In August 2022, the Moonbeam community voted and approved Referendum 51, submitted by @TheTeriyakiDon.dot to establish the Moonbeam Interim Grants Program. The goal of the program is to advance the adoption, utilization, and development of the Moonbeam Network as a top-tier destination for cross-chain connected smart contracts and applications. I was honored to be nominated to join the Community Grants Committee as a non-Foundation community member. As we approach the six-month milestone since the program’s approval, I believe that now is the right time to provide the community with some reflections on my time as a committee member.
In this post, I aim to provide an insider’s view of the Community Grants Committee, including some of the steps we take after an application is submitted, a detailed view of what goes into the decision-making process for approving or declining a grant application, and some qualities of successful applications. For the most part I won’t touch upon Level 3 grants as they are publicly reviewed by the committee, and the decision is ultimately vetted and voted on by the community. I will mainly focus on Levels 1 and 2 grant applications, as these make up the bulk of the proposals. Additionally, I encourage you to take a look at some proposed revisions to the program from one of the Foundation committee community members, @sicco-moonbeam which can be found here.
Grant Committee Insights
Once the referendum ended and on-chain approval for the program was received from the community, the committee work began. In the first committee meeting, we had some brief introductions, a review of the program’s processes, and we began scheduling calls and processing applications. The grant program proposal outlines the end-to-end process for handling applications, and the following sections provide insight into some of those steps.
Grant Application Committee Assignments
As applications are accepted, one non-Foundation community member is assigned to attend a call with each application team (although occasionally more than one will attend the call), and at least one Foundation community member attends every application call. These calls are scheduled based on the pre-determined weekly availability of the committee members. Over the past five months, the committee has conducted an average of three to four calls per week.
Grant Committee Pre-Call Due Diligence
Once a call is assigned, one of the attending committee members will be responsible for conducting the pre-call due diligence on the project. This is one of the most important parts of the process, as it helps ensure that the background of each project is thoroughly investigated and understood. Taking around four to eight hours per application, it starts with reviewing the initial application submission, which gives a project overview, key aspects of the application proposal, and may include a pitch deck, white paper, profiles of the founders or contributors, or other items which help us better understand the project. Once this initial information is reviewed, it will typically provide a variety of other threads to pull on, which may lead to:
- Further investigation of project team members via LinkedIn profiles and other publicly available information such as blog posts and Twitter profiles.
- Examination of the project’s social presence. This may include project Twitter accounts, Telegram groups, Discord servers, and YouTube channels.
- Testing and review of any demos or testnet and production dApps or WebApps.
- Determination of whether the project has had any interactions within the Moonbeam ecosystem. Has the project publicly engaged with the community? Have they built anything in the past, or been engaged with any other projects elsewhere in the ecosystem?
- If there is a public code repository, a deeper dive may be done to determine the level of original work and whether their code has been professionally developed.
- Determination of whether the project has been involved with other non-Moonbeam ecosystems or received grants from other chain communities. Did they deliver? How was the interaction with the community during and after delivery?
These are just a few of the things that are examined during the due diligence process. It is important to note that the due diligence is not intended to form a judgment, but rather to leave no stone unturned in gathering as much information about the project as possible. It may be that one or more of the above items is not applicable, and the information gathered is not assessed as good or bad. However, overall, the information helps paint a picture of the project. This process sets the stage for the application team review call.
Application Team Meeting
The application team meeting is the time when the project gets to showcase their work, and the committee gets to ask probing questions about the project, grant application, and other aspects that help assess if the project meets the grant program’s stated goals. Some questions may be straightforward, such as asking the team to describe their project’s background. Others may be more difficult to answer, such as questions about the project’s runway or revenue model. Many of the questions are based on information gathered during the due diligence process, and some are generally standard across all applicants. We may conduct a technical deep dive or request a written response to follow-up questions if we are unable to obtain the necessary information during the call. All the questions are intended to fully understand the project and the grant application, to be as fair as possible to the applicant, and the questions are asked in the spirit of transparency and openness between the committee and team. These calls cover a lot of ground and typically last between 30 to 60 minutes and are led by the committee member who performed the diligence. This stage is also not meant to form a judgment but is intended to be combined with the diligence and other information gathered up to this point.
Weekly Committee Review Meeting
The full committee meets for an hour at least once a week, and more frequently as necessary, to review projects that have completed the application team meeting. We also follow up on previous applications that required additional attention after the previous weekly committee review meetings. During this meeting, the lead for the application team meeting guides the full committee through the application, the project, important aspects of the due diligence findings, and information from the application team meeting. Other committee members who participated in the application teem meeting also share their impressions and provide additional details and perspective. The committee engages in thoughtful dialogue, asking relevant questions and sharing views with each other. After everyone has had a chance to speak, the committee votes on whether to approve or decline the grant. However, the outcomes are not strictly limited to those two choices. Sometimes, we approve the grant with certain conditions. For instance, we may offer a lower amount of grant funds or a state requirement that the application team provide additional details on some milestones. After discussing the project, we may decide to seek further clarifications from the team or seek out information from a third party outside of the grant committee, and we may withhold a vote until further information is received.
In the past 5+ months, the committee has thoroughly reviewed over 70 applications, and it has become clear that certain qualities differentiate successful projects from the rest. Through this extensive review process, several qualities have emerged that have been noticed more often than not in Level 1 and Level 2 grant recipients. Some of these are:
- A track record of delivering successful projects
- An engaged community
- A clear definition of milestones and outcomes
- The ability to clearly articulate how the project will benefit the Moonbeam ecosystem
- A vision for the future of their project, and how it aligns with Moonbeam’s vision for connected contracts
- A revenue model that is either already in place or planned and makes sense
- A focus on security
- A willingness and drive to engage within the Moonbeam community and ecosystem
Although it is not necessary for applicants to excel in each and every one of these areas, it is clear that most successful applications will have some of these nailed down.
To wrap up this post, I would like to share some personal reflections on the program. From day one, it has been clear to me that every member of the committee and supporting team takes their role and responsibilities extremely seriously, but I have been particularly inspired by the level of dedication demonstrated by my fellow committee members, and the quality of projects requesting grants. We all understand the critical importance of assessing applicants objectively and thoroughly, leaving no room for error. As a committee, we feel a deep sense of responsibility to the community and the applicants. We strive to reach a decision by the end of the process that leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind, one way or the other. Our voting generally tends to align, although we don’t require unanimous agreement to reach a decision. In cases where we need more information, we delay the decision until we are all confident that we are making the right choice.
As a non-Foundation community committee member, I strive to act in the best interest of the program and community. To help guide my decision-making process, before voting, I always ask myself if I would entrust my own money to the project in question. If I cannot answer yes, then I believe it would not be in the best interest of the program or community to vote in favor of the project. This approach helps me maintain a high level of accountability and responsibility to the program and community.
I hope this post provides some transparency into the processing of Level 1 and Level 2 grants. Serving the community in the committee has been an absolute pleasure, and I would be honored to continue serving in this role if given the opportunity.