So timing has never been better to look at better ways to onboard startups in our community into the web3 world, and bring the various people who help these companies grow come on that journey too.
Its been just over 2 months since I put out the founding discussion document to re-envisage a new way of not only building more amazing founders and startups, but also helping to build a more equitable startup community in the process by using Web3/DAO as a platform.
Our core thesis is that if we can capture more of the early unpaid value which flows in startup communities, for the benefit of the community as a whole, we can create a flywheel to allow us to grow more and more amazing founders in the future and thus create a positive sum game where we all win together.
My original intention in building Startup Community Next as a DAO was to build as much as possible in public to be transparent and allow feedback to shape our direction.
So, whilst we’ve been quiet over these few months, I did want to share a (detailed!) update as to what we’ve been doing, as we’ve been pretty busy making it happen!
An amazing group of believers came together and have been contributing to the very earliest stages of bringing that original vision to life. Not only in founding something new, but also trying to rapidly get to grips with how to do this as much as possible in a decentralised way, which continues to be a fun learning curve for many of us.
Like founding anything new, our work over these two months have mostly focussed on the vision, the people, and setting ourselves up for success in working together.
One of the things I’m loving from other DAOs, is that they’re starting to settle on an emerging model of strategy based on short, focussed periods of time called “seasons”.
The idea behind seasons is that the desires, goals, and needs of the community mostly emerges based upon who shows up and what’s happening in the world. So instead of locking in a more robust strategy like a traditional company might, the DAO instead sets just enough strategy to focus the community’s effort over a short period, over say a 3 month season, based on sensing what the communities strongest needs are, delivering on them to add value to the community, and then reflecting at the end of that period on what worked, what didn’t, and how this translates into the next season’s goals.
I love this model of emergence combined with “just enough” strategic rails to keep a community focussed on key deliverables which track towards the long-term vision.
Over time, whilst emergence is the preference in decentralised communities, early on, many have written on the need for enough early opinionated leadership to ensure the core vision is realised and kept on a strong steer until the community is really engaged to take on this themselves.
So most of our work to date, has been groking this new approach to emergent strategy, defining what we need to focus on during this season to achieve the minimum viable version of our bigger vision, and then making sure our interpersonal processes are setup to help us get there.
All of this pre-work is summarised in the season 0 overview diagram below and represents a culmination of the work so far and where we’re heading near-term.
This diagram summarises our team’s current ethos as to why we’re all here, where we’re headed in the long term and short-term, how we’re going to be different to other startup communities, and which values we want to embody as we carry out this work.
These operating values are critically important not only for our working team, but for the community as a whole. Like any startup, the prevailing culture comes from founders’ / early members’ actions and behaviours, so being explicit, but lightweight about these values early allows us to hold each other to account in our work, but also be clear for others joining the community as to how we operate and how they “fit” here.
We’ve yet to wordsmith these things to come up with some super memorable and pithy one-liners, but what we’ve got feels “good enough” to get started, and then we can iterate over future seasons:
We’ve come together to help collectively build ‘kick-ass’ startups and founders by building a ‘kick-ass’ community of people who help them grow, whereby the contribution of all types of capital, not just financial capital, is rewarded, and captured using Web3 as a platform.
Simple - help build awesome founders, create value for each other, capture that value for the community, use this to create more awesome founders, repeat.
Whilst there’s many directions we could go in the longer term, one possible direction that gets me excited is to ultimately become the “commons” for all types of startup capital (intellectual, financial, network, and other forms), whereby people can create and consume value from those commons, and value exchange is captured through micro-transactions (or otherwise) for the long-term sustainability of the community as a whole.
Or another possible future could be to create an “industry” for those people who add value to the startup community as a whole who often can’t easily monetise that value early-stage, so that they can drop in, create something of value (e.g. a video, an education session, provide some mentorship, or a network introduction, or a micro-investment, etc), get recognition for that from the community, and then use that as a way to generate short-term and longer-term income through contributing more of the same, thereby “working” for the DAO and the startups we support.
Lots of ways we could go in future, but there’s a long way to go before we get there.
Our biggest short-term goal is to build up the flywheels that allow us to do that in the first place, hence our current season mission:
Our mission is to develop the shared assets, platforms, and community contribution flywheels that enable the acceleration of our purpose, which ultimately adds long-term collective value to this community.
One of the interesting things here is whilst our vision is about building a new framework (with Web3 rails) to help startups find the support and access capital they need to grow, why we’ve called this season 0 rather than season 1 is because we’re not about helping startups directly yet…
Instead, there’s a minimum desirable infrastructure to build, and some design work to do, to help us understand the most important areas to focus on, how that gels with web3, and how we want to incentivise and recognise these value flows in the community first!
To that end, we decided to focus our first efforts on building a solid starting infrastructure, brand, and have enough assets in place, so that when we do start working more directly with startups in Season 1, there will already be a bunch of support mechanisms in place to allow us and them to hit the ground running, such that when startups do arrive:
Which leads to our season 0 goals: since our major value proposition is that we reward all participants in the startup community by recognising different types of value, key to our first season is figuring out exactly how we do that!
Additionally, determining our point of difference to other existing startup communities will be a key driver of community membership, thus understanding how we message, share, and use that difference, both inside and outside of the community will be crucial.
What follows is a deeper dive into some of these season goals, so feel free to skip ahead if this is too much detail for you, but some might find our thinking interesting!
This is really the crux of our point of difference so its taken up a lot of discussion in the contribution model working team so far!
Key to our thinking is that most of the value in many startup communities is unpaid and only captured in a way that benefits a small portion of the community, which often doesn’t include the people who provide early value through mentorship, advice, networks, and content creation for example.
If the community could capture more of these value flows (using web3 as a platform to drive this economy), the more community funds we’ll have, allowing us to create more value for more founders over the long term.
This creates a solid positive feedback flywheel whereby we can help more startups succeed by giving them access to more and better networks, mentorship, education, and financial capital.
Crypto creates the guide rails to enable this economy and capture it both directly (as value is transacted in the system), and indirectly (through token price increases as others create value).
The nice thing about using crypto here is that tying earning token to value creation bakes in altruistic value into the tokens - they are no longer only tied to financial value since each token represents earned mentorship value, and network value, and intellectual value, as well as financial value - welcome to the value economy!
Whilst we’re not focussing too much on tokenomics this season, it’s great to be thinking ahead as to how the economic engine will enable value capture over the long term as it will drive many of the early platform decisions and community engagement models.
So instead of using tokens in very early seasons, we are instead focussing on rewarding early value creation using community reputation both to allow us to figure out the right tokenomics, and to build a better picture of what and where- value is flowing and what support people really need.
This has led to some great conversations on “perceived value” versus “actual value” and how we can help each other better understand how the value we provide to others translates into real value (using psychologically safe methods of feedback), which can also give us real insight in understanding where the areas of expertise or network concentration are within the community as a whole.
Since Web3 is all about community building first, and creating value second, we’re putting a lot of thought in this season into how we want to come across in the community, in our brand, in our IRL + URL events, and as an overall experience as people come into contact with us.
Our goal isn’t to replicate what’s already out there, we want to be additive rather than replicate existing startup events, or online forums, or programmes.
Instead, we want to create something different, not just on the startup support side, but also about belonging to something cool, that helps you, and is as much about finding people to hang out with and get inspired with/by whilst also providing practical support from peers whilst you’re building your company.
We’re thinking part social DAO, part startup support DAO, and part investment DAO (in the future).
Some of the emerging models we are seeing in crypto communities allow some really different community engagement models as we bring together online + offline.
After being inspired by FWB’s recent season write up, we’ve also put a bit of thinking into how we see the new member journey and experience developing as we move people coming into our community from being explorers → navigators → creators → shapers as we get them more and more involved ultimately in running the DAO itself!
Which then feeds back into the community participation flywheel and drives our engagement loop.
It’s refreshing to come at community design this way around - whenever I’ve built startups in the past, it’s been very product-centric, and less about designing how you want a community to feel, and why people will come here first, and then what products/services could support their experience, so this reframing has been insightful.
In someway, this intentional community design feels like the missing element of traditional startup communities in that they’ve organically come together, but there’s no overarching value system, or design in how people participate, nor how they are incentivised for good behaviour and discouraged for bad behaviours.
Whilst we’re still planning out a lot of this work, the human element and “belonging” has been such a key theme in our early discussions, so we’re definitely thinking about how we design a different type of event series to kick off both the URL + IRL social side of what we’re doing as a key season goal.
There’s so much scope with emerging offline + online event/engagement models leveraging NFTs, POAPs, digital + IRL merch, creative collaborations, and other things to really double down on what it means to belong to our community long-term, so we’re really excited about getting stuck into this part!
But so far, not much to see here until we nail the other two pieces of work, but keep posted as we look to launch with a different type of startup community event format towards the end of this season.
And finally, whilst we’ve not thought too much on this yet, as season 0 progresses we’ll start putting in more thought into how we onboard people into our community.
Whilst we’re currently leading out our community comms platform using Discord as much of the Web3 world is, we’ve already had feedback that discord doesn’t work for everyone - and being unceremoniously dumped into a geeky looking app, no matter how well you setup channels, isn’t the pinnacle of a positive user experience!
So we’re looking at how we onboard people the right way, both into our why, our vision, and getting them to see and experience some of the contributor/participation loop first hand so they accelerate their own value as they get deeper into the community.
Lots of work still to do here, and thinking on how to make a minimum desirable chunk of onboarding, with our currently limited resources.
And to that point, we’ve discussed whether we let anyone into the DAO now to increase our contributor resources versus being focussed in our core contributor team and prioritising agility and pace of execution versus being more open in season 1 when a baseline infrastructure is in place.
In the end, we’ve chosen to be deliberate around focussing on just enough of a core crew to have these conversations and bias towards action versus knowing we don’t have any onboarding yet, and limited time and focus to keep bringing new people on the journey and constantly pausing for new input versus getting work done.
It’s an interesting discussion currently happening in other DAOs, so we’re trying to learn from both our own experience in building teams and others’ building DAOs.
So wrapping up what was going from sharing nothing, to the risk of oversharing - this should give you a really good overview of what we’re thinking about, how we’re being intentional around some of the community and platform elements, and trying to drive towards a bunch of outcomes by the end of season 0 as we open our gates to serving startups proper in season 1.
So far, we’ve learned a lot more about Web3 and DAOs, had a lot of fun hanging out with people we love, and started to bootstrap the next generation of how startups can find access to the resources they need to succeed, whilst recognising the value of the everyone who helped them get there. Super-fun ride, and we’re only just getting started!
If any of this resonates with you, definitely reach out and see how you can get involved as we head towards season 1.
Otherwise, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for further updates. Any feedback welcomed.
A huge shout out to our awesome season 0 core contributors so far, who also inspired and co-created much of the content in this article –
Jonah Merchant, Tracy Moyes, Dave Meaney, Jeremy Kennealy, Helen Flitcroft, Vic Jack, Justin Douché, Dan Dyson, Colart Miles, Mark Pascall, Jeffrey Ling, Chris Bean, Rick Shera, and Jan Czaplicki.
Update*: 30th Jun 2022, our Season 0 officially wrapped up, see what we managed to achieve, and our reflections to take into Season 1!*