The Delphi Podcast Host and GP of Delphi Ventures Tom Shaughnessy sits down with Andrew Kang, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Mechanism Capital, a fund interested in all aspects of the crypto ecosystem with a focus in DeFi. The two discuss token economics, value accrual, incentives for teams, and more.
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(2:50)- First Question: Andrew’s Background and Mechanism Capital overview.
(5:42)- How Andrew allocates his time for projects.
(12:12) – Andrew’s thoughts on community investing and party rounds.
(14:17) – How Andrew builds conviction in a team as a retail investor.
(16:50) – Founders / red flags / anonymous founders.
(23:17) – Andrew’s biggest miss or loss and what he learned from it.
(26:00) – Andrew’s biggest edge as an investor in crypto.
(30:47) – Projects that crushed their token economics from the get-go.
(32:43) – Thoughts on token economics and incentives.
(35:00) – Andrew’s thesis on PleasrDAO and NFTs.
(41:22) – DAOs maintaining their decentralization long-term.
(46:25) – Thoughts on the future of VC investing in crypto.
(50:29) – When Andrew thinks crypto will be not as interesting.
(52:25) – Andrew’s best advice.
(55:23) – Who Andrew looks up to in the crypto space.
Hey everyone, welcome back to the podcast. We have our fourth guest for our VC crypto series. Forgot to introduce myself. I’m Tom Shaughnessy. I help lead Delphi Ventures and the podcast. Today, I have on Andrew from Mechanism Capital. Andrew, how is it going?
Hey. It’s good, man. Thanks for having me.
Andrew, we’re in so many chats together, I feel like we’ve already done a couple of these podcasts over text, but here we are.
Yeah. [inaudible 00:00:27]
Yeah. So Andrew, tell us a bit about yourself and your firm.
Yeah, sure. So a little about me, I got into crypto full-time around 2018. It was at a crypto fund out in California as an analyst. Left that around late in 2018 to start a [inaudible 00:00:49] OTC firm with a few other partners.
Worked those markets for around a year and a half. And while I was doing that, was really active in a few of the nascent DeFi communities, communities like Synthetix, MakerDAO, THORChain. And was really interested, on a personal basis, in investing and growing these protocols.
So when 2020 hit, DeFi summer hit, I decided I wanted to leave and do that full-time, and that’s around when we started Mechanism. And Mechanism as a firm, some people call us a DeFi-focused fund. And we do, to an extent, focus on DeFi, and we’ve been really active in some projects, which is how we’ve built our brand. But really, we invest across the stack in crypto.
We’ve done everything from investing in mining operations to derivative exchanges like Deribit, to more infrastructure-level plays within crypto. So, that’s Mechanism. Since we started, we grew from really just myself to now a team of five people. And while we do focus mostly on venture, we do a good bit of trading as well.
So, Andrew, summer of 2020, crazy yield farming, Yearn comes out, kick-starts the whole space a bit. You can argue Synthetix and Compound really championed yield farmers earlier. How did you decide to spend all of the operational legal time to start a firm and a fund when you could have just been aping into stuff yourself?
Yeah. So we’re in a bit of a unique situation, we don’t have LP capital, so Mechanism capital is essentially our prop capital. And so, the legal setup was really simple. Just a setup of a few entities.
We don’t have a director of investor relations. We don’t have a lot of the operational complexity that it usually takes to manage a lot of outside capital. And so, from that perspective, we were able to be really agile and jump on opportunities as they came, within the same day, within DeFi summer, and really just focus on that.
Yeah. Running your own money cuts down on a ton of operational overhead, so that makes a lot of sense that you’re the LP and others obviously. So let’s dive right into it. You’re in a unique position because you’re so in the weeds with your team.
How do you curate the best plays? How do you shortlist it? How do you know where to spend your time? There’s just so much going on in crypto at all times. And you open with the fact that you guys are all over the spectrum, from mining operations to equity, to tokens, deal farming.
Where do you know where to spend your time and where you’ll actually get a return for that time?
Yeah, sure. As a team, most of us on the team have been in crypto for a few cycles. Myself being an analyst at a crypto fund three years ago, I was looking through multiple whitepapers a day so, by now, I’ve probably looked through a few hundred, if not a thousand plus.
So there’s a little bit of muscle memory, I guess you can call, to an extent. Projects fall within certain categories that you can categorize really quickly. And projects that really can’t explain what they’re doing, you’re able to push those aside really quickly.
If something is really unique, then you’re able to say, “I haven’t seen that before” and delve in and get into the weeds of what that project is really working on. And besides that, in terms of how we find new deals, we are connected with a lot of really great other investors and also founders who we trust and we trust their taste in terms of what they’re bringing to us, what they’re recommending to take a further look into.
Yeah. That’s totally fair. And I guess how do you go through that process though? What’s your automatic turn-off? Is it just that muscle memory or is there something in a deck or any parameters you can give us on stuff that’s just an automatic turn-off?
Because your time is extremely valuable. An extra hour to look at one project that you’re interested in is obviously worth well more than looking through 10 garbage decks.
Yeah. Usually, if a project is full of buzzwords, that’s usually a big red flag. Like I said, you can usually categories projects because a lot of projects, they tackle the same type of problems.
So we’ve seen, at this point, dozens of synthetic asset trading platforms. We’ve seen dozens of different money market funds, say Aave for Ethereum, Aave for BSC, Aave for this chain or that chain. And so, that can give us a really quick sense of what this project is working on.
And usually, what we try to do is we don’t want to make a lot of investments in the same space. Usually, we make just one and stick with it. And so, when something is really unique and it’s creating a new primitive that hasn’t been built before, that’s something that we really want to focus on.
Basically, you want to focus on new code, new ideas. Is that harder though? Because you mentioned earlier that your muscle memory is strong, and I totally agree with you. But when you’re looking at brand new plays, how do you bridge that gap?
Is it the muscle memory you’ve had for years helps you understand these new projects better because it obviously takes a lot longer to build up a thesis and conviction around totally new projects.
Right. Yeah. To give you an example, right? If we’re looking at a synthetic acid trading platform, we’ve seen a few that are really just synthetics, right? Except for maybe they’re changing that instead of using only SNX to mint the Synths, they’re adding a few other forms of collateral.
They’re tweaking the way that the collateral ratio changes over time. They’re changing the universe of Synths that they’re working with. Stuff like that, I would say. If it’s really just small tweaks to something that’s pre-existing, it’s not too interesting for us, but it’s something that we can take a look at and be able to tell really quickly, “Okay, this is really similar to this project that we’ve seen before that’s out there has had success in this or that way.”
Are there any exceptions? Take a Cream versus Compound example or a SushiSwap versus Uniswap example, they’re not exactly reinventing the wheel here, but they could be attractive investments. Where do you draw the line between copycats when it’s something that might be a good investment?
Right. Yeah. That’s a great question. Cream, Compound, Aave, they’re all money markets, right? But they do serve different markets. And so, if we look at Compound, for example, that’s something that’s very blue-chip, they’re very safe, and so they’re very conservative in adding new assets.
But Aave and Cream are a little bit less conservative. And so they serve a longer [inaudible 00:08:01] of assets, right? And so, while Compound has been out there for a while, Cream and Aave have been able to have success because people are able to put different types of collateral into the system and be able to also borrow different types of assets, right?
And so, understanding that a little change can make a big difference in terms of the type of need that’s served, that’s something that we’ll look out for as well.
How do you… I mean, of that example you gave, how do you, I guess, revisit your thesis as time goes on, right? I feel like Cream, Compound, Aave, eventually, they’re probably going to all have the same assets supported.
But it’s a slow grind of adding assets. It’s a little bit of a different thesis. These aren’t major inflection points where you revisit your thesis. It’s like a slow process that happens over time.
How do you revisit your investments and say, “Hey, you know what? Maybe we should get out of this. It’s not as interesting anymore. It’s not as differentiated anymore?” Because I feel like a lot of people have trouble exiting or rethinking their thesis after they make an investment.
Yeah. That’s a good question. Typically, we like to stay with the project that we’ve invested in long-term. And there are really, really a few instances where we say that the thesis has changed or the project no longer lives up to the thesis in some way.
But it’s really just looking at, at some point, how the product is playing in the market, right? Because these products launch, they have users testing them out. And so, you’re able to track on a variety of metrics; daily users, volume, TVL, etc., and how that tracks over time.
And so, you can easily just take a look at the data and say, “Hey, look, not very many people are using this, it’s not getting a lot of traction.” Well, then we think, “Well, why is that?” And then maybe it’s because of an invalidation of our thesis because there’s not a real need in the market to say… Have a derivatives market to trade these really exotic assets.
One example is synthetics adding currency pairs. Obviously, there’s a big market for trading currency pairs out there, but is there a need for that in crypto? At first, people said yes. But then, once they launched those currency pairs, you could see that there really wasn’t a market for it because nobody was trading them. And they’ve been out for one or two years so far.
Yeah. You’re totally right. The narratives we learn on paper and that we buy into, I’ve done this myself, they don’t always pan out in the real world.
I’d like to talk a bit about the makeup of the projects you invest in because there’s obviously big debates and a lot of different thinking around what percent VC should take down, what percent a community should have. You’ve been on both sides of the aisle here because you’re writing VC checks but you’re also very active in these projects from a yield farming perspective, from a secondary markets perspective.
How do you think about community investing, party rounds, what Percent ownership do you want as a VC? When you have to keep in mind that the community is what’s going to drive this forward, and they need to be incentivized for the long-term.
Yeah. Yeah. So, I never think it makes sense for there to be only one investor in the entire round. I think when you’re talking about bringing on investors in terms of fundraising, every investor offers something different, right?
So, us, as Mechanism, when we’re leading around, we have a group of investors that we know are really valuable in multiple different ways. For example, we might know these angels are really great at marketing in China or North Korea because they run a media business there, they run some type of news outlet. And so, we’ll know they offer a ton of value for a 20K check.
Crypto Bobby, we’ve had him in a few rounds with us because we know he runs Proof of Talent. He’s great at recruiting and he has a really wide network. And we know that all projects that we work with, they always need help with recruiting.
And then, obviously, Delphi, right? You guys are great with research, podcasts, Tokenomics. We’ve had a great experience working with you guys, so we always try to tap you guys when we can.
Party around, I would say we’re always in favor in. Sometimes that means we can’t get as big of an allocation as we want, but it’s better for the project long-term. And for projects doing better because there’s a better group of investors, then we’re doing better as well.
Andrew, the joke within Delphi is, whenever you send us a deal, instead of just automatically saying yes, we wait a couple of hours so you guys think we’re looking into it. Just kidding, we always dive in. It’s a good answer.
I guess the other side of that is looking at the team, right? So you have an ability to… Or you have access to teams in a different way than retail does, right? Crypto is obviously very open. These founders are out on Discord, they’re on Twitter, I get that. But they’re going to respond to you before they respond to Joe Schmo on Twitter.
If you’re a retail [inaudible 00:13:13], let’s say [inaudible 00:13:14] not at Mechanism, how do you build conviction in a team that’s… You’re only sizing up their past from Discord, Twitter, Telegram, Medium. How do you build that conviction in a team as a retail investor?
Yeah. I think it’s funny because a lot of people when they talk about VCs, they talk about us as kind of like a different species, but we were all retail at some point, right? I mean, we were all just like… Had no connections and were just aping into coins that we saw on Reddit and 4chan.
And then eventually, we found our way into Discord groups and Telegram groups and we started chatting with teams. And then we find that conversations with some teams are more engaging with others. Some founders are 24/7 talking with the community and playing with ideas with the community, and some are just not responsive at all.
And so, those are the projects that I know both of us got involved with and it worked out really well. And so that’s been kind of a mantra for us, is to bet on founders that are really in the weeds and open to feedback and just really great at experimenting with new ideas.
Where do you draw the line on the level… You’re an extremely smart, one of the most intelligent investors in the space, right? But everyone has their limits in different segments, right? Where do you draw the line as an investor and say, “Hey, you know what? I don’t really understand this aspect or that aspect, but I’m betting they know it or my contact knows it.”
Where do you draw the line on being okay with what you don’t know, but still writing a check or still investing in something?
I think at first, I used to lean on a lot of people’s opinions, but I think, eventually, you do this long enough where you just learn to trust your intuition and your gut. But that doesn’t mean we’re an expert in everything.
So, sometimes, for example, say we’re looking at something to do with zero-knowledge proofs, we don’t have a lot of expertise in that, right? But we’ve invested in founders that we know that might have expertise in that or other investors that might have a PhD in something like that, right? And so we’ll tap those people when that’s appropriate.
Yeah. That’s a great call. We invested in Arbitrum. I was looking into Chainflip and I was like, “Oh, wow. The founder of Arbitrum wrote a lot of these [inaudible 00:15:35] papers that [inaudible 00:15:36] was using.” So you can reuse a lot of people there.
And I guess the other side of this is, what do you think about founders or what do you see in founders that really turns you off from an investment? And let’s take an example of a project that you really like. Let’s say you find a project, you really like it, but you meet the founder, you learn about them, what turns you off about a founding team even if you like the idea itself?
Turns me off about a founding team…
Or what would make you just straight up not write the check anymore? Because there’s certain things founders could do, certain aspects. I’m not sure if it’s just all qualitative, but I’m wondering what would turn you off.
Because a lot of people look at founding teams and they’re like, “I’d never back them.” But they don’t really give a reason why.
Yeah. I would say I’m more accepting of some mistakes because there are cases where I think that type of attitude where people are really quick to turn away founders because of one specific reason that has really bit them in the butt.
An example is THORChain, right? Some of the co-founders were involved in projects in 2017/2018 that didn’t go so well, not because they were scamming people but just because they couldn’t find a product-market fit. And so a lot of investors, when they saw THORChain come out, they said, “Hey, that project didn’t go great. I’m not going to back this project.”
For me, there’s a little bit of hesitation because of that at first, because people were bringing that up as a red flag, but I think you really have to look past that. But in terms of what would really be a big red flag and have us not write a check, I think it would just have something to do with integrity.
If a founder was caught blatantly lying about terms that were set previously or say his experience or something like that, but that is really, really rare. I can maybe count on my hands a few times when that’s happened.
Yeah. The funny thing is, what I’m learning from a lot of these episodes is I feel like crypto VCs are way more forgiving of whether their personality doesn’t line up with a founder’s, and if they’ve had mistakes in the past.
But obviously, everyone is not okay with any integrity, any fraud, anything like that. But it sounds a lot more flexible than a traditional VC where I feel like whenever I listen to a traditional VC, they’re just like, “Oh, I loved the founder, I was in.” But in crypto, it’s not always the case.
Right. Yeah. Exactly. I don’t need to be able to hang out with a founder. I don’t need to be able to have drinks every day with them. If I know they’re passionate about the project and they’re really pumped about what they’re working on and I know that they can execute and they’re not going to give up in a bear market, then yeah, we’re ready to back them.
I’m with you, man. Yeah. Drinks every day, I wouldn’t get much work done either. What are your thoughts on… I guess, two things I want to ask you, and I’ll let you take it whichever way you feel more strongly about. Anonymous founders versus known founders.
And I wanted to get your take on whether or not you back anonymous founders. I know you have personally but I’d love to hear your take on it. And I guess how you build conviction in founders you don’t even know or you might not ever know.
Yeah. I think before 2020, you really didn’t see much anonymous founders in the space, mostly because I think there was a sense of a lack of trust and so it was hard for them to build a community around them, it was hard for them to raise capital.
And then DeFi happened and it’s like, “Oh, wait, I don’t have to raise capital to start a project. I can bootstrap this within a few days or a few weeks.” And so I was really excited to see that happen because there were a lot of projects that we saw in 2018/2019 that essentially failed because they spent all their time and resources talking to lawyers around what they could and couldn’t do.
And obviously, it’s important to stay compliant, but there’s also a lot of regulatory uncertainty. Guidelines are not clear at all in certain jurisdictions. And so if a project founder is anonymous, it lets them just focus on the project full-time and not worry about some of these other things that they might have to deal with.
And so, projects like SushiSwap, projects like Alchemix, right, that had anonymous founders, they’ve been able to succeed, despite that.
And I think at first, right, there was a lot of, I guess, skepticism with 0xMaki and him taking over Sushi. But he’s been able to win over the trust of the community. He has been able to not take an easy exit when he could have, and stick with it for almost a year now.
He’s a really good example of somebody that really got a lot of respect from the community from just consecutively staying with it and building. That’s a really good point.
And my follow-up question to you is, do you ever think that these founders will actually decentralize the community? I brought Kane up as a good example, who I guess is attempting to do this, and he’s an incredible guy.
But I’m wondering what your thoughts are because (1) that’s the whole point, I guess, is for the community to own it, but on the flip side, I feel like it’s way harder to do in practice.
Yeah. I think we’re still pretty far out from seeing this [inaudible 00:21:00] within a larger scale. Because you mentioned Kane, he loves synthetics as the benevolent dictator but he came back recently and joined their council, right?
And I think when he referenced the reason why he was coming back was because there were a lot of coordination issues without him there. There were some conflicting visions around what was to be prioritized, to be built.
And so, I don’t think we’ve seen a model just yet of successful transition from a core team to the community. I would say maybe Yearn is the only example, right? Where you had Andre start the project and then really the key contributors driving it now were from the community.
But I would say that’s more so the exception than the rule. I think there are a lot of things to think about like proper incentivization that need to be really carefully considered when you’re giving away the project to the community because, like you saw with Yearn, there was a lot of friction, right?
Because a lot of the developers felt like they were not properly incentivized, that they only had such a little amount of tokens versus some other people in the community that weren’t doing anything at all. And so I think incentive structure is something that really needs to be thought through carefully when you’re dealing with this type of thing.
No, that’s a really good point. You definitely need the team incentivized, but it is a fine line. And definitely want them incentivized for the long-term.
And I guess just switching gears, I’d love to Talk about a couple of examples. Let’s start with the painful ones, the lessons, right? What’s something that you thought was a major miss on your part or the funds part? You could take it from a specific investment or an area to invest in. Would love to learn, I guess, what you thought your biggest miss was and, I guess, what you learned from it.
Yeah. I would say, off the top of my head, probably Alpha was one of our biggest misses. We saw that-
Love Alpha, man.
Yeah. You guys and [inaudible 00:23:08] multi-client were investing in that one. We had a call with the founder and she was great. She was obviously really knowledgeable about DeFi. The team was stellar, I think something about a mathematics [inaudible 00:23:21].
But the friction that we ran into there in terms of getting to a yes was we felt that they were way too… They had way too much focuses. They wanted to do a perpetual derivatives platform, they wanted to do a launchpad, they wanted to do this leveraged yield farming. And so we felt like they were a little bit all over the place.
And, obviously, they’ve been able to execute on almost all three of those by now. And so, really, the lesson there for us was to maybe not get stuck on one small red flag if there are a lot of other great factors to consider, right?
They were building something innovative with leveraged yield farming. The team was exceptional and they were really fast builders, they’ve been in this space for a long time. So yeah, that was one lesson.
Another, I guess, lesson that I like to talk about a lot is the fact that sometimes there’s just one part of the token model or one part of the design that is just not right, and investors can get stuck up on that and use that as a reason to pass.
For example, we might have looked at a derivatives protocol and said, “Well, this design won’t work because it’s unsustainable in this way or that way.” But it turns out, a small tweak could have been made and we could have worked with the team on that and that problem would have been solved. So I would say don’t get hung up on stuff that can be improved on.
Yeah. Those are really good examples. You’re right, Alpha was biting off a lot. They have executed, which is good, but I could understand why you thought that, and it’s not a bad reason to pass.
I guess the other thing to keep in mind is the stuff doesn’t happen in a tunnel, right? You obviously used the funds you were going to allocate to Alpha to something else anyway.
Right, yeah. The space was moving a mile a minute. Opportunity cost was [inaudible 00:25:23] at that time, but we’ve since taken a small Alpha position, so we’re happy to be on the same page as you guys.
Hell yeah, man. Glad to hear it. And I guess just on that line of thinking, there’s a lot of ways to drive edge, and I mean you obviously have your ways where you get your edge from the market.
You’ve been here for a while, you’ve viewed a thousand whitepapers, you’re very active. What do you think, if you had to jump out of your body for a second and look at your investing career, what do you think your biggest edges are as an investor within crypto?
Yeah. I think our biggest edge is our eye towards incentive design. We were there in the Synthetix community when liquidity mining. And we’ve had a lot of discussions in those early communities as to how these liquidity mining programs should be developed, how Tokenomics should be developed over time. Because we’ve seen cases where token inflation was really, really excessive and that, pretty much, destroyed projects.
And so we’ve done a lot of thinking around, how do we get both founders, investors, community members, the right amount of skin in the game where everyone’s aligned and pushing forward on the same goals? And how do we remove dead weight, right? Where we don’t have a lot of tokens in the hands of people that are not so interested in the project.
Also, thinking about what is the impact of, say, token inflation or float on a project over time because we’ve also seen a lot of projects launch where they’ve launched with a really small float, say 1% of the total supply.
And that’s destroyed the project because they end up giving so much of the… Because the market pushes the prices up way too high and whenever they release tokens on the market, the price declines and no community is able to be built because everyone’s just too discouraged.
And so, just having been through those experiences and understanding the incentives at play, have been able to help us build a name in the space for that. That’s something that we work with a lot of project founders on. And also, people come to us for help on that.
Your example of the very small supply circulation, high price, then price comes down as tokens get released, no APY, community leaves, I can’t count how many times that’s happened.
It’s such a red flag to someone like you, but to most in crypto and retail, they see the [inaudible 00:28:00] and they think it’s going to last forever. It’s just hard to, I guess, size that up. I mean, just looking into the token economies of projects, what’s your process there?
Let’s say you love a project but you have to tweak the token econ, what do you look at first? Is it the supplies, is it the incentives? How do you go about redesigning it? We’ve done a lot of it ourselves, but I would love to get your start to finish here because it’s where you add a lot of value.
Yeah. I think the first thing we look at is what is the float at launch, right? If it’s 1%, that’s obviously a big no-no. Typically, we tell projects to aim for something 15-20% absolute minimum.
But aside from that, we’re looking at inflation over time. So, say something is… Say a project is inflating their token supply by 500% within the first year, and there’s a lot of projects that do that, that’s also a red flag. Say, too much of the supply is going to the founders or the investors or to liquidity mining incentives. There’s always a right balance, right?
And so we can draw inspiration from early DeFi projects like Synthetix or like Alpha that we can say that they did these things right or they did these things wrong. And you can look at these metrics that could be tweaked this way and apply that to new projects that we’ve been working with.
Do you care a lot about the governance process? Because, I guess, as much time as you spend on the token econ and nailing it from the get-go, when this stuff gets released in the wild, everything changes, right? Not everything, but a lot.
So there always has to be ways to tweak token econ, make changes, stuff like that. Do you care how easy it is to do that, or do you look for a specific governance process to that when you invest? Or is it basically, “Hey, we’ll figure it out. We did our best at the get-go?”
Yeah. When it comes to governance, I think it’s a bit of a nuanced topic because teams that we’ve seen that work with really centralized structures at first, usually they’re able to operate a lot more efficiently while ones that are a lot more decentralized at first and they try to go the fold-out flat structure approach, they operate really inefficiently.
Usually, when we work with teams, we try to find a bit of a middle ground to transition from the fully operationally efficient model to one that is more, I guess, decentralized, and flat over time.
Yeah. No, you’re right. The ultra-flat structures are just so inefficient from the beginning, it’s dumb. And I guess, going back to the examples on token econ, what’s an example of a project that you think has just absolutely crushed their token econ from the get-go?
Like supply, incentives, where the tokens are going, founder lockup, investors if there are any. Just give us an example of one that you thought absolutely crushed it.
It’s funny. I think the best projects that absolutely crushed it were the ones that launched in 2017/2018. I wouldn’t say they crushed it, but it was just good, the fact that they released all the tokens upfront because that allowed a lot of the dead weight to drop out and for people to essentially get into a project at relatively attractive valuations because the market wasn’t artificially holding these projects up to a really high supply.
Essentially, any project, like Aave, for example, right, that had investors in 2017/2018, but those investors ended up leaving and dropping the token to a really low valuation. And new investors are able to come in and scoop that up and able to grow the project over time.
That was a project that I wouldn’t say necessarily had good token econ, but it was good in the sense that it worked with the market cycle. But in terms of a project that has done that more recently, let me think about one, I don’t think Alpha was bad, right?
Because they had the Binance launchpad where they were able to distribute a lot to retail investors, had a little bit of liquidity upfront. But most of the investors that were in long-term. So they were sticking with the project, but then they also had a good amount of tokens that were vesting over time. And so it’s not like they were exiting from the project.
And then they had a really healthy amount of tokens available for liquidity mining incentives and also enough for the team to stay incentivized, right? So they really had a full balance there.
That’s a unique take. I haven’t heard somebody reference the original 2017-ish type projects. And I’d like to think through with you on the token econ and the incentive side.
When you and I look at a project, we’re looking for, I guess, what makes the token successful in months and years, right? But how do you think through what the project will become and the token supply it’ll need for incentives down the line? Right?
YFI is a great example, right? No inflation, no issuance, no tokens for Andre long-term or the team, right? And obviously, Andre is an incredible guy, so he’s building forever. But for most projects, who knows what they’re going to need in five years? How do you account for that? How do you think through those supply buckets beyond what you initially need?
Yeah. Something that we always talk to founders about is the fact that these token supplies can be malleable. Try to carve out a portion that will last you a lifetime, but it’s okay if it doesn’t, right? It’s okay if, say, you burn through it in 10 years because not every project has to be Bitcoin and have a fixed supply.
These projects are more similar to traditional, I guess, corporate models than they are to digital gold. And so, say you’ve used up all of the tokens within 10 years but you still need tokens to incentivize new employees or you still need tokens to incentivize new growth through liquidity subsidies, that’s okay.
But if you are minting more tokens, you have to have a plan for it. It has to be informed. You can’t be wasteful about it because you’re effectively diluting previous token holders. But the fact of the matter is, the previous token holders are the ones that are going to be voting for this minting, right? So they’re not going to be minting tokens willy-nilly.
So I think that’s something that we like to tell founders that it’s okay. Try to get it as best as you can, but you’re not going to know if 50% to liquidity mining incentives is the right number compared to 40%. It’s best-guess.
No, that’s a great answer. Basically, what you’re saying is that it’s not two separate groups. It’s the first group voting in the changes, which was the second iteration. And (2) you can’t even have these debates on minting more anything if you’re not successful to begin with, so you have to get there.
I’d like to shift gears a little bit. You opened with you guys are investing all over the map, which is incredible. You’ve recently invested in PleasrDAO, which is super interesting. Would love to get your thesis on PleasrDAO, and if you want, NFTs more broadly, because it’s obviously a massive interest for most of us in the space.
Yeah. So PleasrDAO is a really interesting project because it wasn’t really, per se, like a venture investment at the time. It was more so a friend was releasing an NFT on Foundation and we just wanted to support her.
And so, I made an opening bid and found out eventually that a group of people were bidding against me. And those people bidding against me were actually friends. So, Alex Svanevik from Nansen and Daniel Armitage from Nansen and a few others.
And so, when we found that out, we were like, “Well, it just makes sense to put together as a DAO.” And so, we won the auction as a DAO. Ownership of the DAO was distributed based on however much each person contributed.
And then we eventually saw that there were other cool projects and we decided, “Hey, why don’t we take these down as well? Why don’t we form a thesis around really culturally significant NFTs that we want to represent, that we want to bring to the mainstream, that we want to make charitable contributions towards?”
A lot of the NFTs that we bought, the Snowden NFT, for example, those proceeds went to the Stay Free Foundation. Sorry, Freedom of the Press Foundation. And so those are going to public goods.
The Tor Project released an NFT, and those proceeds went to opensource development of the Tor Project. We see an opportunity to do a lot of public good, and at the same time, bring NFTs more mainstream. And there are ways that we’re cooking up that are going to accomplish that, that I can’t really talk about just yet. But follow PleasrDAO on Twitter and you guys will be able to follow along.
Yeah. No, we have some relationship given our NFT fund and who’s involved there and PleasrDAO, so I’m very excited for it. To play devil’s advocate, middle of the bell curve podcast host right now, I’ll take the other side of this to get your take.
What’s the exit? Right? The Doge meme. You’re not battling with [inaudible 00:38:07] earning revenue, it’s not like a revenue-generating thing. Is it just the fact that, eventually, someone will pay more? As an investor, how do you view the exit on some of the more artistic NFTs but NFTs that don’t exactly inherit the crypto tribal valuations that crypto punks have got, if that makes sense.
Yeah. No, I wouldn’t say all of our NFTs are necessarily going to be monetized, but I would say a lot of them can. Some of them will just have inherent value over a very long-term period.
I think, for example, Doge was incredibly undervalued in the sense that this is probably the biggest meme in the history of the internet. Dogecoin itself is a multi-billion dollar asset. And even clones of Dogecoin have become multi-billion dollar assets to the fact that it sold for 4 million. I think that was an absolute steal.
You could just take the opinion that we’re just going to hold it for an extended period of time and resell it, or you could take the opinion that, hey, maybe we’re going to fractionalize this and open ownership of this NFT to more people.
Or maybe we’re going to put this NFT into some type of mainstream application or give it more exposure in some way and make it interesting for retail and give it more value as well so that, eventually, if we do sell it, it’ll be for a higher price. Or if we decide to fractionalize it, the fractionalized pieces will go for a higher price. But a lot of those thoughts are still in the works.
Yeah. If I don’t plug Andy from Fraction right now, because he’s one of my favorite investments we’ve made, I’d be remiss. So, hopefully, he’s able to do that for you guys.
The other question for you is just your experience within any DAO. You could take PleasrDAO as an example, you can take any other ones you’ve been a part of. What has the experience for you been like working within a DAO, investing within a DAO? Because at Mechanism, small [inaudible 00:40:25]. At PleasrDAO, potentially a lot, right? Coordination stuff.
Do you think that DAOs are ready for primetime beyond very intelligent investors and stuff like that? Because it seems like, obviously, it’s where the world’s moving, but it still seems super early on coordination, tooling, and everything you need to make one successful.
Yeah. I think we’re still in a very primitive era for DAOs. There’s a lot more thinking, I think, that can go into forming a DAO, in terms of how they can be structured, how decisions are made.
Because, like you said, it’d be very tough if every single decision was voted on by every single member of the DAO. In PleasrDAO, there are 50+ members, right? And so, there does need to be some sort of delegation or federation, right?
And so, within PleasrDAO, we’ve developed a council where they’re in charge of making higher-level decisions related to financials or different direction the DAO wants to go into. There are certain roles being formed within the DAO, where certain people are in charge of, say, corralling people together for a vote or setting up a legal entity, or finding new NFTs to start bidding on.
And so, we’ve been going through the strokes ourselves and learning through the process. But yeah, it’s definitely a challenge working with a large group of people versus a smaller group.
Now, I’m not in PleasrDAO, but talk about DAOs more generally. I feel like, eventually, most things centralize if they’re not checked. Maybe there’s three or four smart people who just spend more time in a DAO, right? And they lead discussions and stuff.
But eventually, that means you’re basically back to a GP/LP structure with four people running the DAO, right? How do you envision DAOs maintaining their decentralization long-term? Because I feel like it’s very hard to do.
Yeah. To be honest, I think that’s where DAOs are going. I think there’s a reason why companies exist the way that they do today with how there’s a leadership hierarchy, there’s certain corporate governance rules.
And that’s because there weren’t companies before, and then people started companies and they realized that there were certain inefficiencies and there were better ways to do things. And that’s how we got to where we are today.
And so I think DAOs are kind of going through the same emotions and they’re realizing that we can’t be completely flat organizations. We need roles and responsibilities, we need certain people to be able to make executive decisions.
And I think that’s fine, but I think where DAOs can still differentiate is that they have a group of shareholders that are actually active and driving decisions and being helpful to the firm. They’re not passive shareholders as if I or you bought a stock of Apple, right?
Everyone brings something to the table, whether it’s, say, connecting us with a famous celebrity that’s launching an NFT, or plugging us in with a video game that would be really interested in working with our NFTs or working with a publicist, right?
So there is a bit of a differentiation, but I do think DAOs will evolve a little more into traditional corporate models [inaudible 00:43:48].
I totally agree with you. I guess the narrative within the space though within crypto is decentralization, flat hierarchies, stuff like that. But in reality, the coordination just overhead is insane, right?
If I’m a smart contract dev, I don’t want to be messaging 34 people every day to vote on some specific thing, right? I just want to write code.
Do you think the trade-off between having that traditional corporate structure within a DAO is worth it because you reduce the coordination issues, or do you think, eventually, we’ll figure it out?
I know you just said that right now the corporate structure makes sense, but do you think there’s a way where DAOs can actually be truly community-owned, where everyone has a fair vote, where the coordination issues come down to zero?
I think even within, I guess, these DAO models which have, I would say, delegated decision-making responsibility and people that have more centralized roles, there is still kind of a sense of community ownership in the sense that these people were voted into the positions that they’re in today, right?
And if you look at previous DAO models, the ones that are burdened with excessive token-based voting, they essentially fall prey to voter apathy. MakerDAO, for example, at first, you had a huge percent of the token network voting. And then it just became less, and less, and less where it was just a few people or a few organizations driving the decisions at the end of the day.
And I think that just speaks to the fact that people don’t have the capacity to vote on every single decision, and they’re perfectly okay with delegating to other people because they trust those people to make the decisions that they would also probably make themselves.
Yeah. That’s a good example. It’s come up a lot. I remember those early MakerDAOs, [inaudible 00:45:49]. And they were fun as hell in the beginning, right? It was a great group of people, it was exciting. And then on the 32nd one, it was like, “All right, we keep doing this every week.”
Yeah. I remember my very first one, there was probably 50 people. And then I joined one a year later and there was four or five people in it.
Yeah. It’s crazy. You thought when you first joined that it would grow on people. It went the opposite direction.
So a bit of other questions for, I guess, more of the retail audience, but would love to get your [inaudible 00:46:20]. You are a new person in crypto, you dive right in, you’re learning as much as you can, you’re not extremely well-off, but you want to change your life, you want to back projects.
Would you propose to them to be concentrated in their investments or would you propose a diversification strategy for most people in retail? Or you could talk at the fund level.
Yeah. I would say, I would lean towards the concentrated bet type of strategy. I think if you’re going to be investing in something, you better be really sure that whatever you’re investing in has product-market fit and has a team that can execute.
For average retail, it’s not their full-time job, so you just don’t have the capacity to due diligence 20 different projects, right? You can really only do it for a few.
And for them, I guess, you might also not have the same acumen or experience. And so maybe you’ll also want to lean on investors in the space that you’ve seen have a good track record, and look at what they’re looking at and also just maybe be able to lean on their judgment or follow the same research that they’re looking at and use that to be able to inform your judgment.
Yeah. That’s totally a fair take. And it’s something I think about a lot, just because we run a fund too, but what do you think the future of VC investing in crypto is? Right?
To your point, and I’m probably biased here, but we add a lot of value; token econ, strategy, media [inaudible 00:47:49], all those things. But it seems like a lot of the space is obviously moving to on-chain DAOs, which I think will be extremely important.
We run our NFT fund on Syndicate, but do you think that there is a place for VCs in crypto in 10 years?
Yeah. I definitely think so. It’s kind of weird when we think of the word “VC” because I still don’t really think about myself as a VC because-
Me neither. [crosstalk 00:48:20]
… Two years ago, right, we were just regular people just investing in projects, aping in, right? And we still just ape in and we just speak our thoughts on Twitter. It’s just, we paid someone to make a logo for ourselves.
You can’t just… I guess, what is the other option? Right? You raise completely from the public, right? And I think that can go well to a certain extent because there are community members that are just going to be really driven and really help you to a certain extent.
Maybe they’ll build tools for you or maybe they’ll become a validator. But there are just certain experiences that professional investors that have been in this space for a while, they’re able to lean on and be able to help new founders with.
So a lot of the new founders in the space, right, they work through a lot of the same challenges that every other project that has launched before them has faced, but they don’t have that experience themselves yet.
And so, as a professional investor, we’ve seen how a public auction can go on MISO versus, say, on Gnosis versus on another auction platform. And we’d be able to tell you the differences in terms of how those are structured or what are the trade-offs between watching this way or that way.
And we might be able to connect you to an exchange that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to connect to, or a media outlet or this or that.
So we build a platform so that we can be the most helpful that we can be, and that’s just something that you wouldn’t be able to get from an average, I guess, retail investor.
Yeah. No, I’m totally with you. I actually am starting to hate the term “VC” because… And even though that’s the subject of this whole podcast. Just because I love investing with my partners, right?
What are we going to do? Just dissolve our fund so we can invest individually just to remove the notion of a VC? It’s dumb. The other thing is it’s not like legacy, right? It’s not like we’re investing other people’s money and come back in 7-10 years, right?
We’re out here designing tokens, being active. So I think the term has to change. But to your point, I don’t think there’s that large of a gap between retail and what we’re doing.
Right. We’re like retail but we do it full-time and we have a logo and we find ways to help founders.
The logo is the differentiator. Great. And Andrew, to close out, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, personal questions. You’ve been in crypto a long time, you spend an insane amount of time in this space.
The depth that you go to while you’re working is extremely dense. How do you deal with taking time off, not getting burnt out, taking a break? How do you actually go about doing that in practice?
Yeah. It’s been tough. I wouldn’t say there’s much work-life balance for me personally, but that’s fine. And I think everyone has different needs in terms of how much time they need off.
Some people just need two days off, a week, to be able to properly function, while other people, they don’t. Look at SBF, the dude lives in his office and he-
Jesus. He sets the bar, man. Why do you got to put him up [inaudible 00:51:42] comparison?
Yeah. He’s probably dreaming about work. But yeah, for me, I feel like I have a higher tolerance for less vacation. Crypto is just something that’s just constantly interesting, and so I don’t really think about it as work, so that helps.
That does help. A different question on that topic, but you’re spending so much time because there’s Alpha, right? And there’s opportunities. When do you think that bar closes? When do you think crypto will be not as interesting, not that much Alpha to be had? Do you think it’s in a year, 10 years? Do you think it’s forever? When do you think the Alpha goes away for you?
I don’t think it ever goes away. Right? Like in traditional financial markets, they’ve been around for centuries but [inaudible 00:52:33] just changes, right? And so there are certain things that we were really good at, which is finding new projects really fast because we were in these Discord groups and Telegram channels where people were sharing them, just a road over time.
And now you’re seeing tons of these groups [inaudible 00:52:48], and information spreads really fast. And so, for us, Alpha, it’s different from a venture perspective and a trading perspective. From a venture perspective, it’s continuing to build a brand in the space that we are really value-add investors, that projects that we’ve worked with, in the past, we’ve been able to make a difference with.
And then on the trading side of things, it would be looking for just different inefficiencies in the market, right? Looking at market structure in a particular way that others aren’t looking at it.
Kyle Davies, when I was first starting out in the space, told me something that really stuck with me, which is that Alpha really isn’t the strategy, Alpha is the person. So as long as you have that mindset of being able to look in new places for Alpha or being able to just have that mindset of being creative and thinking about things other people aren’t, I know that’s really general, but that’s Alpha.
God, that’s a killer quote from Kyle, jeez. No, I’ve had him on, he’s a legend, especially Su Zhu too and Arthur, who was actually on the series. I was going to ask you next, the best advice you’ve ever been given, but I’m assuming it’s probably the Kyle quote, right?
Yeah. You can say that. Yeah.
Flipping that on its head, what do you think the best advice you give is? Maybe it’s to a founding team, maybe it’s to the people you work with, maybe it’s to retail investors. What do you think is advice that you just give over and over again that really sticks with you that you like to give?
Yeah. I think my advice, what I tell my team constantly, what I tell people that I work with, is just to dig deeper. I think that applies and that helps a lot in a lot of different things, right? Through investing, through building a project, through trading.
And so, to think about investing first of all, right, a lot of people missed DeFi. A lot of professional investors and retail missed DeFi at first because they weren’t thinking about the applications two years on, three years on, how these incentives were going to go about, how liquidity mining was going to be able to bring a lot more people and money into the game, how a certain project might have a really large amount of product-market fit.
And then also, how projects might not work, right? There are a lot of projects that were invested in by really big name VCs that didn’t work because they had some mechanism that was really faulty. And that blew up in everyone’s faces.
For founders, right, it’s kind of thinking deeper around how do I design my Tokenomics? Don’t just borrow from the status quo, don’t just do a token model because that’s what other founders have done in the past. Try to think from first principles essentially.
No, I’m totally with you there. It makes a lot of sense. And just to close out Andrew, there’s so many plays that you could be happy about that Mechanism has done, right? We’ve done some with you. Some we’ve just seen you have incredible success with.
What though gives you a sense of accomplishment with a play? Not just the price, not just the return, but what do you want to see happen? Founder pay off his kids’ college or change the world? A play to unlock capital in different regions? What exactly is it for you that gives you a sense of accomplishment for a winner?
I really love it when a project brings more people into crypto or brings more people into building on a platform. So, THORChain, for example, at first, it was just the project team-building, and then they ended up funding a few more teams, one to build XDEFI, right? That was incubated by the THORChain team that we worked on with them.
THORSwap was a project that was incubated by them as well. And then you have a broker which it’s building since, using THORFi. And so the project teams that are now building these projects were just investors. They had full-time jobs in non-crypto industries and then their interest in crypto and the success of the project brought them deeper into crypto and allowed them to pursue it full-time.
And so that’s really exciting for me, right? And I know you guys have seen the same thing with Terra and we’ve seen it with Synthetix as well.
Yeah. No, that’s an excellent answer. And we have time for one more question because I want to keep these all at an hour, but who do you look up to in the crypto space or just in life in general? And why?
Who do I look up to in the crypto space? That’s a really good question.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
It’s not an easy question when you think about it.
Yeah. I would say Three Arrows has been really influential in terms of our development as a firm and also my personal development. They followed a similar path, they were trading prop capital.
I didn’t really have professional experience in trading in capital markets before a few years ago, so a lot of what I learned in the last few years came from talking to Su and Kyle and understanding how they think about markets and also how they think about investing as well. And so, we’ve been able to share a lot of great insight both based on what we specialize in.
Yeah. No, that’s an incredible answer, man. I joke that it’s their world and we’re living in it, but I don’t know if it’s a joke. Andrew, it’s been incredible having you on, man. I love investing alongside you when we can, and I loved having you on and all the answers you gave and all the Alpha you shared. Where can people follow you and find out more?
Yeah. I’m on Twitter @Rewkang. R-E-W-K-A-N-G.
Cool. Yeah, I’ll link it in the show notes, man. But thanks so much for coming on, man. I really appreciate it.
Yeah. Thanks for having me on.