RTFKT cofounder Benoit Pagotto on building brands and why you’re better off playing ‘Tears of the Kingdom’ than going to conferences


In a recent interview with Fortune, Pagotto shares how RTFKT, which generated over $185 million in NFT sales in 2022, has navigated the Nike acquisition and the ongoing bear market. He also explains how his passion for gaming has helped him develop innovative brand strategies, and discusses recent collaborations with L’Oreal and others.

(This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into Web3 and NFTs?

I studied fine arts, and then I worked a lot in advertising and consulting for luxury clients in retail design. When I was a student, I had a job at Colette, the really cool concept store in Paris, which is one of the places where I learned the most, and that influenced a lot of how we run RTFKT today. They were taking different parts of culture and putting it together under the same roof, but really, merging high fashion with streetwear and art, design, all of that together. So I learned a lot when I was a student and working there day to day, and then I got into NFTs.

I’m a huge, huge gamer. Even though NFTs are great, I always consider them just as a medium to allow you to do things that you can normally only do in video games, which is to get people to own and trade and use digital assets. So when I discovered NFTs in 2018, at the time I was working in Esports with a company that was making something like NFTs out of Counter-Strike skins. To me, it was kind of a eureka moment.

So that’s the moment we started RTFKT, when the NFT market started to blow up. It was a perfect canvas to do our idea, which was a brand that is sitting between reality and the virtual world, and that is constantly playing around these spaces to make cool, exciting, new stuff and innovations.

How many hours per day do you play games?

It depends. Like in the past few weeks, I played a lot because the new Zelda came out and I think I did 130 hours, which is a lot.

It’s like a separate job.

Almost, but a lot of ideas I have or things I come up with, it’s because I’ve experienced them in video games. I’m always trying to think: “How can you take what this game has done, and how it can inspire you to do something cool for a brand?”

The new Zelda added even more what is called “player agency.” If you look on TikTok you see what people are doing with these new gameplay mechanics, and it’s mind-blowing. So, really, that’s what I advise all my friends these days. I’m telling them: “Stop doing what you do—you need to play Zelda.” You will learn more playing Zelda, especially if you play it with your little brother, your little sister, and you see how they are embracing this freedom and these tools that are given in the game. You will learn more doing this than coming to the conferences.

So what is the most powerful marketing tool for you for now?

To me, honestly, the most powerful marketing tool is just making stuff that is dope. It’s simple: It’s the content. You need your content to be fresh and exciting, because we’re all on our phones every day and seeing so many things from brands, from amateurs, from influencers, and it’s very hard to know what is really genuine and not. I think people react when they see something that is genuinely cool and exciting and new.

What about the recent performance of NFTs?

We’re in a super bear market. It was meant to happen because there was such a huge spike. I think it’s good in a sense that the technology and the money side are going to take a bit of a backseat. People are going to leverage NFTs more as a medium, and not just as NFTs for NFTs sake.

It’s very hard for a lot of small Web3 companies that started during the hype or raised money during the hype to now have to sustain themselves, especially because the royalties are not there anymore, so the business model has changed.

RTFKT was acquired at the end of 2021 by Nike. How have things changed for you since then?

It didn’t change too much. Now we work a lot more closely with Nike to help them on their own Web3 initiatives, with DotSwoosh, but what’s great is that we stay mainly independent. Nike really understands that our strength is the brand and that we’re not Nike, and that’s why we can do things Nike cannot do. Sometimes RTFKT and Nike do collaborations, so it’s been really good for both parties, and they have a really amazing brand.

But, again, I always go back to the people behind the brand: They are amazing super smart, very innovative people, who are working on really groundbreaking things and have big ideas. I’m super happy to get to know them and work with them.

Are you planning any additional partnerships?

We never announce in advance, but there are always things going on. We did Rimowa—very happy to have that, they’ve been amazing partners to work with. We announced that we are working with [L’Oreal owned] Shu Uemura, which is really really good makeup brand that we like, with Japanese influence.

So do you see the Asian market as more active when it comes to buying NFTs?

Right now, yes. In Asia, it’s been a long time that video games and Esports have been a big thing, and they have a collectibles culture, especially in Japan. But of course, we also have a lot of American degens—crypto people.

Behind the scenes of Coinbase’s ambitious new Base blockchain, and what to expect from ‘on-chain summer’


Collaborating with another popular layer-2 option known as Optimism, Base is built on the OP Stack as a way to optimize scalability. In a recent interview, Pollak shared insights with Fortune contributor Anna Tutova about his journey in the industry, the motivation behind creating Base, and how the blockchain will shape the next wave of crypto adoption after its mainnet launches this month.  

(This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

What can you tell us about your background, and how you got involved in the industry?

I found out about crypto in 2012 originally. I was in university and was sitting at a lunch table and ended up talking to someone at that table about Bitcoin. Little did I know that person was Olaf Carlson Wee, and he was actually on his way up to join Coinbase as the first employee. He went on to start Polychain and do a bunch of other stuff in the industry, but that was my first education. I met him, learned about Bitcoin, and really started getting excited about crypto.

Did you study computer science?

Yeah, I was studying computer science at that time. And, actually, I was kind of starting my first company right then. We were a kind of security company, identity company, and I dropped out of school pretty quickly thereafter, went on that full-time in 2013, and we worked mostly with crypto companies. And so, folks like Bitfinex and Bitmex were customers of ours back in 2014-2015. They paid us and used our software to let customers log into their products.

So what was your product, and how did you join Coinbase?

We were basically building a really easy way for people to log in. It was two-factor authentication without passwords. It was called Clef, based on the French word key. We worked with crypto companies because they were looking for a secure and easy to use way to identify users. And so, did that for five years. That business didn’t work out. And then I joined Coinbase through an acquisition at the beginning of 2017.

I spent the first four-and-a-half years kind of building and leading all the teams that built Coinbase, Coinbase Pro, Coinbase Wallet on the engineering side. I grew those teams from a few people to a couple hundred people. And then in late 2021 I took a step back from that and said: “Hey, what would it take to bring Coinbase on-chain?”

Was that your initiative to start Base?

It was a massive team effort. The company identified that the world was moving on-chain, and that in order for us to help accelerate the next generation of crypto, we needed to figure out how could we bring our business on-chain from being just the centralized exchange to really enabling utility in the crypto economy.

Our CEO, Brian Armstrong, wrote “The Coinbase Secret Master Plan” in 2016. And by 2021, we had worked our way through the first three phases. We had the protocols, we had the exchange, we had the consumer interfaces, but we didn’t have millions of dApps that billions of people were using.

After about a year of exploration, what we identified was: It’s still too hard, it’s still too expensive, it’s still too complex. And so, we started building Base to make it incredibly easy for anyone anywhere to build dApps and then incredibly easy for anyone anywhere to use dApps. And that, combined with the Coinbase Wallet, we believe is going to enable the next wave of crypto adoption.

You use OP Stack by Optimism. So how is Base different from Optimism?

We’ve been collaborating with Optimism for a long time. We actually started working with them on Ethereum before Base existed on something called EIP 4844, which is an upgrade, in theory, that’s gonna reduce the cost of layer-2s like Base by about 10x. As we got to work with the Optimism team, we realized they have really great technology.

When we were starting to build Base, we did a survey and said: “Do we want to build our own technology or do we want to use existing open source technology?” We decided to use the OP Stack, which is this open-source, MIT-licensed toolkit. We felt it was really a way we could build Base, that would contribute back to the broader community and contribute back to the broader ecosystem. So Base is powered by the OP Stack.

In terms of how Base is different from Optimism, we don’t think that these things are competitive. We have this vision of a super chain where all of these are going to come together to create one unified experience for customers.

So Base uses the technology known as an Optimistic rollup?

Yes, Base is an Optimistic rollup. That said, one of the really powerful things about the OP Stack is that it’s built to be configurable and modular and upgradable. And so, one of the things we’re actually working on is adding ZKprover to the OPstack, so we’ll be able to have ZKprover alongside the Optimistic prover. We’ve seen three really awesome proposals from high-quality teams, like Risk Zero, O(1) Labs. And I think we’re on a timeline where we’re gonna start to see results from that in the next year.

You launched your mainnet for builders recently. Can you tell me more about this and about the response to it?

We launched the testnet in February, and we actually just opened up the mainnet for builders three weeks ago. We’re doing this kind of really dedicated period right now where we’re focused on just builders before we let everyday people onto the chain, and working to get those builders’ apps live, get the experience really smooth, make sure that everything’s working from a scalability perspective, from a security perspective. And then, in early August, we’re gonna be launching the full mainnet. At that point we’re gonna have a hundred plus apps that are already ready to go.

The response we’ve seen has been incredible, in collaboration with Coinbase and Optimism and all these other folks who are doing incredible work in the industry in bringing those next billion users on-chain. So that’s what we’re focused on.

How many developers are building on Base?

We’ve seen thousands of developers already building on Base. We’ve been really impressed and excited about the response. My whole calendar is just filled with meeting builders, you know, and some of that is meeting businesses. But I’ve really tried to carve out a huge percentage of my time to focus on individuals, to focus on the people who are just building, whether it’s their nights and weekends, or whether it’s their full-time thing. They are taking the time to write code to put it on Base, whether it’s public goods or little dApps or NFT projects. I think those builders are the people who will create the next wave of innovation that changes the world.

If you look at things like Uniswap or Compound, the original versions of those products were built with one or two people. You don’t need to be a big company to build on Base. Anyone can build on Base and I think the most impactful ideas are actually to come from individuals who take the time, take the energy to build something really unique and powerful.

What are some of the most exciting projects currently being built on Base?

Top of mind for me: Parallel is a really cool game. They launched the beta in July. Blackbird is a small-business and restaurant loyalty platform. It was created by the founder of Eater and Resy, two of the biggest restaurant brands in the United States. They’re fully on Base. Super excited about them.

Oak is building a local community currency stablecoin on Base. And then, of course, we’ll have all of the things that you know and love: the Uniswaps, the Aaves, the Compounds, 0x’s, all the infrastructure for developers. The thing that we are excited about is expanding Base so it’s not just a financial place but a real-world utility for things like music, art, gaming, social media, that people build on Base—and that they scale to millions and then billions of people.

You decided not to launch a related token. Why?

We’ve been really clear that we don’t have any plans for a token. In general, our thesis is that Ethereum is a very workable gas token. It’s what people are already used to holding and spending to use on-chain applications. And so, we want to stay close to Ethereum, and we want to build on that legacy.

But it’s quite costly to use Ethereum.

There’s definitely improvements we can make on cost. If you look at Base versus Ethereum today, running the same dApp on Base is probably going to be 20 times cheaper on Base than it is on an Ethereum with EIP 4844. That’ll go to like 40 to 50 to 100 times cheaper.

I think if you look at tokens today, there’s this crazy kind of financial incentive and financial undercurrent that can obscure what actually is happening and whether there’s product market fit. And we really wanted to focus on making sure that we are building a platform that developers loved and that users loved, and we believe we can do that without a token.

You’ve been through a few cycles since 2012. Can you tell us what you will be the catalyst for the next bull market? Overall, what trends do you see?

I won’t speculate on prices, but we’ve been saying it pretty consistently: We believe this is on-chain summer. This is the summer where everything’s starting to move on-chain and it’s starting to happen faster and faster. People say we’re in a bear market right now, but when I look around the industry, I look at the frequency of launches. I look at the innovation that’s happening. I look at the excitement. I look at the people who are at these conferences, there is so much energy. There’s so much happening. There’s so much impact that is being made every single day. And so, whether that translates to price impact right now or six months from now—or 12 months from now, or 18 months from now—I don’t know.

You mentioned that Base had interest from potential enterprise clients. Can you tell me more about this? For example, the European Investment Bank launched a bond on Ethereum or something like that.

We are working with all kinds of builders on Base from those individual developers that I was talking about earlier to the largest Fortune 500 companies in the world. Can’t share anything in this interview right now, but I think starting this summer you will see that there are global brands that are building on Base, from consumer-packaged goods to finance to whatever you want, and so we’ll have a lot more to share in the next few months.

‘We don’t think that’s true’: Cathie Wood says BlackRock doesn’t have an edge when it comes to SEC approval for a spot Bitcoin ETF


Recently, ARK Invest made headlines by filing an amended Bitcoin ETF application with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Wood, the firm’s CEO and founder, says the timing of the filing, which came after the SEC rejected earlier such bids by ARK and similar firms, could put her company in position to launch the first spot Bitcoin ETF in the U.S.—and gain a significant first-mover advantage in a new market.

During our conversation, Wood shared her views on the broader potential of Bitcoin, the challenges of navigating the regulatory landscape, and her vision for the future of digital assets.

(This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

Can you describe how the idea of starting ARK Invest first came to you? 

I saw the traditional asset management world, especially after the tech and telecom bust and the 2008-09 meltdown, move towards passive and benchmark sensitive strategies, and away from innovation. And I said: “No, we have to focus on innovation because there are five major platforms evolving now.” That includes multiomics (DNA) sequencing, robotics, energy storage, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technology—all evolving at the same time.

And these innovations are going to cause explosive growth—what we’re calling super-exponential growth—that we don’t think people understand. But what they’re also going to do is to cause a lot of disruption in the traditional world order. So, we wanted to focus exclusively on the change, and we wanted to educate people, so we give our research away. We have an open-research ecosystem. We are very happy when people comment on our research, especially if they’re working in innovative areas. Give us more ideas, criticize or battle test our assumptions. So those are the main reasons.

What about your involvement in crypto and blockchain? I read you started investing personally back in 2015. Can you tell us about your first impression of Bitcoin and this technology? 

Yes, we had been curious about Bitcoin from 2011. Our chief futurist, Brett Winton, was fascinated by it. So, we started talking about it regularly, and when we started ARK, we wanted to dedicate resources to it. Now we have three crypto analysts.

In 2015, our analysts wrote a paper. And I asked my mentor, who’s a good friend also now, Art Laffer, a very well-known economist, to read it and criticize it. And when he understood what Bitcoin was, he said: “This is what I’ve been waiting for since we went off the gold-exchange standard.” And I said to him then: “Okay, then this is a very big idea.”

This was in 2015, when it was $250. And we took our first position and gained exposure to Bitcoin through GBTC, the Grayscale Investment Trust, in 2015 for our ETFs.

BlackRock just filed for a Bitcoin ETF, but ARK, along with investment company 21Shares, filed its initial application for a Bitcoin ETF back in April. Do you think this attempt will be successful attempt after earlier ones failed?

Well, many people think BlackRock knows something about the SEC. We don’t think that’s true. We think that this has been in process for a while. But with the Grayscale trial [challenging the SEC’s refusal to allow a spot Bitcoin ETF] coming to a conclusion pretty soon—maybe August—if the SEC loses that case, then the odds go up of a Bitcoin ETF.

And we have our filing. The SEC has until around mid-January to approve it. BlackRock is through March. So, they were probably thinking: Okay, this is a call option potentially on the SEC looking more favorably on a Bitcoin ETF, especially because they’ve approved not only Bitcoin futures ETFs, but now it seems that they’re approving a leveraged Bitcoin futures ETF. And futures involve swaps, whereas a Bitcoin Spot ETF, at least the Grayscale version, is backed fully by Bitcoin in cold storage. So, a spot exchange seems to us to be much safer—and the SEC’s approval process has been contradictory from our point of view.

And how much will it change, in your opinion, the development of the crypto industry if the SEC approves Bitcoin spot ETF finally?

One of the things we’ve been worried about is the SEC chasing innovation away from the U.S. Innovation is in the U.S.’s DNA, and that’s why we’re happy that the judicial branch of government and the legislative branch of government are getting involved. So, what this probably means is we will stop chasing away innovation once we get rules of the road fully in place. We’ll bring back more of the innovation, and it’ll be a global phenomenon. We’re pretty excited that there are many other innovation hubs that want to make this happen, and we want to help them make this happen as well, because it is a global movement.

Do you think that there may be an outcome where the SEC will do a favor to BlackRock, and will approve their spot Bitcoin ETF, but reject yours? 

We don’t think so. We know that there was a surveillance clause in their prospectus that ours didn’t include, but what I’m told is it won’t take much time for us to amend our prospectus, and that all of the exchanges are moving in this direction. [ARK amended its application to add a surveillance clause shortly after this interview.]

Other major crypto news includes the recent launch of EDX, which separates trading and custody, while other big players like Citadel Securities and Fidelity are getting into crypto. Your thoughts?

Yes, I think institutional development was thrown off by FTX last year and all of the turmoil, and by the Wells notice and the lawsuits, especially the Coinbase lawsuit by SEC. But I think we’ve seen the worst, and the outcome is interesting. We’re finding that institutions want to learn more, and they’re becoming more sophisticated. So, they want to be ready for a new asset class, if this truly is a new asset class from their point of view, and we think it is.

The CEO of Europe’s largest bank on innovation, new tech, and HSBC’s approach to crypto


HSBC is Europe’s largest bank, with assets under management of nearly $3 trillion, and it recently rescued Silicon Valley Bank’s U.K. subsidiary. Meanwhile, it just launched its Innovation Banking unit to integrate SVB UK with newly formed teams in the U.S., Israel, and Hong Kong that will be focusing on tech and life science enterprises.

The initiative garnered support from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who believes it will foster innovation, create jobs, and solidify the U.K.’s position as a leading force in science and technology.

Fortune contributor Anna Tutova caught up with HSBC CEO Noel Quinn in London this week, and he shared insight on the bank’s strategic vision and rebranding efforts, and offered perspectives on timely topics like crypto and the role of central bank digital currencies.

(This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

HSBC has been quite busy. Can you comment on the Innovation Banking unit, the Silicon Valley Bank acquisition, and on other upcoming plans?

Happy to do that. First of all, the reason we bought Silicon Valley Bank UK was, if you remember, HSBC was founded 158 years ago with the express intent of financing entrepreneurs, helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses, and seeking out opportunities around the world. And therefore, for us to buy the U.K. arm of Silicon Valley Bank was a natural strategic fit. They’re the entrepreneurs in the tech, the life science sector, and innovation. And why wouldn’t we want to bank the exact group of people that are building the technologies of tomorrow, the health care system of tomorrow? They are a natural group of entrepreneurs that we should be banking. So it was a strategic opportunity. We did it very willingly, and I’m really pleased in the three months since we bought the business. It exceeded my expectations. There is a positive reaction from customers: We opened more accounts in the last three months in the U.K. business than the three months prior to our acquisition.

And what I really wanted to do is to put it in the rebranding. HSBC Innovation Bank brings together the best of both worlds: the specialism that was SVB UK, the focus on the sector, the ecosystem with the financial strength of HSBC.

What types of technologies and innovations do you see as the most strategic for HSBC currently?

I think the technology sector and the life science sector are equally exciting. The pace of change in quantum computing, A.I., the development of completely new business models, the use of technology to create a greener world for the future, a more sustainable world. That’s hugely exciting. But so, too, is the innovation that’s taking place in the life science sector. Just look at what the U.K. was able to do during COVID, the development of vaccines, the bringing to market of new vaccine solutions at a much more rapid pace than had ever been done before.

The development of genetics and protein mapping has been done by some of the firms here in the U.K., DeepMind. I think it is a phenomenal change. And if you roll this forward 10- to 15 years, there are going to be some businesses created today that are going to be the global champions of innovation around the world. Why wouldn’t HSBC want to be part of that journey?

You’ve expressed some concerns regarding cryptocurrency, but HSBC is making some moves in blockchain: There was the launch last year of the bond tokenization platform Orion. So what’s your opinion on blockchain as a technology, and further plans does HSBC have in this area?

I’m very keen on blockchain as a technology base. We were one of the first banks globally—if not the first bank—to process trade finance on blockchain technology. We have since built tokenization of the capital markets. We did a real-life, fully fledged bond issue for a bank in Europe just this year written on blockchain. So I’m very much a fan of the technology.

The question is: How do you use the technology for products in banking? You know, tokenized capital markets are a one-technological, one-product solution. Trade finance is another product solution all on the same technology, but different products. Crypto is a product on a technology base called blockchain.

Crypto as an asset class is something I’m more cautious on, because offering that asset class to retail investors in the same way you’d offer a share or a bond is a different risk profile. And therefore, as a financial institution, I’ll go more cautiously, and I’m very, very cautious on crypto. I don’t think that it’s suitable as a product for many of the clients we bank, but the technology is great.

Do you think your stance on crypto may change with more clarity in terms of regulation?

I think we’d have to see how the regulatory environment changes. But at the moment, there isn’t a strong enough regulatory environment over crypto, so I’m going to remain cautious on crypto in the near term. 

And what’s your stance on central bank digital currencies?

Very much in favor of it. We are developing a central bank digital currency. We’re developing it in Hong Kong—there’s a small group of countries that are developing that as a real-life solution. We’re fully in on central bank digital currency.

We’re one of the biggest global payments houses in the world. Last year, we processed over $600 trillion of payments on behalf of our clients. Central bank digital currencies is a natural thing for HSBC to do. And it’s in a regulatory environment governed by the central banks that are participating in it. So we’re fully, fully invested in that.

And does HSBC have any plans to develop its own custody solution for digital assets, like many other banks?

Yeah, we are developing our own custody solution for digital assets. We’re going, again, into that sensibly, cautiously. But we are going in, we are looking at that as a solution.

Can you share a bit more on the global vision for HSBC in this difficult environment, when other banks are going bankrupt?

Well, we’re very fortunate, and I’m a very fortunate CEO that we have a very strongly capitalized balance sheet, very strong capital ratios, and very, very strong liquidity. So, of my $1.6 trillion of customer deposits, I hold at least $800 billion of that in high-quality liquid assets. So we’re super liquid and we’re cautious, very cautious on our investment profile of how we use that liquidity. 

Now, one of our strengths is, as you say, being a global bank in a world that’s becoming increasingly complex. My job and the job of my colleagues is to help clients navigate an increasingly complex global environment. We’ve been doing it for years—we are the biggest trade bank in the world. We help clients find suppliers, finance suppliers, wherever they want to supply, buy their supplies from around the world. That’s what we do. We help companies navigate a complex world.