The top 5 things the Azuki project did well to achieve stratospheric success.
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According to the manifesto on their website, the Azuki project defines itself as "a new wave". Following this, they expand into the project's aspirations to "Break down barriers. Build open communities. Create magic internet money with their friends." They then go on to appeal to "the ones with the courage to jump down a peculiar rabbit hole." and express their desire to build "a world that's created by more and owned by all".
They finish up with a series of powerful statements that read: "We rise together. We build together. We grow together." This makes for a concise and poetic summary of the NFT project that within the past four weeks generated $300 million in transactions, surpassing sector favourites Bored Ape Yacht Club.
The anime art style and skateboarder inspired project is the brainchild of Chiru Labs, made up of four guys from LA who launched the collection on January 12th 2022. Each Azuki was initially priced at around $3400, the collection sold out in just 3 minutes generating $29 million. Within the four weeks that followed, the collection reached an astonishing $300 million in transaction volume across the various NFT Marketplaces. This netting Chiru Labs an additional $15 million thanks to the 5% royalties they earn on every Azuki sold.
Some Azuki's are even selling for half a million and the cheapest ones on the market go for about $36,000. So how did this NFT collection surpass giants like Crypto punk and Bored Ape Yacht club and become the eighth-most traded NFT project of all time?
1. Doxxed Leadership
Whilst many successful NFT projects do just fine with their founders maintaining private identities, the rise of rug pulls and scams makes many buyers nervous and heightens the desire to pump and dump. One of the biggest challenges in the NFT space right now is that of trust.
Chiru Labs has four founders three of whom are totally private individuals, the fourth however is Arnold Tsang a 39-year-old conceptual artist, who prior to Azuki's success was the lead character designer for Overwatch, a popular first-person shooter with over 60 million players by gaming giant and Microsoft's latest acquisition Activision Blizzard. Tsang went full time at Chiru Labs with the intention of growing the Azuki brand, which he designed in his spare time.
He says: “The dream is for Azuki to have such big IP that there's an animated series, maybe even games and all kinds of merch,’’. He added that he chose to make his identity public “as a pledge of trust. This is who I am, this is what I've done. Put your trust in me that I'm not going to run away after making money and just go off to a deserted island.”
This move was undeniably a pivotal one for the project, a doxxed founder creates a huge amount of accountability for the team and a founder with an industry reputation and career to uphold is even more insurance for the buyer. His backstory is one people believe, he is who he says he is and his abilities, interest in the space and desire for progress all add up in the mind of an NFT collector. This reduces any suspicion and gives people a trustworthy leader to attach their hopes to. NFT collections can of course thrive without doxxed leadership, however having a friendly, reliable and believable face at the helm of your project definitely attracts a more committed and long term collector.
When people first encountered the Azuki project, there was one consistent praise everyone shared, the quality was superb. The project was flawless and the style was reminiscent of a classic anime like cowboy Bepop with a strong skater influence. When we look at the general quality of projects in the NFT space, this isn't the norm.
Andrew Steinwold who runs a $100 million Chicago-based NFT investment and owns a few of his own Azukis mentioned that he found the quality to be “comparatively high.” - Forbes
The website is also of very high production value with a stunning gallery and sophisticated filtering functionality that rivals that of major marketplaces like Open sea.
You can't beat a brand that offers genuine value. Succesful collections like Crypto Punks and MFer's create a false illusion that people will buy anything, and this just isn't true. People still want quality and when it comes to a strong pfp collection like Azuki, the jpeg you own is one you can be genuinely impressed with, awed and delighted by. When you visit the website the key touchpoint for interacting with the Azuki brand you feel immersed in a world and become hungry for more content because the experience is genuinely engaging. You feel like you're a part of this story that's unravelling as the collection grows. This is all managed through excellent design, thoughtful branding and ultimately the superb positioning of giving the NFT audience a skater meets anime-style project.
3. Customer Experience
No one selling anything online can get away from the need to deliver a quality customer experience, this applies even in the NFT space!
Chiru labs created the first top innovative token standard ERC721A. The standard allows users to mint multiple NFTs in a single transaction, thereby greatly reducing the required Gas Fee. Anyone operating in the NFT space will be familiar with the horrendous gas fees on the Ethereum network and how much of a deterrent they can be. So when Azuki made this choice they totally eliminated one of the biggest blockers their buyers would encounter. By making it easier for collectors to buy, they increased the interest and drove sales up as fewer people would fall out of that final conversion stage of the funnel.
Remove as many blockers as you can, simply put, make it easy for people to buy. The more hoops your customer has to jump through, the less likely they are to complete a purchase. This is especially challenging in the NFT space where the buying or minting experience is very different to the smooth and polished shopping experience consumers are used to in web 2.0. A seamless, streamlined conversion experience should be your top priority.
4. Tapping an underserved market
The NFT market is undoubtedly heavily driven by western audiences mainly in the US. However, the global appetite is rising every day and Eastern audiences are just as motivated and hungry as Western ones.
The distinct anime art style of the Azuki collection resonated with East Asian audiences. We saw collections like 0N1 Force launched in August 2021, sport a striking anime aesthetic and prices for this collection shot up from $1,500 to $30,000 within just a couple of weeks. So there is a precedent for anime art NFT's mooning.
Zzzagabond, one of Chiru Lab's founders said of the Azuki audience “My hunch is that they're Asians who, for the first time, see art that really resonates with them,” Zzzagabond, who was born in China, continued “I've had a couple of conversations with Asian investors who told me that this was the first NFT that they purchased.”
Additionally, megastar Jay Chou opted to purchase an Azuki after his Bored Ape was stolen, creating more hype and interest from his largely east Asian fan base. The Azuki website also recently had an update to include a Chinese language version.
5. The Promise of Potential
The final thing the Azuki collection did well was that they often included in their messaging a promise of future potential. The team make reference to building a sustainable business and the desire to create new revenue streams outside of royalties. There has been talk of Merch with a "Shop" section teased on the website. TV shows and selling the rights and brand licensing have also been mentioned.
Project founder Zzzagabond even said: "Perhaps, in the popular TV show The Masked Singer, one of the costumes could be an Azuki design".
There is, of course, much talk of how Azuki could show up in the metaverse with potential game options which would make great use of Tsang's skillset also.
The Azuki project founders were always ambitious and aspirational in how they spoke about the project. They have a clear sense of direction even if everything isn't on the table just yet. This combined with clear messaging, a quality brand and a "doxxed" leader creates a believable route that collectors can buy into. Think about how you can factor in your aspirations for your project as it grows to engage collectors.
Azuki achieved stratospheric success doing these key five things:
Doxxed leadership: Be transparent about who you are and why you do what you do to build trust.
Superb quality: Build something genuinely desirable, notable, interesting or delightful.
Customer experience: Make it easy for your collector to convert.
Tap into an underserved Market: Azuki gave an Asian audience an anime project they loved. Think about World of Women deliberately centring the female audience, who is the NFT space missing that you can speak to.
Communicate the potential of your project: Maintain an aspirational, ambitious and long term perspective and communicate this in your messaging.