✨ Alexander Wu is the 21-year-old co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Utopia Labs, a venture-backed startup that manages payroll and expenses for DAOs.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a DAO, or decentralized autonomous organization, is a member-owned community with a shared purpose. Members must buy in through tokens or NFTs, which grant voting rights. DAOs can effectively operate as crowdfunding platforms, social clubs, project-building communities, or more.
Utopia Labs has raised $2mm in funding from Coinbase Ventures, Kindred Ventures, and Fourth Revolution Capital, with angels from Stripe, Zora, Friends With Benefits, etc. He dropped out of Minerva University in 2020, where he studied Computer Science, and is currently living in a house with other startup founders in the Bay Area.
In this week’s issue, Alex shares with us his experiences building a team and raising funding, thoughts on whether web3 is all hype, and more:⛩ What is Utopia Labs? Utopia Labs is a startup scaling DAOs by automating payroll, managing expenses, and consolidating financial reporting. We have around 60 active customers, including some of the biggest DAOs. We’re actually not a web3 protocol; we service web3 companies, but we're pretty much a standard software tool.
🚀 Starting Utopia Labs: We were genuine members of DAO communities, so we started to hear about pain points, such as taking an entire week to get the spreadsheets together to do payroll. We wanted to help these organizations run faster and scale better as members ourselves. Utopia Labs really came out of empathy.
👨👨👦👦 Becoming co-founders: We first met on Discord through some mutual friends for a hackathon, and we just continued doing hackathons together. Eventually, we discussed building something a little more serious than hackathon projects. We started Utopia Labs without ever having met in person.
🛠️ Building a team: In my previous projects, everyone on the team was technical. There were a lot of things I was forcing myself to do like sales and customer outreach, which as an engineer, is hard to balance. This is my first time working on something with someone (Kaito, the CEO) non-technical, and it's been amazing. We each found our own roles and complement each other really well.
📚 Dropping out of school: My co-founders and I all had very high conviction. Also from a moral standpoint, I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking money and still staying in school. I don't think it's fair if one co-founder is working on this full-time, and I'm like, “Hey, sorry guys, I have to hop on a class.” We all made our sacrifices and took the leap together.
🏠 Co-living in the Elysian House: When I dropped out, one of my fears was losing my community and group of friends. I think co-living houses are really nice because you get to come home and connect with people, and they’re people building cool things as well. One of our friends, Michelle, put this house together and hosts events where we get to meet other founders as well as investors in the area.
☀️ What did your last day, week, and month look like? I'm usually outlining some product roadmap or designing on Figma. Yesterday, we shipped this feature to a customer and stayed up until 2AM to help the engineers debug. My last week has been just a lot of those days, and our last month has been basically a bunch of those weeks. It's a lot of early mornings, late nights, and just grinding it out in the office trying to make our product perfect. We do go hard on Fridays though.We don't go to conferences too often. I think they're great for certain aspects, like recruiting or sales, but don't provide much value otherwise because they’re really just social events, and we’re not a partying company.
💰 Raising $2mm in funding: A lot of our initial funding came from warm intros and network connections. Going into the first funding round, we had a lot of data points from our customers, so investors were able to see that our insights were much deeper than surface level. We have a group chat with every one of our customers which we communicate in every day.
💸 How much do you pay yourselves? Less than half of what we could be making from a normal software engineering job. If we wanted to, we could pay ourselves a lot more. But it's not the culture we want. It doesn't set the company up in the right direction.
📢 How much of web3 is just hype? There’s a very large community of speculators riding the web3 hype train, people whom I can tell have no idea what they’re talking about. A huge problem in this space is that projects with little substance are able to accrue so much legitimacy. You can tell something’s not legitimate if there's not much usage, people aren't building projects on top of it, or there's no liquidity flowing through it.But there’s also a strong community of people who have deep knowledge of the technology, including a lot of my friends. When you go deeper into the space, you’ll see many projects with actual conviction. At the end of the day, there is real value being built.If you think about the dot-com bubble, only a tiny fraction of the internet companies that started in the 2000’s are alive today. Using the same analogy, most web3 companies are probably not going to make it, statistically speaking. I don’t think this should deter someone because it’s still an interesting and practical space.
💁 Most underrated quality: Having less ego. You always think of founders as being ego-driven, people who want to have their names on billboards. But one thing I really admire about my co-founders is that we’re less ego-driven. We're all super willing to help out in any area without the titles.
🌐 How to learn more about web3: Start playing around with it. Set up a crypto wallet using MetaMask and start interacting with these different applications. Maybe purchase some Ethereum or a cheap NFT. Get your hands dirty and see what this is about, regardless if you think it's promising or a scam. We also have a section on our careers page with helpful resources.
🙌 Best piece of advice: Jump into it and get started. I think people hesitate and tell themselves they can't get started until they’ve learned so-and-so, read this book, or read that blog. If you think something is interesting, just do it. I think that’s what separates founders from would-be-founders.
tl;dr Be intentional about the culture you’re setting for a team (Is it fair and equitable? What is the incentive structure?), be less ego-driven, and get your hands dirty.
Check out Utopia Labs: www.utopialabs.com
Keep up with Alex!