What is Gimbalabs? (Intro & Part 1)

by James Dunseith


The first things I’d like you to know about Gimbalabs is that the process of defining “what it is remains ongoing, and that we invite you to participate. Not in some “we’re building this plane as we’re flying it” with a wink and a smile sort of way, but in the fully-active understanding that in order to have any chance of solving the world’s most challenging problems, we must be comfortable with uncertainty, open to new ways of working and willing to question any assumption. We admire many of the ideals expressed across the blockchain industry, especially in the Cardano ecosystem, and we recognize the deep and wide scope of how much we’re all going to have to contribute in order to actualize these ideals.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what is Gimbalabs? We get this question a lot, and this is the first in a series of blog posts I’ll publish with the intention of providing some answers. As Gimbalabs evolves along with the rest of the Catalyst community, Cardano ecosystem, and blockchain industry, I’m sure that we’ll need to revise some of these posts.

Let’s start with the simple answer. Gimbalabs is a Catalyst-funded start-up and the first successfully-funded project ever to result from the merging of two Catalyst proposals. We are proud to have set this example, and we want to live in a world where, for years to come, collaborators continue to meet and blend ideas through Catalyst. You can read our combined Catalyst Fund 2 proposal here.

In the months since writing the original proposal, our mission and vision statements have not changed. Our mission is to mobilize everyone in the Cardano community by creating tools and real-world use cases that ignite the public imagination and facilitate adoption. We envision a world where as many people as possible are empowered to solve problems using the Cardano platform.

How we achieve these is, of course, the fun part. The purpose of this blog series is to share our current thinking about how we’ll deliver on our mission. Here’s an outline of what I’ll cover:

  • Part 1, below, gives a quick history of the founding of Gimbalabs.
  • Part 2 continues with a summary of how our priorities have evolved over these first three months of operation.
  • In Part 3, I will ask whether Gimbalabs is a DAO. We aspire to be one (we think!) and we’ll assess our progress by considering individually each word: “decentralized”, “autonomous”, and “organization”.
  • Parts 4 and 5 will support you to make the most of Gimbalabs by providing insight into how we create new work and how we’re thinking about the new age of abundance.

Part 1: Gimbalabs Roots

Gimbalabs was founded in late 2020 by three participants in Cardano’s Project Catalyst: Juliane Montag, Roberto Carlos Morano, and me, James Dunseith. Juliane and I met during Fund 1, where we became fast friends after she offered generous feedback on my proposal. I will forever be an advocate of the Catalyst comments as a place to meet future collaborators.

During Fund 2, I reached out personally to the author of any proposal that resonated with me. Catalyst is open to anyone, so I figured that with a little effort I could find some kindred sprits. I realized quickly that Catalyst makes space to be honest about whether you’re vibing with someone, and that mainstream adoption of Cardano will require contributions from all sorts of people. (I’ll return to this idea in Part 5 when I write about the age of abundance.) Among the many sorts of responses I received, I made a friend for life in Roberto.

Roberto’s original Fund 2 proposal was called “Cardano APIs as a Community Service”. His idea was to provide free endpoints for developers to interact with Cardano, enabling anyone to test their ideas and spin up proofs of concept without going through the time-consuming work of instantiating cardano-node or cardano-db-sync locally.

My original proposal in Fund 1 was called “Open Source Experiential Learning,” and it evolved into one called “Cardano Starter Kits” by the start of Fund 2. My idea was to create project-based learning opportunities for people to engage with Cardano in the real world.

What united Roberto and me was our intention to make Cardano accessible to as many people as possible, and our understanding that there are only so many shortcuts we could provide: we’d need to build something that could support people to dive in, while also encouraging people to put in the effort required to realize any desired outcomes. In terms of money, these materials would be “free”, but they’d still ask plenty of their users.

You can learn more about Dandelion APIs at https://dandelion.link/ and https://gimbalabs.com/dandelionapis. The current list of Cardano Starter Kits is at https://gimbalabs.com/cardanostarterkits. Please forgive the current state of documentation for each of these. We are currently redesigning gimbalabs.com and expanding our team to help make Dandelion documentation what it ought to be.

As we embraced the idea of merging proposals and began our collaborative venture, we took inspiration from the Cardano community. We knew we that we wanted to name the project thoughtfully, and we knew we want to take a first-principles approach to development. It’s easy to make a goal of first-principles thinking, and hard to stick to those principles every day. So we tried to create a list that would come naturally as they helped to govern our day to day actions. Here’s what we came up with:

Learn by Doing

  • People learn best through experience.
  • We are ok with inefficiency if we’re learning — that’s a form of investment.
  • We know that we’re living in a historic moment where ideas are plentiful and the value is in doing. We are all capable of more than we think — especially if we recognize learning time as an investment.

Seek Collaboration

  • We make space for people to prioritize autonomous action, while getting the support they need. The quality of our engagement with other people defines the quality of our outcomes. These relationships (as we’ll see) are the secret sauce in maximizing both autonomy of individuals and reliability of outcomes.

Lead by Example

  • We believe that the world needs leaders, but only those who lead by example. The scope of leadership should be clearly defined, and should be contingent on a leader’s continued ability to provide value.

Stay Flexible

  • We are not in a hurry to create new versions of old structures that aren’t working. That’s why we’re not in hurry to tell you in a sentence or less what Gimbalabs is. Thanks for being flexible enough to stick with us, even though we lack certainty.

What else?

  • We encourage you to think about your own achievable first principles. We expect that some of yours will differ from others.

Beyond first principles, we’ve had a good time seeing shared values emerge across the Gimbalabs community. We value honesty and transparency. We value our families, friends, and local communities, and we value thoughtfully defining what it means to live well. We build for the long term. We believe that you should refuse to take my word for anything I’m writing in this paragraph, and that it will take time for you to decide to trust me on any of this.

We also value joyful experiences and playful language, so to conclude this post, I’ll share a little bit about our name.

Naming Gimbalabs

We are drawn to the Cardano ecosystem, among other things, by its attention to detail. We admire how things are named, and we hope to carry that forward.

Before we met, Roberto and I each had a chance to name our endeavors: Dandelion after the world’s most humble (and perhaps most decentralized) flower, Workshop Maybe a combination of aspirational words that share letters with my hometown (WORcester, MAssachusetts). Dandelion seeds float on the breeze, unaware of where they might land. Workshops are notoriously inefficient by 20th century standards (more on that in Part 2), but where else is there (maybe) more possibility?

When it came to naming our new project, we took our time, we read up on all of the luminaries whose names are invoked across the Cardano platform. In the end we found the word we were looking for in the second paragraph of Gerolamo Cardano’s Wikipedia entry. Cardano didn’t invent the gimbal: he described it. What is a gimbal? It’s a solid ring that provides balance, used, for example to get a steady camera shot. A set of independent gimbals can be used to build a gyroscope that provides smooth motion in all dimensions.

And that’s what we hope to provide for you: a balance of connectedness and autonomy, support and range of motion. Like Cardano with the gimbal in the 16th century, we didn’t invent these ideas, but we do hope to help bring them to life.