Cabin: LARPing as a City State

CabinDAO is an online and IRL community using blockchain technology to help creators make a living online. The core community resides in Discord and reaches the public through Twitter.

Cabin cofounder Jon Hillis came from a tech background. After spending his 20s building technology products in Silicon Valley, he relocated back to his childhood stomping grounds in Austin, Texas amidst the pandemic.

There, he built a container home on the property — the first “node” in the CabinDAO network. Next, he invited the Creator Co-op — a group made of internet friends he met through David Perell’s Write of Passage, including his future CabinDAO cofounder Zakk Fleischmann — for a stay at the Cabins.

Cohort 0, as they have come to be called, hatched the idea for CabinDAO.

One definition of a DAO is a community of people who hold a shared belief in a compelling narrative. The CabinDAO community believes that the future will have 3 things:

  1. Decentralized cities
  2. A thriving creator economy
  3. Physical locations for creative communities

This essay is split into two parts. The first part is a discussion of the core ideas that brought the DAO together. The second part is about the DAO’s timeline up to this writing (Nov 2021).

This essay is an exploration into how the DAO came to be, including the projects and problems it’s trying to solve. On a meta level, this essay is a peek into how a DAO is born and how one operates, behind-the-scenes.

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First to clarify a few things:

  • Cabin and CabinDAO are interchangeable and both refer to the DAO
  • or ₡ABIN refers to CabinDAO’s ERC-20 token
  • Cabins refers to Creator Cabins, the DAO’s first physical location in Austin

With that out of the way, let’s get into…

Part 1: The CabinDAO narrative

Decentralized cities

One of the core ideas behind the inception of CabinDAO are decentralized cities. In Tech Stack for Decentralized Cities Jon Hillis defines a decentralized city as “a network of distinct physical locations tied together by shared governance and culture.”

Among other differences, a typical federal government is limited by geography. A traditional country or city’s culture is loosely defined by its history and its citizens. A decentralized city, on the other hand, places a heavier emphasis on culture because it has no set physical location.

According to its manifesto, Cabin aims to become an internet-first city-state. Investor Balaji Srinivasan who coined the idea of network states defines it as follows:

"A network state is a social network with a clear leader, an integrated cryptocurrency, a definite purpose, a sense of national consciousness, and a plan to crowdfund territory. That clear leader is the founding influencer, who organizes the online community that eventually buys land in the physical world. Crucially, that land is not necessarily contiguous."

In other words, network states or decentralized cities need to:

  1. Form a social network around a clear leader.
  2. Start doing meetups IRL.
  3. Begin crowdfunding “nodes” bring digital citizens into globally distributed, physical co-living communities.
  4. Network nodes together into a new kind of state.

So far, Cabin cofounders Jon and Zakk and the story of Cabin itself follow Balaji’s outline:

Jon and Zakk met on Twitter and as students of Write of Passage (#1). They solidified their partnership over a year of weekly Zoom calls with Creator Co-op and then in person at Creator Cabins over s’mores and armadillos in the Texas Hill Country (#2).

They crowdfunded 3 months’ worth of creative residencies (#3) to experiment with this idea of network states and the possibility of universal creator income. The initial crowdfund’s 101 backers gave them the funds to mint the ₡ABIN social token and start CabinDAO (#4).

In response to the decision to mint Cabin, Jon writes,

“Blockchains are a natural fit for decentralized city governance. They allow for open access, transportability, and a permanent and inalterable historical record. We are experimenting with this at Creator Cabins by launching CabinDAO, a token-based governance structure for funding and awarding creator residencies at our cabins”

But for a city to stand on its own, its citizens need something to do, whether that’s sweeping the streets, farming wheat, or writing code. Enter…

The creator economy

Drawing inspiration from Kevin Kelly’s seminal “1000 True Fans” and Li Jin’s passion economy equivalent “100 True Fans”, Jon outlines a spectrum of 6 economies for creators to make $100,000 while working online:

  1. Influencer economy — 100k customers x $1 via YouTube ads, sponsorships, and affiliate income
  2. Gig economy — 10k customers x $10 via ebooks, dropshipping, and service marketplaces like Uber, Instacart, and TaskRabbit
  3. Fan economy — 1k customers x $100 via subscriptions through Patreon pages, Substack newsletters, etc.
  4. Passion economy — 100 customers x $1k via evergreen or cohort-based online courses or group coaching
  5. Indie economy — 10 clients x $10k via freelancing, consulting, or niche SaaS products
  6. Professional economy — 1 job x $100k via… No explanation needed.

The main way the good citizens of Cabin can make a living online is through contributing their skills and time to its guilds.

Borrowing terminology from gaming, guilds serve as a talent network for Cabin-initiated projects. These scoped, one-off projects are called bounties. The DAO puts up ₡ABIN token as rewards for completing bounties and the people who complete them are — you guessed it — bounty hunters.

Each guild has its own process for getting bounties approved. Some bounties are for community members only, while others are open to the greater public to “bounty their way” into DAO membership. Cabin is a bounty-first DAO, meaning “freelance” bounty hunters earn just as much, or even more than, “salaried” core contributors.

As of this writing, Cabin has 4 guilds, mapped to a respective area or skill:

  • Meta guild — DAO treasurers, core contributors, and others working “on” the machine
  • Product guild — engineers, designers
  • Writer’s guild — writers, marketers, editors, and content creators
  • Placemaker’s guild — the folks figuring out how to bring the physical manifestation of CabinDAO to life

Guild members or bounty hunters can also form cross-functional working groups to complete bounties together. For example, in the writer’s guild, most articles require a writer to draft the piece, a designer to create the header image, and an editor to give feedback.

The goal for the guilds is to one day become their self-governing bodies within the city state of the DAO, operating under their own governance and principles, while sharing in the resources and profits of the overarching community. Beyond individual contributors, the guilds are a key way for the DAO as a community to achieve both a limited version of universal creator income and long-term sustainability.

For example, the writer’s guild could one day take the form of a content marketing agency or a media publication with freelance writers, editors, and designers working together. Guild members vote on which external projects or pitches to fund or pursue. The guild will also have a different operations manual, team composition, and rewards structure than the other guilds, while inheriting and retaining Cabin’s vision of helping folks make money online.

Cabin’s guilds are targeted specifically at passion and indie economy creators living in a world of network states and net states — tech giants that exert as much power over our lives as our countries. In her essay on the passion economy, web3 investor Li Jin wrote,

“Users can now build audiences at scale and turn their passions into livelihoods, whether that’s playing video games or producing video content. This has huge implications for entrepreneurship and what we’ll think of as a ‘job’ in the future."

The physical manifestation of DAOs

A DAO is a kind of network state. In writing about network states, Balaji merges the idea of enclaves from Snow Crash —the seminal Neal Stephenson novel that coined the term “metaverse” — with the concept of DAOs:

A network state is thus an archipelago of digitally-linked enclaves. It's also a country you can start from your computer, a territory one can acquire but not conquer, a community aligned around cryptographic consensus, a DAO that materializes in patches of earth, a city-state in the cloud, a body based on math rather than science, a group organized by geodesic over geographic distance, a polity that prizes exit above voice, a state that recruits like a startup, and a nation built from the internet rather than disrupted by it." (Emphasis mine.)

In “Tech Stack for Decentralized Cities”, Jon outlines the “software” and “hardware” requirements to host a DAO community in real life:

The software stack is built on the Ethereum blockchain. ₡ABIN — the DAO’s governance and access token — is an ERC-20 token. The DAO also uses decentralized apps such as Snapshot to propose and pass governance votes and Gnosis Safe for its multi-signature treasury.

The hardware stack is a bit trickier to put together. In CabinDAO’s case, the DAO believes in building “exurban environments” to get the best of nature and city living.

For example, Creator Cabins — the 28-acre plot of land in the Texas Hill Country — was where it all started for Jon who inherited it from his grandparents. After building the fire pit — his first Cabin build and foray into Twitter — he partnered with Forte Shelter to build the container home, custom designed for collaboration and co-living. Jon also put up an internet tower, dug out the septic system, and hacked away juniper trees to build trails.

In the next part, we’ll go deeper into the steps the DAO has taken towards making web3 IRL a sustainable and profitable enterprise for everyone involved.

Part 2: The CabinDAO timeline

If the corporate world slices its fiscal year into quarters, DAOs partition their lifecycles into “seasons”. As of November 2021, the DAO community has approved the launch of two seasons:

  1. The residency program
  2. The NFT passports

CabinDAO Season 0: The Creator Residency

The DAO officially started with the Creator Residency.

In May 2021, Zakk and Jon launched a Mirror campaign to crowdfund the inception of Cabin. They raised 17.97 ETH from 101 backers and minted 16k ₡ABIN to bring the DAO into existence.

The DAO then kicked off the experiment, sponsoring 3 cohorts of 4 independent online creators for month long stays at the Cabins. The cohorts ran over the fall of 2021:

The DAO budgeted 5 ETH + 1500 ₡ per cohort. This covered:

  • Rent for the Creator Cabins property
  • 0.25 ETH stipend per resident
  • A 250 ₡ resident bounty
  • 500 ₡ to reward the camp counselor for each cohort

The residency is “an experiment in universal creator income, decentralized cities, and the physical manifestation of DAOs.” Moving forward, the DAO plans to find ways to generate revenue as a community to subsidize the residency program to bring to life its dream of universal creator income and NFT Passports.

CabinDAO Season 1: NFT Passports

In September 2021, Cabin launched Season 1 – a project to design, launch, and sell NFT “passports” that represent weeklong stays at Creator Cabins for groups of up to 4 people. The idea is that passports are one of the 2 most important pieces of paper governments produce (money being the other one). While money is the medium of exchange, passports represent “right of access and citizenship.”

Each passport costs 1 ETH. Unsold weeks and profits from sale of the passport go towards funding the residency.

An NFT passport combines membership to the DAO and access to the Cabins. Right now the passports are only used to sell JPEGs that signify ownership of a stay at Cabins. In the future, they can be used to hold editable data, such as DAO roles and stay duration.

CabinDAO Season 2 & beyond

CabinDAO recently minted V3 of ₡ABIN and underwent its first treasury diversification (a.k.a, raised a round of funding). Because of this, the most urgent initiative is to decentralize token ownership through community and member bounties. This gets the token into the hands of more members, giving a larger number of people a say in the governance decisions they care about.

In 2022, CabinDAO hopes to continue running residencies and leasing out the Cabins to other DAOs and web3 working groups via the passports program. They’re also looking to host IRL web3 events, in partnership with other DAOs.

To build on the idea of online income generation, the DAO looks to continue developing and monetizing its service guilds.

Beyond 2022, the 50-year dream is to sow seeds for a future with networked cities — a community made up of geographically dispersed city “nodes”, bound by a shared belief in the strength of human creativity. According to CabinDAO’s manifesto:

“Cities are entities designed to last for hundreds of years, so that feels like the minimum time horizon to approach this from… If we design it well, Creator Cabins could be a seed node for a network of possible cloud formations. Ideal community sizes for individual nodes could be two pizza teams (~5 people), bands (~30 people), Dunbar's number (~150 people), small towns (~3000 people), or even larger.”

Source: CabinDAO Manifesto
Source: CabinDAO Manifesto

The CabinDAO narrative

A deep cut of CabinDAO lore is the book Snow Crash where the world is no longer controlled by federal governments and instead, land is divvied up into state-like territories called enclaves. In the book, membership to these enclaves represent an adherence to the group’s political or religious beliefs, geographic location, or values.

Drawing from that idea of enclaves and Balaji’s notion of network states, Cabin is a simple startup with an ambitious goal: a network of communities, towns, and cities all over the world, all owned and operated by decentralized groups of online creators, beginning with the first node in the property in the Texas Hill Country.

To succeed, it needs to persuade people of its ideas and of the future it’s trying to build not through bang-whiz billboards or Super Bowl ads, but through the mental and emotional propagation of its ideas.

But just because Cabin is digital-first, doesn’t mean it won’t reshape the material world. In his summary of network states, Balaji writes,

“We should start building towards crypto-civilization. A new world where anyone can be either a country founder or crypto-citizen, and can switch between these paths at any time — much as you might choose to found a company or join one as an employee."

This isn’t about some “grand libertarian exit from society,” as Jon puts it. Cabin is about turning the “magical serendipity of the internet” and turning it into “high bandwidth reality.”

This post first appeared in “CabinDAO: LARPing as a City State”. Thank you to Jordan Jones, Jon Hillis, David Burt, and Jason Levin for giving feedback!

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