If you’re in the NFT space, it’s unlikely you haven’t heard of Stepn by now. The NFT-based fitness app launched less than six months ago and has amassed 3 million monthly active users—impressive for an app that requires you to buy an NFT just to use it.
The app, which CMO Shiti Manghani describes as “Strava meets Pokémon Go,” became extremely popular in April on Crypto Twitter and among Web3 circles.
“It feels surreal almost,” Manghani said on the latest episode of Decrypt‘s gm podcast. “Just stepping back, looking at the macro-environment, it took the airplane industry 68 years to get to 50 million users. And it took Twitter about two years, and then Pokemon Go some months. Web3 overall is squeezing that space of compounding growth, because we give everything back to the users.”
But that was in April. In the first week of May, as the crypto markets tanked and Terra’s ecosystem collapsed, Stepn’s GST (Green Satoshi) token went off a cliff. It’s now trading at $0.18, a 97% drop from its all-time high close to $9 on April 28.
The way Stepn works is that you earn fractions of GST for walking, jogging, or running; the amount of GST you earn depends on the level of the NFT sneaker you bought. Back in April, Web3 folks would boast on Crypto Twitter about earning as much as $30 just to go for a run. The entry price of one of Stepn’s NFT sneakers (priced in SOL) was an eye-popping $600 at that time, but at GST’s highs, you could earn your money back in as little as a month or so.
Now GST is 18 cents, and running a few miles with an entry-level sneaker will earn you less than $1.
But the app’s adherents say that Stepn signifies something more significant: a test case for NFTs with real utility. Many in the NFT space believe this is where NFTs are headed: beyond a pure digital flex and into the realm of actual use cases, whether in “GameFi” or in-person event ticketing.
Manghani calls the app “an investment into health with a mindset of NFTs.”
“One could arguably question why pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for monkey JPEGs, dare I say, or just for art on the wall,” she said. “There is a different mindset with regards to digital money, crypto money, NFTs, and how to use that for positive benefit, for social impact, is something that we’re solving for.”
Stepn is also onboarding newcomers into crypto and NFTs, though maybe not as many now as when GST was worth a lot more. Manghani said one third of the app’s users are “non-crypto natives.”
They’re attracted by the application of digital tokens to an outdoor activity (Stepn won’t work with a treadmill; you must walk, jog, or run outside). “It’s pretty much very diametrically opposite to this dystopian myth of Ready Player One,” Manghani said. “We have about 100,000 people running every minute: out in reality, not in the metaverse.”
To continue its growth and avoid being purely tied to token price, Stepn will need to escape the pitfalls of other “play-to-earn” games like Axie Infinity, the creature-battling game that required users to buy three game piece NFTs to play. After the game’s active users and token prices soared, then plummeted, the platform made major changes, including free “starter Axies” to get people started.
Manghani says the activation codes—you can’t yet sign up unless you obtain a code from someone—was one of many “hard calls” Stepn has taken to avoid speculators. “To be honest, it would be very easy for us to sit back and just go wild… as brash as that may sound, it is actually the easier thing to do. The harder thing, which is what we’ve done, is actually funnel the inflow of users so that the new users don’t end up becoming the exit liquidity for the older users. We’re absolutely paranoid about supply and demand.”
One sweetener may be social features. Stepn doesn’t yet have any of the friend-following elements that Strava and Nike Running Club do; Manghani says they’re coming soon.
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