Always Be Shipping: Kevin Owocki from Gitcoin

Find out how Gitcoin became Ethereum’s golden child for incentivized open source development

In this wide-eyed new world of Web3, many of the key players and developers who have built Ethereum to what it is today paved the initial paths with a forward-thinking mind and a dedicated heart. Without them, this space would be a shell of what it is today. Without them, we’d have pretty much nothing to show for the original White Paper. This all started in 2013. Five years later and we have a multi-billion dollar ecosystem often compared to the first days of the original Web2 internet.

With all this in mind, it’s important to remember that we’re still early in this new frontier. The infrastructure and systems and dApps we’ve built continue to carry the weight of the ecosystem and keep it afloat. That’s why we’re building this new interview series, Always Be Shipping, an ode to the hard working developers, project leads, and core individuals behind Ethereum’s greatest exports. Within, you will find words of wisdom that will hopefully guide you and your efforts in building the future of Web3.

[Intro Kevin Owocki]


What got you into blockchain and Ethereum?

I first bought bitcoin back in 2011 for $30-something dollars. I like to say that I was smart enough to buy but not smart enough to HODL :)

I mostly forgot about Bitcoin until 2013–2014 until my friend and colleague, Piper Merriam, started talking about this thing called Ethereum and how it was going to make money completely programmable. We were working together on a web startup in Boulder, Colorado at the time, and the engineering team would be consumed by long discussions about what the world could look like if we got rid of banks and had completely p2p money. Those were pretty optimistic times for the Ethereum project!

I started a few blockchain projects along the way. I built a tool called Adblock to Bitcoin that replaced adblocked ad space. WIRED wrote about it, but no one ever really used it.

I started an algorithmic trading bot called pytrader in 2015. That got a lot of traction with the crypto community, but I got burnt out after I didn’t have the time to maintain it anymore.

Any mentors along the way?

In 2008, I went through a mentor driven Entrepreneurial accelerator called Techstars. That was a big influence on my life, and it really taught me about Boulder’s #givefirst mantra. Givefirst means that you’ll take a meeting with someone without expecting something out of it in return. That doesn’t mean that you don’t ever expect a return on your time, it just means you don’t approach relationships with a transactional mindset.

Since then, I’ve started the Boulder Blockchain meetup and a meetup group called CTO Lunches. Both have been resounding successes, and it’s great to have a p2p network to share blockchain ideas (Boulder Blockchain) and to share technical/leadership ideas (CTO Lunches)

There have been so many mentors along the way, that I don’t know how I could give credit to them all. I’ll list the 3 that come first to my mind.

  1. Manuel Mattke was my ‘CTO mentor’ for my first startup. He taught me about patience, composure, and technical architecture.
  2. Danny Veksler was a friend and mentor from several startups ago who taught me how to manage people. Danny is kind of a corporate executive type, and there are things about him that drive me nuts, but the dude knows how to manage people.
  3. David Cohen started Techstars. He is a former CTO who is now an investor. Techstars plucked me out of Corporate America and put me into the wonderful world of web startups. There’s an alternative universe out there where I’m sitting in some miserable cubicle because I didn’t meet David.

What challenges does Gitcoin address and hope to solve?

Our mission is to grow & sustain Open Source Software. Open Source Software is manna from the heavens. It powers billions of dollars worth of economic value every year, but it’s expected economic value is free. We want to change all that by allowing developers to capture value in return for their contributions to Open Source Software.

We do that with Bounties. If you post a Github Issue with some scope you want turned around (a bug or a feature), you can now place an ERC20 bounty on top of it, which will be paid out to whomever solves it satisfactorily.

Bounties are just our first act though. We just launched *two* new major products that are also aimed at supporting OSS at Devcon 4 in Prague.

Which project(s) inspired you the most in your journey towards shipping?

We shipped in October 2017, which is pretty early by Ethereum dapp standards, so I can’t say there were many Ethereum projects that shipped before us that I looked up to.

One startup I really admire is Airbnb. If you know their story, it sounds like a resounding success in hindsight, but it wasn’t a slam dunk when they were doing it. The struggle was real. In the end, they upended a multi-billion dollar industry.

What was it like to develop Gitcoin from concept to product?

I am in the minority of ConsenSys projects that was incubated outside of ConsenSys. I actually started Gitcoin with the $$$ I made from the ETH bull market in 2017. I had a video and a website made, and I was coding nights and weekends furiously for about three months to get it ready to launch.

It was really hard to get attention from investors. I pitched a few VCs out of Silicon Valley, but didn’t feel they were the right long-term partners for me.

When I started trying to get ConsenSys’ attention, I spoke with Token Foundry (wasn’t interested), ConsenSys Diligence (didn’t work out), and I was rejected from ConsenSys Academy. I kept trying though. My friend Matt Walters had just joined Grid+, and he offered to put my one-pager in front of Joe. That led to a half-hour call, which led to me teaming up with Mark Beylin of the Bounties Network. After a ton of consultation with Mark, I was invited onsite to pitch Joe in person. Wow, was it surreal to meet the founder of Ethereum! Luckily, he saw that I was in it for the right reasons and believed in me, and gave me an offer to join the mesh.

If you could Bounty any part of the process, what would it/they be?

I can and do bounty hundreds of things! Checkout gitcoin.co/profile/owocki to see all the fun stuff I’ve bountied along the way to go faster.

What was going through your mind in the moments leading up to launch and day-of?

I really hope Joe likes this. I hope I don’t get hacked. I’ve launched 3–4 blockchain side projects, I hope this is the one that allows me to do it professionally!

How did you manage the days/weeks/months that followed the launch of Gitcoin?

There were a lot of calls with ConsenSys legal, HR, etc. about my on-boarding. I don’t think ConsenSys’ hiring process is normally super bespoke, but there were IP considerations since the deal was sort of an acquihire.

Usage wise, the product didn’t really start to take off until I joined the mesh and dogfooded it with some Bounties budget that Joe/ConsenSys gave us.

What are some of the biggest differences you’ve found between pre-ship and post-ship in terms of operations?

Welp, I’m not building it in my basement anymore. And we now have real marketing, design, and branding support. I am an engineer, so I really needed that! Also, it’s really nice that Joe allows us to fund bounties for other projects in the mesh. That’s when the project really started to take off in terms of usage, and it allowed us to work out the kinks in the process (and there were a lot of them. I had made some shortcuts when I was coding the product nights and weekends. Going full time really allowed me to focus on patching up the rough spots).

Checkout our results at https://gitcoin.co/results — It’s been a long slog getting product/market traction, but its super rewarding to meet people at ETHGlobal events who have used our product. We even occasionally meet people who tell us they’re working at their current job because of a Gitcoin bounty they’ve done in the past!

What are you currently working on at Gitcoin?

We just launched a NFT (non-fungible token) called Kudos.

Kudos are a way of sending a sincere compliment to another user on Gitcoin. Each Kudos is a unique, beautiful, piece of art created by a member of our community.

We were looking for a way to match the extrinsic rewards associated with bounties with the intrinsic rewards associated with doing work that you value, that has impact, and celebrating it with coworkers and collaborators.

For the price of a postage stamp (about 45 cents), you can send a beautiful piece of artwork, backed by a non-fungible token (NFT) to a contributor. Each Kudos is limited edition, sovereign to the Ethereum blockchain, and has a beautiful custom piece of art that your collaborator can show off on their Gitcoin profile or any ERC 721 wallet.

We are launching today with 145 kudos on the kudos marketplace. But we’re not stopping there. We’re excited to incentivize people to create more liquidity in the Kudos marketplace by creating new, beautiful, artwork. Each artist who creates a Kudos and puts it on the marketplace will receive any ETH from those who purchase it, securely & directly on the blockchain. To create a new Kudos, click here.


Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author above do not necessarily represent the views of Consensys AG. ConsenSys is a decentralized community with ConsenSys Media being a platform for members to freely express their diverse ideas and perspectives. To learn more about ConsenSys and Ethereum, please visit our website.