(tldr: read bold)
Zcash Community Advisory Panel (ZCAP),
In a blog post published to their website on August 3, 2021, the Zcash Foundation wrote:
In late May, we published a blog post inviting nominations for the Zcash Foundation board. However, the only nominations submitted were those made by Jack Gavigan (the Zcash Foundation’s executive director) who nominated the three existing board members whose terms are expiring. With hindsight, it’s possible that we should have put greater effort into publicizing the fact that we were inviting nominations.
Therefore, we plan to poll the ZCAP [in late August] to ask whether they endorse reappointment of the three incumbent board members or recommend that the Foundation re-opens nominations.
I am writing this letter to urge the ZCAP to recommend the Foundation re-open nominations when polled later this month, and not authorize the reappointment of the three incumbent board members: Matthew Green, Andrew Miller, and Peter Van Valkenburgh.
There is an emerging consensus within the community that the Foundation does not operate efficiently, pays lip service to its core values and mission, and does not adequately serve Zcash users or the Zcash ecosystem. In late July, I wrote a post about this topic in the forum, but I will briefly summarize my points below and then offer a potential solution that may benefit the Foundation in the long run.
Transparency & Accountability: The Foundation lists “Transparency” as its #1 value under “Values and Goals” on its website, but needs to do more to “walk the talk.” For instance, it is impossible to independently assess on an annual basis (1) what the Foundation set out to do and (2) what it accomplished. I was only able to locate an engineering roadmap for 2020 and retrospectives for 2018 and 2019. There are “Quarterly Reports” for Q1 and Q2 of 2020, but they didn’t exist before 2020 and they are no longer being produced. The current Executive Director acknowledges that reporting should be more robust and that the Quarterly Reports should be reinstated, but says right now he does not have the bandwidth. With all due respect, I don’t think that is a legitimate excuse. In fact, I believe it demonstrates a poor commitment to accountability. Overall, the Foundation should do more to provide “high level” transparency reporting to community members and stakeholders.
Project Management: The Foundation’s mission is to “build financial privacy infrastructure…primarily serving users of the Zcash protocol.” However, its track record has been disappointing. The Zebra client is a major priority that was originally announced in October 2018 with an initial estimated release date of October 2019, around the same time as the Blossom network upgrade. Three years later, it’s still a work in progress, and when it will be fully released to production is still unknown. In addition, projects like the Zepio Wallet were publicly announced and commissioned, then quietly abandoned for unclear reasons. High level communication on the status of projects is unsatisfactory. Overall, there is not a lot of clarity and transparency into ongoing projects, and I believe this not only demonstrates poor project management, but also poor management of financial and staffing resources.
User Acquisition & Engagement: While the Foundation has done an excellent job organizing and producing the Zcon events, it has done little to bring new users to Zcash, educate the public on the benefits of Zcash’s privacy-preserving technology, and encourage the adoption of shielded addresses. New user acquisition should be a top priority. In addition, community engagement on social media, like Twitter, is also relatively weak, especially when compared to the Electric Coin Company and some of its key employees. Hiring a Communications Director may help with some of these issues, but only if management implements and enforces appropriate policies, procedures, and controls around communication.
First, I want to be clear that I do not blame the current Executive Director, Jack Gavigan, for the Foundation’s performance record. Jack started his position in February 2021 and deserves a chance to prove himself an effective leader. I do, however, believe his predecessor was not the right person to lead the Foundation. I also believe the board did not do a good job supervising him or holding him accountable. That said, I do not think the board was intentionally negligent or acted in bad faith.
Part of the issue is that the Foundation’s board is primarily composed of highly specialized individuals, such as academics and cryptographers, who are absolutely brilliant, but lack the experience necessary to manage people and oversee an organization. For this reason, I strongly believe it would benefit the Foundation to replace at least one of the incumbent board members with someone who possesses a strong business and organizational acumen. We need a board in place with the ability to recognize important management issues, provide guidance and solutions to the Executive Director, and act decisively when needed.
I hope what I am saying does not come across as too harsh or unfairly judgmental. My intention is to speak out on behalf of our community, offer a relatively balanced assessment of the Foundation, and advocate for a simple solution that may help it operate more efficiently going forward. Whether or not you agree with my overall assessment, I hope you will agree that it is beneficial for the board of directors to have members with diverse professional backgrounds, skills, and perspectives.
Finally, I want to commend the Foundation for choosing to poll the ZCAP rather than simply rubberstamping the reappointment of the existing board members. It demonstrates they recognize the importance of being more transparent and engaging with the community. Equally important, it offers a potential solution to some of the problems I outline above. The Foundation needs to change, and this is our chance to make it better.
Please recommend the Foundation re-open nominations for the board. This is your opportunity to help replace at least one of the incumbent directors with a new member who can help the Foundation (1) operate with increased efficiency, (2) honor its commitment to transparency and accountability, and (3) better serve Zcash users and the Zcash ecosystem.