Kevin Owocki on building a ‘pro-topian’ future for blockchains

Pro-topianism is the belief in improving systems with every new iteration


Permissionless II by Blockworks


Kevin Owocki, the founder of Gitcoin, has a bold vision for blockchains.

After recently revealing his intentions to return to Gitcoin, an open-source software funding platform, the founder has been looking into different ways to innovate the space.

Since its genesis in 2019, the platform claims it has funded over 3,000 different projects, donating over $50 million to fund public goods with a cumulative grantee market cap of $28.2 billion. 

In an interview with Blockworks at Permissionless II, Owocki spoke about his vision for the future of blockchains and his plans to continue growing the public goods sector. 

Keep reading for more excerpts from Blockworks’ interview with Owocki.


Blockworks: You have previously mentioned that you believe in a “pro-topian”’ future. Could you tell me what that means and how it differs from a, let’s say, utopian future?

Owocki: The movement that I am trying to stimulate is about regenerative crypto ecosystems that are pro-social, pro-environmental and pro-topian. This means that it gets better with every iteration, whereas utopian is some ultimate destiny of where the world could go that is positive.

I think in order to do that, you can look at it from a game theory perspective. If you can have positive sum games instead of negative sum games, if you can have repeat interactions between participants instead of no-repeat interactions, you can have low miscommunication and you can evolve trust and pro-social behavior. 

The one that I want to focus on for this conversation is repeat interactions, [and] the reason why is because it evolves pro-social behavior. If you [screw] me over once I’m not going to do business with you again, but if Ethereum is a dark forest and every address looks like every other address, then you’re not going to get these repeat interactions where we can evolve with trust for each other. You’re going to get people who [screw] you over and they’re going to be able to hide amongst everyone else. So, what we need to do is enable the ability to track individual actors in the system so that we can evolve repeat interactions. 

Read more: Gitcoin’s co-founder wants to return from the sidelines

I took an Uber here today. I don’t want to know the guy, where he lives, how old he is, or his birthday, but I do want to know if he’s going to get me there safely and reasonably quickly. So, I think a lot about how our financial lives are intertwined with our identity. The whole line that we’re walking in Web3 is that we want to do privacy-preserving identity.

Blockworks: How do you think you can achieve privacy-preserving identity in Web3? 

Owocki: The problem I’m focused on is Sybil resistance, which is one human, one vote DAOs as opposed to one token, one vote DAOs. If we want Web3 to scale to the people whose financial lives are not their investments or their houses in the Hamptons, if we want Web3 to scale the labor, we have to build more democratic Web3 ecosystems as opposed to plutocratic, one token, one vote ecosystems. 

The way I explained that, you could be led into thinking that it’s binary, but it’s actually a spectrum. The thing is that once you have a primitive for one human one vote, you can build things that are a spectrum between one token, one vote and that’s what Gitcoin is. It’s quadratic funding and quadratic voting, which is between one human, one vote and one token, one vote. 

Blockworks: What exactly is quadratic funding?

Owocki: So the way quadratic funding works at Gitcoin, is every quarter we have a million dollar matching pool, and that million dollar matching pool is allocated to the results of a crowdfunding campaign — we’re matching contributions from the crowd. The thing is, we’re not matching off the base amount of capital that is put in. Primarily, we’re matching on the base number of contributors to that grant. So basically, if you raise a $100 grant with 100 contributors, and a whale raises a $100 grant, the individual contributors will get 95% of the matching pool.

To put simply, what quadratic funding does is it weighs the votes of the people who have a lot of capital less than the projects that have a lot of small contributions that are funding them. So basically, it becomes something that is in between one token, one vote, and one human, one vote.

Blockworks: How do you see all of this playing out in the Web3 ecosystem space? What do you envision will happen in the future?

Owocki: So here’s the take: In nature there’s natural selection, which is the survival of the fittest species according to which organisms survive or which group of organisms survive. In crypto, we have market selection, which is basically capital flow. You’ve got these crazy summer, winter cycles in which you have had 1,000x growth, and you get all these scams and viruses that are self consuming, and then you get the extinction events where only the strong survive. 

Because it’s an evolutionary ecosystem, it’s changing so much, and the most effective tactic available evolutionarily changes over time. In the early days, it was just forking Bitcoin, and adding privacy, then it became Ethereum forks, then it became ICOs and alt layer-ones. Later the meta became PFP projects and DAOs, and now we’re at a point where ordinals, and Friend.Tech are the latest meta. What I think is interesting is that as the ecosystem evolves, the meta is always changing.

Read more: Bitcoin Ordinals creator wants to clean up BRC-20 standard

The cool thing about meta is once someone figures out what the new meta is, there’s a bunch of copycat projects that just replicate it. The cool thing about evolution is that you get this punctuated equilibrium where someone discovers a new meta, then everyone copies it until that meta is no longer the most effective tactic available and the ecosystem moves onto something else. What that does is create a lot of advantages for people who are going to be the first to discover some new punctuated equilibrium.

This is my big bet. It’s that the next layer of ecosystems is going to be whatever the next cycle is, and then another layer out from that, we’re going to finally get to a point where funding public goods and democratic DAOs are going to be their own evolutionary tree. I want Gitcoin to be a keystone species that every other project in the ecosystem depends on in order to enable Sybil resistance, and in order to enable public goods funding. So for now, it’s about building public funding and resistance infrastructure.

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