Building permissionless Ecosystems: Data and infrastructure at DIMO - with Rob Solomon



Building permissionless Ecosystems: Data and infrastructure at DIMO - with Rob Solomon

Rob Solomon comes back to the show in his new capacity as co-founder of DIMO, a blockchain enabled IoT protocol for mobility. We explore what it means to create an organization with permissionless contributions, the role of data unions in managing decentralized data ownership and defining decentralized organizing and DIMO’s ecosystem.

Podcast Notes

Today we’re joined by a former guest to the show, Rob Solomon, a cofounder at DIMO, a blockchain-enabled IoT protocol for mobility. His background is in finance, investing, and organizational design. Most recently, he worked at Consensys, the largest Ethereum focused development company, with a focus on finance, internal economics, and decentralizing the organization. Prior to that, he was at Vroom, a pioneer in the online used-car marketplace sector. He started his career at the Downtown Project in Las Vegas (a spinoff of working on investments and implementing holacracy.

Tune in to this episode as we discuss the latest developments in Rob’s work since he last spoke on the podcast, how DIMO is like building a city from scratch, understanding the main functions of an organization, and why the future is bright for DIMO.

Key highlights 

We discussed:

  • DIMO’s infrastructure and open-source technology
  • Creating an organization with permissionless contributions
  • The role of data unions in managing decentralized data ownership
  • Defining decentralized organizing and DIMO’s ecosystem
  • Redefining the thesis of ownership and incentives
  • Raising capital for a Web3 project


To find out more about DIMO and Rob’s work:


Other references and mentions:


Find out more about the show and the research at Boundaryless at

Thanks for the ad-hoc music to Liosound / Walter Mobilio. Find his portfolio here:

Recorded on 17 May 2022.


Simone Cicero:
Welcome back, everybody at the Boundaryless Conversations Podcast for another episode. Today, I’m here with my usual co-host, Stina.

Stina Heikkila:
Hello, hello.

Simone Cicero:
And with a former guest as well of the podcast in a different context, Rob Solomon.

Rob Solomon:
Good to be talking to you again. Happy to be here.

Simone Cicero:
Great. Great to have you again, Rob. So, maybe it’s a good idea to start really from the little difference that exists between your last appearance on the podcast and this one. Basically, you joined a new organization that is the subject matter of today’s conversation mainly. So, you joined DIMO – if I’m not wrong, as CFO. Tell us a little bit more about DIMO quickly, an overview for the listeners to contextualize a bit your new career challenges.

Rob Solomon:
Right. So, the last time I was on here, I worked with Consensys, a large Ethereum development company. And there I was really focused on decentralized organizations. I was working on a project called Cone that was a way to use market dynamics inside of firms to help them organize more effectively in a decentralized org structure. I was always very focused on DAOs and I still largely have the same focus. I’m just doing this now more applied at DIMO.

DIMO is a company started by a friend of mine, Andy Chatham, and our CTO, Yev Khessin. Andy was working with Waymo at Transdev, he was working on some side projects. The first version of this was feeding sensor data to self-driving cars to find parking spots in a garage. The next was a knowledge graph that showed the development of public infrastructure projects and helped companies bid on RFPs. But the current idea for DIMO really came when Yev and Andy were engaged as consultants, and had to go acquire Electric Vehicle battery data and struggled to do so, realized it was very hard to know how these electric vehicle batteries were performing in the real world and set out to build a IoT network for mobility.

Around that point, Alex Rawitz, another friend of mine, joined as the COO. And at that point, they were starting to think about how a token and how Web3 could fit into this. They had been looking at helium and got really inspired by how helium used a token and a token economy to build a city-wide, and really global LoRaWAN mesh network, focusing on just one side of the market the supply side, not really focusing on the demand side of who’s actually going to be using LoRaWAN initially. They’re still able to successfully bootstrap that using a token model. And that’s when they talked to me about it.

I had seen so many token projects, many of which I felt like the token was just a bolt on as a justification to get a token out there and be a token project and throw Web3 in the name. But this is one where I could really see the utility. It seemed like it was incredibly aligned, that there was a chance to take a lot of these things that I was thinking about in terms of decentralized orgs and token models and what they can do to improve the experience of the users and owners and the world generally. And I kind of saw it all come together with this project, got really excited about it. I wasn’t intending to leave Consensys, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join this one. So, I joined as the fourth co-founder. We raised some money and now up to 15 employees and we’re moving pretty nicely on our roadmap. The mobile app is out now. The web app is up. If you search DIMO mobile in the app store, you can find it. And yeah, so I still haven’t really gotten to what DIMO is exactly so I can quickly touch on that as well.

DIMO is a protocol that enables drivers to connect their car – minted as an NFT – stream the data from that vehicle and determine who has access to that data. In most cases, they will opt in to sharing that data with a data union. And that data union will allow them to monetize their data. That union will effectively monetize the data on their behalf and they will be able to earn for that. It kind of flips the existing model on its head where you just sign up for a service, agree to like a 6,000 page Terms of Service, and they monetize your data, you don’t see anything and they just give you a news feed that makes you angry or something like that and gets you to click and buy cheap shorts or shoes on their service. This is really about giving the users control of their own data and helping them to monetize it themselves and give them ownership of the protocol as well through the token.

On the flip side, we’re collecting all this data, on the other side of that you have data consumers who might just want to know about the traffic in a city, or how the battery’s performing in a car, or how the self-driving systems in a car performing when they’re being used; the temperature outside the car. There’s a very long tail, we’re collecting hundreds of data points and there’s a very long tail of uses. All the obvious automotive ones about financing, insurance, buying cars, selling cars, and whatnot. But also, people might want to know the weather outside the car for weather maps. They might want to know cellular coverage in a certain area. We can kind of tell cell strength as cars drive through certain spots. There’s lots of small things that these data can be useful. That’s on the data consumption side.

But what gets me even more excited is the app development side, where, because the car is a Web3 NFT, the user is a representative by their on-chain identity. And trips are represented as NFT’s and data’s attached to them. You could attach credentials to a driver, like they’re insured and registered and have the proper licensing, they have a taxi license, or they have a CDL, commercial driver’s license, motorcycle license, whatever. You can attach credentials to the vehicle, prove that trips have happened. So, you can build things like Web3 Uber and peer-to-peer car sharing, and pay per mile insurance and things like that; a DeFi auto loan program on top of these primitives. And so we think this is going to become a very robust ecosystem.

Simone Cicero:
So, it’s not just about data, as I understand. And I really encourage the listeners to the podcast to listen to our previously released podcast that it’s available on DIMO’s YouTube, and I think also on other channels when you started, essentially this series where you explained these things a little bit. And the first issue, you have explained a lot about the applications that you expect. So, I really encourage people to get there. But I think there are a few bits that you touched upon in this first quick introduction to the DIMO. Most interestingly, this idea that it’s not just about data, but also about identity, right, and credentials. So, of course, there is a possibility to develop a data dependent, let’s say, applications, which may be more easily identified with this idea of IoT, right? But also lots more applications that are much more based on identifying the car, identifying the driver, identifying trips in this new local way, and very open way.

So, what I wanted to bring up is these two things, right. This is, on one side, a user-owned network. So, essentially designed to protect the user rights to basically make the best of their data, monetizing it, and so on. And on the other side, it’s much better to use from the perspective of the app developer, right? Because there is also this openness of interfaces and openness of all these touch points with the platform, right? So, can you maybe just expand a bit on how this mix of ethos coming from the Web3 perspective; so owning the network from the user perspective. And on the other side, this ethos coming maybe from the open source community of open interfaces, transparent data. How can these approaches may be mixed with the business models that you are also seeing emerging from this experience become, to some extent a pattern?

For example, you spoke about helium, that is an infrastructural setup project that set up this LoRaWAN network. DeFi IoT, so to click and basically reinforce this idea that DeFi and IoT, or in general, decentralization and IoT can really fit together. Can we assume that this pattern can be used in other contexts? And what is the general pattern that you are seeing emerging according to this experience?

Rob Solomon:
Yeah. We don’t want to take too much credit here. Open source technology has been really important and quite advanced for a long time. A lot of really great services are built on top of open source technology. What the token allows us to do now that’s kind of a bit novel is historically if you’re contributing an open source project, you’re doing it on nights and weekends, it’s kind of hard to monetize it. Typically, you do open source and then some company comes along and builds a service on top of it, like Chrome or something. There was a whole thing with Amazon, and was it Elastic? So, you kind of had to be forced into one or the other. You were either doing this open source thing as a public good and there was no real control over it. It was just something everybody contributed to and could use as a public good, or you were the business that was making money on top of it.

I think what’s really interesting about these new token models is you can build open source, you can go beyond just the basics and start to build real features on top of it and build a real community around it and put a token around it, so that governance can continue and delegation and development can kind of continue in a more sophisticated way. Not to say the open source isn’t sophisticated, but you can put more of an organizational wrapper around these things, while keeping it open source. And it’s almost like a hybrid between the two. So, the token will enable this community to kind of get their arms around the DIMO protocol, build features further up the stack than would normally be possible in traditional open source setting, and take the protocol to a higher level. But while still creating something that is open, reliable, neutral, incredible that any business can come in and build applications on top of.

So, what does that look like? It looks like the protocol by which you mint cars in NFT, connect trip data, point your data somewhere, opt into a data union. We look at the DIMO mobile app as a client, like Gmail, or Outlook or Yahoo, or email clients. And it could be one of many clients that access the protocol and the community can continue to develop, fund and own and develop clients. It can start to seed and invest in and develop some applications. But also another business could come in and just build its own Web 3 ride hailing application or car sharing application on top of this open source protocol, stake their tokens, and not just be renting space from us. But actually owning the business that they’re building in this area. The analogy there is to build on top of Twitter and consider Twitter protocol. Well that’s only good until they revoke your API access or throttle you in some way. We’ve seen it with Facebook, with Twitter, with Google, Amazon. They kind of tolerate you being in their marketplace, they encourage it, and then they kind of once you get too big, they want to renegotiate the terms or pull the rug out. Ultimately, we can still maintain that character of open source, that character of the token projects where people can come in and build things and truly own what they’re building while contributing to this ecosystem.

Simone Cicero:
It’s like with open source, the pattern was, the community can build something, making so attractive with respect, for example, to the existing proprietary alternatives, and then people start to use it. Instead, it seems to me that when we talk about bootstrapping these Web3 networks, basically, the company, in this case that wants to bootstrap, the network needs to create much more, I will say a much more convincing set of elements so that players can, I would say, invest in developing this in for the longest time, right? So, for example, you have to convince everybody that the ontology that you have, codified in the protocol, is a convincing one, right? And you also have to say, there is a possibility to evolve it. So, if you develop for example, if you buy tokens, or you gain the tokens, you will have a possibility to, of course, use it for utility, but also use it for the governance and to steer the protocol in a certain direction.

Then you also have to have this open organization, where, of course, at some level, people should be able to develop applications. So, open interfaces, you said, for example, the DIMO client is only one of many clients. So, you have to have this openness of interfaces, so that the third parties that may decide to invest and build on top of the network are assured that nobody can come up and kick them out, like it happened with Twitter. But also, you also need to have this open organization. So, for example, you have built these D teams, the DIMO teams that are permeable, right, to people from the outside that want to jump in and contribute.

So, how complex, how difficult it is to run this truly open organization, especially when it comes to including third parties, potentially, I don’t want to say competitors, but stakeholders of all kinds – contributors to jump in and contribute. You know, how difficult is it to change the perspective from dictating top-down the work that needs to be done into creating an organization that is more like a space where you said, it’s like a city, right, in the podcast. So, how is this shift in mental models in building an organization this way?

Rob Solomon:
The city analogy is a great one, and it’s helpful to think of building DIMO like the way you would go about building a city from scratch. Admittedly, right now we’re not quite far along on the decentralization of the development. We have an open discord. People can come in, see kind of a lot of our working channels and contribute and get feedback. But at the end of the day, Digital Infrastructure Inc., is still controlling or at least contributing most of the development on the protocol. So, going back to the city analogy, right now we’re kind of at the stage of a hundred person city, where there’s kind of like a founder of the city, a chief more or less, who’s kind of telling people what to do. Hey, you guys know we need to build some roads, you guys need to go get some food, you guys need to make some clothes. And it’s kind of like a primitive city in that example, in that metaphor, where we see where we need to go. We’re investing heavily in kind of the infrastructure that goes into building a city like the roads or plumbing and so on. A lot of that is the protocol itself. So, minting of cars and NFT, getting the token out there, establishing the initial governance frameworks and so on. You know, cities like — if democratic city members need to be able to vote, you need to have a representative government, more or less. So, we’re going to have an emphasis on delegation. Users can delegate their vote or vote themselves if they’d like. You need courts, you need certain types of zoning and licensing services, and so on. So, those are some of the things that we’re building now for.

So, on those, the analogy for DIMO is we’re setting up kind of an arbitration council that can be used for a couple of different services. One of the first teams that we’re setting up is kind of a cross-functional cross-organization team that’s going to have members outside of Digital Infrastructure Inc is the integration’s committee, vehicle integrations committee. And they’re going to issue licenses to hardware manufacturers who are building dongles that go into cars, and software providers who can create software connections to vehicles, giving them licenses, determining the amounts that they would need to stake in order to gain that license, setting device specifications and so on. And let’s say one of those hardware manufacturers misbehaves, is producing devices that are meant to — is participating in something like data spoofing, that committee could take them to the arbitration council, and have some of the DIMO that they’ve staked slashed. But also anybody could challenge hardware manufacturers and take them to the arbitration council. So, it’s much like a city’s kind of court system in that case. So, we’re building some of that initial infrastructure.

The D teams that you kind of mentioned, we’re going to have some teams that are kind of formally recognized by the community who are delegated certain resources and powers. Maybe they’re focused on issuing grants, or developing SDKs, or building some core software, and so on. But ultimately, as an open source project, anybody is welcome. Whether you’re part one of these teams or not to contribute to open source tech and to contribute in certain ways. Maybe these teams will have certain authorities delegated by the community that others won’t, but typically, this will be quite an open network. So, you could think of those like public libraries or programs inside of a city.

Ultimately, where we think most of the development is going to happen is kind of once that infrastructure is in place, no one has to tell a restaurant to open up on the corner here. There’s just a natural incentive for it to do so, it files the necessary paperwork, it raises the capital it needs, and it opens up on the corner. Maybe it owns the real estate that it’s on, owns its business, and it gets going. And if it’s good, then it’ll make money, and it will do well. And if it’s bad, it’ll lose money and disappear. And ultimately, that’s how you’ll see most businesses and apps and things that will contribute on top of DIMO. Same way as like the Apple App Store app. Apple’s not building the games and applications that go in its app store. It’s more so just setting the parameters and making it lucrative for people to come in and do so, and then they apply and come in. So, that’s going to be where a lot of the development for DIMO comes from.

Stina Heikkila:
If we talked about the city metaphor – we stay a bit in the city metaphor – and you can think now as — since you are focusing on cars, essentially, at the moment, right? The car owners will be something like the citizens that are going to somehow, like live in the city or be active agents in the city. And you mentioned also that they — so they own their data. And they give it to the, what you said, data unions. I’m very curious: who are they? You know, it sounds almost like an institution, like you were saying – like a library or something like — how do you frame them within the city?

Rob Solomon:
Yeah. This is still something that’s evolving. One of our investors has started something called a data union DAO. So, the data union itself could be a DAO. We expect that in most cases, and especially early on, there’ll likely be Delaware C corporations based out of the US that operate these services users can opt in to. They will apply to some DIMO subcommittee and agree to terms on the amount that they’ll need to stake. They’ll agree to terms on profit sharing. So, if they receive 100, DIMO for providing data, they’ll keep three and send the other 97 to the protocol which will send 96.8 to the user, extracting may be a very small amount for the protocol’s treasury to fund future development. Those parameters, those conditions would be set up upfront, they’d be whitelisted.

And then once they’re whitelisted, they’d be available for users to opt in to. Whatever that data union would be doing, the user would have the clarity and ability to opt in. So, maybe certain data unions would only share aggregate anonymized data and the conditions by which they would be considered anonymized would be published. So, you know, never submitting a sample with less than 100 drivers attached to it, not giving fine grained location data, unless the user is outside of their privacy zone. In our app right now you could set your privacy zones; things like that. Without getting too into the weeds on that, the point is that we want users to be fully in control of kind of what’s shared and how it’s shared.

Other data unions might build portals for users who want to share their data with their insurance company or their bank. And so it wouldn’t be anonymized, but they would still control who it eventually goes to. And there might be different incentives in terms for each one, all of them would be whitelisted by the protocol. They will agree to certain terms. And if they violate those terms, they might have the amount of DIMO that they’ve staked taken away from them, and either burned or given back to the users that they harmed. But that’s something that will evolve over time. We’re going to start with most likely Digital Infrastructure Inc will probably be the first data union that users will be able to opt in to, and it will just be one that’s kind of engaged by the foundation to offer that service to users. And then we expect to see more come out over time.

Stina Heikkila:
Right. And switching to the user side instead, is it easy to attract interest of this? Is it an attractive value proposition for car owners? Or do you do a lot of onboarding work and kind of capacity building around that? Because I know that many people are quite ignorant with data and the data that they could own, but maybe don’t, and so on.

Rob Solomon:
Yeah. I think in the near term, there’s really two distinct selling points. One, we want to actually make this product useful to people like immediately. Right now, if you connect your car, you can see some information about it, you can see your tire pressure and where it is on a map and some information about your trips. And to some people that’s useful. We’re adding more features, like the ability to lock and unlock your car and eventually be able to share the car with someone else, allow them to unlock it for a certain amount of time. And we’re working on adding applications in so you’re to connect your insurance and loan and other things. And then you’re able to do some things with that; just adding features that are useful to folks.

I think right now, there are some applications out there that let you track your cars. But I think we’re one of the only if not the only app that somebody with a Mercedes and a Honda in their driveway, one car’s their partners, one car is theirs, can connect both from different OEMs and view them both within the same app. So, already, we’re offering something somewhat unique, and we’ve really just barely scratched the surface on that. And we’re going to be adding more and more useful features people might want to join, not even for the token and the mission, but for just the features that we’re able to provide. And that’s going to be important to us that we have this good single player mode, that’s what we’re calling it.

The other is the chance to be a part of this thing to earn the token and be a part of a community that people buy into. With most blockchain projects, there’s still so much infrastructure and development that needs to happen. It’s like trying to build Netflix in like 1995. It’s just like, bandwidth isn’t good enough, computers aren’t good enough. There’s no smartphones, there’s no Wi-Fi. You know, TVs aren’t really connected. There’s no Chromecast and Apple TV in 95. Right. So, it’s just like all the things that make Netflix good and usable, hadn’t been developed yet. Netflix didn’t build any of those things. Those were all built by other companies.

Similarly with DIMO, what’s going to make DIMO more valuable are fast block times and cheap gas fees for blockchain transactions. It’s going to be sophisticated NFT primitives and applications that allow you to do things with your NFT’s. It’s going to be better wallets, more seamless wallets. It’s going to be having your identity already attached to your on-chain address. So, when you come to DIMO, you don’t have to — there’s all these things about you are already coming in from different applications that app developers can take advantage of.

Right now people have very little in their wallets. You can think of a wallet, really, a blockchain wallet really is like a wallet in that it can hold more than just money and assets. It can hold information about you and other things as well. But right now most people don’t have those types of things in there. So, there’s so much that needs to improve, to help us realize, and we’re not going to develop those things. Those are things that will just be there — a lot of money is pouring into, a lot of people are spending a lot of time developing. So, those things will naturally progress. And we have a really big vision for where we’re going to get to on the Web3 front.

And so with our project, and really every project, except for — I mean, you could argue that some DeFi projects are fully realized, but I think they’ll eventually expand their scope quite significantly, to offer more services once this space matures. But with most projects, you’re really betting on the vision, the community, and the opportunity with it. And so in our case, that’s going to be why people show up. They’re going to believe in our ownership, our thesis on what happens when you better align ownership incentives. Another thing that’s very important to us is kind of helping to usher in the zero emission future and the electrification of commercial vehicles, and passenger vehicles all over the world; and how better battery data can help to — and driving data can help to determine better designs for cars, for batteries, nudge people into feeling like they can use electric vehicle; where you put charging stations and so on.

We’re also launching on a blockchain that is carbon negative. We’re planning to go with Polygon, they have a proof of stake chain that is carbon neutral. That’s a big part of what we’re doing as well. And so some people might buy into the community and the vision for the project as well and just say, “hey, there has to be a better way for data ownership”, there has to be something better than what we’re seeing right now with Web 2.0. and tech giants like Facebook and Google just owning and knowing everything about us and manipulating us and owning our data and us not having any say in it. There must be a more equitable model, where the people who add value to these networks are the ones earning from it, not just this investor class that we’re not allowed to even be a part of, because we’re not accredited and can invest in startups. So, hopefully, that resonates with folks and they joined for that reason, in addition to the features as well.

Simone Cicero:
I mean, that’s a very interesting set of points. And I was taking notes in the background. And I was about to ask you a question around since you have this experience in both, you know, in both sides building progressive unit-based unbundled organizations, like you did at Zappos and you in other contexts, Consensys and so on, is the DAO really the next step beyond this idea of progressive unbundled unit-based organization à la Haier, à la marketplace based organizing, Zappos and so on. What I was thinking about is that, for example, corporates have been striving to create more entrepreneurship and more autonomy in their teams, right? So, for example, Haier achieves it by giving micro enterprises the responsibility to create their own positive P&L. And I was thinking to the context that you have been talking about, and when you say, for example, that parties can come up and create apps on top of your ecosystem, and they are on the market.

So, to some extent, they have their own responsibility to create their own P&L, their own sustainability on the market. This comes naturally. So, we can see how this is an evolution. It’s a permissionless space that evolves intra sense the idea that corporates have created these mechanisms internally, right? And if I think about what else these companies do, and DOAs are, to some extent, doing or should be doing. We can think about, for example, capital allocation. That’s another big piece of building an unbundled organically growing ecosystemic organization. So, allocating capital to new apps and new units, let’s say. And also shared service platforms. So, a set of services that normally companies create internally, we can think of legal services or finance, or HR and so on that support the new microentrepreneur units to come up.

So, if you think about DIMO’s ecosystem, right, and you think about how DIMO, I don’t know, foundation, Digital Infrastructures Inc, that’s another point where you can also double click if you want; how can this complex institutional system do these two more things, right, invest capital into new apps, for example, that can, to some extent, make the protocol more liquid or more attractive? Or as well give them services, like I don’t know, SDKs or other types of services that you can think about, for the development of these new units that will be at the institutions and the shops, and I don’t know, whatever is in this city you’re building, right? What are the things you’re thinking about beyond, I would say, the usual grant program?

Rob Solomon:
This is the part I’m excited to chat with you about in particular, and I think it’s probably going to be one of the more interesting parts of this podcast; enough of me talking just about DIMO, but more about really, what is an organization. It’s a false dichotomy to say are you a DAO or a corporation. Organizations exist along a spectrum and all an organization is, just like defining an organization at all is it’s a collection of humans who come together to work on something together, organized in some way with some incentives. And there is an incredible amount of variation from company to company. And it’s even wrong just to think about all organizations as being companies. I used the Apple App Store example before. The iPhone really is not a company. It’s not Apple. Apple is a very key player in it. But Foxconn is also a key player, Samsung is a key player and there are all these outsourced companies that build parts of the iPhone. But Apple controls the iPhone itself, they control the App Store. But what about all the companies building all the most important apps on it? Most of the apps I use on my phone are not developed by Apple, they’re just distributed through the App Store. And they’re part of this ecosystem. When I pull out my phone, it does so much and it’s not — A fraction of it is actually what’s built by Apple, they just build the foundation.

So, that’s an example of an organization that’s incredibly decentralized, that’s incredibly resilient, that reinvents itself all the time. Because certain apps and ideas fall out of favor. There’s other people inventing new things, guided by their own individual incentives, permissionlessly going and building applications that work with iPhone and popping up. So, you’re seeing the benefits of decentralization. Just try to imagine a different phone that’s entirely vertically integrated and does not have an open app store. Like how inferior it would be even if it was competitive for a short time, it certainly wouldn’t last in the long-term. Because how could a company be that innovative for that long to keep reinventing the types of things that are in there and how it’s used. So, right there as an example of an open decentralized organization that kind of exists within the legacy corporate context. And it’s just you’re relying on more B2B relationships and a more open ecosystem. And even that is not fully open, but it’s more open than a lot of businesses have been in the past.

So, we’ve been seeing this kind of natural progression already. A lot of the elements of the traditional corporate structure were invented when we were producing widgets and factories a hundred years ago, and it was just to tell this manager to tell that manager to tell that guy to turn the wrench faster. And it was just repeat work and very, somewhat simple in that context. It was also a pre-digital era where let’s say your shareholder owned companies and shareholders can vote, but you can’t call a shareholder every single day on the phone, you’re not going to call your shareholders every day explaining what’s going on and ask for them to vote. It’s like you had to basically show up in person and put down a piece of paper and show that you were actually, you know, all this. It was just too unwieldy. So, of course, you have annual shareholder votes, and you elect a board, and things are just kind of locked in for a period of time, because it’s not feasible to do more. Yet, there’s a lot of trust, there’s a lot of inefficiency.

So, now that we’re in a more open world, an internet connected world, we have better tools. We can work more permissionlessly across and more openly. And we have things like GitHub and Slack and Zoom and so on. We have some of these like vestigial elements of how corporations run. And I think one of the interesting things DAOs are doing is in some ways, they’re reinventing the wheel, in some ways. They’re trying things that we know won’t work. But in other ways, they’re just rethinking organizations and corporations almost from first principles. So, it’s just kind of a way to shake up and shake off some of those things that we’ve held onto for — that have kind of just come along with legacy and rethink like, well, I guess why do shareholder votes have to have to be annual, or semi-annual or whatever? Why can’t they be real-time?

And if I don’t want to participate or bother to be on board, I can just delegate my vote to someone who is a steward who is basically a board member, but I can always see what they’re voting and I can always take away that vote from them and give it to someone else in real-time. Why do I have to wait for another — It’s like, well, historically, it’d be impossible. But now with tokens, you can do that in real-time and we can be confident that it’s done correctly and that it was actually you doing it. And so things like this can now be — now you can have a more liquid democracy. You can introduce things like quadratic voting, liquid democracy and other things that were just too complicated before, but are now totally feasible. And so DAOs are a place to kind of rethink some of these things and try some new things out.

So, at the end of the day, the main functions of an organization are to take in information, point resources in a certain way, allocate resources, combine work product, and get that out there into the world and produce something useful for other people. And that can be done by a single corporation that’s done as a network of corporations working in concert using each other’s tools and building up into one finished product or multiple finished products. It’s done by DAOs. Even within organizations, you have a group of five where there’s a lead, but it’s a very kind of democratic. What do you think, what do I think, I don’t know, let’s do it this way, okay, style decision making process.

And then, but that group is almost like a unit that interacts with another group, and they have a much more formal or rigid or hierarchical relationship between them. Resources tend to be allocated from the C-suite down each management level to teams and accountability tends to flow the same way, where the C-suite is ultimately accountable for everything. And they place a subset of the accountability responsibility on a VP who does the same to a director, who does the same to an associate as it gets more and more specific as it goes down. So, that’s a typical corporation.

DAOs need to – or any organization needs to – have the same elements. They don’t have to be done in the same way. But it’s incredibly important that resources are allocated effectively, people are incentivized and rewarded for producing value and have a disincentive for destroying value. And I guess along the same lines are accountable for what they’re doing. And I think one of the things that a lot of DAOs miss or organizations miss, is that if you don’t want to use the manager, as that — in a hierarchical structure as your way of allocating resources to holding people accountable, which, by the way I support – there’s real limitations, not just from like a moral aspect: I hate working for somebody, or why does this person make all the money and make all the decisions? I should be able to make decisions. I mean, there’s that moral aspect of it.

But also, just from an effectiveness standpoint, you can’t really scale that. It’s a game of telephone. As the organization grows and grows, there’s more information that has to be processed across the entire kind of outfit. And it doesn’t pass through properly, people don’t have the context they need to make decisions, people aren’t held accountable the way they should. So, it’s just not scalable.

So, if you’re going to replace that means to hold people accountable and allocate resources, you need another way. And we see in markets and in cities and why we continue to use the city analogue, is there’s no government function, holding the restaurant, the taco shop on the corner right outside my window accountable or saying what it has to have on the menu, or giving it a budget. It just has a decentralized kind of market mechanism. People vote with their wallets, if it’s adding value to their lives as in they’re selling tacos for a price that I am willing to pay, and they’re able to produce them for less than that price and creating value. And that is more resources, they have to grow and continue. And if they’re destroying value, as in it costs them $12 to make a taco that I’m only willing to pay $8 for, then they’ll run out of money and disappear. And you without having the management function, they have these, these accountability and incentive mechanisms.

And so ultimately, this is a very long way of saying that if DAOs want to be more decentralized, first, they don’t have to reinvent everything. There’s a lot they can borrow from corporations. And I particularly like the idea of delegation and stewards and having some things kind of controlled by the equivalent of the board, or the stewards, in this case, or the token holders, delegating certain responsibilities to sub-DAOs, or teams that might operate in relatively traditional ways. Maybe the team that kind of handles our integrations, has a couple of people that are more or less leads and a team of five or six that are kind of contributing, that’s fine as well. That’s scalable enough if they have kind of a limited focus. And then if you want to really scale this out and not have to centrally control the building of every single feature and every piece of code that goes into the protocol and so on, then you need these kind of decentralized mechanisms like a city and like the Apple App Store and like other businesses that are starting to decentralize more and more through their B2B relationships.

Simone Cicero:
These DAOs, to some extent, transcend, let’s say, the possibilities of corporations, right? Just because corporations are designed in a certain way and they have certain obligations, etc., you know, it’s probably it’s really a corporation by design. Also, for example, DAOs can achieve these shared ownership as you said, right, much broader ownership. While organization, like a corporate just gets to decentralize its ownership partially after IPOs and the DAOs do it much more liquid way, much faster way and so on as well. Then they, of course, have this advantage of having all these open interfaces, right? So, it’s much more trustable, let’s say, versus a cooperation. So, that’s another advantage that DAOs have when it comes to creating this legitimacy, right, to be enabling systems.

You spoke about democracy. And I think it’s also very good that, for example, in a DAO, on a protocol, there is always this possibility that the ecosystem can build alternative models. So, for example, you spoke about data unions, and you said that the Digital Infrastructure Inc, is going to be the first data union but in, you know, the ecosystem will always have the possibility to build another data union, which works according to different rules. For the ones that are not encoded in the protocol, they will be able to transcend the model, create a more equitable models. For example, if the data union model proposed by Digital Infrastructure Inc, is judged as not enough equitable, for example, by the participants.

So, they definitely have disadvantages. And I definitely think that getting the ontology of the system well, the specification, the domain model, let’s say, that you’re building DIMO upon. So, what a car is, what data is, what trips are; all this logic, let’s say. Getting this well is going to be very important, because that’s going to be the basic, right, the basis on top of which the ecosystem will be built; this kind of agreement on what the problem is, what the opportunities are, what are the things that we are modeling into the system, which effectively DIMO is, to some extent, a digital twin system, because you basically plug cars into this database that you’re building. Well, I mean, this enabling layer, this ontological layer needs to be made well. So, I’m also wondering, for example, if you have some specification process, where did you start with the domain, protocol design; if you started from standards or if you started from scratch, and so, and who you involved in this.

But besides this, which is something that I would like for you to quickly click upon. So, we listed the advantages, but what are the trade-offs? So, what are the things that corporates can do better, right? So, for example, if I look into the space where DIMO is operating, I mean, I’m not that sure that corporates can really do much better because we don’t have these data sharing standards in the market yet. So, probably, that’s because of some limitations, let’s say in terms of the incentives that normally regulate corporate behavior in creating these enabling systems. But what are the key tradeoffs that, for example, I don’t know, speed of execution, or the possibility to enact a certain strategy, dealing with policymakers? What are the issues that cooperates don’t normally deal with and instead DAOs have to deal with when approaching such an opportunity to reshape an ecosystem?

Rob Solomon:
Yeah. Well, there’s certainly some speed to centralization that you could achieve. Now, that could be good in the short term, it could be good, you know, typically, if the organization is smaller than the cost of centralization, and tends to be a little bit lower, the CEO of a small company, of a startup can tend to get their arms around everything that’s going on, and hold people accountable and make the right, you know, make better decisions than they would if the organization were 10,000 people. The 10,000 person company, the cost of centralization gets very, very high. Maybe they’re a privileged market position and their network effects and the amount of control they have allows them to keep a stranglehold on a certain industry. But ultimately the product does suffer because of that centralized structure.

So, with DAOs you see a lot of them start off relatively centralized and the mantra for a lot of them has been progressive decentralization. Decentralization early on is used for speed and convenience, so long as they eventually decentralize so they don’t eventually run into the misalignment and cost of centralization that comes as they scale. You know, so you could look at DIMO as an example here. You know, ultimately we’ll operate this initial data union. Will it do a better job of selling data for users and be more commercially successful than other companies could be in a more traditional context? I’m not really sure. I think the extra alignment with users is meaningful. But more importantly, is the non exclusivity on this. You know, for example, Twitter is a great app. But imagine if Twitter were an open source protocol for sending out tweets like email is. And someone else could build a client for tweeting and viewing tweets, that just had maybe a better sort, or a better way of filtering out bots, or different features altogether around verifying aspects of identity and different media formats, and so on. And it could kind of render and show in different ways. Like it could be 10X better. But it’s not an open protocol. They have exclusivity.

So, despite the fact that it could be so much better, because of their network effects and their position in the market and the brand they’re still doing great. And they’re still kind of like the de facto place for things like that. But it’s really holding back what that product could be, and will eventually be the cause of its demise, at some point if it doesn’t reinvent itself, or dramatically change its model. So, with DIMO, the same idea exists. If we only were to ever have one data union, and it’d be operated by a centralized group, then it would surely not be successful in the long term. But the fact that there can and will arise multiple data units, multiple hardware providers, multiple applications, it’s really an open ecosystem and platform to build on top of our primitives. DIMO and the applications on top of that will continually reinvent itself, and that decentralization will really be key in that respect.

Simone Cicero:
Right. So, maybe last question on — some consideration on basically raising capital, creating these infrastructures. So, the question will be more like the complexity of raising such a complex system, right, of creating a system of protocol and the first applications, creating the organizational setting. So, how did you approach raising capital for this, and therefore, how you’re thinking in terms of the balance between the company and the protocol? What has been the recognition in investors? And also because I feel that many people are approaching this space at the moment, there’s a lot of work to do. So, maybe you can share some learnings along the way for people that are doing the same?

Rob Solomon:
Yeah, we did raise capital, but I want to make a point about that first. One of the things I think is really great about this space, in particular, is that teams don’t necessarily need to raise capital or don’t need to raise as much capital. And you think traditionally about how products like ours that you have two sides of the marketplace, right? Like our application, isn’t that useful if no one’s consuming the data, or building applications for users. And no one’s going to consume data or build applications for users, if there’s no one supplying, if there’s no cars connected, so you have this chicken and egg. With social media, it’s like, no one’s going to come look at posts if no one’s posting and no one’s going to post if no one’s coming to look at posts. So, how do you solve this chicken and egg, right? And usually companies raise a lot of money. And they throw a lot of cash at marketing, and it’s just kind of burned away forever.

They might give away 10% of their company to get 10,000 users. So, they’re giving away 10% of the money — of the company, raising a lot of cash, throwing it at marketing, lighting that money on fire, and they get 10,000 users. With a blockchain project, with a token, maybe you give away 10% control of your network in the form of tokens, but you get a million or 10 million or 100 million users from that. Because a $10 spent on me as an ad might get me to show up and try Uber, but I’m still going to leave when Lyft offers me a cheaper ride. If I received the equivalent $10 worth of that project’s token, not only am I going to be more likely to stick around and use it, but I’m going to tell my friends about it, I’m going to become a fan of it, and an evangelist for it. And so you’re building these stronger communities. And the nice thing with that, too, is not only do you get more users, but at the end of the day, when you look at who controls the ownership of a project, you know, you look at like, I hate picking on Facebook, because all the tech companies are kind of the same thing.

But in Facebook’s case, they’re owned by professional investors and hedge funds and other funds, whatever, who have one motive. And then they have all the users over here who, if they own stock, own maybe like two-three shares, but probably 99% owns 0% of Facebook, and have no control in it whatsoever. And you have one class of people who invest and want profit, you have another class of people who use the product and want to be good. And you would assume that the best way to make a profitable business is to make it good for the users. But it’s not exactly the case. It’s not a one-to-one match. And that misalignment causes a lot of pain and problems.

Whereas I think with Blockchain projects, if you can get away with raising less money, giving more control to your users than your investors, real stakeholders, investors can be great, I’m not bad mouthing investors. But in our case, we want as much of the network to be controlled by drivers, by hardware manufacturers, by car OEMs. We want it to be owned by the data unions, the app developers, the consumers, and so on, so that we’re really maintaining broad alignment with our user base, rather than having one group over here and one group over there. So, first quick aside on why it’s important and why it’s so helpful that blockchain products are able to reserve a lot of the ownership for the community.

In our case, we did raise money. We raised money, because we really liked our investors and thought they had a lot to add with our product. We wanted them to be aligned with what we’re doing. We also raise money just because unfortunately, we couldn’t just or we didn’t want to just mint the DIMO token, and launch it out into the world and start using that to recruit people to work on the project. We wanted cash in the bank that we could use to hire people, pay lawyers, pay people and so on. And that’s just kind of an unfortunate reality of where we are, the regulatory risk to just launch a token without engaging law firms and tax firms and so on, is a little bit too high. A lot of projects do it, but I wouldn’t recommend it, especially if you’re trying to build something that’s going to last, and not run into these types of challenges in the future. So, we raised the amount of money that we needed to get us to the point where we could launch a token, and start to incentivize people to contribute and collaborate with the token instead. So, yeah, we’re going to have a portion of our network owned by investors. But when you compare that to a traditional corporation, it’s miniscule, when you compare just the overall percent that’s controlled.

Simone Cicero:
And it maybe be also healthier pattern, right, that of having an investor investing on a product, like the ones that Digital Infrastructure are going to build, but also doing an investment on the public infrastructure that allows that product to be a democratic, open, equitable product, if you want that doesn’t suffer of depending on, for example, proprietary standards, right. So, it may be a healthy pattern of investment for investors both to do the investments on the product, but also on the enabling protocol that is ensuring that the ecosystem is going to be healthy and safe for the long term. So, that’s an impression that I’m having as I listen to you.

Stina Heikkila:
Now you’re focusing on this hardware around cars, and so on. Do you have any other dream that — What would you love to see as an application of this, if you could just think freely?

Rob Solomon:
We have big plans and we don’t have to control all of it. We see a future where the primitives that we’re building expand to any IoT device. Maybe you’ll eventually connect your — mint your phone as an NFT with DIMO, or mint your refrigerator or your house, whatever, any real-world or even possibly digital objects could have an identity within the framework of what we’re building. Could attach elements of data to it, credentials to it, and contribute it to data unions. This could be expanded in many ways. Or we could just be something that’s used for the sliver, for the mobility side, and people could build other things. At the end of the day, it’s all very composable and it doesn’t really matter who builds what.

When you look at the DeFi space, you can take a stable token produced by maker DAO, and you can trade it on Uniswap. And then you can take that token and lend it out on compound. And it didn’t really matter whether that was all one company, or three different DAOs, or whatever it was doing it; it’s all composable, it all works together and it all kind of makes this thing that you might want to do possible. And so we see DIMO either fitting into or expanding to include the ability to kind of connect and attach data to any type of object, to have all kinds of applications built on top of it composed with different things, lots of use around identity, around specific trips. We’re definitely focused mainly on mobility to start and so we’re going to make sure that the protocol works at a fundamental level for mobility.

One of the luxuries of being more decentralized is that we could have groups, if we have the resources, you can have groups really dedicated to expanding horizontally to other types of IoT. And you can have other groups incredibly focused and dedicated to expanding vertically into mobility only. And unlike a corporation where that split focus could really take away from their ability to execute as a more decentralized organization, it wouldn’t matter as much. You see the same thing kind of happening with Bitcoin and Ethereum, right? It’s like there are some people focused on making Ethereum a lot more scalable, and adding features to it and you know, sharing and layer twos and adding more block space and changing the tokenomics burn with E1559 and so on.

And that doesn’t at all take away from the attention of the people building applications on top of it and going deeper and you know, building DeFi applications and so on. And people building DeFi applications aren’t taking away from the focus and attention that the people are on the protocol. So, you can kind of expand both simultaneously with that decentralized structure. So, we see this happening relatively quickly. This is a huge wave of not only are we going to be able to expand in any direction because of our decentralization, but all this infrastructure is being built around us that we’re going to be using. I mean, DIMO is going to be using governance tools, wallets, other applications that are all improving massively, as a result of other people’s investment as well. And so this is just kind of exploding in all directions. Yeah, stay tuned.

Simone Cicero:
I mean, that’s a very interesting point. I mean, I was talking to Stina over the chat before and this idea of expanding DAOs horizontally towards maybe other domains or vertically towards more specific domains, that’s very interesting, because as you said, everything is composable. So, we’ll see, I think, a lot of experimentation in you know, working together between two DAOs and question on what are these network effects going to accrue, at what layer, what kind of level of the domain? I mean, maybe food for another show. So, maybe as a closing, can you point out for our listeners, what’s coming up? Where should they be looking for news on DIMO besides catching up with your podcast, and with your awesome documentation that I’ve been reading with Stina largely in the last few months?

Rob Solomon:
Yeah. We’ve got a lot. I mean, the most — the simplest and best thing you can do right now is connect your car, or just create an account and generate a referral link.

Simone Cicero:
That’s a call to action.

Rob Solomon:
Yes, yes. So, go to or download the mobile app. It’s called DIMO mobile, it’s on iOS and Android, and create an account and connect your car. And if you don’t have a car, you can still create an account and generate a referral link that if you tweet out and someone else joins, you can earn some tokens in the future for their having been connected. So, that’s the first and best thing. We’re on Twitter, dimo_network. Our Discord is very open, so you can join there and chat with us and kind of see a lot of the work going on. That’s We also have, where we have a lot of written documentation on kind of how this works and the token and all that stuff is there as well.

Simone Cicero:
I mean, thank you so much! It was an amazing conversation. Thank you, Stina, for co-hosting that with me. And thank you, Rob, for your insights. And I’m sure that we’re going to keep an eye on DIMO coming up.

Rob Solomon:
Always love chatting with you.

Simone Cicero: And for our listeners, catch up soon.