This week on the Chain Reaction podcast, we delved into the metaverse, a subject that often elicits strong feelings even from people outside the cryptocurrency sector. We were joined by Mercedes Bent, an investor at Lightspeed Venture Partners who specializes in consumer investments in cryptocurrency, to decode this complex phrase and discuss why she thinks it has promise. As Bent told TechCrunch, “It’s turned into a punching bag.” You can do things [in the metaverse] that you could not do in the actual world, which is why perhaps a nerd like myself gets thrilled about it, if you consider its possibilities.
Bent, for example, is excited about the idea of attending a gathering with tens of thousands of other people from all around the world. Bent is excited about the potential for the metaverse to improve education more than it is about providing enjoyment. She gave the hypothetical example of public school pupils being able to study from the greatest professors in the world in a metaverse similar to the one in the film “Ready Player One,” however she tempered it by saying that it would lack the dystopian components. Bent’s goals align with other of Lightspeed’s consumer investments that are not in the crypto space, such the small-group live education site Outschool.
What will the metaverse look like in reality, though? We questioned Bent, a former employee of the virtual reality (VR) technology startup Upload, about her previous belief that the metaverse was inextricably linked to VR, notably the head-mounted display screen. Since then, she has come to understand that the benefits of the metaverse are more closely related to the feeling of community it may build than they are to how people physically access it.
It’s not about the headset or the physical equipment you use, she continued, “I think what this period — the 2021 and 2022 era of the metaverse nomenclature — has proven is that it’s about the idea of [a] collective being together, and presence. Although virtual reality technology has been around for a long time, Bent claims that the metaverse gained popularity as a concept last year because it provided a feature that traditional VR games like Second Life lacked: the opportunity to convert in-game currency to real money. She thinks that switch was made feasible by cryptocurrency.
“Of course, there was in-game money and there were virtual products you could buy previously, but the ability to be able to transfer that to fiat and then go use it in the real world to pay your rent bill is simply something altogether different that we didn’t have in such a huge number before,” Bent said. The metaverse was given fresh life by this technical advancement in addition to the pandemic’s arrival, which allowed individuals to spend more time online.
The metaverse, according to skeptics, receives excessive hype and isn’t supported by robust technology or widespread user adoption. According to Bent’s observations, distrust is normal for any early-stage consumer products. “These highly publicized regions seem incredibly obscure. They’re just ideas, after all; they have no traction. You have to kind of take a leap of faith because they sometimes have founders who don’t have the best background,” said Bent. According to her website, Bent’s goal as an investor is to support “early-stage consumer enterprises that are enabling wealth creation for underprivileged persons and areas,” which may help to explain where she gets part of her trust.
Bent, an early-stage consumer investor, disagrees with the notion that it is too soon to invest in consumer-facing cryptocurrency businesses that have not yet perfected their user experience. There aren’t many web3 businesses that, in my opinion, have yet expanded to what I would call a mainstream audience. We have Metamask, which is really advanced, but I believe that all of these businesses are open to being replaced by someone else, according to Bent. “I believe that the next WhatsApp, AOL, and Google will soon be formed.”