Founded a startup that helped independent creators make a living by selling their art. Artists on Formfunction earned $5 million in our first year.
In 2021, my co-founder and I left big tech to pursue our dream of building something from scratch. We spent a few months experimenting (during which time we built Harken, Minymon, Creator Inbox, Nifty Pixels, Mycoverse, and Nifty Generator), and eventually landed on Formfunction.
In short, Formfunction was a platform where creators could sell their digital art as NFTs to collectors. Everything was based on the eco-friendly Solana blockchain, and our mission was to help creators make a living through their digital art. Creators could run auctions for their art pieces, fundraise for longer term projects, and build private communities around their creative work.
We launched Formfunction on February 3rd, 2022 with an amazing group of 24 creators, and were immediately taken aback by the incredible reception. In the first 3 days, our creators made over $110,000, with 18 out of the 24 artists receiving their all-time-high bids.
We spent the next year building a best-in-class NFT marketplace for Solana artists and creators. Amongst other things, we were the first marketplace to launch first-class support for minting editions; we made it easy for creators to add participation NFTs and physical unlockables; and toward the end, we launched campaigns, which let creators raise funds for their creative dream projects.
Our platform grew to thousands of creators, and tens of thousands of collectors. All throughout, we never lost touch with our community—we talked daily with our creators and collectors on Twitter Spaces and Discord, and continuously shipped new features to meet their biggest needs.
For years, I’ve had a running group chat where my artist friends and I compare tips, encourage each other, and lament about the stress of trying to make a living with our art. Each one of us is juggling three or four different jobs at the same time—from running Etsy shops to churning out 10-second TikToks and Instagram reels “for the algorithm.”
But for all the work it takes to be an artist, it’s far too easy to lose everything in an instant. I’ve lost count of how many artists have told me they were “shadowbanned” (or just flat out banned) from Instagram or Twitter—instantly losing the content they had spent so long creating and the audience they had built.
So when I fell down the web3 rabbithole, the concept of NFTs resonated—NFTs gave artists a way not only to earn money from their digital work, but also own their content and audience without the risk of being disintermediated.
Like many other NFT artists, I first started experimenting on Ethereum. But it was slow and expensive to use, and I didn’t feel good about Ethereum’s environmental footprint at the time.
That’s when I learned about Solana. Solana is a blockchain, like Ethereum, but it shines in being eco-friendly and accessible—each transaction uses less energy than 2 Google searches. While Solana itself seemed artist-friendly, I didn’t see that reflected in the platforms built on top of it. The biggest NFT marketplaces on Solana didn’t even let artists upload their work—they only supported huge collections backed by teams with developers.
Independent artists have fundamentally different needs than the large teams that run most NFT collections. The 1/1 NFT scene is driven by art; the collection scene is driven by speculation and utility. But on Solana, there was no home yet for high-quality art, designed around the needs of independent creators who care deeply about their craft.
So with a small team of builders and creators, that's what we built. Formfunction became the platform I would have wanted when I was first learning about NFTs—it was a marketplace dedicated to 1/1 art on Solana, with the mission to help independent creators make a living from their art.
I played a multi-hyphenated role—as CEO, sole designer, people manager, and head of recruiting, comms, product, operations, and everything in between. We grew our team to ten incredibly talented people, based around the world, and I led our $4.7M seed round fundraise from firms like Variant Fund and Pear VC. Most importantly, we built a beloved product that helped thousands of creators, with one of the best user experiences in the web3 space.
It's hard to describe how all-encompassing being a founder is. At Instagram and Facebook, I was in charge of one small part of the entire app—and while my job there involved a lot of cross-functional work and direction across teams, it still remained in the wheelhouse of “design." I didn't have to think about how we'd get press attention around a new feature, or how to register the company as an employer in new states.
As a founder, I was neck-deep in every aspect of the company, whether it was directing our team's roadmap for the next half, making social media graphics for new feature announcements, or figuring out how to properly allocate child support payments for a new team member.
Our impact on creators
During our first year of operation, we helped creators earn almost $5 million by selling their digital art to collectors.
Of our 4000+ creators, over 60% made at least one sale. Over 600 creators made at least $1,000, and over 70 creators made at least $10,000.
We held two or three Twitter spaces a week to hear from our community members, and it was amazing to hear how Formfunction impacted their lives (directly quoted, with permission from the artist):
“I was on a different marketplace and sales were kind of slow. I know it's the bear market but I almost wanted to give up on NFTs. I do NFTs full time, because I'm a stay at home mom and I found NFTs best for me to focus on to help raise my kids... Thankfully I was accepted to Formfunction, and it has been an amazing journey. Just recently, with the money I've earned from Formfunction, I brought my kids to this entertainment place, and I've been eating good food. I know it's something very simple but sometimes ordering McDonald's would be a bit expensive and a luxury to some, and I haven't had to restrict myself from eating good food and providing for my kids. I'm really passionate about this, and I'm so thankful for Formfunction. It's really been a great experience here."
In March 2023, we launched a survey for creators and collectors to better understand how Formfunction impacted their creative journeys. Here are some of the high-level results, which include >900 responses from creators and >200 responses from collectors:
93% of creators said they would be very disappointed (59%) or somewhat disappointed (34%) if they could no longer use Formfunction. 92% of collectors said they would be very disappointed (54%) or somewhat disappointed (38%) if they could no longer use Formfunction.
84% of creators said that Formfunction has made a positive difference in their lives.
Of creators who also sell art using web2 platforms, 71% of them said that they made more money on Formfunction.
When asked how likely they would be to recommend Formfunction to a friend or another creator, 91% of creators answered 8 or more points out of 10. 82% of collectors answered 8 or more points out of 10.
When shutting down Formfunction in March 2023, we received a few asset sale offers, but ultimately, we decided to open source everything we had built. We believed that this would best serve the broader community, rather than a single group.
The original Formfunction website has been closed down, but you can see our open sourced code and resources, or watch a set of live product demo videos below.