We love ambitious creators at Origami. That’s why we invited Jonathan Hillis, the cofounder of Cabin to talk about how his community started with one cabin and is using a DAO to help it build cities around the world.
Cabin’s vision for the cities it’s building.
How a DAO helps them achieve their vision.
How Cabin brought together its first members.
Read the tightly edited transcript (below) or listen to the full podcast.
Jonathan: Cabin is building a network city for online creators: a collection of remarkable coliving properties tied by a shared culture, community, economy, and governance.
Why do you call it a city?
If you think about what a city actually is, at its core, it has a shared culture, shared economy, and shared governance structures. Historically these things have all been in one place and built around the dominant technology of an era. For the past century, that's been cars.
In this next century, we believe cities will be built around the internet. The interesting thing about the internet is that it removes some of the boundaries of geography. You don't have to be in the same place to communicate with people.
Cabin is all about imagining and building a network city that has the same things a normal city has, high density of culture, economy, and shared governance. But instead of all being in one place, it's spread out across a global network of physical locations.
How much have you done so far?
Our first location is outside of Austin. We have two other neighborhoods in California.
We have a list of places that we're interested in bringing into the Cabin network, Puerto Rico, Greece, Slovenia, Costa Rica, Portugal, Idaho, and others.
The first Cabin, in Texas Hill Country, is nature-based. Will others be that way?
We’ve spent the past year trying to figure out what a Cabin neighborhood is.
We think a Cabin neighborhood should probably be about an hour from a major airport but typically outside of an urban area. It should have easy access to nature and high-speed internet.
One of the big advantages of being exurban is not only having access to nature, but enjoying the freedom to build things. A big problem that cities are facing right now is that due to land costs and regulations, it's incredibly expensive to build housing. We can solve that.
What does being a DAO allow you to do?
The fact that we're a DAO is something that we end up talking a lot about on podcasts. But it's sort of funny, like if you were an LLC and every time you went on a podcast somebody asked you about the details of your incorporation structure.
It's very important, but it's a means to an end. It's not the end itself.
We could have structured it as C Corp or something like that. But if you look at the history of company towns that are structured in that way, they don't tend to go very well.
What’s up with company towns?
They look great on paper. Everything is clean and looks very organized. But a lot of these environments are actually just not very pleasant places to live. The book Seeing Like a State shows how they’re top-down, centralized structures.
Architects are increasingly designing living environments on computers, completely removed from the reality of the physical spaces they’re building for.
How does Cabin design and build neighborhoods?
Cabin is the opposite. As we speak, the community is here, building a bathhouse. There’s typically a build captain spearheading builds, but everyone is contributing, making modifications based on the actual physical environment we’re building in.
Not only does that process work, it acts as a bonding mechanism for the community. Build Weeks are core to our culture.
The DAO organizes builds?
An important distinction is that we are not a monolithic DAO, where there's one organization that controls everything.
We're big believers in what's often called “pods” or “squads,” small autonomous groups that execute specific missions.
We have an overall DAO but we also have pods and every neighborhood is its own independently operated, autonomous legal entity.
The service providers that do work on behalf of the DAOs are also structured pods we call “Fellowships.”
The goal there is to keep things small and local, to put as much autonomy and decision-making power to the edges of the network.
Can anyone buy property and propose that members add it to Cabin?
As we grow, DAO governance will increasingly be about deciding which neighborhoods to include.
What does a landowner get by adding her property to Cabin?
Our members have coliving passes, which allow them to spend time at Cabin properties. They can stay at one place for a few months and move to another Cabin neighborhood.
Each neighborhood has a chance to bring amazing people from the Cabin network, to cultivate the property, help build things, and be a part of their community.
Can I come stay in a Cabin for a weekend?
We experimented with short stays. We decided against it because we’re trying to build cities, we want long-term residents. We want to create communities with deep cultures.
Your site’s value proposition seems confusing. Your governance structure changes. It feels complicated. Is all that because you’re inventing and experimenting in public?
Yeah, absolutely. But the fun thing about building a city is that the person who’s excited bout bushwacking through the far corners of the internet to find us tends to be the type of pioneer who’s a great fit for the city we’re building.
How has this bad economic environment in crypto affected you?
There are fewer people showing up to our community calls, and our Discord is less crowded than it was just six months ago.
But I think this market downturn is good. Nature does a version of this. Wander through Cabin neighborhoods and as seasons pass you’ll see trees that shed branches and grow others.
There were a lot of scams in crypto, but there are also projects that will change the world. We’re a real, physical experience. Crypto and all of web3 could go away and we’ll sill be here, in the real world, building things.
Got an example of how the downcycle helped you?
I have two.
First, we used to pay bounties to hundreds of engineers, designers, and other contributors. Now we’re a much smaller group and we operate more efficiently.
Second, we were building too much, like a token-curated registry and a user-generated news site for DAOs. These projects were important, but there are other companies already doing them. We didn’t need to duplicate their efforts.
Now we focus on our core experience and use other tools.
You mentioned earlier that you’re not incorporated.
We’re an unincorporated non-profit association, UNA. It’s a legal structure often used by neighborhood associations and churches. We’re chartered as a Wyoming UNA. We have legal protection for our members. We can enter into legal agreements.
How did you get your first members?
As I wrapped up my job at Instacart, I started wondering how the gig economy could apply to knowledge workers. That led me to the creator economy. I started the creator co-op, which was a group of independent online workers who got together to talk about building our online businesses and presences.
At the time, I built a cabin in the woods. When I finished it, I invited members of the creative co-op over. One night we were sitting around a campfire, and we decided to build a creator residency program and use it to experiment with DAOs and tokenized governance, something several of us were interested in.
We started with a crowdfunding campaign to pay for creators to come out for residencies. Anyone who contributed could vote on who got to come out for a residency.
Over time, as we ran those residencies, more people showed up and interest accrued.
You grew beyond that by telling your story?
I think storytelling is a huge part of what makes DAOs successful.
For example, we have an amazing YouTube series on our build process. As we build our neighborhoods we create content.
I’ve been amazed by what I’ve seen. Thank you for being here.
Thanks for having me.
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