Matt Alston and Melissa Zhang have been best friends since college, but now they're hoping their disparate business backgrounds are the puzzle pieces needed to ride the next crypto boom. 

Alston, former product manager at Uber, and Zhang, a former full-stack engineer at Coinbase are building Bonfire — a social token service that will allow creators to manage their coin.

Bonfire already has investments from Atelier Ventures, Pear and Kleiner Perkins, but Alston said they hope to raise a round of seed funding by the fall.

Alston sees the market as primed — he told Crypto Investor he believes social tokens could follow the NFT boom.

“I think in social tokens ... it's been more measured, like the growth has been pretty steady, but it hasn't really had an event where it goes parabolic, and everyone's missing a token,” he said. “That hasn't happened yet. We sort of assume that it will happen later this year.” 

I spoke with Alston at length about Bonfire, and why he feels the social token space is the next crypto sector to boom. Exchange lightly edited for clarity. 

Tell me about your team’s background and Bonfire. 

ALSTON: My background is as a product manager at Uber, and I worked on the rewards program there. And so I have spent the last two or so years basically thinking about digital currencies in the form of loyalty points, and how having that secondary currency for Uber unlocks all sorts of new opportunities from a business perspective — things like partnerships, microtransactions, and gamification. And there's just kind of all of these benefits to a loyalty point outside of the direct incentive. And so that's what I spent a lot of my time at Uber thinking about. 

My co-founder was a senior software engineer at Coinbase. We've been best friends since freshman year of college for many years. And so we sort of entered this social token landscape from the perspective of 'this is an incredibly cool new tool, there's clearly still a lot to be learned about how it works, what are best practices and the kind of dominant use cases outside of a token getting Discord access are still being established.' And we want it to kind of fill the gap that we saw between like the issuance platforms — so the Rolls, The Rallys, the Coinvise — and like creators and the actual use cases and communities. 

And what we sort of saw was a company like Rally or Roll, they spent the better part of three years doing token economic models and building the issuance layer kind of like smart contracts, and getting regulatory compliance and money transmission licenses ... They've done all this work to kind of build out the foundation, but then the actual applications that creators are interfacing with are relatively lackluster. So that's the sort of where we wanted to play — build tooling on top of the issuance platforms, and kind of be like the application that creators need to power their social token communities.

How did the idea of social tokens click for you while working at Uber?

ALSTON: I ended up joining the loyalty team at Uber, because I'm fascinated by the kind of things that loyalty product managers are thinking about. So like gamification, behavioral science, economics — all of that folds into loyalty programs in a really interesting way ...

We kind of got obsessed with creators and the creator economy thesis and that problem set first. And we ended up at crypto because it felt like the only way that we were going to do something that was actually transformative for a creator starting in the beginning of 2021.

And it's like, how are we going to really be different? And how are we going to actually carve out a wedge? And we kind of got stuck on what we were going to do that was going to move the needle for a creator. But every brainstorm ended with us saying ‘well crypto actually solves a lot of these problems, maybe that's actually the solution.’

What really resonated to us about social tokens was kind of the way that it feels and looks a lot like a loyalty program. But I guess when we were looking at the landscape, we didn't see many communities or many creators using their token in the ways that we felt like they could be used to reach their potential. 

Matt Alston and Melissa Zhang have been best friends since college, but now they're hoping their disparate business backgrounds are the puzzle pieces needed to ride the next crypto boom. 

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