There’s no playbook for starting a DAO. Beyond a handful of essays and Twitter threads, the only way to learn how to start a DAO is by actually starting a DAO.
To help others in my position, I wanted to share a few insights I've gained from helping start the SuperteamDAO over the past 2 weeks.
Status as a Non-Financial Incentive
Anyone who thinks of DAOs as utopias where all members are equal is ngmi.
As with any community, those who contribute more deserve to be rewarded. We primarily encourage contribution by giving tokens from early stage Solana projects to those who do the legwork. But we are also using Roles within Discord as a way to provide additional incentives. The Roles are a way for us to literally elevate valued people in the DAO, as they will show up higher in the list of participants on the right-hand side of the Discord interface. This should in turn provide higher status within the DAO.
However, the nomenclature of these roles is surprisingly difficult to nail down. A good hierarchy of Roles should:
Be immediately intelligible to new joiners
Feel like a natural progression
Avoid favoring the founding Members over new Members who contribute heavily
To start off, we used the roles of "New Recruit", "Member", and "Contributor". This failed criteria #1 - it wasn't clear to people that “Contributor” was higher than “Member”. It also wasn't clear if the "New Recruit" label would be automatically amended once the new joiner had been part of the Discord for a certain period of time.
To fix that issue and solve for criteria #2, we switched to a new Roles hierarchy based on experience. Importantly, we wanted this to indicate experience within the DAO, rather than experience in general. Here's what we are currently using:
Lurker - those who have just joined the Discord and not yet contributed anything of value to the DAO. We also debated using “Rookie” as an alternative, but decided that felt a little unintentionally condescending.
Member - those who are invited to join the DAO based on some Proof of Work. This is heavily weighted towards those who have done work for the DAO itself, but we are currently making exceptions for highly talented people who we think will add immediate value to the DAO in the short term. The term "Member" feels like a natural choice.
Core Contributor - those who have contributed heavily to the DAO and are continuing to do so regularly.
Finally, to solve for Criteria #3, we made the decision to make all founding team members Core Contributors, rather than a separate Role like "Staff". This way, anyone who contributes heavily to the DAO can earn the same role as the founding members, ensuring we don't create a special class of status that is unattainable by other people in the community.
To help make the community easier to understand, we also gate channels based on roles, as you can see in the screenshot below:
This is a far from perfect system. We think we’ll eventually also include skills-based roles (e.g. Designer, Writer, etc) to make it easier for members to understand each other’s strengths. We’ll also likely need additional gradations between Members and Core Contributors as the community grows.
But my suggestion to anyone else starting a DAO: invest a lot of time into thinking about Roles and what you'll call people within your Discord. It’s surprisingly important.
Solve for Intensity, Not Size
Vanity metrics are ways of measuring something that look great on the surface, but don't translate to meaningful results. In my short experience, "size of the community" is a vanity metric.
In the abstract, more people in the community is helpful. For a Service DAO like ours, more people = larger talent pool to service clients. But more people can also be detrimental to the community's culture. Having 1,000 "wen token sir" people in the Discord is distracting and ruins the mission-first culture we're trying to create.
To solve this, we're defining the "community" narrowly as the number of active Members we have, not just the number of people in the Discord. And we're not worried so much about the size of this narrowly defined community as we are the intensity of engagement. We want people in our community to give their time and energy to the DAO, not just to add "SuperteamDAO" to their Twitter bio.
We still have a lot of work to do in order to build that intense engagement. A few things we’re already experimenting with are:
Synchronous events, held within Discord. While some of these events are just loose brainstorming sessions, others are more structured meetings with an agenda and specific avenues for contribution. The next step is to host fun, casual events, which members of the community are already working on.
Host Committee. This group of volunteer Members is responsible for making new Members feel welcome by reaching out for a 15 minute call. This group also has the authority to screen new Member applications, ensuring they feel a sense of stewardship over the community.
Tipping bots. When Members create value for the DAO, they ought to be rewarded. It’s relatively easy to reward those who build things for the DAO (e.g. a Metrics Dashboard), but it’s harder to reward those who are consistently answering questions, sharing articles, and generally contributing to the vibes of the community. We don’t have a good system for this yet, but I’d expect it to become an important piece of our engagement strategy.
Onboarding Matters Even More Than They Say
Shout out to @rafathebuilder in particular for helping shape my thoughts on this. Onboarding is important at two levels: for new joiners (i.e. Lurkers) as well as those who want to be more active in the DAO (i.e. Members).
In my mind, a good onboarding experience should deliver three things: Clarity, Contribution, and Connection. Here's how we're doing each:
Clarity. How do you give new joiners a sense of the mission, vision, and values of the DAO? We provide a simple "start here" FAQ, along with links to our website, in our automated welcome message sent by the MEE6 Discord plugin.
For redundancy, we also have a “Start Here” channel in Discord.
Contribution. How can new joiners quickly begin adding value? First, we ask Lurkers to complete 2 tasks in two minutes (read the FAQ and shill themselves in our #proof-of-work Discord channel). Then, we ask them to look at the open Bounties we offer and get to work. Just in case their skillset isn’t suited to any open bounties, we also provide a list other tasks they could complete for the DAO on our website’s “Ideas for Lurkers” page.
Connection. How do you ensure new joiners feel a human touch? We’ve been running onboarding meetings 2-3 times a week to ensure people who join see a human face and get to talk to other new joiners. This also further gives us the ability to provide clarity (as we get a chance to explain the DAO in detail) and reiterate contribution.
The second level of onboarding we’re working on is harder, but perhaps even more valuable. How do you guide new joiners from contributing a little bit of value to contributing a lot of value? The same framework applies:
Clarity. How do you make clear the benefits and requirements of active engagement? We've created a simple "Welcome Pack" page in Notion that provides an overview of what being a Member entails (image below). We send it every time a Lurker is elevated to Member status in Discord.
Contribution. How do you get people to move from tasks to projects? We're currently using a Members-only dashboard where anyone can post what they want to work on and indicate if they need help from other Members. This board has the added benefit of giving new Members visibility into all the projects that are being executed across the DAO.
Connection. How do you deepen the ties between the Members? We're using a Meet a Member dashboard and heavily recommending that new Members try to schedule short 15 minute calls with at least 2 other members right after they join.
In the same way there are Service DAOs specifically focusing on Treasury Management (e.g. Llama) and Tokenomics (e.g. Fire Eyes), I’m sure there will be DAOs specializing in onboarding sooner rather than later. If you’re working on exactly that, shoot me a DM on Twitter, I’d love to talk.
Resist the Urge to Over-Plan
Big shout out here to @helloshreyas for this insight.
When I spoke to him, I had 100 questions about legal structures, tokenomics, treasury management, etc. His calm and obvious-in-hindsight advice was to wait to answer questions about formal governance structures until they were necessary. And, more importantly, to let the community themselves help inform their answers.
Starting a DAO is an exercise in self-restraint. The sexy part of starting a DAO is thinking about tokenomics and governance structures. It's damn fun to go down a rabbithole and spend 8 hours on a whiteboard, designing the perfect architecture for every single process or need that might arise.
But the crucial part of starting a DAO is community building. Every hour you spend on governance design early on - before there's even anything to govern over! - is a wasted hour. Instead, the best approach is to build the initial skeleton and focus the bulk of your time on building the community.
Ultimately, the community will decide what is needed and when. They may even change the initial skeleton the founding team set out. And that's fine! There's a leap of faith required to trust the community as contributors, but once you make it you will feel liberated. I promise.
Low Fidelity Work is an Invitation
Building in public is naturally scary. What if the unfinished thing you show turns people off? What if it makes people think your DAO is a joke? What if it makes people think you're an amateur?
When building a DAO, however, I firmly believe there is no alternative. You just have to be willing to look like an idiot sometimes. If it's any comfort, there are few DAO experts, so most people are flailing around in the dark trying to find the light.
But building in public and showing low-fidelity work has a tremendous benefit. The more unfinished the things you show, the more likely community members are to want to help. If we show a perfectly crafted process map to the community, they will feel like the work is done and give me a thumbs up. If, however, we show that same process on post-it notes or as a hand drawn sketch, we will get actionable feedback and ideas.
This was the guiding idea behind making our website, superteam.fun, an unpolished Notion page. We could have easily paid a designer to craft something beautiful and perfect. But that would make it seem like the DAO was built, rather than being built.
In my few short weeks at the DAO, I have been astonished at how many smart people just want to contribute. Even in the absence of large financial rewards, they just want to build cool shit. The more unfinished work you can give them - and the more of a sense you give them that all work is unfinished - the more cool shit they will build.
It's More Fun than Expected
For all the painful mistakes, late nights, and contentious debates we’ve had starting this DAO, it has easily been the most fun I've had in years. I wake up every morning excited and end every day surprised.
If you're thinking about getting involved or starting a DAO, I highly recommend you do it. And if you have questions or insights to share, hit me up on Twitter @kashdhanda - I'd love to chat.
Special thanks to Akshay BD and Sanah Dhanda for editing this post.