The 19-Year Old Co-Founder on Building Dream DAO from Scratch
The young leader train and leads Gen Zs on leveraging crypto for social good.
I interviewed the co-founder Madison who herself is a young leader (19 year old) on the origin story, impact, internal workings, and their relationship with Civics Unplugged, the nonprofit.
While this 19 year old is way smarter than us we did get in a cool fact that totally surprised her, read till the end to find out what that was.
I’d love to understand the initial days of Dream DAO. From the time you came up with the thought of becoming a DAO and transitioning from a registered US nonprofit to a DAO.
A lot of who we are comes from the parent organization of Dream DAO, which is called Civics Unplugged, a nonprofit that trains young people from all over the world to be civic innovators. The primary way that's done is through a 10-week online civic innovation fellowship.
The broad mission of Civics Unplugged is to train the next generation of leaders who will solve civic problems in more effective ways than our current leaders and our current heads of state and CEOs.
When we learned about the potential of web3 to solve civic problems, we saw that not very many young people were being onboard the impact side of web3. We thought who would be better at training and onboarding young people than an organization that is already focused on just that but for civic innovation more broadly.
So in the early days for me, I didn't know anything about web3 at all. We had our founder Gary Sheng of Civics Unplugged. Gary had some familiarity with web3. We also brought in people from our network who did know how DAOs and NFTs work.
I remember the first days of being in a room with people just like having brainstorming sessions and someone who we brought in was like, “if at any point you don't understand something, just stop. And I'll explain.”
And I was like, “I can't stop you because I would have to stop you after every single word that you said, because I don't understand anything that you're saying at all.”
So I really learned about web3 through conversations and the process of just building the DAO. That's kind of a philosophy that we took for onboarding the rest of the young members.
We think that the best way for people to learn about the power of web3 and the power of DAOs is to just build one and help lead one.
All of our working groups, which if you don’t know what working groups are - it's kind of what they sound like. These are groups within the DAO that decentralizes workflows. To accomplish something within a DAO it's done by working groups that have different focus areas. And so those are all led by young community members from all over the world.
Why did Dream DAO choose NFT for governance over the ERC20 token which is more of a thing?
The primary reason why we use the NFT was as an onboarding mechanism.
So we have two types of members. We have what we call our builders, who are 15 to 20-year-olds who are learning about web3. And we have the champions who are the mentors that are helping teach them about web3.
The way that you become a champion is by purchasing one of our NFTs and for every NFT that is bought by a champion, an NFT is given to a builder for free.
So by joining the Dream DAO, the young fellows (builders) gain an asset, like an asset that is worth something, and get their first experience. It’s kind of their membership to the Dream DAO. It’s like the give one, get one model, which I think is really powerful in itself.
Voting is really complicated as we know. Especially when creating a DAO where you're onboarding diverse young people who really don't have any capital. A traditional token model of like the most tokens equating to the highest weighted vote, just doesn't make sense at all.
We're still working to develop a merit-based voting system. It's a huge question within the entire web3 and DAO ecosystem. And we don't know the answer.
That's one of the big focus for our second season, which will start on July 2nd, 2022.
How do we create a merit system that rewards people for participation but also allows people with the most context to make the most informed decisions?
Did you seek any advice on structuring the DAO? Also NFTs over tokens for governance, whose idea was it?
There are multiple answers to that. Umm, there are probably three answers.
The first is that Gary originally got the idea for Dream DAO because he talked to Scott from Gitcoin and he was telling Scott about the work that we do at Civics Unplugged. And he was like, “wouldn't it be cool if you created a web3 version of this.” He kind of introduced the concept of a DAO.
The second is I told you we had those people come and we had brainstorming sessions before the DAO was even created with people like Gary and myself.
And we were asking questions that we didn't really know the answer to like, “oh so should everything be on-chain. Right. And they were like, “eh, not really.” And that group taught us the fundamentals.
And then number three would be that it's a constant evolution of the design of the DAO.
It's constantly being co-designed and co-evolved by the members. Both the builders, the young people, and the mentors.
I think we're actually really lucky and really unique in the fact that not every proposal passes in the Dream DAO. We had a proposal that went out this weekend that didn't pass. Like I think only two people voted yes. And the proposal was on how we deal with our alumni.
People are actually reading into it and they vote and they voted no. And I think a lot of times in DAOs people just vote yes. Or like don't take the time to fully dive into it.
So I guess my answer is Scott helped us come up with the idea that Dream DAO could even exist. Those early conversations with people like David Silverman helped us gain a foundational knowledge of what DAOs are and how they operate. And then it's a continued story with our members, continuing to figure out what systems need to exist and how we improve our existing systems
Is there a voting threshold before decisions are passed?
Yes. So we have 80 voters in a quorum, I think it is 12 votes.
How many builders do you have - the Gen Zs of this program? And what countries do they come from?
We have 40 builders. All our builders, most of them are the alumni of Civics Unplugged fellowship. The Civics Unplugged Fellowship is 74% young women, 70% people of color, and represents over 70 countries.
I don't have specific data on how many countries are represented within the Dream DAO, but it comes from a community of 70 plus people.
We have our governance working group led by an 18-year-old from Russia. We have lots of Indian representation. Brazil, Italy, Germany and lots of different places.
What about the Champions, the ones mentoring the students? Which countries do they come from?
They are mostly from the US.
And I assume the Champions have expertise in web3. Also I’m really impressed with Dream DAO. I have had conversations with your builders and I love what they’ve shared with me about hands-on learning, exposure to this new world, and being part of a community. I feel like you should increase your capacity, the number of fellows you can accommodate should be expanded.
You launched Dream DAO in December 2021, right?
What’s your current relationship with Civics Unplugged, the nonprofit from which you sprung out? Are you co-opted within the nonprofit like do you have a board of directors watching over your DAO operations, bank accounts, etc?
I’d love to understand this relationship because I feel like a lot of nonprofits will go down this route, they’ll have a formal nonprofit structure with DAO as an operating model.
The relationship with Civics Unplugged, the best way to think about it is like it's the parent organization. The main thing that came from Civics Unplugged is the people who started Dream DAO. Those people worked at Civics Unplugged and the community of people who are in the Dream DAO is alumni or friends of Civics Unplugged.
Initially, it was funding too. The fact that some of the employees like myself and Gary who were spending their time on Dream DAO were getting their salaries from the nonprofit.
But now Dream DAO is at a place where we are financially sustainable.
The way that the nonprofit comes in is that sometimes we have to use USD to pay for things. So we have to send crypto from our wallet. Sometimes it's very hard to pay young people from around the world in crypto because they can't convert it back to their local currencies.
We need to use the nonprofit treasury to send people money. Then in terms of people who are full-time employed by Civics Unplugged, legally, they have to have their salary covered by Dream DAO because of legal considerations. For example, if I spend 70% of my time on Dream DAO, the Dream DAO has to reimburse Civics Unplugged for the equivalent 70% of my salary because of how much time is spent on it.
How about fundraising, what are your sources?
The fundraising model is a mixture of NFTs and grants. We raised 150,000 I think to get the DAO started off from our NFT collection. We've also been supported by Coinbase, Celo, Near, and a couple other places since then in the form of grants.
Fundraising is going to continue being a mixture of NFTs and grants, and then maybe a couple small things. Like a lot of people in the DAO want to start a merch store. So maybe we'll sell a little bit of merch. I don't think that'll be a huge profit-making thing though.
How are you internally organized and how do you recognize the team for their contribution?
The model for working groups is we have a working group leader who is a young person that would be like a 15 to 20-year-old. Who is learning web3. And then we have an advisor who is one of the mentors and they kind of form a tag team leading the working group.
Each working group has its own budget and they allocate and decide what key results they're going to have for the season. For instance, in the governance workstream, one of their season’s results is to create a merit voting system. And so they’ll have their budget and they can create bounties based on these key results to have certain working group members contribute.
The baseline we use is $20 an hour. So it's like if a task is gonna take two hours and two people do it, the collective value would be like $80 to create something. And then the working group leads themselves are paid $750 a month just as a baseline for what they do.
The working groups meet every week. They do some behind-the-scenes coordination and things like that. And they might help out on other tasks.
What are the different kinds of tech tools you use in your everyday DAO work?
We use Discord for communication, which I don't really like, but we use it. We use email. The way that we use email is for important information. So every Monday we send out every idea that's floating around in the DAO like maybe we should send this person to a conference. So we document these ideas in an email every Monday.
Then people have a week till Friday to give feedback on those ideas and the ones that people are kind of happy with those ideas get turned into proposals, and those proposals get on the snapshot for voting.
We're also starting on season two using Clarity, which is a bounty management system. In the past, we’ve also been using Notion for a lot of our documentation. And I think we will continue to use Notion as well. We might move on to Clarity for some of that. If people become comfortable with the tool because it does allow you to do documentation.
The reason why we don’t have a ton of tooling is that it doesn't make sense to use tooling until you have laid a foundation for your DAO. Tools are supposed to level up the work that you do.
If you don't even have a foundation of the things that you're doing, tooling doesn't even really make sense, like it's meant to improve what you're doing.
I so agree with you on mindful tooling. We’ve formed a DAO to study Impact DAOs and our approach to tooling is minimalistic and easy to use with zero learning curve possibly. Like we had to make a choice between Google Docs and Notion and we decided to go with Google Docs since everyone has Gmail and is familiar with that feature.
Ok moving to safety and security, how do you keep your operations safe online as you know we are in crypto and crypto always attracts some bad characters.
So this is where the mentors come in. The mentors have these things called learning together sessions, where we invite people who are like leaders in web3 to talk about different topics. That's our primary method of educating our members. And sometimes it's the mentors within the DAO who do it.
And I think a good example of this is we had a session at the beginning. We'll have it again. When we onboard new members, we do a wallet setup session. So one of our mentors showed everyone how to set up a wallet and then told them all of the security concerns and like different ways to save their passwords and things like that.
The mentors are really good people for sharing best practices and caution.
That said we did have someone who lost access to their wallet and they no longer had access to their NFT for the Dream DAO. So they couldn't vote on things. And this is after a lot of caution as well.
When you're working with humans and especially young people there are a lot more considerations and it's not as simple as just teaching people. I think that you're gonna have things like that come up. And so, like, we haven't thought of a great process for that because I don't really know what you can do.
Like we sent her another NFT. But yeah, there are definitely some considerations. I think the best thing we can do is have the mentors share their best practices along the way.
How do you measure impact? Do you have any measurement criteria?
Let me try and find something for you on impact. Wait if I leave Riverside on my phone. Wait, can you hear me still? Yeah, I can hear you. Don't leave Riverside.fm, Can you hear me now? Yeah! I was trying to find, we posted on Twitter, our season two metrics. So I was trying to look there, but I couldn't leave and actually still talk.
Our three primary things that we're looking for in season two are members onboarded. So we're going to be onboarding at least 30 new young people to the impact side of web3.
We want to match 20 more people with internships. And 20 more young people to conferences all around the world. And that's our metrics starting from July 1st to the end of November.
We primarily are about educating young people. Giving them hands-on experience with internships and the people who wanna go even further, giving them a completely immersive experience into web3 by learning and going to conferences.
I mean, I’ve already spoken to two of your builders Joshua from Mexico and Madhav from India. They were so lit about Dream DAO and how it’s changed their lives by taking them into the future. I can see the impact.
You are also pretty young, aren’t you 19? Who coaches you?
Yeah, I’m 19. And in terms of coaching me, it’s definitely Gary. I have learned so much from Gary and Civics Unplugged as a whole. Like Civics Unplugged when they were created, had the motto, “kids will lead.” That's really the approach that they take.
I think that people are often capable of so much more than they think they are. And then that other people think that they are.
I started by doing small things for Civics Unplugged and then they slowly trusted me and gave me to do bigger things. And yeah, I mean, just getting to continually grow.
I think I just was lucky to have found a community and an organization like Civics Unplugged hired me out of high school to take a gap year and work full time for them in New York.
And they took a chance on me. I've already grown so much and I'm actually doing a second year with them as well, started like a month ago and just like getting the opportunities to try things out and to fail and to use my creativity and skills. Just like overall, very lucky to have had those opportunities.
I wish every young person can get an opportunity as you’ve got. Hands-on learning and project-based learning is the best form of learning. Your organization is so needed at a much larger scale. I hope you can expand.
On a side note is this your full-time job?
Yeah. So Dream DAO and Civics Unplugged are definitely my focus. What's been cool about web3 is that you have the freedom to try out different things. For example, at Gitcoin, which is all about funding digital public goods, I have something called the public goods library, which is like a weekly discussion call that I get to moderate every week where we bring in experts. Similar to the Dream DAO learning together series we bring in people to talk about web3 and the ideas behind public goods and how we can fund more public goods. So that's kind of a fun thing for me to do every week is to facilitate that conversation and actually that helps with my work.
I meet people through those calls that can help out with Dream DAO, and I've actually found people who've become official mentors of Dream DAO via connecting through those weekly calls.
Any DAO that you look up for inspiration and then what have your learnings and challenges been in this space?
It's a big question about how and if we scale. I think that a lot of DAOs start off really big because they just blindly follow the metric of how many people are in the DAO.
And oftentimes if you have larger communities, you have much lighter touch points with each individual and you might not actually be able to have a deeper, more profound impact.
If you have a smaller group of people, for example, like the way that Dream DAO operates now, we have about 40 young people. But every one of those young people, if they contribute, can probably get an internship. They can probably go to a conference. Like our internal community is not necessarily fighting for a very limited number of resources. We have the number of resources we need for the members of our community.
So that's a huge advantage of being small. But to reach more young people, it's just the question of you having to substantially scale the resources we have. And then you get into questions of like, even if you did have the resources, how would the community itself be affected?
How about inspiration? Who do you look up to?
For inspiration, um, I think, um. So there's this Thiel Fellowship, which you may have heard of. It's basically a program where they pay young people to drop out of school for two years and they give them $100,000 to work on a project. I think that there are a lot of ways to improve that model, but I do think the general idea of giving young people the support to build something even if it's outside of school is really appealing.
I would like us to find a way in the future to maybe fund a couple of projects out of Dream DAO. I don't want people to have to create something. We can help train the people who turn a lot of these visions into reality.
Sometimes that's harder than actually coming up with the ideas, like making the idea reality.
But that said if there are people who do come up with really innovative and revolutionary ideas that level up the way that this ecosystem is then we should find a way to help fund that work and find a way to help them get started and make it a reality.
Do you know that Vitalik Buterin the founder of Ethereum is a Thiel Fellow? He was awarded a two-year $100k fellowship when he was 20 years old to work on his passion projects then.
What, no, really. Wow, I didn’t know that.♦️
🎙 Madison was interviewed on June 28th, 2022 as part of the Impact DAOs research project. She moved from Oklahoma to NYC to work full-time for Civics Unplugged and now with Dream DAO.
We’d like to 🙏 Gregory Stock of Secret Sauce NYC based design firm that’s helping us articulate our brand story and media assets (soon to come). Their services are pro bono and we are very grateful for that.
This post is part of a series on the Impact DAOs Research + Book project. This project is by a collective of folks in web3 + impact + media. The team members on Twitter are @tranimal, @katerinabohlec, @Abeers123, @Poplinecreation, @crystaldstreet, @0xSardius, @karanth_harsha, @actThreeCC, @0xSiddhearta, @Value_Strat, @zaldarren, @astrocruz_s, @ashisharora27, @pop_timism + Kim on LI
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