Inside Bloq’s Bid to Bring Bitcoin's Code to Enterprise Businesses
Long-time bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik and industry investor Matt Roszak have teamed up to launch Bloq, a new startup ambitiously billed as a "Red Hat for blockchain", in a nod to the $1bn open-source software company.
Backed by $250,000 in capital from Roszak’s firm Tally Capital, co-founders Garzik and Roszak said that Bloq aims to provide a engagement layer for enterprises companies that may otherwise be uncertain about dedicating resources to engineering and strategy efforts that leverage open-source blockchain technology.
Though the company debuted in a high-profile article on Bloomberg, the article was perhaps short on how Bloq would implement its vision, and in particular, its theses on the underlying tech for which it would offer services.
In a new interview, Garzik framed Bloq's vision as one that sees the industry evolving toward a "multi-chain, multi-token" ecosystem in which bitcoin will serve as the "root of an Internet of chains".
As such, Bloq's products take advantage of bitcoin’s features, including its secure blockchain, well-developed code base and global community.
Garzik framed Bloq as a startup aiming to emulate the tested formula created by Red Hat, which he contends was able to successfully mediate between a sometimes divided Linux community and businesses that wanted to build on the open-source operating system that ecosystem had developed.
"Red Hat stepped in," Garzik, who is himself a 10-year veteran of that company, explained. "Red Hat was the commercial enterprise that could listen to [enterprise] needs, plot them on a long term roadmap and manage the engineering and development of those features with the rough-and-tumble Linux community."
The common theme in Bloq’s products, Garzik said, is that they will come with the support that large companies require when seeking to leverage open-source tech, adding:
"Enterprise customers need more than a volunteer, ad-hoc support effort. They need contractual deadlines for responses. Professional 'this feature by X date' product management and more."
To date, Bloq has already scored high-profile partnerships with industry startups Circle and Noble Markets, and is in discussions with PwC about its offering. PwC said it is still evaluating a more formal engagement with the startup.
Roszak said that Bloq so far boasts 12 employees, and that it will seek to double its staff as it scales its operations. Apart from Garzik, notable saffers include Andreas Schildbach, who today runs the Java-based application development library Bitcoinj.
"We are just about to build out a more formal sales and marketing initiative, but it’s going to be calibrated. We're building a company for the next 20 years," Roszak said.
At launch, Bloq is billing itself as an "enterprise-grade blockchain" service, with initial products including BloqEnterprise, BloqSuite and BloqThink.
Garzik described BloqEnterprise as offering supported access to the bitcoin network, clarifying that it is best considered a "bitcoin specific" product.
Specifically, BloqEnterprise includes a supported version of the command-line interface bitcoind; libraries such as the bitcoin network’s replacement for OpenSSL, libsecp256k1; and bitcoinJ, a client library written in Java. Garzik said that a Python library is also on the way.
Additional products at launch include BloqSuite, its proof-of-concept development offering; and BloqThink, its strategic advisory and consulting service.
Both, he said, are aimed at striking a balance between high-level strategy and low-level engineering, and are more agnostic in how they will approach working with blockchain technologies other than bitcoin.
"BloqThink is 'default bitcoin'," Garzik said. "[It's] bitcoin-centric, but not bitcoin-required. We can handle Ethereum-related proofs-of-concept."
Roszak similarly said that Bloq is focused on helping enterprises build an "Internet stack" in the same way that they built e-commerce platforms in the 1990s.
"We’re seeing a world where you’re going to have a constellation of chains, whether it's Ripple, Ethereum or bitcoin, there's going to be connective tissue of common software layers," he said. "If we want that ecosystem to scale, we need to give [enterprises] those common denominator tools."
Roszak estimated that, today, Bloq has a dozen customers who see value in its model because of its ability to allow businesses to access open-source blockchains, without having to hire full-time developers to help adapt the protocol to their needs.
"They don’t want to hire five Core devs because they want to manage this wallet or a private chain, they want to build applications for vertical markets, whether it’s health records or clearing and settlement," Roszak said.
Unique to its offering is that Bloq aims to offer 24/7 support to its clients, in an effort to better assuage concerns about working with open-source tech. Bloq engineers will also implement features needed by clients into bitcoin’s code, in a similar fashion as industry startup Blockstream.
Garzik described this work as implementing the "scaffolding" that has perhaps so far led enterprise businesses to seek to create private blockchain solutions.
"Open-source projects can be of very uneven quality," Garzik said. "That's really what the Red Hat model is all about – working with the community, yet taking it up a notch, bringing enterprise clients the support that open source doesn't by default provide."
He further described private blockchains as "inevitable", but posited that using bitcoin's code for such projects may be the best way to ensure there is compatibility between all blockchain and distributed ledger systems.
Of course, given the budget and experience of the Red Hat team, Garzik and Roszak also addressed the need for a company like Bloq even if Red Hat were to enter the market.
Roszak said Bloq would benefit from an imbalance in the amount of interest in the space and the amount of qualified professionals who can work with the new technologies needed to carry out this vision.
Because of the early stage of the technology, however, he said he believes companies like Oracle and Red Hat are unlikely to offer such solutions in the near-term, and that they may even become customers of Bloq given its collected expertise.
"We look at ourselves as partners to these companies in terms of our go-to market and how we view the ecosystem," he said.
Garzik also addressed why he is not concerned about building Bloq as a service focused on the bitcoin blockchain, even amidst the current turmoil in its development community.
Though Garzik is one of the developers working on Bitcoin Classic, an effort seeking to scale the bitcoin network's transaction capacity through a hard fork, he sees Bloq as "policy neutral".
"We are very happy to support customers with Bitcoin Core or Bitcoin Classic consensus rules, and that is what we will do moving forward," he said.
Garzik pointed to past posts in which he stated he believes both versions of the bitcoin software suffer from governance issues, but that ultimately, Bloq's function is not to present problems to technical debate, but provide choice to customers seeking to navigate such decisions as necessary to their business
"We provide the choice, and then step back and let the customers choose," Garzik said, concluding:
"Fortune 100 customers shouldn't have to worry about all the minute details of bitcoin forking. They should have a menu of informed options, and choose from there."
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