A simple paper name tag sticks to your lapel designating your name and decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO, affiliation — if you have one.
It’s OK if you didn’t find a DAO — which is basically code built by a community on a blockchain — nor know what it is.
Newcomers to Web3 — the anticipated next wave of the internet — say you learn quickly and there’s no better place to get involved than a breakfast and meetup — like the one held the first Tuesday of each month at EmpireDAO. Opened in September, New York’s newest Web3 coworking space was founded by crypto veteran Mike Fraietta for a crowd of hopeful and current Web3 professionals, some of whom may have never had a physical office before.
At first glance, the 1898-built Renaissance Revival-style building boasts hyped fashion adjacencies, as well as ample graffiti, with its location above the Supreme pop-up at 190 Bowery. Steeped in nostalgia, the building was once Germania Bank, then residence to photographer Jay Maisel in the ’60s before he sold it for $55 million in 2015. In homage to Maisel, the documentary “Jay Myself” plays on loop in the second-floor foyer to EmpireDAO after guests trace a visual timeline of key internet milestones displayed on placards throughout the spiral staircase below.
“What are you building?” is the Web3 version and socially acceptable replacement for “What do you do?” For example, doctors build DAOs to reimagine health care while music fans are reshaping concerts so artists get more agency back. These are the kind of projects discussed at the networking meetups and some of the missions of people who fill the workspace.
In three words: “community-owned community” is what Fraietta is building.
“This is going to happen,” he tells WWD. “This has already been written that this will be the next version [of the internet]. I was the guy 20 years ago going, ‘Everyone’s going to be a publisher…’ Everybody will be a bank, everything will have a token to it, every company will have a [Web3] team, as with social media teams, and it will make things a lot easier….We can make this happen a lot faster by having [EmpireDAO] here.”
Like many, Fraietta — who is wearing a black T-shirt with the company’s logo on the back and pigeon at the chest, over-the-ear Apple headphones around his neck and carrying a comically enormous water bottle — is championing the coming change. Even fashion companies have started to catalogue incoming shifts by participating in events like Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week.
Generally open between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the work week, EmpireDAO sees roughly 300 members day (currently at max capacity), and alone, occupies six stories across the 36,000-square-foot space. There’s also a roof with a full panorama of downtown Manhattan and painted water tower. Members pay to use a desk with membership sold as NFTs comparable to WeWork’s monthly pricing. On the side, EmpireDAO is renting the space out for special events with partner Hush Events NYC. (One known luxury brand was said to be one recent party-thrower.)
Workspaces are relatively bare but swaths of kitschy and colorful street art occupy the walls (bringing up nostalgia for the work style of former Lower East Side resident artist Jean-Michel Basquiat). EmpireDAO runs an artists in residence program that takes over the gallery space. The second floor, or main entertaining space, opens to a coffee bar stamped in neon script with “EmpireDAO” branding and stately furniture anchoring sitting areas. The spacious lounge reveals remnants of the former bank — like the ornate Otis elevator copper cage (now a bar). Off the main room is a windowed gallery where art-meets-comedy-meets-hackathon-meets-whatever-else is happening at the time.
Though certain stereotypes or vices — be it the handful of electric scooters stashed in the corner or vape puffs in between conversations at EmpireDAO, may come to define tech spaces — there was a balanced and diverse pool of attendees at a DAO founders meetup in early October.
For one, Abigail Carlson from ConsenSys Mesh is looking to support the creation of new impact DAOs as entrepreneurs veer towards Web3 as a new way to crowdfund, share knowledge and spur action, while Kofi Asante-Mensah is looking to bring more power to musicians with his global digital concert enterprise SAGOS (for Solid as Gold Consulting) Marketplace. The marketplace holds concerts in the metaverse and is said to more directly benefit the artist.
According to Tess Fenn, head of community and impact at video streaming platform Beem who also attended the meetup, Web3 culture is like “learning a new language.” And learning that language is aided by the right apps and browsers, she says. These include Brave for internet searches (so your data isn’t packaged off for big bucks without your permission), Telegram or Discord for encrypted instant messaging (not unlike WhatsApp) and your choice of digital currencies. Twitter is also part of it. Like fashion brands learned TikTok and hired staffers for it, learning how Web3 works is all part of facing the Web3 transition head-on.
But to avoid the pitfall of a coworking space like WeWork (which ultimately failed to turn a profit amid rapid expansion) EmpireDAO — which is currently in the midst of its second funding round, though details are few as with its seed round — will need to put its money to good use.
Alec Shaw, who is a partner at Sperax (essentially a crypto investment fund), says the workplace gives a face to otherwise “anonymous” internet users while providing a community feel.
Shaw said crypto projects are now being held to similar financial performance standards as “Web2” companies and the hype around Web3 and crypto isn’t enough to succeed in the long term anymore. Decentralized finance projects like Sperax, NFT projects like Bored Ape Yacht Club (currently being probed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for unregistered NFT sales) and communities like EmpireDAO are expected to run revenue-producing businesses.
Speaking broadly of the investment climate around pioneering web projects, Shaw underscores: “When the hype leaves, the projects that survive will be those who closely manage burn rate and focus on often overlooked metrics like customer acquisition cost.”