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I've done some research but haven't been able to find a clear answer on how to proceed with my thoughts on delegate or bake!

Just for this discussion assume I have 12000 Tezos at hand. Now, I'd like to use them for:

  1. supporting the Tezos Blockchain
  2. maximize the return

In order to maximize the above should I delegate to one of the established bakers or should I start my own baking operation? I have the technical knowledge to setup the operation but I'm reluctant to do it if my Tezos are better delegated. Is 12 000 Tezos too "small" amount in order to give a better return "baking my own" than delegated? I understand I have to monitor the chosen baker in order to avoid a saturated baker.

I apologize if this is not the right place to post these kind of questions but, as I said, haven't been able to find a relevant answer so far...

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For a smaller baker with only a few rolls, a couple factors need to be considered. This includes the hardware costs and costs from the time spent to learn and maintain the software.

The hardware costs are generally low, it's not zero. Just for reference, some people claim to be baking on a raspberry pi (I have my doubts for a long term setup). If Tezos is to be successful, the hardware requirements will only go up as more and more transactions are made per block. Assuming home baking, a more reasonable long term setup would be a lower end NUC or something similar.

The bigger costs is the time/opportunities costs which is more than we all would like. Every veteran baker has had dealt with diagnosing their baking setup, such as investigating a missed bake or endorse or investigating why the node is not connected to enough peers; from time to time, a database might get corrupted and needs to be reimported. Those mentioned before may or may not happen, but what's more realistic are the regular upgrade and monitoring of the softwares. Though super super rare, on a moment's notice, bakers had had to upgrade their software to fix critical defects to unhalt the chain.

Then, there's the other side of the coin which is simply a couple commands to delegate your coins to a baker who should be doing all the above for a fee. You'll need to do your initial research to find a reputable baker. From time to time, you need to fire up tools like baking bad to make sure they paid you. Comparative, it's just a whole lot easier.

All that said, evaluating whether or not you should fire up a baker is mostly a math problem which includes some hand waving math on opportunity costs from random unforeseen things. The more rolls you have, the more it makes more sense to bake yourself since the delegation fees will be greater than all those costs combined for most people (depending what your personal potential hourly).

Part of the equation is to evaluate how much you value supporting the chain. More bakers is always better for decentralization. Also, presumably you should be using your rolls to vote during protocol proposals, that's also very important to include your voice. As a baker, there are further opportunities to participate in the testing phases during a protocol upgrade. Those are very important for a successful protocol upgrade and the long term for the blockchain.

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Sigh! Shortly after posting this I found a highly relevant discussion here:

What is the optimal frequency for delegating your excess proceeds as a solo baker?

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