Answer First, Code Later: Why the Best DAOs Won’t Be About Web3


by @fuewrites

These days, even mainstream readers think of “blockchain” when they hear “immutable” or “decentralized.” The problem is that most developers stop there, thus limiting themselves to a tiny audience of already tech-savvy users.

If you truly want your dApp to revolutionize how things are done, you have to reach the mainstream. And to reach everyday people, you need to convey existing pain points instead of slapping buzzwords on Web2 solutions.

Here’s how you do it.

Empathy and simplicity trump technical features

If you want to convey your enthusiasm about the revolutionary forces of Web3, that’s only understandable. But not everybody reads about cold wallets, DAOs, or ERC-20 every day.

So if you want to convince the Nocoiners to adopt your solution, your best bet is to talk about the problems they already have, not the new features your token standard brings along. Don’t worry, you can have your cake and mint it too.

Human beings learn through analogies. To understand how to interact with something new, we need to tie that information to the things we already know. We understand we can’t make compote out of light bulbs. But back when we still relied on candles, that metaphor helped us to integrate them into our lives.

We can’t deny, though, that those images don’t fully reflect the innovation that a new product carries. As Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

We can only fill the gap between the originally chosen analogy and the true scope of an innovation’s effect in retrospect.

  • Humans didn’t buy electromagnetic radiation. They cared about a microwave oven.
  • We could have used radio broadcasts in a million ways, but they first took off when news agencies embedded them in their newspaper subscription.
  • Steve Jobs didn’t sell us a mobile computing device with speakers, cameras, and microphones. He sold “an iPod, a Phone, and an Internet Communicator.”

Web3’s opportunities may be endless, but don’t sell infinity

If you compare these historical examples to today’s solutions in the Web3 space, you realize why cryptocurrencies and NFTs dominate the headlines. They’re easy analogies, both for developers and for consumers. Even people outside the tech bubble have heard of BitcoinEthereum, or Banksy’s NFT. That’s because they’re easy, first-step analogies.

Yes, cryptocurrencies aren’t the same as gold or dollars, and an NFT drop isn’t an art auction. But most readers can neglect the nuances and still understand the broad picture.

Once we look past those first strides toward a Web3 future, though, developers mostly stick with broad claims that are hard to grasp. And the reason for that lies in blockchains’ very nature and a lack of interdisciplinary communication in startups.

Every other day, you see a new decentralized or immutable product pop up. But imagine you had just heard of the latest decentralized social media network. Even if you actively take part in the Web3 space, that headline is hard to fill with meaning.

  • Does the platform use immutable records to verify its users’ identities?
  • Does it offer a marketplace like Facebook’s, only with smart contracts?
  • Does it protect creators’ intellectual property rights, allow fans to vote on content, and anonymize users?
  • Does it allow you to redeem social currency, like community-vetted experience points, elsewhere?

Hash encryption, proof of work, and decentralization aren’t features. They are the tricks behind the magic show’s curtain. The show itself relies on a tight, ongoing exchange between developers, researchers, and users. And only when you collaboratively work out a content strategy and user experiences, you can combine the features, pain points, and solutions into one message.

Here’s your 4-step roadmap to a Web3 breakthrough

A lot of Web3 startups try to slap on storytelling or marketing when they’re finished with the technical solution. That solution might even challenge the status quo, but it won’t reach its full potential for one simple reason: They started with features, not users. More often, they start with one feature: Token + niche = Web3 product.

Still, you don’t want to neglect your early adopters or developers. So you need an approach that bridges the gap between vastly different audiences. You can do it in four steps. We’ll use a DAO project as an example. But we’ll leave out the technical side like token allocation or treasury and focus on the communication between different users.

Include everyone while defining your mission

You don’t want to be yet another DAO in the ever-growing pool. You want to have a simple goal, and you should have a good reason for choosing the DAO structure over an LLC or a registered society. So this is where you need to have an open discussion where everyone can throw in their two cents.

  • What are your goals, and how do you expect the DAO structure to support them?
    • Do your goals vary by user type?
    • Which problems do different groups mention that a Web2 solution cannot solve?
    • If somebody asked you what made your project different from others, what would you say?
  • What hierarchies are already in place?
    • Are you even ready to give everyone a say?
    • Which processes would suffer from a decentralized approach?
    • Are any of your members or employees against decentralization? If so, why?
  • How do you plan to translate business or strategic goals into DAO types and protocols?
    • What will your legal infrastructure look like?
    • Do you need to carry over legacy structures into the DAO?
    • How will you set the right expectations for early adopters and team members?

Make sure you include everyone at this stage, no matter if they’re a customer, developer, chairperson, or marketer. It’ll be a great test run and give you an impression of whether the democratic structure of a DAO is even a fit for you.

Win over developers and early adopters

Let’s say you’ve decided that you want to move forward because a DAO is the perfect solution for you. You’ve talked to every kind of user imaginable and collected data on real-world problems you intend to solve, not features you want to include. And to solve those, you’ve discussed various DAO types, like protocol and social DAOs. You may even know creative ways to allocate your token and incentivize supporters.

At this stage, you can go nuts with insider jokes and technical jargon. You’re trying to win over users who are already part of the blockchain world. So if you say, “Wen Discord?”, that’s still fine. You should also never lose sight of that first tribe. Those are the people that will keep your community alive.

This is also the stage where you’ll actually build your solution. You’ll create your DAO treasury, decide on governance tools, and set up the tools and protocols for your community and incentives.

But if you recall, during our first step, we talked to everyone. So we want to take it back to everyone. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be open, would it? And since we started with problems, not features, we already understand how we can explain our solution.

Convince every individual user, not all of them

Now that your DAO is up and buzzing, it’s time to show the Nocoiners what you’ve been up to and how you can improve their lives. For some, this step will be frustrating. So be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone and to explain even the most technical details. But whatever you do, don’t start with features!

You may think that immutable records are a convincing argument. Maybe they even convinced you to join the DAO. But most non-technical users won’t care about the setup behind the scenes. They want to know what it does for them. This is not the time to talk about smart contracts or gas fees.

So this is your DAO’s ordeal by fire, because now, you need to show that you didn’t lose track of your mission. A lot of projects are joining the hype around Web3, and you can usually tell how little thought many of them put into it. Most of these solutions swap dollars for tokens and use VR or blockchain because they consider it a selling point in itself. It’s not. Be mindful of gas fees and their environmental impact, and don’t offer a feature before you know a user with a matching problem.

When you’re finished, you don’t want to have one pitch, but thousands. Why? Because you’ve considered different user groups and personas who could profit from your DAOs unique offers. For now, you can keep things simple and use a formula.

Remember how you always [encounter problem X]? Now, you can [use solution Y].

It’s not what you’ll end up using in your actual whitepaper or marketing. It’s just supposed to keep you on track.

Imagine you want to turn your podcasting network into a DAO. Instead of simply claiming you’re “the first decentralized network,” run through examples for your audience and everyone on your team.

Which problems does the producer encounter? What about casual listeners, loyal fans who want behind-the-scenes content? What’s bothering the hosts? For an activist listener, using immutable records to give persecuted guests a voice will be more important. The host or the producer might just see that as one advantage, next to on-chain analytics or additional perks for loyal fans.

But if your idea is solely based on the feature, you end up with earn-to-listen models, which often come down to incentivizing ad consumption.

Don’t shy away from Web2 comparisons

If you’ve developed a unique solution that just wasn’t possible within Web 2.0, you probably want to yell that from the rooftops. It’s only understandable. And every developer and early adopter who’s already passionate about blockchain will get it.

The problem is, if you can’t explain what you’re doing to anyone outside of those circles, you’re not truly inclusive, or decentralized, for that matter. You’re just creating another elitist club. So just to get you started, think of easy-to-understand Web2 solutions that serve (or don’t serve) the same audience. Use two or three analogies if you have to.

If you’re a Grant DAO, how are you different from Indiegogo or Kickstarter? What makes your Media DAO different from corporate media networks, other than the distribution of profits?

Your idea can be simple and not use all of blockchain’s features to its full potential. That’s okay. Own it. Not everyone needs an endless list of perks. But if you expect everyday people to leave behind their comfy Web 2.0 bubble, you better understand their problems and needs.

Talk to everyone. Hire a UX writer or content strategist. Collect data on common complaints. If you mix creative solutions with a relatable story, we’ll come knocking on your door in no time.

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