A new entity called The DAO, based on Ethereum, has raised more than $100 million since late April and will use the funds to support projects in the sharing economy. The DAO wants to be a model for a new kind of organization, created and run using blockchain software rather than conventional corporate structures.
The DAO ‒ an acronym for Distributed Autonomous Organization ‒ is similar to an open venture capital fund based on Ethereum smart contracts. Everyone can purchase DAO voting shares, called DAO tokens, with ETH (the currency unit of the Ethereum blockchain). Shares in The DAO can be purchased using ETH until May 28th. The Fortune article emphasizes that The DAO, concerned with possible regulatory issues, states its tokens are not a form of equity.
VentureBeatnotes that The DAO is structured as a series of smart contracts granting token holders voting rights (somewhat similar to more traditional corporate equity) and “control” over their proportion of invested ETH. The DAO’s infrastructure enables voting on any sort of expenditure the organization could make (such as hiring and paying contractors to work on their proposals, investing the ETH fund into another asset, and even “splitting” the DAO).
“The DAO’s inception last Saturday led to both the highest increase of new accounts and the highest ever number of Ethereum transactions,” wrote Stephan Tual in May 6 in an article titled “The Inexorable Rise of The DAO.” Today, the DAO is about to become the largest crowdfunded project in human history, noted Erik Voorhees on May 14. “To say the DAO is a momentous event in the history of Ethereum, and blockchains in general, is an understatement,” added Tual.
The DAO is a for-profit Distributed Autonomous Organization that wants to leverage the wisdom of the crowds to benefit DAO Token Holders. According to The DAO’s Manifesto, the project wants to blaze a new path in business organization for the betterment of its members, existing simultaneously nowhere and everywhere and operating solely with the steadfast iron will of immutable code. The goal of The DAO is to diligently use the ETH it controls to support projects that will provide a return on investment or benefit to the DAO and its members, and benefit the decentralized ecosystem as a whole.
Any DAO Token Holder can submit a proposal to the DAO, which can offer services that directly benefit it (improvement to the DAO code or addition of a GUI for example), or indirectly generate rewards to the DAO (in the form of a product or service). Proposals are written in plain English and backed by a software code in the form of a smart contract that defines the relationship between The DAO and the contractor: deliverables, responsibilities and operating parameters. Accepting a proposal requires a majority decision after a debating period of two weeks minimum, and a participation rate of 20 percent or higher calculated proportionally to the value of ETH requested in the proposal.
The German startup Slock.it, specializing in blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, submitted one of the proposals currently being discussed by The DAO. As reported by Bitcoin Magazine in December the company is realizing Nick Szabo’s vision of smart contracts embedded in IoT-enabled devices, with smart locks linked to the Ethereum blockchain.
“If you can lock it, we will let you rent, sell or share it,” promises the company’s website. “When someone purchases a Slock, it will be connected to the Slock smart contract in the Ethereum blockchain and controlled by it,” said Slock.it co-founder Christoph Jentzsch. Slock submitted to The DAO an ambitious Internet of Things (IoT) + Blockchain proposal centered on the Ethereum Computer, a multi-functional device designed to decentralize the sharing economy.
Jentzsch authored a DAO Whitepaper, which is considered a reference document for The DAO. “The DAO will be deployed as an exact implementation of the Standard DAO Framework,” notes The DAO’s website. “The Whitepaper therefore describes perfectly how the DAO functions and is a great place to start learning more.”
Another proposal to The DAO, submitted by Mobotiq, outlines a vision of modular electric vehicles that can be rented P2P, which is a perfect fit for the blockchain. Integration with Ethereum could enable the development of fully autonomous, self-renting vehicles.
The DAO has a distributed open governance structure, which seems to leave a door open to hostile takeovers by 51 percent attacks. As a failsafe mechanism to prevent that, there are “curators” who monitor compliance and control the whitelist, the list of contractors authorized to receive ETH from the DAO. Curators do not add centralization to the DAO; they are nominated by the DAO Token Holders themselves, and can be fired at any time, for any reason. The current DAO’s curator multisig holders include Vitalik Buterin and other leaders in the Ethereum space.
Internet entrepreneur and activist David Orban, co-founder and moderator of the popular Facebook group “Bitcoin and the Internet of Money” thinks there are important reasons to invest in The DAO, besides the possibility of a good financial return.
“[Participation in The DAO] doesn't imply or promise that the exchange rate of DAO Tokens and ETH with any other digital or fiat currency should increase in favor of DAO,” says Orban. “On the other hand, just participating, with any even minuscule amount, allows the acquisition of hands-on knowledge in what aims to be a revolutionary platform for decentralized project management and resource allocation.”
Orban is persuaded that The DAO can be a pathfinder and a model for very ambitious crowdfunded initiatives to tackle important challenges, including a new global phase of the space program. “With The DAO now being implemented this is starting to make sense,” says Orban. “From the $10M order of magnitude crowdsales two years ago, to the $100M crowdsale today, we will get to $1B in a couple of years, and then to $10B in another two-three. Those are meaningful numbers to fund a Mars mission (if not a Mars colony yet).”
See also this author’s 2009 essay on “A Virtual World Space Agency,” which didn’t mention DAOs only because the concept wasn’t yet popular at the time.