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Reflecting on Magic Eden’s Growth Journey
From blog posts to billion dollar valuations
“Growth is amorphous - it is not limited to marketing, strategy, or operations. As long as you have enough heart for the work, it will be intuitive.”
As the General Manager of Solana for Magic Eden, Tiffany Huang - or Tiff - started our conversation with a practical yet heartfelt reflection on her journey as a growth leader. Having spent half her life in the US, half in Asia, and none in growth, her stumble onto Magic Eden a month after the company was founded in September 2021 was serendipitous.
With no growth background, her gig to write blog posts for the non-fungible token (NFT) platform turned into a marketing lead role within her first week, and since then, she has led the team on a roller coaster journey of ups and downs. A few months ago, she was recently appointed to the role of General Manager, overseeing all things Solana on Magic Eden.
In what follows, Tiff brings us through a no-filter conversation on the evolution of a platform synonymous with Solana NFTs. Over a rich hour-long conversation on her reflections as a growth leader, one observation is apparent - Tiff has the heart to not just build a category-defining NFT platform, but also be an empathetic growth leader. Whether it is supporting multiple chains or removing royalties, Tiff opens up on the decisions made at Magic Eden - and a pile of hard-won lessons she picked up along the way. Her journey can be characterized by a series of hypotheses - some worked, others didn’t. Let’s jump in.
A Meteoric Rise - The Creators Hypothesis
Magic Eden’s rise is nothing short of meteoric. Launched in the peak of the 2021 bull market, not only was Magic Eden able to capture a sizable market share of Solana NFTs, it became one of the most notable projects on the chain - with more than 22 million unique visitors a month and 40,000 NFT trades daily at its peak. Within 9 months of founding, they attained the widely coveted unicorn status, attaining a $1.6B valuation after a $130M raise.
Magic Eden’s first hypothesis was to support the creator. Through their Launchpad product, the team developed a proven ability to help creators and support them.
As the creator’s champion, Magic Eden’s value proposition was clear - they were more than a place for secondary trading. They were a platform for creators to kick start their journey in the world of NFTs, and creators’ chances of success magnified by using the Magic Eden platform.
This value proposition proved attractive - more than 600 NFT projects have successfully sold out on Magic Eden so far.
A Controversial Decision - The Royalties Conundrum
However, the good times came to a rapid halt - not just for Magic Eden, but for the broader NFT industry. From a frenzied $5.36B in organic trading volume in January 2022 to below $1B in September, the 82% decline in NFT trading volume across all chains meant that fewer dollars were being spent on NFTs, and correspondingly, fewer creators found it attractive to develop new NFT projects.
To add salt to the wound, upstart marketplaces began to waive off royalties - a small percentage fee paid to the creators each time a NFT secondary transaction was conducted. The result was palpable, as Magic Eden’s market share eroded rapidly. In response, a decision was made for royalties to be optional - paid only if the buyer opts to. In solidarity with creators, ME waived off platform trading fees.
“It was a hard decision, but I do not regret it one day. Magic Eden would systematically be unable to survive without going to zero royalties,” shares Tiff.
Today, luckily, there is a systematic solution to royalty enforcement on Solana with permissioned NFTs (pNFTs). Today, Magic Eden still supports royalties on Polygon and there is no such thing as royalties on Bitcoin Ordinals. Magic Eden continues to experiment with creators in many ways, within and beyond profile pictures, also known as PFPs. On Solana, they recently pushed out Open Editions to work with creators to make NFTs more affordable and fun to collect, working with a variety of content creators and artists. They are also working on SPL token integration to help game developers tap into Magic Eden’s liquidity in their own in-game marketplaces while processing transactions in games’ native tokens. On Bitcoin, Magic Eden is working on auctions to support creators launching 1/1 digital collectibles. On Polygon, they recently launched a $1M creator fund to support NFT creators trying to launch new projects.
Defining the Audience - Collectors For Long Term Growth
“One of the worst things that can happen to Magic Eden is if we become solely a trader platform, and forget about the collector,” says Tiff. Magic Eden’s true north star audience is the collector who purchases NFTs to enjoy the content and be part of a community.
It is this segment that will contribute to the long-term growth of the NFT ecosystem. While the short-term pressures of market share and transaction volume are real, the long-term vision of “growing the pie” cannot be neglected too.
“I recently helped a friend get started with Solana NFTs and we took nearly 1.5 hours,” Tiff said, “That is insane - from setting up a Coinbase account to starting a Phantom wallet, visiting Discord and Twitter…the technology barrier of adoption remains real.”
Even beyond technology, the NFT ecosystem has grown increasingly technical, given the bear market and dominance of traders relative to collectors. Tiff believes ultimately, the platform that feels the most fun will win over time. “Over the last few months, NFTs have felt less fun than usual, and interfaces have grown more complex. We recently released a feature called Lucky Buy to re-introduce fun back into NFTs, and look forward to bringing more features that will give users moments of surprise and delight.”
From Bull to Bear - The Only Truly Multichain Platform
Another recent hypothesis Magic Eden had was the expansion to multiple chains. The vision was clear - there is one consumer, but many vibrant chains. Is it possible to own the relationship on the major NFT communities across different blockchains?
This resulted in the launch of NFT collections beyond Solana in rapid succession at the turn of 2023 - starting with Polygon, then followed by Bitcoin Ordinals and Ethereum. Magic Eden is the only NFT platform, she claims, that has meaningful penetration across multiple chains, having upheld historical dominance on Solana and Bitcoin Ordinals, and serving as the major market leader for initial sales market share on Polygon.
Yet Tiff opens up on the challenges they faced, “As we put our energy towards a multi-chain future to deliver the best multi-chain NFT platform, it was at times hard to stay focused. Today we have a much stronger product and engineering org and clearly defined squads, with business and tech orgs corresponding to chain teams. I’m the General Manager for Solana and Chris Akhavan is GM for all the other chains, and this has helped the teams stay laser attuned to the needs of the chains.”
Today, she shares that most NFT traders or collectors have a dominant chain of preference. While the marketplace functions might be similar, the cultures of each chain are different. While the NFTs looked deceptively similar across chains, the nuances behind each chain’s ethos and community was apparent.
Tiff summarizes her takeaway, “We spent a lot of months focused on multichain expansion. We are getting really close to having elite, excellent user experiences on Bitcoin Ordinals, Polygon, and Solana. We look forward to our re-entry into Ethereum. After this chain expansion mode comes innovation. That innovation means not only trying to build cool experiences within each chain that speaks to those users, but trying to create interstitial tissue to connect the audiences.”
Responding to FUD - The Empathy Ingredient
Like any startup, Magic Eden has had its fair share of successes and missteps. As someone who follows the conversations on Crypto Twitter closely, I often notice FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) casted towards Magic Eden, and by extension, the team - especially when slip-ups happen. When asked on how she deals with the unrelenting barrage of FUD when missteps occur, Tiff answers in good spirits.
“When I hear FUD, I empathize. They have a reason to feel the way they do. I hear them out, and often, I read a lot of negative comments about us. Yet most of the time, people just want to be heard. They want to hear how upset and angry they are, but once you give them a space to express themselves, it becomes easier to manage,” says Tiff. “As a platform, we then internalize the feedback and figure out what is a constructive way of responding - mostly through actions. There is little point in being defensive or fighting back with words.”
As someone who has seen Tiff manage these tough conversations firsthand - whether on Twitter Spaces or in tweets, I can attest to her approach - “Humility with confidence. I acknowledge the situations where we made slip-ups, but we press on. We do not deny there is a problem, but instead of getting on our knees and asking our community to take us back, we prove through actions. We find a path forward. We work to serve, not work to please.”
Finally, on self-care as a growth leader in an unforgiving space, Tiff shares, “You have to see yourself as an athlete and take care of yourself. The most important thing to protect is your mind. It is easy to lose yourself on the job, but the key is to know when to take a break and find out how to have momentum sustained over time. For me, it was doing a lot of yoga at one point - you have to find what works and not run yourself too dry.”
As the first few chapters of Magic Eden’s growth journey are written, it is clear that Tiff and her team is nowhere close to done. What started off as “do things fast” has evolved to a truth-seeking company that constantly adapts to the NFT world, and with the right team to stand together with, it is clear that Magic Eden is about to embark on the next voyage together, stronger and with heart.
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