Five Lessons From My First Year Working In Web3
Last February, I left a senior executive position at YouTube to make the full-time leap into Web3. Feel free to congratulate me on the timing — it could not have been better (ha).
The months that followed were a wild ride. Hackers pulled off one astronomical heist after another, an entire blockchain ecosystem imploded and at least one stadium had to be renamed. At the same time, Ethereum accomplished a technical equivalent of upgrading a jumbo jet engine mid-flight while also wiping out a country’s worth of carbon footprint; major brands made their Web3 debut, bringing along millions of mainstream users; zero-knowledge proofs, an obscure bit of cryptographic math that is key to scaling blockchains for mass adoption and for privacy online, made breakthrough progress toward real-world application.
This was the proverbial year when decades happened and, as president of Polygon Labs, I got to witness it firsthand. Below are five of the most important things I’ve learned along the way.
Stop Trying To Onboard People Into Web3
Instead, we need to infuse the internet with blockchain technology in such a way that everyday users can enjoy the benefits without knowing they are doing anything differently. Reddit’s Collectible Avatars, limited-edition personal profile pictures backed by non-fungible tokens, offer the perfect case study. Since their launch in July, more than 6 million of Reddit’s users have bought at least one, paying for it with their credit cards.
Build The Internet Everyone Wants To Use
Much of what goes by the name of “crypto” is financial applications that let users trade, borrow, lend and stake tokens. While an important part of Web3, the so-called “money crypto” engages only a narrow spectrum of mostly early adopters. For blockchains to live up to their societal paradigm-shifting potential, we will also need to build what many more people will want to use.
Like a free-to-play game simulating the physics of a monkey swinging from trees. Benji Bananas was the fastest-growing game on the Polygon network last year, adding over 1.45 million unique addresses. It rewards users with a native token that players can then use to leverage financial engineering tools previously available only to hedge funds, if they choose to.
Do not use complicated jargon when talking about crypto and blockchains. Ultimately, this technology makes the existing internet better by eliminating unnecessary intermediaries, increasing efficiencies and empowering users and developers over platforms.
To an average person, outer space terms like smart contracts, decentralized autonomous organizations and cold storage are about as inviting as the Borg. A truly seamless Web3 experience, with blockchain as the silent foundation, will need better words to communicate its value proposition.
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It Really Is All About The Community
“Community” is one of the most overused and abused terms in this space, but that doesn’t make it any less real. None of Web3’s biggest protocols, Polygon included, would be here without a committed cohort of true believers.
Your Twitter followers aren’t necessarily your community. They are a valuable audience, which listens and responds. A community is a concentric gradient of rights and obligations, radiating from core developers to ecosystem stakeholders, part-time contributors and users.
Bear markets help bring your community into focus. The fact that the number of Web3 developers continues to grow despite the economic downturn is proof-positive of the resilience of these communities.
Remember the saying by Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy that “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” Identify those who are contributing to your business and are not your employees. Make sure they are recognized, valued and have all the tools they need to do what they do.
Abandon The Traditional End Game
A life cycle of a traditional business is heavily inflected by the company’s major capital events: fundraising, public listing, mergers and acquisitions. These milestones have a tendency to supplant the organization’s actual goals, even as top management continues to profess universe-denting ambitions. Web3 projects offer an alternative — exit to community.
One of Web3’s more cherished values is decentralization — or the opposite of having a single locus of control. In this ideal state, decision-making power and ownership in a protocol, project or network are distributed among its community members. The idea of riding off into the sunset may seem like an anathema in the world of super-voting shares and founders clinging to control, but that is precisely the future many Web3 projects are actively working toward. That is the mission of the Polygon Foundation, a non-profit charged with working to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Polygon protocol.
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Wholesale decentralization is not for every business, but there is a number of ways to experiment. It could be as simple as open-sourcing some internal code libraries to give back to the developer community. Toward the deep-end of the pool, there is blockchain-powered quadratic voting to give key stakeholders more of a say or tokenization of assets to expand the skin-in-the-game inner circle.
The corporation has a four-century-long track record of amazing accomplishments, but the history doesn’t end here. Web3 projects are experimenting with a whole new way of organizing economic activity. This is untrodden ground and one of the things that makes working in this space so exciting.