Executive Briefing

NFTs, digital art, and the value shift between IRL and virtual life

Trevor McFedries explains crypto’s pop-culture moment, why Gen Z is different, and how he’s building a ‘modern Marvel’ with Brud and Lil Miquela.

Trevor McFedries
Trevor McFedries / Photo courtesy Brud

If you’ve been alive in the past month, chances are you’ve had some exposure, even by accident, to the topic of NFTs — in the form of digital art that lives on the blockchain.

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have hit a hot streak, including a Christie’s auction this week that passed $69 million for a piece of digital art by Beeple — a 39-year-old Wisconsin man who has become the Picasso, or Banksy, of the crypto world — and huge demand for officially licensed, collectible NBA Top Shot highlight videos.

Chart of the Day

NFTs Google Trends chart

For a sense of why NFTs are exploding right now, how to make sense of huge dollar amounts for art that you can’t hold, and what it all means, I turned to Trevor McFedries.

McFedries is the co-founder and CEO of the LA-based startup Brud, whose star talent — the “virtual influencer” Lil Miquela — has 3 million Instagram followers, is repped by CAA, and partners with brands like Mini, Samsung, and Prada.

Trevor is also fluent in crypto and digital culture. He’s the founder of a community called Friends With Benefits — “a group chat full of our favorite thinkers and creators” — with its own crypto token that has also recently exploded in value, and now has a market capitalization of almost $600 million. Before all that, he had a career in music under the name Yung Skeeter and was an early employee at Spotify.

In short: It has become easier to use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology since last year. Also, people — stuck at home in a pandemic — see a novel opportunity to make money. Some of this stuff is fun! And for many, there’s significant real-world value to owning virtual goods.

What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited and condensed. Please make it through the crypto section! I promise it’s interesting.

Dan Frommer: Why are NFTs and digital art getting so much attention right now?

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Dan Frommer

Hi, I’m Dan Frommer and this is The New Consumer, a publication about how and why people spend their time and money.

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