Building an infrastructure that is easy-to-use is critical if the digital currency ecosystem wants to encourage the creation of consumer-facing products.
To simplify this process, startup Neuroware has built Blockstrap – an application programming interface (API) for web designers and front-end developers that supports bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, allowing developers who want to create well-designed crypto-based apps to plug into its HTML5 framework.
Adam Giles, CEO of Neuroware, explained that the goal is to create a blockchain-agnostic resource for those who are looking to build new products and services, and that the project itself came out of his own difficulties building a product with existing resources.
Giles told CoinDesk:
“We’ve got to get more developers building on this. That’s our mission: get more developers building on blockchain technologies; make it a lot easier for them.”
However, Neuroware is just one of many API providers in what has become a rather densely populated space.
Chain, a San Francisco-based blockchain API provider, recently secured more than $9m in funding to build out its product for developers, and Boost VC-backed BlockCypher is also active, boasting speed and reliability as its platform’s selling points.
Change of direction
A graduate of 500 Startups, Neuroware was part of the accelerator’s $100k funding of five bitcoin ventures in 2014.
However, at that time, it wasn’t focused so much on infrastructure. Neuroware was originally working on a brain wallet product at the incubator’s California office, but the company did what the founders called a “mini-pivot” – shifting to providing APIs for accessing cryptocurrency blockchains instead.
“Although it was the brain wallet that got us into 500 Startups, our conversations while we were in the accelerator program led us to expand and tackle a slightly bigger problem.”
The problem Giles is referring to is the tough task of building products using blockchain technology – something the founders experienced firsthand while trying to build the brain wallet.
Neuroware CTO Mark Smalley, who himself has a background as a front-end web developer, began to realize there would be many UI-focused developers needing a platform for easy API access into the blockchain.
“[Bitcoin] is just complicated for the majority of developers,” Smalley said.
Now, with Blockstrap, Neuroware is currently supporting six different blockchains: bitcoin, litecoin, dogecoin and their three respective ‘testnets’ – the latter allowing for experimentation without actually spending valuable cryptocurrency.
“Because we’re targeting developers, support for testnets is essential,” said Giles.” If you are experimenting, you don’t want to do it with real money.”
Neuroware doesn’t want to limit Blockstrap’s potential usefulness to the aforementioned cryptocurrencies, however. The company believes that there will be demand for many different blockchains in the future.
Giles pointed out:
“You find the different chains have different personalities. We want to give developers the opportunity to play on each [blockchain].”
Because of this, Neuroware has built what it calls a ‘modular’ platform that will allow developers to work on whatever comes in the future for cryptocurrencies.
Effectively, once a developer has become familiar with using Blockstrap, they will be able to easily operate within its existing framework even as new blockchain-based technologies are adopted in the future.
This way, developers will already have an understanding of the Blockstrap platform, yet will be able to utilize different types of blockchains – if that’s what the future entails.
Smalley said: “We have to be modular to ensure we’ll be able to adapt for the long-term.”
Ripple and Stellar are examples of other platforms that Blockstrap has an interest in integrating with at some point. Whatever developers ultimately will want to utilize, Neuroware wants Blockstrap to provide, and it hopes the modular stack will enable this.
What’s interesting about Blockstrap is that not only does it have its own blockchain API, but it also features some neutrality for developers.
“The ecosystem needs a lot of different options and lots of different companies,” Giles noted.
While including its own data service on the platform, Blockstrap allows developers to choose from a variety of other blockchain data providers. Currently, it supports the SoChain, Hello! Block and Blockr APIs, although only SoChain can match the six-chain versatility of Blockstrap’s API.
The Neuroware founders also offer some value by providing outputs in different ways.
For example, it uses ISO-standard date formats and gives developers the ability to calculate values using smaller satoshis (each being a 100 millionth of a full unit) or decimal-format numbers (eg 0.00123 BTC).
By providing something different, the company is hoping to separate itself from the cryptocurrency API pack.
“If you’re just giving access to the blockchain, you’re only solving about half the problem. [It’s] incredibly hard to add value in the space.”
Gap in the market
A number of companies in the developer API space see places like Silicon Valley or the entirety of North America as the lucrative market to attract development-focused users.
However, Neuroware is currently operating out of Malaysia in hopes of building out distributed payment infrastructure in Southeast Asia, where electronic funds transfer mechanisms are still antiquated.
“There are no payment gateways out here. We don’t have access to Square or Stripe or anything out here [in Asia],” said Smalley.
The founders conceded that getting developers to use Blockstrap would be their biggest challenge. That said, Neuroware believes developing countries in the Asian market may help to define blockchain technologies.
A refusal to focus solely on bitcoin could also be in the company’s interests. The recent fervor for ‘sidechains‘, which builds everything off only the bitcoin blockchain, has created a different atmosphere for cryptocurrency in Western markets.
“We tend to be more opportunistic about the blockchain technologies rather than bitcoin specifically. So, it made sense to support cryptocurrencies that operate in the same way.”
Despite what may come in the debate concerning sidechains versus altcoin blockchains, Neuroware remains convinced that distributed currency-based consumer technologies will require back-end support from systems like Blockstrap.
“We saw a huge hole in the market,” Smalley concluded.
Images via Neuroware