No bosses. No 9-5 grind. No corporate bureaucracy. Limitless potential for growth. This is the lure of DAOs, or decentralized autonomous organizations, which many in the Web3 space view as the “future of work.”
At a DAO, instead of toiling away as a cog in the corporate wheel, you can unleash your inner entrepreneur and contribute as much or little as you’d like. You can work at one DAO or you can work at 10 DAOs. Maybe you choose to work 12-hour days for a month, save up some cash and then spend your summer kayaking the Sea of Cortez. You’re in full control.
This article is part of CoinDesk's Future of Work Week.
It’s true that all of this sounds alluring, but it’s also true that it’s hopelessly opaque. How do you actually make money at a DAO? How do you cobble together work? What types of gigs are out there?
To bridge us from the abstract to the concrete, I spoke with a full-time DAO worker who goes by T Wells, a 30-something former educator who, in 2021, began hunting for “bounties” in the DAO ecosystem. Bounties are basically gig postings. If a DAO needs to create a logo, they might post a bounty and quickly find a talented designer.
T Wells became good at bounties. He enjoyed it. In his “real world” job in education tech and curriculum development, his skills ranged from writing to graphic design to producing videos. “To be an effective educator, you have to be a Swiss Army knife,” says T Wells. “It’s just the way it is. Educators are often underestimated.”
So he put those skills to work at the DAOs, first knocking out bounties for 1Hive, and later contributing to DAOs like ShapeShift and Gnosis. These bounties started to add up. He built relationships with the DAOs and they gave him more work. He pitched his own projects. The DAO-work went so well that he quit his job in education. Even now, after crypto prices tumbled, T Wells is bullish on his DAO work. “There's just a lot of opportunity,” says T Wells, “And a lot of really enthusiastic people that are sincere about building a better future.”
This is how he did it.
Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
How’d you first start making money at a DAO?
T Wells: I took my first bounty in early 2021. One of the nice things about this space is the ease of access. If you find a task that needs doing and you have the skill set that matches up with it and you have a set of basic pre-existing relationships with people in that DAO, it's very easy to get started.
Walk us through the mechanics. How does it work?
Coming into the DAO of 1Hive, they have great community moderators and people who are going to welcome you and ask you questions. Maybe they help figure out where you might fit best.
So in my case, because I was working in education, I paired up with a couple of the communications folks. And there was some low-hanging fruit, like writing articles and doing banner design. It was an easy way to get involved and be a part of what's happening. Plus I can get compensated in some crypto and develop a sense of ownership and belonging in the community.
Is that when you found the bounty list? What does it look like?
You’ll typically see a list of projects that has three columns: Not Started, In Progress and Finished. That’s the generic example.
With 1Hive, they pointed me to the bounty list and said, "Okay, so these are the ones we need to do. They're not started yet. Is there anything you think you could tackle?" And then they asked for a few samples of work. And then it was sort of off to the races.
What was on that bounty list? Just a few examples?
They needed Medium articles to be written, banners, Twitter copy, videos to be made. One of the very first bounties I did was a very short tutorial video explaining the “Connext Bridge.” So it could be as simple as a tutorial video. [The Connext Bridge is a way of “transferring assets from Matic to xDai (now Gnosis) powered by Connext.” If that still sounds like gobblylook, you can watch T Well’s tutorial.]
What does bounty work pay? And how does it stack up to comparable work in the Web2 world?
When I first began, I was working full time elsewhere. So it was less about, "Oh, it's a competitive rate," and more about the interesting opportunity. And for most people I know who are working full time in the DAO space now, they had also had that phase where it was first a side hustle. But that means the rates are competitive, right? Or, ultimately, you wouldn’t be able to make that transition to full time if they weren’t.
Makes sense. What’s a concrete example?
So I think there was a short video under two minutes, and I think that paid around $350 or $400. And I was somewhat of an unknown quantity at the time, right?
Scaling it up, to give you another example, from a larger DAO, a sort of longer-form video would be closer to $1,500.
That's real money.
For sure. And I mean, some DAOs are serious about trying to attract talent, and they know that it needs to be incentivized.
So you were doing a mix of videos, blog posts, banner designs. What would a banner design pay?
Yeah, it would be less than $100, right? It’s been a while since I’ve done those.
Got it. What was the next step for you? Did you just keep banging out more bounties?
On the video side, for example, I think once I had some success doing that, it became less about, "When's the next video bounty?" and more about, if we need a video done, they would tend to default to people who had done the bounty successfully. There were more opportunities for me, and a direct line of work with the 1Hive DAO. I think that's likely the case for all kinds of work, right?
Right. You start with bounties almost as a cold freelancer, and then you build relationships.
Exactly. The bounty is typically the place where a lot of people get their foot in the door and then develop deeper relationships and contributions with the organization.
So how did you contribute in a deeper way?
If you're the kind of person who’s looking for new ways to contribute, and you've built a track record, then typically the door is open at certain DAOs for you to propose more things that you can do.
You pitched them a new scope of work? What happened in your case?
Yeah. This was [the fourth quarter] of last year. I was fortunate enough to have a good group of folks at 1Hive that I was working with, and they wanted to make a push for more content on YouTube, some live content.
So, we spun up essentially a sub-DAO. And I've been helping to run a sub-DAO on the communications side for 1Hive. This led to new opportunities to do more PM [project management].
How did that pitching process work? Is it like the Web3 version of Don Draper [of "Mad Men"] putting together a pitch deck? How’d you sell it?
[Laughs.] Well, the more you consider this stuff, the human element is never removed. The starting point has to be the relationships in the organization. You see it at 1Hive and elsewhere.
A proposal will show up on the Forum [the platform where proposals are voted on], and it was never really discussed in the Discord. Well, what happens to the post? Most likely, it doesn’t get a whole lot of attention.
You mean that if some "rando" just pitches something out of the blue and asks for a vote – without socializing the concept – it’s less likely to be green-lit?
The key point here is that the relationships within the DAO are the right starting point, and the best way to establish those relationships, I think, is doing great bounty work. That’s the place to start.
When was your inflection point? When did DAO work go from being a side hustle to your main source of income?
The moment I had the approval of the 1Hive community to move forward with the communications project as more of a PM was the point where I was, like, “Ok, now we have runway, and now we have the resources to make this possible.”
Backing up a bit: Overall, how would you say that DAO work compares to your old life where you had a full-time job?
The trade-offs really are the differences between freelancing and being employed. You have greater freedom but less predictability.
I certainly wouldn't say it's for everyone, but I think that for people who are already inclined to freelance work and have an entrepreneurial spirit and are willing to engage with people and are interested in learning new things there's a lot of interesting opportunities, even on the non-technical side.
How about some other non-tech examples? You mentioned blog posts, banner ads and video. Any others?
Any type of communications work. People are looking for social media managers. They're looking for folks who are keen on business development. Even the sort of internal communications side – ensuring there is smooth communication and clarity between the technical people and the non-technical people. I mean, DAOs need that connective tissue just like any other organization.
How does your overall compensation compare to your pre-DAO life?
Month to month it's different because you're not salaried. So that's probably more akin to freelancing. But at the end of the day, I think the average is more or less the same.
How do you get paid? In tokens native to the DAO? Bitcoin? Fiat?
Well, the vast majority, if not all, of the bounty work that I did initially through 1Hive was all paid out in the token of the DAO. There are other cases where a DAO is able to pay in stablecoins. Those are typically bigger DAOs that have active treasury management and the like.
Obviously the crypto markets have been bloody. How has that impacted DAO work?
I'd be lying if I said nothing had changed. I think everybody is taking a close look at their resources and how they're going to allocate them. And so it’s certainly a bit more challenging now. But I think people who spent time to build good relationships – and really work to provide genuine value – will make it. The serious people who are in this for the long haul are here now, and they're not going anywhere.
How would you say this is different from your normal life?
I feel like I have more control over what I'm putting my time into. And that’s empowering. And the people I work with are a huge part of that; we're all trying to build things together, rather than deferring to people above us in a hierarchy. So that's a super-empowering feeling.
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