DC for MGRC

TLDR

I’m DC and I’m running for MGRC as the nominee from the Electric Coin Company team. I have a technical background, significant business and non-profit experience, and a track record of working to protect and defend electronic privacy. I have strong opinions about what the Zcash project needs going forward, and as a member of MGRC I would push hard to synergize efforts from the ECC, Major Grants, the Zcash Foundation, and other stakeholders.

Key Levers

If I’m chosen to serve on MGRC, I will focus on the following high level priorities:

  • Broadening the Zcash community. We lost a massive amount of active users and community mojo when the ASIC miners came onto the network and the GPU miners were pushed out. I’m not advocating for ‘ASIC resistance’, but I would encourage contributions from people with novel ideas for how to reward people with Zcash for contributing to the network/platform/ecosystem.

  • Relentless focus on product, design and usability. Zcash is amazing, but until recently it’s been impossible to use to its full potential. I would encourage contributions from people who appreciate the power of great UX and design while not compromising on performance and security.

  • Discovering and supporting use cases in support of the mission. Today, Zcash is widely used, but the most popular use case appears to be speculation. I would encourage contributions from people that explore and promote use cases that make use of Zcash for good.

  • Encouraging diversity and inclusion. Diverse teams are stronger than monocultures. Tech is bad, but crypto is even worse when it comes to D&I. I helped to create the D&I program at my previous company, and successfully hired several outstanding candidates from underrepresented groups into technical roles in multiple departments. I believe it’s important that MGRC be composed of people that represent the numerous stakeholders of the Zcash community, and that MGRC benefit from geographic, economic, ethnic and gender diversity. A diverse MGRC will do a better job of soliciting grant applications from and awarding prizes to underrepresented candidates.

Background

I believe strongly in digital liberty. To me this means that people should be able to use technology to get leverage over their lives without that technology enslaving them into a system of surveillance capitalism or worse.

I grew up around computers, and developed a knack for figuring out how systems break early on. This “security mindset” gave me a natural fear of social technology, and I sat on the sidelines while my friends got on Friendster and Facebook, etc. I was first drawn to the intersection of technology and privacy when I saw Moxie Marlinspike’s talk at Defcon in 2010. In this talk, Moxie explains that choosing not to be on social media, or have a mobile phone, has profound implications. He argues that, for example, not having a phone is not a choice simply not to carry a piece of consumer technology in your pocket, it’s a choice not to participate in society. This talk opened my eyes to the impact of the (then) nascent practice of surveillance capitalism, and I leaned in to help normal people understand what was going on and how they could protect themselves. I worked with the team at the Wall St. Journal to analyze the data security and privacy dynamics of the top 100 apps in the Android and Apple app stores. This feature was one of the first times that mainstream media focused on digital privacy, and our team was pleased to see that in response to this work, Apple and Google overhauled some of their privacy practices, making it harder for apps to spy on users.

I continued to lean into developing privacy preserving technology, building a mobile transparency product called MobileScope in 2011 with Ashkan Soltani and Aldo Cortesi, which was acquired by the privacy-centric company Evidon (now Ghostery). I later served as the Chief Security Officer for SendGrid, a cloud based email provider. During my time at “The Grid”, I worked cross functionally to enable encryption for the email pipeline, which meaningfully increased the security and privacy of the platform, encrypting password reset emails for dozens of sites you probably use every day.

While the majority of my professional experience was in the for-profit sector, I did serve as a volunteer for the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) for four years. I initially served as a local chapter leader, and went on to serve on the project’s Global Industry Committee, helping to raise awareness around the importance of software security as a fundamental tenet of digital development.

I had become familiar with Bitcoin back in 2011, leveraging GPU horsepower from my security consultancy to mine blocks in between pentesting engagements. In 2016, I worked as a Techstars mentor for the team at Bridge21, who were among the first to use cryptocurrency to provide high speed, low fee cross-border payments to the world. I was particularly enamored of the potential for cryptocurrency to right some of the wrongs of the financial system that had spectacularly melted down in 2008 and led to populist uprisings in cities all over the world. The crash exposed that legacy financial systems extract more value from people than is appropriate. I had met Zooko at the University of Colorado law school when he was still working primarily on Tahoe-LAFS. I was very excited to see the progress he and his team made on bringing Zcash to life, and participated in the project as a miner initially, and then as an advisor to, and finally as an employee of the Electric Coin Company.

Why Zcash

Zcash represents the realization of potential that Bitcoin originally promised. Zcash is private, decentralized, innovative and resilient. Zcash is poised to do for Internet Money what HTTPS did for electronic commerce.

I believe that the Zcash project has done a superb job of productionizing cutting edge cryptography, creating an altcoin that clearly has a raison d’etre. The project enjoys first class liquidity and broad exchange support. The magical “shielded” technology that differentiates Zcash from other altcoins has become dramatically easier to use recently, thanks to effective collaboration between the ECC, the Zcash Foundation, and community developers such as Aditya from the Zecwallet project. Upcoming collaborations with organizations like Gitcoin will breathe new life into the Zcash ecosystem, and encourage developers from all over the world to contribute to the project. That said, I believe that the biggest threat to Zcash at this point is relevance. As other projects begin to add meaningful privacy capabilities, it is important that we work hard to identify and support (legitimate) use cases, while investing in things that we (as a project) have not historically prioritized, like community outreach and developer engagement.

I believe that the MGRC will be most effective if it is composed of people from diverse backgrounds; people that represent the various types of stakeholders of the Zcash ecosystem. I believe that it’s important for MGRC to work to expand “beyond the crypto bubble”, and seek engagement from candidates that are experienced not just in technology or cryptography, but in areas like governance, funding public goods, public policy and law. If I am chosen by the Community Advisory Panel to serve on the MGRC, I believe that I would be an effective conduit between the ECC and the MGRC, helping MGRC to focus on funding work that the ECC cannot or will not prioritize.

The Zcash project has a ton of potential that is not yet realized in the world. I believe that I have a unique combination of organizational, technical and communication skills that would make me a good choice for the MGRC, and humbly request that the community give me the chance to serve in this capacity.

Key Questions

What kind of time commitment is expected from MGRC members?

I believe that MGRC will represent a big lift for the initial members, as much bootstrapping work is required to set the stage for future productivity. That said, once steady state is achieved, I imagine MGRC taking up about a week per quarter, per member.

What compensation structure and amount is appropriate given this level of commitment?

I believe that MGRC membership represents a significant amount of responsibility and accountability, and that members will bring specialized skills to the table, and commit non-trivial amounts of time, and that this time should be compensated accordingly. In venture backed startups, external directors are usually compensated with common stock of the company, which generally vests over time. The director has “skin in the game”, as the stock becomes more valuable as the company performs better. MGRC members compensated in ZEC have a similar upside. The amount of compensation is usually proportional to the stage of the company. I’m not sure what the right comparison is in this situation.

Will MGRC members be indemnified from liability, using D&O insurance or similar? If so, who should pay for this?

Given that MGRC will be making decisions related to the disbursement of material amounts of funding, it intuitively makes sense to me that MGRC members should be indemnified against liability for decisions that they make acting in this capacity. Seeking individual D&O policies for each individual would be prohibitively costly and would unnecessarily exclude some individuals from serving. Thus I believe that a D&O policy should be obtained to cover MGRC and that this policy should be paid out of the MGRC funds. I am open to suggestions as to alternate solutions.

Since DC is nominated by ECC, does that mean that the opinions he will bring to the MGRC discussions and decisions will be unduly influenced by Zooko?

As mentioned above, I have a long track record of caring about, and doing something about electronic surveillance and privacy concerns. I have strong opinions about the future of Zcash, and these opinions don’t always align with Zooko’s. That said, I expect that I would show up to the MGRC as a representative of the ECC, and would exert influence on MGRC in such a way that properly balances my personal conviction with the ECC team’s perspectives.

Odds and ends

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I have added a link to your thread to the top post of the MGRC Megathread, Good Luck!

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Hi @alchemydc,

Thank you so much for offering to contribute here!

I’m a bit surprised about this, because I personally would guess more effort even in the steady state. I assume MGRC needs to spend effort on all of the following in the steady state:

  • discovering and soliciting new applicants,
  • (maybe) defining and refining “calls for proposals”,
  • doing deep evaluations of proposals, writing specific feedback, and going through multiple iterations for proposals to reach a high bar of excellence,
  • perform due diligence on proposal teams’ abilities to execute and their track records,
  • evaluate proposal budgets for efficiency,
  • prioritize among proposals,
  • track and evaluate progress through the grant lifetime,
  • disbursement of funds, all necessary accounting and funds management / oversight,
  • general advisorship and firefighting for all current grantees,
  • public accountability and engagement on all of the above.

I guess the amount of time per quarter also depends on the number of grantees and applications in flight, and that could be scaled up or down.

Does that list of responsibilities seem necessary and complete to you?

Would you expect committee members themselves to perform most/all of this, or do you expect MGRC would hire staff for portions of it?

(BTW- all of these questions apply generally to MGRC and all applicants, it’s just that your announcement here is the first one to provoke this surprise in me.)

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Hi DC,

I really like you application. You have highlighted some very valuable ideas. You seem to have the skills to do this.

I complete agree on the compensation angle. It is why I haven’t said a rate. You cant until you know what it is you will be doing and what skills you need to use.

I have a few questions if that is okay.

Isnt this something covered by the ZFND grants program? What sort of UI/UX would you like to see come forward for a MG applicant in order for them to get the block rewards for UI/UX? Or are you saying that if two similar proposals come in the UX/UI might be the thing to swing it for one company over another?

In an ideal world you would brand UI/UX like the games companies do and have requirements that need to be met in order for you to get the zcash seal (zeal?) of approval and use the logo. But this is more a ECC/ZFND thing, it is their trademark.

Can you please elaborate on what you mean by this. The MGRC is not meant to be an extension of the ECC. I don’t want it to end up in the situation where the ECC isn’t (or could be perceived not to be) doing certain things because they know the MGRC will pick up the slack. The MGRC proposals should be fairly independent of the ECC and not too reliant on the ECC having to hit their targets. It is designed to onboard new teams then have these new teams sustain the ecosystem. (I am probably misreading what you wrote. it is the “cannot or will not” bit that I am struggling with)

I am not sure what you are getting at here. The MGRC doesnt get to pick who serves on the MGRC. How can you do anything about the diversity of the MGRC? What are you proposing?

The ZFND outreach programmes and local zcash groups should enable a more diverse set of applicants where social economic issues are not a limiting factor. The ZFND has already done a lot of good work in this area already it would be best to leverage their knowledge imho.

I was hoping that the ECC applicant would be strong in costing of the work, as you are the only people who really know how much this stuff costs to develop. Do you have relevant experience within the ECC to help with assessing the budgets and financial/time estimates? I can see a lot of value you can bring to the MGRC in this area too.

Many thanks,

steve

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Nathan, thanks for the feedback. I always try to draw upon experience to formulate opinions on issues like this. I have two relevant experiences to draw upon here. Neither of these comparisons apply perfectly for MGRC, but I still believe that they’re helpful references.

The first is that of a venture fund. Venture funds typically have partners that are responsible for decision making, e.g. “should we fund company X” and also for driving negotiation around key terms such as valuation and control. Venture partners frequently take board seats on the companies they invest in, and may provide useful guidance, additional funding, introductions, help with hiring, and other types of support at regular intervals throughout a company’s lifecycle. Venture partners are usually supported by associates, who typically do a lot of work to support the partners, much of which is captured in the more administrative bullet points in your list above.

That said, non-profit grants and prizes are different than venture driven businesses. Which brings me to the other experience that shapes my opinion. My partner is a principal investigator in the life sciences at a research university. She spends a non trivial amount of time serving on “study section”, which is a collaborative and time consuming process that she performs fairly regularly. Study section consists of reviewing grant applications, scoring them, discussing the scores with the other panel members, and ultimately making decisions about who gets the grant funding. AFAICT, this process is laborious, but infrequent, with the bulk of the review happening asynchronously. The biggest synchronous time commitments seem to be the calls (well, now Zooms) that the panel does to review each others’ scores and make decisions.

In both cases, (the venture fund and the academic grant review panel), the decision makers are supported by administrative staff that allow the decision makers to focus on leveraging their judgment and experience to make the right call, while offloading the more mundane, less specialized tasks to others.

I think that MGRC members should aspire to perform a valuable service to grantees and provide mentoring and bidirectional feedback sessions. This will help the grantees make the most of the resources they’re given, and will also allow MGRC to iterate and evolve its practices based on feedback it gets from its “customers” if you will. This type of mentoring is a cornerstone of the Techstars and YC accelerators, and I think is one of the primary sources of value that founders get out of participating in programs like that.

So, in summary, I expect MGRC membership to be a big lift for the inaugural members, but I do expect the workload to settle into a steady state once the necessary processes are figured out. As you mentioned, the work load will fluctuate based on the number of applications, and the relative scope of the funded work. I also want to make it clear that in addition to grants, I am very interested in exploring “prizes”, to award funds to teams or individuals that have already done great work in support of the ecosystem. I believe that this model has worked well for the Decred community and is something we should explore.

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Hello Steve! Thanks for your constructive support and participation in the dev fund process. We are very lucky to have you as part of the community :slight_smile:

Regarding UX/UI:

I come from an engineering background, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been part of a team that has built an unbelievable product, but spent so much time focusing on what was under the hood that we forgot to paint the car. As such, it’s been my experience that products with superior UI/UX (and also superior marketing) frequently defeat products despite their superior engineering. As a consequence of this, I now believe that UI/UX is a “first class citizen”, and as such I think that MGRC should be cognizant of the importance of great experience and use this to help inform decisions about which projects/teams/individuals to fund.

I agree that MGRC is not an extension of the ECC, nor of the ZF. MGRC can, and should be autonomous. That said, I believe the resource constraints on ECC and ZF (remember, MG is getting the largest slice of the dev fund going forward), will create a situation in which MGRC should be cognizant of the ECC and ZF’s priorities (and non priorities), and seek to actively fund projects which deliver meaningful capability that may be neglected by other players in the ecosystem. Some overlap is good, such as independent implementations of the client, for example. However, generally speaking I think that having multiple teams pursuing identical goals is suboptimal.

True, MGRC is selected by the Community Advisory Panel, not by MGRC itself. Thus my assertion is meant to encourage the community (and the CAP) to consider geographic, economic, ethnic and gender diversity when they cast their votes. Note that I am not making a political statement here. Rather, I’m drawing upon my professional experience as well as relevant research which demonstrates that companies with diverse teams, generally speaking, perform better than companies built on monocultures.

Yes. Prior to joining ECC I did product focused startups. Before that, I ran a technical security consultancy. As a result, I feel like I have a good lens through which to judge proposals from a cost/effort/risk/return point of view. In short, I believe in the “quick, right, cheap: pick two” school of thought. I place a premium on good communication, which avoids situations like this.

Cheers,

DC

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Hi,

thanks for the detailed response.

I agree with your points.

Yes, this was my mistake. I have no idea why, but my mind slipped back 8 months or so and I thought the ECC was still applying for grants. You’d think I would remember it was a big deal for me at the time. heh.

+1 for no politics. governance is hard enough as it is. I wasn’t trying to make a political statement either. Thank you for clarifying.

Where do you stand on the testing and accountability to the MGRC for milestones? After realising the mistake I made, I feel that milestones should be accountable to the MGRC. What do you think would be the most prudent way to do this. personally I think certification testing is the way forward.

From your experience at the ECC, how much money do you think the MGRC needs to keep its self going - not in paying grant recipients. @shawn is there a budget defined for the MGRC anywhere?

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The budget is 8% of the block reward :slightly_smiling_face:

Other than that, AFAIK it’s up to MGRC to define what thier overhead will be and budget accordingly.

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Hi DC, very glad you are running.

For everyone else: DC is the best possible person we could have as ECCs representative on the MGRC. He’s consistently shown he’s results oriented and can think through what the ecosystem needs. He’s been a major champion of ECC producing a wallet (something that was far more controversial internally than it should have been). And he has serious startup experience which has been invaluable at ECC I think MGRC should have at least one person with it. He will be a major asset to have on the MGRC.

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I wasnt expecting ECC members to apply, this is interesting and I appreciate the spotlight you put on diversity because I was literally debating if I should comment or not due to the small amount of unique users in this community, no disrespect intended this currency requires an education to use imo, and thats why we need to focus on outreach.

I also like that you are open minded about pay and reimbursement, its a speculative topic and a CA here in Canada recommend less than $40,000 USD Salary, but there could be benefits and quotas for incentives.