From Wall Street to Web3: The CryptoPunk Journey and the Future of Digital Ownership with Eric Witschen (Neustreet)
In this insightful interview, Eric Witschen, the CEO of Neustreet and an early CryptoPunk holder, shares his journey from Wall Street to the world of web3.
In this interview, Dibbs speaks with Eric Witschen, the CEO of Neustreet, who is an early CryptoPunk holder and has a background in technology on Wall Street. Eric fell into the world of web3 from two angles: his interest in decentralized systems and cryptocurrency due to his background in technology and finance, and his passion for collecting various items in his personal life.
Eric explains that he was drawn to cryptocurrency's ability to transact in a super sovereign mechanism, and as an avid collector, he recognized the potential of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) as a super sovereign layer for transacting other goods and services. He initially saw NFTs as a technology for tracking food supply safety logistics but soon became involved in the world of digital art NFTs.
They discuss Eric's experience as a CryptoPunk holder, with him sharing his journey of becoming a collector and his appreciation for CryptoPunks as one of the first on-chain NFTs and a historically significant generative art collection. He sees CryptoPunks as a beacon of decentralization, sovereignty, and technology.
When asked about the criticism that web3 and NFTs are just a fad, Eric dismisses this idea. He believes that we are only scratching the surface of the potential of digital ownership and provenance and that web3 is an evolution of the internet. He sees web3 as inevitable and advocates for users to dive in, become familiar with the technology, and separate credible educational sources from potential scams.
Regarding the future of web3, Eric envisions continued adoption and a growing interest from institutions and traditional art institutions. He anticipates that the traditional art world will embrace NFTs, leading to higher prices for significant NFT assets.
Eric - you are a long-time CryptoPunk holder and you have a rich history in collectibles? How did you fall into web3?
My entry into web3 comes from two different angles. In a previous life, I worked on Wall Street for many years, focused on technology, particularly in Over The Counter (OTC) transactions of high consequence between institutions. I witnessed significant inefficiencies in traditional finance that could be addressed by decentralized blockchain applications. This piqued my interest in cryptocurrency and drew me into the world of web3.
Additionally, I've always been a collector at heart. I've collected various items throughout my life. I'm the old guy still collecting Pokémon cards. My daughter gets a kick out of it. As I began exploring digital art collecting, NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) started to emerge. It was like a revelation to me that, just as we need a sovereign layer to transact in traditional currencies, we also need a super sovereign layer for transacting other goods and services, which is where NFTs come in. While NFTs are currently prominently associated with art, they possess a far broader potential, as you and I both know. I even encountered an NFT for the first time in the context of a technology vehicle to track food supply safety logistics - a unique intersection of the tangible and digital realms.
In summary, my journey into web3 has two primary facets: decentralized finance, rooted in my Wall Street technology background, and NFTs, founded on my understanding of digital ownership and provenance, honed as an art collector familiar with the challenges in this domain.
We're all curious about the CryptoPunk story. It's one of the very first NFTs out there and you own one of them. How did you hear about this program and how did you buy one?
In my past life, I was deeply immersed in punk rock, attending shows and embracing the culture. When I first saw CryptoPunks around 2017 or 2018, I was immediately captivated by their cool and nostalgic vibe. However, I didn't jump in right away; I eventually made my first purchase around 2020 while actively collecting digital art on SuperRare.
Back then, Ethereum was trading at around $300, and CryptoPunks were relatively affordable, hovering around eight ETH. I made my first purchase at that price point. However, as the market gained momentum, the value of CryptoPunks soared, and I've since owned five or six Punks in my collection, with one being an irreplaceable gem.
CryptoPunks holds a significant place in the history of NFTs, being among the earliest on-chain and generative art collections. Although some people associate generative art with later projects like Autoglyphs and Squiggles, CryptoPunks actually preceded them. It stands as a cornerstone of the web3 landscape, representing decentralization, sovereignty, art, and technology all in one. It's a rare asset in my portfolio—one that I can passionately discuss from numerous angles and persuade others to acquire.
That's my Punk story. I'm a devoted holder, currently owning three CryptoPunks.
Web3 evokes mixed feelings for collectors, brands and the media. Some outlets go as far as claiming that web3 is dead. What do you think about this statement?
You can't kill what's not yet born. In many ways, NFTs and digital ownership are still in their infancy. We're just scratching the surface of the immense potential of digital provenance. While some projects may fade away, web3 is the future of the internet, an evolution beyond what we currently know.
The internet, as it exists now, is dominated by a small pool of corporate interests in the U.S. We haven't fully realized the capabilities of digital connectivity and true ownership until we can possess the things we interact with. Relying on centralized entities like Chase.com to safeguard our digital assets is flawed, as we've seen countless information leaks. A shift towards self-custody and self-sovereignty is inevitable, and even banks are recognizing the value of this approach, as they don't want the burden of holding all our assets all the time.
Throughout history, people have scoffed at new internet paradigms, from web1 to web2 and now web3. But this evolution is undeniable, transforming digital bulletin boards into interactive and owned platforms. Though some may dismiss web3 as mere media hype, it's often those who don't fully comprehend its potential that criticize it. However, within a short time, they'll realize the magnitude of its impact, like when my eight-year-old daughter plays Fortnite with excitement for digital merchandise collaborations, rivaling traditional Nike drops. The world is embracing the possibilities of web3.
What is a good place for newbies to learn about web3 and get started either as a collector, artist, or maybe a marketer?
Dive in, and be a user! To truly understand this world, you need hands-on experience. While I've comprehended decentralized systems since college, it was holding Ethereum, managing a wallet, and using Gnosis Safe, Uniswap, and AAVE that brought it all to life.
Google key terms and consult the docs on Uniswap to grasp decentralized exchanges and how value is exchanged in this manner. OpenSea docs are valuable for understanding NFT technology, digital ownership, and provenance. Additionally, Neustreet dot com, the company I operate, offers insightful educational resources.
Be cautious about educational sources, as nascent markets attract scams. Prioritize understanding self-custody and security while immersing yourself as a user. Though Twitter may not be perfect, it's a hub for knowledgeable personalities. Engage with users and have fun, invest a small amount in digital art to experience the transformative power of true ownership. Digital ownership is here to stay, and even physical assets like gold bricks might soon be represented as NFTs, so be prepared.
What's the future of web3 in 3, 5, or maybe 10 years from now?
It's an evolution of what we're witnessing, and we're currently at the early stages of adoption. People are realizing the benefits of digital ownership, provenance, and transacting across a super sovereign layer. The awareness of web3 among the global population will likely double or triple in the next few years.
Institutions are entering the space, driven by regulatory developments. Brands are showing increasing interest, as seen with BlackRock's ETF announcement despite Larry Fink's previous stance on crypto.
Even the traditional art world is gradually embracing NFTs, as evident from Christie's and Sotheby's holding exclusive and important auctions for digital art. As the art institutions join in, we can expect significant price dynamics in the NFT market.
Though chain risks exist, Ethereum seems poised to remain relevant and play a crucial role in the next bull run, while other platforms like Solana may lose prominence.