When Richard Lee first brought his business proposal to Backpack Boyz, he felt the skepticism of the California-based cannabis company.
“You’re going to put a monkey on this bag, and you’re going to make a new flavor, but who’s going to buy this?” is kind of what they thought,” Lee says.
The monkey in question is the Bored Ape Yacht Club #768 NFT, a large-eyed primate with white fur, a blue hat, and a silver earring. Lee had bought his monkey, which he named Crypto Painter, in May 2021 for 1.15 ETH (about $3,000 USD today). Now he wanted to license Crypto Painter, and Backpack Boyz was his first stop.
The final product was an ice blue, Matrixstyle cannabis flower pack featuring Lee’s monkey adorned with the new strain’s name: Crypto Gelato. At the time, Backpack Boyz had only been watching the NFT space from a distance — they mostly agreed, Lee thinks, as a favor to the mutual friend who did the introduction.
But then they started selling out.
First, the product was a bestseller at the grand opening of the San Diego Backpack Boyz store in December. And when Crypto Gelato was sold at the Rolling Loud music festival a few days later, a younger, more crypto-savvy crowd cleared the shelves. Since then, the strain has been a constant hit at all three Backpack Boyz stores in California, and sometimes supply just couldn’t keep up with demand.
“It kind of exploded,” says Lee, a former Hollywood visual effects artist who comes by @cryptopainter online. At one point, he had to post a PSA on Instagram asking people not to illegally acquire Crypto Gelato. The loan of his monkey was the first test in the great vision he had since the beginning: to make Crypto Painter a star.
Lee seems to be at least one step closer to his goal – since the Backpack Boyz deal, he has signed a new cannabis-related licensing deal with a major marijuana company, to be announced soon. Two other non-cannabis deals are also underway, Lee says. Oh, and he wants to license his monkey to a local political candidate.
“It’s kind of, hey, this works, and it works really well,” Lee says of licensing his BAYC character. “So let’s go bigger now.”
Owning a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT has its advantages, of course. There’s the flexibility of having something inaccessible to most, a ready-made network of thousands of other monkey owners to connect with, invitations to exclusive (or not-so-exclusive) parties, and, if you playing your cards right, the opportunity to resell your monkey for a sum of money that would change the lives of most of us. But for many in the club, having a monkey represents a different kind of promise, apart from the Blockchain and non-replaceability and betting on JPEGs: you can slap your monkey on all sorts of things and sell it.
NFT purchases come with specific usage rights for the featured art – the original artist typically retains copyright ownership, but buyers can set the NFT as their profile picture, for example. But Bored Apes is different: if you buy a monkey, you also get the rights to it. You can put your monkey in pink fur and a military-inspired hat on a skate deck, like the owner of streetwear brand Nicky Diamonds did. Or borrow your monkey with closed eyes and holes in a music video.
The Yacht Club members pursuing cannabis deals describe a range of perspectives within the greater BAYC ecosystem. Some people just want to collect their monkeys, meet other enthusiasts and watch the space grow. But there are others — who often describe themselves as “entrepreneurs” or “business-minded people” — who see the monkeys as a launching pad for something bigger than even the Yacht Club.
Lee is part of a subgroup of BAYC members who are entering the brave new world of Bored Ape weed marketing and branding. Crypto Gelato in California is just one example. There is also monkey #6355 – a cream colored character with bloodshot eyes wearing a cowboy hat – appearing on a species called Crepe Monkey in Washington. The owner of that monkey passing by @heavysugar on Twitter, saying he let his friends’ cannabis company use his monkey for free, and that another, possibly bigger deal is in the works. Two other Bored Ape owners shared: The edge that they are in talks to launch their own products or that they expect their monkeyweed to be available in the coming months.
“There are a lot of enterprising smokers in the group, so of course we just got on with it,” Lee says.
Rob, a Yacht Club member who works in the cannabis industry and visits @SmileFckrs, says licensing was part of the appeal from the start. He bought his monkey for 15 ETH, or about $45,000, in August 2021 and considered it an investment in branding and marketing opportunities.
BAYC #1836 – with his short mohawk, silver studs and white tank top – represents positivity, says Rob, and he wants all partnerships to match the monkey’s image. He says he is currently in talks with cannabis industry companies that have shown “active interest” in using his monkey’s likeness.
“You see Mickey Mouse or Alvin and the Chipmunks – these characters that have come along and have stood the test of time. I really think my monkey is going there,” Rob says. license it and actually use it.”
The comparison with Disney has been made before but has not yet proven itself. Except for a few celebrity-backed monkeys, most ventures haven’t broken into mainstream consciousness — ask your mom to quickly name a bored monkey by heart. But the possibility that your monkey might one day become a household name just ramps up the crowds.
“Obviously, when I found out we can license it, I immediately thought, ‘I’m going to try and build the next Disney,'” says Lee. “Not just any item or product, but more as a culture and a lifestyle.”
Lee’s energy and faith in his monkey and other NFT projects may have converted a few. He says he has introduced other BAYC members to companies looking for monkeys to partner with to show them that they too can make their monkeys work for a profit without selling. And following the success of Crypto Gelato, Backpack Boyz is delving deeper into crypto and NFTs, said Harry Yim, digital product manager. The company wanted to go into space and partnering with Lee felt natural.
“If you have a tangible product and following, I think if you’re smart about it, the NFTs and the metaverse can really accentuate and expand that business,” Yim says. He says Backpack Boyz is also exploring how it can make NFTs part of its business through special deals, new strains or other benefits for owners.
Not everyone initially planned to build a brand around their monkey. Joey, it will pass @jdotcolombo on Twitter, got in early on BAYC — hitting and buying seven monkeys over the course of an evening without fully understanding how valuable they were going to become.
“I didn’t understand the IP,” he says. It wasn’t until he came into contact with other monkey owners — and saw a licensing statement from the BAYC founders — that he began to see the potential.
Joey’s company Money Trees Cannabis will soon have its own monkey products bored: His monkey with a yellow bucket hat and diamond grilles will appear on packaging in California and Michigan in the coming months. He takes his packaging one step further and uses augmented reality artwork with his monkeys. “The monkey gets a slap and then smiles,” he says.
For now, Joey only uses his monkeys indoors, but he has plans to approach other businesses as well — perhaps an energy drink with his pink monkey in a motorcycle jacket? He has already resold some of his original seven monkeys, including, unfortunately, a monkey with a BAYC-branded hat that could have appeared on derivative works. Joey says he believes the potential uses of the intellectual property outweigh the value of the token itself.
“Overall, it’s definitely more valuable as an IP asset than an NFT,” Joey says.
For Lee, the initial investment has already paid off. He agreed to borrow his monkey’s likeness for a portion of every Backpack Boyz unit sold and said they plan to roll out additional products featuring his monkey. Lee declined to share details of the deal, but said that in the few months that Crypto Gelato has been on California shelves, he has recouped the cost of his multiple monkeys and then some.
But if this seems like a space with people who have no experience playing ball with corporate lawyers — and potentially entering into agreements that bite them — then it is. Some BAYC members have experience with IP, running a business and going through contracts. Others – not so much.
Rob has seen some members of the Yacht Club being offered deals that he thinks came as a bad shock to the monkey’s owner. In one case, a contract prevented the Yacht Club member from taking advantage until the second year of the deal.
“Unfortunately, because there are many people who do not understand this, [companies will] throw stuff in there, and people will get excited because there’s money involved,” he says. Not every project takes off, but instead stays in the isolated NFT communities and on Discord servers.
But that doesn’t matter to the monkeys. At the root of the unbridled enthusiasm in the community is this idea of WAGMI – a call used in crypto and NFT circles that is short for “we’re all going to make it”. I asked the members of the Yacht Club if they were worried that the space along the line would fill up. Can all 10,000 cartoon primates build a recognizable brand? There are only so many cannabis companies and only one Disney. And some monkeys belong to the most famous people in the world, who don’t have to do anything with them to enrich themselves: after news came that Justin Bieber had acquired a Bored Ape, his own NFT collection jumped in value†
Yacht Club members believe there is room for anyone who understands the potential value of what they own and is willing to go out there and make things happen. Deals are being made left and right, they say, as more people get wiser. The celebrity collectors come and go. But the business people know they have something special.
“We were here for them; we built this,” says Lee, owner of the Crypto Painter monkey. “We’ll be here when they’re gone.”