Inside MetaCartel: A Mysterious Community on the Frontier of the Ethereum Ecosystem

Alan VanToai
April 3, 2020

Earlier this month, we received an $11,500 grant from a mysterious new funding source that has sprung up on the frontier of the Ethereum ecosystem: a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (“DAO”) called MetaCartel.

DAOs like MetaCartel are an experimental new form of entity - a community of contributors, makers, developers, and builders who come together to fund projects working to advance a common cause.

Fascinated by this new experiment in community, funding, and governance, I took the opportunity to speak with various members of MetaCartel in order to gain a deeper understanding of this new frontier, and hope to share it here in a way my mom (Hi Mom!) can understand. 

In this post, we’ll cover:

  1. The Backstory: How we came to connect with MetaCartel
  2. What is MetaCartel? What is a DAO?
  3. Origins: How MetaCartel got started.
  4. The People: Who? Why? How?
  5. The Community: Programming. Organization. Operations.
  6. Grants: What MetaCartel funds, and the proposal process.
  7. Vision: The Future of Community

If you like this post, join us in our Future of Work community on Telegram, where we discuss other developments and projects on the frontier of collaboration and work. 

Enjoy!

Coming Together

Shortly after our public beta release for Telefuel last November (2019), we came into contact with a few members of an online community called MetaCartel. 

MetaCartel member Pet3rpan with Telefuel Co-Founders Matt and Alan

Among other places, this vibrant new community congregated and organized prolifically across dozens (hundreds?) of chats and groups on Telegram.

Being a chat app for Telegram power users, our app Telefuel immediately appealed to MetaCartel members. And thus, from virtually day one, MetaCartel members became key users and supporters of the product.

Through the end of 2019 and into 2020, we maintained good relationships with a few of these members. We’d hop on calls with them, mostly discussing how they’re using Telegram and Telefuel, while learning more about MetaCartel and the other projects they were involved in.

Then, around January this year, (Telefuel Co-Founder) Matt Nguyen and MetaCartel member James Young got to talking about some future product ideas around integrating cryptocurrency wallets & payments, and together they recognized the potential for a deeper partnership and collaboration.

MetaCartel x Abridged x Telefuel Partnership Call w/ James Young

That conversation lead to an $11,5000 grant proposal, funding a partnership between Teleufel, MetaCartel, and Abridged, and, more importantly, our introduction and connection to a fascinating community of developers, builders, and makers experimenting, building, and innovating on the frontier of the blockchain ecosystem.

What is MetaCartel

MetaCartel 2019

Ask the 80 (or so) members of MetaCartel what MetaCartel is, and you might get 81 different answers. 

Although I didn’t get quite to 80 conversations, the conversations I did have with MetaCartel members illuminated the edges of what MetaCartel is:

"It’s a grant giving organization. Group of colleagues organized to pool funds and give micro-grants in blockchain space.” - Drew Harding

In technology-speak, MetaCartel would be grouped into an emerging category of organizations called “Decentralized Autonomous Organizations”, or “DAOs". 

At their core, DAOs are simply groups of people who pool resources together, and then vote on how those resources are allocated.

"It's a club with a bank account” - Pet3rpan 

Like any club, DAOs like MetaCartel have different processes through which hopeful applicants become members, different fees or requirements for membership, and different processes through which they determine how to allocate resources.

Together, these processes make up what DAOs refer to as their “governance” structure. (We discuss MetaCartel’s governance structure in a later section.)

(From there, any description of a DAO could spiral into explanations about how they're made possible by frontier technology including cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, and blockchain-based voting, but in the spirit of keeping this post digestible for Momma VanToai, we’ll leave those rabbit holes for another day.)

Implementation details aside, DAOs like MetaCartel have begun cropping up on the fringes of the cryptocurrency and blockchain ecosystem: early settlers on a technical frontier, not entirely unlike the early hackers and tinkerers of the Homebrew Computer Club of the mid-1970s (out of which both Apple and Microsoft were born).

Different DAOs have sprung up to serve different purposes and causes, ranging from team building around blockchain projects (RaidGuild), to Ethereum research and development (Moloch DAO), to gaming (MetaClan), to diversity and user onboarding (MetaGammaDelta). 

In MetaCartel’s case, the types and sizes of grants it allocates varies greatly, though, for the most part, MetaCartel grants have generally ranged from $1-5k USD in size, and have been rewarded to people and teams building user-facing projects and apps in the Ethereum ecosystem - a natural extension, given where MetaCartel itself was born.

Origins: How MetaCartel got started.

Like all the best experiments, MetaCartel was born by happy accident. 

In September 2018, Pet3rpan tweeted about a technical issue with the Ethereum blockchain that he wanted to help address

The issue was around something called “meta transactions” - where MetaCartel would eventually take its name from.

(In short, meta-transactions allow applications build on Ethereum to pay for transaction costs on behalf of their users - effectively making it easier for non-technical users to get started with Ethereum-based products.)

A month later, in October, a group of builders came together at an Ethereum developers conference in San Francisco to work together on meta transactions. 

By January 2019, the meta transactions issue would be solved by another team, but the group realized they might be on to something special 

"People just wanted to hang out with each other, even though we have nothing else to work on,” Pet3rpan recalls,  “...That's when we realized that we managed to build an interesting culture.”

The group decided to give MetaCartel a year to see where it would grow, and if it would turn into something meaningful.

At the time, it was still unclear what direction or form the initiative would take. 

The group kicked around ideas for different products or applications to build on Ethereum and even toyed around with the idea of launching an incubator, until in April 2019 the idea to start a DAO was put on the table. 

Ironically, Pet3rpan had applied to join another DAO called Moloch DAO, and was rejected - but through that experience (and perhaps fueled by it), he and the group decided that they’d take their community and launch a DAO of their own.

MetaCartel Town Hall Meeting

The group announced the initiative in a May 2019 blog post, and on July 2, 2019, kicked everything off with the first MetaCartel community call. 

The rest, is a work in progress.

The People: Who? Why? How?

As of this writing, MetaCartel counts around 80 members. (The exact number is tough to pinpoint, due to the fact that some members are individually accounted for on the ledger, while some are part of projects that have joined as a team.) 

Naturally, as a community of folks working on projects in the blockchain space, MetaCartel’s membership is very much representative of the broader blockchain ecosystem.

The 80-ish members of MetaCartel are globally distributed, technically savvy (though not necessarily developers), and mostly male (though inclusion is something MetaCartel is actively working to address, with initiatives including discounted membership fees for women). 

To join MetaCartel, prospective members can either contribute cryptocurrency (5-10 ETH for individuals, 20-100 ETH for organizations), or work their way in by participating in a MetaCartel-associated project. 

In exchange for their contributions, new members are issued “shares”, which grant them the privilege to submit grant proposals, vote on proposals submitted by other members, or the ability to trade in their shares in exchange for the corresponding amount of ETH left in MetaCartel’s shared wallet (a process known as “rage quitting”). 

At the current Ethereum price of $135 USD per ETH, MetaCartel's membership rate works out to around $675-1300 USD for entry, which is not necessarily cheap... so what’s the motivation to join?

“For MetaCartel, it’s like a professional networking group. To be a member provides you access to some of the brightest minds working across the board from [decentralized finance], to DAOs, to NFT art, to virtual worlds and gaming,” says Drew Harding, MetaCartel member and Chief Product Officer of the Pillar Project.

“Essentially for myself, having access to, understanding of, and a finger on the pulse of the industry is incredibly important,” Harding explained, “You really have to stay on top of it, so having a group like this to filter and service a lot of this stuff helps tremendously.”

“It accelerates your learning, your ability to progress in anything you’re doing."

The Community: Programming. Organization. Operations.

While MetaCartel has evolved some loose guidelines on how they operate and organize, there isn’t yet any rigid organizational structure.

New members are generally welcomed into chat rooms, and then encouraged to engage, get involved, and make the DAO their own.

For some newcomers, this might feel a bit like being thrown into the deep end - a point Pet3rpan concedes the community could be doing a better job addressing. 

Still, this self-starting, get-your-hands-dirty ethos is core to MetaCartel’s culture:

"Usually in other systems, you come in and wait for someone to tell you what to do, or wait for guidance from someone,” says Yalor Arnold, MetaCartel member and community organizer of MetaCartel-funded projects MetaGame and RaidGuild. 

"In MetaCartel… we’re trying to bring people in who can help champion different projects and take initiative, like 'I can do this. I can build this thing. Come help me build it’"

As part of this spirit, MetaCartel encourages new members not to be afraid to step on other  people's toes, and to move past their comfort zones. 

“It’s decentralized,” Arnold explains, "nobody’s really there to tell you what you can and can’t do."

Tools of MetaCartel

To serve their remote, virtual, and fluid nature, MetaCartel’s community has evolved around a set of online tools and rituals through which MetaCartel members come together, communicate, submit and vote on grant proposals, collaborate on projects, and otherwise chart the course for the DAO.

Primary Communication = Telegram via Telefuel

MetaCartel Community Chats in Telefuel

Telegram serves as the primary mode of communication internally. It’s the substrate, the virtual office, and the water cooler through which most of the internal communication happens.

As Telegram power users, MetaCartel members use Telefuel to make the community and work chat experience more organized, flexible, and powerful.

Conference Calls = Zoom.

Zoom, the video conferencing solution, is used to host MetaCartel’s weekly “Town Hall” meetings, along with daily hangouts, and other conference calls.

Grant Proposals & Voting = MetaCartel Message Board & App.

MetaCartel's Proposal Voting App

MetaCartel members present different grant proposals to the community on the MetaCartel forums. The grant proposals are discussed in the forum thread and on Telegram, before being officially voted in on the MetaCartel app.

Public Communications = Twitter, Medium, Substack

For communicating with the broader Ethereum and blockchain ecosystem, MetaCartel shares updates through their official Twitter, Medium, and Substack accounts.

Meetups & Hackathons (Ethereum conferences)

Finally, the members of MetaCartel have galvanized their relationships at in-person meetups during Ethereum conferences around the world. They’ll rent AirBnBs together, host sub-events and meetups, compete in hackathons, and launch marketing initiatives to build hype for the DAO amongst the conference attendees.

Grants: What? How?

As mentioned earlier in this post, MetaCartel primarily issues grants to individuals and teams who are working on user-facing projects in the Ethereum ecosystem. 

Recently funded projects have included a streaming radio service (Loft Radio), a social game rewarding people for real-life interactions (MetaGame), a blended apparel/tech project (MetaFactory), and our community chat platform (Telefuel). 

Ethereum-related projects aside, MetaCartel has shown an openness to funding a broad range of proposals that the members approve - ranging from marketing initiatives, to hardware/tools for individual members - really anything that serves the interests of the people in the DAO.

And through all the proposals, MetaCartel’s has proven to be efficient at allocating resources to worthwhile projects:

“Less than $100,000 has been spent altogether,” Yalor explained, "and there has been a huge amount of execution from the projects that have applied for funding from us. We've been very capital efficient, and have spent funds on projects that are very good use cases for Ethereum.”

From MetaCartel-building projects to virtual games to chat applications to helpful grants for personal expenses of individual members - the unifying factor in all of MetaCartels grants has been the growth of MetaCartel itself:

“Generally, we fund things that help better the MetaCartel Ecosystem - whether it’s signaling to builders that we want them to be a part of the community, or finding other high-value members to come in, contribute ideas, and be a part of the ecosystem."

The Proposal Process

To receive a grant from MetaCartel, a project puts together a proposal and shares it with the MetaCartel community, and then the community votes to approve (or deny) the proposal. 

The proposals are shared initially on the MetaCartel Forums, and then are discussed amongst the community in the forum thread and in  private MetaCartel chatrooms on Telegram.

In our case - we proposed an $11.5k grant to fund the development of a shared Community Workspaces feature in Telefuel (designed specifically with MetaCartel in mind), along with an Ethereum wallet and app browser that would allow MetaCartel members to access the rest of their governance tools all without leaving Telefuel. (View the Telefuel proposal here)

Telefuel Proposal on MetaCartel Forums

Generally, it’ll be clear from the discussion in the chatroom and forums if a proposal will be approved or not. 

If the proposal has support from the community, it’s submitted to the official MetaCartel dApp (a “distributed app” - basically app that interacts with the Ethereum blockchain) for formal voting from the community (Telefuel example)

MetaCartel Proposal Voting App


Telefuel's Proposal with Voting

Without getting into too much technical details, it is worth noting that all of this is made possible due to cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. 

Think about it this way - without programmable cryptocurrency wallets, if a club of 80 relative strangers from all over the world wanted to pool together funds over the internet, and then vote on how those funds would be allocated - what would that look like? 

What kind of bank account would enable those payments? Who would be in charge of that bank account? How could you ensure that those funds wouldn’t be stolen, or the funds abused, by whichever individual(s) you gave access to the account? 

All of this is made possible by, among other things, the programmable nature of cryptocurrency (in this case, Ethereum) wallets.

MetaCartel's Shared Wallet and Application

All 80 members of MetaCartel can easily pool their funds together into a shared Ethereum wallet, that no single individual can withdraw funds from. 

In order for a project to get funded by the group, its proposal must receive more votes in favor than votes against. 

This is a fascinating evolution and innovation in the future of money, collaboration, and governance, and while still nascent, and with the future of DAOs still unclear, the structures MetaCartel and other DAOs are experimenting with no doubt hint at exciting possibilities down the road.

Vision: The Future of Community

At the time of this writing, a certain pandemic-which-must-not-be-named is forcing people around the world into physical isolation through social distancing. 

In-person communities that have been taken for granted for lifetimes - schools, offices, religious groups, etc - have been stopped in their tracks. 

In their place, entire communities, companies, and economies have turned to the internet to replace the connections, interactions, and income displaced during this time. 

While the world will certainly reclaim its physical presence in time, online communities, work, and collaboration will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role in the future.

The MetaCartel Community

And as communities of technically-savvy digital natives building the digital communication and commerce tools of the future, MetaCartel and other DAOs are positioned extremely well to help shape this virtual future.

Indeed, in some ways, they already have. 

What the future holds for MetaCartel and it’s ecosystem of projects is anyone’s guess, but the community itself is certain about one thing: the relationships they’ve built around MetaCartel have already shaped the future of their careers, and their lives:

“People talk about the PayPal mafia… you’re starting to see the beginnings of that occur with MetaCartel,” says Drew Harding. “…this working group, turned professional network, turned group of people who are elevating each other and collaborating to build their own business as well as these [projects] that all tie back to the greater [community].”

It’s a fascinating experiment which we’re honored to be a part of, and excited to help shape over the months and years to come.

***

Thanks to @pet3rpan_ @Yalormewn @META_DREAMER and @DrewHarding for speaking with me, and @jamessyoung and @coopahtroopa for contributions & editing.

If you like this post, join us in our Future of Work community on Telegram, where we discuss other developments and projects on the frontier of collaboration and work.

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Alan VanToai
Co-Founder of Telefuel
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