Credit card giant Visa has launched an NFT creation program with the aim of bringing small businesses into the digital economy.
“We have seen rapid growth in the NFT ecosystem over the past year,” Cuy Sheffield, head of crypto at Visa, told TechCrunch. “We believe that NFTs represent a new form of e-commerce.”
The idea of a small business is evolving from “traditional brick-and-mortar mom-and-pop stores” to include other independent businesses with creators and entrepreneurs who want to build digital-first businesses and tap into new tools like NFTs, Sheffield said. .
The one-year immersion program, the Visa Creator Program, will bring together a global cohort of creators including artists, musicians, fashion designers and filmmakers capable of growing their business with NFTs.
There is no “hard cap” on the number of creators for the first cohort and all members will have access to Visa customers and a wider network of mentors, Sheffield noted.
“Big merchants and brands ask every day how they can get involved.” said Sheffield. “What’s so exciting for us about NFTs is that we believe it lowers the barrier to entry for people to start a business and sell online.”
The traditional way of selling physical goods involves a lot of logistics, which can be a huge challenge for small businesses and individuals to compete and scale. “NFTs allow someone who is creative, who is an artist, who is talented, to produce a good entirely digitally,” Sheffield said.
Micah Johnson, former Major League Baseball player and current artist behind Aku, was one of the first cohort participants. Visa previously announced the partnership in October 2021, but did not reveal it was involved in the program at the time.
Johnson’s Aku NFTs are based on a character created by Johnson after hearing his nephew ask, “Can astronauts be black?”
His 10-part collection features black male astronauts posing in a range of items from helmets covered in spaghetti and meatballs to a simple, sleek white helmet. NFT Aku prices range from $1,790 to $37,000, according to its website.
“I’ve seen with my own eyes how NFTs can help artists,” Johnson told TechCrunch. “I was literally painting in my garage with this idea, this mission, and I turned it into a global company. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now without NFT.
Visa is no stranger to the crypto community and has been one of its advocates for the past 12 months. He has already made headlines for buying a popular CryptoPunk NFT in August 2021, and Sheffield said the purchase won’t be the company’s only NFT under his belt.
In addition to collecting NFTs, Visa built its crypto team and, in December 2021, launched a crypto advisory practice to help clients and partners consider a deep dive into the space.
“We think that [NFTs] are a fundamental primitive tool that can reshape commerce and create new opportunities,” Sheffield said. “But there are still a ton of questions about how it is evolving? Which blockchain to use? How do you stand out? How do you reach customers? And so we want to learn as much from creators as we think they can learn from us.
Going forward, Visa wants to integrate into these crypto technologies to keep up with the future of commerce, Sheffield said. “We’re incredibly excited about NFTs,” Sheffield said. “We want every [NFT] market to be able to accept Visa cards because we believe that NFTs will exist on many different networks.
As for the next steps? Visa wants to make buying an NFT as easy as buying anything else online, Sheffield said.
“What we discovered is that today’s experience can be quite difficult and requires multiple steps to get to an exchange, buy cryptocurrency, and transfer it to another wallet. … It’s very difficult for new consumers to enter the space,” Sheffield said.
Besides this program, the credit card company is exploring other ways to make NFTs more accessible for consumers to purchase and access. There are a “number of initiatives” that Visa is working on to make it easier for consumers to access the space, but Sheffield did not disclose a timeline for future NFT-focused product or service launches with the company.
“Small business and commerce play a very important role in building community, in cities and neighborhoods around the world,” Sheffield said. “It’s a friendly face you see at a local hairdresser [or] local bakery. And now what we’re seeing is creators using commerce and NFTs to create communities of like-minded people around the world who come together because they share a common set of beliefs or beliefs. ideals.