Talking Crypto #70 - Jonathan Hillis

Primer: Need to recharge in nature with like-minded creators? Take a trip down to Cabin DAO, a community of remote cabins just outside Austin, Texas. Come and listen to Jon Hillis. Learn about the inspiration behind Cabin DAO, life at the Cabins, and their plans for the future.


  • One of the founders of Cabin DAO

  • Cabin DAO/Creator Cabins is a community of remote cabins for independent online creators

  • Based in the Texas Hill Country, which is 45 minutes outside of Austin

  • It is run as a residency program that is structured as a DAO

  • Been following crypto since 2012/2013. Was a senior in college and his roommate explained Bitcoin to him

"I've gotten more involved through each of the sort of hype waves and follow the evolution of this space. But it was really only in the last year that it felt to me like crypto had reached this tipping point where you could actually do stuff with it." - Jon Hillis

  • Got interested and bought a little Bitcoin from a speculative perspective while trying to understand it from a technological perspective

  • Watched DAO governance structures and tools emerging from DeFi summer

  • Was the director of product at Instacart - a platform for people to shop and deliver groceries

  • Thought of the gig economy and realized that the biggest change in the world happening right now is declining transaction costs

  • As transaction cost goes down, more people will work independently online. One version of this is the gig economy. The other version is the creator economy, which has less commoditized labour

  • The creator economy led him to build these cabins and inviting a bunch of internet friends and online creators. They had a campfire one night and that led to the formation of Cabin DAO

Businesses And Transaction Cost

  • In the 70s, Ronald Coase wrote a paper titled Nature of the Firm on economic theory that companies shouldn't exist

  • His conclusion was that companies exist because there is friction and cost to doing deals/transactions in the real world

  • Companies exist to pool people together. It is used to create an environment where contracts do not have to be renegotiated for every single thing that needs to be done

  • This structure has worked well for the last century

  • At this current moment, our technology has gotten good enough where people can collaborate, interact, and describe complex units of work in ways that have low transaction cost

  • Gig economy is the first example of this. Now we can see this applied more broadly in the creator economy and in crypto

"We actually are living in this sort of idealized economic world that Ronald Coase was describing where individuals can just interact directly with other individuals. And they don't need these sort of pools, intermediaries of companies in the same way anymore." - Jon Hillis

How Does This Apply To Cabin DAO?

  • Still exploring this. No one knows exactly what it's going to look like

  • Traditional work agreement —> Gig economy —> Creator economy

  • Compared to traditional work, there is less friction in the gig economy. People can just open an app, see a unit of work, and choose to accept or reject it

  • Knowledge work is harder to describe

  • The creator economy is showing us that these declining transaction costs are now moving up the value chain into more valuable and interesting types of labor

"People can say, look, here's who I am, here's what I can contribute to the world. And they can still have the reduced transaction costs of the internet, but maintain a lot of the personal autonomy of doing their own unique work." - Jon Hillis

  • Crypto is accelerating this trend. Not only can you be an independent online creator, but you can also be a part of a DAO of independent online creators that work together to achieve some type of scale

Gabriel's Experience Of Cabin DAO

  • Drove 45 minutes out of Austin into the hill country

  • Pass by a wrought iron gate and saw Creator Cabins

  • Got a structure built out of shipping containers. There were 3 of them there, in an H type of layout

  • It was beautifully renovated right in the middle of the forest

Cabin DAO

  • In 2019, he experienced burnt out at his job

  • At that point, his boss told him to drop everything and go on a vacation for a month

  • The following week, he left for Thailand. He explored a series of remote islands off the southwestern coast of Thailand

  • Found some wonderful cabins on these islands, where he stayed for a month

  • Wanted to bring together 3 of his favourite things together:

    • Interest in architecture

    • Online community

    • College experience of staying with like-minded, exciting, and interesting people

  • Eventually left his job at Instacart. Wanted to build a cabin in the woods and bring interesting people from internet communities to the cabin to spend time together

  • Built the cabin and invited the first group of people that started the DAO

  • Decided to pool money and bring out independent online creators. Experienced huge growth in the community

  • Did not start as a crypto project, but ended up finding crypto as the perfect tech stack for the use case they are building

"And I like to joke that now we're LARPing as a city state. We have cabin tokens, which is our local currency. We just released our first set of NFT passports and we're working on new digital passports as well. These passports are NFTs that anyone can buy to come out and spend time out at the cabins that helped fund our residency program." - Jon Hillis

What Does Crypto Bring To The Table?

  • Was very skeptical of this at first

  • Their community originally started as a cooperative of independent online creators

  • Over time, the cooperative evolved into a DAO

  • What changed his mind was understanding how tokens can be used to bootstrap an economy and a governance system

  • Crowdfunded a token sale to allow them to run a residency program. People were making a donation to help support online creators

"What impressed me the most is that you're doing something that pushes the limits of what crypto is. You don't see many physical crypto projects." - Gabriel Haines

  • In exchange for the donation, they were given actual governance capabilities in selecting which creators will be staying at the cabins

Business Model Of Cabin DAO

  • Was not originally planned to be a money-making enterprise. Was structured with the intention of providing time and space for independent creators

  • Community has grown and they are interested in creating a sustainable structure for the DAO and the community

  • Currently exploring revenue sources. The most immediate way is through the sales of NFT passports

  • People can pick up a season 2 passport and come out and spend a week with them at the Cabins

  • Those funds go to the DAO and help them to fund more residencies

Token Utility

  • Doesn't think too much about token prices

  • Main goal is to build a strong community and a strong internal medium of exchange and governance

  • Was supposed to be a single-use coin to fund the residency for season 1

  • Turns out the community wanted to keep it going and they are now preparing the passports for season 2

  • Have a number of people quitting their jobs to join Cabin DAO

  • Uses internal bounties to:

    • Build content to help people understand how to build and get involved in DAOs

    • Produce products that are to be used within their DAO and to be shared with the broader DAO community

  • Contributors are compensated in Cabin tokens

Fun Experiments At Cabin DAO

  • 2 of them are spending all their time on Cabin

  • Others are doing bounties with Cabin but are also involved with other DAO communities such as Forefront

  • Done some fun experiments

  • Buried an actual treasure chest with an NFT wallet in Texas Hill country.

  • People regularly add tokens or NFTs to the wallet. Anyone can go and find the actual treasure chest and obtain the wallet within

  • Fractionalized the first animal on-chain. It is a long-horned steer called DH-Esteereum

  • People bought portions of it with the original intention to do a meat-share program

  • Those who owned the fractions decided to save the cow instead. Now he lives at a ranch about an hour from them

"We think there's just a tremendous amount of opportunity for these sort of on-chain to offline projects. And we want to keep pushing the envelope there with real estate and with other assets that we can represent and think about at that intersection of online and offline." - Jon Hillis

His Understanding Of "What Is A City"

  • Have been reading a lot about the history of cities and trying to understand that question

  • No clear answers

"Cities at their core are, in a sense, machines or structures for human coordination and collective action." - Jon Hillis

  • A technical legal answer is that, in the state of Texas, a group of 500 people can come together and incorporate a city or a town

  • In the history of cities, cities emerge from river valleys because they were good areas for agriculture

  • Each city has its own culture and ambition. Paul Graham wrote an essay about how different cities have their own ambitions

Day-To-Day Life At The Cabins

  • Kept it open-ended for season 1 as well as for the future

  • For season 1, they had 3 cohorts of people who had stayed at the cabins

  • Currently hosting cohort 3 now

  • Incredibly diverse group of creators working on a wide range of projects from TikTokers and YouTubers to engineers, painters, and playwrights

Their Property

  • Have a shipping container cabin

  • Bunch of infrastructures (e.g. several wells, miniature city-grade septic system, 80-foot internet tower)

  • Most pressing need is for more space for people to sleep and live

  • Foreseeing bigger groups in the future

  • Recently read The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Inspired by her architectural thinking around how cities are built. Will be using these principles to build Cabin DAO

The Death And Life Of Great American Cities

  • During her time, Jane Jacobs was not fully appreciated by her contemporaries, but she has now come around as a hero of urban planning

  • Robert Moses, who built a lot of New York City, and Le Corbusier, a French guy who had a lot of ideas around early urban planning, had their ideas built around big monumental structures — Radiant Cities with big skyscrapers and big open areas

  • Their models look great in architectural renderings, but it doesn't meet the needs of what humans want in terms of density and diversity

Any Cities Built Using Jane Jacobs' Principles?

  • Not a lot in the US

  • Most of the cities in the US were built in the context of the emergence of cars; have very car-centric cities

  • Smaller European villages and cities would be a better representative of her principles

Technological Revolutions And Financial Capital

  • A book by Carlota Perez

  • Discusses the 5 technological revolutions that have happened since the industrial revolution and the S-curve that describes them

  • Initial eruption of new technology —> Deployment phase where it becomes infrastructure and impacts human life

  • In the US, this can be mapped back to oil and automobiles

  • We are now reaching the deployment phase where we start to see the impact of the internet on our daily lives

Their "City"

  • Will not have cars

  • Is walkable in 15 minutes or less

  • There are walking trails and they are carving out some new trails

  • He talks to people every week from all over the world about how to get started on such projects

"I don't think that people think about actually designing their community. People design their house, you know, they build a house, they build their dream house. Nobody thinks like, I'm going to build my dream community." - Gabriel Haines

If There's A Big Billboard At The Entrance Of Cabin DAO, What Would It Say?

  • Only way to do it properly is to put it up to a governance vote

  • If he had to guess, it would be "Pay it forward"

What They Have Accomplished So Far

  • Their residency program

  • A lot of people who contributed to the residency program were independent online creators themselves who had an interest in the idea of online to offline communities

  • Members from previous cohorts returned to the DAO to contribute and help out with future cohorts

Best Way To Get Involved

  • Hop in to their Discord and say hello

  • Check out their Twitter at @creatorcabins

  • If you are interested in purchasing some Cabin tokens, they can be purchased off Uniswap

  • If you are interested in earning bounties, join the guild. There are links to help you get started

All information presented above is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as investment advice. Summaries are prepared by The Reading Ape. While reasonable efforts are made to provide accurate content, any errors in interpreting and summarizing the source material are ours alone. We disclaim any liability associated with the use of our content.