DAO Masters S3: Retrospective & Learnings
twhittle
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DAO Masters
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June 1st, 2022

Overview

Introduction

As we reached the end of S3, the DMGs came together to talk about what DAO Masters worked on, what went well, what we learned, and what we think we should do differently next season.

What follows is a collection of our thoughts, which we hope is beneficial for both our community and the broader DAO ecosystem!

We’ve split it into a summary and a more detailed look into projects and learnings. The former is a great place to understand what we’ve been doing and what we learned across the DAO as a whole. The latter really dives into progress and key takeaways from the season.

Summary

S3 ran from January 2022 through early April 2022. The focus exploring new ideas and finding a way to sustainably fund the treasury. A new partnerships group, a new research team, even a new token.

We aimed to create a flywheel. Research would drive thought leadership and thought leadership would drive partnerships. Partnerships would drive monetization and ultimately better research.

The goal of partnerships was to find a monetization strategy. At the start of S3, our treasury had one season of funding left. Monetization would ensure the sustainability of the DAO, allow us to fund more ambitious projects, and provide amazing opportunities for contributors.

In S3, we learned that DAO partnerships are like enterprise sales (aka long and challenging). Out of 10 leads, we completed work for one. Our goal was 1, so that was a win! More importantly though, we learned a ton. Our product offering, ‘improving DAO operations’ was too broad. To be successful, we’d need a tighter offering, like Vector or WAGMI. It also became clear that contributors weren’t super excited by partnerships work. The takeaway: While partnerships may be a viable long-term strategy, we’d like to generate revenue in a way that’s more aligned with contributors’ interest.

In terms of research, we made some fantastic inroads. We completed 4 articles and one was featured in Bankless’ newsletter!

We also learned a lot about the research process itself. In S3, 10 research pieces were proposed and 4 were completed. We learned that we need a clearer process for proposing topics, refining scope, providing feedback, and implementing quality controls. We believe that more people contributing to a smaller number of articles will be more effective.

On the community front, a contributor voiced a silent but popular opinion that they were demotivated by the partnerships direction. They thought we should remain a learning DAO instead of a services DAO. This valuable feedback encouraged us to revisit our roots as a public good. We finished the season by raising almost $40k from a Gitcoin grant! We were very surprised and humbled by this outcome. This shows the continued excitement around DAO Masters.

We also began weekly community talks to help DAO Masters become more transparent. They’re growing each week. These are a great opportunity to learn about current initiatives, how to participate, and let us know how to improve. They’re also a great time to get to know other DAO members and have fun. After all, a DAO without good vibes is just another place to work!

You may also have seen talk about a new DAO Masters token. The new token will replace the current token and allow new contributors to earn governance rights. We’ll have more news to share on this front soon, but if you own the current token, you’ll be eligible to receive the new one. More details will be shared in the Daily Updates soon.

All that remains is to say a massive thank you to all contributors and community members for your efforts this season! We learned a ton and are a lot better for it. We’ve had a few changes in direction as we try to answer the existential question: “What should DAO Masters be?” Your honest, transparent feedback has been key to getting us back on track!

Deep Dive

Where We Started

DAO Masters began with momentum and excitement from the end of s2 rolling into 2022. We noticed particularly high levels of engagement in partnerships and research, and sought to capitalize on that. Our primary objective as DMGs was to come up with a sustainable business model for DAO Masters. The treasury was running low, and we worried about being able to compensate people.

We proposed the s3 strategy after a lot of centralized planning. The goal was to create a flywheel between partnerships and research that would drive revenue towards the treasury while still being in line with our mission. We felt that with this tightly coupled business model, tool reviews were not crucial to the mission (Spoiler: we were wrong!). When we weren’t able to find a contributor who wanted to manage that process, we decided to sideline it for this season.

In mid-January, we opened up s3 applications ready to hop on the rocket ship of revenue generation!

What We Achieved!

Though s3 was turbulent, we still achieved some pretty awesome things:

  • Onboarded 15 awesome new contributors from 45 applications
  • Put out 2 partnership proposals and completed a paid pilot partnership with JBX
  • Accepted 10 community-driven research proposals and published 4 pieces
  • Started weekly community calls and vastly improved our community ops backend
  • Created tokenomics and legal plan
  • Opened up all Discord channels to live “building in public”
  • Raised almost $40k!!! from Gitcoin

What We’re Proud Of

As DMGs we’re proud of so many things in this community. If we had to distill it down to just a few things, these would be ours:

Experimentation

If we zoom up to 40,000 ft., we can reflect proudly on the fact that DAO Masters continued to test new ideas. Even if this season didn’t produce a revenue rocket ship, we feel like there was sound logic backing the decisions we made at the start of the season. No startup walks into the world with product-market fit, and DAOs are no different. This season’s experiments have served as a guiding light. We now have a better understanding of what value we provide to the broader DAO ecosystem, and more importantly, what value we provide to our DAO Masters community.

On this note, we are super proud of the community’s willingness to engage in conversations and bring to light different opinions and perspectives. Bringing up conflicting perspectives isn’t always the easy thing to do, but it can lead to awesome conversations and positive outcomes. We were thrilled to see the community’s willingness to both bring up their opinions and discuss them in a meaningful way.

Community Initiative

At the suggestion of a community member, we formed a small team to write a proposal for a Gitcoin grant. Thanks to quadratic matching, we received almost $40k! We owe a massive thanks to everyone who pushed us to submit a grant, worked on the proposal, donated to the grant, and helped promote our proposal. While we don't necessarily want to rely on grants to fund our community indefinitely, they are a good way for us to keep our treasury healthy while we do find a sustainable business model. With that in mind, please continue to suggest any grants that you think might be a good fit for us.

Along with the huge win coming out of the Gitcoin grant, we’ve seen some awesome internal initiatives from various teams this season at DAO Masters. The community ops team started the tradition of community calls on Wednesday mornings. In them, we come together to share learnings from both inside DAO masters and from the broader community. We also wanted to shout out the entire Research team. They conducted tons of interviews to get 4 fantastic pieces written up in record time. To give a sense of the quality, Kagagmi’s piece on pseudonymity got picked up recently by Bankless!

Tokenomics & Legal

While a lot of this has been happening in the shadows, we’ve made immense progress in our understanding of tokenomics and legal wrappers for DAOs. Through conversations with experts, we were able to put together a plan for our token upgrade. Our proposal for the new tokenomics plan was approved on Snapshot, and we successfully launched the new token at the start of May!

Additionally, we spoke with a handful of lawyers and researched best practices for spinning up a legal entity for DAO Masters.  We have the bare-bones of a plan now figured out, and will be moving forward with a proposal to implement that next season. The legal structure that has been advised is a UNA, which provides membership flexibility while still giving members protection from personal liability.

What We Learned & Areas for Improvement

Lesson #1: Org structures and processes must create low friction pathways for community involvement.

While every DAO knows this to be true, living it is a different story. Last season, we had this lesson hammered home in two key areas: strategic planning and community initiatives.

First, our planning efforts were too centralized. We acted like a traditional corporation where the leadership sat in a (Zoom) room for two weeks, determined the strategy, and shared it with the community. This was the wrong approach. It didn’t allow space for new ideas and honest feedback. Instead, it created an environment of “get onboard, or get out”. Moving forward, we’ll be ensuring that the season planning process receives frequent input from the community. As DMGs, we view this as our #1 priority. Getting this right is crucial for the long-term viability of DAO Masters.

Second, we did not create processes that nurtured and supported community innovation. Fortunately, the community has been working on creating a more bottoms-up approach to proposals, where any token holder or previous contributor can submit their ideas. We'll be putting this to a vote at the beginning of S4. We hope it will be the first step in increasing the community's ownership, responsibility and decision-making power.

Lesson #2: Onboarding should occur on an ongoing and consistent basis.

In S3, we closed off onboarding during the season. This was designed to reduce the overwhelming amount of onboarding and context overhead. This meant that new people who were excited to start contributing mid season couldn’t join. When we lost the new people, we also lost fresh excitement and new ideas. We’d love to be the place for quality talent to write about DAOs and DAO tooling. The more projects that we have that are open to quality contributors, the better. In S4, we’ll onboard new contributors on an ongoing basis. One of our values is “build in public”, and we’ll live that more.

Lesson #3: Business model-community fit is critical for the sustainability of the DAO.

The business model search is ongoing in DAO Masters. The DAO2DAO business model we were hoping to adopt required a lot more coordination than we thought.

Our expectation was to build on the success of DAOs like RaidGuild and VectorDAO to position DAO Masters as a leader on DAO operations. However, we learned that relationship building is crucial when working to support DAO operations. This season also taught us that if we are to continue in partnerships, we need a very tight product offering. While we still believe there is an opportunity in this space, we’ve realized during the season that the community at large is not passionate about this type of business.

Ultimately, we were overconfident in two things. First, we were too centralized as DMGs when deciding the business model of the DAO. Second, we vastly overestimated our ability to quickly execute on partnerships and create a flywheel between that and research. On the partnerships front, we learned that:

  • Product offerings need to be tight and well-defined.
  • Partnerships with other DAOs require strong, upfront relationship development and a deep understanding of the potential partner’s culture.
  • The DAO landscape is rapidly changing. The processes, values, and cultures today may look very different in a month or two.

Lesson #4: Quick Wins Drive Community Momentum.

Community momentum is critical. This requires working on projects that contributors love where they can get quick wins. Quick wins produce momentum. These wins require visibility both inside and outside the DAO. When we cut tool reviews from S3, we lost a lot of momentum. Our S3 projects (research, partnerships, & tokenomics) were longer and more of a grind. This resulted in less excitement, shared wins, and sustained momentum. For S4, we are looking at the following to drive community momentum:

  • Bringing back tool reviews for quick wins and public visibility
  • Shortening the season length (similar to S1 and S2)
  • Opening up onboarding on a consistent basis (similar to S1)

Lesson #5: Smaller Coordinape circles can feel demotivating.

We tried smaller Coordinape circles to better set compensation expectations. We heard feedback that some people preferred the single circle because it felt like we were on one team and there was a reason to stay up to date with cross DAO happenings. It also felt like everyone was working for fun, and they got tips from their friends at the end of the season. This made it feel less like work. It’s still unclear if smaller or larger Coordinape circles are better, but we felt like the pendulum swung too far to one side this season. They both have pros and cons.

What’s Next?

We’re excited to kick off season 4 this June! We’ll be taking everything we’ve learned in the first three seasons to make this the best season yet! As always, thanks to all of our awesome contributors and supports out there :)

Thanks to Tyler Whittle, Julia Lipton, Nelson Jordan, Henry Hirshland, Angela Santurbano, & Joe Rhew for all co-authoring this piece! All proceeds of the NFT sale will go to the DAO Masters treasury to compensate our contributors.

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