Jackson Aw escapes into the world of computer games when he needs a break. Interestingly, he doesn’t play the typical stress-busting genres that usually involve racing cars or blowing things up.
Instead, the founder and CEO of design studio Mighty Jaxx is obsessed with complex civilisation and town planning simulation games like Humankind, often resetting them hundreds of times until he wins the game not only once, but in multiple ways.
“My wife tells me it looks more like work than my work,” he chortles. “But it makes me happy. In real life, you can’t just break it all down and do it again, which is why this is such a joy.”
Aw, 32, is no stranger to finding pleasure in something all-encompassing. The passion of his professional career is cultivating cult fandoms worldwide, from urban culture aficionados to F1 and football fans.
He founded Mighty Jaxx in 2012 with a $20,000 loan from his parents to make his own collectible toys. Today, the company is one of the largest and most influential producers of collectibles and lifestyle products, offering coveted drops that rabid fans grab in a flash.
Recent highly anticipated launches include a figurine of influential sneaker designer Sean Wotherspoon and a deconstructed sculpture of a massive cultural icon Aw cannot reveal yet.
Some of these collectibles are made in collaboration with top urban artists like Jason Freeney and Takeshi Murakami and are highly sought after on the secondary market. Mighty Jaxx also works with brands such as Formula 1, Hasbro, Sesame Street and Warner Brothers, shipping millions of products to some 80 countries.
The future of culture
Aw reveals that he has a bigger vision for Mighty Jaxx that would make it more than just a collectibles company. “We’ve been doubling down on creating a future culture company over the last three years. By enabling collectors to access digital and experiential content through their blockchain-authenticated phygital collectibles, this will bridge the physical-digital gap.”
He explains, “We want fans to discover something new about their Mighty Jaxx product continuously. As collectors and fans, we focus on what will appeal to them and engage them through various physical and digital means. We are catering to a fan journey. It is not only about buying toys. It’s about creating a community to fuel passion.”
A recent Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands launch with Gearbox Software includes a phygital collectible with a game key and allows the owner to redeem mini figurines via the Mighty Jaxx app. Additionally, by scanning Creepy Cuties, a Mighty Jaxx creation, you can access an Instagram AR (augmented reality) game. Due to his efforts to shape the future landscape of collectibles, he won the prestigious EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 award. Even though Aw is still in disbelief at receiving this accolade, he acknowledges that sometimes it can be challenging to be taken seriously given the nature of Mighty Jaxx’s products.
“I was quite surprised as our field is niche while the other nominees are established entrepreneurs. It is usually difficult to get support for a field that is still developing, so this is encouraging,” he says.
The momentum certainly favours the brand. Toys can be big business, as the Hong Kong IPO of Chinese toy company Pop Mart proved in 2020. Mighty Jaxx also raised US$10 million (S$13.6 million) in a funding round led by Tencent that included partners such as Korea Investment Partners and KB Investment last year.
It has also been strengthening its presence in China, with offices in Shanghai and Shenzhen and a partnership with Chinese sports brand Li-Ning.
Cryptocurrency, blockchain and, most recently, NFTs have also given the industry an enormous boost. “Moutai alcohol and pu’er tea are no longer popular. Younger generations want these collectibles. They have become alternative assets,” he observes.
Earlier this year, he started buying NFTs to gain insight into the mindsets of Gen Z collectors, including a recent purchase of a Winter Bear NFT. That was a revelation. “Once I bought one, I wanted more to complete the entire set,” he says.
Now, his Winter Bear appears on all of his social media accounts and communication applications. Not only that, it also sparks conversations. “When you see your friends with avatars in WeChat or other apps, it’s a social thing.”
He also brings a Mighty Jaxx spin to the NFT phenomenon that few other creators can emulate with their phygital products. Defining the studio’s NFT releases as “dope”, he explains, “Digital collectors are an up and coming younger demographic. Since all they know is digital, and they live a meta life, a simple utility like being able to purchase a physical product when they own the digital version is mind-blowing.”
Taking inspiration from how some travellers travel great distances to shop at specific shops, such as Supreme in New York City, he replicated this “location-based exclusivity” for some NFT releases.
Last November, Mighty Jaxx launched a digital collectible NFT called Inked Stories: Eve inside a ticketed venue in Los Angeles. Those who successfully purchased the NFT had the opportunity to buy the physical figurine of a female form. “One had to have a ticket to enter the event to make a purchase. As ridiculous as it sounds, we sold out all 888 units in three seconds,” says Aw.
Other NFTs produced by the studio include 6,000 units of a trading card design that sold out in two seconds. And a limited-edition phygital collectible of Doge to the Moon: Boss Edition was released by Mighty Jaxx at the recent Right Click + Save NFT exhibition in partnership with cryptocurrency platform Coinhako.
“The crypto wave has spawned a slew of collectors who have not yet begun collecting in real life. Once they start, they will want more experiences and will enjoy the tactile feeling of owning physical things,” he says.
To create such all-encompassing experiences for collectors to immerse themselves in requires an impressive ability to produce content. Therefore, the company intends to invest in the development of artists and proprietary intellectual property.
Currently, the company is beta testing a utility token that tracks and rewards the creators on its platform. The Kross Realm Artist Platform – or Krap, Aw laughs irreverently – is an NFT-backed ecosystem. Mighty Jaxx is working with popular crypto-based play-to-win games like Axie Infinity, where players earn income by playing, in this space.
“Unlike traditional record companies or brands, ownership is no longer consolidated in a single entity. By creating value for them as they create value for us, we hope to empower individuals like the artists, creators, and inventors who use our digital products. Everyone has a vested interest in building the future culture, and they make money along the way. Krap is yours, so it creates value for you,” he quips.
He believes that the digital revolution has affected people’s attitudes toward work. Future workplaces will likely be impacted by this evolution. “Crypto is a revolutionary way to create value. You can make a lot of money in a matter of weeks. Yet, we also understand that life is not about trading time for money. We could see a generation of people who want to develop things for the greater good, whatever that means to them,” says Aw.
He cautions that it can be problematic in the initial stages of creating this utopian ideal. “Everything we do requires
everyone to be on the same page. Our investors, artists, brands, employees, and people we interact with fall into this category. It was difficult to get everyone on board at first. However, with big tech also moving in this direction, things have become more aligned.”
In the phygital space, Aw is considered a pioneer and a first mover. And since he capped 2021 with one of Singapore’s most prestigious entrepreneurship accolades, does he intend to follow fellow Singaporean technopreneurs such as Razer’s Tan Min-Liang and Ian Ang of Secretlab by buying a good class bungalow?
“Only if there is a sale,” he jokes. “I must have missed that memo.”