The story of how Gianpiero D’Alessandro and Pasquale D’Avino turned InBetweeners into a global NFT sensation in a matter of weeks thanks to a special Bieber boost
When Gianpiero D’Alessandro was a boy, his grandmother gave him a blue teddy bear. “This is your new friend,” she told him. “He will love you.” The now-30-year-old Italian artist remembers it vividly as a truly happy moment. He identifies it as the origin of a lifelong adoration for teddy bears and the sense of security they represent.
But Gianpiero could have never predicted that he would one day bond over teddy bears with Justin Bieber.
After drawing a cartoon of Bieber with his wife, Hailey, and dog, Oscar, and posting it to Instagram in March 2019, Gianpiero received a DM. “Hey, can you send me your number?” Bieber wrote. “Wanna talk about doing some stuff with ya.”
Bieber and longtime friend Ryan Good wanted to involve Gianpiero in Drew House, the streetwear clothing brand they had co-founded and launched at the top of that year — and where he is now the resident cartoon designer. The first of 70 illustrations that Gianpiero presented them was of a brown teddy bear named Theodore, sporting a signature purple button nose and a yellow Drew mascot t-shirt.
Looking back, Theodore was essentially (and unintentionally) the OG “InBetweener” bear.
InBetweeners is the NFT community crafted by Gianpiero alongside Pasquale “Pavi” V. D’Avino, his childhood friend who serves as CEO. The collection debuted on OpenSea in mid-December, and within a week, all InBetweeners were minted.
Bieber was among the first.
Just shy of two months into its existence, InBetweeners has driven $18.6 million in transactions. The collection features 5,700 owners, with a floor price of 0.54 ETH (about $1,555 as of this writing).
“The minting really surprised me because it was so, so quick, and the fact that people that will probably never buy a $1,500 canvas or painting in our gallery were really happy to buy a JPEG,” Pavi tells Boardroom.
“A lifetime would not be enough for an artist to be able to sell (in this case) 10,777 works,” adds Gianpiero, officially titled as the InBetweeners founder and art director. “This obviously allowed me to spread my art with many more people. The media machine has been activated in a very powerful way.”
But more importantly, the simple comfort provided by squeezing a teddy bear is now a digital safety blanket stretching from Naples, Italy, across the world.
Gianpiero and Pavi grew up together in the small Italian village of Sant’Anastasia, located near Naples and within the Vesuvius National Park at the base of Monte Somma.
“I honestly don’t remember when we met for the first time,” Pavi admits, “but when you are a kid or teenager, it was so easy to have the possibility [of] new friends, especially in our small hometown. Only 20,000 people, so it was easy to meet up, and from that day, we became quick friends — even if we are completely different people.”
Creativity was, and still is, their common ground.
Prior to joining forces for InBetweeners, the two collaborated on Pavi’s streetwear fashion brand Throwback., which earned Pavi a spot on Forbes Italia’s 2021 “30 Under 30” list, though he credits Gianpiero as “an integral part of TB with whom I developed the idea from Day 0.”
So, when the concept for InBetweeners first started to take shape last fall, Gianpiero and Pavi had no hesitation in pushing forward. Prior to that, they had heard rumblings about NFTs and the metaverse, and they were a little skeptical only because they hadn’t yet done the proper research to understand it. The COVID-19 lockdown allowed them time to sit still and think through how they could best enter the space.
“As an entrepreneur, the only thing I always have is intuition,” notes Pavi. “[Launching an NFT collection] was not planned at all. It was just, somebody told us it could be a nice possibility, and we had the intuition to [think], OK, we need to do this now. We worked so quickly.”
Adds Gianpiero: “Projects of this size require an enormous amount of effort. This project is also the result of my years of work and my public relations. People think it’s easy to do things like this. People take many things for granted. We did not sleep for 40 days to finalize this project.”
The finished collection features thousands of unique characteristics, from camouflage and cloud skins to gold-plated grills and hockey masks. The rare one-of-one special edition InBetweener bears are inspired by Gianpiero’s adolescent idols: 2Pac, Batman, Bob Marley, Kobe Bryant, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Mike Tyson, Spider-Man, and more.
On Dec. 15, their intuition — and countless hours of work — paid off with an instantly sold-out first drop.
The Bieber Bump
As soon as Gianpiero had his InBetweeners team and all of the necessary assets in place, he called Bieber. They had developed a friendship and mutual admiration for each other’s works since Bieber sent that DM in early 2019, and they met in the flesh during Gianpiero’s trip to Los Angeles in January 2020. Drew House aside, Gianpiero provided artwork surrounding the rollout of Bieber’s February 2020 album Changes.
Involving Bieber in InBetweeners, or at least trying to, was a no-brainer.
“I asked him what he thought, and if he wanted to be part of this project,” Gianpiero recalls. “He was immediately very happy to support my new adventure.”
“First of all, [Bieber] loves GP’s art,” Pavi says, noting Bieber is not an investor in the project but “decided to support publicly and to spread as much as possible.”
“He shares our same meaning for the bears,” he continues. “He believed so much in the project, but most of all, the message we are developing with it.”
That message is universally relevant. As Pavi explains:
“InBetweeners, for us, can have so many meanings. In a certain way, InBetweeners is for all people who sometimes do not feel comfortable staying on the right side or the left side — just in the middle. They do not find their right place in the world.
“I see an InBetweener as somebody who is always in the middle for something else — a bridge for creativity and a bridge to spread positivity. InBetweeners, for us and in terms of the project, is more to spread positivity and make people think that they are not alone. To spread the message that there is always some shoulder for these people in the middle to lean on, and to create a community made of these positive vibes.“
Bieber has remained involved through FaceTime brainstorm sessions with Gianpiero and Pavi — contributing to the Roadmap and constantly posting new bears to his Instagram, where he is the 10th-most followed person at 220 million. He also has the InBetweeners Instagram account tagged in his bio.
Close friends of Biebers and members of his tight-knit team have nearly all jumped on the bandwagon. Other stars across entertainment industries have followed Bieber’s lead in falling in love with InBetweener bears, including Bun B, Romeo Beckham, Rudy Gobert, SteveWillDoIt, and Kyle Forgeard.
Right on cue, Tom Holland — Spider-Man himself — couldn’t help but cop the “Spider Bear”:
And of course, Gianpiero had to make a “Bieber Bear” to honor whom Pavi calls “definitely our most important holder and ambassador of the project.”
Bieber finally took the stage for opening night of his long-awaited, twice-delayed Justice World Tour at San Diego’s Pechanga Arena on Friday night, Feb. 18, and Gianpiero and Pavi were there as personal guests and VIPs to support him. Gianpiero and Pavi, like everyone in the crowd of 16,000-plus, have long been fans of the record-breaking, era-defining musician.
Now, though, the trio has become an unlikely (but true) set of peers.
Spending time together at Bieber’s first of 90-plus tour stops is only one example of what has been (and will be) numerous ways InBetweeners harnesses the power of the virtual to bring people together in the physical world.
As ubiquitous as InBetweeners has become online, the community has mobilized in the real world at an equally impressive pace.
In late December, this InBetweeners truck invaded Times Square in the heart of New York City. After yet another FaceTime call with Bieber in January, which Gianpiero posted about, a movement of holders making their bears the background on their Apple Watches came to spread like wildfire.
Days later, the holder of Bear #4607 put up a billboard in Toronto.
“It is wonderful to be able to see how much happiness an ‘image’ can give,” Gianpiero says. “Seeing people from all over the world join this community makes me very happy.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Aided by Pavi’s proven entrepreneurial success in fashion and his goal to establish InBetweeners as a brand with an equally vibrant presence offline, the next move is InBetweeners clothing. Other merch will eventually follow, expanding into “gadgets, toys, and probably food.” The Roadmap promises 100 randomly selected holders to receive signed printed canvases from Gianpiero, plus exclusive access to an InBetweeners art show in Los Angeles at some point this year.
But however InBetweeners evolves far beyond NFTs in the years to come, fostering a strong community will remain at the center of it all.
Gianpiero’s blue teddy bear became his new friend as soon as his grandmother gave it to him, and that sort of innocence will always fuel InBetweeners.
“It is the task of art, the task of the emotions one feels in following an ideal,” says Gianpiero, describing why InBetweeners has resonated so deeply and vastly. “It is as if many people from all over the world become one family. For me, this is a beautiful thing. I have created a safe space for people.”