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Image: Crypto.Chicks

Last week, we published the first half of an interview with Elissa Maercklein (Emm) of Crypto.Chicks. Since then, Emm has become Chief Executive Officer of the 10,000-piece NFT collection that was released last year. It hasn’t been an easy journey for the CMO-turned-CEO; the collection has had its ups-and-downs this year, beginning with a Discord server hack in January, followed by serious plagiarism accusations about the origin of the collection’s art last month. However, the worst may be over as Crypto.Chicks seeks to reorient its North star. Below is the continuation of our chat with Elissa Maercklein, who has been eagerly shepherding in a new era for the collection — which may be its best yet.

You can read Part 1 of our interview here.

Editor’s Note: the following interview — recorded on March 10, 2022 — has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Part 2 of the interview with Emm, CEO and CMO of Crypto.Chicks

Andrew P. Rowan: It certainly seems like there’s a lot of whitelist grinding and hoop jumping to get access to mints these days. In your last response, you had mentioned finding communities that you resonate with. I want to talk about the Crypto.Chicks community, in particular this year, because the community has had some setbacks, most recently with the accusations of plagiarism around the art. I saw that you had to bear much of the responsibility in terms of the response and trying to get ahead of the situation. I’m curious, looking back now, if there’s any additional insight or if there’s anything that you would have done differently because in the moment, of course, information is developing and it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on. So now with a little bit of clarity of time, curious about your thoughts and reflections looking back?

Elissa Maercklein: One of the things that was a learning experience for me is how quickly information spreads in the world of NFT Twitter, which is not necessarily a complete picture. I think there are very few people who have 100% of the information. I would argue, in fact, no one has 100% of the information, and with the psychological way that information just spreads like wildfire on Twitter, it’s important to be transparent, which I feel confident that we were transparent and are still being transparent at every step in the process. I think that’s why the community was able to maintain trust in us and the leadership team because we were very transparent in that we, just along with everyone else, learned on a Friday night about the allegations and it was news to us.

We were going to do everything aligned with our mission — which is empowering women in the world of Web3 — in order to understand first of all, what actually happened, how can we then address the situation, and come to an amicable resolution, if needed. We lived by our values, our principles, which are kindness, empathy, and transparency. And we, as a result, decided it was probably a good decision, if we were to part ways with Polly, who was the [19 year-old] artist who created the OG collection, which is the artwork that was in question in this event. Transparency is the most important thing to us. So the situation was directly the result of a lack of transparency and therefore not aligned with our values.

Crypto.Chicks is incredibly supportive of all women artists in this space so we are viewing this as an opportunity to uplift and empower multiple artists that we can partner with on future collections. We’re really excited about that as an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to our mission and our values. It’s also allowed us to reassess and take a step back in terms of ownership. The original founding team is brother and sister based in Russia, and they have have sort of realized through everything that’s happened, that it’s better for the future of the project to be run by the team who’s been operating Crypto.Chicks for the past three months, which is myself, along with the other women who are based here in the U.S. helping to lead.

I would be remiss if I didn’t call out how admirable that is. It takes someone really humble, and who really cares about the betterment of the community to be able to say, “Okay, me being involved is going to cause more problems in the future. And so I’m willing to take a step back, because I understand that this is what’s better for the 4,500 people that have invested into this project and into this brand.” So we are just right now, finalizing all of the legal documents for a transition of ownership. [Editor’s Note: this transfer has since been finalized and publicly announced as of March 20, 2022.]

We’ll have a U.S. legal entity that is assuming ownership of the 10K collection of Crypto.Chicks and we feel really excited about what this means for us in the future in terms of how we’ll be able to build and grow the business. We aligned with our value of transparency, which I keep saying over and over again, because our goal is to be one of the most transparent NFT projects out there. There’s a lot of money flowing in the world of NFTs and we want to be fully transparent. It will probably take us a couple of months to get to a point where we’re basically saying on a monthly basis, “This is how much money is coming into the organization. This is how it’s being allocated. This is how it’s being reinvested back into the business.” And so we’re really using everything that happened in the past three or so months to reassess how we’re operating: How is everything set up from a legal and financial structure? We’re interested in how we can build and grow the community back to a point where people feel like, “Okay, this is a project that is being 100% transparent and everything that’s happening.”

APR: It’s an uphill battle in that sense because the core component that’s being called into question is the most visible part of the collection. Obviously, you have a strong community; I’ve seen the feedback that you’ve received from your community on Twitter. I think you’re right in the sense that people are standing by and they’re looking to move forward. But at the same time, I’ve seen some criticism on Twitter as well from people who are attempting, it seems, to support the perceived artists — who portions of the creation were inspired by — and I just want to give you the opportunity and the space to clarify anything or to share any additional information about that because as you mentioned before no one has complete information and even if you address things 10 times there’s always going to be an 11th person trying to ask about something that you thought was settled weeks ago.

EMM: Exactly, yeah, so just yesterday, we tweeted out in support of Amanda [Costa], the artist from Brazil. She has just joined another project called Fortuna, as their artist and Fortuna is an incredible organization. They’re creating a DAO, they’ve already partnered with a really well known and established nonprofit organization that supports women and is aiming to stop violence against women in Brazil. One of the things that made me most uncomfortable about this whole situation is it really kind of exacerbated this Web 2 mindset that women should be pitted against one another. And so we have been in contact with Fortuna. It’s a project we love, and we support. We were super excited to hear that Amanda was joining this project as their artist and wanted to take that as an opportunity to show the whole NFT industry like, “Hey, we love and support all women in this space.” And the narrative that has been created by other people is not true. So that was really important to us.

We were excited, we were able to show our love and show our support for Amanda, who is an incredibly talented artist. Separate from that we are still having conversations about how we can come to a resolution with her and the OG collection. There’s one Crypto.Chick in there, OG Crypto.Chick #2, that’s in question where actually as a part of this transition in the legal entity ownership, we’ve assumed ownership of the 10K collection and the OG collection, which is separate — it’s 200 pieces — that is being now set up as a DAO for the community. They will also have one-of-one artwork airdropped to them from new artists that we will be partnering with; more details to come soon. That will create basically like the top level privileges and access within the community. So we are taking a lot of steps to make this situation right.

I just think that it’s important for the NFT industry to recognize that the real world outside of NFTs moves much, much, much slower from a legal perspective from resolutions and negotiations. All of this stuff takes a really long time in the real world. So the fact that we were able to basically complete the acquisition of a multimillion dollar business in a two week time frame — including a term sheet, a purchase agreement, and having all of these lawyers involved — is a huge feat from the real world perspective. And so we just asked and we’ve been saying this over and over again with our community: just be patient. We are being as transparent as we can be about all these ongoing transitions and conversations that we’re having. But we can’t share everything until we’re actually able to share everything.

APR: I totally understand and it just creates more liabilities coming out of sharing prematurely. And, of course, there’s no magic, comprehensive, quick fix. So, I think anyone who’s had experience in Web 2, or is above a certain age would understand that. The only thing that I would like to say is, there’s almost a sense of like, “even though it’s not our fault, it’s our responsibility to try to make things right or fix them”, which is both, I think, a personal value and also sort of a mantra for the crypto community from what it sounds like. And, I commend you, because I assume February 18, and 19th were horrible days. I want to talk about the painful drop in price for the collection, the floor is currently at .3 ETH. I think, prior to three weeks ago, the average sale was like 2.75 ETH. So what’s the way forward for the collection, the community, and for the leadership team?

EMM: Yeah, I think floor price is a bad metric. But alas, it is the metric that people are fixated on. I think that the way floor price gets increased is through having a really clear vision for the future. And understanding that part of that vision needs to have a measurable and tangible impact for the community and value that is being given back to them. That’s our primary focus: how we can create this future and this vision where people feel like, “Okay, this is an asset that I need to be holding, because I’m going to get A, B, C, D, E in the future as a part of that.”

We, as a team, have experienced quite a bit. I joined the team in October and I think our floor price when I first joined, I first invested at 0.5. Then there was a long period during which our floor price was hovering between like .07 to .15 and that did not deter us from working hard. That didn’t deter us from all of our ongoing initiatives that we were building behind the scenes. There was a big increase in floor price in the beginning of January. There was a peak in many of the projects that were created to celebrate and empower women, which we were really excited to see. Now the overall market as a whole has taken quite a bit of a step down, which is unfortunate, but I think that will be good for the teams and the projects that are building with one to three year visions in mind as opposed to thinking about, “How can I optimize and maximize the floor price next month?” That’s not really a scalable approach for building something that will bring huge value to people in the long run.

We’re focusing on long-term initiatives and how we can understand number one, what would our community want to see in the future? How will they feel this value being given back to them? And then number two, how can we go and build that but also create it in a way where there are measurable milestones along the way where people feel like, “Okay, yes, this team is doing what they said they’ll be doing, we have faith and confidence that what they’ve said will be delivered in the future will actually happen.” So that’s our approach that we’re taking, more on building and creating the vision and then understanding the floor price follows after that with all of the pieces coming together.

APR: I totally agree. And I think a lot of short term thinking gets people in trouble, especially in a short timeframe. I want to switch over to collections before we run out of time: what criteria do you use to decide whether or not to “ape” into a project?

EMM: The criteria that I use is number one, who is the team? I strongly believe in investing in teams and investing in people and whether or not I feel like they have the skill set and the experience in order to actually execute what they say they’re going to build. For example, a big red flag for me is if someone says they’re going to be building a mobile app or building a Metaverse or something like that, and they have no one on their team that has experience in product management or mobile app development or something like that. So having a really clear understanding of who is the team, what is their professional background? And then what are their personal values? What is their mission? So that’s my biggest criteria.

Number two, I would say is the community. I try to, as I said earlier, go into a Discord just kind of be a little fly on the wall and see what people are talking about. If it’s meaningful conversations, that’s incredible, I love that. But if it’s a lot of people saying, “LFG, LFG, WAGMI!” all over again and sending GIFs, that’s probably not super interesting for me from a long term investment perspective. Because I’m thinking about my investments and what will I see one year from now really changing the world of whatever domain they’re going after? As opposed to, “What can I buy today and then sell tomorrow for a 20% increase in price?” That’s not super interesting to me.

Those two are probably my biggest criteria. And then I think about probably an overarching principle: there is a mission. So I try to invest with conviction, understanding that I need to find missions that are aligned with what I care about, what I’m passionate about because I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m thinking like, “Oh, I’m gonna sell this next week, because I don’t really care about what they’re building for the long run. I just want to make a quick buck.” And that’s not, as I said earlier, something I’m super interested in so having a really clear understanding of what they are trying to change in the world interests me. And is it something that I agree should be changed and therefore I want to invest in the team that I feel confident has the ability to execute that.

APR: I totally agree on those points. Alright, so last question: which in real life events, if any, do you plan to be at later this year?

EMM: NFT.NYC is an event I am looking forward to and the Crypto.Chicks community is looking forward to because we will have an event there that we’ll be hosting. And I’m really excited to be able to meet people face-to-face. You can build a lot of interpersonal relationships over Discord, over Twitter, but it’s so much more exciting to be able to meet those people in real life to shake their hands, to see their faces smile. And so I’m really looking forward to that.

APR: Yeah, totally agree. It’s not the same. With Zoom and Discord, you don’t have the same rapport. And I think we’re all tired of social distancing these past two years because of the pandemic. Again, I want to thank you for your time and I do appreciate your candid responses and insight into what has been a difficult time, I assume, in the last month and I’m looking forward to seeing how the Crypto.Chicks community, in general, picks itself up and goes on to higher accomplishments.

EMM: Yes, well wonderful. Thank you for giving me a forum and platform to have my voice and the story of Crypto.Chicks be heard. Thank you.

It’s always difficult to step into a project post-inception. But, I think the best lesson here is that the truth always comes out so it’s better to get ahead and try to make things right with the support of those who have been aggrieved by a particular situation. We wish Emm, the entire Crypto.Chicks team, Amanda, and Polly well and hope that everyone takes advantage of this teachable moment. No one is perfect, and making a (big) mistake at 19 years old isn’t the end of the world, but we should all try to not repeat past errors. Is that your takeaway as well? Or did you reach a different conclusion? Let us know in the comments below!

Note: this interview was originally published on Curio’s Research Blog on March 24, 2022.