Gelato Raises $11M as Smart Contract Automation Market Heats Up

A three-way race involving Gelato, Keep3r and Chainlink to corner the massive automation market is gaining speed.

Sep 30, 2021 at 1:01 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 30, 2021 at 2:32 p.m. UTC

The race is on to see who can capture the smart contract automation market, and early pioneer Gelato has raised $11 million to expand operations.

The Series A round was led by Dragonfly Ventures, with participation from ParaFi Capital, Nascent, IDEO CoLab Ventures and Aave founder Stani Kulechov.

In an interview with CoinDesk, Gelato co-founder Hilmar Orth said the round’s backers will vest their tokens for two years and will be key in introducing the team to prospective clients.

The raise comes at a time where teams are just beginning to scratch the surface of smart contract automation – a key piece of blockchain plumbing that has the potential to be a massive market, and what Orth describes as the Google Cloud of Web 3.

“Many more transactions will be automated within these networks than data being fed in from the outside,” Orth told CoinDesk. “So from the volume of transactions, this is a much, much wider market than oracles.”

Infrastructure play

In explaining what Gelato does, Orth pointed to Cloud and Amazon Lambda – two services that enabled companies to perform computation without hardware overhead.

“You’ve got these services that millions of applications are running on today where you write small functions to do certain tasks – I want to send an email or create a listing on Airbnb or something, and they just run these scripts in small containers,” he said.

In Web 3, users need similar functionality from “bots” – tools that automate certain smart contract functions. Gelato client InstaDapp, for instance, has a decentralized finance (DeFi) aggregator that enables debt refinancing – switching among MakerDAO, Aave and Compound to ensure the lowest possible rates and collateral requirements.

However, until Gelato, users had to manually switch their positions.

“What Gelato offers, rather than you building every bot from scratch for every single specific use case out there in Web 3, and there are millions, we just built a general-purpose protocol and and network that you can plug into and you can automate any function you want without having to build this infrastructure,” Orth told CoinDesk.

Another example is limit orders on automated market makers (AMM) – a common tool in traditional finance that executes a trade only at a present price that has largely eluded decentralized exchanges for some time. Polygon-native QuickSwap and Fantom-native SpookySwap use Gelato functions to enable them, executing 500-600 orders every day accounting for millions of dollars in volume, said Orth.

In all, a large and growing number of projects need these automated processes to offer different services to users.

“They’re all small use cases, but they really add up,” Orth said.

Competitive landscape

Gelato isn’t the only team looking to corner the market, however.

“It’s crystal clear there will be competition sooner rather than later,” Orth said.

Despite being crunchier, back-end tooling, the automation market features cutthroat competition. After working with Chainlink in 2019 – winning second place at a Chainlink-sponsored ETH Berlin hackathon and holding ongoing talks after – Chainlink released a rival “Keepers” product in August, according to Orth.

Likewise, the team was approached by Andre Cronje in early 2020 to help automate functions for Yearn, but he released his Keep3r competitor later in the year.

“He released Keep3r with a token and suddenly everyone was hyping this, and we’re like, ‘Damn, maybe we also need a token,’” joked Orth.

The team held a sale for GEL, Gelato’s native token, in August.

Additionally, in August Cronje accused the Chainlink team of “copying” Keep3r architecture, saying that he would be using rival Band oracles for future projects:

In a statement to CoinDesk, Cronje somewhat reversed that stance, saying that Gelato, Keep3r and Keepers are “not competitors” and all fill “different niches.” Cronje also was a donator to early Gelato Gitcoin grant rounds.

While Orth griped about the exclusivity deals Chainlink signs with users, he ultimately concluded that competition is good.

“The market for arbitrary smart contract execution is much larger than the oracle market, probably, so it’s a natural move for Chainlink to try to move into this space,” he said. “At the end of the day the better product should win, and they will also add to the growth of the network and the growth of the ecosystem, so it’s fair play.”

In a statement to CoinDesk, a Chainlink representative declined to weigh in directly on the competitive dynamics, writing, “Chainlink Keepers has the largest number of users across DeFi, gaming and other smart contracts” and that the team has been working on the product for “over three years.”

Orth also hinted that there may be a collaboration in the works between Keep3r and Gelato.

“Andre’s a competitor, but at the end of the day he’s a builder – he doesn’t think about competition, he wants us to work together in some way to team up against,” he paused for a moment, “other projects in the space.”

DISCLOSURE

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Andrew Thurman is a tech reporter at CoinDesk with a focus on DeFi.