The GLC Manifesto
In 2022 I launched an online community called The Good Life focused on ideas that I’m passionate about. It’s a safe space for those who seek freedom and happiness through a perpetual search for truth. We talk about health, investing, travel, relationships and self-sovereign ideals, among other things.
The idea for doing something of the sort had been brewing for some time, and soon after I launched, Balaji Srinivasan released The Network State, a book that provided a great deal of inspiration to me.
What I am currently building would most likely be described by Balaji as a startup society, which is the initial phase for building a network state. There is no necessity to go all the way to becoming a network state, a community can find its sweet spot at any point in the continuum between startup society and a full-blown network state. I might add that it remains to be seen whether the network state is even achievable. That would be one monumental milestone in human history for sure.
In this article, I’ll give some background as to why I started the community and what motivates me to nurture it.
I will also post my lessons on running the community here. If you’re interested in joining the community you can reach out to me directly.
Why Start a Community?
It’s important to think about the trajectory that led to me starting a community, so I’ve spent some time thinking about how my experiences have shaped me and how they have generated this need to connect with others in a private, online community.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve been delving into the history of religions, civilizations, and politics, and it became really apparent to me that humans thrive when they are part of some type of tribe that they are passionate about. I saw how the internet had offered us the possibility of connecting with anyone globally, but at the same time, also resulted in humans becoming more isolated in their own online worlds. There had to be a new way of connecting and building tribes for the internet (metaverse?) age.
But let’s rewind a bit more and go through the timeline that brought me to the point of starting a community…
The Influence of Religion
I grew up in a very religious country, and I got exposed early on to the power of tribes that rallied behind a well-defined set of ideas and principles.
During my youth, I was pretty active in a couple of small communities under the umbrella of the local Church, and those groups were very beneficial to me in those formative years. I have many fond memories of the experiences I had and the relationships built during that period.
During my twenties, however, it became all too apparent to me that religious belief was no longer compatible with my worldview, and as I slowly exited all involvement with the Church, I also started thinking about how to recreate some of the best elements of religious life within the secular world.
The Digital Nomad and Expat Life
Apart from renouncing any notion of organized religion, I also left my country of birth (to which I had been very attached) and got married to a person that came from a pretty different culture from mine. Together we traveled extensively in a digital nomad fashion before that term was even a thing.
We eventually slowed down and decided to start building bases for the longer term, thus becoming expats. The experience of marrying into a different culture, and exposing ourselves to radically different ways of living forced me to become much more open to new ideas and experiences.
It instilled in me a deep desire to learn more about the world we live in, the people that have inhabited it over the ages, and the reasons for their behaviors. I must also mention that this period of growth and transition into becoming a citizen of the world was quite painful at times. It’s not easy to accept radically different behaviors, and you’re forced into expanding your tolerance threshold as well as reading up on various topics to try to make sense of those behaviors.
Bitcoin’s Impact On My Views
At some point, I went down the Bitcoin rabbit hole and quickly understood that it was much more than an online-native currency. Indeed this was the gateway to a new way of life. It was unsurprising to see people rally behind Bitcoin with such enthusiasm, displaying the kind of fervor commonly seen within religious communities.
Connecting With People Online
At the same time, I was writing more and more articles on this blog, especially around financial topics and social commentary, and was lucky to develop some very deep connections with people who resonated with my writing and reached out to me to talk further and even meet up.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed these conversations, it slowly became obvious that I couldn’t possibly sustain many 1-to-1 chats over the long term, and a better solution was needed. I also found myself connecting people to each other or wishing that we had some space to collectively think through certain ideas that arose in those 1-to-1 conversations.
NFTS & Web3
Fast forward a few years and I got hooked on NFTs. This was when it really became extremely obvious that people are really in need of joining communities and sharing their journey with others. While many people focus on the financial returns or losses related to NFTs, the biggest impact of NFTs on my life was the ability to connect with many like-minded people very rapidly, as well as being an onramp to the art world (I had always felt somewhat excluded from this mysterious but alluring world).
NFTs and Web3 also made me realize that we might be witnessing a shift in how products and services come to market. Rather than a startup founder having a stroke of genius or systematically reading trends in certain cultures and subsequently building products to address the perceived wants and needs, we can now start with building a community first.
Once the community is formed, we next form alliances and small teams within that community and build products and services that directly address the needs of that community. Chances are that those products and services will also be valuable to thousands or millions of people that are not yet part of that community. It’s just a different way of looking at things.
The Network State
Ideas about online communities have been circulating and becoming more insistent and defined in the last few years, especially with the rise of NFTs, social tokens and DAOs.
But one of my favorite thinkers, Balaji Srinivasan, released an amazing book entitled The Network State in 2022 that takes things to the next level. He proposes the idea that distributed states will rival the monopoly of nation-states in the future. This is a very Bitcoin-centric and libertarian view of things, but it aligns a lot with my worldview.
Here’s a short definition of the network state as Balaji envisions it:
A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognised founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition.
Of course, there are also intermediate community setups if one does not wish to establish a full-blown new state. A startup society is what the initial community can be described as, and successive iterations and growth will determine how far along the network state model it eventually lands at. Balaji’s thinking encapsulates most of my thinking on the subject and has given me extra motivation to continue building this community and exploring the possibilities that technology is now enabling.
With the trajectory well-defined, let’s take a look at people I’m looking for…
Who Should Join the Community?
Right from the start, it was very clear to me that I wanted to curate the membership process for the community.
Therefore I decided to seed the community with people who I have met and who have left their mark on me and my way of thinking. I also wanted to use my judgment to make sure that every new member is a good fit with the rest of the group.
The Internet – A Noisy Place
I feel that the internet in general has become an extremely noisy space. Giving a voice to everyone turns out to be pretty chaotic, and we all tend to waste too much time on people spouting nonsense that we shouldn’t be reading in the first place, let alone engaging with.
Secondly, even in communities that are focussed on specific topics, it is still a struggle to keep a cohesive conversation going, and discussion often degenerates into noise and filler talk.
Real Names, Real People
One of the pillars of the community is openness, members must be comfortable letting the rest of the group know their real names, professions, interests, locations etc. Again, while there is a time and place for anon accounts on the web, I wanted my group to be an intimate place where people can feel comfortable knowing who they are sharing their personal thoughts with. This has fostered a very open environment where people are not afraid to discuss sensitive topics or personal issues that others might help them with.
The value you gain is directly related to how much you participate in the conversations. It has been my experience that the more you give, the more you get in return.
Freedom to Speak Your Mind
We are currently living in a world where political correctness and virtue signaling have become extremely important drivers of behavior, both online and offline. People get offended at the drop of a hat, and as a result, it’s become hard to get honest and hard-hitting conversations going. I wanted to hang out in a community where people can speak their minds without any fear.
Avoiding the Echo Chamber
The challenge with having a gatekeeper is avoiding creating an echo chamber.
The solution to the echo chamber problem, as I discovered, is to have people who have a shared set of core values and a specific mindset.
Balaji’s idea is that a society should have one commandment that is shared among all members.
Once we all share the same mindset and values, there is no problem with unnecessary conflict, while at the same time there is enough flexibility to discuss topics where we can individually have wildly different opinions. The fact that the underlying mindset and values are the same enables us to speak freely about our differing opinions while keeping an open heart and mind to what others are saying.
To illustrate via an example, you can have a community that has a growth mindset and whose core belief is that “Bitcoin is the best form of money known to man”. While promoting fiat money versus Bitcoin is bound to cause issues within that community, there would be no problem with a discussion on, say, alcoholic beverages. You could have people discussing their passion for wines while others might be teetotallers, and there is no issue because the merits and demerits of alcohol consumption are not a core belief of the community.
So far, even though the chat channels are very active and a very wide range of thorny topics have been discussed, we haven’t yet had a signifcant conflict arise between members. I am convinced that the shared values and mindset are what enable this.
Group size is an ongoing experiment and I don’t have any big conclusions so far. At around 50 members it still feels very cozy and manageable, but I’m curious to see how that will change when/if we hit bigger numbers. One other benefit of the curated membership process is that we don’t have a sudden influx of new members. I can sustainably add members and take corrective action if we see that the chat is getting out of hand or if any other problem has been created due to bigger numbers.
Why Not Use NFTs?
In my view, the most important determinant of the success of a community is the people within, and I’ve adopted a different approach to what I’m seeing with most NFT-based communities.
Within the context of what I had in mind, I saw three problems with the typical NFT-based community:
- Membership is open to everyone.
- Members can be completely anonymous.
- The financial value (floor price) of the NFT pass is a big concern to holders.
While I like the openness provided by Web3 and the crypto space in general, I wanted my group to be highly curated. Therefore there is no token that people can buy and automatically gain access to the group; it is invite-only.
NFT communities have the additional burden of keeping everyone happy from a financial perspective. This means that talk within the community is frequently linked in some way to the price members paid for their token and their current state of satisfaction with the perceived value and actual price of that token.
This approach has worked well and is in line with the goals I had for my dream community, but it doesn’t mean that I dislike the NFT community models. They are different approaches with different end goals.
I originally launched the community on a free basis, mainly to remove the initial friction and get things going as fast as possible. I wasn’t sure whether it would be successful and whether it would be something I want to actively spend time on building.
While the community experience was highly rewarding to everyone who participated, there is only so much you can do without funding. Therefore, it was natural to start thinking of ways we could raise funds to build things and provide further value to members. Bridging the gap between free and paid is never and easy, so I thought about this step for a long time, looked at other groups, and most importantly discussed it one-to-one with several members of the community.
The conclusion I arrived at is that the best way forward would be to provide a low monetary entry point to all the current members, making it a no-brainer choice to continue being members if they were actually interested.
This relatively low yearly membership also solves the issue of commitment that I had struggled with during the year. Whenever I added any new members, I would let them know upfront that one of the few conditions to be a member would be to contribute and participate. However, some would simply not participate for very long stretches of time. The most common issue in these cases was that they didn’t use Telegram much, and the second reason was that they were already in other groups or simply didn’t have time to keep up with the chat. Given that participation was one of the requirements for membership, I had to manually remove members a couple of times during the year, and while I had no conflicts, it was an uncomfortable thing to do for me. With the new yearly payment, it is much less likely that members will pay if they have no intention to participate or are not deriving enough value from the group.
Extra services can be released over time over and above the yearly membership, raising more revenue.
The platform choice for building a chat-based community right now lies between two very successful applications: Telegram and Discord.
I use Discord heavily due to my involvement in many NFT projects, and while I like the way a server can be organized and divided into various channels, I am quite conscious that I tend to spend too much time on this app already, and trying to build a community within an app where I have all the distracting NFT project servers competing for my attention wouldn’t be a great idea.
Telegram, on the other hand, is more mainstream and simple. So I kept things simple and went with Telegram. At a certain point, since we realized that we were spending a lot of time talking about NFTs, a topic that did not interest all the community members, we split things into two Telegram groups. Going forward, the main group will serve as the main conversation hall where any topic can be brought up, and we will create new groups if we find that there is significant and long-lasting conversation around a specific topic, that would signal it meriting its own group.
I am currently in the process of building a community website that will include a member directory, recommended resources, upcoming events and other useful tools. I chose to build the site with WordPress since I’m very familiar with the system and it’s probably the most flexible one out there, giving me the agility to pivot features if necessary.
I am a big believer that there is tremendous value in connecting with people in real life. I’m certainly not a fan of Zoom meetings with people that matter to me. Online meetings have their place and are a blessing in the work context, but I will always prefer meeting people face-to-face when I want to have a deeper experience with them. I also want to be able to share real-life experiences with my circle of friends, such as a good meal, a sunset, playing some sport, or enjoying time with our families and kids playing together.
For this reason, IRL meetups during the year where we can get together and strengthen our bonds of friendship and have deeper conversations are encouraged.
In 2022 we had our main meetup in Barcelona, where 7 international families got together. It was amazing to see how smoothly things went, especially considering the number of young children present and the fact that most of the people were meeting each other for the first time. The feedback was great and I was impressed that we had zero issues during the whole weekend. To me, this was a sure sign that we have the right kind of people in the community. It was lovely to see the kids all playing together happily, as one of my main ideals is to give memorable experiences to our kids that they can remember and build upon as they grow older.
We also held a retreat in Montserrat, which was a much more intimate experience; only three members joined this time round. We spent 5 days together, working on our own stuff while also spending a lot of time walking in nature and discussing topics that came to mind. I like doing retreats of this sort and undoubtedly this is something we can expand on in the future.
I hope that we can also use these occasions to travel to new places and explore the world, in so doing also broadening our consciousness and understanding of world culture.
A Fun Experiment
I really believe in the network state concept and want to be part of the movement towards such a future.
Many of the intermediate levels of worldwide interest and value-based communities are already a reality, and the technological developments we are seeing will continue to empower founders and builders of such communities. For example, while I spoke in opposition to having tradeable token passes for my community, the idea of soulbound tokens is very interesting and addresses the three issues I mentioned earlier since the tokens are not tradeable. This would also open up the doors to more experimentation with token-gated access to online platforms and real-life events.
There is also the route of charging for access in various ways, and I like the work that Hyper is doing in this respect.
For now, however, I am just enjoying building a community of people I enjoy hanging out with on a daily basis.
Conclusions so Far
The community has been a great success so far, and I am very excited about working to induct more members and add more value.
The initial injection of funds through the yearly membership will help build a pool of capital that can be used to start building things like a website, and has definitely motivated me to think up further things that can be done further down the line.
Here are some things I am thinking of implementing in the near future:
- Small Mastermind groups.
- Access to premium content on the website, curated lists, and a member directory.
- Monthly group calls around a specific topic.
- Periodic newsletter highlighting topics discussed and some other extras.
- Further research and a report on certain topics discussed in the chat.
- An NFT that could later be used to reward early members.
- Events: retreats and city meetups.