Astra Metaverse: From Lockdown to Global Recognition
Setting the pace around innovation, ingenuity and teamwork in the tech scenery is Astra’s mantra. And In this interactive session with Rebecca Ejifoma and Maduabuchi Ubani, the two founders of the Nigerian-led Metaverse Startup among other things share their journey, track record, ecosystems and activities resulting in their emergence as Winner of the Public Vote at the Global Metaverse Summit in Paris, France recently
Dreams do come true. And nothing can stop an idea when its time has come; not even the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown that practically brought the global economies to their knees.
So while the rest of the world was trying to stay alive, two young creatives decided to make the best of a situation that looked gloomy and herculean. The aim for them was just simple. Yes, simple but crystal, engaging and thought-provoking. It was to help rescript the tech approach of the nation while imprinting their names in the heart of innovation.
To do this, two go-getters with the right thoughts resolved to take the path where few Nigerians have dared to go. These duo seized the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in 2020 to create an imaginary world of positivity, fun and fulfillment from the comfort of one’s home – all powered by innovation. Delz Erinle and Niyi Okeowo would move to birth Astra, and thus opened the floodgates of opportunities and exponential impact alongside triumph.
While Erinle is a Web 3 Venture and Protocol designer, Okeowo is a renowned multidisciplinary creative, brand specialist and art director. These two futurists didn’t just come up with an idea that can change the trajectory of the world, they breathed life into it
Erinle is a Web 3 Venture & Protocol designer, with a background in UX design, Economics and Product innovation. He is an alumnus of Covenant University where he bagged a BSc in Economics. He went on to the University of Birmingham where he studied Marketing Management (MSc) and proceeded to the University of Warwick for an MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
He also has 10 years of experience as a product designer and entrepreneur working with companies like BT and Conde Nast, as well as building his startups. He has an active presence on social media including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to interact with the world https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexerinle/.
While admitting the significant role of the co-founder and Art Direction Lead, Okeowo, that changed his story, Erinle described him as a source of inspiration to many designers. Okeowo is a renowned Art Director with over 20,000 followers across social media. He has a decade of experience and clients like Uber & Paystack and is responsible for the art direction of Astra. Just like Erinle, he leverages social media like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/niyi-okeowo-806a1288/, to reach a larger audience.
Journey of Astra Metaverse
Taking a stroll down memory lane, Erinle, the Economist, reminisced about how Astra took off the ground as Thrill Digital. He co-founded it with Okeowo during the heat of the lockdown. The platform was designed as a Digital Fashion Experience Studio working on virtual fashion shows.
“I had the idea of being able to go shopping. And then I pulled the rest of the team of about seven people to work towards building a metaverse experience where you can play games, and shop products that people could use in real life,” he expressed, chipping in that “And two years later, we have made a lot of progress towards building Astra.”
And just two years into affording the globe the virtual world experience, Astra clinched the Public Vote at the Global Metaverse Summit in Paris, France. Echoing the minds of the other team members, Erinle, a protocol designer, dispensed positive emotions. “We are very happy to have won the public vote. We want to thank our friends, family and community for their support.
“As African founders,” he chuckled with a sense of pride, “knowing that we have the backing of our community means we know that there are people out there that are rooting for us and want to see us succeed in an industry that hasn’t seen many black founders thrive. We hope to be shining examples to other black and African founders that they can thrive in any space they desire to.”
While the firm was yet to find its bearing, it took off the ground as Thrill Digital founded solely by Okeowo and Erinle. This was thanks to the lockdown. “It started as a digital fashion experience studio working on things like virtual fashion shows.
“I then had the idea of being able to go shopping and then brought on the rest of the team to work towards building a metaverse experience where you can play games and shop for products that people could use in real life. Two years later and we’ve made a lot of progress towards building Astra,” says Erinle.
For the team that has transitioned into a team of seven, Astra metaverse is quite possibly the future of the internet. This is a fact the world has long perceived, hence, currently exploring. These Nigerians aren’t letting the opportunity drift away.
What Astra Metaverse is Building
Today, Astra Metaverse is building a virtual shopping and gaming experience, enabling people to visit virtual stores and play games with friends using avatars which are digital representations of people.
To make this a first-of-its-kind experience, Astra has braced up to help people to become able to shop for clothes from sustainable brands with virtual tokens (Astras) and receive them at home in their right size.
Globally, Astra is one of the first startups to be building in this space. “We got backed by Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite. With this, we have raised over a million dollars so far and recently received a grant from Meta to build pop VR experiences for malls,” Erinle enthused, as he gushes about their gains.
On what is revolutionary about metaverse and Astra as a platform, the Covenant University alumnus highlighted their thesis. “Our thesis is that the metaverse is a playground for an NFT first supply chain that gives products value in 3D before they are physically manufactured, sometimes not even needing to be physically manufactured.
We see the metaverse as a tool for global sustainability,” as he illustrated “Imagine if every outfit in real life was only manufactured when they have been bought in 3D? This means that there will be a lot less waste, as only what has been bought and maybe some physical samples will exist.”
Bridging the Gap with Astra Metaverse
Innovation is arguably significant to the advancement of society. It is said to solve social problems and enhance society’s capacity to act. “The e-commerce experience hasn’t changed much since Amazon came online in 1992 (pretty much since the year I was born),” Erinle chipped in.
Hence, Astra has come in to innovate and create a new way to shop and make new friends almost as though you’re playing a game. Adding to it that “This non-skeuomorphic gamification is what we’re aiming to bridge with Astra metaverse.”
Consequently, just like the last dot.com boom, there were a lot of bets on the future of the internet that wasn’t realised until the decade after. “For us, the sort of tech that will make the metaverse globally relevant such as high internet speeds (5G/6G) and stable electricity in Africa will not be globally available until the next decade.”
While the team of six believe that the industry is still very early and that if they can stay alive and continue to build toward product-market fit, they are optimistic that there is room for a lot of exponential growth.
Hope for the Astra Metaverse
With a glimmer of hope, Erinle and his team yearn for Astra to continue to be an experience that doesn’t take people away from earth or the touch of reality. Rather, he hinted, “It should gamify everyday activities, making it fun to play, shop, learn and make new friends via personalised avatars.”
Acknowledging threats to technology
While conceding that with any new technology, there is a need to avoid any thicket of scrutiny, Erinle and his team believe a way to nip any cyber issue in the bud will be to enlighten users. “Users need to know that because it is a virtual experience does not mean there won’t be real-life consequences for a misdemeanour.
“We will also listen to feedback from our users or residents in Astra, called Astranauts to continue to make sure we are serving them in the best way possible,” says the co-founder.
Just like an idea is the beginning of all dreams, the team of two spread its tentacles and became six major players. They include Luke Jeffers; Kunbi Ajai; Charles Egbejule; Femi Falade; Aniekan Etuk – Conceptualisation Lead; Priscilla Alao – People & Partnerships Lead; Barima Effa – Rust Developer; Obinna Oti – 3D Product Designer; Hirwa Honore – 3D Animator; and Max Unreal Engine Dev Tim, Unreal Engine Dev.
Using Social Media for Social Corporate Responsibilities
To continue to dispense excellence, Astra Team beckoned the world to follow them on Twitter and Instagram @welcometoastra to stay in touch for demo launches, giveaways and opportunities for other young budding technopreneurs.
Indeed, Astra Metaverse boasts the right minds and the most efficient hands to continue to shape IT adventure globally, thereby making the nation and the continent proud.
And as they rolled up their sleeves to break records and etch their names in the tech space while acknowledging that inspiration is the elixir of life, the Astra team wants to inspire other young Blacks to be goal-setters and go-getters in the tech space.
So while the rest of the world was trying to stay alive, two young creatives decided to make the best of a situation that looked gloomy and herculean. The aim for them was just simple. Yes, simple but crystal, engaging and thought-provoking. It was to help rescript the tech approach of the nation while imprinting their names in the heart of innovation