The Edge
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The Edge

Are you ready for the biggest shift in the creator economy?

Four digital paintings of cats wearing hats hanging on a wall
The Curious Cheshire Cats by Toni Horn

Pragmatism is about the approach that views knowledge as something that happens through the active adaptation of the human organism to its environment. One of its proponents was the American philosopher John Dewey who believed that understanding something wouldn’t happen through passively observing it, but rather through the process of interacting with it, testing hypotheses and overcoming obstacles along the way. Today, many of us know it as ‘Learning by Doing’. We experiment and test things in order to understand them.

Another proponent of this type of approach is Toni Horn, Strategic Design Lead and Creator at Fjord in London. Originally from Berlin, he moved to the UK in 2010 to study and once he had completed his Masters, he started his own company, specialising in WaaS (Website as a Service). After a few successful years, Toni and his co-founder decided to switch their approach which was when he changed his path and applied to Fjord:

“It gave me the opportunity to rethink what I wanted to do so I applied to Fjord in 2018 and have had the chance to work with big brands, from life sciences to technology, both as a Senior Program Manager and as a Strategic Design Lead. This year, I will be working with Web3 and the Metaverse to see how we can bring this new exciting space to our clients and together shape ideas and new directions”

With NFTs being praised as one of the greatest technological developments for creators since the invention of the internet and predicted to grow by 1000%, there is a huge need and opportunity for creators to dive into it and explore its benefits. As the technology is still not that advanced, those who dare to jump in might reap the most benefits.

“This year, I will be working with Web3 and the Metaverse to see how we can bring this new exciting space to our clients and together shape ideas and new directions”

In order to learn more about this space, Toni decided to create his own NFT project over the holidays. So, rather than passively observing this space, he started interacting with it. “I started out by looking at a lot of tutorials and taught myself everything in terms of what can be done. As I’m a big fan of the novel Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, I came up with the idea of combining the Cheshire Cat with the Mad Hatters’ hat”, and that’s how the Curious Cheshire Cats were born.

A digital drawing of a grinning cat wearing a purple hat, one blue eye and one green eye
One of the 5000 Cheshire Cats created by Toni Horn

“We’re all mad here”

If you acquire an NFT, you are the sole owner of that unique piece of art. In Toni’s case, he decided to create 5000 unique Curious Cheshire Cats that he’s selling on NFT platforms such as OpenSea. He chose to make plenty of them and sell them for a low price so that a lot of people can own one, rather than just a selected few with the means to purchase them. The NFTs share certain characteristics with one another, but are never exactly the same. “I drew inspiration from pop art and Andy Warhol, not just in terms of making it very colourful but also because that was an era of change, there was a movement of making art more accessible to people. To me, it’s the same with the Web3 movement, we’re moving from centralised power to decentralisation, empowering people to create, earn and own everything themselves, independent of bigger players.”

Taking a closer look at the cats, you can find the unique combinations that were programmatically generated: the price tag on the hat (10 shillings and 6 pence) is a reference to the book itself, and has in some cases been converted to a few of today’s cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, Bitcoin and Dogecoin. The feather, again referring to the novel, is either a Dodo’s, Gryphon’s, Eaglet’s or a Lory’s feather whilst the pin on the hat comes in bronze, silver or gold (with gold being the rarest). In German, there’s a saying that goes “mit viel Liebe zum Detail” meaning that a lot of attention (or love) has been paid to the details, and that is 100% true for Toni’s Curious Cheshire Cats.

A digital image of a grinning and winking cat wearing a purple hat and one open orange eye

Every trait of each cat, be it canvas colours, eyes, feather, hat, pin, price, ribbon or patch, has been dynamically generated, “what I’ve done is programmatically generate these 5000 unique variations, created the metadata for them and uploaded all of it to a decentralised file storage solution called IPFS, followed by creating a smart contract with Solidity. I then deployed it to create ERC-721 tokens so the cats can be minted on the Ethereum blockchain”.

Toni also decided that part of the profits from the initial sale will go to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children, “it’s in line with my idea of the project as they organise Alice in Wonderland days for the children there”.

Brands beware — find your purpose

“When NFTs became huge last year, I thought it’d be a good idea to actually understand how to do it, both the creative and technical side of it, to be able to work with our clients on implementing these technologies.”

So, what is the most important thing to consider for a brand?

As with many new exciting things popping up on the surface, everyone wants to surf the wave. This new space offers a lot of possibilities but Toni warns about the risk of not seeing the forest for the trees, “This space is vast and there are so many things you can do with lots of different tokens, blockchains, communities — simply put, there’s a lot of noise. As a brand, take a step back and understand where your fans are and what would be relevant for them, it’s about gaining understanding for where you want to play — find your purpose. Ask yourself: Why am I doing this, who am I doing it for and what’s the benefit? We don’t need anymore gimmicks out there but rather things of value”.

If brands can find the right route to having a relevant purpose, they can reap the benefits of building a loyal community, “Imagine how powerful this space is for you as a brand: if you do it right and can build a strong community, that group of people will hold up whatever brand values you want to communicate and strengthen while they get access to your brand in an exclusive way”.

Some good examples?

“Some of the most successful projects are about the benefits you can access through the ownership. Nike launched an NFT shoe collection a while back and made it possible for the owners to wear the shoes in the Metaverse. Another example is the Bored Ape Yacht Club: if you own one of those NFTs, you’re part of a community that has its own Discord channel, a website that you can log into and their own roadmap of what they’ll do next.” So, it is not just about owning an artwork (or any other kind of work) but rather the access it gives you to an exclusive community.

Toni does believe that brands can explore the space themselves, but it does take time and effort, not just to learn the technical aspects of it but also coming up with something meaningful. “But if you decide to dip your toes in, the meaning can also be for you as a brand or a team to be curious and explore it. Our colleagues at Hamburg-based agency SinnerSchrader launched their own ugly Christmas sweater collection as NFTs which is such a cool idea. Get involved, learn more, do an experiment and then formulate your strategy around it!”

Hype or real shift?

Whether this space is just a hype or will lead to a substantial shift within the creator economy and other industries, is still to be revealed. But there’s no doubt about the opportunities that lie within. “People are given the tools to do things they might not have been able to do in the past. How many artists have the money and the connections to put their own art in a physical gallery space? Now, with the Metaverse and Web3, artists can build their own virtual galleries and hang their art in there. Plus, anyone in the world can come and visit, not just the ones living close-by”, shares Toni who also tells me to watch out for the music industry to be disrupted big time this upcoming year (remember where you heard it first). Think of music artists who can sell their music directly to their fans, independently of record labels and publishers — that is a pretty powerful idea. As a fan of a band you own a piece of the music plus there might be some other opportunities coming with the ownership of that NFT: “Art is just the tip of the iceberg and the applications of these technologies have the potential to reshape entire industries”.

No matter what the future of Web3 and Metaverse holds, if people like Toni are the ones leading it, we will all be fine. Buckle up!

A blond man wearing glasses sitting on a green couch and smiling

Follow Toni on Linkedin.
Visit the Curious Cheshire Cats and check them out on OpenSea.



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Linnea Axelsson Lindgren

Linnea Axelsson Lindgren


Head of Communications at Another Tomorrow, Stockholm. Loves dogs.