Ryan Carson Drops Insights and Alpha
PROOF Collective's COO reveals his new side project, discusses the future of PROOF, breaks down his portfolio allocation, shares his NFT wishlist, highlights an underrated artist, and more
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A Conversation with Ryan Carson
Ryan Carson is the Chief Operating Officer of PROOF Collective, a private members-only collective of 1,000 dedicated NFT collectors and artists.
Despite being a high-profile executive in the Web3 ecosystem, Ryan is a relatively new entrant. After selling his Web2 Ed-Tech company, Treehouse, at the end of 2021, Ryan was, in his words, “effectively retired.”
But, as you will discover in this interview, he is not the kind of person who lets the grass grow under his feet for very long.
Just a month after selling his company, Ryan joined PROOF Collective as COO. The PROOF Collective has been on an absolutely amazing run. After minting for 1 ETH back in December, the floor for the 1000 passes is 74.5 ETH as of this writing, and only 25 are listed.
Ryan joined me from his home office for a conversation. We discussed the long-term vision for PROOF, their upcoming PFP collection (Moonbirds), his routines, NFTs on his wishlist, an underrated artist he thinks deserves more attention, his favorite music, and the book he recommends to everyone.
Ryan also revealed, for the very first time, the details of his new side project, 1.21Gigawatts (or 121G). I am personally very excited about it, and I think many of you will be too. Read on to find out more.
There is a LOT packed into this interview, including some good alpha that you might miss if you read too quickly.
So take your time, settle in, and enjoy!
p.s. This interview is too long for most email providers. You can read the full interview in your browser here.
Monty: Can you tell me the behind-the-scenes story of your journey from moving from a career in Web2 to Web3?
Ryan Carson: I've been a CEO/founder for almost 18 years now and have started three companies. Those three companies were acquired. One of my first investors was Kevin Rose. I think 2006 was the first time we met. I was actually running conferences for web developers.
Essentially, I wanted to teach people web development because I felt that it truly empowers you. You can build wealth. You can launch companies. You can get into tech if you know how to code.
I didn't think you should have to get a computer science degree to do that, so we started teaching coding through these events and through these conferences, and Kevin was one of my speakers. We became friends.
Eventually, I decided, "You know what? The real way to teach coding is online.” I decided I wanted to unlock opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people by launching an online school that teaches computer science. So we launched Treehouse.
Treehouse just took off. Kevin approached me and said, "Hey, I want to invest in that," and I said, "Let's go." He was my first investor.
I ran Treehouse for 10 years and it was acquired last December. Throughout this whole time, Kevin was pinging me about Web3 and saying, "Hey, I just launched this podcast and you've got to listen."
When you're running a company, you're just so distracted. I had heard of Ethereum and I owned some Bitcoin but I was just busy. Then, finally, I paid attention to him. I was like, "Okay, fine. I'll listen to Modern Finance."
For context - when is this happening?
I think the first time I listened to Modern Finance — I need to check when he released the first episode because I don't want to get my facts wrong — but it was sometime in '20 or '21. It's all blurring together. [Editor’s note: It was March 2021]
He was explaining what an NFT was and I had to stop the car because I was like, "Holy shit, this is going to literally change the whole world."
The more I learned, the more my mind started going.
Then Treehouse was acquired in December . I effectively retired, and I texted Kevin, "Hey, man. I want in on this PROOF thing."
I minted the PROOF pass on whatever it was, December 12, last year. Wow, I can't believe this all happened so fast. I was just one of the members, in the Discord, hanging out. And I just became obsessed.
I'm a grown man here, staring at Discord all day and having fun. And my wife is like, "What are you doing all the time?" I'm like, "This is so much fun." Then, because Kevin and I are old friends, he started inviting me to hop on stage during our town halls and interview him and run things.
Eventually, I woke up one morning and I turned to my wife. "Oh my god, I think I want to join the team. What do you think?" She said, "It's all you talk about anyway. You might as well join the team."
I just texted Kevin, "Hey, man, do you need someone to run this thing? I'm an experienced operator. Let me be your COO."
Then, he called me: "Let's go."
That's amazing. You recently sent the following Tweet:
What is it about the company that's so fun?
It's like being in a center of a hurricane but it's a creative hurricane. Instead of destroying it creates.
I'm old enough to know that luck plays a big role in life, it really controls a lot of what happens to you. If you're lucky to be alive at the right moment, in the right industry, magic can happen and I've seen it.
I saw it happen with Web1, I saw it happen in Web2 and if you have the right idea, and you're a part of the right thing at the right time, then magic happens.
What's happening with PROOF is magic and it's because Web3 is still largely nascent. The majority of smart, educated adults I talk to have no idea about it and they don't know what NFTs are. But they're about to.
To join a team in which Kevin's leading, our Chief Product Officer is Justin Mezzell, an extremely experienced product and design person, and then me, as an experienced CEO and operator. Running this specific project, it's just the right thing at the right time. And the community inside the Discord is like none other.
It's just the most supportive, creative, thoughtful, energetic community I've ever been in. To be inside of something that you've been working hard and you believe in and is run by a good team, and all of sudden for everybody to notice, it's just fun. It's just a blast.
I think a lot of people missed the PROOF mint because they were thinking a little too small about Kevin's ambitions for the project, they were like, "Oh, it’s just a Discord group where you get occasional access to Kevin." And then it blew up once people realized that the ambitions were greater than that. And now, you're doing all these other things — you did the PROOF Grails release, you're doing the Moonbirds release and I'm sure this is just the beginning.
Can you tell me a little bit about the vision for PROOF? If your plans become reality, what will PROOF look like in 5, 10 years?
You bet. What we can say is that Moonbirds is the key to our up-and-coming project, codenamed Project Highrise.
We can't reveal too much other than that Project Highrise is our unique vision on the metaverse. We don't want to build something that's just the same old thing. We want to build something curated and special. Our mission is, number one, to build a community.
We started with this idea of let's build a 1,000-person community that's very tightly connected, that cares deeply about NFTs, and also includes the artists.
We have some of the biggest artists in the world in our Discord interacting with our collectors. So let’s build that foundation and then let's start dropping value and excitement into that community.
We started with Grails and that project began to show people the sort of fun things that we're going to do. I think once people realized, "Oh, my God, if you can get Larva Labs and Tyler Hobbs and Dmitri and Gary Vee and Alexis to participate in Grails Season One, just imagine what Grails Season Two will look like?" The vision is we're going to drop one to two Grails seasons per year.
So the more that the community developed, the more we realized we want to continue to provide value so we started talking about the metaverse. Our idea is to create a really, really special place where collectors would actually want to be. We don't mean in some sort of cheesy 3D pretend place where it feels empty and strange, and you're trying to walk around with WASD. That's not fun. So what can we do about that?
Also, what can we do about what's happening inside of Discord? It's confusing, it's dangerous, it's hard to understand, and yet people want to have conversations about collections, and they want those conversations to be intelligent, curated, and safe. That's all missing right now.
So we started talking about all that. That's actually why I signed on as COO, because Kevin and Justin shared with me their vision around this, and then it was like, "Okay, well, how do we get from here to there?"
We've got 1,000 members now, but with a floor of over 50 ETH now, it's completely inaccessible. Our feeling is, "Well, let's expand the tent and allow more people access."
How do we do that? Well, a PFP project would be a great way to start. How do we balance all the benefits we're giving PROOF Collective, and not water those down, while also will give new people access?
We realized a great PFP project that gives you access to the PROOF Discord but only certain token-gated channels was a good first step, because then the communities can rub shoulders.
We decided to go with Owls, because they're not gender-specific, they're not race-specific, they're wise, and they're cute.
So that's how it's developing now. We have so many plans. We're hoping that this is a 50-person enterprise as quickly as we can make it, and we're just all in.
Do you ever have doubts about all this, like, maybe this is just a massive bubble, maybe this is bad?
I think anyone who's honest with themselves says yes.
But I've seen this before, and I can pattern match now. I remember people saying, "Oh, my god, I can't believe, we're going to put our credit cards into a website." I've been there, and we think, "Gosh, can I get scammed? What is happening here?" Seeing all that happen and seeing assets move on-chain, I know it's inevitable now.
So, yes, I entertain the thought that this is a bubble, but intellectually, I say, “Of course, we're going to move all physical assets onto a digital ledger. Yes, of course, we're going to do that, and, of course, that ledger can't be owned by a company.”
People want to own digital assets, and it's human behavior to want to show them, so here we go.
I think we'll see ups and downs, but I'm a very long-term holder. Like everything I collect, I just hold. I think as long as folks are doing that, and this is not financial advice, but I really don't see how you can go wrong.
You mentioned the Owls, and how they're gender-neutral, race-neutral. You and Kevin and Justin are all white dudes and the crypto space in general, has this reputation for being very male, very bro-ey. How do you think about diversity as you build out PROOF and launch projects like Grails and Moonbirds?
We're talking about systems and structures that have been in place for thousands of years here. What we experienced in tech before Web3 was a result of those systems. They're deeply entrenched in society. The privilege that got me here is built on thousands of years of systematic actions. I want to acknowledge that, because this isn't a small surface problem.
Number one - we're proactively diversifying our team. We're hiring up new employees at PROOF and behind the scenes, we're being extremely proactive about recruiting folks that don't look like us. That's the first thing. We can't diversify Web3 if the teams themselves are not diverse.
Number two - Moonbirds. What we did for this project is we proactively reached out to advisors that don't look like us and paid them for their time. We're not asking for free advice or free work. We’re asking them, "What do you think we're missing with attributes? What do you think we're missing with references to culture? What are we not seeing?" We're going to allocate Moonbirds to those advisors from our treasury.
Those are two big things we're doing right - working to diversify the team and paying advisors to make sure that we're thinking about a lot of these things moving forward.
One of my favorite podcasts is Conversations with Tyler. It's hosted by the economist Tyler Cowen, and during many of those episodes, he asks his guests to describe their production function. In other words, what factors drive their success, and what's their secret sauce to accomplishing big things. I really like that question. I'm going to borrow it. What is the Ryan Carson production function?
I think it's building relationships. I just care deeply about people. I really enjoy building meaningful relationships that are actually real. I think that has really enabled me to have a lot of success. My mom had me read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People and it's really a bedrock of my entire life.
Do you have habits or routines that you rely on to stay focused and rejuvenated and excited about life?
I've been meditating for a while now. I've really struggled with being present. I've been practicing meditation. I'm a newbie. I've been doing it for about six months now and I'm using Headspace just as a place to start.
I'm finding that is very, very helpful.
You've led companies, you've been a CEO, and you've dealt with your fair share of criticism and scrutiny. Are there any lessons that you've learned or you take away from having been in the public spotlight and having your actions constantly observed and scrutinized?
Yes. I've got enough followers that I was actually afraid to be fully myself on Twitter for a long time. I'm fully doxxed, and as the CEO of Treehouse, I just felt very paranoid about saying the right thing and not upsetting anybody. After the company was acquired and I left, I was kind of bullied on Twitter a lot. It was a strange thing to see all these people that don't like some of the things I do and to constantly see what they're saying about me. I almost deleted my Twitter account. I'm very glad I didn't, but it was pretty painful.
So I just stopped using it for a while. Then when I joined PROOF, I thought, "You know what? I just want to be me, and so be it." I decided to block just a few folks that were particularly just terrible to me. I stopped seeing those tweets and I just started to let go and just say what I'm thinking and trying not to overthink it.
It's way more enjoyable now.
You come from ed-tech, you have kids yourself. What do you think today's kids should be learning about Web3 and what are you teaching in your own kids?
Oh my god. I've already set up my kids' wallets. I'm already encouraging them to buy things because I think it's just the foundation.
I think we're lucky to have kids right now when we can teach them these things. I'm teaching them how NFTs work, I'm teaching them about cryptocurrencies in the blockchain. I'm basically explaining, "This is how the world is going to work. Every asset in the whole world is going to move on-chain and your job is going to involve these things.” I'm letting them be my apprentices as we walk through this.
They of course think I'm crazy, but I'm like, "Trust me, I'm going to onboard you on this stuff so you don't feel like it's strange."
Are NFTs a thing in schools?
So my kids are 11 and 14, and gaming is all they care about right now. Gaming and Discord is their entire life and NFTs aren't really breaking into that age group yet, but just go a little bit older and I think they are.
My nephew is obsessed with NFTs. Like I think it's taken over his whole life. I think there's this slight gap where kids are kids and they have fun gaming and then all of a sudden kids realize they can make money and then the switch just goes “bing!”
My nephew was the type of person that would line up for Supreme drops and that culture, but he just made his first $3,000 flipping NFTs and now he just can't think about anything else. I don't know if that's good, but here we go.
Alright, let's talk about Moonbirds. The Moonbirds' Twitter account sent out some cryptic tweets over the past week. There's a golden door, a golden key, a coin, and a diamond and these graphics were all reminiscent of an old Gameboy or Nintendo 64 game. Can you give us any hints as to what these might mean?
Number one, that's Justin [Mezzell] having fun. He's just an amazing designer. He's a craftsperson. So at its foundation, it's Justin having fun.
We've said over and over again that Moonbirds are your key. If you nest your Moonbirds, something really good is going to happen. Trust the process.
We're not going to over-promise and underdeliver. I think it's just important for people to know that we're experienced operators. We've run companies with hundreds of employees. We've been in this game for a long time and our intention is to deliver tremendous value.
We are not messing around here, so stick with us and it's going to be a fun ride.
The upside of Moonbirds minting high [at 2.5 ETH] is that then PROOF has all this revenue to build a company for years to come.
Yes. We will have a war chest. I want to be clear, zero ETH is going to us as the founders. I have a salary and that's all I get. None of this is going to the team, it's all going to build the company.
You tweeted recently, "I'm launching a side project soon, I'm looking for a talented freelance designer." Can you share any more details about that?
Oh, you saw that?
That is the project I'm very excited about. What can I share? I want to make sure to do this right. You're the first person I would talk to this about, so give me a second…
I believe there is just so much upside in collecting NFTs for the long term. I really think we're at a unique moment in history where some of the most historic art in existence is being created and collected right now, and the majority of the world doesn't know about it. We haven't seen institutional money quite flood in yet. I have a unique position in the industry where I'm able to see a lot of things.
Do I tell you?
OK, I will.
I've decided the time is right to start a fund.
I just think it'll be really fun and special. I think now is the time to build a long-term-minded collector-oriented NFT fund. It's going to be called 1.21 Gigawatts, and it's going to be launching in May at 121G.fund. It will be an AngelList rolling fund.
I'm excited — you're the first person I've told about this.
Of course, this is fully blessed by Kevin and the team, so they're excited for me.
Wow, that’s amazing! Congrats Ryan. Purely an NFT fund, not crypto?
Pure NFT. It's just all I care about. I have deep, deep knowledge, and I think there's just tremendous upside.
I love it. Any idea at this point on the size of the fund?
I think it's going to need to be 100 million-plus. I could deploy 200 million right now. The faster we can raise the money the better, because these assets are going to go, and they're not going to come out of vaults for years and years and years. It's a very unique, special time to acquire and hold.
I really like what 6529 is doing. I think we need a couple more funds like that.
I feel nervous about saying all this because I haven't talked about it before!
Editor’s Note — Ryan followed up after the call with a few more details about his fund:
The fund is called 1.21 Gigawatts or 121G
The website will be at 121G.fund on or around May 2nd.
It will be an AngelList Rolling Fund.
Before May 2nd, if you want to chat about it with Ryan, you can DM him on Twitter. No promises that he will be able to answer, but he tries to read everything.
The tagline is “The NFT fund you wish you could go back in time and invest in”
Now let’s finish with some rapid-fire questions:
What are 3 NFTs that are currently in your wallet that you're planning to hold for the very, very long run?
Of course, PROOF. I love my PROOF passes. You’ll have to pry those out of my cold dead hands. I love my punk, I would love to own more punks. And I love my Protoglyph.
Ah, so you minted the Protoglyph!
Yes, I was lucky. Kevin didn't tell us who was who in the PROOF Grails project, and I just thought, "Gosh, this is so cool." I almost didn't mint it, and then my wife said, "It's beautiful, we should mint it," so I did and I'm just so happy.
What are 3 NFTS on your wishlist that you'd love to acquire at some point for you personally?
I would love a gorgeous Fidenza, number one.
I would just love a Drifter Shoots - Isaac Wright. There is a specific piece I have my eye on right now.
I guess my next choice would be an Autoglyph, they’re just gorgeous, they’re truly historical pieces.
Are there any under-the-radar artists or projects you'd like to shout out to bring some eyeballs to their work?
Gossamer AKA Grelysian.
I think people are sleeping on Gossamer. She's super talented, was the artist behind Woodies, she's dropping Tigerbob. She is just really talented and great. I think she's one that people are sleeping on that they won't be for long.
What does your crypto portfolio allocation look like? Percentage in NFTs vs. ETH vs. Bitcoin vs. other?
I would say a third of my entire net worth is in Web3. I actually want it to be more.
I'm 50/50 on cryptocurrencies versus NFTs, but the NFT portfolio's quickly overtaking my cryptocurrency portfolio, which is fun.
Have you had any tension or conflicts with your friends or family over your decision to go big into NFT or crypto?
No, not my family, my family's great. They just love me. They're, like, "Ryan, we love you, whatever you do we support you."
But I've had some uncomfortable conversations with people that live in my town. They're, like, "Oh, you do NFTs? Those are ruining the environment, right?" It's, like, "Oh, my god. Here we go. Do you even know what ‘proof of work’ is versus ‘proof of stake?’"
"No, I don't know what that means."
"Well, how do we have this conversation, then?"
A lot of people on Twitter, as you know, hate NFTs and think they're the devil.
I'm kind of done having that conversation because it's like arguing with people about whether FTP was good back in '97. What is the point of arguing about this tech?
If you had to articulate a mantra for 2022, what would it be?
Is there any music you're loving right now?
I'm just an old-school Frank Sinatra fan. I just love it and listen to that all day.
Is there a book or books you often gift or recommend?
How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Everyone should read it.
What is your biggest NFT or crypto regret?
Oh, god. Kevin [Rose] told me about Ringers back when it dropped. He told me about Fidenza. I just knew about all of it and for some bonkers reasons, I didn't do anything about it.
I know. Just, "Here you go, here's all the alpha you could ever dream of."
This is the FOMO that comes with this space. No matter how well you do, you're like, "Wow, how did I miss that?" The Azuki drop that just happened is just painful. I don't own any Azuki, because I just thought, "I don't know. It's just another thing.” Whoops.
What's something funny or remarkable that your kid or kids have done or said recently that comes to mind?
Oh my gosh. So many hilarious things. My 11-year-old is telling all his friends that “my dad's job is a professional Discord moderator."
And I'm like, "Oh my god, that's technically correct."
Well, you are the first professional Discord moderator I’ve ever interviewed, so that’s pretty cool. Seriously though Ryan - thank you so much for this interview. This was really fun. I will post all the links for everyone.
You can follow Ryan and his work in the following places:
And keep your eyes out for more news about Ryan’s forthcoming NFT Fund: 1.21Gigawatts AKA 121G. It is slated to launch in May at which point there will be more information at 121G.fund.
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