Interview with Hoon Kim, Stake Technologies
Stake Technologies is a company that re-democratizes the web and the internet by re-building the digital economy where Everyone Belongs. Simply put; they provide enterprises with blockchain solutions.
How did Stake Technologies get started? Where did the idea come from?
It started from a blockchain seminar at Tokyo University, where the CEO Sota Watanabe met CTO Takumi Yamashita. At the time, Sota was a blockchain researcher, while Takumi was developing his own proprietary blockchain. Takumi had the knowledge to develop and implement a fully functional blockchain, but he wasn’t knowledgeable in understanding market demands or the marketing aspects, while Sota didn’t know too much about the technical side of blockchains. They understood what they were lacking and saw the potential they had in working as a company. The rest is history.
The idea of Plasm that we know today came from the fact that most public blockchains we know face a scalability issue in one way or another. The founders saw the potential in a unified Layer 2 scalability solution that can leverage inter-chain operations, which is why we wanted to develop on Substrate and connect to the Polkadot Network by Parity Tech, as they share the same vision of a collaborative blockchain ecosystem.
Can you tell us a bit about your current team?
Currently, we have two major development teams. The Plasm Network development team has mainly three people, and another team is working on the “ink! Playground” (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the name). With the talent of our team, we were able to make several projects that contributed to the Web3 Foundation’s vision, which also provided us with several grants that fueled our development. We work closely with the Web3 Foundation and Parity Technologies with the dream of realizing Web 3.0, and our team is working hard to make this happen.
For the Plasm Network core development team, we have Alexander Krupenkin. He used to work as a core dev for Robonomics, a Russian IoT Blockchain company. He was also one of the early development contributors for Ethereum and Substrate. Currently, he is one of our core developers who contributes directly to the core of the blockchain and any related code like the Lockdrop mechanism. Takumi, our CTO, designs the economic model for our blockchain, writes the Whitepaper, and implements the OVM for the Network. Most of the groundwork is done by him. Finally, about me. I am the youngest in the company, and I joined when I was still an undergraduate during my studies in Japan. My tasks are developing most of the front-end pages for Plasm Network, contributing directly to the Plasm Network’s core, and translating internal documents. Our team is comprised of people from different backgrounds with different specialties, but I know that this diversity is what makes our team competent.
How does the Plasm Network compare to some of the other decentralized/blockchain platforms? How does it function?
We have several strong points that currently no other blockchains can easily replicate.
First, we provide Layer 2 scalability solutions. People who have studied blockchain might have stumbled across different scalability issues that current big public blockchains have. Layer 2 is one of the methods that aim to solve this scalability issue. It was first introduced as a proposal for the Ethereum Network. Such protocols include the Lighting Network and the Plasma Network. Layer 2 is called Layer 2 because it utilizes a fully operational child chain to do the heavy lifting, while the Layer 1 (i.e. the parent chain or the main chain) would record the final state of the child chain and also act as an adjudication layer that checks for fraudulent behavior in the Network. You can think of a child chain as a good mixture of off-chain workers and a forked blockchain. Having a child chain opens so much potential and flexibility to the system as they are able to communicate with other child chains as well. Our Network allows the developers to host and execute Smart Contracts in Layer 2, providing fast transactions with little cost fluctuation in gas or block size and the freedom to create something that can be good as its own blockchain.
Second, related to our first point, we implement an OVM (Optimistic Virtual Machine) to the Network. An OVM is a unified standard for executing multiple Layer 2 protocols with less to no overhead. You can think of an OVM as a layer of abstraction that allows the developers to use complicated Layer 2 protocols as if they were doing a simple API call. This means that the developers can express their creativity without having to reinvent the wheel every time they want to create a decentralized toaster. Another great thing is that developers can create their own protocols and contribute to the community!
Our third strength is that we are part of the Polkadot Network, which aims to create a heterogeneous blockchain ecosystem that allows Parachains (blockchains that are connected to the Polkadot Network) to interoperate with each other via a feature called XCMP. By becoming a Parachain to the Polkadot Network, we can leverage other Parachain’s functionality, as well as others leveraging our child chains. This allows both the Parachains and the Plasm Network to have a symbiotic relationship.
We have other features like ownership of Smart Contracts and the ability to transfer that said ownership amongst addresses, dividing the block validation reward to Contracts to effectively create a blockchain that provides economic incentives to Dapps developers and more.
What are the benefits and use-cases?
Having an interoperable native Layer 2 blockchain can provide so much value to Dapp developers. For instance, by leveraging a blockchain that implements zero-knowledge proof encryption and another blockchain with a stable coin ecosystem, we are able to provide fast transactions of stable coins with privacy. Another use case regarding the ownership of Smart Contracts would be firms purchasing Dapps and transferring the ownership to their address. The usability of the Plasm Network is proportional to the number of Parachains. Currently, we are considering utilizing the Network to host a low-cost, high-speed high-volume Decentralized Exchange as well.
What is Web 3.0 and how does it affect your development?
Web 3.0 is the new internet. The internet where information is not centralized, but decentralized. It’s an internet that is truly free. Web 3.0 also means having a semantic web, where the web can know what the users want beforehand, but that is just a part of what Web 3.0 truly is. Web 3.0 is a movement that aims to change the structure of how servers interact with users and give the power back to them rather than allowing corporations to monopolize on them. The vision of our company is to realize this dream of Web 3.0. Thanks to this, we were able to meet other talented developers who share our vision like the Web3 Foundation and Parity Tech, and we were able to work together and come this far in development. We like to think that we are part of this revolution that will change the structure of the internet as we know it, and we take pride in contributing to it. So how does Web 3.0 affect our development? It gives us the motivation to move forward and a shared vision that provides us with a sense of direction.
Who is using Plasm Network today and who do you see as future consumers?
The Plasm Network has a Test Network that showcases the aforementioned features. Today, most people who show interest in our project are mostly veteran Dapp developers, other blockchain developers who can leverage our Network. Most of our work online is in the proof-of-concept stage, but we are distributing our genesis tokens via a Lockdop so our main network will be launching very soon, which should be production-ready. For our future consumers, because our Network is positioned as a scalable Dapp development and hosting platform, we see developers within the blockchain ecosystem seeing the most benefits from our Network. As a business, we position ourselves as a B2B blockchain consulting company and we expect our consumers to be mainly businesses that are planning on adopting blockchain technology for their existing infrastructure and operations. Furthermore, we are planning on operating as a low-cost high-volume DEX platform as well, which we believe it would attract Crypto traders as well.
Do you run your own blockchain or is it for example on the Ethereum platform? Can you expand a bit more on the choices you have made regarding the technology and what benefits these choices provide to you and the customer?
We created our own blockchain. More specifically, we created our own blockchain using the Substrate Framework. The choice of using Substrate as a framework for our blockchain has given the team so many benefits. At first, our CTO Takumi developed his own preparatory blockchain, but this provided little to no flexibility, as implementing one feature required the developer to reinvent the wheel. Another part was the steep learning curve that every preparatory software has. New developers needed to learn the source code without any proper documentation before starting to contribute to the code, and believe me, that is the worst thing. Substrate solves all this issue as it is an open-source community project that is backed by the co-founder of Ethereum Gavin Wood and the Parity team, though the documentation was basic during the early stages. Furthermore, Rust Language may have a steep learning curve, but the language supports WebAssembly compilation, which allows the blockchain to bring new features to the Network without having to fork it! Furthermore, using Substrate as a base for the Network and implementing the Cumulus runtime module is a prerequisite for becoming a Parachain for the Polkadot Network, which provides us with the benefits mentioned on the above answers.
What does your future roadmap include and what do you see as the biggest obstacles to achieving those goals?
In terms of utilizing our platform as a business model, our future goal is to develop a Plasm as a Service application, which is another layer of abstraction that allows developers to create and deploy Plasm Applications (or Plapps, are Dapps using Layer 2 protocols) with ease. Think of this as a fully-functional web-based IDE, or Photoshop for Layer 2 decentralized application development. Our next goal is to be a DEX platform that can host high-speed high-volume transactions with low fees while providing technical support for businesses that are adopting this technology which lowers the barrier of entry for blockchain implementation and realize our vision of making Web 3.0 happen.
I can think of several risks and obstacles that we will have to face, but I know that our team can overcome all. However, one of the biggest hurdles would be the fact that we don’t have a dedicated marketing department. Even if we manage to create an innovative platform that people would love to use, without proper marketing, we’re really just shouting in the void. Our community has been growing substantially, but we know we can do better than this. Without the community’s growth and contribution, it would be hard for us to achieve our goals and our vision of realizing Web 3.0.
Where are you in the roadmap and how is Plasm Network doing so far?
Currently, the Plasm Network has started its first Ethereum Lockdrop. This would be a major milestone for the Network as this is how our genesis token will be distributed to the community. We are planning on repeating the Lockdrop (with different Cryptocurrencies) three to four times, depending on the Parachain auction schedule from Parity Tech. But overall, we have made enough progress to present a production-ready Network to the mass, and I would say we have finally put our feet on the official starting line in our road map. So far, our community has been consistently growing, and we are happy to see so much support from our contributors. Our first Lockdrop isn’t over yet, but currently, we were able to gather over 2,000 ETH! One thing to note is that a Lockdrop is very different from an ICO or an Airdrop. Instead of the development team providing newly issued tokens in exchange of cash, or just distributing the tokens for free, we timelock a token to a Smart Contract and issue a number of tokens that is proportional to the number of tokens locking, and the duration of that lock to the lockers. The original tokens that were locked can be reclaimed after the timelock is finished. Our Smart Contract was audited by Quantstamp, and we are glad to see that the community is satisfied with our progress.
How far would you say that technology and blockchain adoption has come as of today?
I personally think that blockchain technology has come really far, and I am still excited to know what the future holds. My first introduction to Cryptocurrencies was through Bitcoin in 2014. At the time, I thought it was an interesting concept, but I still had doubts about its application to the world since we already had a working infrastructure, and even if it had its flaws, the average joe wouldn’t care too much about entrusting their personal data. To me, blockchain technology really exploded with the concept of Decentralized Applications and real implementation of Smart Contracts. An application that does not require a central server and has a permanent database was so exciting to me. This also showed the potential of creating a realistic business model for open-source software. However, this also opened the market for several blockchains with minor variations called alt-coins. The problem was blockchain maximalists and scalability issues. At the time, most networks were competing for more value in their tokens and more users despite most of the tokens being derived from BTC and the scalability issues that they were facing. For me, this foreshadowed a dark future. But then, the heterogeneous blockchain ecosystem comes. Polkadot Network’s Parachain and its XCMP offer a solution that genuinely decentralizes the web by having multiple blockchains with different market segments working together. This is something that I wouldn’t even think of being possible when I first knew about Bitcoin. However, I cannot say the same with the adoption of blockchain technology at the moment. It is true that Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology has become more mainstream than it was half a decade ago. Bitcoin is now synonymous with digital currency, and nowadays, many businesses are considering implementing this blockchain thing. But I would say that blockchain technology in this state is like how the internet was in the early 2000s. People understand that it exists, and they are aware of its business potential, but the people who are investing in it do not understand why it is crucial to the industry. They are interested in it because everyone is talking about it. I only hope that this doesn’t lead up to another dotcom bubble-like situation, though that would be very ironic considering the philosophy of Bitcoin. But this is just my opinion.
How do the current Coronavirus pandemic and falling markets affect your business?
Excluding our weekly meetings, the team usually works at home. So in terms of the development of Plasm Network, our daily operations are status quo, and I think it would stay that way as long as our developers are staying healthy. However, the situation is different from the business side of things. Our company is funded via B2B operations, grants, and investments from various sources. Because our company’s funding relies on external entities, their situation is heavily linked with ours. So far, we are facing minor shifts in schedule and canceled meetups, but nothing detrimental has happened yet. It will depend on how long this situation lasts, but we do have contingencies.