What does a members-only social club look like in the age of decentralization?
Friends with Benefits (FWB) is a new kind of social club—one that caters to an emerging breed of crypto elite. It has been called a “decentralized soho house” and a “VIP lounge for crypto’s creative class.”
What originally started in September 2020 as an informal chat room on Discord for crypto devotees has since evolved into an exclusive digital members club. FWB received a $10 million round of funding led by Andreessen Horowitz in October 2021, bringing its valuation to $100 million.
How does it operate? “It works a bit like an online country club,” explained Kevin Roose, a New York Times technology columnist. Like a country club, membership is selective, vetted and tiered. To join, prospective members must submit a written application, which is reviewed by a committee of current members. Once approved—only 20% of applicants are admitted—admittance requires a minimum buy-in of $FWB tokens, the club’s proprietary cryptocurrency, which represent meaningful ownership in the organization.
Access to benefits and services are unlocked with the purchase of $FWB tokens. Members with at least one $FWB token can read the group’s newsletter and blog posts, the New York Times reports. Those with at least five tokens have limited access to FWB chat rooms on Discord and entry to offline events. Global membership costs 75 $FBW tokens (currently around $4,000) and grants access to all Discord chat rooms.
While its headquarters may be a Discord server, the group also has physical chapters in New York, Los Angeles and London.
The club is a DAO—decentralized autonomous organization—which Andreesen Horowitz defines as “internet-native, global collectives that share resources, build products, and work together toward common goals.”
In a blog post announcing its investment, Andreessen Horowitz compared the group to the merchants of 13th-century Venice and the Homebrew Computer Club (where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak debuted the Apple computer in 1976).
Other DAOs are already extending this formula with applications for brands and businesses. Metafactory, a self-described “factory for headless brands” launched in 2020, aims to bring artists, consumers and brands together in a partnership to create community-run fashion brands. Artists (including Italian digital artist Van and Indonesian cryptoartist Twisted Vacancy) submit their designs and members have a say, voting for their favorites to be produced centrally by Metafactory. Brand members and investors then share in the profits as well as enjoying exclusive NFT drops and promotions.
FWB points not only to the emergence of a new cultural class of crypto elite, but also to a new Web3-based formula for socializing and networking. As the metaverse continues to take shape, expect to see more niche, decentralized communities organized around principles of creativity and co-ownership.
For more on this topic, see Headless brands and Crypto-elites, trends #35 and #73 in The Future 100: 2022.