My partner and I spent nine months creating a working RPC network, aggregating users, troubleshooting issues, and countless hours crawling through what we lovingly referred to as “the sewers” through which network traffic flows.
Then, we decided to launch an NFT.
We supported dozens of NFT mints (with zero errors served I might add) before the phrase “NFT fatigue” started to show up on Twitter. The community was growing bored with profile pic projects, and it showed. In response, NFT mints raced to lower their mint costs and started drastically reducing the total amount of NFTs in their collections. Yet, NFT mints still struggled to sell out. Even when the mint cost was less than a quarter of SOL. Even after securing the coveted “Anatoly retweet”, they still struggled to sell out.
So, when we decided to launch Shadowy Super Coder, there was a feeling of being too late. The love for the model of creating a collection of 10,000 unique and randomly generated NFTs for 3 SOL each seemed to be fading as quickly as it had appeared.
I’m Frank from GenesysGo, our Shadowy Super Coder (SSC) NFT mint was a 10,000-piece NFT collection that cost 2.5 SOL to mint at a time when Solana was hitting its all-time high. It sold out in under nine hours. We also did it with less than 4,000 Twitter followers and less than 2,000 members in our Discord server.
Here’s what we learned as a non-NFT project that launched an NFT:
The first NFT mint project dropped at a time when one SOL was trading for around $20. You could mint one NFT for 3 SOL, meaning that the jpeg (NFT) you had just minted cost around $60. Fast forward a month and a half, SOL was now trading at $250… that same jpeg would cost $750. Between that and the fact that literally hundreds of NFT “projects” had sprung up (many just blatant cash grabs), the ecosystem was understandably wary of spending $750 on a jpeg.
So, how did we sell out? Utility, utility, utility.
When we first decided to create an NFT we, of course, wanted to have cool artwork. However, our main focus is building RPC server infrastructure for Solana. As such, we wanted our NFT to have some kind of utility that would be relevant to the thing that we would be spending all of our time working on. Let’s be clear, the launch of our NFT did not represent a change in our focus. We had no intention of taking our focus away from building server infrastructure to power the projects that connect with Solana. Therefore, we needed to make sure that our NFT was directly tied to our project.
We ended up deciding the best way to do this was to tie our NFT to the launch of our upcoming utility token. This would allow people who minted our NFT the ability to gain access to seed tokens (normally reserved for venture capital firms only) and represented a decentralized capital raise as opposed to a centralized raise driven by a handful of VC firms. We found that the tokens, while certainly a huge draw, were actually less impactful than the empowerment people felt from being able to take part in the process of a project’s life cycle that they are normally shut out of. It turns out that this leveling of the playing field, if you will, between community members and VCs was a huge motivator.
People felt like they were contributing to something greater than just pushing a button and seeing what kind of jpeg would show up in their wallets.
Creating an NFT exposed us to a whole different side of the Solana ecosystem than what we were used to seeing. Sure, we’d been powering DeFi projects for a while (we power way more than most realize) and had powered 59 NFT mints in a month and a half… but the experience of having our own NFT mint was incredibly eye-opening. Thanks to the anonymity of blockchain there are a lot of shady tactics that are actively used to manipulate NFT prices both during the mint and after. For better or worse, we did not use any of these during the SSC NFT mint… whether that was incredibly noble or incredibly stupid remains to be seen.
On mint day, people kept asking us how many thousand SSCs did we mint… my partner and I were really confused because this was meant to be a decentralized capital raise and so it would kind of defeat the purpose if we just ploughed our own capital into it. Secondly, if we had thousands and thousands of SOL lying around then why bother with the mint?
Turns out that projects were slamming the mint button using the SOL generated from community sales. This serves two purposes:
These kinds of price manipulation tactics (and there are many others) aren’t necessary if your project is offering true utility.
If you’re a builder, then spend your time asking “Why should people want to mint and hold my NFT” instead of looking for ways to create the illusion of interest. If you’re an NFT minter, be on the look out for tactics that create the illusion of interest.
This is probably the area we fell short of the most initially. We had been used to building quietly in the background. The users of our RPC network (developers) were our community. We didn’t interact very often (never) with the end-users of the projects we power. So, suddenly, we found ourselves thrust into the spotlight. The developers which we had spent months building relationships were excitedly letting their communities know about our mint. Our Discord server, which at that time was never really set up for thousands of members, quadrupled overnight.
Prior to our mint, we were told that our mint would never sell out because we didn’t have enough followers doing enough retweets and enough hype in our discord to get people interested. This wasn’t the issue for us because our utility (notice how that keeps coming up?) was enough to get the right kinds of people interested who then proceeded to spread the word. This wasn’t the hard part because utility takes care of that for you.
No, the part that took us completely by surprise was the sudden influx of people who minted because someone they trusted had suggested our project to them and said it was a good mint. However, the people saying we were a good mint had the benefit of working closely with us for many months. They knew us, they knew the importance of our infrastructure, and they had seen how many hours we had put into helping projects debug code or explain things to their communities.
Now, we suddenly had a Discord full of people who had never heard the term “RPC Server” before but had minted our NFT and were coming to learn more. This is the part where I’m going to say that all projects should have their roadmap clearly laid out, have multiple FAQs written, and be able to show progress towards new milestones. This is also the part where I’m going to say we fell short in this area… at first. The learning we had here is that community becomes even more critical after you mint than it was before. We suddenly found ourselves face to face with thousands of very excited SSC holders who were very excited about learning more about what RPC servers are, how RPC servers work, and how individuals could get more involved in this area. So, we scrambled like crazy in the span of 24 hours and put together FAQs, plans for multiple town halls, and created a structure so that more people could easily and quickly understand the roadmap that we had mapped out months earlier and had been executing on for a long time.
Now, we have a community of actively engaged individuals who are constantly looking for ways to help improve our project, going out of their way to explain complex concepts to new members and who contribute meaningfully on social media. Building hype, in the beginning, is important but hype is just that… it’s hype. It fades.
What you have left after the hype fades is the community that will act as the foundation the rest of your project will be built on.
When we first started thinking about an NFT mint we were told that we need to plan to give away about a quarter of our total NFTs via giveaways and promotional partnerships. We were told that in order to create interest we would need to do the usual “We’re giving away 10 NFTs! Like, retweet, and tag 3 friends!” Then, we would need to plan to do this several times both on Twitter and in Discord. We needed to attract people to our Discord and our Twitter via free things. Of course, most of those people would only be doing so in order to get more free things in the future. Repeat this until eventually, you have a “community” of people who are all standing there with their hands out.
If you’re building something of quality, then you don’t have to give it away. The community will recognize its value.
Don’t cheapen that value by artificially creating hype that really only exists because some people want free stuff they can sell instantly. To date, the floor on our NFT has stayed at 30 SOL for a week or more. This would not have been possible if we had given away a quarter of our NFTs at no cost because that 25% of our total supply would have instantly been listed on marketplaces. That instant selling volume incites a chain reaction and it all would have been because we, through our actions, told the ecosystem that we didn’t think 25% of our NFT’s were worth the 2.5 SOL mint cost.
Grow your community and your interest organically. Engage with people and projects individually and take the time to explain what you’re doing, what your utility is, and why it’s important. If the utility of your NFT doesn’t excite you to the point where you look forward to telling everyone about it then, how can you expect your NFT utility to excite other people enough to want to mint it?
Let’s be real, we came up with a cool idea that worked mostly because RPC server infrastructure is used by literally every project on Solana and because we dropped our NFT at a time when the ecosystem was starving for a leap forward in innovation from NFT mints. We actually didn’t realize how cool tying our NFT directly into our project was until others started telling us how cool it was. I say that to say, don’t replicate what we did. Don’t just create a project and then be the 20th NFT project to offer seed tokens to NFT holders. I openly tell our community all the time, this is all one big experiment! Solana itself is one big experiment. We’re in the Solana MainNet-Beta after all.
If you’re already building a non-NFT project then ask yourself, “How can the benefits of NFTs enhance my project?” Remember, NFTs are way more than just jpegs! They are unique access cards, containers of meta-data and a dozen other use cases that haven’t even been discovered yet!
If you’re wanting to launch a project and already know you want NFTs to play a central role in your project then ask yourself, “What is something our NFT can do for the ecosystem that isn’t currently being done?”
Create true utility by filling a need or closing a gap. In our case, we wanted to close the gap in the advantage that VC firms have over individual members of the community. There is so much more that the Solana NFT space can offer than it currently does. It’s just a matter of sitting down, thinking through what gaps you and your team want to fill, who you are trying to help, and what the roadmap for that help looks like.
All that said… if you’re an amazing artist who created some amazing jpegs then I’m likely to mint. Sometimes finding a reason to mint is as simple as, “Hey, I like the art.”
Big ups and a massive thank you to Frank of GenesysGo and Super Shadowy Coder DAO!
Get your SSC here.