The Story of Irene Zhao’s NFT Empire

NFTs are all the rage among current social media influencers today, and they’re using NFTs to increase their popularity and open up a new revenue channel.

Let’s take Irene Zhao as an example. Zhao was born in China and moved to Singapore during her teenage years, settling there to make a career.

She has since become an Instagram model and also a DeFi (decentralised finance) expert. She made waves when she made more than $5 million in a single month, by selling her photos as NFTs on the blockchain.


When Zhao was studying at the National University of Singapore, she fell in love with social media and started developing an active profile on Instagram. Her glamour attracted people in no time, and her follower count gradually increased to reach a whopping 420,000 followers on Facebook.

But let’s backtrack for a moment. Zhao originally got into the finance sector just after graduating. According to, she started her career as a commodity broker, and after getting some hype in both the digital and crypto space, she now serves as a marketing head officer at the blockchain company, Konomi Network.

Earlier in January, the social media sensation launched her first groundbreaking collection of NFTs called “IreneDAO”. Her collection was an immense success and collected $7.5 million in revenues in the first week after listing.


Zhao was not alone in this journey. Throughout the years, she’s been accompanied by her friend and supporter Benjamin Tang. She met him six years before becoming famous. Tang was among the first people who helped her at the start of her career.

They would attend events related to social media together, and he’d help take pictures of her. Later, after Zhao entered the spotlight and her fanbase grew, they started collaborating with mainstream brands as well.

They both entered the crypto world at similar times. In 2021, they got involved in the crypto space by testing out different ideas. Zhao started working in a crypto company and with another friend, while Tang left behind his role behind at a travel startup to enter the NFT world.

These moves turned out to be fruitful for both of them, as Tang said in one of his interviews that, “At the time, crypto only had one primary use case. People could use it to make more crypto.”

Tang immediately saw the potential of DeFi and NFTs as they started to emerge. He commented, “When I looked into NFTs, I thought that these could finally change the way people perceive crypto. They had a different use case. Last time, people would buy expensive watches and cars for social status. Now, instead of buying all of that, people can just buy a monkey as a profile picture to show off how rich they are. That’s a real-world value.”


After the success of the “Bored Ape Yacht Club” NFT launch that sold for millions of dollars, Zhao and Tang believed that NFTs could be a game changer for content creators and social media influencers. They saw a new and advanced monetization channel and a way to build an even stronger community.

“In the past, we had the old model where the influencer posts photos and everyone else observes. The only way for them to make money, even if they had a million followers, was to post advertisements or promote products.” Tang explained, “This is a very inefficient way. Let’s say they promote a shampoo, for example. For every 1,000 dollars’ worth of sales, the influencer might only get $10”.

Tang and Zhao got their followers on board and groomed them to become more receptive towards NFTs. Her huge fanbase is the reason behind her success, as Zhao herself tweeted. “Respect your haters,” she recently said on Twitter, “They’re your most loyal viewers”.

Indeed, she had many viewers who enabled her to grow so much. Logan Paul, another YouTube celebrity and sensation, purchased one of Zhao’s NFTs for $268,000. 


Tang also realized how NFTs can change how fans support their favorite creators. According to, he said, “The OnlyFans model is very transactional. It’s a one-way flow. The creator makes premium content and the fans pay money for it. The fans don’t really get to interact”. Tang believes that NFTs can change that model for the better, by eliminating the middlemen and replacing them with the blockchain. 

The main thought behind the creation of the IreneDAO NFT collection was to utilise Zhao’s Instagram following and other social media supporters to build a loyal community. They branded this new form of community support “SimpFi”. The idea is that they can take an extremely devoted fanbase and, instead of just accepting funds from them, they can take those funds and use them to donate to a greater social cause.

In this case, the greater cause has been charity. As mentioned on, “Irene had a high level vision that she wanted to support women’s and children’s charities, and all of these DAO members did the legwork for her,” Tang explained. “This is a way in which fans have ownership of the community. The pass gives you social value and a sense of membership and identity.”

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