Marieke Flament is the CEO of the NEAR Foundation, a non-for-profit which is responsible for contracting protocol maintainers, funding ecosystem development, and managing core governance of the NEAR protocol – the world’s fastest-growing, carbon-neutral and open-source blockchain.
Listed by Bloomberg as one of the top UK crypto leaders to watch and a speaker at DAVOS, Marieke has established herself as one of the leading voices in crypto and blockchain.
At Consensus 2022, I had the pleasure to interview Flament about the NEAR Foundation, grants to newcomers in this space, and the current bear market.
I was curious to learn about the NEAR Foundation’s role and its oversight of the NEAR Protocol. Thus, I started my conversation by asking about the Foundation’s role.
“The NEAR protocol is open source. Anyone can contribute to the NEAR protocol and build on it. If you think of it as a picture, you’d have the NEAR protocol that is in the center of that. And then on the NEAR protocol, you have projects such as Aurora, which is our EVM, you have Octopus Network, which is actually for creating NFTs so on and so forth. And on that infrastructure, you can build a lot of different projects, whether it’s DeFi projects or NFTs, or DAOs. That’s the landscape of what’s being built on the protocol.”
“The role of the foundation within that is threefold. One is to help raise awareness of that ecosystem, what’s happening, what’s being built on NEAR. What are the projects that are coming up? And our role is also to help educate about what is NEAR? What is Web3?”
“Our second role is to support builders who want to build on there. How do we do that? We have a large grants program. We are treasures of a part of the tokens of NEAR and a treasurer of the part of the funds that have been raised in OTC deals. In essence, we do have access to funds that we can help to allocate to help entice builders to come in to build on them.”
“The third role of the foundation is to help with governance and external regulatory engagement. To your question, we’re not overseeing the roadmap of the protocol, or we’re not overseeing what developments are coming. We don’t have a say. That is community owned, and community built and continues to evolve. Where we can help is where we see being built and what the agenda is becoming. We can help raise voices and support that ecosystem,” Flament said.
Flament explained the role of the NEAR Foundation very well. I appreciated that the protocol is community-owned and built. NEAR Foundation’s job was only to oversee the development and support developers who wanted to take advantage of this technology. Thus, my next question was to ask her to elaborate on the grants NEAR Foundation offers. Flament was more than happy to elaborate.
“We have different programs. It depends what people are building and what they’re looking for. But you can come to the foundation directly for having grants allocation. It’s really looking at what are the pieces of the infrastructure that are being built on the NEAR protocol. We have ecosystem funds and regional funds which are more specialized. So as a foundation, we can help you direct to these funds.”
“Then the third thing we can do, let’s say, a project get a small grant for building, let’s say 10k. They build. Their projects are becoming successful. Now they’re looking for a seed round. We can help. We have a backers’ network. We can help refer projects and say, ‘Hey, backers, we have these great projects.’”
“In essence, that’s full loop from grants to helping people. Sometimes it’s to help people get out of their current job to take the leap of faith and build. And sometimes it’s for people who say they have the idea that the amount of capital that it might take them to get to something that’s fundable. They need that. And as a foundation, we can help force function that mechanism so that they can become a sustainable business.”
Next, I asked Flament’s opinion on the bear market we are encountering. At Consensus, we were surrounded by many new start-ups and businesses in this space. I was curious to learn Flament’s opinion on where the market was heading.
“Look, it’s not the first one (and) not the last one. NEAR was built in 2018. So, at the bottom of the last bear market. It is built by builders for builders. So that’s the ethos of what we’re what we’re building. The other thing I would say is that, yes, it’s a bear market if you look at price, but if you look at actually the amount of talent that’s coming through, if you look at the amount of capital that’s available to build, if you look at the projects that are being built, there is a lot of activity that’s happening.”
“Now, for our builders. What does it mean? It means you need to be much thoughtful about what you’re building right now. It is a race. How fast can you go and maybe not get the return on capital spent? Now, it’s the market that we don’t know how long this is going to take. Any project that builds on there, we are actually recommending to be thoughtful about where money is going. We need to say like, Ookay, can you last one year two years? Can you build them? But we do need more talent continuously in the ecosystem.”
“And again, if anything, we have sufficient capital to help support the ecosystem and to continue building. I think it’s an amazing opportunity to focus on quality, I think it’s an amazing opportunity to think on what blockchain we have in our hand; tools to help challenge and tackle some of the largest problems that are out there.”
‘You bring together artists and politicians and governments and technologists, and so we’re trying to change. It’s a whole movement. A bear market is actually a perfect opportunity to do that thoughtfully. And to think of the consequences of what we’re developing; for creating a better future. I’m quite optimistic about it. As an ecosystem, we’re in a very good position to hold on that. And again, the story of NEAR started at the bottom of the bear market!”
Flament had a great response on what the developers should be focusing on in the bear market. Next, I asked her about the women who wanted to build and get involved in this space.
“Thanks for asking. I still see that the crypto space feels very intimidating, right? Can I get in? Do I know? Do I understand? Here’s the reality. Everybody’s trying to figure it out. And so, I think the first important thing is to understand to have the confidence like, yes, it’s fine. I don’t understand. But actually, nobody really fully understands 100% of what everything is happening in that market. And I’m talking about confidence, because very often, what you see in particular in women is this lack of confidence. Can I do it?”
“I see that through so many interviews. When you interview women, the first thing they’ll tell you is what they can’t do. Which is heartbreaking. Because you’re like, okay, yeah, in the 10 Bullet points of the job description, maybe you can’t do two. But the rest, you can probably do and you bring something else.”
“So, I think as an industry, we do have two things. One is we need to be accessible. I think we need to be humble, and we need to say that we are all learning and everybody’s trying to figure it out. And the second thing is actually we do need proactively to help attract women and very diverse talent, because it’s not just about developers, as I mentioned, like this is touching every industry and everything. You need marketeers. You need, economists. You need people who are thinking through laws and regulations and attracting talent. The other thing I would add on is if we don’t have a diverse set of talent building the next layer of technology, then that technology is going to be extremely biased towards the builders. It’s absolutely fundamental.”
“At NEAR and within the ecosystem of NEAR, we can actually see that. We are over 35% of women. It’s not bad. We can do better. We’re constantly trying to work on doing better. I think at NEAR it is the same. It starts from our founders; very open, very humble, very low ego. And that is our fundamental values.”
Next, I was interested to know more about Armoured Kingdom. Armoured Kingdom was a project that NEAR launched during the Consensus event. I was curious to learn about it while I conversed with Flament.
“Armoured Kingdom is fascinating, backed by Mila Kunis. It is really interesting in terms of profile. Also, how she’s thinking. For example, rethinking, fandom, right? And what does it mean to think through fandom? The fact that NEAR has been chosen as an underlying protocol for Armoured Kingdom is great. It’s a huge privilege. It’s been chosen, because fundamental to NEAR protocol’s usability.”
“If you want to create the next generation of fan experiences, and if you want those experiences to be on the blockchain, ultimately, what you need is something that looks seamless. In the end, the fans, and the customers are not going to care what technology it’s on, they’re going to care. What is it? What does this enable me to do?”
“We’re really looking forward to the launches of the first comic books on that front, and then continuously iterating and going into building more and more of what the ecosystem will look like. It will start as a collection of 50 comic books that are going to be hard copies and are going to be also linked to an NFT. And then over time, we’re going to have more different projects and different experiences that are going to be launched.”
Armoured Kingdom and its celebrity connection is exciting. When Flament mentioned NFTs, I asked her to elaborate on their properties. A lot of people tend to buy NFTs for their monetary value. Is Armoured Kingdom attracting a similar type of investors?
“I would backtrack, what is an NFT? It’s like participating in a club. It’s being part of a group of people who actually think alike and therefore have like an affinity for something. To me, that’s the premise of an NFT. The lens you applied on, financial, economic return, I think if people do that it’s at their own risk.”
“As an ecosystem that’s not what we’re just not focused on. We are focused on very long term. How can we attract billions of people using NEAR as an underlying technology? Where is the long-term value? Not what’s the hype and the price? And I think these things are not sustainable. And we were talking about the bear markets earlier, I think we’re going to see a lot of things that have been hyped to be wiped. It’s good. A lot of the hype will be wasted.”
I was glad to learn that the NEAR protocol focuses on long-term goals rather than the “near” future. Thus, I ended my interview with one last question about what I think is fundamental for long-term growth – security. I asked Flament about her opinion on the importance of the safety and security of people’s data and assets.
“We do have talent dedicated to security because we believe it’s super, super important. Security also goes hand in hand with usability. I think all those models need to evolve into becoming more and more secure. Recently, within our ecosystem, we saw Aurora had a hack that was found by a white hacker. Aurora rewarded that hacker with 6 million in value, because it was amazing what was found. And team was able to fix it extremely quickly. And then the team also thought, well, we should reward that.”
“Now, the last thing I would add is like it’s a nascent industry. It moves really fast. There’s a lot of trial and error. And so, things will go wrong and right. How do we react and learn from that? And what do you do differently going forward?”
Marieke Flament graciously took time out for us during a jam-packed Consensus event. She articulated her ideas about the mission of the NEAR Foundation and some of the projects on the NEAR protocol. Metaverse Insider would like to thank her for her time and insight into the market.