Pylons is a gas-free blockchain built on Cosmos SDK that focuses on mobile developers. They are focused on making fast, free, and easily programmable NFTs accessible to developers for mass-market products. Join your hosts Jeff Kelley, and Eathan Janney as they speak to the CEO of Pylons, Michael Sofaer. In this session, Michael takes us deeper into the development of and interoperability of Pylons. Listen in as Michael shares his thoughts on moving beyond transactions in “weird internet money” and unlocking untapped potential in the web3 space. Come and learn more about Michael and Pylons in today’s Edge of NFT episode.
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Michael Sofaer Of Pylons And Tendermint On Building Fast, Free And Accessible Ways To Enter A Web3 World
This sponsored spotlight episode featured Michael Sofaer, the Founder and CEO of Pylons, a gas-free blockchain for a programmable property built on Cosmos SDK and focused on mobile developers. Michael is also the Director of NFTs at Tendermint, a blockchain veteran and repeated early mover. Michael is the former CIO of the first US-regulated Bitcoin exchange. He also cofounded Uversity, which was the first for-profit company the Gates Foundation made an equity investment in.
Pylons is the flagship engine for NFTs in the Cosmos ecosystem. It is a sovereign chain designed to lower barriers of entry on the supply side and demand side of digital goods, their origination, and experiences. Pylon’s mission is to be the connective tissue for digital properties in an IBC Web3 world. Its vision is to empower artists, developers, and brands of all varieties to create the taste by which they are enjoyed.
Michael, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you here.
Thank you. It’s lovely to be here.
It’s amazing to have you and I can’t wait to dig in on Pylons a bit. Let’s start at the beginning. How did this idea come together? How did you bring the team together to make it happen?
I have been a Cosmos fanboy since 2016. I have been a believer in IBC and the internet of blockchains concept since I talked to Jae Kwon back in 2016 when it was a white paper and I was like, “We’re doing this. This is the future.” CryptoKitties made me realize that money isn’t the only metaphor that works on blockchains and the non-monetary metaphors are potentially more interesting and more human. I have been excited about it since then. I’m trying to scheme a way to get to do this and put this together.
I had a couple of false starts. In 2019, I started this thing again from scratch and built it with my own money. I did a demo for Peng at Tendermint at the end of 2020 and at the beginning of 2021. By March, they brought me in as the incubator team. I started hiring at the beginning of April or maybe in May. I have been hiring and raising money as fast as I can. The team came together pretty quickly. It’s this ragtag bunch of engineers and marketers trying to build some great infrastructure for digital items.
Pylons Blockchain: Getting people in who aren’t being paid to use Pylons is great. They get to find bugs and you get to fix them. Because Pylons is so different from all the other blockchains in a lot of deep ways.
Did you have other friends or colleagues that you got in the boat with you or were you carrying this thing on your shoulders until you made these hires?
My first hire was a friend. It’s this woman, Linda, who I have known a long time and who is a veteran of a lot of startups. She came in and was my ops person for a while. She went back to the regular corporate world where things are not a 24/7 experience. We owe her a huge debt. She was incredibly effective.
It’s important to have somebody you can trust and rely on the team and have some experience with to be in the boat with you.
My girlfriend has been a huge help all the time. She is always there. Especially with COVID because she is working remote, her ability to know everything that’s going on and be helpful. Presence has been pretty high.
We know you went live with your beta apps in Pylon’s testnet launch. Can you tell us a little bit about how that has been going and what’s the development there?
It has been great and amazing to get people in who aren’t being paid to use it, at least not upfront. There’s a prize. To get people in who are looking for something cool to do and they find this, and they are like, “This is cool. I’m going to try to build with this,” they start to build with it. They start asking questions about like, “How does this work? I found a bug. Can you fix this bug?” I have never been so happy to have someone file a bug report where it’s like, “We have been putting so much blood into this to bring the system up.”
It’s so different from all the other blockchains in a bunch of pretty deep ways. To get people to use it, it’s working, and they are liking it has been thrilling. The testnet solidly went up only a few days before HackAtom launched. The SDKs went up the day of HackAtom launch and we were up there like, “Check our SDKs. Build a Flutter app. Build a Flutter game on our platform.” People were doing it. It’s amazing.
I could see the energy there that goes into that and seeing the thing that you created being put to use or even being torn apart. It’s rare that you want people to find the mistakes necessarily, but in the world of development and software, it’s helpful. You’re iterating, evolving, and making it better. That’s a win.
Even a bug report can be a form of moral support. It’s like, “You’re using it. You care about it. You’re committed to this. You’re in deep with us and you’re co-creating in a way.”
Here is a person like, “I’m not writing you a check to care whether this bug gets fixed, but you care.”
You mentioned HackAtom and we know you have this gold sponsorship that you put together for it. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
HackAtom is the marquee hackathon in the Cosmos ecosystem. Cosmos is this multi-blockchain world. Terra and Crypto.org are both Cosmos SDK projects that are connected on IBC. You can go on Osmosis and you can trade between these tokens. All these blockchains connect. HackAtom is the hackathon for doing that. The last hackathon was the creation of Osmosis.
It was one of the big presses that came out of the hackathon. That’s the best thing that has happened in crypto in the last couple of years. It’s a cool moment. There’s a whole bunch of teams that have put in prizes to work with their code. We put out two prizes. One is to build a game on top of Pylons and one is to build an event ticketing system on top of Pylons.
Especially in the event ticketing space, there are so many issues with the slate of opportunities out there, like the Ticketmasters and others of the world. There are a lot of folks working hard to try to disrupt that and bring something better to the table.
That space is super fascinating. It’s deeply complicated because Live Nation owns so many of the venues. The exclusive deals go beyond the app itself. There’s some pretty seriously anti-competitive stuff in there, but it’s a battle word. Here we are at Web3. If you want to be real, let’s be real. Let’s fight the battles that are worth fighting, and that’s one of them.
Pylons Blockchain: HackAtom is a hackathon in the cosmos ecosystem. So you can go on Osmosis and trade between all these tokens. Many different teams put out prizes to work with their code.
One of the things we’re constantly talking about and working on is trying to create that direct connection to our readers, which we don’t have. We got all the stats on everybody generally, but I don’t know what your behavior is. I don’t know how you’re experiencing our show once they have a chance to talk to you offline, which is hard to do. It’s not easy to build that relationship offline. Similarly, for events, event organizers and content creators who are throwing these things don’t have a direct connection with their attendees and that’s a bummer. To me, it’s counter to the culture and ethos of crypto, blockchain, and now NFTs.
I got my first POAP. I’m surprised it has been thinking this long.
I have been looking and I don’t see any POAPs here.
It was a guy that he is connected with the CEO of POAP. The guy sends him to conferences to have POAPs and he hands out these little cards with the QR on them.
When I go to a crypto conference, I’m looking for POAPs. I want my POAP and I haven’t gotten it yet.
It’s stuff like that. It’s the engagement that you’re talking about, Jeff. There’s so much to be improved there because tickets rep can represent so much and be so fun, experiential, and highlight personal relationships and experiences. There’s a lot to be done.
There’s a power that hasn’t been unlocked. You think about like, “What does Web3 bring to this table that you couldn’t do without it?” There’s a lot you could do. You could do resale. I think about something that is half social DAO. It’s the idea of having these fan club/social DAO things where it’s like, “There are 2,000 of these and the people who have them can buy tickets early and can buy better tickets, but because this is a blockchain thing, you can make this ticket non-transferable. You can make it transferable, but it’s a 50% royalty when you sell it and there’s a minimum price.”
You can put these rules on it. You have this object that’s your membership in this special club and you can sell right in that. The tickets and bonuses that throws off are less transferable. If you are part of this or whatever it is, you want it because you’re a fan. You can’t take the residuals and monetize them too much, but you can monetize the membership. You need a blockchain to power that. If you tried to do it with a database, it would be too corruptible. You can’t imagine a business honestly administering a thing like that.
Baking all these rules in, there’s so much possibility and we’re in a stage of experimentation too. Kudos to the people that are reaching out, making those experiments, and taking those risks. I imagine ticketing now on Web3 is a very open space. There are a lot of things. You could try 50% royalty on a resale. What are you going to try, 75%?
I can imagine in five years or who knows? Maybe it’s quicker or it takes longer that we narrow in on like, “What should ticketing be?” It may narrow in on one or several avenues. I know you guys are working on an experience for Strange Clan characters. It would be interesting to know how you’re putting your spin on things and adding to the conversation.
Those guys are impressive. They have this spirit that’s so warm and also totally committed and hard-driving. I enjoy interacting with those guys. I had talked to Lex relatively often. This is related to the HackAtom thing. We want to see people use the Pylons recipe system to generate Strange Clan-themed experiences, whether it’s like, “Here’s how you can battle with your Strange Clan character. Here’s how you can create a shopping experience where your character can buy new weapons. This is what a level-up system would look like or this is what a skill-based or whatever.”
There are all these things that the Pylons recipe system is well-designed to do. Strange Clan has created a lovely universe to play in and the Cosmos community has adopted it. It’s a good place to bring that creative energy and for people to come together and collaboratively create whatever this story/game is going to become.
On the thread of collaboration, which is so central to everything that’s happening in this space now, it’s even light-years beyond where we were in 2017 and 2018. How does interoperability play into Pylons and also your roadmap?
Interoperability is the center of what the Cosmos ecosystem is about. The whole concept of application-specific chains to do one thing and do it well and then make your thing able to be used as part of a larger workflow, to me, that is central to where we want to go. Interoperability is huge on our roadmap as far as implementation now. We don’t have any outgoing interoperability where you can move the items out of the chain and do stuff with them. What we’re working on first is payment interoperability.
We don’t have our payment token. We have a play money token that is designed to not hold any value that you can price stuff in to be fun. We guarantee you that you will never make any money within it. That’s the rule like, “We promise you will never make money on this token 100%.” There is a ceiling on the price of the token. We will sell an infinite amount at that ceiling if we have to, to make sure no one ever makes any money.
Pylons Blockchain: There’s a lot of power that hasn’t been unlocked yet in ticketing. For instance, people who are part of fan clubs can buy better and earlier tickets. But since it’s a blockchain thing, you can put little rules on it.
It’s not for that. It’s for fun and games. It’s to be like, “This thing is worth £5,000. No, it isn’t. If it is, who cares?” It’s if you want to play around with it but for the real stuff, we don’t have a payment token that’s money-like. We’re using IBC. You can bring in Euro stablecoin, Terra USD stablecoin, or the Atom. When we have the bridges up, you’re going to be able to pay directly in ETH or Bitcoin. That is central to our interoperability story.
That phase one of the interoperability story is to let people spend the money they have. Don’t make them buy your weird money in order to engage in commerce. My guiding principle for a product is to try to make a good product that people want. Don’t put barriers in people’s way. Nobody wants to buy art with your weird internet money.
In the broader world, it’s a huge barrier. If we’re going to make our weird internet money succeed, which we are going to make it, the way we’re going to do that, in my opinion, is you get people in with the money they have. If they sell the thing later, they sell it for that weird internet money. You’re more likely to get people to say, “I will spend $10 on this piece of digital art,” than to say, “I will buy $10 worth of this thing.” If you buy digital art, you become part of the culture. You see it first and then you’re like, “If I’m going to sell this, I want ETH.”
To me, that’s the on-ramp. I don’t want to put any barriers between a regular user and my product. I’m never going to make people have to go to an exchange to buy stuff. You download the app and buy the thing. You can use your credit card. If you have primary internet money, it’s awesome. You don’t need to exchange it for some other internet money if it’s one of the primary ones. That’s the idea. It’s the smoothest possible on-ramp experience.
We run into this pattern so much on the show as we talk to people. Various people are doing better and worse jobs of it. The people that are committed to saying, “We’re crypto nerds, but where’s the easy button?” You bring it right back to the integration of the internet. Now, you got Squarespace and WordPress plugins and all this stuff. That’s why we have the growth of the internet is because people have made easy buttons.
The people who have made the biggest easy buttons have not only benefited the larger culture. They benefited from their businesses. Look at a company like Stripe. It’s a huge thing to tackle. A lot of those easy buttons are very difficult to build. Stripe is a great example. They are doing it. That’s great on the same topic. I love that you have that theme. You’re doing that not only with onboarding, cryptocurrencies, and exchanging of things but also for development. What are some ways you’re lowering the barrier of entry on development?
I believe that if you want to build mobile crypto-powered apps, the mobile app you’re building is enough of a coding challenge. You shouldn’t have to learn a smart contracting language. For almost everything that a regular developer is going to want to build, you’re not going to need to know a smart contracting language and the blockchain’s native language. You’re not designing yield curves or something. That’s not what you’re doing. You’re building a game, store, or experience of some kind. The set of primitives that you need in order to do that is a lot simpler.
What we have done is we have created the set of primitives that we call recipes. We have created a way for you to design your experience using those recipes. You do it in JSON, so you state your inputs and outputs for how your user moves through the world. If they have this stuff, they can execute this transaction. It’s all just that. They can go from, “You have this basket of stuff and you can turn it into this basket of stuff.” There’s whatever randomness in that pipeline that you choose to add. It’s fundamentally this property-based state machine that you define in JSON.
You push that stuff to the chain using our client. You don’t need to do blockchain programming. You use our software, publish it to the chain, get recipe ideas back, plug those into your Flutter app and you’re good, your Flutter app talks to our wallet app. As a developer, you don’t need to build a wallet app and do smart contract programming. We did that. You have to be like, “Here is the progression of the kinds of items my user should go through.” Put that stuff in your mobile app and then your user can walk your path and you can focus on building the app you want to build. That’s the core.
As creators or creative people, I have found over time in dealing with a lot of creative folks that either have the technical capability to realize that vision or not and so many don’t have the ability to translate that concept into reality and give people easy buttons to do it. This is game-changing. Whether it’s development, creating music, NFT project, or whatever, it’s part of what we’re seeing here in this exponential growth curve that’s happening in this space now. It’s those easy buttons. I’m fascinated by that.
As a developer, one of my deep principles is, “Every line of code should speak. You should never have to write a line of code that doesn’t mean anything to your specific project.” I tried one Solidity Project once. I’m not a Solidity expert by any means, but there was a lot of boilerplate. There is an enormous amount of code that has to be there that isn’t there because of an intention that I have.
To me, it’s all about like, “Is every single line of code that I make my developer write, does it contain an intention that developer has about what they want their experience to be?” That’s what to aim for. That’s why it’s like, “One line to put the SDK in, two lines to initialize the wallet, and one line per recipe that the user executes.”
That’s a good heuristic. To bring back some examples, if I look at Squarespace or Wix, it’s like, “I got to put a line of code here and there if I want to embed something, but that’s it, and it’s very intentional.” There are tons of lines of codes behind that and I don’t have to see any of them.
It’s an amazing vision. What’s cool is it’s all becoming reality fast.
It’s amazing to see. It’s great. The chain is up. The SDK is available. If you have an Android phone, you can get the wallet on the App Store. We have an art mint there, so you can also get it on the App Store. Hopefully, we will get stuff up on the iOS stuff in December 2021.
If people want to follow you, where can they go to track you, the project, and everything that’s happening?
Pylons Blockchain: Pylons is going to make their own tokens at some point. But the way they’ll do that is by getting people in with the money they have. Then if they sell the thing later, they sell it for the weird internet money.
The best place is Discord, Discord.gg/Pylons. That’s where the energy is. Especially if you’re a developer, come to the Discord and say hi. It has been a zero-spam environment. There’s no shilling. It’s mostly developers and artists talking about the projects. It’s a good place to be. Twitter is @PylonsTech. The website is Pylons.tech.
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Remember, we always invite you to co-create and build with us at Edge of NFT. We’re unlocking a whole new way to connect and collaborate with us through our own NFT drop, Spirit Seed NFTs, in collaboration with one of our favorite humans on the planet, Nicole Buffett. She is an amazing artist and philanthropist whose project Spirit Coin serves as the inspiration for the drop. There are only 100 Spirit Seeds that will ever be minted and you can grab one for 0.55 ETH at SpiritSeeds.xyz.
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Thank you so much. I appreciate it.