While NFTs have been around for a few years now, their usefulness has only increased significantly in 2021. This may be due to the growing acceptance that tangible things in this world are moving towards a more digital reality, or the metaverse envisaged, largely catalyzed by COVID-19.
NFTs in Malaysia are most often related to the arts industry, but they can be used for much more, as we have written before. They also have utilitarian functions and MinNature Malaysia (MinNature) attempts to reduce barriers to entry in their use by allowing visitors to purchase entrance tickets (the NFT) via cryptocurrencies.
The team’s digital shift came into effect after struggling through 18 months of confinement, where the only viewers of MinNature’s sculptures were the four walls of its gallery.
Big dreams stopped by confinements
MinNature is an art exhibition featuring around 34,000 miniature replicas of different sculptures in Malaysia covering its 1,207 square meter gallery.
Anecdote: Its centerpiece Dataran Merdeka cost around RM80,000 to build.
It opened at Summit USJ in 2016, where the exhibit was geared towards the children’s and family market.
On March 3, 2020, MinNature relocated to JUMPA at Sungei Wang Plaza, in the heart of KL’s Golden Triangle, and reinvented itself to be a beacon of Malaysian culture and heritage. There, they hoped to target more tourists and adults.
Speaking to Vulcan Post, Wan Cheng Huat, Founder and Curator of MinNature Malaysia, said, “After spending a huge amount of money on marketing, promotion, KOLs and billboards for our grand opening, our team was looking forward to this. brand new start for MinNature. .”
“But we didn’t know what was in store for us.” Within 2 weeks of reopening, the MCO went into effect and the tourism industry came to a halt.
Looking for an end in sight
What many hoped would only be a few weeks of lockdown turned into months, and morale continued to plummet. The team realized that their dreams of reopening MinNature might not come true as cash reserves hit zero, with no end in sight to lockdowns.
“At some point during the lockdowns, I had to reach out to my mom and siblings to help me cover my monthly financial commitments and even put my house up for sale,” Cheng Huat explained in our interview. But since he found no buyers, his house was not sold.
“Personally, as a founder, I was so devastated. No words can accurately describe this feeling. I was already on the verge of giving up.
Knowing they couldn’t control the government’s plans, the team decided to refocus their energy to be part of a 3D printing initiative to help frontliners. Participation may have relieved them of some unwanted thoughts about their situation at the time.
Several pivots have also been attempted to generate revenue for the company, from hosting paid virtual rides to selling custom miniature products online and offering model-making services. The team also tried to sell vegetables and durians to earn money.
Cheng Huat recalled that these initiatives were not easy to plan and execute, especially after the team that grew from 8 members to 60, was reduced to 2 during MCO 2.0.
“The saddest part of the MCO was that we had to lay off our entire team in October 2020. We exhausted all the reserves we originally allocated before the MCO,” he said.
Migrate to digital
One of the ways the MinNature team remained active throughout MCO despite its closed expo doors was by venturing into the metaverse. A free session they hosted was the MinNature 360 experience, where viewers could explore the gallery and its miniature wonders.
This was the team’s way of getting user feedback on the acceptance of their metaverse project. “We wanted to know how viewers felt when exploring a 360-degree view of MinNature, what their expectations were, and whether it was a viable option to venture into,” Cheng Huat explained.
“From this investigation, it led us to explore and develop the metaverse to complement our existing offerings.”
But their metaverse plans aren’t just a jump on the bandwagon. Even before the 2020 shutdowns, Cheng Huat said they already see the potential to integrate metaverse-related technologies like augmented reality into their products to make them more appealing.
In fact, MinNature was already doing immersive projection mapping on its miniatures to develop its own AR app, but the development was halted due to MCO.
“We are currently working on plans to raise funds and restart development, with a focus on exploring the implementation of MinNature metaverses and NFTs. This is where people can come in to explore MinNature digitally and even purchase our miniature collections as NFTs,” said Cheng Huat.
NFTs as a new source of revenue
As part of the adoption above, the gallery has started accepting cryptocurrencies through its ticket sales. Because there are no “fixed prices” when it comes to crypto and NFTs, visitors will pay the crypto value equivalent to the Ringgit value of the ticket, and payments are made with XRP cryptocurrencies or USDT.
To boost the adoption and usage rates of this payment method, the team is also running promotions for those who pay via crypto.
Additionally, MinNature launched its first series of NFT titled “MinNature Official–Mini in the Glass Wall Collection” on Opensea. “We believe that with a balance between a digital and physical gallery, it will allow us to reach untapped markets and grow,” Cheng Huat hoped.
The whole idea of using the metaverse and NFTs as currencies is that people can essentially “own” digital assets. MinNature’s sculptures of tiny buildings, roads and infrastructure present, in my opinion, a physical and tangible way to understand the concept of metaverse.
“The ability to own a room or the entire miniature building or sculpture will be realized through our NFTs. This unique physical pairing use case for our NFTs is being developed.
MinNature has also successfully held paid live virtual walks which it intends to maintain as an ongoing program in the coming months. This will extend its reach to all kinds of visitors, perhaps even those from overseas who cannot visit it in person.
So even if the next MCO happens, we see it more as an opportunity to implement our new ideas. For MinNature, we have already passed the worst of the MCO and we are moving forward even if another containment is imminent.
Wan Cheng Huat, founder and curator of MinNature Malaysia
- Learn more about MinNature Malaysia here.
- Read what we wrote about NFTs and how they are growing in Malaysia here.
Featured Image Credit: Chee Wing, MinNature Malaysia team member