Upland is a globally distributed organization headquartered in silicon valley. The firm was founded back in 2018 by serial entrepreneurs Dirk Lueth, Honigstein, and Idan Zuckerman. The co-founders followed the combination of Monopoly and the rising Non-Fungible Token to create Upland. On the platform, the users can purchase virtual land and commence their shop to trade digital collectibles. Similar to Monopoly, the users can play and earn real money. Emerging from Monopoly, Upland gives fun experiences and new opportunities for everyone in conjunction with the real and virtual worlds.
Recently, Harsh Vardhan Kushwaha of The Coin Republic has interviewed Dirk Lueth, the co-founder, and CEO of Upland. The session has covered amazing topics related to the platform and how the idea of creating such a platform emerged. Moreover, Lueth explained how the platform provides a play-to-earn opportunity.
How the idea for Upland emerged?
Back in 2012 or 13 years, we said, the world is going to be decentralized. And we weren’t looked at as these guys are talking about. So because there was the time, you know, mobile was around and social and so on. So that nobody thought about it, except for some geeks, but the whole idea of decentralization. Then in 2018, I put myself together with Roenick Stein and in common. They’re both from the gaming space and both from the blockchain angle in the city, because we were friends and we always wanted to do something together. And now, we were meeting for drinks and coffee and all that stuff.
One night we played the game “Monopoly”, and that’s how we got inspired because I think everyone knows monopoly, you know, your kid, everyone plays it, where you have to buy streets, you have to collect multiple streets with the same colors, you know, and then you try to rip off others away. There’s a lot of lenders, but we get inspired by the whole idea. What if we do that, in a very positive way, that we say, Okay, “let’s, rebuild the world”. That was our mantra. And that’s how it all came together.
In the beginning, we called it a property trading game. We said okay, we take blockchain and we combine it with the inspiration of monopoly and take action in the real world because we believe people can associate with it. And that’s how uplink with basic born back in 2018.
How did Dirk Lueth enter the blockchain world?
When we’re thinking about blockchain and everything around us. We want to build really something but just suited for the mass market. So everyone really can use it, not just in the gigs. And the problem with blockchain is, you know, the way it’s built-in, it’s kind of tricky with private keys, wallets, and so on. And that’s why we said, okay, we want to go a different path here. And you know, what is attractive to the average user, and the average use in the time or today is the same thing. So it’s mainly on his mobile phone with, okay, we want to build something with a blockchain application, which is mobile-first, and we set out and we’re looking around, you know, what kind of blockchains are out there.
We looked at the theory or some other blockchains back in 2018, nobody was speaking of Solana and things at the time. That was still running VMC and then we found the EOS as a blockchain where we said okay, this is the blockchain that suits exactly our needs. Rather, we can do a lot of transactions which we do when we launch new cities. In return we have 160 transactions per second, there’s quite a lot of material that needs a highly scalable blockchain and we can use tools where actual transactions between players are going to be for free. That is also one big advantage because yours is based on a consensus algorithm of Proof-of-Stake. That means, we only need to stake the accounts but we don’t need to pay for every transaction. There are no pro blockchain transaction fees, there are no gas fees, and so on. So this was the requirement for us to get started with that technology.
And then everything came together. So the way you know, when we say it is easy to onboard, you just need an email and a password. You can use it on the web, you can use credit cards and PayPal, right to send an email, you can use crypto to purchase something, but you can use those other currencies. And what we also have today is what we call a property you used, you can sell NFTs with an Upland for US dollars to other players, so you don’t need to go down the crypto route. So we have a lot of players who came in and said I’m not a crypto person, but I’m using Upland and playing Upland, and now I have NFTs and so on.
Lueth acquires Bitcoins
We get inspired by the game of Monopoly and then, of course, we said in the beginning notes, like a property trading game. But today, we’re way beyond that, right, we have what we call so now it’s an NFT metaverse, which is based on the real world. Our plan is based on three pillars. And you see that also up in the logo here, play, earn and connect. Everything we built on the platform is suited to those three-four pillars.
When you download Upland on the app stores, or you can also use it on the web, of course, you get a map application very much like Google Maps, you zoom in, and then you actually can go all the way down to the property borders, which are based on actual boundaries. And you can purchase that address. So that’s how it works. So we launched in San Francisco. We are currently living in New York or Chicago, Cleveland, a couple of other cities and eventually going to go worldwide. You’re a strong believer in supply and demand, there was a specific reason why we didn’t launch the whole world. But let’s stick to the three pillars.
People in what they do, purchase this property and then they start earning a yield on it. So after saying one thing is we have our in-app currency which is called a ‘UPX’ three letters, and $1 equals 1000 UPX which is a fixed exchange rate, and don’t mix it up. There’s another update on the exchanges, which are traded, but we are completely separate. The ethics are nontradable in upland on exchanges, the reason for that is that it says all regulatory legal, or regulatory explanations here especially in the US, because we have to comply with lots of other things. So, purchase that property, and you start earning a yield of 17% on UPX. And you can increase that yield now when you start completing a collection, so very much like in the Monopoly game.
You can now collect properties with the same characteristics and three properties on the same street or three museums. And once you complete that collection, you increase your yield on those properties, and this sets in motion a lot of activities between the players who need different properties for different reasons and so on. So which is kind of compelling. So this is what we call the first game engagement point.
We have treasure hunts, which is a fun thing to do. We have scavenger hunts, you have life events like a couple of days ago, because we launched in Chicago, there was the Chicago mob to a rival company, and everyone was doing stuff together with others in the app. So it’s a lot of fun. It’s not just, you know, just playing by yourself, you always do stuff with others. So this is the first play component.
Upland’s team understand the importance of “play to earn”
We are soon going to be introducing cards into Upland. And we are also planning on having car races and stuff. So that’s going to be very exciting with what’s coming down. So the second pillar then earns, and that is all these new blockchain games, you know, “play to earn” what it’s all about. That is, we also want not just to extract the entertainment value for our users or players, we want them to extract the monetary value. As I said, UPX is not tradable for regulatory reasons. But what you can do, you can sell your NFTs. NFTs are, of course, all properties you’re purchasing. They’re all NFTs. But in the future, you will have cars of art and other things, which are NFTs you can sell for US dollars to other players, which makes it of course then compelling.
But at the same time, we have the opportunity to extract money out of the game or out of the metaverse again. And so what it means to earn is what we want people to run and operate businesses in Atlanta. So right now, what you can do now is once you own a property, which is the pure parcel, you can now start building a house or a shop on your property. And then you can start running a business there. So we’re introducing those businesses very soon.
And you can now sell NFTs to other players give you an example, maybe outside the core, maybe you want to sell a virtual water fountain to other players because they want to beautify their property, right where they have a house on or maybe we talked to some players, there’s one player who wants to focus on fences. So he wants to be a specialist in creating, you know, good-looking fences for housing.
There’s a lot of stuff which people are becoming creative with, but they can sell those either for our picks, they can choose or they can sell these things. And those digital items, they’re creating themselves for NFT’s. But you cannot. And the vision is you can create those items yourself or you have others creating it for you and they’re selling it in your shop then. So there’s a lot you know, this is the direction where we strongly believe play to earn importance.
Players can import NFTs from other blockchains
A special case on the earth is also that we just introduced what we call the NFT portal. So you will be able to import NFTs from another blockchain. So currently, you can import NFTs. We have partnerships with blockchain heroes where you’re able to import those cards into Upland. And that’s what is now so interesting because everyone is buying NFTs left and right, but what do you do with them, they just sit in your wallet.
In Atlanta, we cast utility, we cast content to your NFTs. So just imagine now you bought maybe F1 Delta car Razors, or maybe a nice piece of art, now you can import it when it also sits on Ethereum, you can import it into Upland. And maybe one runs and operates a digital gallery shop in Atlanta, but now you can combine NFTs from different platforms in one and you just operate that shop there and then you advertise it across the web, and hopefully, people come and purchase. You can also export those back out to the blockchain.
Upland’s metaverse will soon have communication tools
The third pillar is connected. So right now we have a very active community, and especially on discord and telegram and eventually, we want to move the community into our plan. Going forward, you will be able to have you know, communication tools where you can communicate with others you can meet in virtual settings like a virtual coffee shop, like a virtual fan shop near the stadium, and lots of other places you know, when you’re a fan of a football club and you can meet with others. Talk about NFTs and can talk about other stuff. And so Upland is going to become a social place.
Upland’s next plan is to go on a global scale
We want to go global, that’s it. I mean, we have to solve a couple of technical issues here. So I’ll give you one example. Right now we have, when you purchase something on a plant, it’s based on the real-world borders of a property, like, when you purchase a house in real life, it’s the same borders, which you purchase in Upland. So we need to get the borders of properties around the world. So there’s some countries or some cities, where we can get that, but not all of them. So, because they just don’t have that data we have to solve that first. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense if we draw rectangles everywhere, because then it’s not that it doesn’t look like the real world. I mean, we were running a project on the side with a university where we analyze satellite images. We’re taking a little bit of Neural Networks to learn how those probabilities are. Once we solve that, we can really, we can go on a global scale.
In the meantime, we probably don’t go first to those cities, or countries, where we get access to data quite quickly. Originally, we wanted to go to Asia this year. However, we decided to postpone that because we probably heard we have a license agreement with the NFLPA in the US. So that’s the reason we’re rolling out 30 cities in the US first, you know, the NFL cities. And once we’ve done that, I assume that starting Q1, we’re gonna go international. And then we have to see which countries we’re going to pick first.
Can metaverse alter the internet?
I think we have a very special case with Upland. Because, metaverse, there are different metaverse out there is part of the metaverse, right they always discuss they have multiple metaverses in one metaverse. I believe it’s right to say there’s only one non-crypto And then you have different applications. So if you look at it, this guy, the others, either they’re noncrypto or non-blockchain-based, like Fortnite, and Roblox Minecraft would have your GTA. And then you have the blockchain-based like Sandbox or Decentraland. Upland, however, we are the thing, or there are some other smaller players, but I think we’re the only ones who are based on the real world.
Upland’s metaverse is based on Web3.0
This is Web3.0. Web 2.0 was more about the whole social web. And web 3.0 is now all about the exchange of value. But this has to go a bit further exchange of value because blockchain enables you to do that. However, the exchange of value is not enough. You need to have all the ideas of content around what the metaverse provides to you. So, but people will use it differently a little bit, you know, the vision we have here at upland, right? Like in five or 10 years, we know that we’re going to consider those stores right now with the augmented reality glasses.
Especially in the case of upland, the borders, you know, blur between the real and the virtual world. Something is virtual and applied, but at the same time, you’re still walking around the real world. So you’re wearing those glasses. And then you see maybe a sharp or you go into a football stadium, whatever, right. And then those glasses, transmit you additional information about what you’re currently looking at. And this might be different for you than for your neighbor who sits right next to you, or might be the same now but, somehow it becomes a natural part or extension of your everyday life, people might be gone.
We’re going to be online all the time, and so on, but I think it’s more in a positive way that you have enriched your life and if it starts you get better information, you have better entertainment and you can help others because you have this additional information, which wasn’t there before. And that’s what I see what Web3.0 is really about. It becomes a much more natural integration into your daily life.
Regulations suppress innovative potential
We are game at the end of the day, right at the moment, even though we are touching, you know, real-world things and maybe one day also, of course being regulatory compliant maybe one day there will be exchanges that offer a different kind of services within our plant now, but I think the industry is so young and I wish that the regulator’s, on one hand, regulate some stuff so I think that’s needed to give to make also this piece of finance available to the masses because if they will not come if they feel not safe when they do something it’s just gonna be things for the geeks. I think that that’s important. However, regulation cannot go too far because it suppresses, you know, all the innovative potential of what you have with Defi.
Lueth believes NFTs are here to stay
Hopefully, your audience knows the difference between fungible and nonfungible tokens, right. Fungible tokens, you know, like Bitcoin every coin and quotation mark is the same. But then you have nonfungible tokens, which are unique items as such, and this creates completely new types of use cases. Gaming, what we are currently doing as digital art is evident, but I see that there will be completely new types of products, new types of services, which will be combined with the idea of NFTs and also regular day-to-day brands. I see that they might extend their brand into NFTs.
I also think that NFT is here to stay. For example, let’s be realistic, NFT, enter into art, you and I, everyone in the world can relate to art in some way or other. And they are going to correlate to NFTs in that manner. So NFTs are here to stay. And so you can see, like, there are a few people who are making some money out of it, because they have identified it. Like before, that crowd has identified the potential of NFTs. And you know, a 12-year-old boy made about 400 USD, just by selling his energies. So you can just estimate the potential of energies with this case study.
Not everyone can purchase a piece of art for $60 million, or crypto for I don’t know, $5 million or so. It’s just, you know, these are some crypto-rich people who can do that. And of course, these are always, you know, taking the headlines and newspapers, or this has been sold for 7 million, 9 million, but let’s face it, right, the average person just cannot afford that it’s just impossible. So I believe that NFTs will also have some kind of a Renaissance, where there will be NFTs whose costs may be between 50 cents, maybe $2, maybe $10. And these are items which when you think about the collectible markets when you have baseball cards where people want to trade those cards, or for $2, or $3, they don’t want to trade them always, of course, there will be cards, which are worth $10, $10,000, or maybe half a million or whatever happens.
Blockchains are the basic infrastructure of everything
We’re going through different phases, right. We were in the first phase and when Bitcoin came around, everyone thought Okay, there’s only going to be one currency and people, then Ethereum came, where was the first programmable, you will be able to program on top of a blockchain. So blockchains will keep on innovating in this circumstance, I think but we are about to end. But blockchain is the infrastructure of everything. So, when you want to start a company or run a startup, or either, of course, depends, you know, where your capabilities are if you were in this very limited numbers of people in the world who can go on the very low level on the protocol level, right, then you should always innovate and think about new cool blockchain technologies and so on.
That’s perfect what you can do, but I think this is also, again, for a more limited number of people, this is so sophisticated stuff. To my mind, I think what you should probably start thinking is very much I mean, we’re just let’s say, if you take you to know, looking at the year, right, I think we have today a journey, or January 3, when it comes to developing decentralized applications on the application layer. When you compare it with mobile apps, mobile apps started to kick in 2008 until today. So we have today in 2008, the third of January of the year or something. Now, when it comes to dApps I think people very often hear that on the mobile app space.
Money and value attracts malicious actors
That’s probably the downside, as soon as money is involved, as soon as the value is involved, try to get all those malicious people who are trying to hack and I find it sad. On the other hand, right now, we all know Bitcoin, the protocol has not been hacked so far. Normally things around it get hacked, where the risk is. But blockchain itself is a very robust technology so far, there’s nothing which has happened, right, there’s maybe a smart contract, which is not well written, or there’s a wallet where there’s a security hole, right, or, you know, you know, people are getting attacked themselves and, you know, exposing the private keys somewhere in a stupid manner.
We also had an opponent, people who are trying to make our website right and trying to steal stuff from others, it happens virtually all the time. But, you know, I think that’s where we’re people, you know, who truly believe you know, in the good of things, right, they should group and try to exclude all those takers. And fight them as a unit together because that’s the only way forward now. And of course, as operators, we can, you know, work hard, to make the applications as secure as possible.
How to earn from the metaverse?
There are different ways of earning, especially in our metaverse, so the first idea is to buy cheap and sell expensive. So that’s one way of doing it. That’s called speculation. That’s not how we built Upland. That’s not whatever we had in mind. Some people do it. But our ideas are really what we’re doing at Apple, and as we’re building what we call an open economy, that’s a reason why we have a fixed exchange rate between the dollar and our in-game currency. The idea here is really that people can make money by running a business really, by doing something they would do in real life.
This business can be diverse, can be anything, you can either run a business or just sell NFTs. But I see that in the not-so-distant future that people will also mix in maybe you sell some, physical goods, or maybe some sneakers on your virtual appliance store, and you mix them with NFT. So you have just a mix of things, what you’re selling.
Following the platform, we can say that Upland offers some out-of-the-box opportunities. Combining the idea of Monopoly with the blockchain ecosystem the platform is allowed to run business or just sell NFTs. Upland offers the power to buy, sell and trade digital assets based on real-world addresses.