Kevin Owocki is the founder of Gitcoin, an Ethereum-based network for growing open source software with incentivization mechanics. He has a BS in Computer Science, 10 years of engineering leadership experience in startups and Open Source Software, and is a community organizer in the Boulder, Colorado tech scene. In this interview, he explores how he found his entrepreneurial streak and why the journey to success is often paved with failure.

How did you first get into blockchain and the decentralized web?

I bought my first Bitcoin in 2013, and have been hacking on crypto projects since 2015. You can check out some of my old crypto side projects here.

When did you set up your company?

I started Gitcoin in the summer of 2017.

What need does it serve?

Gitcoin is a double-sided market that connects coders to funders. We believe that open source software development should be sustainable, and we think that blockchain is going to change the way that software developers are paid. Using Gitcoin, coders can earn GIT Coins in exchange for working on software tasks.

Have you launched other companies before? What were they?

I’ve had several projects that blur the line between side project and company. Most of them never get off the ground, but a few of them have. The one I was previously best known for was Ignighter—a group to group online dating service. Using our service you could team up with some friends and then meet a group of girls (or guys) out at the bar. Our tagline was ‘Safer, Less Awkward, More Fun’.

I agree with Joe Lubin when he says that “It's not a killer app, it’s a killer ecosystem”.

Can you give us a summary of your career thus far, how did you get here?

I’ve been programming since I was 14 years old. When I was 15 I started a web company out of my parents' house; I’ll never forget being a busboy at Outback Steakhouse and earning more money online during my shift than I would at the restaurant. It kind of taught me the value of creating my own path.

I got a degree in computer science from Delaware in 2006, and the school's career services center kind of ushered all of the graduates into corporate America. I hated it there, so I started sending out my resume to a bunch of different projects.

Did you know?

I’m the 5th Grade Chess Champion of Kamblesville Elementary School.

Around the same time, the Facebook API launched. I was running a flash games website at the time, and I started building Facebook Apps to distribute my games. It was the first time you could play beer pong or a flash version of Duck Hunt on your friends' profile. Quite Revolutionary 🙂 Anyway, I again was making more money off of that business than I was off of my day job. So I decided that entrepreneurship might be a better route for me.

I landed a position as the CTO of a Techstars company called Ignighter — which was an online dating startup. I was 23 years old and really had no idea what I was doing, but I was thrown into the deep end and eventually learned how to swim.

Since the Techstars company, I’ve just sort of bounced around in a bunch of engineering/engineering leadership positions. I really love building new stuff, and helping engineers grow their skillsets and build new stuff along the way.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in building a business in this space?

Usability is tough. There aren’t enough fiat on-ramps. There are regulatory and legal challenges.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given when it comes to being an entrepreneur in this space?

Learn to make hypotheses and test them. Perceive a market need, build something small to test it. Throw it out if it doesn't work and if it does, double down.

If you check out my GitHub, you’ll see a ton of projects I’ve discarded, but it was the journey of working on them that led me to Gitcoin.

What advice would you give to someone setting up a business in the decentralized web?

Start with a market need and then build the tech; not the other way around.

What project or projects are you most excited about (that aren’t yours!)

MakerDAO is clearly a darling of the decentralized finance space, and I’m happy to see the success of DAI.

I’m pretty excited about the Burner Wallet; It’s pushing the boundaries of crypto UX.

MolochDAO is a super need; it’s all the more spectacular that Ameen Solemani has launched it as a side project to his day job at SpankChain. I hope they are successful in supporting core devs in the Ethereum space.

Learn to make hypotheses and test them. Perceive a market need, build something small to test it. Throw it out if it doesn't work and if it does, double down.

What is (or what will be) blockchain’s ‘kller app’

I agree with Joe Lubin when he says that “It's not a killer app, it’s a killer ecosystem”. Blockchain apps are designed to be interoperable, and it shows when you use them; When you use Gitcoin, you use Metamask, you use web3js, you use Infura, you use DAI, you use Ether.

What’s the difference between setting up a company in the decentralized space versus regular business?

There’s more funding, but there’s less adoption.

How would you describe blockchain to someone who has never heard of it before?

The internet changed our politics, media, and social structures because of the fundamental innovation of allowing computers to send information over a network without an intermediary.

I believe that the blockchain internet is going to do the same thing, but for financial value. The blockchain internet allows computers to send financial value across a computer network without an intermediary. I wonder what parts of society touch finance and how they will change in the blockchain internet.