Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Interview with Brandon Millman, CEO of the Phantom Wallet, the #1 Solana Crypto Wallet

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Altcoin Authorhttp://altcoinauthor.com
Blockchain Engineer. dApp/DeFi enthusiast.

Thanks for tuning in today. I have the great pleasure of interviewing Brandon Millman of Phantom for people that don’t know Phantom. It’s the largest, most popular most well-reviewed wallet on the Solana blockchain. And as all of you know, that are in crypto Solana is the hottest thing going right now.

It’s in the news. There’s a lot of discussion going on. With how it can essentially be an Ethereum killer, so without further ado, Brandon, how’s it going?

How are you? Thanks for having me on..

I mean, I think this is a good platform for this Twitter space that I’m seeing more and more podcasts being done on here.

And when I looked at your resume, I think, you know, a thing or two about Twitter from really early on, right?

Yeah. I suppose that’s where I, where I cut my teeth initially. Yeah, before they had, this type of feature, but yeah, I guess I I’d say I know a thing or two about Twitter. That’s right.

Did you start learning about crypto right. About that time period? Or when did you first jump in?

Yeah, so when I first jumped into, yeah, I started at Twitter like mid 2013 or so, and basically did like a full tour there, so a little bit over four years. And then, you know, basically while I was there and I think this resonates with a lot of people out there at the moment who like, worked for “”big tech”, but basically, over the years of working at a large scale consumer tech company, I feel like as many people do eventually become, solutions sort of what the typical work loop or the way of building applications which usually involves a lot of AB testing politics, bureaucracy, roadblocks, et cetera.

And it’s also consumer applications the ways to build them is pretty well understood. So yeah, basically, over those years became more, I feel like stagnated or I suppose disillusioned with it. And so yeah, you know, at the end of that, I knew I wanted to break into like a more nascent industry.

It was doing quite a bit of research around, a number of different things. And then I eventually found myself reading a lot about Ethereum on which really, really blew my mind next to like what I was used to, because it was this brand new way to think about how to build consumer applications.

Right. So instead of signing in with an email and password, you plug in your wallet and instead of interacting with. Closed private database, like everyone interacts with this huge open database. And so I felt like that really caught my interest and eventually found myself, and this is 2017.

So eventually I found myself spending a lot more time, reading white papers than doing my actual normal work. And so , I took that as a good sign just to dive in and that’s how I got my start.

I always think it’s really interesting that people that start with blue chip, CS educations as you did.

And hit a lot of the blue chip companies, Cisco and Twitter, and then are so compelled by the space that they, go off. to company that focuses on crypto. I think that’s an interesting story. So you came on the development side into zero X and the most technical people I know did some sort of time at zero X and then, went to Phantom.

Do you feel like the experience at zero X gave you some more experience that like serves you well with Phantom? Or how did the experiences parallel?

Yeah. Well, so yea back then 2017 no one knew what blockchains were good for. And I think even today, people are still trying to figure it out, but yeah, back then, no one even knew what, what DeFi, like DeFi was not point quote, unquote, coined as a term and NFTs and, and all of that.

So yeah, back then, it was basically a big, deep dive into decentralized exchange. There was a sort of a bunch of different companies out there, and everyone was sort of working on their slice of this, like emerging ETH 3.0 stack. So, there’s companies like Metamask who were working on wallets, we were focusing on decentralized exchange.

There’s other people like Infura, working on RPC infrastructure so everyone’s sort of in their lane, so to speak. And so Over time at 0x, we became responsible for developing a number of pretty wildly used dApps or like web 3.0 apps. So one of those was Mocha.

So my co-founder Chris, he was the general manager for, for macho.xyz. And that was personally responsible for a 0x API, which was like the backend for Mocha as well as like a number of other. Pretty prominent, swap experiences on Ethereum so like Metamask zapper or et cetera. Anyway, over time, we, while developing decentralized exchange stuff we became sort of power users of metamask.

So and when I say that not only the consumer side, but also on the developer side we basically, found that we were developing a wishlist of items or things that we thought could be going better. On the wallet side. We a lot of experience using metamask and all the developing with it. And so I feel like we had a lot of experience with wallets and a lot of things that we thought we could try out. And so that’s how we got our start with this idea of working on a wallet.

I’d say other thing there, as well as you know, my experience primarily with Ethereum. But in more recent years we’d saw, companies not only like zero X, but others as well doing their own calculus around how they were going to maneuver past Ethereum.

Maneuver and just this sort of multi network or multi chain world in general. And we saw that now a big part of that calculus is does that chain have a prominent wallet or user-friendly wallet? And that was an underserved part of the market. And those two major things come by and lead us down this path of, Hey, let’s Build a wallet and with the medium to long-term goal of being a multichain wallet,

When you were doing the early development with 0x and we’re seeing all that was going on with DeFi, were you surprised that a lot of the early decentralized finance applications and volume was being done in Ethereum or did it seem pretty obvious that it would go that way?

Yeah, I think it was somewhat obvious, there’s a lot of momentum around, developing. Tooling developer community, et cetera. So I think it made a ton of sense that, Ethereum has sort of evolved to the point it is now where it’s very, very mature. Gas auction situation on Ethereum now is an expression of t he demand for blockchain applications being so high. And because there’s so much demand, that’s why you’re seeing all these crazy gas prices and transaction prices on Ethereum. The only way to meet that demand is more supplies? And that’s why you’re seeing a lot of these L2’s, alternative L1’s coming online.

How exactly that’s going to pan out, whether that’s EVM based things or not. It’s pretty up in the air. But I think most people can agree that the future is going to be some sort of multichannel multi network world. And even if you were like the pure Ethereum of maximalist you probably agree.

Polygon and optimism. And Ethereum are going to be living alongside one another? And then from a user experience perspective, or like user ergonomics perspective, people are going to be needing to hop between different networks and hopping between different L1’s from a user perspective it’s not that far of a leap from L1 to L2 whether things are EVM based or not, or whether it’s all going to culminate to EVM, is still up in the air. It was not that big of a surprise that Ethereum is to the point is now just because of the amount of developer, momentum that it had even back in 2017,

how were you first introduced to to Solana That’s a good question. Very first time was they actually visited the office back in 2018. It was like my very first time at the team. But , more recently it’s kinda alluding to this earlier, but the medium to launch provision is for this wallet to be for a multi chain world.

And so instead of competing head-on with Metamask and, come out the king of Ethereum we knew we wanted to go multi chain. We really want place a bet on a nascent ecosystem. And so we did a lot of research around which ecosystem to choose. So there’s quite a few of them outside of the Ethereum space. So polka dot, Neo cosmos Solana, et cetera. We just did a lot of research around where we want to place our bet.

And we ended up choosing a Solana that was earlier.

And it’s coded in rust. Right. So did the solidity carry over or how different is it going from Ethereum to Solana?

From a wallet perspective, it’s not that different. And that went into our decision making as well about where to go.

So in terms of using. Ergonomics the way you interact withSolana is very similar to how it would interact with Ethereum. You go to a dApp, you click connect.You have an address you sign stuff and, you submit stuff to the chain. So that’s it. And it’s a straightforward, versus some sort of sharded construction or something like that.

So I’d say like all the experience, definitely carried over. We’re focusing mostly on the wallet or the UI layer, so we’re not writing a ton of rust ourselves. But we are interacting with it. I’d say it pretty much carried over like one to one.

That’s good.. I heard about Solana for the first time and I was just looking through crypto Twitter and I saw a lot of pictures of Solana Beach, which is a city that’s a few minutes away from me and I’m like, wow. A lot of these crypto guys are picking Solana beach for, I don’t know.

Front of the salon, a beach sign and their thumbs upping. And I finally clicked on one. I’m like, oh right. I, I heard about Sam Bankman-Fried talking about Solana how prominent of a voice is he on behalf of the blockchain? Would you say?

On a scale of one to 10, a seven, sometimes it’s hard for me to understand how much of a bubble or like echo chamber my own slice of crypto Twitter is but in my own, current echo chamber, he’s definitely, pretty prominent. Obviously they’ve put a lot of work into it with Serum and continue to help build out like core pieces of data infrastructure, there’s this Armani who works on CRM.

He works on this piece of tooling called anchor, which is similar to ethers and things like that. So they’re definitely doing quite a bit to help contribute to the infrastructure which is awesome. And then on Twitter Sam tweets about Solana pretty often. But hard to judge, I don’t have a good baseline of it’s more than normal or not, but he’s pretty outspoken about it.

Just jumping to Phantom, been using it for awhile and he’s in the salon and named service to get linked up with this at @rekt and the wallet, the user interface is so seamless that in my mind, it mirrors even improves.

That’s my commentary on the metamask experience. Was there a lot of Developer evangelization that needed to be done or where people so hungry for an easy to use and a pleasing UI for a Solana wallet. Like when you first launched it or how much was involved in getting the downloads and integrations to the numbers that they are today?

I’d say we’re fortunate, to have started building the wallet at this time. Versus metamask, for example. Cause when read about, I started maybe late 2016, early 2017. The world was just very different and the types of users that they were servicing is, was way different,

Most of the people using. Ethereum at that moment where these very technical developers are like pro swimmers. And so obviously the right thing to do at that time was to service those users.

Like I mentioned earlier as well, defy and NFTs are not even known as things that people would be doing really. And so. We’re fortunate to have started advancing at this time. There’s a lot more that’s understood about the user base and understood like the technology and the applications.

So we got this opportunity to start a new or re-imagined what the wallet could be like in this new context. That being said, though, also had quite a bit of experience like building Mocha and building like pretty popular dApps on Ethereum. And the growth was quite organic.

And people on Solana were pretty hungry for a nicer wallet, so that helped and in the community is also quite vocal about what they wanted as well. So that was awesome. That’s typically not true when you’re launching a consumer application and in other industries where you don’t necessarily have such like direct feedback with users and all that.

But in our case, in crypto, in general, you have these discords or Twitter where people are banging down the doors for different features and just getting very hands-on with it. So this has been really awesome

you know, we all read about, a 16 Z and all the funds that are out there, you guys did an aggressive raise.

And is the venture capital community softening? Is the thirst there or when you approach these funds or institutions or endowments, is there a level of understanding of DeFi and the blockchain more so now than like last few years in your experience? Or how has it being approached by like the fi.

Yeah. Well, I’d say, although more on the traditional VC campus, that they’ve been in it for a pretty decent amount of time now, and they’re pretty, well-versed in the whole crypto sphere. So I’d say besides a16z is most of the firms that we targeted were.

More of like the crypto native flavor. But in general, there are quite a few other more traditional firms that they’re trying to get into crypto or, are taking an interest in it. It’s definitely on the rise for sure. But a16z, we didn’t have to teach them anything, they’re pretty deep in it.

They have some of the best people that are there. The two big things this month I’m on crypto Twitter related to Solana of course the downtime and that I think curve was unhappy with what they deemed to the unauthorized fork. When you approach people, do you have to be like in a Solana apologists when you’re talking to your Duke guys or development guys, or are you pretty agnostic in terms of blockchains and you just like the utility of the Solana ecosystem for development right now?

I will say when we were starting off and raising earlier this year, there was quite a bit of that.

It was like, Solana, really? Almost accusations of betrayal which is quite bizarre. But nowadays, a lot of people get it more or they see that there’s other chains out there and that there are multiple things going on.

So nowadays I think the sentiment has definitely changed. Earlier this year there was quite a bit of that going on. Which is quite sad because we built up a lot of stuff on it and we helped contribute to a lot of different things. So I’ve always been confused at this kind of maximalist mindset for us, we love Solana and all that.

But our medium to long-term vision is to service this multi-channel world and we’re sort of like these. Blockchain, maximalist, so to speak, we just want to help people use DeFi or NFT apps, wherever they live. No matter what chain they’re built off how they’re implemented.

And that’s how the vast majority of tech works today, no one cares that they’re using visa or MasterCard, or if they’re using AWS or whatever on the backend they just know that there’s this cool app that their other friends are using. They also want to participate. And so that’s the way it should be in my opinion.

I’d have to agree with you on that one loudest trumpeting that I’m hearing from Ethereum maximalists is about decentralization, but the back and forth between Ethereum maximalists, because they’ve been in it for so long and are so apt to not let go of the death grip is pretty pronounced. But the ones that do I see go to different blockchains are happy with the experience and it doesn’t have to be zero sum game..

I like projects that’ll encourage each other. They say? A rising tide lifts. All ships. So you’re not benefiting your project by tearing down another one. Do you think that the future for the wallet is more integrations with decentralized applications in the wallet? Or what are you looking for down the road for future development??

Yeah, that’s a good question. I think that’s going to be part of our challenge is understanding how users, conferences develop, I suppose. But our main MOS, we want to help people use decentralized applications. If that means incorporating more.

Things and a first party way into the wallet and like a more convenient form factor. Then that’s what we’ll do. Swapping that’s sort of like a table stakes thing that a lot of wallets do and a lot of people love that and find it to be very convenient, other verbs that people do with their crypto are also fair game we also have like Solana, staking in the wallet and people really love using that. One cool thing about being in this sort of wallet areas is that there’s a lot of people experimenting with these different dApps and trying them out.

We get to help with that experimentation and then we can let things play out and then see what people like to do. And incorporate them directly into the wallet if that’s what users want.

I think the users also recognize that you’re in many ways, their entryway into the blockchain, they go to the website, but what has done with checking the different exchanges for the best price or what Exodus is doing with allowing you to stake on the wallet seems like it’s a really powerful position to be. Any last things that people should know about the wallet or any last things that you think our audience would like to know about Solana

One interesting observations I’ve made through this experience with Solana is that it’s typically a talking point that Solana doesn’t support the EVM and therefore is doomed to fail because there’s so much momentum around EVM tooling.

Because. Less tooling around like the current Solanas sphere. That actually has created more of like a kernel of like genuine developer interest and community on Solana. Whereas a Binance Smart Chain, the vibe there is more dry fi copy and paste.

Whereas on Solana, there’s definitely a kernel of genuine. Developer community there. The whole EVM versus not thing was definitely a bit more nuanced than people think.

I love that. , for the longest time, the meme was what’s a blockchain developer and its control C control V you know, so many platforms just fork on, do another blockchain and then try to market it and build a community Solana. And it looks like from everything that I’m seeing is doing a lot more than that and doing a lot of innovative code.

And you’re at the forefront of that. I appreciate you being on the show today, Brandon.

Thanks for having me on.

Guys, remember to follow me here at, @rekt or Altcoin Author on YouTube or Rekt Radio wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks guys. Have a good one.

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