[Dive #23] Zagabond and Azuki

Do the ends justify the means?

Did ya miss me the past 2 days? :) I’m in LA this week, so my schedule has been wonky. And I’m glad it is! I don’t think I would have been able to concentrate much with all the chaos going on in crypto as well as the broader markets. The NFT space has not been spared either, particularly with Azuki.

I’ve written about Azuki before. Their sense of mystique and cool, along with their ability to innovate and top tier storytelling catapulted their ascent as a top project in the space.

However, it’s only a matter of time before each of these projects hits a hurdle that tests the resilience of the project and its community.

The Post

Azuki’s hurdle came on Monday. Zagabond, the anonymous founder of Azuki shared a tweet with an accompanying article.

ZAGABOND.ETH @ZAGABOND

•Bull or bear, Azuki is building towards the future of web3. We're in it for the long term. •Builders need to experiment for web3 to challenge web2. •Azuki is built on learnings from creating Phunks & other projects. This taught me to lead, not follow.

mirror.xyzA Builder’s JourneyTL;DR

9:23 PM ∙ May 9, 2022


3,332Likes882Retweets

TLDR of the post was that Zagabond was the brains behind 3 other projects prior to Azuki: Phunks, Tendies, and Zunks. Through each of these projects, Zagabond (Z for efficiency) learned lessons that helped him to eventually create Azuki.

Sounds gravy right? Not quite if you were a holder of one of those projects. For some of the holders, they felt that they were abandoned. There were no promises for a roadmap beyond creating the project, but support from the project creators quickly vanished. For context, these projects were all launched in the span of around a month which exacerbates the concern. Additionally, Z and team still owned the contract, meaning they could still change aspects of the project and earn the royalties from secondary sales for the project with none of it going to the project or community.

Upon learning of this news, the NFT space went nuts. Is Azuki a rug? What else did he do? Is he or the Azuki team going to expand on these details? Why share this news now?

The market was not happy upon learning of this new info as the floor price of an Azuki drop ~40%. Prices stabilized shortly after when it was announced a Twitter Spaces would be scheduled the following morning.

Wait TPan, what’s a ‘rug’?

Great question! The term rug comes from the saying:

And it happens a lot in in crypto. Whether it’s a new coin that promises immense returns or a NFT project that promises a state of the art metaverse only to disappear days later, they are rampant in the space.

This happens in the real world as well, but are categorized as ‘scams’. Tinder Swindler anyone? Or have you received robocalls or poorly worded texts telling you that your auto insurance is about to expire, or that you need to log into your bank account for some odd reason?

A lot of well respected individuals chimed in with their opinions and concerns:

Twitter avatar for @zachxbt

ZachXBT @zachxbt

So does Web 3.0 = rugging three projects in less than a year ? https://t.co/CzoPiz1Z6G

Twitter avatar for @ZAGABOND

ZAGABOND.ETH @ZAGABOND

•Bull or bear, Azuki is building towards the future of web3. We're in it for the long term. •Builders need to experiment for web3 to challenge web2. •Azuki is built on learnings from creating Phunks & other projects. This taught me to lead, not follow. https://t.co/Z2enFov8m9

10:40 PM ∙ May 9, 2022


2,175Likes458Retweets

Twitter avatar for @richerd

richerd.eth (マ,マ) @richerd

Little did I know that I was supporting supporting the development of CryptoZunks. 0xMandy asked me a whole bunch of questions about NFT dev and smart contracts and then out of no where dropped Zunks... Who was I really talking to?

ImageTwitter avatar for @TenaciousEth

Tenacious.eth 🍌 @TenaciousEth

Lol he pretended to be a woman?? https://t.co/63ltYqRw8e

2:18 AM ∙ May 10, 2022


123Likes24Retweets

The NFT space eagerly awaited details that would come the next day.

The Spaces

There were over 15,000 listeners on the Twitter Space hosted by @andr3w, a well regarded influencer in the space. Z shared more details around the article and answered questions around what all of this meant for the Azuki community and the communities of the projects prior to Azuki.

Following the Space, the audience and larger NFT community were left with more questions and were unsatisfied with the explanations provided.

Why did Z release the post at this time anyway? Couldn’t he tell that the Crypto space was already in a frenzy with everything else going on? Why did he sound like he was dodging the questions instead of answering them head on? What was he going to do to make things right?

The Aftermath

A flurry of Twitter Spaces popped up afterwards for further discussion. The space continued its feeding frenzy with more theories and speculation.

One in particular was led by @Pauly0x, a prominent member of the Phunks (one of the projects that Z built).

In this Space it was revealed that Pauly0x actually had gathered the personal info of Z and other Azuki team members. He was considering doxxing (revealing personal details) them in order to get attention around the Phunks and what they believe they deserved: community ownership of the project’s contract and the royalties associated with the project. With the threat of being doxxed, Z’s hand was forced and he shared his involvement with the pre-Azuki projects in order to control the narrative more effectively.

Though there was a some more clarity, there were still many outstanding questions from the Azuki and broader NFT community. Holders voted with their wallets and the floor price for Azuki sunk further as a result.

Later that evening, Z issued a public apology vowing to do better and highlighting next steps to remediate the situation.

Twitter avatar for @ZAGABOND

ZAGABOND.ETH @ZAGABOND

I fucked up. After the spaces today, I realized my shortcomings in how I handled the prior projects which I started. To the communities I walked away from, to Azuki holders, and to those who believed in me — I’m truly sorry. 1/x

12:46 AM ∙ May 11, 2022


5,255Likes1,317Retweets

And yesterday night, Z posted more updates on the Azuki Discord around making things right.

Discord here

Takeaways

This chapter for Azuki isn’t over. Z and the team have taken the first steps to make things right and will need to do more to earn back their reputation. Here’s some takeaways and questions that this situation has brought up for me and the broader space.

What is a rug?

Is it ok if the founder promises nothing beyond the creation of the project and leaves? Is it ok if the founder leaves the project but doesn’t hand over the contract and corresponding royalties?

Twitter avatar for @zachxbt

ZachXBT @zachxbt

1/ With the recent drama surrounding the Azuki founder Zagabond it’s clear there’s confusion in the community as to what constitutes a rug pull for NFTs. Here’s a ~thread~ with my thoughts on the topic.

5:46 PM ∙ May 10, 2022


2,455Likes740Retweets

I like ZachXBT’s framework of focusing on malicious intent and breaking up rugs as hard (blatant exit scam) and soft (repeated negligence).

Based on that framework, I believe it is fair to consider Phunks, Tendies, and Zunks as soft rugs. Though everything from the project was delivered, the founders just left the community to fend for itself without any additional support and ignored their calls for help until there was the threat of being doxxed.

Fortunately, Z is making things right by refunding mint proceeds and royalties, while also handing over the contracts to their respective communities. This removes the rug aspect of those projects.

Would all of this have happened if certain communities didn’t speak up?

No harm no foul, right? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it still make a sound? It’s unlikely that Z would’ve created this post to be transparent about his project history if there wasn’t the threat of being doxxed. Would the threat of doxxing come up at all if Azuki wasn’t as successful as it was?

This one’s difficult. What Z did wasn’t right, but it also wasn’t illegal. Everyone has skeletons in the closet, but at what point do you let them out? On the flip side, Z has nothing else to hide and though Azuki’s reputation has been damaged, they can now focus on building and pushing the company forward.

Doxxing

On the line of not right but not illegal, I believe there were additional concerns with the 0xMandy persona. Multiple people in the space called out that impersonating or at minimum suggesting to be a female in the space not only gave off the wrong impression with certain interactions, but also hurts an already underrepresented community in the space.

Z’s response to the 0xMandy issue is below. Essentially, there were different team personas that had contributions by various team members. 0xMandy’s interactions were primarily handled by Liz, who is a female.

I don’t think we’ll ever know who really handled what with the Zunks project. However the language is specific but vague enough to suggest that not all interactions from the 0xMandy account were conducted by a female. There may have been interactions where suggesting that the persona was a female led to specific results.

This doesn’t sit well with me. This shouldn’t sit well with anyone.

The last tweet from 0xMandy is a retweet from Samuel Cardillo from the RTFKT team.

Who’s Samuel Cardillo? He’s the CTO of RTFKT (now part of Nike). Had he known who 0xMandy really was, would’ve he have tweeted that? Would he has helped the Zunks project? Clearly the work that the Zunks team did was brilliant. But is how they went about it right?

That said, being anonymous is important and a legitimate matter of safety for some. In this case however, it seems that anonymity was used to the team’s advantage.

NFTs are young, literally and figuratively

The space, the projects, the people involved, their experience, their actual age. Overall it is young. There is so much innovation, but at other times, there is a lot of immaturity and gray areas from a moral and decency standpoint It’s a Wild West, it’s a Gold Rush. And when these situations happen, the gloves are off, there are no rules, especially if you don’t get caught.

However, the space is growing up. And Azuki has gone through a serious wake up call in that regard.

What I think really happened

No one except Z and his core team will really know what happened behind closed doors. However, this is my hypothesis:

Phunks, Tendies, and Zunks were a means to an end. Z, with his talent and grand vision needed the funds to create Azuki. With the bull market at the time, he was able to spin up some quick derivative projects to raise the money to fulfill the vision.

Would some people be hurt along the way? Maybe, but it was a necessary tradeoff at the time for something that would push the space as a whole forward in a net positive way.

In Z’s post he positioned those 3 projects as learnings and a journey for him to explore ‘story product’ further. He probably did learn and was able to refine how to build ‘story product’ more effectively. But IMO, that’s besides the point. He was able to get funding quickly, do some quick MVP testing, and ultimately create the building blocks for what would eventually become Azuki.

Am I right? Who knows. Was he right? Probably not, but if I were in his shoes I wouldn’t be surprised if I did the same thing for what I believed was a greater cause.

Do the ends justify the means?

I believe this is one of the core themes surrounding the Azuki situation. Sure, it’s less flashy than ”ZAGABOND: RUG PULLER EXTRAORDINAIRE” or “AZUKI TEAM MASQUERADES AS FEMALE” but I think it’s one that applies beyond Web3 or work. We have to think about tradeoffs in our everyday lives, and some of those tradeoffs might hurt others, directly or indirectly.

This situation reminds me of two other examples, one fictional and one real.

Thanos from Marvel and The Avengers franchise. Thanos was a supervillain whose goal was to bring stability by wiping out half the universe. He believed overpopulation would inevitably use up the universe's entire supply of resources and perish.

Thanos was a mass murderer, no doubt about it. But from his POV did the ends justify the means? Absolutely.

The (in)famous Elon Musk. There’s no doubt that he is one of the most brilliant businessmen and minds of our generation and has pushed society forward with his companies. But is he a saint? Absolutely not. Is he a good person? I guess it’s more complex than that. Do the ends justify the means? Probably? Maybe? Depends?

So did the ends justify the means for Z and Azuki? Only time will tell, and considering efforts are being made to remediate the impacted communities, I’m leaning towards yes. But what if they were never caught? I’m not so sure in that case. But would it matter if they weren’t caught and no one knew the real story? Ahhhhhhhh!

Didn’t think I’d get this deep, huh? (I didn’t either lol)

The space will continue to grapple with the above themes, questions, and concepts, and I believe similar situations will continue to pop up. I’m not sure there is a black and white answer to many of these topics, but rather shades of grey. Although this has been a blemish for Azuki and the NFT space, I hope it will make the general space stronger and set higher expectations for each other.

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