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Discussing the NFT Movement with Duncan Cock Foster from Nifty Gateway

Apr 08, 2021

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HOST:  Hey, everybody.  Welcome back to The Unstoppable Podcast.  I’m your host Diana Chen.  I’m here today with my co-host, Matthew Gould, Co-founder, and CEO of Unstoppable Domains, and our guest, Duncan Cock Foster, Co-founder at NFT Gateway.  Welcome, Duncan.  I’m so happy to have you here.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Hey, guys.  Thanks for having me.  

HOST:  Thanks so much for being here.  So, to get us kicked off, take us back to the beginning of your crypto journey.  When did you first get interested in crypto and how did you get into the space?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  A great question.  I got into crypto in 2017-2018 I think.  People talk about how bull runs get people into crypto and get them interested.  That is definitely what happened to me.  

At the time, I was just graduating from college.  I was in my first job.  And I’ve always had entrepreneurial dreams.  And in college, actually, I started a clothing company where we did direct-to-consumer clothing.  I started that with a friend of mine named Ryan Walsh and it was a really good experience.  We made some great shirts and we sold a lot of them.

But for me, the main takeaway was that it can be really difficult to start a company.  And it’s a little bit easier if you’re starting a company in something that’s new and in an emerging technology area.  And a domain where people don’t really understand it.  Everybody understands clothing.  It’s well established.  It can be harder to compete with incumbents.  

Because of that, I was really on the hunt for new technology areas and crypto really piqued my interest as I imagine it did for a lot of people back then.  It’s super polarizing.  It seems to inspire people who deeply hate it just as much as people who deeply love it.  But I got really into crypto.

And honestly, for me, I’ve never been that motivated by finance or the financial aspect of things.  I just never found that interesting.  I’ve always found creative and consumer technology more interesting.

Specifically, I got really into NFTs and this was back in 2018.  I just got super into NFTs.  

HOST:  Now, we’re in 2021.  NFTs are finally getting big.  People are starting to hear about them.  A lot of people today still don’t understand what NFTs are.  So, back in 2018, when you first got introduced to NFTs, how did you go about learning about what it is and wrapping your mind around this totally new concept? 

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Honestly, my number one source of information was Twitter and Discord.  I talk about this all the time because I would tell my family and friends and Griffin and I would talk to our family and friends about NFTs.  And for the most part, people were incredibly skeptical and their reaction was, “Wow, that’s so dumb.  I can’t believe anyone does that.”

But on Twitter and Discord, we were able to interact with the group of people who were NFT enthusiasts and really cared about them.  There was a culture developing and I think that was nonobvious at the time.  But if you went a layer deeper and listened to what people were actually saying, then you would see there’s a real passion for NFT technology.  Honestly, more than anything, that’s what gave me the faith to keep working in the space despite all the people who said it was really dumb.  

There was this group of people who were really dedicated to the concept, really into NFTs, and had strong convictions.  And that was the heuristic I used more or less.  

HOST:  For people listening today who may be introduced to NFTs a little bit or think NFTs are really dumb.  Like why would somebody pay money for this digital art when you can just download the jpeg or the PDF or whatever.  They just don’t understand any of this.  How would you explain the value of an NFT to somebody like that in a couple of sentences and in an easy-to-understand way that also gets them excited about it?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Well, that’s easy.  But usually, what I tell them is this actually isn’t a new concept at all.  It’s over 100 years old.  And we, in the NFT world, have basically taken a concept that exists in the physical art world and digitized it.  And used that to make a whole new type of art collectible.  I’m speaking in a broader sense.  This is an unconscious thing that’s happened.

But in the physical art world, let me give you an example.  Let’s say an artist makes a print of 100.  And then later that night, I break into the print shop.  I have the lithograph and I use it to make 10 more prints.  Are the 10 extra prints that I made authentic?  No, obviously not.  They’re forgeries that I made even though they’re physically indistinguishable from the original print of 100.  The only difference between the original run of 100 and the 10 that I made is that the artist authenticated the first 100 and the ones that I made are scams.  They’re made by me breaking into the print shop.

It's the exact same thing with an NFT.  Anyone can download the image file, but that’s not actually what gives our authenticity.  The artists’ permission is what gives our authenticity.  The artist, by creating the NFT, essentially, is making this digital signature where they say, “Yes, I’ve created this work of digital art and I’m turning it into an addition of 10 or an addition of 100.  And these 100 NFTs represent ownership.”  

That’s honestly what I would tell them.  This is not a new concept.  It’s taken from the physical art world.  NFTs are just mainstreaming it and making it accessible for everybody.  

HOST:  It kind of reminds me if you’re walking in New York City and then you see all the people selling the fake handbags and stuff on the streets.  You can go and buy a $20 fake Louis Vuitton purse, but if you’re somebody that cares about having a Louis Vuitton purse, you’re probably not going to be happy with that.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Right.  Exactly.  That’s a great example.

HOST:  Other than lack of education, do you see any other barriers that are keeping people from entering into the space of buying NFTs or understanding NFTs?  And maybe more broadly, preventing people from entering into the crypto space, in general.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Absolutely and this was the one thing that we’ve decided to focus on when we started Nifty Gateway.  Back in 2018, it was just very difficult for anyone to use crypto technology at all because onboarding onto MetaMask, buying Ethereum, and sending it to your MetaMask wallet is intimidating, especially for people who have never done it before.  

Adam Draper, the head of Boost VC.  Shout to Boost VC, right, Matthew?  We were in Boost together.

MATTHEW GOULD:  Let’s go Boost.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Go Boost.  I hope you’re listening, Adam.  He hates this anecdote because I put him on blast.  

The anecdote I always use to talk about how confusing it was.  Back in 2018, someone was trying to send Adam Draper a CryptoKittie and he was just trying to receive it as a gift.  Not even buy it.  And he spent four hours trying to receive it as a gift and then gave up because he was so confused.  And I think that anecdote illustrates just how intimidating technology can be for newbies.

In the beginning, Nifty Gateway was really an attempt to make NFTs more accessible.  And the idea is if we make them more accessible, then more people will collect them.  You can see that, right now, at NiftyGateway.com, the current product, you never have to onboard on the cryptocurrency in order to collect NFTs.  It’s all about buying the NFTs that you like.  And then you can buy and sell them without ever getting cryptocurrency.  It cashes out directly to your bank account.  If you're in the US, you can cash out to Gemini internationally.  

But that’s really the driving concept behind what we’re doing.  We want to let people access NFTs without ever having to onboard in cryptocurrency.  Because cryptocurrency onboarding is very difficult.  And that’s where the name comes from too.  It’s a gateway into NFTs, a nifty gateway.

HOST:  Got it.  And is that something that differentiates you guys from competitors like OpenSea or other companies that you can buy NFTs from?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Yeah, definitely.  I would say that’s one of the main things we focus on.  

The other main thing that we focus on is really the quality of NFTs on every project.  Basically, Nifty Gateway is a co-sign.  The same way that an art gallery is the co-sign of the artist that they present.  For an artist releasing on Nifty Gateway, we know they’re in it for the long term.  We know that they have a devoted fanbase.  And that’s another really main thing that we try and focus on.  And we spent a lot of effort on artist relations and helping our artists build their own careers.  

Because this was the other thing in 2018.  Right after CryptoKitties, there were a lot of really low-quality NFT projects.  The example I always like to talk about is CryptoMasterpieces.  The whole project was they just tokenized Dutch Masters and they just sold you an NFT.  And I was like, “This literally makes no sense.  Why do you guys have the rights to tokenize this?”  

But that was the example.  There are a lot of those projects way back in the day when we first started Nifty Gateway.  Now, honestly, I think that the average quality of NFTs that are out there is much higher than it was a few years ago.  And I define quality as effort and authenticity put into the artwork or the project itself.  People are really approaching it with far more authenticity now.  But back then, this was more of a problem.

MATTHEW GOULD:  Actually, I have a question.  For Nifty Gateway, how does it work?  What’s the process to go through in order to mint or do a drop?  Do you guys curate every person who lists on Nifty Gateway?  How’s that set up?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Correct.  We’re the only platform where all of the content released on the primary market is explicitly signed off by us before it goes live.  Of course, that comes with its own set of challenges because if a project is controversial or if people don’t like it, we’re liable and on the hook.

But the only primary market releases that happen are through our drops.  Those are scheduled by us.  We used to do a drop every two weeks.  Now, we do a drop every day and sometimes, even two a day.  As opposed to a lot of other entity projects are more of a platform, so you’ll be onboarded and then you can release work when you want.  But on Nifty Gateway, everything is explicitly signed off by us.  

MATTHEW GOULD:  So, you guys are more like a Christie's Auction House or something like that.  Instead of like an eBay where anyone can list.  You guys make sure that the people coming on have at least some level of credibility if they’re going to be on Nifty.  

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Correct.  That’s the value prop.

MATTHEW GOULD:  Got it.  And then who’s using Nifty Gateway now?  And are you seeing normal people using it yet?  Or I guess that’s a weird definition.  I’m actually just wondering who are you seeing using it today?  Who are the beneficiaries?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Honestly, there are tons of normal people using it.  I think people underestimate the extent to which NFT collecting is a fun social hobby for a lot of people and that’s happened way faster than I thought.  A lot of my friends have group chats centered around the jobs.  Where every time there’s a Nifty Gateway job happening, they’re like, “Okay, what are we buying, guys?”  

I remember a few weeks ago I was hanging out with a buddy of mine and all of our jobs are at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.  And at 6:55, he came running out of his room and sat down at his computer.  And he’s like, “Okay, guys, what should we buy on the drop?”  I thought he was talking to me.  He was actually on a group chat with his cohort of buyers.  People that he shops on Nifty Gateway with.  He was on a video call with them which was such a funny moment for me.  

I think there are a lot of normal people.  I don’t even know how to define normal people.  But a lot of people that I know from all different walks of life are telling me about their Nifty Gateway collections and talking to me about collecting, et cetera.  

MATTHEW GOULD:  I feel the market is mostly art right now for these types of NFTs.  Is that true for you guys at Nifty Gateway?  And are you seeing any other projects out there other than art?  I’ve seen music, for instance, as being tokenized with NFTs.  I’m just curious what you guys are seeing happening.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Totally.  We are mostly focused on art.  One of the coolest aspects about this.  NFTs, as a medium, I think allow musicians to contribute to the creation of art objects in a way that they are not able to do with other mediums.  

If you’re a musician, you can’t really create a painting.  You can’t really create a sculpture that incorporates your music, but you can create an NFT that incorporates your music.  I think a lot of the musicians that release on our platform are really creating art.  They are just creating this new medium of art where that wasn’t really possible before NFTs.  

We’re mostly art-focused, but they're definitely other NFT projects like Hashmasks and CryptoPunks.  I think there are a lot of NBA Top Shots.  There’s a pretty wide variety of NFTs out there.  But on Nifty Gateway, it’s mostly digital art.  

HOST:  I just want to call out something I see in your background.  You’ve got a lot of pieces of art hanging up.  I know for one of your screens, you actually had a moving art piece hanging up before this.  So, I just wanted to ask.  For people who are maybe skeptics about NFTs right now, other than just getting educated on it, and understanding more of the value of NFTs, what are some other tangible ways that you can onboard people onto NFTs?  

One example would be to buy a digital photo frame and put your NFT there, so you can hang it on your wall.  And this more resembles what people are familiar with today.  It’s looking at art on their wall.  Is there anything else people can do to onboard themselves to NFTs? 

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Honestly, go to NiftyGateway.com and start buying.  That’s the best onboarding.  There’s no replacement.  That sounds self-interested, but that really is my advice.  Or at least go scope out some stuff you want to buy and then wait for a drop that you like and buy that.  

A lot of people have misaligned expectations on Nifty Gateway I think.  People have maybe seen the price of some NFTs go up in the past, so they expect to be able to come in, buy an NFT, and then resell it for more an hour later or a day later.  I tend to advise against that and I really think you should be pretty serious and intentional about your NFT purchases.  Like all art, NFTs are not nearly as liquid as some assets.  

If you’re in a rush to sell your NFTs, you’re likely going to sell them at a loss.  What I encourage people to do is identify the art and the artist that they really like and they connect with.  Purposely collect those NFTs and then just be patient with them.  And really try to build a collection that brings you joy from the artist you like.  People get burned when they speculate on all kinds of stuff.  We do see people get burned speculating on NFTs on Nifty Gateway.  

HOST:  Can you shout out some of your favorite artists on Nifty Gateway?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  I love all the Nifty Gateway artists.  They’re an incredibly talented group of people and I’m really honored for the ability to work with them.  This one I have in my background.  This is a Raul Cordero.  Very early.  I think he released on or second or third drop, so almost a full year ago at this point.  All the artists on Nifty Gateway are fantastic.  

MATTHEW GOULD:  Well, I have a question actually.  Maybe you can help me with it.  How do you guys figure out pricing for these NFTs that get listed?  What do you think about the $6.6 million Beeple painting that recently got sold?  Do you think the value of this digital could eventually surpass the value of physical art as more creators get in here and make it over the next several years?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  I actually do and here’s why.  I was listening to a podcast the other day with Peter Fenton.  They were talking about their Sorare investment.  Sorare is another NFT project.  You just raise a large Series A from Benchmark.  A great project.  Congratulations to them.  

But Peter Fenton was talking about Uber because he was also an investor in Uber.  And he said that back when Uber was first getting started, they sat down and did some calculations about market size.  And they looked at the total amount of spend on black cards in each city and they ended up being wrong by a factor of about 100.  

And the reason why.  It sounds so obvious in retrospect.  But in most cities, it’s very difficult to call a taxi and it’s a huge pain in the ass.  But it’s really easy to call an Uber.  So, people ended up going more places because transportation was so much more accessible.  It increased the market size of transportation by quite a large amount.  

I actually think the same thing is happening with art and NFTs right in front of our eyes.  A lot of my friends who are into collecting NFTs are not collecting physical art largely because it’s intimidating and difficult.  Physical art is really difficult to move.  You have to send it across the country if you want to move it.  

Frankly, it can be much harder to sell physical art than an NTF.  I think we’re actually already seeing early evidence.  Because NFTs are so much more accessible than physical art, overall, people are going to spend more money on collecting NFTs than they do on physical art.  Of course, it's probably very self-interested for me to give, but I do think we’re seeing early signs of that.  

I honestly think that the NFT market will be larger at the end of the day.  People spend about $60 billion on physical art.  We’re still nowhere near that NFTs.  We’re maybe at a 50th of that annual money spent.  That’s my opinion.  

HOST:  I think I know your answer to this.  Do you see this NFT hype cycle right now as a bubble that’s going to burst or do you see it continuing on into the long term?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Honestly, my take is whenever you have something that’s going from no activity at all such as buying NTFs to this currently is a widespread activity.  It’s not going to be a smooth ride up and there are going to be pockets of irrational exuberance along the way.

My personal heuristic is this in a bubble.  I try to look at the number of buyers who basically would have to sell whatever they’re buying at the end of the month in order to pay their bills.  I do think people expecting short-term price depreciation can really lead to irrational exuberance and bubbles.  And frankly, I am seeing a little bit more of that on Nifty Gateway than I was a few months ago.  

But even if this is a period of inflated expectations, which is certainly possible, I still think there’s a much bigger picture here and there’s a longer-term vision of NFTs being a type of art collecting that’s significantly more accessible and significantly easier to do. 

Short term, maybe there is a little bit of exuberance, but long-term NFTs are definitely here to say.

HOST:  For sure.  And I know earlier you mentioned when you first got into the crypto space, you didn’t really get in from a finance angle.  That wasn’t something you were interested in.  For people listening, I think a lot of people out there still think that crypto and blockchain are all about finance or it’s for gamers or people like that.  But I think NFTs really make the crypto space feel a lot more welcoming and relatable to the masses.  Do you see NFTs as being a gateway for the masses to get into crypto?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Yeah, absolutely.  I would say I do.  There are a lot of crypto concepts that people slowly learn as they start to collect NFTs and they get interested in other stuff.  The NFT people they follow on Twitter are tweeting about DeFi.  I think it’s a great gateway.  

Interestingly, honestly, I think the issues that NFTs have to deal with are a little bit different because we’re in a cultural space and we’re maybe closer to a movie studio than a bank.  This means people are worried about different things.  A good example I think is the electricity that blockchains use.  That’s a big issue for a lot of artists.  They say, “Blockchains use a lot of electricity.”  Even though I think NFTs account for, by our math, about 0.9% of transactions on Ethereum Mainnet.  It’s a pretty small percentage of transactions that are going to NFTs. 

And as we like to point out, the Ethereum blockchain is going to use the same amount of energy regardless of whether or not people are using it for NFTs.

But still, I think because we operate in a cultural space, it is more of a concern for our average customer and our average artists than maybe it is for people using a DeFi protocol.

HOST:  Looking ahead.  Where do you see NFTs progressing for the rest of 2021?  Where do you see this a year from now with NFTs?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Honestly, any prediction I make is going to be wrong.  When we first launched our Nifty Gateway 2.0 marketplace last year after getting acquired by Gemini, we had $30,000 in volume in March 2020 which we were thrilled about.  We were like, “Wow, people are spending $30,000 on our site.”

And then in February 2021, we had $75 million of GMV.  I definitely would not have predicted that kind of growth in such a short period of time.  It’s been pretty insane to witness.  Honestly, who knows what it’ll be like in a year.

HOST:  And do you see any specific types of NFTs booming more than others?  Obviously, Nifty Gateway is mostly about art, but if we’re also talking about music NFTs or thinking about Unisocks physical product NFTs.  Things like that.  Do you see a specific type of NFT really shooting ahead in the next year?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Honestly, I’ve been in the space a while and every time you tell someone about it, their reaction is almost universally, “Well, NFT digital art is dumb, but what if we used NFTs to track physical products?”  I’ve never really seen an NFT physical product tracking use case that I found very compelling, frankly.  I’ve seen physical items paired with NFT digital art sales and that seems to get people excited.  But there’s no claim of the NFT authenticating a physical item.  

Again, I’ve been in the space for two years.  I’ve never really seen something that’s gotten me excited.  It’s possible people will make progress in that area, but I certainly would be surprised.  And it seems like a weak use case of blockchain.  

I think art is going to continue to do awesome.  And I’ve also been long of the opinion that after one use case of NFTs breakthrough, we’ll start to see a lot more interesting use cases.  People have always talked about video game items as NFTs.  I think there’s some really fascinating potential there.  

I’ve always thought there are a number of physical Tchotchke’s in our life that we could replace with NFTs.  Like Christmas cards, for example.  Why are we all sending Christmas cards to our families?  We could just send them NFTs instead.  I think that would be kind of cool.  

HOST:  I agree with that 100%.  It’s an annual debate.  I’m like, “Why are we doing this?”  

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Right.  And then you just end up with a physical card.  It’s like, “Where do I put this?”  And you could send somebody an e-card like an email, but that’s kind of lame.  With an NFT, you went through the trouble to mint this thing for me.  

HOST:  For sure.  And then is there anything new happening for Nifty Gateway in 2021 that people should be aware of?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  I think Nifty Gateway is in a stage.  We’ve grown really quickly and now, our focus has to be on getting our legs underneath us and solidifying the ground that we’re on.  

When we launched with our current structure where all the primary market sales are through drops and the secondary market is-- When we launched with that structure, we didn’t even know if that was the direction we would end up going.  We thought of it as an experiment.  But honestly, that format has grown faster than we could have possibly expected.  And so, really our focus is on fixing the core product and making the core product awesome.  And then maybe after that, we’ll think about what else we can do.

MATTHEW GOULD:  Well, we’ve experienced the same thing at Unstoppable.  This has just been a huge year for crypto user growth, in general.  And everything across the board is 10x what it was 12 months ago and in a pretty short time.  

I know you’re tired.  I’m exhausted too.  I wake up every morning and it’s like, “Oh.  I got to keep going until this bull market is over.”  There are just going to be infinite demands on time for everyone working in crypto. 

I wanted to ask some more personal questions, though.  I’m actually curious what it was like founding a company with your twin.  Because I don’t know if people know, but it’s actually you and your brother who put Nifty Gateway together.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Honesty, it was a really good experience.  With having an identical, there’s already a mind meld and you guys think about stuff in a very similar way.  If you think about founders and founding a company in terms of onboarding time, there’s basically no onboarding time.  You’re already on the same wavelength about almost everything.  That’s a huge advantage I think in founding a company.  

There’s also that added layer of trust.  It’s much harder to screw over your brother because my mom would probably get pretty pissed and call me if I tried to screw Griffin out of the equity or something.  You don’t really have to worry about trusting your co-founder which I think is another added benefit.

MATTHEW GOULD:  Got it.  So, when you guys play board games together, do you team up on the other people on the board game, or do you guys actually try to keep it fair?  I’m kind of curious.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  It depends.  It can go either way.

MATTHEW GOULD:  Got it.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  If you’re playing against us in a board game, the strategy is you have to turn us against each other which is not as hard as you might think.  Part of being an identical twin is you’re usually pretty competitive with your identical twin.  And it’s just a board game.  The stakes are not that high.  That’s what I would recommend doing if you ever play Griffin and me in a board game.

MATTHEW GOULD:  Next time we’re in that situation.  Another question here that I think people might find interesting.  What was it like to go through a tech accelerator like Boost VC?  And I was actually curious.  Did you guys both graduate college before starting your startup or did you take off a little bit early?  Because I actually don’t know that history.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Shoutout to Boost.  Shoutout to Adam and Brayton.  I hope you guys are listening.  We were in the same cohort as Unstoppable.  That was fun.  That was a fun time.  

What was it like?  Well, we’re actually quite grateful because we did both graduate college, and then we both had jobs out of college.  But I think we were both pretty bored and had that entrepreneurial itch.  And I think like many people our age and who are in a similar situation we underestimated the difficulty of starting a startup quite a lot.  We severely underestimated the difficulty of starting a startup.

So, we had both quit our jobs and we were actually living in a bunkbed in San Francisco.  We had one room and we were living in a bunkbed.  We went out to pitch a bunch of venture capitalists and basically, they all rejected us unceremoniously.  Which in hindsight is obvious because our expectations were clearly misaligned and we were overconfident.

But at the time, it was worrying because we were trying to figure out how to fund the company.  We had just quit our jobs to start.  We ended up getting a little bit of traction with our credit card payment processing product and that’s when we met Brayton.  

Getting into Boost was very much a lifeline for us because I think it would have been hard to continue without doing the tech accelerator.  And then Adam and Brayton were both enormously helpful throughout the whole process.  

MATTHEW GOULD:  I think it also helps you justify it to others.  If you’re just randomly sleeping on a couch somewhere in San Francisco and you have this idea for a company, your friends and family are like, “What’s wrong with you?”  And you do it for three months.  They’re like, “Okay, he’s taking a little break off of real-life and maybe he’ll figure it out.”  

But then when you get that first check in from someone else that believes in you that’s a credible investor, all of a sudden, your friends and family are like, “Oh, wow.  They’re actually doing a thing.”  And that gives you the flexibility to go six months, 12 months or two, three, or five years or whatever it takes in order to get to that next step.

The next question I wanted to ask you.  What was it like selling to Gemini?  What made you guys decide to sell the company?  And do you see entrepreneurship in your distant future again?  Or did you do it once and you said to yourself, “Never again?  That’s way, way, way harder than I thought it would ever be.”

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Well, honestly, we’re still operating Nifty Gateway inside of Gemini.  It does very much feel like a startup experience.  We’re still really accountable to the customers.  There is less uncertainty around complete failure versus failing inside of a larger company.  But it still does feel very much like we’re starting a company and growing the team internally.  I think there are a lot of similarities.

Honestly, the decision to sell to Gemini basically went like this.  We had finished Boost and we were talking to a few different VCs, thinking about raising a seed round.  

And then we met the Winklevoss twins.  I think we got along with them really well initially and they seemed like great guys.  They seemed like good people to work with.  They floated the idea of an acquisition.  Basically, what they told us was, “Hey, we think NFTs are the future too.”  This was really cool to hear because again, this was back in the time when no one thought NFTs were the future.  But they said, “We think NFTs are the future also.  We think that there are big benefits for you guys coming in and building out Nifty Gateway underneath the Gemini umbrella.”  

And here’s what the benefits are.  There’s a huge tech advantage underlying all of this where Nifty Gateway, in its current form, is built on top of Gemini Custody technology.  That really was impossible.  Before the acquisition, that was not the case at all and we would not be able to build the current product without an absolutely exceptional partner who has done security and custody at the level that Gemini has done it before.  It allowed us to realize our product vision, essentially.

And then overall, there’s also another factor.  At that time, we had gotten a good amount of traction.  Not a great amount of traction.  We knew that we were going to have to build a new product in order for Nifty Gateway to be a billion-dollar company.  We were still early on in our careers.  

And I think a lot of entrepreneurs get the advice of, “Hey, it’s billion or bust.”  But it can actually be really beneficial for your career to sell a company early on and to have an exit under your belt.  That’s a really good life experience and that really provides a lot of credibility for whatever you want to do.  

I think from all those perspectives, it seemed like a compelling choice.    

MATTHEW GOULD:  It must be comfortable to sell the company to another set of twins.  You already know that they have at least that in common.  I always thought that was funny.  The twins got bought by the twins.  At least that’s what we said in our Boost VC cohort.  That was kind of silly to see that happen.

One other question.  It’s my last question for you.  Are there any artists out there who you would just love to see come create some art on Nifty Gateway?  Because let’s give them a shoutout.  Put them on blast here.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  The funny part is people always ask us that.  And with this year of Nifty Gateway growing so quickly, we’re basically in talks with all of the dream artists.  The dream list has been--

MATTHEW GOULD:  Fulfilled.

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  - - dream list.

MATTHEW GOULD:  Well, that’s fantastic news.  I’m looking forward to seeing all those come to fruition.  And the things you guys are doing over at Nifty Gateway are super exciting.  I love going in and checking out the drops that come up due.  I’m one of those people.  

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Nice.  

HOST:  Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off.  Shifting gears here.  The next segment we have is “Explain Your Tweet”.  This is where I go through your Twitter and find a cryptic, interesting, or funny tweet.  I will say most of your Twitter is just retweeting cool artists.  So, if you guys want to discover a cool artist and you’re like, “God, it’s too overwhelming.  I’ll just go on Nifty Gateway and there are so many cool artists here.  Just go to Duncan’s Twitter account and see all the artists he’s retweeted.”  Very cool.

Also, your pinned tweet is very educational as well.  If you’re still a skeptic about NFTs and you’re wondering why you would want to buy digital art when I can just download a jpeg or whatever, go read that tweet.  You’ll learn a lot there.

But there was one tweet that I wanted to call out.  This was from January 3rd of this year.  It’s a threat you tweeted.  “My favorite part of my job is seeing artists get rich.  My least favorite part is we can’t work with as many artists as I want to.  One of my main goals in 2021 is to figure out to expand the number of artists that Nifty Gateway can work with.”  

It sounds like you guys have already done that in the last two months since you tweeted that out.  But then in a thread, you also tweeted, “It’s really remarkable how much higher quality the average NFT is now versus two years ago.”  And so, for most people listening, most people probably weren’t in the NFT space two years ago or didn’t even know what an NFT is.  What kinds of NFT art were out there two years ago?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  That’s a great question.  Honestly, the NFT industry two years ago was weird because people didn’t have a great concept of what they were building.  People didn’t have a lot of conviction about what NTFs would really be used for.  It’s easier now because there are digital art marketplaces like Nifty Gateway and others that are strongly anchored like NFTs to authenticate digital.  

But back then, there were CryptoKitties and there was a period in time where CryptoKitties definitely had a lot of short-term speculators and there was like a bubble bursting of CryptoKitties.  Back then, people couldn’t point to one use case and be like, “Hey, this is what NFTs are used for and this is why they’re used.”  

What everyone ended up doing was hedging on that question and a lot of the marketplaces or projects that got built were built to accommodate way too many use cases of NFTs.  Marketplaces would be like, “Okay, we sell CryptoKitties, but we’re also working with this project we think will eventually make house deeds as NFTs.”  And then we’re also doing all this other stuff as NFTs.

There just wasn’t a lot of conviction about what specifically NFTs were for.  We were not the first NFT digital art marketplace but of a super rare known origin of some of the earliest examples.  

But basically, in that two-year time period, a few people with strong convictions sat down and said, “Okay, NFTs will be used for digital art.  I’m going to go build a marketplace that only does that.  And people are going to come to my marketplace and there’s no ambiguity about what’s on here.  It’s digital art and that’s the end of the story.”  And that actually really helped anchor the whole NFT experience.  

So, two years ago, you would see all sorts of weird stuff.  It wasn’t exactly clear.  With anything, a company, or a lot of creative endeavors, there has to be a way to translate effort into results.  And it’s much better if there’s a clear path for exactly how to do that.

But back then, there wasn’t exactly a clear path.  If you sat down and you're like, “Okay, I’m going to spend hours and hours of effort to make the best possible NFT.”  It wasn’t exactly clear what that meant.  What you would spend those hours doing.  Partly because people were so confused about NFTs and what they were actually for.  

Once it became clear that NFTs are a digital art marketplace, then it’s like, “I’m going to go find the person who spent 50,000 hours in their life making digital art.  They’ve got to be pretty good at it by now and I’m going to ask them to mint an NFT on my platform.”  That’s a big reason why the space has progressed so much.

HOST:  Got it.  Well, thanks so much, Duncan.  I love this conversation.  I hope our listeners got some new insight into NFTs and their value of NFTs.  For people that were skeptics before or maybe just didn’t know much about it.

Before you go, just tell people where they can find you if they want to connect with you personally, as well as where they can go to check out Nifty Gateway.  And explain the core UX on Nifty Gateway a little bit.  Where can people go initially to do some cool and interesting things, both as consumers or as creators?  Who knows?  Maybe we have some cool artists listening to this that want to create their own art and mint it on Nifty Gateway.  How do they do that?

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Totally.  The place you can find me is on Twitter.  My handle is dccockfoster.  If you guys know who has the DCF handle, please let me know because I’m really trying to get that.  

As you said, I don’t really tweet much nowadays mostly because I’m so busy at work.  But once this bull market ends, then I’ll be spitting out fire funny tweets that are mostly about NFTs.  

Nifty Gateway.  Just go to NiftyGateway.com.  If you want to keep up with the drops, there’s a form to put in your email address.  And basically, you’ll get a weekly email with all the drops.  That’s a really fun mailing list to be on because you just get cool art in your inbox every week.  I would recommend signing up for that mailing list. 

I think if you’re an artist, honestly, the best advice I can give you is to try and get traction on social media and try and get people to notice your art.  We do play a tutorial role, but a big influence on our decision is how much traction and how much of a following artists already have.  That’s a big key factor in deciding who we launch work with.  Go try and build your traction on social media.  

Also, pick a style.  Do something that no one else has done and stick to that style.  That’s honestly the best.  This is advice that people give in the physical art world as well.  It’s very true in NFTs.  A lot of the most prominent NFT artists have a very specific visual style.  You could pick out their work from a mile away and be like, “Yes, that’s their work.”  

Twisted Vacancy is actually a pretty good example.  Before he started, he was good with motion graphics.  But he sat down and researched a very specific color pallet and he said, “Okay, all my artworks are going to use this specific color pallet.”  And because of that, his works are very visually distinct and you can pick them out from a mile away.  I think that’s honestly a really important part of building an art career.  Having a visually distinct style.  

HOST:  Awesome.  Those are some really great tips.  Go sign up for the newsletter for the drops and if you’re an artist, pay attention to these tips and get your art on Nifty Gateway.

Thanks so much, Duncan.  This was a lot of fun.  I really appreciate you being here.  Thanks, Matt, for co-hosting with me as always.  Thank you, listeners, for turning in and we’ll be back again soon with another episode of The Unstoppable Podcast.  

DUNCAN COCK FOSTER:  Thank you, guys. 

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