Queen of the kingdom: Alice Wong, CEO and lead developer of Monkey Kingdom, is stepping out of the shadows for this exclusive interview with Tatler

The world of Web3 moves at lighting pace. Few outside the tech world knew what an NFT was last year, and even fewer could have predicted the meteoric rise of the Monkey Kingdom NFT project that launched last November.

A collection of 2,222 randomly generated 32x32 pixel NFTs, Monkey Kingdom has captured the hearts of many Asians, taking inspiration from the mythical creature Sun Wukong, also known as Monkey King, based on the 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en.

The legendary creature, known for his strength and capacity for mass destruction, is a favourite among millennials, including Alice Wong, lead developer and CEO of Monkey Kingdom. “It’s a treasured story for me. The story of Sun Wukong is so beloved in Asia, and I think that’s what drew a lot of people in [to our project]. People loved the fact we were a uniquely Asian NFT project,” she says.

When Monkey Kingdom’s first collection was released on November 27, it sold out in less than two minutes and garnered mainstream success days after mint. In December, the project sold an NFT for a record 660 Solana (US$148,000) and, in March 2022, it became the first Asian NFT project to be auctioned by Sotheby’s, cementing its right to be considered alongside more traditional contemporary art.

Wong, who has chosen to stay anonymous until now, is still wrapping her head around the popularity of the project, which has gained support from celebrities like DJ Steve Aoki, Brooklyn Beckham, Taiwanese singer-songwriter Eric Chou, members of the Hong Kong boyband Mirror and marketing veteran Federico Tan. “I wanted the project to be about Monkey Kingdom, the art and the community—not me. Now the project has matured a lot, so I felt it was the right time to come out,” she says.

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Hi ResMonkey kingdomAlice Wong20-05-2022
Above Alice Wong (Photo: Affa Chan/ Tatler Hong Kong)

“I wanted the project to be about Monkey Kingdom, the art and the community—not me. Now the project has matured a lot, so I felt it was the right time to come out"

- Alice Wong -

Born in the US and raised in Hong Kong, Wong is an industrial engineering and operations research graduate from University of California, Berkeley. Before launching Monkey Kingdom, she was a social media marketer and currently owns a marketing agency in mainland China, working with influencers and artists from Hong Kong. “My hours tend to stretch a little more than 9am to 5pm. I devote all my time to the project. It’s the focus of all my attention,” she says.

Being a first NFT collection with an Asian story at its centre is a key element for buyers, including watch connoisseur Austen Chu, who is a fan of the project. In an interview with Tatler earlier this year, Chu shared his enthusiasm for it: “My favourite NFT by far is Monkey Kingdom. I grew up watching [Disney nature documentary] Monkey Kingdom, so the NFT brought back all kinds of nostalgia.”

Before the launch of Monkey Kingdom, few NFT projects focused on Asian pride. Since then, projects like Karafuru and Clone-X have burst on the scene, both of which Wong says she’d love one day to collaborate with. “Our NFT community consists of a lot of first-time buyers and newbies to Web3 from the Asia-Pacific region. We are proud that we could introduce so many of them to Web3. The fact that Monkey Kingdom was the first major project from Hong Kong was a matter of pride for a lot of people here,” Wong says.

"The fact that Monkey Kingdom was the first major project from Hong Kong was a matter of pride for a lot of people here"

- Alice Wong -

Apart from amplifying Asian voices, Wong is most proud of the community she’s built. “[Our NFTs] represent a fantastic group of people who have come together and created an amazing community. Owning a Monkey Kingdom NFT makes you part of this community.”

Though the team has seen tremendous highs, Monkey Kingdom’s journey hasn’t been bulletproof. Last year, a hacker scammed the project out of US$1.3 million worth of cryptocurrency, which exposed major security concerns for its users.  “We had hired a reputable external agency for services on our Discord server. Unfortunately, they had an internal security breach which, in turn, allowed hackers to access our server and steal funds from our Discord members. When we found out what happened, we didn’t want to leave victims out in the cold, so we opened our marketing and funding wallets to help those who lost funds,” Wong says.

Describing the experience so far as “a rollercoaster” of ups and downs, Wong is excited for the future. The team enjoyed a fashion collaboration with Japanese jewellery and apparel brand Ambush earlier this year and have also released a new collection of NFTs. The rest of the year will see more utilities and play-to-earn opportunities for their community members: a metaverse named The Kingdom and a game which is currently being developed. It’s a jungle of opportunity out there, and Wong is ready for the adventure.

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