Monkey Business

How Bored Ape Yacht Club became ubiquitous

Hannah Doyle
April 24, 2022

The Condensed History of the Bored Ape Yacht Club

Wall Street Journal / The Publish Press

In case you’ve been without internet access over the last year, Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) is a collection of NFTs defined by their avatars of expressionless apes dressed in different ways, some with laser beams shooting out of their eyes or skin falling off their bones. And they’re everywhere. 

Eminem and Paris Hilton have each bought one. Universal Music Group is making a band using the avatars, a movie trilogy using their likenesses is in the works, and even a fast food restaurant centered around the IP has popped up. 

But how did it all start? And how did we get here? We put together a timeline to help explain how we went from NFTs to Bored Ape burgers.

Before the launch, 2012–2021

The two main founders, Greg Solano, a 32-year-old writer, and Wylie Aronow, a 35-year-old part-time day trader with a writing MFA, met a decade ago in Florida, both of them sharing literary aspirations. 

They bought into crypto in 2017 and stayed on the periphery, observing. When NFTs started to gain traction in 2020, they saw it as an opportunity to get creative. 

They came up with the concept of rich apes who “aped in” (crypto slang for investing big in something uncertain) and lived in a swamp clubhouse. The pair then hired a freelance illustrator to draw the apes and partnered with two engineers as co-founders to build the collection. The identities of the two engineer co-founders, “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” and “No Sass,” remain unknown save for their first names, Kerem and Zeshan.

Launch, April 2021

The four started the company Yuga Labs and used it to launch 10,000 BAYC NFTs on the ethereum blockchain for around $200 each. It took 12 hours for all 10,000 to sell out. 

From there, the price went up as owners drummed up interest on Twitter, some even creating accounts for their NFTs with their own backstory. According to activity charts on OpenSea, the collection slowly increased in value, reaching around $3,000/NFT in June, and jumping up to over $100,000 in August 2021.

Later that month, Steph Curry bought one for $180,000. Two months later, one sold for $3.4 million via Sothebys. At the time of writing, the floor price for a Bored Ape NFT is $382,000 according to Coingecko

BAYC makes money not just from the initial sale (approximately $2 million) of its NFT apes, but also from a 2.5% royalty on future trades. It has also made real-world licensing deals with brands such as Adidas and Rolling Stone.

The NFTs are valuable because they also serve as a digital identity. Ownership perks include commercial usage rights, so they can sell any sort of spinoff product based on the art. The tokens act like ID cards that give the owners access to an exclusive club. They do regular community meetups in New York, California, Hong Kong and the UK. Last November, a weekend of festivities for owners was held in NY, featuring an actual yacht party and a concert that featured appearances from Chris Rock, Aziz Ansari and The Strokes. 

One year later, April 2022

Owning an ape has become a status symbol. And a community is only as strong as its members, which now include the likes of Eminem, Paris Hilton, Mark Cuban and Justin Bieber. So trading in apes isn't just selling an NFT, but a community pass too.

People in the cryptocurrency and NFT space use profile pictures of their NFTs for Twitter, Discord and other platforms in the same way that business executives show off Rolexes and Bentleys. “We want to be a Web3 lifestyle company,” Solano told Rolling Stone. “I’m a metaverse maximalist at this point. I think that the Ready Player One experience is really on the cusp of happening in this world.” If the BAYC movie series, merch, restaurant and band are any indication—he might be right.

Our Take

The world’s most popular NFT collection has proven what creators know well—that communities are powerful. And crucially, giving usage rights to the hands of its community has allowed it to grow and gain ubiquity, which has in turn increased its value. We expect future web3 projects started by creators and artists to follow a similar path.

And while web3 is a powerful and exciting technology, ultimately it's just that—a technology. Just like email or navigating YouTube's algorithm, it takes smart creators to know how to use it, and make something valuable for and with their audience. It's important not to participate for its own sake, but take into account all the other components like value, engagement, and demand that will make it a successful endeavor.

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