Interview: Kevin Rose at NFT NYC

The Moonbirds co-founder on elevating art in web3

As web3 continues to find its place within the broader realms of society, PFP (profile picture) projects are looking for new ways to maintain the hype and many, like PROOF Collective and Moonbirds, are leaning into their strengths and core beliefs. With the latter, Kevin Rose—the founder of digg, and one of web3’s OG crypto art collectors—set out to create one of the top five PFP projects in the space. Moonbirds, and Rose, had nothing short of a meteoric ascent as the project quickly became one of the most important in the space.

The one-year anniversary of the Moonbirds launch marked a new facet of the project, wherein each community holder is invited to be a part of the Diamond Exhibition, an art drop consisting of some of the most prominent artists in the web3 space (including Beeple). We sat down with Rose during this last NFT NYC—at the Venus over Manhattan Gallery pop-up featuring a generative art show that was on display for both holders and the larger art community—to learn more about anchoring web3 in art.

What does it mean when you say that Moonbirds are the art collector’s PFP?

We don’t think we’re the only art collector’s PFP. We don’t think this is a winner take all market for us. If there are other organizations that claim to also be into art, that’s totally okay. For us, what it means though, is we realize that during this kind of crazy bull market, you’re running in so many directions, and people are pushing on, “What’s next? What are you doing?”

We started this run with four people and then everything took off. From there it was like, “how can you hire high quality people and scale as fast as possible to meet the demand and the promises that you made to the community?” After that, when we started to enter the bear market, people started saying, “Well, wait a second. I bought in, I collected, why am I here? What do I have to look forward to? What does the future look like?” For me, what gets me excited is the love of art, and the love of telling the story of great artists, and helping elevate great art. That’s what we did in the very earliest days. And so that’s my DNA, it’s that collectability.

Courtesy of PROOF

Talk to us about being a collector.

As the CEO of HODINKEE for many years, I love the collector’s mindset, this idea of craftsmanship, and this idea of there being a finite amount of objects that are sought after and they all each have their own story behind them.

How does that pertain to what you’re doing?

We’re great storytellers. And so we wanted to lean into our superpowers, which is storytelling curation. We always said that it’s curation with a point of view. That, to us, is something that’s durable. It’s not fad based. Every week on OpenSea, you can go and look at the top charts and there’ll be at least something in the top 10 that is the hot thing of the moment. Some of that can be real lasting things that will be around five, 10 years from now. But oftentimes it’s hot for a month or two weeks and then it’s not, right?

The nice thing about having this true north that is all things art, is it’s not a fad. We believe that the blockchain is just a new canvas, and this is enabling new, unique experiences that have never been done before that you can’t have on canvas.

Courtesy of Trey Hicks

Was this always the plan for Moonbirds or was it something you backed into because you recognized you needed to pivot and art is one of your powers?

Web3 started demanding transparency and people were like, “Build in public.” That was the whole theme and a kind of agenda for a lot of web3 startups. “Build in public” really means—if you’re at the kind of barest metal piece of it, the furthest down piece of it—those back-of-napkin ideas, the really early stage ideas where you’re like, “Okay, this is where we think we’re going. We haven’t fully fleshed it out, but it’s our best guess of what the next six months looks like.”

When I was at Google looking at the entire product spectrum, probably only 20% of the ideas and the back-of-the-napkin things and the things that made it all the way through prototype level actually launched. Because the bar was so high for something to succeed in making it out the door, if Google was going to put their name on it, they wouldn’t do so unless it hit this absolute top tier of quality.

Courtesy of Trey Hicks

The way real product ideation and iteration happens is, you get down a certain path and if you don’t like the direction it’s going, how it’s feeling, how the ideas have changed, how quickly the cycle moves…what you do, if you have the courage, is you aggressively kill it off. When you kill things, you hurt people because they have the expectation of that project launching. But the reality is, in every consumer internet company I’ve ever worked in, what always happens is you internally kill things. You get down a path that is no longer viable, that you thought was interesting at the onset. [With web3] what you’re seeing is real product building in the flesh, in the public. And I think if I had to do it all over again, I would probably wait til things were a little bit more baked rather than share the back-of-the-napkin ideas.

How have you approached curation and how do you try to get people in the mindset of changing their behavior—not just buying and flipping?

The good news on that front is that when we started the PROOF podcast, we never had any dialogue about flipping. It was never based on that. We tried to—from the get-go—say, “This is the serious group if you’re really into collecting art and NFTs.” I’m very fortunate that that’s the way that we started. Now, I know a lot of people join Moonbirds for different reasons. I think that this is the point in time where you have to say, “This is the line in the sand. This is the direction that we know best. It is our true north. That’s what we’ve always been attracted to, and hopefully you’ll join us for this next version of what this is going to become.”

I think PROOF can be a big catalyst to bring a lot of these more traditional collectors into the NFT world and let them know that, yes, there are the horrible stories that you hear about and there are the people that treat NFTs as commodities and there are people getting hacked. But we are resilient.

Courtesy of Trey Hicks

What about it do you believe in?

When you see NFTs and digital collectibles and you think about all the things that it fixes from guaranteed provenance to being indestructible to a liquidity market for art that’s 24/7. Also, all these hard edges are going to be sanded down over time, and it’s going to be more and more consumer applicable, and people won’t even know they’re interacting with NFTs. It’ll just be a thing that is.

They’ll have their own little secure enclaves. It’ll be a safe and secure way to store them. There’ll be a lot better prevention on the scam and hacking side. That’s 5, 7, 10 years out. When you still believe all those things to be true, then you just dust yourself off and you get back up and you say, “Okay, I’m back in, because it’s the future.”

Courtesy of Trey Hicks

For somebody who doesn’t own a Moonbird who might read this and be like, “I’m halfway there.” What can you say to them? What can they expect from their journey?

One, I would say don’t buy any NFTs. Just go out there and figure out what you love. Does this type and this vertical of art speak to you? Can you find the artist that you love in this space? Are you seeing stuff that you’re drawn to? And if you really, really love it and it’s priced at the right price point where it’s not dipping into your 401k/saving/whatever it may be, and it’s just something that you don’t care if it goes to zero because you’d be proud to have it on your wall, that’s when I tell people, “Yeah, go for that.”

You don’t have to buy a $250,000 crazy PFP. You can go and enter the space even on different networks like Tezos and other networks that are not as popular as Ethereum and find amazing generative artists. There’s just so much to explore. I would say more than anything, spend three months and just do the investigation and learn the technologies. Once you become comfortable, decide whether you want to dip your toe in the water. But don’t rush in to buy a Moonbird.

Courtesy of PROOF

Can you talk a little bit about the Moonbird Diamond exhibition?

I think what you can expect is us to go back and say, “Okay, it’s been a year. We hit Diamond. We’re having this great moment to celebrate, to release a bunch of fantastic new art into the world.” It’s not about us shipping you some amazing socks or a fanny pack or whatever it may be. It’s going to be about real awesome art.

For Moonbirds, the next thing is going to be coming up with what we believe to be some really fun new mechanics that people will be pretty excited about that lean into art. The mechanics will play into that idea of art and it’s going to be a reason why people that are in our community will say, “Damn, I’m going to stick around for this,” and get pretty excited about it because it’s a bold new future for us. Six months later, we’ll do the same process again. It’s the same product building process of iterate, kill what didn’t work, modify when needed and relaunch. That’ll be the next 10 years.

We’re technologists. We want it to be changing over time. It would just be a shame that if we were to say, “Oh, Moonbirds will only always be this one thing.” We are experimenters at our core. I think if you’re a Moonbird holder, you can expect a lot of that type of experimentation over the next year plus.

Courtesy of PROOF

What should people be excited for about web3?

A lot of the startups that I’m either investing in or seeing coming across our desk, like new entrepreneurs entering the space, they’re very much focused on how can we make this something that is a technology that isn’t just for geeks. We have to make it so it’s broadly applicable to the masses so we can get escape velocity and adoption.

I’ve seen a lot of really compelling products that are being built in that vein, and that’s exciting to me. I think that’s going to help a lot. I would say, on the project front, I think we’re going to see a lot of projects that went out and had ambitious roadmaps say, “These are the things that didn’t work. This is a new direction for us.” They very much now have this, “This is where we’re going, and you can either get on board or not.” I think that’s a pretty good thing for the space, that clarity for what these different PFPs stand for.

Hero image courtesy of Trey Hicks

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