Venezuela ties its currency to a state-run cryptocoin

Venezuela has just taken drastic and unprecedented steps to stabilize its currency as it grapples with hyperinflation and other economic issues. The country’s currency has not only been massively devalued and renamed, but is now tied to a state-issued cryptocurrency called the Petro, which itself fluctuates based on oil prices. Hardly anyone knows what to expect out of this.

The Petro is not new; it arrived earlier this year in the form of a stepped offering to private and then public buyers, raising more than $3 billion from foreign governments and presumably some private buyers. President Trump forbade the U.S. from taking part.

It is supposed to be a liquid asset reflective of the price of oil, and there is of course a whitepaper that describes the system in broad strokes, though it lacks almost any real technical detail. But the country’s own national assembly called the state-issued cryptocurrency unconstitutional, blockchain industry experts have called it a scam and there are Russian machinations to consider as well. Bloomberg has a good roundup of official communications about the token.

The scheme originated in the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and seems to be an attempt to lend some credibility and stability to the country’s currency. The strong bolivar, which has lost more than 90 percent of its value over the last decade, has been renamed the sovereign bolivar and artificially returned to pre-inflation values. In practical terms that means a loaf of bread that cost 100 bolivars in 2012 and 100,000 last week will now, theoretically, cost around 100 again. Whether that will actually happen — the black market rates are probably more influential — is anyone’s guess.

In case it isn’t clear, I’m not an economist and don’t plan to become one. But this is an historic moment in the blockchain world in that it is the first time an official fiat currency has been pegged to a state-run cryptocurrency. That makes it of interest to the international community for many reasons, although obviously this is far from the ideal method by which one might want to demonstrate such a system.

Although this whole situation is nominally of interest, it seems unlikely to benefit the people on the ground in Venezuela who have no use for oil-based cryptocurrencies and just want to buy some bottled water, a package of diapers and a train ticket out of the country. How this all plays out will no doubt be instructive, but let’s not lose sight of the humanitarian crisis playing out on the streets. Here as elsewhere, donations can help.

Messaging firm Line launches a dedicated crypto fund

Messaging company Line is continuing to burrow deep into the crypto space after it announced the launch of a $10 million investment fund.

The fund will be operated by Line’s Korea-based blockchain subsidiary Unblock Corporation, which is tasked with research, education and other blockchain-related services. The fund will be called Unblock Ventures and it’ll initially have a capital pool of $10 million but Line said that is likely to increase over time.

The company said the fund will be focused on early-stage startup investments, but it didn’t provide further details.

Line is listed in Tokyo and on the NYSE. This fund makes it one of the first publicly traded companies to create a dedicated crypto investment vehicle. The objective, it said, is “to boost the development and adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.”

Line claims nearly 200 million users of its messaging app, which is particularly popular in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. The company also offers a range of connected services that include payment, social games, ride-hailing, food delivery and more.

This marks Line’s second major crypto move this year following the launch of its BitBox exchange last month. It isn’t available in the U.S. or Japan right now but Line envisages closes ties with its messaging service and other features further down the line.

These moves into crypto come despite some serious downturn in the valuation of the space this year following record highs in January which saw the value of one Bitcoin touch nearly $20,000 and Ethereum, among others, surged. In the months since then, however, many cryptocurrencies have seen their valuations decline. This week, Ethereum dropped below $300 in what is its first major price crisis. Bitcoin has, for many years, risen and fallen although January’s valuations took the extremes to a new level.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop “Login with Coinbase” or a similar identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup founded in 2015 that was building an identity standard for dApps called the Clear Protocol.

The five-person Distributed Systems team and its technology will join Coinbase. Three of the team members will work with Coinbase’s Toshi decentralized mobile browser team, while CEO Nikhil Srinivasan and his co-founder Alex Kern are forming the new decentralized identity team that will work on the Login with Coinbase product. They’ll be building it atop the “know your customer” anti-money laundering data Coinbase has on its 20 million customers. Srinivasan tells me the goal is to figure out “How can we allow that really rich identity data to enable a new class of applications?”

Distributed Systems had raised a $1.7 million seed round last year led by Floodgate and was considering raising a $4 million to $8 million round this summer. But Srinivasan says, “No one really understood what we’re building,” and it wanted a partner with KYC data. It began talking to Coinbase Ventures about an investment, but after they saw Distributed Systems’ progress and vision, “they quickly tried to move to find a way to acquire us.”

Distributed Systems began to hold acquisition talks with multiple major players in the blockchain space, and the CEO tells me it was deciding between going to “Facebook, or Robinhood, or Binance, or Coinbase,” having been in formal talks with at least one of the first three. Of Coinbase the CEO said, they “were able to convince us they were making big bets, weaving identity across their products.” The financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Coinbase’s plan to roll out the Login with Coinbase-style platform is an SDK that others apps could integrate, though that won’t necessarily be the feature’s name. That mimics the way Facebook colonized the web with its SDK and login buttons that splashed its brand in front of tons of new and existing users. This turned Facebook into a fundamental identity utility beyond its social network.

Developers eager to improve conversions on their signup flow could turn to Coinbase instead of requiring users to set up whole new accounts and deal with crypto-specific headaches of complicated keys and procedures for connecting their wallet to make payments. One prominent dApp developer told me yesterday that forcing users to set up the MetaMask browser extension for identity was the part of their signup flow where they’re losing the most people.

This morning Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong confirmed these plans to work on an identity SDK. When Coinbase investor Garry Tan of Initialized Capital wrote that “The main issue preventing dApp adoption is lack of native SDK so you can just download a mobile app and a clean fiat to crypto in one clean UX. Still have to download a browser plugin and transfer Eth to Metamask for now Too much friction,” Armstrong replied “On it :)”

In effect, Coinbase and Distributed Systems could build a safer version of identity than we get offline. As soon as you give your Social Security number to someone or it gets stolen, it can be used anywhere without your consent, and that leads to identity theft. Coinbase wants to build a vision of identity where you can connect to decentralized apps while retaining control. “Decentralized identity will let you prove that you own an identity, or that you have a relationship with the Social Security Administration, without making a copy of that identity,” writes Coinbase’s PM for identity B. Byrne, who’ll oversee Srinivasan’s new decentralized identity team. “If you stretch your imagination a little further, you can imagine this applying to your photos, social media posts, and maybe one day your passport too.”

Considering Distributed Systems and Coinbase are following the Facebook playbook, they may soon have competition from the social network. It’s spun up its own blockchain team and an identity and single sign-on platform for dApps is one of the products I think Facebook is most likely to build. But given Coinbase’s strong reputation in the blockchain industry and its massive head start in terms of registered crypto users, today’s acquisition well position it to be how we connect our offline identity with the rising decentralized economy.

Ethereum’s falling price splits the crypto community

Hello And Welcome Back To The Latest Edition Of All The Cryptos Are Getting Rekt Right Now.

Crypto bloodbaths have become fairly common in 2018 — mainly because of the insane growth in 2017 — but we’ve not covered them all because they are so numerous and often include so-called ‘flash crashes’ or small drops, but the fall happening today is worth noting for several wider reasons.

Primarily that’s because this is a major test for Ether — the token associated with the Ethereum Foundation that is the second largest cryptocurrency by volume — has been on a downward spiral with little sign of change.

Ether, which is the preferred platform of choice for most developers building on the blockchain, is down nearly 17 percent over the past day. That’s erased billions of dollars in paper (crypto) value as the bear market for cryptocurrencies continues to pull markets south.

The drop also marks the first time ever that the price of an Ether has fallen below its valuation over one year: one Ether is worth $266 right now at the time of writing, versus $304 on August 14 2017. The token has been steadily falling since early May, when its peak value was $808, and as the lynchpin for many ICO project tokens, its demise has sent the value of most other tokens down, too.

Just looking at Coinmarketcap.com this morning, all but two of the top 100 tokens are down over the last 24 hours with many losing 10-25 percent of their value over the past day. Bitcoin, too, has dropped below $6,000, having topped $8,000 for a time last month.

Ether’s plummet below $300 has sparked a mixed debate among those in the crypto community. The token had been held as visionary, an improvement on Bitcoin that gives developers a platform to build on — whether it be decentralized apps, decentralized systems or more — but that hasn’t been reflected in in this months-long price retreat.

Certainly, two founders who spoke TechCrunch and have held ICOs expressed a belief that Ether “needs to find some price stability” to allow the focus to become about product and not just ‘get rich’ speculation. Of course, it helps that the two founders and many of those who held token sales have long since sold the Ether or Bitcoin they raised in exchange for fiat currency. Indeed, if their token sale was last year, the chances are they got a lot more real-world cash than they initially bargained for or would get now.

But still, the idea of consistency is shared by others who are in crypto professionally. That includes investors like Kenrick Drijkoningen, who is in the midst of raising a $10 million fund for LuneX, a spinout of Singapore-based VC firm Golden Gate Ventures.

In an interview last week, Drijkoningen told TechCrunch that raising a fund and doing deals in a ‘low tide’ market like now beats attempting to do the same amid a frothy period with hype and peak valuations — one Ether was worth nearly $1,400 in January, for example. A number of others VCs have long said that, ultimately, stability is good for the ecosystem.

Vitalik Buterin is the creator of Ethereum

But, on the other side, there are more pessimistic voices.

Among some investors canvassed by TechCrunch, the sense is that with the downturn of the ICO funding boom that fueled much of Ethereum’s rise, there may be less incentive to hold as the broader market’s interest in the cryptocurrency wanes.

For one Bitcoin bull, the intrinsic value of Bitcoin as an immutable, decentralized ledger acts as a more powerful draw than the perceived mutability and centralization that the Ethereum platform offers.

“People are also beginning to understand the unique value of an immutable, decentralized ledger, and recognize that Ethereum is not that,” the investor wrote in an email.

Another long-term problem that Ethereum faces, according to this investor, is that the promise of decentralized apps backed by the token is yet to be released. Crypto Kitties, a smash hit earlier this year, has faded and now there’s competition as Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is adding nodes and apps — referred to as LApps — which can operate in a similar but leverage the Bitcoin ledger.

It’s still early days, of course, and markets will always rise and fall, but this is the first big test for Ether and Ethereum. Beyond the sport of price speculation, it’ll be worth watching to see where this heads next.

Note: One of the authors of this post — Jon Russell — owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Blockchain media project Civil turns to Asia with fund to kickstart 100 new media ventures

Civil, the blockchain-based journalism organization, is casting its eye to Asia after it set up a $1 million fund that’s aimed at seeding 100 new media projects across the continent over the next three years. The organization has teamed up with Splice, a Singapore-based media startup which will manage the fund, according to an announcement.

There’s been a lot of attention lavished on Civil for its promise to make media work more efficiently using blockchain technology and its upcoming crypto token, CVL. The organization has raised $5 million in financing from ConsenSys, the blockchain corporation led by Ethereum co-creator Joe Lubin, and its ICO takes place next month with the goal of raising around $32 million to launch its network and actively onboard new media companies worldwide.

But the company is waiting around. Civil has already actively jumped into the media space — providing financial backing to the newly-formed The Colorado Sun — but the scope of the project in Asia is different in trying to kickstart a wave of new media organizations by giving them money to get off the ground.

Alan Soon, co-founder and CEO of Splice, told TechCrunch that it hasn’t been decided whether the financing will be in the form of grants or equity-based investments. Despite that, he said deals will be “pre-seed, micro-investments to help entrepreneurs take their ideas to prototype stage.”

Soon said that all kinds of media are in play, ranging from the more obvious suspects such as publishers, reporting websites and podcasts to behind-the-scenes tech like automation, bots and adtech.

Notably, though, he clarified that the beneficiaries of the fund will be under no obligation to adopt Civil’s protocol, the technology that will be funded by the upcoming ICO. Splice itself, however, has committed to doing so which will mean it gains access to the network’s content, licensing opportunities and more.

“I’m with Civil because I really believe in their values,” Soon added. “They want to do the right thing for this space.”

The blockchain begins finding its way in the enterprise

The blockchain is in the middle of a major hype cycle at the moment, and that makes it hard for many people to take it seriously, but if you look at the core digital ledger technology, there is tremendous potential to change the way we think about trust in business. Yet these are still extremely early days and there are a number of missing pieces that need to be in place for the blockchain to really take off in the enterprise.

Suffice it to say that it has caught the fancy of major enterprise vendors with the likes of SAP, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and Amazon all looking at providing some level of Blockchain as a service for customers.

While the level of interest in blockchain remains fluid, a July 2017 survey of 400 large companies by UK firm Juniper Research found 6 in 10 respondents were “either actively considering, or are in the process of, deploying blockchain technology.”

In spite of the growing interest we have seen over the last 12-18 months, blockchain lacks some basic underlying system plumbing, the kind any platform needs to thrive in an enterprise setting. Granted, some companies and the open source community are recognizing this as an opportunity and trying to build it, but many challenges remain.

Obstacles to adoption

Even though the blockchain clearly has many possible use cases, some people still have trouble separating it from its digital currency roots, and Joshua McKenty, who helped develop Open Stack while working at NASA and now is head of Cloud Foundry at Pivotal, sees this as a real problem, one that could hold back the progress of blockchain as an enterprise technology.

He believes that right now bitcoin and blockchain are akin to Napster and peer to peer (P2P) technology in the late 90s. When Napster made it easy to share MP3 files illegally on a P2P network, McKenty believes, it set back business usage of P2P for a decade because of the bad connotations associated with the popular use case.

“You couldn’t talk about Napster [and P2P] and have it be a positive conversation. Bitcoin has done that to blockchain. It will take us time to recover what bitcoin has done to get to something that is really useful [with blockchain],” he said.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Newsmakers – Getty Images

A recent survey by Deloitte of over 1000 participants in 7 countries found that outside the US in particular this perception held true. “When asked if they believed that blockchain was just “a database for money” with little application outside of financial services, just 18 percent of US respondents agreed with that statement versus 61 percent of respondents in France and the United Kingdom,” the report stated.

Richie Etwaru, founder and CEO at Hu-manity and author of the book, Blockchain Trust Companies sees it as a matter of trust. Companies aren’t used to dealing from a position of trust. In fact, his book argues that the entire contract system exists because of a total lack of it.

“The hurdle [to widespread blockchain adoption in the enterprise] is that those who have traditionally designed or transformed business models in large enterprise settings have systematically and habitually treated trust and transparency as second, sometimes third level characteristics of a business model. The raw material needed are the willingness and executive level alignment and harmonization around the notion that trust and transparency are the next differentiators,” Etwaru explained.

The volatility of new technology

Blockchain was originally created as a system to track bitcoin (digital currency) ownership, and it’s still used extensively for that purpose, but a trusted and immutable record has great utility to track virtually anything of value and enforce a set of rules. We have seen companies like po.et trying to use it to enforce content ownership, Hu-manity, which wants to enforce data ownership, and the IBM TrustChain consortium to track the provenance of diamonds from mine to store.

Photo: LeoWolfert/Getty Images

Rob May, who is CEO at Talla and whose company helped launch a blockchain called BotChain to track the authenticity of bots, says finding good use cases could help ultimately determine the technology’s success or failure. “Blockchain has a bunch of different use cases, and they are usually either all lumped together or poorly understood separately,” May said.

He believes that in many instances today, companies don’t understand the advantages of blockchain, which he identifies as immutability, trust and tokenization, the latter of which can help finance blockchain initiatives (but which can also contribute to confusion with digital currency use cases).

“Right now, businesses are missing real blockchain opportunities and instead throwing blockchain in places where it doesn’t belong. For example, they are trying to use it for smart contracts, and that stuff isn’t ready. They also try to use it for cases that require a lot of speed, and again blockchains aren’t ready,” he said.

Finally, he says, if you don’t require immutability, trust and tokenization, you might want to consider a different approach other than blockchain.

Please identify yourself

Like any network, identity will be at the core of any blockchain network because it is imperative that you understand whom you are communicating with. Charles Francis, a senior analyst at Accenture says for now blockchains will remain private for the most part, but authentication will become increasingly important as we eventually have blockchain-to-blockchain communications.

Photo:  NicoElNino/Getty Images

“Initially blockchain-to-blockchain connections will be manually set up and you will manage your network in a private model and bad actors will be immediately obvious,” he explained. But he believes that we will require a system in place to ensure we are authentically who we say we are as we move beyond private networks.

Jerry Cuomo, IBM Fellow and VP of Blockchain says that there will come a time when there are multiple networks and we will need to set up systems for them to communicate. “There won’t be one blockchain network to rule them all. It’s a very safe bet. Once you make that statement, these systems need to work together,” he said. “All [the different pieces of networks] need identity and the identity better play across networks. My identity on one network better be the same on another network,” he explained.

For Etwaru it comes back to trust, and a trusted identity would be a natural extension of that. “Transformational blockchain use cases require a network of trading partners to start to operate in a more trusted and transparent way, not just one individual,” he said.

Moving toward adoption

All this said, there is still a steady march toward adoption in the enterprise. As Talla’s May says, there may be open questions, but that just represents a big opportunity for smart companies. “If you are interacting with a network instead of a single company, whose throat do you choke when something goes wrong? I think you will see many companies in the blockchain space do what Red Hat did for Linux. Enterprises need consulting help and better frameworks to think about how [blockchain] networks will work, since Ethereum isn’t a product per se in the traditional sense,” he said.

Gil Perez, SVP for products and innovation, as well as head of digital customer initiatives at SAP says he’s seeing companies with real projects in production. “It is beyond just wanting to do something. We’re doing large scale implementations and pilots. For example, we did one in the pharmaceutical industry with over a billion transactions,” he said.

In fact, SAP has a total of 65 companies working on various projects at different stages of progress at the moment. Perez says the next level of adoption will require a way to involve multiple parties, not just a single company, as with a supply chain example, which involves moving goods and paperwork across multiple countries involving many individuals.

Photo: allanswart

He also points out the importance of making sure there is good data because ultimately, if you have bad data in an immutable record, that is going to be a serious problem. That requires the companies involved to come together and agree to a common system to enter and agree upon each piece of information that moves through the system and that is a work in progress.

May sees blockchain technology transforming the way we do business in the future and providing a more standard way of interacting than today’s hodgepodge of vendor approaches.

“Now that blockchain is here, what if we could launch a standard and have shared marketplace by all apps in a space? So as a developer, you write your [application] add-on one time and it works with any [similar application] that supports that standard, and they share one giant marketplace. But how do you get them to share a marketplace? Blockchain and tokens provide decentralization and incentives such that, if you set the right rules, maybe you could do it. That could be transformational,” he said.

As with any new technology, the more it scales the more the tools and adjacent technologies are required. We are still in the early stages of discovering what those are, and before the technology can take off in a big way, we will need more underlying infrastructure in place. If that happens, blockchain could be just as transformational as May suggests.

What next? Oh yes, turning a luxury car into a non-fungible token

We’ve seen more than one project use the immutability of blockchain to verify important physical things. So, for instance, a pioneer in the space, Verisart, has brought blockchain certification of high art to leading galleries worldwide, and other players are now entering this growing market. Codex Protocol is a new startup also putting art on the blockchain. The benefits are obvious: reducing to near-zero the possibility that an artwork could be fake. This is an incredibly powerful idea, especially at the high end of the commercial spectrum.

A relatively new idea is to take blockchain to the car market. Automakers are already starting to take an interest. BMW, Ford, Renault and General Motors recently joined a new working group of more than 30 auto companies to employ blockchain technology. The Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative aims to speed up the adoption of blockchain, with use cases ranging from autonomous payments to ridesharing. But that’s not where blockchain adoption for cars ends.

There remains the need for trustworthy assurances of authenticity and condition, especially when it comes to high-end cars. And that’s doubly true of classic and exotic vehicles. Collectible, classic cars can have their documentation forged or misassigned as there’s no one, single, global document standardization for these kinds of cars.

Now a startup hopes to bring their newly launched platform for tokenization to this market.

Proxeus is a blockchain startup that has launched a user-friendly method to register classic car collections on the blockchain, making it both unforgeable and verifiable by anyone. The first client is Mercuria Helvetica in Switzerland.

Proxeus’s process verifies the certificates of authenticity and conditions of the vehicles. As an additional step, the car itself could actually be taken to the blockchain as a non-fungible token with an integrated certification library, offering not only proof of ownership and history but also to serve as a permanent link to the verified documentation.

It’s now launching the beta version of its engine, which has a drag and drop interface.

But do we really want to tokenize luxury cars? Proxeus says that’s not the point. They say their technology means someone without specialized programming skills can have the ability to deploy blockchain for a wide variety of use cases.

Antoine Verdon, co-founder, says: “For the first time we are able to show that our technology is real.” Artan Veliju, CTO, says the platform has the “ability to easily build the workflows needed to use blockchain productively without needing to launch a software development project.”

Their idea is to allow anyone to legally incorporate businesses, register assets and validate certificates on their testnet blockchain. It’s so far been used by the University of Basel’s Center for Innovative Finance course certificates or WWF Switzerland’s tax donation verification system. Test XES tokens will be provided to show how they function within the Proxeus ecosystem and are used to pay for Proxeus’ services.

Shortly after raising $25 million as a part of their ICO, Proxeus now plans to complete the functions described in its whitepaper and release a fully developed solution for enterprise.

Meantime, I’m going to make a, perhaps obvious, observation: The tokenization craze is clearly not going to end here.

Coinbase reportedly gets approval from U.S. regulators to start listing tokenized securities

Coinbase shared big news Monday that federal regulators are allowing the popular cryptocurrency exchange to proceed with plans to sell cryptocurrency tokens that are deemed securities.

Last month, Coinbase acquired Keystone Capital, a California-based FINRA-registered broker-dealer that operates as an alternative trading system. With the announcement, the SF-based cryptocurrency exchange disclosed that it would still need to get regulatory approval to operate under the Keystone licenses.

Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority gave Coinbase just that, Bloomberg reported, approving that deal alongside the acquisitions of Venovate Marketplace and Digital Wealth.

Today’s news opens up the scope of Coinbase’s ambitions to the billions of dollars that have been raised in initial coin offerings over the past several months. With permission to trade tokenized securities, Coinbase users could soon have the ability to move beyond the limited cryptocurrency options currently available to be traded on the site’s central exchange which currently just lists Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Litecoin.

The company announced last week that it was exploring adding five new tokens to its exchange, including Cardano, Basic Attention Token, Stellar Lumens, Zcash and 0x. In a blog post, the company specified that the announcement did not necessarily deem that these tokens were not securities and that classification might vary by jurisdiction.

0x lets any app be the Craigslist of cryptocurrency

Centralized crypto exchanges like Coinbase are easy but expensive because they introduce a middleman. Not-for-profit project 0x allows any developer to quickly build their own decentralized cryptocurrency exchange and decide their own fees. It acts like Craigslist, connecting traders without ever holding the tokens itself. And instead of having to bootstrap their way to enough users trading tokens on their app alone so that there’s liquidity, 0x offers cross-platform liquidity between users on the different projects it powers.

The problem is the user experience of decentralized apps is often crappy compared to the consumer apps we’re used to across the rest of tech. From sign-in to recovering accounts to conducting transactions, it’s a lot more complicated than Facebook Login, PayPal, or Shopify. Bitcoin and Ethereum prices remain well below half their peaks because it’s difficult to do much with cryptocurrency right now. Until the decentralized infrastructure improves, the dreams of how blockchains can improve the world remain distant.

0x is trying to fix that by ensuring developers all don’t have to reinvent the exchange wheel.

It began as a for-profit exchange before the team recognized the massive usability gap. So instead it became a decentralized exchange protocol, and raised $24 million in an ICO for its ZRX token. That’s how relayers — the apps who use it to build exchanges for ERC20 tokens atop the Ethereum blockchain — can charge fees. It also gives those who collect the most a say in the governance of the protocol.

Some of the top projects on 0x like Augur and Dydx are going strong. Last week Coinbase announced it was exploring whether it might list ZRX and several other currencies for trade on its exchange, helping perk up the price after declines since the new year.

 

0x’s ZRX token price, via CoinMarketCap

Now 0x is putting some of its $24 million to work. It just hired former Facebook designer Chris Kalani to help it improve the usability of its APIs and the products built on top of them. His skills helped Facebook embrace mobile around its 2012 IPO. He then built Wake, raising $3.8 million for the design prototype sharing tool that let teams get instant feedback on their works-in-progress. Kalani sold Wake to design platform InVision in April, and after a few months assisting the transition, he’s joined 0x.

“There are very few designers involved in the [blockchain] space” Kalani tells me. “There’s not a lot of people who had worked on anything at a large-scale or from the consumer perspective. We’re focused on making crypto more approachable.”

Sustaining a crypto not-for-profit

After talking to four leaders in different parts of the blockchain industry, the consensus was that 0x was an elegant protocol for spawning decentralized exchanges. But the question kept coming up about whether the project will be sustainable. The company doesn’t have to earn enormous amounts of revenue, but concerns about its longevity could scare away developers. One, who asked to remain anonymous, described 0x saying, “the best analogy is trying to monetize Linux.”

0x is open source, so it could be forked so developers can sidestep ZRX. 0x hopes that the shared liquidity feature will keep developers in line. It only works with the unforked version, and is now being used by 0x-powered projects, including Radar Relay, ERC dEX, Shark Relay, Bamboo Relay and LedgerDex.

While some centralized exchanges have suffered security troubles and hacks, those with stronger records like Coinbase continue to thrive while banking off high fees. That in turn lets them offer better liquidity and invest more in the user experience, widening the gap versus decentralized apps. “People trust Coinbase with large amounts of capital but they wouldn’t trust themselves,” Kalani admits. But he thinks it’s early in the game, and as users become more knowledgeable and comfortable with holding their own tokens for use on decentralized exchanges, 0x and ZRX will thrive.

There’s also competition within the decentralized exchange space from Kyber’s liquidity network, and AirSwap’s peer-to-peer exchange marketplace. But for any of these to thrive, the mainstream crypto owner will have to get better educated. That could fall to 0x.

One alternative path for the not-for-profit would be selling developer services and consulting to those building on top of it. Or it could always do another ICO. But for now, there are a lot of projects out there that don’t want to foot the upfront cost to build their own secure and compliant exchange from scratch. Kalani concludes, “The way Stripe allowed developers and businesses to build on top of it, and not have to worry about regulatory issues and all the infrastructure necessary to take payments, I think 0x is going to do something similar with exchanges for crypto.”