A year at Aragon
0x1E8e
June 28th, 2022

I have been contributing to the Aragon Project through a formalized role for 12 months. Being part of an organization that has struggled with transparency for some time, it felt appropriate to provide some personal perspective from inside the project. While many things unfolded in these 12 months, I would like to focus on a few pivotal points that can help others learn and improve.

New blood

In May 2021, I joined the Aragon Project as Head of Ecosystem at Aragon Association. Amidst a pandemic, I was lucky to have my first interactions with part of the team at a leadership off-site near Barcelona. Three things stood out:

  • Some brilliant engineers had recently joined the project through the acquisition of Vocdoni (a team nested under Aragon Labs).
  • The energy and idealism of the team were genuinely inspiring.
  • There was naivety concerning how the market works, and hail-mary ideas like “building a fintech messaging app” were discussed. Thankfully reason prevailed, and the realization that people don’t need to split restaurant bills on-chain settled.

While a clear gap in strategy was evident, the team was responsive to critical feedback. With the year of the DAO (allegedly 2022) just around the corner, I was excited to build the future of human coordination with the team.

Despite not being a DAO (yet), Aragon was already making a mistake typical for young DAOs. As initiative-taking is glorified, the first person to raise a hand would be allowed to direct the entire organization. Unlike a DAO, this direction would be rolled out top-down. This unquestioned organizational level rollout of untested experiments created an environment that is great for those who brand themselves as the idea-visionary and bad for anyone who wants to get things done. One notable consequence was the rollout of an untested theoretical concept on structuring communication and information. This experiment substantially compromised our ability to coordinate and slowed down the team shipping speed. Aragon was the first and only team on the planet to try and inevitably fail using the “six key interactions framework” - the worst way of organizing collaborative efforts I have experienced.

Fighting Moloch

As I was diving deeper, I wanted to explore the DAO world beyond Aragon regarding infrastructure, community, values, and strategy. The most obvious place to look for inspiration was the vibrant ecosystem that has emerged around MetaCartel.

After a 36 hours zig-zag trip I reached the DAO promise land that is MCON and the event delivered on my quest for deeper DAO understanding. It showed me what DAOs could achieve - creating an environment where decision-making power and economic upside are distributed more equably, public goods are funded, and people can pursue their passion instead of “busy work”. The trip inspired me to stake my goodwill with the rest of Aragon’s team and start driving a shift toward a more open collaboration. As a direct consequence of MCON, Aragon:

  • Is a member of the DAOStar.One initiative - an industry-wide effort to make DAOs useable by enabling the composability of tooling
  • Co-organized the DAO Global Hackathon - the result of the joined effort of 20+ organizations that build and invest in the DAO space

Other arguably more impactful changes the MCON vibes are bringing to Aragon relate to the ongoing transitions towards a “work in the open” culture and a “collaboration-first” network strategy.

Hard landing

I returned to Aragon with wide-eyed enthusiasm and a couple of printed versions of MetaCartel’s Community First Manifesto. Around that time, Aragon Govern was being launched. It was a product built around the novel idea of optimistic governance. Unfortunately, we had fallen into the “build it, and they will come” fallacy. There has been no communication with prospective users before the launch, no strategy around the launch, and no resourcing to evolve the product. Everyone I spoke with, who was not specifically working on a governance topic, thought optimistic governance just means we are launching on Optimism. It is yet for Aragon to recognize Govern was a flop and release a proper post-mortem.

With Govern out of the gates and no real strategy in place, the leadership team met to conceptualize the MVP of the next product. The resulting outcome deviated from Aragon’s core competencies and traditional target audience. The MVP we started building was a “compromise” between what any robust analysis dictated and the aspirations of a few team members to target noobs/fresh entrants through a mobile-first consumer-facing app. Those who wanted to build for impact would have to “disagree but commit” until 2022.

A DAO or something like it

In October 2021, we were facing another rushed release. This time it was not a product but the Aragon Network DAO. Despite the tight deadlines and the fact that the core contributors working on the DAO had no practical experience, we had the ambition to build the most advanced DAO there was. Some of the easily identifiable reasons why we ended up in this situation are:

  • Poor dogfooding: Very few people understood how Govern and the underlying concept of optimistic governance work. The product was not ready, and the technical team was already working on the new MVP. To this date, AN DAO contributors struggle to use the infrastructure.
  • Arrogance: We aimed to build something that would impress theorists and be at the cutting edge of governance while lacking practical experience to create a functional system.
  • Poor incentives: The DAO team prioritized meeting arbitrarily-aggressive deadlines to meet quarterly targets and receive their bonus over pushing back on timelines or making pragmatic trade-offs to build for network sustainability

An outcome of the above is that the DAO design process ignored both working examples of best practices in web3, which would have saved time and constructive feedback from contributors outside the DAO team. One has to look no further than the Aragon Network DAO Charter to realize that it was a rushed and poorly engineered experiment. The resulting document is complex and ambiguous in language, structure, and logic and continues to cause problems and frictions in the DAO. While I believe it is an unintended consequence, it reminds me of the traditional world of politics, where insiders are entrenching power by creating complex procedures and bureaucracy.

While the lack of Network Strategy remains a friction point between the core teams and the rest of the AN DAO contributors, we have managed to decentralize some work to a few emerging guilds. Those successes resulted from the continual effort of both core team members and community contributors and happened despite the AN DAO design. I make my modest contribution to these coordination efforts as one of the members of a sub-DAO on the Network.

Some all-star additions to the team and the success of the DAO Global Hackathon kept morale at Aragon Association high during these times.

New hope

While a coherent network-level strategy was still lacking, at the beginning of 2022, a conversation about merging the two core teams (Aragon Association and Aragon Labs) resurfaced. This initiative meant there would be a substantial additional workload on the teams, especially the team leads, and would decrease the shipping speed. However, the move appeared to have broad support across the two teams and made long-term strategic sense, so we decided to sacrifice short-term delivery and launch the process.

As investors and team leads grew tired of the broken communication, an external consultant was retained to facilitate the process. Some of the consultant's findings indicate that the teams are severely underpaid, internal communication is poor and overall strategy is lacking.

As Q2 of 2022 kicked off, some of the teams' hard work started paying off. We finally started communicating with the web3 community and the world about what we are building. As more and more market context seeps into our product strategy, we are increasing focus on developers and doubling down on compelling SDK and documentation. Lastly, since many DAO creators coming to us need more than just a self-contained software solution, we started work on DAO Experts - an initiative aiming to match these creators with service providers who can help.

While things at Aragon were looking up, I did experience burnout and had to scale my engagement with the project to 3 days per week. Decreasing day-to-day concentration would allow me to contribute to growing Aragon Network's ecosystem network in more suitable ways given my expertise - network-level strategy work, token incentives, venture investments, and grants disbursement. What gave me comfort in the transition was the team picking up the workstreams I was handing over. This holds, especially for Anthony, who carried the baton of DAO Experts to yesterday’s successful launch.

The DAO reloaded

In April, Placeholder, one of the largest ANT holders, proposed to transfer the 2017 ICO funds from the Aragon Association into a DAO. This proposal made much of the coordination work done since the beginning of the year obsolete. Strangely despite the profound impact of the proposal, it remained ignored for a week on the forum before becoming the most active discussion on the Aragon Forum ever. While it certainly created a lot of anxiety in the core teams, the proposal highlighted some of our organizational failures:

  • Lack of clearly defined purpose
  • Lack of strategy
  • Dysfunctional DAO “design”
  • Failed communication between the core teams and the Aragon Association Committee
  • Failed communication with large token holders

The proposal moves forward through the voting process and is likely to pass. Despite the hiccups and drawbacks, this volatility gives us at Aragon an opportunity to do right a few things for the first time in a long time:

  • Communication: We can take this opportunity to become more transparent about the challenges we face as an organization, a cultural shift that is finally taking place, and towards which this post is hopefully a modest contribution. It will be a significant step toward the “building in the open” philosophy we have been late to adopt.
  • Strategy: We have lacked a coherent strategy since the fallout in winter 2020/2021. As projects further on their decentralization journey can attest, the need for a strategy won’t disappear as we transition into a DAO. I sincerely hope the future delegates will adopt one because the treasury will be wasted away on vain efforts without it.
  • A working DAO: Undoubtedly, if the Aragon Association is to transfer nearly $200 million into a DAO, it must be functioning. It shouldn’t aim to impress the academic world or be at the forefront of decentralized governance experimentation; it has to work. Building an MVP DAO from scratch using industry best practices and common sense seems the best path.

**Gall’s law:
**A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a simple working system.

What’s next for me

The most impactful way I have been adding value to the Aragon Network has been through initiatives that require cross-team network-level alignment and ample interactions with those overlooked in the narrow definition of “community” (other DAO tooling builders in web3, projects built on Aragon, financial capital allocators, DAO service providers). I will continue collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders to hopefully improve the readiness of the network for the transition expected in November. If there is still a place for me in the Aragon Network after the core teams transitions into the DAO, it will most likely be as a delegate.

Background

To add some context about my professional background: Previously, I built the institutional-facing business of a leading crypto-lender. Back in normie land, I have spent most of my career on strategic capital allocation and venture/ecosystem building in Europe and the Middle East across renewable energy, sustainability, public infrastructure, fintech, telcos, and other industries.

Larping on Twitter from time to time.

Subscribe to Capitulation 🦇🔊
Receive new entries directly to your inbox.
Collectors
View
#1
#2
#3
View collectors
This entry has been permanently stored on-chain and signed by its creator.
More from Capitulation 🦇🔊