No Bosses: What It’s Like Working at a DAO

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There are many things to do in January. peopleOn Crypto Twitter proclaimedIf 2021 is the year that NFTs were created, 2022 could be called the year the DAOs. The decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) is a relatively new type of organisation that has seen rapid growth in recent years due to the influx of money into crypto. They’re an extension of the crypto world’s promise of decentralization: Instead of being owned by one person or controlled by a board, they’re collectively owned by participating members, with decisions being voted upon and rules enforced through smart contracts.

Aaron Wright, a lawyer 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 swarmlike, but there’s no real productive way to channel that,” he says. “I believe DAOs are that answer.”

Many people believe that DAOs will eventually be able to replace traditional businesses as a kind of new-age cooperative. For example, imagine Uber in which all the Uber drivers own Uber. Currently, however, the majority of DAOs focus on Web 3 and crypto activities. DAOs can collect NFTs, facilitate cryptocurrency exchanges (Uniswap), create blockchain tools and products (PartyDAO), incubate NFT artists and fund them (herstoryDAO and the Mint Fund).

But skeptics point out that many DAOs aren’t particularly decentralized and are limited in their ability to navigate the unpredictable complexities of human organizations. “Calling a DAO a revolutionary structure is smoke and mirrors: It’s just voting shares,” the video essayist Dan Olson argued in his viral YouTube video, “Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs.” Earlier month, the New York TimesPublished an article highlighting the difficulties of DAOs. This included massive hacks and low voter turnout.

Some DAOs failed spectacularly. But there are still others out there that continue to work quietly and offer an alternative model of what a workplace could look like. dOrg was one of the first DAOs in the United States to become an LLC. dOrg is a software development firm that builds infrastructure for Web 3 (and crypto) projects. To find out how dOrg differs from other LLCs and what these differences mean for their work, I spoke to four DAO members.

Everyone owns the company, so there is no need for a management team

dOrg doesn’t have any general management posts (CEO or CFO) to help it start at the top. While the software engineer Ori Shimony created the company, he doesn’t have an official leadership title, instead describing himself as “helping with research and development.”

Roles are flexible, and people can move into various roles according to the project. Every employee is an owner in law of the Vermont LLC. Each owner has one share. Tokens are used to vote on company decisions. These tokens accrue when you finish projects for the company. (Accordingly, Shimony has the largest share of the company’s tokens, at about 9%, but that share has been decreasing steadily 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.” “At pretty much every company I’ve ever worked at, I’ve been told by my bosses, ‘I really want you to own this project.’ But it’s not actually true. Everything I create, I now own it. It totally changes how you want to manage your time.”

The company isn’t completely non-hierarchical, however. Specialists are responsible for certain aspects of the projects (e.g. in tech, project management, etc). A leader in one area could end up reporting to the subordinates of another. “There’s a difference between leadership and authority,” Shimony says. “There’s no one authority to wave a wand and make a decision. But it’s really helpful to have someone, or ideally multiple people, provide advice, guidance and direction.”

Developers control the budget and choose their own projects

Flexible work hours are possible and employees can choose their own locations. Three different countries were represented by the employees that I spoke to. None of them claimed they work more than 45 hours per week. It was also discussed that they had a lot of autonomy when it came to finding projects and cultivating client relationships, then creating teams to implement those plans. Magenta Ceiba is the dOrg’s project manager. She has a passion for regenerative agriculture and local economies. After discovering AcreDAOS as an investment club that focused on the issues in need of development support, she made a proposal which was immediately accepted by the token holders. “The values alignment was particularly high on this project,” she says. “Many of the builders in dOrg are from Venezuela, so they have a deep understanding of what happens when economies are broken.

Nestor Amesty is a Venezuelan tech leader who says the budget allocations are handled by developers. “We co-audit ourselves,” he says. “If someone is abusing the budget—which has definitely happened in the past—his or her peers will have the responsibility to raise their voices if they see something they do not agree with. We have a clear structure on how to proceed if conflict arises.”

Conflicts can be mediated, and then votes on.

Without having a central authority to rule on spats, employees first abide by the company’s guidelines for “decentralized dispute resolution.” Sometimes a People Ops specialist (essentially an HR worker) serves as a mediator. “That’s been working pretty well recently,” Magenta says. “We have a culture of being direct and forthcoming with each other.”

It’s not uncommon for Shimony himself to be overruled. He says that when he wanted dOrg to issue a public token—so that investors could buy a quasi-stake in the company—the idea “died in committee” after being discussed over several calls. “I argued with them; the decision went the other way and I’m glad it did,” Shimony says. “dOrg is what it has become.”

If decisions aren’t resolved in discussions, then the DAO members vote on the blockchain. Spence says the company used to vote on nearly every decision, which led to an “information overload and a constant barrage of needing to feel like you needed to keep on everything that was being proposed.” While this process was perhaps the most inherently democratic system, it hampered forward progress, so the company began to delegate decisions to smaller and more specialized groups.

Health benefits are outsourced by the company

For now, dOrg is partnering with Opolis—which sells health care for digital workers and freelancers—to provide health insurance for its U.S.-based members. Ceiba, who lives in California and is on state insurance, says she is interested in advocating for the company to explore its own insurance options now that “we’re starting to have a healthy enough treasury to revisit that.”

Salary information is transparent

When it comes to pay rates and finances, dOrg aims for “radical transparency.” All salaries and budgeting are publicly maintained on the blockchain; payout logs are visible to each member.

Employees are compensated according to the skills they have, no matter where they reside in the world. Amesty, who moved to Madrid from Venezuela after joining the company, says that when he previously tried to work for Latin American agencies, “they usually strong-armed developers to work for lower wages, because they know that Venezuela is in a very hard situation. After I started to work with dOrg, feeling my nationality didn’t matter—it was my work and what I was delivering.”

Another interesting aspect is that employees working on specific projects have the option of being paid either in cash or tokens, which represent ownership in their projects. They can choose to spend their immediate money on the latter, but they will lose the opportunity for increased valuation as the projects mature.

Amesty was a part of the Polywrap development platform. He says that he prefers to be paid mostly in tokens and will get them after 4 years. “I truly believe that [Polywrap] has a lot of potential to grow in the coming years, and want to be a part of that,” he says. “It also motivates me to want to make things as good as possible, since I have skin in the game.”

Skills building is still in its infancy.

Theory suggests that worker stagnation could be caused by a flat hierarchical company. Employees may feel discouraged from learning new skills and moving up the ladder. To combat this, the dOrg’s handbook places an emphasis on “upskilling” and creating a collaborative structure in which employees with different skills learn from one another. “When people form teams, the senior developers will encourage more junior developers to take on a bigger chunk or a new skillset,” Ceiba says. Workers with higher levels of expertise and additional skills get more.

Spence envisions a formalized self-improvement system with a list of skills that developers should master to be eligible for higher salary grades and higher status in dOrg. Spence envisions a system in which developers sign up for various skill sets to be built on each project. These skills are then reviewed by other collaborators. “So there’s this constant mechanism of evaluating a builder’s performance and ensuring they’re actually building the skills they need,” he says. Spence claims he’s already suggested this idea and hopes it will be implemented in the coming year.

Until then, dOrg continues to work on various projects, vote for new proposals, and streamline technical processes. “A lot of things just started as experiments, and there are things that need ironing out,” Amesty says. “But it works. And I hope I can be around for a long time.”

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