Kevin Owocki is the founder of Gitcoin, a funding platform for Web3 projects that are building for the public good. He’s on a mission to accelerate funding toward the most impactful world-positive projects. To that end he’s written a book called GreenPilled: How Crypto Can Regenerate the World.
I recently sat down with Kevin to discuss the book and his journey as a founder in Web3. This interview was condensed and edited for clarity. If you’d like to see the full video interview, click here.
Kyle Westaway: What is the Green Pill, and why should I take it?
Kevin Owocki: It’s up to you whether or not you want to take it. But the green pill is a story of how crypto can regenerate the world.
How do we build a world in which we’ve solved our contemporary challenges with sustainability? I believe that crypto can be sort of a shelling point to build more information-age institutions that deliver funding to everyday people and help support our commons. What if we could use blockchain technology to create more coordination and solve coordination failures? That’s the idea behind the book GreenPilled: How Crypto Can Regenerate the World.
I’m the founder of Gitcoin, which has delivered $63 million worth of funding for open source software projects for our digital infrastructure. So, we’re actually putting these ideas into practice at Gitcoin. The book is intended to educate people about how they can put it into practice in their own projects.
Westaway: Help me understand quadratic funding.
Owocki: Gitcoin grants are built on top of this mechanism called quadratic funding, which sounds scary, but it’s actually very simple. It is a way of matching contributions from the crowd with a pot of matching funds. Every quarter on 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 dollars matched are based off of the number of contributions to a project as opposed to 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 pool because you’re supported by 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 pool because of the quadratic funding formula.
So this is a way of pushing grants programs from a central grant administrator, who decides whether your project is worth funding to your peers in the ecosystem. Gitcoin grants are a proxy for how many people in the Web3 ecosystem respect your project. And it’s a more democratic way of funding grants in your ecosystem.
Round 14 of Gitcoin grants is going on from now until June 23. If you want to contribute to Web3 projects that are doing the public good, you can go to gitcoin.co/grants and check them out there.
Westaway: How are Web3 structures, like the Impact Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO), well-suited to take on social and environmental challenges?
Owocki: Blockchains are a foundation upon which we could build solutions to these problems.
- They’re transparent, which means that I don’t have to be someone working at the Fed in order to engineer an economy that can solve these coordination failures.
- They’re immutable, which means that they can’t be tampered with.
- They are global, which means that someone who is as privileged as me—living in the United States as a middle-class white guy—has the same access as someone with Internet access all the way across the world.
- They’re programmable, which basically means that you can build on top of them.
I define an Impact DAO as any Web3 project that has a positive externality on the world. Impact DAOs use these tools to bring more transparency and more efficacy 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 got at them.
A few examples of Impact DAOs are:
- KlimaDAO—A project that’s tokenizing carbon credits and then allowing Web3 projects to offset their carbon emissions through those tokens.
- Proof of Humanity—A project that maintains a registry of unique humans on the Ethereum blockchain and then sends tokens to them as a form of universal basic income (UBI). UBI gives people a stable income that allows them to pursue meaningful work. There are actually some people in Latin America that live off of UBI from Proof of Humanity.
- Gitcoin—At Gitcoin, we’ve delivered $62 million worth of funding to open source software. In a world in which open source software is delivering $400 billion per year in economic value, that’s a drop in the bucket. But we still feel it’s a significant start.
Westaway: I’d like to back up a bit and ask how you got into the Web3 space yourself and how you ended up with GitCoin as your project?
Owocki: I have been a software engineer/lead engineer at various startups over the last 12 years during my career as a technologist. I’ve hired about 45 software engineers. During that time, I learned two things about Web2 era startups.
One, a lot of recruiters are just buying $100 a month of LinkedIn subscriptions and then selling those engineers to me for $30,000 placement fees. So I aimed to disintermediate recruiters.
Two, open source software is at the heart of everything that we ever build in software. And the people who are building open source software don’t have a way of getting paid for their open source software that they’re doing.
So, we created Gitcoin to be a conduit through which open source software developers could get coins (pun intended) for their work in open source. I started Gitcoin in 2017 with some of the money that I made in crypto. And luckily, it took off. There are now 350,000 software developers earning money on Gitcoin. Everyone in the ecosystem needs software developers, so we’ve kind of just become an aggregator of software developers. That’s how I got into the Web3 space.
But it’s all been for me about building and trying to provide value to people that are working in the ecosystem. It just warms my heart when I meet someone at an Ethereum conference, and they say that we opened up a door for them. Or, they survived a hard time in their life because of some money that they made on Gitcoin. It’s really powerful to have that kind of impact on people in the ecosystem.
Westaway: What would a world where Gitcoin is maximally successful look like?
Owocki: I would like to create a world in which Impact DAOs augment every income on the planet. Then basically what we can do is not only 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 are your local community—doing trash pickup 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 to Impact DAOs. In a world in which we’re maximally successful, these Impact DAOs have been so successful that they’re augmenting every income on the planet.
So I do think that Web3 has the potential to do that much good for the world. But for that to happen, we have to have a flow of capital and talent into Impact DAOs and into projects that are doing regenerative work. At Gitcoin, we’re beating that drum of making sure that talent and capital can find those impact DAOs.
Westaway: Can you contrast for me the differences between these two leadership styles: command and control versus sense and respond?
Owocki: I’m a pragmatist at heart. And I think you should use the right leadership style for the environment that 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 falls in line and rallies their resources around X. This corporate model invented by the Dutch East India Company, hundreds of years ago, has taken us pretty far.
A better way of thinking about leadership in the internet age, in which things are moving really quickly, is as a network. Networks excel at sensing and responding to local conditions on the ground. Control can be localized down to people who are actually on the ground to decide what they want to do. They make decisions within pods of accountability that can roll up into a network. That’s a really powerful primitive, and you should use whatever primitive is the best one for you in that ecosystem.
So what I do, which is very much involved in winning the hearts and minds of software developers, I think as a network model is better. And everything at Gitcoin has always been oriented around their mission of building and supporting open source software and public goods. One nice thing is I think that that really speaks to the hearts and minds of a lot of software developers and designers out there.
A network model in which they’re building software is a world that’s rapidly changing. That’s been an effective way of growing Gitcoin. But to be clear, we don’t have it all figured out.
Westaway: What do you wish you knew as an early Web3 founder? What advice would you give to Web3 founders?
Owocki: Right now, we’re actually in the middle of dissolving Gitcoin grants as a company and moving the Gitcoin grants ecosystem into a DAO that’s governed by its community. I certainly wish I had not built it in the centralized way I did back in 2017. But founders should consider building their project as a DAO from the start if that’s the right model for their project.
Another thing that 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 it all, and I bought a mountain bike. My friends know that as my $10 million mountain bike. So I was smart enough to buy early, but not smart enough to hold.
I wish I’d done that differently. But I’m just very privileged to be working on what I’m working on. And I feel very blessed to be surrounded by a network of like-minded individuals who are just building and weathering the feast and famine nature of the blockchain ecosystem. So I’m just very lucky to be here and very thankful. There’s not a lot of things I would do differently other than those two.