Exclusive: Gordon Goner on Health, Royalties, Yuga—And More

BY Lorepunk

December 06, 2023

Since we last caught up with Bored Ape Yacht Club co-founder Wylie Aronow—also known as Gordon Goner—he’s been busy. He’s continued his shopping spree, including joining lots of new PFP, OG and fine-art NFT communities, and has spent plenty of time engaging with the denizens of crypto twitter on everything from Taproot Wizards to pets.

After our first interview a few weeks ago, we were intrigued when Gordon expressed an interest in sharing a longer-form snapshot of his thoughts with nft now. Our reporter worked closely with the editorial team and sent out a set of questions exploring Gordon’s personal outlook and story, his health journey, and his thoughts on our space as liquidity—and excitement—begin to energize web3.

We didn’t stay away from challenging topics—whether connected to Gordon’s health struggles or the challenges faced by Yuga Labs’ CEO Daniel Alegre—and, as before, we have offered our entire conversation to the readers, the better to convey the nuance of Gordon’s voice.

After a few busy weeks, Gordon delivered his replies—and, fortuitously, they coincided with the Punk Salon #1 photoshoot by renowned Punk and photographer Rainer Hosch, who graciously shared two portraits with us for this story.

Photography by Rainer Hosch

lorepunk: Since your period of relative quiet, as you’ve come back onto the scene, you’ve engaged exuberantly with the web3 community—and with immaculate vibes. How do you see your community engagement developing, going forward?

Gordon Goner: I’m stoked to be engaging with the community again, but I guess how active I’ll be will really depend on my health. Heart failure and colitis can be rough at times. The past month is probably indicative of what my interaction will look like: high engagement when I’m feeling well, followed by periods where I don’t even want to look at a screen.

When I stepped back from Yuga after my heart diagnosis, I felt like I had finished the tasks I had set out to accomplish: create the kind of NFT club I’d love to be a member of, fill leadership positions at the company with people I admired, and nudge the ecosystem further into the metaverse. During that time, there had been periods when I was really going through a lot of physical suffering and it never felt like my place to talk to anyone about my human experience, let alone do what I really needed to, which was walk away for a bit and get re-centered. I often felt compelled to show up, even when it was causing me pain. I don’t think my efforts were in vain—we accomplished more than I’d ever imagined—but it left my body a little broken. Now I’m back with far less pressure, and I’m showing up, both as an advisor to Yuga and externally on socials or at events, etc., when I can.

We’re all so glad to see you back, finding a new way of participating in web3—as an enthusiastic collector! How do you envision your collecting developing—and will you be taking part, as a holder, in the communities you’ve joined?

The “club-model” PFP style projects that BAYC helped popularize are top of my list. I like the interchange between creator and community, the social impact, the flow of utility, attention, and delight. I’m an addict at heart, and NFT clubs, when done right, are like little self-generating dopamine machines.

I’m also personally a big fan of generative art and 1/1s, so I’ll be collecting more in that realm as well. There’s a lot of incredible artists in the space making compelling work and I like the celebration of provenance. It feels like the biggest fuck you to the establishment, and that gets me bricked up. Also, and this is something I’ve been shouting for a couple years, I think gaming NFTs are going to be the next major wave of this industry, so you’ll definitely see me collect more of those as well.

As a holder myself, it’s delightful to see that you’ve joined, and are participating in, a few Punk chats. How are you finding being a Punk so far? Think you’ll get involved in initiatives like Punk DAO, brunches, and other Punk projects?

When I told some of my partners at Yuga that I was thinking about buying a million dollar Cryptopunk, the first thing they said to me was, “Hey fuckhead, you know you own 400 punks right?” Which, OK, that’s a fair point, but I really wanted that zombie punk. Sure, there was this sense of wanting to help bridge communities, and I’m a sucker for a little showmanship, but mostly it was just, “I need that shiny thing.” I’m dumb like that. Much like Apes, my conviction in Cryptopunks is sky high and I’ll definitely be a part of some future punk events and participate within the broader NFT art and gaming ecosystems.

Web3 is a boisterous place, with collectors like you at its heart—but, also, builders and creatives of all sorts. Mindful of your commitment to keeping balance and supporting your health, do you think you might get involved in new projects, either personal or with others?

I spent two years straight working 90+ hour weeks for the company I co-founded and my health suffered a great deal as a result. Adrenaline can be a powerful concealer of pain, until it suddenly isn’t. I lost my creative drive sometime before stepping back. But now that I’ve rested up, it feels like I can’t turn off the part of my brain that wants to make shit. So yes, health-permitting, I will eventually start making things for Yuga again, one way or another. While I’m no longer day-to-day, I have a few ideas for projects I’d like to see. I’ve started workshopping some of them with Jeff, Illa, Figge, and others on the BAYC team.

“The best collectors are highly discerning. They can smell inauthenticity from a mile away. If you want to create something collectable, you need to grant the collector a higher sense of purpose.”

Gordon Goner

With the advent of BTC spot ETFs and hints of inflation settling a bit, liquidity is showing hints of returning to the NFT space, and new builders are coming in. As one of the most successful—I would say definitional—builders in the 2021 bull and beyond, what advice would you offer new founders coming in?

I probably have too many thoughts on this topic, so I’ll keep it brief. I think the best collectors are highly discerning. They can smell inauthenticity from a mile away. If you want to create something collectable, you need to grant the collector a higher sense of purpose, whether it be artistic merit or utility or community or historical significance, whatever. NFT founders should focus more on the experience of ownership, not just price. I’ve seen a ton of NFT founders obsess over the floor price of their projects. Yet during the year I co-ran the BAYC, all I ever paid attention to was sentiment on Twitter. Everything I needed to know was there. Anything else was just a red herring. If you’re only focused on numbers, you will have the wrong target and build the wrong things.

It’s about listening intently to your communities, while building products and narratives that scale to include them. That’s the real magic trick.

Yuga Labs CEO Daniel Alegre penned a recent letter in which he candidly addressed feedback, acknowledging areas where the company had fallen short. What are your thoughts on Yuga’s evolution and what has it been like to hand it off?

I think our community tends to forget that the four founders of Yuga handed over the top spots a long time before Daniel joined. We really only had total creative control of Yuga during that first year, barring the brief period between CEOs. (Not to say we weren’t working at a high level alongside everyone else throughout those periods.) At the time, we were too inexperienced and exhausted to run and scale a company to meet the challenges brought about by its growth. Yuga has obviously gone through a lot of changes since then and I’d say the company is in its strongest, most industry-leading position yet.

I personally think Daniel’s letter was very strong. It showed how much he has grown to understand the web3 space, and it was delivered in his own voice which is something I’ve always encouraged. When he first joined Yuga, I told him, “It’s going to take you six months before you understand this ecosystem.” I’m not sure if he really believed this wide-eyed Ape dude covered in tattoos telling his wildly over-qualified ass that slinging jpegs was actually nuanced, but now that time has passed, I think he understands the scope.

I think it’s easy for our web3 community to glance at an accomplished web2 executive like Daniel and just assume he doesn’t get it. But if you listen to the people who have met Daniel, those who have given him a chance to be heard, nearly everyone has walked away from the encounter knowing in their gut he’s the right guy to lead us all towards wider adoption.

Photography by Rainer Hosch

It’s been interesting to see you engaging with the community, location scouting for ApeFest next year on X! How do you think Ape culture has changed since the project kicked off, and—as owner of Ape number one—what are you looking forward to?

I’m biased, but I really don’t think there’s anything quite like the Bored Ape Yacht Club. I mean if you’re serious about being a part of the whole NFT experience, and connecting with collectors, builders, and degenerates the same way I am, there’s not much better than being an Ape. There’s this all-in level of conviction to the club that is unlike anything else, anywhere. You can see it in many dozens of people who have Bored Ape tattoos, or in the thousands of Ape holders who will travel halfway around the world for a 3 day members-only party in Hong Kong. When club members say, “This is my forever Ape,” they mean it. I feel the exact same way. I’m an Ape for life, because there’s this bond within the club that goes way beyond anything else I’ve experienced in my life.

There’s a ton of things I’m excited about from the Yuga end of the creator-community feedback loop, but I’m honestly even more stoked about what the Apes themselves are bringing to the table. Overtime, the club has continued to charge up this electric builder’s energy, and many of my favorite experiences from the past few years didn’t involve Yuga in the slightest. They were produced by Apes, for Apes. That energy is constant now.

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from your time away from the space focusing on your health?

Besides health stuff, most of the lessons I’ve learned came from spending much of my time away from technology. It made me realize how much I’d been living inside these nightmarish algorithms, doom-scrolling and hitting refresh like a demented monkey. I went through this phase where I thought I’d go start some kind of psychedelic anti-tech eco-community in the rainforest. That sounds nice, but really it’s the nihilist in me, wanting to run away. I need to keep that guy in check. Then one day I realized that instead of running away from the thing that scared me, I should keep trying to fight back.

What I mean is that we have all this advanced technology at our disposal and yet most people I know are in a low-grade state of constant boredom. The internet experience is not very thrilling anymore, it’s monotonous. I’m not having a great time when I endlessly refresh my X or Instagram feed. I’m just hunting for virality, looking for my next hit of dopamine. That’s not fun for me. It’s just a way to escape silence. I want to make things that feel like an old-time carnival: strange, risky, interactive, communal, mysterious, irreverent, engaging, etc. If I can make something that kicks out a steady blast of fun, I think there’s value there. Fun is the rarest trait.

What is the most critical issue facing web3 today that is not getting enough attention?

This space exploded as a result of creator royalties. More than anything else, it’s what attracted creators to this ecosystem. It’s been disappointing to see marketplaces turn their backs on the creators that helped build their platforms.

I’ve thought about the issue of how to protect royalties a lot while on sabbatical. And more importantly, I’ve spoken to a lot of people smarter than myself about their own ideas of how to solve it. I’m confident there is a way forward. It’s too important and there are too many brilliant minds working on a path forward for us not to solve this. I have high hopes that we’ll see this take shape early in 2024.

Last question. Are we so back?

We never left. Just needed a nice, cozy nap.

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