Outdoor Voices founder Ty Haney is launching a new venture in the NFT space

It would probably be an overstatement to say that Ty Haney changed the way we work. She didn’t start a boutique fitness craze; it’s not Jane Fonda. But Outdoor Voices, the athletics company she founded in 2014, has helped popularize a fitness paradigm that has more to do with daily movements than the body-stressing athletics advertised by brands. like Nike.

Outdoor Voices created an audience with color-blocked compression leggings and all-in-one exercise dresses that could easily go from the gym to brunch. On social media, fans bragged about shopping for items in all shades and posted photos of themselves #DoingThings in scenic locations while wearing matching ensembles. They also shared their feedback on the new styles and colorways in online forums. It was a fairy tale about customer loyalty.

Although she is no longer with Outdoor Voices, Ms Haney, 33, hopes to bring her principles of community building and consumer engagement to a new sphere: the blockchain-based future of the internet known as web3. She’s betting that in the next phase of online retail, “hit things” will be the new “do things.”

His latest venture, a platform called Try Your Best, will allow brands to collect customer feedback in exchange for rewards such as digital collectibles (NFTs) and branded coins that can be used for bragging rights or for rewards. purchases. These are assets, Ms. Haney said, that could potentially have lasting value, as opposed to the one-time discount codes and ephemeral perks that most companies give to loyalists.

“The idea is for brands and fans to build together, and the concept is to share value with those who create it,” Ms. Haney said in an interview.

Direct-to-consumer brands have typically relied on disparate sources to solicit feedback from their most engaged customers: Google Docs, Slack databases, DMs. Try Your Best aims to streamline that process and divert marketing dollars away from Facebook and Instagram, where Ms Haney said soaring costs have made it harder for emerging brands to grow.

So far, 10 brands have signed up for the Try Your Best pilot program, the company said, including Hill House Home, whose “nap dresses” have become the pinnacle of pandemic loungewear, and Vada, a company jewelry and glasses. But initially the only brand on the platform will be Joggy, a new brand run by Ms Haney that sells products containing CBD and THCV.

She said Try Your Best hopes to reach “Parade’s customer, JuneShine’s customer, Glossier’s customer — those Gen Z-type millennial audiences.”

Target users are “people who buy a brand because they like it and post it on Instagram,” said Sean Judge, general partner of Castle Island Ventures, which specializes in blockchain-related investments and has invested $2 million in Try Your Best. — a modest figure compared to Outdoor Voices’ fundraising. “It’s a way for them to connect with other members of this community and also have a direct relationship with the brands to provide real-time feedback on new product ideas and the direction the brand should be. take.”

Ms. Haney said involving consumers in design decisions has contributed to the success of some of Outdoor Voices’ most popular products. “The way we got people to buy all the colors – 25 colors – of the exercise dress was by bringing them upstream in the process of creating the product,” she said, but “there is no There was really no centralized tool for this type of interaction.”

Casey Lewis, a trendsetter who writes about youth culture in her Substack newsletter, After School, was intrigued by the idea of ​​brands rethinking customer loyalty but remaining cautious about the appeal of digital assets.

“Any time a brand succeeds in building a community, it’s a huge win for them. But it’s so, so hard to manufacture or force that success,” Ms. Lewis said. “The bigger question is : Do people care about NFTs, and will that be enough to engage and excite them?”

Web3 has been presented, often in vague and utopian terms, as an online ecosystem where users will wrest power from the technological behemoths that dominate the current phase of the Internet, Web 2.0.

Kevin Werbach, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust,” said that while “granting strong property rights directly to users” has the potential to change the balance of power, none of web3’s promises are guaranteed.

“There is a Web3 that is wonderful and trying to make the world a better place, but just labeling something Web3 doesn’t mean the power dynamics will magically reverse,” Professor Werbach said.

Ms. Haney is particularly interested in the integration of women in Web3. “We’re seeing a male-dominated demo on Reddit and in Discords, recounting all these opportunities,” she said. “By bringing brands that have a large female audience into crypto, that’s a really big opportunity.”

Try Your Best runs on the Avalanche blockchain, which Haney said she chose in part because its transactions use far less energy than, say, Bitcoin or Ethereum. (Even so-called “green” mining operations, however, consume significantly more energy than other financial transactions.)

Try Your Best plans to make money by collecting monthly fees from brands and potentially sharing revenue when tokens have been used to drive sales.

Mr Judge, the investor, previously worked with a range of direct-to-consumer companies and heard their constant frustration with the escalating costs of advertising to customers on Facebook and Instagram. Ms Haney “experienced these pain points first hand”, he said.

Outdoor Voices was a huge success. Ms. Haney and company were the subject of a glowing article in The New Yorker comparing Outdoor Voices to Lululemon, and raised more than $50 million in venture capital. He also caught the eye of Mickey Drexler, the retail legend who led transformations at Gap and J. Crew. He became chairman of the board and attracted investors to the brand.

But just before the pandemic hit the United States, Ms Haney’s successful run at Outdoor Voices came to an abrupt halt as investors questioned her leadership. A schism opened up between the young founder and Mr. Drexler, expensive store openings were delayed and a series of experienced retail executives left the company, which struggled to relocate to Austin, Australia. Texas, from New York. The internal unrest has been detailed in articles in The New York Times and BuzzFeed News.

Ms Haney remembers thinking at the time, “My life is going to be over.

But as the news cycle progressed, so did she. “It sucked but it didn’t kill me, and it gave me a lot more energy to rebuild and show that I can set a vision and execute it,” she said. “It feels good to take full responsibility.”

Ms Haney resigned from the brand amid investor uproar in February 2020, then joined the stock’s founder two months later. In January 2021, she left the company and the board to pursue projects including Try Your Best. She still retains a stake in Outdoor Voices.

Mr Judge was not concerned about Ms Haney’s tussle with Outdoor Voices investors and took it as a vote of confidence that several former company employees have since joined her at Try Your Best.

“There are challenges with every type of business, and some are more public than others,” Mr. Judge said. “I think Ty learned a tremendous amount about building a business.”

Ms Haney said her start-up comes at a time when the traditional direct-to-consumer model – which has built companies like Warby Parker, Everlane and Glossier – is “broken” after years of overreliance on social marketing.

At one point, she said, Outdoor Voices was devoting about 30% of its total funding to customer acquisition on Facebook and Instagram. She hopes Try Your Best can help brands reduce those costs.

Separately, as young people may be less willing to give their thoughts and time for free, Try Your Best offers an answer to the question of how to repay them.

“One thing with Gen Z is that they want to be rewarded for their input and guidance,” Ms Lewis said. “This is not a generation that is ready to do things just for fun.”

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