Keep up with the technology. NFTs are changing very fast, and just because you understand them today doesn’t mean you’ll remain in a knowledgeable position tomorrow.
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 interviewingRobert Norton.
Robert is an entrepreneur with a passion for art and technology. Before establishing Verisart, he was the co-founder and CEO of Saatchi Art and Sedition Art. Previously he worked on the executive management team at King.com and AOL Europe.
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 grew up in Hampstead in London, which is an area known for being the home to many artists and writers. The poet John Keats had a house not far from where we lived. It’s a pretty neighborhood known for its wide, open parkland called Hampstead Heath. I studied in London and Oxford, and then started life as a journalist for Reuters before moving on to AOL. I’ve been working with digital media and internet businesses ever since.
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?
I studied English literature and Modern History at Oxford University, and was a great admirer of the poetry of Sylvia Plath in my teenage years and the short stories and novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald in my 20s. “The Great Gatsby” remains one of my favorite books, because it manages to be both concise and lyrical and keeps you wondering and wanting more.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.
Having co-founded and led two other startups in the intersection of art and technology, Saatchi Art and Sedition Art, I was familiar with how artists used new technologies across their practises. However, I wasn’t too knowledgeable about blockchain and how this technology could be applied to the art market until the artist Casey Reas wrote to me about its possibilities in 2014. This started me thinking about how I could apply blockchain to the arts and collectibles market, and so began my idea for Verisart.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
The first NFT we launched as part of the 10×10 series with SuperRare was a work by Neïl Beloufa, and was one of three NFTs that related to three large scale sculpture installations at a museum show at an exhibition called “Digital Mourning” at the Pirelli HangarBiccoca in Milan.
What was so interesting about this NFT is that the museum show itself had to be temporarily closed to the public due to a COVID resurgence in Milan. That meant that the only way for people to experience this show was through the NFT, which was aptly titled B, trying to reach out to its audience. That was a really intriguing moment in terms of how art finds new ways to connect us despite the occasional restrictions of the physical world.
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?
I’m grateful to Shepard Fairey and his wife, Amanda Fairey, for seeing the potential in applying blockchain certification to the art market very early on, and for using the Verisart service for the registration of their works. I was also fortunate to learn from the incredible people in his studio, who helped us build a better product.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re currently working on a range of initiatives, from better preservation standards for time-based media with museums, to AI algorithms that develop their own distinctive styles, to assisting galleries with strategies for entering the world of NFTs. All of these projects will lead to more art making its way into NFT marketplaces in a structured manner that empowers the artists and creators.
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.
NFTs are still very new. We’re comfortable working with evolving technologies, and there’s always the excitement of the new that comes along with them.
We also enjoy helping people navigate through new digital experiences, and NFTs certainly qualify in that regard.
Finally, we’re thrilled by the widespread consumer interest in owning digital assets, and intrigued to see how the collector proposition naturally evolves from where it is today.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
Scams and fraud are a big problem. We’ve already seen instances where people believe they are buying from or supporting well-known artists but get fooled by fake accounts. It’s happened even on reputable platforms.
The other two concerns are related: people having their intellectual property rights breached, and NFTs that are minted on behalf of artists without their knowledge, depriving them of the revenue they should receive. There are numerous accounts on social media of artists who are surprised to see that NFTs are created based on their work.
These are issues that can be solved through education, by getting the word out to creators on how to protect their work and to buyers on how to know if what you’re buying is legitimate. We’re also actively advocating for clearer standards for verifying NFT art, including the additional information in the records of our own Verisart certification which can’t be found within the NFTs themselves.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?
Because something’s online, it will be there forever. That’s a dangerous belief to hold, because history teaches (and will continue to teach us) that nothing is forever. Being sure you know what you’re buying when it comes to NFTs is crucial, because otherwise you may be at the mercy of a network or server that can be switched off and leave you with nothing,
An even bigger myth is that NFTs are a sure win and a quick way to make money. The reality is that the NFT market is very patchy. There are pockets of success, but also people who struggle to find their audience like in any creative industry.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry. What can be done to avoid that?
Entering the NFT market without a plan, and that goes for both individuals and companies. It’s easy to get seduced by the idea that this is a technology that you should be involved with simply because it’s receiving so much hype.
But FOMO is not a reason for participating. You should find the passions, artists and works that are meaningful to you.
How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?
NFTs have the potential to transcend borders in a more frictionless way, allowing for more creative collaboration. They’ll allow for a greater speed to market, thanks to a growing group of collectors who are willing and eager to engage with digital assets. The trading of NFT art will also speed up as a result.
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. Be in it for the long term. We’re just at the starting gate for consumer interest and adoption.
2. Learn by doing — don’t be afraid to dip your toe in the water. Like all emerging technologies, NFTs are a medium for iterative improvement, and each one doesn’t need to be a massive success.
3. Put out work that has meaning to you, as opposed to looking for quick market fits that may not have longevity.
4. Enter into dialogues with other people in the NFT industry. Since everyone is learning about this technology together, you’ll benefit from their experiences, and vice versa.
5. Keep up with the technology. NFTs are changing very fast, and just because you understand them today doesn’t mean you’ll remain in a knowledgeable position tomorrow.
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 really believe in the importance of our Fair Trade Art certificate, which allows people to immediately know when an artwork is doing something good in the world by generating proceeds for charitable causes. We’ve worked with Shepard Fairey and Amnesty International, as well as Rob Pruitt and the ACLU, and I hope to see other artists tackle the climate crisis with works that focus our attention on how we can do better to protect our Earth.
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 🙂
I’ve had the good fortune to meet many great artists, but I’ve never met Jeff Koons. I’d love a private breakfast with him because he has been at the forefront of contemporary art, with works that continue to dazzle and push forward how we see art.
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!