In this article I describe the lessons learned from a side project which never launched.
Carbon Crypto Pledge, a four-volunteer part-time entrepreneurial endeavour aimed to offset the carbon footprint caused by hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency transactions, has ended early because the team (in hindsight) had insufficient time and capacity available, and therefore rushed into working towards early gains, before ultimately running out of momentum. For readers looking for a project to pick up, do reach out to me, all of our material is free to use.
What was the idea?
The aim of the Carbon Crypto Pledge project was to facilitate individuals and organizations involved in cryptocurrencies to offset the emissions caused by their transactions. Because of our team’s limited availability, we settled on doing something relatively small and original. We did research into how much money donated to carbon offsetting charities it would take to offset transactions in various cryptocurrencies, and we built a website with functionality to calculate emissions. And of course we wanted to keep things as easy as possible for users by allowing them to scan a QR code to donate a corresponding amount to some of the world's most cost-effective carbon offsetters: Cool Earth and SolarAid. The Carbon Crypto Pledge idea is compelling because there are many organizations which because of their use of novel cryptocurrencies are not equipped to carry out their business in a socially responsible way.
We intended to reach out to organizations and individuals to encourage them to offset their emissions. To give an idea of the potential impact: our initial research revealed that for example the medium-sized cryptocurrency project MakerDAO could offset their emissions for only 3500 dollars. If we got "only" 100 crypto-organizations of a similar size to offset their emissions for “only” 3500 dollars, which would result in up to 320 tonnes of CO2 being offset and hopefully increase awareness of the importance of social responsibility in the crypto community.
After talking with various people in the blockchain and Effective Altruism world, one of our team members decided that the carbon crypto pledge would be a great idea. The first volunteer joined, research and work on the website started and a number of potential recruits were contacted.
February to April
Work on the website continued and two more volunteers joined. Most of our efforts went into research, contacting potential partners and setting up a list of outreach channels. Our progress was volatile, spiking when a team member had more free time and grinding to a halt otherwise.
Though a lot of useful work had been done, we realized that a long road was still ahead of us. Though a lot of research and outreach material was prepared, the website required significant work still. On top of this, we discovered that we'd like to do more fundamental research to assure we had a good value proposition: should we target crypto exchanges as well? Should we offer legal contracts? Should we offer partnerships? Can a network of donors be set up to ensure donations continue in the future? In short, we saw a lot of exciting and important tasks which showed the breadth of the undertaking. We came to the conclusion that we couldn't give the project the attention it deserves.
Make sure you know what you're delivering to whom and why they would want it. We spent time researching and building a product without validating our idea with a specific client or stakeholder.
Allowing others to take responsibility for their part of a project is important. However, someone must keep a check on expectations and how realistic those expectations are. Short communication lines are important. When the communication is not there, you can't expect a best case scenario outcome. In practice, this meant that building our website took a lot more time than expected, which stopped us from finding an additional web developer. We're very grateful to everyone who has worked on the website though! It would have been even smaller if it weren't for them. :)
Sustaining volunteers’ efforts is hard. Not only is the time they spend on the project unpaid, but it is in competition with all their other study/work/family/social commitments. Before undertaking such a project, think critically about whether you have the time and resources to see it through, and whether your time would be better spent elsewhere. An idea is worth nothing without the execution. Two ways in which one may still be able to launch side-projects which are purposefully meant to consume little time:
- Give ownership to people for whom the side project is a great synergy to their main project.
- Give ownership and cash to people for whom the side project can become their main project.
If you thought this post was interesting, you might want to read other Effective Altruism related Post Mortems: Hippo and Good Technology Project.
Thanks for reading!
Victor, Anna, Milan and Kai.