Venturers Ahoy! We are observing venture-building and how decentralization is eating it within.
I want to assemble and present the decentralization in venture-building space brought upon by web3 while laying out the opportunity for us, the entrepreneur, the investor, and the builder. Why? I have been building ventures for others, schemed and executed for the last ten years, and failed a few. And I have made it my job to dream of organic bottom-up venture stacks for years. I have been observing, and there is a venture spring. We have been talking, financing and founding ventures with web3 frens, which I think will be the tipping point that unlocks something anew. We should talk about it.
Cognizant that not everyone knows about venture building or decentralized ventures, I will tackle some preliminary for the curious as well as my lens and terminology. Skip the intro if you feel seasoned or you are someone who never reads user manuals.
Venture is a word with many definitions. It distils down to starting up new businesses. Some companies aim for scale, which you might have heard referred to as “10X” and other multipliers, and they will attract investment from VCs, angels, crowds and other private equity (PE). Some new ventures might not need investment and fund themselves with revenue.
Venture Capital fuels the creation of new ventures. A sub-section of private equity, VC is one of the top-performing asset classes short and long-term [nexitventures, 2022] among other private equity classes. Furthermore, PE already outperforms other public asset classes. Venture capital, even in this market, is not dead. [John, 2023]
Ventures have stages from 0 to 1 and beyond, which implies where they are in the idea, team and launch journey. Venture building tackles every activity related to building a venture, including funding and execution. There is also the venture builder, a term that refers to 0 to 1 hands-on venture studios, just before incubators and accelerators. We will use them both.
But there is something more to it, the adventure, the risk, and the excitement. This is precisely what I am feeling, dear reader, starting our adventure of observing where and why venture building faces decentralization.
I started and stumbled on many blocks and existential questions while defining decentralized ventures. The value chain is all over the place, so how would I categorize it? How would I clearly differentiate between the bottom-up distributed nature of venture building versus the decentralization? Particularly to the people in the web2 venture building, it did not seem like there is a centre.
In the end, I went to void a few times and back. Took many walks. I abandoned this article countless days and got down to writing in the end. Decentralization in venture building is happening, and you will experience and hear more and more and more of this. Either you are doing it, or you are watching it.
I need to share the exact lens I am going through so you can navigate. Yes, the activity of venture building worldwide is “decentralized”, meaning in the traditional web2 world, many can do it if they want to. One can start a venture, and one can become an investor. You do not need to take permission except for accreditation. But perhaps it would be more adequate to call it distributed and permissionless.
Even in web3, formed organisations are mostly centralized as of 2023. We need to discuss where venture building further benefits from network effects and offers incentives for ownership and equity to wider stakeholders. They share resources, funds, markets, knowledge and, most important - an affinity to form networks. IYKYK! Brad Feld (an OG in venture building and founder of TechStars), praises and guides in his book about building startup communities [Feld, 2012].
Where web3 starts to bring value is precisely in the parts where there is an affinity to form networks. The venture-building networks can form in a centralized or de-centralized manner and anything in between. One must look at it as a spectrum.
The web3 decentralization we mean alludes to ownership within the network, and there is decision-making within an assemblage. On-chaining would be an excellent word to reduce ambiguity within this article. We are looking at on-chaining the venture building.
Let’s reveal the Venturekenstein.
Let me admit from the beginning. Covering a vast ground in such a short time and space will create an article that is not in-depth but in breadth. We will look at Venture Funding which tackles the investment, and “Venture Doing”, which focuses on everything else in the venture-building life cycle. Let me know in the comments which parts you want to explore further.
I see venture building activity mushrooming currently in web3, decentralized and distributed. On-chain too. It feels akin to another previous change, and I can identify a few influences.
This is not the first. A similar takeover happened before, and we called it digitalization. If you have worked anywhere close to a big company or VC, you might have heard of “digital transformation”. It means using digital and online for different functions of an organisation, including itself, for which around 2 trillion is spent only in the US annually.[Statista]. The endeavour is undertaken because the transformation creates more revenue and reduces costs, enabling things that could never be done before.
Digitalization started with products first, payments, cash, shopfronts, and eCommerce; then, it seeped into our processes, workflows, collab tools, and knowledge management. Finally, the organisation was to be taken over by digital, having now remote-first organisations, working existing and communicating in digital only. It is hard to imagine how life was before if this is where you started from.
Decentralization started first with our products and services too. Then it evolved into processes with smart contracts and supply chains and touched organisations with DAOs. Most corporates have been building DLT and blockchain products since 2017. We are amid decentralization. Most web3 startups are your usual web2 style organisations with founders and regular VC funding, with only the product serving web3. To be clear, this is not a problem. Things evolve as they do.
Compared to digitalization and 20 years of it, decentralization is still in its early stages. However, it has already spread to our organisations and venture building.
Several trends are pushing towards more venture builders, accelerators, and funding, and the numbers and decentralization in venture building only will increase. Here are the top 4 influences I am thinking of:
We have been touting this horn as far as I can remember! Not a shareholder, but a stakeholder economy for corporates and organisations, Web3 turned it on its head by saying that if you are a stakeholder, why are you not a shareholder? Fair Fair. The idea is that ownership and participation in a network is a collective lore we hold and a very good one too. So people perhaps praise less the unicorns to come and value extract for sh*tty conveniences. We love our sh*tty conveniences, so maybe let us have it, but let us have a slice of the (equity) cake too. Web3 lore is very much on joining and ownership, so I am not surprised why the activity flourishes more in web3.
DAOs and online communities stepped in to create sustainable and even growing long-term treasuries while turning bubbling ideas and skills into things that can circle back - the value capture. The trend started as product houses like Boys Club, RnDAO, Raidguild and Myosin, and now turning into venture builders like RnDAO, Radar, and Women in Web3, where it is not only the productization but the focus is more towards the venture with the revenue and impact it can create.
On-chaining for ease of use
Some parts of venture building are accessible on-chain because they have a distributed nature and are all about governance sans operations. They also benefit from collective input. The benefit is to take something already existing and implement similar governance structures through DAOs by codifying access and trust. We have seen this more in capital pooling and decision-making through DAOs, and STOs.
The great resignation and a greater layoff
Beyonce’s banger song “Break my soul”, sums the intention well: Quit the job and build your own foundation. While some are pushed to this endeavour with less snazzy reasons like layoffs, GenZ seems not to be having it. It is not cool to be working for another company, and people instead own and build their foundation.
Glad you asked. Now I have to try to categorize the chaos. Thank you!
We will examine different parts of the value chain where decentralization has seeped. Some sections will be more detailed as they are more mature in the decentralization cycle, or they were more distributed, to begin with, and have an affinity to form networks which lend themselves to the DAOization and on-chaining (i.e. pooling money).
We will look at Venture Funding which tackles the investment, and “Venture Doing” which focuses on everything else in the venture-building life cycle.
We will use a summary in each section where I try to rank the current state. Distributedness is the particular function meaning without dependency that there is a bottom-up nature where things can evolve by themselves and are permissionless. How much they would benefit from decentralization, meaning a networked, owned and on-chain, perhaps a DAO version. And a ranking of ease of on-chaining.
The venture-building value chain first started decentralization in Venture funding and connected to that somewhat the equity too. The pooling of funds has always been multi-party and benefits from it(i,e the VCs raise from a collection of institutional investors ). Its nature lends itself well to decentralization. Even the first DAO formation was for pooling funds. The other two areas within funding are capital deployment and deal sourcing. I want to tackle the topic of venture tokenization from the start without a network formation, like a DAO.
Benefit of decentralization: High
Ease of on-chaining: Easy
The nature of pooling money in traditional venture capital(VC) is similar to how decentralized pooling would work. Unless it is angel funding, the money that goes into ventures is pooled from multiparty stakeholders, which can be through funds, VC contracts and private equity companies that pool money from institutional organisations. The significant difference is the parties who invest in the VC tend to be heavier on mature and institutionalized players in the finance sector.
Decentralization has happened already as well, without DAOs or on-chain, in three primary forms as below:
Small to medium PE companies for retail investors
Enter on-chain. There were few dots left to connect. The pooling of the money still requires regulation; however, the investors can be on-chain. Let's look at examples focusing on private equity venture funding in web3 style.
Komorebi Collective. They believe crypto is the backbone of our global economies, cultures, and digital interactions. They invest in female and non-binary founders and Syndicate.io, the underlying tooling, powers many investment clubs akin.
The LAO: One of the OG investors in the space, the pooling of the money is through its members.
Benefit: Giving access to different types of investors, including retail in scale. The decision-making is generally by the people who put their money too. It changes the type and diversity of ventures that get funding. It is also regulated regarding who can invest with the KYC and AML.
Downside: The securitization and the regulation still have grey areas.
Benefit of decentralisation: Medium
Ease of on-chaining: Easy
Let’s split the pooling from the decision-making, as many current examples of DAOs have a traditional pooling method. At the same time, the decision-makers operate in a decentralized fashion. Once a fund is allocated for ventures, the research, due diligence and decision on where to allocate the funds can happen on-chain.
Who: The DAOs mentioned in the previous section also make their capital deployment decisions in a decentralized way.
a) Collective Intelligence might perform better if the network is diverse and have experience.
b) Decision-making at scale is possible if the people, especially those who are investing, want to be part of it too.
Downside: If the people making the decision do not have the expertise or the information, collective intelligence might impede.
Benefit of decentralization: Medium
Ease of on-chaining: Easy
Deal sourcing is finding relevant ventures, qualified and quantified, which eases the work a VC or PE person has to do in traditional investing. Middlemen, platforms, associates, partners, and scouts do this type of work. What decentralization brings to the diversified leads for VC and potentially offloading the work of quantifying and qualifying startups to a broader network with the right incentives benefits everyone involved. From a venture perspective, a mature network of scouts would help the ventures prioritize their work of buidling.
Currently, the need is being met. There exist players, individuals, or organisations set up for this. And ventures that seek funding tend to search and apply for VCs as there is a high incentive of being funded. The matchmaking is networked and distributed.
Easy to decentralize further, I believe new DAO structures are possible; however, it might not be extensive as the current need is somewhat met.
Orange DAO: Set up as DAO, Orange DAO mentions that with a collective of 1000 entrepreneurs, they source deals collectively. They are incentivized by sharing the upside.
The pooling of the money is traditional; raising it through a fund for VC investing—the DAO framework provided by Origami, powers other DAOs (VC3 for Kaufmann fellows and Constellation DAO for Techstars alumni.) with the same decoupled structure.[Origami, 2023]
Currently, this section is not mature enough, or the writer does not know yet whether there are other on-chain structures set up.
Benefit: Qualified and quantified opportunity finding with incentives
Downside: The need is already met, and the incentives might not be hefty enough.
We need to open a bracket here as tokenization of the ventures makes the decentralization of value from the start. We have seen structures where individuals or entities do not need to form networks and execute their own decisions and money. Similar to investing in public equity, but for private. All the other areas can include tokenization; however, we mean without forming networks or DAOs to give utility to those venture tokens.
Examples to recall are ICO/IDO/STOs through tokenized equity offering and fundraising. There is no network affinity as they started fractional and tokenized. There does not have to be a DAO, governance or decision-making with most, and perhaps that is why things got tangled into fraudulent activity sometimes.
This section tackles everything that is not Venture funding, including research, execution, governance, productization, incubation and acceleration.
Distributedness: Blue screen - I can not gauge it!
The benefit of decentralisation: High
Ease of on-chaining: Hard
Where does the idea or the opportunity come from when a venture is created? I acknowledge the opportunity you start might be different from what you end up with in the execution, adapting in iterations with learnings. It sounds odd if you are used to the superstar founder(s) with the idea. There is a centre of one.
Opportunity finding and ideas can be teamwork too. Most corporate venture spinouts or venture builder companies emerge through processes and are shared with a team of people. The teams analyse trends and market data and actively attempt to identify gaps, the likelihood of adoption, and the size of the opportunities. Opportunity finding and fine-tuning is a forever process. Hence, the importance of decentralising the ideas and the opportunity finding becomes much more profound to achieve resilient and evolving ventures.
For corporates, some networked ideation examples I have observed are as below.
Innovation platforms for corporates who want to tap into the knowledge of the subject matter experts.
Workshops of many different methods (design thinking, applied futures thinking) that are set up to find the problem and the opportunities.
Idea futures or prediction markets
Market analysis to identify gaps performed within closed networks tapping on information asymmetry
Examples of ventures built this way are “Nate” from the venture studio of “Founders Factory” to raise $51M in 3 years. Vira Health from Zinc is valued at $71M, like Zalando, which came out of Rocket Internet, another venture builder. This model has existed for 20 years.
From corporate ventures, Niantic is a google spin-out valued at 9 billion.
Radar.xyz is currently launching its process to turn collective futures finding into ventures with their Cycle #2—a playful future.
I cannot find great examples of DAOification or tokenization for venture ideation. Tokenizing intangible and immeasurable is hard, and in Web2, we deemed it worthless. However, I have a hunch that by using dynamic incentives to securitize ideas and ownership and using the nature of prediction markets, idea ecosystems can be developed, inviting the stakeholders into the process too. We need more time to mature and grok this. However, new web3 venture builders emerging might tackle this. Read also the section “Venture Incubation/Acceleration”.
Benefit: A new economy for idea generation and opportunities is possible
Downside: It is hard, and we have yet to grok it. P Actually, if you are working on this holla @ moi!
Under execution, we could put engineering, operations and other day-to-day activities to deliver your sweet ventures. We include the ventures that create assets and value, whether intangible or not. Read it as it is ok if you are not software or data! We could write several books on it. However, I will focus on the part I know the most! Decentralized operations are somewhat hard to tackle because of their depth and breadth. Even though we are decentralized, some of our stuff is still on that AWS, for example. I launched a blockchain service on AWS once in 2018, so sometimes you decentralize in layers! Let's focus on a more accessible part -the development.
Decentralization in Development- Engineering
The benefit of decentralization: High
Ease of on-chaining: Controversial opinion - Easy
Although not fully decentralized, development has been the one that has seen the most structured governance practice. We have an example already in the space. Even before DAOs and Web3, brought upon by internetz and web and before all became centralized. Drum roll. The open-source development (OSS)
Open-source development differs from delivering software for a venture with product(s). However, it is common for ventures and products to be built on top of open source, handled with licensing. OSS development also has similar primitives to on-chain decentralized organisations, like roles, modularization, and governance. Governance structures span from centralized to fully decentralized. [OSS,2010] [ OSSDAO,2022]. OSS does not cover the last mile to web3, ownership, and on-chain proofs. Nevertheless, we must recognise the success of OSS against giants.
With the perspective of delivering against functionality that ventures will require, I predict different models arising, with a tendency of small cohesive teams at the start to get things started.
The benefit of on-chain decentralization in execution will only be for some. For example, if you want to develop a mobile app, you may get a few people to do it. However, once we look into evolving products, protocols, and complex or modular products, decentralized execution might unlock software delivery and engineering.
People tend to have a lens on how beneficial this is based on the stage of the venture. A very early-stage venture might be crippled by analysis paralysis in a competitive arena. Jesse Walden of Variant Fund tackles progressive decentralization advising the early stage is always a minor team and decentralizes progressively. [Walden, 2020]
However, I am not sure the stage is an appropriate lens. A better one would how suitable the venture is to decentralization - for example, a mobile app versus a protocol. Currently, web3 is mainly on an open source stack, and the threshold of developing is not high, enabled by APIs, SaaS, cloud and open source software. Having decentralized governance might help you to iterate better and on point as it improves a) decision-making on the development front and b) Concurrent approaches to test.
DxDAO focuses on Defi and develops and grows products
Vector DAO focuses on the brand and product design of other ventures.
Raidguild does this in a service manner. The software development teams they work for might be centralized; however, they build in a decentralized fashion with the ecosystem.
Radicle focuses on the core infrastructure with ownership and, governance, decentralization from the foundations.
a) suitable to fractional work and ownership,
b) risk reduction by having a portfolio approach,
c) access to a diverse on-demand skillset.
a) potential governance overhead slowing down the execution- requires a network and coordination,
b) not suitable for all ventures if they are predictable with a small roadmap or not modular.
The benefit of decentralization: Controversially High
Ease of on-chaining: Doable
This might sound odd if you have not worked in R&D, government, open source, or corporates with available resources to jumpstart. It is not different to creating products at the inception. Perhaps it would map to the go-to-market, commercialization and strategy part of startup product management. Venture building is the productization of shared resources (public goods, club goods or variations of private non-rivalrous). For decentralized productization to stick, commitment, incentives and some resources are needed. Information asymmetries such as a market gap identified or access to that market would count as a resource too.
Haier, a traditional company, decentralized its organisation by opening up all the resources within the company to create ventures [Yangfeng, 2018]. Corporate ventures and R&D also use this method to open up the resources acquired to jumpstart ventures that share the upside. From the public goods perspective, Mazzucato discusses how most prominent companies such as Tesla, SpaceX, Google and Apple are built on government-funded research [Mazzucato, 2018]. Most profitable, low-risk startups leverage the resources and insights, and they commercialize them in iterations.
Decentralized productization means a better product-market fit (PMF) makes more sense when a portfolio approach with bottom-up strategies is possible. Examples include protocols and enabler technologies such as AI, cloud, payment networks, and DeFi. When it is possible to create ecosystems and networks that own, ideate and bundle resources into different products. Some names would be Superfluid, Lens Protocol and perhaps Ethereum itself.
I am quite excited in this area as it feels more natural for web3 product and venture development. We have not reached maturity yet, which means it has potential for different strategies and networks to form. I will die on this hill. :D
For centralized startups, an easy lift would be to include the community in the product's inception. A second step would be changing decision-making incorporating data, users, community and product managers becoming facilitators of atomic building blocks.
Who: Needs further research. The structures I find closest that do it are a) on-chain and decentralized, b) incentivizing the productions while building the foundations c) giving ownership.
Superfluid Ecosystem Reactor - money streaming protocol that enables venture building and productization on top
Buidl Guild- productization of Ethereum. They also do education and tutorials.
a) Faster iterations,
b) collective PMF,
c) multiple revenue streams,
d) risk avoidance by sharing goods and sharing the upside.
a) Not fit for every venture,
b) tragedy of commons,
c) more complex products,
d) high need for coordination
The benefit of decentralization: Depends
Ease of on-chaining: Easy
Here we tackle the overall governance of a venture. It would generally be the board in a traditional set-up, which includes the non-execs, executional C level, alongside implicit regulatory bodies that govern the market. If you decentralize and on-chain the value chain, either in venture doing or venture funding, the board decentralizes progressively too.
The common thinking within DAOs is that if you are a stakeholder, you also have a say in the overall direction. DAO governance has various structures with subunits, core team members making decisions, delegates, and from the ones that give the most money to the one that works the most etc. Pick your flavour governance, which we will not get in here.
It is important to note that people have been researching venture governance independent of decentralization to find the most effective and performant venture board structures. The research tackles how much the execution has a say, how much the independence advisory is required, and how it changes with the lifetime of the venture. [Board, 2020], [Board, 2017].
Benefit: It is mandatory to create a stakeholder and delegation governance to create a decentralized and shared economy.
a) If the people who govern if not knowledgeable or do not have access to the information, it might be disruptive,
b) Also, if regulated markets create an unmanageable risk.
The benefit of decentralization: Controversially High
Ease of on-chaining: Doable
This section is to tackle the structures build in place to help create and accelerate ventures. The organisational entities geared for this task are not new and have existed for decades.
They are also being shaped by web3 now.
I left this task to the last section because y’all are incubating or accelerating one another right now. So I am watching and buidling with you folks.
I include Venture Builders as well. It is transient and such a hot area. We will tackle the established and in-planning players, accelerators, incubators and venture builders. They serve different stages of ventures and different types of ventures too. And the work is decentralized in different ways.
Orange DAO, Accepts ventures for funding and support network,
RnDAO (in progress), focused on DAO tooling and humane research, focuses on accelerating individuals with a wrapper provided by RnDAO.
WIW3 Venture Builder DAO (In progress) arranged around focus areas(i,e metaverse, creators economy), cohort-based venture builder DAO
Alliance DAO - cohort-based web3 accelerator. (DAOification is TBD)
Seed Club - Online community/DAO to accelerate online communities and DAO builders
Constellation DAO: Created by Techstars alumni, mentors support web3 startups
RadarDAO, (in progress) incubation and ventures in progress, the plan is to support the Radar ventures that stem from futures research and signals created by the Radar community
Graph Paper Capital (CPG),(in progress) assembles a network of web3 founders, and market makers and offers 12 week accelerator with something called a Community Carried Interest Pool incentivizing impactful contributions retrospectively.
NewOrderDAO - focused on DeFi, a venture DAO to launch and architect your venture and growth strategies and alliances.
Decent DAO An on-chain venture studio accelerating the decentralization of vital ventures
Benefit: The networks to support, hone and perfect your ventures, while some starting from 0 with you as an individual sharing the upside with a community, is a great model. Why not all of us are on it in scale is beyond me.
Downside: I see none. However, for the common folk, it might be hard to visualize that some of these ventures will fail regardless of how much effort is put into it. And also building something requires in execution the unwavering conviction that they must survive at all odds. There is a psychological trade-off.
Could you decentralize your venture on exit if you were not already decentralized? Seems like a yes. Going public opens the venture, giving ownership, not governance rights. The term “exit to the community” would classify as on-chaining, offloading some or all functions of the venture to a community with governance and ownership.
Stack DAO Stack World, a web2 community, building Stack DAO, which I helped to jumpstart, aimed to exit the community partially.
Yuga Labs: A complete exit is the Yugalabs turning into the BAYC community through tokenization.
What other decentralized exit models have you seen?
Lastly, for you entrepreneurs, if you have been reading to get the funding and acceleration, I also want to cover some more big names that might be relevant who are in the web3 space. Still, I could not include it throughout the article because their process is not decentralised. Here they are.
Consenys Mesh - Web3 focused investment, incubation and acceleration from Consensys
Tachyon Accelerator - web3 focused accelerator powered by Consyssus mesh, alumni has gitcoin and metamask
SuperModular, Founded by Kevin Owocki, is a venture studio for public goods and modular product development at the back of gitcoin grants
1kx - crypto investment form for token networks.
Variant fund - early-stage fund for web3 founders
VC3 DAO - a DAO of VC, and Kauffman Alumini
Most big VCs, like a16z, have also web3 funds looking for you.
May all your ventures flourish and networks stay moisturized!
Fellow guilders @Tally Content Guild. Cool Horse Girl, Tommy, Frisson and Kyler
Kevin Owocki - for helping to position SuperModular
Andrew Warner - Clarifications and suggestions for Origami and Orange DAO
Daniel from RnDAO - My resourceful fren going through the whole article and sharing excitement and positioning RnDAO.
Ting Wang - diligent and resourceful queen for excitement and support.
Jarrod Barnes - bringing his knowledge in the space and helping position Radar. xyz
Pedro Parrachia - my fren for improving the evolution with Self-Infrastructure
[OSS, 2010] Jensen, C., Scacchi, W. (2010). Governance in Open Source Software Development Projects: A Comparative Multi-level Analysis. In: Ågerfalk, P., Boldyreff, C., González-Barahona, J.M., Madey, G.R., Noll, J. (eds) Open Source Software: New Horizons. OSS 2010. IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology, vol 319. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-13244-5_11
[OSSDAO, 2022]van Vulpen, Paul and Siu, Jozef and Jansen, Slinger, Governance of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations that Produce Open Source Software (December 16, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4305208 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4305208
[Origami, 2023] Venture DAOs, Joinorigami, Andrew Warner
[John, 2023] Joel John, Is funding for web3 ventures dead?
[Mazzucato, 2018] The Entrepreneurial State, Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths, 2018
[Walden, 2020] Jesse Walden, Progressive Decentralization in Crypto product management
[Feld, 2012] Startup Communities, Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in your city
[2018, Yangfeng] The Haier Model reinventing a multinational giant in the new network era. CAO Yangfeng
[Board, 2017] https://journals.aom.org/doi/10.5465/amp.2017.0178
[Self, 2022] Decentralised technologies As Self infrastructuring