Non-Fungible Tokens: Michael Blu of LGND On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry
You need to have an audience. — If I’m an amazing artist and I show people I know my stuff and they think it’s wonderful that’s great, but if you don’t have a way to get that momentum out into the bigger community it’s incredibly difficult to be successful in that way. You need to get out into the community, make friends, show your art, make NFTs give them away, slowly build your audience. You’ve got to be a promoter, or if you just don’t have that in you, you have to find someone else who really believes in you and can do that job for you.
Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge, that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Blu.
Michael Blu, Co-founder of LGND, is an early blockchain investor and expert in intellectual property and data center technology. He brings his diverse experiences as a Marine, musician, film producer, best-selling author, and owner of a national precious metal brokerage, to supporting LGND’s mission of empowering artists with sustainable NFT opportunities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
I was born in a fairly small sleepy town on the edge of a big, beautiful river. I would cut my way down through the blackberry bushes to the train tracks with my friends. We’d often hop on the slow-moving trains and end up taking 10–15 miles long train trips to nowhere and end up having to make the long walks back home. Lots of fun adventures growing up like that. We lived in an era where parents didn’t really ask where you were going, and we had a lot of independence in that way. I’d ride my bike all over town and come home at dark. I grew up with a lot of freedom and I always had time to be creative and work with my hands, whether it was building tree forts or painting. Later on, I fell in love with playing music, I started playing the guitar, joined choir, and really enjoyed the idea of having my whole life in front of me. Anything was possible it seemed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy more rigorous studies as well, I especially enjoyed math and science. No matter what I was interested in I was able to explore it and I’m extremely grateful for having that sort of childhood.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
My three children, my wife and I find ourselves sitting around the table drawing and listening to Audible. It really gets our creative juices flowing and makes for a fun, shared experience. Specifically, not too long ago, we started going through the Harry Potter series as a family. It was our first experience with the stories, and it was fantastic! What a ride that was and such a joy to experience it all for the first time with your children. We were all enamored by it. We’d wake up the next morning, and start talking about where we left off in the story the night before. There’s a lot to those stories, lots of subtext and parallels to life right now. It brought about some great philosophical discussions with the children, which made it take on a whole new perspective to me as an adult. Our adult programming makes us look at these sorts of things in a certain light, but hearing an 8, 9, or 11 year old talk about these big concepts was an absolute blast. Talking about what things meant in the book through the filter of the kid’s perfect innocence made me have a whole different level of appreciation for the art of storytelling. It was a powerful experience for me, personally and I cannot wait for our next big book journey together as a family.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.
A book that comes to mind, one that I read a very long time ago is The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It has stuck with me, even more so recently when put into a modern perspective. There’s a lot of uncanny crossover between that book and what’s going on today. That book and that story line was significant, and I think it pushes into the whole blockchain, digital assets outlier technology aspect of our industry. Depending on what side of the aisle you’re on economically, politically, etc. you’ll have a totally different take on the technology. The book is completely misunderstood by one side and completely adored by the other and there’s not a lot of middle ground. I think that’s a really interesting parallel to how the industry is going right now. I’ve been meaning to revisit it again with this fresh perspective, so I’ll have to pick it up and reread it soon.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
The most interesting story is a pretty dramatic one. The formation of LGND was me embarking on Uplift.art, which is a philanthropic technology organization that leverages blockchain and NFT tech. In the formation of that I was speaking to a young developer and I shared my vision for the LGND.art platform. He told me to reach out to a guy named Scott. I reached out to him that same day and we immediately became friends. It was one of those situations where within the first few minutes of talking to someone it feels like “it’s good to see you again, brother!”. It was comfortable, familiar, and we were immediately on the same wavelength. We just started pitching ideas back and forth and when we took our first breath, we realized a few hours had gone by! We sat back to kind of take it all in and we both came to the same conclusion: ‘We have to build this!’ Then the realization hit us, and we just started laughing — we can’t do this alone! We’re both dreamers, swept away by ideas and innovation, but we’re not programmers or savvy businessmen necessarily. But we both had a certainty in our vision. That led us to a sort of impasse as we decided it was worth trying to figure out how to realistically create this platform. Cut to me driving home later that evening when I get a call from a friend of mine, Mike Rockwell. He was just calling to check in and catch up. We’ve been friends for a long time and we’ve both been involved in crypto for a long while at this point, our kids play together, you know he’s just a really great guy who also just so happens to possess that savvy business mind that Scott and I were lacking. It was one of those synchronistic moments. He had just finished building out this giant data farm project in Europe, was looking for his next project and he really wanted to focus on the crypto space. I just couldn’t believe it! I said, ‘funny you called… I have an idea for you!’ Then I sat in my car in the driveway for the next hour going over the broad strokes of this concept that Scott and I had just honed. By the end of the call Rockwell kind of left it open-ended saying you know, “interesting, let me get back to you”, but I could tell the passion came through and it had sparked something in him that he just needed to put into perspective, so I wanted to give him a little time, but scheduled a chance for Scott and I to sit down and really pitch it to him. I immediately called up my new best friend, Scott and told him he wouldn’t believe what phone call I had just been on. I told him we had an amazing opportunity, and we had an hour to meet with Rockwell the next day and really make sure we plant those seeds deep. We knocked it out of the park during the meeting. We all had a shared chemistry and passion about the concept, but still at the end of the meeting Rockwell, who is very methodical, didn’t give any clear commitment. He doesn’t run into things, which is smart, but we were still confident he got it and we just gave him the time he needed to come to the decision on his own. Three or four days later we got the call, and it was real. Rockwell was all in and we were off to the races. Rockwell immediately laid out the plan forward for us just like a leader does and boom, boom, boom, he started executing all these things like a rockstar and we were onboarding a killer, world-class team. We were just blown away, we couldn’t have dreamed of a better, more established team of the smartest most talented folks out there. It all ramped up so fast it was astounding. Everyone was on fire and working at their peak.
Then all of a sudden, out of the blue… Scott’s no longer with us. He passed away. A devastating, huge blow. Now, I’ve experienced loss in my personal life, and I was fortunate enough to have my family there to share that grief with and work through that pain. It’s hard. The hardest thing you can do. But this was an entirely different experience. Here we had assembled this amazing team, we had the wheels turning and things needed to get done. This project was moving fast already, we couldn’t stop what was already in motion. We were all charging the mountain, hand-in-hand but then, suddenly, half or more of the soul of the project is just gone. Vanished. No warnings, no goodbyes, just sudden inexplicable loss. I struggled with it immensely, but how do you process that when you have an entire team relying on you. I couldn’t get lost, cry, and go through processing that loss in the way I knew. I had to rise up above that loss and be a leader. We all had to rise up. That enormous tragedy had to be something that we processed all together, to listen to one another and support one another — but we couldn’t stop working on the project that was in part founded by the genesis of that loss. It was an experience that none of us will forget. I love all the people on our team dearly and we were all there for one another, working through the emotions and working through the logistics of the immensely ambitious business venture that we wanted to make sure was perfect to really honor, Scott and what he meant to all of us. We had to stand up and plant the flag and say ‘NO’ to surrendering to the grief. We did it and we took care of one another. I wish he were here now because what is going on with LGND is everything he wanted it to be and so much more, and we’re just at the very beginning.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We are building the future. Combining the different components that we are, the technology itself, the conceptual future we see as inevitable. That being the case, being so young in a space that’s growing so quickly, it’s a whirlwind. We’re in an innovative exponential climb, working on so much technology, from cross-chain bridges, to the underlying integration of the WAX blockchain. We’re trying to open up the whole space to the world, instant free, transactions, scalable, built by a team that understands global payments and blockchain to its core. We’re innovating on top of these base layer technologies that are themselves innovating every single day. So, there’s a ton of mistakes that need to be made for that to happen. To find the right path you must explore a lot. So, I’m not sure if they’re necessarily funny, but I can definitely say during our private alpha launch, we were supposed to mint something like 199 of a particular art piece, but our alpha users were so passionate about taking part that the demand far outstripped what was supposed to be the supply. Something was wrong on our end however and once we hit that 199 limit the system didn’t stop, and we ended up selling about 800 more than we were able to mint. So, our resident super hero/master artist, Ty Carter came in and said “I got you”, then created a special edition NFT to give to those users.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father, Thomas. An extraordinary human, he raised me in such a way that I became extremely self-reliant at an early age. I’m one of those ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, types of people. I can do a lot of things, from building houses to making music, but I’ve never spent time getting a master’s degree in something and really perfected one specific skill. But that’s what my father gifted me, the ability to do, and desire to do, so many things. He’s a great mentor and always has amazing feedback and ideas. I call him often and brainstorm with him. He’s a huge part of why I am who I am today.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The metaverse we’re building, Uplift.world is really exciting for me. I think we’re doing some really innovative things in the metaverse space, integrating it with real-world creativity. Whether you’re a lawyer, an accountant, whatever, you can go into this world and have a creative experience and be an artist. Another is Yoshidrops.com Its in the early stages, mud-on-the-wall development, but it’s hopefully going to change the future of the music industry by focusing on music NFTs that produce oxygen. We’re working with some exciting partners that we can’t talk about just yet. But we are doing a closed-access private drop soon and we’re a small, passionate community that will be more and more public and mainstream as we grow the platform.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. I’m sure you get this question all the time. But for the benefit of our readers, can you explain in your own words what an NFT is, and why people are spending so much money on them?
An NFT in its very basic form, a way to prove ownership of a digital item. Anything you own digitally; a photograph, a movie file, a pdf, a concert ticket, the deed to your house — anything digital, but let’s use a photograph as an example. Say you’ve taken a beautiful photograph of Barack Obama, you can take that image and add any informational metadata to it you want, your digital signature, a link to your website, a note about the photo, etc. then you can create that as an NFT on the blockchain where it will live forever with all that information. There’s no way for it to be corrupted or disappeared. You can keep it on file as proof, or as an artist you could monetize it. Create X number of copies and sell them. Now say you mint one million of these images. You could sell those one million copies and when your fans buy it, they can do what they want with it. They have this beautiful image, they can save it and put it in their digital collection, or, and this is important, they could go to the secondary market with it. They could say, I’m going to sell this for a hundred bucks. The real interesting part is that since we know the providence of this digital asset, no matter who buys it from the initial purchaser, the original artist still gets paid. This in and of itself is revolutionary for the art world. It sets a new precedent for artists to control their legacy and earn what they deserve off their work. They now have a source of passive income that will last forever, no matter how many times that NFT changes hands, the original artist will always get a portion of that sale price, whatever it may be. The artists now have more control and more income from a single image they’ve sold. That’s why at LGND we say we’re helping artists secure their digital legacy — that’s not a throwaway line, that’s our mission. The reason they’re selling for so much money has to do with the idea that people who understand all the above understand the intrinsic value of not only an authenticated digital piece of art, but also that for the first time in hundreds of years of art history, we’re making sure the artists are taken care of and earning forever. Art enthusiasts like that, they want to support the artist directly and with NFTs they are able to do that on an unprecedented scale. This is a revolutionary step that empowers the artist like was never possible before and people are willing to pay a premium for that. Smart crypto enthusiasts and investors also understand the growing threat of inflation in relation to fiat currencies, a dollar today won’t be a dollar in a few years, so these smart investors know it’s a good idea to put that money into an asset class that is immune from those inflation risks. Their digital asset will retain, and in fact, grow in value as the technology becomes more and more ingrained in our everyday lives and in this new, quickly evolving blockchain-based economy.
The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I’m so hyper focused running the R&D for LGND, working on Uplift, and on Yoshidrops that that’s where all my excitement lies recently. As I hinted at before, Yoshidrops will revolutionize the music industry. The music industry needs a lot of help. What’s being done to musicians is criminal. I know top-notch composers, writers, and producers, people who have worked on huge projects that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars and they see zero revenue from that. That’s a shockingly common thing to see in the music industry. We’re going to change that. We’re going to present the answer and whether the industry gets on board with it will be a defining moment for them. This is their second MP3 moment. Remember the companies who scoffed at MP3’s and digital distribution? That is the same mentality of people who are looking at the NFT market right now and saying, ‘I can just screen grab that.’ They don’t get it, they haven’t dug in and done the due diligence to understand the other side. This is the time they can choose to empower their artists and help them thrive in the new upcoming marketplace, or they can go the way of the dinosaurs. The streaming services too, Spotify, Apple Music all of them have an opportunity right now to get on board with the future and reinvent themselves or lose big time. The core of Yoshidrops.com is to empower the musicians and to empower the labels that are able to see the future and help these artists build their brands in a new way. It’s a new way to support the creative and the IP that surrounds it because right now the original creator is the last mouth to be fed, and sometimes they don’t get fed at all! It’s a shame and that’s what we’re changing for visual artists with LGND.art and what we will be doing in kind for musicians with Yoshidrops that’s what’s really exciting to me right now,
What are three “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?
That they’re going to destroy the planet. There’s a pervasive belief by people who don’t really understand the technology. And maybe that was kind of true in the beginning when people were locked in to using ‘proof of work’ blockchains, those mechanisms require huge amounts of computational power. It’s basically a competition on POW to see who can use the most energy to solve a complicated mathematical equation and “win” the transaction to create the block. Proof of stake however, and specifically, delegated proof of stake, which is what the WAX blockchain is, takes a completely different approach. People saw how ridiculous and wasteful that POW consensus mechanism was, so instead of seeing who can use the most brute force power to create the answer to an equation, a proof of stake blockchain just requires people to invest their own assets back into the protocol to help show they have a vested interest in honestly minting new blocks. These blocks do not have to be brute-forced with hardware to solve because it relies on a consensus mechanism that requires validators to invest their own assets back into the system in a way to create a self-checking approval system that can be done on nearly any hardware, it doesn’t need to be a specialized power-hungry mining rig — it can be your phone. It’s just an approval process that solves the equations easier by having more bespoke assets on-chain to help unlock the solution. You’re more so devoting time instead of mass amounts of energy to solve the new blocks. So over time, POS systems can actually become more sustainable. The WAX blockchain is 125,000 more efficient than other POW blockchains. This is sustainable. Artists have been abused enough without being accused of destroying the planet.
Another common myth is that it’s too expensive to mint and transfer these NFTs, which again can be true on other blockchains where you will end up spending more money to create the authentication of the asset than you may be able to sell it for. That’s not a smart business model for an artist to get wrapped up in. But on WAX that’s not true at all. We do not charge gas fees to our artists, ever. We sweep all that nonsense out of the way and make it as easy as possible for an Artist to do what they do best, focus on their creative process.
The last common misconception is that the whole market is a bubble. We’re still definitely in price discovery mode at this point, but the genie is out of the bottle. The technology solves so many problems inherent in the digital space, while innovating in ways no one ever thought about before that it is impossible to go back to the way it was before. Blockchain tech and NFTs in general are the future and regardless of what prices may do in the short-term, the long-term success is inevitable.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry. What can be done to avoid that?
Probably starting off on a proof of work blockchain! Which is still probably the most pervasive and talked about aspect of the industry because they’ve been around the longest and there is so much money tied up in them already. The biggest mistake is to not do your homework and just jump in on these blockchains that are not ideal for the NFT market. WAX is purpose-built for NFTs from the ground up, so artists need to understand all the implications of that. Fees on other blockchains are a huge barrier of entry for some. Even as a purchaser of an NFT these things are vitally important, you don’t want to buy an NFT then get hit with a fee to move that NFT that exceeds the cost you originally paid for it. You just can’t buy a ten-dollar NFT on a proof of work blockchain and send it somewhere cheaply. It’s like buying ten dollars’ worth of groceries and being charged a hundred bucks to take it to your car, it’s ridiculous. So that’s the big common mistake. You have to learn about the difference in these blockchains and what their limitations are, what they do best and what they’re made for. WAX is made for NFTs, and we made the decision to build LGND on the WAX blockchain because we did that research and found it to be the best fit to help elevate the whole market.
How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?
They’re already helping people in big ways. I get messages quite frequently on Telegram with Uplift.art, which is, again, the philanthropic, charitable component under the LGND umbrella. We’ve done a lot of charitable NFT drops and raised well over a million dollars to help build schools in Haiti and to also fund a food drive for those schools. We give away NFTs regularly within our ecosystems because it’s so easy, and we’re not paying gas fees, so we can send NFTs to people that have real value — there’s a story behind it that resonates with the audience — but they can then go and sell them on the secondary market. This is something they got for free that has value in the uplift world that other users will pay for, so it provides an income source for people. If someone in Venezuela sells an NFT for two hundred dollars that means something completely different to them in their circumstances than it does to you or me in our circumstances. To us it’s ‘oh, yeah, cool’, but to them it’s feeding their family, it’s the start to paying for their education, to help them move, to really change their circumstances. It can be life changing, lifesaving even. Outside of that, even just taking part in the uplift metaverse can be a source of income for them because they get paid to play, to interact with the uplift world. You get paid in WAX rewards and other cryptos. People are even creating entirely new income sources within that world of their own design; they’re creating business within the metaverse. I know someone who created a tour service in the Uplift world. People are creating new industries and new careers for themselves to change their lives for the better. Keep in mind, we’re still in the early stages here, so I’m very excited and optimistic for more people to learn about these opportunities and become aware of the new possibilities that this technology presents.
Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
#1 You need to have an audience.
If I’m an amazing artist and I show people I know my stuff and they think it’s wonderful that’s great, but if you don’t have a way to get that momentum out into the bigger community it’s incredibly difficult to be successful in that way. You need to get out into the community, make friends, show your art, make NFTs give them away, slowly build your audience. You’ve got to be a promoter, or if you just don’t have that in you, you have to find someone else who really believes in you and can do that job for you.
#2 Find your superpower.
What’s your niche, what do you love to do? Don’t just jump on a bandwagon, that’s insincere. Be you, figure out what it is you love to do and what your unique voice is and embrace it. Do that as best you can and put your intention behind it. Form follows that intention so fill your work with that intention and be distinctive.
#3 Finish your work.
Don’t procrastinate to perfect something. Art doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to be honest. Perfect is subjective. If you set unrealistic expectations on yourself, you’ll never produce a substantial body of work. You need that body of work to really succeed in the art markets, so you have to allow yourself to be imperfect. A bricklayer doesn’t second guess every brick he lays, he uses his skills and does his job, he builds a wall and before you know it, something substantial and powerful exists.
#4 Give to others.
Help others shine. This is a reciprocal relationship referencing #2 on this list. You sometimes need to be the person that helps someone achieve what they can be too. That’s part of the community mindset I’m talking about. That will come back to you tenfold. Be a good friend, find good friends, and enable and support their dreams.
#5 Slow Down.
Get outside, take your shoes off, plant your feet in a green patch of grass, some sand, even dirt for that matter. Get off the concrete, off the plastic soles, center yourself, take a deep breath and just listen. Be in the now, in the moment and enjoy the gift of life and being centered in the now and that will reset you to go back to #1 and nurture this whole loop.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We’re doing it in the Uplift.world! It was built by five friends who loved playing Minecraft who used to get together every Sunday and build cool stuff together. One day one of the friends put up a wall and wrote “I love my son.” Everyone said, ‘what are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I felt so grateful today I just wanted to write about it’. So, everyone else starting writing a gratitude on the wall and 35,000 gratitude messages later in the uplift world with about 2,500 participants this whole world has been built on gratitude from the ground up within what we call the “win, win, win” economy -10% of all the revenue produced within the uplift world goes into our Uplift donate charitable fund, this is the fund we use to build schools in Haiti and as it grows, we’re going to expand it to all sorts of philanthropic good in the world. With Yoshi drops is all about NFTs that produce oxygen where a significant amount of those proceeds goes to planting trees and kelp farms and other innovative technologies that produce oxygen in our beautiful world. So yeah, we’re living it right now, we’re not waiting for ‘some day’ we’re in the middle of that inspiration.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
You know, I would love to have a meal with Elon Musk. He’s been very active in the crypto space, he’s taken some heavy shots from the community lately because of the price dive that’s pretty much been attributed to some of his recent comments, which I think is more of a coincidence than the actual cause. I’d love to have a talk with him about green energy and the environment and what he stands for, because there is a lot of controversy with batteries for his cars and how the raw materials are sourced and how they’re made. I’d like to see how he squares that up and what he sees as the future technology to remedy these issues. It’d be interesting to dig into his mind about crypto and see what his real true knowledge of the space is because he’s been a real advocate of Dogecoin, which is a meme coin that’s always been a running joke in the industry. Now, I don’t want to disparage or offend Dogecoin advocates, they have a thriving community full of well-meaning people, but I would like to know what’s behind his stance, and if there’s a real structured plan behind it. He’s a brilliant mind and I can’t imagine him making such flippant comments to his significant base of followers that he has an enormous amount of influence over if he didn’t have some sort of real thought put behind what he’s saying.
Non-Fungible Tokens: Michael Blu of LGND On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.