S1:E1 Crypto Coven–Building An Inclusive And Sustainable NFT Community
Transcript has been edited for clarity.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the first ever episode of Cross Chain Examination, a 102 level podcast about the world of crypto/web3! I'm your host, Katherine Wu. If you don't already know me, I am a former lawyer who fell into the crypto world around six years ago, and I've been working full time in the industry ever since. This is, by the way, where the origin of the podcast name comes from — “Cross-Chain Examination”, which is the perfect nerdy combination of my legal and crypto career backgrounds.
I wanted to make a podcast for listeners of really any background, so maybe you're newer in crypto, you want to learn more. Or maybe me, you've worked in the industry for a few years, but you still have questions because this is such a crazy industry where things move really fast, and I feel I'm always learning.
So think of this as a podcast where I get to have on people that I've either respected or admired for a really long time in this industry and use this platform as a way to ask them the questions that I've personally always wanted answers to.
Now onto the first episode.
For our first discussion, I wanted to bring on the creators of one of my own personal favorite NFT projects, Crypto Coven. As the name suggests, it is an NFT collection and it's made up of individual witches, all beautifully designed and accessorized. I'm really lucky to actually know some of the team members behind it, and I just think that they are doing such an amazing job of being perfect examples of people who are leading an NFT revolution. And so in this episode, we're going to talk about NFTs, about how the team thinks about fostering a sense of belonging, their community, and how NFTs go way beyond just JPEGs. So without further ado, let's get into it.
Welcome to the show. This is the first ever episode of Cross-Chain Examination, and I'm so honored to have Coven High Witch, Xuannu and Astrea from Crypto Coven with us today. Hello!
Hello! Oh, I guess a point of clarification, Astrea is one of our acolyte witches.
Tell me what that means.
Basically, acolytes are just all of the community members who have been contributing on the project since we kind of got started. So we have quite a few. Astrea is absolutely killing it as our Coven cultivator: a lot of stuff around events, such as community gatherings and things like that.
Okay, got it!
So Xuannu, I know you in person and I remember when you first came to me and you said, hey, I'm thinking about getting more involved with the NFT world. You then showed me some rough drafts of the witches and I was literally obsessed immediately. But before that, I wanted to dive in and ask what it was that piqued your interest in NFTs and crypto. For a while in 2020 and 2021, there was this stereotype about NFTs being these silly and overpriced JPEGs. What made you get over your initial skepticism and actually want to dive deeper in it?
You are familiar with a bit of my journey here, but for the listeners: I come from a web2 tech background. I'd been quite interested in co-operatives and just fairer and more equitable structures for companies and that kind of got me interested in the idea of DAOs.
You’re talking about co-ops, right? Yeah, I remember we were walking around in Prospect Park last winter and we literally talked about DAOs for 40 minutes.
Yeah, for sure. And I think DAOs were something that had really made me more open to web3 as a whole than I had been before. And then NFT specifically – there were a lot of people that I knew who I respected a lot and who were really interesting who had been sort of dabbling in it and involved in it.
So I definitely also had that perspective in addition to sort of the more mainstream perception, which is not great. But I was really interested in the tech side of it and, particularly with the NFT space, the creative and artistic potential there. And so NYX, who I knew from before, when she said she was interested in starting up this an NFT project, I had called her to talk about NFTs and she mentioned Crypto Coven offhandedly. At the time I thought that when it comes to starting NFT projects, with the right set of people, then I was much more interested in exploring it.
So NYX came to you with the Crypto Coven/ witches idea?
Yeah. I was talking to her about fandoms and communities there which I was interested in at the time and she said had been thinking about doing this side project thing and asked if I wanted to get involved since she was planning on starting it in the next month or two. For me, it was a very sort of easy decision to see where it goes.
Now, did you draw the connection between DAOs and fandoms? Did you see the connection or similarities between the pop culture fandom community and NFT community? Or did that come kind of later and clicked later?
I don't think I immediately saw the connection there because I just hadn't been very deep in the NFT world at all. But upon learning a lot about how those communities have been thinking about around storytelling and decentralization and things like that- these became really compelling to me because I obviously have a very clear understanding of what this looks in practice
That's awesome. And I think it's good that you were kind of brought into the web3 world by friends around you, because I think that's probably a lot less crazy than just trying to keep up with stuff and starting from zero without knowing anybody and just being like: “What the hell am I reading?”
I haven't forgotten about you, Astrea, I'm interested in also your journey into web3/ the NFT world!
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for asking. So, I had perceived NFT and crypto and this whole space as kind of a place for finance bros or engineers. Like a really specific type of person. But it was probably last summer that I started lightly getting involved into some crypto investing of my own and doing a bit more research.
I was having a conversation at a party with a friend and she was actually a designer and had started contracting for a bunch of crypto companies and projects that had spun up. And that was sort of the spark for me. The space had kind of reached this moment where it was expanding and all different types of skillsets were needed. So I was researching and doing a ton of reading. And then when I had seen an early concept of the project that Nyx had shared, I was immediately drawn in. I heard the name “Crypto Coven” and I was like , This sounds so cool. Soon after, the idea of the “Coven Cultivator” role was pitched to me, and I was just building out a fantastical corner of the internet, which sounds so much fun.
One thing I love so much about Crypto Coven are the vibes you’ve curated online, which really separates the Coven project from a lot of the ones I think that came before. Look, I think every NFT project has its own vibe, has its own community, has its own aesthetics. But the early days of viral NFT collections were these little pixelated punks, or apes. And none of them, I thought, was particularly something that I could really get into or that I could really relate to because NFT is both community and art.
The most powerful NFT projects probably elicit some kind of feeling in you– Whether it's nostalgia or it's something that you just really love or is just something that you think looks really pretty. And so I hadn't seen an avatar really beautifully designed in a way I can really relate to it. As a side note, it feels like, designer talent is probably pretty needed in crypto.
So Crypto Coven launched in the fall of 2021. And I've really always appreciated how thoughtful the team was in building really inclusive community. Let’s rewind and talk about some of the considerations and concrete steps you all took to launch or build a community that felt really inclusive and was centered around the artwork and bringing people in instead of just focusing on the price.
I was lucy to see the core team do such an excellent job of engaging everyone in the community early on such as the design process, like mood boarding concepts for the assets and pieces that were in the end incorporated into the set of witches. And that really gave people an opportunity to engage even before the collection officially launched.
Yeah, basically we had we were really trying to think about how we can get people who really resonate with the vibe of the project and understand what we're trying to build and make sure that they can get to which regardless of cost constraints or whatever else. And so the mood board and articulations give awa was oriented around that – where you got to contribute to the process of creation and then and then we'll give you a wedge. So it felt a good way to sort of tie something that was really meaningful alongside with growth hacks we were thinking about. We have seen in other NFT products that were focused on raffling off whatever NFT if you retweet, follow all of that kind of stuff. And I think we drew a very sort of firm line around wanting these contributions to feel substantive and we really cared about the witch going to people who, get this project and they're not going to be focused on speculation and flipping and all of that.
Yeah, I actually remember that because I remembere a lot of college kids in your early Discord community who loves the earaly previews of the Witches so much but were all asking the same question: how can I afford this? And the mood board idea was amazing because you really understood where your demographic lived online and was also such an inclusive get your community involved in early days!
Yeah. Honestly, some of the best styles were from those moodboard– a couple of my favorites: the feather hairpins and feathered robe, just to name a few. We were making sure that people's tastes kind of align with ours, and it was really important because even now in crypto winter, our Discord is just really chilling, really vibing, which is, not something that money can buy.
I have loved being in the Crypto Coven Discord. There’s been amazing book recommendations, fashion advice– I see people are meeting up and I see people doing a energy work or tarot card reading and I’m thinking: these are all things that I do with my friends in real life. So I love that online vibe that feels so familiar. Like, these are my people. And I just feel just so comfortable.
I love that you are identifying with with some of the offerings that we've had. But yeah, building out the Discord is a huge endeavor. And not allowing it to become too sprawling, but also providing an organization for people who want to discuss topics that interest them. There are so many ideas early on from people: let's have a movies channel and let's have a fiction books channel and let's have a recipes channel. I kind of had to say, okay, hold on, we can't have a channel for everything, but we're very into threads. I do think that the Archetype channels were such a great idea and have given us and the witches of the community a ton of freedom. So much and care so much skin care talk in there. And in the Sphere Channel everyone's talking about tarot and birth charts and the Hag channel is all about mushroom foraging and knitting and stuff. It's just so fun.
I think one thing we really wanted was to ground the Discord in the project specifically because I think a lot of NFT communities try to do maybe too much with their Discord where if you have a different channel for everything you have 1 million channels.
So yeah, just trying to keep things a little bit more focused because you want things to be navigable. You want to keep that sort of common thread of “why are we here?”, or “what are the things we're interested in”? And it's for us that is the project and things that are related to the project. So it's can spiral out to mushroom foraging, for instance, and maybe not exactly related to the project, but it's through the lens of this archetype and this character that you can play in which is very differen from trying to sort of become new Facebook or new Twitter or whatever where we are a community for crypto covens specifically. And I think having some focus has been really good for us.
Yeah. Actually, I think this actually underscores the best outcome of what an NFT or owning NFT can mean and what an NFT community could be. If the creators of an NFT actually puts thoughts into what kind of user or what kind of a holder they want to attract. And, think on questions such as, how do I want them all to relate to each other beyond ‘just’ the NFT but on a deeper and more personal level? I still think you guys are such a great example of how NFTs really goes so much more beyond the ‘just a JPEG narrative’. I originally bought a Witch because I just think they're gorgeous. But I've now literally found this whole community of people in basically a chat room who share the same interest as I do and its something I can go to when I'm bored to see what something in the discord is reading today or something. And I think that's so powerful.
Yeah. Astrea has also done an incredible job of just pulling up things from the community that align really well and showcasing them and spotlighting them, which I think has been really valuable.
I was actually thinking about this – your Discord Channel grew from zero to, I checked earlier, over 2000 members. And at any given time, I think there's between 4000 to 5000 people who hold witches. How have you actually thought about keeping the community engaged? Ie keep people coming back to Discord, checking the website etc.? And have your thoughts around community changed since the early days?
Since the beginning, we had this idea of not token gating any of our Discord channels or any of the giveaways. There's no conversations happening behind any closed doors in our community. And so really anyone is allowed to come and hang out with us if they identify with our ethos or if they have another project. And so I think that that has fueled a lot of what has made our community as vibrant as it is. It's not only the people who are Witch holders that are hanging out in the Discord, it's people who are just generally into energy work or gardening or just anything related to witches, which is I think that that that has done a lot for how vibrant our Discord is. As you said earlier, it’s essentially a chat room has ended up becoming more.
Yeah, I totally agree. I think there is some tension with a lot of NFT projects where, you have just holders and then you have, for instance, us. We're a decentralized world building experiment. And for us that means it's really important to have people who can create and imagine in this world, and it's less important to orient everything around people who can buy into a community. And so a lot of the vibrance of things are what people have drawn or stories that people have written, and how they come from people who don't own a Witch or maybe can't afford it. I think it keeps things more open and not focusing on that exclusive nature and tht makes it much, much easier for people to come in and see what we're about. And I think it’s ultimately something that you have to see and experience in order to have your interest piqued. And, and I think that's really powerful.
Yeah. And for our listeners who might not know what token gating is, it just means you can't access for example, a chat room or Discord if you don't own the token/ NFT.
So. I actually didn't realize that you had the Discord just open and I think that's awesome. That actually reminds me: we've maybe offline talked about how when we grew up, we spent a lot of time simply being ‘online’. Growing up in the early 2000, a big part of that experience is being in random chat rooms. It's probably high time to bring that back, but it's also hard. Because I think the internet has evolved so much- our behavior has changed so much, but I think these chat rooms / discord channels actually is a really powerful experience. For me it's very nostalgic.
Yeah, it definitely is nostalgic. And bringing in more of that sense of play is really important to us. The past month or so we've been doing what we're calling “chapter one” of the weird wilds. And the first part of that was a tree which is now on our homepage and it's called The Tree of Echoes. And so we published a few short stories and put out a call for stories and people submitted 100 stories over the last couple of weeks and some of them were just fantastic. And one of the people who we chose to feature wrote this incredible short story. She mentioned basically that she had not written since she was a kid, and then she saw the prompt for it, sat down at her computer and then just wrote it in 20 minutes flat and pressed submit. And we were just like, I can't believe that that was so good. And.. when you're an adult with a job and other responsibilities it just becomes rare to have hose kinds of opportunities for being creative. That’s been something that we've been interested in unlocking for people.
Yes. The Crypto Coven world is so fantastical and it's such an awesome escape. You go to your website, you take these quizzes, you find out what kind of archetype you are in witches and all of that just leads you. Even the little prompts– it’s all about bringing the fun back online.
Yeah. Maybe you don't necessarily have the time to take a creative writing class from a community college or some Skillshare site. But if the community that you're a part of online gives you this creative writing assignment, you realize: I actually have the bandwidth for this, and it's going to be featured on this really beautifully esthetic homepage that I admire so much. Oh, and I may win a witch too. So yeah, it's providing opportunities for play and creativity really gives people the opportunity to engage as much or as little as they have time for or would to.
Yeah. I think we're also experimenting with a lot of stuff that I haven't really seen from any other projects. Astrea right now is working with another one of our acolytes, Rosanna, who was originally our witchcraft researcher, but who is also just a really talented writer and they're just working on this series of writing workshops. We do care quite a lot about worldbuilding and stuff and are also trying to sort of treat this base that people can build on and also give them the opportunity to hone their skills around it and things that I think is very fun and cool.
So far we've talked about the really awesome, fun, and sunnier aspects of building and maintaining a NFT community. But for either creators or people who are building communities or managing communities often feels like a 24 /7 kind of gig. Additionally, holders of NFTs also expect a lot from from the teams and the creators. Anyone who is a public facing representative of the core team also gets a lot of pressure put on their shoulders. So I wanted to address the topic of burnout among NFT creators and artists and core teams: lett's start with sharing some of the things you do to help with burnout or when you feel that pressure– to both keep your creativity and excitement, and also puting your mental health first.
This is very much a work in progress for me. I think I've been trying to figure out better ways to create a bit more work life balance. Right now, I'm the only one who's kind of working on the project full time, which is very Capricorn of me. I put a lot of pressure on myself and a big part of it has also just been trying to carve out time to be actually offline.I take a lot of baths where it’s time for no phone and laptop. It’s one of the few times where I try to be relatively strict with myself about not bringing in technology.
So it's a lot of things where I’m trying to force myself to be a bit more intentional, taking time to read actual books and other things that slow down my mind from the noise of twitter and Discord. But also I do think that we are extremely fortunate to have a community that's just super wholesome, where I think we probably get a fraction of the pressure that most NFT projects get. I think the people who are sticking around understand sort of the thing we're trying to build and notice the amount of effort we put into our craft and are very empathetic and understanding. That’s something that I'm constantly grateful for.
Yeah. I think that pressure though at times has kind of reared its head maybe earlier on in the project where it was there was this expectation of what was going to be delivered and what our roadmap was. But I think that us as the team being present and just chatting with people somewhat regularly and really allowing your community to see that you're real people and that you're just hanging out online alongside them and you're working on delivering what you can, and in a meaningful way and that you're really committed to it.
I feel all those things can help maintain expectations that are realistic to you and for them. But yeah, when we think about burnout, it's not just about ourselves. I think when we're thinking about the larger community, you don't want to burn out your community either– keeping a steady beat to the drum of offerings, at least from where I stand as Coven cultivator of offerings and opportunities to connect with one another and chances to learn from each other, but also not overdoing it. We don't have an event every third day. If things moved too quickly, that's just going to lead to overwhelm. And I really believe that attention can fizzle.
Yeah. Less is more. When I first got into crypto a few years ago, it was because I was so obsessed with it. But then I quickly realized, if you make your hobby and your passion your full time job, you can literally never escape it. And that leads to quick burn ou, especially with crypto, which an always-on, always- intense 24/7– and I've really had to just learn to just go offline.
But to bring this back to earlier when I was talking about growing up in the early 2000s and growing up online. I feekl like there used to be a clear line as to when people were online and when people were offline. Like, you go to school - you’re offline online, and then you come home after school, and that's your online hours. There used to be the concept of online hours and offline hours and nowadays with a phone and wi-fi and data and everything, we're just online all the time.
Yeah. And just to extend a bit on something I said about attention being a finite resource also for the community. I think so many NFT creators and core teams maybe in particular are really focused on the idea of keeping their communities engaged 24/7. People sometimes show up in our Discord and are just like, “oh, it's really quiet. I just , showed up and I didn't have 50 people say, GM.”
But in view, it’s not so much quiet as it is manageable, which I think is a good thing. We also try to be very sparing about tagging everyone because it gets old really fast.. We do it when we have something that's meaningful where we cherish the attention you're giving us right now and we want to make sure that the thing that we're giving you is valuable enough and not treat attention as an infinite resource.
Yeah. I think that's a really healthy and really realistic approach.
What's next for Crypto Coven? Is there anything cool you're working on that you're allowed to share?
Okay. We will be sharing more about this very soon. But basically we're working on a next project right now, which is sort of the the actual main part of chapter one of the weird wilds. It is a project that is very centered around storytelling more broadly and I think is going to be the first location on the map of the weird wilds, which we haven't said very much about. But yeah, I think it'll be really cool and I'm very excited to share it. And Astrea is also working on some really cool stuff if you want to share.
Yeah. Oh my gosh, I'm so excited for all of that. What's to come? A lot of what I've been doing for the past, gosh, five months or so is strategizing around our digital events and thinking about how I engage with my friends IRL and how to translate that into the digital space of Discord and Twitter spaces and where we're hanging out in Web3.
Well, thank you both so much for being on the show today. It was awesome to talk to you two about Crypto Coven, about buildining and maintaining a community, and how to avoid creator burnout.
Thank you so much for having us.
Yeah, thank you.
Thank you everyone for tuning in to episode one of Cross-Chain Examination.