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Bringing Art Collecting to Ethereum: The Curio Cards Founders — Rhett Creighton | by Curio DAO

“I think it’s really important to state how impressive it was what Rhett accomplished with that code. If he hadn’t been on the project, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.” — Travis Uhrig, Show Me The Crypto, Ep. 34.

Rhett Creighton is the technical whiz and visionary programmer behind the Curio Cards contracts, also called “vending machines.” He figured out how to use Solidity to code and deploy the first “vending machine” on May 9, 2017.

Even before contributing to crypto, Creighton was bright; a precocious talent that became an engineering polymath. He was a child actor at age four, and appeared on television, in commercials, and the movie Crocodile Dundee II. He left high school early to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics, followed by a Masters Degree in Nuclear Engineering. During college, Creighton won an MIT robotics competition and starred in an episode of Junkyard Wars, which he also won, along with his classmates, competing against the show’s first all-female crew to build sand yachts from scrap parts. He’s also had at least one patent issued, and another one pending (in the United States).

Creighton is known throughout crypto for creating ZClassic, a privacy coin he forked from ZCash, by changing “twenty lines of code.” Before that, he was a member of the Bitcoin Core development team, having contributed to the “RPC test suite.”

Speaking about his early involvement in an interview with YouTube channel Cryptocurrency Market, Creighton explains how he was always interested in internet technology, and that he started “a web company in grad school.” In Summer 2011, he found out about Bitcoin, and because of his technical background, read through the whitepaper and its ideas. Creighton says he “got excited about it”, because it contained “a lot of things in computer science and cryptography that hadn’t been tested before.”

He was also perfectly primed for the experiment, having spent a year, part time, around the 2008 banking crisis, trying to understand “what a dollar is.” He says it’s “incredibly complicated, but on purpose,” and that Americans “spend their whole life working for dollars”, but “99.9% don’t even have a clue what a dollar represents.”

ZClassic was created from ZCash, a fork of Bitcoin, which uses zk-SNARK technology to shield the sender, receiver and transaction amount to maintain privacy. Unlike Zcash, ZClassic has no 20% founders reward fee.

Creighton soon bought his first amount of Bitcoin — eight, for eight dollars each. At that time, the only available exchange was Mt. Gox, so he opted to use an over-the-counter Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, where people accepted PayPal for Bitcoin. It took him over “ten hours” to set up the Bitcoin full node, and he was a bit disappointed after all the hard work, because all he got was a number on the screen that said eight.

Later, Creighton worked for a “company that tried to apply blockchain technology to US equities clearing and settlement.” He also worked for Blockchain Health, which aimed to embed medical record data in the Bitcoin blockchain, and garnered partnerships with large “multi-hundred billion dollar” pharmaceutical companies.

In 2012, Creighton moved to San Francisco. There, he found out about and attended Bitcoin meetup groups, not really knowing what to expect. Naval Ravikant — a well-known entrepreneur and angel investor — was a speaker at a meetup, and Creighton recalls him making “amazing arguments” for buying Bitcoin, when the price was 200 dollars.

Naval Ravikant advocating for Bitcoin at Token Summit II, in San Francisco. Image from Coindesk:

Although Bitcoin dipped significantly in 2013, Creighton continued attending meetups. Like Uhrig, he was fascinated by open source software, so he was curious about joining the Bitcoin Core development team. Bitcoin Core is the most-used software for connecting to a Bitcoin node. A lot of its early development happened over IRC, and just like with open source software, early Bitcoin developers weren’t paid.

Creighton attended developer meetups in 2014. Bitcoin startups were failing. So, he kept going, trying to figure out what was happening, and what was holding Bitcoin back. As it happened, he was at the meetup where the first proposal for the widely adopted Lightning Network, a “layer 2” payment protocol built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain, was announced.

While working part time as a software engineer, Creighton asked someone how to get involved in Bitcoin Core. He was told the test suite needed improvements, so after getting stuck into the code and submitting a “pull request”, he ended up making a small contribution to the RPC (Remote Procedure Call) tests. Creighton says the experience was “amazing”, because his pull request had to be “heavily reviewed”, and “five people with high authority in the Bitcoin development community had to give it the go-ahead.”

Eventually, Creighton met Uhrig and Hunt through the San Francisco Bitcoin meetup group. As Uhrig has publicly stated, “Rhett is and was a friend through the meetup group in San Francisco. He joined [Curio Cards] as an equal share member.” The three founders figured out how Curio Cards would work during Bitcoin meetups called “Proof of Drink”, which were sponsored by Coinbase, and took place in San Francisco bar El Rio.

Rhett Creighton, center left, winner of Draper University’s HackCity contest in 2017.

Although Creighton has never publicly shared what drew him to Curio Cards, he offered the following to Curio Cards holder and Curio DAO contributor, OC Ripley:

“My involvement ended in 2017 and I have no comment on the project beyond that. My mother is an artist and collected tchotchkes in a curio cabinet when I was growing up (which is just a coincidence). I’m sure many other people have artist or collector family members so that is something many people can relate to.”

Creighton’s development represents a monumental piece in the evolution of NFTs on Ethereum. In 2021, Uhrig helped put the influence of the MIT alumni’s technical achievement into perspective:“Rhett had to figure out how to make an NFT on Ethereum from scratch. And the only thing that really existed at the time was this type of token called an ERC-20 token, which was used for ICOs. It’s just your basic fungible token. And he had to turn that into a non-divisible, rare collectible, and he also put them into these things we called vending machines, which let anybody be able to send money to Ethereum and get art back. And that’s now how minting works in the ERC-721 Token Standard.”

While his involvement in the project came to a close in 2017, he’s been active in the crypto sphere, as well as occasionally revisiting the spirit of his television days by starting a YouTube channel called “Bowling for Bitcoin.” He tells Ripley, he’s also been “growing hydroponic strawberries on Twitch, (…) kite foiling, and golfing.

In between launching new privacy coins, Creighton’s also “excited about using NFTs along with computational genomic techniques.” In particular, he’s interested in using the technology “to bring back the dinosaurs.”

Creighton continues: “I believe that if we build a marketplace for NFTs of SNIPs (small segments of DNA) reptile breeders can use CRISPR and prediction markets can help identify which SNIPs will lead to larger reptiles in the future. Perhaps it might take 200 years till we have 50 foot reptiles again, but the amazing thing about a public blockchain is that it is plausible that it could keep running all that time.

The next question everyone asks is what happens if they get out of control. I watched all the Jurassic Park movies, and I’m pretty sure the answer is that we should only breed vegetarian reptiles and everything is ok.”

What if?

It’s clear Creighton has an eye for groundbreaking ideas and a mind for unleashing them. This was the same approach that allowed him to create the Curio Cards contracts before NFTs were commonplace.

As Hunt has said, “Rhett created a smart contract for it. He had to make the whole thing work; there were no best practices or standards, or existing frameworks that we could use.”

Curio Cards emerged out of a time of blockchain experimentation, when new rules were codified to disrupt existing industries. Each of the three founders played a critical role in bringing together the first art collection on Ethereum; driving radical ideas forward through technical innovation, so that a community could grow and support it well beyond the rediscovery hype. The soaring highs that came four years after the project’s demise, are testament to the original ideas, and a bold curiosity to try new things.

This article is part three in a series on the Curio Cards Founders. It was written and edited by Curio DAO contributor OC Ripley, with help from Crypto Lurker and Clio Beruete. If you enjoy our work, consider donating to Curio DAO.

And if you’d like to contribute creatively, find out how here, and visit the Curio Cards Discord to get to know the community.

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