From Importing Tiles to Creating Art Blocks: This is Erick Calderon

This episode welcomes Erick Calderon, founder and CEO of artblocks. In this episode we talk about his transition from importing tiles for 19 years to starting art blocks, putting together the platform’s curation board, his favorite nfts, how he utilizes on-chain data, NFTs on tezos, music nfts and more.
This episode welcomes Erick Calderon, founder and CEO of artblocks. In this episode we talk about his transition from importing tiles for 19 years to starting art blocks, putting together the platform’s curation board, his favorite nfts, how he utilizes on-chain data, NFTs on tezos, music nfts and more.

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Background

Mint Season 6 episode 6 welcomes Erick Calderon, founder and CEO of artblocks. In this episode we talk about his transition from importing tiles for 19 years to starting art blocks, putting together the platform’s curation board, his favorite nfts, how he utilizes on-chain data, NFTs on tezos, music nfts and more.

Time Stamps

  • 02:27 – Intro
  • 13:17 – Learning How to Code and Starting Art Blocks
  • 17:25 – Reflecting On Your Journey
  • 21:17 – Actions That Made Art Blocks The Brand it is Today
  • 33:57 – Creating the Curation Board
  • 40:46 – How Often Will the Curation Board Be Changed?
  • 44:10 – Understanding Your Creators and Collectors Using On-Chain Data
  • 46:58 – What is Your Favorite Curated Collection?
  • 48:15 – How Do You Feel About NFT Flippers?
  • 51:15 – Thoughts on FXhash and Tezos NFTs
  • 54:27 – How Important is Having NFTs Fully On-Chain?
  • 57:38 – How Do You Feel About Auto-Generated Music?
  • 59:39 – Outro

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Eric, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for being on a part of season six. How are you doing, man?

Erick Calderon: I’m good. How are you doing? Thanks for having me.

Yeah, man, thanks. Thanks for making the time. I’m super stoked to have you part of the season. Obviously, you’re a well-known name in the community. And I’ve been looking forward to talking with you. I think we messaged about two months ago or so. I don’t remember. Oh.

Erick Calderon: were we’re competing over similar Nouns?

Yes. I think that’s what it was. I wonder how I forget that.

Erick Calderon: You want to come. I think it was the first crown or one of the first crowns or whatever. And I was like, oh my God, that’s yeah.

It was you against Eric against Andy, from now to Sarah.

Erick Calderon: And I wouldn’t be surprised if, you know, Max Power was in there who, you know.

Maybe 

Erick Calderon: Every now and then I guess I didn’t realize he was bidding. And he texted me and be like, if you really want it, I’ll let you have it. And I’m like, dammit, but I mean, ultimately build some really good sub 1000 collections. And to me, it was really important to have sub 1000 little nouns. And I think it’s also going to be really important to have sub 10,000 addition little nouns, I mean, of course, it’s an open addition that goes on forever. But there is like some kind of like with generative art and kind of with our books, there is like a captured window of kind of what the algorithm is capable of doing. And I think that once you start pushing the boundaries, those you start getting maybe not exact collisions, but you start getting similar things. And to me, I think the top $1,000 little nouns, and in fact, I went in early and spent three Eth, on like, a top 100 on the first 100, just like, because I you know.

Nice, how many how did you have today? Little nouns.

Erick Calderon: I think I’ve 39, you know, I talked about this a lot. But like, part of my history is that I collected a full larval lab set minus an alien. And I like to collect sets. And so, I have this new, and I, you know, I have forever to do it. So, no rush, but I have this new desire to collect one of every head type of little Nouns. And so, I think that’s 236, I think something like that. So, I have a long way to go. But I take my time. And, and you know, the markets will go up and down. And I’ll be sitting there trying to collect all those too.

Intro

Well, I’m pretty hooked on mine. So, stay away. I want to talk about, I wonder what are art blocks first of all, but you’ve also been featured across many different podcasts talking about art blocks, and how you guys started. So, I want to do things a little bit differently. Erick, I would kind of like consider you in the category of, I don’t want to say people that aren’t supposed to be here. But the background is super interesting. Okay. And the only reason I bring this up is so let me compare you to a couple other guests that I’ve had, that I’ve interviewed. Okay, so Kane Warwick of synthetics, and Alex Svanevik of Nansen. They used to work at Guitar Center, Stanley built Ave while studying his master thesis. And you were working at a tile shop called La Nova tiles for nearly 19 years. before transitioning into art blocks. I find your background fascinating, can you tell me more about it, and how you sort of made your switch from a president of a tile importer to starting art blocks?

Erick Calderon: Well, let’s see here, I’ve always been a nerd at heart when I started the tile company, you know, it was kind of a, it was a result of my dad having been in a ceramic tile business before. So, I didn’t actually just dive into tile. Like if I you know, in fact, when I was growing up, I was like, I want to design cars. Tile was not actually the most exciting thing to dive into, I then became incredibly passionate about Tile. And I realized, there’s a lot more to it than what you see at Home Depot. And, you know, in the tendency of being very passionate about what I do, and just like, you know, also being empathetic to what people want. I became a thought leader in the tile world. And that’s something that was very special to me. But it’s interesting, because I’ve always wanted to have a voice and have a platform outside of my just my local community. And it’s really beautiful to see how, you know, same amount of passion effort can get you to a level where you can actually speak to a significantly larger audience. And there’s a lot of similarities into, you know, when I started my tile business, the concept of a porcelain tile was like, why would I pay more for porcelain tiles and for natural stone, because natural, everybody wanted marble and granite and I was on this really interesting mission to explain a new technology and ceramic tile and why it was better than the previous technology against all preconceived notions of what the technology had to do. And yeah, it’s not tech, but it was very innovative. And I find myself like 19, 20 years later, kind of in the same boat, again, you know, trying to educate people on innovation and how It will eventually, I think, replace the status quo. You know, to this day, people still purchase ceramic tile. But it’s a lot more common, especially kind of in the higher end world to purchase a porcelain tile, because it’s a more durable product period.

So, what would you say the similarities are between operating a tile importer to now running art blocks? What are the similarities and differences maybe between both?

Erick Calderon: Yeah, because similarities are that I sit down at a desk. 

Okay.

Erick Calderon:  Everything else is pretty different. First of all, we’re all remote at art blocks. There’s, I think, six people now in Houston, which is where I am. But we also work out of our homes or other offices, we still don’t work all together. In fact, the other day I went to work, as we work and had just such a good time, I actually consume the $29 worth of the We Work, daily pass in kombucha and for sparkling water. I could just live there if they’d let me. But no, we all work remotely. And whereas the towel company, we all worked in the same building or buildings to buildings, if we had once, we separated into a showroom and a warehouse. Supply chain is very different in the tile world.

Blockchain, really.

Erick Calderon:  But it’s interesting because their supply chain is now humans, right? You know, you really need to kind of like turn this into bits and pieces here. It’s like, you know, our supply chain comes from the brilliance of an artist. And even though that brilliance was important in the tile world, because they had designed really good tiles, ultimately, it was the physical good, that kept us in business. And here, it’s not the physical good, although NFTs are kind of this physical ethereal, good. It’s the passion that artists have for art and for generative art, and then also the collectors. That keeps us going. And it’s been a very different, very different experience. You know, there was a, there was a moment last year that you know, art blocks as an organization generated more profit in, I think, 30 minutes than the tile company had generated in 10 years. And while that was not something that we ever planned on or counted on, or thought it was going to be normal, like there was this moment in my mind where I was like, oh, man, like yes, of course, I’m very passionate about tile and what I’ve built here, but like there’s something feeling, irresponsible feeling about not pursuing this and not because of the money, but just the sheer, like orders of magnitude of intensity and difference between the two plus, I’ve always been a nerd for technology, for code and for blockchain stuff. And it just really has come to me getting to pursue my passions. And it’s been really fun.

But I’m still not convinced, like, how did you make the transition like are two completely different things. The only main thing that sort of pops out to me that’s incredibly similar is the logo of art blocks is the squiggle. And when you go to the website, the first sort of design that you see is the chromium, right. And I felt like that was like that was very, very, very fun, obviously, very intentional, right? It wasn’t not intentional. 

Erick Calderon: Yeah, so I designed a tile collection called Chromie. But you know, I designed this tile collection with 22, bright colors. And what’s interesting is there’s plenty of tile collections with bright colors, but they always had like a beige and a brown and a mov. And like, I actually built a collection that was strictly 22, fully saturated colors within the limitations of what tile can do, because there’s actually some limitations on what you can do with ceramics. And then six, or five or six grayscale tones, just white to black and colors in between. And that was something that, you know, I’ve always been passionate about color and about graphic installations. So Chromie was the name of a collection. And it was also the name of this, like NFT that I kept it 2000 of my interior designers in 2018. They had to claim them, 14 of them claiming them. And then in 2021, I Airdrop them, each of the people that actually claimed one and actual Chromia squiggle, mind you they were still only $10. So, it wasn’t like I was gifting someone some massive thing. I was gifting $10 thing and just kind of following through with my original, like commitment. Yeah, it’s very different. And the transition actually, I would say that there’s one main point of transition, which is COVID, you know, in COVID, I found myself with extra time, you know, I have two children, and they consumed my time and so did traffic and the gym, which I have a lot of debt towards the gym to pay back, you know, sitting in a chair for 90 hours a week has done nothing for that. But you know, between the traffic and the gym and not going into the office, and you know, also just things calm down during COVID. There was no showroom. We didn’t come in; it was just shut down. I found myself with extra time and that extra time that I had never had. And in my life, I’ve never been like a very wealthy person, I’ve lived very satisfied within my means. And what I’ve always found to be the most valuable thing in life is time period. Like, there’s just no amount of money that can buy you the amount of time that it takes to really follow a passion or whatever. And I just never had that time. 

And so COVID bought me that time. And during that time, I degend onto top Shot for three months, to a point of like, true degeneracy. And also, I learned how to code and write JavaScript and Node and React code so that I’d be able to launch art block. So, it was a, it was a really beautiful thing. And then like, as COVID started to lift, I spent more time at the showroom, and art blocks was starting to grow. And it growed very quickly, but also kind of organically, like it just, I knew that I was going to be unable to keep up with the tile world, if our art block continued to grow. There was no guarantee that it was gonna continue to grow. I had a couple of investors early on that were like, I’m not investing in art blocks, because you’re not quitting your job. And I’m like, okay, dude, like 19 years, and I have a team of 15 employees, and you’re like, going to make me quit my job, have some vision of what a founder should or should not be doing in this space, like, but yeah, little by little, it just became very clear. And eventually, I still am here, I’m in the tile business. Now I come, there’s a conference room in the back that I have taken over with, just I come in every morning, I closed myself in what is a pretty like, dark cave with one window. That’s pretty high up. But I’m surrounded by beautiful art that people send me, and I work out of here. So, I’m still here. I’m still like a president in the business. I still wave at people in the window when they come by and say hello, and but my engagement with the tile company is, I’d say down to about one hour a week.

Oh, wow. How old are your kids? Are they like, are they managing the business now or did you have completely automated to other employees? Because it’s a family business.

Erick Calderon: Am I that old, looking like crap. Yeah. My kids are four and six. And they would probably love to manage the tiles. But no, no. So, one of the people that I worked with within the tile business, kind of recognized what was happening. And just one day, we were having this meeting, and he gave me this proposal for him to take over as CEO. And he just wrote down this list of what his duties would be. And I was like, Holy shit, like, yes. And it’s hard to see a picture of what the tile business would be. Like, if I had done that. I mean, we have a wonderful team, and they all know what they’re doing. But, you know, they’re like, I was the leader of the team. And you know, not having that kind of leadership would have been, I mean, it would have been fine, businesses are harder than you might think, I mean, it was a consistently healthy business. So, it’s not, you know, COVID hit us really hard. But if a business is pretty stable, and hardy, it can survive some stuff. So, I’m sure that it wouldn’t have like fallen apart if I had just, had to transition sooner. But having the CEO step in really kind of gave it some direction and, you know, kept going.

Learning How to Code and Starting Art Blocks

Can you talk about you learning how to code and then starting art blocks, I think that’s such a fascinating story that I actually didn’t quite find online. I have difficulties like I for the longest time, I’ve been trying to teach myself how to write code, and try to bring my ideas to life, I ended up just working with other people and making friends with other people, right, that kind of like complementary skills, but you kind of took it upon yourself to do the heavy lifting and teach yourself. Can you talk more about that?

Erick Calderon: Yeah, I mean, there’s various stages. Stage one, I don’t remember what age, I was, I think it was 9,10. My, my dad bought me a. So, a long time ago, on Windows systems, there was a coding language that was built in called Q basic, which is just a very old like programming language, it eventually turned into Visual Basic, which is still kind of used today. And he bought me this book for Q basic, or maybe I heard about it at school, I don’t know. And back then there was no copy paste, because there was no like internet. And so, I would copy, like line by line, I would just copy the text in the book into the computer console. And when you do that over hundreds of lines of code, you inevitably make a mistake. So, then you have to go find the mistake by reading the error messages. And that’s actually how I learned the basic, basic, like route, concept of coding later in life. So, I just kind of tinkered with it. I always, I was always the nerd with the graphing calculator because I could play my, choose your own adventure game that I had written, which is pretty straightforward because it was templates. Later in life when I got windows for the first time, there was this software called Visual Basic, which is like cue basic for Windows. And I learned how to use it and I got really excited about it and I learned, I wrote a thing to like pick lottery numbers. And then I was really into papers, even though nobody ever believed me because I didn’t really have any friends. And so, I wrote an app that and I also didn’t have a schedule, because I was in like, middle school and high school, but I wrote an app on my computer that would, you would in the morning, you would list the things that you had to do. And then like, it would beep you throughout the day with a number. And then on the back of the beeper, you printed out your list of things to do and you’re like, oh, I need to pick up groceries. 

This is like 13-year-old Eric, like, really living a fantasy, the need for technology. But I wrote this thing, and it worked. And it worked well. And I was like, oh, man, okay, like, I got really comfortable with code at that point. I didn’t touch it again, until probably I was 30 years old. And that’s when I started tinkering with creative coding, which is coding with the intention of creating a visual output, something that never crossed my mind before and I started tinkering with that, really enjoyed that process, like, really loved the ability to, you know, as you may have heard me, say, and other sources, like, I often find myself in life trying to create something that doesn’t exist, because a lot of the things that I want in this world don’t exist and coding to me, it’s just this like magical portal, because, okay, I can’t necessarily make an iPhone case that doesn’t exist. Although now we have 3d printers, maybe we can do so. But with code, if there’s something you want to exist, it doesn’t exist, you can make it, as long as it can be executed using code, there’s the sky’s the limit to what you can do with that. And that’s always been like really kind of mind blowing to me. Still, I would say total hobby enthusiast level of coding, until COVID hit and that’s when I started, there was a website called code academy.com. It’s like 39 bucks a month, got you hundreds of tutorials, and I just went through the ones that were pertinent to what I needed, the full stack that I needed to learn, and just dove right in and it took hours. I mean, I went through the basic JavaScript course, which is a two-part course twice in a row. And that’s something that I’d suggest to people that want to learn how to code, you can’t do it once, because your brain just doesn’t register it. But if you do it twice in a row, which is like 80 hours, which just takes, I don’t know, maybe like four to six weeks of consistent every night coding, you come out of that with a pretty good understanding of how to code. And that’s how I got to the point where I could write not just like the Chromie Google code, but the entire art blocks.

Reflecting On Your Journey

Do you ever just like take a minute and just think about that, like that entire journey like that’s no joke, like you say it like it’s some easy thing. But that’s quite a journey. And then from kind of like imagining this thing that you wanted to create, to then learning how to code to then creating it, and then seeing the success that it’s at today, right, while still sitting in the office of the tile shop that has sort of like supported you for nearly 19 years, like do you ever reflect on your journey? And kind of be like, well, here I am, like, how the hell did I get here?

Erick Calderon: Oftentimes, I’m traveling too much and too busy to reflect. And it’s kind of a problem. And this is why mental health is such an important issue in our space, right? Like, sometimes it doesn’t feel real. And, you know, lately, I’ve been kind of taking some calls a bit more consistently, because I spent five weeks where I didn’t have a full work week in my office, I actually spent like almost six months with the exception of maybe two or three weeks scattered in that I didn’t actually spend five full days in the office, right, I traveled so much. And you get back and all you do is like, yes, you’re excited. But you’re also kind of pitying yourself, which is really kind of weird, like, all you want to see is your children when you leave, and then you get to where you’re going. And then you’re partying and having a good time, like having drinks and talking nerd talk with all the nerds that are in the space, which is like the most exciting thing I can think of in that world. And then you get back and all you want to do is just talk with your family. And it’s like this endless cycle within nine hours with phone calls a day. And, you know, two or three podcasts a week, sometimes more, sometimes less.

 So, it’s sometimes hard to find the time to reflect but when you do, it’s just like, and there’s this moment, actually, you know, I think my wife thought that I was having like a heart attack or something like we were in New York during an empty week. And our blocks do this party at Samsung’s headquarters. And we had a surprise DJ, it was totally wild, which is just like one of the, I think one of the best music producers in the world. And we didn’t tell anybody, and I had forgotten that we had made 1000s of squiggle balloons. And there was just this moment where I was like on this like kind of a bleacher setup, watching Toria anois with like, incredible artworks pieces in the highest possible resolution because it was a three story screen with like, surrounded by not just my wife who came this time because I don’t always get to travel with my wife but also with a lot of friends and all my coworkers and collectors and artists and then these little squiggle balloons start coming out of the ceiling. And I literally kind of lost it for a second and I was just like, what? She’s like, are you okay? And I’m just like, I couldn’t like process it. So those are the moments yeah, that you look back and reflect and you’re like, holy shit like what is this and I’m very grateful for, you know, everything that’s happened and I’m very excited for everything that’s coming, I think we have some really fun stuff planned and I feel validated. You know, I am not one that’s always, I’m not one that’s driven by money. And I’m not one that’s driven by financial things, I’ve always been happy in my place and, but I am driven by validation because when like, for every eyeroll it like accumulates, like this kind of need for validation, every time someone rolls their eyes when you’re like when I give somebody a crypto pump for their kids being born, you know, it was like 20 bucks, and I give them in a frame. And I’d be like, don’t lose that, because there’s a piece of paper inside that’s worth 20 bucks or 30 bucks, and you know, that they were like, thank you very much and turn around and like roll their eyes, and we’re like, this guy’s totally nuts, you know, like, those things accumulate over time. And really, there’s no amount of money in the world that like, would necessarily like make that taste better or not. But like when you see people react to the product market fit, to the product, to the concept of the technology to the art. That is what it’s all about. And it’s really rewarding. And I have this like incredible, just a very, incredibly grateful for the people that I get to work with every day and artists, collectors and my team. And it’s just, yeah, it’s crazy.

Actions That Made Art Blocks The Brand it is Today

So, when you do look back, can you take a moment to look back? What are some actions or decisions you would argue are pivotal to making art blocks the brand and destination that it is today?

Erick Calderon: I think there’s a couple really important ones, I think one is not chasing the shiny things. It is so easy in this space to be derailed by chasing the old shiny stuff. And you know, whether it’s utility, or tokens, or defi, or staking NFTs or whatever it might be, all those things are brilliant, like I am actually a huge fan of the technology and every little, tiny thing that comes with it. But I started art blocks as a hobby using tools that came out of the Ethereum tool chest. And those are the things that got art blocks its initial success. And those are the things that I made an early decision to continue to pursue no matter what. And one of those is buying art for the sake of art itself. I assure you that very few people that bought crypto punks, but crypto punks, because they thought they’d be worth a lot of money in the future. And I don’t think that a lot of artists early on, especially with art blocks releasing artwork thinking it would change their lives. Dozens of artists have now quit their jobs because they have been so successful with art blocks. And that brings an insane amount of joy. But bringing, just like being laser focused on like that, you know, we started this art for the sake of art itself. People can take their NFTs, speculate all they want, do whatever they want with them, it’s actually irrelevant to what we’re doing. Oftentimes we’d be accused to not caring about the secondary market, it’s like, of course, we care about our artists careers, like of course, we want artists to be successful. But like we’re here as a platform to help people deploy distribute art in a way that didn’t exist before. And it’s hard work is overwhelming at times. And that is where we needed to concentrate our time. Then, you know, as with any platform, you start seeing stagnation. Like, art block hasn’t done anything new lately, we haven’t made any announcements, where’s the roadmap, and it’s so easy to get carried away wanting to announce some of these like big initiatives that we have. But in my mind, a lot of the detriment to the space is when you make huge announcements and then like it’s deflationary when people receive the actual physical or digital good that you announced, because it’s rarely as exciting as your fantasy creates it to be because your NFTs don’t go up in value or because you don’t get some free thing in the mail or whatever it might be. 

And so, you know, during, I think the second thing that’s just so important for art blocks in this in this trajectory, it’s like, you know, in August, September, October, we were making a bunch of money and people were like, what are you doing all that money? You greedy fools like, you know, quit taken from us, I’m just like, we’re just, we haven’t actually changed anything. We’re just releasing projects every week, and they continue to sell and then when things slow down, we didn’t change things either, that we started curating more, which is very important, something I never wanted to do. I always wanted art blocks to be an open platform. But then you start seeing some just incredible fine works of art that are on our platform and concerned about whether the artist wants that to live next to something that is less effort, less intent, less, you know, deep, not less work, because great art can be very simple, but less deep, and we started to curate more and we started to get a lot more effective without curation, which I think is helped us. But what I want to highlight, I guess here is that we, for about six months didn’t make very, made very few other than like bug improvements and like functional improvements to our back end, which is not very visible to the front end improvements art blocks and said, look, we are looking in now, once we had the explosion, August, September, October, the team grew from 4 people to 24 people in like four months. But that is not a functional way to like to get to know and we’re remote. And I think people on the other side, look at that. And they’re like, oh, it’s because you have all this money. And it’s like, thank goodness, we have this money, so we can hire more people, so we can make the product that you’re consuming better. It’s not like I mean, no, nobody’s actually taking home, like, revenue from our plots. Like we’re all getting salaries, of course, we’re growing the team, we’re all working within salary expectations that would be normal for the space. And in the end, we have been working hard on what I consider to be like a pretty epic next three months for at blocks, which is all of those things that we did internally facing, helped us build a really fantastic team, that has now tasked ourselves with a pretty massive endeavor for the end of this year. Starting with the curation board, which we just announced last week, something that took six months that we got a lot of, you know, frustrations from our economy was.

Really challenging, really challenging to do that.

Erick Calderon: It has if you look at how thorough it was, but then at the same time, I even remember like our community would be like, dude, it’s been three months, you’ve been talking about this forever. And I would come back to the team and be like, okay, we need to give them something because I know you’re working on it. But like in this taste of transparency, it’s hard to communicate that. And then when I saw the curation board announcement, and I saw a thorough bio for like 20 people, one of them was gender diverse groups. In fact, I think almost like heavy on women participants, which is just rare in our space and rare and also like in a lot of sectors of the art world. And then like just the thought that went into it. There’s a charter now if you miss this amount you’re out, you know this charter for like community curation, where we’re going to let people that are from the community come in and take temporary seats. And obviously three months or six months, I don’t even know how we’re going to pick these people, we want to make it fair, it’s hard to be fair to decentralized space. I was like, okay, that was worth the six months, even I got anxious. And I saw it and I was like that was worth the six months. We have contract improvements coming up, we’re going to release the next version of the art blocks contract, which is something that we’ve been working towards for a really long time, new minting strategies, if I have my way will have announced style mentor for art blocks, and maybe 50 of the remaining squiggles will be minted in a now style, auction one per day with it being revealed, and then people bidding on it. And hopefully that will generate an insane amount of money for charity, because I fully believe that like a lot of the values that are being exchanged in this space are superfluous to like what a human need to survive. And so, you know, I would designate a significant portion of those things to go to charity. You know, we have a new website kind of over like re configuration of our website reconfiguration of, you know, thinking about how the collections are going to be preserved and moving forward and how the series work and how curated looks and what we call the things, we have a couple little treats that we have for the community, nothing like Moon birds for proof like that was epic, right like nothing like that like, but something sweet that we want to say thanks to the people that are supporting us and they’ve been part of this community and our Marfa party in November is on November 11. We are all meeting in the middle of nowhere Texas, we have over 400 people RSVP, which will probably end up being 500 RSVP by the end of the thing.

Last year we had 300, we expected 100, that come kind of like pilgrimage to the desert, where a bunch of people just nerd out about generative art and NFTs, I fully expect it to be a more diverse crowd than before because we’ve made efforts to try to be more accessible to like a bigger group of people. You know, there’s some treats in store for people that come to that, you know, and ultimately, what’s going to happen is, I think at the end of 2022 and entering the 2023, it will be very apparent, where 35 to 40 depending on what timeline you have people have been spending their time for the last year. And it’s so easy to be sitting on the other side of discord and being like man, what is it? What is everybody doing? And I’m just so proud that without a doubt, it will be clear what we’ve been spending our time on. It’s not even we like I get to like to hear all these things. This team of incredible people that I work with are just really busting their butts to like to make this thing as like the best platform that it could ever be in the world. And I think we’re doing a good job of it. I’m really proud. We have a new announcement next week for art blocks, enterprise stuff. So, it’s really exciting news. We’re working with some really crazy partners that I can’t discuss. But like some really cool stuff is being created for people that want to reach their audiences with this product market fit or generative distribution technology. Yeah, I don’t know, a lot. 

I can see the fire in your eyes, I feel it, I really, really feel the way moving your hands. It’s so fun to watch. I think what’s also cool, Erick, about your story. And also, this pertains back to your experience in the tile business is, there was a certain level of tastes making required to sort of spin up art blocks. And I can’t help but wonder like the level of tastes making that’s required to sort of operate a niche style business, a tile business, where you import tiles from Italy, in Spain, and the quality that you look for when importing tile, specific tiles and how that sort of translates to the early days of art blocks of finding the first few artists to sort of mint on the site and to encapsulate the vision of what you saw in art blocks, I’m trying to find the connection.

Erik Calderon: I thought we wouldn’t even find artists at the beginning. So, I mean, at the beginning, it was really like if you’re willing to like reply and respond to a tweet, you’re on art block. So, to be fair, initial curation was pretty, pretty low, in terms of like me making selections, and I was just very lucky to get to work with really awesome artists upfront, like it could have been detrimental. But what’s really cool is that, you know, obviously like generating a bunch of money for artists, like piqued interest by a lot of other people. And some people may not have been artists, or they were coders that became creative, which is great or there’re people from scratch, they’re like, inspired to create with code. But that wave of projects that were submitted didn’t come until later. So, the people that like, saw the success of the first few weeks of art blocks, or even the first week of art blocks, were already creative coders, there were already people that knew how to do this and were ready to go pretty quickly after that. And so, there wasn’t a need for curation, because the people that were interested in participating were already in the space. I am cursed with, like, the fact that I actually can sense the difference between like how a turn blinker works on a car that was made in Europe versus a car that was made in the United States, you know, like the quality and like sense and touch and feel is very applicable in the ceramic tile world. But it’s also very applicable in this space, not the actual physical edge, but like the overall immersion of the experience. 

And you know, what, we have a team member that, you know, we talked about, like, what, we don’t really care that much about titles, and it’s like, you know, is there such thing as a chief product officer at art blocks, and it’s like, well, it’s actually more like a chief experience officer, because in this space product is a subcategory of experience. is part of the experience. And part of the experience is also the community, there is no product without the community and there’s no community without the product. And that’s not always the case, in a lot of places. I’m a huge nerd for like 1990s BMW, right, like $2000, $3,000, like BMW E 30s. I don’t wear a hat with a BMW logo on it. And I don’t join, like I have been a member of like some motocross stuff, but I don’t combine within like the BMW community even though I’m a huge member of that. So, I think there’s a world where a product in and of itself lived and succeeded, because it was a damn good product. In this case, that is not, that does not work in web three, that is actually part of the ethos of web three. And so, exploring what that means, what quality, what palpable quality is, not in a physical blinker on a car, but like in something you can’t touch, it just pixels on the screen are really special. And you know, our team is doing a really good job of figuring that out.

Creating the Curation Board

So, it is very special. And it’s very difficult to curate, and I want to go back to the curation board that was recently announced, right? How did that come about? How were participants selected? And on top of that, how do you sort of establish fairness in a decentralized manner?

Erick Calderon: The curation board initially came out, out of pure cowardice on my part, to not be able to say no to somebody. So, what happened is art block started kind of growing recognition. People started submitting stuff that I was like, I don’t know, like I am, I want to be a champion for generative art. I want to be someone that supports artists and supports careers. And all of a sudden, I was having to make a decision whether I wanted to see something on the platform or not. And when I didn’t want to see on the platform, it felt like I don’t know, it just felt wrong, even though it’s meant to be this open platform. But then, you know, in some cases, I got this weird cash grab vibe from projects that were being submitted thinking no, this project doesn’t belong here, like, and now I’m making a judgment call on somebody because maybe they reached out because they saw something sell out. A lot of artists that I had approached before starting art blocks, really started coming around to art blocks when it started, you know, selling out projects, which is great, because it gives artists a lot of credibility and a lot of credibility, like a lot of the exposure that they deserve for making this work for a long time. There’s a lot of people that had not been creating in this space for a long time. And I think they saw an opportunity. And I didn’t have the courage to like say no. 

And so, I, early on, you know, at this point, Jeff, was still working with the contract, which I don’t know what art blocks would be today, if it wasn’t for Jeff. And I just remember being like, yeah, we need to come up with a board of a group of people that can make these decisions as to what we’re going to put on the platform and what we’re not going to put on the platform. And I remember the first project we said no to is actually a project that I really like. And to this day, I still kind of, I think looking back, it would actually be kind of a successful project from a bit more of a meme ish perspective. But it was one of the and the fact that I didn’t have to say no, or I wasn’t the one making the decision made me at least feel better about being, I didn’t want artists to try to butter me up, I wanted to be able to like kind of maintain separation between what was on the platform, and then my passion for generative art. And it’s really hard to like to be a supporter and advocate for an artist and also tell them at the same time. So are you like I’m all in art, but you can’t put your stuff on my platform like it just didn’t feel right. So that’s where the curation board started. And originally, it was just a very small group of people, initially from the art world, which is nice. And some people from the art world, it will just Pfeiffer has been on a curatorial board for a while and then some NFT collectors. 

And you know, one of the things that we made kind of a request or a demand for transparency, is that we asked anyone that wanted to mint curator board to have to be doxxed. And because we are beholden now to these curators in saying, these are the people that are determining the future of what art blocks looks like in terms of generative art, we felt that these people should be willing to kind of be humans, like the people that can be you know, so that we unfortunately lost a couple of curators for that reason, because a lot of people were early participants in the art block ecosystem. And yeah, so another curation board is composed of people from the museum world, from the NFT world from the traditional art world, artists, collectors, masters, and just total rent, we have a couple people that are just kind of random, that we just love their input that they give, because they’re not coming at it. Like one of you know, I wouldn’t call this a random person. But this is a person, there’s one person that is an interior designer, and got one of my favorite interior designers in the world. And everything that he’s ever created in interior design is a space that I want to be in. And so, I’m like, okay, yeah.

Interesting. 

Erick Calderon: I want guidance from this person, too, right? Like, I want to know what gets them excited. And this is why you have so many votes and you have a scoring system because one person can be wrong, or right and also kind of be outvoted. And I think there’s a lot of beauty and I could democratize process. In my original dream of the curatorial board, there would be some kind of like L to or some kind of cheap, transparent voting mechanism. And you know, I think that you could take it pretty far with governance one day where you could say, okay, if you vote yes, you have to buy the NFT. If you vote no, you don’t have to buy it. But then if there’s like, you know, gas for like, you kind of have to participate in the gas war. If you vote yes, you gotta put your money where your mouth is. And it’s not fair because it gets expensive now, but I mean, just ideally, there are mechanisms that can be transparent. You don’t have to know who the curator is. You can just have like an anonymous address that’s like voting yes or no, but those people make decisions that are then you know, based on how much they liked their project, if you’re not going to mint it. If you’re not going to mint, it. regardless of price. Obviously, if the price is high, you may want to mint it. But you can’t early on everything was point one Eth, so it was like if you weren’t willing to spend point one Eth on a project then you probably shouldn’t have put it through to curation, right? And the idea is that if you do, people put their money where their mouth is the best projects are the ones that go through, that’s changed. Obviously, we don’t force anybody to buy anything. And we don’t want anyone to feel forced to buy anything. But the people that are part of that curatorial board have been just so instrumental for what art blocks says today. They’re shaping, they’re shaping what we are putting out, as, you know, our focus is to put out some of the best generative art in the world, you know, and drop the word generative, like we want to release some of the best art in the world, right? They’re the ones making those decisions as to what we’re calling curated, which means what is pushing the boundaries of what art and generative art can do. And I think, you know, look back into yours let’s say if NFTs are still around or like you’re still around, which I fully intend for it to be, you’re gonna, you might be able to point to like specific pivotal decisions of curation board, curating projects, not curating others and kind of like causing a certain particular style to be adopted or appreciated or excited. In this space, so yeah, we’ll see where that goes. 

So, year two of the curation board, right. for year two of art block, how long is it curation board have been in place?

Erick Calderon: I think, January, roughly January 2021. So, like, a couple of months after launching, so we’ll start year two in January 2020. I think I can’t, I honestly can’t remember how long it’s been.

How Often Will the Curation Board Be Changed?

So, this next question comes from Dan on Twitter. But he’s basically asks, how often will the curation board be changed?

Erick Calderon: So, the main part of the curation board, which is the ones that are, people that were vetted from their background, so art history, people, people from the traditional art world, contemporary art world, you know, I believe that those people, there is like a, there is a sense of like waning interest that happens with anything that you become a part of. And so, some people don’t get tired of voting, and they will probably remain on the curation more for a really long time. As we saw with the first group, like we had some people that were really active at the beginning, and it kind of waned, and this is why we created, gosh, like a pretty hardcore charter for the curation board, which is a list of things that you have to do agree to not, you know, trade, NFTs that you have voted on, or buy art from artists that you know, like commitments to be part of the board. And I think that the people that are the most committed are going to stick around for a long time, and then others will probably kind of fall off. So, we have a list of, I think another 10 people that we’ve identified that we really would like to be part of the curatorial board. And we’re just kind of waiting to see kind of how the initial set goes, then we have the community seats and the community seats. You know, I love our community, and the first people that sit on the community seats, what I’m about to say, probably would not apply to, maybe for the first 10 or 15 people that sit on the committee to seats, but when in 2021, when I was being yelled at by a bunch of board ape PFPs and art blocks discord about not knowing what I was doing, or being a money grab or ignoring or picking the wrong projects or whatever. I think that if you had picked a significant amount of those people for the curatorial board, that art blocks would have been curating PFPs, literally like just like, cartoons, which there’s nothing wrong with and like one example, I recently got to speak on a panel with LC Seneca, who created the board apes. And after having met her, it gave me a totally different view of the art behind the Braves than what I had originally just kind of dreamed up in my head and what it was. 

So, you know, I do think that there can be art in PRPs. And I obviously started with crypto funds for me, and I thought they were hard not I didn’t even know what a PFPs was right, I just thought it was like a really cool artwork. So ideally, this, you know, this group of community curators is a slightly smaller group, and one that’s rotated only because we have 30,000 holders, we’re never going to get to all of them. But we have hundreds of people in our community that are active participants in the art blocks discord and like our community, and they deserve a say, they deserve a seat. And so, we want to rotate through them, I think we’re gonna have three, maybe four rotating seats, I imagine that there’s a world where in the future, some community curator has either revealed themselves because a lot of them are anonymous to be like the executive director of like, the moment or something crazy like that. And we’re like, oh, okay, well, maybe you can. For now, most people are very much in tune with the art block ecosystem and huge fans of the artists and, you know, artists are huge fans of them. And I think it’d be really neat to see how they vote along the way. Yeah.

Understanding Your Creators and Collectors Using On-Chain Data

So, I have one final long form question for you. And then I want to do a round of like, fire questions based off other things that people have asked on Twitter. Okay, so it’s the last final question that I have for you. This is more from like a business side. And as an entrepreneur yourself as a platform founder, okay, how do you use On-Chain data as a way to understand your creators and collectors to sort of create better experiences for them as users?

Erick Calderon: At the moment, we use doing analytics and a couple of like, pretty awesome dashboards that have been built out for us, but they’ve been built out in the interim of us eventually hiring VI engineers and people that really understand data. So, our COO of art blocks, his name is Zurek Houston, or Hugh is one of the, I mean, I don’t know, I don’t know if he chuckles when I say this, maybe he doesn’t think it. But I kind of talk about him like the Cookie Monster when it comes to data, he was so excited about like data, where we’re, you know, not just because I was his Chief Operating Officer, we have to make sure that we have budgets and whatever, but also, he gets like, thrilled and excited, just viscerally about data. And he’s not the only one, Jeff Davis from the creative team is like, okay, we can use data to determine what the best rate is to release a project or to help artists with their career by giving them the right drop mechanics and stuff. Our head engineer, our CTO, Jake, Rockland, also very much excited about data. And even more, so maybe Director of Engineering, Aaron Pinay, which is also, you know, someone that’s been in the generative art space for a really long time, approached me about being in the data position at art blocks, you know, controlling data and being involved with it. And I think that it’s one of those things that you will see in whatever the future of art blocks is, and you know, whatever that future of art blocks is, whether we are aggregating sales listings on our website, I mean, if you consider the fact that like, probably 90% of the time that people spend in art blocks ecosystem is not on art blocks that I owe, like, it’s probably scrolling through open sea or other marketplaces. And so that kind of data is going to be really important. And we’re actually filling one or two roles within art blocks internally, in order to be able to actually crunch the data, provide the data and really execute on that data. It’s something that I think art blocks has fallen behind on, not out of choice, we have to prioritize, right? So, what’s the priority? The backend is durable, make sure that we hire within our corporate culture we’re excited about, but now it’s time and we are really excited about what that looks like in the future.

What is Your Favorite Curated Collection?

Amazing. Okay, so some fire round questions. Okay. So, make them quick, too, because we only have so much time left. All right. So, what is your favorite curated collection outside of squiggles, Fidanza and ringers?

Erick Calderon: Man, that’s not fair. That’s not fair man. I often say that. One of my favorite artists in art blocks is Alexei Andre, because he has a consistent hand, also known as Mac tweet, tweet, he created a project called 720 minutes. I remember early on; I was begging people, not begging people. And he I think did on his own accord, but kind of saying, okay, look, you’re you can run off the system clock, you can actually like utilize system data. And he did this piece called 720 minutes, which is a clock that ran on system data, but was also this beautiful charity piece is always running on an iPad in my kitchen as like the clock in my house. And it’s just like one of the most beautiful things in the world. But the reason I really like it is because he’s built this consistent theme of using tiny little circles to make really beautiful and do some art. Even outside of curated, he went into the playground, and did some really fun stuff with three consecutive collections that all had the same vibe. And I just, I really respect his vision for what an artist hand looks like in the digital realm, which is really hard to do.

How Do You Feel About NFT Flippers?

Awesome. How do you feel about collectors that turn around and instantly list to flip?

Erick Calderon: You know, at first, I was like, I would show disdain towards him. But I only showed disdain towards it, when those people criticized art blocks for what we were doing. Like, there was a lot of criticism that art blocks was not catering to that. And I got a lot of shit for that, like, you know, I would say things like, we don’t care about the secondaries, not because we don’t care about the secondaries, but because what was happening is literally like people would say, let’s go back to the gas wars. Why? Because there was no price discovery, like, obviously, when an artist makes 10% of a drop and the miners make 90% of the drop, that doesn’t feel good. So, we implement other methods that the flippers found, they were no longer able to immediately 10x on art blocks drop. And it’s unfortunate for the flippers, but we got criticized for that, you know, and so it came like there was a disdain at the beginning because we would get yelled at for doing something that supported the creator. It also supported art blocks, like why the hell is the miner making 90% of a drop like it just doesn’t make no sense to me. And so, the flippers, these original people that would yell at us for doing things like this kind of became a target within my communications of like saying, we’re not doing this for you and to this day, we are not actually here so that you can profit on an art blocks artwork immediately, we’re doing it to create really good art that you want to hang in there. And then whatever you do with it, you can do with it. The instant flip ability went away the day that we lost the Dutch auctions, every now and then an artist does a drop with a fixed price. And that comes back, and the community loves it. I mean, a lot of the people in the community love it. That’s great. There’s instant profit built in, whatever. But that’s not why we’re here. And so let everybody should do whatever they want to do. We love the liquidity, we love. That’s what keeps our costs afloat. And that’s what keeps artists from having to go get another job like, hell yeah, we love it. But that’s not why we’re here. And please respect that. Like, we have built a platform for what we want it to be, not what you want it to be. And as long as we can just kind of respect that, like, you know, I think I don’t actually care what people do with their NFTs as long as they’re respectful to the artist. And as long as they’re respectful to our vision at the platform. That’s all I ask.

Amazing. What’s your personal preference? Excuse me, animated or static?

Erick Calderon: That’s a good one. I like static. I like static that can be animated. Okay, all right, because the squiggle I love when it’s animated, but like, it’s meant to be a static piece. If I wanted it to be animated, it would have been animated when you open it, right? And I like the optionality between the two.

Thoughts on FXhash and Tezos NFTs

Okay. Okay. What do you think about FX hash/the NFTs on tezos?

Erick Calderon: I love FX hash. I love what they’re doing. I love the ethos of their space. I love how they hit the market. You know, a lot of our competitors early on came to the market basically saying this is what art blocks is screwed up. So we’re going to do this because we’re better. And that type of competition has never really like sunk in well with me because it just like go do your own thing. Everybody, like, go do your thing. Everybody can, there’s room for everybody in this space. And I think that the way FX hash hit the market is, it is a very different. It is a very different product than what art blocks, is from a technical perspective, from the art being On-Chain perspective. You know, we are limited by the provenance, and you know, immutability of the Ethereum blockchain, because it’s more expensive to operate. But then we believe that there’s a value proposition for NFTs that are on the Ethereum blockchain. So, the playground aspect, which actually originally art blocks felt more like a playground, like art blocks is no longer a playground. Yeah, it is a home for hopefully, some of the best generative art in the world. And I think one of my favorite things that’s happened in the space is that, you know, we will get submissions for art blocks within an artist’s FX hash portfolio. And that FX hash has not been around long enough to where you see three or four projects they’ve released on FX hash, you actually see the artistic progression that artists has gone through, you see the success, you see where they’ve faltered, you see where they are on this other platform, and you see this moment where they’re like, okay, now I’m ready for art blocks. 

And there’s a lot of people that are never going to come to art blocks because whether it’s for sustainability reasons, which is fine, because hopefully that’ll be changing soon. Plus, we’ve carbon offset significantly more than we’ve ever consumed. I know a lot of people that doesn’t really act as a solution. But I think given our charity, given our carbon offsetting, I think art blocks is a net positive for the world in general, but that’s okay. There’re people that are vehemently opposed to like the carbon footprint of the Ethereum blockchain again, that’s changing soon. But then there’s also people, there’s always going to be the people that want to go against like the or not go against but not participate in like the one of the big players, there’s always going to be a counterculture, there’s always going to be the people that prefer to operate in the grassroots, the indie, the whatever, it’s something that I always was driven by indie music, I was always driven by like weird indie art, like it wasn’t you know, I never really was drawn to the big galleries. So, I think there’s always gonna be people that want to operate outside of kind of like the bigger name platforms, FX hash which has now become one of the biggest platforms in the world. And so, I bet you that there are now people that are interested in working in releasing Oregon platforms that are smaller and more indie than FX hash, but I love what FX hash is doing. I think they are net plus for the ecosystem. I respect so much the work that’s on FX hash and I just wish the most access to all of the artists and all the people that run that over a million NFTs have been minted on FX hash like a million NFTs like my brain wants to explode thinking about that many and so I just you know, my heart goes to the people that manage the discord. That’s hard work, you know, it’s such hard work, so huge props to them.

How Important is Having NFTs Fully On-Chain?

Alright, final question. How important is having NFTs fully On-Chain?

Erick Calderon: I think there’s a lot of layers to that question, to me it’s very important right? To me, you know, I even kind of went into this deep initiative to put all the crypto punks On-Chain early on and you know, I love the nouns concept because they’re On-Chain, I love a lot of these projects that are fully On-Chain, makes it’s really important to me. The reason that it’s important to me is because there’s provenance not just in the ownership history, which is how typical PFS NFTs work. But there’s ownership in the variability of the output. So for something where you have like a, you know, a squiggle, that’s a hyper rainbow, and that has more value generally, because they’re scarcer. There’s something really important to me about being able to see why that is scarcer. So, there is a math computation that happens in the algorithm of the Chromia squiggle that says that, based on probability this is going to happen, I think, one 1.1% of the time, I can’t remember what it was. To me, that’s really important, that provenance of the variability of an output of a generative piece is critical, long term, because the whole point of blockchain, the whole point of immutability is that it’s going to be around for a long time. So, the idea that in 10 years, 100 years, you might still be able to recover. And there was a really nice chart the other day, an infographic that put art blocks in like kind of a recoverable status, art blocks should be recoverable for eternity, art blocks artworks should be able to be displayed at their originally intended resolution. And by that, I mean, the full screen of whatever the screen is in 5 years, 10 years or whatever. Because all of the information required to reconstruct that artwork is gone either On-Chain or in libraries, like P5JS, which are more decentralized in Ethereum, will ever be because there’s millions of computers hosting it.

And I guess the other side of it that I think is really important is that, you know, you can’t store a 25-megabyte image On-Chain, but you can store an algorithm that can create a 250-megabyte image On-Chain. And it’s really just taking what is the limitation of the Ethereum blockchain, capturing that limitation into like the purest form of immutability, and then putting art in that form. And when you, when we talked about like resolution agnostic minutes, it seemed like it was something that we weren’t going to deal with until we had 24k televisions, I used to say this on panels all the time, like one day in the future, we’re gonna have really big screens, and we want to be able to look at something without it having to be up sampled. In New York, we had this three-story screen, and artworks on that screen were being displayed in full resolution. And it came way earlier than we thought, like the need to be able to sample something at that high of a scale came 10 years or 8 years before I thought it was actually going to be necessary for it to happen. And it was this huge validation for the fact that all of that art is On-Chain, all of the code is On-Chain, and the execution for that enabled us to be able to project a ringer and a Fidanza and all these other beautiful words, three stories tall. And that felt really relevant and really important. And so, to me, yes, it’s very important for art to be On-Chain. But it does not mean that good art, that it has to be On-Chain to be good art.

How Do You Feel About Auto-Generated Music?

Okay, I have to ask you one last thing, okay? Because this has sparked a lot of like noise and attention in the music NFT community. How do you feel about Auto-Generated music? And like the same concept as in terms of like art blocks for art, but the same concept for music? Are you bullish or bearish on that?

Erick Calderon: I love it. If you think that programming pixels on a screen is hard, wait till you start programming like musical stuff. We have multiple pieces on art blocks that have been released with generative music inside of them. In fact, our curated drop tomorrow is one that I’m incredibly excited about because you have a bold, you know, because my children are probably working at the tile business. But I’m old enough to like really appreciate video games. And we have this drop happening tomorrow that literally has like a nostalgic video game or 16-bit video game type. But it actually just runs for eternity, because it’s algorithm created. Plus, there’s a visual by one of our favorite artists and art blocks, Rosenthal, that is in tune with that. And so, I think that there’s a really beautiful thing for generative music. But I think for generative music to really get love, is you’re going to have to have a major musician start to sample some of that music and put it out there to surprise their audiences with the delight of knowing, hey, by the way, this piece came from this art blocks piece or if there’s a general music site only, right, we’re working towards releasing new technology that enables generative type minting distribution using prerecorded audio, which would not be On-Chain. But what it would enable is like musicians to really put entire bodies of work and samples and sounds and extra code in a way that would just like really kind of explode and open up what generative music can be. And I think that’s kind of necessary just like we want to do generative photography stuff and generative like all sorts of stuff AI it requires things to be off chain and like I said we want to; we love good art regardless of whether or not we just really love the art that’s On-Chain. So, we’re gonna pursue you know, letting people be creative using this technology.

Outro

Amazing. Erick, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for being on podcast, before I let you go, where can we find you. Of course, always welcome, where can we find you? Where can we find art blocks, show it away.

Erick Calderon: You can find art blocks, artblocks_IO, make sure it’s just one underscore or one I lately that have been about stuff on Twitter with two underscores, you know, the typical scammy stuff that we see in our space. Also on Instagram, artblocks_IO and then I am on blockchain, on Twitter. I have been off discord for two and a half months. I do plan a reentry this week, but last week, and it didn’t really happen. So maybe this week, it’ll actually happen. And yeah, I mean, you know, come to your next NFT event, because I find myself at every one of them. So that’s another way to see each other.

I went to the one at consensus. It was fun, at the brewery, so maybe I’ll see you at another one. All right. That’s awesome. Thank you so much. Yes, yeah. Well, we’ll have to do this again soon.

Erick Calderon: Thank you so much for having me.

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