Mint Season 5 episode 14 welcomes Nass, Chief Information Security Officer at a16z, who joins Mint to share his life as an early graffiti artist, to leading Facebook’s crypto arm, and now building his NFT side hustle, Rebels.
In this episode, we discuss:
- 00:07 – Intro
- 04:24 – Most Common Security Vulnerabilities NFT Projects Adopt
- 06:42 – Lessons Learned While Building Facebook’s Crypto Arm
- 15:55 – What is Rebels?
- 18:11 – Rebel’s Innovative NFT Features
- 29:58 – Building a Multi-dimensional NFT Project
- 33:47 – How To Show Off That You Own an Audio NFT?
- 47:00 – How Did You Get Into Graffiti Art?
- 48:41 – Building Hype: How To Build a Die Hard NFT Community
- 58:30 – Outro
I hope you enjoy our conversation.
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Nass. Welcome to mint. Thank you for being on. What’s going on my man?
Nass: Yeah, doing great, doing great. Thank you so much for having me, Adam.
Dude, I’m thrilled to have you on. It’s not every day that you get to talk with someone of your kind of like stature, at least from the professional experience side. So, we have a lot to talk about from Rebels, a16z and all the good stuff, but I think a good place to start. And kind of where I start with everybody is a quick intro. Okay, who are you Nass? What does the world need to know about you? But more specifically, how did you get your start into crypto?
Nass: Yeah, great, great question. So, my name is Nass. I’m the Chief Information Security Officer at a16z Crypto, leading a lot of efforts both like internally for the security and safety of the company internally, but also and that’s kind of like the vast majority of my work is working with the portfolio of companies, you know, whether that’s open sea uniswap and others, you know, like the entire portfolio of a16z, which is pretty broad on all things security, whether that’s you know, building features, preparing or helping to audits, hiring really the entire the entire range right. Prior to that, was working at Facebook, in the blockchain, the blockchain organization called Novi, where I was kind of responsible for blockchain features within the wallet and co-created the custody infrastructure for the wallet to kind of like the key protection that is going to safeguard all the assets. Prior to that, there was an engineer at Anchorage, which is a crypto custodian in the space serving institutional customers. And yeah, that’s actually how I got into web three. Before that, I was actually at a Docker, which is like a dev tooling startup, working with the founders of Anchorage, in when they kind of like, you know, decided to leave what do to get into web three and create their own venture then kind of like join along with them and start building the critical key management infrastructure. I come from a very deep security, like technical security, background with operating systems security, applied cryptography. And so, this is something that I love to, you know, to make evolve to like with technologies right.
Nass you’re giving me giga bearing vibes, like major giga bearing vibes, I’m curious, what was it like growing up? Like, what were your activities and interests, that kind of got you into the scope of information, security, computers, and everything that you are kind of doing today?
Nass: Well, so I was always in love with computers, but like, believe it or not actually went into med school, I started there going into med school, and did like three years in med school prior to realizing that, like, it was not really for me, it was not deterministic enough, I wanted to have like, you know, to basically say, like, look, computer, I’m gonna write like these things, and you’re gonna do them, and you’re gonna do them every single time the same way. And so, I was just like, okay, let’s, uh, I kind of like fell in love as soon as I wrote my first line of code, then spent kind of like, the five years after that, just like working day and night, probably like, I would say, like, 18 hours a day, like seven, seven, like seven days a week. I just love coding, I just love. So, I also did like a lot of CTF, which are security competitions, hacking competitions, on kind of like weekends. And it’s something that I was doing on a weekly basis with a team of people who are really into security and offensive security. And that part actually was extremely interesting, because like learning how to break a system is the best way to learn how to defend it, because then you have like this mindset and everything that you do, right? Like, even I, as a software engineer, as a developer, the first thing that I’m going to think of even when I’m doing something rebel is going to be like, how is my system going to be vulnerable? And I’m thinking about that from like, first principle at the very beginning. And they really helped me being a better engineer in general. So that’s something that I definitely have.
Most Common Security Vulnerabilities NFT Projects Adopt
So, what are some of the more common security vulnerabilities that you see NFT projects kind of fall trap to?
Nass: That’s, that’s an interesting one. So, because NFT contracts are actually a lot simpler than, you know, most blockchain protocols, you know, they don’t have to handle like a bunch of various trades and complex interactions. It tends to be easy to template. So what you end up seeing most of the time, is people just having logic bugs, you know, like, we saw that kind of like, more recently with akitars, you know, kind of like the $34 million that were kind of like locked within the, within the contract and so like, it’s mostly logic bugs, you know, it’s a lot less about reentrancy, it’s a lot less about like mispricing, you know, price, Oracle Tax and so on like, this is very kind of like straightforward business logic, issues that can, in general, be caught with just more testing. And I think that the, there will be a lot of value in the NFT space, kind of like slowing down to give the opportunity for people who build technology in the NFT space to just have more time to test, have more time to like, do security audits, etc, right? Because like, right now, you’re basically saying, like, as soon as like, someone announces, NFT project, everyone is like, hey, come on, like, what are you releasing? Right, like and right, waiting for? Like, you know, the thing
Nass: Yeah, exactly. It’s like when token, when mint, like, I want everything right away. But like in reality, you know, having like $34 million locked in a contract is like a direct byproduct of that, right? And so very important, and just like not, don’t overestimate like, everything that has been done in the software engineering space for such a long time, you know, like, test your software, have it audited, you know, manual reviews, and so on is extremely important.
Lessons Learned While Building Facebook’s Crypto Arm
Now, it’s, what’s it like working at Facebook, especially on the on the crypto team, I remember when crypto, when Facebook, the news of Facebook doing crypto came out, it was huge. It was like such an indicator that the space is going in some type of direction, and that it’s here to stay. And I remember when I was in college, I think it was like 2018, 2019, something like that, where the news came out. And I remember instantly buying Facebook, it was like, Alright, this is gonna be a game changer, right? So, from your point of view, you had such a pivotal role, kind of like developing that team working on the products in that house. What’s it like working at Facebook, especially during that time?
Nass: That’s a great question. There were several phases, there is kind of like, there were multiple phases where like, first there is the research, like the early research on just, okay, so first, I’m gonna like to take a step back to it, there is the blockchain, and then there is the wallet that integrates with this blockchain. So, like, these, this organization that is almost like, split into and so that still works together. And like, I was kind of like one of the links basically, for this. But you have like these two separate entities that like one works and more like infrastructure for the L one, and then there is the wallet, I was on the wallet side. And so, there is a early part that is more kind of like research, right? It kind of like starts with research, especially on the blockchain side, then you apply it, and you try to kind of like get this through the door, then you can have like, hits, you know, the US multiple, you know, US regulators that are basically like, I don’t want this, you know, lack of transparency. And then on the wallet side, you are also like receiving all the heat, you know, even though you’re doing almost the same thing as like everyone else, you’re doing the same thing, as you know, Gemini and Coinbase, etc, right, you’re just building a custodial wallet, you’re doing the same thing. But again, you know, regulators go, like even hard to argue they’re basically coming at you with stuff like requirements or that are not applied to any anything else. So, for example, there is this thing in like financial systems called the trouble rule, where when to track basically like how money flows from person to person above certain thresholds of money, you need to have financial institutions on both sides of the transfer to actually KYC the other user, right? Like you have like a like a cross checking for every step along the way above certain thresholds.
And basically, regulators said like, well, you see the trouble rule, you have to like to do it within the blockchain protocol itself. So that the L one, it’s almost like you basically have need like a way to validate the blockchain level that KYC was verified on both ends above a certain threshold, which is like crazy to us, right? Like, no one would ever add that to Ethereum on purpose. That’s just like, that’s just nuts. And so, you start having like, all these requirements, and you’re fighting more and more and people telling you like, well, you know, like the blockchain data, really, it’s private data. It’s user data. So, like and you’re like nothing that isn’t the blockchain is public. So, you basically try to build a product, right? But you get a lot of heat and requirements from people who first don’t understand the technical tradeoffs. Some of them can be kind of like doing that kind of like a malicious way. But a lot of them actually just don’t understand, right. And it’s just like, a lot of education that needs to happen. It’s a lot of knowledge sharing. And so, you end up like doing a lot of things, you end up building the product, you end up like writing a lot of documents to educate the people. And then you start kind of like understanding, like, how do I battle these, like constant requirements on top of like, the base product. And so, there was a lot of that, you know, we were ready to launch the blockchain wallet many times and carefully, like, actually the day before, like, you know, receiving basically the information that like, nope, they’re blocking it, you know, and it was like, multiple times. And so, you know, it’s, it’s very hard, you know, I’m not gonna lie, it’s very hard, especially as a product builder, where you like you know, what prevents you from launching in general is like, bugs, user experience not being there, you know, all that stuff, right? But it’s very rare for someone to basically say, like, I don’t like I don’t like your company. So, I’m gonna, I’m basically gonna block.
So, you know, the stories that you’re telling me are basically the antithesis of like, why Crypto is here? I mean, early, early crypto was very anarchy, right? Like, a lot of anarchy is kind of going, we’re going against the grain, like, where are you going to use Bitcoin, like decentralized systems on the way, peer to peer payments is the way, being able to do what I want on my own terms, being self-sovereign, like those are the core kind of principles that people started kind of, like, got this movement starting, right? And to hear this story, it’s like the exact opposite of like, what we want to happen.
And if you’re telling me that they’re just doing the same thing as Coinbase, and Gemini and just because it’s Facebook, just because it’s meta, they’re getting kind of like, blocked because of past experiences and stories. I don’t know, it’s, it’s wild to kind of think about, because, obviously, I feel like we’re all building towards the same mission, give or take, you know, there may be some interesting actors out there. But just to hear that, you know, and from your experience, what were some of the biggest takeaways, working through that process, working through that situation, that has maybe led you to kind of this path that you’re on today, whether it’s a16z, Rebels or other things that you kind of do on your day to day professionally?
Nass: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that like, honestly, the very few people understand the weight of like regulations on the space, and they don’t understand that it can be kind of like a make-or-break type of situation. And that we have to actively educate the people actively, like, really fight for this future to happen. Because if we don’t do anything, the other side is going to win. And so, we need to be extremely proactive and thoughtful about how we work with regulators, in order to, you know, basically build the best technology to lay down kind of like the best word that we can do that works. And, you know, obviously flank transparency of the system, right? The system safety of everyone, right? Like, how do we lower money laundering, how do we lower terrorism financing and so on, which are like, real issues, right, while guaranteeing, you know, like some self-sovereignty for the users. And so, this is something that we work very hard with, you know, the ESCC at a16z, and various like other agencies and commissions, it’s like really helping them make the best decisions and trying to educate them, put them in front of the right people, for them to have the conversations that we’re going to make there. They’re going to like kind of like lead the thought process in the right direction. So that’s something that we do very often. And similarly, like at Rebels, you know, myself being very conscious about the securities laws, etc. Actually, we took and my co-founder, Stefan is also working also at a financial institution. He was actually one of the first like very early engineers on the Libra blockchain. He was the person who kind of like delve into Facebook blockchain. So, when we co-founded Rebels, it was very clear from the get-go that like we could not make promises we could not set a roadmap that would kind of like put us in jeopardy when it comes to securities laws. I found that from the very first time and like every single person in the community, like there are these big means of like, when roadmap and there is me with a with a gun that they added up, like, tell me what because like they know that like, you know, we will not do that, like we don’t want to be like the sole creators of value. We’re not here to create like investment, you know, investment instruments and financial instruments for people, we’re here to create experiences products. And so, this is really how we thought about it, you know, like when I think Rebels NFTs, I think iPhone, I don’t think I don’t think, you know, financial instrument. And so that’s really like how I define everything, like we talk about features, we don’t really talk about utility. And so that’s kind of like, it kind of dictates everything that video.
What is Rebels?
So that brings us to Rebels, because we’ve named dropped that keyword a bunch of times. Nass what is the Rebels like you keep bringing it up, comparing it to the iPhone, like what is the pitch? What should we know about Rebels?
Nass: Yeah, so Rebels is a project, co-founded by people who really are passionate about technology, fashion, you know, gaming, and really kind of like, the idea is to build a NFT project that actually pushes the narrative in each one of the areas for referring to projects in NFT projects tend to be kind of like, if I had just simplified it, I would say kind of like art, technology, and community, right, kind of like three verticals. And like our vision is essentially building a canvas for digital identities, we feel like the NFT space right now doesn’t really help you show who you truly are, right? You may be some person at a given point in time, you know, and like, identify into like a unique NFT. But you change, I change, we join communities, we start, you know, having roles and accumulating achievements in these communities. And right now, it’s impossible to signal of that, right, like the most of the NFT pictures we’re seeing, they’re very static. And so, our goal is to build a dynamic, kind of like a dynamic front end, for us to communicate, you know who we are to the rest of the, of the rest of the space. And so that comes with a customization feature for the Rebels that are native, your NFT will change over time, you will have the capability to make it evolve, basically, first with patches of other NFTs and your wallet, but also patches that recreate to kind of like for you to be able to flex and signal the roles that you have within the community, right. Like maybe you did something amazing within the community, maybe you helped onboard many other people, and so on. And just like kind of building, helping also foster sub communities, right? Very, very important.
Rebel’s Innovative NFT Features
Got it. So, when you talk about expression, it’s obviously a key kind of ethos in web three with NFTs as the medium kind of bridging that digitally. And you tell me, there’s this feature coming out that you guys are doing where you’ll be able to consistently evolve your identity through different types of UX, UI features that you guys would be implementing for PSP holders, right, from what I understand correctly, so from what I’ve seen in crypto Twitter, and whether in general, like the PFP format, is actually quite limiting. Like you consistently have to swap your JPEG to kind of express your significance in different communities, in different styles and at different times. And let alone having the NFT in your wallet to be forced to connect to Twitter’s API’s or Twitter’s wallet, right? And being able to signify the hexagon that you own it, there’s a lot of like, risk associated with that. There’s a lot of nuances associated with that. Every single time you buy a JPEG, you have to download the image and then upload the image. And there’s all these kind of like, interesting kind of user experiences that are involved. So, when you’re designing a product at Rebels, how do you guys actually solve that problem? So, you told me you can swap UI UX features, elaborate on that a little bit more?
Nass: Yeah. So, you know, we’re security first, you know, very security minded. I covered that already. So, we really think that the, using your NFT is critical, right? Like a lot of people just don’t feel like they use the NFT. And this is why like the over financialization happens. And so, making people get used to just using them as a product is the paradigm shift that needs to happen. And so, the thing that you pointed out is critical, basically the friction that happens from balancing the security versus like, do I keep this thing in my cold storage, you have to like to move it, do I have to like do things, instead of having like a very simple way to do it. And a very safe way to do it is something that we decided very, very early to tackle and like, because we want to be, the customization happens with, you know, what are the other NFTs in the same wallet as your rebel and like, let’s allow you to customize your rebel with these NFTs in your wallet. You don’t want to have everything come to, you know, to your hot wallet all the time, especially if you want to like change it on a daily basis, right? Like, I may want to like put my crypto bunk and like every day, what we want is for you to be able to pilot to drive this process from the hot wallet. And so, we’re actually working on something that is called customization permission delegation, where you can actually have from a certain wallet, the ability to delegate the authorization to customize to another wallet, that doesn’t need to hold, it would not be able to transfer, it would not have any other permission than just customizing. And you can revoke this at any given time, right. And this is very important for you to have the ability to just have this highly available wallet that can actually be used to like, use your NFT while keeping your NFT safe. That’s extremely critical. We need to implement these things and make it safe by default for people to you know, just use their NFT on a daily basis.
Wow, that’s actually really, really cool. So how do you go by tackling a problem like that? Like, what are the steps involved? If you’ve been thinking about this since the genesis of Rebels? How did you guys approach this problem space and trying to find that right solution?
Nass: Yeah, this is a great question. So, the idea is that you essentially have several ways to do it, right? You have kind of like, I want to do everything on chain, I want to do everything off chain, and so on. And so, we really felt like the idea of permission delegation already exists. You know, for example, like when you want to make a trade on open sea, right and kind of like start a sale, what you do, actually, when you kind of like click on Meta mask, and you authorize it, this kind of you actually authorize open sea to set approval for all, to move assets on your behalf. So right now, what you’re doing is actually just that you’re actually delegating the permission, a specific permission, in that case, moving the asset to open sea. And what we want is kind of, like, generalize that, and apply it to customization in the future, we want to apply to more features, right? And so, something that is like fully on chain, where like, there is like full transparency, everyone can check who else has like the customization features, allows the system to work even without us. So essentially, once you have kind of like a smart contract that works almost as like, a registry, right? That registers who has the authorization to customize what, then that means that like, you can even show that if you are Twitter, if you were Instagram and so on, right, like you can even have basically say, like, this is, you know, this is this is the wallet that did the action, but actually, this is the actual wallet that holds the rebel and this thing is actually what will allow this to be kind of cross platform. And you know, no one we’re not going to ask him you know, Twitter to integrate with us, Instagram to integrate with us, they just need to integrate with Ethereum and that’s it, there is nothing else that is necessary.
So, what that feature that you guys built that can’t be a stand-alone product on its own.
Nass: Okay, so like basically the customization will happen on our platform and will be propagated, but say that like in the future you want ads Twitter, ads Instagram to provide basically integration, customization integration, and I’m gonna even games because I feel like games are extremely relevant for this right? Games are like killer used case for this because when I have my board ape, I don’t want to play like, you know, the metaverse games from the lab, you know, with my thing plugged on like 24/7, right, like, especially if I’m going to play at a land with other people, etc. Right? It’s gonna be.
Nass: Exactly. You don’t want people to like necessarily like a press would like all that stuff. So, you know, the idea is that you want to integrate with a mechanism to, you know, check basically to do the customization from within the game itself, right. But we would kind of like on this, this part for now. And other things that were you know, then you can build on top of it, right? You have like the customization and now that you are kind of like own this interface for the customization and this layer, which is almost like a meta layer, when you can actually lay things. And by the way, we talked about visual NFTs, but like in visual information, but what about nonvisual information, right, like your rebel could be like, the meta layer as a whole for any form of identity, right? It could be configuration of like, when you go on, you know, in games, do you prefer like dark mode or light mode, do you want to have like specific settings that you want to kind of register and like, you can accumulate that in this kind of like dynamic NFT, that would add as, you know, this digital layer, and it doesn’t even need to be like, solely, solely visual. So, this is something that like, we really want to have, we’re gonna kind of like have that on our platform. But if someone didn’t trust us to do it, or if someone in the community wanted to build a better product, then they should be able to do so, this is the whole ethos around the three, right? It’s kind of like we put it on chain, you have access to the registry, if you think you can better provide a better customization than us, you should be able to do so. And we really want to provide the right incentive for people to build on top of Rebels and so that’s one of them.
That’s so cool. And now I’m trying to visualize this now. Because from a tech point of view, it makes a lot of sense, like problem solution, peanut butter and jelly, legit. But now I’m trying to understand what does that look like visually, right? Have you guys revealed that already to the community of what that process would look like or are you guys holding off on that?
Nass: Yeah, so you know, the whole, like, no promise, under promise, over deliver, right? It’s very important to us. So, what we revealed is the first iteration that is coming pretty shortly after the, the reveal, where people are going to be able to add patches with collections that like we would approve. So, like, we would basically kind of like, you know, build a like a whitelist of like, one by one of the collections that like we want to, like authorize through the customization probably going to like better test with like a few ones, have people kind of like see the feeling, see if we have like a product market fit. And then kind of iterate over that also. And by the way, we also want to leverage roles within the community to test this feature. So we’re actually creating our patch system, where if you have a role within our community, you will be able to display it on your rebel and like customizer, rebel, it’s kind of like, and so for example, like people who got leads, which is like, above what whitelist, in our community, we said like, you get the free, like, you get the free rebel, and you get the free patch that is going to be exclusive to the liberal and these people will be able to kind of like test it before other people, right? It’s kind of like this thing of like, rewarding people who actually have roles in the way you build the product. And you know, actually like using the features, and also having additional signaling compared to the rest. That’s like a lot of things, but we’re actually, a lot of a lot of great stuff. You know, you can imagine anything that is beyond the patch, right? Because like the patch is pretty limiting. Like, you don’t want to look like an army general, you know, with like, 50 different, you know?
I don’t know, maybe that’s your vibe, I don’t know.
Nass: Yeah, maybe you know, like, I’ll try but I’m not sure that I’m gonna fall for it. But like, overall, you know, you may want to use more of this as we said, you know, the PSP format is limiting, it is like a constraint. So, you may want to use, you know, additional parts of the rebel. And like additional things, like we started looking into interactive NFTs because, like we believe, you know, and open sea is starting to support that pretty well. The ability to kind of like click and do actions, you know, like with your keyboard, keys, etc. To interact with NFT get more information out of it, you know, say like, you can click on a patch, display more information, you know, and kind of like, not just get the PFP but actually get links to additional information that can be displayed and would not really be like as native on Twitter, but to in additional interactions, you can actually get further data and metadata on anyone right?
Building a Multi-dimensional NFT Project
You know, PFPs or are inherently visual. It’s a visual experience that stimulates your vision, right? One of those senses and I’m trying to think, like when you think about expression beyond just being able to see something, right? Whether it be listening to something or feeling something, I wonder where NFTs come into play with that, like an auditory expression type of experience. And I know I’m just, I’m thinking, kind of like more brainstorming with you over here. Because being able to basically visualize and symbolize you own something, right, is inherently why I believe NFTs went berserk. And being able to kind of have digital property on the internet, being able to symbolize that you spent X amount of money on this thing and show that off, and provably show it off has those like social effects that we kind of go through in the physical world, but I’m trying to think about any file could be an NFT, you can tokenize any type of file, and what does expression look like on a visual level, not on a visual, on an auditory level, for example and because I know a lot of your tracks, a lot of your promo has really interesting music behind it as well. It’s like a very dual type of experience. And I’m curious, like, how do you guys think about more of the auditory side, around NFTs at the project? If that’s even something you’re thinking about?
Nass: Yeah, we’ve been talking about that. So first, I think that there is kind of like, the visual identity, we really, like, solve this, I think, in kind of being at the intersection of kind of like, more high-end fashion streetwear. And I would say kind of like the cyber punk, you know, vibe. And so right being at the crossing, the audio side is very hard to do. So, like right now I feel like we’re kind of like trending towards almost kind of like trapanese. So, like, almost like Japanese trap type of a feeling. But I think it’s like, we would first need to like to get that. But this is something that we definitely want to have in our interactive experiences. One thing that like I was thinking, like, as you were speaking is, you know, say you have like, you know, the pods, you know, for like artifact, right? Like first and foremost, like I’m a huge fan of artifact, love what they do very, like tech centric, really trying to like, push the narrative and like we’re seeing that with also like customization features and so on. Like, what if you had like your clone, and then like, you can click it and within the NFT itself were like through the interactive interfaces have that have the pod be part of the NFT, right, and like, basically have like, the clone link to that, right. And like you basically enter like the pod by clicking something’s right. And so, and even having sound that comes with it, and so on. And so, this would be part of like, kind of like an end-to-end experience. And like, that’s kind of like how I think about it. There are obviously each like, you know, security issues for marketplaces to handle state storing state, you know, and like allowing your NFT to access other websites to do like various actions. So, like they need to sandbox things for security purposes. But like, I’m very curious to see like, how far can we go from like, interactive experience that is visual audio, that is very cohesive, and like really brings you something as a holder, but also allows you to signal more things to people around you. Because a lot of the PFP space is about this, right? It’s about like, kind of like showing who you are and along bringing people into your world kind of like displaying your roles and achievements. So, like, how do we make that kind of like, cohesive thing? And we’re working on that. But this is very hard to do, honestly.
How To Show Off That You Own an Audio NFT?
Yeah, like so audio is like tokenizing music, for example, is really, really big right now. And if your song, if it’s a one-on-one NFT and it gets played on the radio, there’s no real way for me to kind of provably kind of like show that I own that song that’s playing on the radio right now. Right? And I’m thinking like, what is that layer look like being able to kind of prove that you own an audio type of file on chain, you know what I mean?
Nass: So, yeah, so there are kind of like different ways that like the music NFTs are working right now. And like this is extremely interesting. Like, I love music NFTs and like one of our advisors and my very good friends is Justin Blau. And so, you know, obviously like him being a worldwide known DJ but also being the founder of royal I got to learn a lot about you know, music NFTs through him and so they’re kind of like different ways to think about it. There are people who kind of want to store the music on chain or like to YPFS and just like linked to it. And others like royal actually do not point at the file but they actually point that a legal document that represent you or ownership of the song with, with a hash of the file. And so, this is actually like two different, very different ways to do it. And it has, like, very critical ramification around, like, what it actually represents. But this is very important to kind of like nothing. I think that’s like the one with the documents, that legal documents will work grateful for that.
And it’s so interesting how you approach that question from a technical level, right? Because what I was imagining, because NFTs are inherently visual, right? And the way you kind of visualize ownership right now is through a hexagon or if it sits in your wallet, and what does that look like for like an audio based NFT that you can’t really put in your in your PFP and have the hexagon? You know what I mean, it’s interesting how you answered that from a technical point of view. That’s just how you’re wired. I love it. I love it. But I’m thinking because I collect a lot of music and NFTs. And there’s no real way for me to show it off, maybe by sharing playlists, right? And being able to kind of symbolize ownership. But even that, like that’s more of a visual experience to scrolling through a playlist, but I’m thinking, if it’s on the radio, if I hear it on a TV show, right or something, how can I show that off? You know, to the rest of the world? Yeah. oh, in that audio file.
It’s just one big rabbit hole. Yeah.
Nass: It’s like a visual web browser. Actually, if you think about it, it’s almost like you know, you just like click on, instead of clicking on the link, you actually click on Like something that is visual element and just like start getting more context and can do that, even recursively again, and again. And so, these are things that like we’re actually heavily considering.
So, talking more about, like the visual experience, I want to talk about the art, okay, because the internet is actually going absurd over the renders that you guys are creating. And when you zoom in, you just see, like, pixel for pixel, like the detail is immaculate, right? I don’t know, who is the artist on the team? Like, how did you guys even find this person that the design is incredible.
Nass: Yeah. So, you know, in the NFT space, there is like this question that you just asked, like, who’s the artist, but like, obviously, when we’re talking about this level of quality, it’s not a single person. It’s actually an entire team. I think it’s a little bit over 10 people that have been working on this for seven months, actually straight.
Nass: And yeah, like this is, you know, like, we wanted everything to be pixel perfect, look amazing. Not too dark, not too joyful, having like the right level that like, keeps it like mysterious, and has like, you know, coherence in the artistic direction.
So, on that, so on that point. So, what did the mood board look like when kind of designing this project? Like what were the different elements that led to the inspiration of the first character?
Nass: Yeah, that’s a Great question. So, like the mood board was we wanted to, like really find a different sources of inspiration, what kind of like, what kind of categories and we should publish, like our mood board. And at some point.
Yeah, I really feel like you should, that’d be really cool. It would just create even more excitement to kind of tap into the mind of who, the minds, the 10 people who kind of put this thing together. But yeah, go ahead.
Nass: Yeah, it was a real think coming from everything. So, like, you know, from the fashion side, there were like many inspirations, you know, obviously like Kenny West is a big one Missile Margiela is also like extremely strong when it comes to mask, they’ve been like pushing the narrative forward, like, by like, way beyond any other kind of couture institutions. So, like, we really studied that quite a lot. There was like, a lot on the protest side. So, something that is very interesting is that protests around the globe, kind of like start with, you know, just protecting your identity and protecting themselves like physically, right. But then one step further is actually like, what kind of message can you represent on to like, your mask, right? So, you have, you start having like, people who writes messages onto, put symbols, etc. And then, like, you get into fashion. And so, fashion has been, like, you basically have like, protests that 10 almost do like fashion display, right? Because it grabs attention, it is going to make things viral. And like people, you know, human beings are about symbols, right? Like, we’re like very visual creatures that like really relate to symbols and like to put ourselves behind these. And so just going over, you know, like virus protests in the world and how, like, people started building messages, visual messages for them, and visual language.
And some of them might be light, some of them might be you know, just like, written down. Some of them might be just, you know, abstract art, we’re seeing a lot of that were also went into, you know, hip hop, so like, a drill, like the drill world, especially the UK drill is very, very advanced when it comes to using masks, as identities, animes are huge thing. I’m a big fan. And like, if you look at like, wow, if you look at like Naruto when you look at like, some of the other like etc. Like, the mask is just everything, like when you see like some of them with like, with the mask you. Because it’s not so much about like, the like, it’s the person that like sends a message and like, this is exactly what we wanted to do from like an artistic standpoint, it’s basically like sending a message that is much bigger than like, what you look like, physically. It’s actually like, what are you about, right? And can you kind of, like summarize it, in something that is going to be displayed as kind of like a as a front end to you right? And this is like the that was really the ideal behind it actually, like, I found the ideal of the masks. I was watching music video for my favorite rap artists called kennish like a French rapper, for any French, they’re gonna know him.
Nass: Kennish for sure. And yeah, you can have a free minute if you want and so he kind of like started with like a blank balaclava. Right, and like, as you started adding, like more consciousness and in his lyrics, and just like more protests, and like just more messages and deeper messages, he actually started adding some of the messages in like symbols, for example, like talking about, you know, body war in Africa, he started putting like a bloody hand, you know, symbol. This is like very visceral because you have this, it is a canvas, it is about what you’re saying, you’re actually prioritizing this message over, like what you physically look like. And we felt like it was the best representation, like it was just the best artistic concept that would match this idea of like, you know, a digital canvas that would allow you to show more about yourself. And so, this is really what we wanted to allow people to do is just like as you develop your identity, as you join communities, as you create experiences, you attend events, etc. You should be able to like to make your NFT evolve with you. And so that’s kind of like how we plan to do.
You know, you’re incredibly technical yet you’re also incredibly creative. And when you meet technical people, the stigma is that they’re introverted. You know, like they, they stick to their code, like they stick to their screen, but you seem to exemplify many, many characteristics and extend way beyond that, right? Obviously, not everybody fits into that shell. But that’s like the stigma, right? And hearing you speak about all these, like artistic, creative kind of like approaches, is really interesting to see how it kind of comes into play with the actual image itself. Because everything that you just described, really, I see the PSP, right, like, this entire vision that you just portrayed artistically. I can envision that right. And I think you guys really, like you guys really connected the fuses really, really well. And kind of like, forming that design. I also want to talk to. Yeah, go ahead, go ahead.
Nass: I was about to say, so something that like we didn’t touch on and like, it’s also pretty relevant to this is that I’ve been a graffiti artist for 20 years actually, doing graffiti every single year.
That I didn’t find online.
Nass: Yeah, but like I’ve been doing graffiti for 20 years. So obviously, a lot less about, you know, like, we have characters and like, I think that like hip hop was also like a big inspiration. But it I think that’s like, dictated like a lot of kind of, like the streetwear kind of like type of fashion that like we tried to display in a way that is like very slick. But yeah, like, for me, I think that like art is you know, it is a big part of my life. Outside of that, obviously, a lot less time to like, with graffiti, but like I can show you like oh my like, oh my tags, like everywhere, it’s 24/7 You know, just like I’m gonna be like, constantly, you know, tagging and just like, making some graffiti on the side.
How did you get into graffiti art?
Wait, wait, we’re already like 48 minutes into this episode. And this is the first time I hear that you’re a graffiti artist. I could not find that anywhere online. How did you get into graffiti art?
Nass: You know, I tend to fall in love with things. And just like stick to them. I think I was 11 years old. And it was someone, I was very nerdy. I was a geek, you know, always working 24/7 And just like trying to get the best grades. But there you have these, like two guys in my older sister’s class. And they actually like wrote her name in graffiti style. And I saw that at home, and I was just like, what is this? And then I was like, what does it mean? And then I just like to fell in love. And I spent like, the next week, just like, you know, like when you put like a cog on to like, like a you know, like a opaque layer and he started like this recopying over and over. And I was just like, the full week, like 100 times. And like started, you know, like wanting to learn more. And then like when to paint my first wall. And then I just loved and did some, you know, legal murals, some illegal murals, and then you know, I just I just love the culture. it’s something that is that is very deep in me. This is mine, by the way, I did like a16z in the X web three.
Let me go full screen. Oh shit, that’s sick. That’s really sick.
Nass: Links on exclusive merch for a16z.
Building Hype: How To Build a Die Hard NFT Community
You’ll have to send me some pictures of your stuff. I’m gonna include it in the show notes. I think the world needs to see more of that. Before we wrap up, I want to ask you about a few more things. Okay. I’m a big part of crypto is obviously community. It’s incredibly redundant and washed-out statement. But every kind of project has its own unique community, has its own, ethos has its own kind of like values. And when you were constructing Rebels, I think the hardest part that a lot of creators kind of have when they enter this space is finding those first few people that align with what they’re doing. Right in your case, you guys have 1000s of people in your discord, crazy following an engagement online. But how did you plant that first seed? What was like the starting process of getting those first few people to fall in love with what you’re doing to then eventually scale it to where it’s at today? And we’re what we’re a few days from crunch time have kind of seen this go live?
Nass: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I think that like there are actually two things about this. It’s kind of like how do you first get the people to come to you? And then how do they, how do you make them connect with your vision, with your kind of like mission statement, with your DNA and how do you build a DNA with them, right? Because it’s not, like if I tell you repeatedly, like we’re about this, we’re about this, we’re about this, it’s not going to change anything if you don’t like inherently and deeply connect to it. And so, the first part was actually, I would say, a lot of luck, a lot of about the art and about a lot about like the setup around the initial announcement that we made. So, I was actually on a on a Twitter space with Nikhil, the co-founder of alchemy, I was also on, there was also co-founder of dapper labs and a few other people. And so, at the end, we actually did a pull up, that was basically like, that would represent like a whitelist entry, or project that we just announced. Right, and they were like, there were like many people in the audience, it was like very high profile, we were talking about like, web three and security and the future of infrastructure in the space, etc. And so, people came in first for the art, which was like, very singular, very unique at the time, and still is today, but like, people really connect it to the art. And then the transition to making it about community happened over time by us being very present in the discord. And actually, you know, I’m a big fan about, I’m a big fan about, like, building culture in general, like I’ve read every single book possible about like, you know, building company culture. And my favorite one is actually written by Ben Horowitz. And this is actually one of the reasons that me to join Andreessen Horowitz, where you basically have like, building a community is almost like building a team, building a company in the sense that, like, you have to kind of like lead efforts in some of culture, but you have to bring people with you and make them understand how everything that you’re proposing is going to be beneficial for them for others around them. And, you know, kind of like, make everyone move together in the right direction.
And so, I spend most of my time talking about community culture, community DNA, community building, trying to help people build kind of, like build efforts, because like, we want to build an ecosystem, you know, and to think about community, I’m thinking Ethereum, I think it’s like, Ethereum is amazing, you know, no one relies on Vitalik anymore to kind of like dictate where should things go? And like, they don’t rely on him for like, a lot of the efforts they do. You know, having him like high regards. But like, Ethereum did really well, it kind of like scaling the foundation, efforts to multiple kind of like, you know, groups of people everywhere around the globe. And so, we tried to do that. But that happens by walking the talk, right? Like, I’m on Discord, three to four hours a day, all week long, we can probably more than that. I’m constantly there. I’m constantly talking with everyone, constantly in the VCs, and helping people kind of like onboard, in kind of like reward the positive behaviors. And one other thing that like we do that is very singular, and people really connect to is fostering subcommittees. My opinion is that subcommittees are the most important thing about communities, like, this is the thing that is going to dictate that like, you feel like you are part of a hole, but at the same time, you are unique. I myself, for example, if I take like an example from just like a geographic standpoint, right, like where I come from, I come from France. And I’m not thinking like, oh, like, I’m just, I’m not a scare. Sorry, I’m not a scarce resource, because I’m like, one of out of, you know, 17 million, right? Like, this is not how I think about it, how I think is like, okay, I’m French, but I’m from Paris, I’m from, you know, the 18th District and like, within the 18th district, I’m from like, this very specific neighborhood. And this kind of like these layers, nested layers actually dictate how I actually feel like and part of like something big, and also at the same time part of like, a very small community that like makes me unique, right. And so this is the type of thing that we try to foster in the community, where we really into helping people build sub communities, we help people create like already, we already have like three people who created their own NFT collections within the community and we help them bootstrap these efforts to kind of like have already these kind of like smaller groups formed themselves and feel like they’re not thinking about like, oh, I’m just a rebel, but I’m part of like Yoko, Yoko rebel and part of like, toys Rebels. And people are already talking about like forming their own Daos, etc. Like, I love this. I think that like one of the reasons why board ape was so successful is because you know, you have like, the golden ape that formed around the house, you have like sub communities that formed themselves and just like, really thrive over time. Same thing for Zuki. And so, I’m really excited to see that happen for Rebels, but it comes with like really doing that on a constant and daily basis, which is something that like, not a lot of people have, obviously, like, the time and the energy to do and the passion but like this is this is critical.
So, do you orchestrate manually a sub community and hope that like, it spirals out into something organic? Or how do you like prop the sub community to form?
Nass: I think it’s like, people do have a lot of creativity and like, people have the, yeah, people have the creativity, people will create things. And you know, in the community, and we see that constantly. And the goal is not for you to just lay like, oh club like whitelist This is not what you should do, what you should be doing is like, your thing is amazing. A lot of people would like really enjoy, you know, displaying that, do you feel like, you know, building something bigger? Do you feel like bringing other people that like you’re close to because they also built the friendships, right? It’s like, do you and your friends want to, like do something and kind of like help them, you know, organize the events like basically help on the operational side around it and like communication, so that like they provide the main efforts, but you’re here to kind of like support them from like an operational and like marketing communication perspective, it’s kind of like scale out their efforts more broadly within the discord outside the discord. And so now you basically have like these, this amazing part of like the Japanese community that is actually creating, you know, kind of like a Japanese roulette with like, really sought-after NF’s that are like from a derivative collection. And they organize that on a very frequent basis. They have like these like, votes on like, which one should we really snacks, etc. And so, they have the creativity, they put up amazing content, like I would not be creating myself because like, you know, we just, like we have very different creative experiences and appetites and tastes.
But scaling that out is very important. Like me, making myself available for them, if they need anything is the most critical things. Oh, and by the way, our solution. So, one of the things that you need to make people feel like they’re part of the community even before mint, which is very important. And so, now like, you know, you have a lot of things are free to mint. And like that’s like a lot more widespread. But for us, we actually did it when no one was doing it. And so, we really wanted to make, like these people feel like they’re already part of the community, they don’t need to like think about order financializing, you know, this project, they should just like focus on building the best stuff. And so, this is what we basically did with the free mint, very early to basically allow them to feel like okay, they’re already part of the community, they can like go to the next level, right? Like they’re already in this rebel’s ecosystem, then they can build like one level deeper, as I was discussing.
It’s a funnel, basically, it works. It works as a funnel, something that I’ve been talking about really for a long time on the podcast, because this is all about craters, what through creator economy, and trying to build an audience in the in the web three creator economy is trying to find in an align incentives. And the best way to do that, in my opinion, is through a free mint. Or at least using that as a way to gauge and kind of like funnel in a top-level type of category, then you kind of work with people to kind of create unique experiences that funnels them down throughout the pipeline. And we saw this with the mint one with G money and him building like this CRM of giving up po ops to his most earliest supporters. We see this with po ups in general and people attending events in person be able to kind of mark their milestone in terms of being a part of something very early on. I also do this on the podcast with mint, I’ve given out over 1000 NFTs to my listeners for free. And the last season they were actually, they were nontransferable because I saw people kind of switching and trading these po ups which the intention is because I want to do something bigger, the intention is to kind of mark it as, you came in at this season. You supported me in this season, and now I can prove that, right? So free NFTs are a great way to do that. Creating sub communities through these projects is actually it’s the first time I’ve heard something like that, which might just end up being the title of this episode. We’ll see. But this has been great. I’ve learned a lot from you. I’ve learned a lot from your story. And before I let you go, where can we find more about the project? What are the minting details? When does it go live? Give me that entire rundown.
Nass: That sounds great. So, you can, first everything is going to happen on the Twitter page twitter.com/Rebels by night, the website is Rebels.art So don’t fall for any scam, nothing is going to happen on like fake premium sites, you know, you have to go through the official channels. The Mint is actually happening this Sunday, June 12, the public mint, which is going to last three hours in the format of a Dutch auction, that is going to start at 0.8 and will rest at 0.1, then the whitelist is going to be right after that for probably 48 hours, give or take. And it’s going to be at 0.08 Eth. And then we’re going to have some blog that is dedicated for like all the free mints, we have 10% of the collection that is free to mint for you know, lead and pseudo roles that we were talking about it, talking about before. So that is going to be the mint. The reveal is going to be shortly after, we don’t want to wait, you know to have people wait too long. We’re building an amazing, amazing reveal experience. A lot of people focus on the mint, we want to focus on the reveal. We think that like the reveal is going to be something else. And so very excited to see everyone you know, join us in the rebellion that’s really something that we’re very excited about.
Incredible. Well, we’re gonna have to do this again, once the project is live, once everything has been revealed, and we kind of see the community grow from there on out but thank you for being here. Thank you for taking the time and we’ll see you soon.
Nass: That sounds good. Thank you so much, Adam. That was awesome. had an amazing time. Thanks again for having me.