Dennison Bertram talks about how Tally empowers user-owned governance through a voting dashboard, governance tooling, and real-time data for research and analysis.
Hello! What’s your background, and what are you working on?
Hi! I’m Dennison Bertram, co-founder here at Tally. I was an early participant in the blockchain space with one of my first startups was a Bitcoin exchange in the Czech Republic back in 2012. I previously worked at OpenZeppelin and also previously founded DappHero. I got into crypto because from the moment I read the Satoshi white paper it sounded like a revolution, and I wanted in.
At Tally we are committed to the idea of making on-chain governance work. If we are going to build successful crypto and blockchain applications, decentralized decision making is core to the mission. Decision making is hard. To do it effectively and at scale, you need communities and norms and tools and transparency and countless other “soft” skills and processes and protocols to really make it work. Because we’re so early, many of these things haven’t been built yet, or they haven’t been tested with systems with real money and real value at stake.
Today at Tally we are building tools and interfaces to scale decentralized decision making. We have tools to vote, see who is participating in governance, and understand what votes and proposals are available. We support protocols looking to launch on-chain governance with an interface for creating and managing proposals. We help tokenholders keep up with governance via email notifications and to gather delegations and support from their fellow holders.
What’s Tally’s backstory?
My co-founder, Rafael Solari and I both worked out of a New York City-based crypto coworking collective called Crypto NYC. At the time, during the 2017 ICO boom – we met a lot of projects building DAO tools. In 2016/2017, we met a lot of people thinking about DAOs, but it didn’t yet feel like the time was right. It’s really hard to build infrastructure for communities and organizations that didn’t yet exist.
Last summer, though we realized that something fundamental had changed: the communities and organizations suddenly exist! DeFi governances are DAOs. Today they are figuring out how to manage billions of dollars. The future that we were excited about in 2017 is now real. So, that’s how Tally was born.
That’s why we build a governance app for voting, delegating, and creating proposals for on-chain governances like Compound and Uniswap:
Our goal is to make on-chain governance work. We aren’t anywhere near done with that, but we’re a lot closer now that we were last year!
What went into building the Tally?
Every product is a journey, and if you’re a startup, the path you take is never very clear. Even as I write this I’m reading a tweet by Brian Flynn that reads “Building in crypto is like drawing a treasure map for others without knowing where the treasure is”, I think this is really spot on, I would add to it though, we know there’s treasure but the question is: what is the treasure? How do we get there?
In crypto you start a project on a monday, and by Friday either the SEC is calling it illegal or you’re getting profiled on the WallStreet Journal as the Oracle of TopShotNFT collecting. Everything changes so fast that it’s important to find a vision in the future and accept that you’re not just building for an opportunity, but that you are actually building the opportunity at the same time.
For Tally, that means we have to help jump start the DAO flywheel. In other words, protocols will build and fund tools to make governance work. Those tools will let even more teams and communities build DAOs, who can then contribute even more to the ecosystem. In a new space like DeFi, we can’t just think about acquiring users and customers, we have to make new users and customers possible.
At Tally, I think the core decision we made early on was to focus our efforts. Our thesis is that governance should be like a Lego. If it’s a standard shape and size, then an unlimited number of things can be built on it. Look at what happened with the ERC20 spec. The interoperability of tokens, and the permissionless interoperability of money have made all of DeFi possible.
To that end, we decided to start with building tooling around Compound Finance’s Governor Alpha contract. It’s simple. The governance is 3 contracts total, easy to reason about, and secure. Six months later, I think it’s becoming clear our bet was right: Compound Governor Alpha has become the defining building block for DeFi Projects and beyond. We have been active in giving back to the community as well by supporting efforts to create testing and development tools in the Graph Ecosystem. We look forward to contributing even more tools to the emerging governance ecosystem.
For our tech stack, we are mostly a React front-end interface plus the The Graph subgraphs for our data layer. We love building data visualizations. There’s a ton of on-chain data to unpack in different ways to make governance more legible:
What’s your business model?
Honestly, we aren’t entirely sure yet! This goes back to Brian Flynn’s treasure map. We know the opportunity is out there. We’re much farther into the future than we were with DAO’s in 2017, but we still aren’t all the way there yet. What we want to find a balance is, how do we sustain ourselves as a company as this ecosystem keeps growing, in case 2021 is the 2017 of 2025. Also, how do we create value that doesn’t detract from the vision of Web3? Of decentralization?
These are tough questions, and frankly it’s probably going to be an incremental process. The good news is, I’ve never been more bullish about our space. So, if we think about it as a treasure map- maybe what Brian was trying to say is we’re not just looking for treasure, but rather we’re planting it ourselves, and creating a map so others can find it with us.
What’s your position on the regulatory landscape today?
The regulatory landscape in Crypto is always hard to talk about. It’s like reading tea leaves. On the one hand it’s very important to stay compliant but regulated. On the other hand crypto builders and users are all around the world, so ten different teams might all exist in ten different regulatory regimes.
For governance, a great deal remains untested. I’m sure we will see regulators come out with more guidance someday, and we’ll eventually see some case law. However, one thing that seems pretty clear from SEC statements last year is that the more decentralized DeFi protocols are, the better position they are in from a securities law perspective. This is where governance and tools like Tally come in. Protocols that build both the protocol layer, the governance layer, and the tools to do governance are going to have a harder time making the case that they are decentralized.
What are your goals for the future?
We’ve just publicly launched with support for Compound, Uniswap, Indexed, PoolTogether, Radicle, Idle, Inverse and Unslashed, which is the first protocol to launch directly with Tally support. We’re looking to add more. We’re encouraging more protocols to use a Compound fork for their governance. That means we’ll build more tools to help protocols onboard with Compound Style governance, more outreach, and new governance legos. Compound is now releasing an upgrade to Governor Alpha, Governor Bravo, so we will be building support for that as well.
We are going to continue our newsletter written by Nate Parton, our outreach in governance forums and communities, and really make this crazy decentralized global organizations thing work for everyone.
What are your future thoughts for the DeFi market?
I’ve never been more excited. There’s so much to build, and so many great people building it!