What do you get when you mix a string of random Internet-famous celebrities—from Liam Payne of the dearly departed One Direction and the infamous Logan Paul, to the latest viral TikTok users and crypto artists—with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and put them all together in U.S. Bank Stadium? The result is VeeCon, the first ticketed NFT conference of its kind.
Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk (a co-founder of the restaurant reservation company Resy), also known as Gary Vee, is bringing his NFT fest to the Twin Cities on May 19 through May 22. The conference recently announced its lineup, which in addition to Paul and Payne includes actress Mila Kunis, Clerks director Kevin Smith, TikTok celebrity sisters Dixie and Charli D’Amelio, the digital artist known as Beeple who sold an NFT for $69 million, Andy Chorlian (self-described “NFT reply guy”), and dozens more.
NFTs are essentially units of data or pieces of digital content stored on the blockchain and purchasable with cryptocurrency (not without controversy for their possible environmental impact), that, according to Vaynerchuk, will become a part of our everyday lives in no sooner than 20 years. Your train tickets, your sporting tickets, your airplane tickets, even your profile pictures—soon enough all of these things will become NFTs.
Here’s the catch to attending VeeCon: a patron’s ticket into the NFT conference is one of Vaynerchuk’s own NFTs. Vaynerchuk released his NFT collection of 10,255 VeeFriends character tokens accessible through the cryptocurrency Ethereum in May 2021. According to Vaynerchuk, more than half of those NFTs sold for $2,000 at the time. Now, eight months later, owners of the VeeFriends NFTs are trading them on the secondary market for 130 ETH ($503,000) at the highest and 17.28 ETH ($65,800) at the lowest.
Those prosperous enough to have scored a VeeFriends NFT have also scored themselves a ticket to three years of VeeCons (the VeeFriends NFT functions as a ticket to Vaynerchuk’s conferences alongside other exclusive perks). Vaynerchuk expects that most of those 10,225 VeeFriends NFT holders will attend VeeCon 2022.
So why is Minneapolis ground zero for VeeCon? Vaynerchuk says he respects the business DNA of the city, and there’s “a lot of good entrepreneurial, creative spirit” here. Vaynerchuk is a minority owner of the Call of Duty esports league Minnesota Røkkr, which aided in his decision to host the conference here. He added that he’s a Vikings fan. Compared to other teams, “they don’t bother me,” he says. So there’s that.
Expect performances, fireside chats, keynotes, and a demonstration of NFT smart contract technology in action. Vaynerchuk has tweeted that he has plans to meet every attendee at the conference within the three days of it taking place.
When I met with Vaynerchuk over Zoom to talk about VeeCon and the future of NFTs, I asked him why he thinks NFTs will become a part of everyday life. His answer? It’s a better experience. “There’s not a reason it shouldn’t be,” Vaynerchuk tells me.
Take concert tickets, for example. Turning your Lizzo concert ticket into an NFT creates an opportunity for the venue, the performer, and the attendees, Vaynerchuk says, because that NFT concert ticket can become a collector’s item the attendee can sell, and the performer or the venue gets a royalty through that transaction.
After reading up on NFTs and how they play into our digital world, I like to think about them as an extension of collector’s items in a rapidly digital and social currency-driven world. Not everything that becomes an NFT will inherently increase in value, but artists, celebrities, and other notables can use NFTs to further interact with and profit from their fanbase, while fans have the bragging rights to say they own the NFT of a work by their favorite artist.
Many celebrities, including the performers on VeeCon’s lineup, have jumped on the NFT craze. Mila Kunis has her own cartoon that viewers can watch if they own one of her “Stoner Cat” NFTs. Reese Witherspoon became the recent subject of Twitter backlash after tweeting about cryptocurrency and digital identities. And Jimmy Fallon purchased an NFT in November of a cartoon ape for $225,000.
Vaynerchuk likens the current dawn of NFTs and “hysteria” around them to the dawn of the Internet when people were buying stocks for random websites like Pets.com and a bubble ensued. At first there was a bubble, but then investors realized the Internet was here to stay.
“NFTs are the Internet, and the Internet affected every part of everybody’s life. The sooner you got on it, the more value you could have extracted from it. I promise you,” he says, “way more people said the Internet was a fad than there are who say that NFTs are a fad, because people hadn’t even gotten comfortable with any level of technology back then.”