‘Killer Whales’: Crypto finally gets its own ‘Shark Tank’
Katy Perry marked the top of the explosive 2017 bull run with an Instagram post of her “crypto claws.”
Her nails had been painted with logos of cryptocurrencies including bitcoin, ether and monero set on backdrops of dollar bills.
Bitcoin (BTC) went on to lose three-quarters of its value over the next 12 months.
Three years later, almost to the day and again as bitcoin retraced from record highs, Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon bonded on-screen about a supposed shared passion for Bored Apes.
Ether (ETH) slid by more than 60% over the next six months, taking BAYC floor prices along with it.
An upcoming crypto reality show from LA insider and long-time MTV Music Awards creative director Paul Caslin, and his Web3 entertainment startup Hello Labs, comes at a much different time in the hype cycle.
Bitcoin has inched higher over the past year, alongside bubbling positivity over the arrival of spot ETFs. But crypto overall hasn’t featured its hallmark frothy mania for more than two years, since well before the calamities of Terra and FTX.
Killer Whales, which debuts online next week, is Web3’s answer to Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den, more or less. The format of those shows sees entrepreneurs pitch their projects to a cast of hosts — all of which have some savvy — who either approve or disapprove.
Meet the final bosses for Web3 founders
On Shark Tank, founders gain exposure at a minimum, but they more importantly could secure funding and advisement from some of the biggest brains in business if they can strike a deal on camera.
The audience, meanwhile, gets to spy on venture capital deals that usually happen behind closed doors, living vicariously as both billionaire and dirt-broke startup founder at the same time.
Killer Whales is all that, but without the actual dealmaking. Instead of “sharks” like Mark Cuban, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary, crypto entrepreneurs pitch a rotating panel of hosts.
These are the “whales,” anchored by Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci, social media pundit Mario Nawfal, YouTube personality Wendy O and Ran Neuner, who’s perhaps most well known as the host of CNBC Africa’s Crypto Trader show, but an infamous investor in his own right.
“What makes a great TV show is the cast and we really wanted to find a cast that was diverse and had something for everybody,” Caslin told Blockworks. “So our judges are in different verticals of the industry. A lot of them are from the influencer base, because we really want to capture their audiences.”
He continued: “But I think we did a great job in finding a mix of all different characters. When you’re watching the show, you might agree with a certain person, but I want you to be screaming at your television set screaming: ‘Who the hell is this? Why does Wendy have that opinion?’ If you’re watching a TV show and you’re not feeling that emotion, then you’re not watching it at all.”
Founders indeed don’t strike deals with the whales like they do on Shark Tank. In fact, whales can’t at any point invest in the projects that appear on the show. Startups only vie for their counsel on startup matters and potential positive buzz with the general public — to the point that no actual discussion of investment or shilling of tokens is shown on screen. Whales are also stipulated to have no contact with the teams until the shows air.
The projects that “swim” (as opposed to “sink,” their version of yay or nay) will also have a special page built on CoinMarketCap where viewers can learn more about the projects. The Binance-owned company has partnered with Hello Labs to boost the show’s reach and help with the application vetting process.
Check out this exclusive five-minute behind-the-scenes clip
“There’s no one talking about whether this has got potential to make someone rich or this is gonna be the next 100x. We don’t talk about money at all,” Caslin said, adding that Hello Labs spent about a third of the show’s budget on legal fees to ensure the format is above board.
“Our original show that we laid out was much more token-based, about how the tokens are integrated. But there’s so much gray area in regulation, particularly in the US, which is obviously our biggest market in terms of viewership.”
“We’ve really tried to make the show more about business models, roadmaps, the team structure, the utility of the token or the product. It’s all about exposure, it’s about mentorship and it’s giving these projects that are often overlooked a chance in the spotlight…and we’re really trying to find unicorns in the sea of horses.”
A template for due diligence
Killer Whales — which is shot on the same set as Bruce Wayne’s temporary bat cave in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” after Wayne Manor burns down — is aptly entertaining, if not brutal at times.
If one can suspend disbelief long enough to accept that characters like Nawfal and Neuner could, in theory, offer effective advice for crypto startups, that is. Scaramucci plays the stoic sage, often between catty interactions from the other hosts.
As is the case with startups even outside of the blockchain space, some project insiders are financially (and even spiritually) all-in on their startups. This turns securing approval of the judges into a deeply personal rollercoaster of emotions.
Some entrepreneurs are even joined by their spouses or family members in the deep-end, either financially or by working alongside them in the trenches, which makes for some quality cringe content.
More mainstream audiences unfamiliar with degenerate discourse (who may be encountering the hosts for the first time) otherwise gain a useful template for due diligence:
How many users do projects have and are they generating any revenue? Who are the primary competitors and what’s the crypto angle — is it simply wedging a cryptocurrency into an already-established concept, and if so, is that a sustainable business model?
Loading Tweet.. Former White House press secretary Anthony Scaramucci is now firmly in the crypto space
“For season one, we had 250 projects that applied and we got that down to 22 which appear on the show,” Caslin said. “For season two, which starts filming in June, we’re looking to do more episodes and explore more genres within the industry.”
Projects looking to be on the show fill out a form on either Hello Labs’ website or CoinMarketCap. The first stage, Caslin explained, involves sifting through the garbage — memecoins about Elon Musk or Bill Gates and the like.
Hello Labs then interviews the remaining applicants. “And we do kind of background checks on all the applicants. We get a legal opinion and we bring in our auditing firm, Hacken, to give us feedback.”
Projects finally meet with show producers who judge how well they’d play on television. Games make for great television because they’re easy to understand, but techy explanations of layer-1 blockchains can be more difficult for regular viewers.
Those that pass the final producer interview get booked for the show. “There’s no fees involved. We don’t pay the projects [to appear], they don’t pay us,” Caslin said.
“We’re like Switzerland in this whole thing. Hello Labs facilitates the projects getting onto the set. But then once they’re there, it’s completely up to the whales and we don’t influence their decision making.”
A pitch show for Web3 startups, by a Web3 startup
Therein lies the rub. Because the hosts can’t actually invest in what’s pitched to them, at times it doesn’t feel like there’s much at stake.
The projects themselves do potentially risk their reputations by appearing on the show. If they fail to secure even one “swim” vote, for instance, it’s possible that prospective investors could avoid their projects moving forward.
For the whales, though, those who vote “swim” on projects don’t end up with much skin in the game. They’ve only pledged to serve as project advisors and cannot invest in any of the projects themselves, even after the show airs.
This can result in the whales giving their approval to certain projects without any apparent rhyme or reason, beyond perhaps pity or a sense of solidarity.
Still, it makes for good television, especially refreshing at a time when most crypto content on streaming platforms falls into either satire or true crime genres.
Watching founders and other Web3 startup insiders talk out their use cases and value propositions in real-time, while addressing skepticism from the hosts, is satisfying for anyone who’s sifted through the thousands of cryptocurrencies on the market today, searching for the next big thing.
For Caslin, though, producing the show is something of a meta move. Killer Whales is the first exclusive television show in Hello Labs’ self-styled entertainment ecosystem, which also includes games, live events and NFTs.