by Tony Fantano
In October 2021, I listened to a Twitter Space about Meerkat Millionaires Country Club, a NFT collection that, at the time, was on the verge of launching on the Solana blockchain. Collectors had to pay .75 SOL (approximately $153 at the time) to be part of the “presale airdrop.” The Twitter Space’s host started the countdown: ”10, 9, 8…” and when he got to zero the market was open. This sale of Meerkat Millionaire NFTs was one of the first major collections to ever be minted on the Solana blockchain.
All the speakers in the Twitter Space started shouting at their screens, “oh fuck, oh fuck,” “I got one!” “Anyone else have trouble minting?”
And then: “What’s the gas if I mint more than one?” “Gas is low on Sol, is there a mint limit?” “How many did you get?”
Like birds picking at easy prey, the spoils went fast. At 3:02pm, just two minutes after the start of the presale, it was closed and a portion of the 9,999 Meerkats Millionaires were claimed. On the Solana blockchain, each Meerkat Millionaire JPEG can be differentiated by their unique generative traits, all transferred to crypto wallets belonging to the individuals who were in-the-know enough to be there for the presell mint. By early 2022, the floor price to purchase a Meerkat had fluctuated between 6.95 SOL and 1.9 SOL. Inversely the value of 1 SOL had climbed to as high as $258 on November 6th but had fallen all the way to $83 by Feb 21st.
The NFT market is a growing profit exchange where hype, appeal, and exclusivity make or break investors, particularly when it comes to club-oriented collections like Meerkat Millionaires. A generation that grew up on Saturday morning cartoons has turned collecting digital trading cards of characters that resemble “Beavis and Butthead,” “Ren and Stimpy,” or “Beast Masters” into potentially lucrative investments that segment collectors into digital tribes. Through promotions like celebrity endorsements, merchandise sales, members-only giveaways, or by even purchasing Ad space on Time Square, NFT communities compete to draw your attention to their NFT projects.
After I missed out on the crypto bubble and meme stocks, I was determined not to let the NFT marketplace pass me by. The advent of Twitter Spaces in November 2020 opened a window to a whole new world of utility for crypto currency. I would listen sporadically, but once I started to follow the topic of NFTs on Twitter, I saw everyone’s profile pictures morph into cartoons.
I first encountered the release of NFTs for public sale during a Twitter Space for a community that was hosting a live “airdrop.” NFT communities host audio broadcasts on Twitter when collections are put up for sale online. People log on to an NFT project’s website, connect their crypto wallet with the project’s “smart contract,” then purchase and mint their NFT. The minting process can be slow, but sometimes it can be a frenzy, where the collector with the quickest processing speed wins the day.
Larva Labs set the NFT industry standard when they freely distributed 10,000 algorithmically generated JPEGs of CryptoPunks onto the Ethereum blockchain. With their debut back in 2017, CryptoPunks introduced the world to a new concept of digital ownership. They kicked off the start of amarketplace where all kinds of digital files could be bought and sold with cryptocurrency.
When NFT collections started being utilized to replace profile pictures, or “PFPs,” on social media, NFTs began to attract eyeballs along with revenue. On March 11, 2021, CryptoPunk #7804 sold for 125,000 ETH which was roughly just over $2 million at the time. After being purchased for only $14,988, or 12 ETH, on January 10, 2018, it saw a profit of about 13,244%.
These NFT collections feed off the “FOMO” of a generation eager to call themselves digital players in a decentralized future where investments are cavalier and a huge middle finger to the financial institutions of past centuries.
Today, PFP collections are auctioned, bought, or sold on numerous digital marketplaces, and continue to generate billions of dollars in revenue.
In a sense every NFT collector “influences” the market, but those who remain reputable do it based on their ability to walk the fine line between building a movement and maintaining objective integrity. As it has grown, the NFT marketplace has fragmented into submarkets and those submarkets have divided into degenerative markets. Like a digital gang tattoo, buying a project’s NFT and using it as your PFP shows solidarity with fellow project owners. On Discord, project communities lay out their goals with “roadmaps,” facilitate memberships with “verifications,” and share ideas in a ”general chat.” I’ve learned that the strongest NFT collections have leaders who regularly engage project holders with new opportunities, collaborations and project developments.
Flourishing communities behind collections like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, Ghxsts, Gutter Cat Gang, Lazy Lions, mfers, Bulls on The Block, Cool Cats, Dippies and Doodles are but a few of the many projects in the NFT ecosystem. Cartoon JPEGs travel between owners like cherished possessions at a virtual Comic Con that never ends. Each generative collection is searching for the right formula to create a following, earn profits, and avoid their community “getting rugged.”
With inflated floor prices, fickle investors, and unpredictable profit margins, tough lessons in the NFT marketplace are usually costly, if not financially fatal.
When a project “drops,” or is made available for people to mint, the combination of exclusivity and availability is pivotal. Striking the correct balance can make all the difference in a project’s success or failure.
In August 2021, I purchased my first NFT. I bought Barn Owlz #0274 for .17 ETH on Opensea.io and then used it to replace my PFP on Twitter. That was the moment I officially abandoned my human form and became a cartoon character in the twitterverse.
I spoke with Adam and Alex, the creators of @BarnOwlzNFT to find out about their ideas behind the Barn Owlz release and learn more about how they rolled it out.
“There was a corner of the market that was untapped in the ‘cute’ section during July, and I sketched up Barn Owlz entirely by accident,” Adam said. “My defi trading group asked what project they were from and expressed an interest in buying some. That’s how I knew the design was a hit. The process was not an easy one.”
By joining the Barn Owlz community, I saw how Discord serves as a soundboard where developers and collectors can hash out communal standards and shared goals. Adam and Alex say that the majority of a project’s success depends on community interaction.
“Without a community, the project is as good as doomed,” Adam said. “The community is created by being real with real people. Many developers these days seem to miss the emotional side of the project. These things are not just about art, DAOs and tokens. There needs to be a real and relatable team behind the scenes. These are the reasons that Deadfellaz, Ghxsts, etc. are doing so well. There are real and relatable people pulling the strings.”
By buying into Barn Owlz, I learned that NFTs are accessible to anyone who takes the steps to learn, understand, and follow the market. When I bought my first PFP, I wanted to do everything I could to spur its valuation. As I kept proudly showing off my cartoon PFP, I joined the growing force of influencers pushing the demand for PFP projects, and hoping to eventually “flip” them for a profit.
“We have seen influencers affect the success of many projects since our inception,” Adam told me. “The most notable example was Pudgy Penguins. They launched the same week as the Barn Owlz. The Pudgies were trading at .005-.01 ETH while Owlz were trading at .05-.1 ETH. Everyone thought the penguins were a flop. They got backing from numerous influencers and rocketed to a floor of 3 or 4 ETH seemingly out of nowhere. Good for them. The penguins are awesome.”
When choosing a NFT to invest in, I pay close attention to the project’s roadmap to get a sense of its ability to survive in the unpredictable market.
“The history behind Barn Owlz is quite simple: we wanted to create a project for the people,” Adam said. “At the time, we were a .02 ETH mint with 3,000 pieces and a max mint of 3 per transaction. We were, and are, against cash grab projects. We were striving to be the exact opposite of this, and people used to make jokes about how we sold ourselves short on this project. We weren’t in it to be millionaires. We were in it to allow new people to get into NFTs whilst also creating a fun community for these people to be a part of.”
Although they’re generally hopeful about the future of the NFT marketplace, Adam and Alex emphasize the importance of collector engagement.
“The only projects that will survive long-term,” Adam said, “are those that build communities and utility for their projects. Not every project needs utility, but those that do it well will prevail.”
Conversely, when powerful influencers are not satisfied with the progress of a project, or the dedication of the developers, once communal and joyus forums on Twitter and Discord can turn into bitter battle grounds. Impatient collectors are quick to express their displeasure to developers whom they feel are not sufficiently invested in cultivating a project’s long term financial viability. Dividing lines crop up over who has the authority to decide a project’s direction. Personal accusations and keyboard harassment generate toxic environments that chip away at any sense of community.
After much anxious contemplation, I finally convinced myself to take the leap and buy a cartoon. And then I bought some more. In summary: pick a project, connect your wallet, select your cartoon, purchase the JPEG, pay the gas fee, replace your old PFP, and you, too, can baptize yourself into the church of NFT collections.
Art and memorabilia have long walked hand-in-hand. NFT collectors have merely stumbled upon a new thrill. Ever since I acquired my NFTs, I’ve been eager to prove that they are a solid investment. As such, I’ve sought ways to raise their value.
Multiple NFT projects are minted everyday. A savvy influencer can play a huge part in moving assets and elevating prices. NFT influencers set up broadcasts on Twitter Spaces to promote new projects like futuristic tv evangelists who champion a divine vision where crypto is God and NFTs are the path to salvation.
Once a project’s community starts to grow, it becomes a team effort to move it forward.
Beholden to my limited budget–$200–“blue chip” projects like CryptoPunks and the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) have always been way too expensive for me. This was also the case for NFT collector and developer @NeonApesYC, but, in 2021, with persistence he finally earned the opportunity to buy a Bored Ape.
Neon Apes recalled that once he started to see BAYC popping up on people’s timelines he grew curious. “Getting my first Ape was a hustle!” he said. “I only had a tiny bit of ETH to begin with, we were talking around 0.1 and at the time I believe floor was about 0.2 ETH. I started creating Neon derivatives and selling them back to Bored Ape members. My first customer was @NFTbark, I would charge roughly 0.03 -0.04 ETH and create a custom neon NFT for them. I did this and hustled so hard trying to save up for an Ape. But sadly, I was always chasing the floor.”
Discord forums give collectors the chance to bounce ideas off of each other, plus foster opportunities for creativity. By showing sincere interest in BAYC, Neon Apes afforeded himself the chance to Ape In. “Finally, I reached out to @BoredApe1000 and he had over 30 apes at the time. I offered him some Neon work and some ETH in exchange for one of his Apes. He agreed to the trade and I have been holding my Ape ever since,” Neon Apes explained.
Neon Ape went on to spearhead the release of Rocket Riders NFTs. Through his experiences trading NFTs and creating his own projects he has seen that, “Influencers have the biggest effect on the initial success of a project. Look at @Beanie or @ArtChik. Any project they promote initially sells out and then is followed by tons of controversy and usually a dump. Hopefully people will start doing their own research before investing blindly into projects promoted by big influencers in the space!” Neon Apes exclaimed.
An influencer can make or break a project. Like them or not, influencers stir up activity in the NFT market. They turn profits by fueling speculation that any newfangled collection could catch on like CryptoPunks and eventually sell for millions.
Neon Apes created his own collection called Rocket Riders, a unique group of 3,000 JPEGs of cartoon astronauts riding rockets into space. The @RocketRidersNFT collection symbolizes the growth of the Crypto marketplace throughout popular culture.
“I basically had the idea of launching my own NFT project back in June 2021. After I saw the potential of other projects I knew there was an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up! I’m not a talented artist or tech guru. I’m just an ideator, so I had to set out to find an artist and dev who believed in my vision and wanted to put in a bunch of time up front to receive a % of the revenue in the long run.”
The team behind @RocketRidersNFT had a specific plan for how to create the right amount of momentum behind their project from its conception all the way to the public mint.
Neon Apes said the concept was inspired by the crypto saying, “to the moon!” “I wanted to turn the saying into pieces of art. Tasks were delegated and we would hold weekly discord meetings to check up on how they were coming along. The rollout happened twice, once for OG members–the first 300 in our discord–and after that a whitelist and a public launch.”
Valuable NFT collections are built off of buzz and frequent developments. Newcomers are educated by listening to and participating in project forums. The collaborative atmosphere on Twitter and Discord promotes solidarity between developers, collectors, and influencers. “Delivering on promises in a timely manner is super important. I think a project’s success and sustainability is reliant on its community. NFTs have become digital identities; once you build a strong community, the promotion does itself,” Neon Apes observed.
Community creates culture, culture creates collaboration, collaboration becomes cultivation, and cultivation creates stronger communities.
When the visual appeal of a cartoon NFT is overshadowed by its being a part of a NFT’s community, its value is determined by the strength of the bonds between project holders. If pivotal holders sell their NFTs, those bonds are severed, and the project’s value will logically falter. No one wants to be “left holding the bag.”
If you want to play the PFP investment game, buy low, build the hype, then sell high. If you list and sell your NFT for more than you bought it, you did it right. Now, relax. You’re Shilling.