Feb. 17, 2022

Turns Out NFTs are Not Just for Bros

Women creators are making moves with NFTs


Nora and Scott chat with Amanda Hoover, a reporter covering tech at Morning Brew, who stopped by to talk about her feature story titled: “Just like supporting a bro,” about the women NFT artists who are looking to bring equity to Web3.

Hosts: Nora Ali & Scott Rogowsky
Producer: Bella Hutchins
Production, Mixing & Sound Design: Daniel Markus
Music: Daniel Markus & Breakmaster Cylinder
Senior Producer: Katherine Milsop
Director of Audio: Alan Haburchak
VP, Head of Multimedia: Sarah Singer

Full episode transcript below.

Transcript

Scott Rogowsky: Nora, we've talked about NFTs pretty much every single episode of this podcast so far.

Nora Ali: Some version of NFT, metaverse, Web3, Blockchain, crypto, digital currency always comes up.

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. NFT is one of those seemingly evergreen topics that seemingly no one really fully has a grasp on still, but that's part of what is exciting about it. It's an emerging technology. It's an emerging trend. And we've talked about the positives of it with Gary V. Obviously very enthusiastic about NFTs and where that can go, and with our guest today, Amanda Hoover, we're actually hearing some of the negatives around it. Some of the issues that, because NFTs are part of our culture, the issues of our culture tend to transition into this NFT space.

Nora Ali: It's par for the course in a lot of different industries, this idea of gender inequities and other inequities. And hopefully we'll see a little bit more equity over time in NFT creation, in NFT buying and selling. That's the point of these decentralized platforms giving everyone equal access. So today we are talking about all of that, about NFT creators, specifically women-identifying artists who joined the digital space in an effort to sell their work. And in some cases they tried to break away from gender discrimination in the traditional art world. And Amanda Hoover is a reporter covering tech at Morning Brew who stopped by to talk about her feature story titled, "Just Like Supporting a Bro." And that article is all about the women NFT artists who are looking to bring equity to Web3, so here's our conversation with a Amanda Hoover. From Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, the podcast that reveals the unexpected business story behind everything. I'm Nora Ali.

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky. Nora and I are here for your ears, bringing you conversations with creators, thinkers, and innovators who can tell us what it all means and why we should care. Now let's get down to business.

Nora Ali: So Amanda, you wrote a very interesting piece and you open it up with the story of Fame Lady Squad, or FLS, so this is a group that announced themselves as an artist collective of three women stepping into the NFT space. And that was in July of 2021. Before we get into the controversy around it, can you just first describe the NFTs that they had planned to sell? What did they look like?

Amanda Hoover: Yeah. So these were a collection of avatars. I think there was 8,888 of them, and they're computer generated. So they all are playing on the same kind of thing. It's a woman's face, they had different color skin, different color hair. Some of them looked a little bit alien, some of them had lasers shooting out of their eyes, but they're avatars. The kind of thing that you would buy and then set as maybe your profile picture on Twitter.

Scott Rogowsky: And this is similar to the ones we've heard about in the mainstream, the Bored Apes, the CryptoPunks, the other CryptoKitties, and toads, and whatever animal they can throw on there. So this is another one of these avatar projects, but what was special about this one? This was supposed to be this women-fronted, women empowering NFT collective of three women...

Nora Ali: However.

Scott Rogowsky: Right? Women, however-

Amanda Hoover: Yes.

Scott Rogowsky: That wasn't exactly the case, it turned out?

Amanda Hoover: No, it turned out to not be. It was supposed to be the first generative avatar project led by women. It got a lot of attention for that. It was even, I think, mentioned in the New Yorker, but some internet sleuthing by one very dedicated person was able to uncover that this was actually a group of three men in Russia. So they weren't women from the U.S. and Norway. They were people who have started a number of NFT projects, and this was just another one that they were doing. And it got so much attention because there weren't other things like this.

Scott Rogowsky: Well, this is commonplace, because it turns out, I read a study that one in 10 women are actually three men from Russia. So this is bound to happen, I guess, occasionally, but-

Nora Ali: It's always the Russian men. But they did eventually ask people, do you want us to hand over the keys to actual women? And then what happened after that, the value didn't really bounce back, right, of these NFTs?

Amanda Hoover: It is bouncing back a bit more now, but the story, I think, does make this kind of a desirable investment for people because it ended up, a few women then did take over the project alongside one other person who is a man, but that's not a secret at this point. They're open with who they are. And they pretty much took it over after the original owners put it up to a Twitter poll and an overwhelming majority of voters said, "Yeah, hand over the keys to these women who have been in the community." And they're running the project now. All of the NFTs had sold out originally. So there's still secondary sales going on, things like that. But they're really running the continued community of this, because when you have these collector avatar kind of projects it's more than just buying a piece of art. There are Discords, Twitter Spaces, all these places where people continue to interact.

Scott Rogowsky: So when they hand over the keys are they also handing over the money? The money that was raised in that initial offering?

Amanda Hoover: Not all of it. They make some secondary sales. Now they've gotten some donations. They really have a bunch of people working on this project. Aside from the three people that are most in charge, there's a lot of volunteers. It's a bit of a volunteer basis to keep this project going at this point. But the original creators of this made 1.5 million dollars off of the sales.

Nora Ali: Oh my gosh.

Scott Rogowsky: It's crazy.

Nora Ali: Wow.

Scott Rogowsky: And it's straight fraud, right? Or is it not? Is it okay to pose as other people in this NFT world?

Amanda Hoover: I mean, there're no rules.

Scott Rogowsky: No rules.

Nora Ali: Yeah. No regulations around who you claim to be, right?

Amanda Hoover: Certainly the internet said, "No, you can't do this." Public opinion was not in their favor.

Nora Ali: Yes. That's the regulation. But this story on its own is interesting, but it's emblematic of broader issues of inequities in the NFT space. So for context, can you just give us a sense of how women fare in the world of NFTs, both as buyers and creators?

 

Amanda Hoover: Yeah. Women are less involved in crypto overall. You see more men holding cryptocurrency, and you see that kind of playing out in NFTs as well. It's just a bit of a pattern that women are slower to come into STEM roles in general. And it's playing out here, and women are also less likely to invest in really risky stocks and investments traditionally. And right now NFTs and cryptocurrency among one of the most volatile, unknown things that you could be sinking your money into. So they're a smaller part of the creators and owners in this marketplace now. But the women I spoke to said that's really starting to change. I talked to many artists who have gotten into this really from last summer up until the last few months. And they say that they're meeting more and more women. It's really, there's seems to be a lot of women that are joining this space as creators.

Nora Ali: And you had reached out to some of the platforms like OpenSea, right? And they won necessarily share with you what the gender breakdown is?

Amanda Hoover: Yeah. I didn't hear back. There was a study done that was released in November that looked at this and it found that only 15% of artists listed on Nifty Gateway were women. But when you look at that breakdown too, you still see that some of the top earning artists, it's gender unknown. So it's hard to truly quantify this. And again, you might have more people like Fame Lady Squad's original operators who are lying. Maybe some people are saying they're men when they aren't, maybe some people are saying they're women when they aren't. It's just, we don't know everybody out there.

Nora Ali: Yeah.

Scott Rogowsky: What's the lay of the land as far as how much women in the NFT space are selling compared to their male counterparts? I know Beeple has the most sales in NFTs of anyone, right? And he's a man. Do you think there's a chance that a woman could overtake him, or even come close?

Amanda Hoover: Maybe. I mean he's way outpacing the next, I think the best selling woman is Grimes-

Scott Rogowsky: There you go.

Amanda Hoover: ... with about 9 million in total sales versus Beeple, who's almost 70 million. So it's a ways to go. And Grimes is a household name, which likely propelled her success here as well.

Scott Rogowsky: Not in my household, Amanda. Ask Toby and Marty Rogowsky who Grimes is and they're going to say, "What? Do you mean under the kitchen sink? The grime? What are we talking about here?" We're going to talk more with Amanda about gender issues in the NFT space when we come back from a quick break. Despite the fact that gender discrimination seems to be prevailing in the world of tech, and the art world, even the traditional art world, right? As of 2019 women, artists only accounted for 2% of all art auctioned. But despite that you interviewed several of these creators in the space who see this new emerging world of crypto, Web3, and NFTs as a chance to, quote, shake the old guard. Why is that? And how did your interviewees express that to you?

Amanda Hoover: It's a time for new investing. It's a time to be on the ground floor of something. Also, the idea that we're going to be entering this more decentralized marketplace. All of those concepts, I think, are really appealing to people who don't necessarily come with a lot of backing and money, or are from different places geographically, where they can't necessarily be at the hubs of the fine art world. Also, some of the things that are popular among NFT purchasers, like these avatars, this is a new ground, a new way to break into a pretty lucrative art market right now. It's something that you're not competing with the more traditional forms of art necessarily. There are NFTs that look more like that. More like paintings, and photographs, and things like that, but the things that are really popular are these avatars that are very new and innovative.

Nora Ali: I'm glad there is optimism in this space in terms of gender and gender equity, because decentralization should mean democratizing. And we'll see if that's actually the case. But it has helped some artists already that you interviewed. You spoke to Sarah Baumann, for example. She recently started her first NFT project called Women and Weapons. And she told you that NFTs actually allowed her to pursue art full time. So how did she find success in this digital world where maybe she couldn't as easily in the physical world?

Amanda Hoover: It was a case where she is launching this project at a time when this is popular. She's based in Dallas. She can go so beyond just what's happening near her. And previously she was working as an occupational therapist, which was a really demanding job. It's hard to network in the traditional world while you have something like that, especially amid a pandemic that's been raging on. So there's some flexibility here. And some innovation that allows artists to step out of sort of the gate kept art world and come into this. There's still definitely gate keeping and discrimination, and these inequities that no one has really figured out how to solve, but for some people, it's an opportunity that wasn't there.

Scott Rogowsky: The term crypto bro has become so ubiquitous, right? And maybe emblematic of the space, but you interviewed Maliha Abidi, a 26-year-old woman based in the UK, who attended NFT.NYC, which is this big conference of NFT enthusiasts. And again, it was so shocking, it sounds like, to the other members of this conference. They were saying, "Are you in the right place? Do you know where you are?" That's how much of that bro culture exists, but what else did her experience from that conference tell you about what's happening with the next generation, these younger people?

Amanda Hoover: Yeah. I mean, she encountered somebody saying, "Are you in the right place?" In her first couple minutes there. But she also networked with other women, met people, had some positive experiences as well, and really got her name out there. And her project, Women Rise, has now completely sold out. It was 10,000 avatars. All faces of women. Some of them historical figures, some of them more randomly generated. So her project has become wildly successful in just a few months. Another thing, though, that people have told me about attending these now in-person events that are coming back is, you'll see a panel where there might be some women, but that's mostly about women in NFTs, or diversity in NFTs. And then you'll see other ones that are still entirely made up of white men talking about some other topics. And these artists are saying, "We're just as qualified to be a part of any of these other panels on any topic. You don't have to just put us in this category of diversity or women."

Nora Ali: Amanda, you also wrote about maybe the regional discrepancies in success of women in the NFT space, and for women outside of North America and Europe, it's actually worse. The financial disparities are starker. Where are the most financially successful NFT artists living at this point? And to what do you attribute these differences?

Amanda Hoover: I mean, ideally you would think that this wouldn't be happening because of the idea of decentralization and the internet, but most artists that are making the most money are still in North America and in Europe. And some that I spoke to said that part of that might be, or is likely, because you have to network. And so you have to attend Twitter Spaces, and run your Discord, and probably speak English to really do well. So those are countries where you have higher rates of English speakers, and they're a bit more aligned in the same time zone. If you're in a totally different time zone, you might have to do your Twitter Space at 2:00 AM to hit the popular 2:00 PM time that it would be in New York. So there're things like that that are still creating these discrepancies that block people from being able to participate as much.

Scott Rogowsky: I feel the discrepancy being on the West Coast. Yeah. I'm already out of it.

Nora Ali: Do you feel left out?

Scott Rogowsky: Oh, I feel totally left out.

Nora Ali: Oh, Scott.

Scott Rogowsky: Amanda, you spoke with Yinkore, a Nigerian artist. What kind of NFT art does she create and what has her experience in the NFT marketplace been?

Amanda Hoover: Yeah, her art, it's not the avatar kind of stuff. It looks more like what, I guess, we would call traditional art. It's looks like paintings. It's a lot of African women. They're a little bit abstract, a little bit surreal in their style. She has been pretty successful. I would say moderately successful. She sold a piece for as much as like one ETH, which was between three and $5,000 at the time when she made that sale. So that was pretty successful for somebody who's new into this.But she explained to me that she had started looking for other women in Africa who had done as well as her. And she couldn't even find five. When looking at people that are being transparent about who they are and the way that she is. She talks a lot about what it's like to be an African woman engaging in this space. And she talked to me about the struggles of the time zones, about networking. And she really explained, too, that it's important to her to put money back into artists that are like her, buying art from other African women to support them and get them started.

Nora Ali: Let's take a quick break. More with Amanda when we come back. So Amanda, I want to better understand what it really takes to just sell NFTs and sell digital art. So artists list their work on these platforms like OpenSea and Nifty Gateway, which are the two largest platforms for buying and selling NFTs. But what does it really take to sell art and stand out on these sites? I imagine it's not as simple as just listing them. And we talked about Grimes who already has the following, for example. So what does it take to succeed?

Amanda Hoover: It takes a lot of networking. People are constantly, like I've said, holding Twitter spaces, connecting on Twitter, posting in their Discords that are centered around their project, or work that's similar to theirs. And really, to be successful, a lot of women told me you have to be featured on the homepage. So your art has to rise to the level that it's being curated in that way. And that's where, I think, some of this gatekeeping comes back into play that people hoped to avoid in this marketplace.

Nora Ali: Who decides what gets featured?

Amanda Hoover: I believe it's just-

Nora Ali: The platforms?

Amanda Hoover: ... the websites. Yeah. The platforms.

Scott Rogowsky: As someone who is not really involved in this space at all, it seems like the discovery is one of the biggest issues, right? Because I mean, how many projects are dropping a day now? What, thousands?

 

Amanda Hoover: You could never even-

Nora Ali: Probably not even quantifiable.

Scott Rogowsky: Right. And again, we don't really know who's behind each one. And when you want to promote women, or more diverse participants, do you think that there is a bit of an obligation or responsibility on behalf of these platforms to maybe be more manual with the featuring aspects here? Leaving it up to the algorithm is not exactly democratizing things as we hoped.

Amanda Hoover: Yeah. I'm not sure internally how they differentiate between that. I did speak to women who have been featured. I think a lot of people are featured throughout the day. Obviously not everyone, but if you get some attention and built some momentum for yourself, it's definitely possible. And I think what else kind of works for people is when influencers in the space highlight your work. Reese Witherspoon has recently been talking a lot about NFTs, her company's involved, and she's talking about women in NFTs, too. So if you get that kind of attention, I think that's definitely something that can boost your profile.

Nora Ali: And you wrote about virtue signaling where men will tweet support of women NFT creators, but not actually tag the individuals, or won't actually buy their NFTs. If you're Scott Rogowsky, what should you do to actually support female creators in the NFT space?

Amanda Hoover:  Maliha actually said it and I quoted her in the piece. She said, "You don't have to worry about supporting women differently than you would support a man."

Nora Ali: That's the title of your piece. That's where it comes from.

Amanda Hoover: Yep. Yeah. Just sharing somebody's work, buying somebody's work. It's so interesting with the virtue signaling here because, because of the transparency with NFTs and crypto, if somebody's tweeting buy art from women, these women can look at the wallets and see what these men have bought and what's in their collection. It's kind of a new way that we can actually see if people mean what they say. That is easier than ever to confirm that, at least. But other women said that there are people who do create lists of women, tweet about them, tweet their handles, their websites, things like that. But there's some who just say, "Buy art from women. Support women." And then don't.

Nora Ali: Retweet, please.

Amanda Hoover: Yeah. So then they're just getting engagement for themselves without actually highlighting anyone's work.

Scott Rogowsky: The parallels to the traditional art world are there. I mean, there's been a lot of talk about how women artists, and BIPOC artists have been undercollected, undervalued, and now are coming to the forefront. So if you were on this 20 years ago in the traditional art world, you'd be sitting pretty right now. Right now is a good time to get in on these women NFT artists, right? And then five years, 10 years from now you're going to be topping Beeple in the Christie's sales.

Amanda Hoover: We'll see. I mean, that's the whole thing. Are NFTs art, are they the new Beanie Baby? No one really knows where this is going to go.

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. That is true. Well, we appreciate your insight and your reporting. It is very interesting to get that perspective on it. But Amanda, it's time to find out what you know about this space because it's time for Quizness Casual, the Business Casual quiz. Today's contestants will be Amanda Hoover, our guest, and Nora, my co-host.

 

Nora Ali: Yay.

Scott Rogowsky: You guys are working together.

Nora Ali: Yes.

Scott Rogowsky: Okay. This is a collaborative event. A collaborative contest. These are tough. Amanda, Nora, these are all tough questions here. Let's see what you know. Qumero numero uno. Which startup is behind the NFT collection Bored Ape Yacht Club? Is it YUGA LABS, Crypto Coven, Dapper Labs, or Rarible?

Nora Ali: Feel like I should know this. The only one I recognize is Dapper Labs. I'm sorry to say. Amanda, do you have any ideas?

Amanda Hoover: I think that's a fine guess.

Nora Ali: Okay. We're locking it in for no particular reason. Dapper Labs.

Scott Rogowsky: All right. Well, I guess Dapper Labs, they're a big one. They're behind NBA Top Shot, but the answer is YUGA LABS. YUGA LABS in Miami, the birthplace of Bored Ape Yacht Club, a collection of NFTs started in spring of 2021. And these are the ones that are going for hundreds of thousands of dollars now.

Nora Ali: Yeah. We love Bored Apes.

Scott Rogowsky: All the celebs have them. It's crazy. Millions, I think.

Nora Ali: All right. YUGA LABS. Good to know.

Scott Rogowsky: All right. That was tough. Here we go. Q2. Celebrities love NFTs now, but which celebrity does not have an NFT profile pic on Twitter? Is it a, Ozzy Osborne, b, Travis Barker, c, Snoop Dogg, or d, Drew Barrymore?

Nora Ali: How would we know this?

Scott Rogowsky: You don't follow?

Nora Ali: I don't follow any of these people on Twitter.

Amanda Hoover: I think Ozzy and Snoop Dogg both might.

Nora Ali: Okay.

Amanda Hoover: I don't know if Ozzy's on Twitter, but I know that you can now buy, and it's like Ozzy's biting the head off the bat is an NFT that you can get.

Nora Ali: Wow. I feel like Drew Barrymore would. She seems like she's up with the times. I don't know. I'm going to let you pick this one, Amanda, because I picked the last one.

Amanda Hoover: I'll go with Travis Barker.

Nora Ali: We're going with Travis Barker.

Scott Rogowsky: You're very nice about just agreeing with Nora, but you're barking up the wrong tree on this one.

Nora Ali: Oh.

Scott Rogowsky: The answer is d, Drew Barrymore.

Nora Ali: Oh shoot.

Amanda Hoover: That was my fault, then.

Scott Rogowsky: Drew Barrymore. Ozzy had that little pixelated bat, like you said, Amanda.

Amanda Hoover: Nice.

Scott Rogowsky: Snoop has a pixel Snoop, and Travis Barker has one of those Bored Apes with devil horns.

Amanda Hoover: Nice.

 

Scott Rogowsky: But Drew Barrymore has just got-

Nora Ali: Come on, Drew.

Scott Rogowsky: ... Reese's pieces. No, I don't know. I don't follow her either. I don't follow any of those people. All right. Final question. Let's see if you're going to ring one correct answer out of here. Gwyneth Paltrow has a new NFT Twitter profile pick.

Nora Ali: Okay.

Scott Rogowsky: Maybe you follow Gwyneth. Who is the creator behind her NFT? Is it Flower Girls, Crypto Coven, again, Moon Unit or Boss Beauties?

Nora Ali: What?

Scott Rogowsky: This might be the hardest quiz we've done yet.

Nora Ali: This might be the hardest quiz. Let's not blame ourselves.

Amanda Hoover: I don't follow Gwyneth, but Boss Beauties feels like that might be-

Nora Ali: But is it because-

Amanda Hoover: ... what she would be interested in.

Nora Ali: Yeah, I agree with you, but I feel like our production team would put that together on purpose and trick us-

Amanda Hoover: Maybe.

Nora Ali: ... to pick Boss Beauties.

Scott Rogowsky: Nora. She has this inside track there. Yeah.

Nora Ali: Okay. I feel like I'm going to cross out Boss Beauties, because of that reason, and go with, what was the first one?

Scott Rogowsky: First one is-

Nora Ali: Flamingo?

Scott Rogowsky: Flower Girls.

Amanda Hoover: Flower Girls?

Nora Ali: You know what? You're our guest, Amanda. I'm going to make you choose, ultimately. And if it happens to be Boss Beauties, then I will take the L personally. We should tell our listeners, we're both wearing roses on our outfits. So should we just go with Flower Girl?

Amanda Hoover: Sure. Maybe we should go with Flower Girl.

Nora Ali: Yeah. Because we're team Flower Girl, apparently.

Amanda Hoover: I think so.

Scott Rogowsky: There's something in the air, something in the universe, driving you to the flower wardrobe and the flower answer, and it is correct.

Nora Ali: Woo hoo.

Scott Rogowsky: You got it. Congratulations. Flower Girls, they have 10,000 unique flower girls made by artist Varvara Alay, generated from over 950 hand drawn elements. And there you go. Congratulations.

Nora Ali: Heck yes. That was pretty good.

Scott Rogowsky: That was pretty, pretty, pretty hard.

Nora Ali: Better than zero.

Scott Rogowsky: Better than zero.

Amanda Hoover: Yeah.

Scott Rogowsky: One out of three when it comes to NFTs. But Amanda, this has been so fun for us, and hopefully for our listeners. Thank you for being with us.

 

Amanda Hoover: Yeah. Thank so much for having me.

Scott Rogowsky: We always love hearing from our beloved BC listeners. So if you're one of them, and I assume you are if you're listening to this, please hit us up. Send us an email at businesscasual@morningbrew.com or DM us on Twitter @bizcasualpod, that's B-I-Z casual pod, with your thoughts.

Nora Ali: You can also leave us a voice memo on our website, businesscasual.fm, or give us a ring and leave us an old fashioned voicemail. Our number is 862-295-1135. As Business Casual grows we are excited to get to know our listeners old and new. Drop us a line, and don't forget to leave your name and where you're calling or writing from, so we can hear from you in a future episode.

Scott Rogowsky: Business Casual is minted by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins. Additional production, sound design, and mixing by Daniel Markus. Alan Haburchak is the director of audio at Morning Brew. Sarah Singer is our VP of multimedia. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. If you like what you heard, please buy our NFTs. No, we don't have any. But follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get nasty with your podcasting. And we'd love it if you'd give us a great rating and a review.

Nora Ali: Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali.

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky.

Nora Ali: Keep it business.

Scott Rogowsky: And keep it casual.