A blockchain-based business model

The General Store
Whiteboards line the offices of The General Store, including an explainer on Decentralized Autonomous Organizations. Photos by Andrew Hazzard

Inside the former North Face store on Hennepin Avenue whiteboards have replaced racks of parkas and hiking boots.

Some boards pose big questions: What advice would you give to past generations? And how would you use this space to benefit the community? Others give updates on what the businesses inside are working on and some simply explain what’s going on here.

It looks like a coworking space meets a self-help conference, but The General Store is neither of those things. Rather, it’s the physical embodiment of a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), which members say is the first of its kind in the world.

A DAO is a group of companies and individuals working in loose coalition toward a shared goal — in this case “revitalizing the Twin Cities” — joined together by blockchain-based “smart contracts” that decrease the need for middlemen and arbitrators to ensure agreements are followed.

“There’s lots of elements to it,” said Brandon Klein, one of the founders of The General Store.

In a DAO, participating organizations and individuals build their equity or “reputation” within the group by conducting more transactions on the shared blockchain base. The larger the reputation each person or company has, the more influence they can wield within shared decisions of the DAO. The balance of reputation power shifts constantly. Klein said he lost a majority share within a couple weeks of opening.

The General Store
The General Store opened its doors to the public during the Uptown Art Fair to get feedback on how the space could be used to benefit the community.

The General Store commits to opening the doors for community space between two to eight days each month (depending on how members vote) for various events and learning opportunities. They can vote together to make changes, as happened a week after opening, when the group voted to bring in organics recycling bins.

There are seven businesses currently working within The General Store, ranging from Bogarts Donuts to the environmentally focused venture capital firm Turas Mara to theDifference, a consulting firm currently contracted to work with the United States Air Force. On the surface, those businesses don’t have much in common, but part of being in the DAO is agreeing to its collaboration code, which requires participants share their work and knowledge with other DAO members.

“Everybody’s trying to elevate each other’s businesses,” said Brennan Townley, whose digital networking software company Collaboration AI is part of the DAO.

Townley said he’s worked in coworking spaces before, but The General Store is different because it encourages working together and learning from others. Everyone who works within the DAO has the opportunity to learn. Currently The General Store’s maintenance man spends about half his time doing upkeep and cleaning the building and half learning from the businesses inside it, according to Isaac Tut, a Collaboration AI employee and cousin of the maintenance man.

“That way he gains skills as time moves on,” Tut said.

The General Store

A stated goal of the DAO model is to eliminate the need for charity and philanthropy by streamlining solutions to issues and expanding earning capacities and skills for people in poverty, Klein said.

For example, if the myriad of groups working to plant trees or decrease plastic pollution worked together with smart contracts, it could help find inefficiencies and correct them.

“We work in little fiefdoms right now,” Klein said.

While there have been DAOs before, having one in a physical space with a localized goal is a new concept.

“This is a new business and they have to prove it,” said Soumya Sen, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied blockchain.

Blockchain-based smart contracts can improve efficiency, Sen said, but blockchain has also been hyped up a lot in recent years.

“The key thing is that these people trust each other,” he said.

The General Store
3008 Hennepin Ave.