Keith Grossman brought NFTs to 99-year-old Time—why he is now all in on Web3
Keith Grossman is a well known media executive who has held senior positions at Wired and Bloomberg. In 2019, he became President of Time, the 99-years old news publisher and magazine, where he oversaw business and technology for the brand, and launched the ground-breaking NFT collection known as TIMEPieces.
Then, in one of the more unusual career shifts in media, Grossman left Time early this year to take on a new role as the president of enterprise at crypto payments unicorn MoonPay.
Fortune’s Ukraine-based contributor, Anna Tutova, spoke with Keith Grossman about his experience leading TIME into the NFT space, and about his new role at Moonpay where his mission is to onboard as many people as possible to the Web3 space.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The final four answers were supplied by email)
Can you tell us how your interest in crypto and NFTs started?
My career started at Wired, which covered technology and, specifically, the emergence of cryptocurrencies. This has been a space I have been familiar with for years and I personally enjoy. However, it was not until 2020 that I came across NFT technologies. I was in upstate New York. I was alone, isolated, and realized for the first time that my digital identity was just as valuable as my physical identity.
Thus, when I came across NFT technologies, it made sense that if my two identities were equal, if I wanted to own things in the physical world, I may also want to own things in the digital world. In March 2021, we brought TIME into Web3 with 1:1 collectibles. In September 2021, we launched TIMEPieces.
So you have a collector’s mindset. Do you like collecting traditional art as well?
Yes! I love art. I love tech. I love media. I love business. Therefore this was a perfect space for me! As somebody who loves art, I do collect a lot, especially photography NFTs.
What are your favorite NFTs?
I have so many. If you look at TIMEPieces, TIME’s community-based initiative, what started out with 38 artists is now 150+ artists. Most are artists I absolutely love: Cath Simard, Victor Mosquera, Fvckrender, Justin Aversano, Diana Sinclair, John Knopf. I can go on and on but it’s just an amazing group of artists.
What was the first NFT you owned?
My first NFT was a clock that said 11:11. It was a good luck clock, and I loved that. I have it framed and it sits next to my computer at home and just means the world to me. I just look at it every day, and I think about that quite a bit.
Do you have any trendy NFTs like Bored Ape Yachts Club or Crypto Punks?
No, I don’t have any Bored Ape Yachts Club or Cryptopunks. I have ‘The day I decided to fly’, I have a few ‘ThankYouX’s’, I have a few ‘Dave Krugmans’ and ‘JN Silva’s.’
Can you tell more about the story behind TIMEPieces. Did you make the decision to take Time into NFTs? Did you have to approve this decision with the Board of directors?
We took TIME into Web3 in March of 2021. It was me, our legal team and our creative director, and we had a lot of success with that. Within a month, we accepted 34 different cryptocurrencies for digital subscriptions of TIME. I spent the following months in Clubhouse just listening and learning. This is how TIMEPieces came about: from conversations with people like ThankYouX, Dave Krugman and JN Silva. They showed me the power of blockchain technology.
Ironically, I did not have to seek any approval for funding because we had done so much business on SuperRare that when they converted to a DAO, we converted our $RARE to $ETH and that ultimately funded the launch of TIMEPieces. It is an incredible Web3 story!
How many of your subscribers pay for the subscription in crypto?
Not that many. A few thousand. This was more of a validator of the space than anything else. You have to remember: TIME reaches 100M consumers a month and we have millions of subscribers. Over 15,000 wallets hold over 30,000 TIMEPieces and nearly 10,000 of those wallets connected to TIME.com to remove its paywall. That is the equivalent of a digital subscription! For the Web3 community, the subscription was secondary to the access and exclusivity of being part of the community.
Did you see a growth in your readership after launching TIMEpieces NFTs?
TIMEPieces opened the readership to a whole new community of passionate, engaged individuals.
Where do you see value of NFTs: from the mindset of a collector or is it more from belonging to a certain club?
I think it depends on what your intention is: Some people love the space from the mindset of a collector. That was my initial realization about TIME—that it was a 100-year old analog meme creator with its iconic covers. Some people love the space for its ability to create community. That is what TIMEPieces is: a community of shared psychographics—not demographics or geographics. And some people love the technology itself and how the technology can be used for subscriptions and memberships and loyalty programs.
I want to thank you for your support of Ukraine. You showed me the NFT collection you launched for Ukraine—can you tell me more about it?
Of course! I have tremendous admiration for Nadya from Pussy Riot and think she is the best example of someone who uses the technology for good. You saw it with UkraineDAO where she secured close to $10M USD to support people in need. Then you saw RELI8F raise a million dollars in 30 seconds. Given TIMEPieces was a values based community, we believed we should do something too.
So we approached 61 TIMEPiece artists on a Friday evening and by Sunday got 1:1 pieces from each of them to launch an initiative titled, “Artists for Peace.” Within 48 hours we raised nearly $400K which went to humanitarian aid in Ukraine. The notion of “warm crypto”—using the technology for good—is really important, in my opinion.
NFT trading and prices have dropped a lot. The trading volume of OpenSea dropped 99%. So where do you see this industry is going?
TIMEPieces was not built around prices or trading and we said that from the very beginning. We always stressed that we were a “values-based” community and that values create value over time. More importantly, regardless of trading volume on OpenSea, we continued to see engagement in the community increase. That was a key metric for me, personally.
The communities most exposed in these types of environments are “greed-based” communities. Ones that are literally only built on the intent to trade and try and profit.
Over the coming months and years, I think art and collectibles will exist but the bigger opportunity for the technology is with memberships, subscriptions, loyalty and rewards for consumers; and as a validator and efficiency play for businesses as it removes inefficiencies and ensures immutable truth.
Why did you decide to leave the media industry to lead an enterprise division for a crypto infrastructure company?
The switch was quite easy: I believe Web3 is the complete reinvention of the Internet, whether through Blockchain technologies, GPT and AR/VR/Metaversal experiences—all combined, all complementing each other. For most of my career, I have utilized emerging technologies to advance brands. Personally, I wanted to shift from using the technology to shaping the future of the industry and ecosystem. That is what MoonPay enabled me to do!
What sentiment do you see among traditional brands? Are they still interested in getting into Web-3, NFTs or did their interest decrease with the bear market?
Our pipeline continues to strengthen as brands shift their focus towards using blockchain technology for memberships, subscriptions, rewards and loyalty.
Can you share the recent partnerships of Moonpay with traditional brands? And what are your future plans?
MoonPay has done some incredible partnerships with Universal Studios, Nike, Alo Yoga, Puma, Christie’s, Conde Nast and the likes. Our future plans are to mainstream the adoption of this technology by highlighting the unique, enhanced experiences it provides.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the crypto industry in the next few years, and how is MoonPay working to address those challenges?
I think the biggest challenges surround trust, clear regulation and consumer protection. We take all of these very seriously and in the recent months hired Lindsey Haswell to be our Chief Legal Officer. We have also been investing heavily in compliance and legal frameworks for quite some time to ensure we evolve with the ecosystem as more clarity emerges. At the end of the day, we all should want a safe environment for consumers and clear rules for businesses.