Interview: FriendsWithYou Spread Kindness Through The Metaverse

With fRiENDSiES, the beloved artist duo is debuting a new type of kindness-sharing economy

As NFTs and crypto art continue to work their way into the mainstream from the fringes of the internet, we are watching the metaverse take shape before our eyes. Here, excitement can often be found in observing artists who have dominated traditional markets and conversations begin to explore this new world. Enter Sam Borkson and Arturo “Tury” Sandoval, the artists behind the immensely popular FriendsWithYou studio. From designing and producing J Balvin’s legendary Coachella set in 2019 to recently taking over a street in Miami, FriendsWithYou have been on a mission to push radical kindness and positivity through their work for the last 20 years—and now they’re ready to take it to the metaverse. In anticipation of their latest work, an AI-based project known as fRiENDSiES (in essence, virtual companions that will go on sale 26 March), we spoke with the duo, who answered our questions collaboratively.

We love what FriendsWithYou stand for, especially considering there’s so much chaos and negativity in the world. It’s really great to see your positivity and happiness. How do you maintain that?

We’re just making work that we feel we want to see in the world, and we want to experience it. It feels really good that it’s bringing people small bits of joy here and there. It’s really our honor to be doing this kind of work and we’re so happy to be able to do it in all these different mediums. It’s just a really, really great time in art-making right now for us.

Can you tell us a little bit about the journey from your traditional artwork to web3?

I think that we kind of always fancy that we’re almost medium agnostic, that the work that we do is really just the anchor and center of our philosophy and our ideas of how to help. So, it’s an easy transition. We know that we are going to help people with this fRiENDSiES project—to be able to have an AI companion in the future that you can really feel nourishment from, even if it is an AI. We feel it’s such a good and interesting way to apply this technology that’s coming to reality now.

Can you explain fRiENDSiES and this AI component? We’re seeing a lot of these PFP (profile picture) type projects hit the space, and yours is obviously different. Can you elaborate on that?

I think that we really wanted to push the technology to make it kind of experiential, like how a lot of our art is. Our first thing was, we saw all these amazing PFP projects happen and it was like, we love the crypto component and all the different things that came out. But since we were young we’ve always wanted to create our own character, our own game, since we played Mario for the first time. That was kind of what started our journey.

Then—with the concept of how art meets technology, and how you can roll all these things out and make your own world and your own rules—the whole thing became kind of this interesting gamified thing for our collectors. And people who had gotten our first drop a year ago now were able to get into the Super Golden Cloud Key.

It’s kind of bringing in all these components and making it such an amazing experience that we just can’t wait for people to see it. Even in the making of your own kind of character, or soulmate, like a little friend, it’s so fun and so beautiful how it all comes together. We really were able to achieve all of our dreams and make it something really spectacular, the creation of your fRiENDSiES.

It’s almost where the art meets the viewer and the viewer creates the art with us

We’re also going to be returning a portion of the secondary market sales back to our art collectors. We’re just kind of trying to change the game in every way possible, to enrich the collector as well as make really beautiful art. It’s almost where the art meets the viewer and the viewer creates the art with us, which is new ground that we’re exploring.

Can you tell us a little more about how you’re building out this metaverse in your own creation?

What’s interesting about web3 and how involved the community is that supports us is that you’re building it with them to some degree. They’re aware of the steps. And if you look at our roadmap, it’s very clearly there, spelled out to some degree, what we are going to do in the future.

First it’s issuing this birth certificate, this creation of your fRiENDSiES. And then, immediately after that, as soon as we can, we’re going to release kind of like—not a metaverse—an ecosystem space where you could come and hang out with your fRiENDSiES. And in that system, in that space, it will be the first stage of this kindness-sharing economy that is linked to the project. So you’ll be able to gift each other or each other’s fRiENDSiES, this cloud heart, and enrich the actual fRiENDSiES.

That feels very interactive and much further along than a lot of other, often derivative, projects.

Yeah, and that’s in the interim. The final stage, what fRiENDSiES is really angled and designed for, is that we’re going to have a true AR solution and an overlapping of the digital world on the physical world. And this fRiENDSiES is going to be who you’re hanging out with, it’s going to be not imaginary but your AI companion—like Jiminy Cricket kind of hanging out around you. That’s the next stage. We’re going to make a collector hangout ecosystem first, and then the second stage will be the actual implementation of the fRiENDSiES in your life through whatever AR solution ends up winning the race.

What’s one of the most exciting things that you found out while working in this space?

It’s such an incredible community. We actually made this project from the minds of, almost like a hive mind of, people in this space really helping to guide us. From developers to people that are collectors to other artists, it’s been so many amazing people putting us in a position to learn and create for ourselves. I think that’s really something special about it. Just a really nice and open community that wants to help good things happen in the world.

When we’re creating all this stuff together, it’s a much bigger movement than just us or the art that we can make

Everybody is just building and learning the lessons all together, it’s really an exciting new thing. When we’re creating all this stuff together, it’s a much bigger movement than just us or the art that we can make. It’s all of these people making art and pushing the limits, pushing the tech, and just creating this whole new world.

What do you hope the space evolves into? It can feel a little disjointed when you do have some players who may potentially not have the community’s best interest in mind.

We see a lot of that stuff, like really bad actor things and people taking advantage of other people. It’s like, do you really want to be remembered on the blockchain for doing something that’s so half-assed or just a money grab? We kind of take this technical movement very seriously. We want to make something that’s incredible—every time that we make something, we do so with all of our hearts and minds enthralled in it for a long time.

I think web3 has a huge opportunity to help major things, and we see it all the time—like these Ukrainian DAOs and relief efforts that aid certain things that are going down in the world. That’s something that’s important to see and we’re happy to be building alongside that, and we’re in support of that in every single way. We’re continuing to learn and grow and see how much better we can be for the world with this energy and community that we have working together on this new horizon.

What’s the best way to acquire your own fRiENDSiES?

There are some Super Golden Cloud Keys that go up and down from 3 to 2.5 eth. If there’s a dip in the Golden Cloud Key offers, I would get one of those to guarantee yourself one. Because the Super Golden Cloud Key holders are going to have their own rarity traits, so getting one of those will assure you get a rare fRiENDSiES. That would be one of the first ways to do it. And that price starts about halfway of where our Dutch auction will start.

Our Dutch auction will start from 4.2 eth and go all the way down to 0.1 eth. It should get to the more affordable side as it goes on and people start making their fRiENDSiES. There’s a bunch of different ways to get in, so we hope that people can. We’re going to continue making fun and great things and continuing with fRiENDSiES for the future. There’ll be more chances to get in, this is kind of like the first series.

Hero image courtesy of Danny Liao, all other images courtesy of FriendsWithYou