Ethereum’s Growth Problem

Developers are the heart of Ethereum's Growth. Or are they?

Feb 2, 2020 · 6 min read

The Ethereum “growth” problem. Let’s solve it.

Ethereum is a leading decentralized blockchain, with a fantastic community. Except… we can’t seem to attract large amounts of developers.


In the current zeitgeist we focus too heavily on developers who know how to write smart contracts. That’s a problem for long term growth. Instead, we need to be focus on Product Managers, Designers and Engineers who align towards the “Experience Architectsarchetype.

The Bigger Picture

Solidity and smart contracts are important, but a small piece to Ethereum puzzle. Overtime the demand for novel smart contracts will diminish. And what will emerge is a profession capable of composing those smart contracts into meaningful products and protocols: Experience Architects.


The Ethereum blockchain only requires 700 to 2,000 audited and formally verified smart contracts in the next 2–5 years. Those limited number of smart contracts will comprise 90% of the activity on Ethereum mainnet.

If the Hypothesis Is Right

If the hypothesis is correct, then it means the demand for Smart Contract Developers will be very low in the coming years. Ethereum products relying on large amounts of smart contract developers will have serious challenges.

At best only 10,000 professional smart contract developers.

At worst only 30,000 professional smart contract developers.

If the Hypothesis Is Wrong

If the hypothesis is incorrect, then it means the demand for Smart Contract Developers will continue rise in lockstep with the adoption of ETH 2.0 and an incredible amount of focus should be put on education and security.

If 100,000’s of Engineers are writing smart contracts, security issues will be in abundance. In fact a large number of semi-professional smart contract developers could actually be harmful to the sustainability of Ethereum.

The Implications — An Open Conversation

If you feel strongly in the opposite direction please reach out — would love to discuss the topic. I think if the above claim is true, it’s going to require we make large shifts, as a community, over the coming months/years. And fast.

Building Ecosystems. Not Smart Contracts.

An intrinsic feature of smart contracts is the ability to compose them together.

Smart contract composability is very similar to function stacking.

Stacking functions is a permaculture concept that is at the root of every successful permaculture design. In the simplest terms, stacking functions means that every element in a design performs more than one function. In permaculture design, the ideal is to have each individual element perform as many separate functions as possible.

How often are new elements introduced in a natural environment?

Elements like water, air, plants and animal don’t undergo radical changes.

The “functionality” of each element is static and unchanging.

Permaculture ecosystem engineers can rely on these elements to not have unforeseen side-effects when using them i.e. functional programming. However, what makes ecosystem engineering so unique and complex is each landscape (community) requires a unique assembly of the building blocks... but generally the core building blocks don’t change.

Just like water, air and plants the Ethereum ecosystem will have a baseline collection of building blocks (smart contracts) that don’t radically change or have any unforeseen side-effects. Predictable smart contracts will be the building blocks that can be composed together into larger products (ecosystems) and therefore what’s required is not an endless amount of them, but rather 700 to 2,000 elegant and composable ones.

Sablier — Streaming Energy into Ecosystems

A great example of a composable smart contract is Sablier’s streaming money.

After a one-time deposit, our smart contracts will start “streaming” the money towards the payees, without you lifting a finger again.

How many more Sabliers need to be built? The answer. None.

Instead, we need Experience Architects to think about novel ways to build products and protocols that utilize the streaming money function. User Research will be critical in this discovery — uncovering real problems for real people and better understanding how a features like streaming money, in combination with other building blocks, can best overcome those challenges.

What’s on the Horizin?

Ethereum needs Experience Architects. Composition is a complex problem.

Requiring multiple disciplines to coordinate: Product, Design and Engineering.

Additionally each primary discipline will require a *bonus* speciality that underpins decentralized and distributed systems: economics, game theory and my personal favorite systems thinking.

Chaos Wolf Approved Thinking

Analyzing Existing Systems for Better Heuristics

Ethereum is digitizing the physical world. The scarcity problem is solved.

We can move now forward with building digital ecosystems because of this.

The same principles that apply to physical world, most likely apply to the digital world. Ethereum has been toted as a world computer, tracking state and computations without concern for borders.

You know what else is a borderless, global computer?

The world. The protocol is evolution and the state management is DNA.

We need to align our thinking with strategies that optimize Nature.

How Is Function Stacking Related?

In Permaculture there is a notion that everything is connected. Much in the same way a public blockchain is highly connected and exemplified by the Decentralized Finance movement: MakerDAO, Uniswap, Compound, Aave, DeFiZap, and others continually transmute value. Alone each protocol is valuable, but together they’re an ecosystem — creators of value.

Each protocol doesn’t serve a singular purpose. Protocols are stackable.

Uniswap 🦄 provides liquidity for stable coins (DAI) and game assets (Axie)

How is Permaculture Related?

Vibrant and healthy ecosystem are underpinned by the fact that energy is re-used, re-organized and re-applied in interesting and novel ways. An experienced permaculturist is considered an Ecosystem Engineer.

Ethereum is an ecosystem. Illustrated by the interconnectedness of protocols.

What I am alluding too is the success of Ethereum doesn’t rely on Smart Contract Developers, but rather is underpinned by the introduction of more Experience Architects (beavers) and in the long-term introduction of Ecosystem Engineers (🐺) to the EthereumEcosystem™.

We need people/teams not writing endless amounts of smart contracts, but rather composing together existing ecosystem resources into novel products and protocols that serve a mainstream audience (ecosystem).

Our community 🌍 survival depends on it.


For many in the Ethereum space, concepts such as User Research done by Experience Architects and Function Stacking by Ecosystem Engineering is probably a foreign idea and radical shift in thinking.

However, if we are going to build a thriving digital ecosystem it’s critical we find accurate models and existing disciplines to better understand what we’re building, so we can make informed decisions about what to focus on next.

A Mad Man’s Ramblings

Smart contracts are building blocks. A precursor for links in a network.

The purpose of Human Life is too creatively compose nature’s building blocks into meaningful and expressive links. Stewardship.

We would be ignorant to think we are special in our endeavors. The thread of stewardship and composing together nature’s building blocks is as old as man. The only difference is we are now doing it with digital ecosystems and not just the physical world… it’s a (r)evolution.


Discovering what the future holds.