and then apply their new knowledge.
And so we’re excited to move deeper and deeper into this world through our Vrumble play, where we’ll really start leveraging the power of NFTs. As we develop this kind of decentralized play-and-earn model that we have going with Vrumble, we really just want to keep on coming back to that idea of social impact: how can we keep on providing education—and access to education? We also understand that technology needs diverse groups of people who are getting educated so that we have more diverse ideas coming in and pushing the future forward.
Nanci Schimizzi: We’re very excited about the $5,000 donations that Tesuji will make to ChickTech when each one of your targets is met. Can you tell us more about that?
Benji Brown: Yes, as we go from 25% to 50% to 75% to 100% of our Vrumble NFT collection’s minting—which is whereby we sell out our first collection of art pieces that are fully integrated within our game environment—we’ll be making donations. We’ll be making $5,000 donations incrementally, and also providing some workshops for students, too. So we’re really excited about starting this partnership and seeing where it can go. Because, once again, education and pushing technology forward is what we like to do.
For folks that don’t necessarily know the process of how minting launches work, individuals will often create a limited set of NFTs to sell. For Vrumble, we’re releasing 7,777 generative art pieces that are connected to our gameplay. The sales will include two phases: presales and main sales.
We’ll have our presales, which is where we’re going to be welcoming people that join our Discord and connect their wallet through our mobile app. Once you’re part of that presales group, it allows you to then mint an NFT from our website when we go live. You can pay with Ethereum to get the NFT into your wallet, and then you’re ready to keep on playing with us. Then we have the main sale, which is open to everybody. Instead of it being locked to a collection of a few hundred crypto wallet addresses, now it’s open to the entire world. Anyone can press that mint button and mint themselves an NFT.
In addition, we’re going to be raffling off access to this presale ‘whitelist’ (or ‘allow list’ as we call it) to ChickTech community members through social media! You can always go to vrumble.io to learn more and join our Discord to have more conversations about what we’re building out.
Nanci Schimizzi: Yeah, I think it’s I think it’s really exciting. And it’s the forefront of what’s coming up for technology. With each $5,000 donation from Tesuji, ChickTech will be increasing hands-on learning opportunities for our high school students, providing blockchain and virtual reality workshops, and giving out more scholarships for ACT-W programming. Another area that’s important for us at ChickTech is to build corporate accountability in creating safe and inclusive spaces for women in tech. So we are very, very excited about this opportunity.
Benji Brown: You know, providing scholarships, providing accessibility to these new technologies, and teaching women and girls through these workshops specifically on blockchain is kind of the next wave of how we will be building services.
Right now, with Web 2.0—monolithic companies owning all the data, running the services—you tap into their services but they own all the data that’s generated from those activities. Web 3.0 is really about building a decentralized collection of nodes or computers, with more people running those nodes. You yourself can build the service, put the service up, and now everybody can access those services. They might pay a marginal, little price to use those services, but they retain their information.
How we start juggling data around and how we start communicating information to each other is very much the next step in how we work in this internet age that we have. So I think ChickTech being at the forefront of picking up these new skills, pushing it forward for the women and non-binary individuals within their community, is really valuable. You’ve got to stay on the forefront of this technology to really understand where the thought process is going. And so for Tesuji, for us to just be involved in that and help ChickTech do this kind of thing, we’re really excited about it.
Nanci Schimizzi: Great. I am going to be watching your company and how this plays out because I think it’s extremely exciting!
For anyone wondering how they can also support ChickTech, check out our year-end fundraising campaign! We’ll be celebrating 10 years of ChickTech and highlighting the impact that we’ve had over the last 10 years, and of course planning for the next 10 years. We also have volunteer opportunities through a community that’s really passionate about the work that we’re doing to build diversity within technology and beyond.
So Benji, I really appreciate your time today. And in fact, I will follow up with you because there are some things that I want to learn more about! So I thank you for your time, and thanks for just educating me a bit about this whole topic.
Benji Brown: Thanks, Nanci. I appreciate the time!
Thank you to Tesuji for their partnership! Tesuji is a dynamic engineering and design company that has built a range of products from Augmented Reality Pet games, to video chat and live-streaming platforms. Tesuji has worked on automotive transportation scalable software infrastructure and built out location based messaging systems. Learn more about Tesuji at tesuji.io