NFTs have exploded in the mainstream. With a total addressable market of $1 trillion, NFTs are more than just a niche art collectors' club—they're nearing household-name status. Celebrities from Jimmy Fallon to Madonna own Bored Apes, and play-to-earn gaming are already taking NFTs to an even wider audience.
DAOs are far behind NFTs in terms of adoption.
DAOs have 548,000 active voters and proposal makers but only 74,000 per month, according to DeepDAO. Compare that to a single NFT platform, OpenSea, which has over one million users and around 300,000 active monthly traders. According to one study, NFT adoption in the U.S. alone could soon reach 6.7%, putting the number of adopters in the U.S. well into eight figures.
I believe a large part of the DAO adoption lag is because of the highly complex DAO discovery process. There's too much friction in DAOs' most important user journey: discovering the DAO and taking the first step to enter the onboarding flow.
NFTs are aggregated on sleek, easy-to-use interfaces. Once your wallet is set up, you're ready to get started in the NFT world. But DAOs are much different. Spread across thousands of Discord servers and chats, DAOs are much harder to "enter."
Building better onboarding flows is one solution. But how do users get to the onboarding stage in the first place? How do they "discover" the DAO and decide to enter the flow?
They go through a user journey, the DAO discovery phase, which could be improved. Here's how.
What's a user journey?
A user journey is a series of steps a user takes to execute an action or achieve a goal. It's typically mapped out in steps, such as, "step one, create an account, step two, verify your email." Imagine a series of arrows pointing toward the next step. What do your users have to do to get from point A to point B?
A customer journey is category of user journeys. A customer journey is a set of steps a user takes to discover a product/service until finally buying that product/service. You might've heard variations of the customer journey referred to as a marketing funnel.
User and customer journeys get mapped out in all sorts of ways. There's no single formula for building a tight, effective journey for a user to become an advocate of your product or service, which is why companies have been working on perfecting them for years.
Most customer journeys focus on the initial purchasing of a product have a series of steps that generally map to something like this:
- Awareness: the user learns about the product for the first time.
- Evaluation: the user starts learning more about the product and might compare it to others.
- Consideration: the deep-dive before they buy, such as reading reviews.
- Purchase/decision: the user makes the purchase.
- Retention: once the user has bought once and had a good experience, they may come back or buy again.
- Advocacy: the user likes the product so much that they start telling others about it and sharing their experience.
The DAO discovery user journey today:
I'll call the process of discovering a DAO and making the decision to contribute—what happens right before the onboarding flow—the user journey of DAO discovery. I've written about onboarding in DAOs before, but when I talk about the DAO discovery process I mean something entirely different. The DAO discovery user journey is how a user decides to make the commitment to first enter the onboarding flow. It's how you go from "never heard of this DAO" to "I'm going to invest my time and energy to understand this place."
Here's a quick map of the DAO discovery user journey in most DAOs today:
- Awareness: the future contributor must be "in" Web3 already, because they know that DAOs exist and know they can join most of them without getting a job interview (friction point #1).
- Evaluation: the future contributor must be able to do research on the DAO, which is often pretty difficult if you don't know where to look or don't have the time to dig through Discord channels (friction point #2) and Notion pages (friction point #3).
- Consideration: a deeper research phase—contributors might want to see sources from outside the DAO during this step. If they stumble across an article on crypto and DAOs from a "mainstream" media source, such as The New York Times, they'll probably run for the hills and never touch DAOs again (friction point #4).
- Purchase/decision: the future contributor goes through the joining process—whether it's purchasing the necessary tokens (#5) or getting a free entry/guest pass/read only access.
- Retention: the contributor must be able to find enough meaningful work (#6), and make enough valuable interpersonal connections (#7), to stick around. A detailed onboarding process could help this stage.
- Advocacy: the contributor likes the DAO so much they start sharing their experience, which could include adding it to their twitter bio, putting the DAO's emojis behind their twitter handle, encouraging new members to join, and possibly talent scouting or "hiring" for the DAO.
There's a lot of friction, or extra work the user must do to get from point A to point B, in that user journey. I'd like to explore how DAO discovery can have the right amount of friction for users before entering the onboarding flow.
How do you get the right people (mission aligned individuals) to discover your DAO (find out what it is and decide to enter onboarding) with the right amount of effort (not spending absurd amounts of time and research to do so)?
Good vs. bad friction in DAO discovery
In some cases, friction can be a good thing. For example, if you want mission-aligned contributors, you may ask them to write a few sentences on what the mission means to them before joining the DAO. Composing that paragraph would be "good friction" because only contributors who take a moment to reflect on the DAO's mission would enter the DAO. Those who don't feel the need to think deeply on the mission might head out. The friction, therefore, was a sieve that helped filter in mission-aligned contributors.
But in other cases, friction is not a good thing. For example, the friction in the "awareness" stage of DAOs today is extremely high. Not only do you need to have an understanding of what DAOs are, you need to:
- Know which DAO you want to join and the mechanics of doing so (you may need to buy tokens on a DEX).
- Know how to operate Discord at a basic level, or be tech-savvy enough to do so.
- Have a wallet and know how to use it (adding tokens, paying gas).
- Be internet-native enough to find a Discord/Telegram "join" link or a page that details the steps to joining the server/entering the onboarding flow.
- Know how to find information on the mission and vision of the DAO.
Bad friction in DAO discovery is when a mission aligned potential contributor is blocked from entering the onboarding flow.
In the example below, any gold-colored contributor is "mission aligned."
Notice that the friction point kept all the mission aligned contributors out. Bad friction.
Good friction in DAO discovery is when mission aligned contributors (and others who choose to work through the friction point, who may become mission aligned once they're in the DAO) can enter the onboarding flow.
All the gold contributors made it in, as well as the blue "not mission aligned" contributor who chose to work through the friction point. They may become mission aligned once they're in the DAO, or the onboarding flow could reveal that the DAO isn't the right fit for them. Not every contributor must be mission aligned to enter onboarding, but most should be.
Friction tolerance: a function of desire and time
Right now, I believe new DAO contributors need a high friction tolerance, or a willingness to work through confusing and difficult steps, to complete the DAO discovery phase.
I'll use my own DAO discovery journey as an example. When I joined my first DAO, BanklessDAO, there was a lot I didn't know.
- I'd never used Discord before and was unfamiliar with the intricacies and etiquette of the platform.
- I'd never heard of POAPs, Collab.land, or Coordinape, three Web3-native but basic tools you use in the DAO at least monthly.
- I'd never purchased or earned a small-cap "social token" before, and wasn't sure where to buy it.
- I'd never connected my wallet to anything that wasn't a (relatively) blue-chip DeFi interface.
- I only had a very vague idea of what a multisig was.
I had to invest time to google around to find this information once I realized it was necessary for DAO survival. A lot of friction stood in my way. But, because I really wanted to figure it out (desire was high) and I was able to carve out time to do so (free time) I chose to work through the friction.
I was lucky to have the high friction tolerance needed to work through the clunkiness the DAO discovery process (it was also the summer after I'd graduated college, and the work I was doing was boring).
Friction tolerance is a function of:
- Time: how much time are you willing to/can you put in?
- Desire: how much do you want to do this?
For DAOs to succeed, they can't expect every new member to have a high friction tolerance to join. If DAOs only onboard highly friction-tolerant members, they will never get the mass adoption NFTs have received or be able to enter the mainstream as the new way of working.
The reason DAOs need to reduce the friction in their DAO discovery phase to accommodate individuals with a lower friction tolerance is because there's one key group we want to target to bring more skilled, value-aligned contributors into DAOs: those with high desire but low time.
Who is and isn't likely to put up with friction?
This chart shows Desire, which means how much you want to join the DAO, on the Y axis. Free time, which is the amount of time you can reasonably put toward discovering and joining a DAO, is on the X axis.
- Top left: low free time and high desire. This group wants to join the DAO but can't feasibly go through the friction of doing so. These are the people who could become core contributors but can't dedicate the time to work through the friction to do so. Many of these people might have gone deeper in NFTs and DeFi instead of DAOs, or maybe they're still stuck in Web2 land.
- Top right: high desire and high free time. This group set aside the time to join the DAO, so they were able to feasibly get through the murkiness and could handle the friction. This group includes everyone who has successfully joined a DAO thus far.
- Bottom right: Low desire and high free time. This group doesn't have a huge drive to join your DAO, but they might join because they have the time to dedicate to dealing with friction. If they do join and desire remains low, they'll drop.
- Bottom left: low desire and low free time. This is the majority of the population, because it includes people who don't want to join a DAO and don't plan to dedicate the time to go through the friction. This will be the hardest group to design for when building a DAO discovery process, but is the last group for mass adoption.
Your goal in designing a DAO discovery user journey is to help the top left group successfully discover your DAO and enter your onboarding process without too much bad friction.
Designing a user journey with this "low time high desire" group in mind:
The DAO discovery phase can be simple. And, multiple discovery models can filter into the same onboarding flow. Here are three methods for "good friction" DAO discovery.
Traditional hiring discovery model, but make it DAO:
- Awareness: recruit/hire people outside of Web3 into roles in the DAO (these roles can be fluid once the individual joins and learns how to operate in the DAO space, but consider starting with one role to help them ease in).
- Evaluation: share information on how your DAO works, and point them to resources on working in decentralized spaces.
- Consideration: set up short calls with contributors to help the new contributor really understand what working there is like.
- Purchase/decision: hire with a salary and help them set up all the crypto-native tools they need to begin.
- Retention: let the new contributor build their role as they get more familiar with operating in the decentralized system.
- Advocacy: they help hire people with a similar process they went through.
Twitter discovery model:
- Awareness: hold AMAs, onboarding sessions, and some weekly community calls on Twitter Spaces so others can listen in and learn about your DAO casually without having to make a big time commitment up front.
- Evaluation: pinned Twitter thread about mission/values and how to join.
- Consideration: the DAO's Twitter page can answer questions via tweets in real time.
- Purchase/decision: an onboarding link is in the twitter bio. This might be a survey that the onboarding team receives and responds to.
- Retention: the contributor is shepherded through a simple onboarding process.
- Advocacy: the contributor engages with the DAO's Twitter, joins or hosts Twitter Spaces for the DAO, writes tweets/tweet threads about the DAO, and possibly even helps with onboarding survey intake.
Media discovery model:
- Awareness: article and podcast placement—share info about your DAO to the wider world through media. (This was my user journey—I learned about BanklessDAO, and DAOs in general, through podcasts.)
- Evaluation: depending on the podcast or piece of media, the evaluation stage could happen while the user is listening/reading. How is the DAO spoken about? What does it seem like to outsiders?
- Consideration: if you have multiple forms of media on multiple platforms, you can help people make the leap from consideration to decision faster because they can do an easy google search.
- Purchase/decision: a link in the podcast show notes or in the article itself that helps the individual enter the onboarding flow.
- Retention: the contributor is shepherded through a simple onboarding process.
- Advocacy: the contributor produces forms of media that help new contributors join, such as writing articles, making podcasts, making designs, writing tweets, and more.
These three user journeys could work together to create multiple "discovery" flows that feed into the onboarding flow.
Onboarding is important, but the journey of discovery to arrive at onboarding is just as critical
I'm an advocate of building better onboarding for DAOs. But for contributors to make it to the onboarding stage, they need a user journey that has the right amount of good friction, with minimal bad friction.
I invite you to take the first step toward thinking more deeply about your DAO's user journey of discovery: how did you discover your DAO?