Next Gen Investing

How these 'internet friends' raised over $20 million in crypto to bid on a rare copy of the US Constitution

A page of the first printing of the United States Constitution is displayed at the offices of Sotheby's auction house in New York on September 17, 2021.
Ed Jones | AFP | Getty Images

ConstitutionDAO formed with one big goal in mind: Buy a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution from an upcoming auction at Sotheby's.

To do this, ConstitutionDAO, which is a collective of "internet friends" and cryptocurrency investors, decided to form a DAO, or a decentralized autonomous organization, to pool funds together.

DAOs can come in all shapes and structures, but simply put, "a DAO is an internet community with a shared bank account," Cooper Turley, an investor and builder of several popular DAOs, previously told CNBC Make It.

"Basically, a small group of people come together to form a chat group, and then they decide to pull capital together, [typically] using an Ethereum wallet," Turley said. From there, they decide how to fund their DAO's mission collectively.

In this case, the ConstitutionDAO hopes to submit the winning bid for a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Being one of just 13 copies, Sotheby's estimates it'll be bought for $15 to $20 million. As of now, ConstitutionDAO has raised over $20 million in ether from its collective members, others in the cryptocurrency space and institutional investors like cryptocurrency exchange Gemini.

By donating, investors receive governance tokens, which are cryptocurrencies that are tied to the project, rather than fractionalized ownership of the document. Governance includes the ability to advise on where the Constitution should be displayed, how it should be exhibited and the mission of ConstitutionDAO, according to the DAO's website. If purchased, the DAO would collectively own the copy of the Constitution.

The Sotheby's auction is set to take place on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. EST. If the DAO is successful, it plans to "put the Constitution in the hands of the people" and put it on public display somewhere safe. Where in particular would be voted on by members of the DAO. If it isn't won, the DAO will vote on what to do, but its members say it will likely return the funds to those who donated.

CNBC Make It spoke with ConstitutionDAO contributors, or core team members, Alice Ma, Tina (who asked that her last name be withheld), Anisha Sunkerneni, Adrienne Young and Brian Wagner to discuss how the collective came to be, their motivations and more.

How did the idea to create this DAO come together? 

Alice Ma: An article about Sotheby's auctioning off a Constitution started circulating on Twitter, and was shared in a couple of group chats. A few groups of internet friends started tweeting out, "Hey, what if we bought the Constitution together?" [and] started seeing that others had a similar idea, and decided to team up. A Zoom call, Discord server and a few sleepless nights later, what began as more of a joke had turned into a serious idea with a real chance at placing a bid in the auction.

How has it felt as funding has surged and interest in the DAO skyrocketed? Was the response surprising?

Tina: Honestly, we didn't expect anything like this. It's hard to find words to express how surprised and inspired we've been. But we haven't had any time to celebrate ⁠— we've been working around the clock to help grow this community in a scalable way, ensure that we have the right legal and financial infrastructure in place to receive contributions and get the word out so that everyone who wants to be a part of it can hear about it.

What's the biggest takeaway that people should understand? Is there an aspect that you find under-covered amid this wave of interest?

Anisha Sunkerneni: What's particularly inspiring to us (as well as our contributors) is that people who participate in our DAO will be able to visit and view this Constitution, knowing that they participated in this moment and have a say in what happens to it. That's completely different than the experience of visiting a document at, say, the National Archives. 

There are lots of new governance models being developed in the web3 ecosystem, and to us there's something very fitting about using these new tools and ideas to take this document (which also set up a novel and enduring governance system), into that new world with us.

Alice Ma: Something else that's been really amazing to see is that many of the people who contributed told us this is the first time they've joined a DAO, or even the very first time they've bought or sent cryptocurrency. It really makes us happy that we're a part of their story and that our community has been a welcoming and positive place for them to learn.

If you're outbid, what's next for the DAO? 

Adrienne Young: We have a long path ahead of us, but we're feeling really optimistic. If we lose the auction, our primary plan is to refund the contributions. We have some mechanisms in place for this — we're receiving contributions through Juicebox right now, and they're able to issue refunds should we lose. We're also a DAO, so this will be put to a vote by the community, and it's possible that another path will be chosen, such as bidding on another historical artifact or donating the money to a charity.

If you're successful, what are the next steps for the DAO?

Brian Wagner: Basically, ensuring that the Constitution is safe and transferred somewhere secure and ready to receive it. We're fully committed to keeping the document preserved and in very good hands, but also allowing the members of the DAO to determine where it's displayed and viewable. It may travel around, or live in one place for a long time. We truly don't know, and it makes us proud and excited to say that.

Beyond that, it's truly up to everyone involved. We'll propose future initiatives to the DAO, and holders of the governance token will decide the future of the organization.

Tina: Something that's been really central to our mission and community is that this copy of the Constitution will be the only one actually governed by its citizens — the people the Constitution was written for! Based on the decisions of the DAO, it may be displayed all over the country, and everyone who has contributed will get to have a say in where it is exhibited and for how long.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This story has been updated to reflect that the ConstitutionDAO raised over $20 million as of Nov. 17.

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