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Can I start a DAO if I’m not technical?

Sam Sklar
@_samsklar

The short answer - yes.

The long answer - yes, and here’s why:

So you’ve decided that you should start a DAO , but where do you go from there? You might think that you need to be a blockchain developer to start a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), but we aren’t in 2017 anymore. On the technical side, it is becoming increasingly easy to form DAOs with cookie-cutter governance systems and token launches that follow well-established models. We are in a period of experimentation in blockchain-based organizations, and your DAO idea may be more practical than you realize if you’re not a developer.

If you’ve thought about creating a DAO, you’ve probably thought about these questions:

  • Which blockchain will my token be on?
  • What is the goal of - or idea behind - the DAO?
  • Who can I get to join my DAO, and how?

This article will answer these questions while also providing a list of resources for starting a DAO at the end. 

2021 saw a DAO revolution , and now we are seeing DAOs emerge with a variety of novel use cases and governance structures. The beauty of DAOs comes from their ability to apply a model of decentralized and token-based decision making to organizations, allowing for a new form of democratic participation for community members via voting systems defined in - and operated by - smart contracts based on blockchains like Ethereum.

Even though it’s now possible to create a DAO without being a developer, that isn’t to say that it’s easy. Forming a DAO is somewhere between founding a startup and creating a guild in World of Warcraft. It requires vision, leadership, creativity, commitment, and the ability to attract quality contributors. More practically, it requires the ability to do a lot of little things well. 

Samantha Marin provides a few examples of some important DAO tasks that can be accomplished by non-technical DAO founders. Before worrying about benefits that would accompany full-time employment by a DAO, we need to define the core tasks of a DAO and the first major steps that a potential DAO founder needs to take. DAOs are fundamentally about a tokenomics-oriented model of social organization. Creating a DAO means building a digital community of people connected by tokens that DAO leadership designed, minted, marketed, and sold. 

In the early days of DAOs, developing smart contracts and issuing tokens required significant technical understanding and coding skills. Today, there are many tools that enable you to quickly spin up a DAO instance and get your community going today. These all-in-one, no-code tools are typically known as “frameworks” since they provide an immediate design scheme for your DAO. One example of a framework is Juicebox, which we covered in a previous article . If Ethereum isn’t your preferred blockchain, other frameworks exist on different layer 1 blockchains including Tribeca and Colony.

With that aside, we can focus on some of the more substantive questions you need to answer if you want to start a DAO.

DAO Goals

What does a DAO need: 

  • Governance system & corresponding smart contracts
  • Tokens
  • Community & communication channel/hub like Discord
  • Wallet
  • Treasury & treasury governance
  • Outward-facing comms (Twitter, white papers, other media produced by the DAO for marketing purposes)
  • Mission

Every DAO is going to need to have all of these things. The bullet points start with the most urgent and end with the least urgent - but this doesn’t mean that the lower points are less important.

In fact, understanding your DAO’s mission is likely the most important part of the whole process. If you want to start a DAO, you should have a reason beyond the idea that DAOs are trendy.

What do you want to do with your DAO? Some possibilities:

  • Investment
  • Decentralized Apps (dApps)
  • Communities or Projects

These are the three main models for DAOs. Investment DAOs allow (frequently anonymous) individuals to pool capital to invest in NFTs and other digital assets through the DAO treasury/wallet. dApp DAOs serve as the governance structures for decentralized apps like Uniswap and Curve. Participants in a dApp DAO, like Curve DAO, provide support and voting power for proposals regarding fees and other business decisions and share in the revenue gained from the dApp.

DAO communities and projects are vaguer and harder to define. They may invest in digital assets, but community or project-oriented DAOs are more driven by something more abstract: the desire to collectively achieve a particular goal (like ConstitutionDAO), working to enact and embody a set of principles (like Gitcoin), or maybe just celebrating the creative irreverence of crypto culture - like Friends with Benefits.

Community building and structuring the Contributor Loop

The hardest part of building a DAO doesn’t require any technical skill beyond setting up a discord server. Building an active community that participates in the DAO’s governance structure and helps the DAO to grow and mature is somewhere between an art and a science, requiring both the human touch - albeit in digital form - and an understanding of the technical side of building and sustaining an audience online. 

If you’re starting a DAO, you need to have a concrete answer to the following question: Why would someone join my DAO? There are a few possible reasons:

  • They’re a friend of yours who you’ve convinced to join
  • They are a serial DAO joiner who is unlikely to stick around or become a valuable contributor
  • They want to join the community of your DAO because they believe in the DAO’s guiding principles and/or they want to associate with its members
  • They see it as a way to pool capital to invest in NFTs or other digital assets as a decentralized collective 

Building a community may require a few friends at the start, but ultimately, you’ll face a challenging task: recruiting and retaining top talent at scale. 

As Tyler Whittle puts it, “DAO contributors have significantly greater power of choice than their corporate counterparts exactly because DAOs have permeable organizational boundaries like communities. Thus, the power of success (and failure) in a DAO falls even more squarely in attracting and retaining the best members.” 

To overcome this hurdle, you’ll need to appeal to people's different motivations for joining. For those interested in the social aspect, you’ll need to create opportunities for them to meet community members and form relationships. For those that are financially motivated, you’ll need to incentivize them with bounties and airdrops. And for those that are driven by mission, you’ll need to be a constant voice about the importance of the work everyone is doing and celebrate the impact everyone is making along the way. 

None of the components that go into that require any technical skill. Instead, you have to wear many hats: marketer, content creator, Discord dweller, governance coordinator and arbitrator, leader. More than any of these titles, you need to think about what it means to become a DAO leader

Whether you’re starting a DAO as a solo founder or as part of a broader group, you are creating something entirely new. You are leading a new organization in a field where success means ceding some leadership roles over time to the broader governance structure. Building that government structure requires leadership from founders, and the complex relationship between (hierarchical) leadership and decentralized networks and governance structures is worth dwelling on for would-be DAO-builders. 

If you want to start a DAO, there are a few resources that leaders in the DAO community have shared with the public: