BY BESTENIGAR KARA
Business opportunities are infinite in the metaverse, according to Jacob Benbunan, CEO and Founder of Saffron Brand Consultants, which undertook the rebranding for Facebook into Meta. Although it needs time to be articulated into the technology, Meta’s metaverse will operate with a public business model based on advertising, Benbunan said in an exclusive interview on the latest stage of Meta’s rebranding. “As we move to the metaverse, the organizations will want to connect with us, the users, and place ads,” Benbunan noted.
Several companies have continued work on the metaverse for some time, but Facebook’s Founder Mark Zuckerberg only introduced his company’s transformation into a metaverse in October 2021. The concept is still new to Turkey and to the world. However, since real estate is another sector with business potential in this new world, nearly 20,000 lots were already sold in Turkey in OVP, one of the metaverse ecosystems.
Saffron, the Spanish company of which Benbunan is the founder and CEO, was founded in 2001 to provide brand consultancy services to companies such as YouTube, Coca-Cola, Siemens, Fujitsu, and BBVA. The company, which is headquartered in Madrid, also has three overseas offices in London, Vienna, and Istanbul. In Turkey, Saffron has offered strategic consultancy services to brands such as “Turkey, Discover the Potential,” Turkish Airlines, Akbank, Halkbank, Digiturk, Turkcell, Vestel, Pasabahce Nude, Simit Sarayi, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Aktas, Kässbohrer, and Tirsan, helping them all to reinvent themselves and grow further. The company has been operating in Turkey for 11 to 12 years.
Jacob Benbunan has more than 30 years of professional experience in the brand consultancy field, and Saffron is the brains behind the recent transformation of social media company Facebook into Meta. This is the second time that Benbunan worked with Zuckerberg since 2019.
Meta brings together Facebook and its subsidiaries’ applications and technologies under one new company brand. However, its focus will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities, and grow businesses. “Zuckerberg believes that the first stage of Facebook’s development, which was bringing people together in a virtual world, has been achieved. Now, the main purpose of the business has to evolve into something much bigger,” Benbunan said.
Zuckerberg says the metaverse is not just the next chapter of Meta but also the next chapter of the internet. The online world will become tangible and accessible with the mixed reality offered by this concept.
The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions, or projected into the physical world. It will let people share immersive experiences with other people even when they can’t be together and do things together they couldn’t do in the physical world. With the metaverse, Meta will shift from being a social media company to a technology company, according to the Saffron CEO. “Facebook is transforming from a social media organization into an organization that embraces and allows us all to be a player in the metaverse,” Jacob Benbunan noted. Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, the social media platforms of Meta will continue to operate while the company focuses on the ‘parallel universe’.
USD 50BN OPPORTUNITY FOR LUXURY BRANDS
In line with the vision of Meta, the metaverse will be an alternative universe for people. Although it will concentrate on ‘having fun’ in its first stage, there will also be business potential. “Business opportunities are as infinite in the metaverse as they are in the real universe. But the metaverse needs time to be built and to be articulated into the technology at the beginning,” Benbunan says. To do so, major amounts of technology and software investments are needed. Meta announced in October 2021 that it will spend around USD 10bn this year alone in developing technologies to build this alternative universe. The company is also making major investments in Oculus headphones and earbuds. Meta ignited the first flame of the metaverse when it acquired Oculus, the producer of Rift VR (virtual reality) device, for USD 2.3bn in cash and stocks in March 2014.
Only a week after Facebook introduced Meta, Microsoft announced that it will use the virtual and real universes in its video conference application Teams. “It will be quite interesting to see what the other titans of the technology like Google and Apple will announce. Will they become suppliers? Or will they become alternative metaverses?” Benbunan added.
Meta’s metaverse will operate with a public business model to be based on advertising, according to Jacob Benbunan. “As we move to the metaverse, the organizations will want to connect with us, the users, and place ads,” Benbunan added.
He also said that the metaverse is not only about gaming but also about sports, health, doing business, and being able to buy clothes from different brands. Some fashion brands such as Zara, Gucci, and Adidas have already launched collections for meta verse avatars. “When people enter as an avatar to the metaverse, they’ll be able to choose what they want to wear. It is an interesting model of monetization. People will pay to dress up in the metaverse,” Benbunan added. The U.S.-based investment bank Morgan Stanley estimates that the metaverse will offer an over USD 50bn opportunity for luxury clothing brands.
TURKEY’S INTEREST STARTS IN 2010
The first development for the metaverse in Turkey started in 2010, according to Dr. Sebnem Ozdemir, Head of the Management Informations Department and Artificial Intelligence Research at Istinye University. There are nearly 20 ventures that have recently taken corporatization steps in the metaverse field, operate at the startup level. Many of these were established abroad but their founders and employees are Turkish citizens.
The applications for the metaverse will initially focus on games, fitness, and travel, as there is a lot of information about these fields, according to Benbunan. “People can travel from Istanbul to Madrid for instance, by only wearing a VR device. They’ll have a massive experience in Madrid without leaving their dining room,” he says. “But they can’t feel all the marvelous experiential feelings that they get in the real life.”
Real estate is another sector with business potential, considering the rising property sales in the metaverse. More than 11,000 parcels were bought in Istanbul alone, in districts that are also valuable in the real universe, such as Istiklal Street, the 15 July Martyrs Bridge, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, Ortakoy, Rumeli Hisari, Kadikoy, Bebek, and Nisantasi, in OVP, one of the metaverse ecosystems. The lots can be acquired through an auction. The price of an average metaverse parcel corresponds to TRY 200 in Istanbul. However, it can be as high as TRY 500 in Ortakoy, for instance. The biggest motivation at this point is the idea that they can increase in value just like in the real universe, according to experts. “The technology promised by the metaverse has a dramatic difference with the technology that we use now,” says Benbunan. Speaking about the opportunities in the medical field, he emphasized that there will be groundbreaking developments in the sector with the metaverse, as doctors will be able to carry out difficult operations from a distance.
Founder of the virtual arts agency Modern Innova, Kerem Gencler, who organized a virtual New Year’s event in the metaverse, said in a former interview with Turkish media that independent metaverses have their own economies and people. “USD 7m in tickets were sold for a metaverse concert. People bought over USD 10m in avatar clothes to dress for the concert. It’s possible to buy land in any metaverse and build a house. You can sell and convert it to cryptocurrency and physical money as it appreciates,” Gencler said. “Useful content can also be produced to generate income. Purchase and sale of NFT (non-fungible token) artwork is another income model in this world. There are also people who work as virtual event designers,” he noted.
Meanwhile, there is a potential that the metaverse may form the multi-trillion-dollar part of the global economy, according to Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games and one of the main supporters of Mark Zuckerberg. As he says, the next three years will be critical for companies like Meta that are interested in the metaverse. Sweeney also noted that the first company to reach 1 billion users will be the pioneer that is able to set the standards in this field.
Within this frame, Zuckerberg said during a conference that the metaverse will reach 1 billion people in the next decade, host digital commerce worth billions of dollars, and support businesses for millions of creators and developers.
However, there are some challenges for Meta in this respect. One of them will be to minimize VR equipment prices, while the other will be the managing data protection based on standards in the countries in which it operates. “For example, the EU is very specific and tough about data protection. And the data to be used in the metaverse will be different, for instance in some parts of Asia or some parts of America,” Benbunan added.
The metaverse also brings many ethical and philosophic questions, according to Benbunan. “There is also a challenge about the administration of how the metaverse will be ruled. For example, what happens if you kill someone on the metaverse in unclear,” he said. In this context, Meta officials say the metaverse technology can’t be built in one night by a single company. The company will collaborate with policymakers, experts, and industry partners to implement this project. The company announced that it will invest USD 50m in global research and program partners to develop the metaverse and its products responsibly.
META TURKEY DIRECTOR MADE A SPEECH TO PARLIAMENT
Turkey passed a law last year requiring social media platforms that have more than 1 million users to maintain a legal representative and store data in the country. Major social media companies, including Meta, YouTube, and Twitter, have since established offices in Turkey. “Turkey is important for our company. Launching an office in Turkey is not only because we have too many users. We’ve decided to be actually in the field,” said Azzam Alameddin, Director of Public Policy for MENA and Turkey at Meta, in a speech he made to the Turkish Parliament’s Digital Channels Commission in November. In line with the law, Madoka Turkey is now working as Meta’s Turkey representative.
META WITH NUMBERS IN TURKEY:
62.29 MILLION – THE NUMBER OF FACEBOOK USERS IN TURKEY – STATISTA, JULY 2021
35.18 MILLION -THE NUMBER OF MESSENGER USERS IN TURKEY – STATISTA, JULY 2021
40%- THE RATE OF PEOPLE AGED 16-64 WHO THINK THAT INSTAGRAM IS THE MOST POPULAR SERVICE – GLOBAL WEB INDEX’S, 2021
46.29 MILLION- THE NUMBER OF WHATSAPP USERS IN TURKEY, WHICH RANKS 8TH IN THE WORLD– MOBILESQUARED, 2019