🎙 "We Get to Tell Future Pixar Animators They Can Quit Their Jobs and Come Build With NFTs:" Stoner Cats Team
In this week’s episode, I speak with some of the creators and investors behind Stoner Cats, the NFT-infused adult cartoon show. For those who haven't been paying attention, that may sound a little weird, but here’s the deal: Stoner Cats is a cartoon show a...
In this week’s episode, I speak with some of the creators and investors behind Stoner Cats, the NFT-infused adult cartoon show. For those who haven't been paying attention, that may sound a little weird, but here’s the deal: Stoner Cats is a cartoon show about a group of cats who become sentient from their owner’s marihuana. Lisa Sterbakov, one of the show’s producing partners, said they weren’t getting very good offers from the traditional financing avenues, since not many investors and studios wanted to be associated with drug content. So Mila Kunis, the famous actress whose production company Orchard Farm is behind the show, thought of using NFTs for financing. But this is not just another NFT drop. Holders of these tokens are the only ones who have access to watch the show, so these NFTs become something like a streaming subscription.
The team released 10,420 NFTs, centered around one of the seven characters in the show last week. And there are famous humans behind these cats, Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin is one, and Jane Fonda is another. Ashton Kutcher’s VC fund is also involved. With all these big names, there was huge anticipation around this NFT sale -- so much, that the demand made Ethereum gas prices spike, so that many purchases didn’t go through and over $700,000 were lost in failed transactions. Ashton Kutcher said after this interview that the team is going to personally gift ETH to cover all failed transaction fees.
Producer Lisa Sterbakov, investors Maaria Bajwa, Morgan Beller, and NFT creator Jonathan Howard, talk about the motivation behind Stoner Cats, how NFTs is changing the game for creators, what the chaotic launch was like for them, how they got Vitalik to join the show, and more behind the scenes scoops.
The podcast was led by Camila Russo, and edited by Alp Gasimov. Transcript was edited by Owen Fernau and Dan Kahan.
🎙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: I am so excited to have you all on The Defiant podcast. For listeners, I have a really nice group of people on the Stoner Cats team, and I will let them all introduce themselves and tell us about their backgrounds. But for those who have been living under a rock, I'm sure if you're a Defiant listener, you'll know about this project.
I am really excited to hear about how it all started, this Stoner Cats project with big names behind it: Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Vitalik Buterin, Jane Fonda, like star cast, and also NFT-enabled and made the Ethereum network crash. People were saying Cats are always doing this to Ethereum, so hugely popular right from the get-go. And here we have the investors and makers of this awesome project. So, super excited to have you all here.
Can we start with intros? Your backgrounds and how you all got into crypto?
Lisa Sterbakov: I'm Lisa, and I’m Mila’s producing partner. So I am on this team that's here on the very Hollywood side of things. I got involved in this because we had a need, being we had a wonderful project to get out in the world, and we felt like this was the best way to do it. I got into crypto from a really personal artistic need with out incredible creators, and then these people came on to me.
Camila Russo: Perfect. Morgan.
Morgan Beller: I'm Morgan Beller. Thank you for having us today. I work at a firm called NFX, which is an early stage venture fund. We can get into the origin of the story. But I was in the right place at the right time when Lisa and Mila decided to experiment with different ways to fund this show, Stoner Cats, and feel lucky to be part of the team.
Camila: Awesome. Maaria.
Maaria Bajwa: Hi, I'm Maaria Bajwa. I've been working on the venture side of a venture fund called Sound Ventures with Ashton, and I've been covering crypto for us for the last four and a half years. I have a weekly crypto newsletter that goes out to a few 100 folks that talks about what's happening in the space. And yeah, I'm just really excited about NFTs and how we can use them to change different industries, including entertainment.
CR: Okay. And then Jonathan?
Jonathan Howard: Yeah, thanks for having us. I'm Jonathan Howard. I'm the CTO and cofounder of Big Head, which partnered with these awesome people on the NFT side. And I've been an engineer, on growth teams or a founder for probably the last 15 years.
Stoner Cats Backstory
Camila: Great. Okay. So now, Morgan, you mentioned the founding story for Stoner Cats. Can you maybe dig into that and tell us the backstory of how this all happened?
Morgan: Absolutely. I'm actually going to pass the mic to Lisa because Stoner Cats was in her head, heart and inbox for years before any of us, so she can start. Yeah, so let's day zero, Lisa.
Lisa: Yeah. Mila and I met with Ash, Sarah, and Chris, the incredible creators, a couple months before Covid really hit, so we got to meet in person like human beings. And we just fell in love with the creator story. And we really looked at the idea of taking it out in traditional Hollywood ways. So where we would shop it around town, do all of the things that we do on a traditional show. And what we found was that our options were not as exciting as we wanted them to be. And it felt like people willing to pay a tiny bit of money to take a lot of the ownership and for our creators that just didn’t seem acceptable. So as we were sitting, creatively thinking, looking at the options on the table, we went there has to be a better way of doing that. And the creative always had this idea of it being this series of little shorts.
We were on a zoom with our creators, and Mila yelled downstairs to Ashton, asked him to come up, and said what if we did this as an NFT? And he was like, YES. And just by chance, Morgan happened to be at their house. And he was like literally the best person in the world to talk to about this is right here. The other best person to talk to in the world is on my team. So immediately put us in contact with Morgan and with Maaria, and we were on our way.
Camila: Can you guys talk a little bit more about the concept? So, you had been thinking about this concept and shopping it around the usual venues, but people weren't offering great terms for it. So what was it initially?
Maaria: Well, the idea behind using NFTs was initially a way to think about how we could reverse finance content. So we know that we wanted to create this content. And rather than selling it to a studio, we thought that maybe we could actually use the fans and the community to fund the content that they want to watch. NFTs get you access to a community of other folks who are interested in new content creation models, and then also access to watch all the content that we create, not just with Stoner Cats, but also with future properties that we want to make in this way.
The genesis Stoner Cats NFTs have a ton of long-term value, we think, because we believe that this model can work and should work. We believe that there's a world where storytellers need to be able to tell the stories that they want without the big studios homogenizing their message or their vision. We want a way for fans and audiences to be able to connect with that content directly.
“Rather than selling it to a studio, we thought that maybe we could actually use the fans and the community to fund the content that they want to watch.”
So we believe that studios will need to exist and will continue making content their way, but we believe that there's a new avenue as well, more decentralized, where content creators can actually create the content that they want, and then the fans can participate in some way.
CR: So were NFTs always part of the project?
Lisa: They really weren't. Our initial development of the project was as a traditional adult animated project. The idea of selling it as an NFT, and Maaria who's such an NFT huge expert who really expanded on the possibility and then bringing in Big Head, of what the possibility of what the NFTs look like. So the token NFT, the art, all of those elements really got added on. And we were so incredibly lucky and blessed that we had an amazing artist who had already created these characters, had already drawn up character designs, had already gotten deep into this world, and it seemed to mesh together really beautifully. And on the Hollywood side we learned a lot.
Morgan: It's an important point that they did not start with we want to do NFTs. Because I think that that is a lot of the perception, which is like every celebrity is like NFTs. That's something that I'm supposed to be doing now. And that was not the case. They had this show, they had made the show, and the traditional funding routes were just not right for this content. Because it's drug content, or they didn't want to have to change anything because they feel they made something good. So they had a problem, and then to Lisa's point, they were looking for solutions to solve this problem, with NFTs being one of the proposed solutions.
And even then, like when Lisa mentioned that when I was first brought in, throughout the whole first conversation, I was like does this actually need to be an NFT? Like we should keep checking ourselves, because I do think we see a lot of NFT projects that don't necessarily need to be NFTs, like they could have existed in pre-crypto, pre-NFT worlds.
And just to highlight Jonathan for a second. He has started this company Big Head which is helping to make magic happen in the NFT world. And I don't want to put words in your mouth so you can put them in your mouth. But when we first reached out, I think that you guys were like, oh another celebrity trying to do NFTs, get in line.
Jonathan: It sounded like that was part of why you chose us. Because our first reaction was, well, that doesn't make sense to just do a regular old NFT drop. There has to be something there. The things that we want to do at Big Head are things that have never been done before technically, are unlocking something huge. Something has to be the point. We often talk about an NFT project that is going to be here as long as Ethereum is here, which means after we're dead. Like really, really long term. It has to matter that much.
“There has to be something there. The things that we want to do at Big Head are things that have never been done before technically, are unlocking something huge. Something has to be the point.”
Part of the reason that we signed on for this was when we brainstormed together, and we got to this point of what Stoner Cats became, which was the show but also the production of it, and lifetime membership in this production company and everything they ever make, and decentralizing even some decision making, and how far can we push that? There's just so much that's never been done before that's exciting. And I don't know the latest number is, a couple of other people have jobs where they're looking at the macro numbers in the world, but I think it's like a $2 trillion industry for global entertainment. And Ethereum should have some big chunk of that if this works. That's incredibly exciting.
Maaria: We've seen a lot of projects that have come out and released NFTs as part of it, but a lot of that felt like merchandising rather than actual participation or a utility. We thought that the idea of using the tokens as an access token to unlock content, not just today, but in perpetuity, was different and exciting. That's why we went with that model.
Stoner Cats NFTs
CR: So Maaria, maybe we can take a step back and you can walk us through exactly what Stoner Cats is and does.
Maaria: What the NFTs do?
Camila: Yeah. Like what's the basic story of the show, what do NFT owners get, what's the model going forward, just a broad overview?
Maaria: Yeah, absolutely. So the show is about this elderly woman, Miss Stoner, who is dealing with Alzheimers. And she uses cannabis as a mechanism to help with that and alleviate her symptoms. When she does that, she hot boxes her house, and when she hot boxes her house, the cats become sentient. They can talk, they have fingers and toes, they can run around. The pilot episode really introduces the six characters, the six cats in the show, and sets them up for what's going to come in future episodes in the first season.
So the way that the NFTs actually work, initially we released 10,420 NFTs. Each one is centered around one of the seven characters in the show. So there's 20 Mrs. Stoners, 400 Lord Catsingtons, which is Vitalik’s character, and then 2,000 each for the remaining characters. And what that NFT gets you is it gets you access to watch the content. So if you hold one of the Stoner Cat tokens, you can actually watch the content starting tomorrow at 2pm Pacific Time. And then when future episodes are released, your Stoner Cat token will also unlock those episodes.
“You need to continue to hold the token in order to watch subsequent content that's being created.”
So you need to continue to hold the token in order to watch subsequent content that's being created. And so for Stoner Cats, and this is an animated short series, the first episode is five minutes long. We're going to make probably about four to five more episodes for the first season. Each one is about five to seven minutes long, and sort of centers around one of the key characters in the show.
And then the idea is that because these are the genesis tokens, genesis Stoner Cats tokens, any new content that create using this model, your Stoner Cat NFTs will get you access to watch that content in perpetuity. And so Big Head and Orchard Farm Productions, which is a production company that created Stoner Cats, are going to create some sort of DAO at some point that allows the community to decide what content is created and participate in that process.
So the intention is, we're doing Stoner Cats today, and we believe that this model can and should exist. And then we're going to continue to do it for other pieces of content that we have. Lisa likes to say that she's a drawer full of amazing content and amazing stories that should be told, but that studios, for whatever reason, don't want to make. We have access to a lot of amazing talent and creators that we can loop in and that we can help create shows with.
Jonathan: And the one thing I would add is that we should refer people to the Discord. We have a living document that is the roadmap of all the things on the way. We call it the DAO Future, and there's a lot of steps in that direction. But all of those are perks and community involvement that also come with the NFT.
Lisa: I think in a perfect world, as much as I have a wonderful drawer full of projects with amazing, tested, experienced creators, we love the idea of giving opportunities to new creators, to be able to test run projects and see if they can do it, and see if we can all do it. So the idea of being able to give a new voice a chance is very, very exciting for me.
NFTs for Variable Content
Camila: So will each new show have its own set of NFTs or will this be the key NFTs forever to watch all of the shows?
Jonathan: Each new show, we will have NFTs, but the Stoner Cats NFTs are special in that they get you access to watch all of the content that’s going to be created in the future. Whereas future NFTs will likely be just for that show or film or whatever that specific piece of content.
Camila: Okay. Got it.
Jonathan: One of the ideas that we think is really interesting is that you can see a world where each individual person can sort of become their own decentralized studio. You have all of these NFTs that give you access to watch variable content that you have participated in. And so you can essentially have all of these NFT badges that get you access to watch the shows that you actually want to watch.
There’s something really exciting about the idea of trading them. If you're finished with a show, and you want to give it to someone else, you can, and then they have access to watch all that content. It kind of creates this new economy around how we not just fund content, but watch and distribute content.
“You have all of these NFTs that give you access to watch variable content that you have participated in. And so you can essentially have all of these NFT badges that get you access to watch the shows that you actually want to watch.”
Camila: Oh, that’s really interesting.
Jonathan: There's a DeFi angle there as well. I don't know if we want to get into that. So I'm not a DeFi programmer and not familiar with those contracts. But I have to imagine there is a way for-- basically, the show's going to say, do you own this NFT?--and there are ways to lease or fractionalize, there's all kinds of money Legos that I'm really excited for the community to plug into and see what they do.
Camila: Is this already happening? Do you know of any kind of teams working on something like that?
Jonathan: We’re 13 hours in, so I don't know of any yet.
Camila: I mean, things move so fast in DeFi. I wouldn't be surprised.
Jonathan: They really do. That's true. Yeah, I don't know if I've heard of any yet. But there's been some occasional chatter. So it'd be interesting to see what comes out of it.
High Launch Prices
Camila: Okay. So it's like a different sort of streaming model, right. Like, instead of buying a Netflix subscription, you buy an NFT and this gives you access to content, but it's more composable. Like, instead of having to cancel your Netflix subscription, you can sell it in the secondary market. Maybe even make money off of it. But because of how this thing is programmed, the producers also get a cut. So you guys get 2.5% of secondary market sales.
So it's like everyone wins in this kind of NFT market. So that's really cool. One question I had was on the price. The primary market was priced at 0.35 ETH, is that right? So around $800, which seems pretty steep for a streaming subscription. So I wanted to get your thoughts on what was the thinking behind the pricing of these?
Maaria: I can jump in on that. So one of the things that we have to think about is how we bring the traditional funding model for studios into the NFT world. I know that a lot of NFT projects today are going for 0.8 ETH, and 0.35 is on the higher side. But we're really trying to bridge the gap between traditional studios and how we can fund content, and then also what the NFT world is comfortable with. And so we thought 0.35 ETH was a really happy medium where we could finance the rest of the show comfortably. What's really exciting also is that most of the revenue goes to the creators versus in the traditional studio model, where they keep that revenue. And so, in order for us to create the first season of content, 0.35 ETH was the price point where we needed to be at.
“I know that a lot of NFT projects today are going for 0.8 ETH, and 0.35 is on the higher side. But we're really trying to bridge the gap between traditional studios and how we can fund content, and then also what the NFT world is comfortable with.”
Camila: Makes sense. So it was just a matter of being able to fund production?
Maaria: That was a big part of it. I mean, if you look at the talent that we have behind the show, they all come from traditional Hollywood. Our animators came from Pixar, and worked on a lot of incredible movies and TV shows. So this was really a project that came from, okay, we're working with A-list talent and creators, and so we need to find a model that works for that.
I think for future projects, if we work with new creators, or we work with other types of talent, I don't think the funding model, we don't need to price every project at 0.35 ETH. We have a lot of flexibility. So I think the price point really will vary project to project. And we can test a lot of different models, like where we have 100,000 tokens priced at a very low amount, and so then that gets everyone access to a show. So there's a lot of different models that we're playing with. For this show, particularly, this is the framework that we thought would work best.
“We can test a lot of different models, like where we have 100,000 tokens priced at a very low amount, and so then that gets everyone access to a show. So there's a lot of different models that we're playing with.”
Morgan: And I just want to use this opportunity to hat tip to the creators, who even with these price points, it was a huge leap of faith that they had to take -- that one, they would get paid at all, and two, that they would get paid anywhere close to what they might get paid if they went a traditional route. So they took the risk that they might not get paid at all, and best case, would get paid less than what they would otherwise get paid because they're so confident that this is the future.
Jonathan: Yeah. And piggybacking on that, that’s one of the things I'm the most excited about. This started years ago in the mind of a Pixar animator. And now we sort of get to say to all future Pixar animators that it is possible to quit your job and come build in NFTs with the rest of this community. And it's not like if you have kids and a mortgage and all that stuff, it is maybe even better to come to NFTs. And I think that really helps unlock a lot of the Hollywood budgets. It seems one of the things that Ethereum does is bring people in. I think it's going to start to happen.
“Now we sort of get to say to all future Pixar animators that it is possible to quit your job and come build in NFTs with the rest of this community.”
Lisa: And in those 13 hours, my phone is ringing off the hook with people, creators like incredible artists, writers, directors like, what are you doing? How can we talk? Let's talk. We're super excited about the talent that sees it and wants to be part of that.
The Hollywood Perspective
Camila: Lisa, yeah, I’d love to hear the creator perspective, like the Hollywood perspective. What about NFTs is so exciting to people around you?
Lisa: Well, Hollywood development is long and there are a lot of opinions. Some of them are good and some of them are not helpful. But ultimately, there's a limited number of people who are cutting the checks whose opinions unfortunately end up mattering more than the actual artist's opinion. And that’s a challenge. Particularly when you're talking about trying to do something, you know, this is a story about a woman who smokes medical marijuana, legal in most places. Even just that kind of drug content was untenable for traditional outlets. And the idea that we don’t have to change our creative, the idea that our writers, directors, animators can make the show they want to make.
“The community, the audience, as opposed to the studio, gets to have the input on the next parts of it. That's even more exciting.”
It's just the most exciting thing because you know, my biggest joy in the world is helping a creator bring their showtofruition. Through NFT, we're able to make the first six minutes exactly how we want them to be. And then the community, the audience, as opposed to the studio, gets to have the input on the next parts of it. That's even more exciting. And you know, normally we'll have to make an entire season. And then we put it out. Even then we don't know. Maybe somebody loves Mrs. Stoner, maybe they love Phi Phi. We'll get to know before we even start number two. Who do they love? Who do we want to highlight more, bring in more? We have an amazing vision for our season, but we have flexibility on how we do it and to have this sort of immediacy is very exciting.
Camila: So Jonathan, on the NFT technical side, what avenues will the audience and viewers have of making that feedback, or participating in general?
Jonathan: Yeah. So for the most in-depth, I would say go to the Discord and check out the roadmap, because that's going to be a living document that we all create with the community. We've had a few things that already turned around in like 24 hours that were community suggestions. So on the decision-making side, I think where we all would love to get to is something like a DAO. Things we have considered are like a budget, where the community gets to decide what kind of merch are we going to do, are we're going to do merch or something else? Like, here's a piece, what can we do?
We're also thinking about decision-making in terms of the content, like Lisa was getting at. One of the things that the artists brought up was there's an alleyway scene in the second episode, and they want to put graffiti on that alleyway. And they want that to be people's avatars, or their ETH addresses. Who knows, right? But the community can get to decide that. I think it's going to start off-chain. Would love it to move on-chain. So one vote per NFT, or quadratic voting, something like that. We'll get there together, I think.
Stoner Cats’ Launch
Camila: Oh, that's so cool. Okay, like having feedback on episodes, but potentially having a part in episodes as well. Like, maybe helping create some of the graffiti or something. I hadn't thought of that. That's really cool. Okay, I want to talk about the launch which was yesterday. Like I said, in the intro, things went really crazy. Pieces sold out in under an hour, like 40 minutes or so, 7.5 million was raised. And it really collapsed the Ethereum network and gas prices went to like 1,000 gwei. So that's good and bad. It shows huge interest, but also maybe some technical issues. So we'd love to get your reactions to how that all went down.
Jonathan: Yeah, I mean, first of all, it obviously sucks. Everyone hated that. We all wish it hadn't happened. I think it's hard to talk about all of the nuances of something so complicated like that without boring everybody. But Milas’ first thing was like, why do we even have to have gas fees? We had to sort of explain how the blockchain works.
But the first thing we had on our team call after the sale was they were like, okay, so what we know is it looks like wallets, sort of fuzz their estimates, and they try to dial in. And the ones that were under ran out of gas. And on Ethereum, that means that you lost all your money, and that really sucks. But given that, the standard is, it seems like, we just sort of say like, that's Ethereum, sorry, everybody and we don't want to do that either.
So literally, the first thing out of Ashton's mouth was like, what can we do that's above and beyond, right? Do we know who these people are? Yes, it's on the blockchain. We know all kinds of information about who it was and when they were and how much money it was. So that conversation was say, 12 hours ago or something.
So we don't have great answers, but the intention and the commitment is we're going to find things to do that are incredible for those people. I'm spending a bunch of time running down the answers of like, okay, other founders of NFT projects, what did you do on this? And it's basically the same. What was your code? And it’s basically the same. We had one extra string concatenation in there, and that has nothing to do with the estimates.
“I'm spending a bunch of time running down the answers of like, okay, other founders of NFT projects, what did you do on this? And it's basically the same. What was your code? And it’s basically the same.”
I talked to an advisor of ours at OpenSea, what are you thinking? And he said the same thing, he’s like, it all looks normal. But holy crap, how many people? And so I'm also getting in touch with Metamask, and we're going to talk directly to them. So there's a lot of stuff going on. But yeah, I think what it looks like is just the scale of, I don't know if we've talked about this publicly, but this was possibly the biggest one that's ever happened. I know Alchemy…
Camila: How many people participated?
Jonathan: I don't know that number off the top of my head. I know we had 5x our Alchemy SDK, I don't know if that matters for this audience. So Alchemy is a service provider that lets you talk to the blockchain, they 5xed our enterprise plan, Fission setup custom caching for us. I know Fission was getting 3,500 views on the assets every minute, hours after we launched, which doesn't include OpenSea, because OpenSea has their own cache. So it's just incredible scale. And I also think we brought a lot of new people into Ethereum which is amazing!
“I know Fission was getting 3,500 views on the assets every minute, hours after we launched, which doesn't include OpenSea, because OpenSea has their own cache. So it's just incredible scale. And I also think we brought a lot of new people into Ethereum which is amazing!”
And part of the thing I was really excited about, but those people are not used to... some of the collectors double their gas limit for no reason, just, that's what they do every time because they've had this happen before and every other drop that day had the same thing happen. But what it's looking like is, a lot of those new people, and there were so many of them, got caught by this Metamask thing. And just to sum it up, our commitment is to do a really freaking good job, do right by them, because they were early believers in us. And that's really important.
“...what it's looking like is, a lot of those new people, and there were so many of them, got caught by this Metamask thing. And just to sum it up, our commitment is to do a really freaking good job, do right by them, because they were early believers in us. And that's really important.”
Camila: But I mean, how tough you don't really know exactly what happened or what went wrong. So you're on one hand, trying to figure that out and then also trying to figure out how to compensate those people who lost a bunch of money and transaction fees. And for context, it was around $780,000 lost in gas fees. So people paid transaction costs hoping to get an NFT, but the transaction wasn't approved and so they lost that in fees.
And right, the question is was it something about the smart contract or was it something that was wrong with Metamask? And I guess that question is still TBD…
Jonathan: I would just, I mean, I'm biased because I wrote the contract. But there's nothing even nondeterministic about the code. There's no branching, there’s no if statements. There's no, sometimes it's less gas, sometimes it's more. What it’s looking like is it's down to what was the balance increment? How many opcodes did Ethereum need to use to move the amount of balance?
We looked at blocks that had, like literally the same block, same gas limit, and it comes down to just tiny little like 1,000 gwei, two opcodes. So I think we pretty much know that it's just wallet estimates. And that's why I'm trying so hard to get in touch with Metamask themselves. Because I think we should be leading the way in terms of what is the standard for all NFT projects to do this? And we should probably work with Metamask on that, because they’re the biggest wallet.
Morgan: And John knows two things. One, is that people sent me messages yesterday with their opinions of what we could have done differently and then they would follow up five minutes later and be like, actually, nope, you did that, that's not right. So I think a lot of people went through the circle of, we have feedback for you, wait actually, we checked your code and it was okay. Wait, actually, this is an issue with the space at large.
“So I think a lot of people went through the circle of, we have feedback for you, wait actually, we checked your code and it was okay. Wait, actually, this is an issue with the space at large.”
And John also knows that I tried to send a transaction today. And I had the same problem happen to me several times where it was an error on my end, but not during the launch, the same issue happened, and John's like, can we tell people that you made this same mistake? I'm like, yeah. And I think the other learning lesson is how far we all have to come as a whole space on the education front. Because we saw in the Discord, and on Twitter, there were some people who lost a lot of money on fees, and they were like, yeah, but kind of the name of the game, I up my gas, because I really wanted to get a Stoner Cat.
And when you do that, you know that you are at the risk of losing that. And there were other people, and I feel terrible, we all feel terribly, and it was their first time trying to buy an NFT which was part of the whole thesis in the beginning as we were trying to bring new people into the space. And that's where I will take responsibility on the education front. We should have explained like, okay, if you submit a transaction, it doesn't go through, you lose your gas. And that's a very foreign concept. I think if you're new to crypto, that's like, wait, why, it didn’t work. And it’s like, that's how it works.
So we just have a long way to go on the education front, us as a team, but also all of us as a space and that’s why your podcast is great.
Camila: Yeah. Lisa, how was that experience? Seeing how people in crypto react? It can be pretty scary to look in the Discord and Twitter and see everyone's reactions. I'd imagine it's pretty different from how non-crypto world projects are now…
Lisa: I certainly think that one of the big differences is how quickly this all comes through. But we are used to that. We’re used to negative feedback out in Hollywood as well. We’re used to hearing people who don't like things, whether it’s warranted or not we’re used to hearing that. So it’s certainly something that we care about. It's been our very, very biggest concern and top priority. But yeah, the entire launch for me as a non-crypto native was very foreign and really interesting.
Camila: What was your reaction? What did you think about it?
Lisa: I’m going to tell you guys the actual truth, I couldn’t watch it. I was on setfor another project. And I walked away from my phone for a few minutes to just… I went and got a sparkling water and drank a sparkling water and came back a couple minutes later and went how's it going? So that I could get it. But the crypto-side people were staring at screens and I was having wonderful wait and see reaction.
Camila: Okay, that’s pretty healthy.
Morgan: We had a Zoom room so we could all be together, just like we love each other. And Lisa calls in after we'd all been on for 15 minutes, and she's like, just tell me how it's going. I just need to know.
Lisa: And these people were cool as a cucumber. It’s amazing
Morgan: Oh, no, we were all sweating through our shirts for sure.
Getting Vitalik Onboard
Camila: Oh my God, how nerve-racking. Okay, and then now, I want to know more about getting all these huge names? I mean, Vitalik. I'd love to hear how that went down, approaching him. Because it's not something that I would have expected of him, to be the voice of a cartoon character. It's not something that he has done before or done anything like this. So how was that? How did you get him interested in this?
Morgan: He's a man of many talents. As Lisa mentioned, I was at Ashton and Mila’s home when I first learned about Stoner Cats. And I was actually there because we were going to be meeting with Vitalik about something completely unrelated. And when I first met Lisa, and we're first in this call, and we're first talking about the possibility of using NFTs for this funding mechanism, Mila, and it was very perceptive and right where she's like, if we're going to do this, we have to be like native to the community. And there's another cat who we haven't cast yet, and we have to cast that cat with someone from the community so we're all in this together.
And I was like, well, Vitalik is showing up at your house in an hour and I can't really think of any better cat than him. And that was how it happened. So we're having our meeting and Mila and her natural spunky self, runs outside, and is like Vitalik, but she said in a much more beautiful Russian correct way, Vitalik. Like, we need you to be a cat. And he was like, yeah, let's do it.
“And I was like, well, Vitalik is showing up at your house in an hour and I can't really think of any better cat than him. And that was how it happened. So we're having our meeting and Mila and her natural spunky self, runs outside, and is like Vitalik, but she said in a much more beautiful Russian correct way, Vitalik. Like, we need you to be a cat.”
Camila: She said in Russian?
Morgan: She pronounced his name correctly, I'm assuming in Russian.
Camila: And he's just immediately said okay?
Morgan: He immediately said, okay, I'm like, are you sure you know what you're saying okay to?
CR: That's amazing.
Morgan: So we made sure he knew what he was saying okay to. And he likes to laugh and have a good time like anyone else. So he's a great support and we feel really lucky to work with him.
Lisa: I was saying, our creative team when we came to record,because of COVID we recorded everybody remotely, and they also didn't know was he going to be able to act. So it was really fun for the wholeteam to be like, what's this going to be? And honestly, he's fantastic.
Camila: Oh, my God, I can't wait to see it. So cool. And that's where the whole Vitalik in Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’ kitchen happened? Right? That tweet that went viral, that was after he said yes to do Stoner Cats?
Morgan: Way after, like a month or two after.
Camila: Oh, it wasn't that same meeting?
Morgan: No no no, he was part of the team already at that point. I think that comes to the important point, which is, this whole process has taught us how far we have to go on the education front. So as John alluded to, in an early meeting we all had, we were talking about how do we minimize gas fees for users, two months ago, three months ago, when this all started. And Mila asked, can’t we call Ethereum and have them waive the fees? So we were like, oh, really valid question. But yeah, we all laughed, like, oh, my gosh, we have such a far way to go in education.
“...we were talking about how do we minimize gas fees for users, two months ago, three months ago, when this all started. And Mila asked, can’t we call Ethereum and have them waive the fees? So we were like, oh, really valid question. But yeah, we all laughed, like, oh, my gosh, we have such a far way to go in education.”
And there were many of those points that happened throughout the course of trying to do this thing. So we were like, okay, we need to explain crypto in words that non-crypto people understand. And that's where the crypto with Kunis education series came from. And then when they happened to be in the same place, and we're like, this has to happen. So hopefully, there's more of that coming also and that's an ancillary gift to the community that we can give back and help educate people who are new to the space.
Camila: This might get a bit in the weeds, but did you consider using Layer 2 to reduce gas fees?
Jonathan: Yeah, we did. I use Layer 2, most weeks. I like Layer 2. I'm a developer on Ethereum and all of the warnings and errors and like Metamask throwing up don't do this thing, someone is probably stealing your money is just a really... the experience is not there yet. And when we were going through the process of like, okay, we have so many new people, how are we going to explain to them, not just Ethereum and wallets, get them a wallet, and get it out of Coinbase because it's probably going to Coinbase first, teach them about Coinbase jail, and then they transfer it to a wallet, and then we have to try and teach them about what alternate blockchains are, and bridges. And it just starts adding up so fast that it seemed like it wasn't worth it.
“...we have so many new people, how are we going to explain to them, not just Ethereum and wallets, get them a wallet, and get it out of Coinbase because it's probably going to Coinbase first, teach them about Coinbase jail, and then they transfer it to a wallet, and then we have to try and teach them about what alternate blockchains are, and bridges. And it just starts adding up so fast that it seemed like it wasn't worth it.”
People were very sensitive about amounts of gas from the very beginning. And so paying gas to get into a sidechain or another chain and then paying gas to get their NFTs out where the secondary market is going to be. The net of them seemed like it's not the way to go for this project. But if we were thinking about something that had a very high transaction volume on the secondary market, we might consider doing that.
Ready for Primetime
Camila: Right. Do you think an unfortunate lesson of this is that maybe Ethereum and NFTs aren't quite ready for primetime? Would you say that's the takeaway?
Morgan: I think it’s ready from a demand side, and that's where, like yesterday I kept saying theYogi Berra-ism “it's so crowded, no one goes there anymore.” Like people want it. That's pretty cool. I am not making excuses, we genuinely feel horribly, but it's a good problem to have for the whole space that so many people want to use this thing. And it's like, okay, yeah, now we all have to get our shit together and fix it. Sorry, Marie, go ahead.
Maaria: No, that's pretty much exactly what I was going to say.
Jonathan: Yeah, it seems like NFTs, in terms of product market fit or whatever you want to call it, are super ready for primetime. And we really need to get Optimism up on Ethereum, we need to get shards up on Ethereum, and they've been working on it. The Ethereum Foundation is incredible. But you know, I think that's one of the lessons and I think the NFT community probably needs to experiment with different drop models, or not drops at all. Can we introduce some randomness ahead of time so that by the time you're actually buying, there is no rush, it's already been decided who gets how many?
“I think the NFT community probably needs to experiment with different drop models, or not drops at all.”
There's a lot of, I think, interesting, I don't know, call it game theory or economics theory things that could be introduced. I think there's a ton of innovation to be done on top of the basic drop idea. And I think since this is maybe the biggest one ever, I think it's just a giant spotlight of like, yeah, this doesn't scale yet. And does Ethereum get there first as the platform layer? Or do apps get there first with psychology and game theory and things like that?
Camila: That's an interesting thought. Like it seems like apps are front running Ethereum on just being there. Apps are there, people want to use these things, but Ethereum still has these scaling issues to figure out, to work through.
Jonathan: Yeah. And I think to their credit, or to be fair to them, they've been thinking about 1559 forever. They've been thinking about Optimism forever. They've been thinking about sharding forever. Proof-of-stake is coming after years of work and I think they just really care about getting it right and so they're going to be a little slow. But I think that's part of the reason I like building on Ethereum, because I know, they're the security layer, right. If you take Ethereum down, we're all screwed, and I don't have that worry, which is pretty rare.
Takeaways for Creators
Camila: Okay. And then lessons for just the broader creative community or creators in general, what would you say your takeaways were from this?
Maaria: One of the big takeaways is that there was significant demand for this project and for this new model of creating content this way, and being able to see this show come to life and being able to participate in the creative process in some way. So I think my big takeaway is that the theory works and we should continue to pursue it and figure out what the right approach and the right model is. And I love the idea that there are other folks out there who are going to see what we did with Stoner Cats and try to replicate it in some way. There are other creators out there who now can have an idea, they have a story that they want to tell and they can use this model themselves and create the content that they want to create, and then fans and audience members can find that content and can participate in it in some way.
Jonathan: Okay. I know I'm going to be telling everyone Ash’s story, Ash is the Pixar animator who came up with this and grinded for years and found another team of animators and found Lisa's team. And then, I'm pretty sure animators don't get production credits, and ownership and stuff. Like a friend of mine, Dan said, it doesn't sound like making things a little bit better, it sounds like making things impossible, possible. And that's really, really exciting.
“I'm pretty sure animators don't get production credits, and ownership and stuff. Like a friend of mine, Dan said, it doesn't sound like making things a little bit better, it sounds like making things impossible, possible. And that's really, really exciting.”
So I would tell them Ash’s story, I'd say, get out of your big company. And if you’ve got a good enough idea, and something can be, the first ever on Ethereum, or a really interesting experiment or something that's aligned with the ethos, bring it in in NFTs. It could be not just great for the NFT community, but great for you. It could get content out there, it could get your story told. It's good for them financially. There's just so many reasons why the best and brightest should come to Ethereum.
Camila: Very cool.
Morgan: I was going to add and I don't know if this is contrarian, but zooming out from crypto, humanity is in a phase where the power is with the people. So you're seeing this in politics, you're seeing this with social movements, you're seeing it now that the power is going to the people. Like what content you guys want to see, we'll do it.
But in the case of Stoner Cats, the learning lesson for people that are going to launch projects is that the community is so effing important. It was just an instant shift of like, we were working Zoom calls to, we work for you now. Like we are on our knees for these people. And that's the point, like they bought the things. And it was just such an instant power shift in a positive way on the team where it’s like, oh my God, someone in the Discord said this, oh my God, someone says this.
“But in the case of Stoner Cats, the learning lesson for people that are going to launch projects is that the community is so effing important.”
So I don't think you can be successful if community isn't really core to what you're doing, and you treat them as first class citizens. And we were by no means perfect. But that was a big learning lesson for me.
Camila: I think that's such a great point, you go from doing something top down to just listening to the community first, and building with them and have that instant shift once the token is there, once NFTs are there. This economic incentive or means basically changes everything. It's been such a powerful tool in general, for communities for organizing people.
And I was saying before, like it's been so interesting to see how this is now bringing artists into crypto where it was a space that was 100% focused on speculation and financial applications. Now seeing how this new paradigm or these economic primitives work in the creative environment, is just fascinating. So it's really cool, you're at the forefront of this new way of making stuff. So it's cool to see.
Okay, and then what's next? First episode coming up, can you give us any spoilers on what that's about? What should the community and audience expect?
Lisa: Well, tomorrow at 2pm Pacific is when people can view the first six minutes. You get a premise, the first few minutes are a lot of getting the cats, getting their personalities, getting the dynamics, meeting the stoner. So that's, on the creative front, our very first thing. And right now on my side, a lot of what we're talking about is, alright, what can we engage the community in on the creative side? So we're putting together all of those options right now so we can start our first academy meeting, a-cat-emy, because we like puns, to get everybody together and talk about what's next.
Camila: So have you only shot this one episode?
Lisa: We have. But we have all the character designs and stories ready to go. And our first episode was Ash, Sarah, and Chris doing this themselves, Ash hand drawing everything by himself, like old, old school animation, he could do 10 seconds a day. So that’s how long it took and so we’re very excited to get him some help, so his poor hand can recover frankly.
“And our first episode was Ash, Sarah, and Chris doing this themselves, Ash hand drawing everything by himself, like old, old school animation, he could do 10 seconds a day.”
Camila: Amazing. Very cool. Great. This has been such an interesting conversation. I love hearing the backstage of how this all happened. Any last thoughts? Things that you're most looking forward to? Or comments on one of the NFTs going for 77 ETH so over $100,000 in the secondary market?
Jonathan: A lot of the early critiques were like this is so expensive. They just hated the price, everything was going to lose their money, that was the main story. And to me, it sounds like an early believer, being incredibly highly rewarded for believing in this type of content production and basically signing up for our mission and it’s really amazing that they made that much money from it. That's incredible. And we told Ash that too, the animator, and he was like, what do you mean? That’s more than I've made in all my art sales? Like that might pay for my art school. It's just an incredible feeling.
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