June 1, 2023
Child's Play
"We want to build the world's premier digital toy company. The value that we create for the world is what drives me at the end of the day," says Will Weinraub, CEO of OnChain Studios.

Photo: Jeffrey Salter

Child's Play
Weinraub's daughter Victoria inspired his entrepreneurial spirit with the creation of cryptoys.
Child's Play
OnChain co-founders - (from left) Will Weinraub, Alfonso Martinez, Freddy Oropeza, Jhonathan Torres and Emilio Cueto - have raised more than $30 million from venture capitalists.

Photo: Daniel Deladonne

Child's Play
"We have this camaraderie that allows us to have this level of honesty with each other. That is paramount to growing a business like this because not every idea is great, right? But we can be honest with each other and turn the bad ones down and help scale up the right ones to make something beautiful," says Alfonso Martinez, OnChain Studios' chief experience officer.

Photo: Alfonso Martinez

Technology

Child's play

A serial entrepreneur turns inspiration from his daughter into a startup making digital toys for the metaverse.

Nancy Dahlberg | 4/14/2023

Will Weinraub CEO, OnChain Studios

First Entrepreneurial Job: Making wrestling fan sites for kids in middle school.

Family: Married with three children, ages 10, 9 and 2.

Vision for OnChain Studios: “We want to build the world’s premier digital toy company. The value that we create for the world is what drives me at the end of the day.”

Will Weinraub caught the entrepreneurial bug early, while attending Nautilus Middle School in Miami Beach in 1997.

For $100 a pop, he and a friend, Alfonso Martinez, would make custom wrestling fan websites for other kids devoted to their favorite pro wrestling characters.

“Our moms were wondering what the heck was going on because we would just receive envelopes of cash,” Martinez recalls. Adds Weinraub, “as soon as I got my first $100 in the mail, I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to build stuff on the internet.”

Years later, Weinraub got an idea for a video chat startup. He reconnected with Martinez, who had his own web design firm at the time. They then connected with Emilio Cueto, who was working on a similar concept. The three founded LiveNinja in 2012, which became an app to help businesses talk with their customers through real-time video chat and messaging tools. In 2017, they sold that company to IDT/Net2Phone, which was working on a similar product, for an undisclosed price.

Weinraub then decided to take some time to learn about emerging technologies — such as digital collectibles, also known as non-fungible tokens. NFT projects such as Crypto- Kitties and later NBA Top Shot interested him because he was also a gaming enthusiast and a longtime collector of baseball cards and comic books.

His epiphany occurred while watching his young daughter, Victoria, as she became obsessed with “blind bag” toys, essentially mystery grab bags kids bought without knowing the contents until they opened them. Some of the collectible toys were rare.

“Like any entrepreneur, I was curious: Why is she so fascinated with this? I started looking into the companies that made these toys, and I found out rather quickly this was a multi-billion-dollar segment of the toy industry — this concept of surprise unboxing toys.”

One day Weinraub’s daughter, then 5 years old, started yelling: “Dad, come quick. Come quick! Oh my god, I got it! Finally, I got the ultra-rare.” He recalls her holding up “this gold glittery plastic toy. She looks at it for like 10 seconds and then she throws it in the bin to collect dust with all the other ones there in the corner.”

“I asked my daughter, ‘Sweetheart, what if I were to make you the digital version of these toys where you can collect them and chase after the rare ones, but then you could also actually play games with them and interact with them in different ways?’ And she was like, ‘Oh my god, dad, that would be amazing. I would love that.’ ”

Weinraub reached out to his old friends, Cueto and Martinez, for help building out the concept. Cueto, who had kids about the same age as Victoria, immediately got the concept. Over the next couple of years, they, along with Freddy Oropeza, brought in Jhonathan Torres as co-founders.

By 2021, “We were inundated with interest from venture capitalists and licensing partners. This little side project that we had built just as a little hobby for our kids now all of a sudden there was real interest in making it a thing,” Weinraub says.

That’s when the Miami-based OnChain Studios, the parent company for what became Cryptoys, was born with Weinraub as CEO.

NFTs, created on blockchain technology, offer collectors and gamers the ability to own the asset they buy, as well as trade or sell it. What Cryptoys is building is an NFT platform that combines collectible digital toys, gaming and entertainment to create an expansive playable universe that it calls the Cryptoyverse.

OnChain Studios, which now employs more than 60 people, has raised over $30 million in venture capital funding and has made a few licensing deals, including a multiyear partnership with Mattel; Weinraub had met company executives through a mutual connection. “We quickly realized we thought about the future of play in the same way,” he says. “The Mattel partnership was huge for us because Mattel is arguably the biggest name in the toy industry. We’re not just doing licensing initiatives with them, but they also invested in the company.”

“We see incredible opportunity in the metaverse,” said Mattel president and COO Richard Dickson when the partnership was announced last June. “We are excited to be expanding in this fast-growing space and to be the only toy company partner on the Cryptoys platform.”

So far, OnChain Studios has created Mattel Masters of the Universe NFTs, and other brands are in the works. The company is also developing its own line of NFT toys it calls Zoo-F-O Escape: Juno the panda; Alphie the corgi; and Comet, the cat.

“Our goal is to build the world’s premier digital toy company,” Weinraub says. “If you were to create a toy company from scratch, but it’s digital first, what would that look like and what experiences can you enable if you don’t have the limitations of physics and manufacturing? Anything is possible.”

Weinraub thinks back to the way we played make-believe when we were kids, pretending our toys could talk to us or fly or save the day. “We are ushering in a whole new meaning for the word ‘play.’ We want to create connections between the physical world and the digital world that enable you to have fun with toys in a lot of different ways.”

“This idea (for Cryptoys) just happened to find us because of our kids,” says Weinraub. “I’ve learned something new every day from Victoria,” he says. “She’s my target customer at the end of the day — if I’m not making Victoria excited and happy, I’m not going to make other kids happy. She gives me feedback on what matters and things we should be focusing on with Cryptoys. But she also makes sure that I always remember that the most important things are family and not losing sight of the bigger picture of why I’m doing this.”

Every time there’s a new development in the company, Victoria, now 10, and her 9-year-old brother, Kevin, are among the first to hear about it. Weinraub says. “I can show them a new game, and immediately they’ll tell me that they love it or what can be improved about it. They’re always asking me what’s new about Cryptoys and what did we accomplish today? So, I have my formal board of directors, my investors that I report to, and then I have my informal board of directors, my kids.”

Tags: Technology/Innovation, Technology, Feature

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