When the world’s largest beer company wanted to “enter the metaverse,” they turned to a woman named Lindsey McInerney. But that might undersell her involvement. As AB InBev’s (BUD) global head of tech and innovation, McInerney is the one who had the idea and convinced execs that the metaverse would be “seismic,” and “way bigger than social media.”
McInerney is an unlikely champion of big brand marketing. And she’s an unlikely player in fintech. Growing up in Toronto, McInerney was drawn to countercultures and questions of identity. “My high school felt like a movie where you had the jocks, you had the nerds, you had the goths, you had the punks, and you had the skateboarders,” says McInerney. “I never fit into any one of those groups, but I floated between all of them. And I was fascinated by sort of observing them, studying them.”
This fascination would blossom in college, where she focused on countercultures – women’s studies, theories of gender and sexuality, and subcultures like skateboarding and the 1970s hippie movement. She was drawn to the intersection of identity and politics and activism. “I'd spend hours crawling through every book I could find on the Riot Girl Movement,” she says, and studied the early days of hacktivism.
Post-college, her career wended through PR and then social media analysis and then eventually to AB InBev, where she wrote a treatise on the explosive potential of Web 3. After helping Stella Artois enter the metaverse, she left AB InBev and launched a startup with the actress Mila Kunis and Lisa Sterbakov, called the Sixth Wall, that’s focused on Web 3 and entertainment.
McInerney is returning to her roots. Her passion has always been to try and understand culture, and she sees Web 3 as a force – maybe the force – that will change culture in ways we can barely understand. “Blockchain and Web 3 is going to infiltrate entertainment,” says McInerney, who’s now working on experimental, blockchain-driven shows where the audience helps create and guide the content. She predicts this will change the landscape of which movies and shows get made. “I'm a culture junkie,” she says. “What happens when you extend what typically happens in Hollywood to cities all over the world?”
And if that all sounds fuzzy and far out in the future, at the very least, at present, her team has implemented something called the "DIC Punch."
Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Let’s start with your time at AB InBev. In your role as global head of tech and innovation, why was blockchain on your radar?
Lindsey McInerney: If you think about how you could use blockchain in manufacturing, like for the traceability of ingredients, it was all there. No question. But then we hit the [coronavirus] pandemic, and everything had been accelerated with cryptocurrencies and digital ownership.
And for the first time, I started to see very clearly what the consumer use cases for crypto were going to be, which was fascinating. And so I wrote a thesis on Web 3, the metaverse, [non-fungible tokens] and crypto for AB InBev. I started to explore the different ways where I thought we could approach it. For me, this was, no question, the biggest thing we could focus on.
How long did this report take you to write?
The early report I wrote in a couple of weeks because I was just so excited.
“A couple of weeks?!” I’m envious.
I was spending all this time reading and absorbing myself in forums, crawling through Twitter, blogs, and communicating with anonymous dudes on the internet.
I can relate.
You know, all the great stuff you do in this space. To try and really understand some of the things that were happening.
And I have never been more excited about the future of the internet, and it came together really, really quickly. Then I just continued to iterate. One of my theories was that the metaverse will replicate a parallel reality in a lot of ways. And so that meant that what brands do well in reality, they should be able to do well in Web 3 or the metaverse. And if you kind of abstract AB InBev from beer, one thing AB InBev does really well is that they're one of the world's largest sponsors of sport and entertainment.
They bring people together to be entertained. And that's when we tend to enjoy having a beer together. AB InBev has an amazing catalog and portfolio of brands, but Stella Artois is the sponsor of premium sport. They sponsor Wimbledon here in the U.K. and a very famous horse race. So as I started to scan the landscape of things that I thought had amazing communities behind them, as well as parallel experiences to reality, Zed Run [the metaverse horse racing game] stood out.
We started talking about how we could put together something that would be powerful and beneficial for the Zed Run community, and also beneficial to AB InBev, that would replicate what we thought the future of premium horse racing would look like. So we launched 50 bundles of Genesis Zed horses with Stella Artois skins. Think of them like jerseys for the horses, as well as a commemorative art piece in an NFT auction. And we sold them out. It was really, really well received by the crypto community, which was genuinely the most important thing to me.
What are you focused on now?
I ended up co-founding a business with Mila Kunis and Lisa Sterbakov, as well as some others, to explore the intersection of Web 3 and entertainment. Mila and Lisa have been running Orchard Farms, a traditional production company, for years, and had become very excited about Web 3.
They had previously launched Stoner Cats, an NFT project that allowed token holders to participate in the production of a cartoon, which is really cool. And Mila and Lisa both see the future ahead of us, and completely understand that Web 3 is going to change every industry. And I’ve partnered with them on building out a company we’re calling the Sixth Wall.
Given your fluency and expertise with the metaverse, you could have gone in a million different directions. Why’d you choose this path?
When people hear about crypto, they think of cryptocurrencies and they think of fintech, and finance. That can be very off-putting for a large group of people. And a lot of folks will say things like, “This is just too hard. It's just too complex for me. It comes from gaming and finance. Like, how am I getting my head around this?"
And I have a real keen interest to make this simple. I want to distill this stuff down as simply as possible for as many people as possible. Because it's those very folks that we need at the table to build things better and build them right.
What’s the Sixth Wall creating now?
I have to preface all of this with that, right now, we are where we were years ago with the early App Store. When the only thing people could do is to, like, build egg timer apps. Very elementary things. And now we realize that you can build billion-dollar businesses as applications on the iPhone. So this is all eventually going to be so much bigger than we can conceive.
Fair caveat! But what can you tell us about the current iteration?
Entertainment fascinated me, because I am interested in bringing more people to this space. NBA Top Shot was a great example. People can buy basketball cards and have no idea they were on the blockchain at all. Entertainment is a really common denominator. We love stories. We're storytellers as humans. It's built into who we are.
And I see entertainment as a way to bring a lot of new faces to crypto. In entertainment, there's never been more of a closer collaboration between community and creators than there is on "Stoner Cats" and the project I'm working on now, "The Gimmicks." It’s being defined in real time by the community.
It’s so much more than Choose Your Adventure. We're able to create things that we see in the Discord and react to them. And the writers are saying, "Oh, my goodness. I've never been able to have this kind of real-time feedback."
Can you describe what this is exactly?
The Gimmicks is the second show that we released. It's built on the Solana blockchain. It's a cartoon that is sort of like “South Park” meets “WWE.” It's a wrestling show. We're releasing episodes weekly. It's animated.
And we’re partnering with a studio called Toonstar. They're a Web 3 animation studio. Each week, the community gets three or five distinct choices about where they want things to go, and they can vote on this with their tokens. So if you've got a Gimmick, you can log in, and you can sort of pick the ending. And everybody else can follow along.
We’ve built one of what we think is the earliest on-chain engagements. We'll probably look back in five years and laugh at this, but when you vote, you get a “DIC Punch,” which is a token that we created that you can send to your friends.
Incredible. Go on.
So you can dick punch other people in the community. It's a finishing move for one of the characters. It's meant to be fun and just sort of in line with the tone of the show. You can think of it like the early Facebook poke.
It immediately reminded me of the Facebook poke.
We were like, “Hey, it’s like the Facebook poke, but harder.” [Laughs.] It’s very simple. That’s where we are with these technologies right now. They're simplistic but the idea is that community members are now able to engage with each other on-chain, and we’re exploring it. We're having fun and we're trying to figure out what all of this means.
And blockchain and Web 3 is going to infiltrate entertainment. We can't conceive all the ways right now, but we’re mapping the end-to-end creation of a piece of film and television to understand the ways Web 3 will intersect entertainment, from ideation stage all the way through to red carpet.
What are some predictions for what might happen, maybe three or five years from now, if the audience starts to own these stories in the metaverse?
I'm excited about seeing what a greater variety of people – a more distributed group of people – would create. I'm a culture junkie. What happens when you extend what typically happens in Hollywood to cities all over the world? What does that look like? And can that happen? And what kind of stories get told? Whose stories get told? I think that's really interesting and important.
So in theory, if there’s decentralized ownership of stories – and even IP and characters – instead of three white dudes in a Hollywood conference room brainstorming what should happen, you have a whole community that’s more diverse? Am I getting warm?
Yeah. You could have content created by people who reflect the world we live in. That's a very real possibility. Or if you look at certain projects, there's a very real possibility that people will be able to use IP, and create IP, and storytelling in ways that they haven't previously. And that could look a little bit different than it has historically.
Love it. Best of luck to you and Sixth Wall.
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