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What The Stacks Foundation Focuses On And Why
by Mitchell Cuevas on July 7, 2021
At just over a year into the life of the Stacks Foundation, I thought it would be a great time to share how we’re approaching our work. As one player in a decentralized ecosystem, it’s important for us to articulate what others, especially the community and other entities, can expect from us. We believe that if we each share our intentions, approaches, and goals, our ecosystem will be able to better self-organize as we pursue our mission of building a user-owned internet.

This post will highlight the rationale behind what we focus on and why, using some concrete examples. My hope is that it also gives you more insight into the culture of the team and a window into our vision as we go about our work.
If you are looking for a traditional update, please find the Q2 Stacks Foundation Board Meeting Recap or the latest Stacks Ecosystem quarterly update.
The Stacks Foundation has a broad prerogative. For our small (but growing!) team, this is a source of excitement as well as a challenge — there are endless things that we could spend time on. For us, the challenge is making sure we’re picking the highest leverage activities and filtering for projects uniquely suited for or served by our position in the ecosystem.

One key thing to understand about the Foundation is that it is uniquely set up to take on risks. In addition to backing builders and projects where the community is "bullish," we also invest in experiments, early-stage ideas, and long-term research. Where other entities may be concerned about short-term returns, the Foundation will see long-term potential—for education, community-building, and protocol advancement. It is an exciting time to be building in this space. However, there are still so many unknowns regarding the social and economic implications of a user-owned internet, and we believe it is our mandate to take a long view. This means funding research or builders whose work may not guarantee a clear answer or an immediate return but will result in key learnings that can guide the ecosystem in the right direction.

It's worth noting that this is not a strategy that normalizes failure, but rather the Foundation's way of "hedging its bets". The Stacks Grants Program is a prime example of our approach to balancing risks with potential rewards. Instead of limiting ourselves to funding only a small number of projects that have clear paths to commercial success, we support a wide range of projects that demonstrate the potential to deliver value to the community, even if they are unable to reach 100% of what they initially set out to accomplish. We work closely with grantees to break down large, ambitious projects into smaller, more feasible milestones so that in the event that they cannot complete the final product, they will have still managed to deliver useful tools for the community (such as smart contracts and developer libraries) along the way.

This balance between short-term necessities and long-term sustainability is one we’re always revisiting. In doing so, we have naturally developed a set of values and an operating approach that can be summed up by the following statements:
This post is meant to serve as an artifact for continual reference and therefore includes examples and expanded rationale. For high-level takeaways at a glance, please refer to the list below.
Operating Themes
What It Means
What It Doesn't Mean
We make decisions that ensure organizational longevity/stability for at least the next 10 years
We ignore promising short-term opportunities and objectives
We work to put the right resources with the right people and kickstart key efforts
We serve every need in the ecosystem ourselves
We balance core Stacks values like decentralization with the need to meet people where they are
We compromise on our values and dilute user experiences in the name of growth
We trust in the vision of our builders and do everything we can to ensure their success
We dictate and micromanage what builders create
We market Stacks by amplifying builders and via education and strategic partnerships
We deploy marketing budget aimed at vanity metrics or to 'keep up' with the industry
We are happy working with entities aligned with our mission or that add value to builders, even if from 'outside' the ecosystem
We thoughtlessly partner just to create buzz or allocate our resources to every integration that comes our way
We spend based on the needs of the community and in a manner that keeps us sustainable
We spend the treasury according to our own wishes or to simply advance the Foundation

Means: We make decisions that ensure organizational longevity/stability for at least the next 10 years.


Doesn't Mean: We ignore promising short-term opportunities and objectives.

Means: We work to put the right resources toward the right people to kickstart key efforts.


Doesn't Mean: We serve every need in the ecosystem ourselves.

Means: We balance core Stacks values like decentralization with the need to meet people where they are.


Doesn't Mean: We compromise on our values and dilute user experiences in the name of growth.

Means: We trust in the vision of our builders and do everything we can to ensure their success.


Doesn't Mean: We dictate and micromanage what builders create.

Means: We market Stacks by amplifying builders and via education and strategic partnerships.


Doesn't Mean: We deploy marketing budget aimed at vanity metrics or to simply 'keep up' with the industry.

Means: We are happy working with entities aligned with our mission or that add value to builders, even if they are from 'outside' the ecosystem.


Doesn't Mean: We thoughtlessly partner just to create buzz or allocate our resources to every integration that comes our way.

Means: We spend based on the needs of the community and in a manner that keeps us sustainable.


Doesn't Mean: We spend the treasury according to our own wishes or to simply advance the Foundation.

We have a long-term mindset
Despite the sometimes frenzied, ‘can’t-miss-a-moment’ world in which we operate, the Stacks Foundation takes a decidedly long-term approach. We want to wield our resources in a way that will allow us to serve the Stacks Ecosystem for the next decade and beyond. To be clear, this does not mean we don’t work to achieve short-term objectives. It simply means that we at the Foundation gravitate toward taking on the efforts we see as paying off long-term and necessitates we operate carefully and at times, conservatively, with how we spend the treasury, our time, and other resources.

A few concrete examples here:
  • Creative approaches to spending: Generally, given the choice to outright spend for say integrations or otherwise, we’ll do our best to conserve expenditure by finding creative ways to partner. A recent example is supporting OKEx, where to market their new listing, we worked out a matching Stacking campaign. Not only does this mean this value (in the form of BTC rewards) is going directly to users, it also means we didn't tap the treasury or our cash reserves.
  • Laying the foundation for total renewability: A good example here is the Stacks Accelerator. As the largest investor, we’re putting our funds and time to work to directly fuel builders, while also giving ourselves a renewable source of funding as these investments come to fruition over time (all profits from the our equity is re-invested back into the ecosystem). Another great outcome of this type of effort is that it creates more opportunities for Stacks capital in the ecosystem to be activated and invested in its future.
  • Teams and developers we invest in: Plenty of projects come our way that may otherwise be great projects, but they have a short-term agenda. While we certainly have no issue with these projects, our funding activity is generally focused on teams and developers that have a long-term vision and want to build in a responsible, thoughtful way.
We set others up for success
Wherever possible, the Stacks Foundation works to create the environment for others to be successful. We do this by finding, matching, incentivizing, and positioning others to create value in the ecosystem. It’s no secret there are millions of things that we can’t wait to see built on the Stacks blockchain, but, that doesn't mean we'll tackle these things 'in-house'.

We believe getting funding into builders hands and removing obstacles for entrepreneurs will ultimately allow for far more to be built than if we spent our time trying to do it. Not only that, fueling the builders creates stakeholders and reinforces community, making us stronger as a whole.

Practically speaking, this approach allows our small team to fund the best people and organizations for the need. This allows our team to ‘punch above its weight' and increase the surface area of the things we can positively impact and support.

Good examples of our efforts to be a force multiplier include:
  • We provide free consulting to other ecosystem players (exchanges, entities, developers), to help them make the best use of the tech available to them.
  • We run the grants program, which empowers community members to work on projects they care about.
  • We provide Stacks Chapter leads with the resources they need to develop their regional communities and ultimately help grow the global Stacks community.
  • We steward ecosystem governance, in which people collectively work out the best standards and practices for participating in the ecosystem.

Note on growing our team: Operating like a small team, doesn’t always mean we’ll literally stay a small team. We’re definitely looking to grow the team the caveat is you’re not going to see us hiring absurdly fast or simply for the sake of headcount. We’re taking a methodical, measured approach, giving a lot of thought to each new role and committing fully to each hiring process.
We are value-driven, but practical
Decentralization, ‘Can’t Be Evil’, non-custodial, user-owned. All are phrases and values that we firmly believe in and work to proliferate. They are also terms that will occasionally be used as something of a war cry to question an effort or decision. Why are you working with evil centralized exchanges? Why did you help market a custodial Stacking pool? And so on. These are fair questions and we’re thankful to have a community that asks them — it means the moral compass is properly calibrated. When these types of decisions come up, we should think about them hard. However, the Stacks Foundation has a duty to do what it can to help the ecosystem grow. This is where being practical comes in.

Growth on the scale we want to see, in the environment we’re in, requires a balanced approach that meets people where they are. 99.9% of the people that will have heard about Stacks in 5 years from now, know nothing about it today. They are all starting journeys at various places and we want to be in as many of those places offering a helping hand into our world as possible. It’s worth noting here that one of the key ways this manifests is in our work to expand access to and increase the utility of Stacks. This means we have and will continue to spend time supporting centralized players to integrate Stacks and again, finding ways where Stacks can be useful directly to consumers even if that means access doesn’t happen through a 100% decentralized offering. All this said, you can rest assured that we will always thoroughly vet every single entity we may work with; we won't compromise a safe and secure experience for users.

We believe the decentralization and education that needs to take place to actually accomplish our mission is a monumental task that will happen along a messy spectrum. Decentralization and the change to a user-owned internet won’t look like a light switch that one day clicks over, but a deliberate and continuous movement over time that redirects the flow of the internet and reshapes the landscape to our vision. We take this to heart and try to be practical with the opportunities in front of us, balancing a purist mindset against a need to move the needle, get Stacks into the world, and keep the ecosystem fueled.
We prioritize builders
Everything we do comes back to supporting our builders. At various times this takes different forms: It means working on partnerships that result in more tools or better infrastructure. It means sourcing talent for teams in the grant or accelerator programs. It means educating more developers. It means creating more Stacks holders. Whatever it is, our primary operating mode will always be to clear the way for the builders. We know that if we create the conditions for valuable things to built on the network, Stacks will become a valuable piece of internet architecture.
We are keepers of the flame, not flamethrowers
I think it would be relatively easy to spend way too much on ads, memes, influencers, speaking slots, and general clout-chasing as is all-too-common in crypto and go home each day feeling like we’ve done our part to help $STX keep up with the industry. In fact, I mention this specifically because we field one or two complaints a quarter that we ‘don’t do enough marketing’ and it’s almost always in reference to doing more of the aforementioned activities for the token. Listen, I totally get it. If you’re a Stacks supporter, you want to see Stacks everywhere and you want your favorite project to be at the top of every page and on top of every chart.

Further, it’s no secret that a big part of crypto is dealing with a sentiment driven market, so the visibility factor of the asset cannot be ignored. What this notion comes down to is simply our role in the ecosystem. Hype and virality are wonderful tools, but they are also unpredictable and temporary by nature, so they are not tools we choose often or a primary lens with which we look at driving outcomes.

Instead, here’s how we think about our role in getting the word out about Stacks:
  • Telling the builder’s stories: We spend a majority of our time helping teams and developers market themselves. If they attract users, we all win on a much grander scale than if we found a way to trend a couple times a year. A great recent example of this approach is illustrated by Risidio’s launch and ongoing media placements — behind the scenes our team (and Wachsman!) helped the Risidio team prepare on everything from technology to communications.
  • Roadmap and the Stacks story: As the Stacks Foundation grows, we will continue taking on more responsibility related to supporting core developers in developing and publishing a shared roadmap, as well as driving a clear narrative and storytelling framework for the Stacks Ecosystem to rally behind.
  • Finding the right partners: Another way we ‘market’ Stacks is through partners. Obvious examples are exchanges, where we provide technical consultation and information as they look to integrate the Stacks chain. Another example is our work to support new Stacking providers; anywhere we can increase access to STX or bring more value to users or developers, we’re interested and having conversations. If the purpose of marketing is growth, some of the most promising ways we have to do that rapidly are through the right partners. It’s always fun to see the announcements when these things finally go live, but the day-in-day-out effort to close them doesn’t always excite the way a plug from influencer A or B might and we’re OK with that.
  • Publishing educational content: This is an area we’re working on to help the ecosystem catch up to all the new capabilities that came with Stacks 2.0. We see education as not only a pillar of marketing for Stacks, but as a key gateway for bringing extremely necessary talent into the ecosystem. It is also a critical component of telling the story of what Stacks can do and why it is a true gamechanger. On this front, we’re excited to see more content and growth happening via Stacks Chapters (we set others up for success), are hopeful for the Stacks Advocate program’s ability to impact visibility, and believe in the type of work Freehold is taking on.
So, while it’s admittedly hard to see memecoins come out of nowhere and suck up eyeballs and value we’d certainly love to have on Stacks, we do our best to stay away from short-term traps and focus on fueling projects and partners that build long-term value for Stacks.
We’re collaborative by default
While on the surface, there are projects we could work with that may seem competitive to Stacks, we operate from a place of trying to be supportive of and collaborative with others in our industry. Crypto is a very small industry and we all stand to benefit as the use of this technology grows. We prioritize bringing value and possibility to our builders over trying to silo ourselves off on a technological or cultural level.
We treat the treasury as yours
It might be cliché, but the truth is we think long and hard about how we spend and deploy the treasury. We’re an extension of the community and we see our responsibility here as simply maximizing that treasury in your interest. Either through Grants or the new Advocates program, we are managing the Foundation’s STX to fuel efforts with long-term benefit to the community. We are doing so in a manner that balances short-term growth needs with long-term service to the ecosystem for the next decade or more. Medium-term plans being discussed by working groups include DAOs and similar structures so the community can more directly manage these resources too.
Stacks Foundation in Q2 2020:
So, I’ve given you an idea of how we operate and why, now I want to give you some insight into what we’ve been prioritizing this quarter so you can see how themes map to real work. We operate using OKRs (objectives and key results) and take on an ambitious plate - success looks like accomplishing 50-70% of work for the quarter. We don’t always stick to the letter of OKR model (you'll see not everything is precisely measurable), but the exercise focuses our efforts each quarter at the highest level.
Objectives
Example Work
⚡ Accelerate innovation on Stacks by ensuring people have the tools to create user-owned businesses
  • Stacks Accelerator
  • Grants
⛓ Accelerate development of the Stacks infrastructure
  • Stacks Developer training 
  • Support DEXes and oracle efforts
⭐ Accelerate broader adoption of Stacks
  • Integration and support of exchanges
  • Partnerships and Stacking providers
❤️ Empower the global community to operate autonomously
  • Stacks Chapters
  • Governance SIPs
  • Advocates program
⚡ Accelerate innovation on Stacks by ensuring people have the tools to create user-owned businesses

  • Stacks Accelerator
  • Grants
⛓ Accelerate development of the Stacks infrastructure

  • Stacks Developer training
  • Support DEXes and oracle efforts
⭐ Accelerate broader adoption of Stacks

  • Integration and support of exchanges
  • Partnerships and Stacking providers
❤️ Empower the global community to operate autonomously

  • Stacks Chapters
  • Governance SIPs
  • Advocates program
In future quarters, something we'll be focusing on as part of the OKR process is how best to include the community more formally. Right now there are various ways we ensure your needs are working their way into these priorities, but I think everyone would benefit from a process as we scale.
Communities drive innovation
Thank you for your time and the work you do as a member of the community. I know there’s a lot going on not just in Stacks world, but in yours, and in the world at large. We have an amazing community that fuels our pursuit of an audacious mission. Stepping back, it’s incredible how patient and supportive everyone is while we figure this out together. It’s clear the best practices for collaborating as a network of independent entities and people are still being developed, but my hope is this post can play a part in starting a habit of over-communicating that enables us to activate the advantages our decentralized structure affords us.

Communities like ours are the change vehicles of our time and we get better at driving together every day.

In closing, I want to stress that we’re all honored to be here at the Stacks Foundation and in a position to serve this community — I hope this helps you see a little more clearly into our logic, rationale, and hearts as we do our best to do right by you and by our shared mission.


Mitchell Cuevas leads growth efforts at Stacks Foundation. He's spent the last decade working in community-driven high-growth startups.