Meet the man behind the technology that allowed Metaverse Fashion Week to be the mega success it was
How I’m Making It is a weekly series in which Tatler speaks to influential individuals about their unique journeys and what keeps them going.
When Justin Banon founded Boson Protocol in 2019, during what he considers a “crypto winter“, the serial entrepreneur didn’t expect that his technology would soon become so integral to the metaverse. It was used to power large-scale virtual events such as Metaverse Fashion Week in Decentraland and also to onboard various luxury brands on the platform.
“I wanted to build the blockchain version of a rewards program,” Banon explained. “However, I noticed a few issues. For example, if I tokenise a car, how do I know that I’m going to actually receive the item or get my money back?”
Currently, according to Banon, the only way to do this is through an intermediary which Banon wanted to eliminate.
In 2019, Banon founded and launched Boson Protocol, a decentralised network that helps people sell physical products as NFTs, without the need for a centralised intermediary. Essentially, the company bridged the gap between shopping online and in a physical store.
“Boson Protocol’s technology solves the problem of connecting smart contracts to real-world physical assets. This allows for the exchange of digital value for physical assets,” Banon continued.
Of course, the journey to Boson Protocol was nothing close to easy for Banon who wasn’t always interested in the metaverse.
“I actually always thought I would be a theoretical physicist in my early days,” shared Banon who attended Imperial College London and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics. As bitcoin and crypto became more popular, Banon continued his education and also accomplished a master's degree in Digital Innovation at the University of London followed by another master's degree in Blockchain and Digital Currency at the University of Nicosia.
Upon graduating, Banon began to work in tech where he held various roles and positions.
“In my life before Web3, I was the Global Director of Priority Pass. Here, I took a US$50 million revenue loyalty rewards business based around paper and plastic vouchers and massively scaled it to a US$1 billion-revenue digital voucher platform,” Banon explained.
He also passionately spoke about two startups that he had founded. These were Meltfactory, a blockchain strategy consultancy focused on blockchain venture architecture and decentralized business model design, and Redeemeum, a venture-backed marketplace for exchanging crypto-assets for real-world products and services.
In 2019, Banon decided to start Boson Protocol despite the fact that no one was interested in what he was doing and that many investors were insisting that crypto was dead.
“Only a few hardcore believers thought selling physical items as NFTs or building a universal settlement layer for commerce was a good idea,” Banon said. “However, we persevered and a year later we raised US$36 million and assembled one of the best teams in the space. Now, we have an avalanche of adoption across major brands.”
True enough, Boson Protol today has had the privilege of counting companies such as Tommy Hilfiger, Cider, IKKS, Deadfellaz, The Rebels by House of Kalinkin, Christine Massarany and more as loyal clients.
What’s special about Boson Protocol’s technology though is that they have the ability to manipulate it easily such that in the future, brands could even limit sales of a certain physical item to only those who possess a certain NFT in their wallet, something that is certainly on the horizon for Web3.
“We are beginning to see a massive trend for luxury items to have digital and physical components. The metaverse is simply the next interface,” Boson explained.
Banon then went on to illustrate his point by saying that the future of shopping has changed and that brands are simply adapting to it in a way that they were unable to get ahead of when social media and mobile phones took the world by storm.
“Imagine seeing a pair of sneakers in a store and the offer is only activated by completing a digital to physical treasure hunt. The user goes into Decentraland and plays an awesome quest of various challenges to unlock the offer,” he explained. “Once completed, the user can then access the redeemable NFT and redeem it for the real-world item. The sneakers are then delivered to the customer’s door, connecting digital to physical.”
Most recently, Boson Protocol was given the privilege of helping to power Metaverse Fashion Week, a four-day long event that included runway shows, fashion experiences, pop-up shops, and afterparties in the virtual realm of Decentraland.
The opportunity came about after Boson Protocol launched a pioneering virtual lifestyle, commerce and cultural playground located in Decentraland.
“This was a record-breaking real estate purchase of virtual land at the time. Our vision was clear from the onset, and we knew that we wanted to build a gamified commerce marketplace. Little did we know, the metaverse would go stratospheric,” Banon said with a laugh.
This was what then led to Boson Protocol becoming the core strategic and commerce partner for Metaverse Fashion Week where the company helped major luxury fashion brands sell physical products from within the metaverse using its technology.
“We had over 15 brands entering Boson Portal for Metaverse Fashion Week and we are continuing to see massive traction and a huge wave of mass adoption,” Banon said.
Now that Metaverse Fashion Week is over, Banon is looking ahead as the company continues to remain committed to its vision of building out an entire decentralised commerce ecosystem in games, websites and platforms.
On top of the groundbreaking work Banon and his company are doing in the metaverse, he also juggles family life, personal commitments and more. Below, he shares how he gets it all done in his own words.
What is a typical morning like for you?
Justin Banon (JB): I have a four-year-old daughter so I am woken up in the early hours of the morning. I then light the wood fire so she can play in the lounge and I sometimes go to the gym.
What do you usually have for breakfast?
JB: I do intermittent fasting so I don’t usually eat until midday and I try not to eat after 8 pm.
What does a standard workday look like for you?
JB: It’s very diverse with lots of meetings. It can range from deep tech meetings with the world’s best blockchain minds to discussing legal and regulatory issues with top blockchain law academics.
I often attend thought-provoking tech meetings with other metaverse founders and of course meetings with partners, including Web3 projects and fashion and luxury brands as well.
How would you describe your working style?
JB: My working style is currently transitioning. Where initially I was involved in everything as an early founder, I now focus on working on high-level strategy whilst supporting a team of amazing experts to do incredible things.
What time do you usually have lunch? What do you usually have for lunch?
JB: I have lunch at about 1 pm every day. This normally includes a sandwich and a protein and fruit shake.
Free time: overrated or underrated? Why?
JB: It is essential. You need a work-life balance to perform at your best. Otherwise, what is the point of it all? For me, free time is needed to spend time with family, friends, and most importantly my little one.
How do you achieve a work-life balance? How do you set boundaries?
JB: I prioritise spending time with my family by doing fun things with them. This is the point of it all, so sometimes I just need to remind myself of that. As a founder, it is easy to work all the time. It requires discipline and focus to switch off.
How do you chase your dreams?
JB: For me, building a deep tech commerce infrastructure whilst being a good dad allows me to accomplish my dreams.
Risks: should you take them? Why or why not?
JB: Yes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Life is a game and you need to play the game, learn from your mistakes and take risks.
How do you deal with your shortcomings?
JB: I believe that you must focus on weaknesses more than your strengths in order to overcome them.
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten?
JB: Be yourself. There’s no point pretending to be someone you’re not.
What is an idea/thought that you heard recently, that you thought was interesting?
JB: Life is information installed on the fabric of reality.
How do you unplug?
JB: Reading about things like quantum mechanics, the origin of life in the universe, life in the universe and the vastness of everything.
How do you stay grounded?
JB: I’m not sure that I am grounded. We’re in the midst of a huge tech revolution and I’m extremely excited to be a part of it. I don’t think my feet have touched the ground for a while.
How do you manage stress?
JB: I manage my stress by cooking, reading mind-expanding philosophy and physics books and spending time with my family and friends.
How do you stay motivated?
JB: It’s easy to stay motivated as I love what I do. It’s fascinating and inspiring to be surrounded by such a dedicated, hardworking, bright, and innovative team.
I’m constantly witnessing amazing things and it can often feel like being in a video game with the difference being that the stakes are very high. We’re trying to build a future where commerce is owned by many and not the few, preventing large monopolies from capturing everything.
What is one item that has changed your life for the better?
JB: Books have most definitely changed my life for the better. It’s provided me with access to an entire universe of intellectual thought.
Do you have moments of doubt and how do you overcome them?
JB: Yes, I have a lot of moments of doubt because what we are trying to do is exceptionally ambitious. I have built a team of people who are doing almost impossible things, and I trust that I can turn to them to get advice and overcome any doubts that I may have.
What would you consider your greatest accomplishment to date?
JB: My greatest accomplishment is that I have brought up a beautiful daughter who’s kind, compassionate, and loving.
What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?
JB: I check on my daughter and give her a kiss goodnight.