Blockchain's Nic Cary on Bitcoin Wallets, Mt. Gox and Decentralization
Nicolas Cary is the CEO of Blockchain, a bitcoin company best known for providing the most popular consumer bitcoin wallet and block explorer.
Blockchain.info, the company's informational website, garners 350 million page views a month, while its wallet service passed 1 million downloads in January 2014. Blockchain also acquired multi-exchange bitcoin trading platform ZeroBlock earlier this year.
Cary was a keynote speaker on day one of Inside Bitcoins NYC this month, where he discussed the potential global impact of the technology. There, CoinDesk spoke to Cary about recent developments at Blockchain, how it aims to hold off competition in the market and what it learned from its high-profile service outage in March.
CoinDesk: Blockchain has accomplished a lot in a short time, operating successfully in three different business sectors. How are you aiming to take your company forward in 2014?
Nic Cary: We're going to launch Blockchain.com as the main consumer-facing wallet site. Our intention for doing that is to spend a lot more time on the user experience and making bitcoin more familiar to regular users.
Blockchain.info sort of set one design standard for what a bitcoin wallet could look like, and its been copied a lot, and we have to keep making bitcoin easier. The fact is we have 1.5 million users today, but we need to be ready to take on 10 million users, 100 million users. Everything has to get easier, from the signup process to acquiring bitcoins to figuring out where to spend them to inviting friends to the education of bitcoin itself.
Too many times the conversation of how to set up a wallet starts at a table like this where you sit down across from someone and say that 'I need 30 minutes of your time to learn why this is the most important thing you're going to hear about for the next few months.' That conversation has to get easier.
Blockchain is an established player in an ecosystem that's very much still growing. Are you worried about competition, especially in foreign markets with this approach?
Nic Cary: We're watching the competitive developments in the landscape carefully, but we're not obsessing about them. This is very early, there's a lot of upside for everyone. I don't think we'll bat 1.000 across everything, but when you think about how these other companies are building their products, you need to think about the innovation. Are they actually innovative or did they just build a new bank?
Whether you're talking about Mt. Gox or any of the other businesses that had security issues, what you're talking about is a company that held custody and control over user funds and had access to information about their customers.
There are two approaches, you can centralise everything and build a new PayPal for bitcoin, or you can embrace the peer-to-peer network and create technologies that basically cut out the trust in the products and the services at all and allow people to directly interface in the bitcoin network, that's our marketing and that's our position.
We do not have custodial accounts. That's the biggest difference between us and all the other big players, including Circle, Coinbase, Bitstamp, all the exchanges, they all have centralised control over bitcoins.
But this isn't a zero-sum game, there isn't one solution that's going to win out.
Do you think there's a disadvantage in taking a one-size-fits-all approach to not taking into account localization when building your product?
Nic Cary: For managing our brand, it's going to be challenging to have really localized solutions. I anticipate and expect the wallet market will fragment quite a bit in 2014. I think you'll see companies build solutions for specific countries and specific use cases.
I could see a wallet service that lives on cell phones and has parental controls, and if a kid leaves a certain region it deducts $5 from the wallet, or it notifies the parent that they spent the funds. I don't have an interest in building these solutions, what we're interested in is providing the piping in the background for it.
Many of the major exchanges and wallets are still using our APIs to broadcast to the bitcoin network and we provide all these services for free.
We hope that lots of people build sweet wallet solutions for whatever country they're in, I'd like it if they used Blockchain's APIs but all of our stuff is basically open-source anyway so they could copy it if they want to.
You recently went through a high-profile outage. What did Blockchain learn from this, and what did you learn as its CEO?
Any time you have growing pains, you're going to need to make new investments in your infrastructure. Because we take extreme care for the security of our services, we don't trust other parties to build things, but that means you have to develop in-house expertise on really complicated server infrastructures.
No one can predict how fast bitcoin adoption is going to happen. This has huge costs for companies like mine, especially because we're a free service. We didn't know how fast things would happen in November, we were behind in adding infrastructure, we made a bunch of investments and we're still making investments in anticipating a greater adoption of bitcoin in the future.
For us, the lesson is that when you're having a problem you have to communicate with people, it's completely unforgivable to not be transparent about the issues that are happening.
We have to get better, and it was intolerably to me to have that happen. We're going to keep learning from it.
Do you see your company as a leader in the space?
I think for us, we take the trust of our users so incredibly seriously. You just can't screw that up. I hope that we can be known as being trustworthy and to build a brand around Blockchain that is enduring. I don't want to be thought of as the PayPal for bitcoin, or Google.
I just want to be Blockchain, that's us. It means that we take care of our users, that we're transparent, that we build open-source software, that you can trust the math and the code and that we'll put it all out there for everybody to see.
Do you see yourself as a leader in the space?
My focus is on building products and services and finding teammates that deserve each other to make Blockchain a happy place. I see myself as the CEO of Blockchain first before any other type of figurehead in any way shape or form.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
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