A version of this article was published in TIME’s Into the Metaverse newsletter. Subscribe to a weekly guide to the future of the web. You can find previous issues of the newsletter here.
In January many People at crypto twitter proclaimed that if 2021 was the year of NFTs, then 2022 would be the year of DAOs. DAOs, or Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, are a new type of organizational structure that has proliferated in recent years as money has poured into the crypto space. They are an extension of the crypto world’s promise of decentralization: instead of being owned by one person or controlled by a board of directors, they are collectively owned by participating members, with decisions voted on and rules enforced through smart contracts.
Aaron Wright, an attorney and co-founder of Flamingo DAO, which invests in NFTs and creative projects, likens DAOs to “a subreddit with a bank account.” “The energy of the internet is like a swarm, but there’s no really productive way to channel it,” he says. “I believe DAOs are that answer.”
Enthusiasts believe that DAOs could eventually replace many traditional businesses as a sort of New Age co-operatives. (For example, imagine a version of Uber where drivers jointly own the company.) For now, however, most DAOs are focused on crypto and Web 3 activity. There are DAOs that collect NFTs (PleasrDAO), facilitate cryptocurrency exchanges (Uniswap), develop blockchain products and tools (PartyDAO), and incubate and fund NFT artists (herstoryDAO, the Mint Fund).
However, skeptics point out that many DAOs are not particularly decentralized and have limited ability to navigate the unpredictable complexities of human organizations. “To call a DAO a revolutionary structure is smoke and mirrors: it’s just voting shares,” video essayist Dan Olson argued in his viral YouTube video Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs. previous month, New York Times published an article that pointed out some of the DAOs’ struggles, including massive hacks, low turnout, and internal disputes.
While some DAOs have burst into flames spectacularly, there are others humming quietly, offering an alternative model of what a workplace might look like. One of these is dOrg, one of the very first DAOs to be legally recognized as an LLC in the United States. dOrg, officially founded in 2019, is a software development company that helps build infrastructure for Web 3 and crypto projects. I interviewed four members of the DAO to find out what makes dOrg different from traditional LLCs and how those differences help or hinder their work.
An all-hands call with dOrg, a software development company working on the blockchain
There is no management team and everyone owns the company
To start from the top, dOrg does not have general management positions (CEO, CFO, etc.). Although software engineer Ori Shimony founded the company, he doesn’t have an official leadership title, describing himself as “aid in research and development.”
Instead, the roles are fluid, with people slipping into different roles depending on the project. Everyone officially employed by the company is the legal owner of Vermont LLC, with each owner owning one share. Company decisions are voted on with tokens earned as you complete projects for the company. (Accordingly, Shimony has the largest stake in the company’s tokens at around 9%, but that stake has steadily declined since the company’s inception and will continue to do so.)
Colin Spence, a full-time product designer at dOrg, says learning about this ownership model was a “huge wake-up call.” “In pretty much every company I’ve worked at, I’ve been told by my bosses, ‘I really want you to own this project.’ But it’s not really true. Well, everything I build I own. It completely changes how you want to manage your time.”
However, the company is not completely free of hierarchies. Specific aspects of projects are managed by specialists (e.g. in engineering, project management, etc.). But a leader of one project might report back to his subordinates on the next project. “There’s a difference between leadership and authority,” says Shimony. “There is no authority to wave a magic wand and make a decision. But it really helps when someone, or ideally multiple people, provide advice, guidance and guidance.”
Developers choose their own projects and control their own budgets
Working hours and locations are flexible and independent. The employees I spoke to lived in three different countries and none of them said they worked more than 45 hours a week. They also talked about having a high degree of autonomy in finding projects to work on, maintaining relationships with clients, and building teams to execute on those plans. dOrg project manager Magenta Ceiba, for example, is passionate about regenerative agriculture and supporting the local economy. When she came across AcreDAOS, an investment club focused on the issues that needed development aid, she wrote a proposal that was quickly accepted by token holders at dOrg. “The value orientation was particularly high in this project,” she says. “Many of the builders in dOrg are from Venezuela, so they have a deep understanding of what happens when the economy collapses.
Nestor Amesty, a technical director who is himself from Venezuela, says the developers do the budget allocation themselves. “We co-audit ourselves,” he says. “When someone abuses the budget – which has definitely happened in the past – his or her colleagues have a responsibility to speak out when they see something they disagree with. We have a clear structure on how to proceed in the event of a conflict.”
Conflicts are mediated and then settled.
Without a central authority to resolve spats, employees initially adhere to the company’s “decentralized dispute resolution” policy. Sometimes a People Ops specialist (essentially a recruiter) acts as an intermediary. “It’s been working pretty well lately,” Magenta says. “We have a culture of direct and accommodating interactions with each other.”
It’s not uncommon for Shimony to be overruled himself. He says that when he wanted dOrg to issue a public token – so investors could buy a quasi-stake in the company – the idea “died in committee” after being discussed in multiple calls. “I argued with them; The decision went the other way, and I’m glad it did,” says Shimony. “dOrg is what it has become.”
If decisions are not resolved in discussions, the DAO members vote on the blockchain. Spence says the company used to vote on almost every decision, leading to “information overload and a constant barrage of feeling like you have to stick with whatever was proposed.” While this process was perhaps the most democratic of systems, it impeded progress so the company began delegating decisions to smaller and more specialized groups.
The company outsources healthcare services
Currently, dOrg is partnering with Opolis, which sells healthcare for digital workers and freelancers, to offer health insurance to its US-based members. Ceiba, who lives in California and is state insured, says she’s interested in promoting the company exploring its own insurance options now that “we’re starting to have a healthy enough fund to double-check.” “.
Salaries are transparent
When it comes to tariffs and finances, dOrg relies on “radical transparency”. All salaries and budgets are publicly maintained on the blockchain; Payout logs are visible to every member.
And employees are paid according to their skills, no matter where in the world they live. Amesty, who moved to Madrid from Venezuela after joining the company, says when he used to try to work for Latin American agencies, “they used to push developers to work for lower wages because they know Venezuela is in is in a very difficult situation. Once I started working at dOrg, my nationality didn’t matter – it was my job and what I delivered.”
In another interesting aspect, employees working on specific projects can choose to be paid either in cash or in tokens, which represent ownership interest in those projects. If they choose the latter option, they sacrifice immediate spending money in favor of the idea that the tokens’ valuation will increase as their projects mature.
For example, Amesty helped build the Polywrap development platform and says he chose to be paid almost entirely in tokens, which vest after 4 years. “I really think so [Polywrap] has a lot of potential to grow in the coming years and wants to be a part of it,” he says. “It also motivates me to do things as well as possible because I have skin in it.”
Skill building is still a work in progress.
A flat hierarchical organization could theoretically lead to employee stagnation, where employees feel unmotivated to build skills or advance. To counteract this, the dOrg manual puts an emphasis on “upskilling” and creating a collaborative structure where employees with different skillsets learn from each other. “As people form teams, the senior developers will encourage more junior developers to acquire a larger piece or a new skillset,” says Ceiba. Workers with more expertise or additional skills are then better paid.
Spence hopes the self-improvement process will become more formal, with a guide to skills developers need to master to reach higher pay grades and status within dOrg. He envisions a system where developers can sign up to build different skills on each project, which are then reviewed by collaborators. “So there’s this constant mechanism of evaluating a builder’s performance and making sure they’re actually developing the skills that they need,” he says. Spence says he’s suggested this idea in the past and hopes to help bring it to fruition next year.
Until then, the dOrg will continue to take on projects, vote on new proposals, and try to streamline technical processes. “A lot of things started out as experiments, and there are things that need to be ironed out,” says Amesty. “But it works. And I hope that I can be there for a long time.”
- To learn more about TIME’s coverage of the future of the web, subscribe to our Into the Metaverse newsletter by clicking here.
Join TIMEPieces Twitter and discord
More must-read stories from TIME