Chance meeting at WebCampKL leads to an idea, pivot at 500 Startups leads to a vision
On a mission to help developers as they rebuild financial services across the globe
AS the adage goes, birds of a feather flock together, and that was certainly the case for Mark Smalley as to how his current venture came about.
Smalley was giving a presentation on crypto-currency Bitcoin at WebCampKL in May 2013 when he met his cofounder Adam Giles, who was also presenting at the monthly gathering of that community of hackers, geeks, makers and creative types.
As it turns out, Giles was the only other person in the room to own any Bitcoin, and from there the evening quickly turned into a question and answer session about crypto-currencies.
“There was sufficient interest from the audience for Adam [Giles] and me to start discussing the possibility of working on a Bitcoin project together.
“We started to play with the technology with a view to building something like an exchange, and that’s how we learned just how hard it is to build something on blockchain technologies,” Smalley tells Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.
It wasn’t until 2014 when things began to pick up for the duo, when in February, as a proof of concept, Smalley built an HTML wallet that ran on nearly any smartphone, with the hope of attracting some attention and landing “a dream job with Mozilla or Automattic.”
After being featured on Reddit’s Bitcoin section the wallet, called BrainControl.me, received 16,000 downloads.
“The effort building that out, in addition to my résumé, did not land me a job, but it did catch the eye of Sean Percival, a venture partner from 500 Startups who happened to be visiting Singapore at the time.
“I jumped on a coach, headed over to see him, and three weeks later I got the call,” Smalley recalls.
In April 2014, BrainControl.me was accepted into Batch 9 of the 500 Startups Accelerator programme as one of its first Bitcoin ventures.
Neuroware was incorporated that same month with Smalley as chief technology officer and Giles as chief executive officer.
The third cofounder, Johnny Mayo, whom Smalley worked with at Betanomics – an Asian-wide project to help envision, create and sustain an online, decentralised economy – was roped in as chief marketing officer.
The ‘Neuromancers,’ as they like to refer to themselves and perhaps with a tip of the hat to writer William Gibson, packed their bags and moved from Kuala Lumpur to Mountain View, California, to continue work on their Bitcoin wallet under the 500 Startups programme.
Pivot: From wallet to framework
At first, the Neuroware team had intended to develop a Bitcoin wallet with themes and plugins, much like WordPress, but after one month in the United States, there was a pivot and they decided to instead take on the mission of making it easier for developers to build on the blockchain.
Bitcoin transactions are recorded in a public ledger called the blockchain, which is distributed, to independently verify the chain of ownership of any and every Bitcoin amount.
Approximately six times per hour, a group of accepted transactions, a block, is added to the blockchain, which is quickly published to all network nodes.
Andreas Antonopoulos, author of Mastering Bitcoin. Unlocking Digital Crypto-Currencies, explains that this allows Bitcoin software to determine when a particular Bitcoin amount has been spent, which is necessary to prevent double-spending in an environment with no central authority.
Whereas a conventional ledger records the transfers of actual bills or promissory notes that exist apart from it, the blockchain is the only place that bitcoins can be said to exist in the form of unspent outputs of transactions.
Blockchains are essentially a series of distributed decentralised transactional-data platforms that are being used to power several international payment networks, and it currently enables the digital currency Bitcoin, which is currently being used to transfer over US$300 million a day in peer-to-peer payments.
As of Dec 3, total market capitalisation of crypto-currencies globally was US$ 5.9 billion, according to CoinMarketCap, a website which tracks crypto-currency trades.
“It was whilst building the framework that would allow us to develop such a modular wallet that we realised the true potential was in the tools we were building to support that wallet,” says Smalley.
“By open sourcing the framework itself, we could help the developer ecosystem evolve,” he adds.
Coming out of stealth mode
Neuroware made its public debut at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe in London on Oct 21 with the release of the Blockstrap HTML5 framework and API (application programming interface) in ‘stealth beta.’
The company also released first-example applications built using the Blockstrap stack to showcase the possibilities, including a Wallet and Block-Explorer.
Blockstrap came out of beta to public release in late November and the company is focused on providing tools and infrastructure for blockchain developers.
It is positioning itself as the complete crypto-currency development stack that aims to simplify access to the underlying blockchain technologies, via a series of necessary starting points and ways to easily modify things.
“The Blockstrap API is what powers all of our applications, but our applications can also be used with any API, including a user’s own home-built one. Our API is free for low volume usage, but currently remains proprietary.
“For high-usage of the API, there are small-business and enterprise level pricing that can also kick-in for consumers or individual developers who wish to utilise additional meta-data storage for things such as backups and/ or two-factor authentication,” says Smalley.
He says the team plans to release its own consumer-facing services built on top of the Blockstrap platform as the company matures, and will also be introducing a marketplace that will allow other developers to buy or sell modules for its framework.
In terms of a product roadmap, Smalley says that the biggest targets moving forward would be the ability to store additional data in Blockstrap APIs tagged to specific addresses, as well as introducing support for Blockchain 2.0 technologies such as Stellar, Ripple and Ethereum.
“We also have a few cool new example applications we are working on that should help to demonstrate just how versatile our framework can be,” he declares.
Smalley notes that Neuroware only launched its product recently and currently has no significant data to share regarding users or clients, but has started supporting a few early adopters.
Other plans in the pipeline include a hackathon series across America, Europe, and Asia with selected partners to promote Blockstrap; the team hopes to kick this off early next year.
Click here to check out the full Neuroware roadmap.
Next Page: Reflections, and beyond Bitcoin