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IreneDAO – genius idea or fad?

Would you pay for a sexy picture of a woman? What if that picture was an NFT?

Even if you answered yes to both questions, you may not be willing to fork over more than 1 Ether for that. But that is the price of NFT passes to the IreneDAO, a DAO dedicated to Irene Zhao, a 28-year-old Instagram model, influencer, and cryptocurrency enthusiast. After leaving her job as a commodity broker, Zhao joined the crypto industry and tokenised 1,107 pictures of herself with crypto memes like WAGMI and GM. Incredibly, the tokens were trading for more than 1 Ether at their peak, probably fuelled by the demand of wealthy investors like Galaxy Digital CEO Mike Novogratz:

“Proud member of team @Irenezhao_ I love the hustle. This young woman has created her own brand in less than a year. And NFT’s allows her to pull her community together.”

Other influential crypto personalities criticised the hype for bringing out the worst “simps” – men that are fawning over women they have no chance with in real life. Perhaps well aware of the desires she is playing with, Irene Zhao tweeted in a thread that the DAO’s core values are “Simplicity, Integrity, Meaning, and Purpose” – in short, SIMP.

Zhao, who became an influential personality in the industry in 2021 as CMO of Konomi Network, is currently building SO-COL, a decentralised social media platform. SO-COL, short for social collectables, is supposed to be a “decentralized version of OnlyFans, Discord, Twitch, and Patreon.” IreneDAO could thus be legitimately seen as a test run for future projects on SO-COL, which is powered by StarkWare’s Layer 2 solution StarkEx. Zhao said:

“At the moment, we are letting the DAO community to discuss what they want—that is the whole idea. The community and the creator will form a conversation on what value they wish to instill into the “collectables”, in this case, the IreneDAO passes.” 

Structurally, IreneDAO resembles most other pricey NFT collections: a limited set of pictures tied to tokens on the Ethereum blockchain, all sort of the same, but sort of different. DAO is short for “decentralized autonomous organization,” an online investment club based around cryptocurrency; the tokens grant buyers access to the DAO.

Each IreneDAO NFT features an image of the Singapore-based influencer Yuqing Irene Zhao, pasted onto a minty green background and flanked by popular crypto slogans. “Damp it,” reads one, referring to a meme about the late Bogdanoff brothers. “Have fun staying poor,” proclaims another.

This one, in which Zhao holds up the word “simp” on a sign, recently sold for 4 ETH, or over $12,000:

Simp, of course, isn’t just an invented acronym. Merriam-Webster defines it (sorry) as “a stupid or foolish person,” sort of like a “simpleton.” But for a more precise definition of “simp” as it’s used in this context, we’re better off turning to Urban Dictionary, an online compendium of slang terms, which frames it as an explicitly gendered concept.

Online, it refers to a certain kind of hardcore fan (usually a man) who goes out of their way to lavish attention on the object of their fandom (usually a woman). It was originally used as an insult, since the psychology of “simping” can border on the obsessive, though simps have since attempted to reclaim the term.

That’s essentially what’s happening with IreneDAO, and one of the reasons the lowest listed price for any of these NFTs is now 1.35 ETH, or around $4,400. Logan Paul, the YouTuber turned amateur boxer, is among the investors as is the billionaire Mike Novogratz.

The images began as a sticker pack on the messenger app Telegram, as a way for Zhao and her business partner Benjamin Tang to generate buzz around the online “Irene” persona. SO-COL, short for “social collectibles,” is the formal name for Zhao and Tang’s business.

When the sticker pack took off, SO-COL decided to turn the images into an NFT collection.

Like so many other NFT projects and online get-rich-quick schemes, IreneDAO managed to capture lightning in a bottle. The rise of so-called meme stocks like GameStop and AMC set the stage for this sort of thing at the dawn of the 2020s, putting real value behind viral jokes. For Zhao and Tang, the self-conscious “simp” mentality is part of the brand.


IreneDAO may be on to something

Even though the DAO’s “core values” may rightfully be questioned, Zhao may be on to a trend that could become massive in the future.

DAOs have already showcased different use cases, from being a vehicle where online communities can rally behind a common cause (like buying the constitution or freeing Ross Ulbricht) to being members-only clubs (like the Bored Ape Yacht Club). Decentralised versions of creator-platforms like Onlyfans and Patreon have long been called for. The advantages are obvious: no middleman can censor a creator on a decentralised social network.

Furthermore, thanks to the lack of a hierarchical structure in DAOs, they are by design more democratic. Even though that makes them less efficient, at least at this early stage, examples like ConstitutionDAO have shown that DAOs can already work effectively on a clear and measurable short-term goal. If DAOs can transfer that to working effectively on long-term goals, centralised creator platforms will have to watch out.