Compound Grants Program - Lessons and Next Steps

We started the Compound Grants Program with a simple idea in mind: let’s fund contributors that are working to make Compound better. Since we weren’t sure how many contributors there would be and how much money we would need to pay them to work on the protocol, we thought it best to start small.

Accordingly, the first iteration of Compound Grants Program (“CGP 1.0”) was funded with a little over $2M in COMP. After six months of operations, this program funded over 30 grantees with over $1M in funding. The CGP funded open-source dashboards, analytics, hackathons, and so much more. You can see a list of everything the CGP funded at this link.

From the start, CGP 1.0 was an experiment to see what a grants program managed by independent community members could look like. We learned a lot from running the experiment, and we’d like to share some of the key learnings below.

What Worked

  • Reasonable, but generous grant sizes. For most projects (Compound included), the bottleneck is not capital but contributors. That is, there is an abundant supply of capital but very few contributors that are willing (and able) to step up to the plate to do the work. Motivating contributors requires paying competitive salaries and grants.To that end, we have been generous (but reasonable) with grants, which has allowed us to attract incredibly talented contributors to work on improving Compound.

  • Attach milestones to grants. Milestones serve two purposes: they protect us from giving an upfront grant to someone who doesn’t end up doing the work and they encourage the grantee to continue delivering since that’s the only way to receive the full grant. Milestones have worked exceptionally well for us, and we’ll continue using them going forward.

  • Bet on doers. When we started Compound Grants we weren’t sure who would be able to do the work and who wouldn’t. It turns out that there’s a very easy way to tell who can deliver: people who have already done good work are likely to do it again. Our most successful grants went to “repeat contributors” — they’ve done it before and they’ll do it again.

What Didn’t Work

  • Launch and “they will come.” When we launched Compound Grants, we thought people would know what to work on. In retrospect, we should have known that it’s easy to boil the ocean when thinking about what to work on. What happened is applicants would apply for grants for all sorts of projects, putting us in the position of assigning priorities to applications after they were submitted. Instead, the right approach is for grants programs to understand the level of priorities for the protocol and put out RFP’s that community members can begin working on. We didn’t do that at first, but we learned quickly. Now, we have a list of RFP’s that are a priority for the protocol to complete and encourage community members to work on them.

  • 2-week turnaround. Prior to launching Compound Grants, we did some research on how other crypto grants programs work. Across the board, the biggest “pain point” we heard was how slow grants programs operate: it would take months for applicants to hear back from the program, and by that point, they would not need money or they pivoted to working on something else. To solve this pain point, we decided to operate Compound Grants with a tight turnaround time: 2 weeks from application to grant. While we did a good job of being speedy, we didn’t hit our 2-week goal. There were several reason for that, with the biggest ones being (i) if you’re running grants in batches, the critical path is determined by the slowest applicants (which can take several weeks to process), (ii) larger grants can take significant up-front work to review and process, and (iii) yours truly is leading the grants program solo and part-time, which limits bandwidth for processing applications. What should we do to improve turn-around time? First, we should be more stringent with applicants: if applicants don’t submit the required information by a certain date, they forfeit the ability to receive a grant. Second, as the grant program matures from an experiment to something more sturdy, we recommend staffing the program with several full-time employees who can process grants in parallel. We’re not quite there yet, but this is something we’d like to actively work towards.

What Now?

Now that CGP 1.0 has concluded, we will put a pause on new grants. Over the next few weeks, we will finalize payouts to existing grantees and wrap up operations of the program. To provide us with adequate funding for essential expenses, we recommend keeping $250k worth of COMP in the existing CGP multisig. All unused COMP will be returned from the multisig back to the treasury. (To be more precise, we spent ~2.5k of the 5k COMP the program received in funding; we recommend keeping ~700 COMP in the multisig as a reserve and sending the balance back to the treasury).

CGP 1.0 was an enormously successful experiment. We believe it’s now time to double-down on grants and make the program better, faster, and bigger than ever before. Over the next few months, we will be designing CGP 2.0. Our hope for CGP 2.0 is to build the best community-led organization, ever. That means staffing CGP with a full-time team, developing a clear communications process so the community knows what’s being worked on and what needs to be worked on, and constructing incentives for contributors to work on Compound exclusively. We need all the help we can get; if you’re interested in getting involved, please comment here and/or reach out on Discord.

Developing CGP 2.0 will take time, which is why we are pausing grants while we design the next iteration of the program. We can’t wait to share CGP 2.0 with you. Stay tuned!

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Just wanted to give a huge shoutout to @sukernik and the rest of the CGP 1.0 Team; the depth and experience on the team paired with their vision for what the Compound Protocol will look like is incredible, and we’re especially excited to see what CGP 2.0 is able to accomplish! Would love to help out in any way we can, and I’m strongly in support of expanding the scope and size of CGP 2.0 given more direction and focus on how to incentivize clearly defined projects to apply to CGP and better the ecosystem

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