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ANNA: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Anna Foley.
I want to tell you about an email I got a few months ago. It immediately caught my eye. It was marked “urgent.”
The subject line read, “Please help,”
But what really made me enamored with this email was the first line. It read: “I am a huge Justin Bieber fan”
GABBY: I follow Justin Bieber. I’ve followed him since I was 13 years old. He was like, one of my first concerts. Um, so I—
ANNA: Okay, so yeah, big fan, yeah. [laughs]
GABBY: Yes, huge fan. I know a lot about him.
ANNA: This is Gabby. She’s 24 years old now, lives in California, works in advertising. Obviously, she is a Belieber.
And at the end of 2021, Gabby saw that Justin Bieber was a part of a brand new project. He was diving headfirst into a part of the tech world that I had tried my very best to avoid learning about. Justin Bieber was helping to launch a collection of NFTs.
GABBY: Those NFTS would be called inBetweeners.
ANNA: And like, can you describe what the NFT collection that he made looked like?
GABBY: Yeah. So, they’re basically a bunch of bears.
GABBY: Like, cute teddy bears.
I’m gonna be honest here, I truly have never seen the point of NFTs and looking at these bears, which are officially called inBetweeners, I feel that so intensely. It’s just hard to take them seriously
They're these portraits of bears that to me kinda look like cartoon Beanie Babies, each with their own little personality.
Most of them share a lot of the same features — like the same black button nose, or cute upturned smile — but some of the bears look totally unique. There’s one that’s decorated like a gingerbread bear with a big bite taken out of its ear; another one looks just like the Pink Panther.
And they all come from the mind of this artist that Justin Bieber is friends with, this man named Gianpiero. And Gabby loved the look of these bears.
GABBY: For me, I—when I was little, I had this Winnie the Pooh bear that I ‘d carry around everywhere. So, I felt [laughs] like it did resonate with me.
Gianpiero designed 10,777 of these inBetweener bears. Which, I was like, “Woah, that is so much work!” Uh, turns out, that’s not actually the case — most of the bears are computer generated.
That did not matter to Gabby. She was all in.
And she knew the risks. She knew that she could lose money — the NFT market is super volatile — but for her, this was a bet worth taking.
Gabby bought three bears. They were about $900 dollars each (she paid using the crypto currency Etherum).
And when you buy a bear, it’s a blind process. You don’t actually get to see what your bear looks like until you’ve already paid for it. it goes straight to your crypto wallet. And when Gabby opened her wallet, she immediately noticed something. Draped around the neck of one of her very own NFT bears was the incredibly rare rainbow chain.
Gabby could not believe her luck.
GABBY: Like only 0.6% of bears in that collection had a rainbow chain.
ANNA: Oh, gotcha.
GABBY: So, that really made my bear a little bit rarer.
ANNA: Gabby was riding the high of her incredibly rare bear. She was posting about it on Discord, where all of the other bear owners hang out, and it was there that she got this message with a link in it.
Gabby was pretty new to Discord, but she had heard that sometimes the creators of an NFT project will send NFTs for free to people on Discord if your account is confirmed. When she’s looking at this DM she’s like, “Maybe this is one of those opportunities.” And so, she wanted to move quickly.
GABBY: So I clicked on it. It took me this link to connect my wallet. And it had me enter my password, which I did, [ANNA: Yeah.] which is normal. [ANNA: Uh-huh.] But then, it had me enter my seed phrase.
A seed phrase is supposed to be like, your deepest, darkest crypto secret. It’s a long list of completely random words in a nonsensical order. It’s basically one of those “write it down with pen and paper and put it in a safe” type passwords. But Gabby filled it in.
GABBY: I clicked submit, and the screen was like, kind of crashing out. [ANNA: Mm-hmm.] And like, they were just gone.
ANNA: Oh, no.
GABY: And I was like, wait, what? [laughs]
ANNA: How did you feel when you saw that?
GABBY: I just like, was such in shock. [ANNA: Mm-hmm.] Like, I didn't think it was true. Like I thought—
ANNA: This must be a mistake.
It was not a mistake. She’d been phished.
The hacker had emptied her crypto wallet. Everything was gone, including the bears. And because the blockchain records every transaction publically, she could go onto this NFT marketplace — it’s called OpenSea — and view exactly what had happened to her bears. Just days after she was hacked, the hacker had sold her 900-dollar bears for close to $3,000 each. And then the next owner turned them around and sold them too.
GABBY: What really killed me was like, the next person sold two of my, um, bears for 3.25 Ethereum each. So—
GABBY: … that was about $12,000 each at the time.
ANNA: Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
GABBY: So I would have had $24,000. [ANNA laughs] Yeah, like, within like, days, I could have that, you know?
GABBY: Ah, man. [laughs]
ANNA: Yeah, that’s sad.
GABBY: I’m getting like, flashbacks.
ANNA: [laughs] I can imagine.
If I had wondered what the point of NFTs were, $24,000 in just a few days was a pretty good answer.
And that was what was so devastating to me about Gabby’s story. It was enough money to help her get closer to her biggest dream — to leave California and go back home to her family in Hawaii.
GABBY: Moving to California, I did realize that I do appreciate Hawaii a lot more than I did when I was growing up.
GABBY: I felt like sometimes I was in a bubble because I was on the island and it was so small. But you know, looking back and like, every time I visit home, I just try to catch a sunrise or a sunset every day. And yeah just enjoy and appreciate being outside. And… I just always have the sense of like, home is always gonna be home.
Moving home should not be as impossible as it feels.
Like, for me, I’m from North Carolina, and I constantly think about moving back there. I spent a month in 2020 in this place in the mountains called Asheville, and it was painfully easy to imagine myself living there. Driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains with my windows down, belting out Dolly Parton's "Tennessee Mountain Home" — to my own little bungalow, which, in this fantasy, is painted marigold yellow; it’s got a woodburning stove inside, it’s just like the one my grandparents have.
The housing market, inflation — I am a millennial after all — it feels like there’s a million and one reasons why this dream of mine is never gonna happen. But when I was talking to Gabby, I found myself genuinely thinking — should I be getting into NFTs?
Had I just been too stuck up to see the real promise there?
I have to admit, I was curious.
Oh, and of course, I wanted to see if I could help Gabby’s rainbow chain bear back for her.
And so, that is how I found myself, oddly, at the very beginning of my very first Super Tech Support.
I’ve always wanted to play that music.
Okay first step: I wanted to try to talk to the hacker, like the person who robbed Gabby. And because of the way blockchain works, I could see exactly which account it was. But when I went to go click on their username, the hacker had already deleted their account. They were just gone.
So I was like ok, no big deal — my next step is I'll go to the Discord, like where actually Gabby got phished. Maybe there’s a clue there about how to fix this.
And it’s immediately so chaotic. There are so many channels. I’m getting bombarded with all of these messages from bots that are trying to sell me other NFTs.
And when I try to ask for help from someone in this Discord, I can’t! Because everybody has their DMs locked to protect themselves from phishing attacks.
I ended up hanging out on the Discord long enough to figure out who the mods are. And I sent them all messages not on Discord but on Twitter and Instagram where I know they will actually be able to see my messages. And after a few days, I was able to get one of them on the phone.
TOM: Hold on. I’m switching you over to my AirPods…
Which was super exciting — I felt like I was actually getting somewhere. But very quickly this mod was like, “Nobody has power to undo transactions on the blockchain, let alone me.” Like I cannot get the rainbow chain bear back for you. But right before I got off the phone with him, he did give me one last thing to try.
TOM: Maybe even reaching out to like, the inBetweeners team or something.
So, obviously, my next step, I reach out to Justin Bieber.
He did not get back to me.
But one of the founders of the collection did agree to talk.
ANNA: Hey, Reid.
REID MONCATA: Hey, everyone, how we doing?
ANNA: Good, how are you?
REID: Livin’ the dream.
This is Reid. He lives in LA. I talked to him from his apartment. He was wearing a baseball cap embroidered with the words, “This is not financial advice.”
And I don't know. I guess I assumed that anybody who would be involved with an NFT project at this high level was probably gonna be some silver spoon crypto bro. But that's not who Reid is at all. He grew up poor, and he never knew when he was gonna be able to stop worrying about money.
REID: I’ve been broke my entire life. In, in high school, you know, I made my money by
flipping sneakers and buying Supreme. And you flip it on eBay or Stockx.
ANNA: You’ve been doing this type of thing for a long time, like since high school.
REID: Yeah. When I was a freshman at Penn State, like, I got my student refund, and then that was the same time that I found Wall Street Bets on Reddit. And I, [laughs] and I lost all my student refund trading options. And that probably wasn’t the right idea, uh, but like, I learned.
After he left college, Reid turned his attention from stocks to NFTs. He got connected with Gianpiero through a mutual friend, and they started mapping out what launching an NFT collection might look like.
And then, one day, Gianpiero got a call from his old friend Justin Bieber. Justin wanted in; that call meant they’d hit the NFT jackpot.
REID: And I hear the voice of an angel in the distance as I’m chatting with people in the Discord. [ANNA: Uh-huh.] And I was like, oh my God. I like, I couldn’t believe it. And that was like, the glimmer of hope.
And from that moment on, everything kicks into high gear.
REID: We were running on like, 30—like, 30, 40 hours of no sleep.
ANNA: Oh my God.
REID: Uh, I maxed out my credit card to go to Italy to launch this project with Gianpiero. I emptied out all my savings.
ANNA: How did that not make you feel terrified the whole time?
REID: Oh no, and I was, I was sleep-deprived and out of my—and in a new country. We were like scrambling around and we accidentally kicked the router and the WiFi went down for like 10 minutes. But also, at the same time, it’s like, I, I live for that. Like, that’s like, that’s like—
ANNA: [laughs] We’re different types of people.
Reid and all the other founders are sprinting because now with Justin Bieber on their team they’re suddenly like, “Oh my god, this could be the next Bored Ape Yacht Club; which, if you’ve seen any NFT, it’s probably one of those.
But to be in that league, you can't just have some cartoons of bears or apes; projects like that also have all these extra perks and community spaces. In the NFT world that’s called "utility."
With the Bored Apes for example — you get access to this exclusive place on the metaverse that they call “the bathroom.” It’s a graffiti wall where you leave your own mark, at the rate of one pixel every fifteen minutes.
And so Reid and the other people who were making the inBetweeners were like, “We have to come up with some stuff like this.” The Discord — it’s actually one of the inBetweeners utilities. But they have bigger, more ambitious dreams. They want to have a real-life, owners-only pasta lounge in Los Angeles where bear owners can catch up over, I don’t know, like a plate of cacio e pepe.
So the inBetweeners collection drops in late December and it immediately sells out. By the time I talked to Reid, the project was already worth about $35 million, which is why I was thinking to myself, “Maybe they might be able to help Gabby out.” So I told Reid about what happened to her, about the rainbow chain bear.
ANNA: Um, which was really painful to watch.
REID: Yeah, it is, incredibly. It’s—’cause this happens, like, a lot. Like, I would say maybe more than a third of our holders are first-time NFT buyers. You know, we kind of, you know, brought all these newcomers in. And so, it does require a lot more hand-holding and education. Like—
ANNA: Yeah. Like, did you guys feel any responsibility in like, helping these people?
REID: Oh, yeah. You know, in order to go into our Discord, you have to read the rules. We say, “Only go to these official links. [ANNA: Mm-hmm.] Uh, we will never DM you asking for your seed phrase or anything. [ANNA: Mm-hmm.] Turn off your private DMs.” [ANNA: Mm-hmm.] Uh, you have to read this before you go into the Discord. These are the rules.
ANNA: Do you think there’s anything that can be done to make what happened to Gabby feel a little less awful?
REID: I’m gonna be honest, and like, I don’t know. And we can do our best in the Discord to tell everybody, but like, peop—as like, a—I think that this is more of a systemic thing than like, something that we can do. But also, I’m gonna take full responsibility, ‘cause it’s like, this is our NFT. But I can’t take responsibility for everything.
Hmm. Reid told me there was nothing to be done. I think the problem is actually that there's just way too many Gabbys out there now. Like, on the inBetweeners Discord, there’s a whole channel filled with people posting panicked messages about losing all of their bears or having their money stolen, begging for somebody to help.
And so for Reid, he didn't want to start offering restitution to just anyone who asked. I get it.
I just didn’t know what to do next in trying to get Gabby’s rainbow chain bear back for her. Like, there’s no authority above Reid, so how am I supposed to make this right?
I figured there’s only one person left I could talk to: the person who now owns the rainbow chain bear. But there was a problem with this plan. Although I could see the rainbow chain bear just sitting in some anonymous crypto wallet, I had no idea who owned it. And no way of getting in contact with them.
After the break, I call in the big guns.
ANNA: Welcome back to the show.
Okay. I want you to imagine one day, a priceless family heirloom goes missing. It’s like, I don't know. Your grandmother’s engagement ring.
And then, you get a tip that the heirloom is inside a safe deposit box at your local neighborhood bank. You even find out the exact number of the box. And you want to reach out to the person who owns that box to say like, “Hey, that heirloom, it belongs to me.”
But there's no way to do it!
The bank is definitely not going to pass your message along — after all, anonymity is kind of the whole point — and there's not some bank message board where you can post about it. You're just stuck.
That's basically the situation I was in. [MUSIC] I knew exactly which crypto wallet held the rainbow chain bear, but there was no way to get in contact with the owner of it.
And it was extremely frustrating.
But after doing some research, I realized I wasn’t the first one to have this problem. Like, a lot of folks in the crypto world need to get in contact with other people on the blockchain. And I discovered this one very elegant hack – one that a French crypto entrepreneur came up with – and I felt like it could work. But to do it, I would need help; I couldn’t do it alone.
ANNA: Alex, you're recording?
ALEX: [laughs] Yes, I'm recording. Hi, Anna. Hi, Anna Foley.
I quickly caught Alex up on the situation – the Super Tech Support I was working on. I showed him one of the inBetweener bears.
ANNA: And so, this is one of them.
ALEX: It looks like a purple bear wearing a vest and the sorting hat from Harry Potter. And it looks like it was drawn in Macromedia Flash in 2002.
ANNA: In 2002.
ALEX: And it sucks. Like—
ANNA: Oh, you don't like it. You don't like it at all.
ALEX: I want to see the value in these things as sort of unique, bespoke pieces of ephemera, or like, at least something of artistic merit. But why do NFTs have to be so fucking ugly?
ALEX: Aesthetically, they are the things [ANNA: Uh-huh.] that you get in the little plastic eggs at the grocery store for a quarter. (fades out) Like, to say nothing of the environmental cost of minting NFTs over and over again—
Alex’s opinions about what was good art or bad art aside — here's the workaround I wanted to try.
Just like email, you can send anybody you want an NFT, as long as you know their wallet address, which I knew in the case of the rainbow chain bear’s new owner.
And so, you can actually design that NFT to be like a calling card. Put your email address and a message saying you want to get in touch on it, and transfer it on the blockchain to someone’s account at no cost to them. So when it arrives in the person’s crypto wallet, they can read the message through this NFT, and know that you want to talk to them.
ALEX: So, people don’t have to pay for it. You can just gift it to them.
ANNA: Yeah. Yeah. You can just send them a little present for free…
ALEX: That’s very sweet.
ANNA: …as an NFT
The French crypto entrepreneur who told me about this plan had had it work for him personally, so I felt really hopeful about it. And he said to make your NFT calling card stand out, you should make it as visually fun and bright as possible. Basically make it as close to the inBetweeners’ style as you can.
And when he told me about that, immediately I thought of my friend Eileen. She’s an artist, and her work is very colorful and very joyful. She’s perfect for this.
But then, the more that I thought about it, I was like, “Okay, wait.” When I put Eileen’s art – the calling card that she designs – onto the blockchain, she is no longer the owner of it. And so like, if that calling card becomes strangely really valuable, and sells for a lot of money, Eileen wouldn’t be getting any of it. Money that could make a really big difference in her life. So, I decided against it, and I explained that to Alex.
ANNA: And like, that just felt really like, shitty. And I wanted to avoid that. Yeah.
ALEX: Right. Uh, the last thing you want to do is [laughs] pay an artist in exposure.
ANNA: Exactly. Exactly.
ALEX: So, I mean, it seems like you've got this all pretty down. Why do you need my help?
ANNA: Ok so I need to ask someone who like, honestly like, a couple thousand dollars, it’s still a lot of money, but it's not the most amount of money? They wouldn't lose sleep over it.
ALEX: Oh, you want to talk to some Richie Richington and ask them to—
ANNA: I want to, I want to, I want to talk to you, Alex.
ALEX: Okay, that makes me incredibly uncomfortable.
ANNA: It makes me really uncomfortable too. It makes me—I'm, I'm, I’m sweating right now telling you this.
ALEX: I mean... [laughs]
ANNA: I mean, okay, we- we like, just to say, we’ve never- I’ve never seen your bank account. I don’t know how much money you have. But Alex, like, you got a lot of synthesizers, man, and you know how expensive those are.
ALEX: I've only got like, nine.
ANNA: Only nine! Okay.
ANNA: Jesus Christ.
ALEX: [laughs] This sucks. You've put me in a real weird position here, Anna.
ANNA: But every—it's like, okay, for you, if you saw something that would like, drive up the value of your art, it'd be, uh, a curiosity to you, maybe more? Like, if you saw your art sell for $10,000, what, what would that make you feel?
ALEX: Well, I honestly have to say, and this is embarrassing, but I'm being honest, in spite of my distaste for NFTs, if I saw a piece of art I made end up selling for $10,000?
ALEX: I'd be like, “Fuck, I gotta mint more NFTs. I gotta draw some more stuff.”
ANNA: Ah. So, I might be pulling you down a rabbit hole, is what—
ALEX: Yeah, you might be taking me down a dark path. Ooh, this gives me a stomachache. I, I will do this. [laughs]
I was excited about this plan. Alex is a talented cartoonist. His doodles are weird and wonderful and I knew that with this assignment he was going to create something just perfect. But, I have to admit, there's one thing about it that kinda gave me a lot of dread.
Alex mentioned this, but l actually started to read more about the environmental cost of NFTs and crypto and the blockchain [MUSIC] It is just off the charts. The bigger the blockchain gets, the more power that it needs. And now it’s at the point where like, for example, Bitcoin uses more power than the entire country of Argentina. Like, if Bitcoin itself were a country, it would be ranked the 27th most energy-consuming country in the world.
Personally I don’t want to be a citizen of that country. I just want Gabby to get her rainbow chain bear back! But, at this point, really the only choice was to become a part of the problem. Specifically, to send these NFTs, I was gonna have to pay what they call "gas fees." Which I told Alex about.
ALEX: Oh man there’s a lot that I don’t know about the NFT marketplace! What the hell is a gas fee?
ANNA: You have to pay for the power to get your NFT somewhere because nobody is buying it.
ALEX: Where do the gas fees go? Are they offsetting the carbon output of these things or does it just go in the pockets of John Schmedrick?
ANNA: No it feeds- I am feeding the carbon footprint of this thing because I am like entering the blockchain and I need to pay to keep it running.
ALEX: So they’re not using the gas fees to plant fucking trees or whatever
ANNA: No. no
ALEX: I don't know I was hopeful.
ANNA: That's very sweet. I wasn’t expecting you to be so altruistic.
We decided to use this particular blockchain that was slightly more eco-friendly than Bitcoin or Ethereum. It’s called Polygon. And so, we quickly did the math, and Alex was actually onto something. It seemed like planting a tree would more than cover the impact of these NFTs that we were gonna create.
ALEX: I’ll go fucking plant a tree, wherever you want.
ANNA: You wanna go plant a tree?
ALEX: More than anything in my life.
ANNA: Hell yeah. That’d be so fun, um…
ALEX: What kind of tree do you wanna plant?
ANNA: Um, I’m a sucker for an oak. I love an oak. Um, I’m from the city of oaks.
ALEX: You’re really putting me in a lot of terrible positions with this one. You’re like, “Alex, we’re going to talk about how much money you have, and we’re also going to make you participate in a marketplace you find essentially corrupt.”
ANNA: I’m excited to see what you come up with, Alex.
The ground was still a little too frozen to plant a tree when Alex and I talked about it, so we made plans to plant a tree this spring. But in the meantime, Alex got to work on the NFT calling card. [MUSIC]
He spent all day, literally while we were in meetings, drawing an elaborate NFT. He ended up drawing this dude with blonde hair, flashing the biggest smile ever, just a huge set of teeth. Behind him, there was a fluorescent rainbow star. It was just pinnacle Goldman aesthetic.
So, I took Alex’s drawing, and I added a message to it. Said, “Hi my name’s Anna. I’m a reporter. I’d love to interview you about an NFT in your collection.” And I included my email.
ANNA: So I’m gonna hit “Create.” Oh, I'm gonna make an NFT. Weird. Okay.
I sent it off to the wallet that held Gabby's rainbow chain bear.
ANNA: Now it's time just to wait. Wow, I feel so powerful right now. [laughs] Um, this is stupid. I unfortunately understand why this is fun now. Okay. We'll wait and see.
I sent the NFT on a Friday afternoon, and I figured the person would see it right away and they would write me back over the weekend. But nothing came.
I waited and I waited. I started to get really in my own head.
Like, oh my god, what if the rainbow chain owner saw the NFT calling card and thought I was a hacker? That I was trying to steal their NFT? Should I just send another NFT calling card that’s like, “Do not worry, I am not a hacker. I just want to ask you a few questions.” And then, the more I thought about it, the more I was like, that’s kind of like the NFT equivalent of double texting. I don’t want to sound that desperate.
And so, I was just left staring at this person’s account, searching for clues, hoping for a change in something that was not changing. And obviously, there was nothing new.
Then I started reading back through the transaction history of the rainbow chain bear, and it was there that I noticed something – maybe something interesting?
The most recent thing to happen to the rainbow chain bear was not a sale – it was a transfer. One crypto wallet had sent it to another without any money changing hands. And I know enough about NFTs now to know that people don’t just give away super valuable bears for free. So I wondered if it was the same person behind both of these accounts, kind of like a checking and savings account. I started looking into the account that transferred the bear. I searched the username on Google, which led me to a Twitter account.
And when I opened Twitter, I saw that this person’s profile picture was the rainbow chain bear.
So, I tweeted at the account.
And they wrote me back.
JOEY: Hi, Anna.
ANNA: Hi, Joey, how you doing?
JOEY: I’m well, thank you. How are you?
ANNA: I’m good.
After all of this searching, I was finally face to face – or rather, screen to screen – with the owner of the rainbow chain bear. Otherwise known as Joey.
ANNA: How you doing?
JOEY: I'm well, thank you. Got a little bit of a busy day here. I'm actually down in Florida today, and heading back to North Carolina this afternoon.
Joey is 28, he lives in my beloved North Carolina, works at a software company.
He said he never saw the NFT calling card I sent. Actually, it just went to a folder that he doesn’t really check that often. But, he was happy to talk. He was perhaps the most eager out of anybody in this story to tell me about NFTs.
He’d really only gotten into them about six months ago, but has quickly become obsessed with them.
Because to Joey, every other type of wealth in the world can be faked. You can rent an expensive car and pretend it's yours, you can buy a luxury suit used. But you cannot fake it on the blockchain.
JOEY: Yeah. So, I think a social flex on society is how I would, uh, I would characterize it.
ANNA: Okay. Tell me more.
JOEY: So, you know, basically, you can look at it this way. Uh, what, what’s the point of a blue checkmark on Instagram? When I say societal flex, I mean when someone searches you on Instagram and sees you have a blue checkmark, you get instant credibility, right? There's the same sort of concept, like, if you were to search someone that owns a Bored Ape Yacht, which is the most famous NFT collection, you search that person, you instantly give credibility to that person. You instantly think they're very wealthy, um, you know, because who's dropping, uh, 300 grand on a, on a picture?
Joey’s always on the lookout to see what could become the next Bored Ape Yacht Club. And, that’s why he bought an inBetweener. He saw the potential of the project. Particularly the star power.
JOEY: So, you know, the way that I look at it is, here's Justin Bieber. And by the way, I'm not even necessarily a big Justin Bieber fan. I mean, I like him.
JOEY: But I'm not like a die-hard Bieber fan.
ANNA: Have you ever been to a concert?
JOEY: No, no. I've never—never been to a concert. But I- I appreciate the way that he is able to influence society. So although I’m not one of his die-hard fans, I know people who are, and I know what people would be willing to do to feel closer to Justin Bieber. So the way that I look at it is, here's a guy with 216 million Instagram followers—
It’s actually up to 225 million now. Which obviously, for Joey, is even better. It all helps this calculation that he made when he was deciding to buy a bear: one about supply and demand.
JOEY: There’s a regulated, defined supply, right? So this collection has 10,777 bears, right? I mean I can't—I don't even know what it is off the top of my head, 0.05% of his followers into this project, that's 10,777. I don’t know if my math works exactly there. But, you know, it doesn't take a lot to eat up that supply.
The rainbow chain bear itself – well, the rarity of that bear – made the promise of the project even sweeter to Joey.
JOEY: I saw it go up for sale for about three ETH. I'm like, “Oh, that looks—that seems like a pretty good deal.” Um, and, and—
ANNA: How much was that in US dollars at the time?
JOEY: At the time, that was probably, uh, about $10,000.
ANNA: Oh my God. [laughing] That's so much—I'm sorry. It's just so much money.
JOEY: Yeah, it, it, it might — it might have been more than that, actually. Very quickly, he drops it to 2.5. So now I'm like, hmm, should I start moving some funds over to my wallet to potentially make this purchase?
The price continues to drop. He’s sitting on the couch in his condo, and he puts a bid in.
JOEY: I, a thousand percent, was stressed. And then when I saw the green check mark and I got it, I went out to my girlfriend—I'm like, "I got it! I got it!", [laughing] like, you know? And that's a, that's a funny feeling, to, uh, to invest in something that makes you, uh, get those kind of butterflies.
At first, when Joey was telling me about his journey to bear ownership, I was like, oh god, there is no way I’m gonna get him to give up this thing. But, the more I talked to him, the more I started to wonder. Because Joey, while he had made a really calculated decision to buy one of these bears, that investment, right now, is not paying off in the way that he’d hoped. The value of the entire inBetweener collection has actually gone down over the last few months, not up. It hasn’t had the meteoric, ape-like success that Joey hoped for.
So, I decided to shoot my shot. I told Joey the story of Gabby and the rainbow chain bear.
ANNA: And, this is extremely awkward, but like, one of the inBetweeners that the hacker stole from her was the rainbow chain bear that you own.
JOEY: Oh, wow.
ANNA: I guess I'm curious how hearing that story makes you feel?
JOEY: Uh, so that makes me feel two ways, [ANNA: Uh-huh.] and I'll just be candid with you. And, um—
JOEY: Number one, obviously, I have empathy for the situation.
JOEY: And, uh, and it's, it's not something—and I, and I hate to hear that. The, the question is, where does the liability fall? Who does the liability fall on? It doesn't fall on me. I'll tell you that.
My hopes were maybe a little too optimistic. Joey paid real money for this bear. And I was asking him to just hand it back for something that wasn’t even his fault. Like, he shouldn’t lose money because somebody else got robbed – he wasn’t the one who had hacked Gabby’s wallet.
But, the more I talked to Joey, I started to get a clearer sense of who he was. He’s got real financial security — he owns his own condo — but, he's kinda thrilled by the risk of NFTs.
Which made me think – I might actually have a solution here.
What if I propose a trade to Joey. I'd ask him to trade the rainbow chain bear for some other NFT that I could prove to be just as good of an investment.
I asked him if I could formally pitch the idea.
ANNA: Could I present it to you in a couple of days, do you think?
He graciously agreed.
JOEY: Sure. Yeah, I'm—I'm open to that.
Ok I had my mission. I got to work.
I wanted to make an audio NFT (yes, mp3s can be NFTs). A one-time-only, exclusive Reply All Audio NFT.
Which…yeah, I know, us compared to a multimillion-dollar, Justin Bieber-backed venture, it’s a little too “David and Goliath.”
But, if you remember, David won. And the more time I spent on this idea, the more I realized it could work.
So I started by doing the same calculation that Joey told me about. I got into a room with Phia Bennin and Tim Howard to crunch the numbers about supply and demand.
TIM HOWARD: God, this—my, my brain can't handle this math at all. Um…
Joey had made this math seem effortless. For us, it was a little more belabored.
ANNA: So you're saying you would like, divide that by three, right? No. No.
ANNA: I don't know. I got a D in precalculus.
TIM: You could divide it by three, but it sounds bigger. Don't.
After several minutes of confusion, we finally arrived at the right numbers. We divided the number of Reply All Audio NFTs we were gonna make – one – by the number of listeners our episodes get – conservatively, we put that number at 700,000 – so we could get a percentage of how much of our listenership would need to take the bait.
We also decided to do the same calculation of Bieber’s fans to inBetweeners, just to compare.
And low and behold, Reply All’s percentage was honestly impressive. It would be very easy to eat up the supply of our NFT — so, compared to Justin Bieber’s 0.0048%, ours was…
PHIA BENNIN: 0.0004 percent.
ANNA: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, 0.0004 percent. Yeah.
PHIA: So like, it’s better—it's a better percentage.
If you’re like me, and numbers feel like an entirely foreign language, do not worry. All you need to know is that at this point on the math alone, it was looking like this would be a trade that Joey would take.
So the next step was to figure out — okay! What is this audio NFT actually gonna sound like?
And after a few days of throwing ideas around, we landed on something that felt pretty exciting. Me and Tim spent a day recording it, then I invited Alex into the studio to present it because it involves him.
ANNA: Hey, Alex.
ALEX: What's up, bud?
ANNA: You don't know why we're here.
ALEX: No, no clue.
ANNA: Um, well, I'm gonna tell you. So basically, we, we needed to make, uh, uh, an audio NFT.
ANNA: Um, and I spent a long time thinking about what I wanted, I wanted to make. And I wanted to do something that like, captured how not only I was feeling about NFTs, which was like, complicated, but also your’s, Alex’s. Like I dragged you into this story to help me, you had to make NFTs and you have a lot of strong feelings about them and what they’re doing to the world. And so what i ended up doing is I ended up doing like my best Alex Goldman character and I ended up doing my own take on “The Wolf is at the Door.”
ALEX: Oh, damn!
ANNA: Yeah, um, can—so, and just to remind people, "The Wolf is at the Door" is a song that you wrote for the show about your feelings towards climate change.
ALEX: Dude, what — did you read that fucking U.N. report? We're so fucked.
ANNA: What did the U.N. report say?
ALEX: It was like, it was like, “We now can no longer stave off climate catastrophe.”
ALEX: “We have a narrow window [ANNA: Uh-huh.] to keep the planet habitable.” [ANNA: Uh-huh.] And you know what? I'm just like, the world's ending. Let's fuckin’ party.
ANNA: Oh, so now you're like—you're done fretting about it, being anxious about it. It's like, now it's just time to live it up?
ALEX: Well, I feel like, I'm gonna die by the time I'm 60 anyway, ‘cause like, everybody's gonna be living in fucking caves.
ANNA: Okay, so all that to say your feelings that you expressed in the song have not changed much. They have maybe intensified.
ALEX: Uh, most definitely.
ANNA: Um, so I guess I should probably play it for you, right?
ALEX: Oh, absolutely. I'm so excited. Do you sing on it?
ANNA: Yeah, I do.
ALEX: Oh, shit.
ANNA: So basically what you’re gonna hear is first off it’s gonna start with your original verse and lyrics and everything, and then I'm gonna come in. Bobby Lord – one of the Gimlet engineers – mixed this new version for us. And I’m gonna call it “Reply All’s Little Wolfie.”
ANNA: I’m just gonna play it.
ALEX: This is exciting.
ANNA: Okay. I'm, I'm so nervous to—
ALEX: I don't blame you. It's very mortifying to have someone [ANNA: I'm so nervous.] listen to your music in front of you.
ANNA: Yeah, okay, okay. Here we go. Mm. Phew. Okay. Here.
ALEX: [singing] Sure, this year is bad, but what else is new? And at this point, what the fuck can we do? [ANNA: My heart is racing so fast right now.] Sea level rising. The far right's on the rise.
ALEX: You know, having to listen to the song again is also making me very self-conscious.
ALEX: So we're in the same boat.
ANNA: And we're just both shaking. [laughs]
ALEX: [singing] The wolf is at the door—
ANNA: It's good, Alex. It’s good. It’s catchy.
ALEX: [singing] And you act like you wouldn't mind. I’m trying to show you the voice inside. This is our decline. The wolf is at the door and you act like you’re doing fine. This is it, this is our decline. In all honesty, I am incredibly stressed out about systemic climate change and I don’t know what the solution is.
ANNA: [singing] The blockchain’s run amok.
ALEX: Oh yeah! You double tracked your vocals!
ANNA: [singing] Bitcoin mining killing earth.
ALEX: This rules. you sound like fucking Kathleen Hanna.
ANNA: [singing] Enough energy, for an entire country. It's literally Argentina, like what the fuck? And NFTs, pointless trash—
ALEX: I love this dude!
ANNA: [singing] Ethereum guzzling gas!
ALEX: Can we start a band?
ANNA: [singing] I plant a tree, but go fuck me, it's not enough. Nothing is. The wolf is at the door. The crypto game is rigged. Greed pulls us into a climate apocalypse. The wolf is at the door. The rainbow bear is gone. And that is why I'm covering this fucking song!
ALEX: [laughing] That's fucking real Alex Goldman vibes.
ANNA: Bobby Lord.
ANNA/ALEX: [singing] The wolf is at the door.
ANNA: [singing] The crypto game is rigged. [ALEX: This is fucking nuts, dude.] Greed pulls us into a climate apocalypse.
ANNA/ALEX: [singing] The wolf is at the door.
ANNA: [singing] No one can buy me. Except you, if you take this NFT!
ALEX: God, I love it.
ALEX: I fucking love it.
ANNA: Um, yeah. It was my first time writing a song.
ALEX: How was it? Was it hard?
ANNA: No, I had a lot of fun.
ALEX: All right. You wrote the lyrics. I wrote the song.
ANNA: Okay. Compliment session over. Um, so–
ALEX: Our first practice is on Friday.
ANNA: Ok amazing. Um, so I have made this, and my next step is I'm going to present this to Joey, the person who owns the rainbow chain bear.
ALEX: I wish you the best of luck.
So I called up Joey.
JOEY: Yeah, can you hear me?
ANNA: And played him the song.
ANNA: [singing] No one can buy me, except you, if you take this NFT.
ANNA: [laughs] What’d you think?
JOEY: I mean, I'm impressed with the amount of production that went into it. I- I’m totally scratching my head, to be honest [laughs].
The song didn’t really seem like his style. But I soldiered on. I gave him the most important part of my pitch, which is why I thought the trade for this song made financial sense.
ANNA: The "Reply All Little Wolfie," is gonna be the only audio NFT that Reply All will ever make. It's a rarity. And so, if you break down the math and divide, one, by our amount of listeners, you get a percentage of 0.00014 percent. And if you compare that to the larger 0.0048 percent of Justin Bieber's audience that he needed to launch his NFTs, at the most essential level, like, the math speaks for itself.
JOEY: I get, the, I get the math.
JOEY: The math makes sense. That's just one aspect of what I was looking at. Now, the question is, what will someone be willing to pay for it?
What Joey meant was…there was something really important that I was ignoring.
JOEY: I'm not very clear on what the underlying utility of the NFT is, right?
Meaning – is that it? What about all the perks and community things that are supposed to come with an NFT launch?
And like, yeah ok, I did not have any!
I hadn’t planned on an exclusive, holders-only listening party on the metaverse for me and Alex’s live rendition of the song. I wasn’t out scouting locations for our own pasta lounge called “The Rigatoni Is At The Door.”
For Joey, the song alone just wasn’t enough.
JOEY: What I'm hearing right now is — all I hear in my — all that's flashing in my brain is risk, right?
ANNA: Uh-huh. UH-huh.
JOEY: Because I know the market of these bears, I've been like — you can tell how passionate I am about it.
JOEY: What I'm hearing is risk because sure someone might be willing to pay a lot of money for it.
JOEY: But the the flip side of that is why, why would I take that risk?
I didn’t have an answer to that.
ANNA: From your perspective, do you think this has value?
JOEY: No. [laughs] I mean, it certainly doesn't have $5000-plus of value. [laughs]
ANNA: I mean, it doesn't have $5000 of value to you.
JOEY: Correct. Yeah.
The rainbow chain bear was staying put.
But I understood Joey’s decision. I probably would have made a similar one, if I were in his position. I told him thanks for hearing me out.
And then, I called up Gabby to tell her what had happened.
ANNA: I'm sorry I couldn't get anything back for you.
GABBY: Oh, like, that’s something I will have to like, live with, but I mean, yeah, I, I really appreciate like, all the measures you took.
Even though I didn’t have the rainbow chain bear, I wanted to offer Gabby a consolation prize. The priceless, one and only, Reply All’s Little Wolfie NFT.
ANNA: So, since Joey passed on it, I was wondering if you would like it?
GABBY: Oh, wow. Oh my gosh!
GABBY: Wait, yeah, that'd be awesome.
I hid under my chair as I played the song one last time — Gabby had a very different take on the song than Joey did.
GABBY: I like the line, "The rainbow bear is gone.” it hit — it really hit home.
ANNA: And I just like, want to say, like, you are welcome to keep it, or sell it, or trade it, or like, whatever you want to do with it.
GABBY: Thank you. [laughs] That was like, super sweet of you guys.
ANNA: Of course. Okay, so I am on OpenSea right now, and I'm trying to hit “Create.” OK, create new item. It's called "Reply All's Little Wolfie". Um, okay. I'm uploading. It's saying “Please wait.” Okay, it's processing.
GABBY: Are you gonna start buying NFTs too?
ANNA: [laughs] I don't know.
I’ve been asking myself this a lot recently, more than I ever thought I would.
If there’s any actual “point” to NFTs, I think I get it now. We’re all looking around at the world right now wondering why does just having enough have to feel so impossibly hard? Where is my golden ticket?
Personally, even if I were to plant trees for the rest of my days, I think I’m just too risk-averse to try NFTs. My current pipe dream is I think I have the potential to make it big on TikTok. I’ve never posted a video before, but my wild blueberry smoothie for example, it could be the new salmon and rice bowl.
Anyways, if you wanna listen to “Little Wolfie,” we’ll leave a link in our show notes. And if you love the thrill of the chase, you can make an offer to Gabby. No judgment here.
ANNA: Oh, it said “Complete”! Oh, it's said “Complete”! Oh, yay!
GABBY: Okay, thank you so much.
This episode of Reply All was reported by me, Anna Foley. It was produced by Phia Bennin, Kim Nederveen-Pieterse, and Lisa Wang. Lisa recently became a mother, she welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world. Congratulations to their whole family!
The episode was edited by Tim Howard and Damiano Marchetti. And obviously, this story would have happened without the rest of the Reply All team: Alex Goldman, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Sanya Dosani and Bethel Habte. Our intern is Sam Gebauer. Additional editorial help on this story from Aaron Edwards, Stevie Lane, Reyhan Harmanci, and Navani Otero.
The show is hosted by Emmanuel Dzotsi and Alex Goldman. This episode was mixed by Rick Kwan, with fact-checking by Isabel Cristo. Music and sound design by Luke Williams. There’s additional music in this episode by Breakmaster Cylinder and Marianna Romano.
Special thanks to Bobby Lord, Ouriel Ohayon, Alex Taylor, Brendan McGill, and Corin Faife. Corin’s done a ton of great reporting on NFTs over at The Verge, you should definitely go read his stuff.
Thank y’all so much for listening. We’ll see you next week.