The Creator’s Guide To Token-Gated Content

Jonathan Dunlap of Mintgate shares how token-gating empowers web3 creators by unlocking new ways for community monetization and engagement.

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Listen on: Spotify | Apple Podcast | Google Podcast

Background

Mint Season 2 episode 7 welcomes Jonathan Dunlap, Founder and CEO at MintGate. He and his team are building tools for creators to experiment with token-gated content via NFT access passes and generative secret links for events, videos, music, websites, and blogs, to name a few. 

I’m a big believer in the power of token-gated content and how it will upgrade your communities – so this session is a special listen. 

In this episode, we talk about:

  • Why should creators care about token-gated content? 
  • Most notable token-gating use cases 
  • How you the creator can start integrating token-gated access into your community 
  • The biggest challenges stifling token-gated content

…and so much more.


Thank you to Season 2’s NFT sponsors!

1. Coinvise – https://coinvise.co/

2. POAP – https://poap.xyz/

3. Socialstack – https://socialstack.co/

4. Celo – https://celo.org/

5. PrimeDAO – https://www.prime.xyz/

Interested in becoming an NFT sponsor? Get in touch here!


Jonathan, welcome to Mint. How are you doing, man?

I’m doing wonderful. Thank you for asking Adam. Thanks for having me on the show. 

Let’s just get started, give me a quick background about yourself. What were you doing before crypto? And kind of like, where are you now?

 Before crypto? I worked in a variety of different industries. I worked in online gaming for a variety of time. I built everything from massively online multiplayer games to mobile games. And then coming out from that, I worked in a variety of different startups being myself familiar with different financial technology. But one of the things that really resonated with me, particularly working at Adobe, I was building tooling that help creators create a community around their content. You know, one of the things I really learned, like working with the Photoshop team and the Dreamweaver team is, a lot of the successful new creators that we were helping at that time were really getting themselves bootstrapped by building a community around their artwork or around the videos that they were creating. So this led up until about two maybe three years now. I went to ETH Denver and was able to witness what was happening within the crypto space for all these DAOs that were starting. And to me, this was the big light bulb that has kind of went off in my head, like DAOs can change the world and how they operate they allow communities to self-organize the resources together and actually build a community around the value production that the community is producing. So this is kind of like the context that brought me in originally. 

You know, you come from an interesting background, clearly having worked with creators and building specific tools for creative creators, right? Creators could be classified as people who play sports, musicians. It’s creators is a very big general term when you’re building tools at MintGate, how do you guys define creators? What does that look like from your point of view? 

That’s a very complicated question because there’s so many different types of creators on MintGate today. We have video creators. We have music creators. We have people doing machine learning models and token gating like very specific tuned machine learning data on the gate. There’s such a wide variety of different tools that we’re seeing with different types of creators. In fact, I’m kind of hard-pressed to tell you what’s the main type of creator on MintGate today, because it is so diverse. This technology to leverage crypto to fuel creating a creator economy around their value production really lends itself to any kind of creator that can get bootstrapped. You know, one thing that we see that I think out of, out of all of these categories, the most popular one that we’re seeing is video content creators. Look, video creators looking at NFTs, seeing how much value is being generated around artists with NFTs and looking to take that same step of how can I take my video content and transform that into a NFT that users can buy and then gain access to my content as well as opening up the door to allow those tokens to be resold. And I’ll talk more about that later. 

I think what’s interesting behind this whole point of view of token gated content is, would you say it’s industry specific? For example, if you were to create token gated music and we’ll talk more about that, like deep dive in the use cases, but one would argue that music is supposed to be enjoyed by the masses. Right? So creating token gated walls around music consumption. Would that be a good use case, for example for MintGate for creators? How do you kind of view that? How do you differentiate what’s supposed to be token gated versus not? 

I think we’re still figuring that out. Honestly, the industry is really young around token gating. A lot of the creators that we’ve talked to, who’ve been in crypto for the last like five years who are just starting to, to leverage token gating are still kind of going through this journey of figuring out what that means to release some content that you just buy the NFT, and this NFT represents like my social signal that I have bought and claimed your artwork versus exclusive content that in order to actually view and enjoy this piece of entertainment, you need to buy it and then that gives you exclusive access to watch or to download, or do see a set of like behind the scenes makings of. Backing up one of the things that we saw that’s kind of interesting is a lot of artists taking their NFTs and recording a behind-the-scenes video of them making the NFT and then releasing that on, on MintGate. So that when you buy that piece of NFT artwork, you alone are then able to watch the behind-the-scenes makings of that NFT or at least the set of NFTs and a collection. Only those users are able to see the behind-the-scenes content. 

When you guys were building out the initial version of MintGate, how did you kind of discover product-market fit at the time? Were there already initial use cases that you kinda got that you saw and that you got inspired by. That you realized, okay, they weren’t doing something right that you guys could come in and kind of improve, like talk to me more about that process of finding that product-market fit.

 Well, we worked with a lot of users that had expressed that they wanted to take their token, like we worked with Harrison First to actually token gate his entire website, which has a variety of different music and media that he posts related to his music creation. And that’s I mean, work with users like Harrison First to to develop a set of technologies that lends itself to being very simple and straightforward, to take any kind of token on any token type and being able to take any type of online content. And token gate. Again, the way that we have specifically tried to build MintGate is to be universal from the start. You know, a lot of startups that are happening in crypto, they’ll take a very narrow, vertical. Like, you know, we’re just going to do music NFTs or we’re just going to do video NFTs, or we’re just going to do such and such, but we’ve tried kind of position ourselves to be more like the CloudFlare of crypto or the Bitly of crypto. Where we built this universal technology that allows you to functionally take any kind of token on any of the blockchains that we support today, which we support nearly 70 different blockchains and gates, any kind of internet resource. You know, any type of digital bits that can be streamed. We have a general-purpose internet gateway that allows to relay and proxy that data to the end user. So in our earliest stages, but going back, working with users we were seeking out users that simply wanted to bring value to the tokens that they were already minting and working with a handful of them to bring utility to those tokens. Because that’s where we saw the opportunity when we started MintGate 12 months ago was that there was a lot of creators creating their own token, but not being able to do anything with their own token, like you have the token, but like, what can you do with that token? You know? And we want to provide this kind of universal drop-in engine for these creators where they can take however they want to monetize their content effectively. They, have a completely flexible engine to monetize their way and however they want. 

So when you talk with these creators, how do you kind of explain to them the difference as to what they should be using what for? 

So, you know, one is, again, I hate to give this as a general answer, but like this industry is so young, we’re still figuring this stuff out. Where we use social tokens, where we use NFTs is still being experimented on which one is a better medium. What I currently see, and then what we’ve built with MintGate is we support both. So you can token gate videos and music with either, or even token gate a video with both an ERC 20 and an NFT or a set of NFTs. So you can mix and match however you need it. Where you would use one or the other between social tokens and NFTs is a really complicated question. On one hand NFTs lend themselves as being a convenient and elegant solution as an alternative to tickets. So if you buy, you know, an NFT could represent my access pass to a piece of content or a set of content or a tier of content. You know this is kind of similar to Patreon where you buy into a certain model, a certain tier and a creator, and then you just gain access to all that content that’s in that tier. 

Even though social tokens came about earlier than NFTs, they have more flexibility to them in that they can be divided and, and fractionalized. But it is more complexity to work with social tokens. You have to think about, you know, there’s complexity in just the conceptual model of no longer having this idea in the end user’s mind that if I have this NFT, I gain access to this video. With social tokens you now have to have this abstraction between amounts and what that amount grants you access to. And like this seems trivial. The end user that has to go out and acquire these tokens or gain access to the content. There’s this ambiguity of like, all right, well, I w I suddenly clicked on this link and it was thrown to some website to swap tokens to access your content. Wait, how many tokens do I need to access this video? Like I have to go back and check, you know, like, 37 tokens access this video. And NFTs have a much simpler story of like, okay, I just need one of these and then I get access. The second thing about the complexity between the two is the legal complexity, particularly in the United States. There’s much more I guess, legal scrutiny over social tokens, than there is for NFTs as NFTs are more easily defined as being utility tools. While social tokens can be looked at as a security.

It seems like that’s how things are shaping out right now in the ecosystem. I agree with that. That seems like the natural overlay of these concepts. Like starting with NFTs makes things simpler because just NFTs can act as general labels. You know, you were here from the beginning. So here is your NFT that gives you the status of you were here from the beginning. And I think whenever you’re a new community or starting a community, ultimately what people are concerned about is just the simple status of being in a community, you know, like where are you an original member or not? Did you participate in some meaningful way? Did you help this community in a meaningful way? Here’s a badge for that. These are important signals that help bind a community together. And I think as a DAO and these crypto communities and mature, overlaying on top of these labels, a social token, where then you could have these points for good behavior or idealized behavior that are aligned to the DAO or the community can then lend itself to then having your own economy within that community. 

Another thing I want to clarify and get your point of view on is how do you kind of think about token-based content versus token gated content? For example, a more recent current event is this rapper, his name is Tory Lanez. He just released an album as an NFT. He did a million NFTs for a dollar each and whoever bought that NFT could get access to his album. So I like to think about that as token-based content. But then on the other hand, he could also create token gated content from that. How do you kind of think about that in terms of a use case?

Can you give me an example of token-based content? 

Another record that came out the Kings of Leon NFT album, right? That’s token-based content, right. That’s a token attached to an album, a series of songs in a certain order, right. That people can consume and enjoy. But then, people who own the Kings of Leon NFT album, this token-based content can now create token gated content around it. So many different buzzwords. How do you kind of think about it beyond music albums, for example? 

 These are the things that I dream about. I dream in tokens. I mean, I think right now it’s like, like we think there’s so much happening in this space right now, but I mean, where you could really go with all these tools is almost like imagination’s the limit. Like the fact that like Kings of Leon could release an album that’s only a certain number of these NFTs are produced and buying these NFTs allows you to say, well, you know, I own, you know, the cover image of Forbes magazine or the album cover of Kings of Leon. But then you could take those NFTs and add token gated content to the NFT without the permission of the original creator of the NFT. And then this gets into like a, a very strange situation where you could, you know, a creator creates an NFT to represent an element of their community that you’re buying into the social signal, but then the NFT because whoever owns that entity could then add additional token gated content to that NFT, the NMT itself kind of takes on its own life. It can take on its own community. People could use that NFT then to token gate, a forum where only other people with that NFT are able to communicate and have their own social network amongst each other. 

So you can imagine, you know, the top fans of Kings of Leon are able to come together and share content you know, maybe even communicate with members of the band through these private channels. It really leads to what we call it, what we’ve seen in like the web two space where we said these network effects. There’s a whole other level, like this is like network effects on top of network effects, you know. I’m really excited to see what this time next year is going to look like for social networks that are based around tokens, particularly NFTs. I think social tokens will be more towards point systems that become economies for large communities, but I think NFTs are here to stay for the long run. Like I don’t think NFTs are a fad they’re going to fade out and transform to something else. I think NFTs are really pivotal piece of technology that represents a sort of like membership or a concrete asset of some kind that’s held by a community.

What do you think are the biggest challenges right now kind of stifling the token adoption side of it? 

Well, there are many dimensions to this. One is there’s a lot of incentive for solutions that are outside of crypto, mainly because like, you know, Subify can be financially either invested in by different creators or investors that have their own network that they can leverage to bring onboard other creators. It’s challenging starting out in crypto and building a startup in crypto because you’re inherently saying we’re going to build a platform that primarily gives control to the creator, you know, at the end of the day, like. What my aim is with MintGate is to develop us into a form of a protocol where we’re an open standards technology. That’s my objective. This is very difficult to get off of the ground from the get go because you know, companies like Subify are basically the same model as Instagram. It’s the same structure as always existing social networks that , you know, eventually Subify is going to get to a certain level where the relationship is no longer in favor of creators. So a hard challenge is trying to get ahead of that, and building a system that works on crypto and decentralizes the technology as maximally as you can, so that creators ultimately have control over their audience. You know, another challenge outside of the business landscape, there’s just a challenge of, of crypto still being very young for creators. The DeFi landscape is massive, but for creators, you know, coming in creating their own token is still such a new novel concept. I’ve talked to people that have been in DeFi for like, since the beginning of defy that are creators, and it’s still really strange for them to conceptualize what it looks like to generate value through issuing NFTs that gates private content. It’s just a new model that, you know, like NFTs didn’t take off the moment that they were invented. It took someone to show it by example, in the marketplace, that it had a certain level of traction before you could prove to the market that this is a way that creators can sustainably generate value. This is a way that art creators can sustainably generate lots. I mean, now you’ll get how much money people are actually making off of NFTs. And that’s incredible, but you know, you only go back 12, maybe 14 months ago. And there was an unthinkable that like at NFTs could generate the market size as it is today. I think really the challenge is just the lack of initial momentum. That we’re starting out here building up the snowball effect and as it gets a little easier day by day, but it’s just a lot of effort, but you got to put it into it. 

It’s unimaginable. And before crypto kittens, it was unimaginable that ERC -721s were going to be this massive industry boom. Like the people inside the crypto conferences you know, and so what I’m trying to convey is if people in the industry are working with technology that, you know, helped contribute at the ERC -721 couldn’t even imagine how valuable of a technology, it could be to creators, creators only have that much more difficulty conceptualizing the use of the technology to empower their content creation. You see what I’m saying? It’s like telling a creator to use the internet before you know, even the people laying out the internet lines know that the internet is valuable. So a lot of our challenge really is just the process of making connections out to creators, working with them and kind of hand holding them through the process of thinking about how to take the content that they’re creating and building an economy around it. Run some experiments where you release this amount of content free and open, but you need these NFTs to access content that requires this amount of effort and work that you put into that content in order to access it. And it’s finding that balance between the effort it takes to put into the creative medium that is going to require the use of token gating to drive value to that token sale that ultimately the creator gets compensated for their hard labor that goes into some digital medium. 

You speak about this stuff very passionately. Like I see the fire in eyes and you obviously, from what I’m picking up is you have this clear vision of what you want this to become. Can you share with me, paint me that picture? What does that look like from your point of view, the future of token gated content? How do you imagine that kind of unfolding five to 10 years from now?

Well, five years, I have no idea in five years. Good Lord. But I could say maybe in a year or two from now, I can tell you what’s going to happen. I mean, things change quickly. So like I imagine that in the next year or two private access unlockable access to content is going to become as ubiquitous as NFTs are today. We’re going to see video creators saying, you know, if I can bring my audience directly to my own website or my own Twitter feed or Instagram, whatever medium that they’re using, and be able to market and sell my content directly to my audience, that’s the route that a, it makes me feel that I have more of a connection with my end users, and two, it allows users to take part of this big vision. And I haven’t really touched on this yet, I believe that token royalties are going to play a huge factor in rebooting the creator economy. And this is one of the features that we have launched with our platform. Is that any NFT that’s you mint on MintGate, you define your own royalties on that token. That means that anyone that buys that token you get the sale from it, but if that user decides to turn around and resell that token to another marketplace, you as the greeter always receive that royalty that you set on the token. So as a creator, you get to kind of tune your economy. If you turn up the royalties too high users may not be incentivized to turn around and shill your content and resell your content. And as an early creator, you have a high incentive to incentivize your audience to buy your NFTs, to buy your access passes to your content and act as your representative to the greater community to sell those access passes. You are basically crowdsourcing the outreach to your closest fans. That’s the big idea here, I think ultimately. Like why, cause why use tokens for any of this stuff? Like why not just, why not just sell your content on YouTube? Why not just sell your content on Patreon ? Why use tokens? And I think royalties are really the biggest reason to use crypto for monetization. Because it allows you to always be part of the value production of the access passes to your content. And because they are limited in edition , you can always let the market price your token for the value of your content which just, you know, in a way it’s like hyper capitalism. It’s taking the best elements of market dynamics, which is price point discovery, and baking that into as a content creator into how you’re delivering your content to your end users. Not a crazy idea. I think I thought about it, as a content creator, you could give out your access tokens for free to your closest fans. And say, all right, you’re my closest fans. You get access to my premium content because you’re the OGs you’ve been with me since the very beginning. You just get access and I’m going to rely on you to resell my access tokens and to be my ambassadors as a creator to sell my content.

It makes a lot of sense. You’re preaching to the choir here. Like you’re actually preaching to the choir, but the reality is a lot of these creators still don’t understand what Bitcoin and Ethereum is, let alone social tokens and let alone launching their own currencies, let alone, they just see NFTs as art that people are spending a lot of money for online. And many of them lack the rationale as to what this could become for their own creator community. And I think that comes with time. I think that comes with education. I think that comes with experience and tinkering and experimentation. And I think definitely in a few years from now, it’s going to get much better. Like you can obviously argue that with time as, as technology gets better. And the software in these tools that require creator onboarding and user onboarding, they improve. User onboarding for Metamask has drastically improved, I’d argue, since I got started in 2017. Opening up a Coinbase, like all these things they come with progress. So I think definitely down the line for sure, I agree with your vision. And let’s kind of talk about the other side of that. What do you think would prevent that from becoming a reality? 

Well, maybe just to touch on your point on like still how young this industry is. I’m out here in Los Angeles and I was talking to a video creator, a very prominent video creator in Beverly Hills.And they were telling me that they own Ethereum. They own Bitcoin. They bought into Matic they’re very savvy crypto users and they produce video content. And I was talking to them about NFTs . And they told me that they just don’t understand NFTs. Like, what’s the point like to them, what’s the point of NFTs. It seems like there’s a lot of noise. And this piece of feedback was really interesting to me cause here is someone that’s in crypto. They actively trade in crypto. There are content producers, you know, they’re active in the community and yet they don’t even understand what NFTs could be used for as a way for just selling artwork. Like, so we’re very much like this kind of very new bleeding edge side of the market that still has a long way to go to raise awareness over what tokens can do for content creators. So going back to your question-

You painted your vision of what this could become in one year or two years. Right? I guess my question was like, what would prevent that from happening? What barriers would be in place. What would prevent that from happening essentially? 

Well, I think a very topical point is regulation. If new regulation gets put in a place that is too heavy handed on the industry where it would basically hamper the user experience of such platforms, one of the things I’m concerned about is if regulation will come down to require every NFT marketplace to do a KYC application on every single user that wants to buy a $1 NFT that is greatly concerning to me. Now currently, it looks like, and this is changing day by day, at least here in the, in the U S is, it seems like the regulation is leaning towards only requiring KYC up until a certain dollar amount, before that KYC process is required. But again, it’s still too early to see how this shapes out in Washington. So that’s a big factor, right? Regulations are a huge, huge factor. I think, what are regulations there for? Regulations are ultimately to protect users you know, in the best spirit of the law, protecting users from scams, online scams, user scams and any abusive behavior that might take value from an end-user. And I think that’s another thing that could slow down this trend. If we start seeing, you know, other startups happening that are looking to do scammy things with NFTs. Even if regulations are moderate when they’re rolled out, if there’s a lot of bad actors that come into the market and start giving NFTs and crypto a bad name, Because they’re doing user abusive behaviors ,that will also slow down the rate in which users feel comfortable with buying an NFT of their favorite artist.

Before I let you go, give me a quick shout out. Where can we find you? Where can we learn more about MintGate and all the great things you guys are doing?

 Wonderful. Well, Adam, thank you so much for having me on it’s a pleasure connecting with you in your community. You can find me at @jadbox on Twitter. You can also reach our MintGate Twitter handle at @MintGate_IO, or go to mintgate.io for our main website. And right now we are particularly looking for users that are video creators, looking for a new way of monetizing their videos around NFTs. So if this is when it gets interesting to you, please give us a shout-out. We’d love to work with you one-on-one to help you be successful with getting into NFTs.

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