It was the middle of the night in Australia when Betty’s life changed forever.
‘It didn’t feel real because we were so tired and it was two in the morning,’ she says of the moment the first Deadfellaz entered the world. ‘Just watching it sell out before my eyes in a matter of minutes, it was so wild.’
Working alongside her husband Psych, Betty helms one of the most successful NFT projects of the nascent digital artwork space. Currently the 52nd most valuable NFT collection in terms of market cap ($38 million, for what it’s worth,) Deadfellaz has taken the metaverse by storm.
The collection has got some seriously high profile fans, not least in the world of sports, where the likes of NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. are among those to have displayed their ‘fella’ as their profile picture on Twitter and Instagram. Frodo Baggins himself, Elijah Wood, is also known to hold a number of fellaz.
Similarly to well-known NFT projects like Bored Ape, the slime-green zombies that make up the Deadfellaz collection are instantly recognisable, yet totally unique, randomly generated from 400 individual traits drawn by Psych.
Betty says she and her husband considered a range of influences when creating the tokens’ traits, from 90s anime to the Gorillaz to Bimini Bon Boulash. Deliberately genderless, owners are encouraged to see whatever they want to see in their fellas, with the project’s creators dedicated to fostering a sense of inclusivity in their work.
‘It was really important for me to be representative of everyone,’ she says. ‘I felt really not represented at all in the collections that had come before us, so it was something that I wanted to challenge a little bit.’
‘I find people connect with it…it’s like emotional connections formed with jpegs, which sounds strange but [it] happens.’
It’s been less than six months since Deadfellaz first launched at 2.00am on the Sunshine Coast, but while Betty says the idea came to her ‘fully formed’ within about five minutes at the start of 2021, its astonishing success is the product of years of collaboration between the couple, who work ‘symbiotically’ to bring their visions to life.
No trend has divided the internet over the last year quite like NFTs. As high as the movement’s ceiling appears to be for its supporters, there are as many people who have written it off as a fad, a waste of money or a scam.
We’ll talk about those criticisms later. But whatever your thoughts on the value of the blockchain-based ownership model, what’s clear is that there are a lot of artists out there who have found an audience for their work, and crucially a viable financial path to continue creating that simply doesn’t exist in the traditional art world.
Like so many creatives and artists, Betty and Psych were crushed by the pandemic and the subsequent global shutdown. Despite having been ‘at the top of their game’ producing work for ‘dream clients’, cancellations and seemingly endless uncertainty left them in a ‘really bad spot’ financially.
‘Before launching we had no money at all. Nothing,’ she tells UNILAD. ‘We lost so many contracts for large global events that had been cancelled because of Covid that we were banking on. Sometimes when you’re in the creative industry one contract is almost a year’s worth of work, so that had a huge effect on us.’
Betty says she was always confident that Deadfellaz would succeed. But the instant impact of the project’s launch was enough to give anyone whiplash.
‘The night we deployed I can remember I was walking around the grocery store, I had gone out to buy snacks to keep us awake, and I had coins in my hands, and that was all the money that I had,’ she recalls. ‘And then literally a few hours later it was like, more money than I had ever seen in my entire life. More than any of my family had ever seen in their entire lives.’
Within a notoriously volatile market, Deadfellaz has continued to grow in the five months since the launch. While writing this piece, the floor price (cheapest available) of the Deadfellaz increased from 2.8ETH (around £5,000) to 4.5ETH (around £8,500) with tokens exchanging hands for thousands every few minutes.
As parents to three daughters under the age of six, the success of Deadfellaz has given Betty and Psych the chance to ensure their family is ‘set for life.’ Just months after being evicted for the third time within a year, they now own their own house, something Betty says she never thought she’d achieve. She’s paid off her family’s debts, and been able to give her friends and siblings money.
‘My children are in a position where I feel like they’re secure,’ she says. ‘I could cry talking about that, because it’s the biggest thing in the world. My number one priority is them.’
But the impact of Deadfellaz success goes far beyond purely financial security. For Betty, it’s also setting an example to her kids that creative endeavours can succeed, even as the world seems set up for them to fail.
‘What’s driving me through any of the hard times that I feel is that we’re proving to our children that you can be creative and you can be valued for that,’ she says.
Most of the money the couple have made from selling NFTs goes straight back into the project. In Betty’s eyes, the Deadfellaz universe is limitless. Fully integrated with the emerging metaverse, Deadfellaz has expanded into virtually every form of culture you can name, from fashion to music and gaming. Betty says she believes the project can become a ‘future pillar of pop culture,’ and this world-building has already begun.
In October, the company launched ‘DeadZone13’ a metaverse platform that essentially provides a virtual hangout space for Deadfellaz holders, who are affectionately known as the ‘horde.’ On Halloween, DeadZone13 hosted live performances from the likes of Steve Aoki, while Betty and Psych also reached out to Pussy Riot to judge their ‘Songs of the Dead’ song contest, through which NFT community members were encouraged to submit tracks inspired by the Deadfellaz collection.
‘We drive all of the things that we’re expanding into, which is part of the power of it,’ Betty says. ‘You’re able to fund your own dream, you don’t have to go and get permission, you can have these visions and then backed by the community you can bring them to life.’
All this takes a lot of work, and with Betty and Psych on the other side of the world to many of their collaborators, the grind is 24 hours. Still breastfeeding her youngest, she says she’s had to relearn ‘what’s healthy and what’s not’ when it comes to work/life balance, with the whirlwind of the Deadfellaz project showing no signs of letting up.
‘To be honest I don’t think it still has sunk in, the gravity of what we’re doing, and how big it is,’ she says. ‘When you’re passionate about something it doesn’t feel like work, and it’s hard to switch off, it’s like when you’re a kid and you’re playing video games. It’s learning when to stop.’
Betty is quick to stress that her situation is similar to that of working mothers across the world, and says that much more needs to be done to create a more inclusive atmosphere for women and gender non-conforming people in the creative and tech sectors, as well as a greater focus on non-white, non-western participants.
‘There are issues, and depending on how you walk through life and what privileges you hold I think you have a very different experience,’ she says of the wider metaverse community.
She’s not afraid to call out the problems within the NFT space, be it representation or the questions over the negative environmental impact that comes with the energy required to mint tens of thousands of NFTs (Deadfellaz offsets its carbon emissions, which Betty says is ‘not perfect but it’s a solution for now.’)
The system has attracted its fair share of grifters, more interested in making a quick sell than finding a platform to connect with other creatives. Logan Paul, for instance, has sold clips from a YouTube video of himself unboxing Pokemon cards as NFTs for $20,000, while some genuine artists are seeing their own work sold as NFTs by total strangers claiming to be them.
Last month, Deadfellaz itself become a target of scammers, with the discord server used to make announcements about the project hacked by someone who posted a link in an attempt to con buyers into minting fake versions of the tokens.
But despite the potential pitfalls, the response to the Deadfellaz project and the community it has birthed has left Betty more excited than ever about the possibilities that NFTs and the wider metaverse could open up in the coming years for those who are genuinely committed to it.
It speaks volumes that we’re just regular people, we’re just normal people but we’re good at what we do and we’re passionate about what we do,’ she says. ‘I think it’s that hope that it holds for people, because all of a sudden it gives them the opportunity to break out of that rat race and connect based on joyous, silly things.’
‘I don’t think anyone will give you the same answer if you ask them what the metaverse is or what web3 is, because we’re building it…I guess we see as we go.’
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