It’s a mentorship program. It’s a way of helping people support their art, music and filmmaking skills. It’s a way of bringing the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to creators — assisting them with the technical and commercial aspects while discovering its potential as a medium for innovation.
But more than anything else, the program — which grew out of a collaboration with former baseball player Micah Johnson, the NFT artist behind Aku, the story of a young black man who wants to be an astronaut — is about creating communities, Sheffield told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster recently.
“The first thing we really learned through Micah was the role that NFTs can play in building community,” he said. “One of the most fascinating things to me is, we all recognize that small businesses in the brick-and-mortar world bring communities together. You’re not just there to buy a good or a service, you’re there to see other people, to meet, to hang out. That’s really hard to recreate in an online environment.”
Particularly a commercial environment where there’s no friendly face or conversation.
But with NFTs, Sheffield said, you can really “create this element of people coming together.”
Whatever they’re purchasing — whether that’s art, music or something else, he said — they’re then “hanging out, joining a Discord group and they’re getting to know each other, they’re becoming friends.”
Along the way, he added, “They’re providing direct input and support and advice to that merchant or that creator that’s selling a product. We think that’s a really special element that kind of blends social networks with commerce.”
Sheffield said that the Visa Creators Program, which launched on March 29, started with Micah. He noted that after creating a story “with ideals, like dreaming and being whatever you want to be when you grow up that appeals to a group of people,” he was able to create a community of a few thousand people who love Aku.
“Then you see the commerce and the products, the NFTs, expand beyond just the artists,” he said. “It’s a much more inviting and friendly community than just going to, you know, a Facebook group. You have these very social experiences that haven’t really existed for small business before.”
Sheffield said Visa is going to spend a lot of time picking the participants, ensuring they have “really interesting, talented people from across the world” before bringing them together to learn from each other and Johnson. Participants will also learn from Visa’s network and the merchants and brands that it works with.
“Then, we want to give them direct access to Visa and have us advise on payments and business strategy — the questions that we were helping Micah with — as well as us learning from them,” he said. “The only way we’re going to build products in this space is if we’re directly engaging with the creators driving it.”
Looking at blockchains, Sheffield said he sees a developing commercial landscape that will be hard to navigate.
“There’s going to be so many new brand new payment eCommerce ecosystems that emerge with different properties, different programming languages, that are optimized for different use cases,” he said. “I think that is a major role for Visa to play. That is to help our clients and help creators figure out how these come together.”
Of course, that means Visa has to know them, which is where the Creators Program comes in.
“We’re going to learn a ton about these other use-cases outside of art,” he predicted. “And I think we can help inspire and introduce for people by having a case study of a creator in music, a creator in photography, a creator in film. I think that’s going to be a major focus. A year from now, there’ll be really successful NFT use cases that don’t exist, or don’t exist at scale today.”