Neil Patel

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In the fast-evolving landscape of web3, where innovation meets the convergence of technology and user experiences, Aaron McDonald’s journey stands out as a testament to resilience, curiosity, and a relentless pursuit of transformation.

In this candid interview, we delve into the fascinating narrative of a founder who started in a small rural town in New Zealand and went on to shape the future of the internet. Aaron also talks about ICOs, roll-ups, and the newly co-founded Readyverse Studios and their partnership with Warner Brothers Discovery.

Aaron’s latest venture, Futureverse has attracted funding from top-tier investors like 10T Holdings, AirTree, Fantail Ventures, and Ripple.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Aaron McDonald’s journey from a small New Zealand town to the forefront of web3 epitomizes the fusion of humble beginnings and technological innovation.
  • Extensive travel experiences, including humanitarian work in Southeast Asia and Russia, shaped Aaron’s global outlook and commitment to understanding diverse cultures.
  • Fatherhood at 21 prompted a shift from an outward-focused worldview to creating stability, leading Aaron to venture into the technology sector and ultimately shape a billion-dollar portfolio in telecommunications.
  • Enthralled by Ethereum and smart contracts, Aaron envisioned a web3 future where communities could own applications, challenging traditional finance structures and putting users back in control.
  • The early days of web3 were marked by ICO skepticism, but Aaron’s successful token-generating event in 2017 reflected a turning point, as the value proposition gained widespread recognition.
  • Futureverse’s $54 million series A funding underscores its mission to create the Open Metaverse, empowering users to traverse diverse applications while owning their identity, data, and content.
  • Aaron’s journey imparts valuable lessons to aspiring founders, emphasizing the importance of thorough preparation, careful decision-making, and maintaining core values and family support throughout the entrepreneurial odyssey.


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About Aaron McDonald:

Aaron McDonald is a 20+ year technology industry veteran and serial entrepreneur with experience managing portfolios with over $1B in revenue.

Aaron has long been an innovator with his eye on the future – from leading the market in telecommunications to now leading innovation in Web3.

Aaron is the founder of multiple metaverse companies developed independently, but now rolled up under one umbrella entity, an open metaverse powerhouse, Futureverse.

As Co-Founder of Futureverse, Co-Founder Centrality, General Partner at NetX ventures and D64 Ventures, Co-Founder of Non-Fungible Labs and Co-Founder of Altered State Machine, Aaron is responsible for some of today’s largest NFT collections and most innovative blockchain and Web3 technology.

In 2019, Aaron was named Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year and recognized by IDG as one of the Top 50 Technology Leaders.

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Connect with Aaron McDonald:

Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a really amazing founder. You know founder that day I mean we’re gonna be learning quite a bit when he comes to wip three what he’s done. You know he’s been around the block really incredible journey. And day and again we’re gonna be talking about building scaling financing all of that good stuff that we like to hear we’re talking about the early days of web 3 some of the challenges that were going on there icos you know the initial coin offerings that he was involved with as well as doing rollup. You know of companies you know and and and what they’re doing now with raisingcing money partnerships with the likes of Warner Brothers I mean you name it all in between so without furtherther. Do let’s welcome. Our guest today are on Mcdonald Welcome to the show.

Aaron McDonald: Thanks man, Really great to be on board sounds like an exciting show ahead. Hopefully we can make up for that and incredible introduction.

Alejandro Cremades: So so let’s talk about ah that that walk through memory lane because you were born in New Zealand in a small rural town so walk us through how was how was life you know, growing up.

Aaron McDonald: Yep. Yeah, the the bottom of bottom of the world and the bottom of nowhere inside in New Zealand um it was. It was actually great being a kid growing up in that environment. Um, you know, being in the outdoors and you know connected to the land and that’s something that’s always grounded me. Um we would. We were dirt poor and we had a big family but um, you know we had. We had lots of fun and um and it was really I think um, a a shaping part of my life to grow up in that environment and spend time. Um. And somewhere that because kind of the opposite of where I’ve landed now in terms of high tech and and um content and gaming in the medavas.

Alejandro Cremades: So then let’s talk about 2 traveling because obviously as a young kid you know you traveled a lot through Southeast Asia and and like anything you know traveling gives you a new worldview. You know you didn’t.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah. Yeah I.

Alejandro Cremades: Probably at that point you didn’t know that there was life outside of New Zealand and then you’re like my my god there’s like other stuff happening outside of this country. so so why what would you say you know that open up your your world view there because even you at a young age you know later on at 17 You would also travel to Russia for humanitarian work and stuff like that. So.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: So how was that for you.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, so one of the things my my parents did actually was they um they did humanitarian work and we actually spent a year in Southeast asia my dad was over there teaching people how to be more effective in their farming practices and get higher higher yields um, and so. Got exposed to both and a completely different culture. Um from my own as well as um, you know the the good work of helping other people to be successful and and so that kind of also was a shaping moment for me and carried on through the rest of my life. Um I think it was fun I have some really fond memories of my time back then even though I was quite young but it did give you a totally different perspective I think 1 thing is true though that kiwis new zealanders are typically outward focus because we are you know in the middle of nowhere compared to the rest of the world. And we kind of have to look outside of our own country and a high percentage of new zealanders when they’re young, take off and travel overseas. Um, and so I kind of followed a little bit in my father’s foot spt steps um spent some time up in Russia. Um, working. Again in humanitarian causes um helping build orphanages and run soup kitchens and bring in um, aids to to kind of poorer villages and stuff like that. So it was a really um you know I think giving time in my own personal development to see people.

Aaron McDonald: Even though I grew up poor in a worse position than me and give you that real perspective of of seeing things from other people’s point of view and putting yourself in other people’s shoes which kind of carried again through my my whole career and trying to understand the audiences I connect with and um. And perspective of other people in conversations or on Deals. You know all of those skills carry through.

Alejandro Cremades: So then for this sense too. I mean when you went to Russia and and you did that humanit humanitarian work you know around 17 then you decide to go back to New Zealand and then at 21

Aaron McDonald: Oh.

Aaron McDonald:
Yeah, so.

Alejandro Cremades: Obviously you know you had the the biggest startup that they that 1 human being could have the thing is that in in this type of startup. You know there is no exit you only break even when you sleep at night. Ah and day and and and and that’s pretty much it. But but what happened at 21 because it changed the perspective of everything.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, yeah.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah I um I um obviously fell fell in love and got married at that time. Um, and um, came back to New Zealand and I found out on my twenty first birthday that my wife at that time was pregnant with my son misha. And that was almost I don’t want to say a wake up call because um I wasn’t that I was doing nothing with my life but change the focus from you know, being someone who is um, kind of almost solely focused on the outward world into someone who had to be a bit more focused on the inward inward world. Um, and kind of create a home and ah, um, stability for my new family and so I jumped from from that moment you know into the into the technology world something that I’d played around a bit with as a kid. Um. Yeah, even though we’re very poor my my mom and dad worked you know double shifts to um to get us a computer an amiga 500 um, and we taught ourselves how to to program me and my brothers and um and so I I kind of naturally had always been interested in technology. Always tinkered in and invented and played with electronics as a kid and 1 of my friends was working in it and got me a a job at at the at the ground level. We should say calling around underneath buildings and and laying cables for um, an it company.

Aaron McDonald: And that’s kind of started my technology career from there.

Alejandro Cremades: So then so then for you I mean it was quite the career you know and and all types of um sequences of events because you started incorporated now. Obviously you’re in the startup world. So how do you? How do you go from corporate into into venture I mean.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: What did that transition look like for you.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, um I always kind of had ah hunger to learn new stuff and so I spent a lot of my career working in different parts of the business to understand how they worked. Um, so I so I spent time like I said literally on the ground level out in the field. Um, you know building the the infrastructure of the internet and then moved more into kind of um core network technology roles. Um, you know, helping kind of bring voice over ip and. Um, mobile networks to life jumped from there into um ah, spend some time in sales to understand how that worked technology sales or technical sales and from there into product. Um, and then from product you know, development into product management product management into product marketing. And then ended ended up kind of running um a billion dollar portfolio and telecommunications and it um and so I got a really well-rounded experience through that journey of all the different elements of a business and I think that that was um was really important to me. Um, stepping stepping from that intervention world because when I would talk to founders um, or um, start to kind of get involved with incubating and accelerating my own companies I could really see all the different parts that needed to come together to make something successful.

Aaron McDonald: And particularly when you’re um, working in telecommunications. Um, you know the value proposition. Um from a technology perspective is very thin Competitively. You know when you’re talking one network versus another. Um, and so you have to really focus on the other parts of that value proposition understanding your customer segmentation pricing customer experience. Design. All of those things really make the difference. Um, and so that that put me in a really great mindset for for understanding how early stage businesses should think about approaching things because. Really need to think about those customer value propositions and product Market fit and all those kind of things on top of the core technology and often people get stuck in in the technology in their heads and forget about those things. So So that’s really kind of the career after after I jumped um from kind of that. Business leadership role I went in spent some time in corporate venture I was lucky enough at the time that um, my um, my boss kind of saw me in a position where I where I kind of looked a bit bored in the business I think um and and then offered you to. Um, sponsor me to go into this new new corporate venture part of the business. So I could learn the ropes there and make a decision about whether I wanted to go on in the corporate exec track or whether I wanted to go out and do my own thing and and I learned a lot in that corporate venture process and then immediately jumped out into the startup world.

Alejandro Cremades: So then let’s talk about making that jump what did that jump a look like for you.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, it was Scary. You know like even though I went from from corporate venture into a portfolio company to lead a portfolio company from from the venture Portfolio. You know, leaving the bosom of Corporate. Um, life and you know all the support structures you have around you and the financial stability that comes with that and and the infrastructure that that exists to get things done. You know that was a very scary moment. Um, and um. And you know young family on board and and kind of just trying to figure out my place in the world at that point but really exciting. Um, you know I’d always think through my career one of the things that drove me to um to move through those different roles was always wanting to make the thing Better. You know when you’re at the very bottom of the stack running those cables. Everyone else’s decisions above you, you know shit flows downhill um and so you try and try and climb to the next rung up so that you can fix the problems that you experience down below and going through that track. You know you’d figure out where all those gaps were and so. Um, you know now being at the other end you know and in charge of a business really kind of um was was a great opportunity to put all of that work to that all that learnings to work but also really scary because you’re the one that’s making those decisions.

Alejandro Cremades: So then so then in this case too I mean you you actually started to get excited about the um you know playing there with like smart contracts and I think that those are a really people tell moment there when you connected with a lawyer.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, yeah.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: You know that was in so and and very much involved and but I mean I’m sure it was kind of like the wild wild West You know at that point you know the early days. So so what happened you know during that connection and what opened up you know the whole thing like in in your view about.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: This world of web 3 Why was it so exciting for you.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, um, so I think there were a few things that really drew me in. Um I’d kind of seen bitcoin for a bit and I thought that was interesting and I I kind of felt that um.

Aaron McDonald: Having a system where community owned the infrastructure was something that was for money was kind of interesting but it wasn’t until I saw ethereum in smart contracts that I really got into it because then I I realized the opportunity for communities to own applications. And that meant like you went from this kind of finance and money domain into the everything domain um and um and so I got fascinated by the idea of building applications that communities could participate in the ownership of. Um, and changing the paradigm and if you think back then you’re coming out of startup into startup world out of corporate venture and and big tech really kind of starting to make their moment. This is kind of um around the times pre pre-cate cambridge analytic Analytica but you could see really this kind of power. Um, transfer happening in society from um, 2 companies that were in control of the data and the processes on the internet and my history is someone who kind of thought about um, you know. Humanitarian causes and understanding kind of society’s role and social structures and stuff like that it dawned on me at that time that there was this pivotal moment where we could actually change the destiny of the internet where we could put users back in control and we could um.

Aaron McDonald: We could have community-owned infrastructure and we could run. Um you know applications in a way that meant that corporations didn’t have to be in the driving seat and I thought that that was really fascinating at that time. Um, we we saw also this kind of opportunity in. Um, and being able to use a common platform that nobody owned to build businesses that could connect with each other on on that platform. So if you think of like scaling a startup often. There’s like a chicken and egg problem which is you know might have 1 side of the business model. Um, you know. Going, but it needs the other side of the business model to work. Let’s say like uber. For example, you need drivers and you need customers and if they don’t come together at the right time then it doesn’t work because half the experience isn’t there and so when we’re looking at this technology we’re like well how can businesses leverage a common platform that nobody owns. Um, connect to customers that are in control of their own destiny and their own data and their own identity and overcome those chicken and egg scaling problems and create a more connected venture portfolio and at the time we had this. Um this kind of thesis which was. Let’s not try and make a unicorn. Let’s try and make a herd full of successful zebras um, you know because that’s um, that’s a much more realistic goal and in fact, unicorns, don’t actually exist in reality. So um, so that led us down the path of creating a venture portfolio. Um.

Aaron McDonald: You know, connected to this web 3 technology.

Alejandro Cremades: Now now in this case, you know like 2 for you guys? Um, obviously you were involved too with the you know with during the days of the venture study that you were running to you were involved with an ico there with an initial coin offering that was a 100000000 so

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, um.

Alejandro Cremades: Icos I mean I was crazy days the Ico So so how was that experience too of of of experiencing an Ico like that.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah I mean it was it was crazy I mean um yeah, when we started in web 3 it was something that investors didn’t really get um you know that banks didn’t really understand you know to kind of like do a lot of work to get a bank account. There were all sorts of. Ah, misnomers and kind of preconceptions about what this technology was and wasn’t and um so it was it was it was hard as a startup operating in that time just to do the basics. Um, and then you know towards the end of 2017 but something changed you know and people started en masse to understand that um value proposition and the the nature of capital um, raising started to change and it wasn’t just something that happened in web 3 either. You know you were starting to see crowdfunding come come into play. Um, in a bigger way around that time it was ah it was the kind of the early days of consumerization of of stock market trading. So it was all of these kind of forces combining which were what’s the output of was that consumers were getting opportunities to invest directly in things in a way that. They’ve never had before um you know they was always these gatekeepers in front of the capital process and only a small number of participants actually could participate in early stage. You know, venture opportunities. Um, and this new technology enabled that to um.

Aaron McDonald: To Scale in a totally different way and so we did um one of our venture companies did ah a tg at the time. Um and token generating event. Um to um to enable that company to build a um. Ah, network that these connective ventures could operate on top of and so that was ah that was an ah extremely um, crazy time because when you so when you are kind of in the middle of that. Um environment. It’s moving so fast. There are so many like exhilarating moments.. There are so many moments that are um, the opposite of that that you feel like everything’s going to fall to pieces you know prior to that we’ve been. We’ve been um, you know, um, relatively successful but never experienced something as big as that before. Um, and so there’s a whole learning process that you go through when that happens to you and after that happens to you and that scaling of a company that that um, that’s that’s something that you can’t be prepared for no matter what you do beforehand.

Alejandro Cremades: So then so then in this case, you know like 2 I mean 1 1 thing led to the next and you ended up doing a rollup you know of of all types of companies here more on the on the media side of things and that is now ah called future verse. So.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: it’s it’s interesting you know like that shift from pushing a venture studio to um to to now and being involved obviously with all these different companies that you had there for example, like the one that we just alluded to. But. How do you How do you go now into doing that roll up, you know a rollup is a is is not easy. You know it’s challenging all types of like you know things that you need to do to bring all these companies together and also you you did a series a for this of fifty four million bucks so

Aaron McDonald: Um, ah.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: How was how was that like because I mean our roll up is is challenging.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, totally I mean I have to say don’t try this at home kids. Um, yeah, it’s my first kind of warning but we so in our first kind of portfolio companies. We focused on um, companies that were solving those. Infrastructure and onboarding and user experience problems around web 3 um, and then we we grew that into a second um ah fund that was more focused on um, bringing consumers in to use that technology and in that domain we um, we focused on content. So we figured content would be the key to to bringing users into into use this technology and we started to have success with a whole bunch of content companies and in that um in that second phase and in in in that we were incubating a company. And which I actually co-founded called altered state machine which was building ai technology the intersection of Ai and with 3 um and um and we had a few conversations with potential investors in that company. Um and they started to notice the rest of the ecosystem. Um, and some of these investors were later stage. You know, growth investors. Um, and said um, you know 1 of the partners partners at at 1 of those funds said why don’t you look at doing a rollup take you know these infrastructure and um protocol companies put the.

Aaron McDonald: Together with these content companies and create something more scaled that that grostage private equity could get behind um and so we thought yeah why not um and then spent the next two years trying to pull that deal together to merge. Um and acquire eleven companies. And do that series a funding to create futurebus which is ah which is a world- leading media tech company now building software for the entertainment and video games industry. Thank.

Alejandro Cremades: so yeah so I wanted to ask you that you know for for for this I mean obviously as you were saying you you guys raised fifty four million bucks and and and my question there is for future verse I mean imagine if you I mean for investors division is a big one. So.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: If you were to go to sleep to tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of future versus fully realized what does that world look like.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, yeah, so our our mission is to create the foundation of what we call the open Mediverse. So a little bit of um. Context to that because I think a lot of people when they hear hear Medaviss they immediately jump to something like roblox or you know the vision pro or those kinds of things and and while those are part of it. Our view is that um the medaverses is just the internet evolving internet growing up into. Um, something that is a more converged and more immersive customer experience. So if you think about um, you know the early days of the internet. Um, we had these huge silos you know, banking finance commerce media. Communications they’re all quite separate things that you did gaming um and you went to separate places to do them and there was really no kind of interoperability between those things and as the internet’s progressed. Those things have started to converge and so um, you know you take an early example. Back in my telecommunications days. There were media companies and there were communications companies and they actually had their own separate telecommunications networks. That’s how far apart they were.

Aaron McDonald: Um, and then you saw social media come along and eat both of those things and create this new customer experience that was both media and communications in one go and that progression of things has continued to happen. You know we’ve seen um finance start to spill into. Um, commerce would buy now pay later. That’s a singular customer experience done in 1 place. We’ve seen commerce start to spill into social with social commerce you know, fastest growing commerce platforms in the world. Ah are the likes of Tiktok where we’re we’re making a more immersive more connected more converged kind of commerce in that social domain. And so the metaverse is just that trend continuing bringing more and more things into a cohesive customer experience. So in that that backdrop what our job. You know the mission we have is to. Create a platform that makes it possible for users to traverse all of those different applications and content experiences. Um in a way that means they can own their identity their content. Their data. The things that they value. Um, so that’s kind of about the data layer of of the internet. The next bit is. Um, about creating tools that mean that content can be interoperable so I can own a piece of content say an avatar in 1 place and I can take it to another place and then the last bit that we do is help people generate that content. So using. We have really great team of.

Aaron McDonald: You know, 20 or so ph ds and researchers building at the edge of Ai technology and content creation creating novel models for music generation 3 d generation all this kind of stuff to put the hand the control back in the hands of users so that they can create this content. It doesn’t have to be some big studio or big business anymore. And when you do that then you know what happens over the life of the internet. What we’ve seen is um, every time you give consumers the tools to create a type of content that type of content becomes the default type of content that’s on the internet so you know back in the day it was hard to make websites. Um, you had to have a programmer to do that if you knew them they were expensive and then things like Squarespace and works and wordpress came along and suddenly every business could have a website the same thing happened with social media. Everyone could become a publisher at that point and so that became the default kind of media. Um. And we’re going to see the same thing again with immersive content. You know these tools will enable everyone to create immersive content and that will be the default kind of content that people have on the internet and so if we’re successful communities and users will be at the heart of those things they’ll be the owners of that infrastructure. They’ll be owners of that content. And will change the way the internet structure works.

Alejandro Cremades: So then? so then I guess you know this this is this is incredible I Guess now you know obviously that that you’ve been at it for so long right? As ah as a founder and seeing all types of shapes and forms of um of companies as Well. I Guess. If you if I was to put you into a time machine and I brought you back in time you know maybe to that moment where you are now thinking about doing something of your own and you had the opportunity right there on the spot to give your younger self one piece of Advice. What would that be and why and don’t tell me to buy more bitcoin.

Aaron McDonald: It.

Aaron McDonald: Um.

Alejandro Cremades: More bitcoin.

Aaron McDonald: Ah, um, it’s it’s a fascinating question I I often look at this one myself and I was the one of the answers if I kind of start with answering it with someone else’s perspective I think this question was asked of the founder of Nvidia and his response. Something I can really identify with which is don’t do it. You know because the the tax it extorts on your life and your family and those around you and your your health and all of those things is high um and so. On 1 hand that’s in my head because I know all of those things to be true. You know I’ve put a lot of strain on my family over the years as we kind of got this thing bootstrapped. Um, you know it’s had an impact on um, you know, early early days has had an impact on relationships and um. And even now you know you’re juggling all these balls and you’ve got all this responsibility and it’s something that never leaves your mind and your attention not only responsibility to the mission that you’re doing but also to the hundreds of people that work for you. um and um and your investors and all of that kind of stuff. So. It’s a hard road to go down and it’s not for the fainthearted. Um, but at the same time on the other side of the coin is this so much joy you know and you know you see the things you imagine come to life and you see people using those products and and them getting joy from them.

Aaron McDonald: And so there’s this huge rollercoaster of of things and um and so the cutthrough on that really is um, you know I would have told myself maybe to prepare myself for that journey a bit better. Um, and I would have um, told myself to. Take more time in the decisions I made along the way and the people that I I got into business with because when you’re in the middle of you know some of these very exciting moments and you get your first sluggger capital you tend to like rush into like bigger and better and all these kind of stuff and I think just taking time really would have helped. And then the other thing was just kind of make sure you know to to do what I think I’ve done in this is like keep my family close you know and have that core support. Um framework around you so that you can you know traverse these these highs and lows with some kind of center of gravity.

Alejandro Cremades: Amazing so arm for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.

Aaron McDonald: Yeah, you can you can hit me up on Twitter is probably I mean x is the thing I most on so at Aaron Mcd and Z or come and check our website out There’s lots of contact links there depending on what you want to do. Um, if you’re a developer or if you’re a brand or if you’re a studio that wants to work with someone doing exciting things like we are then we’re we’re here to help.

Alejandro Cremades: Amazing well hair and thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.

Aaron McDonald: Thank you? No appreciate it.


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