Tyler van der Hoeven
The Stellar Community Fund gives people all over the world a chance to kickstart their Stellar-based projects and connect to the thriving Stellar community. You can road test ideas, get real feedback from developers and potential users, and win funding to allow you to pursue your vision. It's a rare opportunity to win rewards — no strings attached — for dreaming big.
Currently, I’m the ecosystem evangelist and community fund manager here at the SDF. But my Stellar journey started with a series of successful entries into SDF community competitions: Popcoin, Colorglyph, StellarQL and StellarAuth were all winning entries in their day. As a former competitor turned fund designer, I get asked all the time: what makes a prize winning entry? In this post I’d like to outline six areas of focus that will give you the best chance at succeeding in the Stellar Community Fund.
A lot of my insights and advice stem from marketing best practices. These aren’t weird tricks — they’re obvious — so obvious, in fact, they often get overlooked. Developers tend to be good at — and care most deeply about — creating quality projects. However, they often don't put enough thought into other important contributors and catalysts for success, which can stunt or even prohibit the success of their SCF entries.
Picking the right problem to solve and the right thing to build can be difficult, but it will get exponentially easier if you step outside your own sphere and into the greater world. Focus on your audience and their problems, needs, and desires so you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Consistently spend time in their shoes evaluating your efforts, and you will be able to build the best tools, features, or toys for them. You’re here in part for the prize, I get that, but if your project doesn't solve a problem or serve a purpose, your chances of winning are slim to none. Participate in the fund's bigger mission and chances are, you’ll be rewarded.
The SCF has two funds, the Lab and Seed funds. They serve different purposes, so dig into the criteria and goals of both to ensure you maximize your chances of winning by placing your entry into the right fund. The Seed Fund is a stiff competition as the prize pool is larger and the criteria for inclusion as a finalist are very demanding. The Lab Fund has a lower prize pool, but it's much more malleable and runs twice as often. Don’t sleep on the Lab fund: it can serve as a consistent source of success for you or act as a launch pad for a strong Seed Fund entry.
This one may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you the number of decent entries that don’t even try to capture the spirit of the rules and guidelines. Low effort shows like a bad haircut or a shoddy paint job, and entries that don't strive for anything are an easy pass for judges and voters. Showcase your care, put time into your words, and make an effort to engage with the community. Your project is a reflection of you, so put your best self out there. Spit, buff, make it shine, rinse, and repeat. We let you edit your entry, so edit to perfection!
People support people, so give your project a face and showcase your personality. Make friends out of strangers. The biggest reward from the SCF isn’t the cash: it’s the friends you make along the way. Money runs out, but friendships can last forever. Ask for help and give help. Lots of it. The deeper you dig in, the richer and more abundant the reward.
The lowest hanging fruit for most entries is simply sprucing up your pitch. It just doesn’t take that much time, effort, or energy to put a little more care and finesse into your copy and UX. You’ve spent hours on this thing. It’s your baby. Please don’t hand it to everyone naked, kicking and screaming. Dress it up!
Once you win, and you will win — I believe in you! — don’t pack up and head out. Stick around, improve your project, and keep it going. Take what you’ve learned and your deeper insight into the Stellar community and use that to solve new problems in better ways. In my experience, once you’ve won, you can really use that victory to your advantage to catapult you to greater success. Don’t give up if you don’t find immediate success: even after winning several times I failed on my first attempt with StellarAuth. It often takes a few iterations and rounds of feedback to really land on the right solution for the real problem. Remember, too, that if you’re finding success in the Lab Fund, the Seed Fund is custom-built as the “next step” for those wanting to turn good ideas into great businesses that are looking to stick around for the long haul.
Stellar’s community funding programs changed my life, and if you put in the time, effort and energy, I’m confident you too can find success and support for your work. So get out there and build!