Matt Medved: The Four Factors That Make NFTs Successful

The cofounder of NFT Now on distinguishing between hits and rugpulls. Medved is a speaker at CoinDesk's Consensus festival in June.

AccessTimeIconMay 3, 2022 at 3:37 p.m. UTC
Updated May 4, 2022 at 7:53 p.m. UTC
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Ekin Genç has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, EUobserver, Motherboard, and Decrypt.

Keeping a finger on the pulse of the fast-moving non-fungible token world isn’t an easy feat. But Matt Medved took on that challenge last year and cofounded NFT Now, an online outlet focused on all things NFT.

Majoring in journalism at Northwestern University and having a deep interest in dance music, Medved served as editor-in-chief of music and culture magazine Spin and also founded Billboard’s dance/electronic music vertical Billboard Dance.

To his disappointment, when he ventured into the NFT space after first hearing about and becoming fascinated with the technology in late 2020, there wasn’t much in the way of trustworthy and independent information on this nascent industry. With his long track record of professional publishing, Medved knew NFT Now was the logical next step for him.

This article is part of Road to Consensus, a series highlighting speakers and the big ideas they will discuss at Consensus 2022, CoinDesk's festival of the year June 9-12 in Austin, Texas. Learn more.

Medved had an eclectic and fairly global career – not only as a magazine publisher but also a DJ and a non-profit worker. While completing law and master's degrees from George Washington University, he carried out human rights research in Nigeria for global conflict resolution NGO Search for Common Ground. He also spent a year in South Korea teaching English. As a professional DJ, he performed at top-notch festivals including Tomorrowland in Belgium. For a wide-compassing cultural ecosystem like NFTs, all that bedrock of skills and experiences comes quite handy.

Despite his past being deeply rooted in the music industry, he’s not a music NFT maximalist. He’s bullish on the space as a whole – and that also extends to less-sexy NFT stuff like property deeds and government record-keeping. After all, NFT as a technology is transformative and cuts across use cases, and it’s the underlying technology that excites Medved.

As he makes apparent in this interview, Medved sounds most excited about historical NFTs like Rare Pepes. Those collections didn’t have financial incentives in mind (in contrast to today’s NFT projects) and they were all about the creative use of technology – the purest synergy between artistic expression and technological deployment.

Medved, a speaker at CoinDesk’s Consensus festival in June, spoke with CoinDesk from his home in New York City.

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(Matt Medved/Wikimedia)

You come from a family of medical professionals like me. In my experience, especially for medical families, there's an expectation that kids will be inspired by their parents' practice. And yet, we both ended up in the world of NFTs and publishing somehow. How did that happen?!

That's a great question. I do feel really fortunate. My dad is a neurologist. My mother is a nurse and a genetic counselor, but they never pressured me to pursue a medical career. They were really good about supporting me in my areas of passion, which for my upbringing were always writing and music. Writing from an early age – creative writing, poetry camps, stuff like that.

While in Milan during 2013, I discovered bitcoin [BTC] and started doing crypto. I was really just dabbling, bought the top of that market, which, in fact, crashed two weeks later. But I've just held on to it [because] I believed in the technology.

And I really started to get more interested in cryptocurrency and the blockchain space during the peak years of Billboard Dance, like 2016 to 2018, which coincided with the bull run.

Just by virtue of being really involved in the dance music space, I knew a lot of artists that were really at the forefront of that. We knew this had the power to empower artists, but it was about figuring out how. To me, it was NFTs that ended up being that missing puzzle piece.

3LAU [founder of music NFT platform Royal] pulled me down the NFT rabbit hole in fall 2020. For me, it was just a call with him, and every light bulb was going off in my head. I was, like, “This is the technology I've believed in for a long time. It’s finally disrupting what I'm actually passionate about – music, art and culture.”

That's when I became someone who was singularly focused on the NFT space. We launched the NFT Now social accounts in January 2021 because we felt like there was a real need for an independent, credible voice in the space. We started seeing tremendous growth and realized that we had an opportunity to build something really special. My co-founders Alejandro [and] Sam and I took it from there.

Given your past experiences and areas of interest, would you say you are most bullish on music NFTs?

It's funny, actually. I am very bullish on music NFTs but I actually surprised a lot of people when I first got into the space. People expected me to be all about music NFTs and really focus on that. To be honest, I love music and I am very bullish on it – I do think it will disrupt the industry.

But I was really fascinated by the historical NFTs movement that led to the boom in mainstream attention of NFTs. I actually dove really head-deep in crypto art and started learning about the crypto art OGs, like the early artists on SuperRare, the early pioneers in Namecoin, Rare Pepes and all that.

Crypto-native culture drives so much of the space. And for me, I already knew a lot about the music industry, I knew a lot about music. I was actually enamored by the elements of discovery to learn this history. I've always been fascinated by history across everything – from music history, to real history in real life.

It's interesting because I actually became really fascinated by the history of crypto art and generative art. One of the things that I love so much about NFTs on the blockchain is that the receipts are all there, right? I was going through the first artists to make them on SuperRare, and learning about XCOPY, Sarah Zucker and all of these artists that have been pushing things forward.

That said, I am extremely bullish on music NFTs. I have so many friends in the industry – the artist side, industry side and so on – who have been hitting me up trying to get more information or understanding. For me, it was really, really heartening to see that because I think for a long time, we were trying to get anyone in the music industry to care about this. Now, it's something that they just can't afford to ignore.

What is about historical NFTs that appeal to you?

I don't think that just being old is enough but I think that as we continue down this path, historical NFTs are going to be a smaller percentage of the overall [NFT landscape].

One thing I actually love about historical projects is that a lot of them were created without the same financial calculus that we see in projects today. That's one thing that originally drew me to CryptoPunks – the idea that they were given away, they were an experiment. I love artists like XCOPY who were experimenting on SuperRare, who never expected their works to be selling for seven figures in their life. There's something really special about that creative expression.

How do you feel about the fact that there are a lot of scammers trying to exploit the NFT space? How do you handle tons of NFT pitches you receive every day, some of which could be rugpulls in the making?

I think you bring up a really good point. As you can probably guess, my DMs are an absolute nightmare. I'm being bombarded from every angle on everything. A lot of those projects seem suspect, and there are a lot of people who don't act in good faith.

Our mission for NFT Now is to empower the creators of culture and drive mainstream adoption of NFTs. Part of the latter includes education. I think we have a responsibility to protect newcomers to the space. We hold our editorial standards to the highest caliber.

We have actually now solved a tough problem that we were having, which was finding trustworthy, credible information and resources on the NFT space. When we got into the space, we found that the climate was really characterized by platforms with megaphones promoting their own drops, and also talking to influencers shilling their own bags. We were like, “Where is the Billboard of the NFT space? And where is that independent, credible brand that is trustworthy and in the loop?” That's what we're building with NFT Now.

As someone who wants to bring a billion people into Web 3 or NFTs, I believe that this technology is going to fundamentally redefine how creators and their communities create shared value together.

All of these scams and rugpulls are really scary because the last thing that I want to see happen is what happened with the [initial coin offering] boom in 2017, 2018 where a lot of good people dipped their toes in the water and got burned. A lot of them left with a bad taste in their mouth, and some of them have not returned to the space. The last thing that I want to see is for newcomers to the NFT space to be burned similarly, and to be turned off from what I think is an incredibly powerful and transformational technology for empowerment.

From what you've seen and experienced so far, what are the qualities of a good NFT project?

That's a great question. I always weigh projects according to four core factors. To me, those factors are artistry, community, history and utility.

I want to say first and foremost, artistry is enough in its own right. Artists who are genuinely expressing their creative vision are creating value for the space. I know there’s a lot of debate right now around the artistry versus utility side. I don't think artists should be pressured into adding utility. There are some interesting creative ways – if they feel inclined – to build a community around what they do.

Community, obviously, for a lot of these projects, is the key factor. The way I define the difference between audience and communities is that an audience knows you exist and are aware of you but a community actually wants to see you win and feels invested in you. We've seen in the rise of these collectible PFP projects that the community is often the biggest determining factor to a project’s success.

When it comes to utility, I do think that there are some really interesting and exciting use cases for NFTs, [such as] provable membership and immutable record keeping.

What about NFT project founders? What qualities do you look at there?

I think the biggest thing is for founders to make it very clear that they are here to create value, and not extract value from the space. Oftentimes, that’s the reason why the space is so wary of projects that come from nowhere that don't have a track record.

Some of the most successful community-projects that we've seen – like Bored Ape Yacht Club – have made far more money off of the secondary sales than they did with the primary sale because they did sustainable community-building to raise their perceived value to that level. They did that because they deliver.

So when you have these projects that are now valuable and started quite small, it's a bit presumptuous when a project that doesn't have that track record, sets its [mint] price quite high. And you wonder sometimes if those founders are acting in good faith and going to be as incentivized to work to create that value in the long term, especially given that there are a lot of scammers and rugpulls.

How do you feel about the fact that many NFT project founders choose to remain anonymous, which may seem odd to newcomers to NFTs or crypto in general?

When we're looking at projects, seeing that the founder is doxxed is obviously a reassuring factor because you know that they're not just going to drop off the face of the Earth. Anything they do is going to impact their reputation and not some projects. But NFT Now is a very anon-friendly publication. We never try to doxx anyone, we always want to protect people's identity so they feel comfortable.

Some people have different levels of comfort. There's some people we communicate over DMs or if they want to do an interview, maybe we'll do it over email. I think it's up to everyone to figure out where they feel comfortable.

For those who are newcomers to the space, it's just part of crypto culture that there are anonymous or pseudonymous figures in the space. Even the founder of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto – people don't know if it was a real person or a pseudonym as well. I think one thing that's really interesting, though, is that a focus on being able to build your own digital identity. It’s something that has always fascinated our society since the days of the cave paintings to Renaissance portraiture.

PFP projects are a natural extension of our desire to create digital identity. And what's interesting is now, we can actually own those digital identities. I think that on another level too, changing your profile picture to NFT or PFP, on some levels is a signal to the world that you're both literally and figuratively invested in this movement. I think that's why you see a lot of people rallying around these PFP communities. It's really fascinating that at the end of the day, whether we’re in Web 3, 2 or 1 – we're all humans. Psychology is still at play, but it's been fascinating to watch from a sociological perspective.

When you say it's a signal, you mean like a signal for cultural belonging, right? Not a signal as in financial flexing.

Yeah. Twitter is one of the purist segments of the NFT space and Instagram somewhat more like a tourist segment. I remember I had a PFP on my Twitter for a while and I was like, “You know what, I'm gonna make a conscious decision to switch on Instagram.” I knew a lot of people would be like, “What the hell is this?” and part of that was about creating that curiosity. Part of it was putting that in front of people, and people DMing me being, “What is a CryptoPunk?” and I was more than happy to help explain it to them.

Do you think these attitudes will eventually change?

I always say that we are the last generations to grow up without digital ownership from day one. Future generations aren't going to have the same hang ups as ours do, right? “When will I see [this NFT] on my wall, oh I will right click and save” – all that silliness. [People] are gonna accept [digital and physical ownership] for their own unique strengths and appeals. It's just going to be a normal part of everyone's experience.

I’m hoping, especially with NFT Now’s content, to show people that there's a lot more, that this genie is not going back inside the bottle. Digital ownership is going to become a cultural constant in the generations to come.

What we always try to do with NFT Now is zoom out a bit, show people the bigger picture and inspire people by showcasing some of these less heralded, but no less important, stories of empowerment.

But I get just as excited when I see more day to day on some stories of artists quitting their day jobs to be able to focus on art. Artists being able to – digital artists especially – make a living off of their own creative vision and not have to be reliant on a client. Seeing how photographers are going from a services economy to a proper goods economy and building, collecting that kind of stuff. … Seeing independent musicians make far more out of NFT drops than they could have ever made.

That's what really excites me – that's what gets me up in the morning – and that's what we're hoping to show people on NFT Now. We’re very much understanding that for many people, they may get in for PFP. They may get in by trying to flip something, and that's okay. We hope that they can also roll their ears, start to dig a little deeper, learn a bit more and realize that they shouldn't be missing the forest for the trees. This is going to be an absolute sea change in how creators and communities create value together.

NFTs are more than art, even though they’re only associated with digital art these days. NFTs can also be not-so-sexy stuff like property deeds or door locks. Don't you think we need to start making some clear distinctions and stop lumping them all as NFTs?

I think that this market and technology is still so nascent, and it is still so early from a market penetration perspective. Different use cases, categories, disciplines from art, collectibles, music, photography; and less sexy stuff like you said, like record keeping, land titles, government documents, healthcare, literary NFTs, membership passes. We are lumping them altogether just because they happen to share a medium, because they’re all NFTs.

What's important to note is that each of these different use cases have different creative and consumer priorities at play. I think one thing that's happening right now is because it's so new, because the space is so relatively small, and everyone's lumped together, there’s one town hall [instead of] 200 different town halls. I think what we're doing is a lot of people are applying the same expectations to different types of NFTs that they would never do in the traditional world. I always say it's like when you buy a painting, you're not necessarily expecting it to get you into a club, right? I think we have to be really cognizant of these different consumer priorities at play. Because what is right for a community-based collectible PFP project – to be able to create sustainable and improving value via a roadmap – is not not the same thing as a 1/1 artist or any photographer – we shouldn't be expecting the same things from them.

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One of the most exciting things to me about the NFT space is how it empowers creators and creatives, to bypass gatekeepers and hierarchies that have long dominated industries.
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I think, as these markets mature, we'll see each of these categories, these different areas, really kind of blossom in their own right and be accepted on their own terms. That doesn't mean that they won’t leverage the potential of this technology because there is a really cool opportunity when a piece of art can lead to membership in a community and certain utilities.

But we shouldn't expect that from everyone. We need to understand that each of these different art forms and creators have different creative priorities, and the people who are being attracted to them have different consumer priorities. A lot of people in the discourse are painting with a really broad brush. I think that's problematic because they also put pressure on artists to do stuff that aren't necessarily always natural to that. If it's an artist who is doing a genuine artistic expression – that isn't like a collectible project, this is a piece of art – the only utility that I expect out of it is that it makes me feel something.

How do you feel about institutions and brands aping into the NFT space? What advice would you have for them?

I think one of the most exciting things to me about the NFT space is how it empowers creators and creatives, to bypass gatekeepers and hierarchies that have long dominated industries. You've seen this in the art world where all of a sudden, major auction houses and the leading galleries have gone from literally getting to decide who gets to get seen, to scrambling to keep up and capitalize on artists and creatives who are already getting that audience and support, creating markets independently.

That's a trend we're going to continue to see, I think it's going to be something that revolutionizes the music industry, and so on. But, of course, power structures don't just disappear without a fight, right? There's a reason why you're seeing big brands, like Facebook becoming Meta [FB], coming in to do what they're gonna do. It's natural, but we have a real opportunity here to build a future, Web 3 and beyond – not just the same traditional hierarchies and inequities that we've largely seen.

Most of those hierarchies I'm referring to are largely male, white, and cisgender. There's a reason why the creatives who have been uplifted in those traditional power structures have often looked similar. I think that it would be an absolute shame if we do not, as a community, ensure that those same hierarchies and inequities are not just simply rebuilt in the metaverse if we don't trade one set of gatekeepers or another without actually ensuring meaningful diversity representation. That's something of paramount importance to me, to NFT Now, and I think it's a responsibility for builders in the space.

What I recommend for brands coming into the space… Well, I do think that the community is welcoming, but it is also quite discerning. It's gotten to the point where we can smell a cash grab from a mile away. I think what I said earlier about the importance of proving that you are here to create value, and not extract value, is very important.

If you just see the NFT space as a new revenue stream and planning for the short term, you're going to fail. I always say this like, an NFT sale is a beginning – it's not an ending – of a new connection with your community; it’s the beginning of a relationship. Earn the trust that you are creating with your community and with your customers. If you're playing for the short term, it's going to be very apparent and you're not going to have another chance in the long term.

So we're saying to brands entering the space – do it in a credible way, pay artists what they're worth. We’re leaving that whole climate of not crediting artists and paying them peanuts; we're leaving that in the past, but that doesn't bite. To pay artists their due, you have to give them recognition and you have to immediately engage the community. That's a lot more than a press release. It's gonna take real sustained time. And the brands that we've seen enter the space in the best way, they would put in the work and they did so in a credible way.

UPDATE 5/4/22, 19:32 UTC: This interview was amended to correct mistakes in transcript.

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Ekin Genç has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, EUobserver, Motherboard, and Decrypt.

CoinDesk - Unknown

Ekin Genç has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, EUobserver, Motherboard, and Decrypt.

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