Ever wonder if there’s a business case for NFTs? Or how you can leverage Web 3 in your business to reach and engage your ideal customers? Today we speak with Michael Cirino and Harry Rosenblum of House of Attention and St3ak to find out how you should be approaching Web 3 in your own business.
Rich: I have two guests today. My first guest founded House of Attention to be able to speak simultaneously to global brands and agencies, as well as sought after creators and IP holders in the past year. He’s honed the group’s direction to focus on the cutting edge of Web 3 creator community, his ability to harness a singular imagination and translate it into significant, exciting cultural moments that plays seamlessly with technology, allows him to connect brands with their audiences in truly magical ways. He leads the creative vision and development for all House of Attention creative projects by assembling an enviable group of creatives and strategists. He’s grown House of Attention into a critically acclaimed creative force with world renowned clients, including PepsiCo, Hearst, Google, Avalanche, UNICEF, and Sotheby’s.
Over the past 15 years, he’s blended digital storytelling with immersive and interactive experiences to create memorable brand experiences. It’s at the intersection of the real and imagined where his ability to engage our senses truly shines. He focuses on audience first creative underpinned by unique drops, launch moments, and activations.
My second guest is also part of House of Attention. He’s a serial entrepreneur from underground music and art venues in 1990s New York City, to kitchen and culinary experiences, with a background in large scale live events, construction and vintage car repair. His experiences fill volumes, bringing people together for unique experiences. Part of his DNA, he co-founded seminal food institutions, the Brooklyn Kitchen and The Meat Hook, and consults regularly around food and housewares in Japan and other markets.
He’s a podcast host and cookbook author, vinyl aficionado, and a scout leader at House of Attention. He brings his past experiences to the table as a food expert and his expertise and vision, around how we can utilize Web three and the digital future as a lever to do more good in the physical here and now with a focus on what we eat and how it gets to our plate.
Today we’re going to be diving into everything Web 3 and NFTs with Michael Cirino and Harry Rosenblum. Michael and Harry, welcome to the podcast.
Michael: Thank you for having us. Thanks, Rich.
Harry: Great to be here.
Rich: So I’m not sure who wants to take which questions, so I will throw them out and you guys can decide who is going to answer them or if you’re going to answer them together. But we’ll jump right in. I’m just of curious, about how did you find yourself on the cutting edge of Web three creator community? What does that path look like that got you here?
Michael: You want me to take this one, Harry? So I would say last January there was a social moment around the Game Stop and this kind of conversation about individual investors versus institutional investors, cryptocurrencies, and how that was all playing together. And I had a lot of friends that were in these audio communities on Clubhouse, they were on Twitter and Red House, on Reddit, on connecting the dots on a lot of these small social community things as well as like social statements, financial statements, this idea of making money against other institutions that had an unfair advantage. And after Game Stop happened, they immediately switched their energy towards digital collectibles and digital assets and what was becoming the NFT boom of 2021.
Again, these people were approaching it from a fine art perspective. And they were there talking to the collectors and the artists about what they were doing and how they were doing it and what this new process could look like, both as visual art and also as the art of smart contracts. Some of these artists were writing unique ways of encoding action into the smart contracts, and some of that stuff was starting to sell as I guess a new version of performance art in and of itself.
And I started getting phone calls, “We have this really robust digital community, and we’d love your help gathering them.” And I was like, I don’t do virtual events. It’s not really something I’m great at. But I kept listening, I kept trying to understand what the community needed and where it was going. And as the pandemic started to contract through the summer, the bigger agencies that I used to work with started asking the same questions. “Hey, our digital business is starting to come from a ton of virtual events and we’re starting to.” People wanted to buy physical events at the same time. “Oh, and by the way, do you know anything about the Metaverse” or “Do you know anything about NFTs or Web 3 stuff?” And the Web 3 people were like, “Hey, we have all these digital communities and they’re really starting to come together, and we want to start doing events in October and November. We think that it’s going to be a great time to gather, and we’ve never gathered before. So we have no rituals. How do we do that?” We don’t know how to talk to Web 2 brands. We don’t know what their interests are. And right now we feel like they’re opposed to us, but they have all of the stories that we want to talk about, right? They own all the characters. Can you help us bridge these gaps?”
They have all the validation, right? They’re Sotheby’s, they’re Christie’s, they’re Nike, they’re all these different brands, right? And I started listening to both of these sides and I realized that I, as a creative person, was very good at listening to disparate groups of geniuses and connecting them around their shared centralized vision. But that the problems that were happening in this space of innovation were greater than what I could accomplish with my intellect alone or my creative passion alone, and I didn’t want to start just an agency. So I started calling, my best friends that were experts in fields and telling them about what I was seeing. And Harry and I were one of the first conversations.
But I’ll tell you, a couple of the others are other partners who do art or work at huge agencies or do consulting on big innovation projects. And I would say things like, “I’m noticing this problem over here, and you’re really good at this thing. Do you know about this problem? And they’re like, “No, I don’t have anything about it. I said, I don’t have time for cryptocurrencies and monkey JPEGs and stuff like that”. And then we’d talk two or three times and I’d be like, “This is why I think it’s more important.” And then they would be like, “No. I’m fully vested. This is really insane. I hadn’t thought about this stuff. I can’t stop thinking about it now.” It happens all the time.
And for Harry and I, we met at a dog run in 2006 and we both shared a passion for food. And we both came towards this web three space with that passion at like the forefront of what we were doing. And for me, I was deeply immersed at this point in a bunch of very wealthy young artists trying to define new versions of intention. Why is my art and its intention in this digital format valuable? And I saw a need to define for these people what quality food was like also. And how to share a table, and how to create a ritual of gathering around a table that was more than just the consumption of luxury goods, steak, fancy cheeses, wines, liquors, but the preparation of the meal, the preparation of the ingredients before they came to the table.
And I reached out to Harry to say, I think that there’s a moment here where we can use luxury goods to teach this class of people, this nouveau riche group, whatever you want to identify. This Web3 audience, these first adopters, about the intention behind quality foods.
And Harry, he’s going to tell you about his Web3 journey, but he was coming at it from a different journey, a different perspective, but same kind of thing. Like how do I get the farmers a larger share of acknowledgement? How do I get the slaughterhouses, the butcher shops, to be able to be part of this journey of the meat product in the same way that the farm to table movement does it with vegetables, and what can we bring on chain? And again, what started as a creative conversation about two people that were passionate about food and were looking to apply this innovation to that thing, became multiple businesses and multiple streams of consulting. Because people like us needed the knowledge that we were diving deep into and could hold in our hands.
Rich: Awesome. And it brings up a lot of questions. But before I get to any of those, Harry, I’d love to hear your Web3 journey as well.
Harry: Sure. So my Web3 journey started as a joke almost. When everybody went crazy about people’s $69 million NFT, I – along with many people – was like, that’s ridiculous. It makes no sense. Why would you buy something that you can just copy past, and then have the thing for $69 million? It didn’t make any sense to me.
And so having been in the food world for many years and done a lot of work around sustainability and around explaining to people and sort of the supply chain and being able to connect people both from, here’s the farmer all the way through the chain to the person that is selling you the meat and handing it to you over a counter. I jokingly started calling people up and talking to people when I would have conversations with them at that time and saying, Let’s do NFT meat. Let’s make an NFT of a pig or of a pork chop. And then, alright, NFT collector guy, you have to buy the NFT of the pork chop. And I also am going to give you a frozen pork chop. And so if you’re speculating on it, what do you do? Do you eat the pork chop or do you have to save it in the freezer so that when you transfer the NFT to someone else’s wallet, you’ve got to find them and hand them the actual porkchop? And it started just as like a gap. I was like, what if we did this? This would be such a silly like art project and it would thumb my nose at this, ridiculousness that I was seeing happening in the world where people are paying millions of dollars for a bunch of ones.
Then I connected with an old friend who was very deep into sort of the DJ side of cryptocurrency and crypto trading, who really opened my eyes and explained to me the use cases for the blockchain. And that is where my sort of brain exploded. And I started thinking about it all the time and I reconnected with Michael and started talking about this stuff. Because I came to understand that what the blockchain represents is like the data in a public space. And so it really got me thinking a lot about how can we use the data for things, and not just transferring pictures back and forth, but for that supply chain and for understanding where your stuff is coming from.
Then ABS got hacked, the second largest meat producer in the world. And they have, and all these big meat companies have because of regulations both in the United States and in other places, very complicated internal systems of data management around animal processing. They need to know how it’s coming in, and the temperature logs for the meat, and for the refrigerators, and safety logs, and all these things that they have developed internal systems for. Because of what the government regulation says needs to be available at a moment of audit, we as consumers have no access to any of that data because it is in their best interest to hide all of that. And they own all of that data. But JBS got hacked and held hostage for millions of dollars, and it meant that they couldn’t slaughter a single animal for a week.
And I started thinking, what if that was all in the blockchain? What if all of that information and data was public? Not that most consumers are going to go and look at what freezer number 472 what temperature it was at eight o’clock this morning. But if all of it was public, it never could have been hacked, and it never could have been weaponized against the food supply, and it could never have been leveraged against the company. So that got me thinking about what can we do with this, and how can we take this information and start to really use it for good and to really democratize that data access.
Michael: And I’m just going to flip this to you, Rich, real quick. To put a point on what Harry said. I knew the people, we worked with people. I’m not saying I’m friends or close with any of these people, but we worked with the people who bought the Beeple piece for $69 million, and we knew a lot of the people that were talking to both Beeple as the artist to describe the value of his art. Christie’s is the house that sold it, I believe. The people on Clubhouse that were explaining to other collectors why it was going to be worth this money and why digital assets like this piece were more valuable as a thing and should be considered an asset and not just a novelty. Even if somebody can ‘right click, save as’, because that wasn’t the point. Authenticity was the purpose, and we were creating digital authenticity. And that idea of authenticity drips throughout all of these things.
Harry’s talking about just authentically put the data on the thing so everybody can see it all the time. Because what do you care, right? If you have to do it anyways, you might as well just put it up there. And if everybody makes mistakes, everybody will see the mistakes they make. And if us as a civilization can learn from that authentic display of data, right? How do we learn that? How do we know what we should expect? How do we then filter this?
And my ease of filtration is always to do the most intentional and exceptional version of the thing. To create the preeminent luxury good, or at least the filtering of how to create that luxury good. So you have a North star for how to say, well, if we’re going to collect data about the slaughter of animals, should we start with the genetic breed? And then how data should we take on the breed? And then if we go from the breed to the farm, how much location information should we have? And how many satellite images should be incorporated into each individual animal’s thing? And should we be tracking them? And what happened from that to the slaughterhouse? And how they were transported and how the meat was handled from there to the butcher, and how the butcher handled it until it got to the table. And is that table handled by a chef? Well, cool. We can tell you to how to grade steakhouses if you want, on that same chain of data. Because that’s what it takes to go from farm to table. And if intention can add sustainability or value anywhere along that chain, we want to teach people to look for it. Because we believe that data should be free and available to everybody, and that would raise the value of all of those executions. And if it makes meat more expensive and people eat less, maybe that should be the point.
Harry: And then the other piece too, I think is that there’s also been a lot of talk around it, certainly in the art NFT community around the creator credit. Right? And so that’s another big thing that I saw. Yeah, my community and my art community friends were saying, “Finally, as a young artist, if I sell a piece for $100 and in 10 years it sells for $100,000, I don’t a penny of that. But it was because of all the work I did over 10 years to make my art more valuable.” And so that piece of it as well, I think, has a place in the food world because by and large, we don’t pay down the chain very much money, right? Most of the profit in food is made by the retailer at that final transaction between the retailer and the [inaudible]. Everybody else down the chain is actually really squeezed very thin and on razor thin margins.
And so if there is also a way, by using this transparency and using this data integrity, to help everybody in the chain get paid really up to what their value is within that supply chain, I think there’s really a lot of positivity that can come from that.
Rich: One theme that I’m hearing from both of you is the idea almost that sunlight is the best disinfectant. That if we make this data available for the average person, if they wanted to go in and do this, that there’s going to be obviously more transparency. But also perhaps more honesty or at least more checks in the system, so there’s a little bit more balance. At least that’s the hope of part of this.
Michael: And I think the goal of a project like House of Attention, is to find a passionate audience of first adopters that want to be part of that process of taking innovation and attaching it to their passion. So food lovers going through and saying, “I want to know what the best meat in the world is”, and “I’d like to learn about the process of getting the best meat in the world and what it takes to pick the right animals and to grow them in areas, and it’s got to be sustainable because it’s meat.” So if sustainability isn’t foundational to all this stuff, it’s just all tossed out of the thing. And I’m not trying to make it just fancy for the sake of it being fancy. I want it to be the best. So what does that mean? Does that mean that a famous chef says that it’s really great? Does it mean it has a lot of beta-carotene because it eats fields of clover versus fields of grass? I don’t know that shit. I’m just making stuff up, literally as we’re talking.
But Harry’s a really knowledgeable person. We’ve spoken to a lot of partners, and some of that stuff is based off of real thinking. But again, it’s about creating that chain of intention so that the sunlight shows all of that work that’s being done, and people as a consumer can have enough knowledge and enough intention with their buying power to say, “I only select animals that are grown at facilities that Pasteur raise them.” And that means that this chain of the data has to have all of these numbers over a hundred or whatever tis. But I know literacy enough to know that when I’m buying my meat, if this doesn’t check it over a hundred, if this doesn’t meet the things that I believe are up to my family’s quality level or whatever. And that knowledge needs to be established somewhere and trickle down into the lay language of every product over a period of time.
Again, Smithfield or someplace that processes millions of pounds of meat a day, maybe can’t implement that level of change right now. But somebody who does 10 head of cattle, they might be able to take all that data that Harry’s talking about and process it. Or if somebody does five concerts and a hundred thousand downloads, versus 200 concerts a year, 500 performances and 10, it’s just a scale thing so that you can get to that kind of intentional feedback loop on that process.
Rich: So I definitely want to dig more into your carnivore NFTs for sure, but I want to take a step back. And some of what you talked about was connecting these Web2 and Web3 companies. You’ve obviously gone through this process a few times. How do you explain or convince a Web2 mindset that Web3 is worth paying attention to?
Michael: So Web3 technology is designed to create decentralized access to things and decentralized control. And that is how fandom and how passionate audiences interact with their fandom or passion. In general, whether that be a centralized IP like Star Wars or a famous chef or a sporting franchise like the English Premier League or something, people care about this thing that they decide to self-identify around it. And that centralized IP in the Web2 brand case, whether it be literally the English Premier League or another sporting league, or a band, you have a centralized thing. But once that thing becomes distributed, they put out an album, the game starts, individuals start to gather around that process in their own way. They’re on Reddit, they’re on Twitter, they’re over here, they’re texting with their friends. All of that stuff starts to form this decentralized fan and user experience. And what we as House of Attention say is, if you’re making something for people who are passionate, if your brand identifies with a passionate thing, right? I make the best whiskey in the world, or I make clothing and I want to identify this clothing with this music. We say you have to make something of huge value for that audience. And then the goal is to teach that audience why it’s valuable to them through the intention that we’re talking about.
We made this new whiskey and it’s a different version of Whiskey X because the barrels were brought from this farm that had a lightning strike, and all of these trees were hit by the lightning. I don’t know, you see what I’m saying. Again, it’s a story. Somebody who makes barrels was like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I made barrels out of a lightning strike?” And somebody was like, “Shit, yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” And then they did the right stuff all the way along the thing, and they picked up all the data that we’re talking about. And then they can teach their audience why they did this. “Hey, if you like whiskey, this is a really interesting thing. Let me educate you about it and why you, if you try it, you should buy some.” That bottle of whiskey is no longer just booze on a shelf. It is a key to a story and to an experience. Something that they learned, something they tried, a moment that happened in real life. Lightning struck a tree, and a bunch of people were like, “Damn, that’s cool. Let’s make whiskey out of it.” And then they went and did it. And then I bought it, and now it’s on the shelf, and you and I can talk about it, right? It’s way different than it just being Jim Beam.
Rich: Absolutely. And that’s a great point, because for years I’ve been telling people it’s you can go to the jeweler at the mall and get something for your significant other, and that’s the end of it. Or you can go to that local artisan and get something that has a story where the person is explaining why they made that. And when you give that gift, you also give the story, which makes that jewelry mean so much more. And what you’re saying, if I’m understanding you correctly, is the blockchain and NFTs actually allow you to almost make sure that story is true. Like here is proof of this story. There really was a lightning bolt, or I really was influenced by butterflies when I made this piece of jewelry.
Michael: Or whatever that ephemeral thing is can now be codified. Whether it have to be validation of real things or just validation of emotional things, right? Like the whole idea of an NFT being a digital verification of something ephemeral to me was the most at power, whether it be a monkey jpeg or a link to a monkey jpeg. Which is what most of those things were, right? They weren’t inherent images files built into the contract. It was a contract that said, “Hey, this data’s over here if you need to go get it, and this is just how the contract’s going to read the if/then statements.
To me, that was pretty awesome. And we started doing very ephemeral things, right? We made an NFT photo booth, and a JPEG should be enough to prove that it’s a memory, right? But we all know you can change a JPEG to take people in, put them out. You make me look like a lizard or something like that, right? So the NFT was there to be like, yeah, this photo really happened. We’re really at this party, and now it’s on the blockchain. And you might not know what that means, but if you do, cool. If you don’t, how’s a learning moment? You can now learn about Web3 and why an NFT is this authenticity layer and how it proved that I was actually there in an unequivocal way, so I can take this ephemeral, fragile memory that I have as a human of something that could have been life changing. A once in a lifetime moment.
We were at the Super Bowl, and it was amazing and blah, blah, blah. And it was 68 degrees, and I was at this exact location, and these are the stars that were over me according to NASA at that moment, and all of the other shit that we decide is very valuable for you to ground yourself right there in that thing. It could also be a digital hat that has like your favorite team’s logo on it that you put into your game, and then you want to just take it and put it into another game. I’m not going to tell you that either of those two things are important, but once you know what it does, you can decide to put whatever the hell is important inside that thing. Whether it be validation of a chain of authenticity, like we’re talking about with food and with craftsmanship, or the feelings that we’re talking about in a, in an ultra-ephemeral way. Or just proving that I actually exist mathematically.
Rich: All right. Harry, you referenced something you called ‘dGen’. Can you give me a definition of that?
Harry: Sure. So you know there are now hundreds if not thousands of cryptocurrency, tokens, coins that do a lot of different things, and some of them are very specific. And some of them are used in video games and some of them are not. And some of them are used for contracts on specific blockchains, and that’s sort of how you pay for things. And when I use the word ‘dGen’, I’m sort of referring writ large to a group of people who essentially are like mini George Soros, right? They’re making their money on currency trading, essentially. And they are trading those currencies around and using them within the ecosystem for different things. Either voting on provisions within say Dows, a decentralized, autonomous organization. Which is sort of a way for companies to operate in a theoretically egalitarian way based on the people that hold the tokens having a certain amount of votes based on different things that the company could do, either with its money or its technology.
Michael: We have three version of direct democracy, right? So it’s a one token, one vote policy. And you know that’s how they represent their decision-making process.
Harry: But the idea being that there is now a – I mean it depends on your definition of size. Some would say large, some would say small – group of people who have made a lot of money. And money can mean different things, whether that’s in Bitcoin or Ethereum or Shiba Inu or whatever, or in dollars made a lot of. Simply by trading these things around. You buy a coin low, it goes up, you trade it on. Similar to the stock market, similar to currency trading as it exists in the outside world.
But those people, because they have made capital and in a sort of new kind of created economy, have what I consider something to be an outsize influence on the way these things work. In the same way that somebody dumping a whole bunch out Yen of their portfolio or dumping a whole bunch of stocks outta their portfolio, there’s all kinds of ways to play the game to increase your revenue, but you’re not actually creating anything and you’re not actually producing anything. And you’re not actually selling.
Michael Cirino and Harry Rosenblum are part of the creative team behind House of Attention, where they’re taking an innovative approach to Web3, NFTs, and immersive experiences, including their Japanese beef membership, St3eak.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.