First Fellowship retrospective

TL;DR

The First Fellowship spent the past year launching Cabin’s network city and trying to grow coliving (see original proposal here). While we accomplished significant progress for the DAO, we fell short of our goals and will not be applying for renewal.

Outline

  1. Background

  2. Learnings
    a. Successes
    b. Failures

  3. Looking Forward
    a. Wrapping up our work
    b. Getting back to our roots

Background

The First Fellowship started in Fall 2022 with a goal to grow Cabin’s coliving network (see original proposal here). Over the past year, we launched Cabin’s network city, laying the groundwork for a global network of modern villages.

First, we brought together 22 outposts around the world to create Cabin’s City Directory. Our outposts in Texas, California, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Japan, Washington, Bali, Costa Rica, Idaho, France, Slovenia, and Thailand are putting out a bat signal for a new old way of living. Cabin Citizens can access the directory and stay at these outposts of our network city. In addition to the city directory and citizenship, members of the Cabin community can create Census profiles and earn passport stamps to build their reputation in the community.

As we built the network of outposts, we experimented with coliving. At Neighborhood Zero, we developed and operated role-based residencies for Gatherers, Builders, Naturalists, and Creators. There are now Gatherers in the Cabin network hosting at Neighborhood Zero, Elkenmist, Montaia Basecamp, and Mana Retreat Center. While we’ve seen dozens of people have life-changing long-term stays at neighborhoods this year, we were not able to attract sufficient demand to scale the network.

To lower the barrier for new people to join us, we created Cabin Weeks. Instead of 1+ month commitments, people could try 1-2 weeks of coliving with us. Like many Cabin experiences, these have been incredibly popular with participants, but they haven’t converted many people into longer term coliving. But the core issue remained: no matter how much people loved Cabin experiences in retrospect, it’s hard to get most people to commit to rural coliving with strangers from the internet.

Learnings

Successes

  • Launched network city of 22 global outposts
  • Activated our first 350 Citizens
  • 902 members created Census profiles
  • Hosted 43 coliving residents at Neighborhood Zero
  • Released our vision document and Guiding Principles
  • Ran four sold out Cabin Weeks this fall

Failures

  • Rural coliving with strangers has too high of a barrier; we were not able to generate sufficient demand to fill coliving properties. We could not find effective new marketing channels or product offerings with enough appeal to attract a critical mass of colivers to our remote properties.
  • Coliving is an operationally intensive business model with localized needs that make it hard to scale across a wide geographic network. We did not effectively scale operations across neighborhoods.
  • We spent too much time and effort building crypto-native features that detracted from the user experience, weren’t useful enough, and/or turned off non-crypto-native users.
  • We had long cycle times for experimentation and a large enough team that burn outpaced rapid iteration, putting us in a position of needing to significantly reduce burn in order to get back on track towards default aliveness.

Looking forward

Wrapping up our work

Over the next month, the First Fellowship will complete this list of tasks to wind down operations and prepare for a new fellowship to take the lead.

I am incredibly proud of the example the First Fellowship is setting by putting the needs of the DAO first and responsibly shutting down instead of asking for more money to do something that wasn’t working. This is how we will successfully steward Cabin towards our long-term goals.

I’m also excited, as is the rest of the First Fellowship, to continue being a part of the community and working towards our long-term goal of building a global network of intergenerational modern villages. The end of this fellowship is a new beginning for the DAO.

Getting back to our roots

It’s not a popular time to be a DAO. DAOs across the ecosystem are quietly dying and the DAO tool market has dwindled to a few remaining companies. There were no DAOs in Seed Club’s sixth cohort. But if you squint and poke around in the ashes, there are some embers burning brightly away across the ecosystem:

  • Investment DAOs like SCV and Hydra are demonstrating the value of collective intelligence
  • DePIN is showing how physical networks can be built using small actions and clear incentives
  • New composable tools like Hats and Jokes are making governance simpler and more fun
  • Boys Club is building a profitable decentralized media brand

You may or may not call any of these things DAOs, or DOs, or whatever. Call them what you want. I’m talking about internet organizations that operate in a decentralized, transparent way.

While everyone else seems to be running away from the failures of decentralized internet organizations over the past 2 years, we are taking the contrarian bet to continue leaning into a DAO-ish model. While there are serious headwinds to operating this way, we believe there are also some big advantages to a well run decentralized community: legitimacy, local action, long-term bias, and lower core operating costs. For a city building project, these advantages outweigh the costs.

For our next chapter, we’ll be focused on:

  1. Thinking long term
  2. Scaling through local actions
  3. Enabling small focused bets

Thinking long term

Sam Altman called long term thinking “the biggest competitive advantage in business”. His first of 13 thoughts on how to be successful is to think about how different systems in the world are going to come together on long time horizons, which allows you to more successfully compound your efforts. Jeff Bezos has famously grown Amazon under the same core principle, originally articulated in his first shareholder letter.

Cabin is building a network city — and cities are built slowly. Developing multi-generational villages is a lifelong project to create a new old way of living. Our culture values long-term thinking by thinking about Cabin on 5, 50, and 500 year time horizons.

DAOs are good organizational structures for longer-term thinking because they can grow and shrink modularly to adapt to changing circumstances. The DAO focuses on maintaining its longevity, pods focus on executing specific bets. By keeping these bets time bound, pods die by default and must justify their continued existence.

Operating on long time horizons requires resilient financial sustainability. To stay alive, we need to drastically decrease our burn rate, which is why the First Fellowship is not renewing its proposal with the DAO. I’m incredibly proud of the fellowship for coming to the unanimous decision to fire ourselves and not request more money from the DAO—it speaks to each members’ commitment to our long-term mission.

The next thing we need to do is become default alive. Bets that we take should aim to make money for the DAO with a small upfront investment on a short payback window (no more than 12 months). We will continue assessing our progress towards default aliveness by comparing revenue to expenses and aiming for a growth rate that reaches profitability on existing capital.

Scaling through local community actions

The hardest part about building communities is that they don’t scale like companies. They naturally resist centralized operations, which require high top-down coordination costs.

Communities thrive in environments where genuine value can be derived by small local groups without the need for high global coordination costs. For loose inspiration, we look to DePIN (see Multicoin Capital: Proof of Physical Work). Projects like Helium and Hivemapper allow individuals to complete simple, repeatable, verifiable tasks (like providing internet bandwidth or dash cam photos) and earn rewards automatically.

Building minimum viable IRL engagement in communities is harder than DePIN, because it takes multiple people interacting to produce value. We tried to reduce the barrier to entry to Cabin with Cabin Weeks, but we believe we need to lower the barrier even more than we were able to with Cabin Weeks — we need to meet Cabin Citizens where they already live.

The basic building block of a network city is a dinner party, and we sometimes think of Cabin as a giant traveling dinner party. That’s why we are launching a Supper Club series in cities across the world to bring together the Cabin community close to home. Supper Clubs will be our main call to action for the community for this next chapter, and we’ll also look for other ways to enable and reward local community engagement. If you are interested in hosting a Supper Club in your local area, reach out to @jon

https://twitter.com/RichDecibels/status/1609145559108952064

Enabling small focused bets

As we end the First Fellowship and dramatically reduce burn, the DAO takes a natural breath back towards decentralization. We will evolve from a single fellowship focused on the core work of the DAO to smaller, more focused pods running specific experiments that can yield financially sustainable results. As we enter this phase, it’s worth revisiting the strengths and weaknesses of decentralized organizations:

Decentralized organizations work best when they have small groups executing at the edges on clearly defined missions. There should be a high barrier to creating new pods that incur costs, but once the groups are created they should have high autonomy to execute with a bias towards action. These groups should be supported by high information accessibility and minimum viable self-governance.

To achieve this, we are taking a few steps to set up Cabin for the next chapter:

  1. The creation of this forum to improve transparency and accessibility to strategic context and governance processes
  2. The proposed creation of Cabin Labs to help encourage and support small focused bets

Many DAOs become internally focused on governance and operations at the cost of external focus on providing real value to end users. Many forums become quagmires of endless debate without real progress. This is an experiment to see if we can avoid these problems, but we need to understand the headwinds and will likely need to adjust our approach. As always, we evolve.

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Some added context here that might be relevant. We hamstrung our own growth with a high-friction sign up process that required (for awhile) a crypto wallet and crypto savvy, a vouch via Citizenship (which improves safety). We also filled our Cabin Weeks successfully with 250+ applications, but doing so may have come at the cost at promoting coliving at our other properties.

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I’m late to reading this and want to express what an excellent and honest retro this is. Acknowledging that the value provided is not worth the spending is tough and necessary. At ShapeShift, we’ve cut down significantly on costs in the past year and continue to do so. Thanks so much @jon

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thanks for the kind words! I’m proud of the team for coming to this conclusion for the best long-term interests of the DAO

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