Practical Lessons from Building a DAO
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May 20th, 2022

Let’s talk about what it’s actually like to build a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) from scratch.

We’ve been building Odyssey DAO over the past six months as a community of 5,000+ members. Together, we have:

  1. Created web3 learning paths that have been viewed 200,000+ times.
  2. Built an audience that reaches 15,000+ members.
  3. Secured top web3 sponsors and Product Hunt’s best education award.

In this post, I want to share 7 practical lessons from building a DAO. By the end, you may realize that “decentralized autonomous organization” may not be the best name for what actually happens.


1. Define a clear mission and set of values

DAOs can attract quality contributors with a clear mission and set of values.

Odyssey’s contributors are united by our mission to onboard 1 million people to web3. Our growth lead Adrie, for example, is a single mom who wants to use education and on-chain proof of work to help people find the best web3 jobs.

Having shared values is also important. Odyssey values “quality over quantity” in our content and a community that “pays it forward.” These values apply to everything that we do - from keeping our guides concise to organizing free community bootcamps.


2. Build a strong core team

DAOs can execute better with a strong core team (at least in the beginning).

Although Odyssey’s community has 5,000+ members, a core team of 10 people drives most of the work.

Think of it this way - If you’re leading a startup with limited resources, would you hire 5,000 part-time contributors to work on 20 projects at once?

I didn’t think so. Whether at a startup or a DAO, it’s hard to build shared context and forward momentum without a core team.

I think other DAOs are similar - that’s why many have full-time job listings.

But wait, you may be wondering, how is this decentralized?


3. Decentralize through small, empowered teams

DAOs can decentralize through “two pizza” teams that have clear charters.

Some DAOs have a bounty board with a list of tasks that any member can work on to earn tokens. I don’t think this actually works in practice. Consider a task to write a blog post. If any member can take this task:

  1. It’s unclear if they’re actually qualified to write about the topic.
  2. They might put in work only to have their post be scrapped.

Instead, I think DAOs should decentralize slowly through empowered “two pizza” teams. Consider this example from Odyssey:

  1. Mark is Odyssey’s community lead. Based on the community’s feedback, Mark kicked off a free 3-week bootcamp using our intro to web3 guide.
  2. Mark announced the bootcamp in our community and a team of 7-10 contributors volunteered to teach the sessions.
  3. Over 300 people joined the bootcamp and a subset of them are now our most active contributors.

This bootcamp couldn’t have happened without Mark’s leadership and a small team of contributors stepping up to do the work.


4. Choose your owners wisely

DAOs should take the time to find the right people to own their tokens.

Odyssey’s first crowdfund sold out in 24 hours and raised $100K+. That success was quickly clouded when token owners started showing up to ask “when liquidity?”

In hindsight, we should’ve prioritized finding owners who:

  1. Care about the mission. It’s fine to not sell out for weeks if it helps weed out people who only want to make a quick profit. Tools like Premint help founders use allow lists to avoid speculation.
  2. Are active contributors. We reserved 80% of our governance tokens to reward people who contributed to the DAO instead of only those who can afford to buy the tokens.

5. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel

DAOs don’t need to reinvent the wheel in how people get work done.

In some ways, a DAO is like a company that’s more open, remote-first, and flat. Therefore, many company best practices are even more relevant for DAOs:

  1. Great written communication. Since DAOs are remote, they need people who can write clear and concise updates to keep people aligned.
  2. Influence without authority. Since DAOs are flat, they need people who can inspire others to work on a project together.
  3. Effective decision-making. Since DAOs are open, they need people who can balance decision-making speed with accuracy. In particular, type 2 decisions (those that can be easily reversed) usually don’t need a governance vote.

At Odyssey, we reserve governance votes for major decisions that cannot be easily reversed (e.g., how much compensation each contributor gets at the end of a quarter).


6. Do everything you can to retain talent

DAO onboarding mostly sucks so do everything possible to retain great people.

One of the promises of DAOs is that they can democratize access to work. Someone from Indonesia could join a DAO, design a website, and earn crypto while building an on-chain resume (true story for Wenda, Odyssey’s product lead).

In practice, DAO onboarding is hard. At Odyssey, we’ve tried:

  1. Dedicated Discord onboarding channels
  2. Personally replying to people’s comments
  3. Weekly onboarding calls and bootcamps

I’d be lying if I said that we’ve figured it out. Because DAO onboarding mostly sucks, it’s even more important to reward and retain great people. For example:

  1. Alan joined Odyssey’s Discord and started sharing quality writing on DeFi.
  2. We convinced him to draft our entire DeFi path and teach the DeFi sessions of our bootcamp. We compensated him using our DAO treasury.
  3. Alan is now part of Odyssey’s core team.

7. Remember why your DAO exists

DAOs shouldn’t let processes get in the way of delivering value to the customer.

DAOs, like companies, should exist to:

  1. Create useful products and services for customers.
  2. Be a great place to work for community members.
  3. Build a sustainable business.

Everything else - tokens, governance votes, treasury management, etc - should simply be a means toward the goals above.


To recap, here are my 7 lessons from building a DAO:

  1. Define a clear mission and set of values
  2. Build a strong core team
  3. Decentralize through small, empowered teams
  4. Choose your owners wisely
  5. You don't have to reinvent the wheel
  6. D everything you can to retain talent
  7. Remember why your DAO exists

I still have much to learn myself but I hope you found this list helpful. Visit us at Odyssey DAO if you want to support our mission to onboard more people to this space!

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