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The Second Act
A founder's journey from launching NFTs to building products
For Mai Akiyoshi, her founding story of Curious Addys begins with a simple mission - to increase awareness and access to crypto. Having returned to stateside from Japan and invested in crypto since 2018, she realized the opportunity - and the barriers - to participate in the space. What began as her ad-hoc sharing with friends and family on what crypto is, why it is innovative and why it matters eventually turned into Curious Addys - a NFT project with 5,000 adorable octopuses.
As the environment became more challenging, Mai then led her team on the “second act” - going from a NFT community to one that has built a portfolio of products, most of whom are free and available to use regardless of whether one is a Curious Addys NFT holder.
What follows is Mai’s journey as a founder - from selling out the 5,000 NFTs and raising more than US$1.7M (at the time of sales), to building a highly-ranked NFT tool that appears in the top searches on Google. Through her story, we distill lessons learnt from launching an education-focused NFT project, and get granular into growth tactics that drove Curious Addys and the portfolio of tools to significant adoption.
Let’s dive in.
The first act - founding of Curious Addys
The origins story of Curious Addys began with a realization that Mai had when sharing her passion for crypto with others - “it is really difficult to teach by talking.”
Mai then shares, “Why don’t we create a community to teach people about crypto and NFTs, and create a space where they can feel comfortable to ask the simple questions and learn together.”
The idea of Curious Addys was hence born in late 2021.
Yet this was also the time when many were launching NFT projects and the markets were particularly frothy. What was Mai and Ben, her co-founder’s tactic to stand out?
A 90 page NFT 101 guide.
Without surprise, in a space where attention spans are extremely short, Mai recounts, “Fewer than 10% of readership get to the end of the report. But this report was widely shared across many communities”.
The timing was fortuitous, as Zeneca was on the lookout for companies to advise and on track towards launching his NFT projects. “He loved how we were trying to educate people in the web3 space, and decided to advise our project as one of the first," shares Mai, “We started spending time with him, getting his advice for how to grow an authentic community, and thanks to his advice and other marketing initiatives, we were able to build a Discord community of 25K. The rest, as they say, is history - a successful mint out."
The intermission - lessons learnt from Curious Addy’s community
After the mint, Mai and her team quickly learnt 3 lessons that were instrumental to their adaptation to the rapidly worsening environment:
Firstly, most people in the NFT space are not interested in in-depth learning. The space remains largely speculative, with a significant proportion of participants figuring things out “just in time”, and as deep (or shallow) as needed to make a flip. Mai articulates this, “It is not possible to create the desire for learning. If you are genuinely excited to learn, you will learn. But otherwise it is not a behavior that can be facilitated without motivation.”
Secondly, educating people without infrastructure is difficult. “You can record a video to show click this button on OpenSea, click that button on MetaMask - but this content gets obsolete very fast as you are relying on ever-changing infrastructure.”
Thirdly, the path towards increasing awareness of NFTs and crypto is via creators. “A lot of people learn about the space thanks to creators. Creators are the one who bring the people into the space - examples like Bored Ape Yacht Club and World of Women started with creators who built projects, and these projects in turn capture the attention of newbies and veterans alike. In particular, we also found a lot of people asking for help with smart contract and minting website development.”
These three insights then led to the second act - a beginner NFT platform meant to help creators build out their first collection.
The second act - rolling out HeyMint
In May 2023, Mai and her team announced the roll out of HeyMint - an “accessible, equitable and creative” tool for creators to upload their artistic asset, choose their desired blockchain, create an allow list presale and enforce royalties.
The emphasis on creators (in correlation to the third lesson shared above) was critical - alternative tools were charging creators 1 ETH or more to collect wallet addresses for minting. HeyMint was different - creators pay no fees to list their collections, and the costs were borne by collectors. In particular, Mai and her team engineered an efficient smart contract that charges collectors $1 per mint, yet the overall minting cost still remained lower than alternatives due to gas optimization.
In particular, HeyMint utilized a nifty trick to accelerate growth in tandem with creators - “support HeyMint’s mission and let’s grow together”. When creators set up their minting page to collect data from their supporters, HeyMint asks creators to add an additional requirement - follow HeyMint’s Twitter profile (screenshot below). This accelerated the growth trajectory of HeyMint, with more than 80,000 Twitter followers organically to-date.
Mai reflects, “This validated our hypothesis - create as much value as you can, and aggressively help others. We are in a small world, and when we give as much as we can, we often find that people reciprocate. The vast majority of creators decided to support HeyMint’s mission and make following our Twitter profile a requirement, even though they could have opted out.”
Mai also shared another marketing strategy that drove traffic for HeyMint - search engine optimization (SEO). Almost by serendipity, she learnt that the domain authority for HeyMint was surprisingly high, despite it being a new domain.
(For the uninitiated, domain authority is one of the key factors search engines like Google take into consideration when prioritizing search results. A higher domain authority conveys trust, hence search results from the domain rank higher. Domain authority is often a mix of domain age, number of backlinks, quality of backlinks among other factors.)
Whereas most new domains score around 20-40 in the first few years of operation, HeyMint’s score propelled to more than 60 as a result of the number of high quality backlinks. Leveraging on this opportunity, Mai and her team than put together keywords to rank, and wrote articles that targeted the keywords.
The result? More than 330K website visitors over a span of a few months.
Most importantly, this organic search traffic was accelerating Curious Addy’s mission - to educate others on web3. Most often, those who search on Google are relatively new to the space, and are seeking reliable sources of information. HeyMint fulfilled this need.
Reflections on the journey
While Mai and her team have just gotten started on their second act - HeyMint, her reflections are timely advice to founders and growth leaders - never forget your why.
“Before you start anything, define why you are doing it. The stronger the why, the more authentic your users will be. The strength of your mission will influence the people whom you attract, and people tend to be drawn to mission-first communities. We have seen that firsthand - one of our community members that started as a newcomer was extremely loyal to our mission. Whatever we do, she shows up. When we post something on Twitter, she will retweet. When we host a space, she will attend. From someone who did not know much, she showed up and really wanted to help because of our mission to educate others. Our team was very touched by this, and today, we are advisors to her web3 project, actively promoting what she does and introducing her to others.”
As Curious Addy continues to mature through the dynamic environment, one thing is clear - Mai and her team’s mission has acted as the north star, which also led them to launch HeyMint. While the future remains uncertain, we look forward to her continuing to bring education to the masses.
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