The Delphi Podcast Host and GP of Delphi Ventures Tom Shaughnessy sits down with VonMises, a member of the Art Blocks curation board and an avid NFT collector. The two discuss managing a large collection, the Art Blocks curation process, future of generative art and much more!
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Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. I’m your host, Tom Shaughnessy. I help run Delphi Ventures. Today, I’m thrilled to have on another guest for NFT Culture series, VonMises. VonMises, how’s it going?
It’s good, good. Glad to be here. Thank you for having me on. Excited to talk about what’s happening in NFTs and wherever else the conversation goes.
Man, I could probably spend an hour talking about how jealous I am of your collection. I mean, you’re one of the most prolific collectors in the space. I mean, your collection is just… It’s just so incredible.
Thank you, thank you. I’ve definitely worked hard to get it where it is, and I didn’t really have the expectations of value being generated this quickly, but it’s cool to see other people recognizing how interesting and compelling and historic a lot of this stuff is. I’m very excited to see where it leads us all.
Yeah. No, I’m with you there. It’s definitely happening faster than I expected as well. Well, tell me a bit about your journey. How’d you get started in crypto and, I guess, NFTs and art?
I got involved in Bitcoin in 2011. I made a $5,000 investment, and basically, everything has spawned from that. In addition to buying some Bitcoin for cash, I also leased a mining rig back in 2011, and when the thing first was set up, it was generating like three Bitcoin a day, which is pretty crazy to think about now, but in very short time, it was generating less than a quarter of a Bitcoin a day, and that was evident by the amount of new computational power coming out of the Bitcoin network at the time. And I just really kind of just focused on Bitcoin for a while and really didn’t get involved in too much other stuff, and I had a real job, so it wasn’t like a full-time thing I was focused on at the time.
And then got into Gods Unchained because I had played some Magic the Gathering in the past, and although that wasn’t a great investment, at least not yet. I am actually still hopeful for that one. It did lead me down the NFT rabbit hole and brought me to CryptoPunks, where pretty much right away I was like, “This is definitely something special,” and made numerous posts about how I was looking at things in the CryptoPunk Discord, which those comments have all aged pretty incredibly well and I definitely have screenshotted some of them and shared them.
I felt like right away I knew this was something interesting as someone who collected a lot of different things in my life, combining the historical aspect of CryptoPunks just with the whole collecting narrative, for me, it was something that I knew I had to get involved with, and I probably owned maybe 100-plus Punks over my NFT career. At the peak, I had probably 65 and I’ve spilled down to I think I still have 27, but I always used a collector mentality where I sold my floors and least desirable Punks in order to be able to maintain and hold on to my most desirable ones, and so the 27 I have left are pretty good Punks, so happy to have that. And then, once I really got into CryptoPunks, then it really opened up the whole ballgame to what I was interested in.
And even though I wasn’t necessarily interested in a lot of the other NFTs initially, recognizing that this was kind of a land grab and a golden opportunity to really be involved in the space, I started going after Autoglyphs and bought Axies and bought really OG top-tier CryptoKitties and the Decentraland land and a lot of NFTs. I know you guys are pretty active in the Axie space. When I bought my first Mystic Axie, I paid five Eth for it and it was one that had starry balloon. That was my first Axie, it was Starry Balloon Mystic Axie Virgin, and I was like, “Oh, I’m paying five Eth. I’m totally top-ticking this.” I was like, “This is dumb.” And Eth was probably at 600 at the time, so I was like, “I paid 3000 for this Axie. I’m definitely going to lose money on this one, but I just need to have a stake in it.” And then I ended up buying-
It was a good buy.
Yeah, it was a good buy. It’s definitely a solid return. And I bought a bunch of other Axies. I have a really good Double Mystic Axie, I have a bunch of Axie shards that we can get into later, a bunch of Frosties, Raster Eye turned me onto the Frosties is and I have a bunch of… I think I have six or seven of them, and a couple of them. I have one that’s got five Christmas parts, which is there’s only a couple of those, so that one’s pretty cool, and I have a Blur Christmas Part Virgin also, which is pretty valuable one too. So yeah, I think Axies are pretty cool.
Yeah, between you and Raster’s collection, you guys have incredible collections. So if I understand correctly, you got started pretty early on. You played Magic the Gathering in the past. I also played, TBT, my reanimate deck and burn deck, but when you found Punks, it sounds like you pretty much went all in. Wat was the strategy there? Was it just let me buy kind of 50 or 100 of these at the floor, or what was your thesis there?
No, no. It was kind of like I think everyone buys a floor Punk first. It’s just how you dip your toe in, but my second or third purchase was a pilot helmet. That’s one of my most prized Punks to this day, and I remember it was five Eth and Eth was at $200 at the time, so it was $1,000 for this and I remember agonizing over it, and I’m like, “I’m top-ticking this. What am I doing?” I’m like, “All right. I have to have it. There’s only 54 of these. If I’m going to play in this space, I have to pick up some rare ones.” But I also realized right away that it was extremely difficult to get really clean, good looking Punks, and when those things would pop up, they would trade extremely quickly. And I mean, I basically didn’t leave my computer. I always had my hardware wallet ready to rock, and if something popped up, I was sniping it and I realized quickly that I had to do it. So I also about a week later-
Just a quick question there. It’s a longer question, but you’re more interested in the aesthetics versus the attributes or properties of a Punk? Would that be fair, or would that be…
I think that because this is art as well, I think that you definitely have to have a very keen eye for the aesthetics of it, and I feel really strongly that now especially where this market has obviously gone up huge amounts, and people are using them as their profile, having the eye for the aesthetics was a very key distinction because people are really paying up now for punks with strong eye appeal. As an example, I have a cowboy Punk. I think it’s 8981 is the number. I mean, I remember when I saw this, my friend on Carlini had owned it. I mean, I was on it from the second he listed it and this guy’s basically the Marlboro Man of CryptoPunks, and I wouldn’t sell… I would say, at least once a month someone contacts me and asks me about this Punk, and I’m always like, “Trust me, you’re not going to pay what I want for it,” and someday somebody will pay me what I want for it.
But no, I mean, I think that one is the thing I like about generative art as well as CryptoPunks is that it’s always a balance between aesthetics and rarity, and of course, absolutely rarity especially in CryptoPunks is probably the primary determinant of value, but ultimately, when you combine it with aesthetics, that’s where you can really start getting some crazy numbers. And I think this is very strongly been been shown lately where when I was first into Punks, you might pay a 20% premium for a Punk that had really, really strong eye appeal, and now, you can go look at cowboy Punks and a cowboy Punk with great aesthetics could trade up to three times the floor value now. So massive, massive difference.
A friend of mine wanted to buy Punk a while back and we ended up… I helped them get it and it was a cowboy Punk, a very nice looking cowboy Punk, and we paid basically the floor price for this cowboy Punk and my whole thesis to my friend was this has the potential to trade at a substantial premium, and when they sold the Punk a few months later, we bought the Punk for $3,000 and it sold four months later for 180,000, and when it sold, it sold at literally 2x the floor price for cowboy hats and cowboy hats were trading at a double of the premium of the overall Punk’s floor price. Yeah, I mean, I think aesthetics… As the market matures as the money goes up, obviously people are going to pay up. I mean, owning something rare that is unattractive doesn’t really offer much value in my opinion. There are people that will collect simply for the statistical rarity, but you cannot just focus on statistical rarity at any aspect that’s considered… That has any type of artistic appeal, you cannot just focus on rarity.
So that’s a really strong and a good take and one I agree with, but I guess the majority of people probably act differently because they don’t have your level of experience. When there’s a new Art Blocks drop or when there’s a new GenArt drop, or just a normal PFP drop on OpenSea, I feel like everybody’s clamoring to figure out what’s rare, what’s not, let’s ape it. So it sounds like there’s a pretty big harp here on just buying what looks fantastic early on versus kind of getting too caught up in the attributes.
Well, I mean, I had a very high-end collector recently contact me and wanted my opinion on Fidenza, and this is somebody who… And I liked the fact that people want my opinions on these things. I think it’s cool that people want somewhat of a consensus because there’s a lot going on. And I think that it is important that especially in the Art Blocks world, especially because it has an even more of an artistic take on it than a CryptoPunk, that you have to at least start with something objective. And so I think rarity is a very good place to start, and I think something that’s really rare will typically always trade better than something that’s common, but really good looking. So I think that you do have to bring in rarity where rarity is relevant, but ultimately, once you get into that certain rarity bucket, then you can have massive differences in prices based on aesthetic.
No one’s going to ever value a Punk that has floor-like characteristics above where a Beanie is because there’s only 44 Beanie, and it’s super desirable, and so even an ugly Beanie is going to always trade better than a floor Punk punk. It’s part skill, part objectivity, but also part feel, and I think that’s kind of where someone like me or someone like you who has been doing it for a while, can balance all these different things to put it to where you have a fair value, and people can agree. I mean, I’ve priced the Punks where people were like, “That’s ridiculous. It’s never going to trade there,” and then a month later, someone buys it, and it trades it two and a half times the floor price and everyone’s like, “How did you know that? How did you do that?”
Well, look at it. I mean, this is way better than the average for this rarity. So I think really, you start with rarity and then within a rarity group, you can have massive differences based on the aesthetics, and I think that’s something that people need to focus on. I’m not saying that a floor Punk is going to trade better than a Beanie, but a floor Punk could potentially trade better than something that has a reasonable degree of rarity, but doesn’t look that good.
No, no. That’s totally fair. I like your multi-pronged approach here, right? You’re going to focus on attributes and parameters, and then after that, you can use kind of your subjective skill and experience to figure out what’s important and what looks great and what could trade higher. That’s a really good point. And I guess the other question for you here is your collection is massive, right? You have thousands of NFTs I’m sure across multiple wallets, but I’m just looking at the public one. Earlier in the episode or when we first start recording, you said your strategy is kind of to get rid of this floor, to go for quality, but I guess how do you manage that? Because if you see a new drop, you kind of want to ape in, get a lot of the NFTs in that collection, and then I guess eventually sell the floor versions and hold on to the quality, but it seems like a bit of a moving target, right? How do you handle, I guess, just straight up inventory management on your collection?
Hard. I mean, definitely is. I mean, it’s a full-time job. I mean, when things were really pumping hard from mid-July through the end of August, I feel like the entire month of August… I remember looking at the calendar and it was September 5th and I’m like, “Wow. Did the whole month of August just go by?” It’s a full-time job trying to stay on top of everything, and I mean, I’m constantly looking at floor prices, looking at different rarity tiers, looking at the collection overall trying to decide what can be sold. Definitely starting from the lower level stuff and working up from there. So I do think there’s a lot of liquidity in the floor, so there is value to be had selling the floors, it’s one of the easier things to do. A lot of people will will take the approach of selling their best pieces because that’s where they’re going to generate the biggest bang for the buck, but in reality, selling your top tier pieces in general and in my opinion is a mistake because the high-end can always completely detach from reality.
And I mean, I kind of wrote about this in Twitter, I guess I’d call it a rant, which I don’t usually do. It’s kind of like a stream of consciousness where I was talking about I have a zombie Punk and I had had it listed, and it was basically on the floor at maybe 1300 Eth or something like that at the time, and I started off talking about how if you own a CryptoPunk, you realistically own one of the top 1% of NFTs in existence, and if you further divide that and look at a Alien and Zombies, they’re about 1%. It’s slightly more because there’s 130 between the three of them. So if you own a Zombie, you basically own one of the top 1% of the top 1% NFTs.
And from my perspective looking forward, I think there’s going to be a lot more upside in crypto overall and a lot more wealth created in this space, and people want to digital flex, and what does the 1% of the 1% digital flex mean in a club of billionaires effectively? I mean, it can completely detach from reality. So even though, let’s say a Zombie would sell for $5 million right now and that sounds insane that I could potentially sell a Zombie for 5 million bucks, but I think that there’s a potential that you’re in a world that there’s going to be so much wealth created in the space and I’m very bullish on crypto and DeFi and NFTs that I don’t know. What’s the ultimate flex worth? I mean, if you own a Zombie in CryptoPunk, there’s literally only 33 that are better. I think 24 Apes and nine Aliens. To have the 35th best flex in a club of billionaires, it’s not going to be cheap.
No, I’m with you. Buying a flex is important, and I guess my next question for you, and I don’t want to share too much about our conversations offline, but Squiggles are something that I just fell in love with, the first Art Blocks gen release, and I kind of got addicted to just looking at whether one was ribbed or perfect spectrum or pipe or slinky, etc., and I spent a lot of time just looking at floor squiggles versus the high-end versions, and we’re an investment fractional, so we spend a lot of time there. And one of the questions I have for you is… You’re totally right, there’s only a couple of, let’s say, a high-end Punk, a high-end Squiggle, take your pick.
But I guess my question for you is in a world where, let’s say, the rarest versions of these NFTs get fractionalized and you have millions of shards and millions of owners, do you think people will still care enough to buy a floor Punk? If I can buy part of a perfect spectrum ribbed squiggle, or if I can buy part of a Zombie Ape Alien, do you think that people will still want to buy the floor, or do you think that they’ll just want to kind of, quote, be a part of the rarest versions?
Look, I’m kind of torn on fractional ownership, to be honest with you. I don’t really love it. And as someone who has a large collection and a large high-end collection, I should be a bigger fan of that because it’s potentially a source of great liquidity for me, but I don’t know. I don’t really love it, and I don’t think that people are going to necessarily… Look, I do think there’s a future for this stuff. I’m not super bearish on it. I just feel like the mechanism to get this out, get these assets out no matter… Looking at both of the versions that are pretty popular right now, whether it’s fractional.art or whether it’s NIFTEX or whatever it’s called. The mechanisms are both very challenging, and I think that’s going to really limit values at the high-end.
Now look, ultimately, maybe there’s another solution that’s going to come along and make it more streamlined and people are going to gravitate toward, or it may just be a function that both of these markets have rode to the point where there’s reliable market-making and good liquidity and people buying and selling fractions, and that would be great, almost like a stock exchange. I mean, ultimately, maybe that’s the vision that changes my view on it, but I don’t know. No, I think people are always going to want to own the asset. I do. I think there’s going to always be a strong bid for floor Squiggles, or CryptoPunks. I don’t think that’s ever going to change.
I think that it’s possible that as some of these really high-end pieces detach from reality and get into even more stratospheric type level that maybe there will be the only way to own them will be through fractionalization or corporate ownership, or who knows the structure, but I mean, I don’t see the market for… Especially something like Squiggles or CryptoPunks, where there’s 10,000 of them, or you’re ever going to see people not want to own their own Punk. I don’t see that happening. But I don’t know. I can’t see the future, so I’m not really sure.
No, no, that’s fair. I mean, I think new people to the space want the financial upside of potentially owning part of the New York Yankees here, but I totally get your point and you’re like, “If you want that sense of ownership.” When I go on Squiggle now, you need a Squiggle to get in there. I feel a sense of community and ownership since I own a full one, and I guess the other problem with fractionalization, to your point, or not a problem, but just a risk factor is that if somebody buys you out, you kind of lose the sense of likeness and community that you’ve been using. So there definitely is a case for both sides here for sure.
Yeah, and honestly, I do not feel that as of right now fractionalization is maximizing value, especially at the high-end. So if you don’t mind me asking, I know we talked about this a little bit, but I own fractions in Almace, A-L-M-X, which is the agamogenesis Axie that was sharded a while back. I think it was sharded for 60 Eth. I owned it at a very, very cheap level. I owned I think almost 20% of it at probably like 100 Eth valuation, and this was when Eth was 500 bucks. I own close to 20%, $10,000. It’s a stupid number. But what is something like that worth? I mean, I absolutely don’t think that the pool and the market is reflecting the value of that. I mean, to me, that’s probably Ape type Punk level, if not, possibly higher in terms of rarity, and especially given the significance in the space. So I’m using this as an example where like, I don’t know.
The market, which is very thin, there’s nobody providing liquidity and probably nobody’s providing liquidity because it’s too cheap. The market is not reflective of what this thing should be worth, and as a result, nobody wants to provide liquidity because nobody wants to sell their shards too cheaply, and it’s turning into a whale game where someone’s going to have to put themselves out there and make a high offer, and the risk in that structure is that you then get bought out and then it sells for the real value, which could be 2000, 3000. Who knows what the number is? So I am just kind of curious what you think about that one, specifically, as I would definitely consider you more of an expert on Axie than myself.
No, I appreciate that. I mean, to be honest, I do think it is an issue. I think for it to work, for fractionalization to work, it has to be for rare assets. It doesn’t really work with with floor assets because not a lot of buyers, not a lot of liquidity, but I think for rare assets that have a good following, if a good percentage of the supply is sold to the market, so not something like 5%, but something higher like 30 to 50% is sold, and then a good chunk of that is then put in the liquidity pool, then I think it can make sense and it could be efficient, and also if the shard count is high enough. So there are a couple of factors.
But to your point, it does have to be a well-known NFT that’s fractionalized with some type of rare attributes or community around it, where people will feel the desire to kind of want to use that. I mean, the other question becomes if you fractionalize your Axie, can you still use it to game and to play with, and that’s still kind of an outstanding question I don’t think is solved yet at all.
Right, right. Look, obviously, the assets get locked into a smart contract, so it definitely makes the playability or usability of it not possible, at least in in the current form. But speaking to what you just said, I would say that Almace, I’m not really even sure if I’m saying it right, is a very well-known and very rare Axie and the shards are fully distributed. I don’t think anyone owns more than 15% of that, 18%. I’m probably one of the top holders in it, and I mean, I’m sitting at 16 or 17, 18, something around there, and there’s almost no liquidity. You can’t even buy one Eth worth of this thing, and it’s been this way for months. So as we’ve seen this big move up in the Axie market overall, you really can’t get a feel for where this should be because there’s almost no action in it.
And I get it, there’s probably five or six people like me that are sitting with five to 15% of it, and we’re all just kind of waiting for someone to come in and show the right level, but genuinely, I’m afraid to show an offer to buy it out because I know there’s people like you just waiting for me to… And I’m not saying you specifically, but waiting for me to put 15% up and try to buy it out too low, and I’m going to get lifted out of my 15% instantly because you can’t get 15%, so-
Yeah, I totally hear where you’re coming from. I mean, to be honest, we’re investors in fractures. I’m a little more familiar there, but I mean, I’ve definitely seen more liquid secondaries there just given the dynamics of what they’re offering. For example, if they have Fidenzas on there, I think it’s Fidenza 900, where there’s 75% of deflectable supplies out there, so it makes it a bit more liquid. But you’re right, and I mean, it’s… To be honest, I think the Axie example in NFTX might be the result of a very early, more legacy asset. You know what I mean? Now when stuff gets fractionalized, it’s well-known, there’s some good public support, and this isn’t an incentive, or I’m not telling people to go buy anything, but I think it’s a little bit of a new world now versus when stuff was fractionalized earlier on. I know that’s not a great answer, but I think that plays into it.
No, I hear you. The thing about fractional.art is, and this is I think another potential issue now. I spoke to the devs when they were doing this, and I debated them about the buyout mechanism because I think the buyout mechanisms on these things is really kind of the key issue. One of the things about when someone comes into the market and sets a new record high and lifts a ringer for whatever was 5 million bucks that sold… The golden goose that sold a couple weeks ago. The buyer of that gets an immediate pop because they’re setting a new high in the market, and that causes this FOMO that will lift the value of a lot of other assets.
The problem with fractional.art, in my opinion, is that the buyer loses that that bump because as soon as they initiate a buyout, if they don’t actually get the asset, it goes to an auction, and now they run the risk of them causing the FOMO that causes them to lose out on the high-end asset that they wanted. So that disincents them from making a bid in the first place. So look, I realize that this is all still pretty early and there’s a lot of different directions it may go in or change direction, but I don’t think any of the current setups are really all that ideal to maximize value in the space, and they all try to solve different problems.
Yeah, that’s a good point. I mean, to be honest, I totally agree with you. The buyout mechanism, to me, is the most important. We checked out a lot of different providers here, and I mean, obviously the issue is you don’t want stuff to get stuck, you want the ability to put the puzzle pieces back together. The thing that I did like on fractional was that everybody sets their own pro rata reserve price. So if you own, say, 15% of that Axie, you can say, “I want, let’s say, 10 million for it times 15%,” and that’s your kind of wait to drive the implied valuation, which then starts an option, anybody could start bidding, and then whoever wins, people can redeem their shards for that escrowed Eth. To your point though, I mean, it does hinge…
If there’s a Fidenza that’s fractionalized, and let’s say another Fidenza sells for 10x or something like that, it does hinge on the collective community resetting what they think is a fair reserve price. So I mean, on one side, you do have that inefficiency potentially, but on the other side, you do have kind of the community of owners saying, “Hey, you know what? I don’t want to sell this unless it’s x price and they all reset.” But to your point, it is an experiment of a bit on resetting those prices and seeing how efficient it is.
Yeah. I mean, again, we’re all really early in the process still here and so I think that potentially as more institutions get involved such as your group and others, I think the fractional markets may become more efficient and maybe more market-making. I was involved in Fidenza 527, and it got bought out on fractional.art. Frankly, I think it went for too low, and I think that it’s fine. It is what it is, but the buy out mechanism I don’t think is ideal. I really don’t. But again, I don’t know what’s perfect. I think with the NIFTEX model, I think, is has its challenges as well, but at least you can put a level out there and you can force someone to buy you out, or if they don’t, you actually own the asset. But I think the biggest problem with any of these fractional sites are is that the people that are typically buying these assets out are only looking to buy them out because they realize that the asset has more value outside of fractionalization, and I think that’s a big issue and I think that’s…
No, that’s a fair point. That’s one that only somebody of your experience would know, to be honest, right? I mean, people retail anything into shards, they’re never going to know the true value, right? I’m just saying I think people are a little lax when they’re spending $100 or $1,000. I don’t think they’re really going to look at the implied valuation and say, “Hey, you know what? This is actually worth five or 10x of that.”
Right, but in the same sense, the person that’s investing 100 or $1,000 is not really going to have any true say over what that ultimate value of that is. Okay, so if someone like myself or someone like you that are going to be making bigger level plays, putting up a million or 2 million or whatever the number is to try to capture some value. I mean, I wouldn’t mind buying Almace out because I think that if it’s free from the shackles of fractionalization, it can seek its own value, and if I can offer that to someone where they can actually buy it without having to go through the whole rigmarole of putting up the Eth and risk being counterclaimed and two week lock-up, the value of that thing is probably 50% higher as soon as it comes out of fractionalization, and I think that’s a big problem.
Yeah. No, it’s fair concerns. Definitely something you got to contend with. But just to switch gears a little bit, I just have a different combo just to bring up with you because I want to while we have time. The Art Block space is obviously the premier platform for generative art. I mean, everything from Squibbles to Fidenzas. I just had Erick on the pod, he is incredible. You’re not only a mod, but you’re a curator itself. I would love to pick your brain on this. I mean, curation is one of, in my opinion, the most important parts of NFTs and collecting and obviously, Art Blocks has its own curation board, whereas other projects are trying to use their tokens to incentivize kind of a community to curate, then obviously, we just had the open market where people say what’s valuable, what’s not. But would love to kind of get your take on Art Blocks, how the curation happens, and kind of get a look under the hood.
So I followed Erick to Art Blocks. I met him in the Punk Discord, and I knew that he was on a level that nobody else that at least I was able to interact with was on. Purely in complete blind faith and trust in him. As someone who’s pretty knowledgeable in this space, if I meet someone who makes me feel stupid that I want to follow this person. Not that Erick tried to make me feel stupid, but I knew that he knew stuff on a level that I didn’t know. So I was fine following him and going in there and getting very involved with it from the beginning. And there wasn’t a curation board in the beginning, so for the first, let’s say, 15 drops that Art Block had, everything was just… There was no curated factory and playground. That all evolved over the course of the first few months, and I was one of the first mods and I was one of the first people to be asked to be on the curation board because of my heavy involvement with it right from the get-go.
I think it’s really amazing. I mean, the group of people that are on the curation board, I mean, it’s really a who’s who of people in the NFT space, from developers to artists to collectors, even people that are really outside of the NFT scene that have a strong art background or have technical backgrounds in programming. It’s quite an interesting group and it’s quite an interesting affiliation. I’m really pleased to be there. Sometimes I get busy and don’t have time to go through the drops that are being scheduled every week, but typically what will happen is Jeff will put out a note saying, “Okay, here’s the perspective props we’re considering. Get your votes in by the end of the week,” and there’ll be a test net with 50 to 100 mints from the drop, and we’ll go through them, and then there’s a closed discussion board where people on curation can discuss the finer points of it with other curation members, and then ultimately, there’s a vote.
And then it’s decided whether it’s going to be eligible for curation or has to go to factory. And if it doesn’t make curation, the artists can take the feedback of that the curation board provides and potentially tweak it and resubmit, so that happens sometimes and sometimes they resubmit, and it still doesn’t make the grade or sometimes they resubmit, and they follow the guide or take the cues from some things that were said, and sometimes it makes it. So that’s kind of how it works.
I love that. And just to dive in there, not to cut you out, but the curation process within Art Blocks, how… I guess thinking out 10 years, just to play devil’s advocate here, do you feel like it’s centralized, do you feel like… Because there’s a give and take here. You guys are… It’s hard for me to describe how good you are and how good the board is, it’s hard to quantify that, but on the flip side, you do want the community kind of deciding what’s good, what’s not good, and they obviously do that through their ability to pay, but what’s your take on the centralization of curation, I guess?
Look, Erick is blockchain decentralized. He’s super into that, so I have no idea what the future holds. I’ve never had this specific discussion with them regarding decentralizing curation, but he’s a very knowledgeable blockchain person. I think that he wants to launch this ultimately out into the world the way that it should be, so I don’t know. I mean, is the potential for curation decisions to be decentralized? It’s definitely possible. I don’t know if that’s the plan. I like being on the curation board and I like being able to influence the direction I think that the community as a whole, if they knew everybody that was on this board, would feel that these people are probably pretty well suited to make these decisions, but in the same sense, as someone who’s a big fan of decentralization and everything that the decentralized economy brings, I can’t say to you that the curation board is going to be the way it’s always going to be done for Art Blocks. So I have no knowledge, I have no insight as to what’s happening.
No, no. That’s totally fair. And to be honest, I love what you guys do, and frankly, I think you guys have incredible and unmatched experience. I’m just playing devil’s advocate to kind of get the next sense of-
No, you’re totally right.
Yeah. No, is there anything that came about that you were like, “Absolutely not. I hate this. I know you guys all love it.”? Any strong views from you internally on anything that’s kind of passed through Art Blocks, or was it generally kosher? We obviously have our investment committee, so it’s a bit of a give and take some time, so I’m kind of wondering how that apts to kind of the curation board.
There’s been times that I thought something should be curated that wasn’t, and there’s been times that I thought things shouldn’t be curated that were, but I think that in general, the ones that I’ve disagreed on, it’s been close. And so if the other people on the board, more of them voted in favor of it, I mean, I’m okay with it and that’s fine. So I’m certainly not going to get into specific drops because that wouldn’t be right, but I think there’s always going to be somewhat differences of opinion. I will say that one that surprised me recently by Geometry Runners I really, really liked and I was surprised that the market doesn’t really seem to love it. Maybe it’s a function of it came at a time where there was a lot of extra FOMO going on in our block space, and the drop came at a pretty high level, but I think that’s from a recent drop. I think that’s really cool.
I think Trosset also is really cool and it doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of traction. I remember seeing them on the curation board, reviewing them and being like, “Wow, this is one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen,” and I was definitely excited for both those drops, and it doesn’t seem that the market at least currently feels the same way. That doesn’t faze me in the least. I do know that those drops will get the attention that they deserve at some point. But no, I mean, those were ones that in general, the conversation from everybody was pretty positive on both those, and so I’m a tad surprised that they haven’t done a little bit better, especially Trosset.
No, that’s fair. I like the context. I’m laughing because I wish I just had time to just kind of ape Art Blocks play, but to be honest, they’re getting to a point where they’re getting so expensive, you really can’t. You know what I mean?
Yeah. I mean, the stakes have gone up quite a bit. In the early days when you could get three to 5%. I mean, I think I minted three to 5% of all of the first 15 drops, I would say, and not in any rush, no gas war, all of that .05 to .15 type prices. I mean, I minted 350 Squiggles for about 10 Eth, and Eth 600 bucks. I mean, it’s insane. It’s insane. It’s crazy. It’s crazy.
What’s the craziest trade you’ve done? I mean, cutting off the rear of Art Blocks here, but it may be for an Art Blocks asset, but what’s a trade or investment you’ve done… Not really price, but just maybe something just crazy like you had to go through a bunch of people, or what’s the wildest NFU story you have purchase-wise?
I will tell you this, I don’t normally chase anything, but I got very busy. I do have an actual job that… I’m kind of self-employed, but I do actually have a job I do also, and things got a little bit busy and I missed the Fidenza drop, and I kind of was in a lull for a couple of weeks and I started seeing them, and I was like, “Oh, they’re interesting,” and I started seeing prices go up, and I will tell you, when I finally realized I needed to get them, I mean, I went pretty crazy. For about two weeks straight, all I did was chase Fidenzas and it was not easy to do because although prices at the time still weren’t that high, people were we’re still holding on to them and I was really surprised at the offers I was making people and getting turned down, and so I really had to step up.
So I would say that chasing the Spiral Fidenza that I got was a process. I paid 50 Eth for my Spiral Fidenza. At the time, it was the highest price I’d ever paid for an NFT. When I finally woke up to it and started chasing it, I chased pretty pretty hard on those. So I would say that this was one if I’d maybe had a little bit more time to think about, I could probably come up with a better story. I did chase Tweety pretty hard early on to get a bunch of really rare Art Blocks pieces too, and I mean, constantly sending emails, constantly sending Discord messages, constantly saying, “Hey, what do you think?”
When you hit these guys up though. I mean, let’s say you start going crazy for Fidenza, and trust me, I know your connections or friends in the space have your back, but are you ever concerned like, “Hey, VonMises is looking for Fidenzas. Everyone, double their price.”? I’m always wondering if there’s…
I mean, thankfully, thankfully, that problem has only happened once. It used to be like, “Von wants to overpay for this Art Blocks piece, let me see if I can dump it on him.” That’s how it used to be. One of my friends recently asked me, he’s like, “Hey, I need your opinion on this Apparition,” and Apparition is not one of the more popular drops, but I took a look at it and I’m like, and it was a really good one, and I said to him, “Oh, I think this is a pretty good one. Here’s what I think. Are you interested in selling it?” He goes, “Not anymore.” And it went right into his vault account. He’s like, “You’re never going to see this one.”
Look, I do appreciate that people want my opinions on some of this stuff, and I always try to shoot it to people honestly, even if it’s something I’m interested in, and look, there are a lot of people out there that have an agenda and are going to always work their agenda, and when the money is at the level that things are at right now, I do understand why that happens, but integrity and ethics and all these things are something that have always been important to me and I’m just never going to compromise those things. So if someone who’s not even a friend of mine asks me my opinion, I’m going to try to give them my honest opinion on it, and I think that this has helped me to build a big following. I can’t believe I have 20,000 Twitter followers. I’m in shock, but I think it’s cool and I try to always shoot straight to people and not have an agenda.
I love that. I love your focus on good ethics and brand, and beyond important. I’m squarely in the same camp, as is everyone at Delphi. And just to switch gears a little bit, I’d love to get your thesis on just the broader generative art movement. This is the first time… I mean, not first time. Generative art existed, but just the ability to mint on chain instantly for an artist. it’s just mind blowing, right? And I mean, there’s clearly… Generative art works so well with crypto because you can form communities around the drops, you can talk with the collectors, they can be priced, traded easily, minted easily. What’s your take on where the entire generative art movement is going? And I’d love if you could also maybe give some color on just value here. There’s so many drops, it’s hard to keep up with, but on the flip side, the rare stuff is obviously going to hold value, but we’d love your take just on the generative art movement.
Yeah. I mean, look, I’m a big fan of it. I don’t know if you know who Manfred Mohr is, but he’s one of the pioneers of generative art, started doing computer generated art in the ’70s and I actually met him recently, and I picked up a couple pieces by him, which is super cool to have this piece that was done on a plotter printer in the ’70s, and the fact that this guy was doing stuff like that at the dawn of the computer age is pretty amazing. So to see it go from that to where Art Blocks is, is it’s super cool. And I mean, I’m definitely obviously into generative art and I think it has a really bright future. For me, personally, like you said, there’s so much out there, it really is hard to stay on top of it. I mean, I really focus mostly on just the curated platform. That doesn’t mean that there’s not amazing stuff, and I do own factory, and I do own some playground stuff, but in terms of keeping my collection at a top level, the curated stuff is what I’m primarily focused on.
But what I think is interesting is, and again, you touched on it where how it just goes so well with crypto and I love the fact that… And this is a tribute to Snowfro, his ability, using the hash to generate the transaction to actually be the variable that goes into producing the art, it’s just amazing. And you know something, he said to me on numerous occasions there aren’t very many pieces of art or even anything that’s manufactured that goes from creation to marketplace instantly. You mint your Art Blocks piece, and immediately you can list it on OpenSeas, and immediately there can be a secondary market.
It’s just not something you see in a lot of other areas, and I’m super bullish on this space and I feel like something like Fidenza… As I’ve shown my collection to friends of mine that have some interest in crypto, but not really get it, they’re all like, “Oh, what’s that?” I’m like, “Oh, that’s a Fidenza.” It just resonates with people on a level that a lot of stuff hasn’t, and so I feel like Art Blocks has the potential to bring generative art to a new level, and something like Oncyber, which allows you to display your amazing artwork pieces in a beautiful gallery that’s 3D and allows for VR, and I’m just super bullish on the space. Is there going to be a virtual MoMA someday? There’s no doubt there’s going to be a virtual MoMA someday.
I would argue there will actually be a virtual MoMA at some point, or something on that level, and very possibly see interest on the level that some of these major museums have. I definitely see that as the case. I feel like the online crypto generative art movement, it’s just getting started, and I think it’s got a bright future, and things like Art Blocks are really giving space to artists to create. And ultimately, I think there’s going to be a generative Pablo Picasso or a generative Rothko equivalent, and they’re probably going to get their start on Art Blocks because that’s the place to be, that’s where the money’s at, that’s where the fans are and it’s a place to get the exposure that you want. So I’m super bullish on the space and I love where it’s going. I can’t wait to see where it is in five or 10 years from now.
That’s a killer answer, and I guess… I don’t really know how to frame this question the right way, but where do you see the interplay with the broader world and generative art? The traditional art community… To be honest, I could walk in an art museum, I would have no idea what I’m looking at, right? It’s a lot of rich people buying art, selling it to each other. But do you care about the interplay between generative art and the real world and the mass community? Because if I send a generative art piece to my non-crypto friends, they’ll get it. They could probably understand it, they can Google it, whatever, but I mean, they could also do that for a Rothko or something in the traditional world. Do you care if Christie’s or Sotheby’s, quote, buys your bag? Do you care if this stuff is displayed in real museums? What’s your take on the link in with the traditional world?
Yeah, I think that it’s cool that places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s and potentially museums will be displaying this, and I think there’s a thing that we all need to keep in mind in this space is that the collectors and artists that were in these different movements, they defined what the movement was about and what was good, and we need to make sure that we don’t let outsiders define what crypto art is or what generative art is. We get to decide. I get to decide, you get to decide, the people that are interacting in the space get to decide. I think that, again, bringing it back to something like Fidenza, where people that have a more traditional art background can look at that and understand it and appreciate it, it does help, and I think that those types of projects are going to be the spearhead that get generative art more into the mainstream, but recognize that they don’t get to decide what crypto art and generative art is going to look. We’re going to be the ones that are going to decide it.
Yeah, I mean, I’m excited that museums and auction houses want to get involved, but I’m not really sure from a Christie’s or Sotheby’s auction house standpoint, they’re in it because they recognize that this is art and they think they can generate fees from it, but let’s also try to remember that what auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have provided in the past is a sense of provenance and validity, and as digitally-native assets, we already have unquestionable provenance and we have provable scarcity. I’m still up in the air in terms of whether I think these institutions are going to ultimately provide any value to the crypto space and generative art space.
I think for now, we’re both willing to work with each other because they want the money and we want the exposure, but ultimately, I don’t see places like Christie’s or Sotheby’s actually being very helpful overall to what we’re trying to accomplish in this space, but I welcome them being in it and I’m thankful that they’re here. It’s just I don’t need Christie’s to tell me this is authentic, this is a CryptoPunk or this is a Fidenza. It’s all blockchain, so I have unquestionable provenance. And I think this is the big thing that separates anything in the NFT space from the outside world, you can’t get unquestionable provenance in anything other than a natively digital asset. I think that’s the big point of differentiation.
No, that’s a big point. I mean, you’re putting a lot of curators out of their job, or I don’t know if it’s curator, but I mean, everybody who has a Netflix subscription has seen the uncork the wine one with the fake wine. The art one was incredible. I forgot the name, but where the famous curator was selling fake art that she thought was real. That stuff’s insane. And I agree with you, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, you don’t really need them, which is it’s kind of funny. Generative art is somewhat new, and you already don’t need the traditional world. When crypto, Ethereum, Bitcoin was all in its earlier days, we all couldn’t wait for the traditional institutions to come in, and now frankly, I could care less, but it’s kind of like a funny dynamic how fast it worked for you to not need the traditional world there, at least for Sotheby’s.
Yeah, and I mean, ultimately, expose… Let’s just take the Sotheby’s auction that happened back, was it, March or April. The person that bought the Art Blocks piece was not a crypto-native person. It was someone who saw it, thought it was interesting, had never bought an NFT before and bought the Art Blocks collection. That’s pretty cool. So from that standpoint, I recognize that these auction houses, they do serve value, they do provide something for us right now, but ultimately, I don’t need to pay Christie’s a 20% fee to sell my Art Blocks collection. I know I don’t need to do that. For me, they’re going to have to prove their worth. You’re charging a big fee, and I understand why you charge those fees to other people that were not bringing you a natively digital asset because you were somewhat putting your reputation behind it, you were providing provenance, but we don’t need that, so either you have to bring your fees down or you have to bring us buyers that we wouldn’t be able to find on our own.
Christie’s out of business just because you could check all this stuff on Etherscan. It’s pretty much that simple.
Yes. Look, their role was provenance, their role was to give people confidence that they were buying the real thing. I don’t need them. Who needs that with CryptoPunk? I mean, here’s the day it was minted. I mean, he’s the day it was claimed, and here’s every single transaction, every single person that’s ever touched it. I don’t need an auction house. I mean, again, I think that it works for now because it’s giving us the ability to get some exposure, but ultimately, does Christie’s or Sotheby’s justify their fees? I don’t think so.
Yeah, I totally agree with you. I don’t think they do either. And I mean, switching gears a little bit to close out on a couple of questions while I have you. This has been incredible. Just on the pitfall side, is there anything… And this is a hard question to answer because there’s not really an alternative right now, and it’s kind of vague, but what would cause you to just get completely sour, cold on the generative art, NFT art market? Is there anything that would trigger you to say, “You know what? I’m done buying. It’s time to start harvesting or go away.”? Is there anything that would cause that to happen for you?
Wow. That is a tough one. I mean, if the cryptography got broken and you were able to somehow force a fake Fidenza into the market somehow. I don’t know if that’s possible. But I mean, I think that…. No. I can’t come up with something that would say that, “Okay, now I’m super bearish on things.” I mean, maybe if we saw everything 100x from here, I’d be like, “Okay, it’s way over done.” I mean, look, as someone who has a lot of experience in traditional markets as well as the digital markets, I try to always have a relative value framework in my head, and this helps me to value assets across different asset classes. So I guess if the generative art space took on a valuation that was just so far out of whack with traditional markets, I guess… I mean, I’d be a billionaire, but I guess I’d become bearish at that point.
No, that’s a good reason to take cards off the table. No, it’s a good answer. I mean, it’s tough because there’s nothing new to kind of compare it to that you’d move to, and if there was, you could always get involved there as well. So it is a hard question, but I appreciate your answer there. And I guess the other side is just on hype cycles. What would be your advice to people just getting started in generative art today? What would be your top piece of advice for them to make sure that they stay around for a long time, but also don’t become just straight up traders flipping stuff all day? Unless that’s the strategy.
Yeah. I mean, I’m the farthest thing from a flipper. I hold stuff and I get called Diamond Hands all the time. I definitely have a very long-term perspective on it, and I’m seeing things from that perspective. So I think there is a lot of short-termism in crypto and NFTs, so I think that by by taking a longer-term approach, you have a better chance of surviving. You should only be playing with money that you understand could effectively evaporate. When you’re playing in an asset class that has the potential to move 10x, 100x, even 1,000x, you’ve got to recognize that that’s not a, quote unquote, safe asset class, that there’s going to be a lot of risk and volatility.
The advice I would give anyone starting off is first buy what you like and what you’re drawn to and what you find interesting, and try to look at things differently than everybody else is looking at them because that’s how you’re going to find differentiation. And you might see something that other people aren’t seeing, or you might be looking at something a little bit differently, and focus on that and try to find something that speaks to you. I would definitely say if you’re buying something at three Eth to relist it three and a half Eth, you’re not going to make it. You’re not. You have no chance doing it that way. What will end up happening is you’ll sell all your winners for up half an Eth, and you’ll be sitting with a bag of crap that’s worth nothing. So I strongly advise people not to get involved in that game. Try not to get caught up in the hype.
What’s your advice though for… Let’s say I have 10 NFTs in my wallet, I’m looking at them on OpenSea. I bought them for a 10th of an Eth each, and I’m getting OpenSea email saying, “Hey, this is going for two, three Eths, 20, 30x what I paid.” Obviously, most people would jump to sell, but I guess what you’re saying is if they’re getting bid up, there’s obviously a reason you should keep it, but I guess how do you judge the short-term pump versus kind of a long-term narrative there?
Yeah. I mean, I would say the first thing… And someone actually recently contacted me asking me about this question exactly. And I would never base my sell decision based on how many times it’s gone up. Yeah, I understand. Those emails should wake you up to say, “Okay, something’s happening here. I need to start looking at it,” and then what I would do is, I would look at the 10 that I owned and I would pick the three that I thought were the least desirable of the 10 I owned, I’d list them. I’d look at the floor price because typically if you’re getting these OpenSeas bid emails, the markets at least 30% higher than what those bids are. And I think this is a thing that people don’t understand and people definitely screw up, especially inexperienced people, is if you only keep raising your prices, you’re never going to sell anything.
So when something you own sells… You paid a 10th of an Eth or that you have 20 of, and you start seeing them trade at one and a half, two, two and a half Eth, Don’t be afraid to put a couple out there at two and three quarters, three, three and a quarter. Sell a third of them. A very wise trader once told me, “Nobody ever lost money taking a profit.” So try to keep that in mind. Always try to take profits. It’s always easier to sell into a strong market. Sell when you can, not when you have to. These are basic trading principles that I always try to live by. I’m always thinking about the next pump and I always try to have some stuff offered 25%, 30%, 50% above the market so that when those pumps happen, I’m able to take advantage of it, take some liquidity out of the market.
And also as someone who’s watched very closely and my actions can have strong impact on markets, I don’t want to be undercutting floors pretty much ever because that looks bad. So I always want to have a couple of things that I’m interested in selling already out there so when the pump happens, it’s not like, “Oh, look at Von selling. Von’s selling.” Nope, that thing’s been up there for a month of not selling. It’s all pre planned. So those are things that I try to do.
No, that’s really good advice. And I guess last question for you: Is there anything that you’re really excited about in the GenArt space, NFT art space, etc, maybe project, maybe tech update, maybe platform? Anything that you’re looking forward to that’s going to be a big deal, or people should keep their eyes on?
Yes, Oncyber. This thing is going to change the game. If you’re not involved in Oncyber, if you’re not playing with these NFTs, if you’re not creating galleries, you’re making a mistake. To me, this is one of the most interesting things that’s happening in NFTs. It’s great for Punks, it’s great for Autoglyphs, it’s great for Art Block. The ability to display your art in a cohesive, interesting, engaging manner, the ability to eventually link these galleries together, the ability to potentially have multiplayer where you have avatars walking around in these worlds and interacting with other people and potentially even be able to sell from these platforms. I’m super, super, super, super impressed with Oncyber. It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in this space in a while. That would be what I would say.
It’s 3D galleries to showcase your NFTs?
Yes. You can buy an NFT of a different gallery. They also have free galleries, so you can go and get a free gallery, and it’s more limited in functionality. There are paid-for. The galleries that you buy are finite number currently, and if you go to my Twitter feed, I have it pinned. My Art Blocks gallery is in the My Genesis Oncyber gallery, and it will give you a very good feel for what’s happening there. And I mean, the first time I saw these Oncyber galleries… I had been looking around for a way to display my Art Blocks in a easy-to-use, very user-friendly format, and I came across Oncyber, and immediately I was like, “Wow, this is awesome.” And I started having conversations with Ryan, who’s the developer for it. Super responsive. The guy really gets it.
I cannot say enough about this. This is definitely, in my opinion, one of the biggest game changers for NFTs. It single-handedly could take Art Blocks to the next level because up until then, the only way you can really look at your Art Blocks collection was on OpenSea, or some other way to view it, but not in a gallery feel. So I’m very, very, very bullish on Oncyber. Really, really like what they’re doing, and I think that we’re going to see amazing things happen from them going forward.
No, I like that. Definitely check it out. I’ll link it. Have you seen anybody create a way to showcase NFTs from different wallets without saying… I guess verifying they’re in your wallet, but not doxxing the address. Is there any way to kind of show that in maybe a ZK kind of way or anything like that? Because I’d love to create a gallery, but I think people are kind of concerned that they want to just showcase specific NFTs and prove they own it, but not dox their address. I know that might be somewhat impossible right now, but…
Yeah. Look, I will tell you this, I started putting out my Oncyber galleries and bringing some attention to my collection and bringing some attention to Oncyber, and I found that Ryan was extremely receptive to ideas from collectors, and the one thing I like about Oncyber is yes, everything that you display in your gallery, you have to link your wallet to prove that you own everything, but look, when I hang up with you, I’m going to talk to him and say, “Is there a way to do this where you guys verify that the owner of the gallery owns all these assets, but doesn’t dox the wallet address?” I think that’s a very easy thing for him to do and could easily do that.
Awesome. No, that would be great. I’m just clicking around on the Vincent Van Dough gallery while I have you. It’s pretty cool. Well, Von, this has been incredible, man. Your experience with Art Blocks, not only as a mod, but on the creation side. And I mean, your NFT collection is just insane. I mean, the pieces you have, the quantity of assets you have, and I don’t mean to just throw out there as a stat, but I hope people understand the time and effort that goes into actually collecting at that level and deciding every day what’s important and what’s not important to get to the place that you’re at today. So I think everyone should check out your gallery, they should check out Oncyber, and I’d love to have you on again in the future. You just have a ton of information here.
It was a blast. I had a lot of fun doing it. I mean, our exchange flew by and quickly. It was very cool. Thank you for having me on. I really appreciate it.
Thanks so much, VonMises. We’ll talk soon.
(00:00:00) – Introduction.
(00:02:20) – How VonMises got started in crypto and NFTs.
(00:07:29) – VonMises’ approach to CryptoPunks.
(00:08:50) – Aesthetics versus rarity.
(00:15:26) – How VonMises manages his NFT collection.
(00:19:30) – VonMises’ thoughts on fractional ownership.
(00:34:05) – The Art Blocks curation process.
(00:37:44) – VonMises’ thoughts on the centralization of curation.
(00:42:41) – VonMises’ craziest NFT trade.
(00:46:43) – Take on the generative art movement.
(00:51:34) – Generative art infiltrating the traditional world.
(00:57:39) – What could cause VonMises to become bearish on generative art.
(00:59:30) – Top advice for newcomers.
(01:04:21) – What VonMises is excited about in the NFT space.
(01:07:10) – How OnCyber works.