The intersection of NFTs and XP, Pt. 2: Conor Hanlon of Flyfish Club

Conor Hanlon, chef and executive vice president of operations/partner at VCR Group.

Only in New York can you trade Ethereum for access to the world’s first NFT restaurant. (No, seriously — only in New York.) While the private dining experience backed by Gary Vaynerchuck’s, aka Gary Vee, VCR Group doesn’t open until 2023, the crypto-curious have already begun applying for membership. Welcome to Flyfish Club.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the 1,151 memberships that were made available sold out within hours of the club’s launch on January 7. Company officials had already sold 350 tokens in a private sale, and another 1,534 tokens have been held in reserve. These can be leased or resold via a secondary market, such as Opensea.

So far, as the XP world explores the intersection of NFTs and experiential, we’ve seen our nonfungible friends used primarily as marketing tools. Enter the fine dining space. Conor Hanlon, chef and executive vice president of operations/partner at VCR Group, sees opportunities far beyond digital artwork.

We sat down with Hanlon to discuss Flyfish Club, what’s currently wrong with the NFT industry, and his predictions for the future of XP.

Samantha Stallard: Tell us a bit about your professional experience and background.

Conor Hanlon: I’m originally from upstate New York and have been working in hospitality for close to 20 years. I started as a dishwasher when I was 14, then went to college at SUNY Oneonta and graduated with a BA in computer animation. After graduation, I realized how unfulfilled I was behind a computer all day and moved to Nantucket to start cooking full time.

My culinary travels have led me to a lot of great cities, and I spent almost six years working with Daniel Boulud. After that, I went to work for Andrew Carmellini and was with NoHo Hospitality for 10 years. For the last five of those years, I was the culinary director, overseeing operations across 12 locations in multiple cities.

SS: How did you get involved with VCR Group?

CH: VCR is a full service hospitality company formed in the spring of 2021. The group consists of David Rodolitz, Josh Capon, Gary Vaynerchuck, and me. Gary is great. He’s all of the things he preaches, plus kind, humble and brutally honest. He’s a master of his craft.

We were each coming out of long-term professional partnerships and wanted to start something together that would be more consumer-centric, empathetic and innovative. I’m very grateful for where I am and look forward to building thoughtful and exciting projects for years to come.

SS: Describe Flyfish Club and the decision to build the experience on the blockchain.

CH: Web3 is the future, and blockchain technology has so much to offer — we’re at the tip of the iceberg right now. Up until this point, most NFT projects have been focused around the art world. But moving forward, I think the blockchain and NFTs will be used more for utility.

We wanted to launch a private club and, by selling memberships through the blockchain, give its members ownership. With traditional clubs, members “lease” their memberships annually; once they stop paying dues, they’re no longer members. We wanted to build ownership. Flyfish Club members can monetize when the time comes. They can sell their memberships with no annual dues or renewal fees.

SS: Why do you think NFTs and experiential work so well together?

CH: NFTs can work as “tickets” to concerts, art exhibitions, private clubs, you name it. They’re like keys that provide access to all sorts of experiences.

SS: What do you predict the NFT industry will look like one year from now? Five years?

CH: I think it will continue to be misunderstood for another 8-14 months. The market is very saturated right now, with a lot of currency moving through the space as a money grab. A lot of NFT projects right now are designed simply to be “hot commodities ” and I think 90 percent of them will flop. We’ll start to see NFTs that provide utility and have strong roadmaps in the next 2-3 years.

SS: What qualities define the perfect experience?

CH: Tough question, because the perfect experience is so subjective. That being said, the key qualities that I look for in a great experience are all in the details. Was the staff attentive? How was the lighting? Were the harmonics of the room engaging? Was it memorable? How were the cadence and timing?

SS: What’s something experiential that began during the pandemic that you couldn’t live without now?

CH: Zoom — I save so much time, and I can jam a ton of meetings into one day without commuting all around the city. Also outdoor gatherings and dining. There are some really nice alfresco setups in NYC now (as well as some terrible ones!). It’s nice to be outside more.

SS: What one word would you use to describe your outlook on your work these days?

CH: Optimistic.

Follow Conor and VCR Group’s journey on Instagram: @chefconor, @vcrgroup, @itotribeca and @flyfishclub. And for our readers in Miami…

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Experiential Is Everything

XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.