Bison Trails – Building a Better Proof of Stake Ecosystem for Everyone
Joe Lallouz is the CEO of Bison Trails, who provide staking infrastructure for a variety of PoS blockchains. They have built a really impressive system for deploying nodes across multiple cloud services. In light of the $25m recently raised by Bison Trails, Joe shares their vision to build a better PoS ecosystem for everyone, the types of customer they run validators for, and the cutting edge stuff they’re working on in terms of deployment, redundancy and key storage. We also hear their view on infrastructure centralization in PoS, protocol improvements, and Bison Trails’ role with Libra Association.
Topics discussed in the episode
- How Bison Trails got started and their vision to build a better proof of stake ecosystem for everyone
- The types of customer they run validators for and their approach to improving the product
- The networks they support and their approach to adding new networks
- Bison Trail’s technical infrastructure design and the cutting edge stuff they’re working on in terms of deployment, redundancy and key storage
- How the company thinks about infrastructure centralization in PoS
- The company’s involvement in different crypto communities and discussions around protocol improvements
- Bison Trail’s role with Libra Association and how they are participating in the technical design of the protocol
(6:57) Joe’s background as an entrepreneur, developer, investor, and crypto early adopter
(13:47) Starting to build a mining infrastructure company back when there were no customers
(17:25) Developing an automated crypto mine
(19:33) Inspiration for the name Bison Trails
(21:45) Deciding to build a platform for validators
(25:17) Target market and clientele
(37:17) The path to open-signups
(40:22) How pricing works
(42:22) What you get as a customer, and the design of the orchestrator system
(48:50) What pieces are re-used across deployments
(50:56) On modifying node software
(52:22) Centralization risks
(55:52) On disclosing the percentage of a network they’re running.
(57:33) On turning down customers if servicing them wouldn’t benefit the network.
(59:00) Proportional staking
(1:04:59) Joining the Libra Association
(1:11:49) How that aligns with the company vision
(1:13:47) The current state of Libra
(1:16:28) The profitability of validating vs Bison Trail’s 25.5 million valuation
(1:20:39) The coming years in the validation space
Sunny: So we’re here today with Joe Lallouz, the CEO of Bison Trails. Nice to have you on Joe.
Joe: Thanks so much for having me guys. Really, excited to be here. I’m really excited for the conversation today.
Sunny: Yes, really happy to have you on. I think you’re the first proof-of-stake infrastructure related person that we’ve had on the show. I don’t know if it’s partially because three of the hosts are running proof-of-stake infrastructure. So we’ve always felt a bit weird having another proof-of-stake person on, but glad to see you. People have been calling it the year of staking, so it’s good to finally have someone running staking, on as a guest. Before we jump into the staking stuff, can you tell us about what your background is? I know you’ve done a number of startups in the past and you were a partner at some venture fund. How did you get involved with startups and entrepreneurship?
Joe: Again, thanks for having me on the show, even though you all have a lot of experience in the infrastructure space in proof-of-stake. I think it will make for a great conversation. It’s rare that I get to have interview type conversations with folks that have a maybe deeper, more nuanced, understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Definitely looking forward to that.
As far as my background goes, I’m obviously very happy to share this as well. I’ve been a startup founder for the majority of my career. My co founder and I have been working together for close to 17 years. We built a few venture backed companies together. Venture backed meaning they were software companies, financed by venture capitalists. We worked on probably 20 or 30 different projects that never really made it into the company stage, couple proof of concepts. MVPs that ultimately, where it wasn’t really worth pursuing, or our hypothesis didn’t pan out the way we thought it would. However, we’ve also had a couple that did make it into the company phase and we have put together some financing, built a team, and built a really great product. A couple of what I would say like to successful outcomes, and then a whole bunch of failure outcomes, which is all part of the process. And yeah, so we’re both technical.
I’m the CEO of Bison Trails. I’ve been a software engineer my whole life. My co-founders, also, he’s the CTO of Bison Trails, and also a software engineer and really have been focused our whole careers on building software services and products, in particular, in emerging spaces and emerging technology spaces. I’ve gotten the question a couple of times, why crypto or how blockchain, or how or why are you involved in this space? And Funny enough, like I tend to skip the when blockchain or when crypto question because the truth is, we’ve actually been pretty involved in some way, shape or form in the blockchain and crypto space, since the really early days, but not because we were building in the space or because we were fortune tellers and can tell the future, but really, because we’re just huge nerds.
My first interaction with Bitcoin, which was my first interaction with crypto, was a colleague of mine, an infrastructure engineer at a company that we were working on together, was running Bitcoin mining on my company infrastructure. We were like, “Hey, what are these long running processes that are running on these servers out in our data center?” I don’t want to call a date, but I think it was probably somewhere in 2011ish. I’m not sure exactly when it was. But that was one of my first experiences and then realizing oh, Holy smokes, this is really cool.
That was like when we first started getting interested in the space. And so we’ve been working on Bison Trails for about three years now. But been interested and a participant in the space for many years and, and really excited about where the space is going, and being able to finally, from a professional perspective, work day to day on blockchain and crypto.
Like you mentioned I worked on a few different projects, and have been the CEO and founder of a few different startups. The most recent one was a company called Grant Street. It was an online marketplace specifically focused on folks that were building new hardware devices. One of the first projects I looked at infrastructure in the blockchain space was actually looking at trying to demystify or create transparency around the mining processes in proof-of-work networks, and spent a lot of time in China where most of the hardware manufacturing was happening around these specific devices. It was a really good springboard for me because our previous company, which was a marketplace focused on hardware development, had put us in contact with a lot of folks in Shenzhen in southern China. Where a lot of electronics manufacturing actually happens.
Like you said, I’ve been an investor, but actually an angel investor. So, I run a very small Angel fund with my co founder, and another one of our partners. We’re three of us, and we invest in founders. We don’t run a venture capital fund and are not really affiliated with any venture capitalists. But we, as entrepreneurs, said, one of the things we’d always like to do is be able to give back to other entrepreneurs. We know how hard it is to start companies, and how hard it is to get off the ground. So for the last five or six years, we’ve been investing in entrepreneurs, at the angel stage, out of this “fund”, but it’s really just our own money.
We spent a lot of time working with and advising early stage founders helping them get off the ground and understand the nuances of building a new product and getting people excited about it. iterating on it and all that stuff. And as a participant in the blockchain and crypto space, one of the first things we did was more from an investor perspective. Either mining or buying Bitcoin or other crypto assets like Ethereum, or any of the other ones.
So that’s a little bit of my background. Currently 100% focused on Bison Trails and 100% of my time, want to say, every day, all day, every weekend, every night, all the time I’m not I’m not sleeping, I’m spending focused in on building a really great team of, super technical folks to help make it easier for folks that participate in blockchain networks.
Meher: One of my curiosities has been Bison Trails has been in operation for something like 20 months, 21 months?
Joe: Well, it’s actually a little bit longer than that. It’s closer to three years. Officially about 20 months or so I think if you look at our company formation documentation and stuff like that, it’s like about 20 months. But before we even went through any of that stuff, we spent a lot of time building out like MVP products.
Meher: Essentially, the product is you allow any party that wants to run infrastructure, nodes or validators for proof-of-stake networks. My curiosity is, I’ve been in the proof-of-stake space myself for two and a half years. I can confidently assert that maybe two years back, there weren’t any people looking to run validators for proof-of-stake networks. So given the customer demand wasn’t there. Why did you get into this vertical of having people run validators? Because I came across no customers at that point.
Joe: It’s a really great question and it actually allows me to sidestep into a little bit of the backstory around Bison Trails. It really is why build this product? And why build this product now? So I mentioned quickly that really early on in my building phase of my crypto and blockchain experience, my co founder and I were looking at creating transparency around this concept of securing a blockchain, and infrastructure around the blockchain. Really this came out of founder and software engineer and technical person’s mindset of, if you want to engage in something, you need to understand exactly how it works. How do you take it apart? How do you break it into pieces? How do you understand all the different pieces?
One of the things that we had found when we were looking at the blockchain space, and this was three, four years ago, was that some of the most interesting and smartest people that I’d ever met were working on designing, building, pushing code to these open source protocols. And they were working on existing block chains, not even like new ones, but like existing blockchains and protocols, and some of the new block chains of protocols that were in development. And these people were some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and ever had a chance to interact with, which is very cool.
However, if you actually looked at what was powering the chains themselves, and what was securing the chains themselves, at the time in proof-of-work, it was mostly, mining, and you started talking to folks that were doing mining, not everybody, because I don’t want to over generalize, but a lot of the folks were incredibly cagey very closed off, didn’t want to actually talk about what they were doing and why they were doing that. And for me, it felt like there’s this crazy dissonance in the market that I felt very passionate about, which was, really open really collaborative protocol blockchain development, and then really closed off really cagey closed minded, mining, security and infrastructure. To me, that didn’t make any sense. And so, really early on, we were let’s open this up.
One of our first initiatives, it wasn’t let’s go build a mine, and let’s go build a company that focuses on proof-of-stake or let’s go do x, y and z. It was actually how would one open this up? How would one look at the space and say, Okay, I want to create more transparency here, I want to make it easier for people to understand how this works. I want to make it easier for people to truly understand how a business works here. And so the way we did that, the only way we know how, as founders, which is, let’s build it.
So one of the first things we did was actually built a proof-of-work mine. My co-founder and I own and operate an automated proof-of-work mine in the Pacific Northwest. We built that from the ground up. And, not because we wanted to specifically get into mining, but because we really wanted to have a deep understanding of how blockchain infrastructure works and how securing a network works. And at the time, that was mostly proof-of-work.
Sunny: Quick, can you explain what an automated mine is?
Joe: Yeah, so, I should probably characterize that a little bit better. It’s not an automated mine. We automated a lot of the processes around mining. We write custom software to do things that normally were done manually. So we have very little staff that actually run the mine. There’s almost nobody there ever, doing things like diagnostics or identifying portions of the mine that are off or not working well, or temperature control. The things that matter in a proof-of-work mine are, where your electricity costs are, how your hardware is running, and generally speaking, temperature and cooling. In a lot of proof-of-work mines, there’s often a lot of staff that are running around doing stuff and measuring things. And we said to ourselves, Hey, we can operationalize the hell out of this by writing software, which is something we uniquely positioned to do being software engineers, so we did a lot of that stuff. We still have some folks that help us out. It’s pretty ad hoc, and a lot of the things that you would do on a day to day basis to diagnose an issue with something like a mining network, we’ve written software to automatically do. Even as simple as, hey, this thing’s not working. Like how do we automatically restart it? Does that make sense?
Sunny: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
Joe: Yeah. And in doing that we actually talked a lot about some of the issues. So when we built this mine, we actually did it with some friends, some other angel investors and other folks in the space and said, Hey, we’re building a mine like this and we were pretty public and vocal about the process, I’ve actually been thinking about maybe publishing some of our investor updates. It’s something I’d have to get everybody on board with, but I don’t think anybody would really be against it. And maybe I’ll do that.
Sunny: So is this mine operated by Bison Trails? Was it something that you guys did separately? Before Bison Trails?
Joe: Yeah, completely separate is something we did before Bison Trails. I would say it’s one of the first projects we did before starting to really work on, but we were in tandem working on Bison Trails, while we were building this thing. Actually the name Bison Trails comes from that project. The very, very short version is that while we were building out this mine, we’d spent a lot of time in places where building out proof-of-work mine is a favorable place to be. Looking for cheap power, we were specifically focused on renewables, because we only wanted to use wind and water. The places where you find those things are like in mountainous regions in the middle of the United States, or in the Pacific Northwest United States.
At the time, spent a lot of time in Wyoming, and the state animal of Wyoming is the Bison. When we were naming the company, instead of naming it something that sounds like very infrastructure, why don’t we name it something that gives a bit of a hat tip to some of the early work that led us here. And if you don’t know anything about Bison, they’re actually really interesting animals in the early pioneer days, in the gold rush days, pioneers would follow the paths that bison had paved across the country, these Bison Trails, and so they were a leader in showing people the path forward. We thought that was like a really cool, interesting piece of imagery. That’s where the name comes from.
Sunny: That’s a cool story. It’s definitely a welcome change from like the 20 or 30 different validator companies that have the word stakes somewhere in their name.
Joe: Yeah, exactly. And honestly, naming your company is always really hard. So you have two options, like make it really literal or make it something that’s just interesting and something relevant to you. And we opted for the latter, which I’m very happy about, because I actually liked the name a lot. I think it has some fun imagery and some fun branding to it. But yeah, so that’s what I mean by automated mine. It’s not really automated, right? We’ve automated some of the operational processes around it that make running your mine a little bit cumbersome, have a lot of overhead and costs. I should also note that in doing that, you actually reduce your costs significantly. We independently mine a few different networks, and we do that in pretty low cost relative to the rest of the hash rate on the network.
So anyways, I was saying, why build a platform to help folks deploy validators? Really what I was getting at was we really wanted to open up the whole process and make it a lot easier, and in starting to understand proof-of-work and understanding how these networks are secured and how blocks are formed and how mining works. We actually started realizing that one, if you want to be a miner, or you want to get involved in the space you’re basically connecting to one of four or five major mining pools, which sucks because you have centralization around decision making, whether you like it or not. Otherwise, it’s so economical to be a part of it that people just don’t do it. So that didn’t really make sense. And two we found ourselves in this position where operationally running a mine is fine, but it doesn’t really play to our strengths all that much.
Like I said early on, we’re software engineers, my co founder and I are both software engineers. We’ve built large scale software projects for many, many years. And so we were paying really close attention to the protocol space and realizing that there was a shift happening towards using alternative consensus mechanisms to secure networks, In particular, things like proof-of-stake where you move away from like hardware specific or ASIC based models to secure network, and you move more towards a model where superior infrastructure can support both the security as well as message propagation reading and writing from a protocol. And so we were really intrigued by that, and things like infrastructure code and like understanding how we can make it way easier for more people to participate in these blockchains.
I think at the time, like Tezos hadn’t really launched yet. And Cosmos was still pre game of stakes. And, and so, there was this was, I want to say, probably about two years ago, and we were looking at the space and saying, Okay, if this is a successful space, the way this is going to be successful, is if there is much easier ways for folks to run validators and run infrastructure on these networks, not just to secure the network, but also to make it a healthier ecosystem for people to interact with the protocols themselves. And so to answer the question, like the reason why we were doing it, we weren’t looking at this and saying oh, there’s customer demand today. We’re looking at it and saying what do we want the world to look like?
I want the world to look like a massive distribution of tokens, so that lots of folks are using these protocols, their developers are using them. And really, as a core tenant or ethos of the space, if you are interacting with a network like Cosmos, or Tezos, it should be part of your duty to help secure the network and run validation on the network and run nodes on that network. And that’s the gist of why we started doing that. And why we started building this platform. It was really to support this thesis that if any of these protocols, if the entire proof-of-stake protocol space was going to be successful, there needs to be a lot of people that could do it. We needed to have networks that could support not just the protocols themselves, consensus and BFT protocols, in particular, being able to support hundreds or thousands of nodes, but it needs to be possible for people to do it and it actually needs to be secure and incredibly well orchestrated and run and so that’s like the impetus behind the company and why we think it’s important what we’re doing and why we’re excited about what we’re doing. Does that answer the question?
Meher: Yes. Thank you.
Joe: Yeah, It’s a long winded way of saying we wanted to build it for something that we wanted to see, as opposed to the thing we’re seeing today.
Meher: I guess one of the questions I have in my mind is, where do you see the proof of proof-of-stake validation ecosystem going in the next five or 10 years? which parties are going to be the major validators?
Joe: That’s a good question. By parties You mean like what types of companies or like, what groups?
Meher: Proof-of-stake validators today are exchanges, then you have custodians, then you have some hobbyists, right. Then you have some professional validation companies that just do validation. You have some funds, venture capitalists. And those are I think the major parties today. And then you could add a few potential parties to this list. So they would be a firm like fidelity or traditional traditional finance entity running validators is very much possible. All of these parties come to the validation game with very different strengths, and very different focus areas. And some of them are well equipped for the validation game, others are not. And so my curiosity is, what do you think happens in five or 10 years? And all of these different kinds of players interact in a competitive market and how does the market shape up?
Joe: That’s a great question. So I could walk you through how I think that works in the next few years and then how it hopefully will work later down the road. I’d say the first and foremost most important thing is that competition is actually really good thing for everybody, because it makes everybody need to do a better job. And ultimately, that’s better for the protocols themselves. So if we’re all doing a better job validating these networks the protocols are going to be in much better shape. If it’s easier for more folks to do this at a hobbyist level, or at a professional level, then we’re all in much better shape as well, because they’ll be more folks doing it. And the more folks doing it, the more robust and the more resilient these protocols and networks are. And ultimately, that’s what we want to see long term in 10 years.
I want to see a network where it’s actually quite hard to stall the network, because, you need to have thousands of validators drop out for that to actually happen, or 10s of 10s of thousands of validators to drop out for that to happen. And ultimately, that’s like a world that I want to see. I think that you can look to a few other ecosystems, not gonna point out any specific ones. But it’s not uncommon for a market to start with like a hobbyist market, and then some professionalism starts to form around it, and the market starts to form around it. So, I’d say obviously, there’s, I think we’re already seeing signals of this, where something that maybe was hobbyist, you’re starting to see a little bit more professionalism, like you said, there’s specific companies focused on validation. And then some of the more dominant or more incumbent players in the crypto space, like custodians and exchanges are starting to get involved in validation and staking and proof-of-stake. So, I think that, those are all really good things, too. I actually think that, this is maybe an unpopular opinion, I think the majority of people, the majority of companies, individuals, even the existing staking as a service, or staking/validation companies are not that well equipped to scale and run a trillion dollar network at, lots and lots and lots of transactions per second and lots of transactions in a year. And I think that we’re still early on in the adoption curve of a lot of these different protocols.
Getting back to why we think what we’re doing is important and why we think what we’re doing is interesting is we actually think that being a company that’s uniquely focused on solving this exact problem, we can make everybody better and give the power to some of the smaller folks that maybe only some of the bigger folks have resources to invest in. So as a company, and as a service provider, that can do things that are incredibly professional that are focused entirely on infrastructure security, and securing invalidating networks, we can actually put tools in the hands of independent hobbyist or an independent company or a smaller company, that say for instance, of large exchange or fidelity, like you mentioned, could normally only afford and spend, two, three years researching and building.
Ultimately, the goal long term is to make it so that lots of people can participate and compete. And the only way you can compete is if you’re actually providing value and services that are equal to everyone else in the ecosystem. And that’s why I think like what we’re doing is really interesting and, and I’m hoping that like more folks will push us to do better then, we can make it so that more we’re pushing other folks to do better as well. Down the road, like 10 years down the road, I think that, hopefully, we’ll have a really healthy ecosystem where any, like I said before, anyone who’s building a product or service that uses a proof-of-stake network in any way, shape or form. Part of your, I don’t want to call it civic duty, but part of your, crypto ecosystem duty is to help secure the network and, ideally incentivize networks design it so that your action is actually just part of your business as well. And that, maybe it’s not your core business and you work with a service provider, you partner with a small company or partner with a validation company, but you are validating the network.
Meher: So, would it be correct to extend your concept to say that your target market is hobbyists today that can run a validator that can run a decent service but you foresee this hobbyist getting outpaced by the professional validators like exchanges. And with Bison Trails, you want to give this hobbyist and somebody who just has maybe a few hours a week to dedicate to validation and equal opportunity visa V, the exchanges and custodians, your target market is not to, for example, go to the fidelity’s of the world or the custodians of the world and offer to run their infrastructure for them. It’s more a business to consumer startup rather than a business to business startup. Is that right?
Joe: No, it’s actually not. We currently are working with some of the world’s top custodians and exchanges to power their validation on our platform. Currently today. We’re trusted by some of the world’s top custodians and exchanges as a security and infrastructure provider to be able to do this. We think that we can build products and services that are enterprise grade such that a large scale custodian or exchange is happy using our products and services, and similarly provide that access to the hobbyist and the smaller companies. So it’s less about the target market, our target market is still pushing the whole ecosystem forward. So we are setting the pace for what it means to securely and successfully run infrastructure on these different networks. And by setting the pace, we’re an appealing partner for custodians and exchanges in space. And we’re currently seeing that, which is great. We’re also an appealing partner for smaller companies that want to be able to run nodes on these networks or validation companies that want to run nodes on these networks.
I can talk a little bit about the success case. We don’t really talk about our customers too much because, for their privacy, we can’t really talk about them. That’s part of how we work with our customers. But there’s a couple that have called us out publicly that they use us. We’re happy to talk about those. And I can talk a little bit about like a couple of success cases that have been quite cool to see how Bison Trails gives the power to a small company that only a large company normally would have.
Sunny: Could you talk a little bit about some of these public ones? The one that I know is my friend Anna at Zero knowledge validator but others, who are also very public about working with you guys.
Joe: So we are in the process of making a couple more public. And it’s kind of, part of our ask, as a company, we’re talking to some of our customers and saying, we generally have that conversation pretty regularly. Okay, how would you feel about talking about this? mostly for the benefit of the ecosystem. I can speak specifically to Anna and Zero knowledge podcast, and they have if you go to zkvalidator.com, they talked about what they’re doing and why they’re doing what they’re doing, and that they use our platform to support their validation on cosmos. And in Kusama, which, obviously will eventually be polka dot and host of other protocols that we support on the platform.
To me, that’s a really great success case. It’s a podcast that, that actually stemmed from, I was on the podcast with Anna and she was asking us about what we do, and I was explaining this what we do, and I was you could run a zero knowledge podcast validator, and she’s well, we don’t really have the skill set and engineering ability, and the time to put into this, while we could probably figure it out, it’s actually quite hard to do really well. I was well, that’s the whole point of our platform. So they became a customer of ours, and they’ve been running their validators on our infrastructure platform, which is really cool. And to me, that’s exactly why we’re here, right? The more ZK validators, the more zero knowledge types of folks, the zero knowledge team that want to run infrastructure on these networks, the better it is. In their particular case, they’re really focused on DK and really focused on privacy. And there’s a mission driven validator. And I think that’s great. I think it’s fantastic. And I think being able to support all the different players in the space is really a really big piece here. And so I’m really happy to share the work doing that.
Sunny: Out of the customers that, without mentioning any names per se, but could you give us some sense of what makeup what percentage of them are funds, what percentage or exchanges what percentage are things like the podcast like the zk validator and more the hobbyist style ones?
Joe: The truth is, I actually don’t know those numbers off the top of my head. I can give you a ballpark just from what I do know, and this is totally shooting from the hip. We work with a lot of folks where tokens are aggregated, and in more mature networks, we see broader token distribution. So a network like Ethereum, for instance, has a much broader token distribution, than a network like cosmos. Well, Cosmos actually isn’t that bad, or Tezos isn’t that bad. I think over the next five to 10 years, we’ll see much broader token distribution as more usage, developers research products and services are built on these protocols. So we tend to work with folks that are in possession of tokens, and a lot of these newer networks that do tend to be investors. Either traditional venture capitalists or, the somewhat less traditional, crypto focused, blockchain focused venture capitalists. We work really closely with those folks. I would say a big chunk, maybe half of our current partners are in that category. And then the other half or mix of large scale custodians, large scale exchanges, and hobbyists as well and independence like the ZK folks. So it looks like that. It does depend protocol to protocol. A protocol that has broader distribution, we’ll see more folks on the investor side, and a protocol that is really young that hasn’t even launched yet, it tends to like a little skew a little bit more towards hey, these are our investors, and they’re holding these these tokens, and they want to help participate in scale, and they want to help secure the network early on.
Sunny: Yesterday in prepping for the episode, I went on the website and tried to make an account, just to try out the product play with the dashboard. It turns out, at sign up, to argue you guys are not accepting open sign ups. It has a pop up that says to like contact at this email. So what’s the roadmap towards making it so it’s open signup, anyone could just go make an account as easily as I make an email account and just start validating?
Joe: Yeah, so there’s two questions baked into that one that I’ll answer simultaneously because I think it’s an important one. The first is like strategically when we would want to do that or the timing around that. And then the second is, can we actually do that? So I’ll answer the second question first. So currently, once you’ve been on-boarded onto the platform, it’s essentially, we call it a one click, it’s actually more like two to three clicks and fill out a couple of pieces of information to deploy a validator into any network. In some networks, we can actually deploy validators automatically and auto scale them. So for instance, in something like Kusama, where you want to optimize your infrastructure, based off your stake, and based off the ecosystem, we can optimize things like that automatically, which is quite cool and very unique of an auto scaling platform that we have. Once you’ve been boarded onto the platform, you can actually go through that process independently by yourself. I’ll just click a couple buttons to get a validator up on Cosmos or get a validator up on Tezos or Algorand or Decred, or Livepeer, or any of the protocols that we support.
We currently aren’t open for open signups. And there’s actually a couple reasons for that. The first is we still think it’s early in the ecosystem. I like to talk to folks about what their goals are and why they’re trying to do what they’re trying to do and undertake it just to get a much better understanding both to help our product and our services and also to help them make the right decision. So what we found is that not everybody really understands exactly what they should be doing and why. We don’t tell people what to do, but we help guide them sometimes, and, if someone’s comes to me and says, Hey, I have 500 atoms, or 500 tezes, I want to run a baker, I want to run a validator, I will tell them you probably shouldn’t, it’s not going to make sense for you to do that you should probably delegate to one, and here’s how you would delegate to one and here’s a whole bunch of them and, and so it’s really more about like getting to know the folks that want to be involved in this space than it is about being restrictive or stopping people from being able to do what they want to do.
It’s really just like understanding what their intentions are and what they’re looking for in a product and service. Most of our onboarding process actually takes a couple minutes; it’s not particularly long. Sunny, if you came to me and you said hey, like I want to run a couple validators on Bison Trails and it’d be pretty seamless process. It is more about us getting to know the folks that want to be involved in the space than anything else. Then also, like any product and service that is still quite young, which I think 20 months or 24 months is still quite young. It’s a way for us to always get better and ask people the questions that we want to ask.
Sunny: Could you talk through a little bit about how the pricing works? Let’s say I do want to run a Cosmos validator on Bison Trails. Is it a fixed fee? Or is it taking a percentage of the revenues that the validator makes? How does that work?
Joe: Yeah, so generally speaking, it’s a fixed fee. We also take a small percentage of whatever you want to call it inflationary rewards, participatory rewards, that a validator makes as well and generally is quite low. And we think of that as a way to both incentivize, and align interests, between us or customers in the protocols. We’re in it for the long haul. The protocols that we’re on, we want to see them succeed long term. And so we want to make sure that we can be really aligned alongside our customers and the protocols themselves. Generally speaking, it’s a fixed fee on a monthly basis. So people pay us a monthly fixed fee to run a validator on our platform. And that is really dependent on the protocol itself and dependent on how the protocol is set up and what those validators or those nodes need to be able to do.
We have built, what I would consider, cutting edge technology around cloud orchestration computing, infrastructure deployment management platform, that’s by default, multi cloud, multi VPS, multi zone, multi region with redundancy built into it and scaling built into it. So that’s a pretty professional type service that, even some of the best enterprise companies in the world that aren’t in the blockchain space aren’t even doing, and we’ve done that in a way for an ecosystem, where, let’s be real, a lot of the software is still beta software. So we’re actually quite proud of the platform that we built. So it really depends on the protocol itself, what does that need to do? And what security do we need to be able to support here? What does our HSM setup look like? What does that redundancy look like? Stuff like that.
Sunny: Right? So maybe we can jump into that a little bit. So when I use Bison Trail, what exactly am I getting? I’m assuming I’m getting something a little bit more than just some, like terraform scripts that you guys wrote, and I just go deploy them. So what exactly goes into the designing of your orchestrator system? and do you guys handle the monitoring? Do you guys have physical nodes somewhere? Is it all cloud based? Yeah. Could you walk us a little bit through the technical design?
Joe: I can. I’m going to very deliberately walk through the technical design. In an abstract fashion, but still technically. Part of what we do is, I would call really exciting secret sauce of Bison Trails and why we’re good at what we do. So the first thing is, it’s entirely interface based interaction with our customers. So we don’t ship you terraform scripts, for instance, but we’re built on top of modern technologies like Helm, Terraform, and Kubernetes. We’re built in multi cloud, multi zone, multi region fashion. So we can actually easily move nodes and portions of nodes, or micro services around the world very, very quickly and very easily.
So that can be century for instance, or a query and transaction portion of a node cluster. And so what we do is we build security, and we build monitoring, and we build redundancy and scaling into our node clusters automatically for our customers. So you don’t actually have to go in to deploy anything. You become a customer, you click a button. And we make sure that everything is working perfectly and well and in the right place, and communicating well, and signing blocks and producing blocks, etc, etc. So that’s what it’s like to use us.
As far as how technical you want to get into that. We work with our customers, some of our customers, we have things like secure API, either RPC or or API access to node infrastructure themselves. We will do a combination of cloud and bare metal deployments depending on the protocol itself, as well. We do a lot of cloud work, but we also in some instances, do have bare metal deployments for portions of node clusters that are distributed all around the world, secure data centers all around the world as well, then interact with their infrastructure platform, to make sure that we can securely sign blocks, using the right like hardware security modules and making sure we’re not at risk of leaking any keys, stuff like that.
From a technology standpoint, it’s super, super modern, and super cutting edge, and can auto scale and has really great failover processes. The thing that isn’t the technology platform, which is really great as we actually offer support and services around what we do as well. If there are issues, we have communication channels with our customers, if you have questions about protocol works or what’s going on, you can call someone and ask them about what’s going on and why it’s working that way. We’re constantly monitoring so we obviously have things like enterprise grade DevOps teams as well. They’re monitoring 24/7, with things like response teams and catastrophe response teams and incident reporting and pager duty in the event that things do go wrong. You can sleep well knowing that you never really have to worry about this, and someone else’s on it.
Meher: Is it correct? My imagination of what’s really happening behind the scenes, so I go to Bison Trails and click a bunch of buttons. What’s really happening on the Bison Trails infrastructure is essentially a bunch of Docker containers are probably spinning up specific to me. And these containers are spread across, with two or three different cloud vendors, AWS, Google Cloud, maybe one of these containers is signing on on my behalf. And then there’s failover. So if this particular container dies, there is some other system that will activate one of the other containers to sign on my behalf. And in this entire process, my validation keys are somehow treated in a way that only I know my validation keys. Is that the right imagination?
Joe: So it’s definitely a lot more complicated than that. There’s a couple things I won’t talk about, mostly because of security. I want to talk about specifically how we do things like deployment orchestration. Imagine you were to take what you just described, break it down into much smaller pieces, and then distribute those all over through a distributed system. We have, in some instances designed and developed, pretty unique containerization processes as well. So it’s not just like a Docker container that’s deployed to like AWS or containers deployed like Azure or something like that. It’s actually a good amount more broken down into pieces than that. But some of the fundamentals you’re describing is right.
You’re like validation keys are not accessible, except for by you. And actually, in most cases are not accessible by you either, they’re not accessible by anybody. And so, they can be destroyed by you, for instance. Yeah, that’s, in a lot of ways pretty close to a lot of what we do, and then manage, monitor, upgrade, update, and make sure that failover processes are working well and signing crosses, you’re working well. And then message propagation is optimized. Imagine a world where you have part of your clusters that are moving to optimize for receiving and sending messages in the protocol itself. Spending time thinking through, one of the things that we’ve noticed is that like an overwhelming number of previously critical infrastructure is run on AWS east. So spending a lot of time making sure that the protocol itself is decentralized is something that we’re really excited and focused on. In that there’s much broader VPS participation in the protocol itself. So if we see that half of the protocol is running on AWS will probably not be putting nodes on AWS. Being able to do things like that, which is really interesting.
Sunny: What pieces get reused across participation clusters. So let’s say you have like five customers all running Cosmos nodes, what pieces are? Are they going to be like sharing sentry nodes? Or are they like all of these values are completely independent from each other?
Joe: Yeah, sure. Good question. So, one, I’m actually the wrong person to ask about that question, because I personally didn’t design it. And two, I actually don’t think that we would say, just from a security perspective, it’s a little bit dangerous to speak specifically to that. What I will say is that building an enterprise grade platform means that you are 100% needed to create delineation between customers. And so we generally treat customers’ infrastructure independently of anybody else’s. So there’s very little shared resources, if any, at all. But I don’t want to confirm or deny either of them. Just from a security perspective, it’s a little too dangerous.
Sunny: What about within a customer so let’s say cosmos, for example, I can run a validator with different weights, but on some networks like Kusama each validator has a fixed weight and so if I have more stake than the fixed weight, I have to run multiple validators. What I have to run a new participation cluster for each of these validators? Or could I have it where I’m running multiple using one cluster, and just putting a bunch of keys on one node?
Joe: Yeah, so we will both optimize for trying to optimize for security and infrastructure reliability. It really depends on the protocol itself. I don’t think we actually generalize it all. In some instances, in particular, with those different protocols, we will design in a way that’s optimized for both. We can optimize your node infrastructure, your validator infrastructure in the network itself, based off of network conditions and your stake, which is really quite cool. That’s something we can do automatically if you want us to.
Sunny: Do you guys ever end up modifying node software to increase security. So for example, myself and chorus have been walking through some ideas of how to modify Tendermint core, to allow a better failover system. So do you guys ever end up doing any, like software development work to help improve the net node infrastructure in that way?
Joe: Yeah, it really depends on the protocol we have. That would be something that we would most likely open source if we were going to do so. If we are going to go through the process of modifying node software itself to help for whatever it is. Like I can give you an example right now we’re actually talking to a protocol team about making small changes to help with key management on the nodes themselves. We’ll take a few different avenues there. Sometimes we’ll work directly with the protocol teams themselves and help them understand why it matters and let them make those changes. Sometimes we will propose or try to make pushes upstream to protocol. But that type of thing, we believe should be open and public and open source, and part of our community development should be, helping the protocols get better and making folks understand why those things are important and also, quite frankly, should be up to the community. So the answer to your question is no, We’re not really, and if we do, it’s normally out in the open open source.
Sunny: So, as a protocol developer, one of the things I think about a lot is about some of the centralization risks of the network and, putting a lot of effort into helping encourage decentralization. Yeah. How do you guys think about some of the centralization risks you may pose by having a large number of people depending on your guys’s infrastructure.
Joe: First off, appreciate the vote of confidence, Sunny. We would love it if a lot of people are depending on our infrastructure. We’re still growing, and we’re excited about our position in the market. We think we’re helping a lot of folks in a lot of different ways. I think it’s a very good question. But I also think, quite frankly, that a lot of the conversations that I’ve had around decentralization are basically drawing arbitrary lines in the sand. I don’t mean this to come out like combative, but it’s sort of, often for convenience for whoever you’re talking to. They draw a line in the sand. It’s oh, here’s my line in the sand, but it’s on this side of me.
Two things that are important to me. One is that from an ethos perspective and a mission perspective, decentralization is a path that we are constantly working on, is a product and technology path that has constant staffing. We want to end up in a world where we can be a force for helping decentralized networks without posing additional risk to the protocols themselves. We’ve been put in positions where at some point we would be running too much of a network, and potentially cause issues with that network. And we’ve opted to not bring on new customers in that network because of that. Just from a mission perspective, we’re pretty aligned with making sure that we’re doing the right thing for the protocols themselves. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that we do a lot of work to help decentralized networks. So yeah, sure, you could have folks that are, depending on Bison Trails infrastructure platform, but if we build in a way, and we move towards a world where, ownership of keys or ability to move things around, or outside of our control, and potentially, verifiably outside of our control, and that’s actually a really interesting way to help combat some of those issues as well. The last thing I would say is something I mentioned before, which is we make it easier for people to run nodes and validators around the world in different zones and different regions on different VPSs. That’s actually something that is really hard to do. Left to their own devices, most protocols don’t see that independently.
I mentioned this earlier, like there’s plenty of verticals where we see like a huge portion of that network run on AWS. That’s not because people think it’s the right thing to do. It’s because people know and do what they know best. And what people do and know best is AWS east. And that’s unfortunate for the protocol. And so there’s actually a very, very strong case where we are creating enterprise grade redundancy and infrastructure deployments that are geographically distributed, that are VPS distributed, that have independent geographic fail overs that doesn’t exist in the ecosystem without us, which is really quite cool. That’s something I’m really excited about. And then the last thing I would say is like every computer on the internet runs Linux, and no one’s asking about that.
Sunny: Do you guys think that you have an obligation to disclose how many customers you have on a particular network. I think it at least helps without disclosing who they are, but at least giving a ballpark of 1% of the validators users to 5% to 51%. What do you guys think about that?
Joe: That’s actually a really good question. Do I think we have an obligation? No, I don’t think we have an obligation, we’re a privately owned and operated company. So I don’t think we’re obliged to. Do I think that like ethically and sort of, from a mission perspective, should we?
Sunny: I meant, like moral obligation. Yeah, like morally, or civic obligation.
Joe: I think that that’s right. I think that there’s like a right way to do that, and a wrong way to do that. There’s also the right time to do that, and the wrong time to do that. Right now, we operate that way internally, where we’re paying close attention to those things. And we’re making internal company decisions based off of our penetration or our ability to do a really good job of solving the problems or do a better job in the market. We’re being careful. It’s something I could see us doing down the road that makes a lot of sense. We want to protect the privacy of our customers, and security of our customers, and security of our systems. Also, like I said before, like we’re incentive aligned to see these networks be successful, which means that if we put ourselves in a position to be detrimental to the network, we’re not helping anybody, including ourselves. I can see a world down the road, where we’re a little bit more public about our position in the network itself, and also being public about, like parts of our roadmap about how we’re trying to help solve those problems, and what are the issues? And what are the things that we’re doing way better, like what I’m describing now? How are we making that better? And how are we more dangerous?
Meher: Earlier, you mentioned that you’ve turned down some customers one time when you felt that it would imply a large percentage of the steak was running on your infrastructure. Give us a sense of what’s the line in your mind when you would turn away customers for a particular network?
Joe: So that’s a good question. There’s the very obvious BFT lines, right? If you’re three f over m plus one of the network, then you can actually halt the network. So there’s that, right. If you’re running more than a third of the network in a BFT a big network, you can halt the network. That’s no good. And if you’re running two thirds of the network, you can actually alter the chain. And that’s no good. In our head, until we have solved a lot of the using technology to solve a lot of the decentralization issues that we think we might be bringing from a risk perspective, we would most likely never run more than 30% of the network or whatever 33% of the network.
Sunny: Could you give us a sense, just out of my personal curiosity, what magnitude of the Cosmos Hub Network you guys are operating?
Joe: Of my own curiosity, what magnitude of the cosmos hub do you think we’re operating?
Sunny: Somewhere between 10 to 20%? would be my personal guess.
Joe: I love it. That’s fantastic. We’re not of the Cosmos hub. We’re not as big as that. I actually don’t know. But it’s not even like 10 to 20%. That would be phenomenal. If we were running 10 to 20% of the Cosmos of that’ll be amazing because we’d be doing a phenomenal job orchestrating validators on that network.
Sunny: Cosmos, I actually wrote a proposal that hasn’t been pushed to the chain yet, called proportional slashing. You guys wrote a pretty good response to it. It’s the idea that, only in the case of slashing, should we punish validators more heavily the larger they are. If a validator with 5% of the stake gets slashed much more heavily than someone who’s 1% of the network. As part of that proposal to stop Sibyl attacks, where that 5% is split into 5 validators, we do have to account for correlation where we basically say, Okay, look, if five of these validators all go down at roughly the same time, we can punish that as well as like one validator 5% going down. That has this side effect of heavily harming your architecture where, I know you guys spent a lot of time on decorrelating a lot of your architecture. But let’s say there’s something that goes wrong with, I don’t know your exact infrastructure. But let’s say like there is some central point of failure in your orchestration system. People who are using your infrastructure are probably more correlated than people who are not, assuming they’re not all running on AWS east. So what are some of your thoughts on proportional slashing?
Joe: First off, thanks for the work that you’ve been doing in Cosmos on that I think like having focusing through this problem is an important part of community development and maturation of the network itself. I do remember seeing that and I do remember us writing our thoughts on a proportional slashing. I think ultimately where we netted out, and obviously we’re totally open to interpretation and into conversation and debate about this, is that a platform like Bison Trails, because of the amount of work that we do to de correlate our infrastructure deployments puts us in an advantage over a smaller validator in the ecosystem. I think where we met, it was we’re not sure if this is the right answer, but maybe it’s probably the right question to ask. Like you said, if they’re not using AWS east, and they’re not, doing XYZ and they’re not using Docker and they’re not using Linux and they’re not doing these things, then they’ll be more correlated. If they’re using Bison Trails, then I actually think that that’s not necessarily true. I don’t think you would be surprised since you guys are infrastructure operators and validator operators, a lot of folks are using Docker, a lot of folks are using Linux, a lot of folks are using AWS. Having a enterprise grade platform that is multi zone, multi region, multi cloud, and then has like infrastructure setups that are decorrelated, can be super helpful to the protocol and someone who was using Bison Trails might actually be less likely to be proportionately slashing, in a correlative fashion.
Sunny: One of the things that you guys wrote was that guys think it’s probably a bit too early for proportional slashing on the cosmos network. And so I actually wrote a response to that saying that it was thanks to your post, I actually went ahead and modified the spec, because I think you guys made a valid point. And so I actually altered the spec. So we can actually make it more gradual over time. In the original design, one of the parameters was a two, and it was hard coded in there. I made it so that’s actually a dynamic value. So if we start from zero, slashing stays exactly how it is today. And then over time, governance can increase it. So we could go from 02, point five to one to 1.5 to two, maybe even higher. I don’t know if we’d ever want to go higher than two really, but by the two. I mean, like it’s quadratic. So if it’s one, it’s linear. In regards to correlation of zero, it doesn’t care about correlation at all. So do you think that this is something that’s like a reasonable approach to take?
Joe: I don’t think I know, our position was that it’s a little bit early and the reason why our vision was a little bit early is because, not to pick on cosmos, but Cosmos still has plenty of professional validation services, but also like as many as hobbyists and it would put hobbyists at a disadvantage, to think of a world where someone who’s like running a hobby validator on Cosmos can recover from an outage faster than a platform that’s designed to be VPS independent and geography independent. Seems crazy to me.
Sunny: Do you think it’s an issue on other protocols like Polka Dot? Because I know they’re starting with proportional slashing as well.
Joe: I think it’s an issue on every protocol. And I think it’s completely fine. We mentioned this in our response like this would actually be good for our business, but it might hurt the ecosystem and discourage independent folks from being involved early on because of the risks. We don’t want to see that either. we’re looking at it as how do we get more people not how do we make it so people are afraid unless people do this. I like the idea of having governance parameters help decide what the proportional slashing should be. So that to me makes a lot of sense, right? It’s Okay, this is still an experiment and we are agreeing or acknowledging that we don’t know the perfect answer here and that let’s set ourselves up to be able to change it if we’re wrong. I think we also have to recognize the magnitude of what slashing is. There’s a loss of funds, and slashing, it’s very, very real. A mistake with decisions around proportional slashing could be pretty detrimental to an independent validator and independent staking company. Not necessarily an independent one, but just like a smaller one, like let’s say it’s not finance, right? It’s a smaller company that’s doing this, that’s pretty bad, like finance loses a couple million bucks, they probably don’t care, you lose a couple million bucks, like you’re probably pretty mad about it.
Sunny: We’re generally in agreement with a lot of this. And I like that we have a nice iteration process going back and forth here and try to figure out what’s the best way to help the network really.
Joe: I didn’t know that the spec was changed partially because of some of the stuff that we did. And I’m actually really happy about that. And thanks for listening. We appreciate that. That’s, like I said, part of what we’re trying to do as a company is just move the whole ecosystem forward, make everybody better, make all the networks better. And so that’s really great. I’m super happy to hear that.
Meher: So, we’d like to move to a different ecosystem, which is Libra. Libra is always an attractive topic to talk about because it’s unlike so many of the other networks, right? It has a different scale. It has a different approach. It frankly has completely different regulatory challenges to other crypto networks. And Bison Trails has been one of the few blockchain companies that are part of the Libra Association. And so we’d like to hear your thinking on why you joined the Libra Association and how it came to be.
Joe: So you’re right. Libras hot topic, to say the least. Folks ask us a lot of questions about Libra and we are in a somewhat unique position. We’re one of the few blockchain companies that’s involved in the Libra Association. Last month, I was actually elected to the technical steering committee of Libra, so elected to this technical committee that’s governing and overseeing the open source project, which I’m also very proud of so heavily involved in the technical roadmap and maintenance and commitment to that project itself and super excited to be involved there. I didn’t really get a chance to talk about this, I talked a lot about things like Bison Trails in the infrastructure and why we think what we’re doing is important for the ecosystem. But I didn’t really talk about our view, generally speaking, on the ecosystem.
As a company, Bison Trails and this actually extends myself and my co founder and our company, is really what we would call protocol agnostic, or blockchain agnostic in that we think that the space, the technology that’s being built, and the moral and ethical changes that are happening are an important part of the technical advancement over the world as a whole and it sounds like very fluffy and big and grandiose. The company was designed to do that. So we support protocols and maintenance right now. And then we’re in the process of either some form of test phase or test net or pre main whatever adversarial test net with another 20 plus protocols. We’re not a platform that’s designed and built to support one protocol. We’re actually designed to support many protocols. And the whole idea here is that we think that the world will be made up of many different blockchains and protocols. Some of them will be generalists. Some of them will be currencies, some of them will be application specific, some of them will be smart contracting platforms, some of them will be video transcoding platforms, whatever it is, and there’s plenty that haven’t been built or designed yet that we haven’t seen.
If we make it easier to build on top of and orchestrate and participate in these protocols, that we will all be very successful, and that the space will be successful. Libra represents a different type of protocol than we’ve normally worked with in the past. It’s different in a lot of different ways and what we are trying to do, I should say what they were trying to do originally before we got involved, obviously we’re involved now. So it’s different in what we’re trying to do, but also just generally speaking, the magnitude and scale of the project is pretty different than any other protocol we’ve worked on. It’s really interesting to be involved in the room from a governance perspective with the Libra Association alongside having a one vote alongside Facebook’s one vote alongside Ubers one vote. We have a voice in the room that I like to believe is the crypto native blockchain voice, and keeping in mind, morals and ethics of the space. And I’m obviously very excited about that. And very proud of that work that we’re doing.
The story about how we got involved. This is actually pretty straightforward. We for like you said 20 or 24 months ago, or two and a half years ago have been working very closely with a lot of different protocol teams and working in different communities and being involved from the early stages in different communities and had been building some really robust enterprise grade infrastructure to help support the deployment and orchestration of pretty large scale protocols. I want to say it was about a year ago I was at a conference and a mutual friend of mine introduced me to one of the people that was working on building Libra. That was at the time of Facebook and was planning to join the Libra Association. And we had a comment, they said, Hey, like we’ve talked to lots of folks in the ecosystem, we’ve heard that you guys are an incredibly technical team that’s helping build infrastructure, building robust infrastructure in a way that’s geographically distributed. We also had done stuff like open source, some code that we’ve done for a couple protocols. And they were a we have looked at the space a lot, we’ve looked at a few of the other companies that are in this space a little bit. And we’ve seen and heard that you guys are doing some of the best work. And so then they did some diligence on few other folks in the space as well and asked us if we were interested in joining the Libra Association, alongside the 99 other partners to help govern this blockchain and help provide crypto native expertise and blockchain native expertise.
I would say the biggest difference for Bison Trails within Libra is that we’re probably a little bit more involved in governance with Libra than we are with a lot of other protocols. We are still involved in some governance. We’re pretty involved in the communities and we work with a lot of these protocol development teams pretty closely. Sunny, I’m sure you’ve talked to other folks as well. But generally speaking, we work pretty closely with a bunch of different protocol teams. And say we’re a little bit more involved on the governance side with Libra. And then we’re also, obviously, like I said, before I was elected to the technical steering committee. So we’re involved with the technical governance as well, which is a little bit atypical for us as well. We’re not really involved in technical governance on most protocols, and we contribute and we have opinions and we talked about proportional slashing publicly, and we have, engage in discourse, but we aren’t crazy involved in the technical side. Generally speaking, that’s how we got involved with Libra.
Over the last year, we’ve been working really closely with the team building the protocol, the Libra core team, building the protocol itself, and we’ve been working really closely with the association. That’s how we got involved. That is our state of our current involvement. When they asked us to join the Libra Association and get involved, I’d say we were naturally really skeptical at first, like asking a lot of questions, what are you trying to do? And what’s the purpose? What is all this? How is this helpful for the ecosystem? And then ultimately came to this conclusion ourselves in asking these questions that, this really was about creating an independent association that could govern this blockchain and really help move the entire ecosystem forward. This idea of having access to, literally billions of people and putting crypto and blockchain technology in the hands of billions of people is incredibly appealing to us as a company. We think it helps move all of our missions forward; ours, yours, the work that you’re doing, the different protocols. We’re all here to help move forward the ecosystem and to help drive more mainstream technological adoption. And we think that this helps that significantly, so we’re pretty excited about it.
Meher: When I first saw a Bison getting involved in Libra, it didn’t make sense at all. On the one hand, the business model of Bison is to help people run validators. And on the other side to run the validate on Libra is $10 million. So what’s Bison really doing? It doesn’t make any sense.
Joe: I think that that’s maybe like a nuance in this idea of $10 million, and what that actually does. Running a validator and orchestrating a network that secures trillions of dollars of assets and transfers billions, or 10s of millions or hundreds of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of assets, has nothing to do with investing in, or giving money to, or helping support the treasury of, or whatever you want to describe, like $10 million. They’re independent of each other.
For us, this is entirely about like you said, right. Bison Trails is a company and a platform that’s designed to help run infrastructure and protocols. In the Libra network. There’s 100 independent association members that are going to help secure and validate that network. We have domain expertise that a lot of these non crypto native companies don’t have, and we have domain expertise that even folks in the crypto space aren’t really doing or thinking about. This is really about being able to help orchestrate and build a network that can support the scale that Libra is trying to build. That’s why we’re involved, more than anything else. It really has nothing to do with anything else.
When I think ultimately about the success of Libra, I think about how can Bison Trails help make sure that Libra is safe, secure, orchestrated, well geographically distributed, and has run using everything from best practices to cutting edge technology to make sure it’s amazing. The idea of being involved in the project, and, the original idea of the $10 million is really making sure that everybody in the association is involved in the project, and has alignment in the product as well. It’s not like a pay to join situation. It’s really about impact, how can you provide impact to the association?
Sunny: What is the current state of the Libra project? So a lot of people are aware that like earlier on, a couple months ago, a bunch of teams started leaving, but then it seems that there’s a lot of people who are actually joining sorry, scrolling through your Twitter before this episode, and I saw that Shopify actually just joined the Libra Association. So could you give us some sense of what is the current state and the progress of the Libra project? When can we expect to see something live?
Joe: The thing about the Libra and being a part of the Libra association is that we’re an association of equal members. It’s unfair for me to speak out of turn and on behalf of the Association, so I generally try not to, there’s bits and pieces about my involvement, that I’m happy to speak about things like the technical steering committee and the technical pieces of the project. So I’m not going to tell you when you should expect things to go live or anything like that. It’s not entirely in my control, and it’s not fair for me to speak on behalf of the entire Association.
From the technology perspective, it’s moving along incredibly well. Obviously, the product is open source. You can see it on GitHub/Libra. You can see the entire roadmap is public. You can see all the commits to the project itself and what’s going on there and from a technology perspective, it’s coming along super, super well. And as a language, Move is pretty incredible. I’m excited about it, at least there’s plenty of reasons why it could be very, very cool. From an association perspective, I’d say that over the last few months, we’ve hit some pretty great milestones, including, officially forming the association in October, which the association talked about publicly. So that was hey, we’re actually going to officially create this association, signed the paperwork saying we’re an association. We did that in October, and then created the technical steering committee, as well. We did that in the late fall before the holidays.
We’ve had new really impactful folks like Shopify join the association, and we’re in talks with lots of really great folks that want to be a part of these impactful companies that have not just reached but are, really great reputations and are really great technology contributors to the world. So we’re super excited about all those things. In terms of folks leaving the association, like any project, as you get involved, you start to ask questions, stuff starts to get real. Different people, for different reasons, at different times decided that it’s not right for them at that moment. My personal opinion on that is that’s a very fair level headed way to approach it. maybe this isn’t right for me today. It’s not about do I think this is going to be successful or not, or do I want to be involved ever? It’s really what, right now, I can’t contribute the type of time and effort and resources it might take to make this successful. So maybe I shouldn’t be involved.
Sunny: So you guys recently raised around $25 million in your series A. What was that process like and what was the main pitch that you gave to investors? I’m looking at this, as well, from, there was a proof-of-stake web conference about two or three weeks ago, Victor spoke on that. One of the general themes that we noticed throughout the conference is that a lot of validators were saying that like validating on their own isn’t profitable enough, validation is often just a loss leader in something else. So how does your guys’s valuation reconcile with that? Most validators seem to be struggling while you guys aren’t validators you’re an infrastructure company, but you guys have reached this great valuation, and valuation isn’t the end goal, of course, but how did that come about?
Joe: So that’s right. In the fall, we raised 25.5 million dollars from some really great investors, including Blockchain Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Sound Ventures, and our existing cap table also all participated as well. I’m forgetting some folks in there. There’s a couple other really great investors that are involved, I always forget. But they all know I love them.
A little bit about the process and why and how we’re seeing the world differently and what the pitch looks like. I think you hit the nail on the head yourself. Actually, as you were introducing the topic. We’re not a validator company. Our entire mission is about democratizing access, making it easier to run infrastructure on these protocols. We have seen some traction, in particular, in a highly secure, highly important part of the ecosystem, which is staking and participating in these networks, something that we do incredibly well. We support the deployment, orchestration and management of lots of different folks’ participation in blockchains.
It’s really about, we are poised for long term success in the ecosystem and less about independent by protocol extraction. Unfortunately, there’s some folks that are looking at validation, and they’re incredibly aligned, and they’re amazing, and I’m super excited. They exist. And there’s some folks who are looking at validation as how do we extract as much money as possible from a protocol. So we look at this much longer term than the dominance or the penetration of proof-of-stake in the blockchain ecosystem today.
If you look at proof-of-stake in general, it’s actually still quite small. The amount of staking that’s happening, some networks are high, but a lot of networks is still not high at all. We’re seeing new types of products and services that are being built either on or adjacent to some of these new protocols. So for us, it’s really, how do we support the entire ecosystem. That really is the gist of it. It’s just staying true to our mission. Our vision is we want to make it easier for people to participate. We’re seeing traction in staking.
We’re a pure play technology provider. We don’t package assets. We’re not trying to build a financial services company. We’re not doing lending or trading or anything like that. We’re really just making it easier for companies, for developers for entrepreneurs to build and deploy infrastructure in these different protocols. There’s not really much to it more than that. That’s our pitch, and that’s what the company’s doing. It’s publicly stated on our website. The process itself is not easy. I would say crypto is still… I mean, obviously, like the last few months have been not too bad from a market perspective. But I think investors are still a little afraid about blockchain and crypto in general.
I think 2017 scared a lot of investors. I thought that a lot of these projects were going to ship and they were going to be transformative, and there’s a lot left to be desired from a lot of the different block chains and protocols that have even launched. Like anyone building in a nascent industry, it’s always hard to convince people that what you’re doing is super important. And so we went through that as well, too, it’s like a not an easy thing for me. And I spent a lot of time trying to convince people that what we’re trying to do is super impactful. And that’s really the gist of it. And, we’re obviously really excited about the position that we’re in and the protocols we can help support. And if we make it easier for more people to participate and more people to build in the space, then that’s a win. That’s what we’re trying to see. And that’s why we’re at the stage that we’re at.
Sunny: What can we expect to see next, like in the next few months, like what new networks are you supporting? And what are you excited for?
Joe: We are incredibly excited about more than 20 protocols that we’re supporting that are in some form of pre-mainnet or late stage testnet, and we’re excited very excited for those things all to go live. Like Polka Dot, and Scale and New Cypher and Near and Mobile Coin and Solana, Celo and Coda. There’s some really incredible projects that are coming out that we’ve been supporting for more than a year, if not almost two years. We’re super excited for all those to come up. Over the next few months, expect to see us continue to support these protocol teams continue to support their launches, hopefully will continue to onboard new folks onto the platform. New entrepreneurs, independent validators, taking in service companies, custodians exchanges, just generally speaking community members that want to help support and validate these networks. That’s a major focus for us over the next year, three to six months, and then continuing to move the ecosystem forward and move the technology forward. So we’re also trying to consistently ship code that helps move our vision and mission forward and, engage with the community is like we did when we talked to you all about proportional slashing, our thoughts, and trying to help make the entire ecosystem better, so expect a lot more and you can see a lot of those announcements and conversations are happening on our Twitter @BisonTrails. And also you can see the protocols we’re supporting, and the ones we’re excited about, and any news on our website, Bison Trails Co.
Meher: It was great to catch up with you, Joe. I’m always impressed by Bison, it’s one of the companies that took a different look at the proof-of-stake ecosystem really early, compared to all of the other players. And you’ve been one of the most successful with your fresh approach. Congratulations on that. And I look forward to how the future unfolds for Bison and the proof-of-stake ecosystem in general.
Joe: Thanks so much. And honestly, we feel the same way. We really, appreciate all the work that the different ecosystem players are putting in and the community development that’s happening. And we’re really excited to help support everyone in the space and so really excited to have been on the show and I really appreciate you guys having me here and continue to ask us the hard questions and continue to have us help push everybody forward.
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