🎙 Geoff Cook on Building a Crypto Name: "The Strongest Brands Compete on Emotion"
In this week’s episode I speak with Geoff Cook, co-founder of Base, a design studio with huge clients from all industries, including The New York Times, MoMA, ING Bank and large-scale projects like JFK’s Terminal 4 and the Meatpacking District in New York....
In this week’s episode I speak with Geoff Cook, co-founder of Base, a design studio with huge clients from all industries, including The New York Times, MoMA, ING Bank and large-scale projects like JFK’s Terminal 4 and the Meatpacking District in New York. Geoff hopes to soon add crypto to the list.
He recently wrote an article stating that "For Crypto, Branding Could be the Highest Currency,” as the success of these projects will rely on communicating complex concepts and features to gain mass adoption. We discuss that crypto is in its teenage years in terms of branding: crypto, and especially DeFi projects, are rebelling against traditional finance and web2, but they’re still seeking to belong to a group and are not expressing their own individual characteristics and values. This is making all DeFi brands look alike. Geoff says that a company, or in the case of crypto, a protocol, that wants to build a powerful brand needs to figure out the story they want to tell. They need to know exactly what they stand for, what their purpose is, and who their user is. Next comes identifying how to communicate that to their core user.
We also discuss what branding looks like in a space that’s made up of decentralized organizations, where many stakeholders have the power to shape a project’s brands, and whether blockchains that have become utilities like Ethereum and Bitcoin, can even have a branding strategy. In any case, he argues that branding can be instrumental in helping projects break through the noise. And we all know there's a lot of noise in crypto.
The podcast was led by Camila Russo, and edited by Alp Gasimov. Transcript was edited by Owen Fernau.
🎙Listen to the interview in this week’s podcast episode here:
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👀 Only paid subscribers have access to the full interview transcript below.
Camila Russo: I'm super excited to be here with Geoff Cook. First guest on The Defiant podcast to do this in-person with me. So thank you so much and welcome to our studio.
Geoff Cook: I'm thrilled to be here in Dumbo.
CR: Yay. So Geoff is a partner at Base, a design firm. When did it start?
GC: We started in Brussels in the early nineties.
CR: Okay and so maybe you won't have heard of Base, but you'll all have definitely heard of your clients. Geoff is here because he's super interested in crypto and Base is looking to add more and more crypto projects onto its incredible roster of clients. So we'll talk about what it takes to make a good brand and how that applies to crypto. And also good examples of crypto brands you're seeing. Before we get into all of that, I'd love to hear more of your background. How you got started, what led you to Base.
GC: Sure. So as mentioned Base was started in Brussels actually in the early nineties when I was still in the fashion business and I met my current partners through the worlds of fashion and, in 1999, decided to invest in the company and bring it to New York. So we've been in New York for 22 years and also now have offices next to Brussels in Geneva and Melbourne. So we're about 70, 75 people worldwide.
CR: And how did you get to Base in the first place? If you can tell a bit of your pre-Base, career.
GC: It's one of those stories that's all about luck, I suppose. So my partner's parents had one of the preeminent fashion stores in Belgium and I actually met them first and along came my partner who was shooting pictures out of the back of the fashion offices at Donna Karan. And I thought, oh, here's an interesting guy. And we became friends first and I got to know more about their business as I was learning about the branding business at DKNY, one of the, at that time, most powerful brands in the world. And I decided that it was more interesting to be on the brand side than the fashion side. So I made the switch.
“...I decided that it was more interesting to be on the brand side than the fashion side.”
Figuring Out What The Story Is
CR: Got it. So Base started as this Brussels-based design studio, and then it looks like with you on board, you made it go global and added all these huge clients. So is there a design philosophy that guides your thinking and your work and is that what's allowed you to work with such big names?
GC: You know, I think it's true that we have a very broad portfolio and you mentioned the New York Times, but also companies like MILK studios and NeueHouse. We're also working on the evolution of the New York Mets. So very disparate groups of clients. But I think that the central through line through our work is we're always trying to help companies and institutions to have greater cultural relevance. That's really our reason for being, our purpose is to really help companies to have a greater cultural impact.
“...the central through line through our work is we're always trying to help companies and institutions to have greater cultural relevance.”
CR: Okay. And so how do you achieve that? Because it's such a huge goal, to have cultural impact. What does that even mean and look like? Is it becoming a household name essentially? Something that you instantly recognize, like all the names we've been named saying.
GC: I think it really goes to the very foundations of what it means to be a strong brand. And so it starts with really understanding each company's true reason for being, its true DNA. And then really thinking about how to tell that story in the most compelling way. So that's very strategic, but I think where the special sauce comes in is in the creative and how you reflect that message or that reason for being, outwards to the public. And some companies do that better and those brands tend to resonate with the public.
“...where the special sauce comes in is in the creative and how you reflect that message or that reason for being, outwards to the public.”
CR: Okay. So it's about communicating the core of your company in a way that resonates with people.
GC: I think at the start it's figuring out how to tell that story in the most compelling way. And then also, through execution, looking at how to have that resonate with the public. And I think in today's world and certainly in the world of crypto, that is much more about community building than it used to be. So really thinking about how to recognize and engage communities that we think will resonate with a given brand or given institution.
Branding to Augment a Message
CR: That's interesting. So now we're getting more into the meat of things of crypto. You wrote an article titled For Crypto, Branding Could be the Highest Currency. What do you mean by that?
GC: So it's the start of a thought I would say, but it's interesting to think that when I started my career, I was at the advent of internet 1.0. And I remember sitting in my studio apartment with my best friend and he was desperately trying to explain what the internet was and I just couldn't understand it at that time. But there are now today, all these household names, for example, Google. But back then, there was also AltaVista, Yahoo, and many other search engines that people could have used. And as a market or as an industry establishes itself, brands can really, as more and more companies enter a given segment, prove to be a great differentiator. And so one could certainly argue back then that Google's technology was better than its competitors, but its brand was also stronger than its competitors. And that little move that they made with changing the logo every day was enough to make it very sticky and to get it the attention that, well, today it deserves.
“...one could certainly argue back then that Google's technology was better than its competitors, but its brand was also stronger than its competitors.”
CR: So do you think brands can have an impact on whether a product or a company actually makes it? Can they make or break a product or service?
GC: I believe that you can't have one without the other. Or let's say brand has the ability to amplify something, but you can't have a lousy product and have brands make it successful, but I think you can have a decent product or an exceptional product and have brand amplify that.
CR: And can bad branding be the opposite?
GC: Well, we've seen that time and again, where bad branding can actually work against a company. And often in cases, one might say, the technology is so good that it's working in spite of a bad brand.
Crypto Lacks Branding Focus
CR: Do you think we're seeing that in crypto now?
GC: I think we are, but I also think that it's perfectly normal. And by that, I mean, just like at the advent of internet 1.0 where you had companies rightly so focused on their products and on their technologies and on their teams and what they were building, the brands at the outset probably weren't as strong as they are today. And so rightfully so, today in the world of crypto, we have these young companies that are focused on doing things right at the core, but now we're seeing entrants come into a given space, for example, even at the foundational level where we see Ethereum and Solana and Cardano all competing and brand can really now help to set those companies apart.
CR: Okay. So that's what you mean with highest currency. It's like crypto is, at a very early stage and it's just starting to emerge, I think in kind of the popular consciousness. It's starting to gain mainstream awareness. And so it's like this moment where a brand can make or break a crypto project or protocol or company.
GC: Brand really has the ability to be that tipping point, because I would even argue when we say public awareness, I think in our world where we're in the crypto universe, it's an everyday thing. But most of the people I'm dealing with maybe have heard of Bitcoin and Ethereum and not much more. And so I think that there is the ability for brand on an individual level to help companies to cross over to mass awareness. I even think that brand can play a larger role within crypto, purely helping people to understand what crypto is at its broadest.
“...brand can play a larger role within crypto, purely helping people to understand what crypto is at its broadest.”
CR: Okay. Interesting. Before we go deeper into that thought because I really want to dig into that. First, what's been your overall experience with crypto so far? Have you worked with any crypto clients or are you just dipping your toes in that world? What got you interested?
GC: So we are just starting to work with some crypto clients and I think that's actually the point. It's that we're sensing that now companies are becoming aware of the fact that brands can be a very powerful asset in their repertoire. What got me interested in the first place is, I think like a lot of people, that I started into it on a personal level and the more that I invested in these various projects, the more I realized that there was really compelling stuff happening in the space and that we wanted to be a part of that, which in our minds is really the future.
“What got me interested in the first place is, I think like a lot of people, that I started into it on a personal level and the more that I invested in these various projects, the more I realized that there was really compelling stuff happening in the space…”
CR: Okay. Interesting. Do you foresee more and more of your portfolio being crypto land?
GC: I think more and more of our portfolio will be dedicated to the most compelling companies. They may be crypto or they may not be crypto, but we always look to work with those that we find are not only the most interesting, but those that we find we can add value to as I said earlier about bringing cultural relevance. We look really for projects where we say that's a fantastic company, how can we achieve them to have greater relevance on a mass scale?
CR: Okay makes sense. And then I want to go back to one thing you said before about how branding can really of course help with awareness and communicate values. But in crypto I think specifically, and maybe more so than in other areas, it can help with improving the experience, just helping with the product itself. Because I think it is such a complicated space to understand and, not just because it's technical, but I think at the core, it really requires a change of a paradigm and I think that's what makes it so hard for people to get into it. To start using especially the more decentralized crypto products, like web3, being in control of your assets, using private keys, confirming transactions. We're not used to dealing with that in web2. So what role does branding play in that? In not just how projects communicate, what they are, but also how to use it?
Branding as Education
GC: So let's maybe talk about this in two parts. I think there's a role for brand to play and then there's purely a role for design to play. On the brand level, I really believe that today, I mean, think about even just the terminology. I don't know if you've had this experience about trying to explain the world of blockchain to say, a grandparent.
“...there's a role for brand to play and then there's purely a role for design to play.”
CR: Everyday I'm trying to explain blockchain. And it's hard.
GC: Right. And so we're talking about staking and rewards and minting and already the terminology is foreign to the general populace. And then, so I think at the brand level, and even at the crypto.org level, I think that there is a role for brand to play purely about educating people. Because the more educated people are and the clearer things are, the more confident they will be to take that first step. And at the end of the day, it's what all the companies want. It's to have broader mass visibility and adoption. So I do believe that there's a level for brand to play in how these organizations or large companies communicate at a mass level more clearly. Now there's a role purely for good design. And as an anecdote I remember, and it's one of the companies that we're looking at working with, we're in talks with, and it's one of the largest DeFi platforms.
“...the more educated people are and the clearer things are, the more confident they will be to take that first step. And at the end of the day, it's what all the companies want.”
And I said, I'm going to actually go on your platform and I'm going to invest money. I'm going to go through the entire process of onboarding and investing to really understand. And I'm fairly well-versed in this world. And I literally called them the next day. And I said, I tried really hard to give you my money and I couldn't. And so purely from a design point of view, and I believe that there is within any industry, a role for good design. We always say form follows function, a role for good design to play and actually getting people in the UI and the experience they have with these companies to either be a part of the community, to invest in the projects.
“...I said, I tried really hard to give you my money and I couldn't.”
Buttoned Up CeFi and Untucked DeFi
CR: Makes sense. I think crypto started as this industry that was just led by very technical people. The core developers of projects. And I think now it's starting to expand in concentric circles into, we have the core worth with the devs, and then next we have design and next we have marketing, next we have communicators. And it's finally starting to all come together so you have products that are easier to digest for a general non-technical person. But I think, yeah, design is starting to be more and more key for all of these projects.
So I have noticed that there's this difference in branding, depending on where you look in crypto. So you have the CeFi companies, like Coinbase and Gemini and a lot of the exchanges, or BlockFi, some of the lending platforms and they all look a lot like FinTech companies. They all look pretty similar. It's like you could be looking at a Wealthfront icon on your iPhone, or you could be looking at Coinbase and it doesn't look like they're any different. It's all part of the same style. But DeFi specifically and web3 looks like it's really trying to break away from that. And so you get some very jarring designs in some cases. Just like, lots of colors, lots of mixing of fonts and lots of throwbacks to early internet culture.
And I don't know if you've seen the Curve Protocol page, but it's like very 1990s internet with like the blocky windows and gray and blue windows. All that stuff and lots of emoji's and just like very playful, very different, I think from what CeFi is trying to communicate and show. So I'm interested in these two different worlds not just technically, but also in branding-wise. I'm interested to hear what you've seen there.
GC: It's a really keen observation that you make. I think with CeFi it makes a lot of sense in that they are trying to appeal to, let's say the lowest common denominator. So already they're dealing, as we said earlier, with subjects that are already for the average user. Let's say, if you're dealing with the lowest common denominator and someone comes for their first time to buy Bitcoin. They're already dealing in a world where they're not comfortable, that's already foreign to them with terminology that's probably unknown to them, with a process, meaning wallets and all that. Everything is new. And so I believe that in that world, to look familiar is probably comforting. In the world of DeFi, we have companies that are, rightfully so, saying we're not a part of traditional finance, and we don't want to look the part. And so they are intentionally going in the opposite direction.
“And so I believe that in that world, to look familiar is probably comforting. In the world of DeFi, we have companies that are, rightfully so, saying we're not a part of traditional finance, and we don't want to look the part. And so they are intentionally going in the opposite direction.”
Interestingly, a lot of them are going in the same opposite direction. And a phrase that Base coined years ago, and has now been appropriated throughout the design industry is we said that brands are like people and in the way that people have identities, they have personalities. So too do brands. And that really helps, I think, people to think about when they're thinking about maybe if you're a company, you're thinking about your own brand. You can ask yourself, well, who am I, and how should I act now. Now one might argue that in crypto, we're at the end of adolescence, into teenage years. And if you think back to your school days, a lot of teenagers like to dress and act the same. And so I think that a lot of the DeFI companies are reacting in a way, like healthy teenagers and pushing back against the parents, against the establishment. But I think that pretty soon they're going to hit their college years. And a lot of these DeFi companies will stop and ask themselves, but okay, now we've rebelled, but who are we at our core? And how do we best express that?
“...one might argue that in crypto, we're at the end of adolescence, into teenage years. And if you think back to your school days, a lot of teenagers like to dress and act the same.”
CR: Okay. That's really interesting. So right now, what we're seeing in the DeFi design and branding space is one, this rebellion from FinTech and from traditional finance. And so you get this very different sort of design to break away from that. But at the same time, all of it looks a little bit similar and it's because, same as teenagers, you want to belong. Like we're all in this together. We're part of the same group. We want to be like with the cool kids. So we all look alike. But I think it's a symptom of like how early it is in the space and it makes sense that with time each project will start to become their own individual personalities.
GC: And that's so well said they want to belong. And I think it even exists in the traditional industries today. There is a reason that all insurance companies look like insurance companies and Ivy League schools all look like Ivy League schools. Each, let's say, industry or sector has certain design codes or even tropes that make them very recognizable and make them feel a part of that industry or sector.
“There is a reason that all insurance companies look like insurance companies and Ivy League schools all look like Ivy League schools. Each, let's say, industry or sector has certain design codes or even tropes that make them very recognizable and make them feel a part of that industry or sector.”
Competing on Emotion
CR: That's really interesting. And I think it's also a function of DeFi still being niche. And sure, there's been an explosion of projects, but it's still a small industry. So as the space grows, you get more sub-sectors within DeFi, as we've already seen, but it's still pretty nascent. So you'll have the lenders. You'll have the payment companies. You'll have the yield aggregators. Of course the decentralized exchanges. And all of those sub-sectors may start to get their own more specific design tropes.
GC: Even within those sub-sectors. And we see it in traditional finance, a lot of financial institutions, be they DeFi or other, communicate on their functionality. What is it that they do? As opposed to, I would argue more emotional traits about what it is that I stand for and what community does that serve? And I think if you're communicating on function, you're competing on commodity. Because many entrants can come into that space and do the same thing, and then you're competing on price. And then it's a race to the bottom. That's why the strongest brands in the world compete on emotion and perception, not on function.
“...many entrants can come into that space and do the same thing, and then you're competing on price. And then it's a race to the bottom. That's why the strongest brands in the world compete on emotion and perception, not on function.”
Starting With The Story
CR: Interesting. Okay and then that goes back to what you mentioned at the beginning about how important communities are especially to crypto. So how does a new project in this space go about creating a strong brand? So it looks like there's elements of looking at your values, more than your function, speaking to your community. How do you start?
GC: Whenever we start a project, we always start with the proverbial you. We always start with the company and really understand everything we can about the company, but that's not just the company in the vacuum. It really is, who is your community? Who is your audience? And really at the core. So everybody is never an answer. You really have to go straight to the core. Second is who is the competitive set and there are always competitors. And then next to that, it's really looking inward at a company's values, at its personality. And what do I mean by personality in the brand space? For example, there are two prominent British airlines.
You have British Airways and you have Virgin. Yes, they have two different brand identities. So they do look different. Okay. So that's identity, but then next to that, they have two very distinct personalities as well. So British Airways is more proper British business, and Virgin is more anti-establishment, cool, rock and roll. And they speak like that. And they act like that. When you get on a British Airways, you may sit down and you're greeted with a glass of champagne, and it's all very proper. When you get in Virgin, within five minutes of takeoff, you may head up to the dome and be in the communal bar. So that's all about personality and experience. That is an extension of identity. And I think it’s the same in crypto. It's really looking at one's personality and what the purpose of the company is and the story it wants to tell.
CR: Okay. So at the very core of starting to look at how to create a strong brand is figuring out what your values are as a company and what your community is.
GC: I believe it's the story that you want to tell. And every company, or every institution has a story that they want to tell and what they want to convey that they stand for. Why are they on the earth? What is their purpose? What would the world be missing if they didn't exist and really defining that very clearly. And then from there, looking at how to communicate that to an identified community, that is really the core user.
“...every company, or every institution has a story that they want to tell and what they want to convey that they stand for. Why are they on the earth?”
DeFi’s Impending Grownup Stage
CR: I've seen him in DeFi that a lot of branding and community-making is a bit exclusive or very clubby is what I'm trying to say. You get all of these communities that have gated chats, gated telegrams and Discord. You have all these inside jokes and memes. And it feels like when you join these communities, you're part of this exclusive club. And I think that's something that for a lot of crypto projects, it's a gold standard to create that feeling is my sense. That's pretty subjective, maybe they're not trying to do this, but I get that sense from how all these projects are communicating that they want to create this clubby feeling. Is that a good strategy?
GC: So it's interesting. There are these little inside winks, like "gm"on Twitter and that sort of thing. Again, if we go back to brands are like people. In high school, there was always the popular crowd. I don't get the sense that in crypto it will remain a closed, exclusive crowd. I think it's an interesting, not even strategy, I think it perhaps is, it just is. Meaning with a certain company or a certain project, they may attract a certain community just because those are the folks that are interested in that project and it may feel insular, but I get the feeling that unlike the popular crowd in high school, they don't necessarily want to remain exclusive like those 10 kids. I think that it may start like that, but everything at least that I've experienced in this world, it very quickly is about welcoming others into it. It's very open and that's, I think pretty exciting as a strategy.
“...they may attract a certain community just because those are the folks that are interested in that project and it may feel insular, but I get the feeling that unlike the popular crowd in high school, they don't necessarily want to remain exclusive like those 10 kids.”
Abstracting Crypto Away
CR: That's true. Okay. So about welcoming and welcoming projects. There's this, I don't know if it's a debate, but two ways of looking at designing crypto that I've seen. And one is trying to hide crypto as much as possible. So trying to make a product that doesn't feel like it's crypto, that just feels like it's a web2 app. You know, hide the gas, hide transaction confirmations. And then there's this other school of thought that's like, no, this is crypto. Let's show it and people will have to learn and get used to it and deal with this a new way of life. I think. What do you think makes the most sense?
GC: Wow. What an excellent question. I think that I, at least in the short term, am in the second camp. I think that we're in a stage where people are entering this new realm and they need to really understand it, at the fundamentals. And if they're buying an NFT on Ethereum and the gas costs are $50, they need to understand that and not have it, let's say, all taken care of. And suddenly they're looking at, oh, wait, where did that $50 go and not understanding what happened. However, at a certain point, brands are going to, I believe, push this world into the mainstream. So that as, for example, kids are watching Disney and at the end of a show, they can buy an NFT. That all has to be seamless. And if you're a child, even if you have the permission to purchase from your parents, the wallet, the seed words, the gas fees, all of that, I believe in the future will need to be automated. And I think as the technology increases and therefore it becomes more secure and so on and so forth, we will see a migration to that. But I think in today's world, people need to understand fundamentally what it is that they're doing.
“...for example, kids are watching Disney and at the end of a show, they can buy an NFT. That all has to be seamless.”
Branding With DAOs Instead of Companies
CR: I think I agree with that take. So right now, in web3, we're seeing a shift on how organizations are run. Everything is becoming open and hopefully more decentralized. And that includes core functions of a company like figuring out brand and design. A lot of these decisions are being made by a token vote or they're being discussed in these like community calls. So for you as a branding agency, trying to get into crypto, how do you bridge that? Because it's you're a closed agency that might be working with open DAOs maybe in the future. So have you thought of how will it work? Like taking maybe input from a decentralized community or how does branding from an agency work for decentralized protocols?
GC: Let's look at past recipes for success as perhaps a prompt for how we will address this in the future. I'll give an example. We branded the Meatpacking district in New York and there you have a centralized bid, meaning a group of constituents from the neighborhood, and then you have everyone else, all the residents, all the businesses, everybody else that is involved in that neighborhood. I believe that democracy within the world of branding can be the detriment of a project for the following reason. And it's not that I'm anti-democracy. Because the people at the core of the organization truly know the organization. So when we go back to your question of how do we develop a strong brand, and that brand is saying, this is the story we want to tell, these are our values and so on and so forth. There are stakeholders at the very core of the project that will know that better than the general public. It just is a fact. And so the way that we have dealt with such projects in the past is to deal with that core group of stakeholders to get a project or a brand, to a certain point where it's ready to be shown to the larger group. And I think that that could be a formula for success whereby the DAO, the stakeholders, still have input, but it would not be having 10,000 pieces of input.
“There are stakeholders at the very core of the project that will know that better than the general public. It just is a fact.”
CR: Makes sense. Okay. So it's a way of maybe expediting the process?
GC: Certainly expediting for sure. Maybe it's like government, and I'm just thinking about this now. But we hire, we elect lawmakers and they are working on our behalf behind the scenes to put forth bills, to sign into law. And there is a core group that works on those bills to then bring to Congress, to enact into laws. And maybe it's that sort of formula whereby we're putting, as voting members, our trust in those core stakeholders that know that project very well to act on our behalf, to bring us a bill for consideration.
CR: Okay. That makes sense. So in the case of a DAO, it would be like the core team members of that protocol or project would work with you in figuring out the branding and design. And then once you have a proposal, then that smaller group can bring that to the wider group of the DAO members, and then maybe they can have their feedback and input and vote and so on.
GC: And that would set the project up for success.
CR: Okay. That makes sense. So far, what projects do you think are doing a good job in crypto in branding and design?
GC: Oh gosh. Let's see. I think there are certain projects like Kraken that are doing a better job more broadly, and then within DeFi whether you like it or not, Osmosis, for example. So Osmosis is, for those that have seen, it's very illustrative, it's very extroverted and exuberance. But what I think is interesting is there's a conceptual underpinning, meaning you have kind of this crazy alchemist and alchemists are mixing things together. And at a platform's core like that, you are swapping tokens. So you're mixing things together. So there's a reason behind its exuberant design, which I'm fond of. Even if you were to ask me, like is this, Geoff, your style? I would say that is not something that I would have imagined really gravitating towards, but I like how they've combined the conceptual underpinnings with the function of the project. I think that's interesting.
CR: Makes sense.
GC: But on the flip side, I think there are, for example, huge opportunities for the largest projects. Like Cardano, Solano, Ethereum. I mean these are multi-multi-multi-billion dollar projects that are in a way still communicating or still reflecting who they are in a startup vernacular. And they're far from startups. And as we were saying earlier, there's I think a huge opportunity for them to really start to express who they are, what they stand for, what they believe in as opposed to being very information and function driven.
Branding a Layer One
CR: It's tough for me to understand the branding for a layer one platform. So for me, dapp layer projects, that's easy to extrapolate. They're more like companies and companies have brands. But a layer one is like infrastructure. It's like imagining as if the internet protocol or like the messaging protocol, had a brand. So that way, it's hard for me to understand how Ethereum, the layer one, would they even start to formulate a brand. Because there's a foundation, but the foundation, this isn't what owns Ethereum. So it's not like the foundation can go and say, oh, this the Ethereum brand from now on. There's so many different builders and parts of the Ethereum community that it's very hard for me to see how they could all coordinate and agree on a single brand for Ethereum.
GC: Right? So a couple things, one, I think there are fundamental differences in the fact that the internet really is not owned by anyone and it is a utility. But let's take for example Cardano, which is very, very much about Charles. And I love what they're doing. The more you listen to Charles, the more you infer what he stands for, what he wants Cardano to stand for, what he wants to achieve with the project. And they're built into Cardano. And I think we all feel it, ideas around equality, especially in developing parts of the world, around identity. So we're starting to sense really where, it's not to say that will be its only thing, but where Cardano was leaning versus something like Solana, which is maybe leaning elsewhere. And I'm more a believer that that can be expressed and it doesn't alienate Cardano from X or Y, but I think it probably attracts certain people at their core that really believe in that and believe in what they are doing and going back to what you said about communities and different communities or cliques around given projects.
“The more you listen to Charles, the more you infer what he stands for, what he wants Cardano to stand for, what he wants to achieve with the project. And they're built into Cardano. And I think we all feel it, ideas around equality, especially in developing parts of the world, around identity.”
And we have them even at the highest levels. And so I think that if they are true to that and express that, that for me, is something that's emotional, that people gravitate towards.
CR: So I think the difference is that when a layer one project is early enough that it has a clear leadership, then is the right time to formulate a brand. In the very early days of Ethereum, Vitalik was very clearly the driving force behind it. Now, obviously Vitalik is very closely tied to Ethereum, but I think the community would reject if Vitalik was like out there, saying, this is what the Ethereum brand is. Because Ethereum is bigger than that at the moment. But like back in 2013, that would have been different. So for Cardano that's just starting, it is very much about Charles. And like, I think maybe the same thing could be said about Bitcoin.
Like Bitcoin was maybe a lot more about Satoshi's vision in 2009 than you know what it is today. Bitcoin is this massive thing that started with Satoshi, but now it's owned by millions of people and there's I don't know how many thousands of developers contributing to it and researchers it is more of a utility and harder to brand. But I think it's interesting that you are seeing with earlier layer one protocols that you can have this branding exercise and maybe that will develop over time.
GC: Boy heady stuff. We're figuring this out real-time. Yeah. For example, with Bitcoin let's for arguments sake, say we don't agree, you and I with how this is represented. A coin with a dollar B in the middle, that's silly. Let's do something about that. How would we even go about that? So to a certain extent with certain projects, you're right. I think with the vast majority, there is an opportunity for most folks to really think about what it is they want to stand for and how they want to tell their story and how to best represent that.
Non-Native Brands and NFT Communities
CR: Yeah. Alright, to start wrapping up. I'm just interested in your view on where you think crypto is going? I mean you're bullish in this space. You want to participate and have more crypto clients, but for you personally, how big do you think this can be?
GC: How big? The biggest. It is without question the future. But as for where it's going, I think we're seeing different things. I think that we are now seeing more and more large brands that are interested in how they can apply crypto or a blockchain to their businesses. So we're talking to very prominent fashion houses. So I'm talking outside of the crypto space. How do we integrate these things into the world of brand? I think that has the potential to really be the tipping point. Because once the big brands start playing in this space, like I said earlier, there's too much friction for the general public to go out and establish a wallet and figure out how the different platforms work and et cetera, et cetera. It has to be seamless.
“...we are now seeing more and more large brands that are interested in how they can apply crypto or a blockchain to their businesses. So we're talking to very prominent fashion houses.”
And so I think that the large brands have the potential to drive mass adoption. So that's one. I think that the NFT space is fascinating. And I can't tell you how often I hear that it's gambling and it's speculation and it's all gonna fall like a house of cards. But you know, if you look at, for example, my partner Jack is in the Degen Apes. And we had this fascinating discussion about, okay, 10,000 are minted. They're selling for astronomical prices, but within the NFT space, I almost view that less about art and more about being a member of a community and establishing in a way, a brand, a group and that NFT is the membership card, albeit a very expensive one. And from there, we'll start to see other things entering that are at the service of that community. And it's not just, you know, pandas. It's not just more NFTs. But I think it will attract like-minded X and Y. It could be you know, music or entertainment or anything that would appeal to that crowd. So you're basically, through the NFT, establishing a kind of community with a certain interest or personality and allowing them entrance of other aspects into the community.
“I almost view that less about art and more about being a member of a community and establishing in a way, a brand, a group and that NFT is the membership card, albeit a very expensive one. And from there, we'll start to see other things entering that are at the service of that community.”
CR: Really cool. So you see crypto growing from here through both non-crypto companies adopting aspects of crypto and blockchain, and that being an enabler for mass adoption and also for very crypto-native communities, like NFT communities to grow and for different adjacent services and adjacent projects to emerge from these communities.
GC: Yeah. And what's really fascinating, if you want to really geek out on brands, you know, you look at the Degen Apes, you don't have one community manager, you have 10,000 community managers. We're seeing in real-time the decentralization of brand itself. And that is pretty fascinating.
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