Crypto is getting real — as in IRL. Mike Fraietta hopes to turn New York City’s economy of web3 builders and doers into a one-of-a-kind coworking space in the city at 190 Bowery, the first location of the EmpireDAO.
We talked with Mike to understand how he got into crypto, how EmpireDAO came to be, and what the future of IRL crypto spaces might look like:
So obviously, you’re Mike – how’d you get into crypto?
It started for me in 2014 when I read a blog post by Fred Wilson about Bitcoin. I immediately bought some and have been burrowed deep in the rabbit hole ever since. In 2016, I started a live variety show streamed internally at BNY Mellon called FinTech Friday where I interviewed entrepreneurs in fintech and in the crypto space. Goal was simply to red-pill America’s oldest bank.
EmpireDAO falls at the intersection of three really unique trends: IRL communities, web3, and DAOs. Maybe you can tell me a little bit about where the idea came from, how it got its start, and how it has been shaping up as you’ve launched.
Like most good ideas, it started accidentally. A bunch of us building on Solana met together for a co-working day and we quickly realized that there’s exponential ideation potential when you get many creators together in the same room. We missed these interactions.
Previously, I worked as the head of collaboration at large corporations and would work with the heads of real estate to strategize on the best ways of using technology for our employee populations. I also legit grew up in a bar in South Philadelphia and enabling social interactions runs deep in my blood.
Building towards a DAO is obvious in our minds since we can now easily take stake in every creator working at EmpireDAO, thus creating a circle of ownership in the success of EmpireDAO and all of it’s members. There’s inherent incentivization to help your neighbor’s succeed.
Why did you choose 190 Bowery for your first location? It’s obviously culturally significant, but what significance does it carry for you and your team?
Our broker said he had this one “moon shot” and my wife and I went to tour already knowing the building and just curious to take a look. We never left. Never looked at another spot. The crazy thing is that the project has moved dramatically because of the building. It was a bank for 50 years, an artist’s home and studio for 50 years and we are now combining creators and finance by launching artists’ projects. We are working towards a photographer-in-residence scholarship in Jay Maisel’s (said artist) name.
The location is ideal on three levels:
NYC has more web3 dormant artists than anywhere on the planet. The amount of musicians uptown, the visual artists working in movies, the designers working at ad agencies, etc, etc.. The tech will no longer the star of this story, it’s time to move on to the creators.
The Bowery (Soho) is at the ideal crossroads for creatives in Brooklyn, uptown, downtown, and for attracting those we need to educate and understand the web3 movement from government, corporations, and universities.
I’ve noticed on Twitter that a lot of what you’ve been hosting lately have been events, open houses, and some hangouts. Sounds like you’ll open properly in June – but what kind of stuff have you been hosting in the meantime?
Performances. Comedy, music, physical and digital art drops, poetry, you name it. We plan on helping creators quit their full time jobs and tokenize their art at EmpireDAO, record at our studios, and launch their project in our performance center.
EmpireDAO obviously isn’t your average coworking space – WeWork makes you pay an invoice and hands you free reign to make your own space. What differentiates you guys? How does onboarding work for a crypto-centric coworking space?
It seems to us that WeWork was a bit ahead of its time in that it was a difficult uplift for real co-ownership of the community. With both fungible and non-fungible tokens, we are creating a fluid co-owned experience of creating dApps and art.
To get the ball rolling and rent your first (presumably of many buildings), you had to take on some investors. In the intermediate term, though, it sounds like you’ll be launching a token called $EMPIRE. At this stage in the game, what’s the difference between $EMPIRE and the service NFTs you’ll sell?
Our lead investor is Roger and Andrew Ehrenberg (IA Ventures). The story is perfect: Andrew and I met at an IRL NFT event (LinksDAO tournament in Austin) and Roger is well-connected in the NYC having helped created the tech scene here in the 2000s. Other investors include Stacks Foundation, NEAR Foundation, Big Brain Holdings, Reciprocal Ventures, CollabCurrency, Syncretic, Clarence LP, A41, Serenity Investments, Orca Capital, and several strategic angel investors.
What is your highest aspiration for how EmpireDAO will develop – not just in its first space, but in future ones? Where do you see it going?
In Utah, I met Congressman John Curtis and when he purchased an item using Solana Pay in person he said, “I learned more in 30 seconds than four years of explanation of crypto. This is massive for every small American business.”
This is exactly the type of interactions we plan on enabling at EmpireDAO. We see this as not only a creator center, but an educational center that will directly influence regulation.
Any parting comments about crypto events IRL and the emergence of physical spaces for web3 and crypto?
The technology rolling out will be cool, but the renaissance of art will be so much more impactful for us as a society. Average people will participate in art collective DAOs and free up millions of creators from their 9-5 jobs. I’ve been around long enough for people to say “people don’t care what I had for lunch, I’ll never get a social media account.” And “people don’t need to reach me where I am all the time, I’ll never get a mobile phone.” It’s already been written that a majority of humans on the planet will own hundreds to thousands of NFTs and will be part of 10s to 100s of social DAOs. Strap in.