In the summer of 2008 two 20-somethings came up with a creative way to pay rent: they would rent out air beds in their apartment to people visiting San Francisco for a design conference. We all know what followed: a bumpy beginning, a spot in Y Combinator’s 2009 batch and meteoric success, culminating in Airbnb’s IPO. What most people don’t know is how the founders of Airbnb got their very first ‘users’. Long before they were discussed in major media outlets, they showed a knack for getting media attention. In fact, they found their first ‘users’ by reaching out to design blogs, which then wrote about the company. Fast forward to the present and Airbnb is a massive success, which begets the question: how much is this very first blog post worth now?
In the past creators - usually writers - who were (one of) the first to discover a company that would become a massive success had no way of monetizing this. The company benefited from the buzz, but the creator could not capture the value of identifying a game-changer before it was obvious. However, NFTs have the potential to change this.
What are NFTs and why do they matter?
An NFT - or non-fungible token - is a crypto asset that certifies the ownership of a unique digital file. A NFT can come in many forms: photos, artworks, audio files, videos and even essays and poems. NFTs have opened an avenue for online creators to capture the true value of their work by auctioning their pieces. For example, an artist named Beeple sold a digital collage for a whopping $69.3M in March 2021. A month later, Not Boring author Packy McCormick sold his essay Power to the Person for a little over $4,000. Many others have followed suit, showing that people are willing to pay to own a unique piece of digital content.
This opens a huge opportunity for creators, especially those who can identify prominent trends and companies before they get big. For example, if the bloggers who wrote one of the first stories on Airbnb, Stripe or Patreon minted these stories as NFTs, they would likely get paid well for having identified such a success story so early. The fact that they were able to do so increases their perceived status and helps them attract more fans, which results in higher income for the creators.
The right time to sell your story as an NFT
While one might argue that the wait period for monetizing such pieces is very long, this is not necessarily the case. Creators don’t need to wait for companies to go public or become household names in order to reap the benefits of being among the first to spot them. All they need is for a company to have considerable brand awareness. The current startup environment is extremely conducive to this. With companies raising more money faster and at higher valuations, the wait time for a company to reach a significant amount of hype is drastically shortened. This is further amplified by the fact that many founders are actively using social media to spread the word about their products, recruit team members and generate buzz. Startups like OnDeck, Fast and Clubhouse all got significant buzz in less than two years. This means that creators who were among the first to interview these companies and other recent success stories could have easily capitalized on the hype and sold their pieces as NFTs at the time when these companies seemed to dominate the conversation. The net result is more opportunities for creators to monetize their work and increase their income.
What stories are best-suited to become NFTs
Finding such content can be incredibly difficult, but it does have the highest return on investment potential. Since people are more likely to follow creators who offer unique content, focusing on breakout stories will help creators build a loyal audience. Therefore, such content will not only result in more sustainability, but will also have a much higher potential value if minted as an NFT. People are much more likely to pay a higher price for something that was ‘the first’ (e.g. first-edition books). Therefore minting a 2021 interview with, say, Justin Kan as an NFT will likely be perceived as less valuable than one that happened before he rose to prominence.
Identifying ‘the next big thing’ requires developing mental models that allow one to more easily spot diamonds in the rough. The people who are leading it probably will not have a large online following yet, but will likely have interesting, unconventional ideas and will not be shy about sharing them.
Of course, not every interesting person, trend or company will become a massive success story. Some of them will inevitably fail to catch on. The key to discovering them is optimizing for as many unique, untold stories as possible. Because being among the first to discover the ones that do succeed can lead to a significant financial upside for creators and result in a more even distribution of the gains of the creator economy in the long run.