An NFT project raised $1 million for Ukraine in 30 seconds. Meet the Web3 influencer who got it started.View transcript
For as long as I’ve known Andrew Wang — he and I became friends in college a few years ago — he’s possessed a preternatural quality for meeting interesting people, getting them to talk, and making them feel heard. His success in Web3 is emblematic of one of the space’s central tenets — that decentralizing finance, art and technology can lead to deeper communities.
A former freelance journalist, he’s tough to characterize. “NFT influencer” sounds dismissive. “Web3 Thought Leader” is a bit overbearing, perhaps. What he has done, however, is taken the Web3 ball and run with it, achieving impressive results and becoming one of the biggest social media presences in the space.
Wang, who is 23, advised politician Andrew Yang on his Web3-oriented political lobbying DAO, or decentralized autonomous organization, called Lobby3. More recently, he co-founded Reli3f, a charitable NFT project raising funds for humanitarian aid to Ukraine. After the organization recruited artists to donate their work, the collection sold out in 30 seconds, garnering $1 million. And that’s just the beginning for the group, according to Wang.
I sat down with Wang and talked about the success of Reli3f, connecting with Ukrainian artists, and what’s next for his project (he revealed some exclusive information). In this expansive interview, we also discussed hot topics in the Web3 space, such as pseudonymous identities, the importance of preserving your reputation and the prospect of more regulation. He also talked a bit about his work with Yang, an entrepreneur-turned-presidential and New York mayoral candidate, and founder of the Forward Party.
In the interest of full disclosure, some of the NFT projects we discussed are those that we own — you can view my full collection at zackabrams.eth, and his at andrewwang.eth.
This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How Reli3f came together; Importance of community in Web3; Scams and pseudonymity; Advising Andrew Yang on Lobby3 and crypto regulation; What's next for Reli3f00:00:00
Business of Business: Tell us about how the initial idea came together. Who did you reach out to first? What were those early few hours like?
Andrew Wang: I think what's amazing about this is that it wasn't an initial idea. Nobody was sitting around and saying, "Hey, let's do this thing." It doesn't really start with me. I mean, I think if you read some of the media about it, it says "Andrew felt this way about what was happening in Ukraine, and he made this tweet and then started." But I put out a tweet, just asking a simple question, which was: Can we in the NFT space, not only with the capital we have but with the tools we have — like smart contracts, DAOs, things like that — can we do something to help? It wasn't even saying, "We have this idea to help", it was just putting that question out there because it's worth asking. Day in and day out, all I do is look at NFT's and look at monkey JPEGs. Can we pull out some some good things from there and do something? And I really wasn't expecting anything, I was planning to have that tweet flop and then maybe later I would get some Ether together to just find a place to donate crypto.
And a few people responded; actually, a lot of people did. And in one of replies, Satvik Sethi was like, "Yeah, we'd have to make sure that this was vetted and that it wasn't anonymous founders who could just steal the money." And I'm like, "Yeah, that's a good point." And then Gio Gussen came in, and he was like, "Yo, I'm down to help." He's the co-founder of Smilesssvrs, a really popular NFT collection. And then all of a sudden, we were just in a group chat together, the three of us. And then two seconds later, Mark [@SignorCrypto], our Dev, was in it. So all of a sudden, we just had a ragtag team.
And we're like, "Okay, we're here. So we might as well do something." And that's what I mean by "it wasn't really an idea." It just sort of happened, which is what's pretty common in the NFT space, I would say. We don't always know what we're making, but in the process, we start to figure out that maybe we're actually doing something interesting here. And then we had the idea, "Well, we have so many artists in the space. Why don't we bring artists in? What if they contributed art and what if we created an NFT collection?" because NFT collections sell out, people like NFT's, people like art. All of a sudden, we were going and we just didn't want to stop until we were able to execute and put that product out there.
That's great. So 37 artists in total contributed 200 NFTs to the project and the collection sold out within 30 seconds. What was that like, when you hit launch and you saw the incredible interest? I personally tried to mint one — my transaction failed.
I failed too, and most of our artists failed as well. We were all on a Zoom call together saying, "Alright, guys, mint, mint, mint!" And then we all failed and we lost like $50 in gas [fees for transactions on the Ethereum blockchain]. But part of that was wanting to make everything as transparent as possible. Nobody on the team held back any NFT's, we didn't get any equity. All the administrative fees were paid by us from our personal wallets. All the artists wanted it to go to charity and towards charitable causes. And so, at that moment, we were all okay with what was going to happen.
"Nobody on the team held back any NFT's, we didn't get any equity. All the administrative fees were paid by us from our personal wallets. All the artists wanted it to go to charity and towards charitable causes."
One of the cool things is that NFT projects are in this bind right now, where you either do an allow list or presale program, which helps people get in — people who have contributed, people who have been selected or curated — and it saves on gas fees. But in some ways, it's also a black box. People grind for it, it feels unfair, it feels unreasonable; it feels like cheap marketing, really, when somebody is like, "Retweet this, and I'll let you mint my project and pay and you don't have to fight everybody else."
On the other hand, you know, we have issues where if everybody can mint, then bots can get to it. In this case, we said, "Hey, we're putting out amazing art. If some bots are getting to it, all that money is still going to charity." So it's a rare case where we had the ultimate goal of raising that money quickly, and we were surprised to see it happen so fast, but it was also part of the model that we put out.
And if somebody was really interested in owning one of these pieces or interested in contributing to the project, but missed that initial mint as so many of us did, they could also buy it on a secondary marketplace, right?
Yeah, it's not only that you can go buy this art — and a lot of the art is pretty accessible, in my opinion, anywhere from $100 to some of our best-selling artists whose pieces are going for a few thousand. What's cool about this is that it's not just about buying it again: because of NFTs we have secondary market royalties, and so every time something is resold, the collection gets a royalty percent, which we set to the max of 10% [on OpenSea]. And all of that either goes towards charity or supporting our artists in the collection who are in Ukraine fearing for their lives right now. So that money does go back into the ecosystem, which is really cool. It's a pretty unique facet of NFTs.
I wanted to talk to you about the artists you found, who are not only artists that have done the art behind NFT collections such as Cool Cats or Danny Cole, whose sweater you're rocking right now, but you also connected with Ukrainian artists. What was the process of connecting with them and adding them to the project like?
Our original team was Satvic, Gio, myself and Mark, our dev. At some point, we were like, "Hey, we should try to bring in more Ukrainian artists." And late at night, I went into my DMs. There was this woman named Aleksandra, who's Ukrainian, and she was saying, "How can I help? I'm in Dubai right now, but I see what's happening. I'm in the art world and I'm in the Ukrainian art scene. How can I help?" And I was like, "Oh, my goodness, there you go!" That's Web3, right? There's probably always somebody in your DMs who can help you. We brought her on to the team, and she said she was in touch with artists in Ukraine, working out of Ukraine, going through a lot of the same things that we see on the news that Ukrainian people are suffering through. And she said, "I can contact them, we can get their art, and I'll make sure they understand this project, know what it means, and that they're part of it."
That was how we got artists like Julia Beliaeva. She has a piece in the collection of herself with her daughter. It's this conceptual spin on a nativity scene. But at the same time, she is in Ukraine right now. Until recently we weren't sure if she was safe. She was protecting her daughter. I think that's amazing. All the Ukrainian artists on the team just had an amazing background as well, and some even helped us coordinate.
Ukrainian artist Raskalov grew up in Kyiv. This photograph, which he donated to the Reli3f project, is entitled "South Bridge."
One of the artists in the collection, Raskalov, has family in Ukraine. He's in Mexico City right now and he's been coordinating: he's been having talks with the Minister of Defense and the Ministry of Health. The fact that he was able to do that and coordinate with us while also putting out art himself goes to show what Web3 can do. It's all hands on deck: where people can help, they help. And we are pretty diverse too, which is cool.
Were any of the Ukrainian artists either skeptical or just didn't know a lot about Web3 or NFTs? Was there any challenge in onboarding them or explaining to them exactly what this project entailed?
The Ukrainian artists that we brought on are all familiar with Web3 and NFTs. I think all of them have made strides and have changed the digital art scene in Ukraine, and in Europe, one way or another. So I think when Aleksandra reached out to some of them — some Ukrainian artists and Russian artists who felt for what was going on in Ukraine as well, who we have in the collection — they were down with it.
What's cool about the project is that we've always been transparent with where the money goes and how we come to those decisions. Because of the blockchain, you can see all of that. We made it simple, so that anybody could click a link and see that money moving around, which is super cool. We're trying to solve for a lot of the inefficiencies and opaqueness of many nonprofits.
Along those lines, obviously there's a lot of excitement around Web3, crypto, blockchain, NFTs, all of that. There are a lot of people that are looking at that excitement with skepticism, saying a lot of companies are investing into the metaverse, like with Facebook changing their name to Meta, but very few people seem to be able to articulate what exactly Web3 is, what exactly the metaverse is, why we should be interested, and what technologies or abilities it's bringing to us that don't already exist. So do you see this project as a case study for the powers of Web3?
We hope that it becomes a case study, which means people have to look at it. In terms of media, a lot of us are skeptical about mainstream media, because we're like, "Hey, why do you only write about scams? Why do you write about people's Bored Apes getting stolen?" In our case, we did this thing. You can raise questions about it, you can give feedback about it, but ultimately it demonstrates how quickly we can move with the tools we have.
By “the tools we have,” I mean smart contracts, the fact that we were able to have our dev help us deploy a smart contract in about 32 hours. [He could] write something that said, "Look, this is the collection, this is the mint price, this is where you go for it, it's going to give you this art," and all of that is shown on the blockchain. We were also able to create a [multi-signature] wallet, which means that before we sent off funds, nobody on our core team could just say, "Hey, I'm sending funds here;" there's a layer of trustlessness, where everybody has to sign off to send it off.
Those are the hard tools. We also have softer tools that are super, super important. We have artists. This is a space that cares about artists — I think we could care about them more — but I think this [project] was also trying to show, "Here are amazing artists in our space, from some of the most well known to some of the closest to what's happening in Ukraine, and here's the collection." Being able to put out art is really cool. It's different when you just donate somewhere compared to when you know you're getting something in return: incredible art at lower prices that get made up for in secondary royalties. That's cool.
"Community is not just marketing. It's not just a buzzword. We wanted to show people that community could be a tool..."
One last thing, in terms of tools that people don't think about a lot, is that community is a tool. Community is not just marketing. It's not just a buzzword. We wanted to show people that community could be a tool in this case because we asked ourselves, "Could we leverage the community in basically a day to show up, not only to provide art and coordinate with us, but to buy the art, to talk about it, to tell their friends to give feedback on it, and to audit our smart contract to make sure that we were legitimate?"
All of that is community. We build that up every day. When this is not the biggest news story, what's happening in Ukraine, we're still showing up and buying art, talking about NFTs, and bringing people together. If we're good actors, and hopefully that's shown on the blockchain with our transactions as well, then we have people who trust in us. You have a level of trustlessness with crypto and blockchain and smart contracts, but then you have the layer of trust that you get to build on top of that. You have to leverage both. And so that's what I mean by tools, I hope this is a story about tools and how we can use them.
Right. The community aspect of it can be seen now, because nowadays NFT projects that sell out 10,000 items in their collection take months to market, to build up followings on Twitter and Discord, to present a roadmap from the dev team saying, "These are our plans for the capital." Whereas, for this project, what was the total time between the genesis of that group chat with the three of you and the launch date of the project?
It was probably about 30 hours.
30 hours to sell over 7,000 items. That's incredible.
It still blows my mind to this point. And I think all of us hope that it's an example of doing good with it, right? The tools of Web3 are just tools. They're neutral. If you have a hammer, you can use a hammer as a weapon, or you can use it to build a house. We want to build a house with it, and hopefully continue to do that. I mean, hopefully things like this don't happen again, but we know what's happening in Ukraine is ongoing, and I don't know if it'll end anytime soon. So we can keep calling on models like these and keep iterating and keep making it better.
This work from the Reli3f collection, entitled "Peace in Translation," was donated by artist Efdot.
The project itself has disclosed the location of the wallet on the blockchain where these funds are being held on its Twitter account, and it has been very forthcoming about the decisions behind where it's distributing the funds and where they can do the most help. A skeptical person, though, might say, “Before this mint, if I was looking into this project, how was I supposed to know whether it's a scam making use of an event that's in the news, a tragic event, in order to pull on people's heartstrings and make off with that million dollars? How am I supposed to know whether it's a scam or whether it's something legitimate I can buy into?" That's a tougher tool. It's not something you can look up on the blockchain, or you can determine through traditional means, like if your bank is FDIC insured or something like that. What would you say to somebody who's skeptical about how to evaluate not just this project, but any project in the NFT space?
It's a really good point. We launched this in a climate where there have been a lot of scams and rug-pulls [when a project's founders disappear with investors' money]. When we talk about scams and rug-pulls, we don't necessarily only mean, "Hey, these people didn't have a project and you paid for nothing, or you connected your wallet and we stole your stuff." We also use it to mean, "Hey, you were seeking a huge valuation;" there are projects that raise like $70 million off hype and false promises and came out with art that just was not great. This has been happening a lot over the last few weeks, and that's an unfortunate part of the space.
What's important for this project is to understand that, in theory, it could have been a scam, but we wanted to put so much on the line that it wouldn't make sense for us to steal that amount of money. I have something like 140,000 followers on Twitter. All of them are NFT people, well, maybe a few haters here and there. But I'm putting my reputation on the line for everybody there. If I make one mistake like that, if you see me steal that money and put it back into my own account and run off, I can never show my face in the NFT space again, at least not as Andrew Wang. And, you know, it's been kind of fun, so hopefully, I can do that. Same thing for all the other founders — Satvik, Gio, Aleksandra, Mark, Rascalov — all of us have reputations in the space.
We have 37 artists who came in as well. We talked with them, and they all knew that if this project failed, their reputations would be on the line as well. But to them, I hope I can speak for them, that small, small amount of risk was worth it for what we could do. And I say it's a small amount of risk because you can clearly see how much reputation is on the line. That's what we mean when we say, "Reputation is everything." That's why we use Twitter as well; you can delete tweets, but NFT people are serial screenshots as well.
Right, tweets aren't exactly committed to the blockchain, but there generally is a good public record of what somebody has said. That's interesting.
Recently, there was a lot of publicity on the story of the two Bitcoin thieves. They've officially been charged with money laundering, but it seems likely that they were also responsible for the hack of millions of dollars of Bitcoin that have since increased in value a ton.
A lot of the media coverage focused on the fact that she was a silly rapper, but what I think was under-discussed was the fact that they weren't able to spend much of the money at all. They were eventually tracked down, in part, because of a $500 Walmart gift card that they bought because the FBI has gotten really good at unscrambling a lot of the blockchain methods that people use to try to hide their tracks. I think Bitcoin has a public perception of being used by criminals and by people who don't want their identity known, but in a lot of these high profile cases, the people connected to these hacks or to these dark market exchanges have been caught through blockchain means.
One thing I'll say is that it's very easy to make a mistake, and that's kind of the philosophy about bad actors. Yeah, you can make a wallet that nobody knows is attached to you, and you can do shady things on it. you might get away with a couple of things. But usually, at some point, if you are doing bad things consistently, if it's a lot of money, or if it's a lot of unethical things, usually you make a mistake somewhere. And we've seen that happen.
I've been able to crowdsource investigations live; we can start a Twitter Space. This actually happened, [the community] said, "Hey, somebody just stole $350,000 from a project, can we find out who did this?" I feel like I'm an amateur sleuth. I'm good at Etherscan, I can jump from this, to this, to that. But some people are really good because they're able to create really good maps of where money is going, cash flows, things like that. It's super cool. They're great. I kind of get confused a little bit. But we were able to do that in real time for another project called Creature Toadz that got scammed. Somebody was like, "Hey, we're very close to figuring out who this person is, because we've connected it to certain accounts that may be able to help us in identifying the person, because they have KYC." [KYC, or Know-Your-Customer guidelines, require financial institutions to be able to identify their clients].
And so investigations like this are done in different ways. People get creative with it, which is also cool, right? Like, just as scammers and bad actors are creative, good people or 'white hats' are also creative. So it's like this constant battle, but I think it's important to say that crypto has come a long way from being that dark web, drugs, and money laundering ecosystem. I think that was part of the perception maybe about 10 years ago, but that has changed a lot. People are using it for good. Entire governments, like El Salvador, are adopting Bitcoin. That's amazing.
"The tools of Web3 are just tools. They're neutral. If you have a hammer, you can use a hammer as a weapon, or you can use it to build a house."
We hope that what's going on in Ukraine, with all the atrocities that are happening right now, people are seeing not only what crypto can do in terms of reducing friction — you know, I'm pretty sure right now, banks have withdrawal limits of about $4,000 US dollars per day. If you're an individual — I rarely spend more than a couple hundred dollars a day, in my real life in fiat. I'll spend 10 times that in the NFT world without thinking, but, you know, I don't need $4,000 a day. But if you're a nonprofit or a charity, you probably need that. Or if something dire happens, and you need those funds immediately, for something large scale, how can you only withdraw $4,000? You're screwed.
And so I hope that's a story about crypto, but I think what our story is, and what I hope others who follow after us who have been doing things like this as well also see, is that it's about community and that it's about artists, that it's about our smart contracts and our tools, and what we can do when we come together in such a short amount of time.
Recently, there was some controversy among NFT Twitter when Buzzfeed News revealed the real identities of several of the founders of Yuga Labs, the company that's behind Bored Ape Yacht Club, which is one of the biggest NFT projects out there. We've seen a lot of celebrities buying in. Previously, they had been known under pseudonyms; they had Twitter accounts, but they didn't operate under their own name.
You're somebody in the space who operates under your own name. You're not shy about showing your face on a program like this or on your Twitch streams. Though, many people will know you by your profile picture, which is usually something upside-down. I wonder if you have any thoughts on "doxxing," as they call it, or the revealing of people's real identities.
Do you think this space should permit people to operate under a pseudonym, given that maybe their real life finances or their origin or their work history may not be able to be tracked but everything in this Web3 sphere, from Twitter mentions to cryptographic wallet exchanges, can be tracked?
When that article from BuzzFeed came out, I think people were really, really upset. And my first reaction was that too, right? I think part of it was because I didn't think the article was particularly well written, so we were more talking about what the article did versus what the article is about. I don't even remember what the article is about. I just remember that paragraph where they said what [the Yuga Labs founders'] names were, and basically said they haven't done anything that seems illegal or wrong. But I think a lot of the NFT community was upset because, in some ways, we champion anonymous and pseudonymous identities when they serve some sort of good. Twitter believes this as well, Twitter always says, "'anonymous' doesn't equal 'not real.'" And that's because when you're anonymous, you can be more yourself, or you can take on personas.
A lot of people in the NFT space are here for second chances. A lot of people in the space have, for example, like I know friends who have been incarcerated. If you're out there in the real world and you've been incarcerated it can be very hard to get a job, get a loan, or things like that. In the NFT space, when you aren't fully doxxed and when you're transacting with ether, I don't care if you've been incarcerated. I believe in a rehabilitative system and I believe in reform. Just because you're incarcerated doesn't mean you can't transact or be a part of this community. You would have to do other things to show that you weren't welcome in the community. I think there is that kind of celebration of people getting to be themselves and express themselves more fully.
With that said, there's also the side that's like, if you're raising a ton of money, if you're raising millions of dollars, you should have more ways of being accountable to your investors and people buying in — really, anybody in the ecosystem. I think being doxxed is one of the best ways to put your reputation on the line. It's like, "Here's me, here's my track record, here's what I'm known for." If you can look at my name, and find out that, as some in the NFT space were recently outed for, I've been in the Panama Papers twice, I feel like that should be info that should probably be out there if I'm running a business and I'm trying to raise money.
With that said, I do think there's a way where somebody [can be] pseudonymous or potentially anonymous, but who can show in a very short timeframe that they've hit on a lot of benchmarks, that they've executed, and that they've done right by their investors. That, to me, helps a lot.
Danny Cole donated this piece, entitled "додому," to Reli3f's collection. The New York native recently turned 22, embodying yet another example of young people dominating the NFT space.
I prefer people who are doxxed, it just helps me put a lot more trust in them, because we are in a time where there are a lot of scams and rug-pulls happening. This is the kind of milieu that Reli3f is dropping in, which is maybe why it resonated with people. But with the Bored Ape Yacht Club, specifically, I had a tweet that was pretty against their doxxing, in part because I wanted to celebrate how we have a lot of pseudonymous and anonymous identities who have done a lot of good. With that said, I took some time to think about it, and I think ultimately when you're a company — last I heard they were raising $5 billion for the Bored Apes. I generally think one of the cool things is, when there's information out there, somebody may know things that you don't. I think, to me, that's one of the more compelling ideas behind this. Like, I know you as my friend, and I don't think you've ever done anything bad. But somebody else could come to me like, "Hey, Zack did this thing to me." That, I think, is one of the the main draws of doxxing for me.
To be clear, doxxing has a different connotation in the space. When we talk about [people] doxxing journalists, it's like, "Here's where the journalist lives, let's go abuse them, let's go send hate mail, death threats, etc. Outing them in that way. But being doxxed is kind of a neutral thing in this space. It's like, you know, my name is out there, my face is out there, and you can find me and my track record. Ultimately, with the Bored Apes I'm still figuring out my thoughts on it. They are registered as an LLC, so that information was public if you wanted to find it hard enough.
I think to me, like, I'm interested in that as well. A lot of people know how I look. A lot of people might think I'm an upside down Cool Cat or that I'm an anime character with a joint and powder-blue hair, but if they really wanted to find out they could find me and have that verification.
I want to ask you about another project that you've been involved with, which is Andrew Yang's political lobby called Lobby3. That's an example of a DAO, or decentralized autonomous organization, which is a common Web3 instrument for having a bunch of people who hold either an NFT or hold a crypto token being able to take votes and decide the future of a project or vote on anything that any other organization would vote on. So could you walk us through Lobby3 and its plans for taking on Washington?
Well, first of all, it was awesome to get to work with Andrew Yang.
Does he know that you were once suspended by Twitter for impersonating him?
Only you, and the real ones know. So during the  Democratic debates, I did change my name [on Twitter] to Andrew Yang and I tweeted something like, "open the borders," and it got a ton of likes. I felt great after that tweet, I thought it was funny, but I woke up the next day at 5am in a cold sweat, and I was like, "Something's wrong." I ran over to my computer, and sure enough, I was banned from Twitter.
Temporarily, though; imagine how different your life would be today if you were banned permanently.
You know, I never would have found NFTs probably if I had just quit Twitter, because Twitter is so important to that. Also, people often mix up our names. I had this tweet that was like, "Stop asking me if I'm related to Andrew Yang, that's not how it works!"
As far as Lobby3, he and his team came to me with that idea, saying that they were planning to launch it in a couple of weeks. They asked if I could interview them on Spaces and help advise them. And I thought well, you know, this is cool, because Andrew Yang is, in a lot of ways, not a mainstream politician. He broke from the Democratic Party to start the Forward party. But he still is a politician: he's in the world of politics, he's doing things in DC, and he works with lobbyists.
"I think if we leave [crypto regulation] up to people who don't understand the space...we'd probably get a situation where there's a ton of risk management...without caring what happens to the innovation side."
I think it was cool to see him entering Web3, to know that he was keen on it, and that he was also saying, like we did with Reli3f, "What are the tools we have now? And what are some cool things we can do with them?" So he called on DAOs, and also he called on art. He got some artists together with his team and said, "Hey, let's create a project that raises money to lobby Congress on sensible crypto regulation." It's something none of us want to think about, but it is coming. It has already come. I had lunch with a guy yesterday who represented a company that was fined a lot of money, because the SEC had come after them.
What was really cool about that was hearing his vision. He knows that crypto regulation is coming, and he says we have to make it sensible. Basically, the way he explained it, there are two things to consider in the most general sense: managing risk and having as much innovation as possible. This space is about innovation, but there's also a lot of risk. I think if we leave it up to people who don't understand the space to come in and regulate, we'd probably get a situation where there's a ton of risk management, and trying to reduce risk as much as possible, without caring what happens to the innovation side.
I think Andrew and myself care about the innovation side. We know that sometimes NFTs and crypto can feel like a bit of a Wild West, but we also see communities and artists coming together, we see norms forming, we see the blockchain and that transparency. We see small businesses forming, we see artists getting second chances, people experimenting and doing cool stuff. We want to preserve that, while also recognizing that, yes, we can work with the government.
So, ultimately, it's about educating people in DC, working with lobbyists, having those meetings, and taking to the house, because we can't just be like, "Alright, we're anti government." That's the old crypto — that perception of drugs, black markets, libertarians. One would say that libertarians are compatible with this vision, but also so many political orientations are compatible with this. So many of us care about that innovation.
You can even make a kind of socialist argument for why this would be interesting, the idea of having a DAO where people can have different shares and vote on this, a kind of Co-Op style approach to what often feels like a black box in DC. I hope this invites a lot more people to think about not only what Web3 can do, but what the political world can take on when we have these tools.
Is any part of you worried that when crypto regulation comes something like the Reli3f project won't be possible, to spin up something in such a small period of time and raise this money?
It's absolutely a worry. When we talk about regulation, I'm not the best person to ask what every regulation looks like. One of the most common things [NFT project founders] hear is that you're selling securities, right? You're not selling art, you're not selling collectibles, you're not selling these unique items, but these are securities and [the project] has to be registered in this way. It has to fall under strict rules. In this case, Reli3f, [to me] it doesn't feel like a security in any sense. We're sharing art and raising money.
And I think that's an interesting thing that you bring up; a lot of us, because the space is kind of nascent, we're just able to think, "What do we want to do?" And then, "Can we get the devs together, and the artists and the community builders together to make that happen?" Can we get from point A to point B — that's literally what this project was about. There was a very clear point B, which was getting art out there and raising money for Ukraine in a very short amount of time. I hope we can just keep doing that. I want the space to innovate as much as possible because regulations are always coming in. I don't want regulations to come in too hard, too fast, to the point where it stifles innovation.
Right. You got to point B very quickly — so quickly that lots of artists, collectors, and people in the space are wondering what's next for Reli3f now. I'm not asking you to tell me all of your upcoming plans, but what are you thinking about as you hear people saying, "We want to get involved continuously?" Does it look like an extra drop? Does it look like standardizing this model so that it could be applied to other situations? What are you thinking about in terms of this project moving forward?
I think it's time to say, "Alpha alert!" We are looking at a second drop. We are trying to bring more artists together. One of the cool things was that so many artists reached out, like Justin Aversano called me. He's one of the biggest photographers in the space. He has an incredible story you should read into, and he sold his photography for a million dollars at Christie's. And he was like, "Yo, why didn't you hit me up?" I was like, "What do you mean? Why didn't I hit you up? I didn't think you would say yes!"
"We are looking at a second drop. We are trying to bring more artists together...We want this to inspire people."
To be fair, we didn't think anybody would say yes. Artists and their work — it's very dear to them. To give it away and to put it out there, that's a huge thing. And [Justin] was like, "No, I would have done something for you." And so many artists said that as well. They've said, "Hey, I want to auction a piece. Hey, I want to join your collection. Hey, I've been doing this new thing that I'd love to show." Not only are these artists who care about the space, they're huge names as well.
The exact mechanics are subject to change, but basically what we want to do is get artists together again and instead of doing a quick sell-out where it's like 30 seconds for a million dollars, we want to open it up for a timed purchase. So for 24 hours, or something like that, anybody can go to a website and click "mint," and it'll pop out any of the artists’ pieces. So for 24 hours, it can be as many editions as possible before the contract locks. And what's cool is [you could say], "Hey, I'm gonna try for, pretend, a Justin Aversano piece.” You mint and donate. Maybe you got it, maybe you didn't, maybe you buy some more.
So the piece you receive would be random, but you could roll the dice as many times as you wanted within that locked period?
Exactly, that's where we're thinking. We made sure to implement a blind mint for the first drop too, because that's part of the NFT space as well. It wasn't just like, "Hey, here's this artwork, click 'purchase' and then the money goes to Ukraine." We set up the smart contract so that you could log into the website, connect your wallet, click mint, it shows it's processing, and then boom! You go to your account and be like, "Which piece did I get?" It's kind of fun; what we do in the space is make things exciting.
With the second drop, we do think that if there was such a response for the first one, which we didn't expect, that an open edition format probably allows us to raise as much money as we can. There's a 10% royalty limit on [secondary sales of the art on] OpenSea right now. That does raise a lot of money. But if the primary sale goes well, we can also have those funds.
Ultimately, we want this to be a use case. I think a lot of people can criticize us and say, "You could have priced it higher, you could have sold more, and because of the demand, you could have made [more] money. You could have aligned supply and demand perfectly." Obviously, that's very hard to do, but I think, beyond that, we want this to inspire people. There are better devs out there. [Better] artists? Hard to say, we've got some pretty cool artists. But [there are] probably better people than me out there who can do cooler stuff. So go out and do it. Don't sit and watch, because now that we have the tools, if you have a chance to get up and do something, then maybe you should. That's kind of the goal here.
That's great. Is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to shout out or discuss?
I would just like to shout out how this was totally a community effort. Without any of us, we would have missed out on so many things. We would have not had a smart contract, we would have not had as many Ukrainian artists, we would have not had those calls with Ukrainian government officials and people working in organizations on the front lines right now. So that's cool.
One last thing I'll say, maybe in a selfish way, is this has been really helpful for me as well. I think a lot of times we mold ourselves to what the space looks like at the time. So if the space is very bullish — we're [either] in a bear market or a bull market — everybody's like, super happy, super euphoric. Once we're in a bear market, people can be a little more down. This is, in some ways, kind of a bear market right now. On the other hand, if there are lots of scams and rug-pulls, that also kind of gets you down.
And so, truth be told, I was kind of down lately, wondering, "Hey, has this space changed so much that we've kind of lost our fundamentals?" And one story that came out of this for myself, which was kind of cool, was that my first real entry in NFTs was back on July 1, when I was struggling as a freelance journalist and wasn't making much money. I put all the money I had available to spend at the time into a Cool Cat NFT, which was the upside down Cool Cat, the rarest Cool Cat.
I did that because I saw what I wanted to be in the artist Clon, who said, "I'm a struggling freelance artist, too. And this is my second chance at bringing back the character I grew up with and created and that no one loved." I did that, and how cool is it that a few months later, a couple days ago, we're launching this project. And at first I see Clon as this mythological figure, right? He created Cool Cats; he created the project that gave me a second chance in my career and in my life. And I kind of deified him for a while last summer.
It's pretty awesome that a couple days ago, I just called him and I said, "Yo, Clon, can you put a piece here?" He's like, "Yes, I got you right now, give me 20 minutes — let me do something great." And then it was done. That's pretty cool to go full circle. If you see his artwork, it's called "Sending Love." It is about going full circle. It shows two cats being intertwined by thread in the middle, and that kind of feels like the space — we're all intertwined with one another. I hope people keep feeling that way.
Clon's piece, entitled "Sending Love," which the artist donated to the Reli3f collection.
The last thing I want to say: [the Reli3f team] were all on that Zoom call last night, when we put out that thread showing how the first part of our funds were sent out. The last thing that somebody said before we ended the call was Danny Cole, the creator of Creature World, who had a piece in the collection as well. In Ukrainian, it was titled "Home." And the last thing he said was, "Guys, this was such a good use of our time. Let each day of the rest of our lives be like this." I think that just puts everything in perspective.