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‘My Ape has become my identity in this space’: The emotional reason some NFT collectors are turning down riches

March 18, 2022, 7:48 PM UTC

You might think NFTs are “just JPEGs,” but to many in the crypto space, the digital assets are much more than that. Some are seen as rare collectibles worth millions of dollars, but they’re also deeply personal sources of meaning for collectors. 

To Rahim Mahtab, owner of Bored Ape Yacht Club No. 3573, ownership is a lot more than a financial interest: “My Ape has almost become my identity in this space,” he told Fortune.

He bought the NFT last year for around $1,700, but since then, BAYC prices have taken off. In the past 24 hours alone, BAYC is the top-ranking NFT collection with $48.61 million in volume, according to data tracker DappRadar. Many of the top all-time BAYC sales were for over $1 million.

Though Mahtab could likely sell his Ape for a significant amount—his BAYC NFT already has a bid for $19,265 now on OpenSea—it’d be tough for him to let it go, he noted.

“Never say never,” Mahtab said, but “I do not see myself selling it. I have a strong attachment to it. It was the NFT that changed my life altogether.”

He’s not alone. This perspective is super common in the crypto community, since NFTs carry a form of social capital.

My NFT is my ‘identity’

Scrolling on Twitter, you will likely see thousands of accounts with hexagonal profile pictures of cartoons and other NFT images. For many, certain NFTs become synonymous with an identity or brand. 

That’s why the owner of CryptoPunk No. 6046, known as Richerd, declined a $9.5 million bid for his NFT.

“My identity, along with identity of other iconic Punks and Apes, have value beyond the NFT itself. We have our own brands similar to any other brand, and that has value,” Richerd tweeted in October. “Because I value my personal brand and identity, this was an easy rejection for me.”

He added, “To me, my brand, identity, and what I’m building in the NFT space will be way more valuable in the long run.”

In some cases, as with CryptoPunks or Bored Apes, ownership can lead to more career opportunities or respect online than in the physical world. It can be viewed as a sort of “flex,” as Gmoney, a notable NFT collector and figure within the space, calls it. That’s why he spent six figures on his CryptoPunk NFT No. 8219, he tweeted in January 2021. “With a NFT, by posting it as my avatar on Twitter and Discord, I can quickly ‘flex’ with a picture.” 

“Ownership and authenticity can be quickly verified online,” Gmoney said. “It has the same effect as wearing that Rolex in real life, but digitally.”

Mahtab could relate: When buying his BAYC NFT, “I was struggling to plan my future and did not know how I would meet rent, [and] this NFT paved the way for me for so many opportunities in the digital and real world,” he said. 

‘It truly feels like being in a very cool club’

Nathan Head, owner of BAYC No. 7865, calls his NFT “the best investment I have ever made in my life.

“I honestly don’t know if I would ever sell my Ape, even though it’s worth more money than I have ever had in fiat,” he told Fortune. “It truly feels like being in a very cool club that comes with a lot of very valuable freebies and opportunities.”

In other cases, NFT holders see a sentimental value to their digital assets.

Mandy Musselwhite and her girlfriend, Thorne Melcher, each own Astro Girls NFTs, which they “will never sell,” she told Fortune. They spent about $239 and $213, respectively, just five days ago.

“There’s definitely an aspect of identity for me,” Musselwhite said. “Even if I didn’t have the meaningful experience with Thorne when we bought ours together, I’d still 100% want to keep her.”

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