David Phillips Podcast Transcript

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Headshot of CEO David Phillips

David Phillips Podcast Transcript

David Phillips joins host Brian Thomas on The Digital Executive Podcast.

Welcome to Coruzant Technologies, Home of The Digital Executive podcast.

Brian Thomas: Welcome to The Digital Executive. Today’s guest is David Phillips. David Phillips is an accomplished entrepreneur and business leader with a proven track record of success across multiple industries. He is the CEO of Elf Labs, a company that combines iconic character IP and profound next generation storytelling to create high value IP franchises.

Elf Labs, previously Toon Studio, focuses on entertaining and enlightening through immersive entertainment, gaming, and consumer product licensing. Previously, Phillip’s co-founded Journey. A hospitality tech company pioneering the next generation of tech first on demand accommodations, scaling the company all over the U.S. and internationally, before stepping away from the day-to-day operations to take over Elf Labs.

Well, good afternoon, David, welcome to the show!

David Phillips: Thank you. Great to be here with you, Brian. I appreciate it.

Brian Thomas: You bet. Absolutely. I love doing this stuff. Getting to talk to somebody new every single day and hearing their story.

And obviously with your permission, we’re going to share this out with the world. So, let’s just jump right in. David, you transitioned from co-founding journey to becoming the CEO of Elf Labs. Can you share what motivated this shift and how your previous experiences have influenced your leadership at Elf Labs?

David Phillips: Absolutely, I’m happy to. So yes, I co-founded Journey with my partner. It was before COVID. It was a technology company for hospitality, and we took a very innovative and futuristic approach to the operation of hotels and short-term rentals, both from the owner side and the guest side, automation, higher margins, more efficiencies.

And COVID hit, and obviously that drastically affected the short-term rental and hotel market in all of hospitality, unfortunately, and I had, we had competitors who literally raised hundreds of millions of dollars that went out of business, and we raised about 15 million in venture capital at the time, and that was enough to sustain us, which proved the validity of our technology.

And our approach to efficiency, right. It proved to that. And, but it also took a lot out of us and it took a lot out of me. And so, when you raise venture capital, you have to revest your ownership into the company and we kind of earn it back if you will. And so, over the period I vested, but we came out of COVID and we got to some level of stability in the company simultaneously, so I was now vested.

We had some stability. My dad had an offer to sell the current company elf labs, and I’m a CEO of, he had a high eight figure offer. And I said to him, you know, dad, I’m fully vested. I’m kind of done with hospitality. Look what I built, look what we were able to achieve and how we stayed open and actually grew.

I said, I’d love to bring that technology and that kind of scale, the vision to truly scale to elf labs, to our company. And really take us to the stratosphere. Don’t just sell the company. Don’t walk away. We can build something much bigger. And my dad is also a ballsy entrepreneur, and he’s like, you know what I’m in, let’s do this.

And so, I stepped away from this and my partner agreed. That would be no problem. And I stepped away from the day to day with my ownership, and I came and took over as a CEO and with a focus on technology, innovation, disruption, because, as you know, and I’m sure we’ll talk about more today, Alpha Labs owns extremely iconic and valuable intellectual property.

World renowned characters, and I thought, like, you know, the sky really becomes the limit with this. So. That, that, that’s kind of what propelled me to make the job.

Brian Thomas: Amazing. I love that. And you took a leap of faith, right? I can tell you’re an entrepreneur at heart and I really love that story. A lot of entrepreneurs on the podcast.

We get to hear some amazing stories. So, thank you, David and David elf labs focuses on combining iconic character IP with next generation storytelling. How do you approach creating and developing high value IP franchises that resonate with modern audiences?

David Phillips: Also, a great question. So, our focus is, you know, we have a strong creative presence here at the company.

That was something else, by the way, that inspired me that I didn’t mention in my first answer, which is we have, there’s very meaningful themes, mythology, and lore that we built behind certain reinventions of our iconic IP. That I really wanted to disseminate and distribute to the world because I believe it can do a lot of good in the world.

Some of these themes. And yet, at the same time, it’s thrilling entertainment. And so, to be honest, it wasn’t such a leap of faith because I was like, I’ve always been so excited about this. I actually worked at the company on a commission only basis before starting a journey. I used my savings to start the company.

Actually, that’s how I even did it. So, I’m making commission and the old, you know, as we were building our IP portfolio. So, the focus is to bring these themes and these reimagining’s, you know, to modern audiences. One of them, just as an example, so we own Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Little Mermaid, Belle, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, literally dozens of world-famous character IP.

We got the rights to this IP from the original Junior Elf Children’s Book Portfolio. It’s a hundred-year-old portfolio. They’ve sold hundreds of millions of books featuring all those characters and we acquired the company to get the rights to the characters. And then what happened was my dad went to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

And started filing for trademarks on the characters from our books and on reinvented versions of them as well as we built on no creative. And we ended up winning after and it took a long time. It took 10 years actually to build this portfolio. We got denied many times. We have to really appeal all the way to the highest appeals court at the USPTO.

And when we finally won that cascaded into over 100 trademark victories and counting. And so, we have serious protection around both our classic and reinvented versions of the characters. So, one of the reinvented versions is called once upon a zombie. So that features a world. Where zombies where Cinderella Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and all the fairy tale kingdoms are decaying into a zombie wasteland where the gravestones of the authors of the famous fairy tale stories, like Carlos Collodi in Italy, he wrote Pinocchio or Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice in Wonderland.

Those gravestones are portals to the fairy tale kingdom. We brought all the characters together into one unified world, and the Queen of Hearts placed a spell over the, over the kingdom. And so, they’re all decaying. And so, our heroine, Caitlin Fletcher, you know, goes down the wormhole, the actual wormhole through one of the gravestones into the kingdom and tries, you know, tries to save the day.

And that novel. So, my dad actually wrote the novel, and it won 12 awards, all in stealth mode. And so, we’re very excited to bring that to life. And our first project, that’s one we have ready to go. And then the first project that we’re actually launching is called Robo stars. And that features Robo Cinderella, Robo Snow White, Robo Sleeping Beauty.

And that is an exploration of free will and artificial intelligence. So those characters are all AI powered robots. Programmed for perfect happiness, but there’s a challenger in that world named Huckleberry Finn and Huckleberry Finn hacks into the circuit boards of each character and, you know, programs them for mischief and mayhem and puts challenges in front of them because we’re exploring.

Can you really be free will if everything’s perfect? But if you have challenges and you choose to not listen to that huckleberry voice or not listen to the, you know, the hacker inside our head, then that’s how we exercise free will. And so, it’s something that also brings a lot of positivity to people, right?

The idea that we’re in control of our own life and that we don’t have to listen to that voice in our head that challenges us. We don’t have to live when somebody insults us in our real day to day life. We don’t have to take it personal. We can choose not to. We can recognize that it’s the huckleberry within them that made them insolvent in the 1st place.

So, it’s a really cool kind of way of through entertainment, you know, enlightening people, hopefully, and enlightening kids as well. And so that’s the 1st project we’re going to be working on.

Brian Thomas: That’s amazing. I didn’t know all that behind those names and the IP or intellectual property obviously has a long journey to get there, but.

But now you’re able to having that ownership of the IP, be able to do some of these really significant changes to characters that maybe you and I grew up with. So amazing story. So, David technology plays a significant role in elf labs offerings. Can you discuss how advancements in technology are shaping the future of immersive entertainment in gaming at elf labs?

David Phillips: In gaming, yes. So, I think it’s in gaming and more. In our view, and in my thesis in particular, I think it’s very obvious that the IP market is becoming very saturated. There are shows on Netflix or Paramount Plus or whatever that are on season 3, season 4, season 5. Now, in Hollywood, if you get greenlit for a show beyond just a pilot, that’s considered a huge success, let alone 2, 3, 4, 5 seasons.

10 to 15 years ago, if you had a show on Netflix or ABC or Disney or Hulu or even YouTube with viewership, It wasn’t so difficult to take that show and open up new verticals of revenue. The most, in fact, the most monetizable verticals of revenue, consumer products, merchandise, right? And so, you know, the movie frozen came out, it did a billion dollars at the box office.

It did 5 billion within just the first year 10 years later, imagine that number. So, merchandise is a massive opportunity. The problem is now, even when shows are getting to season 3 and 4, because there’s so much that is being produced on a daily basis, it’s very hard to stand out from the crowd. There’s a deep level of saturation.

So, there are two ways to solve that problem, and that’s really what I think is at the forefront of what we’re doing here at Alpha labs. One is you have characters that are already ingrained in public consciousness, characters that are already welcomed and excite the audiences and fans to participate more character, right?

And other IP examples that have done that are like the do rise to the top Star Wars, PAW Patrol, and of course, Disney Princess. So, there are differences in Monster High from Mattel or Barbie, right? Those are IP that stand out. So, us having the rights we have from the Junior Elf books and our reimagining’s, we believe are a very powerful way to stand out from the crowd and be able to put something to market that is not just content and entertainment, but also can enter us into every single vertical of revenue.

Another way to stand out, whether you have recognizable characters or not, If you’re building an entertainment project, it’s immersion. Can you make it more immersive? Games today are played much more than shows are watched. When you play a game, you get deeper into the game. Roblox is like the hottest thing in the world right now.

Why? Because kids are spending hours playing it. In it, they’re immersed in it. And so, they’re turning into brands, and we have that as well. So, we have technology that is truly revolutionary that can allow for deeply immersive experiences to be completely seamlessly accessible by the audience. I’m talking simple as a browser website, no need for a PlayStation, no need for an Xbox or a VR headset, but just an iPhone, iPad or computer.

You just, you know, you go to your tablet, you go to the browser. And you can enter into a world that is a super high-fidelity world on the level of, say, a call of duty game, and you can be walking through a 3D environment and playing mini games and consuming entertainment and digital movie theaters and talking to the characters.

And having actual conversations with your favorite digital Robo Cinderella or Robo Peter Pan all seamless. And that’s the point. Can you create immersion and can you make it seamless? Because that’s what’s going to make the difference for brands. And so, we have that technology as well. And so, we’re combining the 2 to create an online world that we really believe is kind of the future of Roblox.

Where it’s super accessible, but super high fidelity. So, it’s kind of like YouTube meets PlayStation meets Roblox, but also, you know, you can get the right from your phone and that’s really what we’re working on with the technology aspect.

Brian Thomas: That’s amazing. And I appreciate you breaking that down and how.

And we all know this, a lot of us from since the eighties have been playing games and we know that a lot of times gaming can be more I guess trigger those endorphins, right? So, people can get. Kind of into that game or maybe even addicted to that game, but really love the story, what you’re doing to change things up.

I know that the market is very saturated when it comes to a lot of the programs out there. So, I appreciate that. And David, last question of the evening here, looking ahead, what are your goals and vision for elf labs in the next 5 to 10 years? How do you plan to continue driving innovation and growth in the company?

David Phillips: So, a couple of things, right? So, the 1st thing is, I always try to think 10 steps ahead, not, you know, 2 steps ahead as an example, right? So always be innovating and creating, you know, giant leaps forward in experiences in the level of the creativity in the concept and packaging it all together. And again, I can’t reiterate enough making it seamless.

If you do that, you can achieve wide scale. I believe that if we focus on that and execute properly, which we’re already doing we haven’t, yeah, we have some amazing product that we’re already demoing to folks and they’re literally falling off their chair because I can actually show that seamless access in real time.

So if we can continue to build on that and deliver it to our audiences and our fans, I think that we truly are the, you know, the, the, the entertainment studio of the future. I believe that, you know, and you see it in Hollywood, things are sort of condensing and animate in the animated world. Things are condensing.

I believe that we really are part of what represents the next coming of what entertainment should be like. From the type of themes and messages we want to get across to the quality of the concept and the character art to the creativity and execution on that scripts themselves. And then, of course, to the immersive, the deep level of immersion into the play patterns of toys with the online worlds with the, with the augmented reality worlds and kind of packaging it all together.

So, my goal for the next 5 to 10 years is to lead that, you know, to pioneer that change, to execute at a very high level so that all the product we put out truly delights our fans, and to come up with even more innovative ways to create things that we don’t even know we want yet. Just like we are doing now with this online world.

And I think if we continue to do that, you know, we can be, I mean, my goal, one of the biggest companies in the world. That’s the goal. I wouldn’t have taken the leap if it wasn’t. So that’s what we’re really shooting for.

Brian Thomas: Amazing love the, again, the vision you know, the enthusiasm something that you really are passionate about and we can hear it in your voice.

I just can’t wait to see this thing explode to the next level. Really, really do. So, I appreciate that David and David, it was such a pleasure having you on today. And I look forward to speaking with you real soon.

David Phillips: Thank you. Yeah. Brian, it was great to meet you. I really enjoyed the conversation. I appreciate the questions.

Brian Thomas: Bye for now.

David Phillips Podcast Transcript. Listen to the audio on the guest’s podcast page.

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