How MakerDAO Created An Engaged, Cohesive Community Without An ICO

An interview with Jessica Salomon, Community Manager at MakerDAO, on engaging a large audience.

Katya Shokopenko

October 29, 2018

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What's your background? How did you get started in crypto, and then involved with Makerdao?

I studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and minored in political economy. I heard about crypto for the first time when I was 19, so that would have been in 2012. I thought the concept of a trustless, transnational digital currency like Bitcoin really fascinating but didn't follow through to create a career path for myself.

After college, I went to graduate school on a Rotary scholarship to study a degree at the University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology. The program was was not about forensics but a cross domain course of study that includes sociology, anthropology, psychology, ethical philosophy, statistical analysis and other academic disciplines. Some taboos are universal and there are also a few crime statistics that are universal-such as the declining tendency to commit crime as one gets older and a very large male to female predominance for violent crime. On the other hand, criminal enforcement and punishment varies considerably in different parts of the world. So studying criminology is really a study of human motivation and human-to-human (i.e. socio-cultural) interaction.

After getting my MPhil, I was working at the United Nations Crime and Research Institute in Turin and I attended a conference curated by one of my Cambridge criminology colleagues from that was focused on Big Data-and its potential abuses as well as its uses to detect and prevent crime. There was some small intro into crypto there, sort of conversations along the side. I got a bit more interested once again, and decided to start doing some of my own research and reading.

My little brother is a very active Redditor and crypto-enthusiast, and he talked me up quite a bit and peaked my interest. It led me to getting a job first with a project called BlockV, which was in Santa Monica. The project focused on putting digital goods on the blockchain which is a really cool marketing innovation but I most was intrigued with the idea of creating a successful stablecoin which I believe is necessary to bring the real vision and use case of crypto to fruition. So the opportunity to work for MakerDAO was really the fulfilment of my wildest hopes and dreams. So here I am and I'm loving it everyday.

What was the rationale for not doing an ICO in Makerdao, and how has this impacted community building?

We’ve been fortunate to have had a very tight knit group of founders and forward thinking technologists involved since the early days. Moreover, we’ve received not only investment but also support from notable venture capital funds, like Andreessen Horowitz and Polychain Capital.

The goal of MKR is that its holders be responsible for governance and fiscal decisions. Basically, it is a risk sharing model-the owners of Maker share in profits but also share in potential losses. In order to achieve the dream of the DAO, (MakerDAO’s decentralized autonomous organization) there needs to be responsible token holders or MKR holders that make up the DAO. The goal of having responsible “owner/operators” is part of the reason Maker never had a wild and crazy ICO. Given the level of quality interactions that I see between our community members today, I can confidently say that the roll out of Maker tokens was handled wisely.

What do you do in your day to day as a community manager? What are your responsibilities?

I'm not the only community manager, but when I started I was. Before, it was more time online, but now I specialise more so in the events side of community, more physical spaces. So I look at what are the different opportunities and places for that to happen and that to flourish while the brilliant Rich Brown manages the technical community.

It is important to remember that not all crypto communities happen purely online. There are loads of community members I actually meet at events and tell me how they're excited about the project and have been passionate about Maker for awhile. The interesting thing is that a lot of these folks don’t always participate in the online chats, thought they do follow the discussions. It’s been cool to see how different community members flourish in different spaces: some prefer being online, and some prefer being offline. My job is to ensure there is space for all of them to participate.

Another thing that I do is curate video meetings that are  open to community members who are are seeking more information about the project. Right now there’s a lot of focus on governance as we’re moving quickly toward being an operating DAO. MakerDAO’s governance is pretty ambitious, so making sure that community members have the opportunity to get their questions answered and moderating the video call conversations is a really cool and fulfilling way to engage with the community. It’s great to see the bridge between community members and people like our CEO Rune, or our developers that have the opportunity to come on and speak a bit about what they're doing. Ina public company, shareholders are proportional owners of the corporation. But how often do Google shareholders, for example, get a chance to talk to the CEO, to other key executives or to developers and other technical experts? Those sort of interpersonal non-hierarchical interactions happen regularly at Maker and I am really thrilled to play a small part in enabling those interactions.


How does community management fit within the larger organizational structure? What role does it play in the long term vision for the project?

We're moving towards that true vision of decentralization, somewhat slowly but surely. In some ways that requires that we get a lot of information out there, to make sure that our community members are as educated as possible to make responsible and agreeable governing decisions. I’d say that community management has an important role in our plans for expansion. A successful stablecoin has to achieve critical mass and then its use will increase exponentially. We have seen that with other great inventions like air travel, email, the internet-you start with something good and then you build adoption and aim for a network effect. MakerDAO’s success is built upon the development of cohesive, connected community. We are an international project, not just because of our employees and the MKR holders that live in many different countries but because our goal is to create a relatively stable digital currency for the entire world.

We're hiring and we have hired some truly incredible community leads across our planet. I'm in the United States but I just got off a call with Lenka Hudakova, our amazing community lead in Europe. This is great as the opportunity for community building is global and our community lead team is operating globally. I’m so thankful to work with a team of community building super rockstars including Lenka in Europe, Mariano Di Pietrantoni in Latin America, Chao Pan in China, and Jocelyn Chang in Singapore!    

For any organization it's important to remember why the organization exists. I'd say in many ways MakerDAO truly exists for the community. We build infrastructure for other organizations or other communities to then go ahead and use some of that infrastructure being the stablecoin, Dai, or the permissionless lending that occurs through the CDPs. The way to optimize what Maker is doing is making sure that the community continues to feel passionate and engaged, continues to feel that their needs or questions can really be addressed, and that they have an opportunity to engage with us. So in terms of fulfilling the overall vision of most crypto projects - I'd say communities are centric to that.

Can you provide some numbers for your community? What growth strategies you implemented to get there?

Our strategy with community right now hasn't been to expand it so much as it's been to tend to it. Multi-collateral Dai hasn't been launched yet, but it will be launched soon. So the community that has joined so far is already excited about single collateral Dai using specifically ethereum. I'd say our goal has been to maintain the excitement and the enthusiasm, which is rightfully there, up until the larger launch of what Dai is truly meant to be, which encompasses multiple collateral types. The growth strategy has been about creating deeper relationships with the community members that already exist, especially the developing community that already would be happy to use MakerDAO infrastructure. Once Multi-collateral Dai is launched the strategy will put more emphasis towards scaling. I guess you could say that we want to do it right before we do it bigger. We hope and expect that growth will accelerate as we continue to reach our milestones.

How do you engage with the broader community?

We do a community meeting each week on Tuesdays. There is also an opportunity for people to come in and engage or watch the recap. We go over all the news and the development that's happened that week. Really keeping up to date with great content that comes out on our medium, which we then go ahead and tweet or post to Reddit or use within our own Rocketchat.

One of the things I like about our community strategy is that we're not on too many platforms. For instance, we confine a lot of what we do to on Rocketchat, which is cool as opposed to attending tons of communities across a lot of different channels. That's not to say that won't happen in the future, but as of now a lot of the information is dispersed through Twitter, in which we have a big presence, and Reddit and then our Rocketchat. So the maintenance of those communities is streamlined and I'd say that's helpful.

How would you define a successful crypto community? What metrics would you use to define success?

It depends on the goals of the crypto community. I would define success as an engagement but in a positive way. So not having people come on and ask “When is this going to moon?” could serve as a definition of success for some people. A lot of it just has to do with a qualitative evaluation which can be somewhat difficult to define in a succinct metric.

What are Makerdao’s goals for the community?

Keeping the community equipped to take on the big things that are happening somewhat soon on our roadmap-that being decentralized governance. Making sure that the community is educated to a level that they feel is necessary for them to make good voting decisions. We also want to maintain the passion and enthusiasm that already exists, and make sure that we can continue that momentum moving forward.

If you can go back in time, what would you do differently? What do you wish you knew early on?

If I could go back in time, I would have thought more about some of the hybrid that happens between community building and business development. Community is such an expansive and ethereal term. When you think about the community, it really encompasses everybody. One of the things that I'm trying to do now, in becoming a more successful community manager, is honing in on our business development strategies and processes. That way when I interact with people and projects within the Maker community, I can understand our alignment of interests and optimize the spread Maker infrastructure in as many positive ways as I can .

How do you approach expanding internationally?

I've actually approached it through events. So ETH Buenos Aires was great for us in terms of growing out to Latin America, not just community presence but essentially the project presence of MakerDAO. I met two truly amazing individuals there. Including Mariano Di Petrantonio who is now our community lead in Latin America as well as the incredible Nadia Alvarez who is now our business development associate in South America.

In terms of building out an international presence from a recruiting perspective, it can be really helpful to meet and engage with the people that are going to be a part of that. If projects have the opportunity to go to a large event or an event that seems like an alignment with the kind of community building that they want to do in a specific area, then they should definitely take advantage of that opportunity. We’ve seen a lot of positive things come out of that.  


Is there anything else you want to say about community management for new projects starting out and trying to build up their communities?

I've been fortunate coming into the Maker project because the community already existed and already had this beautiful harmony to it, which was the seed that maintained and continues to flourish. So in terms of building out a community for something that does not yet have a strong following: maintain a pure ethos about what it is that your project is doing, incorporating that roadmap into whatever community that you're trying to attain and preach what those benefits are in order to bring on new community members. This is something that could lead to some enthusiasm and positivity, as opposed to really aggressive marketing tactics. Maybe attending more events with projects you respect or have some synergy to what you're trying to do, and then interacting with communities there could be an interesting way to go about building a community. Identifying what already works and then seeing if you can maybe feed off of some of that positive energy.

Where can people get in touch with you?

They can get in touch with me on, which is a part of our Rocketchat. Also on our Reddit, which is r/MakerDAO, or if they want to send me a message to u/jesssalomon-MakerDAO, and I'd be really happy to talk more.


Katya Shokopenko

Content Manager at Chainfuel