Dr. Loretta Chen, co-founder and CEO of Smobler, loves to tell a good story. As a creator, builder and entrepreneur for the metaverse via her Web3 startup, which she launched with Ruel Sarmiento in September 2021 and then joined Brinc’s The Sandbox Metaverse Accelerator Program in Fall 2022, the multi-hyphenate combines her long-time love for academia and entertainment into a new direction for a digital era.
In support of meaningful brands and non-profits, Smobler is a leading metaverse architect and design studio that harnesses Web3 technology to build new platforms for social good. Its 2023 rollout streak includes a recent announcement to launch ChopraVerse in The Sandbox. Formed as a strategic alliance with Beacon Media, co-founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Manoj Narender Madnani, the platform is driven by shared values and conscious capital to shape societal narratives in a Web3 setting and to promote Smobler’s Metaverse For Good ideal.
In mid-September, ahead of TOKEN2049 and Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix 2023, Smobler debuted its phygital experience, NOVA, syncing large-scale, in-real-life crypto and Web3 events with online-community members from around the world. The NOVA launch also marked a new alliance between Smobler, The Sandbox and Tuschay Studios, presenting a new in-game adventure dubbed the Unstoppable Experience, which features an interactive educational component, an exclusive UD Avatar collection, and a dynamic marketplace. That week, Smobler’s partnership with Singapore’s MusicForGood non-profit initiative was also unveiled, working to connect youths through music in The Sandbox metaverse.
In the past three-and-a-half years, Smobler has grown from a startup of just two co-founders to a global company of 50 employees stationed around the world. Today, Dr. Chen reflects on key company milestones that directed Smobler in its early days and drive the startup’s growth today:
1. TURN NECESSITY INTO OPPORTUNITY
“Our origin story started with Covid-19. I was already in Hawaii after an illustrious career in the media and creative industries. At 45, I was now focused on going back to one of my first loves: education. I was working as a professor in the state university, creating leadership and economic empowerment opportunities for women in depressed neighborhoods, working with the Native Hawaiians and incarcerated population. I was also rescuing and raising cats (25, to be exact!).
“Then the pandemic struck. I remember I was giving a keynote address to the state educators in the Hawaii Convention Center in March 2020 on the importance of digitalizing education and virtual engagement when news of the earliest lockdowns started circulating.
“At the same time, two major fault lines were emerging: Creatives were deemed non-essential, and my now co-founder Ruel, who has an autistic son, was axed from his job and down to his last $100. Secondly, businesses had to find a way to get digital or risk being obsolete.
“I thought very keenly on the impact of Covid-19 on creators and their families. I knew that livelihoods would be challenged, so the idea of being able to create opportunities in the digital space appealed to me creatively, while the idea of being able to provide and build spaces for digital ownership in the open metaverse appealed to me instinctively.
“This was the real gamechanger about Web3 to me: the ability to own and control our virtual assets and data, thereby leading to greater economic freedom and digital democracy.”
2. FIND YOUR RAISON D’ETRE
“Coupled with a sense of altruism, naiveté and bravado in wanting to support a friend, his family and the community around me, we founded Smobler based on our core values and a belief in seven ideals: inclusion, diversity, equity, access, leadership, love, and sustainability.
“From the onset, we focused on our core strengths as a duo as we did not have abundant resources. For me, I was great at the human communications part: creating, connecting, and communicating ideas and started with B2B brand-building and storytelling; while Ruel took on the architectural design and game play.
“Since the early days, we eschewed hype projects and focused on building an enterprise-grade ecosystem through The Sandbox open metaverse. We onboarded legacy brands, banks, governments, NGOs; formed a partnership with an Institute of Higher Learning to co-create curriculum on digital-asset creation, ownership and financial literacy; and even launched a USD1M scholarship fund for emerging markets.
“It became clearer to me that our North Star was our desire to inject meaning and purpose into the Web3 and metaverse space and with that, our Metaverse for Good (MFG) initiative and tagline was born. MFG truly empowers us to work consciously and mindfully to proactively inform, entertain and engage all in this nascent space.”
3. ENABLE VALUE CREATION
“Today, our company ideals reflect the zeitgeist of the times. But in hindsight, even back in the ’90s when I first started out, I was fundamentally always asking how we can make our communities more inclusive. The open metaverse appeals to me because of its propensity to create communities, and bring people closer together through shared activity and social immersion across geographical boundaries.
“The young and youths are often always early adopters of technology. They also tend to be more idealistic, have a desire to make change and endeavor to right the wrongs of their predecessors. As such, it is important to harness this engine for change as this is a world they inhabit and actually have the power to effect change. This is unlike in Web1, where power and decision making rested heavily on the older generations with centralized authority media and financial platforms.
“There is also a greater awareness to enable value creation and work towards a conscious stakeholder capitalism model instead of a value extraction, shareholder winner-takes-all capitalism. There is also a greater call and rallying cry towards community building which is again synonymous to youth empowerment as there is a sense of shared identity and safety in numbers, which is again a reason why the Web3 space is so popular with this demographic.
“Harnessing Web3 for social good is not a singular exercise but a multi-pronged approach. We need young leaders, daring changemakers and entrepreneurial actors to proactively help create an ecosystem which includes the flywheel of funding, support, mentorship, representation and the creation of more safe spaces for all, not just a select demographic to thrive.”
4. COLLABORATE WITH PURPOSE
“As we are so early in the space, we still need key players in the Web2 world (such as institutional media, banking, retail, healthcare, tech companies) to play a role in helping to onboard communities into the Web3 space and open metaverse.
“We also need to not subscribe to simplistic, binary thinking. This path is not about choosing between Web2 or Web3, open or closed metaverses. We need to recognize that Web3 and the open metaverse will be living side by side with Web2 and closed metaverses, which is why working with legacy brands is key as they play the role of being vehicles and safe harbors for mass adoption.
“All our projects must fulfill our MFG mandate, and follow our ideals. We also need to believe in the vision and shared values of our collaborators as well as the propensity of long term collaboration. We are also very intentional about creating edu-taining games.
“This is also why Smobler consciously seeks out forward-thinking market leaders to inspire and aspire the masses to change and adoption.”
5. BE CONSCIOUS OF YOUR CREATIVE CURATION
“While our projects seem very diverse in scope, they are all in essence a nod towards inclusion and accessibility. They all harness the power of blockchain, gaming, asset creation, ownership, and Web3 modalities to suture communities, offer more jobs in the creator economy, and shed light on under-represented cultures and stories.
“We also aim to use the power of interactive play and innovative community engagement to entice more to come on board to experience the immersive and expansive qualities of the open metaverse.
“3VEREST was created through The Sandbox Game Makers Fund. We worked with Gillian de Brondeau, a hobbyist climber who had ambitions of creating a game based on his love for mountaineering. We saw an opportunity to create a breathtaking, gamified and educational adventure to commemorate Sir Edmund Hilary’s first ascent to Mount Everest 70 years ago, while sharing rich history, offering a deeper understanding of the Sherpa people and their culture, plus educating about the critical impact of global warming.
“Bhutanverse came about as I have been a consultant with the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, Druk Holdings and Investments (DHI), since 2011. DHI will offer an open challenge to all Bhutan citizens, inviting artists and creators to explore the immense potential of Web3 technologies and the creator economy by submitting artwork to co-design Bhutanverse, which will be a gateway for global audiences to engage with Bhutan’s rich heritage of culture and art.
“8SIANTOWN is definitely a nod towards feminist partnerships. 8SIAN founder Nicole Yap and I envision this project as the first step in a series of collaborations that aim to place Southeast Asia at the forefront of digital innovation by incorporating popular IPs into 8SIANTOWN. We are also very intentionally using our voices and collective platforms to galvanize more women to jump on board the digitech and metaverse bandwagon.”
As a co-founder who credits the metaverse for being “a catch-all” for her gifts, allowing her to become an author, director, educator, entrepreneur, performer, philanthropist and philosopher in a single profession, Dr. Chen has certainly earned her success. “I am always touched by the outpouring of support from our investors, clients, partners, and most especially my team who works largely for sweat equity and a firm belief in what we are co-creating,” she says, adding that Smobler is “still growing and heading into our Series A, so we look forward to even more support for our woman-led, minority-owned enterprise!”
Looking ahead to 2024, Dr. Chen leaves us with this: “Smobler will continue to create more immersive, interoperable and pandemic-proof experiences in the digital space, as we still believe in the transformative power of human capital and that the best ideas in the world begin with a simple hello.”
For more information about Brinc’s Web3 accelerator programs and how to apply, please visit our website. Applications are now open and will be reviewed on a rolling basis.