This former anime chief at Netflix quit to run a startup. Here’s 3 things the streaming giant taught him.

After working as Netflix’s former head of anime, Julian Lai-Hung says films are so hard to make, it’s a miracle they even get made at all.
Rachel Chia/Business Insider

What can working on titles like Terrace House, Rilakkuma and Godzilla: Monster Planet teach you about selling anime?

Everything, according to Julian Lai-Hung, the CEO of Singapore-based startup BlockPunk, a blockchain platform for anime artists.

The platform, which lets anime creators sell limited-edition art directly to fans while protecting and tracking their copyrights, is also home to the world’s first tokenised anime film, Vevara In Your Dream, which launched earlier in July at the Los Angeles Anime Expo.

The platform, which raised US$1.3 million in its latest funding round, currently boasts about 200 anime creators, including Nao Hirasawa (Monster Strike, Promare) and anime studio ARCH (Inuyashiki, Yuri On Ice).

Users are mostly male and hail primarily from Japan, the US, China and India, said Lai-Hung, who was formerly global anime head at Netflix.

Business Insider spoke to the founder on the sidelines of Innovfest Unbound in June.

Here’re the the top three lessons working at the video-streaming giant taught him:


#1: Films are so hard to make, it is a miracle they even get made at all

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Anime fans can only view the film Vevara In Your Dream via the BlockPunk site.
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BlockPunk

Lai-Hung said working at Netflix gave him a healthy respect for creators and the immense amount of work that goes into making a series.

“Their job is the hardest in the world,” he said. “Films require so much money and a mini-army of people to make them happen. They’re so hard to make, it is a miracle they even get made at all.”

Lai-Hung said the existing payments process in the industry (“notoriously opaque and slow”) made him want to ensure creators get properly credited and compensated for their work.


#2: Pirated merchandise is huge because creators hate running businesses

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Limited-edition art sold on the platform is recorded on a blockchain.
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BlockPunk

Anime fans around the world usually stream new series as soon as they become available, Lai-Hung said. Then they fall in love with the characters and want merchandise right away.

Unfortunately, there is often a lag between when a series is released and when its merch becomes available.

“Creators are not good at operating a storefront and dealing with customers. They just want to make art and interact with fans, not build and manage websites,” Lai-hung said.

But with merch accounting for almost half of the US$20-billion anime industry, this has resulted in a huge market in pirated goods.

Lai-Hung said the some studios are now trying to plug the gap by selling their merch on platforms like his, which carries little business risk.

But cryptocurrencies can seem way harder to navigate than a Netflix subscription – so is blockchain getting in the way of attracting users?

No, Lai-Hung says. “Anime fans are tech savvy. We got a massive positive response when the platform first launched, and even the studios said they were very excited.”


#3: Sorry, but streaming is here to stay

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By tracking what people are watching, creators can find out what kind of content is popular – and what’s not.
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Pexels

“All creators need to learn about streaming,” Lai-Hung said. “Netflix disrupted the industry because for the first time, TV was streamed directly to viewers at a low price… We are now moving to a world where distribution will be controlled by a few big names.”

However, while Netflix uses viewing data to decide what new content gets commissioned, the viewing giant is also guilty of withholding this data from filmmakers – therefore keeping films’ performance a secret, Lai-Hung revealed.

As a result, he’s learned that the best way for creators to sell content is to go directly to consumers – and his own site will let sellers track sales directly, so they know what’s hot – and what’s not.


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