Endstate’s first brand ambassador is Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Ownership of his signature shoe — which recently sold out — can unlock perks for the NFT holder.
Ticketing has evolved from paper stubs to smartphone scans and now . . . to your sneakers?
That’s one component of the offering from Endstate, a digital creator whose products exist in parallel on feet and in the metaverse through shoes and NFTs. Each pair of kicks is equipped with a QR code for augmented reality activations and an NFC chip in the tongue that tethers it to the NFT and can unlock real-life experiences. Ticket-takers will quite literally scan your sneakers to enable access to members-only events.
“Endstate is a lifestyle brand that combines the physical with the digital to unlock connections to what you’re passionate about,” says co-founder and COO Stephanie Howard, a 25-year veteran of the sneaker industry. “So, we’re really at the intersection of physical products, their digital twins, the NFTs, and then the experiential side of what the NFT can unlock.”
Endstate’s first brand ambassador is Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama. Ownership of his signature shoe — which recently sold out — can unlock perks for the NFT holder. If Smith amasses 1,000 receiving yards, owners receive limited edition football cards. If we were to be named NFL MVP, the prize is a luxury watch. And for every touchdown catch, fans get a cheesesteak. (It is Philly, after all. Endstate chose to be nonpartisan in the Pat’s vs. Geno’s vs. Tony Luke’s debate, gifting Uber Eats codes rather than designating a location for cheesesteak redemption.)
A post shared by DeVonta Smith (@devontasmith)
While the knock on some early iterations of NFTs was a lack of physical-word utility, Endstate has imbued its products with an abundance of applications. The sneakers, obviously, are the highlight but there are also the milestone-triggered rewards and exclusive gatherings. Smith, for instance, will host a meet-and-greet at Lapstone & Hammer later in the season for those who bought his sneakers.
Endstate is a lifestyle brand that combines the physical with the digital to unlock connections to what you’re passionate about. So, we’re really at the intersection of physical products, their digital twins, the NFTs, and then the experiential side of what the NFT can unlock.
Selling the concept on Smith was fairly straightforward, even if he did become a pioneer as the first professional athlete to sign with a Web3-native footwear brand.
“Every athlete loves the idea of having a signature shoe,” Endstate director of business development Eric Mays. “We’ve entered that space of, ‘Hey, we’re helping you build your brand,’ as opposed to us just taking advantage of your celebrity, your star.”
Mays joined the company after building Under Armour’s baseball division — signing, at the time, Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts, among others — working as an agent at ACES and spending time in the licensing department at Topps. He notes the rarity having a signature shoe, explaining that only Mike Trout (Nike) and Bryce Harper (Under Armour) have them among MLB players.
“I was blown away because, coming from the world of marketing and signing athletes in the Under Armour space, it was always Under Armour telling our story about that athlete,” Mays says. “And this was the first time I ever saw the opportunity for an athlete to actually tell their story — not just receive a check and promote the brand for that specific company, whatever it might be. This is the athlete’s time to now pursue that.”
Smith, on the other hand, was involved throughout his sneaker’s development.
“It’s built around him,” Howard says. “It’s designed with little details that tell the story about some of his nicknames — his hands are sticky like honey so it’s called the Honey Drip. We call them Easter eggs, little details that you find in the shoe that help to tell his story, and he was part of guiding the design process.”
The NFT version of the sneaker includes a 3D rendering of the footwear placed in an AI-generated digital environment. The QR code prompts an AR use case — such as being to place a computer-generated sneaker in a real-world environment for photo-taking and social-sharing — and there are other Web3 use cases in development that won’t require VR to access.
“It’s a digital twin of the product, but there’s also part of the storytelling in terms of what the design of the environment around the sneakers is,” Howard says. “And then we’re also working to build some high-fidelity experiences in the metaverse.”
The original idea for Endstate was hatched by CEO Bennett Collen, who had been working in blockchain since 2014 when he founded Cognate. That company’s conceit was to use blockchain for trademark protection and tracking. GoDaddy acquired Cognate in 2018, and Collen worked there nearly three years. He cultivated an interest in how NFTs could be applied to sneakers, which were rapidly growing as a coveted collectible whose provenance and authenticity were becoming more important.
Collen heard Howard — whose design credits include work at Nike, New Balance and Rebook and consulting for Timberland and The North Face — speak on a webinar in October 2020, and since the two were both Boston-based, they soon connected in person. By May 2021, they began working on Endstate full-time and, in November 2021, they dropped their first sneaker.
Endstate announced its second drop soon after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. The next product featured yellow and blue sneakers, representing the Ukrainian flag. While Endstate pledges some charitable donation from all of its sales, 100% of the proceeds from that shoe benefitted Direct Relief, a well vetted humanitarian nonprofit. Because all donations are tied to the blockchain, there’s an additional level of transparency. Another recent charitable drop honored 9/11 hero Welles Crowther, the “Man in the Red Bandana.”
The first three products were all fully manufactured in the USA, and some — like the Ukrainian sneaker — went from conception to product in five months. That’s less than a third of the time major sneaker brands take to bring a shoe to market.
“We’re moving at lightning speed here, which I think you have to do as a startup, if you’re really trying to establish yourself, because nobody’s going to know the brand yet and it takes time to go through the grassroots steps of building a brand and building community the right way without overhyping,” says Howard, who is also a board member of Women in Sports Tech.
Mays sees a parallel to his work with Under Armour, which was new to cleated footwear at the time he joined. While the bigger companies all sought stars, Mays used the Baseball America prospect list as his guide, scouting the Arizona Fall League for up-and-coming talent.
“It was a perfect opportunity for me because the other brands — the Nikes, the Reeboks, or what else — were not touching the minor league side of this,” he says. “They wanted the established stars, and I just thought it made more sense to grow the brand organically. I just feel like we’re at that point now with Endstate.”
Photo credits: Courtesy of Endstate
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