Six months ago, the most excitement in 14-year-old Abigail’s life was playing with her eight pets – a bearded dragon, gecko, python, two birds, a bunny, a fish and a dog.
Then, she and her older brother Adam crafted an idea that changed their lives.
Adam had become a full-time cryptocurrency trader. During one of their many bike rides around Hilton Head Island, where they live, Adam mentioned he was friends with a co-founder of the popular Cool Cats collection of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
For the tech-averse and uninitiated, NFTs are like digital baseball cards. They are collectibles that are bought and traded by collectors. It has largely been a world for risk-taking adults, but Cool Cats was a more family-friendly concept, a series of 9,999 randomly generated cats with different expressions, outfits, faces and colors. They are bought and traded with the Ethereum cryptocurrency.
What was so next level here was that each cat has characters and is graded with a point value based on how unique their look is. The higher-pointed Cool Cats are extremely rare, a small portion of the full first-generation run.
The creators fashioned an online universe, Cooltopia, where collectors interact with their NFTs. The end result is a hybrid of Pokemon cards and a sprawling Minecraft or Fortnite world.
“Adam knows I love to draw, he is always encouraging to follow my passions. One day, he said, ‘Why can’t you do the same thing as Cool Cats? Draw me up something and I’ll show it around,’” said Abigail, who keeps her last name anonymous to protect herself in the world of online creepers and scammers.
She decided to draw a cartoon-looking beluga whale, based on her love of the mammal giant, borne out of a visit to the Georgia Aquarium.
Adam and his friends were so impressed with her drawing that they decided to help her create her own NFT. They would call it Belugies. He and his fiancé worked on promoting the concept ahead of a planned mid-October launch. The idea was to have 8,000 NFTs available with the same kind of rollout plan that Cool Cats used – only Adam and Abigail would use an up-and-coming crypto, Solana, as their base currency. What’s more, a portion of all sales would be donated to whale preservation causes worldwide.
It was a lofty idea, but would it find an audience.
“I couldn’t sleep at all the night before we launched. What if no one liked it? There were so many thoughts going through my head,” Abigail said.
Sales started slow on the Oct. 17 launch. That is, until a well-known NFT influencer talked up Belugies and made it his social media profile photo.
“Things just exploded. It was just the craziest thing. I just can’t even explain all my emotions. The computer just kept dinging. People were talking us up and comparing their purchases on our Discord channel. It was just wild,” she said. “I love my brother and I wanted to learn about NFTs, but I never imagined this could be worth anything.”
Boy, was she wrong. The 8,000 created NFTs sold out, earning the siblings more than $1 million in Solana tokens. Abigail, known as PeachSunday to her Discord fans, also earns 5% commission on all future Belugies resales.
“I couldn’t tell you what an NFT was a half year ago, but I knew Adam believed in it and was passionate about it and that was enough for me,” said Abigail’s mother Sarah. She and father Carl were entrepreneurs themselves as the owners of Color My Room Painting, a work ethic and business spirit they had hoped would rub off on their kids. “To see them combine their worlds, that was rewarding enough. But to see her donating to all these causes, being so generous and compassionate, it’s just beyond words joy she gives us.”
To date, Abigail has donated more than $240,000 of her payday to worthy causes worldwide, including $100,000 to the Sunshine Kids, an organization that supports children’s hospitals across the country; $50,000 to the Ocean Defenders Alliance to clean up ocean waters off the Hawaii coast; and $50,000 to the Beluga Whale Alliance in Alaska.
She has donated to a children’s cancer center in Brazil, an orphanage in Uganda, typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines and to aid hospital support crews in Ukraine.
“We don’t want to waste this moment. We know we are blessed with what has happened, with the community we’ve built and we’re paying that forward,” said Abigail, who traveled to Alaska to hand deliver the beluga whale donation and to see the conservation efforts firsthand.
Her story earned her a January appearance on “Dr. Phil.”
“I appeared via Zoom and gave him a Belugie, which he said was cool other than the fact that it had more hair than him,” she said.
The family interacts with Belugies fans daily and Adam leads the website effort, which features “adoptions” of Belugies traded like stocks on an exchange with fluctuating values based on rarity and popularity.
For the most part, her life is the same as before the online gold rush. She attends school online from home via South Carolina Connections Academy, an accredited platform, which allows her the flexibility to pursue future art projects and continue to build the Belugies universe.
“I don’t think she would have had the time or the opportunity to really focus on executing this dream without Connections,” Sarah said. “It’s been a blessing for us for her to be able to apply her smarts and learn at her own speed.”
Abigail said daily life outside of schoolwork includes tennis, playing with her friends and with her younger brother, Asher.
But things could soon be getting exciting once more. She and Adam are working on a new project to be released in the coming months, featuring a new series of animals that will be added to the Belugies collection.
“We’re being kind of hush-hush, just dropping hints on Discord and Twitter, but it’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said.
Most of the earnings have been set aside to provide for her education and living expenses once she turns 18.
“I don’t need big, flashy things. Adam and I talk about working real hard now so we can retire early and truly see the world and enjoy life to the fullest,” she said. “That’s what all this is building toward. The more we can give to making this a better world, the better.”
Abigail is excited when she hears that she has helped make crypto and NFT more family friendly. She is most proud when her fans tell her what an inspiration she has been.
“You’re never too young to chase a dream, to overcome your fears and be passionate about what others might think is silly,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot through all this and I now know I can achieve anything I’m passionate about.”
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at email@example.com.