Worldbuilding with FWB
"We're interested in how the digital can integrate into IRL, and amplify and strengthen our existing human connections."
Yana Sosnovskaya (ZORA): Let’s start with introductions, and how you’re contributing to Friends With Benefits. Alex, do you want to go first?
Alex Zhang (FWB): I'm Alex Zhang. I currently play lead coordinator/organizer/assembler of FWB, working on a roadmap and strategy and hiring. I got involved in May, but I was a community member for a little bit before that.
Paul Tao (FWB): Hi, I'm Paul. I've been a member of FWB since the start of this year and joined relatively recently as the events lead.
Ariel Lebeau (FWB): I’m Ariel. I joined FWB back in February. I am currently working as the editorial lead.
Patti Hauseman (FWB): Hi, I’m Patti. I'm a membership lead for FWB and have also been a member since February.
Mike Bodge (FWB): I'm Mike, and I’m the product lead. I've been in FWB since last September, but in the last few months have stepped in to handle the product stuff — coordination, engineering, design, building stuff, etc.
Dexter Tortoriello (FW): I'm Dexter, I head up internal product at FWB, the tools, bots, and services that keep the Discord and our internal coordination efforts running.
YS: Let’s start broad: as a collective and also as individuals, what is FWB for you and what it is not, if you’ve seen any misconceptions you want to clear up.
PT: Technically, FWB is a DAO, but I think it's a really really incredible core group of people who are super active, not just by doing crypto, but across all of culture. Even just in this group here, there are people who had backgrounds in the music industry, journalists, etc. You can talk to pretty much anyone, and they will be actively working in all sorts of things across culture. I think that's what makes FWB different.
MB: This whole thing started as an experiment. Obviously, a lot that’s changing the community, but for me, FWB became like this puzzle piece in my world that I was missing — I’m in creative circles; I'm in crypto circles; but there was never an overlap… with FWB, you feel like you're around people that are like you, who are thinking about the next version of what the world could be. That's what's super compelling to me.
AL: Yeah. I would echo some of those sentiments as well. To me, FWB is a place online that isn’t about accruing social currency through performing some persona or collapsing your life. It’s a place where you can be vulnerable; you can be earnest; you can be enthusiastic; you can be an amateur at things; you can be an expert at things. You can really cross-pollinate with people with other interests and who come from other disciplines in a really organic way that's about building community and not just about furthering a personal brand.
MB: Yeah. We're not on Twitter. We're not all hanging out on Twitter, like blasting all our messages to the world. Like we're actually creating these smaller communities. Part of the magic of FWB is putting the community first.
YS: How do you define putting community first?
MB: A lot has happened rapidly over the past few months. FWB has been around for a year, and over 90% of that time was just building community, building the coolest place to hang out. We fostered an environment where there's a certain vibe. Now we’re in a place where we can be like, what do we build upon this foundation? Now we get to write that story.
YS: Do you ever face a question or a struggle with defining the weight and the amount of creative cooperation and contribution that the community's based on?
DT: Source credit is the program that we run to gauge and reward community engagement. It’s like a very primitive Discord. If you post something and you get a lot of reactions to it, you get a score. Once a season, we run all the scores and set a reward bounty. Then, it’s all divided up incrementally amongst the community. It’s a powerful thing — people who engaged with our server for a short amount of time got a piece of ownership in it that.
YS: Can you talk a little bit about different products that you have right now within FWB for the community like Pulse?
MB: It was kind of incremental, and comes from need from the community. We were having an event in Miami, so we had to build an RSVP system. Then we needed a website to communicate what FWB is, so we made that. Then people were asking for an editorial digest kind of thing, for if they haven’t been on Discord for a week or whatever. We’re building this house as we need it.
DT: In Miami, at our first-ever IRL event at the conference, we had this ramshackle gatekeeper. It was a token-gated RSVP list that got sent to the venue. I didn't go to Miami; I was at home sitting on Discord, watching it all go down. I started getting DMs from people who were standing outside the club who couldn’t get in. There was a huge crowd, they couldn’t tell who was who, etc. I was DM-ing Alex at 1 a.m., like, we need a wallet scanner app. And by the next month, when we were in Paris, there was such a clear need coming from the community. We could see the power of what it could unlock for people who are trying to experience what we’re trying to show them. That's how Gatekeeper was born.
YS: I would be curious to hear Ariel’s thoughts on strategy and ideas for editorial projects within everything that's happening from the community, how you're working around curation for FWB.
AL: In my approach to editorial, everything comes from the community first. Whether we're compiling the digest or considering what kind of pieces we want to develop for our long-form platform, it all starts with what kind of conversations are developing organically within the community already and paying really close attention to the exchanges that are happening in the Discord server every single day.
YS: Does FWB ever share their point of view as a DAO through the editorial and these different communication channels?
AL: Yes and no. We have a broader, more opaque voice that we use in our socials and that we previously used on our Mirror account that we aren't as active on anymore. We’re trying to move toward a more granular voice that amplifies specific people and specific thinkers within the community.
YS: In season three, you made an announcement about the generation value for a physical world. How are you planning on merging digital and physical worlds and do you have any plans for that?
PT: The appeal of DAOs as a concept has always been internet native groups that can work together quickly on-chain. I think that no matter how much we're always online, you know, in the end, we have social lives, we have friends, we enjoy meeting people. We like going out. I think that’s also one of the things that breaks us away from other crypto groups — we’re very social.
I think that no matter how much we're always online, you know, in the end, we have social lives, we have friends, we enjoy meeting people. We like going out. I think that’s also one of the things that breaks us away from other crypto groups — we’re very social.
We have all of these localized city channels within FWB and they're super active. I think LA and New York are the most active, just due to the number of people that we have that are our most active markets, the most members. One of the bigger initiatives that we're going to be doing in the coming months is DAOs. We're going to be creating individual, local DAOs for each, at the very least for LA and New York at first. And then, hopefully, if they go as well as we hope, we’ll be shooting off some of the other markets — London, Berlin, etc. There are a lot of products you can get done so much more easily just by sitting in a room and sorting it out.
YS: It would be cool to know more about the idea of “FWB as a city” in terms of tokens and governance.
AZ: We started thinking about the channels within the Discord as like distinct neighborhoods — like how in New York City, people in the Upper East Side and Bushwick are both New Yorkers, and there are different value sets and price points and cultural norms in each of those neighborhoods. Just like the trading crypto channel can be different than the general channel, which can be different than selfies and fits. It’s viewing the channels within the Discord like distinct neighborhoods and eventually the city DAOs and sub-city DAOs as having their own flavor and kind of priority and their own financial means of access.
If FWB is creating culture and the people who are the cultural producers are inhabiting our Discord, then we think it’s okay for people to charge a premium to access that culture, as long as there are different entry points across the spectrum for people to participate. FWB started to really feel a lot more like a city where token holders get to sort of play this role of citizens and use tokens to vote on different public initiatives that we create for each other. Eventually, it will be for us all to collectively decide how we view revenue. Just like if we were starting a town together, deciding what governing structure or body looks like. FWB is not a digital social house, but more like an internet city state.
YS: How do you measure diversity within the community?
PH: We're putting some structure in place to prioritize different on-ramps for different people from different backgrounds. One is our new fellowships program, which will be focused on artists and creatives. Another is a program called Benefactors, where FWB members will be able to sponsor members of the community to onboard. We’re also working on a third program aimed at young people, 18 to 24.
DT: I'm on the data end, and watching what we’ve been doing. When we’re thinking about how to build a culture that we want to see within our community, we have to go from the bottom up. And I think a lot of that does come from what Patty was saying about the application process, where we're sort of planting a seed. Being able to get people in through alternative routes is just powerful: I was talking to one of our members the other day who had a friend loan him some money to get in. He was working a job he didn’t like. Yesterday, when I talked to him, he had put in his two weeks’ notice at that job. He got a gig working with a couple DAOs doing some manufacturing and distribution stuff. Legitimately his entire life has changed.
AL: There’s also diversity which we can sense on a gut level. Those of us who are involved with the application process pay attention to when the applicant starts to feel like it's the same type of person we’ve got a lot of already. We’re sensitive to that and responsive to it.
YS: FWB has more than 1500 members now. Do you think that the number of members is going to be affecting the quality of benefits that people get from the membership? Or the creation of sub-DAOs?
AZ: Not that FWB is Discord — Discord is just one of the tools we use — but we've already started to feel like the Discord can be quite overwhelming and intense, like you can’t follow along in general chat what’s happening within a day. And so definitely there's a scaling issue, right? If that's only 1500 members, what happens when there's 3000 or 10,000? There are two approaches to that. One, I think is just building larger, it's just building other products around FWB that don't break at scale.
Second, I've always believed that the strength of the global brand, or the global strength of any community, is really comprised of a mesh network of local communities — no different than nonprofit organizing political building with counties and districts before larger campaigns. The attachment that people will feel to FWB as a community will be in their local city DAO as FWB really starts to scale. What Paul is leading with the city DAO initiative is really exciting. Let’s say in three years FWB is 30,000, or 60,000 people. The Discord can be more like a tool where you go to communicate and coordinate with your specific subgroup. Higher governance makes more sense at the city level, right? Like who could properly vote on a budget being proposed for FWB global?
We think about scale a lot and we think the solution is to go local and create a strong communication layer between locals, like the member directory. That way, the global as a brand is really strong, but all comprised of the tangibility and the strength of these individual networks.
DT: I was living in LA for the last 10 years and you could be living in Silver Lake and never see your friends who live five minutes away. It’s ideal to be able to access the FWB ecosystem on a totally abstract level where you're not a chat person, you're not a computer person, but you know the events that are happening in your city or the conversations that are going down. Letting our members traverse their membership and their benefits and status or reputation they build within our multiverse city — that’s why we're all here.
YS: Alex touched on a really interesting topic that would be actually a perfect segue to one more question about governance and actually bringing governance to other aspects of our lives. How do you envision the future of society and would you be interested in FWB tapping into other aspects of our lives besides culture?
AZ: I'm a super big org design nerd and governance is something that I'm kind of obsessed with, just thinking about how people feel motivated enough to even want to vote. I think most DAOs have very low voting participation. Ours could definitely be improved on budgets. But to me, what that shows is that it’s likely a system or design flaw — of course, people can't vote because one, people want time to go into a budget and analyze it, and two, they don't have enough context to actually weigh in on something. If our mission is to be the Web2 to Web3 on-ramp for creatives and to show people all the promises of crypto and the blockchain, none of that matters if it isn’t relevant and accessible to them, or to the immediate people around them. What bonds us all together is that we don't have strong desires to go live in the metaverse and upload our brains and live digitally. We're more interested in how the digital can integrate into IRL, and amplify and strengthen our existing human connections.
We're more interested in how the digital can integrate into IRL, and amplify and strengthen our existing human connections.
I hope that FWB can experiment with different governance, governing models. Any internet state you’re building requires governance as a consensus agreed-upon form of organizing, with rules and regulations and accountability. Daniel Keller had a funny tweet where he was like, five friends are deciding to split the check at dinner — is this a DAO? Like, if you didn't drink or you didn’t eat entrees because you're a vegetarian, should you pay the same as everyone else? What are the rules around that? Then how do you do that when there are 100 people, 1000 people, 5000 people? That's all governance really is. I think exploring some of these models and then hopefully creating documentation and processes and tools and products where other groups of humans can use this to better organize on shared goals is what I'm super excited about in terms of the future of FWB.
DT: Once we get to the local scale of governance and we're talking about city DAOs, when these things are making a tangible physical difference in someone’s life, I think it will be an eye-opening moment for a lot of people. It’s similar to the way Gatekeeper was in Paris, when everybody saw the reality of something very simple concept being a physical thing, part of their night.
AL: Yeah. I'm really excited for that aspect of city DAOs as well, and for the capacity that city DAOs will have to empower and galvanize existing, community initiatives, mutual aid organizations, or larger community efforts. That's a place that FWB can really rally its resources, both in terms of people and in terms of capital, to give back to the community at large in a very real way.
YS: For the final question, let’s spill some tea. What is the craziest story of people trying to get in?
PH: We had an amazing applicant — we requested more information from them. And we got this video, rather than an application form, from this gentleman who said “you know, I didn't think this was so serious.” He started walking us around his house and telling us about his stuff. Then all of a sudden he comes in and he's like, “ahem, and this is my pet pig.” The pig was running around the house, and, you know, I’m a New Yorker, so I was like, “I don't know how I feel about pigs in the house.” But everybody on the committee was like, “No, no, no, no, no, the pig guy gets it.” It was amazing. He's a great community member. We like to see some personality in applications.
AL: Patti also fields, um, very gracefully, I might add, a lot of hostility from people who get waitlisted or misunderstand the application process and are not so kind in the way that they approach us asking for help or for clarity.
AZ: Patti, can you share what you’re building with co-pilots?
PH: Yeah. We’re building an onboarding system where new members receive one-on-one help doing anything from setting up their wallets to guiding them to different channels. That might be great because the Discord can be a little overwhelming. It's about 48 people that have volunteered to help new members onboard.