Flyfish Club, the first NFT membership restaurant group, will open its doors in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood in 2023. What might keep a hospitality group busy before its doors even open?

Building its community.

Since 2021, VCR Group’s Flyfish Club has been minting memberships to interested parties locally and abroad. From athletes and celebrities to local New Yorkers, the Club’s goal is to foster a community that enjoys culinary and dining experiences and will connect in the physical world through their virtual membership.

David Rodolitz, founder and CEO of Flyfish Club and VCR Group, has been an innovator in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. In an interview with The Washington Post, he predicted that, while “Now we’re looking at LinkedIn, but in five years we’re going to be looking at someone’s digital wallet to see who they are.” Rodolitz tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence more about the potential that tokenized memberships can have for companies and consumers, and how adding a digital layer to brand experiences can turn those memberships into invested, lasting communities.

Why did you choose an NFT membership as the business model for Flyfish?

A lot was happening in 2021 around NFTs. It became this very exciting technology that a lot of people got, I believe, a little bit lost on what its purpose was. They were just focused on the collectible part of it, [but] the technology, to us, was really what was remarkable.

The technology is what allows you to authenticate ownership over something. It allows you to embed the smart contract and it allows you to seamlessly sell or transfer this ownership to someone else.

We're not really focused on that part of the NFT collectible community. Our entire project is based around utility. So as NFTs became very relevant last year, we thought of a lot of different use cases of how we could leverage an NFT for different hospitality ventures. And we are always very interested in member-based communities. We felt that by taking the traditional membership model and layering in this technology, the NFT component created something that was new and innovative and interesting and changed the value proposition to our members. They own the membership rather than essentially renting a social experience. They own their access. They still pay for food and beverage. But this is a different mechanism and way of everybody interacting together.

How have consumers and future clientele reacted so far?

Up front, they reacted very well. The project sold out in less than a minute, so there was clearly a lot of excitement and anticipation. I think there are many factors that went into that.

Some people got very involved in the crypto and NFT movement last year and I think that created this ball of energy that worked in our favor. In the middle of 2022, I think we kept people's excitement and interest by producing a lot of physical events: community-driven experiences, virtual events, cooking classes, wine tastings, all these various experiences where we spent a lot of time, dedication, [and] money [to bring] value to our community. That was really the only way we felt comfortable to mint the tokens as early as we did. We knew that we were going to deliver millions of dollars of value and experiences for our member base.

I think we kept a lot of people's attention and excitement because we were spending time with them. There's a beautiful community that's being built. These people are spending time with one another on their own now; they've gotten to know each other. People traveled to our events. We’re creating a really cool brand that people are really invested in and it's remarkable to see the implosion of all markets inclusive of crypto and NFTs.

What makes Flyfish Club different from other NFT projects?

We're not Web3 guys trying to figure out hospitality; we're hospitality guys that have leveraged a Web3 component. This is what we do: we create dining experiences for people and have been behind a lot of very celebrated places in the New York area [before Flyfish]. We’ve partnered with celebrity chefs and Michelin-rated chefs. This isn't a flash in the pan: these are decorated people with culinary expertise and hospitality experts, and we put something together that I think really resonated and made sense to people who really just love food, beverage, innovative new ideas and social experiences.

We created a project baked in utility. It was community, it was event programming both in the physical and digital space, it was the restaurant dining club, it was all of these different layers of value that gave us confidence in what we were doing.

We're being innovative, we're doing something that's never been done before.

What do you find most promising about Web3 for brands?

I think brands have the ability to tap into a community and really engage with them at a different level: to provide experiences for them through a tokenized and gated community. There's going to be a ton of different [advancements] with loyalty and rewards and I think Web3 allows you to do certain things that you couldn't do before.

The community component is huge. I've been building brands for a long time and I would say that we built more of a brand in less than a year with Flyfish Club.

With this Web3, Discord-based, technology-forward, social media-forward community, if you really engage them and power them up it can be very beneficial for brands. The ability to harness community has been tremendous for us.

You were quoted in The Washington Post on how people are “communicating digitally” using “social currency.” Can you elaborate on this?

Last year, you saw most projects that were collectible based with no or very little utility. We wanted to flip it on its head to go 90% utility with a real life and value-driven community collectible.

With NFTs, people can showcase them on their phones as a social currency, meaning you're representing and communicating who you are through [an NFT]. We've been doing this as people for generations: what you wear, your clothing, your hats, your shoes, all these other things are communicating what [a person] likes, what are their passions, what they're into or what they're not into. We saw a lot of that with NFTs. If people have Crypto Punk or Flyfish Club, it kind of shows what they’re interested in.

I said that 'you're not going to look at [someone’s] LinkedIn: you’re going to look at NFTs' down the road. I believe that it is social currency and we’re going to see more and more of that. I think the NFT community is going to continue to evolve, and there will be more utility-based projects like what we're doing. People want to showcase that.

What’s one takeaway from your experience building Flyfish that brands should know when building a Web3 business model?

Brands have to be ready. Building infrastructure around supporting the community online and in person is very important.

Discord communities are extremely important, but it cuts both ways. A lot of the older projects were focused on collectibles [rather than] physical events with operators. We’re the opposite of that. We're out working all day, we're building teams, we're designing restaurants and producing events, all stuff that requires manpower, time and execution.

What we found was that we were getting [some] disgruntled members that were expecting announcements every day, wanting us to come up with all these amazing, crazy things every moment. And we were not focused at all on that. Our token is access to a member’s club and you own your membership. That's what our club is based on. We're trying to execute our plans and provide value, but we weren't [as active] in this Web3 world as they were used to. I think that balance is very important and companies should really understand the engagement that's necessary both digitally and in real life.

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