On the chain reaction podcast this week we delved into a topic that tends to stir strong emotions even from people outside the crypto space – the metaverse. Mercedes Bent, an investor at Lightspeed Venture Partners that focuses on consumer investment in crypto, joined us to unpack this loaded term and explain why she sees its potential.
“It’s become a punching bag,” Bent told businesstraverse.com. “When you think about its potential, and why a geek like me might get excited about it, it’s because there are things you can do [in the metaverse] that you wouldn’t be able to in the real world.”
The prospect of attending an event with tens of thousands of other attendees around the world in the metaverse, for example, excites Bent. But even more than entertainment, Bent is excited about the metaverse’s potential to make an impact through education. She shared the hypothetical example of public school students learning from the best instructors in the world in a metaverse similar to the movie Ready Player One — though she qualified without the dystopian elements. Bent’s vision aligns with some of her non-crypto consumer investments at Lightspeed, such as a live education platform for small groups extracurricular†
But what does the metaverse actually look like? When we asked Bent, who once worked for virtual reality technology company Upload, she said she thought the metaverse should be tied to VR technology, specifically the head-mounted screen.
She has since realized that what the metaverse has to offer has less to do with how users physically access it and more to do with the sense of community it can foster.
“I think what this era – the 2021 and 2022 era of metaverse terminology – has shown is that it’s not about the headset, it’s not about what physical device you use, it’s about the feeling of [a] collective togetherness, and presence,” she added.
While VR technology itself has been around for decades, Bent argues that the metaverse gained popularity as a concept last year because it offered one thing classic VR games like Second Life didn’t: the ability to transfer in-game currency to fiat. -currencies. Cryptocurrency, she thinks, has made that switch possible.
“Obviously there was in-game currency and there were obviously virtual goods you could buy before, but being able to transfer that to fiat and then use it in the real world to pay your rent bill is just another thing altogether. that we had not before in such a large quantity,” said Bent.
That technological development, coupled with the outbreak of the pandemic, which allowed people to spend more time online, gave new life to the metaverse, she continued.
Skeptics think the metaverse gets a lot of hype and isn’t backed by substantial technology or user adoption. Bent said that in her experience, skepticism is to be expected for early-stage consumer products.
“These hyped areas don’t look obvious. I mean, they don’t have a grip, it’s just an idea. They’re often from a founder who hasn’t necessarily had the most pedigree, so you have to take a bit of a leap of faith,” Bent said. Bent’s mission as an investor is to “support early-stage consumer companies that unlock wealth creation for underserved individuals and regions,” according to her website — a statement that could help explain where she finds some of that belief.
As a novice consumer investor, Bent pushes back the idea that it is too early to fund consumer-facing crypto companies that have not yet improved their user experience.
“There are not many companies [in web3] that I’d say it’s scaled up to what I’d call a mass audience. We’ve got Metamask, which is pretty far along, but I think all these companies are up for grabs in terms of [whether] someone else could come and replace them,” Bent said. “I think we will see the next WhatsApp, AOL and Google being established in the near future.”