Web3 Galaxy Brain 🌌🧠

Web3 Galaxy Brain

Aragon & Firm co-founder Jorge Izquierdo

21 March 2023


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Nicholas: Welcome to Web3 Galaxy Brain. My name is Nicholas. Each week I sit down with some of the brightest people building Web3 to talk about what they're working on right now. On today's episode, I'm joined by Jorge Izquierdo and Alejandro Perez Paya. Jorge Izquierdo is the co-founder of Aragon, the first full-featured on-chain DAO governance system. On this episode, Jorge and Alejandro Perez Paya join me to discuss the history of Aragon and their new startup, Firm. First, Jorge tells the story of how he and Luis Cuende pivoted from building a startup to fight patent trolls to co-founding Aragon in 2016, the year of the infamous DAO fork. We discuss the evolution of Aragon and what worked and what didn't in this first iteration of on-chain governance tooling on Ethereum. In the second half of the show, we focus on Firm. Firm is an operating system for internet-native companies. The product combines SAFE's multi-SIG permissions affordances, Ricardian contracts for incorporating in a specific jurisdiction, and on-chain representations of CAP tables for transparent and on-chain corporate ownership. As always, this show is provided for entertainment and education purposes only and does not constitute financial advice or any form of endorsement or suggestion. Crypto is risky and you alone are responsible for doing your research and making your own decisions. I think a lot of people with experience building DAOs discover a newfound appreciation for the tried and true corporate Firm. It was great speaking with Jorge and Alejandro about their journey and perspective on the future of internet-native companies. I hope you enjoy the show. Jorge, Alejandro from Firm, welcome to the show. Thanks for coming on.

Jorge Izquierdo: Hi Nicholas, thanks for having us.

Alejandro Perezpayá: Hi Nicholas.

Nicholas: Hi, hey Alejandro. I'm excited to talk about Firm and I imagine Aragon, where some of the ideas for Firm must have come from. Maybe to get started, could each of you introduce yourselves? Maybe we can start with Jorge about what your background is and how you got here. Yeah, sure.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, so I'm Jorge Esquerdo. I got into the space full-time around 2016, very close to the time where the DAO was hacked and Ethereum split in response to it. Yeah, I started Aragon in November of 2016. I started building what ended up being called the first DAO framework back when DAOs were not as popular as they are right now. A bunch of staff were at Aragon until they left in 2021. And last year, I started building Firm, taking some of the learnings and ideas and experiences from being very, very close to DAOs for a number of years and applying that to building what we call inter-native companies, which are companies that can be a little bit more structured, but that can take advantage of a lot of the same properties. We're building inter-native companies to support, to be kind of like the backbone for the next generation of companies.

Nicholas: Great. And Alejandro, what was your background getting into the space?

Alejandro Perezpayá: Well, actually, I'm kind of new in this space, probably working on a project, but I have a background previously in finance and banking. I've been working in a company with IPO in 2021, which is called Dolphins, that actually has nothing to do with the crypto space. But during all my time, all my professional career, I've been kind of involved in the crypto space from the background, as an investor, as a user. But finally, this is my time to start working on something. And this something has been Firm. I was happy to join Jorge to make these internet companies a reality.

Jorge Izquierdo: Awesome.

Nicholas: So Jorge, first of all, it sounded like you got involved in crypto and almost immediately started working on Aragon. Were you a DAO idealist when you first got into this space? Is that what drew you into crypto?

Jorge Izquierdo: No, I mean, I had been following crypto and experimenting with different things previously. But it wasn't actually how I really, I mean, when I considered I got into crypto, it was like we were building a different startup. And there was like the need for something that we thought could be built with smart contracts. And that drew me down the rabbit hole. And I haven't done anything different since that day. So yeah, that's the moment I consider.

Nicholas: What was the need that drew you into crypto? What was it that you were lacking as a business?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, so we were building a company that was called Unpatent. We were very passionate about ending with the patent problem. That is people that buy these stupid patents, sometimes from companies that are going bankrupt, and then use that to extort other companies into something even remotely similar to what the stupid patent that never should have been granted does. We were building that from a few different angles. And eventually from early customers, we got the feedback that they would think that they wanted was just insurance so that they could forget about this problem. And I mean, we were like a very, very early startup. I don't know if at this point we had $50,000 pre-seed or not. But we were kind of at the point that we were like two 19 or 20 year olds from Spain in Silicon Valley and we needed to build an insurance vehicle. And at some point, I mean, we were already very familiar in doing products with Ethereum and we actually got down to the rabbit hole of trying to build this insurance vehicle on Ethereum. And that's, I mean, at least for me, that was the moment where I got Ethereum peeled off forever. It was like, to go from something that looked absolutely impossible to just actually building that in a few weeks. And then after building a prototype for this kind of for our business group, we were like, yeah, but this patentual problem, there's like decentralized organizations that are all over the world and this is like a very US-centric problem. This doesn't even matter. So as we went down the rabbit hole, ambitions grew. And that's how we got started with Argonne, trying to build software for decentralized organizations.

Nicholas: And what was it about being decentralized? that was, is that what made it relevant? or was it something about the insurance needs of the patent troll victims that made blockchain relevant?

Jorge Izquierdo: No, it was about being able to build that and how empowering that was to go from that thing that seemed absolutely impossible to build, to being able to join a completely permissionless platform and being able to build that and build this insurance vehicle in this case in a completely trustless way without having to ask for anyone's permission and build the thing, put it out there and be like, yeah, this decentralized insurance vehicle, this is something that can be done and could be built. And that was like a crazy moment for me. I used to be, I mean, to that point for almost all of my career, I had been an iOS app developer. And from that experience of building this prototype of this insurance fund, I've never, it might sound sad, but I haven't been excited about anything else. And this has been almost seven years. But it was like, this is something that really drew me to crypto, like the ability to build things that would have been impossible.

Nicholas: And you have to work.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah. I mean, like absolutely impossible. This would have never been approved. But just like being able to change from having money on the internet to be something that you can sort of interact with APIs such as Stripe or some of the other fintech APIs to something that, okay, do you have like native money that software can natively interact with? And that kind of opens up the Pandora's box for a lot of crazy stuff that we've seen in the years that came after that. And a lot of very, very interesting stuff that is still coming.

Nicholas: So I want to get to Firm and talk about Firm and learn more about it. But I think it's probably relevant to go through the story of Aragon because my sense is that it must have informed your decisions about what to build at Firm. So maybe could you explain a little bit about what the motivations were for building Aragon in the wake of the DAO hack? And I guess I'd like to get to what lessons you learned through that that led to Firm. Yeah.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah. I mean, the thing and being at that point when I was personally getting very, very involved in the Ethereum community and that space, it was like seeing the DAO. I mean, it had happened like three months prior, but I had personally not been very involved with that or follow it that very, very closely in the community. It felt like something that you looked at it and you could think, OK, we're kind of dismissing this idea which had an implementation that was probably too ambitious for the time and in this case had a few bugs that kind of were very, very critical and existential for it. But even though you could look at that and see like, OK, this was like not the best implementation of this, but the idea was obviously very good and it was something that was very, very important.

Nicholas: That's kind of surprising that the blow up actually made you interested in it. I wonder if that's like a common pattern in blockchains where something goes very badly, but actually it attracts people's attention to maybe doing a better implementation.

Jorge Izquierdo: I think that's kind of a test. You see it kind of like go bad, but if the idea is still important and it's something worth pursuing, and this has happened many, many times in crypto, this doesn't happen with ideas that could have maybe not been very, very sound. For example, you didn't have a lot of people trying to recreate USC after Luna's collapse. And that might tell you something about...

Nicholas: Well, maybe, I'm not sure. I'm afraid you might have, but yes, in principle.

Jorge Izquierdo: Maybe, yeah. Yeah, it was like kind of like, OK, we have this tool and we can literally build anything and we can build kind of this software framework that allows us to build any type of organization. And that's what we were really, really excited about.

Nicholas: Because that was very specific. It was an investment club, basically. Not a protocol for doing that, but just a specific one, right?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, but if you look at the code for that, even in that particular instance, they went for this kind of decentralized VC fund. But if you look at the code, it was ready with the ability to perform arbitrary transactions in the same way that the governance contracts that are most used today, like Governor Bravo or OpenSplit Governor. That was something that you could already do with the DAOs. Definitely, the software was more ambitious than just trying to do this VC fund.

Nicholas: For sure, for sure. While it did blow up, thank the designers or implementers of the code for putting in the delay period for exiting the funds that allowed for the fork to happen. I mean, pretty good foresight, even in a project that had some problems. At least they had that in, otherwise the fork wouldn't have even been possible.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, absolutely. And it was very interesting. And this was actually where the issue happened. It had the idea of allowing some subsection of DAO token holders to fork off from the DAO with the DAO splits. It was kind of like a very, very proto-RaidSquid. Actually, it was a way to generalize RaidSquid. And a lot of the ideas that were had at that point and were implemented there are being discussed today for inclusion. Actually, the RaidSquid thing that now I've been reading, I haven't gone very, very deep, but it looks like a lot of the ideas that were present in the DAO. It was definitely something that was too ambitious for the time and the state of all the infrastructure and all the tooling in the ecosystem. But yeah, it was kind of like something from the future. And a lot of the things from Aragon, I was like, okay, the DAO is dead, but there's a lot of very interesting ideas here. And that was kind of what got us excited. Like, okay, let's try to make a secure framework for the in 2018 and have been kind of like Aragon's main product offering until last week, actually.

Nicholas: I know there was recently a big announcement at Aragon, a new version of the protocol. But I wanted to ask you, who were the people who started Aragon and how did you meet them?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yes. So it was me and a friend from Spain. He's doing a project called Nation 3 now, building a nation state DAO. It's pretty exciting. Yeah. And it was the two of us. And then we were joined by an incredible group of people. It was never very large. It was like 20 people until I left. It was a super, super fantastic team from all walks of life.

Nicholas: Aragon is a bit from before when I really started paying attention seriously in 2020. But it's very popular with some huge DAOs, right? Lido, I think is on Aragon. Are there other like star projects worth mentioning? Yeah.

Jorge Izquierdo: Lido is very exciting. They're actually integrated with Aragon OS at the protocol levels. Every time that you do an ST transfer, it touches some of the Aragon OS code.

Nicholas: I didn't realize. Yeah.

Jorge Izquierdo: When we architected Aragon OS, it was in order to allow building decentralized protocols using the framework. And that wasn't very successful in terms of people just build their protocol however they see fit and then use Aragon as a governance. But Lido did actually build it this way. And there's a few others that their first version was like this. So like Avegoji or some other projects that were really very, very integrated with Aragon OS. And there was then like some other very interesting DAOs that popped up. They kind of were at the forefront of many things.

Nicholas: I see also like Decentraland, NFTX, Avegoji you mentioned. I don't know to what extent BrightID is decentralized, but somehow they're using Aragon. So a lot of uptake. I'm curious what it means to be deeply integrated with Aragon. Why would transferring stake have anything to do with Aragon really?

Jorge Izquierdo: So this is how Aragon OS was built. People could build like this, we call them Aragon apps. And that was with the theory that, okay, we didn't make the split between what's the DAO and what's the protocol. So it's like kind of the decentralized protocol is a DAO. But like different pieces of the protocol could be governed by the DAO itself. Aragon OS had this pretty complex permissioning system that allowed people to say, okay, like just build your code and then you kind of like wired at some other level, you just wired everything so that there would be like a path for, okay, how can this action happen here? And then that would be like, give them the ability to like wire it in some different way in the future. And light of DSC token is like an Aragon app. So it's like kind of like a piece of their DAO slash protocol. So yeah, that was like some like our idea in 2018 of what could be a good way to architect this decentralized protocols and flat DAOs. This in particular, this way to architect things wasn't super, super successful and the community moved to other types of architectures and then just have the DAO as kind of like this external thing that can govern the protocol and perform like this admin functions. That's what this space actually moved to, which is also good because it keeps kind of the two things, like the governance and the actual protocol separate, but it's not as flexible as what we intended it to be. Then having like different types of voting thresholds for different performing different actions. But yeah, that wasn't super something that people really ended up wanting to do and prefer like some simpler governance as well.

Nicholas: Did it complicate upgradeability to have a deeper connection to the OS or was that built into it as well?

Jorge Izquierdo: No, we built upgradeability right into it. Actually, Argonne was one of the pioneers in terms of smart contract upgradeability and practice. This was also something that when we started talking about this in 2017, 2018, people weren't really keen to the idea. And there's been like kind of waves in terms of how acceptance people have been towards upgradeability. This is something that from day one, we were very convinced that it was very important and kind of like the protocol like Argonne OS had upgradeability built in. How kind of like people can upgrade like different components of the system. And that was built into a system that we made a bunch of very early R&D with OpenSeparate on this. And we have actually shipped it at the same time. Of course, OpenSeparate then really kept developing new patterns and ways to do upgradeability to get us to what we got today. But a lot of the early work on this, it was kind of like a joint effort. And that was like a very key part of the architecture.

Nicholas: So what did you learn or how did your perspective on DAO governance as a mechanism for managing like DeFi protocols, but also just any kind of project that might be on chain? How did that evolve through your experience building Argonne?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, I think, I mean, because at Argonne, we had some also some sort of token, proto token holder governance. We couldn't have a DAO from the get go because DAO is so over-fraud, it doesn't make sense. So we had to do that kind of the regular like non-profit plus dev companies structure. But we still had like some signaling from token holders for doing like some large actions. We actually rolled this out late 2018 or early 2019 to start doing like this governance, this governance proposals. It was called ATP, Argonne Governance Process. And that was kind of the first thing. Argonne at that point did not have a product market fit. And it was like very, very far from it. It's like, that was like 2018, 2019. They were, I mean, to say that they were not hot topics is an understatement. Like people did not want to hear about it. It very slowly built up and then it really exploded. I would say in DeFi Summer in 2020. But we were like putting in practice some things that we thought were very important, kind of like just like community governance type thing. So we rolled that out. And yeah, we got to see some of the things that happen when you try to have like public and community governance before you have product market fit. And when you're still at a moment that you're creating things. And yeah, it was not, I mean, we learned a lot. It attracted a lot of people in the community, but it's like, it made us see that it's not the, it's very hard. I mean, it's very hard to build something new and create something new. And it's like, you know, harder if like you need to add on like the politics. And I just, to be honest, like even having to have like a lot of public feedback about things that are going and who gets funded and who should not get funded. So that was a big learning about like the timing of things and like putting in doubt, like, hey, are DAOs actually good at this stage? And the flip side, like we always operated with this like dual model. We had the kind of like nonprofit slash prototype at the top, but then we had like small teams below it that had specific functions. And I ran one called our Aribel one. That was like a fantastic team. And we're like kind of like this very close work and it was like very, very productive. We produced some very, very incredible work.

Nicholas: Can you just explain to me a little bit about how the financing and funding of teams like that worked inside of Aragon in that era?

Jorge Izquierdo: At that point, we had like the nonprofit run like the signaling polls on governance proposals called AGPs and there were like four months, like four cycle, voting cycles every year. So it was like something very, very structured like, hey, for AGP one, do you need to submit your proposals by this week? And then there's a review process and then there's a token holder signaling vote on this date. And these were like funding proposals, like some teams did them for a year or six months or three months. And this was kind of like asking the community, hey, we want to do this for Aragon. Do you approve it or not?

Nicholas: And was there a explicit budget up front for how much would be funded total per cycle?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, this was something fun that we had to introduce in an AGP. It was like we didn't, this was something that we did not have from the get go. And at some point, like token holders were very optimistic and wanted to see a lot of stuff being built. But the crypto prices were going down. And at some point, like the amount of funding and proposals that was getting passed, it was too large. It was like we didn't start with any budgeting. But then it's like this budgeting, I don't even remember how it ended up, whether it ended up happening. At that point, it starts being weird. It's like, do you have a budget for proposals in a particular cycle? But what's the difference if some proposals are for a year? So there were a lot of weird things with this that could end up in this kind of having to have a very bureaucratic process so that everything's clear and everyone knows how this is going to work. But that could end up having an impact on, oh, this team cannot get started building an Argon until three cycles from now, which is almost a year, because there's this bureaucratic process. But if you don't have that, then it's kind of like infinite potential for funding proposals. And everyone is just voting, making a binary decision in each of those.

Nicholas: And where did the funding for those come from? How was the treasury sourced?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, this was a Swiss nonprofit called the Argon Association. So because there was no, I mean, we were running kind of like this governance process. And then it was like a signaling, but we took it very seriously. And then it was the nonprofit that executed on the basis of token.

Nicholas: And there was like a mint event for acquiring the token to participate in these signaling events?

Jorge Izquierdo: No, I mean, people voted with AMT Launching. So we used Argon for that.

Nicholas: And the token was dropped in like an ICO style?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, it was a token failed in May 2017.

Nicholas: Interesting. I wasn't paying attention in that point closely. But there were listings of coins for the sales on token launch platforms at the time?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, no, this is token launch platforms that came way later. Oh really? Yeah, it was very, very ad hoc. Argon was one of the early large ones. And yeah, I mean, it was very, very successful. It raised almost $25 million in 24 minutes or something like that. It was kind of the largest at that point. It was a record that lasted for like a week. There was a lot of other big ICOs that followed after that. It was kind of like very ad hoc. Everyone built their smart contracts for the token fail and their website and their phone. And token launchpads followed after to kind of productize that. But then ICOs were kind of removed as a possibility due to regulatory response. Due to the very high amount of scams that followed.

Nicholas: Right. And so the funds that were raised from the token sale were passed to this nonprofit? And then allocated entirely to this funding allocation process you described?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah. And now very recently, like a month ago, all the funds in this nonprofit have started being transferred to an actual DAO running Argon. So now it's like, this was something that we were always planning to transfer the funds to the Argon. And this transfer has actually started now.

Nicholas: It's interesting that it took so long.

Nicholas: I'm curious how they finally got sorted out. How did you figure out? Or I guess you had left by that point. But I'm curious how the organization figured it out.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, there's been a lot of progress in terms of this crypto law and different opinions. At this point, there's been examples of different DAOs going to court and being recognized as different things. And until this point, these are realities that there is no clarity. So what Argonne ended up doing, I wasn't very, very close to this nor involved, there was a fantastic team doing this, was that as far as I know, there's still another Swiss association with this nonprofit, but which inner workings are controlled by token holders and by code. So there's like, legally, there's some legal personality, but all the inner workings of the organization run by code. So yeah, there's still people in space calling it like legal wrapper. So that's the idea that they ended up going with.

Nicholas: Interesting. So sort of the token participation in the upgrade, since upgraded token, now constitutes like a membership of a nonprofit offshore.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, well it's in Switzerland. But yeah, I mean, this is just basically how it ended up being set up. Very large difference that the token holders are actually in control of the funds. So it's not like, hey, token holders signal or express their will, like token holders, like actions and votes have binding actions on chain. So it's a very, very large difference.

Nicholas: So on-chain voting is directly controlling the funds now. Oh yeah. Cool.

Jorge Izquierdo: There's a few guardrails to prevent some classic issues with DAOs that so far have been more theoretical than real, like 51% attacks. So there's a group of people that are guardians that can veto proposals on the grounds that they're illegal or illegal for DAO governance. Because you really want to avoid the case in which like 51% of their token holders approve a proposal to give the money to themselves, right? The classical 51% attack. Or you also want to avoid the DAOs and the funds to some horrific causes.

Nicholas: Do you think that kind of saps the, like a veto power saps the meaningfulness of on-chain voting? Or is it just the reality that we need these things? Not even specifically for Aragon. But I mean, there's vetoes and tons of on-chain DAOs at this point. So it does seem to be a problem that people are concerned about broadly. But do you think it invalidates the use case justification for the DAO in the first place? Or it's just like a necessary for now kind of thing that we have to staple on?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely a drawdown. The issue and just something that we were pushing a lot for, for solving this problem, the 51% attack. Because this is a real problem. If you just have basic on-chain governance, you're bound to this attack. And the issue is that you cannot write code which can distinguish a proposal based on whether it's a 51% attack or not. So just like very basic voting without any guardrails. It's very dangerous. There's other DAOs that have implemented this rage quit mechanism. And you can solve this. If someone is doing a 51% attack, you're just like, no, fuck that, I'm taking my proportional share of the money. But that only works for a small subset of DAOs. And it has some other issues. It's like basically, if you're being 51% attacked, a DAO with rage quit, the mechanism that it has to prevent that is like, yeah, you can try to do that, but we can do a self-destruction of the DAO and we can all take our money. But that's not a very, very sound mechanism. Imagine if every time there was a shareholder dispute in a traditional company, Microsoft, the way to prevent that was like, okay, let's kill the company, let's take all the assets, let's take all the money, and we'll incorporate Microsoft too. And hopefully these bad people won't come join us. So it's like, yeah, it works for some subset of DAOs, but people have been so far interested to implement it in several types of DAOs. It's a simpler solution than other mechanisms. But yeah, veto power, it's of course a centralizing force, but it has the advantage that it's very, very simple.

Nicholas: So did this experience in DAOs lead to you finding a newfound love for companies that led to firm or am I reading into it too much?

Jorge Izquierdo: No, I mean, there's the appreciation for and also the personal experience of seeing how hard it is to create new things. And especially how much harder it makes it if you have to do it in a way that you have to find consensus so that there's a community that feels included and empowered. And with the add-on of like, okay, you now have to, you cannot make this kind of quote-unquote dictatorial decisions that are sometimes needed in companies to shape, change course or to make a task decision, because you have to be somewhat democratic and public. That ends up having a lot of weird things. And it's like people that work together and should be going for the same goal are now kind of being forced to argue in public and give feedback in public. And this gets especially hairy when it's the bad feedback, right? Because when everything's going well, that's fine. But when you have two teams that are competing for funding and they're the only ones really that can provide real feedback on how the other team is doing. Because the general public, it's a lot of time to really follow up a project to the point where it's like, you can do strong performance assessments and know what the commitments were, why they haven't been met, what's happened. There's a lot of context that people just don't have and they don't have the time to get. And yeah, this ends up making things very hard. And also out of seeing a lot of protocols and a lot of things that have been built, there's also been the newfound love for simpler models in which people can probably say, no, no, no, we're just building a product or a service. We don't have a token model. The moment you have a token model, the thing that you're building is an economy and an economy that can be defended and can have a defensible business model in an open source and network environment. And that's really, really hard. So now on top of building your product or whatever you're building in the world, you need to build this economy that makes sense and that can have repercussions in the way that a lot of things that could be good ideas to build, you cannot build it because there's no way that that leads to the sustainability or profitability of the project. So there's a lot of issues with having to come up with this complicated models to capture and distribute value for stakeholders that are embedded with us. So this is kind of like a go back to equity in a way. It's like, yeah, this thing, it's like someone needs to start in a brand new thing. They're not sure how they're going to make money still, but they know that if they make money, the shareholders of the thing have a right to their proportional part of a free cash flow. And that's something that you cannot do with tokens without really risking being categorized as security and just tries to be discredited in many ways. We tend to stop having complicated things and things that end up distracting founders and teams from the important thing that they want to be doing. Yeah, there's a little bit of that as well.

Nicholas: Do you think that, because we talked a little bit about, there's both sides, there's the sort of fundraising part. I think it's interesting, it's unfortunate that it's so in conflict with the existing regulatory regime, but it's interesting to allow people to participate in the risk and potential upside of a new project, which, like the current environment of public companies, essentially once a company is public, a lot of the alpha has been squeezed out of it by accredited investors. So there's that side of it that's interesting, that is part of what makes tokens interesting and DAOs interesting. And then there's also the governance part, which sometimes can feel like a huge advantage because it lets people have input into a project and a diverse group of people can give their input. But at the same time, it also sometimes feels like kind of an impediment to execution velocity. that's maybe partly like a justification for the token's purpose outside of speculating on future revenues or something of the project. Do you think the on-chain revenue piece or the participating in the equity of the project, are either of those things, which of those is more relevant to Firm? Which has been carried through into this new design?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, they're both very important. We believe there's going to be a lot of businesses, products and services that get built that get direct on-chain revenues. So having those go directly into a thing that can natively hold crypto and receive crypto is very, very important. And I think we saw that in the last fair market where people kind of get a little bit more pragmatic and build some more useful things. When the kind of like super speculative mania like replaying the same meme over and over again kind of turns off a little bit. But yeah, you can do a lot of important things with DAOs. And I would argue that after an important protocol, which should be a public good, has falsified or almost falsified, it should either not have governance or have very, very broad governance. I think DAOs are very good for that. So an example that I really like to use is Compound. You probably are not going to trust Compound in the same way. if it was like three dudes in a company with the admin keys. People would be very, very scared of having large sums of money there. So it makes sense that in order to make changes to these protocols or make financial decisions about the soundness of some collateral, that you do that in a decentralized governance manner. It's also important for liability reasons that it's not three dudes controlling that. So I think for DAOs, it makes sense. But for things that are still in very, very quick iteration mode, especially if you're in a competitive landscape, having to be public and having to have decisions made in a community-oriented slash democratic way, having to air out your dirty laundry in public all the time because that's the way to do things, that could put projects in a very large disadvantage compared to teams of 10 people that are collaborating privately and they're just going, going, going. So yeah, I guess we'll see. But I think in the next few years, there's going to be going back to a little bit more of pragmatism and reasonable ways of doing things. And we're building a firm to help people build the next great things in Web3 and on the internet.

Nicholas: So firm is, you said for internet companies, internet-native companies, maybe blockchain-native even, taking it more specifically to the technology that we're thinking of. So essentially, organizations that want to manage the, I think I read in your docs, the canonical corporate balance sheet on-chain. Is that the focus of it? Does it matter if the companies have on-chain revenues or not? Is it specifically good if you're trying to generate revenues on-chain?

Alejandro Perezpayá: Well, actually, you can contain and maintain the balance sheet through firm, but even if you have no revenues, it also makes sense. For example, at the starting point of a company, you have no revenues, you are just investing the money, allocating resources. And even in that case, firm makes a lot of sense because of all the budgeting features and also because you can build your cap table and issue tokens, equity tokens, without needing even to incorporate the company. You can push that decision into the future so you can incorporate it later, but you can have a vehicle to collaborate with your funders, with your team to allocate the resources, to have a way to manage all the payments that you are doing, the payroll, even you can play with the streams to handle the payroll automatically. So, I mean, even if you don't have revenues, it makes sense. But when you have revenues, it also makes sense because you have a really good automated source of legal agreements, legal binding agreements who are done through smart contracts or by using the smart contracts. And also the finances of the treasury of the company is handled in a decentralized way, in a trustless way that you can benefit from all the technological leverage of the internet companies, the native companies to automate and to enhance your company operations.

Nicholas: So what would the onboarding look like? Let's say I have a new project. I've been talking on Twitter and people are saying I want to build an NFT browser or a browser, essentially a website, let's just say, that allows you to interact with HTML and other Wasm compatible code served directly from the blockchain with your wallet in scope. So you could execute transactions from inside the token URI of an NFT, let's say. If I say I'm interested in doing this, I've played with DAOs a bunch and they're interesting, but maybe this isn't ready for a public comment just yet. I'm interested in trying Firm. What is the experience of onboarding for me?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, there's this phrase that we like using at Firm, that Firm lowers the cost of creation to zero. And the way we think about it is, you can think of this as the moment that there's a couple of people collaborating or even if it's just yourself still, but you want to separate the account or the funds that you're using for this project. You go to Firm, we're in private beta still, but you would be able to go to Firm and create an entity for, I mean, it depends on the network in which you want to use, but it could be like a small $1 or $2 using Polygon or some of the L2s. And in five minutes, you end up with a structure that allows you to have this kind of crypto corporate bank account is really a safe, which is super powered for efficient operations. The moment that you're collaborating with someone else, you may set up rules of like, hey, if we are making, in order to make payments within this range, we don't need to ask each other to say, can go ahead and do the payments. If this project starts generating revenue, that goes directly to the Firm as well. Even at this point, nothing legal has happened. There's no incorporation yet, but you can still split the product shares or interest in the project. And then at a point in which you actually needed, a lot of people tell us that they consider like legal incorporation when they're getting external investment or when the business is getting under-billed and there are liability concerns. And with a few clicks, we can turn your internal native thing into kind of like a legal entity as well. So that there's kind of, the way to think about it is like, there's a mirror entity in a legal jurisdiction. that kind of, in terms of like legally, what you're like, we make it so that the things that are happening on chain, so the way to conduct board meetings, or like perform actions on support or shareholder boards to perform like changes in the board or things that require shareholder approval or each of the shares, right? Because after this point, these tokens and these product shares that you had before, they're actually now legal shares that represent the same rights and interests as shares in any other company would. We like saying that because it's a little bit different than with like a traditional company, which is like, you don't go and get like the bureaucracy and like lawyers involved until it's like kind of like, okay, this is getting serious now. We should get this done, right? It's like the moment that you're creating something and you need the ability to start handling money, be that because you're starting to have revenues or you have partners, you create this entity which just lives on chain and that has like all the same features that you will have after the fact. And then the moment that you're ready or do you need that, we make sure that, okay, like, just keep using the firm as you were doing, but this is now a legally recognized entity. And it has the advantage that it's like, I mean, there's like 400 years of experience in corporate governance. Like people actually know what happens, our things are recognized, where risks, where there's no risk, who's responsible for what, who has a fiduciary duty. And we just make the operations of that very, very easy. But until you get to that point, you're just operating like just like on chain company, which is like 100% software.

Nicholas: So I get a transparent on chain, maybe even limited constrained through on chain parameters. Gnosis safe. Yes. And I get a legal entity. in which jurisdiction? Is it fixed to one or I can choose?

Jorge Izquierdo: I mean, it will be fixed to one at the beginning, but there's an infirm protocol, which we launched last week. It's completely agnostic to the jurisdiction that these companies get mirrored into. But we're starting just with one for now. So it will be Delaware corporations for now. But the idea is that this is like something that is of course, international and cross border and won't be just the USA. And out of the advantages that you were making, and this might be a little bit relevant today, even some of the news that are coming out of Silicon Valley Bank being closed. Yes. This gives companies the ability to really, it's very interesting, it's like the code itself of the internet of company. It's kind of like an internet native crypto corporate bank account, which is embedded in there, which allows for, of course, self custody, but also like some efficient use of funds with that. So it's not like every time that one USDC needs to move, three out of five people need to sign. And someone may have gone already out for the weekend, because it's 6pm on a Friday. And then the payment will just not go out until Monday or whatever the person is back. So we kind of draw this line a little bit closer to the enabling efficiency, because that's what you really need to run a company. You just cannot have, of course, a shareholder vote would be unacceptable, but not even the safe and having a safe transaction or a board transaction at this point. It's like kind of this balance between having very strong self custody, but also allowing people to run an efficient operation. And this is kind of like one of the big differences for Yfirm. Yfirm software, even if it rhymes with DAO. for a lot of people, the software is fundamentally different. Using DAOs, you need to have something which has strong anti-capture guarantees. You don't want to have someone capturing compounds governance and throwing something in. But here, in a company, you're working on some assumptions of much higher trust level, some of which is out of the reality. You're working with your friends. There's probably a lot more trust and you can work on that higher trust. And then after the company is incorporated and has legal personality, there's the same after-the-fact protections. A CEO of a company can typically have the ability to send all the company's money to their bank account, but they're going to get in trouble. So here, if you're running your company from a legal entity and the CEO has the ability to do that because it's configured in that way, but if they do that, they would get in the same trouble that if they did that in a regular company.

Nicholas: And they might also be restricted from doing so on-chain.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, they might be restricted to doing so, but we can offer it with siding for allowing more efficiency because we are running... Internet companies are fundamentally running in an environment in which we can have a lot more of implicit trust. So that's good.

Nicholas: I see. You're saying being a multisig rather than DAO is acceptable because the nature of these organizations is to one where it's favorable to be agile as opposed to stuck with on-chain voting, much less agile, because a DAO governance, on-chain governance especially, design is more suitable for an adversarial environment as compared to a company which is not adversarial within itself, typically.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yes, and in Firm Protocol, we take it even a step further and we have this budgeted module in which we allow teams of individuals or other smart contracts to have direct spending allowances. Even by passing the multisig step. We make the analogy that the support and the board can do whatever, but then the board usefully delegates some of the day-to-day operations and decision-making into other groups of people and individuals. So it's even higher efficiency than the decimal multisig.

Nicholas: Got it. So tell me, what are the contracts like? Is it entirely Gnosis Safe plus the legal documents or is there a Firm on-chain protocol as well?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, there's actually quite a lot of code. We open sourced it a week ago and we have some docs live now at docs.firm.org. But yeah, there's a series of modules that people can opt into. We have this budgeting involves modules that we were talking about. Then we have everything related to the ownership, the cap table and the shareholder governance. It kind of comes separate. I mean, people can opt out of not wanting that. So yeah, there's kind of those two very large group of features. One is around efficient spending and getting things done without having to involve a large number of people as companies typically work. And then we have the other large group of features which relates to the cap table and the ownership of the company, which is a little bit more complicated than just ERC-20 tokens or ERC-20 tokens with delegation and so on. Because since these are prepared for being legal shares in multiple jurisdictions, you need to have the possibility of having different types of controls, like transferability locks, potential to have a white list or black list of people that cannot hold the token. They might be in a bad list or they need to pass on KYC. So it needs to be a very flexible system to be able to represent legal shares in companies in a broad way of jurisdiction. Even to the point where it's like, this might be a completely trustless ERC-20 token, but still we need to give people a fair amount of controls and levers to customize that. And we have some very simple governance for shareholders which can integrate into other tools in the ecosystem, such as Stally, which is compatible with the standard governance interfaces.

Nicholas: Got it. So it seems like the protocol brings together parts of different projects in the ecosystem. Maybe this cap table piece is the one that I can't think of a close parallel to it in the ecosystem currently. But bringing together the legal, the budgeting, payroll, treasury stuff, permission to access to these tools, as well as the cap table module into a kind of operating system for a company.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, it's kind of... At the protocol level, it's very, very full-featured. And we're not even implementing all the features or surfacing all the features in the interface for now.

Nicholas: Are you using it yourselves for Firm?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yes. Yeah, we've been using it since September. Like, all main, actually. So this is before the audits. We've been using the proto versions, from like 0.2, we've been running. And now that the software is audited, and it's a V1 sub, we're actually going ourselves out for this second stage of like, okay, we have our firm entity, which is the internet-native software piece, but we are now also having that be linked, mirrored to a legal entity in the US, in Delaware. So we're kind of a step ahead for users, and really taking the footing to the extreme, which is something that we couldn't do with our own. Things took a while to build, and everything was more masoned. Our firm, we're taking this stuff to the extreme, and actually, like, our company's been incorporated using the same APIs that firms will use when they want to incorporate. Very cool. So we're taking this stuff, putting it to the extreme, and kind of like, I mean, we don't talk about it like it's an experiment, it's just literally our company. But it's a little bit like putting your money when we're at your office. But it's been, yeah, we've had no issues on mainnet, even before it was audited. And now it's like, a lot more, the protocol's a lot more sound, and we're confident to start onboarding external users as well now.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, so what we needed exactly for a firm, we couldn't just use some of the fantastic work that some groups like LexDAO or like Wrapper had done. We've worked with a group within LexDAO called LexClinic, or something like that. And it's a super cool sub-DAO. I don't know the exact taxonomy within that DAO, but it's a group of people that jumped into the project and to create this bylaws for a data-awarecy corporation that can defer some important actions and can be aware of the state that is on-chain.

Nicholas: Very cool.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, so it ended up being much simpler than what I expected. And there's actually just three very important things where the bylaws of firm companies differ from the template bylaws that you would get into a normal company. We have the ability to recognize shareholder votes happening on-chain as shareholder vote happening in a shareholder meeting. There's also the board aspect. So it's recognized that if the SAFe members are the board members of the company, then we try to make that mapping one-to-one. When the SAFe, they do a multi-SAFe action for the SAFe that is interpreted as a binding board action. And then also the recognition of the shares of the company being the tokens which are on-chain. And with those three things, there's a lot of things that people can just continue doing using firm protocol and now are considered legally binding. Yeah, that was pretty cool. Some people from Blackstar, I think it was Ross, said that we should call them bylaws. And I actually kind of dig the name, but I'm pretty sure we have to use the term bylaws as well. But yeah, it's exciting. This is going live, I mean, still just for us, but it's going live as we speak. So yeah, super, super excited for that.

Nicholas: And as for the cap table stuff, was that also developed with the clinic? Because I feel like that's one of the things that is the least developed. So many of the large, especially DeFi DAOs just have one undifferentiated token and all that they do is like a pie chart for who gets what percentage and some vesting schedule. But it's not a very sophisticated approach to whatever a token represents in those DAOs. So how did you develop the cap table tech for a firm?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, this has been like most of the effort has been at the protocol level. So the cap table allows companies to have different types of share classes and you can give each of those share classes different rights, namely, for example, like voting rights. So you can apply like a voting multiplier to founders of classes, some companies do have like meta right now. It's basically like different, under the hood is like different tokens for the different classes of SOAP. Like this can be some classes. No, we ended up going with ERC20, it was like conceptual level. ERC1155 makes the most sense. And we actually like the first implementation, first prototype for implementation was when we did it with ERC1155. But it's, yeah, the issues like since most of the infrastructure in the ecosystem expects a one, a new ERC25 token. Yeah, doing like the Uniswap thing required like some fancy like proxy contracts that you do for like having like an ERC20 interface for one particular ID of these tokens. It was like a little bit clunky. But the issue really was that all the wallets and all the infrastructure expect that an ERC1155 is an NFT. Like it would show very, very weird, very, very weird things.

Nicholas: People would like to brag about their portfolio. It makes sense a little bit.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, yeah, but it's weird because it's not like, yeah, I mean, this is something that for now is like ERC20. It's like, because like, this is like this, there's not really a lot of trading of this like fungible classes of tokens within an ERC1155 token. Because like people are really interpreting them as like, oh, this is an NFT. So yeah, I mean, the fungibility aspect within a class is like very important, especially for firm companies where it's like one particular class might end up being like broadly traded or publicly traded. So like having this like various integration into like being able to just plug it into Uniswap or like Lightning Park, it was very important. And all of those things have been built for just for ERC20. Even if for a cap table, it makes sense. And it's kind of like this, this is exactly this. It's like you have an asset in which you have different classes of fungible assets within the class that are not non-fungible between themselves. Even if you can convert from one into another. So it's like the perfect definition of 1155 that in our case, it ended up making sense to build it with ERC20, which also made the governance voting very easy because we could integrate with pre-existing things. Yeah, that's...

Nicholas: I want to know, what do you think is... Well, actually two things. First of all, what is the... Are the funds that are inside of a firm on the protocol custodied by a firm or is it non-custodial in the sense that they're sovereign? You can't take anything out of my treasury.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah. And actually, all the treasuries, they're in shapes. I see. Okay. So if people are like, we're sick of this firm product, I don't like it. They can just uninstall or disable the firm modules and you have a normal safe.

Nicholas: Got it. Okay.

Jorge Izquierdo: Which is very cool.

Nicholas: What is the relationship between the token holders and the multi-sig board of directors? There's no direct voting connection between the two, is there?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah. The on-chain voting of shareholders, like the board, aka, the owners of the safe.

Nicholas: Oh, I see. Okay. So the owners of the safe are selected by the token holders, but the token holders don't directly vote on transactions.

Jorge Izquierdo: Exactly. I mean, this is the default setup that we give people because both shareholder voting and the board can do a series of actions, but there's kind of like a slider behind the scenes and it's like the organization can say, okay, these actions can only be done by the board or these actions can only be done by a shareholder board. But like this can be moved. I see. Depending on... So an organization might say, okay, we also want to allow direct transfers by the shareholders in the on-chain mode. And that would be acceptable as well.

Nicholas: Have NFTs or the emergence of NFTs in DAOs changed your perspective on governance at all and voting in governance?

Jorge Izquierdo: Mmm.

Nicholas: Or are fungibles still... still the right way to quantify voting power, you think?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, I don't think...

Nicholas: Or maybe even more broadly, is token voting viable?

Jorge Izquierdo: I don't see... I really don't see the difference between NFT token governance or fungible ERC20 fungible governance if the NFTs can move. Right?

Nicholas: Okay.

Jorge Izquierdo: It's just, I mean... Actually, you might also give the... If people have to have them in different accounts, it wouldn't be as... maybe as convenient. or you can have like a limit like only two votes per account. But if the NFT can freely move...

Nicholas: They function like fungibles. in that case, you think?

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, and I think they do. But then you have like some counter examples by seeing some NFT DAOs, which have been doing quite well with their governance. But I think that's a lot more about the issuance rate than the fact that there's an NFT behind it. Or maybe it could be like... I mean, someone might be less prone to sell their noun because they have part of their personal brand attached to it. or they have like... They really like it and it's kind of part of their identity and they wouldn't sell it. That might change the dynamics a little bit. I mean, I haven't followed NFT DAOs all that closely. But from like a 10,000-foot view, I don't think like... I mean, at the technical level and what's going on at the protocol levels, there's no difference. There's no difference at all. But it's more about like the social dynamics and mechanics that play. So yeah, I don't know. But I think that token voting has like... It's a very interesting space, especially when there's no... Yeah, when people can just do whatever, right?

Nicholas: Yeah, I think you're right to point to the issuance rate as maybe more... Or the issuance mechanism in the first place as maybe more relevant to how the governance plays out than necessarily. what type of token is that people are using to vote. Although the identity point that you mentioned is also pretty relevant. If someone does establish an identity around something, then they're less likely to put it up for flash loaning or something for voting. So what is the ideal firm? Do you have a picture in your mind of a company that would make a great project on firm?

Jorge Izquierdo: It's a little bit of a cheap answer, but a firm itself. It's a company that is intended to be a company. There's no... It's not going to be a token. I don't think a token makes sense here. We have a part of what we build, which is like we consider public infrastructure, which is an absolutely public good. And actually, we open source that out even before starting to a more due circumstance. I think that's very important. The protocol that firms run on top of, it's something that where you cannot... If you want to make it open source, there's no... I've spent a bunch of time thinking about this in Argon, but I think there's no defensible way to make it open source and try to capture volume there. Especially in a decentralized way, there's not like a...

Nicholas: You think once it's open source, the fees that you can't really extract a fee because people will fork you.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, and it's a race to the bottom. At least at the theoretical level. We've seen this in very volume-heavy, fee-heavy spaces. And it's like the NFT world. I don't follow it very closely, but the NFT royalties and marketplace fees.

Nicholas: Sure, blur. I mean, you did a swap also.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, we're starting to see, are these revenue capturing models really defensible? So with firms, we went, this is open source. Also because I wouldn't use software for my company that wasn't fully open source. If the company goes away, I know that I can keep using it. But then there's the opportunity to provide additional services or products that only a centralized company can provide. So this incorporation thing that we can help people do for integrations with fiat integrations. Imagine a firm having the ability to have a debit card, like a fiat debit card that pulls the balance directly from the...

Nicholas: Off-chain services, front-end services, other kinds of integrations that a DAO or an on-chain institution can't provide.

Jorge Izquierdo: But it will still be pretty much an internet-native company. Most of our revenues will either be on-chain or completely digital. And I think there's going to be a lot more companies like this. that rather than trying to come up with a protocol token, which makes no sense, be just very honest about it and be like, okay, this is free, this is free open source software. If some other people want to use it, be my guest. If some DAOs want to use a piece of it, that's fine. And be just very honest, this is an open source contribution, and then we're building a business and a service on top of that. It's like there's some open source protocol thing where there's no network effect and there's not a defensible way to capture value at all. And I think Firm is a perfect example of this. I think a lot of things with tokens would also be a perfect example for that. But it's kind of like, yeah. I mean, we want to give options for people building new things right now to be able to do this in this way, rather than having to create a token and kind of like a DAOs model. Because that can end up being a design restriction. If you have to build things in a way that it could accrue value to a token in a defensible way, it's very hard. And as I was saying before, when you launch a token, your main product is an economy. It's like the economy of that token and then I worked at your building around it. And then the software and the services are kind of like surrounding things. But the main thing for the token, that's the main thing where you're trying to accrue value for your community, your investors and your team. The thing that you are actually building as a product, the main product is this economy. And then you end up with super weird things. There's kind of like the double dipping system where people do have this token, but there's also a valuable company. It's very valuable. And you can see that in Uniswap that they raised us at a massive valuation a few months ago. I don't even remember. So you end up having these weird dual incentive models. And it's like the broad public and the community can only invest in one of those. But there's two very different things depending on what the company does at different times. It clearly benefits one more than the other. I think it's going to be exciting to give people this other way of doing things, which in my opinion is much more straightforward. And in many cases, more honest.

Nicholas: Very cool. Are there any launch projects aside from Firm that you can talk about? Or what kinds of things are people interested in building in the beta?

Jorge Izquierdo: I mean, we've gotten interest from all over the place. We now have a form to request early access. We've been actually a little bit overwhelmed by the creativity and the things that people think they want to do with Firm. So that's been super exciting and encouraging. I can't talk about any of the early users that we roll out first.

Nicholas: Sure, sure.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, I mean, we're going first with things that are early stage projects, things that are similar to Firm itself, because that's what we're really building towards. We've gotten interest from a few large houses. Because some of the parts of Firm Protocol are independently interesting for DAOs. For example, the budget team. I could probably see that being useful for DAOs, but we're starting to focus on servicing these companies that are going in this operating mode of an inter-native company.

Nicholas: Makes sense. That's the end of my list of questions. Is there anything about maybe even Alejandro, if you wanted to jump in with anything we left out or shouldn't miss when talking about Firm?

Alejandro Perezpayá: Well, first, thank you for this space. It was nice chatting with you. I believe that Jorge has covered most of the things for me. One of the most relevant topics that I would like to go a bit around is how these standard organizations that have been the main form of organization for people creating things have been so successful. doing that and also holding the incentives in the long term also for founders. That is something that we've seen in this space that sometimes people who founded the DAO, they are almost billionaires and they, in some cases, were not incentivized to keep trimming the innovation and keep leading the thing. And finally, the DAO lost the leader. Now that sometimes, for example, we see in the Ethereum Foundation that we have such a big punch from Vitalik's leadership. And sometimes I see that to bring these projects to the maturity stage that we need to keep the Web3 space improving and bringing people on board. And Firm has a thing, right? So, really excited about it. And I guess that we, as Jorge told, we've received a lot of projects that are willing to try to incorporate the Ethereum Firm and to use this kind of flexible organization that we can provide with an internet native company, but also being capable to hold value in the long term and to have a more standard way of organization where the founders can have the main voice and lead the innovation in the long term. While also having a good way to interact with the real world, as Jorge said, with the financial services that we can provide them to deal with traditional payment systems

Jorge Izquierdo: or

Alejandro Perezpayá: even with other companies that are not used to work with crypto native ways of funding, for example, invoices and everything. So, I mean, I'm really excited to see how the people are using this and also to provide and help founders to succeed and to have a really operational setup and to avoid all the bureaucracy that they can encounter when they are trying to build a thing. We like to think that this bureaucracy that you would need to go through as a founder and the operational overhead that you need to deal with taxes, with everything is a tax in your brain. So, we would love to at least bring that to zero or close to zero.

Nicholas: Yeah, it's very exciting to see such a coherent full package for organizations that want to run on chain. So, I'm excited to see what projects come out. Congratulations on launching and open sourcing and look forward to seeing the project evolve. Thank you both for coming on the show.

Alejandro Perezpayá: Thank you, Nicholas.

Jorge Izquierdo: Yeah, thanks a lot for having us. It's been super fun.

Nicholas: This was great. All right, thank you everybody for coming to listen. Thank you to the guests, of course. If you're interested in hearing more conversations like this, the next episode will be next Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern time. And let me see who's coming on. It's going to be Gio Medici of Abacus, which is some kind of NFT infrastructure. I'm going to have to look into it before then. If you're interested, come by next Friday for that. Thank you everybody for tuning in. See you next week. Web3 Galaxy Brain airs live most Friday afternoons at 5 p.m. Eastern time, 2200 UTC, on Twitter Spaces. I look forward to seeing you there.

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