theWeb3.News Audio Experience
Today’s interview with a visionary entrepreneur whose journey through the worlds of technology and innovation, Tony Mugavero, left an indelible mark on the digital landscape. From his early days of curiosity and problem-solving to his current role as the CEO of Rad, a pioneering streaming platform powered by NFTs, Tony’s story is one of constant evolution and adaptation.
Tony’s career has been a tapestry of experiences, ranging from co-founding Galvanize and leading the global VR streaming phenomenon Littlstar to his current endeavors in the cutting-edge realms of blockchain, XR, and the Metaverse. Today, we have the privilege of sitting down with Tony to explore the insights, challenges, and inspirations that have shaped his remarkable entrepreneurial journey. Join us as we delve into the mind of an innovator whose passion for technology and unquenchable curiosity continue to drive him toward the forefront of the digital revolution.
As a child, what sparked your first significant curiosity about technology and innovation? Can you recall a particular moment or experience that ignited your interest in this direction?
My dad came home from work one day and we opened up a DOS prompt on the family PC we had. He wrote a small command into the prompt and the computer speaker made a sound rising from low to high continuously. I couldn’t believe that he told the computer what to do just by typing some text in, and it stuck with me. My parents always had computers and game consoles at the house when I was growing up, and I loved going to electronics stores to see what games were available. That led me to taking all computer courses as electives from middle school through a bachelor’s of computer engineering and minor in mathematics.
Can you share an anecdote about your earliest entrepreneurial endeavor, even if it was a lemonade stand or a neighborhood service? How did this experience impact your understanding of business?
I always wanted more money than what I was getting for allowance, and knew that if I wanted to buy games and music faster that I had to figure out ways to make more money. I got a paper route at age 11 with special permission from my parents, and my mom would drive me around to deliver papers to people at 6am before I went to school. We would also walk around with lawn mowers in the summer and knock on doors asking people to mow lawns for $10 a pop. I could buy my own video games with my extra money, so I was all about the hustle!
Childhood is a period of continuous learning. Were there any moments when you found yourself eager to learn outside of school, perhaps through books, mentors, or unconventional sources?
I used to love going to the public library and finding books about dinosaurs and planes. I would draw or trace them on paper and loved the pictures. My dad would also take me to get models and paint from craft stores to build at home. I also loved going to hobby stores and taking things apart, like RC cars. I would rip the motor out of an RC car and put it on a floating piece of plastic in the bathtub and make a motor boat. This was just pure curiosity and not really prompted. I also would take my bike apart down the ball bearings, and replace parts with custom upgrades. Different rims, forks, cranks, handlebars, pegs, etc. Fun stuff!
Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in ventures spanning VR, NFTs, streaming, and more. How do you strike a balance between embracing cutting-edge technologies while ensuring the stability and growth of your businesses?
It’s more of an art than a science guessing when a technology or innovation that’s been brewing will actually hit. I was making electronic music in 1995, building websites in the late 90s, building live video streaming in 2005, in bitcoin in 2012, in VR in 2013, in smart contracts in 2017, and fully embracing AI now (although it’s hard to keep up here). All of these moments were ahead of the curve, and they all hit faster or slower depending on consumer behavior, available technologies, investment hype, and macroeconomic conditions. When to decide to go all in? In emerging technology, VCs and large organizations will invest early in the innovation, and that’s an opportunity to get a toe hold. Then the real building and value creation has to take place, which is the hard part. For example, VR by all measures was going to be a breakout hit in 2015/2016, then it fell off. Blockchain saw a real explosion in 2017, BTC hit ~$20k, and then it all died, then it was back, then it’s sideways again but rising. AI is going through the same currently. The things we look out for include how much consumer behavior has to change for adoption, how foundational or infrastructural the technology is, is it a must-have in daily life, and is it resegmenting an existing market versus creating a new market entirely. Those dimensions are helpful in understanding how we can be successful as a business. Regardless, for me personally the thread of creating EDM going to building and monetizing live streaming networks, to bitcoin and smart contracts, and to metaverse technologies and AI all point to where web3 is landing for the next 20 years. Exciting times for us at Rad.
From co-founding Galvanize to leading Rad, your roles have evolved significantly. How has transitioning from a technical role to executive leadership impacted your personal growth and approach to decision-making?
I’m so thankful I have a foundation in technology, since literally everything we touch has some kind of technology behind it today. I still hack together things here and there, and it helps tremendously when building trust with engineering teams building solutions. I transitioned into the CEO role out of necessity initially, but realized over time that I enjoy the dynamic nature and perseverance required to stay with it and be successful. I’m acutely aware of the layers and complexity involved and have learned to use integrative thinking much more. I’ve also had to learn where to spend time on problems and solutions I can control versus issues that are out of my hands. I also realized that the people around me have to be smarter than me in areas so we can all learn from each other, while simultaneously crafting strategy and building consensus on pushing the business forward.
Your expertise ranges from blockchain to media technology. How do you continuously update and evolve your skill set to stay relevant in such a rapidly changing industry?
I truly love and deeply enjoy the interaction of creativity and analog or digital physical things that enable expression. Things like making electronic music with a physical synthesizer, or taking a photo with a full frame DSLR camera to put on the blockchain, or building an AR app to overlay holograms in the real world. It’s easy to experiment and learn at that intersection, because it’s fun!
You’ve witnessed shifts from VR to NFTs and the Metaverse. How do you navigate and anticipate industry trends, and how has this adaptability contributed to your growth as an entrepreneur?
These digital worlds are all colliding simultaneously, so what underpins my goals personally, and our goals as a company, is trying to provide value around how NFTs, XR, Web3, and AI combine. It’s not about a single technology. It’s about how we can leverage smart contracts as a licensing and monetization layer. It’s about how we can give creators tools for publishing video but also new content types like immersive or volumetric video. It’s about how we present these advancements to consumers in a simple way, and a way that also shifts their habits because it improves their lives 100x. Contemplating these ideas simultaneously, while balancing focus and simplicity, has created the biggest opportunity for growth as a business and for me personally.
Galvanize experienced significant growth and was eventually acquired. Could you delve into the challenges and personal growth opportunities you encountered while scaling a company to that magnitude?
Galvanize took some time to find its legs, and we tried a number of things before finding out where the real value was, which was the code school. Having a physical space was a great way to get early stage companies looking for capital and talent in one place, but co-working space as a business is a race to the bottom on pricing and margins. Galvanize also had a venture fund that as we all know is very hit driven, and you also don’t need a co-working space to get deal flow. So the co-working space and the venture fund ended up being nice to have, but also a distraction. When we went on a search for instructors for the code school, and built the structure for the curriculum, it easily had the best margins, the least competition, and was a space ripe for actual disruption. Having a couple classroom spaces in the co-working environment made it easy to have classes, events, and introduce talent to the companies, so it gained momentum. We had a bunch of partnership discussions early with WeWork and General Assembly, but built it from scratch instead, which was probably harder initially, but led to a real acquisition. Of course, a significant amount of capital was raised along the way, but a real business was built that everyone could be proud of.
As a leader, how do you foster a culture of innovation, collaboration, and growth within your teams, ensuring that they share your vision and values?
I try to shift conversations where I’m being asked what I think we should do, to what does the team think we should do? I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve learned to be creative and have an answer when nobody else does. If I lead with me having all the answers, that sets everyone else up for failure, doesn’t let the team have ownership, and means they have to ask me for everything. Nobody wants that! I try to provide the energy of where we should be headed and ask the team, trusted advisors, investors, and industry peers how to get there. If we get stuck in that process, I’ll get us unstuck with ideas or solutions to get the ball rolling, or if there are competing solutions coming from multiple angles, I’ll make a decision so we can keep moving. These times are very few and far between where I’m essentially dictating anything be done a certain way. It’s usually only in a moment that we’re truly stuck or where we can capitalize on an opportunity that requires a swift change in priorities.
Your expertise spans blockchain, media, startups, and more. How do you integrate these diverse specialties to drive holistic growth for your ventures?
We present ideas using pitches, social posts, newsletters, panel and speaking opportunities, conferences, and blog posts that combine to form our hypothesis on where things are going. We try to bucket responses from those funnel points alongside what we’re seeing from our own data, research reports, and social listening into a holistic pulse on where organizations are spending, where VCs are investing, where creators are gravitating, and where consumers are spending. This can create an opportunity for whiplash and feedback fatigue, so part of our learning in this process includes a healthy dose of filtering out the noise and zeroing in on what matters most to the business and trajectory.
In pursuing ventures like Littlstar and Rad, you’ve embraced emerging technologies and business models. How do you evaluate and mitigate risks while pursuing potentially groundbreaking opportunities?
We’ve found that building a platform that’s ahead of the curve, then working with business helping them adopt these new technologies, has led to income opportunities that also ultimately land on our platform. Meaning, we don’t have to build purely white labeled tech, and we can service businesses while still having those initiatives land on our platform. If we power an NFT drop for DKNY, why not also make sure it drops on Rad? If we power Syfy VR for NBCU, why not ensure that we’re delivering that content directly to consumers as well? This helps us derisk while continuing to innovate.
Rad’s incorporation of NFTs is quite pioneering. How do you envision the synergy between NFTs and streaming content impacting not only user engagement but also the financial sustainability of the platform?
Smart contracts have the ability to do what paper contracts and banks have done for years in the content space, just 100x faster and cheaper. They enable more transparency and require fewer people in the middle to manage ownership and payouts. This makes the technology perfect for streaming and video, since the content has many parties involved that require payments or royalties, and consumers want proof that they purchased and own the content or access to the content. To some in the industry, their only exposure to NFTs has been to bet on a single marketing campaign, and either have it be unsuccessful, or wildly successful only to crash later. There is no real exposure to leveraging the underlying technology in a meaningful way, beyond just a press release, so we’re building that foundation for the real use cases that eliminate billions of dollars wasted on legal, accounting, licensing, and delivery. That’s real value creation and a real business.
Rad has garnered support from industry giants like Disney, Sony, and Google. How have these partnerships contributed to the platform’s growth and market positioning?
Big media companies are incredible partners to work with and learn from, they can just be slow and hard to navigate. We love being able to get a look behind the curtain and see how they’re really thinking, and they get to learn and experiment with us to help form their long term strategic plans. With the evolution of streaming, new formats, and new monetization schemes, it’s impossible for large organizations to devote real resources internally, so they partner with companies like Rad to get something out there quickly. We don’t see what we’re doing as directly competitive with the major media companies, and can use the complementary offering to get a win-win learning from each other.
As Rad creates a streaming metaverse, how do you approach monetization strategies? Could you shed light on your vision for striking a balance between user value and sustainable growth?
We’ve found that consumers like easy payments, so using dollars to purchase on a credit card or PayPal, and getting a subscription, means they don’t have to think too much to get what they want. Adding in transactional payments using dollars is also easy, but it gets more complicated when you ask someone to pay with cryptocurrency. Now you’re not only trying to sell a product, which is hard enough, you’re trying to get someone to use a payment system with more hurdles. That’s an extra challenge that could hinder growth, but that’s why we offer both. We see the integration of NFTs and cryptocurrency payments as a way to grow with a new audience who believes that blockchain is the future of media, ownership, collecting, royalties, and payments. This goes for creators as well, in that we are offering them a new way to get paid on the content they’re producing, not just accepting cash into a bank about 60-90 days after we can do our accounting. They can get paid immediately and peer-to-peer.
Rad offers a range of content formats and categories. How do you manage content partnerships and expansion, and how does this diversity contribute to both user engagement and business growth?
We realized with the initial rise and correction in VR that there was a ton of interest there, but it was hard to get enough content to provide a service to consumers. So, we had to branch out into traditional video. The nice thing about that transition is that we already did the hard work to support immersive content, and we were able to keep our VR apps to deliver not only immersive content, but traditional video as well. We could then branch out into Smart TVs and mobile devices while still giving viewers new experiences that they can’t get anywhere else. This also adds to the differentiators for creators who can upload traditional video or immersive content. Sometimes, the simple fact that we have a VR app across devices means we can get content partnerships done. Sometimes it’s the fact that we can publish content as NFTs. Sometimes it’s both. As a new media platform, we have to focus on what makes us different in order to stay ahead and relevant.
The idea of a streaming metaverse is ambitious, but some see it as a trend that might not hold long-term appeal. How does Rad ensure its metaverse vision remains relevant and doesn’t just become another buzzword?
The term Metaverse is absolutely a buzzword, and just an easy way to encapsulate all of the emerging formats, devices, and enabling technologies quickly. Ask 10 people what the Metaverse is and you get 10 different answers. Our mission within the scope of new technologies is to reduce the complexity of creating and consuming across these new devices and formats (the Metaverse). New monetization, new identity, new content types, new methods of creation, all on new devices. So it’s less about making a whole new thing, and really just augmenting existing content management systems, payments, and playback paradigms. How do you publish something, how do you get paid, and how do you watch it? It’s a pretty simple flow that just takes on slightly different characteristics. You publish like you normally would, but it can be a 360 video or a regular video. You can get paid with dollars, but also with cryptocurrency. You can watch on a Smart TV or in a VR headset. It’s not that different from existing systems, but it’s the evolution of content and distribution we’re after.
Looking forward, what legacy do you hope to leave in the tech and entrepreneurial spheres? And how do you actively engage in mentoring and supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs to facilitate their personal growth?
Rad tries to put our stamps on the world with technology and content, and then discuss those innovations and lessons learned at talks, or twitter spaces, or thought leadership pieces of content. We’ve done a number of firsts in the world of content. We were the first 360 degree video network for VR headsets. We launched the world’s first NFT video streaming subscription with the Stream Pass. We were selling holograms as NFTs before anyone else. We’ve worked with the largest brands and studios in the world, as well as creators in doing this. We try to put out press, get on the record, and share the ups and downs as much as we can so others can learn from us and innovate further. I also advise companies personally and sit on outside boards, and have engaged in mentoring at places like Techstars and Galvanize