Are we Sure he Isn’t a Supervillain?
Rene Schmidt is M○C△’s Most Important Asset, and May One Day Threaten Humanity Itself
Of course I don’t think Rene Schmidt is a supervillain, that’d be preposterous. It’s just that, well, if in 20-years or so, a global hack of all the most vital financial and militaristic computer systems sent humanity sputtering back to the Dark Ages, and if a team of highly-trained operatives with specialized training scoured the world for the person responsible, we shouldn’t be so surprised if that globe-spanning manhunt ended in the lair of one Rene Schmidt himself, his hair wild, an eyepatch covering his right eye, a grey cat stroked to sleep in his arms. If we’d just been more observant, we might’ve seen that the signs were there all along.
Well, Rene, I’m onto you! Good luck hiding your predisposition towards supervillainy from here on out! I remember when the M○C△ team were all on a call after the holidays, and in your camera, Rene, we all saw the slender grey cat appear from a doorway, saunter across the room, hop acrobatically atop a cabinet, and from there make its way, recklessly and energetically, up a series of steps nailed to the wall behind you, and, reaching the top, manage one final olympic leap, falling safely into a hammock screwed into the ceiling. Everyone was smirking, giggling, thinking perhaps about the antics of their own cats, but not you, Rene. You were deadly serious. Eyes wide, unblinking, not a hint of a grin. Cat, earthquake, cyberattack, nothing, it seemed, could have penetrated your intensity.
During our interview for this piece, that intensity erupted again when I’d asked Rene about whether he saw artistry in his computer engineering. He told me how in April of 2020, he’d acquired a 3D Metaverse Avatar, Nature, to “use in VRchat and Somnium Space and all the new metaverse worlds, Web3-enabled and conventional ones.” But he wasn’t satisfied with this avatar being a mere curio. Looking at me through a camera 4000 smiles away, Rene grinned and asked, “Why shouldn’t I choose this NFT as the birth of an identity?”
This is his idea of artistry: the creation of an entirely new being.
He continued, beaming, “I joined into [a Zoom Call] as Nature and recorded…from Somnium Space via OBS, which is like streamer software for Twitch, and this output from the virtual camera via OBS into a Zoom Call proved to me that I can share knowledge and experience from this shell without having to show myself. I can be anywhere, at any point in the future.”
A certain mad genius mania builds in him as he speaks. It’s only emphasized by the messy blonde hair, the Nordic features, and the musical German accent. And, of course, his casual, constant veneer of competence. Throughout our conversation, Rene revealed an adept’s comprehension of not only Web3, but of gaming, finance, and the Metaverse, of online identity, of geopolitics, of Crypto Art and NFTs, too. It’s a miracle his head doesn’t burst with all that stuffs it silly.
But it makes sense why he’s so full of information; this is a man who stood on the very earliest precipices of Web3, and willingly, nay enthusiastically, dove in. Rene recounted with nonchalance how, “I remember days when, in this apartment, half of the [Matic Blockchain] team was sleeping here, and they were telling me how the world looks in Mumbai.” Or another time when, “I met Jaynti Kanani, who is the founder of Matic/Polygon in 2018, before the company was founded, and he explained to me his idea for faster blocktimes and cheaper fees at a time when Ethereum did not have these problems.”
One balks at how casually Rene reveals his involvement in the earliest epochs of Web3, like how, “…for two years during the Chainbreakers time,” Chainbreakers being his company’s 2018 Play-to-Earn MMO game, “it was super exhausting to both lead the project and also travel on all continents to visit all these [crypto] conferences.” You’re tempted to gloss over the comment, until you realize that, wow; Rene was trying to make a Web3-enabled MMO game in 2018, well before most people could even conceptualize a Bitcoin, and then his encyclopedic experience begins to make sense.
Rene is as embedded in Web3’s history as his ideas are in its code. He housed the Matic team before there was a Matic Network. He “helped to found POAP at the hackathon in ETH Denver [with Patricio Worthalter.” He “bought [Cryptopunk 2764]…when I think it was like .5 ETH or .6 ETH, when ETH was like 200 or 300 dollars.” Today, he oversees the Web3-solutions firm Qwellcode, investing in vast amounts Crypto Art, and brokering connections with most every builder in the space.
Rene is the Chief Technology Officer at M○C△. With Rene leading the Museum and pursuing his boldest ideas, M○C△ has become a home for decentralized Crypto Art curation, on-chain community dialogue, and virtual world-building.
We aspire to be a new kind of art museum, more egalitarian in design and unafraid to push technological and artistic boundaries. But what is actually possible at M○C△, in his eyes?
“It’s easy to design visions and throw around crazy ideas without being able to know if it is possible to execute that. It’s way cooler to do that knowing what’s possible like multi-chain or cross-chain ecosystems within websites. But in the backend you will have different blockchains connected to what the user sees…That’s what we are doing at M○C△. Like we’re connected with Metaverse, you can bid on FLOOR, you’re connected to Ethereum and then when you do a bid, you switch the page, you sign transactions on Polygon, without even knowing anymore that you’re signing on the Polygon chain.”
This is the kind of thing Rene does, that which others can’t even yet comprehend. And because only a few M○C△ employees have met him in- person, to most of us, Rene seems like some modern-day Oz: a charming face behind a computer screen with the power to do anything it apparently wants to. If that face has limits to its ability, we haven’t seen them yet.
“…For me, it’s important to build stuff that is accessible, that doesn’t involve huge amounts of gas costs, and to build hyper-accessible Web3 software with the extreme focus on decentralization.” I’ll admit, it’s hard to imagine supervillainy the fate of anyone with beliefs like that. Rene Schmidt is a born egalitarian. And I’ve known few more supportive colleagues. He’s always poking around the M○C△ Discord, complimenting prototypes, providing insight, answering questions, and generally exalting his team’s accomplishments.
Still, we mustn’t ignore that this is someone who has entangled his entire life with technology, to whom it has been a perpetual paramour, and who believes deeply in the power of computers to help push humanity forward. To know Rene is to know his idealism. And idealism can be a dangerous springboard for supervillainy.
Rene told me how, “Qwellcode was founded in 2013 by me and my cofounder, [Alexander Gees]. Alex and I…we met when we were very young. From there we explored technology and computer games, video-games, the internet, first chatroom experiences, building first websites together in sixth-grade…We were so curious about the fact that you could connect into this internet, and then you’re able to communicate with all the different people on the web, and you were able to consume content…We realized, ‘Okay it’s possible to write your own website and choose the background colors and the fonts,’ and that’s how we started to learn how to program…
“…In 2015, or late 2014, [Qwellcode] got Oculus Rift development kits and started tinkering around with VR, and in 2017 we found out about Decentraland, and from there I dug heavily into NFTs and started to build up a department for Web3 development inside Qwellcode.”
Then came the aforementioned building years, wherein he met the Polygon team, helped found POAP, explored the first burgeoning PFP projects and started investing in Crypto Art. “Peter Bock…one of my oldest NFTs is by him. Tree of Origins is what it’s called.”
Collecting Crypto Art and NFTs became a passion, and so “In 2020, I wanted to build systems that enable you to curate your NFTs. At that time it was only possible on OpenSea to see an overview of your NFTs, and you could not really arrange them or categorize them. And that was when I teamed up with [Yonatan Ben Shimon, M○C△’s Strategy and Development Leader] to build this ‘Collector’s Hub’ thing and that allowed you to curate art exhibitions…but it was the alpha version of [M○C△’s Member’s Pass] and that’s how [Colborn Bell] and I met.”
But since joining M○C△ in Q1 of 2021, Rene helped develop our Member’s Pass, the Web3-enabled forum, $moca’s tokenomics system, and most recently, the paradigm-shifting ROOM/FLOOR NFT system, with aims to reshape our very relationship with the Metaverse.
What will the next two years bring? Rene is unflinching in his desire to decide for himself: “You need to design your place into this, to keep it sustainable, with an independently-working business model that removes the need for venture capital people who tell you what to do and define goals for you.”
Mistrust of authority? Check. Iconoclastic internal compass? Check. Virtuosic mastery of technological systems, the ability to birth worlds at will, the knowhow to disappear fully into the system, reappearing in the right spots when advantageous? Check, check, and check.
Even his online presence has a certain villainous bent: the self-proclaimed “Wild Hair Pirate.”
“I was trying to find a Punk that looked a bit like me…but there were only females with blonde hair, so… I decided because the price was good to get a Wild Hair punk, with the eyepatch, which was available, and then later on I colored the hair blonde…and used that as my profile picture…When the price of punks was 100 ETH I could’ve sold for 100 ETH but I thought, ‘No,’ because the Punk became really a part of my identity… I like that you can keep this Pirate-plus-Wild-Hair and transition this to identify yourself into different communities and be recognizable…”
So here we are, considering a tech-czar who has not one, not two, but three identities. Rene, the Human. Rene the Wild Hair Online Pirate Punk. Rene the Anonymous 3D Avatar. Seems fitting. He’s a man of multitudes, this Rene Schmidt, an incredibly kind and thoughtful individual, enthusiastic and helpful, an innovator and builder of the highest degree, respected if not worshiped by those around him, but a deeply-serious and deeply-principled dude, one who sees the potential in Web3, has devoted his life to it and its predecessors, and won’t see it wasted, would put his body in front of its corruption, has ideals and isn’t afraid to vocalize or argue or defend them.
Suffice to say, I don’t think Rene is a supervillain. But I can see how the world might make him become one. Because what if time works its terrible magic on this man? Should the world exact vengeance on Web3 for daring to be democratic, Rene might well turn to the dark side, let his hair hang sinisterly over his eye, take out the VR-gloves he keeps in a drawer beside his computer (he showed me) and wreak havoc across the Metaverse. We might not even know it was him. By then, he might have a dozen identities. He might have a hundred. It would fit in with what I know of his ethos.
“I think [anonymity] is super important…because these individuals, founders of DeFi protocols, for example, who went way beyond what we have at M○C△ with market caps of trillions or billions of dollars, their technology securing assets worth a lot of money, I think at some point those people can be afraid of getting kidnapped…or getting manipulated by nation-state interest.”
If I were a gambler I’m not sure where I’d put my money: on a guy like Rene amassing enough money and power to fear manipulation by nation-states, or on a guy like Rene amassing enough money and power that nation-states would fear manipulation by him.
Place your bets clandestinely, is my advice. Take care to stay on Rene’s good side. Not just as a safeguard against any potential future supervillainy, but because there’s hardly been a man so warm-hearted and welcoming. He’s a joy to have around.
And if Rene were indeed to one day make good on his badness and become a true-blue supervillain, he’d doubtless be a hospitable one. Stumble upon his icy Antarctic hideout, and he’d probably invite you in for a warm drink, show you around the place, have a room made up for you, a fire lit, and, yeah, I bet he’d check in before bed, to make sure you had the blankets you needed, to make sure you were comfortable before he was called away to, you know, go take over the world. Not that you would much mind. You’d be too cared-for to care.
Written by Max Cohen