Letter 22: The Rise and Fall and Rise of ZenAcademy
Some insight into my upcoming NFT drop
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This Letter will be a little different than all my others. While I generally try to post objective and analytical content either on specific projects or on the NFT market as a whole, this time I will be discussing my own upcoming project. I’m excited about it, and I want to share it with everyone that has been following me. I’ll try to present my thoughts in an open, honest, and transparent manner to allow readers to make an informed decision as to whether to buy my NFTs or not. Obviously my views are biased, so I encourage everyone to do further research and discuss the project with others in the community and to not just take my word for things.
Alright, let’s dive right in and start at the beginning then. Several months ago I started to think about what I wanted my role to be in the NFT space. I thought about what I was good at, and what the space might need. I am not an artist, I am not a programmer, I am not a game designer. For the most part what I was “good at” was being an investor in the space and successful trading my way from a relatively small portfolio size to a relatively large portfolio size. The space doesn’t really “need” more investors flipping their way to profits though.
Somewhere along the way I started this Newsletter, I started to tweet more with my Daily Stats updates especially garnering attention. I started a podcast with my friend Jaime. I created a Discord server. I was moving from “just an investor” to also being a content creator. Importantly, people seemed to like my content. Anyone can create content — that’s easy. Being able to put content out there that others find valuable is trickier. I’m very fortunate that the market looks favourably on the content I put out there.
Creating content is highly rewarding. It’s something I enjoy doing, and it’s nice to know that it is also helping others. It is not an easy and quick thing to do though — to put out high quality content on a consistent basis. As I started to produce more content, and as I started to spend more time helping people in my Discord server, I naturally had less time to dedicate to investing. My content has always been free, and for the most part it will always continue to be free. But I started to think about ways I could use a web 3.0 model to monetize it in a way that compensated me as well as rewarded those that supported me.
So I came up with the idea of launching an educational platform called ZenAcademy. I envisioned a website with structured courses and guides, a Discord server with paid experts there to answer everyone’s questions, live webinars run by me — the whole shebang. I could sell various tiers of NFTs, perhaps collab with an artist to create a pfp for students, and I would always have a free option for those brand new to the space. I got pretty excited about it and in mid July tweeted this out:
This was very much a case of me getting ahead of myself. As I started to dig into it more, it started to get overwhelming. The work involved in launching a fully fledged educational platform was immense. I had some very large “funds” reach out and offer to partner with me, but I was stubborn, and I wanted to do it mostly alone. Eventually I elected to put a pin in the entire idea and focus more just on putting my content out there. This brings us to several weeks ago when I found out that I couldn’t travel to the US for all the IRL events happening (Marfa, Apefest, NFT NYC). I was pretty bummed about it, but I also started to think — hey I am gonna have a lot more free time now, perhaps I should revisit the idea of releasing my own NFT.
Perhaps I can do a scaled down version of what I originally envisioned. Perhaps I could launch ZenAcademy and build it from the ground up, instead of trying to launch the entire establishment from the get go.
ZenAcademy Genesis Membership
Enter the “membership NFT” model. Others have used this before — I did not invent it. The basic idea is that someone buys an NFT which acts as a membership token to “something”, and in return they receive “some things”. Vague, I know. Let’s get concrete — two examples that come to mind of projects that have taken this model previously are House of Kibaa and Metakey. They sold a membership NFT (for $500 USD and 0.20 ETH respectively) and are promising (and delivering) on things like: free airdrops, discounts, virtual land access, private Discord access (and/or special roles in Discord), real-life meetups, etc.
Great - but what can I offer? Again — I am not an artist, I am not a developer, and I am not a game designer. I can offer my time, and my thoughts, and my presence. I don’t want to put this Newsletter behind a pay wall (it will always be free), and I don’t want to put my twitter stats behind a pay wall (they will always be free). So I had the idea to create a few private channels in my Discord server, and grant access to them to anyone holding one of my membership tokens. That was the initial plan, as I did want my whole Discord to remain free. A few weeks ago though I had a change of heart and elected to make the entire Discord private. Here is an in depth post I made when I made that announcement:
The long and short of it is 1) increased security for community members if the Discord is gated, 2) logistically easier to manage an entire community with the same level of access, and 3) there will still be ways for new members to join the discord without paying. I also gave lifetime access to the server to the ~11,000 members that had joined up until the time of the announcement.
Selling an NFT which gives lifetime access to ZenAcademy is how I have decided to monetize my work as a content creator. Currently, ZenAcademy is “just” a Discord server. It might grow into something larger some day, it might not. I am pricing the NFT at what I think is a fair, reasonable, relatively low price simply due to the fact that there is currently not a lot being offered to holders. The price is 0.033 ETH ($152.18) for a Genesis/lifetime membership. One of the beauties of NFTs is that there are awesome and cool things I can do in the future to further reward holders - one example I am working on finalizing right now is a discount to an analytics platform exclusive to those who hold my NFT.
I understand 0.033 is still not an insignificant amount of money, and it is asking a lot for people to buy this to take a leap of faith on me and my vision. I do hope to continue building the community, and searching for ways to provide value to ZenAcademy members beyond the Discord. I also do think the price is quite reasonable even just for the server access — there is something to be said for having a safe and friendly environment to meet like-minded people in this space and to discuss NFTs with.
There will also be ways for people who can’t afford, or can’t justify the expenditure, to join the community. I haven’t fleshed them out yet — but the idea is not to create an exclusive community. It is to create a safe community, a valuable community, a rewarding community. There will be future benefits to those who hold the NFT that those that “get in for free” won’t receive, but there’ll always be avenues to join us without having to pay a dime.
That is what ZenAcademy is about. It’s an experiment at using web 3.0 to monetize my time and content, and to reward early supporters. The Genesis Membership NFT will be for sale in an ‘open edition’ for two weeks. This means that there is no hard cap on the number of memberships that will be sold, other than after two weeks, the sale will end and the Genesis tokens will never be available for public sale again.
The 333 Club
Over the last few months people have been coming to me with questions all the way from individuals asking “what is an NFT and how can I get started” to projects looking to launch their own collection asking “how can we market our product, what shall our launch strategy be, does our roadmap look okay”? For better or worse, I became someone people came to for advice. I would happily answer every question, and I still try to answer most. It reached the point though when there were so many people asking me for “just 15 mins please” to look at their project that I had to start saying “sorry, I just don’t have the time”.
I enjoyed when I did work with others, and I enjoyed doing things that I felt were moving the space forward. So the next logical step was to start some sort of “official” advising/consulting service, where I could choose some projects to work with and get paid for my time. There are some that think it is evil/wrong for someone to charge for their time in this manner, or wrong for someone “who has only been in the space for 10 months” to do so. I don’t really know what to say to that — we live in a relatively free market on the blockchain and it is up to people and projects to decide if they’re willing to pay for my consulting services.
I created a Google Form for anyone launching a project to fill out if they wanted to bring me on as an advisor. I was new to this, but I knew that there were others in this space that had been providing consulting services for many months already. I reached out to half a dozen said people and asked them what their usual compensation was, and the consensus was to charge a % of initial sale revenue within the 2.5% to 8% range, depending on the level of consulting that would take place. I decided to post my rate at 6%.
I received 80 responses within 36 hours of releasing my form. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. It was humbling to see that there were this many people willing to pay me such a significant amount of money to be an advisor for them. I also knew that there was no way I could realistically work with more than a small handful of projects at any given time.
The idea to create another tier of ZenAcademy membership was born out of this dilemma. I wondered if I could sell an NFT at a price that was significantly higher than the basic membership price, but significantly lower than what I would be paid for a full-on consulting gig. In return I could spend some amount of time helping people launch their projects, just perhaps not the 30-60 minutes per day I might spend on a project I am officially advising.
Originally my idea was to sell these tokens and offer some sort of concrete amount of time, ie, “3 x 1 hour phone calls”. That quickly became logistically unappealing though, as if more than a few sold and everyone wanted to get immediate advice the whole system falls apart. The idea evolved into me deciding to create an (even more) private/exclusive Discord server just for the holders of this token.
I knew that I couldn’t promise much. This was, and is, a giant experiment. I could promise to spend more time in the Discord server, to spend more time advising people and projects, and to hopefully cultivate an environment where the members could also network with one another and find advice from not just me but the other community members. I settled on the idea of releasing 333 tokens priced at 3.33 ETH each.
I went back and forth many times trying to decide if this was a thing I should even attempt or not. I knew there would be backlash from the community, and I knew some people would call this a cash grab. That’s a phrase which has a negative connotation, but it isn’t entirely inaccurate. I am, in effect, attempting to raise a significant amount of capital all at once. The fact that I am not promising much only further adds to the insanity of all of this. One thing I am doing which I think every project should do is to be transparent with what I plan to do with the money.
Ultimately I was persuaded by a few good friends that I ought to do it, citing the fact that there was such demand for my advisory services as a reason that there might be enough demand for something like this. They also believed that I would be able to deliver enough value to make the demand warranted (I appreciate the faith they had and have in me). I decided that I would try and sell all these tokens via a whitelist, and created another Google Form this time for people to fill out who wanted to buy this NFT.
Even as I was writing it, and going to tweet it out — I was unsure whether it would be well received, or get much attention. I was perfectly prepared and almost expecting for me to “only” get 50-100 applicants, and I was content with that. I said we would sell however many whitelist spots filled up, and then have a public sale that remained open until it sold out. This was not something that “needed” to sell out immediately or anything like that. Well, I was once again humbled by the response to my form — I received 333 responses in about 20 minutes, and at the time of writing this there are 1,470 responses.
Obviously (and thankfully) most of the applicants are not looking to release a project next month and want my advice. There are some that filled out the application for those reasons, but by and large, most of the applicants want to be a part of an intimate community of like-minded individuals in order to learn from one another, network, and fast track their knowledge by being “closer” to smart/switched on people, or at least dedicated people, and they’re willing to pay a significant amount of money for that.
One of the benefits of running a whitelist like this is that I get to curate the list myself. It was not first come first serve. I am personally reading every application and deciding whether or not to whitelist someone. I am basing it on their responses to the question “Why do you want to buy this NFT, and what do you hope or expect to get from being in this club?”.
Some people responded saying they want access to an alpha “pump and dump” group (seriously?). They did not make the cut. Some said they just wanted to flip it — they did not make the cut. I appreciate the honesty though. There were a lot of responses from people whose visions did not align with mine or what I am hoping for the club to be, and they did not make the cut. There are, however, well over 333 excellent responses of people I would love to have in the club.
Again — let me just say how humbled and grateful I am that there are this many people who think that a private Discord created and cultivated by me is worth the price of the NFT. I will be finalizing the whitelist within the next few days. The method I have chosen is to “shortlist” a number of applicants and then randomize the spots on that list.
Anyone on the whitelist will have 1 week to mint their token, after which they’ll be removed and any remaining spots will once again go out to a random selection of shortlisted applicants.
It’s hard to come up with a “perfect” drop method, or whitelisting system — but I am pretty happy with this one. For full disclosure there are approx 10 spots that I have already promised to people that had shown interest over the last couple of weeks (mostly people looking to launch a project), and 13 of the 333 tokens will be given away via an airdrop prior to the sale (see here for a full breakdown of who these are going to).
One last thing - this is an expensive NFT, and an experimental one at that. I do not think most people should buy it. If you are expecting any sort of immediate, tangible value - it is probably not for you. If 3.33 ETH is anything but a (relatively) insignificant portion of your portfolio, it is probably not for you. You are paying a hefty price to take an incredible leap of faith on me and the currently non-existent 333 community — I will do my all to make it ‘worth it’ for those that do hold the NFT, but it is absolutely a risky investment.
Wen Drop? Where Drop? Details?
I have written a lot (more) content on the drop website, and I encourage everyone interested to take some time and read through the various pages.
When: Optimistically going live on the 9th of November, 2021
Price: 0.033 ETH for the Genesis Membership and 3.33 ETH for The 333 Club Membership
How: The Genesis Membership will be open for two weeks with no limit on the supply, so you can mint at any point (ideally when gas is lower) during that period. The 333 Club Membership will be whitelist only, with those whitelisted having seven days to mint before losing their spot.
What: Here are what the actual NFTs will look like. They are ERC1155 tokens, which basically just means each token is the same image - a Letter written by me. Being ERC1155 also means that the gas to mint one ought to be significantly lower than most mints (which are ERC721s). It also means that the cost is the same whether you mint 1 or 100 tokens - it is a cost per transaction, not per item minted. Note: there is no benefit to holding multiples, other than to gift them to people in the future and/or to speculate on the price/value appreciating over time.
I’m extremely excited for the future of ZenAcademy. I have no idea where it’s going to lead. If you join me on my journey you’re jumping aboard a ship sailing the vast unknown of the future metaverse, captained by me. I’d love to have you on board, and I will do my best to steer the ship in smart directions. We’ll hit bumps, perhaps a small iceberg, perhaps a large one. I’ll just try not to sink the ship. If that doesn’t give you confidence, I don’t know what will.
I get this question a lot and it has an incredibly basic answer. When I created my Twitter account earlier this year, I decided I wanted “Zeneca” to be my pseudonym in the metaverse but it was taken. I was 33 years old at the time. Thus, Zeneca_33 was born. Now I am just running with it as a brand identity, because why not. What’s life without a little whimsy.
Figured I might as well throw this in there too. My favourite book is “Seneca: Letters from a Stoic”, and Seneca is my favourite philosopher. Just using the name “Seneca” seemed a tad strange though, but as a fan of Buddhism and “zen” too I figured an amalgamation of the two would be nice.
Disclaimer: The content covered in this newsletter is not to be considered as investment advice. I’m not a financial adviser. These are only my own opinions and ideas. You should always consult with a professional/licensed financial adviser before trading or investing in any cryptocurrency related product.