My Vision for Balancer Protocol

TL;DR

  • Balancer protocol is transitioning from a product phase to a protocol phase. Its long-term success will be the success of what’s built on top of it.
  • Balancer should be dead simple to integrate with/ build on: we need better docs/templates/tutorials and the ecosystem fund should be deployed for this.
  • Useful liquidity – which facilitates trading volume – is necessary to keep Balancer relevant for aggregators/wallets/apps.
  • Liquidity mining should incentivize useful liquidity but also be used for joint incentives/ partnerships/ experimentation.

When I created the mathematical framework that powers Balancer V1 in early 2018, my vision was for Balancer to be a flexible and permissionless asset management tool that allows traders to directly tap into the protocol’s liquidity. In other words, anyone could turn their own portfolio into an index fund: except the individual contributing capital would earn fees instead of paying a fund manager, as happens in traditional finance.

Since then, creative forks of Balancer V1 taught us how much more could be achieved by allowing customized pool logic as opposed to only index-fund like pools. Balancer could become much more than a single Automated Market Maker (AMM), it could be the building block for several other AMM designs, created by independent teams, focusing on different use cases.

By aggregating the liquidity of various pools in the same single vault, projects using Balancer benefit from the liquidity and trading volume of one another, creating what I believe can be a very strong network effect.

To summarize, I see Balancer currently transitioning from a product phase – where a proof of concept was demonstrated – to a protocol phase – where scaling happens through strong network effects.

Product Phase - Balancer V1

Balancer V1 saw very strong traction and established itself as one of the leading AMMs. It enabled interesting products like:

  • Multi-token index funds
  • 80/20 pools that allow more exposure to one asset but still facilitate trading volume. A good example is the 80/20 AAVE/WETH pool used in AAVE’s safety module
  • LBPs (Liquidity Bootstrapping Pools) that powered the token generation events of dozens of high caliber projects like PERP, Radicle, HydraDX and Illuvium.
  • Fair launch distributions like YFI

During 2020, it became clear that many other interesting types of AMMs were possible but not supported by Balancer V1. This was addressed by our innovative Balancer V2 architecture.

Protocol Phase - Balancer V2

With feedback from over 10 different projects that were building on Balancer V1 or their own forks of it (Balancer Labs is proud to have always deployed open source code), we realized that the single vault, flexible pool architecture was needed in our industry. Even though Balancer V2 just launched in May of this year, some very interesting projects are already building on it:

  • PrimeDAO and Copper developing token launch platforms using LBPs
  • PowerPool building meta-governance and smart indices
  • Indexed Finance developing passively-managed crypto index funds
  • Element Finance enabling fixed-rate yield through the exchange of Principal tokens and Yield tokens using the YieldSpace AMM design
  • Gyroscope Finance creating a new all-weather stablecoin with a primary-market AMM

It’s very clear to me that no single product or project can beat a thriving ecosystem of diverse teams focusing on different problems, addressing different markets and creating their own business models.

Balancer’s long term success depends entirely on the success of the protocols and products built on top of it.

This realization has some practical implications that I would like to discuss below.

Balancer Labs

As Balancer becomes more and more decentralized, Balancer Labs’ role is to be one of many active participants in the Balancer ecosystem. Our main goal will be to make sure that Balancer V2 is easy to use and extremely well documented through tutorials, screencasts and templates. It should be straightforward for any team to fork a pool template and add their own logic and specificities. Balancer Labs will be actively working on this, but the contribution from community members will be essential – and generously compensated through grants.

Balancer will only be attractive as an AMM platform if it is actively used as a source of liquidity by retail traders, aggregators, wallets, arbitrage bots and other such players. Making Balancer V2 easy to use also means that these players should have no trouble using V2’s liquidity to its fullest potential. As the number of different pool types grows, our Smart Order Router (SOR) becomes even more essential for Balancer protocol. Balancer Labs is committed to leading SOR development, also with the help of the community.

Liquidity mining

Very healthy forum discussions on Balancer’s primary objective have taken place, mainly questioning how liquidity mining should be distributed – e.g. by bakamoto. The main dichotomy is whether the protocol should focus on being a useful source of liquidity and facilitating significant trading volume or if it should focus on maximizing liquidity provider fees.

In my personal view, at this stage, in order for Balancer to gain more significance and be top of mind for other teams to integrate with, our main focus should be in providing useful liquidity. Aggregators and wallets have to spend a considerable effort on each new integration, so naturally the protocols that facilitate meaningful liquidity and volume will be prioritized.

Staying relevant in practice means creating innovative solutions to avoiding liquidity fragmentation on Ethereum mainnet. This includes new pool primitives that we are currently working on and are excited to announce in more detail in the near future.

This doesn’t mean that experiments cannot be done with multi-token and high-fee pools. Polygon is an especially suitable platform for this as its extremely low gas price makes fragmentation of liquidity a feature, not a problem as on Ethereum mainnet.

Partnerships, Community and Ecosystem Fund

Balancer Labs is very active in business development, doing its best to find and engage other projects that we feel would benefit from using Balancer. As our protocol becomes more decentralized, so is the process of deploying the Ecosystem Fund. A group of community members have stepped forward to propose the creation of a grants committee that would manage this process. I support the spirit of that proposal and hope we as a community can agree on its final form and pass it soon.

In this highly competitive space, teams building on top of Balancer as well as engaged community members should be generously rewarded with a stake in the protocol (BAL tokens from the ecosystem fund). The time to deploy the ecosystem fund is now, as a Cambrian explosion of cool ideas and talented teams look for suitable base-layers that will enable them to solve the next challenges in DeFi.

What’s next?

If you are excited about our mission of becoming the leading platform for programmable liquidity, please get involved in our discord and check our regular community updates here on the forum. We also have monthly community and tech update calls. I would love to hear more on how you, an active community member, could help Balancer achieve this vision.

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Thank you! Keep up the hard work, you guys are an inspiration to the ecosystem!

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In the interest of being as transparent and open as possible, I would like to share with the whole Balancer community the message below that I prepared for the Balancer Labs team. My expectation is that this helps everyone in the community see through our lens and understand what BLabs will be focusing on in the future.

Balancer Labs is just one participant in the broader Balancer ecosystem. Anyone is more than welcome to take a different stance/focus than Balancer Labs: it is ok for different groups to contribute in different ways to the Balancer Protocol.

Message to Balancer Labs titled “Strategy Clarification”

As the market continues to grow it’s likely we, as the Balancer Labs team, may start to feel like we are missing important trends. As those thoughts arise (and I know they have for me), I find it helpful to come back to our goal of becoming a platform for other teams to build on top of.

The broader Balancer Ecosystem will achieve this vision through:

  • platform features: Managed Pools, Linear Pools, Asset Managers, Meta-stable pools etc.
  • product features: LBPs (copper), index funds (Indexed Finance and PowerPool), forex (HaloDao), fixed rate interest (Element and Tempus), DAO treasury management etc.

Let me be clear, Balancer Labs is not focused on pursuing products that are directly aimed at end users: we want other teams to come up with their own product ideas and succeed by bringing in their own users, communities, bizdev and marketing efforts.

We’ve talked about Balancer being B2C or B2B. But what we really are, what we want to become, is D2D (DAO-to-DAO). We want to be a protocol – represented by the Balancer DAO – that empowers other DAOs to build awesome stuff using our permissionless infrastructure. This is obviously not something that will happen overnight. While most of our current TVL comes from users that added their liquidity through our UI, our focus for attracting new TVL will be through platforms that build on top of us.

This transition should be the north star that guides us in 2022, and it will impact different areas of work in different ways:

  • Marketing

    • Primary focus on decentralization to ensure the Balancer DAO manages marketing in the long-term.
    • Secondary focus on establishing a brand which can be used by other protocols.
    • A continued focus on product / partnership marketing that establishes the Balancer Brand as one that other DAOs are or should be building on.
    • Beginning the foundation of developer marketing with a focus on power devs building projects, not developers new to the space. As the SDK team is established and teams have an easier way to integrate with the Balancer Protocol, our focus on developer marketing will also increase.
  • Smart Contracts / Core

    • The SC team should continue to think about innovations that allow other teams to build their platforms and products on us.
    • New ideas in DeFi come at breakneck speed: we are seeing an influx of derivative projects, PCV protocols, Liquidity as a Service platforms etc. that need flexible and configurable AMM Modules that integrate with other layers of the DeFi Primitive Stack.
  • Integrations

    • The team should be expanded as we see more and more demand from other teams to build on Balancer and as integrations becomes our main funnel for scaling.
    • Integrations should also consider how to improve documentation and first examples of implementations that other teams can leverage.
    • High impact integrations like Fei’s will get more hands-on help from us while lower impact ones will have to rely on our docs/discord support.
  • SDK

    • The SOR team has been renamed to SDK in recognition of the fact that other teams need much more than just our SOR, they need a suite of helper functions and simple ways to code using Balancer.
    • SDK will be one of our core and most important teams going forward. We should consider aggregators as its primary customers and our frontend team as its secondary customer.
  • Partnerships (also known as biz dev)

    • Our partnerships team should focus on feeding the integrations team with high impact integration projects. This team needs to be on top of what’s happening in DeFi/Ethereum to be able to pursue high-impact opportunities with other teams.
    • We will prioritize partners who are building products on top of Balancer over partnerships that use existing Balancer products. Although we’ll be using this general rule of thumb, this team is establishing frameworks to systematically evaluate the size of each opportunity.
  • Frontend

    • Over time, more focus should be given to tools that will help other teams and DAOs interact with our front-end (e.g. pool creation UI).
    • The frontend team will also work on new UIs that showcase the power of primitives the Smart Contracts team creates, like linear pools and managed pools. If done right, this will spur adoption of these primitives by other teams, which will scale Balancer.

To summarize

Our job, as Balancer Labs, is to create the underlying tools (e.g. innovative pool types, comprehensive documentation, SDK) that allow other teams to develop products on top of Balancer Protocol. If we have ideas of products that could be built on Balancer we should formalize these ideas and add them to the grants committee list of requests for proposals.

Going forward, we should only develop new frontends or products in two situations:

  1. We believe no other teams would be interested or have enough incentives to create the product/frontend and it is essential for the success of Balancer Protocol. For example: boosted pools and staking frontends
  2. Other teams might have enough incentives and even a sustainable business model around a new product built on Balancer, but having an MVP built by BLabs that proves traction can be the trigger to actually getting them to build and focus on that opportunity. For example: LBPs and Copper

If you want to read more on why our focus of pursuing platform features instead of products matter, check out this article: market-protocol fit (thanks for sharing Kristen!).

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Very interesting strategy, Fernando. D2D market is huge and it is just beginning.

Fei also is finding traction in D2D with Liquidity-as-a-Service (LaaS) and seeding FEI in fuse pools. For sure, there will be more opportunities to collaborate with Balancer DAO to offer better services to DAOs. For example, LaaS could be using Balancer as one of the pools in the future.

Balancer with LBP provides a solution to DAOs launching tokens and with managed pools can help DAO treasuries to better manager their resources. There are synergies between both communities as our “clients” are similar and we can solve DAOs financial needs.

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