For me, it all starts with an image.
One of my first businesses, in college, was selling images — baseball cards. When I ran out of cards to sell at trade shows, I got a friend to paint portraits of athletes and sold those as lithographs. A few years later, I created a digital image of a homepage for an online shoe store I wanted to build, printed it out on paper, and used it to pitch shoe companies. They liked what they saw. Seven years later, that jpeg had become Zappos, a company with over $300 million in sales and a world-famous culture of community.
Across my working life, images have been bringing spontaneous, tight-knit communities together. Communities that start around a shared image tend to generate new business ideas to meet their own emergent passions and interests. Businesses like those are the ones that excite me most. When a business starts with a community of like-minded people, it doesn’t just generate revenue. It generates more community, more experimentation, and more creativity.
After restlessness led me to explore the world beyond Zappos, I found my sweet spot starting new companies with the communities that spring up around a core of shared creativity. I’ve created business from the tight-knit groups of friends who gather around Madonna fan art, MMA athletes, fighter workouts, the Golden State Warriors, and even nachos.
These businesses have all done something important: they’ve all combined storytelling, art and community to create something new. The creative excitement I get is the same whether the community unites around a billion-dollar company, an NBA team, or a little Mexican restaurant. For me, bringing a brand to life and watching a community adopt it as their own is the buzz.
And for every brand, an image comes first: a baseball card, a mockup of a website, even just a logo and a color scheme. The trick with images is getting them in front of the people who will rally around them, then making sure that the community truly benefits from the creativity they generate. Those are hard technical problems to solve. To build the community that became Zappos, I had to print out a jpeg, get on a plane to Vegas, and physically show it to shoe sales reps — and only Zappos investors ended up owning a piece of the company that image brought together.My whole career, I’ve been searching for a way to keep the creative energy of a community at the center of the brands they build together.
Now it’s finally possible. The decentralized peer-to-peer structure of web3 allows the communities that gather around images to have a stake in the creativity their enthusiasm generates. To me, that is the world-changing potential of NFTs. Blockchain technology has liberated adventurous people to form autonomous communities around digital images — and share in the value their united creativity unleashes.
All the roads I’ve traveled so far have led me to create Moons of Mars, an NFT collection designed to launch a web3 universe. This is the project I have been dreaming of: using storytelling and art to create a platform for launching community-owned brands into the world.
The story of a 90s band called The Fated and their Renegade fans has been in my head for years, and the designer Bryan Zellner created the images that bring it to life. To make sure the brands our community builds together succeed in the world, I teamed up with Roshni Cox, a world-class brand development strategist with a passion for sports and gaming. Together with the blockchain experts at SOUTHWORKS and friends from my decades in the tech industry, we’ve built a web3 platform that will bring new brands to life in ways I can’t even imagine yet. New chapters are being written. Merch, digital and physical, is underway. And you might be invited. Moons of Mars is for the Renegades of the world: rowdy, restless people who believe in the limitless potential of community creativity. Just 8,000 people have the chance to join us for Chapter 1. Tickets mint December 10, and you can join our Discord right now.
— Nick Swinmurn