Applications are open to join the next round of Web3’s version of Y Combinator.
Seed Club, like the popular tech startup accelerator, runs a multi-week mentorship program to help fledgling organizations and communities find their footing. The difference is Seed Club “invests” only in projects built around cryptographic tokens and, well, those aren’t really “investments” at all.
“We really want it to be starting in our own primordial ooze rather than indexing on what was happening in the startup space,” Seed Club co-founder Jess Sloss told CoinDesk, downplaying the YC comparison. But they’re also not “reinventing the wheel,” he said.
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Seed Club is both a bootcamp and a “network” of successful and upstart founders and companies organized as a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). The mission is to foster the quickly growing crypto-native creator economy.
If that sounds vague, it’s only because of the near-infinite number of organizations, striking out on a near-infinite variety of industries, that can be built around crypto today. This is a platform for platforms, a network of networks and a DAO made of DAOs.
I spoke with Sloss to find out what makes an ideal candidate and learn more about what is quickly becoming one of the quickest ways to gain legitimacy in the Wild West of Web3. The DAO offers a 12-week crash course for building a token project, including legal training, fundraising and development advice.
Teams apply to Seed Club, and if they’re selected, promise to contribute 3% of their project’s tokens to the DAO. Once launched, those projects will receive a grant of tokens from Seed Club’s treasury, giving them membership in, and part-governance over, Seed Club’s DAO.
“We can be a lot wider in our earlier stage work [to support] people that are building something novel that maybe the world doesn't quite understand what to do with yet but that we think there's something interesting to explore,” Sloss said.
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In that way, Seed Club is an ever-expanding fount of knowledge – as people discover how and where to actually apply tokens to businesses and communities. It has incubated 65 projects so far, including the Russian art collective Pussy Riot’s DAO and ex-Bloomberg reporter Matt Leising’s publication, DeCential Media.
“Since we're not investing capital into these things, it's less about finding the tradition 100x or 1,000x on an investment,” Sloss said. “We're looking for projects that are pushing some interesting edge that hopefully have a viable model for sustaining itself.”
This is all the more important considering the wider pullback in funding and the hiring freezes across tech, amid a period of economic uncertainty. In fact, YC recently sent its portfolio companies a letter, titled “Economic Downturn,” to advise founders to “plan for the worst.”
Sloss said the two-year-old DAO started off as “11 people in a Telegram chat,” and it basically had to beg to get its first eight applicants. It’s now preparing for its fifth cohort, with applications open until Aug. 15. The last cycle saw 300 pitches, with 20 making the cut.
“If we get 1,000 applicants and there are only 10 projects that we think fit the bill, we would work with only 10,” Sloss said. He said that about 250 people have applied for SC05 (Seed Club accelerator 5).
Over time, Seed Club has also refined and expanded its mission. Originally geared more toward social tokens, a way for people to monetize their personal brands, the group is now open to a wider set of technological applications.
“More tools are in the toolbox now,” Joon Ian Wong, another Seed Club co-founder, told CoinDesk. That includes non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. The shifting focus may also speak to the regulatory risks that these particular tokens carry, as well as the collapsed enthusiasm after the major social token launchpad Roll was hacked.
For this batch, Sloss said it’s experimenting with the application process. It has rolled out a new “decision making tool” (found at seedclub.xyz), whereby club members get to vet and comment on pitches to help applicants “put their best foot forward.”
Once they filter through that longlist, they’ll apply a standardized grading rubric and begin interviewing each team and do wider due diligence.
“We're not about volume. We really want to make sure that we are putting our weight behind really great people and great products and … removing as much bias as possible,” Sloss said.
In terms of what they’re looking for, Sloss said the core to any successful project is the “human beings behind it.” Seed Club is looking for people with real experience either building products or leading communities. The “legacy [rubric of] founder market fit is still very important to us.”
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They’re also looking for a “call to adventure,” or people willing to strike out in entirely novel directions – rather than copy-pasting existing code or building widgets. Perhaps most important is a founder's ability to “communicate” a vision, considering how unclear Web3 can be.
There is sometimes a conflict between humanity and technology in Web3. So much of crypto is directed toward removing humans from decision-making and automating processes. Bitcoin wants to stop the Federal Reserve from pulling levers on the economy, while smart contracts aim to efficiently and consistently execute some function.
For its part, Sloss said Seed Club is made of and for people. “The valuable work that we do with early-stage projects can only be done by human beings,” he said. While there are places – like tracking and rewarding development progress – that can be “formalized,” it’s a “mistake to jump right to smart contracts and software.”
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