Grants and Residence Program Changes - August 2022

I am writing to acknowledge some community conversations and recent feedback around program changes in at the Stacks Foundation, specifically around the Grants Program and Residence program.

First off, our team would like to thank the teams for all the tremendous contributions they’ve made and their patience during this period of transition. We hope to keep you as a vibrant part of the ecosystem. Like each of you, we’re focused on serving the mission to the best of our ability and staying focused on delivering the highest value outcomes, especially with a changing market.

Treasury and Spending Changes
The main takeaway is that we still have plenty of runway (approximately 2 years’ worth) but are now laser focused on allocating funding to the most critical areas of need in the ecosystem. For context, the price of Stacks went from a high of $2.44 earlier this year to $0.50 today, the STX Treasury went from $162M USD value (~75M STX at $2.17) to $22M USD value (~56M at $0.40).

Our treasury started with STX closer to $0.15 so relatively, still far more USD value, but markets change and we want to be on the ready to put the treasury to the best use. Fortunately, we’ve been very conservative with our cash and bitcoin revenues, so we have always aimed to have at least 2 years cash runway for Stacks Foundation operations.

Grants and Residence Program Changes
Grants have supported some of the most successful startups in the ecosystem, while Residencies have kickstarted valuable R&D related to governance, Clarity, tokenomics, and more.

To ensure the effectiveness of programs, we plan by setting expectations, running a controlled experiment, evaluating the outcome, and evolving the program after review. Two programs under recent review are the Grants and Residence Programs, both with 12 months of historical data.

Grants Dashboard and Ambassador Changes
We’ve seen huge growth in the interest of our grants program. To help support that growth, we experimented with updates to the Grants Application process via the Dashboard and onboarded Ambassadors to support that work. We had some great outcomes, but also some learnings from both initiatives, especially around ROI. This led to our decision to stop further technical development on the Dashboard and conclude the Ambassadors program, according to our contractual agreement, for the foreseeable future.

For further insight, the Ambassadors program assisted some great outcomes. Including managing growth of Grant applications from roughly $100k a week to $600k a week. This increase in application throughput was an internal goal. The grant Ambassadors (Vane, Dio, Jasper, and Vidia) were instrumental in this growth. We also learned from the ambassadors that a lot of upfront love and support was needed to support the growth of the grants program and to help grantees get their apps approved earlier on. We’re really grateful for the work by the Ambassadors on this front. Now that their contributions have improved processes for onboarding new applications, we’re spending more time and resources focused on grant completion/retention and making sure we fund grants in line with the most pressing community needs.

The challenges of the Ambassadors program was around sustainability. The intention of the program was for Ambassadors to operate as extensions of the community and help decentralize the review process. Unfortunately, in practice (and at no fault of their own) we felt the Ambassador role came to feel too much like an extension of the Foundation itself and did not have a clear path to stand on its own if and when the Foundation ever decided to stop funding it. That being the case, we decided to make the difficult decision to cancel the program after a six-month trial period.

Stacks Grant Launchpad
As for the Grants Dashboard, while the original dashboard (hosted at grants.stacks.org from 4/20/22 to 8/8/22) helped us mature as a program by forcing us to design each facet of our process with intention - we were concerned that applications and feedback were too removed from the community - another roadblock to increased decentralization of the review process. As a result, we decided to simplify the technical codebase and pivot back to Github (our original home for grants) which allows us to leverage their notifications, issue-tracking, discussion boards, kanban boards, and wiki for documentation. Grants.stacks.org has limited functionality and primarily serves as an application pipeline. We would like to thank Dio and Vidia (along with Jesse Wiley) for their technical leadership in this quick pivot and thank Jasper for his vision in setting up the new GitHub repo.

Resident Program Changes
The Residence program was designed to cater to those looking to explore broader problems or unanswered questions in the ecosystem. Its objective is to serve critical research needs, more ongoing governance-related projects, sustainable improvements to ecosystem infrastructure, and more places where specific expertise is required. Since the launch of the program in October 2021, we’ve awarded 11 residencies (ranging from 6–12 months) valued at over $1.5m in total. As the first residencies are coming to a close, we’ve spent time evaluating past outcomes, examining current residency deliverables, and setting clearer expectations for any new residents.

The Residence program, like the Ambassadors program, is an experiment aimed at advancing decentralization within the Stacks ecosystem. Although residents work closely with the Foundation to develop and deliver on their roadmaps, the outcomes of their work should be based on the needs of the community, not the needs of the Foundation itself.

To recap the impact of the residence program for insight, for ~$1.5m committed over the course of the last 18 months, we’ve seen these milestones reached:

    - Progress on Boomboxes, allowing anyone to mint STX NFTs and earn BTC through NFTs
    - Microstx + other tools from Fungible Systems
    - Inception of Frens
    - Management of the Governance Advocates Program + foundational research and experimentation with indigenous-inspired governance culture
    - Management & education of a wide range of NFT artists via The Mintery
    - Several Clarity advancements via SIPs 13 & 16, a new modular DAO model for community members to use, and an outline for a non-custodial bitcoin solution
    - Rapid expansion of our Clarity education program, on track to bring in 1,000 new developers to Stacks by early next year
    - Fundamental tokenomics resources, consulting, and thought leadership
    - Updated work on Gaia and decentralized storage in general
    - Progress on universal profiles that can be launched through the Hiro wallet

What we’ve learned in our review is that it’s important that the residence program doesn’t just become a home for those somewhere between a grant and contract employment, serving ad hoc needs of the Foundation. The work completed by a resident should have the potential to stand on its own, either as research findings or a new program, product, or tools. To ensure a higher success rate across residents, we’ve implemented more checkpoints (such as a 30-day trial period, weekly check-ins, and monthly updates to the community) and are offering mentorship from subject matter experts for each resident. To increase autonomy, we’re ensuring there is clear accountability to the community on deliverables. So if there is a residency that is no longer meeting its intended purpose, there is a path to altering or ending it early.

Impacted Ambassadors and Rescinded Residence Program Offers
All of the above changes are pragmatic reactions to a clearer focus on providing value to the Ecosystem, adaptations to a smaller treasury, and working to expand community contribution to the Stacks Ecosystem. Unfortunately, there were some mistakes made in communication on these program changes that we’ve addressed with the impacted parties privately, but wanted to publicly acknowledge here.

All four of the Ambassadors helped deliver on grant reviews, grants dashboard fixes, and community engagement. When we decided to close the Ambassadors program, they were all impacted. We were eager to find a home for them to continue contributing, and the Residence program seemed like a potential fit. They all applied to the program and went through the process and received approvals. In parallel during their Residence applications, we were working to refine the Residence program.

After the Residents’ outcomes were reviewed, it became clear that the applications that were approved were not set up for success. While they were tackling critical needs of the grants program, it wasn’t clear that these residencies could become independent initiatives or entities that would increase decentralization (an important tenet of the Residence Program). Again this is not the fault of the residents, who were simply trying to find a home for their previous work. However, we acknowledge that our late realization left the approved applicants in limbo. That was a mistake on our side and we’ve been working on a retrospective to ensure no future program transitions fail in the same way. We are very sorry about the impact to these individuals, and we’ve offered each a 2 weeks stipend, equivalent of their previous pay, for the rescinding of their offers and resulting impact.

Overall, the impacted former Ambassadors are each quality contributors to the ecosystem and we hope there is an excellent home that is suited to their unique talents and encourages them to continue creating value. Unfortunately, the Residence Program as it’s designed, is not the right place for the types of outcomes they deliver. It’s best suited for those researching underexplored opportunities, growing educational programs, or developing high priority tools/platforms for builders & founders

Transparency and Feedback
We’ve created a culture at the Stacks Foundation to experiment often with new programs, like Ambassadors and Residents. Given the changing nature of Crypto, we’ve found the best way to be successful for the long term is to build a culture of experiments. This means we set expectations of what we want to solve, experiment, evaluate, and evolve over time. We’ve had a number of wins but also lessons along the way.

We ultimately are accountable to the community about how we grow, spend, and invest in fulfilling our mission. We’ve always looked for more ways to operate transparently and to decentralize responsibility to the community, where it belongs. We continue to keep an open ear for improvements, and an open door for contributors. This post is open for comments.

Community Opportunities
If you’re looking for the right fit for where to get involved, there are many open opportunities:

  • Grants: All reviews and applications are public by design. Anyone from the community can comment, provide feedback, and reviews. This keeps the review process open, and available to everyone: Issues · stacksgov/Stacks-Grant-Launchpad · GitHub
  • Governance: There is an open Github repo owned and operated by the community on improvements for the Stacks Foundation’s governance. Contributors are encouraged to participate here: Stacks Community Governance · GitHub
  • Stacks Blockchain Improvement Proposals: Our process is open, and transparent to everyone. You can read about some of the recent SIP process improvements here, and reach out to the SIPs resident, Hero Gamer, working to make communication even smoother: Scaling up the SIP process
  • Open Jobs: We’ve worked with HireVibes to support ecosystem wide job postings, so anyone looking for a full time job in the ecosystem has an easy way to find the right fit to work on Stacks. HireVibes - Web3's Talent Network

Thank you,
Brittany
Executive Director, Stacks Foundation

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