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  • noahchonlee

An Oxford Researcher Bet Me $1000 - An Intro to Crowdfunded Prizes

Updated: May 10, 2023

The Bet


While visiting Oxford, I met a researcher who had a list of projects he thought could help the world. He attempted to outsource this backlog to others but that required finding the right person with the right skillset and availability, negotiating pay, and checking in with them. It was too much overhead, and his list of ideas that might change the world remained on a file on his computer.


It occurred to us, "wouldn’t it be great if you could simply post your idea somewhere, let it go and let it grow?”


The Oxford researcher bet me $1000 that I would not be able to build the platform within a year and get any users accomplishing anything useful.

I accepted the challenge.


First, I assembled a team from my entrepreneurship class in Berkeley and gave a shark tank style pitch to Silicon Valley VCs using this deck and the following argument:


It is difficult to align all three at the same time and in the same entity. With crowdfunded prizes, you don’t have to. Crowdfunded prizes unbundle who contributes the idea, the reward, and the execution, thereby making it far more likely to be accomplished.


If a village wants a road to be built then they encounter the tragedy of the commons—this public good would benefit everyone, but no single person wants to take on the expense of making it happen. In today's world, the solution is to have a government tax the populace then offer a contract to someone to build the road. In this way, everyone pays (or at least taxpayers do) and everyone benefits. However, the downside is that governments tend to move slowly, often do not know which projects will actually do the most good, and do not crowdsource ideas effectively.



In a world with crowdfunded prizes, anyone in this village could propose a variety of projects, anyone can add funds to the reward for completing a project, and then anyone can complete the project and win the reward. The village, corporation, or community likely has a variety of needs and thus a variety of proposals may emerge and the populace may provide upfront evidence of demand for projects by adding funding to the ones they like. This creates a mechanism wherein ideas recognized as valuable may gather momentum.


Through crowdfunding prizes, we may overcome the tragedy of the commons with peer-to-peer collaboration rather than bureaucracy.


The Three Roles

Prize - A project proposal combined with a reward for whoever successfully completes the project.


Prize Proposer

  1. Use case: Outsource projects that you wish to exist as easily as posting a message.

  2. Financial reward: Perhaps a 5% cut of the final prize that is rewarded, thereby incentivizing the proposer to also promote the campaign.

  3. Reputational reward: Have a record of prizes you proposed showing you as the originator of the idea (or at least shows you as the person with the initiative to post it on the platform)


Prize Funder

  1. Use case: Donate to public or communal goods

  2. Financial reward: This is a retroactive funding model and thus for any prizes with a deadline there may be far less risk to the funder. Either what you want to exist in the world actualizes or you receive your money back.

  3. Reputational reward: Receive an impact certificate for your donations, potentially with tiers such as a ribbon for any amount of donation, a bronze medal for funding more than 10% of the total of a project, a silver medal for funding more than 30%, and a gold medal for funding 60%, or tiers of playing cards with amazing art and the potential for gating to certain events or to receive discounts from partner providers. This also may be a financial reward and a form of investing, so that way funders may have the best of both worlds in terms of reputational/philanthropic motivation and monetary reward by being both investors and donors.


Prize Contestant

  1. Use case: Be empowered as a freelancer to be rewarded the same way entrepreneurs are—for the speed of execution and the amount of value produced rather than on a per hour basis.

  2. Financial reward: The prize includes a monetary reward that may consist of fiat or crypto and perhaps also NFTs or impact certificates.

  3. Reputational reward: Gain points and perhaps “hunter” impact certificates


Such a platform may also be profitable. For example, on bountysource.com individuals and teams cumulatively earn millions of dollars for completing bounties to create open-source software. The platform takes a 10% fee if someone removes funding from the platform, though a person may choose to re-invest the money into other bounties without a fee. This incentivizes winnings to recirculate into the marketplace producing public goods. Other successful prize platforms include xprize, experiment.com, gitcoin, replit, dework, wonderverse, DAOlens, paraform, and many more.

However, no existing prize or bounty platform that I could find included crowdfunding.

If one did, then we would have a space to promote public goods.


What sorts of public goods might be developed?

  • Pharmaceutical research

Imagine if we reversed the incentives for pharmaceutical companies to open source their research and production processes rather than keeping them secret. At the moment, pharmaceutical companies often make money after they develop a product by being the exclusive producers and thus are incentivized to keep research secret that could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. However, if there had been a prize for developing the medicine that millions of people and organizations could have contributed to, then the requirement for payout might have been that the medical development company shows their research. In this way, the pharmaceutical company profits sooner by taking the pot of money and the public benefits as this is converted into a public good.


  • Public infrastructure

Perhaps crowdfunded projects are less susceptible to lobbying pressure and political turmoil than government funded projects. Many policy proposals and budget allocation falls apart when our political representatives fail to agree on how to use collective resources. However, with crowdfunded prizes only the people who want the infrastructure are the ones who contributed, and they added their funding to a specific end state that they demand such as building a bridge. Perhaps crowdfunded prizes combined with prediction markets and futarchy might enable a society that takes into account the desires and opinions of the populace far more directly.


  • Weekend projects

My friend crowdfunded a prize to build a zero login calendar with a unique URL so anyone with that link can add events to it. This is ideal for unconferences, for quickly coordinating times people are available, and it’s far easier to use in my opinion than when2meet. This only took $100 of funding for multiple people to jump in as a prize contestant and submit projects, the best of which resulted in pastecal.com which is free for anyone to use.

We don’t need to start with something massive, we can efficiently coordinate and incentivize highly useful public goods today.


The Future of Crowdfunded Prizes

These are just a few examples of how crowdfunding prizes may transform the world.

Whoever first takes the leap on this experiment may be opening up a world wherein communities transform from bureaucracy builders into prize builders. Ideally, we build an entire ecosystem of platforms utilizing crowdfunded prizes and eventually make it so your community may launch their own collection of crowdfunded prizes as easily as starting a new discord server.


At viaPrize.org, we intend to make a world in which it is easy to coordinate the ideation, funding, and creation of public goods.


Part 2 and the resolution of the bet found here

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