Unlike other mononyms in crypto – like the single-named phenomenons Cobie, Loomdart and Hodlonaut – Farokh uses his real name. And he’s not exactly afraid if his reputation precedes him. The co-founder of "Rug Radio," a Web3 podcast and media hub, has been famous before. He was a sensation on Tumblr and a massive presence on Instagram. However, it wasn’t until Web3 that Farokh Sarmad thought the celebrity that came with running a popular luxury lifestyle brand had much to do with who he is as a person.
“[I]t was never Farokh as an individual," that he was known for while famous in Web2, he said, adding it wasn't until the beginning of the crypto bull market that his personality – "my name, my face and everything" – became a calling card. And what does he think about fame? Well, some days are easier than others – but it comes with its own benefits, the Montreal-based influencer said. In particular is the hope that he can attract enough likeminded people to build something that becomes bigger than his own brand.
Identity, especially our digital doubles, is something the popular Web3 podcaster thinks about a lot. Before going full-bore into crypto, his day job was as a social media consultant through a company he founded, Goodlife Media & Communication (named after his first Tumblr). Then, during the heyday of non-fungible token (NFT) launches, Farokh took his time in developing what would eventually become the tokenomic scheme that would hold the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) behind Rug Radio together. He envisioned his creation as a “community of communities,” where anyone could join or start building a media brand, whether they held Bored Ape or Lazy Lion tokens.
Today, the network boasts over 50 creators and has fan bases scattered across the world. Farokh's own podcast has become a money-making template for others looking to go it alone in media, having attracted advertisers including fashion houses Lacoste and Givenchy and crypto mainstays Ledger and Uniswap.
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CoinDesk caught up with Web3’s single-named media mogul ahead of Consensus – where he’s speaking on stage and planning a live Rug Radio broadcast – to hear Farokh's thoughts on what it takes to build a decentralized media ecosystem, how to deal with the pressures of celebrity and why Web3 communities are sometimes like religions. The conversation has been lightly edited.
Just to start off – are you planning anything special for Consensus?
Yeah, I'm doing a lot of Consensus stuff this year. I'm speaking on a panel on Wednesday about the power of community on one of the largest stages and then also presenting, for 45 minutes, a live "Rug Radio" episode with my co-host. It's gonna be fun.
So you used to be Tumblr famous. Is there a difference between the type of fame achieved on Web2 versus Web3?
I was big, really big, on Tumblr 10 years ago. On Instagram I was “famous,” but I was never personally big – I was always big via my pages, my blog. My blog was getting millions of impressions and my Instagram pages were doing quarter billion impressions a month, but it was never Farokh as an individual. It's really with Clubhouse and Twitter and Web3 spaces that me personally – like my name, my face and everything – was at the forefront of it.
Are we always who we say we are while we're online?
I think a lot of people aren't. But I think the people who remain relevant over time and who remain relevant have to be real. If you asked my friends if I was the same person on Twitter, digitally, as I am outside they’ll say I’m the same guy. If you put on a show every day, then you're gonna burn out and eventually it's going to seem fake. But the answer to your question is yes, a lot of people are trying too hard to be different and it rarely works.
Do you have a sense of what you want "Rug Radio" to grow into in 10 years?
The goal is to build a fully decentralized media ecosystem. Right now, decentralization is easy to throw around as a word. So at "Rug Radio" we preach progressive decentralization, meaning we aim to be decentralized over the span of five years. We're about 14 months in and it's working pretty well so far. In five years I really just want "Rug Radio" to be way bigger than I can ever be myself, and we're starting to hit that already. The idea is to empower creators and to allow people to own the narrative. In legacy media (let's call it that) creators don't actually own their own stories. Crypto changes the dynamics. I’m sure you guys [at CoinDesk] could relate.
I get it, but I'm not sure I can comment. Do you have insight into what building a unified brand in a decentralized manner actually would look like?
It's easy for a brand to go all sorts of ways when decentralized, right? What's important, and the way we've been doing it, is that you want to make sure that every step of the way, everything you build fits within a certain ethos. You don't want to set rules or else it's not decentralized, but that doesn’t mean you give yourself over to anarchy. You can set a set of morals and values, and you can start instilling them within your community step by step as you grow.
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We're very big, we have dozens of different creators, 40-plus shows broadcasted in multiple languages on "Rug Radio." We have a Chinese community, a French community. I can't directly oversee the Chinese community because I don’t speak Mandarin, but what I can do is have my hands on its values to ensure the community self-regulates. All you can do is put the right people in place and empower the right people.
How has your approach to covering crypto, your messaging, changed in the bear market?
I’ve become even more convinced what we’re doing is correct. After all the blowouts, blowups and especially after FTX blew up, it made me even more bullish and genuinely curious about the powers of the blockchain, its technology and cryptocurrency. Call me a blockchain maximalist, but every issue we've had this past couple of years has been due to centralization.
Decrypt wrote two interesting profiles of you before and after you decided to launch a community token. It seemed like you were really deliberate in how you wanted to design it. Did you ask anyone from other projects, like someone you trust, for advice?
Ha, that’s the thing with "Rug Radio" – we’re not inspired by anything or anyone, per se, because we're really paving our own way. I feel like I have a flashlight in a dark cave, trying to find where to go, at all times. I feel like most of the founders in the Web3 space …
We decided to do a token after months and months and months of studying the space every single day, 16 hours a day. I've been doing media for over 10 years personally, so I understand how to build a community and social media in general. I understand mimetics, which is some of the most important parts of everything we're building. What I had to understand better was blockchain technology [and] DAO tokenization. But I’ve surrounded myself with good people, and of course we did everything with the help of the Syndicate DAO. [Will] Papper, the co-founder over there, is on top of everything tokenization. That's why I'm very confident about how our DAO and our infrastructure has been built – because it’s been built by competent people.
Is there anything you wish you knew in hindsight that you could offer as advice to people looking to launch a DAO?
I'm the type of person who approaches failures as things that are meant to be. It's part of being a young entrepreneur in a space that's young and growing quickly. I don’t think I would have done anything different, but there were times where I was trying to go too fast which didn't work out. My approach now, as of six to eight months ago, has been to slow down.
Live without regrets.
I try not to overdo it, but if you look back at your mistakes all the time to judge your whole life, then you're not going to get anywhere.
Talking about finding the right people – is there anything about Corey Van Lew’s [the artist who designed the "Rug Radio" NFT series] work that speaks to you in particular?
I'm a collector of his already. I love him. He's a very good friend of mine. I've known him for two years and some change. When I got into this space, he was one of the first people I met and we ended up with the type of relationship where we’d talk about anything – life and all it entails. Plus he listens to the show! One of our series is called the “Face of Web3,” because "Rug Radio" is the voice of Web3 – I think it came out really beautifully.
This is an open-ended question, but as someone who likes to be in control of their destiny, does any aspect of that mentality conflict with the aims of decentralization, of bending to the crowd so to speak?
Oh, that's the whole goal of building in Web3 … I think the answer to what you're asking is no, because I can still create my own destiny within "Rug Radio" just like anybody else. I'm just showing people how I can do it. I have no ego, and I actually want this to be something we built for everyone with everyone.
Is there anything you want to say about yourself that someone couldn’t find online?
Ha ha, I’m a picky eater. It’s a hard question because I say everything I think. I'm very transparent. One thing I would say is that I really care about everything – genuinely. Maybe that’s hard to get across online, because people assume things because “you're very big” and “you make money” and “you have a lot of followers.” But you know, I really f**king care.
Is fame all that it's cracked up to be?
Honestly, there's sometimes I wish I had none of it and some days where I tell myself you put yourself in this position so you may as well get the most out of it. It’s important to have good intentions. Live by good thoughts, good words, good deeds. It’s important not to start believing people’s worst perceptions of you. It's easy to complain, but there's a lot of upside.
There was a pretty funny line in the Decrypt article where you said that "Rug Radio" is a community for any cartoon animal – whether you’re an ape, a cat or an owl. I think that period of NFT history is pretty strange, honestly, and could never tell what “community” was supposed to mean in that context. Have your thoughts changed about what makes a digital tribe?
Digital identity, as a concept, has evolved. Definitely. And the way we express ourselves has evolved with different technologies. It gets on my nerves when people take it to extremes. We still get into the same modes of thought in the metaverse. We align ourselves with certain topics, and gather around people we relate to the most who are behind the ape, punk or cat. Just like in real life, some people will tend to float around people who have the same religious beliefs or have the same origins. In some sense, in digital spaces we’re trying to start a religion … maybe it’s something different.
One of the secret reasons why it's called "Rug Radio" is not because we kept getting robbed or because I'm Persian … so Persian rugs. It's because when you build a home, you first put the rug on the floor and then you put the coffee table, couch and TV around it because it ties the room together. It’s infrastructure for everybody to be able to live. You know, you don't have to support a specific PFP [profile pic] or whatever to be part of it.
CORRECTION (March 31, 2023 – 17:40 UTC): Corrects spelling of Farokh's name in headline and second paragraph.
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