NFT Creator Nate Alex on selling 70 CryptoPunks too early – Cointelegraph Magazine


If you were to take Nate Alex’s shitposting on X and his DIY hexagon rainbow cat Doodle on the surface, you might get him wrong. But underneath that flippant exterior lies a burning curiosity for NFTs as both a creator and collector and a passion for programmable art.

After originally minting his first NFT in 2017, Nate was captivated by CryptoKitties and the ability to breed crypto-cats. While still working as an engineer, Nate’s early NFT home was the CryptoKitties Discord as he went down the rabbit hole, before he went full-time in Web3 in 2020.

The Nashville, Tennessee, resident is one of the most prolific NFT collectors in the space but admits his portfolio could have been astronomically larger had he not let go of the 70+ CryptoPunks he sold and 30 Autoglyphs he minted and kissed goodbye to.

“I cycled through about 70 Punks; painful to think about. I have a single Punk (#2909) now, which I actually bought last year, so I had zero for a while. I sold most of my stuff too early,” says Nate explaining his mindset initially was to try to make a little extra money and try and survive.

“My thinking early was if you invest $100 in something and it’s worth $300, take that money out and find the next thing and just keep trying to do that. That was really my strategy rather than buy something for $100 and just hope it’s worth $100,000 one day.”

“Autoglyphs was a tough one. In hindsight, it’s tough to take that on the chin. I was at work and bought 30 of them in total for a little over $1,000 back in 2019. The very next day they’re selling for 5-10x more. In my mind, I’m like, oh my god, I’ve just turned $1,000 into $7,000 or $8,000. This is great, so I’m just selling them and trading them.”

Autoglyph #196
Autoglyph #196 – owned at one point by Nate Alex (OpenSea)

“I fumbled and it was tough because I knew how significant and how special they were. It’s just the amount of money to me at the time — which doesn’t sound like a lot anymore — was too much to kind of ignore.”

First on-chain PFP collection

Nate is the founder of one of the first on-chain PFP collections, ChainFaces, alongside good friend j1mmy.eth, who was another on-chain PFP pioneer with his Avastars collection.

Alongside ChainFaces, Nate also produced Squiggly WTF, and in January 2022, his innovative game titled ChainFaces Arena caught fire, bringing the spotlight back when NFTs still hogged the lion’s share of attention on Crypto Twitter.

“I think that one of my problems is, my Twitter (X) is all over the place. I tweet about shitcoins or memes, or general market ideas. Then I might be tweeting about stuff that I’ve paid way too much for or good trades that I’ve made so I think my image in the NFT space can be misunderstood,” Nate says. 

“The image is that I mostly just trade and collect, but what I actually enjoy the most is trying to create cool things.”

Doodle #1099 Holographic Cat owned by Nate Alex
Doodle #1099 Holographic Cat owned by Nate Alex (OpenSea)

Nate’s early NFT babies – ChainFaces & Squiggly WTF

ChainFaces was born in January 2020 — 10,000 randomly generated on-chain ASCII text faces and Nate’s first foray into creating. The project stores all metadata and attributes on-chain, inspired by Autoglyphs by Larva Labs, which were minted just eight months prior.

“The idea with ChainFaces was super simple. I just thought generative ASCII text faces and I’ll store the ASCII faces as strings onchain like Autoglyphs. A combination of Autoglyphs and CryptoPunks was the way I thought of it.”

“Ten thousand because there’s 10,000 Punks and a cap makes sense because I don’t want to breed ChainFaces; it’s not CryptoKitties. Some people thought it was kind of charming and cool, and it minted out.”

Asked where he thinks ChainFaces will sit in the history and timeline of the evolution of NFTs, Nate is not overly fussed but does believe it’ll have some historical relevance in the years and decades to come. 

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“With ChainFaces, I do feel it was more like I wanted to do something. I wanted to release something. I released ChainFaces in January 2020, and I quit my job in March of 2020. So it was part of me saying you can, you can survive in this space developing in this space and being part of it,” he says.

“It was a big risk for me to even do it but that was part of the intent behind it. I do think things that have historical relevance will stand out in 10 years a lot more. There were probably 50,000 or 100,000 projects that launched in 2021 that will never ever come back, and that’s accepted now.”

Later in 2020, Nate created Squiggly, a 100-piece algorithmically generated on-chain art collection. The Squiggly line art has a unique style and has done exceptionally well for such a low supply, with 869 ETH in volume, including sales of 50 ETH for Squiggly #10 and 45 ETH for Squiggly #17.

“Squiggly was generative art on-chain where the whole generator was stored in the contract level. Again, it was kind of like Autoglyphs, but it wasn’t ASCII this time. It was an SVG file and I was just trying to do something cool,” says Nate.

“I mean Squiggly is pretty under the radar, but they are still valuable on the marketplace. There’s been some strong sales so I mean I think I have the ability to create stuff that people really like and really want. I just haven’t hit the home run yet.”

Remembering the CryptoKitties days

Having been in the thick of the CryptoKitties hype in 2017-18 alongside what would become a tight-knit friendship group, Nate remembers vividly how special those times were, and how CryptoPunks really weren’t overly popular at the time.

“Around December in 2017, CryptoKitties mania was happening, and people were spending $100,000 on them on single ones. That was just outrageous to us. It was like, this is more than our salary spending on a picture of a digital cat,” says Nate.

“I wasn’t playing anywhere near that level. I was buying like $5-$10 cats and I just had to figure out why somebody would spend $100,000 on it. That was like my whole goal, why the fuck would somebody do this? I need to figure out why because apparently there’s some financial reason to.”

“With Punks, it was low profile at the time, and no one cared. It was more about CryptoKitties at the time and they had their own marketplace. They had this big website, gameplay and I use in air quotes, ‘utility’ where you could take your two cats and then breed them together to get a new cat.”

Nate remembers his core collector friends mostly sharing the same sentiment that Punks looked good, but at the time there wasn’t really a market for them.

“A lot of us from like that curious group with j1mmy, Pranksy, etc just weren’t going there to spend a few thousand on Punks because the market was so small. I always kind of thought they looked cool and remember having the conversation with some friends that they’d probably look cool printed on your wall. But most of us were positioned in CryptoKitties; if I had to put a split on it, it was probably like 98% Kitties and 2% Punks at the time.”

Nate has been vocal about collectors considering the longer-term value of a Gen 0 cat (approx 36,500 out of the total supply of 2+ mil of CryptoKitties) and Founder Cats (only 100 of them).

“To me, if you have 50 CryptoPunks, you should absolutely sell one and buy a Founder [CryptoKitty] because there is a history perspective there. People will look at it and they’ll say the Kitties floor is low and there’s 2 million of them. Obviously, the floor is low because there’s 2 million.”

But he points out there are also zillions of baseball cards worth almost nothing, but that doesn’t make the Willie Mays rookie card any less valuable.

“These things have massive network effects because anybody can buy the cheap shit. And yes, most of those cards and most of those things, they have a floor of a penny. But that doesn’t mean the highest end and most coveted stuff isn’t valuable because it is.”

CryptoPunk #2909 - owned by Nate Alex
CryptoPunk #2909 – owned by Nate Alex (OpenSea)

Chain Faces Arena & programmable art

Returning to “make more cool shit,” Nate launched the month-long tournament ChainFaces Arena in January 2022, while the NFT bull run was still very much in full swing.

“The whole idea here is let’s take a bunch of NFTs and put them in an arena. If they die, you don’t get them back, and we put millions of dollars in the pool that incentivizes people to try to survive longer than other ones. I wanted to create this experiment that was chaotic and then just have people going, ‘holy shit, I didn’t know NFTs could do that,’” Nate says.

It went live in the first second of 2022.

“Once it was set in motion, the primary sale had happened, the arena was opened, people entered, millions of dollars got sent and once the arena had started, I could have just died the very next day and the whole thing would have played out exactly the way it was set up too.” 

This is what Nate likes to call programmable art and he feels we’re just starting to scratch the surface with what’s possible with the technology. 

“I like the idea that you can’t do that with physical art. The contract paid out in arena bounties. It’s all automated and it’s all just smart contract handling. It’s programmable art.”

“I don’t think that niche has really caught on yet. I mean, you’ve got big ones like Terraforms, which is pretty high profile, actually. Gazers by Matt Kane is another one. It’s definitely high profile, but for the most part, those kinds of projects are super under the radar; there’s only a small subgroup of programmers who bother doing them.”

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Rapid fire Q&A

Name the favorite art NFT you have in your wallet that’s not your own? 

“Giant Swan’s I can still feel this breeze. I think they are really cool. Pretty sure it was an early Nifty Gateway drop. He had shown me that before he dropped. It’s like photographs but there’s subtle movement.”

I can still feel this breeze by Giant Swan - owned by Nate Alex
I can still feel this breeze by Giant Swan – owned by Nate Alex (Nifty Gateway)

Favorite NFTs in your total collection in general? 

Squiggly Number 0

Hashmarks #49 by 0xDEAFBEEF

Founder Cat #86 from CryptoKitties collection

Bullish or bearish on NFTs on Bitcoin and Solana? 

“You know, this is a really hard question because if you had asked it three months ago, I would have said no, Ethereum is the place. But it’s hard to not get distracted by all the attention. I don’t really see anybody doing anything particularly interesting on those chains at the smart contract level… I think that it needs to be more focused on the programmable aspect. 

“I like Bitcoin because I think that it’s going to be here in 100 years… and therefore, NFTs on it will also be around in 100 years. Ethereum, I would say has definitely the second best chance to still be here in 100 years, although I wouldn’t say it was necessarily 100%. For Solana, I would say that their chance of being here in 100 years is probably less than, let’s say, 50% but I don’t really know.

“From a trading perspective, I’m watching with an interest to see where new money will flow. At least in the short term, I think they’re probably good plays. I’m dabbling on both of them now.”

What do you think is an undervalued or underappreciated NFT project right now?

“Besides mentioning my own project in ChainFaces, I’d say Entropy by Nahiko. I think Nahiko is a pretty interesting blockchain artist. He’s a cool guy too. I’ve known him for a while, but his original foray into crypto art was doing hacks and then tokenizing them.

“They’re dynamic based on what’s happening on the blockchain. It’s a tie-in with the whole programmable art narrative that I love. I bought a ton of them early on and they had a pretty decent run.”

Absolute Zero Block - Entropy by Nahiko
Absolute Zero Block – Entropy by Nahiko (OpenSea)

Your strategy for collecting NFTs? 

“I like to buy things that are cheap that nobody, at least in the current market, has consensus around. I mentioned programmable art a bunch. That’s one of my favorite undiscovered narratives at the moment. I really think it is one of the ones that will catch on.

“I see a lot of that stuff that’s pretty cheap, and that could be historically relevant.”

“Maybe it takes a year, maybe it takes two years, I don’t really care at this point. If I bought something for $50 or $100, I don’t really care if it goes to zero. I’m not going to sell it unless it’s worth $10,000. That’s definitely more of my strategy is to find things that are unique and interesting.”

Any upcoming artists that you think we should be paying attention to? 

“I’d say Nahiko and James Bloom, who’s an interesting one.

“I also like Oxfff. I retweeted something about him fairly recently, but he’s another kind of blockchain experimental artist.” 

What is some sound advice about how the market works for new NFT collectors and traders? 

“I feel like a lot of the things that have been big winners usually were long shots at the time. Often a lot of people think they need to come in and buy the most expensive thing, and that’s going to be the winner. For Punks, I think that probably is true. I think that Punks are pretty easy and safe to play. But I think for a lot of other things, when new people come in, they don’t have the historical relevance, and they don’t have the context to appreciate things that were made in 2021. To them they just look like adjective animals.

“They’re not going to buy those things. They’re going to buy new things.”

Greg Oakford

Greg Oakford

Greg Oakford is the co-founder of NFT Fest Australia. A former marketing and communications specialist in the sports world, Greg now focuses his time on running events, creating content and consulting in web3. He is an avid NFT collector and hosts a weekly podcast covering all things NFTs.

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