akaStevey straddles the line between art enthusiast and trading degen unlike anyone else. Having come to web3 via the GameStop saga, she now plays a key role at PROOF, web3's leading art community. She tells Signal how she got here and what's to come for PROOF in 2023. Lea Rose Emery tells the story.
“I want Moonbirds to be the community of people who are here to do this long term — and are here to nerd out on the things that we like to nerd out on,” says akaStevey.
Stevey knows a thing or two about nerding out. Infectiously energetic, she is the best of fan culture, and her passion for web3 and NFTs has led her to PROOF, where she’s responsible for building their culture and community. Even her moniker, akaStevey, is a reference to the TV show American Dad. Once just a Reddit username, akaStevey then dove deep into GameStop and r/WallStreetBets, before she “fell in love with trading.” Stevey soon became her entire online identity. “I never really logged back into any of my other usernames,” she says. “It just became who I was.”
Moving from Nigeria to the US with a single mother, Stevey, whose real name is Amanda, had always been interested in savings and investing. And although GameStop “worked out pretty well” for Stevey, she eventually realised that the “insane period” of 5 a.m. starts, tracking pre-market data, and becoming completely absorbed in that high-octane lifestyle was not for her. “I started realising that I'm really not that great at day trading,” she discloses.
While Stevey was delving into GameStop, one of her friends was making a different discovery. “My friend was like, ‘I just bought a Bored Ape’,” she recalls. Its value started climbing, and Stevey saw it as another opportunity — she bought her first NFT around July 2021. But despite her trading background, it was not the financial potential that Stevey became enamoured with. “It's not just the art, it was the community. I just really fell in love with this extra part of it,” she beams.
In fact, off the back of GameStop, the sense of community felt like the perfect complement. “It felt like the antithesis of GameStop — where it was us, the regular people, fighting against these faceless bigwigs who were able to control everything.” Instead, it wasn’t a fight; the regular people were creating a whole new world. There was an immediate sense of community, and a group of people whose voices could make a difference on the internet. “I just bounced around OpenSea,” Stevey recalls. “I didn't have any tools, I would just click around and see what was going on. One day I really fell in love with this project called Nobody.”
Stevey often uses language like this when talking about NFT creators and communities. She fell in love. She was their biggest fan. And while for some, this level of unadulterated elation may come across as disingenuous, with Stevey it’s anything but. There is a full-bodied excitement when she talks about her favourite groups and creators. She is as much of an unashamed fan now as she was picking a Reddit handle based on her favourite American Dad character.
Like so many, she did briefly get caught up in the trade culture. “My degen friends from Reddit who came into NFTs with me were just flipping those cute JPEGs. They were getting so rich, they didn't care. It wasn't about the art, it was just about making money.” She joined in, bought a Winter Bear, and made a few lucky mints.
But it was short-lived. “I was able to kind of go back to what I really love doing, and collecting art just became a good long-term fundamental play.” When she returned to her passion, she also returned to her desire to connect with people with similar interests. After taking part in Zeneca’s web3 Academy with “really some of the nicest, most welcoming people'', Stevey began gathering people herself: those she looked up to, collaborated with, and wanted to get to know. Her knack for communication and connection led to a private Discord channel which, though she didn’t know it at the time, would bring her to her role at PROOF.
“Our whole idea was to help each other with alpha, networking, and just in general,” she explains. “A lot of us are people with smaller bags, most of us are people of colour, or young students, like artists, wanna-be developers, all just trying to get a shot in this space.”
One of these connections, Eli Scheinman, gave Stevey another fangirl moment. “He had a Squiggle. And that was always my goal, my dream NFT. I was like, ‘I've never met anybody with a Squiggle. This is crazy. I want to be friends with him’.”
“I would just click around and see what was going on.”
At the time, Eli was a volunteer mod at PROOF and, just before the launch of the community's landmark profile-picture collection, Moonbirds, he posted on their Discord about another moderator role. “The rest is history,” she says. Today, her job title is Head of Culture and Community, with her pre-web3 background in comms and innate knack for connections both proving to be critical assets.
When PROOF’s co-founder, Kevin Rose, made the CC0 announcement, moving Moonbirds art into the public domain, she fell back on that experience. “It really helped me to keep my cool, helped me to communicate clearly, and communicate with grace,” she recalls. The surprise decision wasn’t welcomed by all, and to some looked like an ill-considered jump on a temporary trend. “It was tough, but it was an amazing learning lesson. I'm not going to lie, I'm stronger for it.”
Following PROOF’s baptism of fire moment, the team has big plans for 2023. After sweeping the Moonbirds floor throughout December to add value to the DAO treasury, PROOF plans to launch the Moonbirds DAO this February. “The majority of our community are people who have worked in web2 and are maybe looking for a way into web3. There are a lot of people building really cool stuff.” Taking inspiration from Nouns, the Moonbirds DAO is designed to boost those projects that CC0 has helped bring into the world and empower creatives to expand the Moonbirds ecosystem and lore. “It’s not necessarily funding a bunch of derivatives,” Stevey explains, “it’s about helping the larger brand.”
“It's not just the art, it was the community. I just really fell in love with this extra part of it.”
Part of the challenge in building a global brand, particularly one that is decentralised and stays laser-focused on a certain niche. “We've got PROOF Collective, a thousand-strong art collective; we've got Moonbirds; and we've got Oddities,” she explains. “But I think the one thing that connects us all is a love of art.” That overarching north star has played a decisive role in how the team has iterated Project Highrise, one of the more closely-guarded products within the PROOF ecosystem.
Initially envisioned as a 3D metaverse, Stevey explains that Highrise has pivoted to become a platform which “encourages the love of art, the love of community,” without being tied to a specific way to achieve that. So far, that has looked like iterating the website, creating social media features like a username, and customising your Moonbird. In the future, “soon enough”, Stevey promises, we will see new ways to create “a deeper connection with your favourite artists, a way to get some content from them, and a token-gated platform that can be used by folks who want to drown out the house, learn, and really love this space.” We can expect a PROOF token to be part of that, coming sometime in 2023, as well.
“What we want to be known for is world-class community, world-class holder experiences, and world-class art.”
But what is coming before any of that is Grails. “I know nothing!” Stevey claims, noting that Eli, now Head of Art at PROOF, is playing “the perfect role” in bringing it together. Moving onto its third season, Grails presents the Collective with opportunities to mint original art by artists and thoughts leaders whose identifies are revealed post-sale; past artists include Claire Silver, Drift, and ACK, as well as Tim Ferriss and Larva Labs. Season III mints on January 17th, with the full art reveal occurring ten days later. “We want to take the reveal to the next level and explain the artist’s story. It is going to be different from last season.” Alongside generative art drops and other collaborations, PROOF plans to “really focus on the art in 2023.”
At the same time, the team is getting ready to release Mythics, a 20k collection with a slow mint that will see a maximum of 50 Mythics minted per day. Moonbirds holders who nest (read: stake) their Moonbird can hatch Mythics, but only 25 will hatch per day across the 10k collection. Meanwhile, Oddities holders can burn their NFT to hatch a Mythic of their own, but facing the same constraint.
With those numbers, it would take at least 13 months for every Mythic to hatch. That's the plan at least. Stevey cautions that whilst the long mint structure is set in stone, the specific approach may change. “We’re working on some amazing mechanisms, and we want to expand our community with care and make it really fun to be part of our world.”
That world stretches from ‘in-chain’ (PROOF’s term for when the Moonbirds artwork is created by the smart contract itself) to IRL, and the latter is coming to the fore in downtown Los Angeles with PROOF of Conference. The multi-day celebration is scheduled for May 2023 and will be “more of a Coachella” than the NFT conferences that filled calendars in 2022: a celebration of culture, community, and technology.
With a futuristic venue, plans for an app and other ways to “use the technology that we’ve built in house”, and a one-track agenda from speakers “who aren’t part of the common NFT circuit” means that audiences will have exposure to original insight without being pulled in multiple directions. Instead, it will be a “celebration of people connected with PROOF.” And yes, there will be a concert. It won't be Coachella, but “it’s gonna be insane,” Stevey promises. “What we want to be known for,” she continues, “is world-class community, world-class holder experiences, and world-class art.”
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