Art

Gary Vee Kicks Off VeeCon ‘Summer Camp’ to Show NFTs Are ‘More Than Just Collectibles’

In brief

  • Gary Vaynerchuk is hosting the inaugural VeeCon NFT conference in Minneapolis this weekend.
  • The event was built around his VeeFriends NFT project and features 150 speakers, including Snoop Dogg, Beeple, and Mila Kunis.

The Gary Vee NFT show is underway in Minneapolis this weekend.

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VeeCon is the debut NFT conference from entrepreneur, investor, author, and social media personality Gary Vaynerchuk, aka Gary Vee. Vaynerchuk himself will host some of the major panels and interviews over the weekend, and the event spotlights brands and partners that his companies (including consultancy VaynerNFT) have worked with.

All of the tickets are Ethereum NFTs that were provided to owners of VeeFriendsthe hand-drawn NFT collection that he launched a year ago with the promise of three years’ worth of access to an annual convention and other perks. To date, the project has collectively yielded over $300 million in combined sales volume, including the recent Series 2 expansion.

But it won’t just be Vaynerchuk onstage speaking to his fervent fans. The speakers list is a who’s who of prominent NFT artists, celebrities, and influencers, who will pack multiple stages within the Minnesota Vikings’ vast home of US Bank Stadium from today through Sunday.

The list of about 150 people includes entertainers like Snoop Dog, Mila Kunis, Steve AokiEva Longoria, and Spike Lee, as well as NFT creators including Beeple, pplpleasrand FEWOCiOUS, and the people behind projects like World of Women, Art Blocksand Cool Cats. R&B group TLC and other musicians will also perform at the event.

Speaking with Decrypt on Thursday, Vaynerchuk said that he had long hoped to “throw a super conference,” but that the timing hadn’t been right in the past for one reason or another. When he fell deep into the NFT space in early 2021 as the market quickly expanded, he saw an opportunity to cultivate the community, utilize the tech, and put on his dream conference.

“Right from the beginning of VeeFriends,” he said, “I knew that I wanted to show the world that NFTs were more than just a collectible.”

An NFT serves as a proof of ownership to an item, including digital goods like artwork and collectibles, but it can also represent real-world things like real estate and stock certificates. NFTs can also work as an access pass into a community or a ticket into gated experiences. The NFT market swelled in 2021, ultimately generating $25 billion worth of trading volume.

Given his vast online following and engaged fanbase, Vaynerchuk said that it made sense to make access to him a key part of the equation for the VeeFriends NFTs—a form of utility, in effect. “I knew that people wanted to get to me, and that my life had gotten to a place where I couldn’t,” he explained.

Some of the NFTs unlock one-on-one experiences with Vaynerchuk, such as a meal or video call, but all of them enable the holder access to three years of VeeCon events, through 2024. VeeCon is kicking off in Minneapolis, where Vaynerchuk said that some of his close associates are from, plus he’s an investor in the Call of Duty League esports team, the Minnesota ROKKR.

Whether it stays in Minneapolis, however, remains to be seen. He said that he initially planned for VeeCon to move cities each year and that it’s still his preference. However, he also noted that he’s “getting South by Southwest vibes” around this year’s event so far, referencing the annual tech, film, and music festival (aka SXSW) that takes place in Austin, Texas.

Expanding NFT ambitions

With upwards of 10,000 people expected at the event this weekend, Vaynerchuk said that he’s most excited to see people from the VeeFriends Discord community—which has 373,000 total members—finally meet in person for the first time.

“It’s a culmination of what happens digitally—it’s almost like summer camp,” he said. “This one was compounded because of COVID, and because this community formed during it. There are people meeting each other that have no idea what their names are in real life, or what they actually look like. They just know them as their Discord handle.”

VeeCon arrives shortly after the launch of VeeFriends Series 2, a much larger collection of Ethereum NFT collectibles—55,555 vs 10,255 of the first batch. The Series 2 collectibles don’t provide access to VeeCon, but they do bring users into the community, they’re much cheaper to buy, and they have polished artwork from a professional illustrator.

“When I did VeeFriends, I thought it was going to be my life’s work,” he explained. “And so it was important that I drew it.”

He said that while “some people like to razz me on the art” of his original doodles—some of which were auctioned at Christie’s last year to the tune of $1.2 million—he felt that it was important for the birth of the project. “True provenance is from my brain and my soul,” he said, “and I’ve got to do it, right?”

With Series 2, however, he wanted more robust and definitive versions of his original characters—like Tremendous Tiger and Persuasive Pigeon—that could be used to create entertainment projects, merchandise, apparel, food products, and more.

“I now need to stand up the intellectual property,” he explained. “For me to go on to the next chapter, all the things I’m about to do, I needed this series to do that.”

Beyond VeeFriends and his VaynerNFT consultancy business, Vaynerchuk has gotten involved in other NFT-related initiatives lately—such as investing in a team in rapper Ice Cube’s BIG3 professional basketball league via its new NFT-driven ownership program. Other buyers include rapper Snoop Dog, Solana NFT project DeGodsand DAO community Krause House.

“It’s more practice to own the [New York] Jets one day,” he said, recalling his oft-mentioned dream of owning the NFL team. “I really, genuinely want to own as many emerging sports teams in my life, because I like practice. I like getting my hands dirty. [And it’s] executed through an NFT launch—you know, really cool.”

He also co-founded Flyfish Club, an exclusive restaurant in New York City that will require an NFT membership pass to enter. Just over 1,500 NFTs have been sold for the restaurant to date, with some selling for as much as $13,000 worth of ETH each in January’s public sale. Currently, the cheapest-available pass is listed for about $6,900 worth of ETH.

Vaynerchuk said that CEO David Radolitz is finalizing the NYC location ahead of a 2023 opening, and that Flyfish Club will open pop-up locations (including at VeeCon) in the meantime.

A ‘healthy’ correction

VeeCon comes at a time of recent turmoil within the NFT and crypto industries, with NFT trading volume declining significantly over the last couple weeks as crypto prices tanked. Crypto’s latest struggles are blamed in part on the collapse of Terra’s LUNA and UST coinsbut also external factors as non-crypto markets are similarly struggling.

Vaynerchuk has long predicted a pullback in the NFT market. At a Decrypt event held with Yahoo Finance in Brooklyn last November, Vaynerchuk said that an “NFT winter” was coming—and that he believed that the vast majority of valuable projects would lose significant value.

Indeed, many top projects have lost value in recent weeks, ranging from VeeFriends itself to top collections like the Bored Ape Yacht Club and CryptoPunks. The floor price, or cheapest available listed NFT, of a VeeFriends Series 1 NFT has dropped 19% over the past 30 days when measured in ETH—but nearly 48% when measured in US dollars.

On Thursday, Vaynerchuk described the current NFT market correction as “so healthy,” and said that he’s excited to see “less greed” and “less gold rush,” plus a more educated collector base as a result. Still, some people who bought NFTs expecting rapid returns have gotten burned amid the crypto crash.

“I hate saying I’m happy [about it] because I acknowledge people got hurt,” he said. “I hate it, which is why I put out 100 goddamn videos saying 98% of this is going to zero.”

It’s a painful moment for many creators and collectors alike, but Vaynerchuk likens it to the dot-com bubble pop that punished tech startups at the turn of the century. The upside, he believes, is that such a shakeout will spur significant innovation in the NFT space, leading to better user experiences and a “much more thoughtful” market ahead.

“The profound work that was done in 2001 to 2005 to set up the internet we know today, I think, is exactly what’s about to happen,” he explained. “The work from 2023 to 2027 on consumer blockchain behaviors and friction […] will be what we look back on in 2040.”

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