It’s officially been one week since the Azurian PFP reveal. The art has been widely criticized, turned into memes and taken over your Twitter feed. Over the last few days, I spent some time with the team wearing my dGEN Network contributor hat so that I could share what life has been like at Tally Labs over the last few days.
I’m Roebs, the Head of Product & Design at Tally Labs. Below is an inside look into what the last few days were like for the Tally Labs team. You’ll read from the founders of Tally Labs, Valet Jones and SAFA, as well as the rest of the team.
Friday, 9/30: Azurian Reveal
Roebs: Friday was the start of it all. Tell me about your day, starting in the morning before the video went live.
SAFA: We were really excited to launch the video. We had worked really hard on it. I think the video itself is awesome, and most people said they enjoyed it. Obviously the art that was revealed in the video didn’t land. There’s no way around that. But we all had this day marked on our calendars and could not wait.
VJ: Yeah, the feedback throughout the first 5 or 10 min was positive and then very quickly it turned.
SAFA: We knew pretty quickly. I think Thread Guy said it best.
Thread Guy: Within a few minutes of the video launch, we knew how catastrophic the response was.
VJ: SAFA and I had just jumped on an important call shortly after posting the video. And so we were loosely kind of scrolling through social media. Every couple of seconds we were getting new responses telling us how awful the art was. It was a stressful situation.
SAFA: It’s funny neither of us were talking about it out loud while we were on the call but we were both thinking the same exact thing. Silently, we both knew what was going on and that something needed to be done. And then, after we got off the call we just kind of like looked at each other and knew the situation was grave. We had to figure this out.
VJ: Exactly. We were like “This is really bad.” We worked really hard on the avatars and we made them so much better than the early versions, but that wasn’t enough. We had started off with a losing premise and didn’t realize it.
SAFA: I don’t want to say it was surreal, but it was kind of numbing. It was a huge failure, and it took a little while for that to set in. The worst part was that it affected the entire team. Take Thread Guy, for example.
Roebs: Thread Guy, you were on Twitter in the thick of it all. What was it like for you?
Thread Guy: Yeah, I mean Friday was brutal. There’s no way around that. I was being tagged in a lot of tweets. My DM’s were absurd. There were some nice ones, honestly, a lot of nice ones, and a lot of genuine people reaching out. But a lot of people were like “Thread Guy, what the hell is this?”
Roebs: How did you feel at that moment?
Thread Guy: I was emotional, like very emotional at first. I just closed the Twitter app and told myself I was going to take the weekend off. I didn’t respond to anybody except for really close friends or really genuine people over the weekend. I had to take a step back.
Roebs: VJ, SAFA, you were quick to address the community. What was your initial reaction on how to handle the situation?
VJ: When we saw that the feedback was negative, we realized quickly it was “go time” and we needed to do something about it. And I’m proud of us for doing that.
SAFA: We opened a Twitter Spaces as soon as we could. We felt that the most important thing that we could do was create a space where people could talk. We also knew that there was no running from this. We needed to be present, available, and show our community that we’re willing to listen and improve.
VJ: I think we kind of responded the only way that we knew how. This was to address the community and immediately ask, “Okay, how can we make this right for you guys?” And it wasn’t just me and SAFA who felt that way. Our whole team jumped on board with that approach. Ice, one of our designers, had a great perspective on it all.
Ice: We know that we need to listen to feedback from community members, even though it may hurt sometimes. In this scenario, it did, but we also listened. That very day, we started collecting feedback and thinking through ways to fine-tune our business processes and, of course, the PFP art.
Roebs: Absolutely, I couldn’t have said it better. VJ and SAFA, what did you do after the Twitter Spaces was over?
SAFA: The two of us had hardly spoken to each other because we were focused on interacting with the community. And so very shortly after the spaces we connected for about 20 min. We went for a short walk and debriefed.
VJ: And then at the same time we’d been messaging with the Tally Labs team on Discord. FilmBook had set up a Zoom for folks to join to share their feelings. We also wanted to talk at a high level to talk about a strategy for how we could make it right.
Roebs: How did you approach addressing the team at that moment?
SAFA: It was really hard. To be vulnerable for a second, as founders of the company, it’s really important to walk that line between being emotional and letting folks know that they’re not alone in their feelings, but also to provide a sense of leadership and a clear path forward. At times during the call VJ and I wanted to be sad with the rest of the team. But I think we just kind of felt like that’s not what the team needed, and it was our responsibility to bring a different energy to the call.
VJ: We just tried to be as steady and as calming as we could. We were embarrassed, and we were humbled, and we were disappointed. It was important to let the team know we felt that way. But we also needed to fight through that, to push forward and figure out how to make it right. We were down, but we were also inspired at how the team was rallying. We even had two teammates call in from being out of office.
Roebs: Yes, exactly. Juice and Mumbles, two of our teammates called into our impromptu team meeting from vacation. To you two, what made you choose to do that?
Mumbles: For something to escalate at the point that we had a meeting late in the day it meant that something important had happened. I felt the need to be present for the team in order to show support.
Juice: Even when I’m OOO, I’m still a part of this team. So calling in for the team meeting was to show my commitment to the success of this project.
Roebs: How did you feel after the call?
Mumbles: After looking at how everyone responded, especially our leaders, and how united the team was, it was reassuring that I am in the right place with the right group of people.
Juice: We took a huge L when the Azurians launched but seeing VJ and SAFA taking the problem head on made the team more fired up. As Apewood said in our chat, “we win as a team, lose as a team, and pivot as a team.”
Apewood: We are a team, full stop. VJ and SAFA were open to community feedback and present on Twitter and on Discord, all while also setting the stage and going forward strategy internally for Tally at the same time. They showed they’re great leaders with respect to the community, company, and the overall Web3 ethos.
Roebs: We are a remote team but luckily, SAFA and VJ, the two of you and myself were working in person that day. Let’s talk about what we did after the team call.
SAFA: We worked pretty late into the night to put together the outline of a bunch of different things that we thought we needed to do to get back on track across community, art, comms, additional support, products to build, and more.
VJ: I think the most important thing that we did was we recognized that we, the whole team, needed to be involved in that process. We put together a plan that involved everybody and had the bones of something that the team would build upon.
Roebs: And I know you sent out an email that night to the team. Could you talk a little bit about what was in that email?
SAFA: VJ and I knew that we couldn’t try and solve everything on our own. We knew that the only way to correct this ship was if it was a full team effort, and if everyone felt really empowered within their lanes to do what they do really well.
VJ: We tried to put forth the structure that would describe to people the areas that we needed to correct, rather than saying, “you do it this way.” The PFP reveal was hard for everyone, and we quickly saw that the way to get back on track was to give the team autonomy to do their thing and make it great in their own way.
Ice: I was uplifted to hear from VJ and SAFA that night. It was extremely comforting to know, even during difficult times, that they retained their ability to lay out a clear plan of action to course-correct, and, most importantly, to also have the humility to remain transparent with our team and our community at large. It was nice to hear from Filmbook too.
Roebs: Yes, Filmbook, you reached out to me that night to check in. I really appreciated that.
Filmbook: My first instinct was to reach out to everyone 1:1 and just ask them how they were doing. I always default to people. So I tried to offer them a safe space to react in whatever way they wanted, and I’m honored and humbled that a lot of our team felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable and open with me.
Saturday, 10/1: Community Feedback
Roebs: Let’s move on to the day after the reveal. What did you do on Saturday?
VJ: I mean from 7am ET until at least 7pm ET I lived in Discord. Everyone in the community was upset. I wanted to be there so that I could better understand how people were feeling. And obviously SAFA was doing the same.
SAFA: We were moderators for the past few days and wouldn’t have it any other way.
VJ: I think it’s also important to note that on Friday there was a massive cloud over our heads. And then on Saturday we woke up, it was the next day, and it still sucked. But we had an opportunity to keep going, and I think that that was like a cool kind of a powerful realization.
SAFA: We both checked in with Emma as well, our Head of Story and the world builder for Azurbala.
Roebs: Of course. Emma, as the world builder for Azurbala, what were your key takeaways from the past 24 hours?
Emma: The biggest takeaway was the disappointment in the community over what they all had in their imaginations – augmented by the world and environment artwork we had put out – and the reality of what the PFP artwork looked like. There have been comparisons to the Sonic the Hedgehog debacle from Paramount Studios, as well as when a beloved book adaptation casts an actor that doesn’t feel like the character from the source material.
Roebs: What did you learn?
Emma: Azurbala is a fantasy world – and we veered too hard into a “modern fantasy” lane, versus the genre and tone that our community was really excited about, and, frankly, the world we had built on our website and in our content.
Sunday, 10/2: Artists Reach Out
Roebs: Absolutely. It was very clear that we needed to change the PFP art. SAFA and VJ, I know you started reaching out to some artists and art directors on Sunday. Could you tell me a little bit about the process for that?
SAFA: Yeah, I mean first and foremost, a lot of people in our network reached out to provide really actionable resources. We had a number of inbounds from artists directly looking to help and from folks within our network looking to connect us to artists that they knew.
VJ: We also need to know what the community wants. That will dictate who we land on from an artist perspective.
SAFA: I think we’re in a really good spot to source someone that the community really is excited about.
Roebs: Yeah, for sure, super well said. On Sunday you also both talked to Thread Guy. How did that conversation come up?
VJ: I mean first of all there’s probably very few people in the world that I admire more than I admire Thread Guy. He was not responsible for the PFP art, but he certainly took on a lot of the backlash given his following and the space that he occupies in the broader Web3 community. He certainly could speak to it better but I think had a hard time.
Thread Guy: When something is going crazy so publicly it’s easy to get stuck in the moment and to feel like “What are we gonna do from this? How do we recover?” But to be able to take a couple of days off Twitter, step back and then talk to some people that I trust and have faith in was really beneficial.
Roebs: What did you guys talk about?
Thread Guy: Yeah, at first more than anything I wanted to hear a comforting voice, someone to tell me like that we’re going to be fine. We messed up but we can move forward. And then we had a really productive conversation unpacking what went wrong, and then focused on what’s next.
VJ: Thread Guy had a bunch of really amazing thoughts for what we should work on, working with the community, for sourcing the right type of artist and for communicating out what we’re doing. He was really getting the vibes on track. It was one of the best calls of the weekend for sure.
SAFA: We’ve obviously known Roebs and OP for a while prior to working at Tally. Thread Guy was kind of the first new hire that neither of us had really worked with in our past lives. He’s 20, and he has the maturity of a 40 year old.
Roebs: Thread Guy is the best.
SAFA: Yeah, he is. First and foremost we wanted to make sure he was ok since he’s very forward facing. We wanted to check in and be like, how are you? How are you feeling? Are you okay? The fact that he’s able to kind of block out the noise and let it roll off is really impressive. I think something a lot of people can learn from. He handled it really well and was super mature.
Monday, 10/3: Morale Check
Roebs: How was team morale on Monday? And how did you guys address the team?
VJ: I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a Monday as much as I looked forward to this Monday. Just because the weekend was sort of lonely because I knew everyone on the team was feeling badly. I think the opportunity to be back at work and to have that support system was really nice.
Thread Guy: The whole thing was kind of special because while we were all personally hurt and down about our own work, and our own involvement in this reveal that was received so poorly, everybody on the team was also checking in on the other team members. For example, I’ve had some great conversations with Mtnman.
Mtnman: SAFA and VJ showed excellent leadership throughout the crisis, but it was a painful few days at Tally Labs. The entire team recognizes the need to improve, but we weathered this storm together.
SAFA: We had this forward looking energy, where we were like, okay, we’re really lucky to have the team that we have, and to have all of each other, and and we feel that we can make it right.
VJ: On Monday it was just “go time.” We had an all-hands that was electric and people were excited. We were reflective, but we were forward-looking. People had already started to make progress on their section of the plan over the weekend and they came in like ready to go.
Thread Guy: I felt like people are really locked in and like ready to go. I feel like the whole team has a fifth gear.
VJ: I’m thinking of Juice while he’s out of office in Korea, messaging us in the middle of the night to see what he could do to help. I feel terrible that he feels he needs to step in while he’s on PTO, but I’m also like holy shit what what an incredible person to have on the team. He sees this thing that’s completely out of his realm and is like what can I do to help.
Roebs: Juice, we really appreciate you pitching in.
Juice: Well I planned this trip months in advance before knowing anything about the launch timeline. Despite coinciding with the big launch, you all encouraged me to take the time off. Even after the launch, you respected my personal plans. Because you supported me through this time I wanted to reciprocate by showing my support for the team.
Roebs: You should still enjoy your trip though 🙂
Roebs: I know early in the week a focus for you both was writing the Medium article. What was the process like writing that?
SAFA: It was easy. We write all these things together. We knew exactly what we needed to say. We needed to own up. We needed to answer all of the questions that were being asked, and address things that were being fabricated on social media. We needed to assure people we had a path forward. The Medium post is just the path. Now, we need to execute.
VJ: I think the medium post sort of wrote itself in like the 48 to 72 hours prior to actually pen hitting the paper. And we understand that a single medium post doesn’t regain trust, but we know it’s the set of actions that we will deliver week over week. We hope we’ll regain that trust over time.
SAFA: We know that there’s a long road ahead of us.
Tuesday, 10/4: The Survey
Roebs: On Tuesday we were officially a full 24 hours into the work week. How would you describe the vibes on the team?
Filmbook: The team has been incredibly inspiring. The passion for our business, their colleagues, the community, and where we are all going together has been extremely visible and exciting.
VJ: Everyone on the team really wants us to succeed and so folks are weighing in on everything. It’s going to be a team effort to fix this.
SAFA: I did notice that across the team a lot of people were thinking that the art was their fault which really speaks to a high level of ownership across the team.
Roebs: Absolutely. I know internally we felt that we had brought the art really far along from where it started, but we learned that obviously wasn’t enough. We need to spend more time upfront knowing what the community wants and then working with amazing artists to deliver that.
VJ: For sure, one of the top priorities this week was launching that feature. We leaned on you, Roebs, and on OP for that.
Roebs: OP, you did the heavy lifting for the community survey. What was it like to build the survey under the circumstances?
OP: Speed was the most important item here. We debated using a Google form, but we ultimately felt that gating to our community would provide the clearest feedback. After that decision, it was simply time to put together the simplest form we could – and to continue iterating it from there!
Roebs: SAFA, VJ, how do you feel about opening the feedback portal today?
SAFA: One thing that I do want to address is that as excited as many many folks are about the community participation aspect there’s been an equal number of folks who have said that’s not going to work. They worry there are too many cooks in this kitchen.
VJ: We’re not going to source artists that don’t fit within the general direction of what the community has voted for. And we’re not going to create a style that isn’t aligned with what the community voted for. But from there we really need the space to source the artists, manage the timelines, bring in a creative director, and do all of those things.
SAFA: We do feel that we have a really good way to involve everybody but also make sure that the right number of cooks are in the kitchen. The community council is going to be super helpful.
VJ: At the end of the day, the goal is to empower an incredible creative to lead this project, but to make sure they have all of the context for what the community expects and hopes for. To SAFA’s point, Apewood, TG, and Mtnman are working on a framework for how the community council can help with some of these things.
Roebs: Definitely. Apewood, can you tell us more about the community council?
Apewood: ThreadGuy, Mtn Man, and myself will be working very closely with an independent community council to make sure we are building in lockstep with the community.
Mtnman: I’m excited to work closely with the community, and specifically with the Community Council, as we develop Azurian PFPs together.
Apewood: Taking data from the surveys and working with a council of community members will put us in a really good spot to nail these avatars. As we move forward in the process and get closer to concepts and art that we’re excited about moving forward with, we’ll also need to consider updates to our content strategy. Little Fortunes will be crucial here.
Wednesday, 10/5: Azurbala, Members Only
Roebs: Yes, Little Fortunes, you’ve done a lot of work to update our content strategy. How did this change your content plan?
Little Fortunes: Our content is based on a story. The delay of the avatars meant that we had to redo some of our strategy and campaign. This is a fun challenge. We had to ask ourselves, “How can we readjust the storyline so the roll-out makes sense again and keep people engaged with Azurbala?”
Roebs: Absolutely, lots to think about here. It also changed our product roadmap. Snapback, your priorities changed a lot this week. What are you working on now?
Snapback: Before this happened I was going to be working on the Azurian mint flow, but we have put that on hold while we work on the new PFPs. I’m now building a lore page for the Azurbala Members website that tells the high level story of Azurbala. This is a feature that people have been asking us for, so it’s awesome to be able to deliver it while we work on the PFPs. We’re also going to continue shipping features that let the community into the creative process for the new PFPs.
Roebs: I am really excited for that feature to launch and to build on it over time. Juice, you mentioned you dropped into a Twitter Space where community members were talking about wanting to be a part of the lore creation process. How did that feedback impact what you’re designing now?
Juice: To Snapback’s point, I’m working on more ways we could integrate community members’ feedback into the lore creation process. The greatest thing about Azurbala is that we have an actively engaged community of creative minds.
Just like them, when I read about the stories told in Azurbala, I imagine myself interacting with the characters and businesses within the world. Working on products that will allow members to be rewarded for their creativity is not only exciting for us builders, but will be the foundation for a strong Web3 franchise.
Roebs: We’re working on a lot of features right now. What are you all most excited about building?
Juice: With the launch of the Azurbala members site we’re making a promise that it will continue to iterate based on the community’s feedback. The new products and features that we’ll be designing around lore is going to change the way we think about how great stories are told, and is definitely something to be excited about.
OP: I’m excited to continue to ship and iterate on community-interaction features. We have a lot of really exciting plans for ways to build Azurbala with our community through software experiences, and those will be fun to ship.
Thursday, 10/6: Eyes Forward
Roebs: It’s nearly been one week from the day of the reveal. What are you most looking forward to?
SAFA: I am excited to build this with the community. I don’t believe that this has been done before and we owe it to the space and the community to do it. We have a pre-existing community and have a chance to create a PFP project with them. To my knowledge, this hasn’t happened before.
VJ: Starting the process in earnest is going to feel really good. We already have some awesome feedback from the community and we’re working to partner with a truly amazing art director.
Emma: This feels like an opportunity to lean into the “community-led” aspect of Web3 and build the world of Azurbala together. We’ve all been dreaming the same dream, and now we get a chance to bring it to life as an entire community.
Roebs: Thread Guy, what about you?
Thread Guy: I’m most excited about the new art reveal. There’s nothing that even comes close to the day that we get to post the new Azurian art on Twitter. That is the redemption moment. To me nothing matters like that day.
Roebs: Anything else to add before we close off?
VJ: We’re only a week out so we’re not out of the clear yet. We have an awesome plan but that plan needs to be executed. We’re really excited to do that, and really excited to get people’s confidence back day by day, milestone by milestone.
Check out SAFA and Valet Jones prior to reveal on The Mint Condition:
Check out my other work on dGEN Network here.