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2 Months of Running With NFT Fitness App Stepn

"Move-to-earn" app Stepn is controversial and flawed—but it's a commendable test case for utility NFTs in the early innings of the space.

4 min read
Running. Image: Shutterstock

Back in April, all the degens on Crypto Twitter were boasting about the money they were making just by going out for a run and tracking it on Stepn. The app rewards you in its GST (Green Satoshi) token for walking, jogging, or running outdoors. Some Web3 folks were racking up more than $20 worth of GST per run.

But that was in April, when GST was close to $9.

By May 10, when I started using the app (late to the party), GST was down to $3.50. I earned 0.65 GST for my first 2.5-mile run, or $2.27. Still, hey: free money (well, "money") for an activity I was already planning to do. Pretty cool.

Then GST kept falling amid the broader crypto crash. By my third run on Stepn, on May 1, GST was at 97 cents. Today, it's at 8 cents. (Could this thing go to zero? Absolutely.)

To date, through eight runs on Stepn of 1.6 to 3.6 miles each, I've earned 31 GST total, currently worth... $2.17.

And I haven't even mentioned the catch. To start using Stepn, you have to buy a sneaker NFT, parked on Solana and priced in SOL. When I bought mine toward the end of April, SOL was flying high, close to $100, so I shudder to share what I spent on my sneaker: more than $400. Market research!

The people who were early to Stepn would talk about how quickly they expected to earn back the money they spent on their sneaker NFT and begin making a profit. At current crypto prices, I'll earn back what I spent in 363 months, or about 30 years. The app also continually tries to get you to spend more money by "repairing" your sneaker or "leveling up" by buying another.

If the tokenomics aren't enough of a turnoff (it certainly prompts Ponzi scheme accusations), the UX is far inferior to leading Web2 fitness apps like Nike Running Club and Strava. (When I run now, I use all three apps.) Stepn doesn't currently have any social features—but CMO Shiti Maghani told us on the gm podcast in June that those are coming—and will only display distances in kilometers. Like Axie Infinity, the progenitor of the promising-but-problematic "play-to-earn" model, these products ask users to buy in before they can even determine whether they enjoy the game.

All that said, I believe Stepn, which amassed 3 million users in just six months, is a very cool proof of concept for utility NFTs.

As I've written in past columns, I believe NFTs are here to stay and will evolve far beyond the wealth flex of PFPs like Bored Apes. I imagine we haven't yet seen the most interesting use cases of the technology—whether it'll be for ticketing (as Mark Cuban thinks), gaming, the metaverse, or something else.

I love the idea of an NFT as your entry pass into a club. At NFT NYC last month, multiple parties only allowed in people who owned a certain NFT, and they used apps like Tokenproof to check. I think Stepn's mistake was pricing its sneaker NFTs far too high; the trend now is shifting toward more affordably priced NFTs.

I also believe the community element is key. Despite Stepn's design flaws, I sense there are people using it mostly because they want to support these types of projects. I'm in two different Stepn Telegram groups, and they are buzzing all day, every day.

So I see Stepn's significance as symbolic. We're in the very early innings of the token economy, and first-mover attempts like Axie Infinity and Stepn should be commended for trying to figure this stuff out, even if someone else is likely to come along next and do it better.

That's why both Axie and Stepn are making meaningful tweaks to their products (Axie created free starter NFTs for new players, Stepn will buy back and burn its GMT governance token and add Ethereum support) to onboard the next wave of the crypto-curious.

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