In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights video, Amanda Razani speaks with Elissa Maercklein, the CEO of Crypto Chicks, about NFTs, blockchain, cryptocurrency and the metaverse, and how these can be utilized in business, as well as how to get more women involved in this industry.
Amanda Razani: Hello, I’m Amanda Razani with Digital CxO, and I am thrilled to be here today with Elissa Maercklein. She is the CEO of Crypto Chicks. How are you doing, today?
Elissa Maercklein: I’m great, Amanda. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Amanda Razani: Yes. So, briefly, could you give the backstory of how you became involved with Crypto Chicks, and a little bit about what it is?
Elissa Maercklein: Of course, yeah. So, Crypto Chicks is an NFT project, a collection of 10,000 images that depict women from all around the world, various skin tones, hairstyles, makeups, different personalities based on their face traits, clothing that they’re wearing. And they’re really designed to celebrate and embrace women from all around the world being a part of the crypto and NFT industry. I got involved in Crypto Chicks, actually, not first as the leader, but just as a community member. So, I have spent my whole career in Silicon Valley working for tech companies, and really felt, firsthand, the lack of representation of women in the industry. There were so many times in my career where I would be the only woman in a meeting, or the only woman on the executive team within the company.
And when I first started investing in the NFT space, I realized there was a very similar trend that was kicking off in the world of Web3 and in NFTs. And so, I started investing in NFTs in August of 2021. Previously, I had been investing in crypto, like Ethereum and various different alternative coins, for around eight years, but didn’t invest in NFTs until August. And the interesting thing about the NFT industry is there is all of these different images and avatars that you can purchase and then use as your profile picture, which then becomes your digital identity as you’re interacting with people online. And the vast majority of them are animals. And so, people may have heard about the Bored Ape Yacht Club, which are these monkeys that are depicted in various different traits.
And the issue is that, when you’re using an animal as your profile picture, everyone assumes that you are a man. And so, what I found, as I had a gender-ambiguous animal as my profile picture, as I was interacting with people online, like, ten times a day I was having to correct people and say, “Actually, I’m not a man, I am a woman, and I use she/her as my pronouns.” And that was, for a lot of people, I think, kind of a mindset shift. First of all, to realize, “Oh, okay, there are women, here,” but then realizing that women are investors. And then, I found Crypto Chicks as a project that had launched in September, and for me, that was kind of a switching point in my head, where I thought, “Okay, here is something I can find that’s an image that actually represents what I look like. It can be a woman that has blonde hair and blue eyes and wears the same kind of clothing that I like to wear.”
And from a representation standpoint, I thought, “Okay, this is really powerful. There’s going to be so many women within this industry that want to have something that looks like them, as they interact online.” And, so that’s why I first joined as a community member. And I really started to feel like there was a big opportunity to take this NFT collection and turn it into a brand that has programs and all of these different offerings, to help empower women across the whole Web3 industry. From programming and education to creating events and networking opportunities, and being more than just an NFT project.
And so, that’s why I got involved in the team, initially, as the CMO. And then, recently, in the past, I would say, four to five months, alongside with the COO, took over ownership of the project from the original founding team. And now we have launched Crypto Chicks alongside Women Labs, which is our parent company that has a whole bunch of different initiatives underneath it; with a main goal as basically normalizing Web3, normalizing crypto, normalizing NFTs for women, but also people in general who are traditionally underrepresented or underserved in the world of crypto, tech, et cetera.
Amanda Razani: That’s amazing, and congratulations, so many different projects underway for you. So, I wanna sit on that, for a second. What is the main reason you think that so few women are involved with crypto and NFTs? And I feel like, maybe, from my experience, I’m kind of on the same timeline as you with investing in NFTs, and there were a lot of apps required and things I had to learn like Discord and, you know, digital wallets, and how to purchase with cryptocurrency and all this. When it all might be very new to someone, it could be a little overwhelming. So, that’s my thoughts, but I would like to hear from you, why are there so few women in the industry?
Elissa Maercklein: Yeah, you’re completely spot-on. It’s this very artificially big barrier to entry, where it really isn’t that complicated, but we make it so complicated. Because there’s all of this terminology that people are using, all of these different apps; there’s a lot of security questions and things that people need to learn, and there’s no clear resources and ways for people to learn quickly, learn easy, and we make it very, very complicated for people. So, and I think there’s also – so there’s education and then there’s also the cultural component, as well. So I, for, like, eight years, I was investing in crypto, but I was never really identifying with the communities or interacting or engaging with people. I had this perception, in my mind, that it was a very crypto grow finance day trader type of personality, and I was, like, “Okay, I’m interested in this from the ROI of my investments perspective, but I don’t really identify with someone as a crypto day trader.”
And what’s interesting, with the evolution of NFTs, is that NFTs have a little bit more mission, social impact, and community perspective, which I think for women is a little bit more interesting. There’s a lot of research out there on women being more long-term and socially-oriented investors compared to men, which is why women outperform men in the traditional stock market in terms of investments. But the interesting thing there is that, with NFTs, it introduces this whole community perspective, which ties into what we were talking about earlier with education. We’ve found, there’s a lot of research on the way that women learn. And where men are strong as individual learners; women are really strong in cohort-based learning environments.
And so, we’ve found that if you can create small subgroups or communities where women feel like it’s a safe space to ask questions, you can have this really inclusive environment where other people are learning the same stuff alongside you, makes it a lot less scary. And so, that’s one of our main goals with our community, with Crypto Chicks and all of the programs we’re launching under our Women Labs brands, is to create these environments for people where they can ask questions. There’s no stupid questions. Everyone is learning alongside one another at the same time, but they’re also able to brainstorm and come up with new ideas for how they can individually contribute to the ecosystem.
So, I think education and community are two of the biggest things that have held back women to date, but it’s also the way that we can really increase the adoption from a female investor perspective. But we want to go further than just having women be investors, and we want women to be builders, to be the people that are creating companies, launching projects, and taking on roles as executives. Or being a part of the cultural adoption in change over time.
Amanda Razani: Most definitely. And I wanna touch on the fact that a lot of, from my experience, and maybe there are other platforms, but a lot of the NFT projects, it’s not really necessarily about just the NFT itself. It’s not just that digital art. It is the communication, the benefits, and the value that you get, normally within a Discord group, that is attached to that NFT. And so, when you were talking about, you know, all of the predominantly male language in there, I came across that, too. I was laughing. It was really hysterical how many, like, the same comments that you said with my avatar being a penguin, you know, it was, like, “Oh, what up, bro?” and, “How you doing, dude?” and, you know, it was just, it was kind of funny and – so, I love the fact that you’re addressing this issue and making it easier for women to have a place to go, a group of likeminded individuals, that they can turn to and ask questions and collaborate and help each other. So, it’s just a lot more, from my experience and from what you’re saying, than just an art piece.
Elissa Maercklein: Totally. So, there’s tons of NFT projects, right? Everyone is different, and some of them are just celebrating the art. I think we want to celebrate the art, but also view the NFT as an access path to the community that allows you access to the programs, access to event, both virtually and in real-life. We have a big conference coming up in New York City, with some pretty cool events that are happening there. And it starts to be a little bit more of, this is kind of your entrance pass into being a part of what we’re building, as opposed to just a jpeg, which is what people joke about a lot. Like, here is something that you could just right-click on your computer and download and save, but that doesn’t really represent the actual ownership on the blockchain that gives you access to all of these different things that we’re building.
Amanda Razani: Yes, and to that regard, so, thank you for bringing that up. It’s the technology behind NFT that is also very fascinating when it comes to the blockchain and the ways in which that can be used; the smart contracts, additionally. How can those be used outside of NFTs and embraced by business in general?
Elissa Maercklein: Yeah. So, this is actually the reason why I first got interested in crypto and blockchain in general. I was working for Visa, many, many years ago, and for people listening not familiar, I mean, many people know Visa, but huge global payments network provider. And seeing behind the scenes the way that the payments infrastructure in our world works is incredibly antiquated, and the way that all of the different interactions that need to happen for me to send money to an individual in a different country. If I had family in Europe somewhere, for example, the amount of middlemen that it would need to go through in order for me to actually send $100.00 over to a family member in a different country is insane.
And so, the power of blockchain is that it takes out that centralized governing body through which all of the transactions need to go through, and it makes it instantaneous, but also reduces the fees associated with it. So, access to finance for people in countries that they might not have complete faith in their government, complete faith in the banking systems, it really democratizes the access for that from, like, a financial inclusion and equitability perspective. So that was why I even first got excited about the power of what blockchain and what cryptocurrency can do for the world. We’ve also seen, with the evolution of Ethereum, which is one of the main cryptocurrencies that we know, smart contracts. Smart contracts are super interesting.
NFTs, right now, are probably the most common and well-known implementation of smart contracts, but the world is moving so quickly towards adoption of smart contracts in other areas of the world. Some people may have seen, recently in the news, there have been houses that have been listed for sale using cryptocurrency based on smart contracts. So there can be things like mortgages, deeds to homes, marriage license – there’s so many different things that in our normal day-to-day life we have legal contracts that are maybe a piece of paper sitting in a filing cabinet in a safe in your house somewhere. And on the other hand, that could theoretically just as easily be a piece in the blockchain, a block in the blockchain, that then anyone can see.
There’s a very clear public record of any sort of contracts, which introduces a huge amount of transparency for the world and what’s happening from a contracting perspective, but also, immutability, right? You can’t – one of the main benefits of blockchain is that it’s there. And once it’s there, it can’t be changed. And so, there’s no discrepancies, there’s no way you can forge something. It’s really set in stone, because every block that’s added to the blockchain, thereafter, has references to the previous ones. And so, unless you were able to go back and change every single one of them, it’s really not possible. Which is incredible from a smart contracts perspective and what’s to come.
I think right now we’re seeing NFTs as the most fun implementation of it, but there’s a lot of companies being started. The government is starting to look at how can we use smart contracts, things like IDs, social security number, there’s so much potential for how our daily normal lives will be affected and changed by smart contracts.
Amanda Razani: Yes, it’s really amazing. So, honestly, more efficiency, better security, more affordable; these are all benefits of blockchain and smart contracts. And I wanna say, there are still, however, a lot of naysayers and people who have a lot of problems regarding crypto, NFTs, the metaverse, all that. What do you say to them when it comes to, you know, some of their arguments are the amount of scammers out there, and – you know, what do you have to say to the naysayers? Is this gonna last? Is this gonna stick around? Or is it gonna fizzle out?
Elissa Maercklein: I think it’s definitely going to fizzle out. I wouldn’t be doing this fulltime if I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in that. Specifically, to the point on scammers. I think that’s a really legitimate feedback point, but it’s important, also, to recognize that, at every major point in history when we’ve seen significant technical revolutions, so, even in the payments industry, for example, right? When first checks came out and people were able to forge checks and that was a really big problem. There were people going into banks pretending to be other individuals and that was a big problem in the beginning, in the banking industry. Then we had credit cards, and the magstripes on credit cards, that little black stripe on the back, was really easy for people to put fake hardware in any type of store and then steal your credit card information.
Then we moved to that little chip that you put in, and that started to get easy, then, for people to get your PIN code. They could steal your PIN code and take your payment information from that. With online banking, people could get your online banking password and then be able to take all of the money out of your bank account. So we’ve seen this time and time again, where when new technology comes, there inevitably are going to be bad actors that figure out a way to game the system and take advantage of that. Then, we start to see there’s new technology that’s introduced, from security layer standpoint, that makes that a little bit harder to do. So I think we’re at that point in the adoption curve where there are people who are still taking advantage of the system, but that is fizzling out as we’re starting to see a lot more security introduced on the blockchain level.
So that’s one big thing. I would also say that, similarly, in addition to security, throughout every point in time where we’ve seen major changes in technology, there have always been naysayers. And more often than not, those naysayers tend to be wrong, right. There were people who, in the dawn of the Internet, were, like, “Why on earth would I be doing this? Why on earth would I be buying books from Amazon when I could go buy books from my local bookstore, Barnes and Noble,” right? And look where Amazon is today. So, I think that’s important to understand, these trends happen throughout time.
Blockchain and cryptocurrency have been around, at this point, for quite a long time, so the chances that they fail and they don’t become something quite revolutionary is getting lower and lower. As more and more adoption is coming, there’s a lot of money being poured into the market, there’s huge venture capital firms, like Andreessen Horowitz, that have raised billions and billions of dollars to invest into this technology. And so, I think we’re getting to a point where there’s so much being built within the system and so much innovation that will affect so many different parts of our daily lives that it’s really hard to see that not going anywhere, at this point.
Amanda Razani: Well, there you have it. Real quick, do you have any future plans in the NFT space? I know you touched on them a little bit in the beginning, but what are your plans moving forward?
Elissa Maercklein: Yeah, so we, right now, we’re working on launching a design collective for our community. And that is an eight- to ten-week launchpad program for women who are small-businessowners, they’re fashion designers, jewelry designers, who are creating products in real-life, like jewelry or bags or clothing, and want to create a metaverse wearable version of that. So, giving these women the toolkits to be able to run businesses in Web3. Because we’ve seen there are so many huge brands, right now, that are pouring millions and millions of dollars into what is their metaverse strategy, right? We’ve seen this with Gucci, with Adidas – name any big retail company and I can almost guarantee they have at least one or two people, if not a whole team of people, that are assigned to developing their metaverse strategy and metaverse activations.
And so, we have been in contact with a lot of these brands, talking about partnerships, talking about how we can work together, but we’ve realized that these are companies that have budgets of millions of dollars to pour into this type of innovation. And there’s a lot of people who would, similarly, see success in this industry, if they’re given the toolkit in order to participate in it. And so, we’re really excited about putting together this program, and then, the output of this ten-week program is a collection that would be in partnership with us, that includes physical products, but also wearables. And our community will get access to that.
So I’m really excited, because it kind of ties together all of these concepts about, number one, teaching women the skillsets to be builders in this ecosystem. But number two, it’s a really cool benefit for our community to learn more about, “Okay, what is a wearable? What do I use it for?” We’ll have events in the metaverse that people can wear these wearables to, if it’s a piece of jewelry or, like, a jacket or, like, a flaming hat or something – I’m just throwing random stuff out there. But really combining all of these principles of community and education, to help make Web3 and everything in the metaverse a little bit more normalized and accessible for women.
Amanda Razani: Well, that’s incredible and really awesome. I wanna thank you so much for coming on today and sharing all this. And I look forward to touching base with you down the road, just to see how all that’s going. And the subject of the metaverse, that’s a whole other subject that’s so exciting, and digital transformation initiatives are definitely gonna need to take note. All of the technology behind the metaverse, blockchain, smart contracts, all of it, as you said, you think it’s gonna stay, it’s here to stay, it’s been here a while. So, thank you so much, Alyssa.
Elissa Maercklein: Yes, thank you, Amanda. This has been so much fun, so thank you for having me, and, yes, would love to talk again in the future.