Imagine an internet community with a bank account (or, well, a cryptocurrency wallet). That in a nutshell is a DAO.
DAOs, or decentralized autonomous organizations, are a creature of the crypto-universe that rocketed from relative obscurity to the mainstream just over the past week. A large driver of that was media coverage surrounding ConstitutionDAO, a group that began as an internet joke which tried to buy a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution.
ConstitutionDAO failed to win an auction for the document, but it did indisputably prove the power of DAOs — the group swelled to more than 17,000 members and raised more than $40 million in a matter of days.
There are a lot of questions surrounding DAOs and the value that they can potentially amass. Already, they have become the subject of controversy. Some observers praise their frictionless ability to allow people to organize globally and pull financial levers. Others argue that they might be dangerous, could allow people to get scammed out of their savings, and need to be regulated.
At The Business of Business, we decided to take a close look at DAOs. We compiled a list of the 50 biggest DAOs by market cap, as defined by the product of token prices and circulating supply. We were also able to determine a “who’s who” of interesting people getting involved in DAOs and the DAO movement. The list includes many familiar names in the Web3 movement, along with some unusual ones.
As seen in our knowledge graph below, the most active institutional investors in these vehicles are Andreessen Horowitz, Paradigm, Framework Ventures, and Pantera Capital.
Lead investors in the 50 biggest DAOs by market cap
(Based on data from Crunchbase and CoinMarketCap, created using KgBase.)
There are also some business celebrities and well-known billionaires, such as Mark Cuban and Peter Thiel, getting into decentralization, Web3, and the related ecosystem, including some non-DAO entities that exist in the space. Here is a closer look at eight of the most interesting names that came up in our research.
Perhaps the least surprising on the list are Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz. The co-founders of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz have invested in some of the most successful DAOs so far. The most widely used are Uniswap, Compound, and Maker.
The fund’s latest investment was on Royal, a decentralized blockchain startup with a mission to transform the music industry by helping artists more easily monetize their work. Effectively, it allows fans to purchase easily resellable, fractionalized rights on a song through NFTs and receive royalties over its lifetime.
2. Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban, a billionaire entrepreneur and personality on the TV show Shark Tank, was an early adopter in the crypto movement. A large part of his investments have been in NFTs and cryptocurrencies and related entities. Offchain Labs, Nameless, nft42, OpenSea, SuperRare make up a sample of companies he has backed in the ecosystem. Offchain Labs, to take an example, makes a developer tool called Arbitrum. It helps decentralized applications built on Ethereum be scalable by taking some portion of IT operations outside the blockchain. This is useful because blockchains can have a lower number of transactions per second possible than developers need.
3. Chamath Palihapitiya
Chamath Palihapitiya, billionaire venture capitalist and SPAC sponsor, has invested in two startups with relevance to the DAO world: Spectral and Syndica. Spectral is building a creditworthiness scoring infrastructure for Web3. It uses NFTs as pseudonymous and openly-verifiable certificates. With regard to Syndica, it strives to provide decentralized cloud services. While analogous to Amazon Web Services it also includes a tokenized structure.
4. Peter Thiel
Investor Peter Thiel has backed crypto broker Bitpanda through his venture capital firm Valar Ventures. Bitpanda is a fintech brokerage that aims to aggregate a variety of asset classes on its platform, including stocks, metals, and more complex financial instruments. Additionally, Thiel has invested in BitDAO, which runs on a blockchain and falls squarely within the classical definition Web3. It is a decentrally-governed treasury allocating funds to the architects of the tokenized economy. As an investment fund focused on decentralized finance ventures, it uses token swaps to invest and return profits to its backers once its portfolio companies appreciate in market value.
Balaji Srinivasan, former CTO of Coinbase and general partner at a16z, is an angel investor in 48 crypto ventures, according to Crunchbase. These include Messari, OpenSea, Gitcoin, Syndicate, and Roll. Most recently, he invested in Mem Protocol, which aims to offer decentralized social networking solutions to its users. Mem offers a transparent way for users to earn money from content they create, and allows users the freedom to take the contacts they have amassed to other platforms (unlike Facebook, where your "friends" list stays on the platform).
6. Naval Ravikant
Naval Ravikant, co-founder and chairman of AngelList, is notorious for being a fervent advocate of Web3 and cryptocurrencies. Some of his latest blockchain-startup investments have been on Umbrel, Bitwise, and Solidus Labs. Agoric, another one of his investments in the space, focuses on building a framework to make smart contracts more easily programmable.
7. Sam Altman
Founder and investor Sam Altman, former president of Y Combinator and CEO of OpenAI, has started the cryptocurrency Worldcoin which offers to issue income in exchange for scanning people’s retinas. He also invested through his firm Apollo Projects in the alternative asset startup Alt — a marketplace for trading cards and NFT collectibles.
8. Marc Benioff
Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, owns a major media publication — Time Magazine — that accepts bitcoin payments and holds the cryptocurrency on its balance sheet. He has also invested in the NFT platforms Mintable and SuperRare, NFT API Nameless, and NFT business solutions startup nft42. Elsewhere in the space, Benioff has funded the internet of things decentralized connectivity startup Helium.
NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify the methodology used to compile the list of 50 DAOs.
For more of our latest coverage on the rise of DAOs:
What those scroll emojis in ConstitutionDAO's name have to do with game theory and John Nash
Want to earn crypto by doing almost nothing? Here are 3 side hustles for you to try.
Crypto enthusiasts spent $4 million on a Wu-Tang Clan album — here's what they might actually do with it
DAOs are crypto's answer to venture funds — here's why they're the next big thing
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