Creator Stories Episode 8: Protein
Using tokens for good growth
This article is a transcript of a live interview conducted by Jenil. If you want to attend our next Creator Stories episode, join our Discord and follow us on Twitter. We hope you’ll enjoy the conversation as much as we did! 😉
Thank you for joining us, Jack! Tell me about your journey through starting Protein. What was your background before this, and what led you to building the Protein community?
So for a little bit of context with Protein, it’s actually been around for about 15 years now. It’s based in the UK, based in London. It's an agency, a coworking space, and it's an event space. Throughout running this whole journey of Protein agency, there was always a really, really meaningful community at the center of it, and everything we kind of did speaks to culture.
So Will, the CEO, who's in the Protein Discord all the time, has always kind of been at the forefront. He’s looking for the best ways to connect with culture, and really lead it, listen to it, and be part of it, rather than just do what a lot of agencies or brands kind of do, which is like speak to it, and in some ways, extract from it.
The community has always been at the heart of Protein and essentially, about 250 days ago, the community actually minted their $PRTN token. We then went on this kind of really meaningful journey, in which me and Harry joined in the more recent stages of that, in order to read, question, and launch a token in the right way. So, although it's been there for 250 days, it's only since the launch of the token about 12 days ago that we've actually brought it into the world, made it accessible for people. That's because it really should be a really thoughtful, meaningful process in launching a token.
It is going to be used by people, and essentially should become a really important part of how they define their identity, get involved in collaboration and conversations, and how they connect with other people. So, yeah, that's kind of a little bit of the journey of how we're in now.
Talk to me about what was the process like of building culture in the early days when the community was rather small, and how is it now that the community is huge? What are some things that you can advise somebody that's starting their community today?
I can only speak to the more recent times, and just for more context, currently, the community is essentially existing only on Discord. With a token, we're still relatively small, you know, there's only 70 of us. We are the Founding Members group, so it's all about now listening to the community, and what they believe is the future
What's interesting is, prior to that, there was a community of about 5,000 on Mighty Networks. I don't know if you know Mighty Networks, but it's more oriented to Web2. It's almost got this kind of “Facebook public-posting forum-style” deal, and for that, there just wasn't enough connection. There wasn't enough momentum in that community, and people weren't using it in an organic way. Then you look at these communities great on Discord, the way that you can build ideas around people, and people can bring things to the front and create this amazing momentum.
It feels like now, even after a couple of weeks, the Protein community is really kind of taking ownership over how they want it to evolve, and that's what's so exciting for us. We've just had three workshops in the last couple of weeks. The first one was on “good growth”, which is integral. Protein’s a place where people's ideas grow, and from day one, we really wanted to question what good frameworks for growth would look like rather than just assuming that all growth is positive. And then the last couple of workshops, we rolled around collaboration and kind of conversation on how Web3 technologies can allow us to grow in more meaningful ways.
So we've gone from a kind of big, massive community — Protein's got a mailing list on their Substack, which we put out every month to 35,000 people — and you kind of get smaller and more intimate as you go. We're really excited that now we're at a point where our founding members are really taking ownership over what that will mean for Protein’s future.
I'm curious, what are some initial responses that you've gotten? Like, what are some important decisions or some missions or goals that you've established as a community, and how does that ownership sort of bring in this idea that, “Okay, now I want to take initiative because I have some ownership in Protein.” How have you seen this evolve and what has been the behavior?
It's great. To be honest, we're so early on, that we haven't had our first official vote to bring in our “Season 1”.
So there's a lot of soft governance and discussions around. In the (Discord) channels, people are talking about certain things. Someone says “I'd really love to talk about tough questions in Web3.” There's loads of these massive questions, which everyone seems to be skirting around.
So how do we actually go and answer those? What we did is we just spun up a channel, tagged the person who talked about that, and kind of gave them the opportunity to lead that channel, and discuss it, and then bring everyone else in to get involved in there. So that's kind of an example of the way people can jump in and propose things. For our Season 1, which we're really defining now, what do we want our season one goal to be.
Seasons, for anyone who isn't aware of them, is a set amount of time put forward by the community so that you can establish a goal or reach some objectives. It's suggesting that we don't need to figure everything out at once. We can just collectively move towards solving a problem, and then if that changes as the community grows, we can then change that objective with the community. And so from day one, that's what we're really trying to do.
I think one of the questions that we do get a lot, and it can be intimidating for people, is “what made you decide that you guys want to have a token?” How did you go about it in the early stages? Like, what made you think “Okay. We should do a token.” Like, what was the decision-making that went on there?
Hmm. Yeah. I think having a community, which we, as Protein, have used, is maybe the worst way you could imagine it. We've had this community, and throughout the last 15 years, we've been working with them, but not truly giving them the opportunity to own their own value. So they’ve been part of the journey, working with brands with us and building and talking about stuff, but there hasn't been true ownership given to them.
I think it was just finally realizing that we've wanted to do this for so long, but there hasn't been the technology in place to properly bring that into existence. So that's the kind of key thing. The idea has always been there. It’s always been part of the journey. It's just now, given the technology, that has made that happen.
So tell us about Season One! What is it, what are some of the things that you guys are looking to build for Protein, and how are some ways people can contribute?
Awesome. Yeah. In terms of season one, we're going to be positioned around good growth. “Good growth” is an idea that Protein's always had. With Web2 models, growth can be extractive, damaging to the wider culture, and doesn't always look far enough into the future to be really thoughtful.
So good growth, which we've been defining, is this idea of free structure through output and approach. There's pillars which can help us fund projects, support ideas, and help us work together collaboratively in a way that aligns with good growth. Some of those are transparent, building in the open abundance, the idea that someone shouldn't lose out just because of the fact that you win. Obviously, decentralized, which is very close to equitable. People who will hold the tokens can have a say, but they also get some kind of financial benefit from the whole community doing well.
I think that's the most powerful thing about communities using social tokens. It’s this kind of symbiotic nature between the individual and the collective. Very rarely, you have that in society or culture, where everyone isn't just in it for themselves.
So for our season one, we're really looking at exploring directly those kinds of mechanics and models, which can go and make that happen. It’s like if we're claiming to do these things, let's build a framework that not only we can use, but other communities could use, to look at how they approach their projects and work in their communities to go and fulfill things.
The other key thing that is really intentional about season one is that we 1.) haven’t figured it out, but 2.) in the periphery of Protein has always been this idea that brands and external partners really want to do good and be part of the right conversations. They want to be part of culture. So it's also speaking to the community about how they feel external partners and brands can work with them in a meaningful way, that’s not extractive. All of that is up to play in Season One.
As part of good growth, a lot of the conversations we've been having over the last couple of days were like “How quickly do you scale? How many people do we want? How many people can you have a meaningful conversation with?” As we navigate through Season One, I think some of the number one priorities in memberships are in terms of criteria, diversity, approach, and onboarding. From there, we're going to build everything else out.
Let's dive a little bit deeper into the token. What are some of the value unlocks that you've seen, and are hoping to achieve during Season One? How are you looking to achieve these goals during Season One? Is this more of a way for people to either contribute their way into Protein, or do they buy in? What is the best way to use the token to get more involved?
Currently, for Season One, there'll be no way to buy the token.
Like we're trying to be thoughtful around bringing in a financial incentive too early, and primarily, it will be gifted to members to enter the community through a screening process. That symbolizes one of the easiest utilities for people to adopt with social tokens, which is access. It's the proof of stake. It's an ability to be part of a community through holding. To start with, I think that's obviously the first utility.
A lot of communities obviously encourage the idea of holding tokens, and capturing as much value as you possibly can. For early adopters, for people entering the space early, that can have huge financial upside as we've seen in a few communities recently. Now, entering that space is almost impossible if you weren't there at the beginning, right?
One of the utilities that we would like to facilitate, and we haven't worked out 100% how to do it, is the incentive to spend tokens on projects and collaborations that will go and improve the world, society, or culture that fit the “Good Growth” model. So if we kind of take that in mind, like one of the utilities that we're trying to look at is how the token can be matched by the community or matched by the treasury, and is intentionally designed to be spent, as well as, accrue value.
So yeah, you can't buy it currently. It will be gifted. We want to be able to use them for collaboration, governance, and voting. And then we will build out different models for access, in terms of community-created projects, but always at the center of that is accessibility and how we make sure (if access is the utility of this token) it doesn't become an exploited model.
I know you mentioned that it has no financial utility, which really aligns with some of the ideas that we initially had. To build culture first, and then have some economic value later, when there's community market fit. What do you think about this idea of giving the token value and at what point does it have economic value? How does a new community decide when's the right time to do it?
I mean, it's a huge question. I think the communities that we've seen who have been really successful are only now really interrogating the tokenomics which got them there. They're now seeing situations where they're having to pull back on the amount of tokens distributed because the token spiked so high or they've historically given out so many.
When you bring it in, it’s a massive question. I think, like you just mentioned, culture and community comes first. People should be forming around that mission that you're going to create. Ours is a mission of good growth; individuals, communities and ideas growing.
So, irrelevant of the token price or whatever happens with the social token itself, what we're really trying to do is facilitate that mission. I think if you've got that mission as your north star, then when you bring in the token, it can be a lot more thoughtful, because it's not propping up the whole community.
You really don't want your community to be propped up by that kind of financial incentive, unless it's more like a service DAO or it's there to fulfill that purpose.
I wanted to know what are some of the problems that you've seen arise, and how have you seen the token play out so far? What are some of the problems that you're interested in solving that haven't been addressed yet?
I think one of the things that always comes with whenever you bring in the idea of a token is that people will always try and gamify it, right? We're lucky enough at the moment because we were very selective about who came into the community. “Selective” in terms of balancing different perspectives, in terms of values. I think that at the moment, no one's even interested or engaged with gamifying the system. We also don't currently have any mechanics where we are bringing in tokens to tip yet. I know that's something we will be exploring relatively soon in a way that we can reward people for their contributions.
But then, there is that argument in terms of airdropping to a big group of people to start with, compared to people contributing and earning their tokens through their contributions. For us, we really wanted to create this kind of immediate ownership for people to physically have this token in their wallet.
I think if we were less selective about who we've been giving it to, I think that there is a really strong argument for going down the route of contributing and then receiving the tokens based on that engagement or value that you've created within the community.
I can't speak to any other problems we've kind of got yet other than there's a huge task to be done for education. We're really trying to tackle that in the Protein Community. We were intentionally creating a mix of people who are Web3 native and people who have never explored what a DAO is. That's why we're not called “Protein DAO”.
It's like there are these mechanics that exist underneath that are important in terms of building a legacy. They're important in terms of decentralization and equity. But I think the problem will always be -- until we find better ways to talk about these mechanics -- that people just don't understand the full potential of them yet.
We've also had some people come into the community who have not been engaged as we imagined they would be because they're busy. They don't live in a Web3 world, in the kind of metaverse of Discord. So I think we assume that this token, in some ways, is like a “catch all”. It's like “Oh yeah. Now we've got a token. The community is just meshed together.” That's not true. It's all about creating that space where people understand what the token or DAO unlocks. Before looking at the mechanics of the token that could be a problem, it's more just about people understanding it.
Yeah. I think one of the points that is interesting, that a lot of communities even struggle with is, if you have an audience that is new to crypto, how do you go about onboarding them? What are some measures that you guys took to onboard these people that may be new to crypto? What are some ways you guys are thinking about educating them moving forward?
Obviously there's loads of great resources out there, including your extensive “Coinvise Learn”. I think for us, it was definitely about talking to the community in their language, and in the language they know as Protein's.
We created some content, and shared it with them. For any new community that would try and be educating, I think it’s about constantly reminding of this process, and what a token can do, but also just the practicalities of setting up wallets, and stuff like that.
So yeah, I think education is key, and will continue to be key. Speaking in the people’s language is essential, and then creating things that are really short.
There's loads of great glossaries out there, right? They're really long and extensive, and they exist maybe with a mix of terms, whether they're slang or very DeFi and techie. But, they're not wherever you are. They're always on a webpage, you might hear it anytime on Discord, and you can't always access it.
So one of the things we're looking at at the moment is to create something where you can bring a glossary into Discord in a really easy way, so that people can just get access to the word that they don't understand at that moment. Meeting people where they are is really important when having a conversation.
Another thing we did, which was good right at the beginning, is creating polls for different areas so that people could signal what levels of Web3 knowledge they had, and then gauge where we wanted to meet people. You know, we didn't want to patronize them. We also didn't want to go way above their heads. So creating those polls allowed us to kind of meet people where they were, and that's so important.
Let's talk about what are some of the long-term goals and vision for how you see the Protein Community evolving. I know you mentioned this earlier in the call that you serve the community who has ownership to decide what direction this takes. How do you see the vision of Protein Community evolving six months, one year, or two years from now, given that we're so early in these tokenized communities or DAOs. How do you envision this playing in the future?
Yeah, I think the key thing in there is that you know we are so early, and I think the Protein Community themselves, are obviously just starting to understand how these kinds of models can create new workflows. They can create new grants, new kinds of community spaces to learn, grow, and be part of conversations.
So I think the key thing, if we look into that kind of distance, is allowing the community to have ownership over the direction. I think it's really also about creating and facilitating people to create those ideas that they want to see grow in the world, that they want to resonate within culture. I think a lot of the conversations around Web3 have been all about growth and value. And now, trying to see culture, there are new ways of that conversation happening.
For Protein, we just want to be part of that conversation. We want to kind of help lead it wherever we can. We want to help onboard Web2 people into the space, and so the ideal scenario would be building and launching community-led products, projects that they felt were really important in the space and in wider culture, and then onboarding a lot more people who have not come across Web3 before.
We ask every creator or community that comes on one of these hangouts. If you had infinite resources and all the things that you're willing to achieve with the Protein Community, what is it that you would like to see in a utopian ideal world? What would you like to see or build, given that all your goals and resources are met?
What a question. What's the kind of answer you normally get for that?! I think that's wild! I love that.
Um, you know, we've got 70 people in our community now as our founding members, every single one of them is passionate, and cares, and wants to see good growth happen in the world. That means good growth for culture, excluded and underrepresented voices.
I think a utopian model really exists around this idea that anyone can have their ideas grow. They can grow as an individual within the Protein Community. I think that's kind of dodging your question there, but it's just as meaningful for us because that's why we really wanted to launch the Protein Community in this way. With a token, with shared ownership, it’s a fact that everyone has a stake in each other's success.
Was there a reason to do more than 10 million tokens? What was sort of the decision making process when you were deciding the supply of the token?
It's a great question. As I said earlier, we minted this over 250 days ago. At the time of minting, it seems like there is a bit of a standard of roughly this 10 million marker. I think, for us, the hundred million was also a bit of a play into how a lot of communities are trying to hoard these tokens, creating inherent value for them instantly through scarcity.
If we look at exploring new models for collaboration, and new kinds of economies for sharing a fluid token through a system, there might be a different psychological model that's brought with that in terms of what it means to create access with 5,000 tokens compared to 75.
So there's kind of no hard and fast answer. I think everyone's really working out what number is the right number? I think part of it plays into psychology, while others into tokenomics. There's arguments for creating supplies when it comes to DeFi, or when it comes to more traditional protocols. I think when it comes to culture, it's going to be interesting to see the numbers that people start to use.
Amazing. If this culture of spending is more aligned, more so than economical value, it probably makes sense to do a hundred million. Thank you so much for coming and chatting with us, Jack. I really appreciate it.
Creator Stories happens live on our Discord every Thursday! If you want to join the conversation, hop on our server!