A Love Letter to DAOs

Learning How to Work Sustainably When All You Want to Do Is Just DAO It

Article by Hiro Kennelly Cover art by Cosmic Clancy

I fell for you hard and fast, DAOs. I’ve never considered an affair, but I imagine the beginning feels a lot like this: you are transported to a timeless space where you sense high potential energy, a passionate opening of the universe and a broadening of what you thought was possible, a landscape of limitless opportunities for novelty, exploration, and connection. You are firmly situated in the present and tilting towards the future. All that came before is hazy, and slowly fades into the before-times.

I love you DAOs, but we have to talk. You’re so special to me, and at this moment in history, I don’t want to be anywhere else. But we gotta get polyamorous, because while I want to spend a ton of time with you, I also miss my other life. And really DAOs, you have some growing up to do, some maturing. I’m fond of saying that you are the opportunity of ten lifetimes, and while this is true, you have some problems to solve before you can scale. Otherwise, these amazing new systems we build every day in the depths of Discord will deploy devoid of their full potential for revolutionary social change.

Building new worlds and ways of living is hard work, and if we don’t start to criticize what we’re building and where we’re heading, we won’t reach our full potential, the promise of your revolutionary model. While you will change the way we coordinate social affairs and thus the world, we need to really consider what kind of world we are building, and what our vision for a blockchain-enabled world looks like. Are we building for cyberpunks or cypherpunks, solarpunks or lunarpunks, DAOpunks or cryptopunks?

We also have to understand what you really are: how you’re organized and governed, how capital is deployed to fund projects and contributors, how to properly incentivize a tokenized community towards a mission in a productive and sustainable manner, and what you have to solve before you are ready to scale.

"I’ve noticed you operate at the confluence of contribution and collaboration, coordination and consensus, cohesion and community, all fueled by capital through a tokenized incentive structure. These C’s are the social legos with which you are built..."

yet we don’t really understand how these pieces fit together and so we’re building in ways that are unfocused and haphazard.

- Hiro Kennelly

We’re trying to construct these new things with old tools, which is causing mental health issues in contributors and dysfunction in DAOs, and the words we use to describe our processes create confusion and inaction. Your many moving parts are challenging to coordinate and govern. Long-term contributor retention is an emerging concern across the ecosystem, and tired full-time DAOers are beginning to burn out. I know I did. And this is that story.

Falling For You

My first three months in DAOs were delusional ecstasy — a hallucinatory state fueled by hope, dreams, and coffee. I dropped into voice channels, hit unmute, and quickly started contributing. Right off the bat and with no warning to anyone, I was at the keys for 16–18 hours per day. I had been writing in my basement prior to that, and a lawyer before, and while I was successful by many measures, I’d never felt such a deep sense of purpose and connection. A war footing is a poor analogy, but the feeling of being on the edge of something new and unknown, maybe even a bit verboten and dangerous, was beyond exciting. It was all I wanted to do. This feeling permeated my every cell — it still does.

As days turned into weeks, my Discord server icons spread vertically as I clicked on links to new servers, new people, new communities, and new opportunities. My DM list grew even faster. I spent as much time talking with people in DMs and on Discord as I did creating and shipping content or building communities. Maybe more. Pseudonymous intimacy became my way of being. Without much thought, I even created a Twitter account, something I swore I’d never do.

I’m not a programmer, but I now knew what it felt like to be a builder of novel things in new places.

DAOs are self-discovery devices, pushing the outer limits of our inner spaces and extending the outer reaches of what’s possible at the frontier of technology and people and imagination.

It’s everything I wanted but didn’t know I needed.

I not only learned how to DAO, but how to create a DAO: how to build out a Discord, how to coordinate new forms of consensus, how to cohere and incentivize new communities, how to create and ship content. After three months of this, I was on the Core Team of two DAOs, held multiple roles and responsibilities in another, had consulted for a few more on community development, and was routinely asked to join and build in new places, including privately funded Web3 companies. I was a full-time DAO success story. Until I wasn’t, at least by the measures that matter.

Homecoming

I’m married with young children. We homeschool and haven’t worked outside the home since before the pandemic. That’s a short way of saying we are all at home, all the time, and we worked to keep the show running at a good clip. And the show ran pretty well, until it didn’t.

Through falling deeply in love with DAOs and the people within them, I almost entirely abandoned my family, including my wife and a three-week old son. The pull of this space was so strong that I didn’t even realize I was gone, but they sure did. My home life took a slow but steady turn for the worse, but I was too engaged to notice. I mean, I knew things were bad:

but I didn’t even have time to consider the consequences of my wife’s increasingly angry, pleading face, or the meaning of the gentle and not-so-gentle tugs from my children. I was up early, going to bed late, and I didn’t stop. Until Christmas.

My kids demanded that I not work on Christmas. And I didn’t. And I was miserable. Christmas was the first time I had stopped moving. Motion is not just physical, after all. After three months of 16 hour days, I was all-parts agitated, distant, grumpy, sad, and despondent.

Even before I had children, Christmas was my favorite holiday, by far. Christmas allows us to both relive the suspended animation of childhood and, at least after children, helps us to strengthen family bonds through living in a shared magical space. But last Christmas, I was struggling to be present and feeling a strong desire to check in with my frens on Discord. I had been intimate with these others for three months and almost forgot what it was like to be intimate at home.

"I had left my wife with four children and had gone to live in the metaverse. Despite the warmth of family fires, the utter joy of happy children floating through the pine scent in our living room..."

[Despite] the soft, warm buzz of holiday bliss, I wanted to be at a desk on a computer. And that’s when I knew for sure that something wasn’t right.

- Hiro Kennelly

I began to think about where I had come to in three short months and realized that my life was unbalanced and unstable. I understood that the creativity that had allowed me to thrive was drying up, that I didn’t look forward to getting on Discord as much as I used to, that I was emotionally and spiritually tired, that what I was doing was unsustainable. I was burned out. I still loved all the work and all the people, but I realized the pace wasn’t sustainable for high-level output, for creative and thoughtful work.

Scaling Down but Building Up

After spending a few months deeply immersed, obsessed really, with DAOs, it was clearly time to do some building at home. I’m now finding a better balance between DAOlife and FAMILYlife, the creativity is returning, and the cadence, the rhythmic heartbeat of a happy home, is steadily strengthening.

Ask my wife or kids and they’ll say the balance is still not great, but I’m more present and happy at home. Rather than 16 hours, it’s more like 10–12 hours at the keys. I often type with one hand as I hold my six-month-old son in the other. And this seems to be a good pace for now. It’s not ideal, as there isn’t a lot of time for just relaxing with a jazz album or new book. I still haven’t returned to yoga or meditation or journaling, but there is time for chess with my son, sprints around the backyard with the kids, and hikes in the woods with our expansive tribe.

As I get better at saying ‘no’ and setting boundaries, I’ll settle into a sustainable rhythm that allows for a family life crafted with loving attention while maintaining productivity and creativity in DAOs. I’ve talked to many people about what full-time DAOlife is like, and there’s no better way to spend your work life. But just remember you have a life outside of DAOs. And you need that too.

"I still love you so much DAOs, and I plan to spend the rest of my life growing with you. But for now, I’ll focus more on the DAOs I call home rather than thinking about where else I’m going.I’ll still poke around your edges, but I don’t have time to wander as much, to wonder as much, to get lost in your metaversal forests. And that’s ok. The springs at which I’ve made camp are so nourishing, and..."

I’m just going to settle in here for a bit while I lean back into my other life.

- Hiro Kennelly

My wife just started a Facebook group for artists who are part of her alumni network. They are sharing ideas and learning about each other, assisting to make each other’s work better for a nominal fee, and talking about how to collaborate and use their networks to help support the work and the collective effort. And they are wondering how to get paid in a more equitable and sustainable manner. Whenever she tells me what she’s doing, I’m like, ‘wenDAO’? She rolls her eyes ever so gently, but also gives me a small corner smile. I know she’ll eventually ask me to help her build a DAO, and until then I’ll continue to learn and grow with you. We’re still figuring out how to DAO, but as long as we continue caring about not just what we’re doing but how we’re doing it, I’m certain that the State of the DAOs will just keep getting better and better.

Originally published on February 23, 2022 in State of the DAOs.

Author Bio

Hiro Kennelly is a writer, editor, and coordinator at BanklessDAO and the Editor-in-Chief at Good Morning News. He is also helping to build a grants-focused organization at DAOpunks.

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

Disclaimer: this isn’t investment advice. This article has been written for informational and educational purposes only and it reflects my personal experience and current views, which are subject to change.

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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