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  • noahchonlee

Crowdfunded Prizes for Public Goods


Part 1 found here


The Silicon Valley VCs (including the cofounder of Guitar Hero) loved the idea after I presented this deck. However, I was too busy to pursue it as a founder while also being a full-time freshman student at Berkeley, training with the NROTC Marine Corps, teaching juggling at a local circus, and working as an executive assistant for a Lawrence Labs researcher as well as for an OnlyFans star.


In my spare moments I researched existing platforms, called dozens of potential users, competitors, collaborators, and conglomerated all the meetings notes, brainstorms, and more here.

In doing so, I discovered that prizes:

  1. Have a rich history

    1. In academic literature prizes are referred to as “inducement prize contests” and have a rich history of incentivizing the furthering of human progress such as Charles Lindbergh becoming the first person to fly across the Atlanic in order to win the Orteigh Prize, or the same non-governmental spacecraft entering low earth orbit twice in one weeks in order to win an Xprize (an organization now funded by Elon Musk)


2. Are highly motivational

  1. Economists refer to prizes as hyper-efficient because they mobilize a massive amount of action with a small reward relative to the total value generated. This makes it a higher leverage methodology for motivating the production of public goods.

  2. This is due to the competitive nature of humans and the motivation to have a record of moving forward progress such as Guinness World Records. This is why hackathons and other competitions are so effective: because humans want to win, and we simply need to structure a way to win. Prizes gamify creation.

  3. Though already incredibly hyper-efficient on an order of at least 20x (Ex: Two dozen teams at a hackathon all compete for one prize that equates to the same amount of funding that would only have been enough to pay for one team through a grant or a contract) this might be massively expanded by adding reputation systems and by adding speculation with impact certificates. This will be expanded upon in later posts.

  4. People staking their funds into a prize show upfront demand and easily allow someone to jump into building something knowing that someone will use it. It has amazed me how motivating it can be to see multiple people staking even $20 into an idea proving that if you were to build it then someone would use it.


3. Respected by renowned economists and philosophers

  1. Authors such as Scott Alexander and Robin Hanson are proponents of bounties/prizes in books such as The Elephant in the Brain and here.


4. Are highly in demand

  1. Interviewing the creator of the Bountied Rationality Facebook group, I discovered that simply making a space for a community to post paid favors was so efficient to rapidly accomplish tasks that it scaled to thousands of users and bounties as large as $50,000. The platform is not designed for the purpose and the admin asked if I wanted to build a platform to move the users onto.


5. Have barely scratched the surface

  1. I believe Elon Musk (though I’ll have to track this down in the future) once stated that two economic systems will transform the world: universal basic income (UBI) and inducement prize contests (IPCs)


This makes sense, because the world has more than enough resources to take care of the basic needs of everyone but there is a coordination issue which UBI may address… but then what do people do in this new world in which we do not need to work? We launch quests, prizes, hackathons, and beyond. And how might we advance towards such a world? By motivating people to build public goods, which is where crowdfunded prizes step in.


The $1000 bet resolution


During my research, I met Jehan Azad who had created the MVP for viaPrize.org, the first platform I am aware of that includes crowdfunded prizes that anyone may win. This all-purpose MVP demonstrated the technical feasibility of the project as we discovered the high-leverage capacity of crowdfunded prizes to incentivize the creation of public goods.


The next step was applying this to a specific community or niche type of project, so I consulted with super-linear.org and established a prize development process and trained a contributor to refine incoming prize proposals the largest of which was $100,000.

Similar to AI prompt engineering, prizes may be like the parable of a genie in a bottle that will give you what you ask for… so be careful what you ask for. Knowing how to clearly define an end state and describe what you are looking for is key.


At the end of the one year time frame, (by which time I had dropped out of college and the military and was working as a founding member of an AI startup) I showed my progress to the Oxford superforecaster who had bet me that I would fail to build such a platform. He stated that he felt that the conflict of interest with him both being the judge and the one who stands to gain or lose money influenced his decision-making and he declared a tie. This also added insight into how to design competitions, prizes, and bounties (the differences to be explained in a future post) in terms of judges and voting on winners. This bet, a form of retroactive funding alongside prizes and impact certificates, also demonstrated the power of establishing something to “win” in a way that is simultaneously competitive and pro-social.


Progress for viaPrize

I left my job at the AI startup in February and spent a couple weeks living with Jehan Azad in Scotland. He selflessly handed over viaPrize to me and encouraged me to grow it into something great.


I called with the founders of existing bounty platforms such as Wonderverse and Daolens who all thought adding crowdfunding functionality and offered to support them if they incorporated this feature. They thought it this idea was great and would like to see it exist, but they were busy with their own development plan. I decided to build it myself.


On March 28 of 2023, I arrived to Zuzalu, a first of its kind two-month long residency in Montenegro with each week focused on a different topic such as public goods, zero knowledge cryptography, AI, charter cities, and beyond.


By the start of April, I was working full time on viaPrize.


In the five weeks since then, the following has occurred:

  • Over 100 people donated through the Gitcoin grant

  • Over a dozen people contributed to our open source Github

  • An Amazon software engineer won a prize by making this app free and had us donate his winnings to "save a life in Ukraine."

  • A smart contract developer found and won this meta prize to make an open source smart contract that allows funders to vote on who wins a prize, and he has become a long-term contributor.

  • Discussed governance and voting mechanisms with Vitalik Buterin and launched this prize and awarded winners including the executive director of Gitcoin

  • With 3 hours remaining in a 3 day hackathon, assembled a team including a cofounder of Optimism to build pactsmith.com and won a prize in the Zuzalu Public Goods Hackathon

  • A team of around 15 contributors assembled to win a prize by making an environmentally educational AI voice for a river. This weekend project is developing into a full organization.

  • Daily progress updates from the first three weeks found here.


Next, we need to empower others to establish their own crowdfunded prize platform for their community as easily as making a new discord server.


All the open source code is here: https://github.com/orgs/viaprize

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