Write me: info@andrewprowan.com
Samples of the Crypto.Chicks as found on the collection’s website in mid-March, 2022

Today, there are a number of up-and-coming women-oriented NFT collections. Crypto.Chicks, arguably the “first female avatar” collection, was among the wave of female-focused collections which skyrocketed to fame in 2021. (A 1/1 was launched on OpenSea in May, 2021 but the more well-known 10,000-piece collection was launched in September, 2021.) Last week, we were able to chat with Emm, also known as Elissa Maercklein, who has been a supporter and a leader of Crypto.Chicks as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)of the collection.

Interview with Emm, CMO of Crypto.Chicks

Editor’s Note: the following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity

Andrew P. Rowan: Hey, Elissa, thanks for joining me today. Can you please give me an overview of your role on the Crypto.Chicks team?

Elissa Maercklein: Yes, thank you for having me. I’m excited to share a little bit more about myself, about Crypto.Chicks, about women, and Web 3 as a whole. So I am one of the leaders at Crypto.Chicks. I actually have a kind of interesting story: I started first as a community member, having those kind of gender ambiguous animal profile pictures as I was engaging and interacting on Discord, and on social media, and was finding that frequently people would make the assumption that I was a man, which statistically, if you look at the representation within the NFT industry, people would most likely not be wrong in making that assumption.

However, for me it was not the case, as someone who identifies as a woman. So I just found myself over and over again, correcting people saying, “Oh, actually, I’m not a man, my pronouns are ‘she/her’, I am a woman.” And that was getting to be really frustrating, but also demoralizing because it made me feel like as a woman, I wasn’t expected to be there. I didn’t really feel like it was a space that was set up for me to be successful, and to be a contributor to the ecosystem.

I got introduced to the world of Crypto.Chicks through another project that I was invested in. There were a few community members that had minted, and were excited about the project and sharing it on social media. And that was the first time I thought to myself, “Okay, here’s an opportunity for me to actually have a representation of myself in the digital world that really looks like me.” So, it has the same hair color, the same attitude, the same clothing style, the same skin color, etc. And for me, that was really meaningful.

I joined the team first, just as someone who was helping to run the Twitter on social media. And as I got involved behind-the-scenes, I started to realize how similar NFT projects are to startups, which is where I’ve spent my whole career: building and growing startups. And I thought to myself, “Hey, there’s a lot of opportunity here to actually take a lot of these operational excellence principles and import that into the world of NFTs and really start looking at NFTs as companies and startups as opposed to passion projects”, which is what I think for the past… I would say six or so months, we’ve started to see a little bit of a shift in the market towards that but really not so much yet.

APR: I agree with you that that sense of formalization is just beginning to emerge and it’s an exciting time in general to set good examples and best practices.

EMM: Yeah, so one of the things that I think we sort of struggled with in the beginning of Crypto.Chicks is understanding something as basic as roles and responsibilities. There’s a lot of comparisons between roles at a startup and roles at an NFT project in that you need people responsible for marketing, responsible for moderating, which I liken to customer support. There’s all sorts of comparisons there and roles, and I think we didn’t have a lot of clarity on expectations. So the way that people can be most efficient and successful in their role is having a very clear understanding of what are they responsible for. And what are they, the little mini CEO, within their own domain, and then giving them the autonomy and power to operate underneath, understanding, “this is exactly what I’m responsible for.”

So going through that process of scoping out roles, scoping out Objectives and Key Results, so that people can really feel like, “Okay, I know when I wake up today, this is how I can be successful and what I’m meant to be doing.” And I think that having that level of clarity, number one, helps with people operating because we’re not all sitting in a room working together. There’s a lot of asynchronous work that needs to be happening and people need to be able to operate independently in a really highly efficient manner. So having trust in the team and establishing what’s expected of them is a big thing.

APR: So in terms of operating, I want to talk about the roadmap of Crypto.Chicks. According to the website, the current focus is on community events, correct?

EMM: We actually are redoing our website right now so we have a whole new website coming soon with a new roadmap and a much bigger vision that I can’t talk about too much yet, because we haven’t announced it yet. Basically, reestablishing our Northstar vision is to be the one-stop-shop for all things related to empowering women in Web 3. So there’s a lot that goes into that, a lot of different parts of Crypto.Chicks that we will be building up over time, but that’s ultimately the Northstar vision.

APR: I did see on Twitter that there is this initiative, the Crypto.Chicks Council Members. Can you talk a bit about what the purpose of the council is?

EMM: So we’re putting together two governing bodies right now. One is the Community Council, and that is nominated from the community, people who are very active and engaged, community members that we want to have involved in really high level strategic conversations about what do we think would be valuable for the community to see in the future. The other governing body that we’re putting together is an advisory board. And these are people who are executives, really high-level domain experts in various industries that come from very diverse backgrounds, also nominated by the community, and also will be voted on by the community.

I think any good leader should acknowledge that one person or one small group of people is never going to be better than a large group of incredibly intelligent and diverse backgrounds. And I think it will also help us to be more creative, but also tap into the expertise and connections and networks of folks that we have within our community. We’ve already started the community nominations. And so we have a shortlist of people that will be voted on over the next week or so by the community. And it’s CEOs, boards of major organizations, people that are on boards of nonprofit organizations, we have people who are PhDs. And so it’s a really interesting, diverse group of people that I think we’ll be able to learn a lot from and have guide what we decide to do in the future in a really high level strategic way.

APR: Now you said “people” you didn’t say “women”, specifically. So does that mean that the community council and the advisory board are going to be made up of mixed genders?

EMM: That’s correct. I strongly believe that diversity means representation of people from all genders, all backgrounds, and every different parameter upon which you could measure diversity. And the reason for that, I think, is important for us to acknowledge that, yes, right now, the vast majority of crypto/Web 3/NFTs are men. And it’s really important to have men that want to act as allies to women to help empower, uplift, and create space for those voices to be heard. And so we want our board to be a diverse representation and I don’t think we would be able to say that in good faith if it was just one gender or just one ethnicity or people from one type of vertical or industry, etc. So we really do want it to be a representation of what we feel our community represents, which is men, women, non-binary folks and that’s really important to us, having the board and the Community Council be representative of who our community is.

APR: For newcomers who are entering the space, what do you think is the biggest thing that people outside the NFT community misunderstand?

EMM: I think the biggest misconception as a whole about NFTs, is that they’re just JPEGs. So, for example, my parents have recently joined the Crypto.Chicks community, and they themselves were thinking before, “You’re spending so much time working on what? Like, what are you working on? That’s crazy.” And then when people join the Discord, they join Twitter Spaces, and they hear the community and the type of social impact that people are orienting around, they realize that the pictures are a part of it. The artwork obviously draws people in, but it’s the community and understanding how you can drive change forward in the world with a group — a very close knit group of like minded individuals that are passionate about the same mission and the same cause. And I think helping people understand that that is a really interesting way to connect people from all around the world.

Crypto.Chicks isn’t just people in the United States. It’s not just women. It’s really everyone from all cultures, all backgrounds that are excited about this mission of empowering women and empowering people that are new to the world of Web 3. I think it’s also important to call out that NFTs are sometimes a little bit cost prohibitive for people — I think in like 67, out of the 84 countries where it’s measured, the average income per month is under USD $1,000. And if you look at the price of NFTs, that’s a considerable chunk of someone’s average monthly income. So it’s important to recognize that if you really truly want to build diverse communities that are globally represented, there need to be ways for people to join and participate in the communities without actually having to spend what would be such an exorbitant amount of money based on the cost of living in the area that they’re from.

APR: There’s definitely an orientation in the space towards the global north, more specifically the U.S. and largely Europe. And I think it’s a valid point that if one of the core values of Web 3 is inclusivity, based on pricing alone, it prohibits the participation of many people to be digital asset holders. Along those lines, what are you concerned about in terms of the future of NFTs? And then also what advice do you have for women who want to dive into the NFT community?

EMM: I’m most concerned about the rising costs. I think many of us have seen the mint prices, which should be the lowest entry point to a collection because it’s the primary sale where you’re buying directly from the artists and the team themselves. There is a very, in my opinion, alarming trend where prices are increasing from when I first joined the market, it was pretty normal to see things around like .05, .06 ETH. And now we’re seeing prices in the magnitude of .5 ETH, .6 ETH, sometimes upwards to 1 ETH. And I think if we go back to what we were talking about, about the core principle of inclusivity, within Web 3, that is a huge amount of money that inherently cuts off the vast majority of the world from ever even having an opportunity to join.

And I think that minting as a whole is the best opportunity for everyone to be able to join a community but recently, you need to spend a lot of time in Discord to get onto a presale list. It’s kind of feeling like we’re moving away from the inclusivity and the All of We’re All Gonna Make It which is the slogan of Web 3, in my opinion. So I think being able to educate people on, “Hey, this is how we can reframe the minting experience and the presale experience to be inclusive and make sure that the people who are actually aligned with the mission and the vision and the values of this community have an opportunity to enter the community right at the beginning”, as opposed to people who are just there for financially motivated outcomes.

Second question on what advice I would give to women that are interested in getting into NFTs, into crypto, into Web 3… I would say find communities. There is a lot to learn. There’s a lot of acronyms, it can seem very scary to be perfectly candid. And so finding a community where you can engage and interact and learn a lot from people without actually spending any money yet, I think is the best way to dip your toes in the water and really find what communities do you resonate with, which communities have a mission that you really feel excited and passionate about, values that you feel aligned with personally.

I tell everyone to just spend two weeks learning as much as possible. Don’t spend any money, don’t buy anything. Just spend two weeks being a sponge and join Discords, chat with people, understand what different projects are about, what is their ethos towards building communities, and everything like that. And really, really be careful about what you see on the internet and trusting like influencers and things like that. So that’s what I would say is my biggest advice: just be a sponge before you put any money into anything.

That was some great advice coming from Emm on how to break into the NFT community. We’re still early in the space so there will most likely be more misconceptions that come to the forefront when it comes to utility, custody, and, most importantly, the future of NFTs.

Next week, we’ll publish the second half of our interview with Elissa Maercklein, which will cover a brewing new chapter for the collection as well as a look back on some recent challenges that she and the team have faced head-on. In the meantime, I invite you to stay connected with Curio via Twitter and via our Discord server.

Note: This article was originally published on Curio’s Research Blog on March 17, 2022.