How finance and digital art intersects in web3 – in conversation with Mando and OSF

June 20, 2022
"There was a global movement towards NFTs and the metaverse; if we didn’t join, we would live to regret it."

Mando and OSF have gone from ordinary collectors to community builders noticed by the likes of Snoop Dogg. They sat down with Signal to understand the secrets to their success, what happened to the 150 Bored Apes they minted, and what they think is missing from the NFT space.

The NFT space is a melange of degens, artists, traders, and builders – amongst the foray are individuals taking advantage of the opportunities within web3. Ovie Faruq (OSF) and Mike Anderson (Mando), two former derivatives traders, are the founders of Degenz, an NFT resources group helping market participants understand the space. In under 18 months, they’ve gone from ordinary NFT collectors to operating one of the fastest-growing communities in the space – and attracting the attention of Snoop Dogg, Cozomo Medici, and Raoul Pal.

This level of execution and success does not happen by accident. They speak to Signal about the secrets to their success, what happened to the 150 Bored Apes they minted, and what they think is missing from the NFT space.

Signal: What is Degenz, and why did you create it?

Ovie Faruq: Degenz launched in July 2021 as a profile picture comic collection. Ultimately, it failed because we did not have the experience to build comic IP. The Degenz ecosystem ended 2021 with a floor price of zero and coming into 2022, we felt an acute sense of responsibility to change Degenz into something new. We knew our strengths were in trading, so we started an NFT resources group with daily market updates, commentary, Q&A, and long-form deep-dive reports. The resources were positively received, and since January, we’ve seen our Discord and Twitter organically grow by 4x.

Signal: You both had successful jobs at top-tier investment banks and didn’t hate your time there; why did you leave to go full-time into NFTs?

Mike Anderson: I started collecting in early 2021, and Ovie got involved about one month later. Over 2021 we saw that the opportunity set in web3 was rapidly growing from a collector and entrepreneurial standpoint. There was a global movement towards NFTs and the metaverse; if we didn’t join, we would live to regret it.

Being a trader is a strange role. It’s playing a video game against other people, but you don’t acquire the skills to start a business. Yes, you are good with numbers, but after 10-20 years, it is easy to get stuck in a job. We identified many parallels between financial and NFT trading and realised we were uniquely positioned to offer something different that was lacking in the space.

“Artists and creators are the beating heart of the NFT space.”

— Mike Anderson (Mando)

Signal: What have been some of your biggest wins and losses as collectors and investors?

Ovie: I minted 150 apes and then sold all of them, but luckily later, Mike bought 72 of them, and we combined our collections. We purchased a 1/1 Fewocious piece and two XCopy 1/1s. However, we’ve also had losses; we bought Cryptoadz at 11eth, sold at 2eth, and our gaming coins are down 70-80%. Luckily we offset our losses with ApeCoin and OtherDeeds; the portfolio is highly volatile throughout the year.

Bored Ape, rare solid gold fur, minted by Ovie, sold for 5eth.

Signal: Ovie, you are a successful digital artist, best known for Professional Degen and rektguy. At what point did you decide you wanted to contribute as a digital artist?

Ovie: When I was 13-18 years old, I spent a lot of time online, and digital art became a hobby until I went to university. When I joined the NFT space and saw the quality of everyone’s work, I thought I wouldn’t be able to sell anything. One day, I was bored at work, drew something , and minted it. It sold for 0.5eth. My work is semi-autobiographical and represents what people do in web3. I started learning new techniques and people liked them. It caught me off-guard, but my followings rocketed, and naturally, everything else grew.

rektguy, by OSF.

Signal: Snoop Dogg bought your work; how does it change your ‘roadmap’ when an artist of his calibre invests in your collection?

Ovie: We worked on the collection for a while and hoped rektguy would catch on as a storytelling vehicle as the markets dipped. We thought the collection would settle at 0.4-0.5eth, but it catapulted in price and volume after Snoop bought. It was a complete surprise, as we have no connection to Snoop. Afterwards, we realised that the opportunity set was more extensive than we initially thought, and we needed to figure out our next steps.

Signal: Your work is instantly recognisable and may eventually be considered iconic. Do you ever worry about maintaining a certain aesthetic?

Ovie (OSF), co-founder of Degenz.

Ovie: Sometimes I think, “will I run out of ideas” because there are only so many times you can use the same images and techniques, but many things can inspire you. For example, Professional Degen (pictured above) is one of the most recognisable pieces. If a piece becomes popular, I could do a series, update the art, make it different and give more people the opportunity to own it. Can it ever match the original? I don’t think it can, but you can create sequels and editions and increase the community aspect.

Signal: Recently, Damien Hirst offered holders of The Currency an opportunity to do a private tour at his studio. Ovie, how are you planning to leverage the relationship between artist and collector now that you can identify your holders via wallet address?

Ovie: If someone buys one of my pieces, they access a token gated Discord. It’s lively in there, lots of chat, and I know all my collectors by name. I want to do an event this year or next year and make that token gated. I can offer free editions to my holders, gamify the mechanics, and do exciting things using wallet snapshots. Gated communities have a sense of exclusivity which you can’t get from traditional art.

Mike Anderson (Mando), co-founder of Degenz.

Signal: Mike, prior to NFTs, did you collect art?

Mike: Yes, I started in 2020, but I found that my experience of collecting traditional art made me a worse digital art collector. The skills I learned looking at traditional art are very different from 1/1 digital art. For example, history is viewed differently. First on-chain art is a big deal; early pieces are important, and so is rarity. People are looking for web3 native pieces, GIFs that reflect the culture of the space. So yes, collecting traditional art helped me in that I was comfortable spending money on art, but it didn’t necessarily help me find the right choices at the outset.

“Artists can capture a broader market, but they need to find ways to differentiate themselves.”

— Ovie Faruq (OSF)

Signal: Who are some of the people you would like to highlight or think are talented artists?

Ovie: OG artists like Coldie and XCopy set the example of driving value to collectors, not getting sucked into the hype cycle, and are choosing to play the long game. They set the standard, and I’d like to thank them for leading the space.

Mike: Artists and photographers have had a tough twelve months. Collectibles have been successful, but the sales of 1/1 art have slowed. The space needs curation, not from one individual but a structural layer that can improve the space. Currently, artists and photographers like Misan Harriman and Alien Queen are not getting the exposure they deserve. Artists and creators are the beating heart of the NFT space.

Signal: Ovie, what would be your advice to new artists entering this space?

Ovie: Artists need to understand it is a different market. Yes, the art matters, but collectors who invest want the value of the art to increase. Artists can capture a broader market, but they need to find ways to differentiate themselves. Otherwise, it is difficult to elevate your work above established artists.”

When we look back, Ovie and Mike are examples of artists and builders who will be regarded as stewards of the space over the long term. Whether their art is their legacy or their ability to be educators, the space is better off with their contribution.

professional degen, by OSF.
professional degen, by OSF.
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After a career in financial consulting in London, Sig directed her attention to blockchain technology and spent some time as a Solidity developer. Her work focuses on web3 because she believes in the opportunity for curious individuals to unlock their creative potential. Away from her computer she is passionate about long-distance running.

Collaborators and honourable mentions: @greatmando_nft, @osf_nft