🎙 "NFTs are Giving Way to The First Art Revolution Since the Internet:" SuperRare's John Crain
In this week’s episode, I speak with John Crain, the co-founder & CEO of SuperRare, one of the top NFT marketplaces. SuperRare wants to differentiate itself by being the NFT marketplace that best curates art, specifically. John believes the natural evoluti...
In this week’s episode, I speak with John Crain, the co-founder & CEO of SuperRare, one of the top NFT marketplaces. SuperRare wants to differentiate itself by being the NFT marketplace that best curates art, specifically. John believes the natural evolution for NFT platforms will be to specialize in verticals. For example, the interface for art should be different than the one for real estate, or domain names, and so on. The team recently launched a token and a DAO, and John explains how the move will be instrumental for SuperRare to scale its curation, as the original team gives up control and other participants propose and vote on what should go on the platform.
We talk about the NFT boom more broadly, and how John believes NFTs are enabling the first artistic revolution since the internet. The movement includes changes in form, with VR, AI, video and audio, but also in the way people collect, with art becoming more democratized. This time around, the revolution is also global for the first time, and more open, as NFTs which are becoming the art world’s certificates of authenticity, are all public and with a trading history that’s there for all to see.
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:’
You’re a paid subscriber, which means you get the full transcript below. Subscribers also get exclusive access to The Defiant’s Discord chat for the community, here’s a new link to join.
Camila Russo: John is co-founder and CEO of SuperRare Labs, one of the top NFT marketplaces. SuperRare recently launched a token and the DAO, which is a bit different from what other NFT marketplaces are doing. So I'm super excited to get into all of that and more. But to start, I’d just love to learn more about you, your background, what were you doing pre-crypto, what led you to crypto, and then what led you to found SuperRare?
John Crain: Yeah, absolutely. I'll try to keep it a little bit short, because it's a very meandering path. I was actually studying civil engineering and architecture in college, and that's when I learned about Processing, which is a programming language kind of designed to help artists learn to code. And I was a big doodler. So I started playing around and teaching myself to code and just got very excited, slowly started falling down that rabbit hole, making websites and things.
And decided I was actually not going to go into architecture, and so moved to New York, worked in advertising. And while I was in New York, I was going to a lot of different meetups. And one of those meetups I found was the New York Bitcoin meetup, which was very exciting. I had been kind of reading about Bitcoin online a little bit, but was still really confused. I think I remember like getting there at the meetup, and the first question I asked, was what exactly is the hash rate? I keep reading about it, but I'm just not sure what this is.
CR: Totally valid question, to be fair.
JC: Yeah. I had read so many blogs, and felt like I was just getting more confused after each blog post I read. But every day I was just falling more and more down the crypto rabbit hole. And that was right around the time that the counterparty protocol had launched. So I was interested in colored coins. I was very excited about the idea of sound money, but also okay, how could we take this idea of native internet value transfer, and also bring it into consumer web experiences?
“I was very excited about the idea of sound money, but also okay, how could we take this idea of native internet value transfer, and also bring it into consumer web experiences?”
And just hanging out as part of the meetup, eventually, I saw the work happening on Ethereum, which I was actually very skeptical about at first. But then, once the network launched, I started experimenting with Solidity and smart contracts in general, and just got super excited. At the time, I was working at actually an eyewear startup, but left to go work with ConsenSys in Bushwick, and was with them for about two years doing a whole bunch of different things, focused on one of their spokes called BlockApps, which is kind of like enterprise Ethereum.
And that was really interesting. I did a lot of education, I guess, with some of these bigger companies that were trying to figure out what blockchains are good at. What are they not good at? There's a lot of things they're not good at. There’s a very small set of things that you should do with the blockchain. And that was all really interesting. But in the back of my mind, I was still thinking about, for me what's exciting about Web 3.0 is how this is going to impact internet business models. So thinking about how so many of the social platforms have advertising built into the core, and so what does it look like if you have products that don't need to rely on advertising?
“...thinking about how so many of the social platforms have advertising built into the core, and so what does it look like if you have products that don't need to rely on advertising?”
And so when I saw NFTs, I got really excited thinking about all the things, all these digital objects that exist, they do have unique identifiers, and maybe this standard was a way to start to bridge the consumer web we all know and love with crypto, to build something a little bit better.
Disrupting Web 2.0
CR: Oh, that's interesting. So was your first take on NFTs was a way to reduce ads in the way that we consume the internet? Coming from an ads background yourself that's pretty interesting.
JC: I was just wondering out of intellectual curiosity, what would it look like if this wasn't the business model? And so early on, when we were discussing SuperRare and NFTs, it was like, okay, well, what if YouTube could just have owners of videos? So there's the person who created the video still, you can still see that. But then, what if you could sell it? Do the views now count towards the owner? Or how do these mechanics work? And could it be this… because that's still like Internet real estate. Like if on the main page, that's getting 100,000 hits a day, it says your name, that's definitely worth something. So it was an interesting exploration.
CR: Still unsolved. At some other point, I'd love your thoughts about media and NFTs. Okay, so how did that lead to SupeRare?
JC: Yeah, so back in college, like I was saying, I was super interested in Processing, which is this generative art programming language. And being in New York, I was on the periphery of the art scene. So I had friends who were really trying to make it as artists. And I had a friend who ran a gallery, so he would come from New York for a lot of the different art fairs that I would go to.
And I just found it interesting. All the art I was really interested in had GitHub repos and it was purely digital, and then you go to these like super fancy art fairs. And it's nothing against sculpture or oil on canvas. But it was just, to me, there was all this interesting creativity happening mostly on the internet, but there was no market for it. And so when I saw NFTs...
“...it was just, to me, there was all this interesting creativity happening mostly on the internet, but there was no market for it. And so when I saw NFTs…”
CR: Wait… Sorry, I just didn't know. You said, there's art with GitHub repos on like, non-NFT art?
JC: Well, so before NFTs, people would still create this type of art, just they weren't really selling. And I would even make this art but could you sell someone a GitHub repo? That's kind of weird. It’s this interesting question around like, is that art collectible? What does patronage look like for digital artists?
So then when I saw NFTs, I was like, oh, wow, this is an extremely simple solution. It fits this problem really well, I myself have wondered if I could sell a piece of digital art or anything. And there is, in contemporary art, a market for digital art, it’s just a smaller subset. And so, my hypothesis is well, in the next 20 years, there's going to be more digital art, not less of it created. And so I think, eventually, that end of the market becomes much larger.
CR: So is the issue with digital art without NFTs, is it that it's harder to have it maintain its scarcity? I mean, the fact that it's digital means that it can be infinitely reproduced, because it's just ones and zeros. And so that means it would be harder for the artists to monetize their work and have it be something unique that somebody can own. But NFTs now obviously change that. And so is that the key thing that needed to happen for digital arts really starts to take off?
JC: Yeah, I think so. I like to think about the NFT as a certificate of authenticity. So it can be created by the artist, it has a digital signature essentially built into it. You can see how old it is, whereas something like a JPEG. If you're technically capable, you can just go edit the metadata. So you could say, like, oh, this file was created in 1972. And it's kind of hard to tell if that’s true. Whereas with an NFT, that extra context for the piece of art you can just embed. So I think that's the game changing thing. You now have this bare asset that basically says the artist who created this says that I'm the owner because I have this NFT.
CR: Perfect. Okay. So SuperRare was born as a platform to buy and sell these art pieces attached to these certificates of ownership, which are NFTs?
JC: Yeah, exactly.
Early Days at SuperRare
CR: Got it. Okay. So like what year was it? What were the initial days of SuperRare like?
JC: Sure. So I think we started working on the early prototypes in late 2017 and then launched April 2018. So launched right into crypto winter, so it was an exciting time to launch a new product.
CR: Oh, my God! And what was that like? I mean, if you can maybe draw parallels between running an NFT marketplace in 2018 versus now?
JC: Sure. I mean it was very interesting, right? I think today you look at the market, and people are raising $10 million with an idea and a pitch deck. Whereas in 2018, we had a live product, you know, we were making sales, it wasn't significant amounts of money, but it was still totally working. But it was essentially completely impossible to raise money at the time. So it’s very different. But it was also tight knit, right, the people who would join the Telegram, it was like a close knit family almost.
“I think today you look at the market, and people are raising $10 million with an idea and a pitch deck... Whereas in 2018, we had a live product, you know, we were making sales... but it was essentially completely impossible to raise money at the time.”
CR: At the time, maybe I wasn't really involved in the NFT world, but I don't remember NFTs having such a huge community. I don't know that even within crypto that people understood what NFTs were. Do you think that's right? Are people just now starting to realize the potential for this?
JC: Yeah, that’s exactly spot on. Really early NFT enthusiasts were more like crypto dabblers. So it was weird art-people who are also technologists, so had some interest in crypto, were also interested in art. Or the artists, some of them are just folks that we would reach out to and say, hey, we have this new website, do you want to try it? And it was definitely not the huge crypto whales. I think early on, people were just like, oh, that's ridiculous. It's too simple. It's just not going to work. And I think also it was the CryptoKitties initial hype wave. And so people were like, ah, digital cats, it's a fad, it's not actually going to be a thing. So there's more artists who’re like tinkerers, who were really interested in NFTs early on.
“I think early on, people were just like, oh, that's ridiculous. It's too simple. It's just not going to work.”
From a Trickle to a River
JC: It was basically slow, steady growth until almost exactly a year ago. That's when we really started to see numbers starting to jump. And so for us, it was like, there were a couple artists who I had been following on Instagram for a long time. And then a couple of them applied. One of them specifically, this guy “Algomystic” who does pretty interesting 3D work, and I was just like, no f*cking way, this is crazy. I've been following this guy on Instagram for four years. That's incredible.
“And so for us, it was like, there were a couple artists who I had been following on Instagram for a long time. And then a couple of them applied...I was just like, no f*cking way, this is crazy.”
Because for the first two years, I would pitch artists, and they were like, I don't really know what you're talking about. It sounds like a scam. Like, I heard people get their money stolen with Bitcoin, and you're like, that’s not exactly what I’m saying. So it was the artists who were interested, much more household names, I would say.
And then on the collector side, just a lot of the early collectors would say hi, and poke around and join the Discord or the Telegram at the time. And then we just started seeing random whales, so it was like, do you know who this is? No, I don't know who this is. Do you know who this is? Nobody on the team knew who these collectors were so that was also very exciting.
CR: Oh, nice. So what do you think sparked this recent boom in NFTs?
JC: I think a big part of it has to do with general crypto sentiment. A couple years ago, it was like, everything crypto was dead again. And then with the resurgence of DeFi, and DeFi really making a name for itself and proving Ethereum is more than just ICOs. Like, look, here are these like different lending protocols. People started to take it a little bit more seriously, and then it compounded the success in DeFi. I think it helped people reimagine the different NFT use cases. And two years later, a lot of infrastructure had been built. So there was just a confluence of events, that was at the right time.
NFT Art Revolution
CR: Okay. So I started reading one of SuperRare’s latest posts, and I was hoping you could expand on this because I thought it was super interesting. So you wrote, “Unlike past artistic revolutions, this one affects more than medium or style. It's a revolution of both form and function, curation and collection.”
JC: Absolutely. So I think there's a bunch of different reasons. So one, I think is very interesting, is just like, if you think about NFTs, they can be like many different mediums. It's like, AR, VR, we have video, audio, so there's the form itself that is super interesting. And then you're also seeing that manifesting in how people collect, which I think is super interesting as well. So it's like a new breed of collector.
And I think that also ties into the fact that it's totally global, right. I think previous art movements were almost geographically isolated. So it was like something is happening in London, and then New York, or in Mexico City, where it's like, this is happening all together. So it's sort of an art revolution that we haven't really seen with so many things happening all at once. So it's like many different mediums taking place, a new model for patronage essentially.
And I mean, it's the first artistic revolution that's happened while we've had the internet. So it's really, I think, more interesting in a lot of ways. And then to top it all off. There's this open data set being generated about the art that we've also never had, because of the internet. With NFTs, all of these certificates of authenticity, if that's how you want to think about them, they're all on Ethereum or like some Layer 1 or side chain, but it's still public data.
“...it's the first artistic revolution that's happened while we've had the internet.”
Whereas if you look at contemporary art markets, most of the good data is proprietary, and you need a subscription to access it. It's not heavily advertised, it's sort of this dirty secret that people are really looking at the pricing data, even though all the serious collectors use it, all the serious galleries use it, but it's happening behind the scenes almost. And so I think there's just so many different pieces that are different this time around.
CR: Oh, that's so interesting. Yeah, an art revolution in the age of the internet and having blockchain tech injected into it, so it's supercharging the art world.
And, okay, so about SuperRare specifically, there are a handful of other NFT platforms, what's special about SuperRare? How does it differentiate?
JC: So with SupeRare, we were one of the first platforms to specialize. I think we really wanted to build a place dedicated to art. Also, early on we decided that it felt like it should be curated to some extent, and not an open platform where people could post anything, or anyone could post, which I think is sort of counterintuitive if you think about how a lot of Web 2.0 platforms work, it was like get the most users and the most content and then you're going to win. I don't necessarily think that same model works for art specifically.
“...if you think about how a lot of Web 2.0 platforms work, it was like get the most users and the most content and then you're going to win. I don't necessarily think that same model works for art specifically.”
And so I think we've really thought a lot about how the art should be viewed or consumed or however you want to phrase it. But like, thinking about the interface almost should get out of the way and really let the art speak for itself. So it's really bled into the brand and the design of the platform itself, thinking through, okay, from start to finish, how does this experience work for a collector? And how does it work for an artist? And really trying to build the right tool set for an art ecosystem.
Whereas I think there's a lot of discussion around NFTs, and they're super exciting, because they can be anything. It's like video game items in virtual land, and all these different things, which are all exciting, don't get me wrong, I think they're all really exciting use cases. Just, I think long-term, we're going to end up with vertical-specific experiences, because you kind of want the UX to be a little bit different. If you're shopping for virtual land, you need a different context about the asset than you do if you're buying a domain name, for example.
“I think long-term, we're going to end up with vertical-specific experiences, because you kind of want the UX to be a little bit different. If you're shopping for virtual land, you need a different context about the asset than you do if you're buying a domain name, for example.”
CR: Totally. Super interesting. Okay. And then one huge difference is your token and DAO, not many platforms are doing this. So why did you decide to issue a token? What's the reasoning behind this? And if you can explain how the token works and how the DAO works and what does that have to do with art, and how can that make the experience better for artists and collectors?
JC: So we recently announced Super 2.0. And part of that announcement was the airdrop with the RARE token. Myself and my co-founders, early on, were very excited about decentralization generally. SuperRare is noncustodial, it always has been. And so I think that's really been a core part of what we want to do, is build with an experiment with these crypto primitives. One of those being having a token for the community.
And at the same time thinking about what's made SuperRare special to date is the thought that went into the curation. And so could you build a simple but effective curation system that got the community involved so we could potentially scale up, right? SuperRare's previous state was limited to the number of applications our team could review. They're also limited by their own internal biases or opinions about what's good, what's not good.
“SuperRare's previous state was limited to the number of applications our team could review. They're also limited by their own internal biases or opinions about what's good, what's not good.”
And so we released the RARE token, and the idea being that we'll be able to harvest the whole hive mind and get it involved. It's the genius for curation from everyone versus just our own opinion. And how is it actually going to work? We announced what we’re calling Super Spaces, which are essentially independently curated parts of SupeRare. And one analogy might be a subreddit, where it's like that's curated content built around one core theme. And so these spaces within SuperRare could be potentially a DAO, it could be an art collective, it could be an individual gallerist, it could be a gallery, that's open to what RARE token holders want to see, and they'll be voted in on a biweekly cadence by the token holders.
CR: Okay. So Spaces... are they collections of art?
JC: Good question. So the Space operators will be able to whitelist their own artists and they’ll be… it’s like an open-ended collection. So it's almost like an independently operated... basically taking all the tools that we've built, and letting a person or a team use them how they want. They can have whichever artists they want minting in their space. They run their own drops, show off whatever art they want to show off…
CR: Okay. So it's more akin to a gallery?
JC: Yeah, exactly. So we're kind of thinking about them like small galleries or spaces within SuperRare.
CR: Okay. And then RARE tokens are the ones who can curate these Spaces, they vote on what spaces get approved on SuperRare, and what artists are able to show their work on these spaces?
JC: So it's just approving the new space operator. So basically we looked at a bunch of the different governance mechanisms that were out there and settled on okay, people will submit a proposal for how they want to broaden the space, and then we'll give token holders the opportunity to vote on a new one. And so basically, this space operator has full curatorial discretion once it's been onboarded.
CR: So RARE tokens decide on who the galleries are and then the galleries then have full free rein on whatever goes in their gallery?
JC: Yeah, exactly.
RARE Token and Governance
CR: Okay, cool. And so can anyone who owns RARE tokens participate? Or is there a certain threshold that you need to meet, any participation requirements, or anything like that?
JC: So yeah, anyone who holds the RARE tokens can participate, how it's structured now. There is the Rare Foundation has a council and those folks will review proposals, and once they make it past review, then they're up for vote. And so anyone who has tokens can participate in those votes. And then we're also experimenting with different delegation mechanisms to see what else might be interesting there. But yeah, to start, that’s one token, one vote.
CR: Cool. Can anyone make a proposal?
JC: Yeah. Anyone can make a proposal.
CR: Okay. Why did you decide it was necessary to have this additional counsel overseeing your proposals?
JC: It's a really good question. The more we dug into governance one of the things, like we talked about, the space is blowing up right now. It's super competitive. So the balance is, okay, we really do want to pursue this path of decentralization, but at the same time want to be able to ship features quickly. And I'm sure you've seen some various communities get bogged down in things like, well, what is governance, what can people do? So we really wanted to make it a very specific use case and learn with, we're community members as well, like, we're all learning here, right? So it's, like, make it as simple as possible. And so, by having the council, we wanted to keep the bar high. Because we didn't want half-baked proposals, where it's like, okay, vote on these 3,000 proposals, 1,000 of which weren't even real attempts at actually wanting to do this. So it's a filtering mechanism to make the voting more effective, is the idea.
“...by having the council, we wanted to keep the bar high. Because we didn't want half-baked proposals, where it's like, okay, vote on these 3,000 proposals, 1,000 of which weren't even real attempts at actually wanting to do this.”
CR: But if the reason for having a token was to scale this quickly, and not have that bottleneck of your team having to go through what gets put on SuperRare, then this council would need to, is it not as thorough a review, because otherwise you'll end up with like the same bottleneck, right? Or is it just like okay, this meets the specification, and that's it? Or does it go into the content?
JC: It's more about meeting the specification. So it's like, well, did they fill everything out? And then I think the other thing to think about is, right now there's just one curatorial team. So with each Space that's added, there's exponential growth in the amount of curation happening because they can all whitelist as many artists as they want. So, the second one is already going to double the curation capacity.
CR: That makes sense. Okay, I'm sure there's tons of people thinking about how to game the system. Because whenever you have a token vote and token holders deciding things, there's an opportunity of getting to a situation where it's like a pay-to-play thing where it's like, okay, whoever has the most tokens can get on the platform. What are you thinking around that to make sure that valuable or talented artists are the ones who are getting in, not the ones who somehow were able to kind of amass a big amount of tokens, and vote themselves in or vote a friend in or I'm sure there's tons of game theory and governance attacks.
JC: Yeah. No, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, we've talked a lot about, I think the stuff Gitcoin’s doing with the quadratic voting is really interesting. For us just as a team really, the whole ethos is always, if you look at the first version of SuperRare, it was not very pretty, it was just, okay, let's get something live that works and have someone use it and see what happens.
So I think one of the nice things about this type of voting is it's not like, a billion dollars of tokens locked up in a lending protocol. Someone recently asked what I thought about someone taking out a flash loan to attack the curation governance, which might be kind of interesting. If someone really wanted to launch a space, they would’ve gone through a lot of work there.
So my general thought is that it will be iterative, right. I don't really think we're going to get it absolutely right at first. But I think our main goals were okay, we want to get the community more involved, we want to open up curation, so it's not just our team. But we also want to maintain a high bar. We talked about invite systems, but then you're just potentially just giving your friend an invite. And so this is the simplest model that we settled on. But we'll see how the game theory works out after the first couple votes. And I can let you knowin about a month.
“But I think our main goals were okay, we want to get the community more involved, we want to open up curation, so it's not just our team. But we also want to maintain a high bar.”
CR: Yeah, it’ll be interesting.
JC: Yeah. But I think we'll probably have high voter turnout, just because it's a pretty fun thing to be voting on. I could be wrong, but if you think about a protocol like Maker which I think is super interesting, for me personally, as somebody who loves the ethos behind it, I think DAI is like an amazing product, I've never voted in a Maker governance vote. But I think already, we're seeing, if you look at the Discord, there's a ton of interesting Spaces that people are brainstorming how they want them to work, so it'll be interesting to see.
“...if you think about a protocol like Maker which I think is super interesting, for me personally, as somebody who loves the ethos behind it, I think DAI is like an amazing product, I've never voted in a Maker governance vote.”
CR: Very cool. Can you give me a sense of activity on SuperRare, daily or monthly active users, the volume, and if that changes at all after the token?
JC: Yeah. So one thing, we differentiate between users and collectors. So the number of users on the platform is actually super high, people who are browsing art, or checking out the activity feed every day. So we have about 300,000 people who are looking at art SuperRare every day…
CR: Every day, 300,000?
JC: Yeah, looking at art
CR Wow. That’s really cool.
JC: But then the number of collectors is obviously significantly lower. So I think the active number of collector addresses right now is about 3,500. And then of those, it's maybe a couple hundred that are what we define as an active collector a day, so that's somebody making a bid, or so doesn't necessarily mean they were successful, just had some kind of intent to collect. And we just recently hit $100 million in lifetime volume and I think are on track to do about 30 million this month.
CR: Wow. Okay, so that's crazy. 100 million lifetime, since you launched in 2018? And this month, you've already done, in August, you've done 30% of all of your historical volume?
JC: Yeah, pretty much. And then in March, that was the first time we got close to 30 million. So there's two months that have roughly like 60% of the lifetime volume. So yeah, it's fascinating.
“...in March, that was the first time we got close to 30 million. So there's two months that have roughly like 60% of the lifetime volume.”
SuperRare Stops Taking a Cut
CR: Wow. Picking up so quickly. Okay. And then the other thing I wanted to ask you was about the new SuperRare v2 or 2.0, is the share that the SuperRare team is taking from sales. So correct me if I have these numbers wrong, but SuperRare used to take 18% of their primary sales and 2% of secondary sales. But now, all of that goes to a community treasury overseen by the RARE token. So the SupeRare team is not taking anything from primary or secondary market sales?
JC: Yeah, that's correct…
CR: So this is pretty mind blowing. Why did you decide to structure sales this way? And the main question is how do you make sure that the team is incentivized in the long term to continue building the project? Or is the idea that you guys will gradually fade out, and token holders will build it out? What's the thinking behind this?
JC: Yeah. So it was certainly a big decision, we talked about a bunch of different models. It seemed like there was general sentiment on the team that we think tokenized communities are super powerful. DAOs are incredible. It is really early. But if you don't start dogfooding basically, it never gets built. And so we thought we're in a really good position to be early to the game, but also be very serious, and could successfully make this transition.
And so I guess, the idea with SuperRare is we'll continue to… So SuperRare Labs, got a token allocation as the founding team, so everybody on the team is also a member of the DAO and RARE token holder, so we’re aligning incentives there. And then we might also try to run a Space or something in the future. If you look at these spaces and if you think about a network, each of these node operators have the ability to curate, and also potentially accrue their own fees while still sending fees back to the DAO.
CR: I see. Okay. So, SuperRare Labs got, what was it, 15% of the token allocation or something like that?
JC: So SuperRare Labs team members got about 25%.
CR: Okay, 25%. So that definitely aligns you with having SuperRare succeed, but it means that for you to have recurring revenue as a team, you would have to do something like your own Spaces to have that fees from sales?
JC: Yeah. Yeah. So we have a pretty healthy runway as it is. But the idea is to really… I mean we're launching this DAO and this network and have become just a member of it versus the complete operator of it.
“...we're launching this DAO and this network and have become just a member of it versus the complete operator of it.”
CR: Got it. And have you raised any venture capital, or is all your runway from this token sale?
JC: Yeah. So there was just the airdrop, so we didn't do a token sale. SuperRare Labs raised an equity round in March.
CR: Okay. And then that's so interesting. But still, I get that recurring revenue will come from spaces. But is the idea that SuperRare Labs will continue to be kind of the main developers of the underlying platform itself, or do you expect that will come from the community somehow?
JC: So I think for the next probably couple of years we’ll be the primary developers. But the idea is to eventually open it up and allow other teams to build out different tool sets.
CR: Okay. It's such an interesting model. The whole thing, having token holders curate these art galleries, having the team not take any fees at all. It’ll be interesting to see how everything plays out. In all these podcasts, it's like one new business model remaking their industry after another. It's an amazing time to be alive I guess, and covering the space.
JC: Yeah. It must be fascinating for you. It's been interesting, because I felt we're sort of like a hybrid, like in one component we’re a consumer app, but then also there is a more low level thing that looks like a protocol, right. It's a set of smart contracts that are standard. Technically, the auction house smart contracts that we use, anyone could use, right. It's just sitting there. It doesn't really care what NFTs it's selling. So they are these modular components. And so that's another part where I'm excited about the path we're going down, because I do think other people could find a lot of these smart contract tools that have been built over the past couple of years useful and valuable. So I'm curious to see what that looks like two years from now as well.
“...in one component we’re a consumer app, but then also there is a more low level thing that looks like a protocol, right. It's a set of smart contracts that are standard.”
CR: Very cool. Okay. And then I want to ask about this aspect of your model, which you highlighted earlier in the conversation. It's about art, super focuses on art. And I think as such has maintained this focus on one-of-one pieces, as opposed to what's become really popular now, these avatar collections, where the most famous one is CryptoPunks and then a bunch of other animal-themed ones that are popping up every day. Where the basic idea is, team sells, or designers or developers, whatever, sell 10,000, or a set of NFTs, and they are each slightly different. They're automatically generated with a set of traits which give them each a specific scarcity or rarity. And people are going crazy over these drops.
And so that certainly has struck a nerve, people are loving these things. And it seems like one-of-one art has taken a backseat or isn't as much in the spotlight at the moment. So how do you see this space, unique artworks that are just for the sake of art because they're beautiful or interesting, or because you like the artists, not because you want to show off necessarily, or use them as an avatar, but because you like art? How do you see this space evolving?
JC: Yeah, I mean, I think the avatars are super interesting. With CryptoPunks, I don't think they even knew that they would be avatars, that was emergent behavior from people which is so cool. And what I love about the avatar projects is each one is still unique. Our general opinion was that multi-edition is less interesting. I think something like fractionalizing a one-of-one is more interesting than an addition of a hundred of the same piece of art. And there's been a lot of interest from community members around avatars. And so I could see avatar smart contracts being one of the tools sets that are available to Space operators.
CR: Okay. So I mean you want SuperRare to start focusing or I mean, I guess it’s up to the Space operators what kinds of projects they have on their gallery. So you're not saying SuperRare focusing so much on one-of-one art, like if it could just as well offer avatar collections?
JC: Yeah, exactly. So I mean, I think the one-of-ones will still be the primary focus. And I think the avatars, they're like a hybrid of an edition and a one-of-one almost. But still many of them are very artistic in nature. So I think we don't really know what the art of the future is going to look like. I think the one-of-one was super helpful for early on getting people to understand, right, it's just like a painting, except for it’s digital. It was an easy metaphor for people to kind of wrap their minds around.
“So I think we don't really know what the art of the future is going to look like. I think the one-of-one was super helpful for early on getting people to understand, right, it's just like a painting, except for it’s digital.”
But a big part of launching the RARE token was saying we've taken this very far with the community, and now want the community to get more involved. So I would say we are very excited about continuing to expand the platform.
Token Driving Activity
CR: Very cool. And that reminds me, I didn't follow up on the question on activity. So did the token have any impact on it? Well, I guess you sort of did. You said last month was 30% of your volume. But do you think that was because of the token or it’s hard to say, I guess.
JC: Yeah, it's hard to say. I mean, like, August has been… we thought March and February were crazy. And then August has far surpassed even those months. So there was a general trend already of more collectors each day. But I'd say, overall, I think there was a positive effect. For us, we always knew we wanted to be part of this, decentralizing the platform. But I think a lot of the people in the community didn't necessarily realize that. So there are definitely some sleeper accounts who were reawakened when they got the airdrop.
“...we always knew we wanted to be part of this, decentralizing the platform. But I think a lot of the people in the community didn't necessarily realize that.”
CR: Nice. So what did you learn from this token airdrop and decentralizing your project so far? And what would you say to other teams who are thinking of going this way?
JC: I think it seems like, it's like, oh, yeah governance tokens, they're so straightforward. There's this model that works. And when you start digging in, I think you realize that, oh, the model kind of works. There's a lot to figure out. I think there's a lot of great examples, and a lot of really strong teams experimenting. But it's still really experimental.
And I think it was a good move to really try to limit the token use case initially so it doesn't just become too... if you can do anything, it's like if you're sort of good at a lot of things, or you’re really good at one thing, it can be overwhelming trying to get good at all these different things at once. So I would definitely recommend trying to focus on the one use case that you think having a token would really be great for, and don’t take the decision lightly, it's a lot of work.
“...if you're sort of good at a lot of things, or you’re really good at one thing, it can be overwhelming trying to get good at all these different things at once. So I would definitely recommend trying to focus on the one use case that you think having a token would really be great for…”
In my mind, governance is almost a completely new product that is now going to be maintained along with the smart contracts, along with the marketplace. So it's really exciting, but each layer of the onion just unveils more. And so definitely, think about it. But then I would also say the response has been incredible. I personally underestimated how excited the community would be. In crypto, we love to talk about aligning incentives, and the power of incentives. And I've just been overwhelmed at the positive response from artists and collectors with the airdrop. And so I can say now that I have first-hand experience how powerful it can be.
“In my mind, governance is almost a completely new product that is now going to be maintained along with the smart contracts, along with the marketplace.”
CR: Very cool. So incentives are definitely powerful. But it does take a lot of work. A simplistic view would be you’re outsourcing governance to the community, so maybe you have less work, but in reality, you still have to lead that or manage that or make sure everything is working right. So, like you said, it's yet another product that you need to worry about.
JC: Yeah, exactly. And I think our community is there. I mean, certainly there's a lot of people who are deep in crypto and very experienced with DeFi, but also a lot of people who aren't. So I think that was also a surprise. For people who have more consumer-facing apps, I wouldn't expect that lots of your community members have been following the recent governance drama from whatever projects. I think it was a new idea to a lot of people as well.
CR: Very cool. Well, for all the newbies on your platform, you have to lead them to The Defiant if you want to keep up with all the news, of course.
JC: Absolutely. Yeah, The Defiant is the absolute best. Everyone should subscribe.
10 Years Out
CR: Okay. Awesome. Thank you for that. So to wrap up, I'd love to hear just your long term vision on NFTs. Where do you see this space going 10 years from now? What will people be using this technology for?
JC: 10 years from now… one thing that's interesting, I think we're seeing NFTs bringing art and culture back into the mainstream consciousness. I feel like art was something that happens far away, happens in museums and galleries. And even if people can say, whether or not they love or hate the avatar... they're very cool. People are getting excited about visual art. And so I think that's really interesting.
“...we're seeing NFTs bringing art and culture back into the mainstream consciousness.”
So I think it'll make art like a more ubiquitous part of people's everyday lives. Like I think about AR phase filters, right, I think pretty much anything that can have an NFT backing it will, it turns it into a historical artifact. And so I think that's pretty fascinating. And I think, generally, I'm bullish on this concept of the Metaverse. But I also think it's kind of like a spectrum where it's like Twitter's part of the Metaverse and Zoom phase filters are also part of the Metaverse. It’s just this augmentation of reality, and you can go as deep as you want. You don't have to be living inside of an actual fake universe to be dipping your toes in. And I think all of those artifacts are going to have some kind of NFT backing them.
CR: If it's digital, it will be NFT-able, I guess?
JC: Exactly. If it's digital, it needs a unique ID.
CR: Awesome. Okay. And then in the very short term, what’s exciting that's coming up for SuperRare?
JC: So we’re kicking off governance now and like getting the proposal templates in order. We'll be launching the first Space in October. So, super excited about that. We are also working on a mobile app. So soon, we'll be asking for people who want to be beta testers. So if anyone's interested, feel free to slide into the Discord or into my DMs, let me know. And yeah just continuing to expand the toolset. I think there was a big push getting the token out the door and launched. And there's a bunch of tooling and other features that are going to be quick to follow. So just general improvements. And, yeah stay tuned for lots to come.
The Defiant is an information platform focusing on decentralized finance, a new financial system that’s being built on top of open blockchains. The space is evolving at breakneck speed and revolutionizing tech and money. Spread the word and share!