Cardano Project Catalyst -Conversation with Kriss Baird - Long text version

Andrii: Hello everyone. Today on the channel CryptoTexty we are speaking about Cardano and Cardano governance - Project Catalyst. We'll have a conversation with Kris Baird, product manager of IOHK, IOG that's the company behind Cardano. And I'm happy that we met with Kris in Kyiv a year ago and hopefully we'll meet again. 

So my first question would be: Your position is indicated as project manager, product manager, a lot of people confuse these two definitions, but what I see and I'm in Catalyst since Fund 1 that you are doing really a lot of things in Catalyst. You're like Catalyst visionaire: you're doing some business

development, some presentations, some managerial functions. So let's speak, maybe start with how you got to the crypto space, how you go to IOHK and what are you doing in Catalyst. 

Kriss: Yeah, sure. First of all, Andrii thank you so much for inviting me to come and speak to you and your audience. Really, it's a pleasure to first of all be here today but also as you said to have met you in real life. So much of what we do these days is just digital and so it was great to meet you in the flesh.

Yeah, what a great question. My background's kind of checkered, I guess. I mean first and foremost, I've been a Cardano fanboy for such a long time. And quite literally since maybe a week or two after the first press announcements about a Japanese Ethereum started hitting the western blockchain media. At that point in time I had been looking for Ethereum solution or certainly a solution to the scalability or the trifecta of challenges that blockchain layer ones were facing at the time. And you know let's be really clear there were really only Bitcoin and Ethereum. So my background before that you know going back to the 2016 - 2017 I’d come from working within the UK government's innovation agency, the biggest grant funder in the UK effectively. And I used to run a national innovation programmes across the digital economy where we would set challenges for startups and scale-ups and organizations to respond to and put forward requests for grant funding. And then I was responsible for designing some of the industrial strategy around what other competitions we should be focused on and making requests to government for that budget from UK government treasury. So I wonder whether your audience feels like this maybe sounds quite familiar. So this is essentially I think the background and the foundations that led me to starting to be an employee at IOG. But yeah I mean effectively after I left “Innovate UK” in 2015, I then went on to set up and establish a number of accelerator programs for social impact investment grant funders and universities that were working with private businesses and investors to accelerate and incubate really good technical ideas. And then I've been a mentor in a whole bunch of sort of programs in and around the digital economy. So yeah I guess they come with a bit of a pedigree on, you know, how to put together these types of large-scale distributed programs, not necessarily decentralized. But you know, I guess my side hustle was being very very interested in everything that blockchain was able to enable. So during Summit 2020 and so I'd already been a lurker within the Cardano ecosystem for like three years. 

AV: When Shelly started.

KB: That's right. So around about the time of Shelley I learned that actually one of my old colleagues from “Innovate UK” was working within IOHK. So I reached out to him and we discussed the opportunities for me to get involved and whether it's part of the community or maybe in some other capacity. And then I did some user testing on the Marlowe playground, if you remember and have you know had any opportunity to play around with that. So having done some user testing with Marlowe and got to know a couple of other IOHK team mates and employees, they put me forward or recommended that I take a look at what was going on within Catalyst. Obviously it just for me made so much sense. You know, I'd come with all this wealth of experience running these national innovation programs and hopefully I could bring some of that great experience and knowledge around, you know, what goes on under the hood in those sorts of scenarios and environments to the plans and strategy that was developing within Catalyst and our decentralized governance ideals really. First and foremost I'm a Cardano fanboy and was just a massive fan of the team and everything that the broader IOHK was publishing both in terms of content and research.

AV: Just to add: Marlowe, you mentioned, that this is smart contract language in Cardano ecosystem. And during that Shelley summit which was virtual because of coronavirus a lot of people joined and actually that's where Project Catalyst was announced. Then it was a blog post so I joined it since Fund 1, firstly it was a closed group.

KB: Yeah, it was literally a handful of people and a handful of proposers. There was no resources up for grabs, no ADA distributed in Fund 1. There were literally just a couple of team members, Dor Garbash was leading the charge at that point. So when I came on board essentially I was the second of the management to join the team.  Maybe just to go back to your point about the distinguishing between project manager and product manager. My responsibilities are to set the vision an work on collaboratively with the community, of course, around what the strategy should be for Catalyst. And then we've got a fairly significant team now, product team as well that are very conservatively working towards developing the strategy for decentralized governance, what's known as Voltaire or has been known as Voltaire and the Voltaire era that's going to be coming to Cardano in 2023.

AV: Actually you mentioned Dor, and where Dor now? Because last time we don't hear about him and I don't even remember when I saw him on the town hall the last time.

KB: Dor has a family, he's now a dad. He left IOHK and he's gone to work with another company to run their general management operations for their beginnings of their kind of crypto efforts.

AV: But is he still present in the Catalyst not at the moment, maybe observing? 

KB: I would say yeah probably lurking on the outskirts. Really I'd be surprised if Dor was able to put down Catalyst entirely. I like to think that he's kind of watching in the wings and celebrating the successes of the team and the community and all of the great outcomes that are now being produced from his initial leadership.

AV: So basically we can simplify that now you are the main person for the Catalyst?

KB: I wouldn't go that far. I would always say that you know community is made up so much more of just you and I, right? Community is, (I said this on a tweet recently): Community is the sum of all of its constituent parts. Because you know, without community, without the sum of all the parts… Together, you knowm we make sense right? But divided we're just a collection of of letters and that just make very very small noises without very little meaning. So I'd never say that I'm the main person, far from it. We have a great management team. We've got a great set of colleagues within IOG or IOHK and also other stakeholders involved in Cardano across the Cardano foundation, EMURGO, the Catalyst circle which is a representative body of the community that participate in Catalyst. 

What we see is that every single day almost, new groups and new communities of practice that are coming together that all have a share of a voice within this beautiful thing called Catalyst.

AV: Yes yes today we don't have too much time so I would just like ask - how do you see… And just in case somebody who is watching is not familiar with Catalyst - it was called the Decentralized innovation fund. Maybe still there is a room to go into decentralization because still people from IOG and not only you, the whole team is running and controlling. But someday maybe it will be completely decentralized. So it is decentralizing every day.

For those who do not know that's a place in other words where people submit proposals, write reviews on proposals, vote on them and then get funded. We don't go deep into these details because this might be the whole topic for other video and there are a lot of educational information.

KB: Sure, I guess to pick up on that you know, and sorry to cut you off but to kind of give it a sort of a lens. Right, it's a bit like a grants program. Essentially as you said, people submit proposals and requests for funding and those requests for funding can come from anywhere. And typically be about any particular topic so long as currently it's helping to advance the technical capabilities or the community adoption related to Cardano. Broadly speaking they're requesting funding from Cardano's treasury which is a decentralized treasury and when we talk about decentralization within the context of Catalyst, it is decentralized. The proposals are coming in from all parts of the world, they're being evaluated by the community, they're not being evaluated by any central actors and then they're being voted on by the wider community as well. So the only centralized part of it is the operations. And I think this is maybe one of the areas that is commonly um misconceived that it takes quite a bit to to run Catalyst, right? It takes quite a bit of expertise. There's obviously a technical component to it. And technical resources that need to work on making sure and maintaining the technical stack. And then there's just the general fund operations. We can say that there's parts of it that are centralized, I would argue that overwhelmingly the majority of it is decentralized. 

AV: Yes, I agree with these points and even though I have a lot of critical thoughts on the Catalyst, I won't be telling them today, because that's a long story. Maybe someday I'll write a big article about this. But what we can see that governance in general is becoming slow and expensive. And it's not that something particular to Catalyst. In general if you see let's say the national parliaments, the national governance system in the countries - it is expensive. How do you see in this context the evolving of Catalyst. Because in the past there were fewer people, smaller budgets, and fewer proposers. Now it's really growing by quantity, And by quality I also think that is going be growing because actually a lot of new companies, new brands were established thanks to Catalyst. Some had outside funding, some maybe had owned funding, but Catalyst is helpful for companies such as Gimbalabs, DC Sparks. How do you see this evolving process?

KB: It's a really interesting question. I think it's only fair for me to say that I don't know how it's going to really evolve in the future. I can certainly give some opinions on how I'd like to see it change. I would certainly like to see a massive increase in the amount of voters that are participating. I would like to see you know a 5 to 10x in terms of how many people participate in Catalyst decision-making. Because that's when we can say that we're at scale and that we've got significant if not you know getting towards majorities of ADA holders in Cardano community participating in the future of Cardano. I've always said from the day that I joined that it takes a good two or three years to really become masters of this type of process or program. I've had two or three different encounters in a previous career history that it's taken a long time before it's a really well-oiled machine. And where you know we're barely at the point where the training wheels have come off of Catalyst even though we're coming towards the end of Fund9 and we've had nine cycles of this approach.

To talk about the companies, the sorts of proposers - yeah there's a lot more people that are participating in Catalyst now and a lot more organizations and these are becoming more and more mature organizations. So rather than just being baby startups that have been created as a result of receiving Catalyst funding - we're now seeing universities and scale-up businesses that are from traditional legacy industries and sectors and incumbents coming to Catalyst and seeing this as a viable way to get R&D funded and financed. And we're also beginning to see accelerators and investment organizations coming to knock on our door and keeping a close eye on the sorts of outcomes that the funded projects are producing. So overall I would say that the space is beginning to mature. And the ecosystem that Cardano has,  and the ecosystem within the ecosystem that is Catalyst is also maturing. So to sort of couch another couple of ideas - this obviously requires  significant consultation with the community and the community at large from you guys as individuals through to organizations through the stakeholders like IOHK IOG, EMURGO, Cardano foundation. How do we improve catalyst processes? There are some some proposals in place around how do we categorize funding. How do we make sure that there is continuity from one Fund to another?

At the moment the community sets the challenges that are being voted on to come on into enactment and go on the ballot for and become part of the next fund campaign. How do we ensure that projects that are being funded in one Fund don't just fall off the edge of a cliff because those priorities aren't voted in in the next fund?  We've got some ideas on how to do this and I'm very excited to see more sort of community consultation and ratification of ideas on how to produce better outcomes and create the conditions for startups and scale-ups to really thrive in this ecosystem. That's what I think is coming down the pipes in the most immediate sort of six months. And then when we get into next year - we're basically into the Voltaire era, right? Where we're seeing decentralized governance coming to Cardano to decide on how to create protocol updates, how to create treasury movements, and how to create hard forks. And that's all going to be decided essentially through a more decentralized governance process.

AV: So this Voltaire update it is expected somewhere at the end of this year?

KB: I would say we should be expecting Voltaire era to happen sometime between the end of this year and into next year. I don't want to make obviously any predictions because that's not my place. We have an executive management team that's there to make any sort of formal announcements. And also it’s software, right? We're dealing with very very tech complex and very deep tech technical requirements of which, you know, need h significant amounts of time to scope and and then implement. If we think of Cardano as a market leader in this space - I think we're ahead on some sort of points and still looking to sort of refine some of the other existing technical debt across the organization and across the Cardano protocol and infrastructure. So it's coming down the pipes but I wouldn't like to put a particular pin on exactly when it's going to be coming to fruition. 


AV: And if I'm correct, you are also bringing more businesses from outside of Cardano ecosystem and maybe even outside of crypto. You are bringing them to Catalyst and to Cardano. I remember you had the proposals and successful proposals on accelerators.

So this is also one of your focus that you are focusing on bringing more businesses and more people?


KB: Absolutely. I would like to see particularly for the startups and the projects that are getting funded that there are really clear pathways into growing and scaling those projects and businesses. I mean ultimately no project should rely on Catalyst funding in the long term. It's not sustainable, right? I mean there are maybe sort of edge cases where it kind of makes sense that it's coming down from Catalyst. But realistically I think we need to take some lessons from the traditional our world where you know if you really want to grow and scale your your technology then maybe you're going to need to lean into sort of outside investment. Maybe iSPOs or these other types of alternative financing are appropriate in some cases in other cases they're not. But again the important thing is that we're seeing accelerators and traditional incumbent businesses from legacy industries now beginning to pay real attention to what's coming out of Catalyst because they're they're getting exposed to innovation and potentially (you know, this is not financial advice) investment opportunities at ground zero at their very first infancy or very first strategic deployments and reference implementations. And then being able to kind of get exposed to where the trend and the direction of travel for blockchain innovation really is going. There's so many areas where blockchain is going to be pervasive in society, I believe. 


AV: There were cases that Cardano companies, new Cardano projects got significant amount of funding, of investments. But can we say, maybe can you name the projects that started simply from the Project Catalyst. Because now the fund the size is almost 15 million which is a huge size. But if you see that there are many categories  and then there is a cost of running this. Then if you compare the competition still it's not so easy to get this funding.

But were the cases when the company started maybe even with single proposal and then grew into successful company? 


KB: It's a really really interesting point. There have been a number of cases. Liqwid Finance first got some of their first resources from Catalyst to develop their capabilities and continue to play an active role in Catalyst putting in funding proposals and being successful in very recent funds. A number of the wallets have been successful as a starting point for their development in Catalyst. 

To talk about the sort of categories - you're right there are a lot of categories at the moment. And there's a lot of experimentation. And this is the to the point of categorization - I would really like to see maybe a more formalized way of being able to distinguish between experimentation and then going from sort of proof of concept or MVP through to sort of scale up, scale up development, resources to really take those projects that are seemingly doing the business and gaining traction and doing really cool. Things whether it's in the innovation from technical components through just the community adoption and being out of ensure that they've got options to bid in for treasury funding to kind of continue and follow on fund their progress.


AV: There are many interesting things around Catalyst. Actually these big companies and different active people from the Catalyst - I invite them to speak for the interview. I already did some interviews and actually it was even my proposal in Fund 1 to make interviews. There was a moment when Charles Hoskinson initiated, he said: “Go and submit proposals about interviews” so many people from Fund 1 submitted these proposals on the interviews  and then it happened that voting was without funding. It's hard to be entrepreneur. It's not so easy otherwise everybody would be entrepreneur. Do you agree with saying that like in the real politics it is kind of a struggle for power and resources. In this case there are resources which are simply the funds ADA but there are other resources maybe like connections, reputation and other. Do you agree with this saying?


KB: Yeah I think that there other characteristics that need to be taken into account. This is why over the last few months we've been out iterating on how  projects are able to demonstrate their progress over time. We've recently instituted or made it a a mandatory requirement that each and every month  these projects that have been funded by the treasury should be providing some level of evidence of their delivery. That helps to develop reputation and demonstrate that you've got an integrity to the project. Because you're being able to demonstrate that you're achieving progress throughout the project's life cycle. But hey - it's startup world! And it's very nascent technology. Things may break. You might need to pivot. You might need to change direction. But you've got to remain accountable to the voters that have placed their faith in you to deliver what you said you were going to deliver.

And if you can't demonstrate through evidence of your delivery then why should your community of voters place a good faith into you to continue voting for you in subsequent

proposals? Whereas if you can just provide a good level of evidence each and every month ultimately you're getting funded by the treasury, you're sort of getting free resources - it's the least that you can do to remain accountable to your community of supporters. Like it's the same with Kickstarter. If you think about the Kickstarter model -  you're asking people to invest their money into your idea and in return you're going to give them certain rewards or certain access or certain value-added um incentives to invest into you. What we're saying within Catalyst is we don't take that approach. But if you can't provide some evidence every month that you're making progress then  why should your community of supporters care, frankly speaking?


AV: And the two last questions for today. Two short questions. First - you have many proposals in Challenge setting for Fund 10. So maybe just few words on them and why should people, why should voters go and check them. And these are proposals they are more like strategy oriented. They are about infrastructure building. Maybe few words about them.


KB: I'm very conscious not to highlight any one particular proposal but what I can certainly say is that the feedback from Consensus which is, you know, one of the the blockchain spaces and biggest crypto conferences on the planet, which I was lucky to attend a couple of months ago, held in Austin, Texas.That helped to highlight that there are some significant gaps that need to be addressed within the Cardano developer experience. So there are a number of proposals and some proposed by IOG,  some proposed by the community on how to tackle and improve the developer experience. And I think that's probably a real significant priority as far as I'm concerned. Ultimately if you improve the developer experience - you make it easier to onboard developers that are able to grips with the tools and the infrastructure and the code base a lot quicker and produce more meaningful applications. 

Ultimately that helps to grow the adoption of developers building on Cardano which then in turn helps to develop the reputation and the adoption of Ccardano within the mainstream consumer marketplace. All those people that either want to use Cardano products or build products and services built on Cardano or perhaps taking interest in Cardano as a potential opportunity for them to play another role in. So that's that's sort of one idea. 


AV: These proposals we won't highlight. The voters can go to the challenge category and will find them. And the last question is very simple: do you vote yourself? 

KB: Of course I vote myself. 

AV: So how many proposals approximately did you vote last Fund? Was it like all proposals? 

KB: No. I mean there's a thousand proposals to get through. And whilst I can honestly claim to have read quite literally tens of thousands of innovation proposals over my lifetime, I can't claim to have read every single proposal in Catalyst Fund 8. I would say I probably tackled about 10 - 15% to of all the proposals on the ballot last time. And there was over a thousand proposals. I mean the way that I like to deal with things is I want to read the proposal. I want to understand the team. I want to do a bit of googling just to see what else is out there or searching to see who's in the team and maybe what their background is. So I put in the time to understand the sort of challenge categories and the proposals within those challenge categories that I really care about. I certainly don't want to give sort of indications as to which ones I'd dive deep into and not to influence other people's sort of decisions. But I certainly take it as a responsibility on myself and o the community to play an active role in this process. And I think everybody that's passionate about Catalyst should do the same. And I'd encourage potential voters or others that are interested in Cardano that maybe haven't voted in Catalyst yet to come and participate. And if you don't hold enough ADA, because you need 500 ADA to participate in voting. If you don't hold enough ADA yet - then you can participate in Catalyst in other way:s you can become a proposal assessor where you can get paid to provide your opinions and feedback to proposers. About how you rank their proposal. You actually get paid for that work if it's of good enough quality. So you might find that you don't have enough ADA today to vote in Fund 9 but by participating as a proposal assessor in either Fund 9 or Fund 10 you then might have enough ADA to participate next time around, right? 


AV: Right, and there are also other roles, for example a veteran proposal assessor. You can be a referer so if you recommend the company which wins proposal you can get some fee. And even as a voter you will also get some ADA. 


KB: Exactly. There are many different ways to play a role. And the easiest way to get involved is just to start showing up to townhall. Or a town hall that's in your region. Because there are now town halls pretty much in every major region on the planet. 


AV: Yes, and the major one it's every Wednesday at 8 in the evening Kyiv time. I think it's 5 UTC so 17.

KB: 5 UTC or 6 pm my time here in the UK. Same time every single week. We have a host of different presenters, you're able to join the live zoom room and not just participate in town hall but you can then participate in the after town hall discussions. Where you know you'll get a real good understanding of what the priorities are in the community and you have an opportunity to voice your opinions. And perhaps even start collaborating on projects or at least proposals for funding in future catalyst rounds. There are so many great groups that are developing now. And as I said, I just encourage anybody that's interested in Cardano to come and play and participate in Catalyst town hall.

AV: Yes, thank you Kriss for interesting conversation. Looking forward to see you some day.

KB:  Thanks, I look forward to it. Thank you very much Andrii. And thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today. 

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Student of cryptocurrencies and economics. Interested in Cardano, Algorand, Terra, BCH, Mina, Near, Hive, Steemit and many other interesting blockchains and projects

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