Dean Pappas started his crypto journey as a casual investor. Now he’s helping pioneer a protocol designed to introduce newcomers to the world of Web3 . His decentralized social networking platform, Grape, has successfully created an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, creatives, and digital explorers. In this interview with Elle Bland, Dean tells us how his career started, and why he is excited to wake up every morning and get back to work.
Elle: Thank you for taking time to speak with me today. Let's start from the top of your Web3 journey — what got you excited about projects in this space?
Dean: An ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Let me unpack that.
In 2015, I met up with an ex-girlfriend. We had become friends, so we would sit down occasionally and catch up on life. During one visit, she started bragging about her new boyfriend.
“He’s really into crypto, it’s so cool. He just bought five Bitcoin!”
I had no idea what the fuck a Bitcoin was, but this guy had five. So that night I went home and bought six.
It’s petty, I’m not super proud of that — but I can’t say I regret buying them. A few years later, in 2017, Bitcoin started its bull run. That’s when I realized this was something to pay attention to.
I started my dive down the DeFi rabbit hole, and stumbled on an interview by Andreas Antonopoulos, a big proponent of Bitcoin back in the day. He said, “If you wanna invest in this space, you need to work in this space.”
So, I applied to every startup I could find.
First, I got a gig at TAUcoin, a fintech firm out in Shanghai, and shortly after that joined Marlin Protocol, which is a scaling solution on Ethereum. Then I moved over to Ethereum Classic — which was my first encounter with tokenized communities.
There was one called Whale, which gave token holders access to a tight-knit community of Web3 researchers, hidden platform features, curated content, and members-only games. As long as you owned a token, you could participate in all these different events and conversations within their Discord — within their universe. It revolutionized the way that I interacted with people.
It signaled a golden age for communities, to me. One with brand new ways to collaborate, create, and learn. Everything I know about economics, I've learned because of crypto. Everything I know about quorums, I learned because of crypto. Everything I learned about governance, I've learned because of crypto.
It all made me more curious because I wanted to be able to contribute to the conversations taking place there.
Elle: All of this discovery led you to start your own Web3 platform, Grape Protocol. For anyone who has no idea what Grape is, what would you say the core values of the community are?
Dean: Curiosity and exploration.
I say that because, at Grape, we want to make sure that this concept of shared governance doesn't die. And for that to be the case, we need to go through and figure out the holes in the framework. We have to be able to address any doubts, and correct any flaws as they come up. Or else we risk a slow slip back into traditional governance. I think Grape’s main mission is centered on that: making sure DAOs are strong enough to stick around.
Now that Grape is a year old, I get to focus more of my time on conversations like this — which is my favorite part about the work that I do. It is the epitome of that curiosity and exploration Grape is built upon. Talking to new people, getting them excited about DAOs, and seeing it through new eyes. It feels like a constant opportunity to revisit my roots and reset my thinking, to think about the things that don't exist today and the problems that will pop up a few years from now.
I hope that the result of these conversations will be more DAOs coming into existence, or at least that Grape will help create new frameworks for how they exist.
Elle: Why DAOs? What is it that makes you so excited to work with them?
Dean: Let me preface this by saying, I’m a big history guy. I love looking at the past and analyzing the patterns. When we do that, we notice that sometimes, our ancestors had the right answers.
Imagine you live in an ancient village with one hundred people.
You know all of your neighbors. You know their history. You know their parents' history. Trade is easier because of that. If I give you a fish, you know that you owe me something in return — and the whole village knows it, too.
Lying is harder for the same reasons. If I fail to pay you back for the fish, the village labels me a thief. My family will be labeled thieves. My kids will be labeled thieves. Since my reputation is easily recorded, I’m going to be on my best behavior.
It's a reputational ledger — and it’s the same framework that DAOs are founded on.
Since DAOs are built on the blockchain, they’re built on a technology that doesn’t forget. If you fail to pay someone, everyone in the community can see that. If you withdraw funds for your own selfish reasons, everyone in the community can see that. There’s no escaping your actions.
When we know that there is a record of our behavior, we revert back to positive action. I don’t want people to remember me as a thief, but I do want people to remember that I was kind. When I go out and do something good, the record is there to show it.
It’s opening up a lot of doors for people to prove themselves and decide how they’d like to be remembered. Contributions — in effort, attention, and care — speak louder than words.
Elle: That’s one benefit of Web3. But what is one thing that you wish you could change?
Dean: So much of the focus is still on the casino's rising and falling prices. Too much betting on cheap .jpegs hoping they'll 100x in value, without paying attention to anything else other than fiscal gain.
Unfortunately, for now, that's how everything works. People join projects for the financial benefit — not for the fun, or mission of being there. If I had it my way, I would steer the narrative away from financial gain, and focus on the cultural impact.
For example, when we first started Grape, we donated some funds to the Decentralized Football Academy, which is a soccer team in Nigeria. There were so many talented kids dying to get involved in sports and connect with their peers, but they didn't have a facility or equipment. We started a DAO for them and raised enough money to buy new uniforms and materials. The DAO remains an outlet for them to reach out and receive funding if need be.
That's my passion project right now –– seeing how we can make Decentralized Football Academy a bigger entity and be able to touch more lives there.
Elle: You also have something called Dean’s List, which rewards people for contributing to projects. Tell me a little bit about that.
Dean: Dean's List grew from Grape organically, because we used to have this channel where we would work with different protocols, and Grape members would give feedback. At the end of two weeks or a month, we'd get the founders of all those protocols together, we'd read through some of those feedback points and reward people who had great insight by giving them tokens.
It was a great idea, but there was only one or two people getting involved in it, so we spun it out into a separate DAO. Now people can join Dean's List by holding a Dean token, which is backed by Grape. So every time somebody comes in or out of that group, the treasury keeps a royalty, which creates a revenue stream to keep the ideas flowing. So far, we've done this for 10 different protocols, including Squads, Strata, and Streamflow.
Again, the cultural impact of that is what matters most to me. There's a member of Dean’s List in Nigeria who’s phenomenal. He's hopped onto protocols and provided feedback all across the ecosystem, not only for Grape, but for Solana as a whole. Because of the token rewards he gets from Dean’s List, he’s been able to pay his bills. Oh! And we’re sending him to Portugal for Breakpoint.
He applied for a Breakpoint student application, which gives university students free tickets to the event. Then, he asked the Grape DAO if we could give him $1,500 to fly to Lisbon. We all voted yes.
That’s a prime example of the utility that these communities can have — and seeing it happen first hand has shifted my focus. At the genesis of Grape, we were still trying to figure out our role. There was a big focus on bug fixing and mechanics.
Now, we’re at a spot where we can focus on the impact we make outside of a computer.
Elle: Now that you’re in that spot, what do you hope to see come from Grape in the future?
Dean: As much good as possible.
That’s a cheesy answer, but it’s true. The thing that got me most excited about DAOs was the chance to do what I wanted to do, with people I wanted to do it with. That is a huge value add that I don’t think people realize.
Before this, I wouldn’t have been able to help these kids in Nigeria get new uniforms. I wouldn’t have been able to help send a student to Breakpoint. I wouldn’t have been able to get on these calls everyday and have fun conversations for a living.
Outside of the tech talk and the financial features and the governance frameworks — DAOs are simply a place to pursue what you love.
I hope that everyone using Grape gets the chance to do that.
Elle: I hope so, too. Thank you again, Dean.
Dean: Thank you, Elle.