The Flipstarter Origin Story
Flipstarter, the Bitcoin Cash (BCH) crowdfunding tool, has now successfully funded 100 projects with 12,500 BCH raised ($5.5M at the time of each campaign). At General Protocols (GP), we are celebrating the achievement by looking back at the tumultuous time that led to the creation of Flipstarter and how the BCH community came together to make decentralized crowdfunding happen.
In January of 2020, the BCH ecosystem saw the first public mention of a mandatory tax (2020-01-22) to be applied to every BCH block. The dominant mining node at the time asserted that decentralized funding of infrastructure in BCH was impractical, and that the imposed tax was necessary to ensure stable funding and success of the network.
At that time, we at GP were bootstrapping our company on top of BCH. We estimated that the tax would not only alienate most of the ecosystem's stakeholders, but that it would also centralize influence over the BCH network, eventually leading to destruction of BCH's most critical features: permissionless participation and censorship resistance. There were, and are, no other chains with the full set of features that we needed to achieve GP's vision. Instead of giving up on the dream of an alternate economy built on p2p electronic cash for the world, we decided to stop work on GP's products and instead invest our bootstrapping resources into proving that decentralized funding is possible.
We decided to create a way to fund not only the dominant node team asserting the tax, but also other BCH nodes. The hope was that the dominant node team would see that the tax was not necessary and change its mind. As a backup if they did not, the other nodes should have enough funding to provide a feasible alternative.
Unfortunately, the dominant node team had refused to publish clear numbers about their budget. Therefore GP did its own estimate based on some indirect information the node team had recently published.
The estimate helped us gather our thoughts (2020-01-26) and decide how to move ahead. Error on either side would be very dangerous - too low and the amount would be unconvincing to the node team asserting the tax. Too high and the chance of failure would increase dramatically considering the novelty of the plan. We eventually set an overall target of about about 3,000 BCH for all node teams together.
It was already the end of January 2020 and the tax would go live in May 2020. We had no time to lose so we ran straight into the work, creating and refining a plan over the next few days:
Figure out what form of funding we would use. Simple donations? Assurance contracts like crowdfunding setups? Something new?
Build all the parts needed to make it work in a way that aligns with BCH and permissionless money.
Convince and help EatBCH to create content for a test campaign.
Convince and help all the node teams to create campaign content.
Build up awareness of the benefits of decentralized funding.
Launch, market and hopefully complete the EatBCH test campaign.
Launch, market and hopefully complete the node campaigns.
All the building needed to happen within about 6 weeks. That would leave another 6 weeks to publish and complete the test and node campaigns with some minimal time left before the tax was imposed.
We knew we only had one shot. Development needed to be extremely lean with brutally minimized scope. There was no time to solve problems for general users, make a smooth campaign process, create a website, etc. - there was only time to build a bare metal, minimal system that would run the planned campaigns. However, the amounts of money involved would be much larger than typical transactions, so secure design is one place we did not compromise. That is the reason for the highly secure, but less than ideal user experience with the Electron Cash plugin.
Over the course of a sleepless night and lots of discussion, we expanded Imaginary_Username's strategy and plan into the details below. Assignments to specific people were edited in later. Feel free to skip the details.
There was a groundswell of resistance to the tax from miners, community members, companies and builders. The GP founders got together with a handful of like-minded people to debate, design, build, raise awareness and ultimately solve the decentralized funding problem.
Over the next several weeks, some clear roles developed among the people who started together and stayed until the end:
Dagur: Wrote all of the Electron Cash Plugin
Imaginary_Username (GP): Maintained a clear strategy and vision
Jonathan Silverblood (GP): Designed and created the Flipstarter web system and the overall protocol
John Nieri (GP): Organized, wrote articles, and kept the project on schedule
Leandro Di Marco: Created the Flipstarter logo
Sploit: Handled social media and infrastructure
Although he didn't participate in the process, the design of the system descended directly from Mike Hearn's work on a funding system called Lighthouse. Much later, Mike saw the results of Flipstarter and shared how pleased he was that Flipstarter is achieving decentralized crowdfunding.
Jonathan designed and created the website as well as the interaction protocol that would be safe for even very large contributions.
Dagur designed and created the plugin.
Things were moving fast. The initial placeholder name was "Funding Traction". That was the name of the first code repository as well as the coordination group. At some point on January 29, 2020, Imaginary_Username or Jonathan Silverblood (we can't remember which) came up with the name Flipstarter. Everyone seemed happy with it and we moved on.
Through pages and pages of text and many voice conversations, we hashed out the details and built the first steps. As an extra bonus, Jonathan's family had a baby!
As mentioned above, the first public communication (2020-01-22) about the tax plan was from the famous miner and mining pool operator, Jiang Zhuoer. In the plan, he mentioned several principles about getting things done without being bound to narrow solutions. Leandro investigated several lines of thought about a logo and eventually settled on a cat derived from one of the principles: "Cat philosophy: No matter white cat or black cat, a cat that catches rats is a good cat." His original post was very insightful so I got his permission to include it here.
For the conceptual part, I explored ideas around funding. Quite boring... I didn't manage to get something flaring in front of my eyes. I stepped back and looked for the origin of all this. It came to my mind Jiang's proposals and his way of bringing the topic up.
Non-debate theory it's a dead-end for logo creation, so it was discarded. I tried a couple of things related to rivers, touching stones.. But again, nothing flared. Then I got the cat. So I went in that direction, having in mind the positive meanings of "cat" concept in egyptian and chinese/japanese culture.
So my sketches are oriented in that direction, mainly egyptian, I don't know way. But hey, I'm not fully convinced. Somehow it turned up a bit too crowded and devilish - the later probably due I have been playing psyche/sludge/doom since monday.
On the other hand, there is an intense vibe I like of the sketch. Kind of a guardian image, a protector, kind of "Hey we are not playing around, behave or BCH community will kick your fine arse". But at the same time serenity and equanimity. And, of course, @sploit diapers GIF with Tom Cat was a signal from the universe...
Leandro had some fun with the concept also. It's worth remembering that at the time, nobody outside of our group had a concept of Flipstarter or the decentralized funding we were planning. It all felt like a very long shot, but we were happy to be doing everything in our power to make things work.
All of the above happened within just a handful of days after we decided to act. We kept building for a few weeks to take it from a proof of concept to a system that was solid, secure and tested. At the same time, we published articles to increase awareness and give it the best chance of success:
(2020-02-15) Introducing Flipstarter
(2020-02-23) Flipstarter 500k, 6 independent campaigns
(2020-02-25) But who will build the platform?
(2020-03-09) How to support a Flipstarter campaign
(2020-03-14) Flipstarter FAQ
(2020-03-14) Flipstarter beta campaign for EatBCH is live
BCH stakeholders came together from all parts of the world to raise awareness and make the campaigns a success, proving that decentralized funding of infrastructure just might be possible:
(2020-03-21) EatBCH campaign funded! Next: node campaigns
We at GP and the others we worked with put our hearts, minds and resources into the creation of Flipstarter. Even after seeing it used to fund diverse applications such as payment processors, adoption efforts and farms, we still think it is just the beginning for decentralized finance built on Bitcoin Cash, p2p electronic cash for the world.
Disclaimer: This is a personal account of Flipstarter history as a person who saw basically everything that happened on both the GP and the Flipstarter teams. Any opinions are my own.