“It [OASIS] was the dawn of a new era, one where most of the human race now spent all of their free time inside a video game.”
This line from Ernest Cline’s instant bestseller “Ready Player One” indirectly sets the context for the metaverse. There was once a time when AI was the technology buzzword and now, its metaverse. Every tech company wants to directly or indirectly be part of this metaverse but not every company sees it the way Dutch startup Odyssey does.
For Christel Sieling, co-founder of Odyssey, a Dutch foundation established in The Netherlands, metaverse is not a product. The startup is building Momentum as a 3D social action medium for digital societies. If Cline’s OASIS allowed people to escape their real world with a VR device, Sieling and team’s Momentum could help people build digital societies.
A pivot from hackathons to metaverse
While it is difficult to explain the idea of a metaverse, Sieling says they began building Momentum in 2020. From 2016 onwards, Odyssey ran the biggest blockchain hackathon in Europe, as part of an innovation programme centred around solving complex societal challenges using emergent technologies like blockchain. They did the Dutch blockchain hackathon in 2017 and saw a total of 55 teams participate and support from over 30 partners, including ING, APG, the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, and the Dutch Agency for Identity.
For five consecutive years, they facilitated partners and teams building blockchain prototypes through this hackathon format. The last offline edition that they hosted was attended by 105 teams, 50+ corporate and governmental partners, 1,500 people from over 30 countries and focussed on solving complex social challenges with blockchain technology. Sieling says Odyssey has been active in the Web3 and blockchain space from the start but COVID forced them to pivot out of the hackathons.
Unable to do the hackathon due to lockdown, they decided to go online with the event and build something themselves. “That we were looking for a place where you cannot only talk or chat or click and scroll but we are a place where people can come together, where all the projects, the people and the action are. And that’s how we decided to build Momentum,” Sieling says about the pivotal decision in 2020.
To build Momentum, they first went to a gaming studio in Amsterdam, but the studio didn’t understand the idea. So, Sieling says Odyssey, co-founded with Rutger van Zuidam, Stefan Kunst, and Anton Starikov, hired a Unity developer and started building Momentum, which is described as a stack allowing “digital societies to create, build and scale together in an open source decentralised metaverse network.”
An open and decentralised metaverse
Facebook, which recently renamed itself Meta, has somehow claimed the idea of a metaverse. Sieling says this is similar to claiming the internet but aims to answer Meta’s closed approach with an open and decentralised version of the metaverse, where people reclaim the ownership of their creations, their network, and their data.
With its stack fully open source and repositories also fully open source, Odyssey has an opportunity to build a metaverse that is, in Sieling’s words, “open, interoperable and not dependent on any specific engine.”
When asked if consumers will need to buy hardware like a VR or AR device, Sieling says they see the potential of such devices but it’s not on the immediate roadmap. The team at Odyssey wants to build the technology stack that allows people to build their own 3D worlds in the metaverse and experience it through easily available devices. It will also allow them to integrate Web2 and Web3 plugins to unlock a wide range of Metaverse use cases.
Finding talent remains a challenge
Metaverse as a concept is still evolving and until the industry reaches a common definition or framework, the idea of finding talent suited to the industry will also be a challenge. Sieling says they are looking around Europe and beyond to find the right people.
“[We are] using all sorts of different networks and channels. I think the biggest challenge in finding good talent is finding talent that fits your company’s specific culture,” Sieling says. “I think finding the people that just click,are highly motivated to make it work, and also embrace what you’re trying are a rare find,” she adds.
Odyssey is currently a team of 25 people but unlike many other startups, it doesn’t have a target headcount. “Our goal is to build something that matters and is embraced by the community,” explains Sieling.
She says hiring will happen based on need and not based on growth. With the platform being open source, Sieling says Odyssey also stands to benefit a lot from the community. She says the focus is to have a core team that is strong in execution while also expanding its open source community.
Multiple milestones in short timespan
In the two years since pivoting from hackathons to metaverse, Odyssey has a lot to show in terms of milestones. Momentum made its entry in the Polkadot and Kusama ecosystem, when they launched the Kusamaverse in spring 2022 with the support of the Kusama treasury. They are making available their 3D world builder to creators interested in building their own worlds.
“Metaverse is not just a product but a social place full of activities and opportunities,” says Sieling. To make this a reality, the Odyssey team is building support for on-chain and off-chain activities like staking, parachain auctions, governance, and gatherings.
All these activities are designed like a plug-in so when users build their own world, they can select which plug-in or activity to allow. “It’s a bit like WordPress for the metaverse,” says Sieling.
Thirdly, they are developing a token that will act as a network layer connecting all the people, activities, and the worlds into one functional layer. Thereby allowing the users to connect the different worlds, activities and people on-chain in one network without the need for a middle man or land.
Rise programme offers 360 view of challenges
Odyssey was one of the nine startups and scaleups to join Techleap.nl’s batch 7 of the Rise programme. It is also unique with its focus on Web3 as opposed to Web2 technologies. Sieling says they had a good connection with Techleap and were notified about the programme.
The co-founders then looked it up, did some research, and saw an ” opportunity to be with other tech companies from the Netherlands.” She says as a startup founder you cannot learn alone and the Rise programme allows the opportunity to learn with your peers in the industry.
“We really love the approach of the Rise programme where you talk about the challenges with your peers and other entrepreneurs who are in the same boat,” she says.
Since metaverse is still in its early stages, she acknowledges that some startup founders find it difficult to understand. She describes Web3 as a new digital economy that eliminates the middlemen and all the transaction fees associated with them in a decentralised manner.
She says “metaverse is the next version of the internet” where people move from only clicking and scrolling to being present together in a different environment. Sieling says Odyssey’s work is one interpretation of this metaverse and it will take at least five to ten years for the metaverse to reach a state of maturity.
Multiverse becoming a reality
With so many milestones under its belt in such a short time, Sieling is clearly focussing on building a larger story with the community. When asked about future goals, she says
“I hope that I can show you a vast multiverse network of all kinds of wildly different worlds that people have created themselves, where people are connecting in new digital forms and doing all kinds of things that I could have never imagined,” she says.