Bootstrapping developer ecosystems for Web3 protocols
March 12, 2024
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LongHash Ventures would like to thank John from Safe, Lanre from the Neutron Grants Program, Andrea from Solana Foundation, Stephen from Axelar, Alessio from Manta, Bailey from Ronin, Sov from Gitcoin, Zain from OP Labs, MVP from Berachain and others for your candid feedback and thoughtful inputs into this piece.

Preface: Why should you care about developers?

“Developers are almost always the biggest moat for an infrastructure project.”

Web3 promises to revolutionize the internet by creating a platform that embodies three key principles: composability, trustlessness, and permissionless. Leveraging blockchain technology, Web3 empowers users to interact freely without relying on intermediaries and encourages developers to build projects on top of another project (a chain or an ecosystem or a layer) without much restrictions.

To underestimate the significance of a thriving developer community in the Web3 ecosystem would be a mistake. Web3 ecosystems have unparalleled advantages in tapping into and leveraging a global pool of brains and talent. These developers play a pivotal role in testing out the infrastructure, pushing the boundaries of what can be built, driving the vision of the ecosystem forward, and in encouraging other like-minded individuals to collaborate towards a composable and interconnected future.

Every year, thousands of new coders come into Web3, writing new code and building new, innovative dApps or projects, on top of various ecosystems. According to the latest Electric Capital Developer Report 2023, Ethereum continues to be the leading choice of ecosystem for new coders (16,747 new coders wrote code on Ethereum in 2023), followed by Polygon (6,208), Solana (4,705), BSC (3,802), Cosmos (3,194) and others.

# of new developers in each ecosystem in 2023 (Source: Electric Capital)

More people should pay attention to these stats as we believe this cultivation of dynamic developer communities plays a pivotal role in ushering in new waves of use cases, and in turn bringing new users into the ecosystems. Here’s how: 

  • Enthusiastic and technical developers create captivating projects.
  • The ecosystem draws in a diverse user base.
  • The ecosystem expands, presenting new opportunities and avenues for growth.
  • This, in turn, attracts even more innovative developers to the ecosystem.

Positive flywheel created within an ecosystem by having great developers

We also believe the number of users in an ecosystem grows exponentially relative to the number of developers. 

How users grow in numbers with developers and core team from the ecosystem

Now that the importance of having a great developer community is clear, and we understand that ecosystems with the most vibrant and active developer communities hold the key to market and mind share, the next crucial question to ask is how this can be achieved. How can we become the next Ethereum, Solana, Polygon or Cosmos?

LongHash Ventures, through its LongHashX Accelerator, has spent years working with leading ecosystems, such as Filecoin, Axelar, Cosmos, Safe, and others, to bootstrap and grow their developer communities. LongHashX pioneered the accelerator partnership model, bringing both commercial and technical support to builders, and attracting builders to new, up-and-coming ecosystems. 

In this blueprint, we aim to share our knowledge developed from bootstrapping developer ecosystems since 2018. We will outline the major building blocks necessary as an ecosystem evolves across stages. And we will share practical examples and advice on how Web3 protocols can do it. Many of the recommended actions in this blueprint are versatile and can seamlessly apply across the various stages. It is crucial to adopt a continuous approach, consistently implementing these measures irrespective of your ecosystem's current phase.

Building blocks to bootstrap your developer ecosystem

Building and growing a robust and engaged Web3 developer community requires a programmatic approach. This approach can be divided into three stages of development:

  • Pre-Product Stage
  • Pre-Token Stage
  • Post-Token Stage

Building blocks needed to bootstrap developers

Pre-Product Stage (Ideation): Set vision and narratives

As an ecosystem starts its early journey, it usually starts with a core founding team, a product which has not been battle-tested, and zero users. At this stage, prioritizing brand awareness that appeals to a small set of developers is the most crucial task for the founding team. The effort of developing a community starts here and there are a few ways for the ecosystem to get their name out there. The three levers that ecosystems can use in this stage to start building their developer ecosystem are:

  1. Have a clear positioning and narrative
  2. Be present in the mind of developers
  3. Lean into “memes”
1. Have a clear positioning and narrative

No matter how the developers find you, the first information they will be curious about is what you do and what unique proposition you offer.

The positioning and the values an ecosystem brings, especially around the technical edge and security assumptions, should be concise, differentiated, and enticing to a new audience of developers.

Your differentiated proposition should be able to be summarized into a one-liner that is easy to understand. Let’s look at some successful examples:

Bitcoin was touted as digital gold. Ethereum was the first and leading smart contract chain. And Solana is marketed as the on-chain NASDAQ, the fastest and cheapest integrated chain. For more recent examples, consider Celestia, which champions the modularity thesis as the go-to Data Availability layer; Cosmos, which popularized the customizable app-chain future; or Eigenlayer, which presented a whole new restaking narrative, just to name a few.

Meanwhile, consider the vertical-specific ecosystems, such as Ronin, which is positioned as the King of the Gaming Chains, powering two hit Web3 games by DAUs - Axie Infinity and Pixels; or Bittensor, which is the peer-to-peer intelligence market at the intersection of AI and Web3.

Developers need to find a convincing reason to spend the next few years building on your ecosystem, and it is the ecosystem’s job to make itself appealing and differentiated to developers.

2. Be present in the mind of developers

The idea of cryptocurrencies started taking shape when Satoshi released the Bitcoin whitepaper back in 2009, showcasing the power of words in inspiring a whole new movement and community. 

Vitalik continuously expresses his thoughts on Ethereum and beyond through long-form blog posts, Twitter, and Farcaster, while Solana’s founder, Anatoly, is active on Twitter and occasionally publishes his views on Sollink. They both show the importance of writing in conveying the power of a technology to developers who are in their ecosystems. Founders should seek to be active in documenting their thinking as well as engaging developers through whitepapers, blog posts, forums, Twitter threads, and other media.

In addition to communication, the core ecosystem team should establish their presence by appearing in physical events, panels, or online forums (e.g. Twitter Spaces AMAs), and using these opportunities to create a tight-knit, on-the-ground community. It is through these informal interactions that builders establish connections with the underlying ecosystem.

And it is important to engage with the developers or users where they are most active. A notable example is Ronin. Jiho and the team continuously conduct “physical activations” in the Philippines, the largest market for Web3 gamers, through events such as AxieCon and CoinsPH. This approach ensures a meaningful connection with the gaming community right in the heart of where they are located.

Case in point: the founder of Ronin, Jiho appeared in events with the gamers (Source: Jiho’s X account)

In addition to being present at physical events, try something different so people will remember you. A good example of this is Smokey, from Berachain, always wearing a bear costume head to every event.

Case in point: the founder of Berachain, Smokey wears a bear head to every event!

3. Lean into memes

Founder of Gnosis in the meme discussion (Source: Martin’s X account)

“You own the memes, you own the community.” Memes are a new cultural phenomenon in the digital age. While it is unique and unorthodox in the way it facilitates communication and creates a sense of belonging, it is also exceptionally amplified in the Web3 world. When every ecosystem is a “tribe”, what better way to appeal to and unite your community than through memes. The sooner an ecosystem embraces the value of memes to own a narrative, the faster the ecosystem can grab the attention of a target group of developers and eventually onboard them.

Founder of Sei and YGG also in the discussion (Source: Jay’s X account)

This phenomenon has become more common with ecosystems like Monad, the up-and-coming parallelized EVM, which runs memes of the week on Twitter to engage its community or Avalanche, the alt-L1 chain which announced a $100 million “Culture Catalyst” fund to support meme coins and other community coins. 

Source: Monad’s X account

Story, words, presence, and even memes are all media that a new ecosystem can use to attract the attention of developers. Founders and the founding team have to stay creative and iterate fast during this stage to appeal to the builders.

Pre-Token Stage (Acceleration): Deliver through product, identity, and structured initiatives

Now that you have won the attention of developers who are interested in you, it is time to deliver what was promised, while continuing to scale your efforts in onboarding more builders, through different initiatives. This can be done across three types of initiatives:

  1. Maximize developers’ chance of success
  2. Cultivate a sense of culture and identity
  3. Create end-to-end platform support

1. Maximize developers’ chance of success

In the pursuit of a home for their future product, developers go to an ecosystem because of the technology or an edge that no other ecosystem can deliver, such as connections to investor networks or access to a wide user base.

Throughout the development process, the founding team and DevRels should collaborate closely to offer support on the product, actively engage with users and consider their feedback, and iterate on the protocol to enhance the developer experience. Apart from the product itself, the ecosystem should streamline access to its resources, making it as effortless as possible for developers to leverage the available assets, whether it is documentation, access to other developers or users, and access to its investor network.

An example of this is Optimism’s RFP #110 to form an Optimism Ecosystem Investment Network that connects builders with additional access to upfront capital. This makes external capital more easily accessible to builders, increasing their chances to sustainably build their product and rapidly gain market share.

In addition to capital support, early-stage projects also benefit greatly from assistance in attaining Product-Market Fit. Ecosystems can actively leverage their networks to guide users toward these projects, providing early user feedback and setting the stage for eventual growth. It is worth emphasizing that adopting a more tailored and sector-specific support, depending on the target use cases being built within the ecosystem (e.g., gaming developers for Ronin, DeFi builders for Berachain etc.), will make it even more attractive to developers.

For example, in its mission to bring success to game developers, Ronin, a prominent Web3 gaming chain, employs a comprehensive strategy focused on guiding games through their initial stages of onboarding, growing and monetizing gamers.

To facilitate the onboarding process, Ronin provides an array of products and services that game developers can readily access. Drawing from its own community building experience, Ronin’s advisory team actively assists game developers in grabbing attention from the public. Examples of this include refining their Discord strategies, making the right public announcements from Ronin’s account, orchestrating free NFT mints, and listing the games on Mavis Hub, the discovery hub for games in the Ronin ecosystem. Leveraging Ronin wallet as the onboarding interface and digital wallet further streamlines the process, making it gamer-friendly.

Ronin’s support extends into the growth stage with services like Moku, a tool which empowers game developers to design effective tiered loyalty programs that retain and incentivize power gamers. Ronin also provides services such as Ronin Name Service, ensuring a consistent on-chain gaming ID across platforms for gamers, Mavis Market, a unified NFT marketplace for in-game assets transactions across games, and Katana DEX to integrate token swaps.

Additionally, Ronin advises game developers on monetization, tokenomics design, and selectively invests in high-potential games to ensure their long-term success.

Ronin ecosystem creating the Ronin effect (Source: Bailey)

Thanks to this tailored support from the underlying ecosystem, developers are increasingly inclined to choose partners that enhance their prospects of long-term success.

2. Cultivate a sense of culture and identity

Builders love a sense of belonging within ecosystems, especially if they are early adopters. This loyalty and commitment can be recognized on-chain through the use of an NFT or SBT (soul-bound token, or non-transferable token), which can help bring exclusive benefits and make them feel valued in the community.

Berachain formed this tight-knit community early in the journey with the launch of The Bong Bears NFTs and other associated “rebase” NFTs. They were able to capture the attention and form the social graph of its most loyal community members. This grassroots community went on to run various community-led efforts, including The Honey Jar (community gateway) and Bera Baddie (community for females supporting Berachain), which helped to bring even more builders into the space.

Optimism also launched a similar initiative with its Optimist NFT for their loyal supporters. Building on top of AttestationStation, an attestation smart contract, any Optimist NFT holder with their Optimism contributions attested is now eligible to apply to Retroactive Public Goods Funding using this profile.

Optimist NFT is currently still in beta! (Source: Optimism NFT)

3. Create end-to-end platform support

Builders join an ecosystem at different stages of their development journey, and the mission of an ecosystem is to support them throughout the entire project lifecycle.

Beyond the usual ecosystem support and identity, an end-to-end support mechanism with incentives can offer assistance at every stage, from the exploration phase through hackathons to grants, accelerators, and investment / ecosystem funds.

Support initiatives at pre-token stage

At the pre-token stage, efforts should focus primarily on three things:

  1. Exploration experience
  2. Hackathons
  3. Grants programs

A. Exploration experience

This stage is the first touch point for developers upon learning about the ecosystem. The ecosystem or DevRel team, often in collaboration with community members, is responsible for curating materials that offer pertinent information to developers. These resources can take various formats, such as websites, technical talks, blog posts, demos, developer tooling, documentation, and more.

As a starting point, every ecosystem should maintain a dedicated page on their website that maps out the leading dApps within the ecosystem. This initiative requires a comprehensive understanding of potential gaps, paving the way for new builders to identify and capitalize on emerging opportunities.

Starknet has a comprehensive mapping of their best dApps on a separate website. (Source: starknet-ecosystem.com)

A handful of ecosystems has managed to go even further and create an interactive learning experience. Sei, for example, created a website that compiles video tutorials, community articles, and relevant tools to help onboard developers.

Video tutorials about Sei can be found on seiyanization.com (Source: seiyanization.com)

Additionally, having a dedicated website with full documentation of the ecosystem and technology stack will make it significantly easier for developers to start building on the ecosystem, as they can easily find information on the protocol’s tech architecture, features, and other technical information.

Finally, having a channel for developers to reach DevRels or other members of the core technical team is important. This could include a “Builders” channel on Telegram or a Discord server, where developers can ask technical questions and get help with debugging.

B. Hackathons

When an ecosystem is still in the acceleration stage, hackathons are usually the first instance for them to directly engage with the technology stack and with the ecosystem’s developers, and get hands-on guidance and advice. Depending on budget and resources, ecosystems can choose to sponsor a track of a larger hackathon, or organize a hackathon exclusively dedicated to the ecosystem.

Hackathons can take place online, but many ecosystems will choose to conduct them in-person, in order to be present in front of the builders. Over the course of the hackathon, the core team, alongside the DevRels, can work with builders as they come up with new ideas using the underlying tech stack. 

During this stage, when ecosystems have not yet issued a token, the budget allocated for running hackathons typically originates from the treasury and is considered part of the marketing budget.

Expectations on developers

During hackathons, developers seek to explore and test out the technology stack provided by the ecosystem. The ecosystem might opt to incentivize superior ideas or teams, considering criteria such as the originality of the idea, the team's grasp of the technology, prototype performance, technical expertise of the team, and other relevant factors.

Some examples of criteria set by Devfolio for a hackathon project:

Source: Devfolio’s website

There should be limited expectations of long-term loyalty from the developers at this stage. Retaining these teams within the ecosystem can prove to be an exceedingly challenging task, especially given the additional difficulty posed by teams that participate in various hackathons solely to hunt for prize money, without a genuine commitment to ongoing development post-hackathon.

When addressing potential strategies for alleviating this challenge at this stage, Axelar adopts a distinct approach in the onboarding of new developers and the retention of existing ones. Operating as an interoperability protocol, they prioritize the education of new developers on the possibilities of building with blockchains and Axelar. 

Axelar also emphasizes the seamless integration of new blockchains, simplifying the process for existing Web3 developers across diverse ecosystems to incorporate Axelar. For example, Axelar ran multiple workshops in hackathons of other ecosystems in order to create a positive impression and enhance retention.

Ways to run a hackathon

Depending on the budget and resource availability, ecosystems can choose to run hackathon in one of the following ways:

  • Organize a hackathon on its own or with the help of the community, e.g., Axie Game Jam. Ecosystem would typically align its hackathon together with its own flagship event, like how Solana had its own Hyperdrive Hackathon closer to its Solana Breakpoint in 2023.

    It is also common to see grassroots communities stepping up to organize ecosystem-specific hackathons. Most notably, the Ethereum community has hosted a series of ETHGlobal Hackathons across the world while Cosmos builders also host an annual flagship hackathon during Cosmoverse.

Several ecosystems opt to conduct hackathons in different ways, each with distinct objectives. For example, Safe organizes collaborative hackathons to enhance brand exposure and forge partnerships with other ecosystems participating in the same event. Concurrently, they also host dedicated hackathons, typically attracting projects that have higher levels of commitment to their ecosystem.

Safe sponsored a track during ETHGlobal Istanbul track last November (Source: ETHGlobal website)

Safe’s Own Account Abstraction Hackathon last March (Source: Safe’s X account)

ROI of running a hackathon

Hackathons serve as the initial touch point with developers. Most ecosystems strive to make these events as inclusive as possible, ensuring space and opportunity for everyone. The optimal outcome for hackathons is often as simple as attracting the largest number of developers, exemplified by events such as Solana hackathons, which consistently draw in approximately 7,000 participants each time. The primary goal revolves around maximizing exposure and engagement within the developer community.

However, with hundreds of hackathons taking place annually, it is still challenging to attract the best builders to join and retain them after the events.

The key to attract high quality developers is dependent on spending time to carefully select who gets to participate in hackathons. The ecosystem can achieve this by either actively seeking out and extending invitations to high-potential builders, and fostering a welcoming environment for participants to find compatible co-founders. 

C. Grants programs

Grants serve as an additional avenue to provide support for developers. However, it is crucial to note that this can be optional for ecosystems at the pre-token stage, recognizing that funding for these grants must originate from the ecosystem's treasury. Ecosystems usually support a wider range of efforts, including public goods which benefit the wider community, and in some instances, profit-seeking projects.

This initiative holds appeal to most projects in the ecosystem due to its non-dilutive funding structure, in which projects retain their company equity. Additionally, the milestone-based funding approach ensures that projects are rewarded proportionally upon achieving predetermined goals. The projects are also expected to receive better resources compared to hackathons including marketing assistance, access to dedicated mentors, opportunities for partnerships, technical support, and various other benefits.

Expectations on developers

Similar to the expectations for hackathons, loyalty is one of the most important traits ecosystems look for when considering teams during the grants stage.

Take a look at Solana’s grants. They receive roughly 300-400 grant applications every month, with an overwhelmingly high percentage of 98-99% coming inbound. To identify the best teams, the focus is on projects that recognize Solana’s unique proposition in powering their dApps, offering capabilities that might be unattainable elsewhere. For example, duplicating a NFT marketplace from another chain to Solana stands very little chance. This existential commitment to Solana is essential, resulting in tailored support and guidance from the Solana Foundation team.

How to run a grants program

Almost every ecosystem has a grants program. Blockwork’s Grantfarm is a good central source for available grants, as is this thread on all of ETHGlobal’s grants. However, they are all run differently. Some examples of how grants programs can run include:

  • Create grants programs on established platforms like Gitcoin or DoraHacks. Ecosystems leverage the tooling on the platform to publish own grants programs and raise awareness among developers.

    Examples: Gitcoin, TON x DoraHacks Quadratic Funding Round
    • Deep-dive on Gitcoin:
    • This popular Web3 grants platform was established in 2017 to support and fund open-source software developers. It introduced the concept of Quadratic Funding, a crowdfunding mechanism that rewards based on the number of people who donated, irrespective of donation size.
    • Ecosystems have two options to launch their grants on Gitcoin:
      • Launch alongside Gitcoin's core rounds: Ecosystems can hold their own featured rounds alongside Gitcoin's quarterly core rounds. They receive lightweight services from Gitcoin, including marketing support and grants design. To participate, they must contribute at least $25k to the grants pool or share the featured round with multiple ecosystems, dividing the $25k.
      • Create their own grants program: Ecosystems can also build their grants program on Gitcoin using the Gitcoin Grants Stack. They pay a nominal fee to Gitcoin and gain access to various tools within the stack, including Quadratic Funding design, toolings, and marketing support.
    • Launch a standalone grants program. Ecosystems take full ownership of the entire end-to-end process, including developing application processes, such as forms and interviews, reviewing submissions, disbursing grants, and monitoring grantees' progress.
      Examples: Solana, Neutron, Manta, Web3 Foundation (Polkadot and Kusama)

LongHash Ventures has extensive experience in supporting ecosystems such as Neutron, Safe, Axelar, and others in setting up their grants programs, including tooling, processes, and assessment frameworks.

Post-Token Stage (Maturation): Design a Value Alignment Program (VAP) to incentivize and retain developers

Now entering the post-token stage, ecosystems should refocus their emphasis in doubling down the efforts to support builders at every stage. We propose a comprehensive, end-to-end Value Alignment Program (VAP) leveraging tokens to further enhance the growth of developer base and form the most committed builder community. The three key levers in this stage are:

  1. Utilize airdrops
  2. Run Value Alignment Program
  3. Form new Governance

1. Utilize airdrops

Tokens are a fundamental part of the Web3 world for their ability to bootstrap, streamline and decentralize a group of stakeholders. It is the core of incentives design and if executed correctly, could onboard the right developers and projects into the ecosystem.

Using token incentives can start even before the token is live. A promise of future incentives is enough to convince new builders to explore the ecosystem. Points campaigns and flagship NFT collections have become prevalent alternatives to tokens, serving as effective proxies for generating interest.

This playbook of “teasing” an airdrop can be seen in examples such as Blast, the L2 chain. They decided to apportion 50% of the $BLAST token airdrop to developers joining their Big Bang Competition and building on their testnet. This has helped to raise immediate awareness, with projects such as SynFutures and Ambient Finance signing up to join their testnet.

Blast runs effective airdrop campaigns to target developers too (Source: Blast’s X account)

Using tokens to bootstrap the developer ecosystem does not stop here. Once the token is live, some ecosystems choose to retroactively airdrop to builders in and out of the ecosystem. Celestia reserved 20 million $TIA tokens (~2% of total token supply, worth $360M at the time of writing) to both Celestia’s contributors and other Web3 ecosystems’ contributors.

2. Run Value Alignment Program

With a bigger war chest in treasury post-token, the ecosystem should continue to expand its efforts in incentivizing new builders and rewarding serious teams, with a deeper focus on grants, accelerators and ecosystem funds.

Support initiatives at post-token stage

To ensure long-term alignment between the ecosystem and the dApps building on top of it, a token-swap mechanism can be considered, through a Value Alignment Program (VAP). The actual mechanism proposed was further discussed by LongHash Ventures’ GP, Shikhai in this article.

We propose adopting Value Alignment Programs as part of:

  1. Grants
  2. Accelerators
  3. Ecosystem / Investment Fund

A. Grants

The way to run a grants program at this stage should not differ significantly compared to at the pre-token stage. Ecosystems usually reserve a portion of their treasury tokens, and in most cases, the core team or main DAO will put up a governance proposal to obtain buy-in from the community.

ROI of giving out grants

Similar to running a hackathon, ROI at the grants stage is also difficult to measure and quantify. Projects tend to build a variety of use cases, with differing objectives ranging from pure profit-making to offering something free, such as ecosystem tooling or public goods. KPIs used would have to be multi-faceted and flexible to cater to the different use cases. For public goods, some useful metrics include number of partnerships signed or number of developers using the product.

Beyond tracked metrics, developers’ loyalty is hard to guarantee and ecosystems are again faced with the age-old question: how to know if the teams will continue to build in your ecosystem after receiving the tokens?

Many ecosystems, such as Berachain, adopt a distinct strategy by abstaining from providing monetary grants. Instead, they opt to proactively identify and directly engage with the most committed builders in the community, offering non-monetary support such as DevRel support, BD efforts, introductions to other builders and investors, and even marketing support to amplify announcements.

In the Neutron Grants Program, the emphasis is placed on prioritizing existing builders within the ecosystem, as they are deemed more likely to continue to contribute to its growth. The Solana Foundation team adopts a unique approach with their convertible grants for some of the winning projects. Under this model, the Foundation acquires equity when the project secures a new funding round. This concept aligns closely with our idea of a token swap under the Value Alignment Program, fostering stronger alignment and encouraging loyalty from the project.

B. Accelerators

In addition to grants programs, an increasing number of ecosystems opt for accelerator programs. Providing funding and tailored support for high-potential projects in a structured approach, ecosystems aim to increase the chance of success for these projects.

By receiving extensive support over a number of months and venture funding, projects graduating from accelerator programs are better positioned for success. In addition to increasing the probability of success of high-potential projects, accelerator participants serve as inspiring examples for builders that are new to the ecosystem, and the program showcases the level of support that ecosystems provide to builders.

There are some distinct differences in the way accelerators are run compared to grants:

  • The program usually features a structured curriculum that requires active involvement from the teams. The curriculum often includes weekly workshops, fireside chats featuring notable founders and investors, and personalized venture-building sessions. These sessions cover a range of topics such as tokenomics, governance, community building, product design, fundraising, and more
  • Participating teams are assigned dedicated mentors who offer specific guidance and time for tasks like idea validation and scaling of the product
  • At the end of the program, teams are invited to a Demo Day or a pitching session. The Demo Day provides an opportunity for them to showcase their ideas to investors and potential partners, which is usually when projects kick-off their first funding round
  • The investments made during these accelerator programs are often equity-dilutive (usually ~2-10% of equity), representing the initial external capital infusion for the team, alongside any angel checks they might have received

Expectations on teams

Given accelerators tend to provide the first check in venture funding, projects building public goods or tooling are usually excluded from consideration, with some exceptions. For example, the LongHashX Accelerator has a Builders’ Fellowship track, which provides a structured curriculum and some venture building support for these types of projects. Otherwise, most accelerators expect projects that apply to be venture backable.

Projects that are most suited for an accelerator are those that have more than one founder, ideally with a mix of technical expertise, domain knowledge, and commercial acumen. Ideal founding teams would have been working together for some time, might have participated in one or more hackathons or received grants, and have a concept or idea that has received early validation, with the team now ready to take that idea and develop it into a business.

For accelerators, the application process and assessment criteria is significantly more rigorous than a grants program, as the expectation from the accelerator is that the projects applying are venture backable and will develop into businesses that will provide investment returns.

Ways to run accelerators

Similar to other initiatives, there are also multiple ways an ecosystem can organize its accelerator program: 

  • Collaborate with Accelerator partners, such as LongHashX, Outlier Ventures Base Camp, and Alliance, which provides a plug & play solution, to leverage their operational expertise and network to incubate projects.

    This model provides a hands-off solution to ecosystems, as the accelerator partner takes care of marketing & recruiting, project assessment and selection, curriculum development and delivery, Demo Day, and post-Demo Day support. The ecosystem can provide as little or as much support as it wants and is able to, usually with some marketing support and project selection.

Examples of partnerships include LongHashX Axelar Cohort, LongHashX Safe{AAccelerator}, ATOM Economic Zone Accelerator with AA DAO and Neutron, Outlier Polygon Base Camp.

Some ecosystems, such as Polygon or Manta Network, chose to set up their own accelerator programs, with dedicated internal resources. However, most ecosystems choose to partner with accelerators for their expertise, experience, mentor network, and sourcing capabilities. These partners usually come with established process to identify high-potential builders and provide structured support.

For example, Safe decided to partner with LongHashX to launch their first ever Safe{AAccelerator} to support a handful of builders to unlock the full potential of smart accounts. LongHashX provided its dedicated resources to bring in new projects into the Safe ecosystem, provide them with funding and venture building support, and introduce them to mentors from LongHash Web, investors, and other builders and partners.

Safe partnered with LongHashX to run their first accelerator cohort, Safe{AAccelerator}

In addition to supporting early existing builders, accelerator programs are a good avenue to attract new developers into exploring and building in the new ecosystems. For example, Lit Protocol started building in the Filecoin ecosystem as part of their acceptance into LongHashX Filecoin Cohort 3, while Peanut Protocol chose Axelar as their cross-chain protocol as part of their acceptance into the LongHashX Axelar Cohort. 

ROI of accelerators

Given the projects selected for accelerators aim to scale into for-profit businesses, the ROI to track success of the program can be more easily measured. Some metrics include the number of projects that are able to raise a subsequent round, number of users (e.g. DAU, MAU), revenue generated, just to name a few.

C. Ecosystem / Investment Fund

As an ecosystem continues to mature and evolve, establishing an ecosystem or investment fund becomes a viable option to directly invest in projects that offer significant value to their users. Typically, these are projects that bring substantial user engagement and attention to the ecosystem. Making strategic investments in such projects is often a prudent move, as it can contribute to the overall growth and success of the ecosystem.

In certain cases, ecosystems may collaborate with the most active investors within their community to form an investment consortium, allowing the pooling of strategic resources.

The investment backing is typically significantly larger compared to the accelerator stage, ranging from a minimum of $50,000 to several million dollars. Teams are expected to demonstrate early signs of Product-Market-Fit (PMF), some level of user traction, and the strongest value alignment with the ecosystem. For instance, Blizzard Fund (Avalanche’s VC fund) invested in Trader Joe, the leading AMM on AVAX. Base Ecosystem Fund (supported by Coinbase Ventures) backed Avantis, a synthetic-derivatives protocol on Base. Mantle Ecosystem Fund announced that they committed funding to a few native projects, among them INIT Capital, the largest money market on Mantle.

The portfolio value-add from these ecosystem funds should closely resemble that of typical VCs. However, teams should strive to leverage the resources provided by the funds to integrate more extensively with other leading dApps in the ecosystem. This collaborative approach forms an alliance of projects working towards a shared goal, ultimately contributing to the collective success of the ecosystem.

3. Form new governance

Decentralization in decision-making is a spectrum, and adopting a more centralized operation in the early stages of an ecosystem often makes sense, ensuring consistency and efficiency. We previously developed a Governance Blueprint to guide ecosystems on how to think about governance in Web3, and how to progressively decentralize decision-making.

Various governance models to decentralize operations

When bootstrapping the builders of your ecosystem, there are merits in gradually involving the community in various programs and exploring different governance structures along the decentralization spectrum. This allows for a thoughtful evolution towards more decentralized and community-driven initiatives as the ecosystem matures.

There are generally three approaches to do this:

  1. Operated within the Foundation or primary DAO
  2. Via Sub-teams or Sub-DAOs
  3. Taking a Hands-Off approach

A. Operated within the Foundation or primary DAO

Model A: All operations run within the Main DAO/ Foundation

Typically, during the early stages of forming an ecosystem, a Foundation is established to centrally oversee and fund critical developments within the ecosystem. This Foundation also takes the lead in important initiatives aimed at expanding the community, including developers.

In the event of TGE, the team might then adopt a DAO model, allocating partial governance power to the community. This shift towards decentralization empowers the community to have a say in specific parts of the decision-making processes, while the core team retains control over most day-to-day operations.

In the efforts to attract and support developers, decisions regarding various initiatives such as grants, hackathons, and accelerators are often made by either the core team or employees within the Foundation/main DAO. Occasionally, the main DAO may opt to delegate decision-making to token holders through a governance proposal. This approach  ensures a level of accountability while maintaining speed and efficiency in making strategic decisions.

The majority of the ecosystems we spoke to adopt this model in the way they run operations, including Axelar, Ronin, just to name a few.

B. Via Sub-teams or Sub-DAOs

Model B: SubDAO model with each subDAO having specific responsibilities

As the ecosystem expands, it is common to decentralize decision-making further by breaking down the main DAO into smaller functional units known as subDAOs. Each subDAO can be assigned specific responsibilities, such as a grants subDAO or a community management subDAO. 

They operate autonomously from the main DAO, and overrule mechanisms can be implemented to veto decisions made by subDAOs. In this setup, subDAOs have the freedom to elect their own teams, manage budgets and set permissions without needing approval from the main DAO for every action. 

The Neutron DAO has effectively implemented a subDAO model, featuring a Neutron grants subDAO responsible for managing the grants program. With the successful approval of an on-chain proposal, the Neutron Grants Program was initiated by the subDAO, securing a 20 million $NTRN (worth $32M at the time of writing) to fund promising projects under Neutron through grants. In this model, the subDAO has autonomy to propose and award grants to a project after an on-chain proposal is passed (you can find the governance proposals here).

While a model like this can distribute decision-making and empower specialized units, there is a potential risk of slowing down processes. Therefore, both subDAOs and the main DAO should strive to find an equilibrium that ensures efficient day-to-day operations without compromising accountability. This might involve careful design of decision-making mechanisms, clear communication channels, and periodic reviews of governance structures to adapt to the evolving needs of the ecosystem.

C. Taking a Hands-Off approach

Model C: Hands-off model for community to step up and run initiatives

In an ideal decentralized community, it is advantageous for groups of community members to take the initiative and lead projects aligned with the overall vision of the ecosystem. The central foundation should remain neutral and minimize their role in steering the direction of ecosystem growth and evolution. In some cases, they could delegate responsibilities, such as managing grants or accelerators, to external parties, while signaling support and providing backing to these teams. This approach encourages a more bottom-up, community-driven development, fostering a diverse range of initiatives.

For example, Solana Foundation recently expressed support for a former team member, @mattytay to establish a new organization, Colosseum. Colosseum is entrusted with the responsibility of organizing online hackathons, accelerators and managing a venture fund within the Solana ecosystem. The hands-off approach is widely accepted by the community. Notably, multiple prominent founders in the ecosystem actively choose to participate as mentors and provide assistance, further solidifying the hands-off approach as a community-supported model.

Conclusion: Developers are the heart & soul of your ecosystem

In the Web3 world, if users are the lifeblood, developers are the beating heart and soul, having a passion to leverage the ecosystem’s tech stack to innovate and create new products and experiences. 

In this blueprint, we discussed the various building blocks necessary to bootstrap a robust developer community. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ecosystem bootstrapping. However, we hope that this information serves as both inspiration and a reference for founders of ecosystems as they cultivate a community of builders united by a shared vision. 

Additionally, there are other considerations that this blueprint did not dive deeper into, which warrant further exploration by ecosystems:

  • The influence of token price across the ecosystem’s lifecycle, particularly in relation to builders who often serve as early holders
  • The impact of the inflationary token emission schedule (or deflationary if demand is significant) in rewarding early builders
  • The long-term mission for the core team or foundation as decentralization progresses
  • The optimal size of the core team including DevRels to optimize support for developers while avoiding organizational bloat

LongHash Ventures’ mission is to bootstrap Web3 ecosystems. Since 2018 our LongHashX Accelerator has been partnering with LongHash Ventures’ portcos, including Neutron, Safe, and zkSync, and with leading ecosystems such as Filecoin, Axelar, and Polkadot, to bootstrap and grow their developer ecosystems, by attracting leading developers to their protocol, investing in and venture building with them, and connecting them to investors, partners, and users. LongHashX has accelerated more than 80 projects and helped them raise more than $200m in funding. Notable program alumni include Astar Network, Manta Network, Balancer, Lit Protocol, Huddle01, Zapper, and many others.

In addition to our LongHashX Accelerator, we conduct a Builders’ Fellowship alongside our programs, to support projects that are at an earlier stage, or those building tooling and public goods. We have also supported and advised Neutron, Axelar, Safe, and ATOM Accelerator DAO on their grants programs.

Finally, we are active participants in protocol governance (check out our Safe Token Value Alignment Program proposal and our Balancer LP token staking proposal) and we conduct extensive research in the Web3 space.

For this blueprint, we welcome feedback and encourage further discussion on this topic, to collectively bring more value to early-stage ecosystems looking to bootstrap their developer communities, and continue to build together a better and more inclusive decentralized future.