Learning to build, building to learn — a conversation with Gilder's Noah Drabinsky
Noah Drabinsky started 2021 as a “crypto newbie”, and six months later, won an award for his iOS app, Gilder, which makes participating in DAOs on mobile easier than ever. In conversation with Nation, Noah recounts the journey — and his future plans.
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Noah Drabinsky entered 2021 without any Web3 experience. 6 months later, he took home third place in Solana's Riptide Hackathon with Gilder, an app that makes it easy to participate in DAOs from your phone.

Needless to say, very few people who enter Web3 can create an award-winning app within six months. In conversation with NATION, Noah recounts the journey — and his future plans.

Elle: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Let’s start from the top. What brought you to Web3?

Noah: I was working at a few startups as a front-end developer. First, Floify, a mortgage lending and automation platform. Then Formstack, where we built workplace productivity solutions.

I started hearing more about Bitcoin and Ethereum organically, through Twitter or the news. Nobody came to me and told me about Web3. There was no “aha” moment I can look back on. In fact, I was skeptical.

But in 2020, I started to understand a deeper movement underneath this obfuscated thing called Web3.

Centralized internet infrastructure, during the pandemic especially, became too powerful — and often against the wishes of the community it was supposed to serve. Social networks, of all sorts, were censoring left and right, deciding who and what should get coverage. 2020, on so many accounts, was a mess of misinformation and manipulation. By big tech, by governments, and often...by software.

The pandemic instilled in me an appreciation for the undercurrent that powers Web3: make the infrastructure of our internet more decentralized, and thus make it better for the world.

Since so much of our society runs online, Web3's impact on transparency and data creates a whole new ballgame where the community takes back ownership of this internet we so dearly love.

DAOs, specifically, are the perfect embodiment of this. They are transparent, decentralized, and driven by community — but their purpose surpasses currency. They are the corner of crypto where people go to pursue a passion — and you have to be passionate. People aren’t starting DAOs because they’re bored — we’re too early for that. If you’re here, and you’re building, you’ve got a goal in mind. You can sense that everyone here is excited, has an idea, and believes in it wholeheartedly. Once I entered that environment, there was no turning back.

So, I hit the gas and got to work on Gilder.

Elle: “Hit the gas” is right. In six months, you’ve gone from being a self-proclaimed “nooby”, to winning $50k+ worth of prizes in the Solana ecosystem for your software. Tell me more about that.

Noah: It was a challenge. Not necessarily because of the build itself — I just felt really stupid all the time.

As we all know, learning about Web3 is difficult in the beginning. I would hear about different decentralized organizations, governance structures, and tooling — none of it made sense to me. I started thinking, “am I just not smart enough for this?”

I was terrified to ask questions in Discord, afraid that I would be laughed off the chatroom for something I said.

I would go to Twitter to find answers, only to realize that everyone has a different opinion on how things should work — most of which I disagreed with.

That's when I realized, the best way to learn is to build. So, I just started messing around.

Noah Drabinsky on DAO UX

I experimented with a few ideas, and all of them centered around making DAOs easier to interact with. I thought, “I can't be the only person not getting this.” So, there must be a market out there for people who understand the value of DAOs, but can't extract that value because there are too many obstacles in the way.

I wasn't trying to create the solution, I was just trying to make DAOs more approachable. That's when I came up with the idea for Gilder. I wanted people to interact with the community, create proposals, and vote on changes, all in one interface. And since I am on my phone all the time, I figured it would be nice to focus on mobile. You shouldn't have to lug around your laptop to participate.

Then, I was scrolling through Twitter one day and I saw someone mention the Solana Hackathon. It felt like the perfect storm. I was already building this software to learn more about the ecosystem — might as well enter it into a Solana Hackathon.

I told my wife that, if I won at least $50k from this competition, I would quit my day job to work on Gilder full-time. God bless her because she gave me her full support. She even posted about Gilder on social media, dealing with the onslaught of confusing messages from friends and family asking, “what the hell is Solana?”Eventually, it all paid off.

I won third place, walked away with a little more than $50k, and finally quit that day job. Suffice it to say, I was pretty excited.

After that, I started to go full speed. Not only did I need to figure out how DAOs worked, I needed to figure out how I thought they should work. With so many definitions of DAOs swirling around in the ecosystem, it's up to each builder to define it by themselves. That's the beauty of this environment, and being such an early member of it — everything is up for grabs.

Elle: And what about you? How do you define DAOs?

Noah: DAOs are the best way for people to engage and earn value from the internet. If that sounds like an oversimplified answer — good.

The idea of digital money is already overwhelming for people. Now we've added decentralization, proposals, and tokenomics to the table. It's not newcomer friendly. If it were up to me, I would strip away the unnecessary novelties that DAOs are known for — starting with the "structureless" framework.

In a DAO, everyone is responsible for decision-making. Everyone must submit a proposal if they'd like to use DAO funds, and everyone must vote to approve that action. That's good because it gives everyone a voice. But at the same time, it's an overwhelming, unfamiliar, and sluggish way to work.  

In the real world, when we receive funding for a project, we don't ask for permission every single time we spend. We just start moving. DAOs could benefit from the speed and ease of that same framework.

Let's say there's a community of filmmakers, and someone pitches an amazing script. The DAO can say, “Here's ten thousand dollars. Use it on what you need.” Everything is on-chain. Everything is transparent. And the DAO can take action if something goes awry. They shouldn't need to submit a proposal and wait for approval every time they want to get to work.

That structure feels a lot more familiar. It's a lot easier for people to understand. And it doesn't rely on the entire community to read and respond to every change. As someone who hates bureaucracy and meetings, I don't see the value of voting on things I don't care about. Nobody is hardwired to remember every change, get excited about every detail, and involve themselves in every decision.

If it were up to me, DAOs would become a communal spending account for users. If someone has a great idea, we fund it and let them lead the way. Of course, we can continue to vote and submit proposals when we are searching for advice or feedback — but it's not required every time we want to get things off the ground.

Elle: Interesting. Why did you choose to start building on Solana?

Noah: When I scrolled through Solana's Twitter, the first thing I thought was, “these memes are unmatched.”

It sounds stupid, but that stuff matters. The community powers everything.

Everyone expects you to talk about how it's faster, it's cheaper — and that's true. There are a lot of techy conversations that smart people can have. But I'm still new to this. I don't know enough about the tech to talk about it. All I know is, when I came to Web3 looking for a place to build, I also came looking for the right people to build with.

Surrounding yourself with people who match your energy, get excited about the same things, and are genuinely rooting for your success is so important. It keeps you on track. It helps you stay motivated. And it makes you want to wake up every day and get back to work.  

Not everyone is an engineer. Not everyone knows about blockchain. And quite frankly, not everyone cares. If we keep up the narrative that DAOs are designed for tech wizards and computer nerds, we'll never see their full potential.

Sometimes, it's enough for something to be fun — for someone to join a community because they made friends there. Or, in my case, because they like the memes.

That's the spirit of DAOs, anyway — finding people and projects to have fun with.

Elle: Now that you found those people, what are your favorite things about building alongside them?

Noah: When the community sees a problem, they don't just bring it to someone else's attention. They work to fix it. Everyone here wants to make something better than what it was before.

The best way I have been able to explain this in the past is with a quote by Antoine de St Exupery:

“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Everyone in this ecosystem is yearning for something — whether it be a decentralized future, a social interaction, or a solution to their struggles. We are creating DAOs for a reason.

It's easy to sit back and say, “things are not how I want them to be.” Unfortunately, that's precisely what most people do. I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to escape that mindset and dive down this rabbit hole to discover a world where everyone is trying to make an impact.

With this many people working to improve the world, it's bound to happen eventually, right?

Elle: Right. But what about you — what are you yearning for?

Noah: I'm yearning for a future where we don't need to ask for permission to do what we love.

I quit my day job — that's not something everyone gets to do. I'm extremely fortunate to have found a way around tradition.

But with DAOs, everyone has an opportunity to choose what they want to work on. Not only is that beneficial for the people — it's beneficial for the projects. Like I said before, everyone in this ecosystem is excited about something. They came to this space in search of ways to add value. And when they find a community they love, they can't wait to get to work.

Being in love with your career is a blessing, but I am yearning for that blessing to become the norm. Thanks to DAOs, we're one step closer.

Elle: Thank you, Noah.

Noah: Thank you.