Who Funds Bitcoin Development?

Abstract: We compile a list of the main organisations and individuals funding open source Bitcoin and Lightning development. Based on the data we have compiled, Blockstream and Lightning Labs are the largest contributors to open source development in the space, while as far as contributors to Bitcoin Core goes, Chaincode Labs is currently the largest financial supporter of development. We conclude that the situation is more healthy than it has been in the past, with respect to the availability of finance, transparency, and the degree of distribution among financial backers.

Data on developer funding

Based on publicly available information and speaking to certain individuals, who were happy with their details being made public, we have produced the following charts and tables, which we believe provides the most comprehensive picture of open source Bitcoin developer funding produced to date.

Our first chart was produced in a top down way. We identified the largest organisations directly funding open source Bitcoin development. It reveals that Blockstream and Lightning Labs employ the largest number of developers working on open source Bitcoin or Lightning related projects.

Current funding of open source developers working on Bitcoin or Lightning – number of developers

(Source: BitMEX Research)

(Note: Data includes only those who have a source of funding)

The second chart uses more of a bottom up methodology. We looked at the Bitcoin Core project and identified the top 33 contributors by all time number of commits and then attempted to establish the current funding source for each developer. This chart shows that Chaincode Labs is the most prolific financial supporter of Bitcoin development.

Current funding of top 33 Bitcoin Core contributors by number of commits – number of developers

(Source: BitMEX Research, GitHub)

The two tables below show the source data for the above charts.

Key companies funding open source Bitcoin development

CompanyCommercial EntityLocation Funding Source Developers
Chaincode LabsNoNew YorkFinanced by the two founders, Alex Morcos and Suhas DaftuarThe company has 6 dedicated Bitcoin developers (Alex Morcos, Suhas Daftuar, John Newbury, Russ Yanofsky, Marco Falke & Carl Dong) – Source: https://chaincode.com/#team
MIT DCINoBostonDonationsMIT has 2 dedicated Bitcoin developers (Wladimir van der Laan & Cory Field) and 4 or 5 researchers – Source: https://dci.mit.edu/team
DG LabYesTokyoListed Japanese investment companyThe company has 2 to 4 Bitcoin developers
Square CryptoNoSan FranciscoFinanced by listed American payment company Square Inc 4 developers all building Rust Lightning. The company also gives 3 Bitcoin developer grants
BlockstreamYesVictoria (Canada)VC backedThe company has 2 dedicated Bitcoin developers (Pieter Wuille & Andrew Chow), 3 dedicated Lightning developers (Rusty Russel, Christian Decker & Lisa Neigut) (C-Lightning) and 3 cryptographers (Andrew Poelstra, Tim Ruffing & Jonas Nick)
Lightning LabsYesSan FranciscoVC backed The company has at least 8 developers working on the open source Lightning software (LND and Loopd) (Olaoluwa Osuntokun, Conner Fromknecht, Alex Bosworth, Johan Halseth, Joost Jager, Wilmer Paulino, Carla Kirk-Cohen & Oliver Gugger) – Source: https://lightning.engineering/team
AcinqYesParisVC backedThe company has at least 4 open source Bitcoin/Lightning developers
BitfinexYesRetained earningsThe company funds 3 developers working on RGB (A tool to issue tokens on Lightning)
XapoYesSan FranciscoVC backedThe company has 2 dedicated Bitcoin developers
OKCoinYesChinaRetained earningsCurrently provides one Bitcoin developer a grant
Bull BitcoinYesCanadaCurrently funds one Bitcoin developer building Cyphernode
BitMEXYesSeychellesRetained earningsCurrently provides one Bitcoin developer a grant & has one part time contractor who contributes to Bitcoin Core
Crypto AdvanceYesMunichPrivate donorFunds the open source development work of Stepan Snigirev
Hardcore FundNoDonationsProvides small grants to 2 Bitcoin developers
BitmainYesChinaRetained earningsOrganisation does not appear to be actively funding development. In the past Bitmain supported at least 2 developers.
Blockchain.infoYesLondonVC backed Organisation does not appear to be actively funding development. In the past Blockchain.info supported at least 1 developer
Bitcoin FoundationNoLondonDonationsOrganisation does not appear to be actively funding development. In the past this was one of the only organisations funding development
BTCCYesChinaRetained earningsOrganisation does not appear to be actively funding development 
BitPayYesUSVC backedOrganisation does not appear to be actively funding development. In the past Jeff Garzik was sponsored to work on Bitcoin development

List of Bitcoin Developers & their funders

Developer Description Funding
Bitcoin Core Maintainers
Wladimir van der Laan Bitcoin Core maintainer MIT DCI
Pieter Wuille Bitcoin Core maintainer Blockstream
Marco Falke Bitcoin Core maintainer Chaincode
Michael Ford Bitcoin Core maintainer BitMEX
Jonas Schnelli Bitcoin Core maintainer Formerly Bitmain
Samuel Dobson Bitcoin Core maintainer John Pfeffer
Developers ranked by number of commits to Bitcoin Core (All time)
Matt Corallo Bitcoin developer (now working on Rust Lightning) Square Crypto (formerly Chaincode and Blockstream)
Cory Fields Bitcoin developer MIT DCI
Practical Swift Bitcoin developer  
John Newbery Bitcoin developer Chaincode
Gavin Andresen Bitcoin developer Formerly the Bitcoin Foundation and MIT DCI
Luke-Jr Bitcoin developer Hardcore Fund
Russell Yanofsky Bitcoin developer Chaincode
Andrew Chow Bitcoin developer Blockstream
João Barbosa Bitcoin developer Formerly Bitmain
Suhas Daftuar Bitcoin developer Chaincode
Alex Morcos Bitcoin developer Chaincode
Hennadii Stepanov Bitcoin developer Cardcoin & Payvant
Jorge Timon Bitcoin developer Formerly Blockstream
Gregory Maxwell Bitcoin developer Formerly Blocksteam
Gregory Sanders Bitcoin developer Blockstream
Karl-Johan Alm Bitcoin developer DG Lab
Ben Woosley Bitcoin developer Hardcore Fund
Peter Todd Bitcoin developer Has previously received funding from BTCC, Bitfinex & Chaincode
James O’Beirne Bitcoin developer Currently moving from Chaincode to DG Lab
Sjors Provoost Bitcoin developer Formerly funded by blockchain.info, part time on open source projects for BitMEX
Patrick Strateman Bitcoin developer Formerly Blockstream
Carl Dong Bitcoin developer Chaincode
Jon Atack Bitcoin developer Square Crypto grant
Anthony Towns Bitcoin developer Xapo
Jeremy Rubin Bitcoin developer Formerly MIT DCI & Chaincode
Nicolas Dorier Bitcoin and BTCPAY developer DG Lab
David Harding Bitcoin developer  
Others with notable funding sources
Fabian Jahr Bitcoin developer OKCoin
Kukks BTCPAY developer BTSE
Amiti Uttarwar Bitcoin developer Xapo

Disclaimers & weaknesses of the data:

  • The charts above are meant as a basic guide to illustrate the distribution of funding.
  • The number of developers is not a perfect indicator of the overall contribution of the funder. It does not reflect the amount of funding, as some developers may be sponsored as a full time employee, while others may receive a small grant for part time work.
  • The number of commits is a very weak indicator of contribution by developer, it is meant as an indicative proxy.
  • Ranking developers by number of commits is only there for indicative purposes. Review work is important and not reflected by the number of commitments.
  • We used an all time ranking for developer commits, however it may also be useful to look at a ranking for the past two years.
  • We may have missed the funding of certain developers and therefore the data displayed may not reveal a complete picture.

Conclusion

Although the funding situation could improve, in our view the data indicates that the ecosystem is in a reasonably strong situation with respect to developer funding, based on metrics such as the distribution of funders and transparency. Of course, progress can also be made in the distribution of funding and Chaincode Labs is now the clear leader in terms of developer funding for Bitcoin Core. On the other hand, funding is far more distributed than it has been in the past, certainly compared to the 2012 to 2014 period when there was only one significant funder, The Bitcoin Foundation.

Particularly encouraging is the recent emergence of BitMEX, BTSE and OkCoin to the scene. This brings much needed diversity to the group of donors, potentially improving the level of sustainability, in particular these exchanges are a new type of entity and are funding developers out of retained earnings, rather than using donations or venture capital funds.

In our view the biggest challenges going forwards are:

  • Funding and training for new developers entering the space,
  • More sustainable developer financing, including a large share of funding coming from retained earnings from businesses with different business models, and
  • Ensuring developers effectively collaborate while receiving independent funding sources.

Please Note

We believe the data in this report is accurate, however it is likely we have made mistakes. If you are aware of any inaccuracies or omissions, please contact us and let us know and we will be happy to make corrections.

UPDATE

On 28 April 2020 we updated the article to reflect the Cardcoin and Payvant joint sponsorship of Hennadii Stepanov.