At the beginning of this year, I launched an online community focused on ideas that I’m passionate about. It’s a safe space for those who seek freedom and happiness through a perpetual search for truth. We talk about health, investing, travel, relationships and self-sovereign ideals, among other things.
In this article, I’ll give some background as to why I started the community and what motivates me to nurture it.
This is a big experiment for me and I expect this post to serve as a way of refining my thoughts on the subject – expect it to be updated frequently. For this reason, I’d love to get input from you either via the comments section below or by reaching out to me directly.
Why Start a Community?
It’s important to think about the trajectory that led to me starting a community, so I’ve spent some time thinking about how my experiences have shaped me and how they have generated this need to connect with others in a private, online community.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve been delving into the history of religions, civilizations, and politics, and it became really apparent to me that humans thrive when they are part of some type of tribe that they are passionate about. I saw how the internet had offered us the possibility of connecting with anyone globally, but at the same time, also resulted in humans becoming more isolated in their own online worlds. There had to be a new way of connecting and building tribes for the internet (metaverse?) age.
But let’s rewind a bit more and go through the timeline that brought me to the point of starting a community…
The Influence of Religion
I grew up in a very religious country, and I got exposed early on to the power of tribes that rallied behind a well-defined set of ideas and principles.
During my youth, I was pretty active in a couple of small communities under the umbrella of the local Church, and those groups were very beneficial to me in those formative years. I have many fond memories of the experiences I had and the relationships built during that period.
During my twenties, however, it became all too apparent to me that religious belief was no longer compatible with my worldview, and as I slowly exited all involvement with the Church, I also started thinking about how to recreate some of the best elements of religious life within the secular world.
The Digital Nomad and Expat Life
Apart from renouncing any notion of organized religion, I also left my country of birth (to which I had been very attached) and got married to a person that came from a pretty different culture from mine. Together we traveled extensively in a digital nomad fashion before that term was even a thing.
We eventually slowed down and decided to start building bases for the longer term, thus becoming expats. The experience of marrying into a different culture, and exposing ourselves to radically different ways of living forced me to become much more open to new ideas and experiences.
It instilled in me a deep desire to learn more about the world we live in, the people that have inhabited it over the ages, and the reasons for their behaviors. I must also mention that this period of growth and transition into becoming a citizen of the world was quite painful at times. It’s not easy to accept radically different behaviors, and you’re forced into expanding your tolerance threshold as well as reading up on various topics to try to make sense of those behaviors.
Bitcoin’s Impact on my Views
At some point, I went down the Bitcoin rabbit hole and quickly understood that it was much more than an online-native currency. Indeed this was the gateway to a new way of life. It was unsurprising to see people rally behind Bitcoin with such enthusiasm, displaying the kind of fervor commonly seen within religious communities.
Connecting with People Online
At the same time, I was writing more and more articles on this blog, especially around financial topics and social commentary, and was lucky to develop some very deep connections with people who resonated with my writing and reached out to me to talk further and even meet up.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed these conversations, it slowly became obvious that I couldn’t possibly sustain many 1-to-1 chats over the long term, and a better solution was needed. I also found myself connecting people to each other or wishing that we had some space to collectively think through certain ideas that arose in those 1-to-1 conversations.
NFTs & Web3
Fast forward a few years and I got hooked on NFTs. This was when it really became extremely obvious that people are really in need of joining communities and sharing their journey with others. While many people focus on the financial returns or losses related to NFTs, the biggest impact of NFTs on my life was the ability to connect with many like-minded people very rapidly, as well as being an onramp to the art world (I had always felt somewhat excluded from this mysterious but alluring world).
NFTs and Web3 also made me realize that we might be witnessing a shift in how products and services come to market. Rather than a startup founder having a stroke of genius or systematically reading trends in certain cultures and subsequently building products to address the perceived wants and needs, we can now start with building a community first.
Once the community is formed, we next form alliances and small teams within that community and build products and services that directly address the needs of that community. Chances are that those products and services will also be valuable to thousands or millions of people that are not yet part of that community. It’s just a different way of looking at things. The PROOF Collective community provides a good example of this approach.
The Network State
Ideas about online communities have been circulating and becoming more insistent and defined in the last few years, especially with the rise of NFTs, social tokens and DAOs.
But one of my favorite thinkers, Balaji Srinivasan, released an amazing book entitled The Network State in 2022 that takes things to the next level in my view. He proposes the idea that distributed states will rival the monopoly of nation-states in the future. This is a very Bitcoin-centric and libertarian view of things, but it aligns a lot with my worldview.
Here’s a short definition of the network state as Balaji envisions it:
A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognised founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition.
Of course, there are also intermediate community setups if one does not wish to establish a full-blown new state. A startup society is what the initial community can be described as, and successive iterations and growth will determine how far along the network state model it eventually lands at. Balaji’s thinking encapsulates most of my thinking on the subject and has given me extra motivation to continue building this community and exploring the possibilities that technology is now enabling.
With the trajectory well-defined, let’s take a look at the framework I decided to build the community upon…
Who Should Join the Community?
In my view, the most important determinant of the success of a community is the people within, and I’ve adopted a different approach to what I’m seeing with most NFT-based communities.
Within the context of what I had in mind, I saw three problems with the typical NFT-based community:
- Membership is open to everyone.
- Members can be completely anonymous.
- The financial value (floor price) of the NFT pass is a big concern to holders.
While I like the openness provided by Web3 and the crypto space in general, I wanted my group to be highly curated. Therefore I decided to start off by only allowing people who I have personally met and who have left their mark on me and my way of thinking. I also wanted to use my judgment to make sure that every new member is a good fit with the rest of the group. Therefore there is no token that people can buy and automatically gain access to the group; it is invite-only.
Secondly, I am limiting membership to people who are comfortable letting the rest of the group know their real names, professions, interests, locations etc. Again, while there is a time and place for anon accounts on the web, I wanted my group to be an intimate place where people can feel comfortable knowing who they are sharing their personal thoughts with. This has fostered a very open environment where people are not afraid to discuss sensitive topics or personal issues that others might help them with.
There is no financial cost to enter the group, thus the value you gain is directly related to how much you participate in the conversations. It has been my experience that the more you give, the more you get in return. I have no incentive to grow the group too rapidly either since there is no financial motive to do so.
Again, this approach is in line with the goals I had for my dream community, but it doesn’t mean that I dislike the NFT community models. They are different approaches with different end goals.
The platform choice for building a community right now lies between two very successful applications: Telegram and Discord.
I use Discord heavily due to my involvement in many NFT projects, and while I like the way a server can be organized and divided into various channels, I am quite conscious that I tend to spend too much time on this app already, and trying to build a community within an app where I have all the distracting NFT project servers competing for my attention wouldn’t be a great idea.
Telegram, on the other hand, is more mainstream and simple. So I kept things simple and went with Telegram. At a certain point, since we realized that we were spending a lot of time talking about NFTs, a topic that did not interest all the community members, we split things into two Telegram groups. Going forward, the main group will serve as the main conversation hall where any topic can be brought up, and we will create new groups if we find that there is significant and long-lasting conversation around a specific topic, that would signal it meriting its own group.
I also hope to get a website built that would be token-gated through eth addresses. We don’t have NFTs as community access tokens since we’ve kept things simple to start off, but that’s something we could look into in the future.
I am a big believer that there is tremendous value in connecting with people in real life. I’m certainly not a fan of Zoom meetings with people that matter to me. Online meetings have their place and are a blessing in the work context, but I will always prefer meeting people face to face when I want to have a deeper experience with them. I also want to be able to share real-life experiences with my circle of friends, such as a good meal, a sunset, playing some sport, or enjoying time with our families and kids playing together.
For this reason, we will have several meetups during the year where we can get together and strengthen our bonds of friendship and have deeper conversations. The first weekend-long event is already planned with several families joining, which is something I’m really happy about. I hope that we can also use these occasions to travel to new places and explore the world, in so doing also broadening our consciousness and understanding of world culture.
A Fun Experiment
As I mentioned at the start of this article, this is one big fun experiment for me. I am keeping all options open and my ideas will most probably change over time, but I had to start with some sort of framework to get the thing off the ground. I really believe in the network state concept and want to be part of the movement towards such a future.
Many of the intermediate levels of worldwide interest and value-based communities are already a reality, and the technological developments we are seeing will continue to empower founders and builders of such communities. For example, while I spoke in opposition to having tradeable token passes for my community, the idea of soulbound tokens is very interesting and addresses the three issues I mentioned earlier since the tokens are not tradeable. This would also open up the doors to more experimentation with token-gated access to online platforms and real-life events.
There is also the route of charging for access in various ways, and I like the work that Hyper is doing in this respect.
For now, however, I am just enjoying building a free community of people I enjoy hanging out with on a daily basis.
Interested in joining the community or discussing the topic? Contact me.