Kevin Owocki is the founder of Gitcoin, a funding platform for Web3 projects that are being built for the public good. He has the mission of accelerating the financing of positive projects for the world with the greatest impact. To that end he has written a book called GreenPilled: how cryptocurrencies can regenerate the world.
I recently sat down with Kevin to talk about the book and his journey as a founder at Web3. This interview was condensed and edited for clarity. If you want to see the full video interview, Click here.
What is the green pill and why should I take it?
It’s up to you if you want to take it or not. But the green pill is a story of how cryptocurrencies can regenerate the world.
How do we build a world in which we have solved our contemporary challenges with sustainability? I believe that cryptocurrencies can be a kind of starting point to build more information age institutions that provide funds to ordinary people and help support our commons. What if we could use blockchain technology to create more coordination and resolve coordination failures? That is the idea behind the book. GreenPilled: how cryptocurrencies can regenerate the world.
I am the founder of Gitcoin, which has provided $63 million in funding for open source software projects for our digital infrastructure. So we are actually putting these ideas into practice on Gitcoin. The book aims to educate people on how they can put it to use in their own projects.
Help me understand quadratic financing.
Gitcoin grants are based on this mechanism called quadratic funding, which sounds scary but is actually very simple. It is a way of matching the contributions of the crowd with a fund of matching funds. Every quarter in Gitcoin grants, we have $3 million that we’re giving away, and we’re matching contributions from the crowd.
The way quadratic funding works is that match dollars are based on the amount of contributions to a project rather than the total amount raised. So if you had a grant that raised $100 from 100 contributors, and I had a grant that raised $100 from one contributor, you would actually get 99% of the matching fund because you have the support of a broader base of contributors. This is really powerful. Even $1 contributions can be matched with $10, $100, or sometimes even $1,000 from the matching group due to the quadratic funding formula.
So this is a way to drive grant programs from a central grant manager, who decides if your project is worth funding for your peers in the ecosystem. Gitcoin grants are an indicator of how many people in the Web3 ecosystem respect your project. And it’s a more democratic way to fund grants in your ecosystem.
Round 14 of the Gitcoin grants will take place from now until June 23. If you want to contribute to Web3 projects that are doing the public good, you can visit gitcoin.co/grants and check them out there.
How are Web3 structures, such as the Decentralized Autonomous Organization of Impact (DAO), adequate to face social and environmental challenges?
Blockchains are a foundation on which we can build solutions to these problems.
- They’re transparent, which means I don’t have to be someone who works at the Federal Reserve to design an economy that can solve these coordination failures.
- They are immutable, which means they cannot be manipulated.
- They are global, meaning that someone who is as privileged as I am, who lives in the United States as a white, middle-class male, has the same access as someone with Internet access all over the world.
- They are programmable, which basically means you can build on top of them.
I define an Impact DAO as any Web3 project that has a positive externality in the world. Impact DAOs use these tools to bring more transparency and efficiency to the work that NGOs and nation states are already doing. Since these global coordination failures are systemic risks to humanity, we should throw everything we have at them.
Some examples of Impact DAO are:
- Klima DAO—A project that tokenizes carbon credits and then allows Web3 projects to offset their carbon emissions through those tokens.
- test of humanity—A project that maintains a record of unique humans on the Ethereum blockchain and then sends them tokens as a form of Universal Basic Income (UBI). UBI provides people with a stable income that allows them to do meaningful work. In fact, there are some people in Latin America who live off the Proof of Humanity UBI.
- gitcoin—On Gitcoin, we have provided $62 million in funding for open source software. In a world where open source software generates an economic value of $400 billion a year, that’s a drop in the ocean. But we still feel like it’s a significant start.
in our book ImpactDAOme and my co-author Ale Borda list over 100 different projects that are trying to launch Impact DAO and are somewhere between idea and early-stage execution.
I’d like to back up a bit and ask how you yourself got into the Web3 space and how you ended up with GitCoin as your project.
I have been a software engineer/lead engineer at various start-ups for the past 12 years during my career as a technologist. I have hired about 45 software engineers. During that time, I learned two things about startups from the Web2 era.
One, many recruiters only buy $100 a month in LinkedIn subscriptions and then sell those engineers to me for $30,000 in placement fees. So I set out to cut recruiters out of the middle.
Two, open source software is at the heart of everything we build in software. And the people who are making open source software have no way of getting paid for the open source software that they are making.
So we created Gitcoin to be a conduit through which open source software developers can earn coins (pun intended) for their open source work. I started Gitcoin in 2017 with some of the money I earned in crypto. And luckily, it took off. There are now 350,000 software developers making money from Gitcoin. Everyone in the ecosystem needs software developers, which is why we have become a software developer aggregator. That’s how I got into the Web3 space.
But everything has been for me to build and try to provide value to the people who work in the ecosystem. It just warms my heart when I meet someone at an Ethereum conference, and they say we opened a door for them. Or, they survived a rough time in their life because of some money they made on Gitcoin. It’s really powerful to have that kind of impact on people in the ecosystem.
What would a world look like where Gitcoin is the most successful?
I would like to create a world where Impact DAOs increase all income on the planet. So basically what we can do is not just give people the means to survive, to pay their bills, to pay their rent, to put food on the table in their everyday lives. Hopefully, we’re creating a systemic incentive to support your commons. Whether your commons is your local community (picking up trash or repairing things in your local community) or the global commons like digital infrastructure and global public goods.
We see Gitcoin as a meta-coordinator to drive funding for the Impact DAO. In a world where we are the most successful, these Impact DAOs have been so successful that they are increasing every income on the planet.
So I think Web3 has the potential to do so much good for the world. But for that to happen, we have to have a flow of capital and talent into Impact DAO and into projects that are doing regenerative work. At Gitcoin, we are beating that drum to make sure talent and capital can find those impact DAOs.
Can you contrast for me the differences between these two leadership styles: command and control versus feel and respond?
I am a pragmatist at heart. And I think you have to use the right leadership style for the environment you’re in. However, I have noticed that corporations are really good at moving strongly in one direction. The boss says do X, and then everyone lines up and concentrates their resources around X. This corporate model invented by the Dutch East India Company, hundreds of years ago, has taken us quite a long way.
A better way to think of leadership in the fast-moving Internet age is as a network. Networks excel at sensing and responding to local conditions on the ground. Control can be found in the people who are actually on the ground deciding what they want to do. They make decisions within groups of responsibility that can accumulate in a network. That’s a really powerful primitive, and you should use whatever primitive is best for you in that ecosystem.
So what I do, which is very involved in winning the hearts and minds of software developers, I think is better as a network model. And everything at Gitcoin has always been oriented around its mission to create and support open source software and public goods. One good thing is that I think that really speaks to the hearts and minds of a lot of software developers and designers.
A network model where you are building software is a rapidly changing world. That has been an effective way to grow Gitcoin. But to be clear, we don’t have it all figured out.
What would you like to know as one of the early founders of Web3? What advice would you give to the founders of Web3?
Right now, we are in the midst of dissolving Gitcoin Grants as a company and moving the Gitcoin Grants ecosystem to a DAO that is governed by its community. I certainly wish I hadn’t built it the centralized way I did back in 2017. But founders should consider building their project as DAO from scratch if that’s the right model for their project.
Another thing I wish I had done differently is that in 2015 I bought a bunch of ETH at $0.70. Then it went up to $1. And I was like, “Sweet! Free mountain bike.” I sold everything and bought myself a mountain bike. My friends know it’s my 10 million dollar mountain bike. So I was smart enough to buy early, but not smart enough to stick it out.
I wish I had done it differently. But I am very privileged to be working on what I am working on. And I feel so blessed to be surrounded by a network of like-minded people who are just building and supporting the party-and-famine nature of the blockchain ecosystem. So I’m very lucky to be here and I’m very grateful. There aren’t many things I would do differently besides those two.