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Diving into OpenDAO: Predictions on the Flash DAO Phenomenon

The Current and Future State of Spinning Up Communities at Warp Speed

Flash DAOs at Warp Speed. Cover by Tim Balabuch.

FlashDAOs 101

“We are living history. We are writing history right now.”

Those are the words of angyts, a core contributor to OpenDAO. While anything promising to shape history can become a viral tweet in the DAO world, it appears OpenDAO might just be doing it. And at warp speed.

The DAO spun up on December 23rd and already has nearly 60,000 Discord server members. That’s comparable to the number of people who will sit in the 2022 Super Bowl Stadium, visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida on any given day, or visit Yosemite National Park during a typical week in April. That’s a heck of a crowd.

It’s undeniable that there’s a new DAO format in town: Flash DAOs — sizable communities that seemingly spin out of thin air to support a common purpose. One of the first of its kind, OpenDAO is showing Web3 how to create an instant community.

A screenshot from the homepage of theopendao.com that reads, “$SOS. The token of the metaverse. Created by the community, for the community.”
Image from the newly-minted site, theopendao.com.

OpenDAO was created by core contributor 9x9x9 and a small group of entrepreneurs who are bullish on NFTs. They airdropped the DAO’s governance token, SOS, to users of OpenSea, one of the most popular NFT trading platforms. The amount of SOS token received corresponded to OpenSea activity. If you have ever been an active NFT trader on OpenSea, you were eligible to receive SOS tokens in your trading wallet.

If we’ve learned anything from the unprecedented flock of contributors, traders, NFT-collectors, farmers, and likely degens to OpenDAO after the retroactive SOS airdrop, it’s that coins really can translate into an instant community. But is this the future of DAO building?

I chatted over Discord with 9x9x9 and angyts to learn about this unprecedented DAO and discuss some of the biggest topics in the new Flash DAO phenomenon. Here are six Flash DAO predictions I developed from our conversations.

Retroactive Airdrop Prediction: Token drops will happen via third parties, not the protocol itself.

Many DAOs create community through a retroactive airdrop, which is when a core team sends tokens to wallet addresses that have participated in whichever activity they want to reward. Ethereum Name Service, a similar Flash DAO, employed a retroactive airdrop.

But the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) airdrop in November 2021 differs from OpenDAO in one key way: the ENS airdrop came from the ENS team directly. When the Ethereum Name Service protocol decided to form a DAO, they rewarded their early adopters by airdropping ENS tokens that would subsequently be used in the new DAO’s governance. This kickstarted a DAO, but also kickstarted a large number of sell-offs, with a drop in both market cap (1.7 billion to 900 million USD) and price (81.51 to just around 40 USD) as of January 1, 2022. If nothing else, it was an effective marketing campaign for ENS registrations, which increased dramatically following the token launch.

A screenshot of a Dune Analytics dashboard that shows ENS Registrations per month. Registrations skyrocketed from around 30k to over 100k after the ENS airdrop in November.
ENS registrations skyrocketed the two months following the airdrop. Image taken on January 1. Chart from Dune Analytics by @claudio.

The SOS airdrop for OpenDAO is different because the airdrop did not come from OpenSea itself. Instead, a third party created the token and used open-source data to gather the wallet addresses they determined would qualify. While the airdrop is based on OpenSea activity, the OpenSea team was not involved.

Does the involvement of the original protocol’s core team make the airdrop more or less legitimate?

Core contributor 9x9x9 believes the separation of the airdrop from the OpenSea team is actually what will make OpenDAO successful.

“It’s not owned by a big corporation with billionaire VC clubs,” he said. “It’s the first of its kind because there are zero reserves for contributors.” In other words, the token was truly a fair launch, since the core team received only the number of tokens they qualified for through the airdrop parameters. “I also restrained myself from buying on the very first day,” said 9x9x9. This means that none of the core contributors hold a rug-pull-worthy number of tokens.

9x9x9 also clarified that because the SOS airdrop was entirely separate from the OpenSea team, the DAO is not limited to a particular NFT exchange. “The vision of OpenDAO is far greater than NFT exchanges or platforms.”

A screenshot of the token distribution of $SOS. 50% was airdropped to OpenSea users, 20% is reserved for staking incentives, 20% is in the OpenDAO treasury, 10% is reserved for liquidity providing incentives, and 0% is for the founders.
OpenDAO is unique because 0% of the token distribution went to the founding team, meaning the token was fairly distributed amongst the community. Image from theopendao.com.

Once crypto-natives realize they don’t need to be formally associated with a thriving protocol to create a DAO, they will start initiating more of these third-party airdrops. With the popularity of on-chain analytics services like Dune, Glassnode, and Messari, entrepreneurs will find the data they need and use it to generate communities of like-minded people.

I believe the future of retroactive airdrops by third parties is only just beginning.

IPO Prediction: As more Web3 protocols form traditional companies, more non-protocol-affiliated Flash DAOs will arrive to fill the need for community.

There’s a not-so-secret reason the OpenSea team didn’t drop the tokens. OpenSea is maybe going public. Nope, not an ICO — they hinted that they’re going full Silicon-Valley-style IPO. And that’s pretty antithetical to all things Web3.

Andrew Hayward reported for Decrypt that “crypto natives are lamenting the NFT exchange’s apparent plans to shun community ownership via a governance token.”

And they definitely feel shunned — just look at some of the (not family-friendly) tweets about OpenSea skipping a token drop for early adopters, instead putting plans in motion to reward Wall Street.

“A lot of OpenSea users are unhappy that OpenSea is listing on the stock market,” said angyts. “SOS filled this need.”

9x9x9 expressed a similar sentiment. “Since OS isn’t doing a token, we’re going to do it ourselves.” 9x9x9 also discussed how isolated many NFT communities are, with the only uniting factor being their use of OpenSea. 9x9x9 said, “it’s the only common thing that connects the whole space.”

This shared sense of isolation could explain the massive number of DAO members. The community was already there — someone just needed to bring it together.

But bringing together is not the same as keeping together. It’s a huge community to wrangle. OpenSea is a massive exchange with 1.8 million active users. Tapping into that community is no easy thing — NFT traders are so multifaceted that unifying them purely through an exchange they’ve used at minimum one time may not be the best way to tackle it. This is why OpenDAO has such a wide view of their direction: from compensating scam victims to becoming the de facto token used in the metaverse, they’re taking a varied approach to unification.

Maybe that’s why OpenSea skipped a token launch. Or maybe they really do want to take the Web2 IPO route, filling Venture Capital firms’ bags rather than those of their early users.

A screenshot of Pop art CryptoPunks on OpenSea.
OpenSea truly has every NFT in the sea — even retro-style takes on the original Crypto Punks. Collection by PopArtPunks on OpenSea.

OpenSea won’t be the only Web3 company to run toward the Dow Jones rather than a DAO. Companies trying to straddle the line between non-crypto-natives and Web3 diehards are naturally going to turn toward the simple route of grabbing VC money and hitting Wall Street.

And when these companies do so, Flash DAOs will appear in their place. Web3 is about community ownership. And when the company doesn’t give the community a cut, well, they’ll just create their own token and pay themselves. As they should.

Token Utility prediction: DAOs will create value before token utility is discussed (and Fintech writers won’t like it).

The giant SOS airdrop had Fintech writers squirming in their seats and bringing up a new conversation around DAO token utility.

And to this conversation, I say: We’re Still Early.

For DAOs in their early stages, I don’t believe token utility is the right conversation to have.

We must remember that we’re living in a time warp here in Web3. Everything moves at faster-than-lightning speeds. So when we’re talking about “such-and-such is a scam because there’s no token utility” just three days after the inception of a DAO….well that’s just not fair.

That’s like saying a Silicon Valley startup is a scam because their product hasn’t found a market fit three days after the idea was born.

We would never have that conversation in Web2, so why are we having it in Web3? Do we expect every token to have instant utility upon launching? Ethereum didn’t prove utility until years after their launch. We can’t ask these founders to create instant token utility; they’re just trying to do what all great entrepreneurs have done before: make something that solves a problem.

All I will say for the token utility conversation: Give DAOs a runway. It’s what we do for startups. Because that’s what DAOs are: community-run startups.

A screenshot of $SOS token holders overtime. The holders spiked after the airdrop at the end of December and has remained steady since then.
Image taken January 1. Chart from Dune Analytics, by @0xroll.

The blue line in the chart above shows the number of SOS token holders, and the green bars show the hourly change in token holders. As the green graphs are nearly always pointing up rather than down, and the blue line is steady, it appears that SOS holders aren’t worried about the token utility issue — they’re holding anyway.

Roadmap prediction: Flash DAOs with clear, narrow roadmaps are more likely to succeed.

The same principle for traditional startups applies for Flash DAOs: those that bite off more than they can chew will likely fail. A community without a sense of the shared goal and how to achieve it won’t stay engaged, but nor will one without a practical roadmap. Thus, creating a well-defined, limited-scope roadmap will be instrumental to the success of any DAO’s mission.

Roadmaps are important. But I wonder when roadmaps should be first considered for these communities that spin up out of thin air. It seems to me that the community needs to come together first, identify what they want to focus on, then build out their roadmap.

OpenDAO has ticked off the first stage; the community has assembled. They’ve also written vision and mission statements, although it’s unclear how much of this was developed from wider community input. The stated vision for SOS is to create a widely used asset which will rival the likes of USDC. Through this, they want to unify NFT creators across Web3, preserve art, compensate NFT scam victims on OpenSea, provide developer grants, and more.

These missions are a heavy ask. More than one heavy ask — many heavy asks. Tackling just one would be monumental. If OpenDAO is going to succeed, they now need to develop a practical and achievable roadmap which addresses their community’s vision.The challenge will be to keep the roadmap bite-sized in the face of such lofty ambitions.

A screenshot of OpenDAO’s Notion page that lists their Visions. The text reads: “OpenDAO’s vision is for $SOS to become a central asset for the metaverse and web3, similar to how $USDC is an important asset for cryptocurrency. To provide a unifying voice to NFT communities and beyond in the web3 space. The OpenDAO is democratizing the NFT ecosystem by creating a pioneering community-led project aiming to truly decentralize web3.”
The OpenDAO Visions listed on their Notion are quite ambitious. Image from Visions, Missions, Values on OpenDAO Notion.

9x9x9 is optimistic. “If we don’t make it, the torch will pass on to more qualified people to make it happen.”

In line with the ethos of decentralization, 9x9x9 wants the community to determine the roadmap: “OpenDAO wants to be the community that connects all gated and isolated communities. It also listens to people, while providing enough support for artists to do things they couldn’t have before.”

It’s possible OpenDAO contributors have bitten off more than they can chew — trying to do too much at once leads to contributors going in different directions, and potential users of any products or services they create becoming confused.

But then again, OpenDAO is still so early. I believe that with some community voting, some time, and some heavy lifting by core contributors, a refined roadmap will grow out of their hefty mission statements.

Member retention prediction: Flash DAOs will be awash in Dead Sea Effect and Voter Apathy if they don’t address these issues now.

Retaining members in any DAO is pretty difficult. Retaining members in a Flash DAO? Well.

Member retention is something we’ve talked about at BanklessDAO many times — whether it’s putting governance solutions engineers on the job, meticulously tracking new member retention data, or continuing to build out our onboarding process called First Quest. No DAO on this green earth will find that keeping new members around is easy — as a former talent scout myself, I’d bet a lot of tokens on that.

My prediction for Flash DAO member retention in one word: messy.

There will likely be a hefty weed-out phase. But that weed-out phase is necessary to find the core contributors who truly want to carry out the mission and aren’t just there for the hype and the returns.

While clearing the weeds, Flash DAOs will have to be wary of the Dead Sea Effect, which is when the best talent leaves the organization because they are the least likely to put up with inefficiencies or inter-org squabbling. That talent “evaporates” away to other, better opportunities, because they have those opportunities available. What’s left is … residue.

I believe one of the biggest hurdles Flash DAOs will face is navigating the Dead Sea Effect and keeping the talent they need to get off the ground.

A picture of the dead sea and the white salt deposits forming on its outer edges.
The Dead Sea is slowly evaporating away, leaving salt deposits like those pictured. If Flash DAOs aren’t careful, their precious liquidity of talent will evaporate away too. Image from deadsea.com.

At OpenDAO, 9x9x9 has some ideas for keeping quality members around. Slated for the near future, the DAO will be determining salaries for part-time and full-time contributors. “Everyone’s in different financial situations,” 9x9x9 said, stressing the importance of providing financial incentives for contributors. “It will be similar to a real-life salary,” which the community will vote on.

Angyts agreed that a “universal basic income for contributors based on the future value of the token,” would be a key way to keep talent around. He also mentioned Coordinape rounds, an internship/mentorship program, and succession planning for role holders as important ways to ensure talent is retained and tacit knowledge is not lost during role transitions.

The financial incentive to work on OpenDAO could be enough to keep people around. But with so much competing for our attention in Web3, it’s hard to say how many contributors and builders will last at a project for longer than a year.

If retaining quality talent is hard, getting them to participate and vote is even harder. OpenDAO has nearly 60,000 Discord server members but so far only 3,730 snapshot participants for formal on-chain votes.

A screenshot of the Server Stats of OpenDAO, which lists “All members” at 57,633 and “Online” at 13,385.
One section of the Discord server shows you how many members are online and how many there are total. Image from OpenDAO Discord server.
A screenshot of the membership in OpenDAO’s snapshot, which is where they ratify decisions on-chain. There are 3,730 voters.
Even though there are 57,000 members, there aren’t nearly as many who are interested in voting. This is common in many DAOs. Image from OpenDAO’s Snapshot.

Voter apathy is real. Not just in DAOs — it’s a known phenomenon in democracies all over the world. I posit that voter apathy will be even more pronounced in Flash DAOs, since many of the new members will come for the airdrop and then dip out, or simply won’t understand what’s involved and at stake.

Flash DAOs should worry about this because governance is the backbone of DAOs. A DAO wouldn’t be a DAO without community voting. Voting must be top of mind when it comes to contributor participation, but I worry that Flash DAOs growing at warp speed simply won’t have the time, energy, or bandwidth to invest in this aspect of engagement.

A screenshot from OpenDAO’s “Getting Involved Basics” page that reads: “As a $SOS token holder, voting is your responsibility!”
At the top of the “Getting Involved” page on OpenDAO’s Notion is a reminder to everyone that voting is their responsibility. Image from Getting Involved Basics.

Final Flash DAO prediction: Success won’t be easy. But when success happens, it will pay dividends to contributors.

The speed and hype associated with Flash DAOs means coordinating the community will be harder than coordinating those in a more traditional, slower-to-germinate DAO. Success will be harder because of voter apathy, the potential for a drain on talent, and the difficulty of maintaining community focus on a clear roadmap and vision.

However, due to the publicity they receive, the talent pool they can draw from, and the Twitter army they create, when Flash DAOs succeed, they will succeed massively. Everyone will know they’re succeeding. And what happens when the DAO gets more attention? The token price pumps, talent pours in, shipping speeds increase, and the flywheel spins faster and faster.

Flash DAOs will succeed or fail on epic scales. They will move like small nations, building up or burning down as they go. The proportions will be massive, the stakes high.

But what else is new here in Web3?

Author Bio

Samantha is a publishing coordinator, writer, and editor for BanklessDAO. She loves thinking about the big questions of the human experience and finding out how Web3 fits in.

BanklessDAO is an education and media engine dedicated to helping individuals achieve financial independence.

Bankless Publishing is always accepting submissions for publication. We’d love to read your work, so please submit your article here!

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