Non-fungible community - Issue #00012

Amrit Pal Singh might be getting a lot of press for his NFTs but he puts more value in community.

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Some of you have commented on the newsletter’s thumbnails and colors. Credit goes to Marla Darwin and Kitty Jardenil. Marla is a Foolish reader who runs NS Design, a branding studio in Manila. Kitty is a designer specializing in illustration and letterforms — she interned at NS Design and just graduated from university. Check out her portfolio here.

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INTERVIEW: Amrit Pal Singh has a non-fungible community

There are several embedded videos in this story so you may want to read this in your browser.

While leading product design at a fintech company, Amrit started a side hustle selling 3D design assets on Envato, a site where designers can download millions of creative assets. He charged $5-$30 for phone icons. 

Design assets are ready-to-use visual elements like icons and templates, similar to stock photos. Designers buy them to speed up the mockup process. 

In an interview for the Envato community, Amrit says:

“Initially, I uploaded 2 or 3 products just to see if it was something for me. I noticed a certain amount of money consistently coming in every month and that really got my attention. I started making products weekly and researched the categories I could contribute to. I had a full-time job, but I still made time because the idea of getting paid passively for my creations was fascinating. I eventually found my niche of making device mockups using my 3D skills, and that enabled me to upload 4 to 5 items monthly.” 

In 2019, as Amrit tired of the startup ecosystem, having this separate income from mockup sales gave him the confidence to leave his job and pursue making assets full-time. 

He founded his studio Mr Bumbles to offer his unique mix of 3D illustration and a design approach infused with wonder, playfulness and diversity. They launched books and card games, and worked with brands like Pinterest, Netflix and Adobe. Snapchat commissioned Amrit to create filters for its users in India. He designed a vibrant filter inspired by Rajasthani turbans that was used by over a million users.

To fulfill his own desire for diverse user interface assets, Amrit created the Toy Faces Library in June 2020. The idea was to have more choices when creating mockups that needed profile photos.

“Representation was the number one factor behind Toy Faces. Over the years, illustrations and character design have established wrong standards of beauty and importance. Most people have been left underrepresented in this medium. The majority of avatar projects treat diversity as an afterthought and they have a standard template to seem inclusive. With Toy Faces, I made sure I represent as much as possible. I hope anyone looking at the library can find themselves in it.”

Amrit thought the Toy Faces Avatar Library might attract 100 buyers. He offered 60 faces for $10. If a designer wanted to embed it in an app, they could pay an extended license fee of $50.

Since going independent, Amrit had been steadily connecting with like-minded people on social media. He started an Instagram account in 2018 (late by design world standards) and became active on LinkedIn and Twitter. 

So by the time Toy Faces launched, Amrit was embedded in a supportive community. He launched on Product Hunt, where Hunters started voting the product up. And to encourage more word of mouth, Amrit offered to make custom Toy Faces, charging $50 a pop. He received 200 orders in 24 hours. It was official: Toy Faces had a fan base. 

“Cultivating a professional community around my work has been the major reason for Toy Faces’ success,” Amrit says. “Having a community that cheers for you and invests in your work is a blessing. Platforms like Product Hunt, Twitter, and LinkedIn have helped me quite a bit. Focusing on building a community vs followers has made me fond of marketing and promoting my work. To anyone struggling with that aspect, I would suggest focusing on building one-on-one relationships and a genuine interest in one another.”

Amrit spent the pandemic in a highly productive state. He grew Toy Faces to a 120-avatar library with 7,000 customers and completed the 2000th custom Toy Face at the end of March 2021. “It's a lot of work but I kept going because it was a great way to market the product.” 

Through Twitter, he started getting suggestions that Toy Faces would make a good NFT — there was a collectible vibe to it.

Wait, what’s an NFT?

NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token. An NFT is a unique digital asset that uses blockchain technology to establish a verified and public proof of ownership. 
NFTs can be used to represent easily-reproducible items such as photos, videos, audio, and digital illustrations  — like a Toy Face — as unique items.
NFTs make it possible to trade digital art because now the art is unique and traceable. There are several platforms that let an artist generate (or “mint”) NFTs, tie them to a digital file, and put them up for auction.
The artist can also enable a feature that will pay them a percentage each time the NFT changes hands.
Collectors who participate in auctions pay with the cryptocurrency Ether (currency symbol: ETH). 
At the time of this writing, 1 ETH converts to US$4,227.

Amrit started with a Frida Kahlo Toy Face on the NFT platform Zora. Frida was minted and put up for auction on February 17 for 0.2ETH. The auction closed on 22 February at 3.9ETH.

A post shared by Amrit Pal Singh (@amritpaldesign)

He followed this with a Van Gogh Toy Face on the platform Foundation three days later. It was minted on February 21 and listed for 0.80ETH. The auction closed 24 hours later at 3.70ETH.

Then three days after that, Daft Punk announced their split, and Amrit hopped on the bandwagon with a pair of Daft Punk Toy Faces. "Cheers to the duo that defined electronic music,” he tweeted. “Maybe you can reunite them as NFTs." A fan bought the pair for 15ETH.

In two weeks, he had earned 22.6ETH.

Amrit launched multiple auctions every month on Foundation and OpenSea. He created tributes to characters like Sherlock and Tin Man, ran a fundraiser for oxygen in India, celebrated Malala and a quartet of female astronauts, and my personal favorite, Hayao Miyazaki animated with No Face from Spirited Away

Since that first drop 9 months ago, Amrit has earned 210ETH from 42 artworks. (Convert ETH to USD here.)

For now, Amrit has paused all other work to focus his efforts on creating “non-fungible toys.” He’s expanded his portfolio of toy-themed art with Toy Rooms, another pandemic project, this one inspired by rooms in art, literature and cinema, and is working on commissions and collaborations.

He says there are many good reasons artists can consider going into NFTs:

“Money, community, recognition for your work, and witnessing the future of art in the making. But making a quick buck is a wrong strategy. It most probably won't work. Get in the game for the long run, there is a lot happening. Once you are here with that mindset you are more patient and you can see there is meaning to the chaos. Be genuine and be excited about the space.”

A creator getting into NFTs will need digital art, some ETH for network transaction fees (called “gas”), and an account on an NFT auction platform. But before all that, they need a community that believes in their work. 

Don’t rush into making an NFT,” Amrit writes on his blog. “Take some time to understand the market. Engage with people on Twitter. If you have no community or followers it is extremely hard to sell. Think of ways you can be an active member of the community and then when you feel ready, mint your artwork. NFT has been here for years and it’s not going anywhere. Don’t rush just because you feel it’s a bubble and you want to cash out before it bursts. A lot of my first bidders were my clients or people I knew.

In this same spirit of community, he is working on an NFT guide for new artists, which will live on his website for free. 

Amrit on social media, productivity and growth: 

On social media: It's all about the community. Support like you want to be supported. Be genuinely interested in people and what they are building. In return, someone will do the same with you. Be consistent and true to yourself. Pick things you are comfortable with. I feel going out of your comfort zone for everything is overrated. I use mediums that I am comfortable with, that keeps me consistent. For example, I am not into making videos and I don't bother with it. I post the type of content I like and content that I can be consistent with because I enjoy it. I feel you need to find community-building habits that you like.

On productivity: It's as important to say NO as to say yes. I don't do it all. I just focus on things that I want to do and the rest of the things I don't even attempt. I try to keep my to-do’s to a minimum. I think about all opportunities in detail before committing to them no matter how big they are. Mental well-being is very important to me so that is always my focus. That said, I do take out a lot of time for experimentation and play before committing to something.

On growth: When I first started as a designer I thought there were two ways to grow. One way was to grow at a company starting as a junior designer to Head of Design. The second was to start a design firm, expand my team and clients, and grow in that way. In 2019 I read a book called Company of One by Paul Jarvis. The book changed my idea of growth. I could see how I can take a different route that is not measured by the team size. In fact, it's measured by the type of projects and the freedom I gain from being a solo business owner. There is no one right way to grow. Growth is subjective and everyone needs to find their own measurement unit.

Amrit’s work is on his website. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. His NFTs are on Foundation and Opensea.

NFT Explainers: If you want to dive into NFT technology or learn why ether is its cryptocurrency of choice, the explainers I’ve found most useful are NFTs, Explained by The Verge, Kara Swisher’s interview with the artist Beeple, Patrick Rivera’s Crypto fundamentals and NFTs slide presentation, and this interview with Opensea founder David Finzer at the a16z NFT Virtual Summit.

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