Building a web3 native brand: A deep dive into Doodles

When the NFT craze began to take off in the spring of 2021, most people didn’t know that NFTs had been quietly trading for years already. So, most people had never heard of CryptoKitties, a sort of NFT trading card game, and one of the first ‘hit’ NFT projects.

Originally released in November of 2017, CryptoKitties took the tight-knit Ethereum community by storm, becoming one of the most popular NFT projects across that blockchain in 2018 and launching some of the NFT smart contract standards that we use today.

The CryptoKitties team spun out in 2018 to form Dapper Labs, the company behind the very successful NBA Top Shot marketplace that helped spark the 2021 NFT explosion.

One particular CryptoKitties super fan was Jordan Castro, known online as Poopie, the eventual co-founder of Doodles. Castro’s love of CryptoKitties led him to co-create a community tool for CryptoKitties traders that ultimately landed him a job at Dapper Labs on the CryptoKitties team. While working on CryptoKitties, Castro met his eventual co-founder, Evan Kearst.

An idea emerges

By early 2021, Castro and Kearst were outlining ideas for a DAO NFT project, giving the community complete control from the beginning. However, evolving conversations would lead them down a slightly different path.

While working on a consulting job, Kearst met the illustrator and NFT creator, Burnt Toast, aka Scott Martin. Kearst loved the unique style and pastel colors represented in Martin’s work and soon enough, Martin was invited to join as the third Doodles co-founder. Casto said in one interview that it was the addition of Martin that led to the realization that they were trying to build a brand and not just release an NFT project.

Burnt Toast NFTs on Foundation

With an experienced founding team steeped in NFT culture, work on Doodles begin. The trio partnered with WestCoastNFT to develop a collection of 10,000 NFTs following the popular pfp (profile picture) project framework.

By the summer of 2021, new pfp NFT projects were dropping daily and the market (still relatively small by headcount) was getting saturated quickly. Sales volume for NFTs continued to grow, making the biggest jump in sales between July and August, before starting to decline in September for the next 3 months.

As sales were trending downward, the Doodles team pushed forward in preparing for an October launch. They also made a few choices that could have tanked their project out of the gate, but instead turned out to be instrumental in its success.

A unique approach

The NFT market was packed with derivative projects that lacked originality, but fed off of the hype cycles surrounding other popular projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club. With Doodles, the founders trusted that Martin’s artistic vision and colorful style would stand out against a sea of repetitive profile picture NFTs. And, that it did.

The team also chose to limit its community before launch, opting to close their growing Discord community early to avoid an influx of FOMO and FUD. For readers not spending hours on NFT Twitter, FOMO means “fear of missing out” and FUD means “fear, uncertainty, and doubt”. Much of the wild speculation and whiplash-inducing price swings in NFTs stem from these two concepts.

Additionally, the Doodles mint price was set at .123 ETH each. At the time, most NFT projects started below .1 ETH in order to maximize buyers and the potential for a quick sell out. Ether prices were near an all time high, making each NFT roughly $450 before fees. Setting the higher price told the community that the founders valued the work and intended to make Doodles a premium brand within the NFT space. Of course, it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t deliver on their promise.

Doodles Collection

A sample of Doodles NFTs (Source:

The price didn’t seem to phase the NFT community, perhaps looking for a breath of inspiration in a faltering market. The project quickly sold out, even prompting a ‘gas war’, a spike in blockchain fees based on high demand over a short period of time. In fact, the demand was so high that some buyers paid as much as 10x the NFT price just for the associated fees.

While some buyers may have purchased a Doodle hoping for a quick flip and profit, many were interested in seeing just what kind of brand Doodles could become. For both reasons, the floor price on a Doodle NFT quickly rose to levels ETH prices equivalent to thousands of dollars. At the time of writing, and with lagging crypto prices, the least expensive Doodle NFT on the market is priced at roughly $17,000.

How to build a web3 brand

The NFT landscape is littered with projects that burn brightly for a few moments before fading away, taking all of the value with them. One NFT collection, released within a few weeks of Doodles had a similar price point, and a similar excitement from the community. But, without an experienced team and a solid vision for the brand, values began to quickly slide. That project today has roughly 4% of the value of the Doodles collection.

So, what did the Doodles team understand that others have missed? In an interview for The Defiant, the Doodles project manager, who goes by the pseudonym Mushy, gave 4 key reasons for the success. The first being the team itself and the wealth of experience they brought to a project where experience is limited at best for most creators.

The second reason cited is the art work. But, not just because it’s not made up of random animal cartoons with funny hats. In fact, there are plenty of funny hats in the Doodles collection, and a few animals. It’s the fact that the Doodles collection was designed to be inclusive of all people from all walks of life. The combination of bright pastels, cheerful expressions, and a range of body types, genders, and accessories made for a collection that is welcoming to everyone. This is a direct result of a founding team that wanted to put inclusivity first when building a brand for the modern era.

While some NFT projects focus a lot of energy on floor prices and profits, the opposite is what Mushy considers to be a third reason for success. Accordingly to multiple Doodles team members, there is a concerted effort to avoid talking about the financial aspects of rising floor prices within the community. That focus away from financial speculation gives Doodles NFT holders a greater sense of long term connection with the project and a desire to take the journey with the founders over making a quick buck on the secondary market.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, Mushy points to a Doodles initiative called the Doodlebank as a key factor in the project’s success. As previously mentioned, Jordan Castro initially wanted to create a DAO NFT project, giving complete control to the community. But, without strong leadership and a good heading, a scattershot group trying to make all major brand decisions could easily end poorly. Instead, the Doodles team opted to set up a community treasury called the Doodlebank. With an initial goal to fill the bank with 420 ETH (because web3 loves meme math), the team would have a solid foundation to fund community projects and initiatives. They also outlined plans to put half of all secondary sales royalties into the Doodlebank, meaning the Doodles team would control half of the royalty stream and the community would control the other half.

In simple terms, the Doodlebank (currently holding over $4,000,000 worth of Ether) serves as a community grant program of sorts. Doodle owners can visit the Doodlebank forum to discuss new ideas and submit formal proposals for review. Each Doodle held gets one vote on community initiatives. So, an owner of 5 Doodles gets 5 votes. One of the advantages of NFTs is that they make things like online voting very easy to set up. The Doodles team only needs to token gate the voting experience and an owner just needs to connect their digital wallet holding the NFTs in order to cast their votes.

In the months since the initial launch, the community has approved multiple side projects. One such project, called Noodles, imagined a Doodles colored world filled with noodles, of course. Another project, called Pukenza, was inspired by a popular generative art project and was airdropped out to Doodles holders as a free gift. As the Doodles NFTs continue to be traded on the secondary market, royalties are automatically placed in the Doodlebank, and publicly verifiable through the blockchain, giving holders further opportunities to play a part in the larger brand building efforts.

Noodle and Pukenza

Noodles and Pukenza community projects

The community treasury isn’t the only way Doodles owners can build the brand or take advantage of its success. The Doodles terms of service includes a provision that allows owners to monetize their Doodles via merchandising. Owners can use the full image of their Doodle for merchandise sales up to $100,000 before triggering a licensing clause, at which point the owner has the responsibility of negotiating with the Doodles team for further commercial use. It’s a provision that’s likely hard to enforce, but a reasonable starting point for a brand being built collectively, with a focus on vibes.

To The Moon

In an effort to continue brand extension without diluting the value of the original collection, Space Doodles was launched early in 2021. Space Doodles are accessory NFTs, given to original Doodles owners, that give the NFTs a new look with a unique spaceship design. The smart contract allows owners to wrap their Doodles in the spaceship design, stored as a unique NFT, or undock to return their original Doodle to their wallet. Jordan Castro has called this “non-dilutive extended content for Doodles”.

Following the release of Space Doodles, the team began a move towards the physical merchandising space. Where many web3 native brands are still trying to find their way outside of the sometimes confusing NFT marketplaces and Discord groups, Doodles have inked partnerships with massive brands like Shopify and Behr, powering activations at SXSW and around the globe.

In recent months, Doodles has aimed to validate the brand further, announcing key hires, including the installation of former Billboard president, Julian Holguin, as CEO and superstar music icon, Pharrell Williams, as Chief Branding Officer.

Over the rainbow

One of the most compelling effects of NFTs is the power of the communities that form behind them. And, the creation of a set of scarce digital assets can generate a lot of value for a limited number of holders. But, the downside is that scarcity means not everyone gets to take part in the brand or consider themselves an owner.

The team behind Doodles understands this dilemma and they have a plan that they hope will solve it. At the NYC NFT event in June of 2022, they teased the upcoming release of Doodles 2.


Doodles 2 Trailer

Although details are still short, the founders have hinted that Doodles 2 will be a much wider release, potentially with more than a million editions. The focus will be on a much more accessible price point with the ability to change the appearance of the Doodle through swappable wearables. And, current Doodles owners will likely have a chance to earn money on those wearables in various ways, allowing for the brand to expand, for more money to land in the community treasury, and for OG holders to profit from their dedication to the project as web3 brand ambassadors.

As the NFT market searches for maturity and validation, it’s hard to know how NFT native web3 brands will fare. For now, Doodles seem to be enjoying the ride and making a few good decisions along the way, providing a glimpse of what a web3 mega-brand might look like... and it looks incredibly colorful.

Key Takeaways

Lean into community

NFT projects often taught community as a perk, but to truly build a sustainable brand in web3, the community has to be involved, engaged, and invested. Consider not just the outcome for the brand, but also for the community when making key decisions.

Find reliable partners

The worlds of web3 and NFTs can be confusing and even counterintuitive at times. Don't try and apply traditional strategy to an NFT activation. Instead, look for partners that have a deep understanding of the rapidly changing landscape to guide moves into web3 and NFTs.

Bridge worlds

Web3 promises digital ownership as we move into the age of the metaverse, but that doesn't mean people will just live online. The best brands are omni-channel. Starting a digital native company has advantages, but bridging the brand to real world merchandise, products, and activations can expand the reach by orders of magnitude while driving fans back to digital platforms.

Prepare for the long game

Experimenting with NFTs can be worthwhile, but in order to drive rabid fandom, NFTs need to have long term utility with tiered access and entry points. It can be complex, but also transformative in the way it attracts super fans and brand loyalists.

Own your mistakes

It's hard for brands to admit a mistake when the world is watching. But, web3 is still clumsy and experimental at times. Even the most well executed plans can get derailed by unforeseeable issues. Many people interacting with NFTs understand this and are incredibly forgiving when something goes awry, as long as the brand owns the mistake and tries to make good on it. Don't be afraid to experiment and fail. Just be ready to admit it.

Topics: creative strategy, future of creativity, brands