Credit where it’s due, the phrase “mercenaries vs. missionaries” comes from the formidable Ryan Selkis. Maybe he borrowed it from someone else, I can’t say. In any case, it’s a great way to express an idea that occurred to me a month or two ago. Let’s have a look.

The Problem with Ripple

Ripple (the company) is hiring a bunch of mercenaries to work on their project. A mercenary is a homo sapien whose allegiance is to the dollar not the project. Not that I’m friends with many mercenaries, but I speculate they rarely feel much love for the cause. Let a check bounce and see how long they stick around.

So we see Ripple dishing out $100 million to get XRP integrated into video games, on the smaller side we see a $1.5 million investment into Coinme, more recently, and this is the one that really made me think, they’ve bought Logos Network and tasked them with creating a DeFi ecosystem based on XRP. How artificial!

The real DeFi movement, the one happening on Ethereum, is driven by passion. Sure, loads of projects are taking in funding but there are also thousands of talented developers volunteering their time to build out the space. Also, the companies getting funded, they’re getting that cash because they have an innovative idea that could make DeFi better. That’s the opposite of this XRP DeFi deal where Logos Network was working on something else, then Ripple bought their souls, and now they have to work on what will benefit XRP.

That’s not to say none of this works out for Ripple. When you throw $500 million (that’s half a billion) at a problem you generally tend to get a few solutions. And, ironically, I actually have a stake in XRP and will materially benefit if it takes off. Yet… To me it feels like it’s all wrong: people should work on a project because they’re passionate about it, not because their paycheck demands it.

The Holy Writ of Bitcoin and Ethereum

More than anywhere else in crypto we see a fantastic community of missionaries contributing to these two projects. Thousands of passionate people who believe so deeply in the ultimate success and benevolence of these currencies that they’ll give up their weekends in order to debug code. Or whatever programmers do, I’m not one myself. There is money of course, but nobody is handing out $100 million grants the likes of Ripple’s offerings.

So now, the final point. What has become clear in the last year or so is that the best technology does not guarantee success. Bitcoin, by a huge margin, is the largest crypto even though fees are high and transaction are slow. In terms of developer activity and Dapps being built, Ethereum decimates the competition even though it can’t clear 20 TPS. There are a dozen viable competitors for the top spots, all with ostensibly better technology, but where are they now?

What Bitcoin and Ethereum have are huge communities and this, I believe, is perhaps the best predictor of a project’s eventual success. Imagine you have to move to a new town and you have two choices.

  1. The town with a thriving community and abundant social resources, but the internet is slow and the power goes out sometimes.
  2. The high-tech town with fiber optic and reliable infrastructure, but only a few people live there and they don’t talk to each other.

Which one would you choose? In deciding which projects I’d like to be affiliated with, it’s pretty clear to me what matters most. I’m with the missionaries.