Building Community, One Face at a Time (Part 2): The Pixel Portraits Story
September 15th, 2021

For part 1 of this post, please read

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of connecting with Thom, an artist/ creative/ polymath/ 21st Century Renaissance Man, who was keen to dive head first into crypto.

After seeing the sudden rise in popularity of CryptoPunks (but not being able to purchase one of his own), and the very low quality of ‘bootleg punks’ being sold on OpenSea, Thom decided to take matters into his own hands: he made his own custom Punk — himself— and began to don it as his new PFP on various social platforms. I will be honest that when he first pitched me on the idea of him becoming a CryptoPunk-style portrait artist, I was skeptical. That is, until he made me one, and immediately it clicked. Unbeknownst to all of us, Thom had just started a powerful movement.

Soon, Thom was creating Pixel Portraits for everyone that he knew who might even be slightly interested in crypto, using them to form a secret Slack group for people who used them as a avatar, acting as conversation starters with his coworkers in the hopes that some of them would open their eyes to the financial revolution happening around us. Very soon, Thom and everyone around him who had received a portrait (and understood crypto) had realized that what he'd created for us was more valuable than any NFT we'd received thus-far. He'd given us an NFT that we'd never sell.

There were a number of values which Thom had embedded into the project, which made it uniquely interesting for its holders.

For starters, using a Pixel Portrait as your PFP allowed you to immediately signal to the world that you were a member of the crypto in-group (because the portraits are carefully crafted to perfectly match the same aesthetic as the original CryptoPunks), without ever surrendering your identity or losing the visual recognition that a well-established PFP can offer you. You could literally reuse the same PFP as the one you had before, with the same colors and all, just with slight modifications (and of course, pixelation) to make it fit into the community.

The way that the portraits were created was also important: you didn't just upload an image to a website and wait for it to generate the art automatically, hoping it didn't mess up a single pixel and give you a big nose or long chin. When you commissioned a portrait, you got the white-glove treatment: Thom messaged you personally, had a conversation with you one on one, akin to a tattoo consultation, and hand-crafted a portrait for you in a way that ensured it exactly suited your desires. If you didn't like something, you could ask him to fix it, and Thom would tirelessly iterate on portraits until every single holder was 100% satisfied with the result. Every single person who commissioned the portrait would be a crypto-Medici, and every one of them would love what they received.

Thom also made sure to embed his values in the way that the portraits were released: if any insiders (or even us, his co-contributors) wanted a portrait, we all had to commission them the same way everyone else did. When we announced the pre-sale back in March, I had to sit there waiting for the countdown clock the same way everyone else did, and somehow I still ended up being 23rd in line.

When Thom got DMs from crypto twitter influencers who wanted insider access or deals, he made sure to treat them the same way he did every single other person who commissioned a portrait. No one would be skipping the line, and everyone would get the same elite treatment that we all deserve, regardless of the individual's accumulated wealth or social clout. As an extremely values-driven individual, Thom was not about to defile his fine work by bending the rules for the few at the expense of the many.

After the successful launch of the pre-sale, we assembled a crack team of Thom (the Creator), Jamie (the web developer), and myself (being pulled off the bench as a smart contract author), and got to work on a mechanism which could be used to sell these portraits on a perpetual basis. We wanted to let people get in line to commission their portraits from the maestro himself, while saving Thom from drowning in Google spreadsheets, Twitter DMs, and suffering any flake-outs. [This was where my formal contributions to the project began].

Once again, we wanted to make sure that the way that the portraits were purchased would be reflective of our values. As Thom put it, we needed a mechanism "for both the crypto-letariat and the bourgeoi-defi"; a mechanism which anyone could afford, while still allowing for those with deep pockets to pay a premium if they wanted to. Out of this work, we birthed a brand new mechanism: Auction Queues.

The idea was quite simple: Thom would enforce a minimum bid price to commission a portrait (for example 0.1ETH), but would let anyone jump ahead in line if they pleased by submitting a higher bid. This pay-to-skip-ahead model meant that Thom could now charge an accurate time-adjusted price for his commissions, letting him capture more upside from the people who had a higher time preference, without having to exclude anyone who wanted a portrait. All payments would be made upfront, and so a great deal of administrative burden would be relieved off his shoulders, so Thom could focus on what he did best: creating dope portraits and a sick community. It took some all-nighters (along with Jamie heroically throwing himself in the deep end of dapp development with barely a MetaMask wallet to his name when we kicked off), but we managed to build a product that was simple but powerful.

We launched the project, and over the course of 5 months saw this mechanism in action: a majority of purchasers were fine with waiting in line, with select individuals opting to out-bid each other to skip ahead and get their portraits quickly.

During this time, the project slowly gathered speed and followers, as the NFT space got hotter and hotter, and more people heard about the best source of custom NFT PFPs on the market. There was no paid marketing, no influencers given gifts in exchange for promotion. Just a Twitter account, some memes, and the publicly tweeted testimonials of hundreds of happy customers who were delighted to share the project with their friends when they were asked where they got their PFP.

As some people were starting to rotate their PFPs on a weekly basis to signal participation in the ponzi of the week, or began donning NFTs worth millions as signals of their stature, a select few began to realize that a humble but powerful Pixel Portrait was the perfect PFP to signal that you were in the in-group, without any of the gaudy finishes. Whether they knew it or not, individuals were self-selecting to join a not-yet-established community of people who understood NFTs without the flash; who valued both their individuality and the collective.

To date, The Pixel Portraits project has been lucky enough to have earned over 120ETH from just over 480 different commissioners. Some people just bought portraits of themselves, some as gifts for friends or loved ones, and some of notable figures that they wanted to memorialize. But a majority of purchasers, once they got their first one, couldn't resist getting at least one more.

Thankfully, this success has also meant that Thom has been rescued from his old job as a cog in a corporate machine full of ngmi-folk who were keen to ignore the bright future unfolding ahead of them (most of the original portraits that were made for that Slack group still remain un-minted). There are few more deserving of financial freedom than Thom, and I feel lucky to have even been a part of this journey so far.

We've delivered portraits to some of the most important founders and investors in the crypto ecosystem, the best and brightest anon degens on Crypto Twitter, as well as a broad group crypto newbies whose first NFT purchase was their Pixel Portrait. The portraits have always been for everyone**, as long as you got it.**

As I write this, we're closing a chapter in the story of The Pixel Portraits, nearing 1000 unique 1/1 portraits, which we'll memorialize as the OG portraits, ahead of a re-launch with many big plans for the future. So far Thom's committed to seeing the collection through to 10,000 hand-made portraits, but we're already thinking of several orders of magnitude more than that.

The time has come for the behemoth iceberg that's been forming under the surface to begin revealing itself. In the coming days, we'll be launching the PixelFam Community, a space that's exclusively reserved for individuals who hold at least one portrait. This will be the first community that will be built using the Myco Blueprint, which will see us rewarding our members with co-ownership in the community that they're helping us build.

It's time to show just how powerful a PFP project can be when it morphs from being an NFT series into something much much bigger. It's time to show people just how powerful these focal points really are.


If you think I've been too lavish in my praise for Thom, all I can say is that there were earlier versions of this post which were even more approbative, and that this is the toned down version of this story. The love and respect I've been able to build for Thom over the last several months have been truly astonishing; a friendship and business partnership that's been built from the ground up entirely on the internet. Big love.

It's also important to note that Myco also retains a 25% stake in The Pixel Portraits project, as part of the team which builds the tech which powers the Pixel Portraits experience.

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