How Candy Cracked the Metaverse — and Made It More Fun
Pokémon cards, Beanie Babies, POGS. When it comes to collectibles, times have changed. And thanks to the introduction of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, trading coveted merch looks a lot different than how it used to.
Confused about what an NFT actually is? You’re not alone. Simply put, they are one-of-a-kind digital assets, like art, videos or even tweets, that can be bought and sold online. Ownership is recorded on the blockchain, which guarantees that if you buy a NFT, you’re buying the original asset, not a facsimile. That’s understandably important for collectors who shell out real money to own original work.
The concept of NFTs can be tricky to understand, and with some assets being sold for millions of dollars, it all can quickly start to feel inaccessible. But for the team at Candy, you don’t have to be a billionaire or a tech genius to participate in the buying and selling of digital collectibles. You just have to be a collector of experiences.
Not long after it was founded in early 2021, Candy announced its first long-term partnership with Major League Baseball. Thanks to this heavy-hitting deal, the company is currently focused on designing and building NFTs that cater to fans interested in taking their fandom into the metaverse. Think of it like checking out a friend’s incredible baseball card collection, only doing so entirely online. For Matthew Novogratz, Candy’s head of partnerships and business development, the company’s mission is a fun one — and a little surreal.
“I’m a lifelong collector of trading cards,” Novogratz said. “Now, I feel like I have a say in what the baseball collectibles of the future look like. It’s kind of mind-blowing.”
To learn what Candy is cooking up and how the team designs delightful digital experiences, Built In NYC caught up with Novogratz, Staff Software Engineer Anuhya Ghorakavi and Senior Product Manager Lydia Kim. They filled us in on what it feels like to be working on the next big thing in collectibles, community-building and technology.
What is Candy working on currently?
Senior Product Manager Lydia Kim: We’re in the middle of a beta test for our new marketplace website that we’re building through our first partnership with the MLB. We’re creating a marketplace where baseball fans can start collecting digital collectibles and engage with other community members. We’re working on the engagement piece in order to bridge the physical and digital world of collecting — especially when it comes to baseball cards, which people are more used to dealing with in the physical world.
Head of Partnerships and Business Development Matthew Novogratz: One of our core missions has been to abstract the crypto element from what we do and focus on the collectible and the collector. Most importantly, we’re trying to build with community in mind. We’re in the crypto and sports communities, where our projects have taken on a life of their own. Having that support is critical.
We also have a community on the chat platform Discord, which is a passionate and incredibly kind group. People will join to celebrate sports, talk about our projects and new drops, and cheer each other on. They’ll share serial numbers and talk about what’s coming next — it’s also a great way for us to get to interact with fans directly.
Our projects have taken on a life of their own.”
What does it take to engage users in a digital and physical world?
Novogratz: If you purchased an NFT in the past, in many cases, you would never really go back to it. You might check in on it to see what it was worth and try to sell it. But we’re trying to create engagement so people have a reason to go back, play with their NFTs and see if they’ve evolved. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to build.
We had an offering this summer for our Major League Baseball Stadium series, where we featured teams city by city. In the auctions for each one, we included real-life experiences as well, like a first pitch on the field during batting practice, for example. It really gave people a once-in-a-lifetime, tangible experience in the physical world, too.
Sometimes the world of NFTs can feel a little “inside baseball.” What kind of experience did you have in the field before you joined?
Kim: I didn’t really know a lot about the NFT world before joining — but it’s fun learning more about it while helping build the product. It’s a newer space to begin with, so we’re all kind of learning together and collaborating as we go. And thanks to Discord, we can see firsthand how passionate and engaged our users and fans are. It really reiterates our mission and makes it better for us, too.
We’re obviously trying to build a community for people, but the one we’ve built for ourselves internally is great, too. Things move quickly, as they do at a startup. We have to roll up our sleeves and wear different hats, but sharing that common end goal of surprising and delighting our users has been amazing.
Staff Software Engineer Anuhya Ghorakavi: I also wasn’t very familiar with the NFT world, or even crypto. Both seemed like they had huge learning curves, so I kept putting off learning about them. But at Candy, the intimidation factor doesn’t really exist. This company has humanized this whole world that I used to find too complicated, abstract and irrelevant to my life. But being here, I’ve realized that we can make NFTs and crypto accessible to a broader market. I think that’s really interesting.
This company has humanized this whole world that I used to find too complicated, abstract and irrelevant to my life.”
Can you give us a sneak peek into the tech you use?
Ghorakavi: On the front end, we use TypeScript. On the back end, we use Go, Protobuf, Twirp, Postgres and more. We’re using a lot of 3D technologies to experiment with the different types of assets we can create, and we’ve been doing a lot of cool exploration in that space.
Something that’s worked out really well with Twirp and the Protobuf system is that we’re reducing the redundancy that previously existed between the front and back ends. We want to spend our time creating experiences, so we want to be as efficient as possible.
How is building NFTs unique from other industries you’ve worked in?
Kim: There are so many layers to our work: We have that traditional e-commerce aspect in that it’s a marketplace. We also have that user journey of letting people land on a website, view the purchasable asset, then go through a payment flow. Then, we have another component, which is how to keep that user interested with that collectible that they’ve purchased, gamify it to increase their engagement and ensure they’re having a good time within our Candyland ecosystem.
We’re also focused on security. As with the decentralized aspect of traditional cryptocurrency, we’re minting on the blockchain and making sure the whole process is secure.
Ghorakavi: We also have to constantly ask ourselves how to sell our ideas to groups of people who might not really be educated about NFTs, or may be intimidated by the space. I think that’s a general crypto challenge, but it’s something we’re trying to make as easy as possible for people to understand and become a part of the community.
We really are on the frontlines of the future.”
What does the future hold for your team?
Novogratz: We’re in such a quickly evolving space, it’s tough to predict what the year will end up like, or even how a particular month will end. But I just know that adoption of NFTs is going to grow — and it’s going to grow really soon. Look at NFT marketplace OpenSea, which did about $20 million in sales last year. This year, they’re already at around $10 billion. The market is growing at a crazy exponential rate. A year from now, we don’t know necessarily what Candy will look like, but we know a lot more people will be involved and we’ll have higher engagement.
We really are on the frontlines of the future.