ReFi Interviews Part 1: 5 Key Learnings from 75 Conversations

Written by Daryl Edwards @daryljedwards

Special thanks to: Pranav Khanna @checkfit for the interviews he did, @aethermilkk for the incredible visuals, & @senpeak for all the helpful edits.


ReFi has absolutely exploded this year! Some great ReFi communities to check out include: ReFi DAO, (twitter) whose very active discord server grew to >500 ReFi core contributors; the Blockchain For Good Alliance, stewarded by Anna-Marie Swan and Pranav Khanna; and Welcome to Common Action, stewarded by Ellie Young. Also don’t forget to check out the Toucan community, Regen Network, Celo, & The Commons Stack.

If you’d like a deep dive into “What is ReFi”, check out this article by my friend and colleague John Ellison.

As a Coach and Social Entrepreneur interested in the human side of blockchain, I had to find out what was going on in the hearts and minds of those opting-in.

So I put up my hand, sent out this tweet, and started interviewing people across a broad spectrum of backgrounds who all self-identified as part of the #ReFi movement.

In 50 days, I did 42 ReFi Interviews loosely following a "Startup style customer interviews" format, using my coaching experience to get at the issues behind the issues. I also did 33 virtual coffee chats with Founders in the space to connect and learn about their stories, their goals, their projects, and the barriers they're facing. Grand total: 75 conversations with people across the space.

In this part 1, I will share 5 key learnings primarily focussed on the responses from the diverse participants in the ReFi interviews. In part 2, I will focus on Founder-specific key learnings (coming soon).

More information on the opt-in survey and interview questions are included at the end for your reference.

Key Learning #1: Roles and Titles are Fluid

When speaking about how they self-identify and their role, participants rarely focused on a single idea or role. Indeed when asked how they self-identified, of the 16 who could objectively be called a founder only 3 self-identified as such.

Whether founders, entrepreneurs, specialists in a climate- or crypto-related or unrelated field, students, investors, contributors, builders, or otherwise, the vast majority of participants self-identified as having multiple roles.

Beyond having multiple roles, participants indicated that their involvement with different projects and in different roles ebbed and flowed with demand, personal interest, and many other factors.

Titles (particularly traditional ones) were often avoided, and there seemed to be a preference to self-identify with actions instead of conferred titles or qualifications.

Key Learning #2: The Impact is More Important than the Tech

The importance of impact may seem obvious to many, which is a sign that participants' experiences reasonably represent the space. However, this focus hasn't always been the case.

As per the Diffusion of Innovations Model, Innovators and Early Adopters are willing to accept a lot more challenges with the tech itself to "be on the cutting edge," along with a higher level of ambiguity concerning tangible outcomes.

Newer entrants into the space self-identified as being focussed on using blockchain-related tech (very broadly speaking) as a tool, with the ultimate goal and focus being real-world impact in the climate space.

Climate impact is more important to participants than the selection of the blockchain, technology, or carbon standard.

Also relevant from the Diffusion of Innovation model (cited above) is the different financial situations of different Adopter categories, which I'll explore further below in Key Learning #5.

Key Learning #3: There is a Language Gap between New Entrants & Seasoned Participants

Participants interviewed used very different language to describe their actions and roles, depending on whether they self-identified as New Entrants or Seasoned Participants in the crypto space. Indeed, participants tended to be either deeply involved in crypto in some way or doing initial exploration, with very few in between.

New entrants used language like "looking for a job/opportunity", "searching", "trying to figure out what's needed", and more frequently referred to educational credentials, and prior titles.

In contrast, Seasoned Participants in the Crypto space were more likely to use verbs like "participating", "researching", "contributing", "stewarding", and "proposing". They also more frequently spoke of "involvement" and "supportive actions" they had taken in reference to various projects.

These differences suggest the 2 groups have different expectations for how to interact in the space.This difference seems to be a key part of the Community Building challenge identified by Founders, which I'll elaborate in part 2 of this series.

To illustrate the point, I'll exaggerate the difference:

Many new entrants are looking for and expect someone to tell them what's needed or what actions to take, in the form of a clear ask, a bounty, or otherwise. Conversely, Seasoned Participants are used to jumping in and making suggestions or proposals (with or without a lot of context), have been surrounded by others exhibiting the same behavior for years, and expect new entrants to do the same.

Key Learning #4: Participants Hope that ReFi can succeed where Legacy Systems have not

While acknowledging the impact and progress made by Organizations like the UN, the philanthropic sector, various nonprofits, social enterprises, impact investing, & international diplomacy at COP26 among many others, respondents repeatedly referred to the high level of hope and belief that ReFi can succeed where these Legacy Organizations have not.

Participants noted in various ways that despite the available resources, technology, knowledge, and individual will to solve the climate crisis, governments and societies have failed to address social, political, economic, and environmental issues. In many cases, political discord and chaos has only increased and the climate crisis has objectively worsened.

Whether it was referred to as Crypto, Web3, DeFi, or specifically DAOs:

There was a general sentiment that at its heart, ReFi is a collaborative technology that can catalyze human and ecosystem thriving - and that's exactly what is needed to solve the climate crisis.

Key Learning #5: There is a tension between Driving Climate Impact & Meeting Personal Financial Needs

With Climate Impact as the core focus, new entrants,regardless of other factors, usually cited personal financial needs as a major barrier to getting more involved in ReFi.

This sentiment contrasts with more Seasoned Crypto Participants who rarely cited personal financial needs as a barrier but often suggested that “even with so much money in the space, the shortage is people".

Simply put:

New Entrants tend to be focused on learning more about the space in the limited time they have due to financial constraints, while Seasoned Participants cite people as the constraint.

While more specificity will be required to take advantage fully, there's clearly a huge opportunity here.

What's next

I'm mostly excited to see how readers of this article will take these ideas and make their contributions to ReFi even more powerful!

But for my part, I will be sharing these ideas (among others) with the Founders Circles I've since instigated within ReFiDAO, along with my private coaching clients to support them in achieving their parts of our collective climate goals.

As a coach I believe strongly that everyone's path is unique. Therefore, I will avoid generic prescriptive advice on how to apply these learnings. However, I look forward to many fruitful conversations supporting accelerated decision-making and results in the space.

As many of the participants in this exercise said in many different ways:

Let's collaborate for the planet!

… And don’t forget to look out for Part 2 in this series, focussed on learnings specific to Founders in ReFi: #ReFounders.

Note: As a part of my Web3 learning journey, I’ve decided to mint this series as NFTs. All proceeds will go directly towards additional open research in support of the #ReFi community.

Appendix: Methodologies

Interview Guiding format

  • How do you self-identify,
    • A) professionally?
    • B) from a values perspective?
  • How would you describe your role as a (fill in blank as per above)?
  • What does success look like for you?
  • What is the hardest part about achieving that success? (repeat for up to 3 top answers)
    • When was the last time you tried to solve that problem?
    • Why is it really a problem for you?
  • What's not ideal about your current solution?
  • (When possible) What can you tell me about your ideal version of an organization designed to support the #ReFi space?

Opt-in Survey

  • 35 of the 42 interview participants responded to the opt-in survey

Question 1: Which do you identify as? (choose as many as apply):

  • Crypto-curious climate person: 10
  • Climate-curious crypto person: 5
  • Climate DAO member: 18
  • Curious about both! : 17
  • Other: 6

Question 2: What do you hope to contribute to the #ReFi movement?
(note some answers fit into multiple categories)

  • Perspective/Experience/Skills from Prior Work 11
  • Work in Specific Area of ReFi 11
  • Big Picture / Brainstorming / Strategy 6
  • Improve Onboarding into ReFi 5
  • Whatever is needed 5
  • Specific Relevant Adjacent resource (ie natural capital projects) 2
  • Raise or Contribute Financial Resources 2

Question 3: What is your current involvement in #ReFi? (there's no wrong answer!):

  • Explorer 13
  • Investor/User 5
  • Builder/Contributor 19
  • Founder 16
  • Throughout the course of the interviews, many participants self-identified subjectively with the categories listed here; that data is not included in these numbers
  • The 7 additional participants that didn't respond to the survey were all Founders, and separately I've had virtual coffee chats and/or Founders Circle meetings with an additional 29 Founders in 2022, for a total of 52 Founders
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