Gusto Collective, a Hong Kong-based BrandTech holding company which raised seed plus funding last month, is eyeing regional digital-forward cities like Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok for its expansion.

“We started Gusto Collective with a vision to build a best-in-class, pan-Asian BrandTech business. We are steadily realizing this vision. In terms of geographic footprint, we currently have large operations in Shanghai and Hong Kong,” Gusto Collective Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Aaron Lau told TechNode Global in an interview. “The natural geographic areas for expansion are the other regional digital-forward cities like Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok, etc. The opportunity is simple – bring our cutting-edge technologies to new markets to pioneer and shape the next-gen digital economy.”

Gusto Collective, which provides content production services, raised $11 million in its seed plus funding round led by Animoca Brands and Gaw Capital last month. The oversubscribed round also received participation from BlackPine, YCI Limited, and several existing shareholders including ClearVue Partners.

With the completion of this round, the company has raised $23 million in cumulative external funding since launching in 2020. The funding will support Gusto Collective’s growth in geographic expansion into other parts of Asia; Web3 services and products, and recurring-revenue product development.

Gusto Collective opined that Asia holds great potential for the development of Web3.

“We believe Asia holds great potential with a young population, who is amongst the world’s most digitally native. Asia has some of the highest internet and gaming penetration amongst this young generation,” he said.

“To them, Web3 is just a natural evolution of their gaming experience. In addition, Asian economies are creating a fast growing middle-class who are eager for amazing experiences, whether physical or digital. As such, it is drawing multinational brands to market to cater to this important audience with a “phygital” strategy, of which Web3 plays a major part,” he added.

Lau, opined that Web3 is also “intrinsically in the metaverse”, so not necessarily limited by geography like other mediums.

“For Web3, we think that Asia, ex-China, is actually quite similar with the US and Europe. Mainland China obviously has the aspect that cryptocurrencies are not allowed, making the state-of-play more limited in terms of funding NFT purchases and participating in other crypto-ecosystems. For NFTs specifically, they are a bit more of an investment product in the US and Europe, whereas in Asia ex-China, they are more like collectibles and social identity markers,” he shared.

Founded in 2020 by Lau, the former CEO of marketing services firm Cheil Worldwide (part of Samsung Group), Gusto Collective has been focused on creating content and experiences using augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (XR) technologies. The group consists of four specialisms in Web3 marketing services, an AR experience platform, a metahuman platform and luxury marketing services.

In the interview, Lau shared about the company’s plans, his views on the potential of brand tech and the development of Web3. He also shared insights on how will the future holds for Web3 and the challenges the firm faced.

Below is the edited excerpt:

For Web3 services and products, are there any particular segments or sectors Gusto Collective sees tremendous opportunities?

We think a core part of what Web3 offers is enabling customer engagement via community building. To realize our vision, we partner with brands on integrated solutions, which are often the combination of immersive technology and engaging stories or content, rather than specializing in any one part of the product stack.

Hong Kong actor & film producer Louis Koo.

We have strong technical capabilities on Unity/Unreal, 3D modelling, front-end, and back-end designs. But we have built this team with a clear understanding that the best technology is a means to an end; not an end in-and-of-itself. As such, we are very much storytellers, with a great appreciation for technology. One example is our collaboration with One Cool Group, a leading entertainment enterprise founded by actor and film producer Louis Koo.

For their upcoming summer blockbuster film “Warriors of Future”, we merged gaming, entertainment, and storytelling to extend the film’s engagement and value to the fan community. This partnership requires very close collaboration on the product along with the IP owner, rather than purely a one-off engagement. This is a great example of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Can you share more details of your recurring-revenue product development?

Our main recurring-revenue products are 1) the 5G AR lens, an advertising platform for brands to connect with their franchise with experiential AR content; 2) our metahuman platform, an IP platform that offers brand endorsements with digitally created humans to provide social engagement and brand collaborations, and 3) the Web3 virtual event platform, which is under development. We are in the middle of launching our virtual art space, offering art exhibitions and events in the metaverse.

What kind of potential does Gusto Collective see in brand tech? How can it help companies?

We see BrandTech or Web3 as simply a collective evolution in creating content and experiences between brands, consumers and creators. In the creation of this kind of content and experiences, storytelling is the primary link between a brand and its audience. With the younger generation, stories are increasingly powered and empowered by technology. Gusto Collective’s edge is at the cross-section between storytelling and technology. As such, we bring our connected specialisms to create purposeful, entertaining and engaging experiences for the companies and brands we work with, creating “greater value-add” alongside our partners.

What are the challenges which Gusto Collective faces?

Our short-term key challenges have been the constraints brought along by the Covid pandemic, the inability to travel easily, lockdowns, economic weakness, etc. Meanwhile, for the long-term term, our main challenge is finding great talents – “Gustodians”, as well as partners and brands that share our same vision to build immersive, digitally- forward products, particularly as most Web3 projects are global. The work produced with our partners must uphold our best-in-class mission globally, irrespective of borders or localities.

What other plans does Gusto Collective have shortly?

We have imminent expansion plans for our metahuman and Web3 specialisms. With our metahuman specialism, we are expanding our geographic coverage across Asia. And, with regard to our Web3 specialism, we will shortly announce a partnership with a blue-chip entertainment firm to build metaverse assets to bridge Web3 and real-world experiences. To support our expansion, we will announce a number of senior hires in the coming weeks.

How would you describe the competition between start-ups within the Web 3.0 space? What is Gusto’s competitive advantage against others? How can the company differentiate itself and outshine others?

Web3 has many layers to its tech stack. But first of all, I want to emphasize that the Web3 space is about decentralization and collaboration, even more so than Web2. We cooperate closely and creatively with our partners.

Basically, we want to enhance the engagement and experience within the community with the underlying IP owners. This plays to our competitive advantage, which is the ability to meld cutting-edge technology with compelling storytelling. Our team comprises of over 120 ‘Gustodians’, whose mixture of big-brand experiences, international aesthetics, technological expertise, and deep market insights, combines digital-native understanding with world-class execution – that is our edge. While Web3 is certainly a noisy and fast-moving space inundated with announcements and updates, we are laser-focused on the success of our clients and products. This is and will always be our key differentiator.

Generally, what is your view on the overall Web 3.0 development? (NFTs, Metaverse) How are the companies in Asia embracing such technology as compared to those in the US or Europe? Where does Asia stand? Is there any gap between the companies? Are Asian companies moving in tandem or even faster?

We believe Asia holds great potential with a young population, who is amongst the world’s most ‘digitally native’. Asia has some of the highest internet and gaming penetration amongst this young generation. To them, Web3 is just a natural evolution of their gaming experience. In addition, Asian economies are creating a fast growing middle-class who are eager for amazing experiences, whether physical or digital. As such, it is drawing multinational brands to
market to cater to this important audience with a “phygital” strategy, of which Web3 plays a major part.

Web3 is intrinsically in the metaverse, so not necessarily limited by geography like other mediums. For Web3, we think that Asia, ex-China, is actually quite similar to the US and Europe. Mainland China obviously has the aspect that cryptocurrencies are not allowed, making the state-of-play more limited in terms of funding NFT purchases and participating in other crypto-ecosystems.

For NFTs specifically, they are a bit more of an investment product in the US and Europe, whereas in Asia ex-China, they are more like collectibles and social identity markers.

How soon would Gusto Collective need to raise funds? Any timeline and how much?

We have recently completed and announced a $11 million financing, led by Animoca Brands and Gaw Capital. We are also very fortunate to be profitable both historically and currently, so there is no imminent plan or need to do additional fundraising at this time. We are going to be working on expansions that will create compelling value for our brand partners, our Gustodians and shareholders, who believe in the vision we see in BrandTech and Web3.

Hong Kong’s Gusto Collective completes seed plus financing round of $11M