Jeremy Sahlman had already been involved in creating several NFT projects before he co-founded Darkblock in early 2021. His creative design firm Black Math had helped develop several NFT projects, including Bitcoin Origins and Tezos Origins, handling the art and some strategy.
Darkblock CTO Joey Janisheck sits down with Jeremy, who still runs Black Math while also serving as Darkblock’s chief creative officer, to talk about his experience creating NFT projects, founding Darkblock, and what brands should keep in mind when entering the NFT space.
Watch the full video here or catch the highlights below!
Darkblock: Who are you and how did you get into NFTs?
My name’s Jeremy. I live in Maine. I used to live in Los Angeles for a long time, seven years. I worked in TV commercials, movies, and 3D mostly. I was a creative director at an agency before I moved to the woods in Maine. I was bored and got no jobs, so I started my own company with my partner, Evan, called Black Math. We are a design, animation, emerging-tech company that is mostly artists.
I did not get into web3 through purchasing an NFT. I’m not a big buyer of things. It first started with an email about three years ago that I thought was a scam from someone asking me to animate their NFTs. They said, ‘we can’t pay you that much, but we’ll give you a percentage, it’ll be really worth your while.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t really know what this is,’ but we had a little downtime and the artwork was cool so we tried it out. This was a collection called Bitcoin Origins on WAX. It ended up snowballing and we helped them do some strategy. That was how I got my start in this stuff.
Then I called my cousin Chris, who is our boss at Darkblock. I said, ‘Chris, I don’t really know what we should do, but NFTs are banging hard right now and I know you wanna do another startup.’ We started talking and that’s what led to Darkblock.
As an agency [Black Math], you seem more concerned with creativity than most…
I always define production companies in two buckets: there’s creative-owned ones and there’s producer- or executive-owned ones. The money that you’re willing to spend on projects if they’re creatively rewarded is very different depending on which one you work for. Same as the risks that you’re willing to take and the people that you’re willing to help.
I’ve kind of become a businessman, but really I just wanna make cool stuff and I want my team to be able to make cool stuff. I feel the most rewarded now when I see everyone else on my team be like, ‘Oh my God, this project was so fun to work on.’
There’s this bucket that I define as creative capital. It’s on my list to turn that into a thing that everyone else can see on our spreadsheets. It’s basically a bucket of money that we are willing to spend as an agency on things that are just fun to work on, or will reward us in some other way. So we spend that [creative capital] all the time. Then our clients that we don’t need to spend it on, they fill that bucket up for us, as well.
Your agency worked on art for an NFT project called Tezos Origins…give us some background on this project.
Yeah. So for this project, it was a grant that the Bitcoin Origins team got from the Tezos Foundation asking them to bring the same type of project to Tezos. We sat on it for a long time because it was really before Objkt existed. Kalamint was the first marketplace that could support this type of project, so we partnered with them. Things have stalled a bit, but we are continuing to work on the art. The cool thing was we [Black Math] spent a lot of time researching and learning about the history of Tezos, about Arthur and Kathleen Breitman and their struggles. If you look at the roadmap, we’ve basically outlined every chapterized series of drops for this project. This story is incredible and it’s really just about picking this thing back up.
It’s a lot of effort to kick something like this off. There are different ways of launching projects. One way is to pour resources into a big collection that crowdfunds your project. You spend the money, maybe it will succeed and maybe it won’t. This type of collection [Tezos Origins], and what Bitcoin Origins did, was built slowly. Pack opening, the community, and the number of cards were slowly expanded. It’s a very different strategy. Honestly, I think it’s awesome because you only get rewarded if you put in the work.
Any advice for brands trying to enter Web3 or create NFT projects?
I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘when am I gonna make this money back?,’ or they just want to get in because they see dollar signs. That’s not the reason to get into Web3. The reason to get in is the reason that it makes sense to invest in any early tech: to test the waters, to dabble your feet, to do something interesting, and to associate yourself with art and this new way of thinking.
A lot of people are afraid, but there’s nothing to be scared of. If you do it right, you’re honest, and you’re truly just trying to do something interesting, people will appreciate and respect that.
The other thing that I always tell people is that you have to look at this as a strategy for at least a year, ideally two years. You’re not just gonna do one thing and see the rewards. You need to go into this as an experiment as a brand or as a company and try stuff out. Make cool art, be proud of what you’re doing, and then figure out how it’s gonna benefit you and the community you build. The one-and-done is not a sustainable method for brands. You should do multiple activations and keep it going. It’s fun and people appreciate what you’re doing. That’s always my advice.
Big thanks to Jeremy Sahlman for giving us a peek at his creative side. If you are interested in watching the full interview, click here.