This post was last updated on March 8th, 2019 at 12:30 pm
Part 1 Description
This is part 1 of a series on decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges. I am joined today by Alex Wearn: Co-founder and CEO of Aurora Lab (IDEX).
This deep dive will be broken up into 10 chapters:
- Chapter 1: A primer on decentralized exchanges and the problems they actually solve
- Chapter 2: A step-by-step walkthrough of trade execution through post-trade settlement
- Chapter 3: A history of decentralized exchanges
- Chapter 4: The components and attributes of a decentralized exchange
- Chapter 5: Control and regulation
- Chapter 6: A review of the top blockchains for decentralized exchange
- Chapter 7: Sourcing liquidity
- Chapter 8: Different approaches to exchange tokens (Binance’s BNB token, for example)
- Chapter 9: A look at the organization around IDEX, Aurora DAO
- Chapter 10: The future of decentralized exchange might look like
In this episode, Alex and I will concentrate on the first five chapters. Listen in to hear what Alex has to say about the problems that a decentralized exchange solves, the smart contract-based approach, and the history of decentralized exchanges.
In this episode we discuss:
- Decentralized exchange definitions
- Problems solved by a decentralized exchanges
- Types of users attracted to particular feature sets
- Pros and cons of decentralized exchange
- How the dollar value of funds raised through an ICO in a given month correlates with revenue
- Steps that someone new to cryptocurrency would need to take to execute a trade on IDEX
- The smart contract-based approach
- The 0x protocol
- The history and emergence of decentralized exchanges
- How to handle the collision of taker orders
- The core functions that can be unbundled from each other in the execution of trades on an exchange
- The relationship between orders and trades
- Definitions of makers and takers
- Custody of funds and how it ties into trade settlement
Links Relevant To This Episode:
- Alex Wearn
- Ledger Wallet
- Air Swap
- Radar Relay
Thanks To Our Sponsor: Nomics’s Cryptocurrency Market Data API
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Part 2 Description
This episode is the second and final part of a series on decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges. I am joined today by Alex Wearn: Co-founder and CEO of Aurora Lab. Aurora Lab is responsible for creating IDEX, the number one decentralized application on the Ethereum network.
This deep dive is broken up into 10 chapters. In episode 33 we discussed chapters 1 through 4.
In this episode, Alex and I will concentrate on chapters 5 through 10.
- In Chapter 5: We look at control and regulation, and what decentralized exchange owners actually have control over
- In Chapter 6: A review of the top blockchains for decentralized exchange
- In Chapter 7: We talk about sourcing liquidity
- Chapter 8: Different approaches to exchange tokens. As an Example, Binances Token BNB, is an example of an exchange token.
- Chapter 9: A look at the organization around IDEX, Aurora DAO
- Chapter 10: Explores what the future of decentralized exchange might look like
We also discuss
- What regulators could and could not expect IDEX to do* What regulators can and can’t expect IDEX to do
- IDEX’s listing policies
- How to stop phishing attacks on a decentralized exchange
- Methods for sourcing liquidity
- Accommodating (or not) maker-taker schemes and incentivization programs
- Different approaches to exchange tokens
- Token design
- IDEX Fundraising
- The size and location of Alex’s team
- The future of decentralized exchange
Links Relevant To Part 2:
Part 1 Transcript:
Clay: Welcome to Flippening, the first and original podcast for full time professional and institutional crypto investors. I’m your host Clay Collins. Each week, we discuss the cryptocurrency economy, new investment strategies for maximizing returns and storage from the frontlines of financial disruption. Go to flippening.com to join our newsletter for cryptocurrency investors and find out just why this podcast is called Flippening.
Announcer: Clay Collins is the CEO of Nomics. All opinions expressed by Clay and podcasts guests are solely their own opinion and [00:00:30] do not reflect the opinion of Nomics or any other company. This podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only and should not be relied upon as the basis for investment decisions.
Welcome to part one of this two-part series on decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges. Instead of beating around the bush, I’m just going to be upfront and tell you that this is the best content that you can find anywhere online [00:01:00] about this topic right now. I hope you’ll agree.
This deep dive is broken up into 10 chapters: Chapter 1 is a primer on decentralized exchanges and the problems they actually solve. Chapter 2 is a step-by-step walkthrough of what it would take for someone to get to the point where they can execute a trade on a decentralized exchange, all the way through post-trade settlement. Chapter 3 is a history of decentralized exchanges and how this all came to be. In Chapter 4, we [00:01:30] break down the components and attributes of a decentralized exchange. In Chapter 5 we look at control and regulation, and what decentralized exchange owners actually have control over. Chapter 6 is a review of the top blockchains for decentralized exchange. In Chapter 7, we talk about sourcing liquidity. Chapter 8 is about different approaches to exchange tokens, as an example, Binance’s Token BNB is an example of an exchange token. Chapter 9 is a look at [00:02:00] one organization that builds a decentralized exchange, Aurora DAO which is the creator of IDEX. Chapter 10 peers into the future and explores what the future of decentralized exchange might look like.
I’m joined in this exploration by Alex Wearn, cofounder and CEO of Aurora Lab, which creates IDEX, the number one decentralized application right now in terms of transaction volume on the Ethereum network.
We’re just about to kick things off, but before we do that, I wanted to [00:02:30] provide two announcements regarding Nomics.com, the company the produces and funds this podcast. Announcement number one is that I’ve launched a new podcast, which you can find at NomicsUpdate.com. As the URL suggests, the podcast is called The Nomics Update. I release the Nomics Update every single weekday; it’s my personal audio-journal as CEO of Nomics. During each episode, I tell stories from inside our startup including the ups and downs, high and lows. I also discuss our product roadmap, [00:03:30] announce new partnerships and features, and speak to important new ideas shaping the future of nomics.com and crypto asset data in general. To subscribe to the podcast, go to nomicsupdate.com, find the link to your favorite podcasting platform, and hit the subscribe button.
Announcement number two is that blocktrade.com has completed a deep data integration with nomics.com and their data is now available at nomics.com—our website—and via the nomics API. Blocktrade.com will be the first fully licensed security token exchange in Europe, [00:03:30] focused on listing crypto assets, security tokens, and other tokenized financial instruments. Trading is live on their platform currently. Blocktrade enables crypto trading to institutional traders while unlocking huge amounts of liquidity with their primary market partners. This integration means that we now have the best Blocktrade data available, including gapless raw trade data. If you’d like access go to nomicsapi.com and sign up for an API key. If you’re an [00:04:00] exchange operator who’d like to do a deep data integration with Nomics and become an a-plus verified exchange on the Nomics data platform, please see nomicsintegration.com.
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program. Here is part one of our series in decentralized exchanges with Alex Wearn from IDEX.
Clay: [00:04:35] Let’s kick this off with chapter one which is really a primer on decentralized exchanges and the problems they solve. I think people mean a lot of different things when they refer to decentralized exchanges. What does decentralized exchange mean to you?
Alex: To me, a decentralized exchange is any exchange that uses a blockchain and private keys [00:05:00] to manage the custody of funds. Just to expound on that a little bit, the key is that the private keys that control the funds are not under the control of the exchange operators. It’s something that the end user is always in possession of and is using to actually give instructions to anything that has to do with the movement of funds. A traditional centralized exchange, when you want to trade on the platform, the first thing you have to do is send your cryptocurrency to a wallet that they control. That’s the deposit process. [00:05:30] Before you can do anything, you actually have to give up control of your cryptocurrency. There’s a phrase in the space that’s, if you don’t control the private keys, then it’s not your money.
Again and again, we see issues where centralized exchanges, they’re a big target for hackers and thieves, because of the fact that they’re pooling everybody’s funds into one place and under one kind of architecture or system. A decentralized exchange allows users to trade in a more peer-to-peer fashion, where they’re never giving up control [00:06:00] to that centralized entity, and everything that they do on the platform is explicitly authorized and approved through their own private key.
Clay: According to that definition, there does seem a little bit of gray area with an exchange like Shapeshift, where it’s noncustodial so they’re not holding your funds day in and day out, but they do hold your funds to make the trade. Perhaps they are custody-ing it, but it’s for a much shorter period of time. Is that the distinction? Would you call [00:06:30] Shapeshift a decentralized exchange or not?
Alex: I would not call it a centralized exchange because of the fact that you just mentioned, they’re holding it, even though it’s a brief period of time. It’s a great innovation on that front. It’s also great the way they are able to operate and connect across different blockchains. That’s one of the things that DEXs today cannot do. Because of that how do you connect that leap from one cryptocurrency on one blockchain to a cryptocurrency on another?
Shapeshift does that by minimizing the amount of time [00:07:00] that you have to trust that third party. But there’s still the risk that you send the initial funds, and you never get back what you first sent them. On a decentralized exchange, that’s never a problem because the transactions are what’s called atomic, meaning they either happen in both of the trades, both of the transactions go through, both parties’ assets are swapped, or the transaction fails. It’s all or nothing.
Clay: It might be spiritually kind of on the same continuum as a decentralized exchange, but it doesn’t quite hit the [00:07:30] mark in terms of qualifying as such. So, with the definition established, let’s move on to the problems that are solved. What problems do you think at the end of the day a decentralized exchange solves for other than or rather in addition to theft and security issues, and sort of trusting a centralized third party?
Alex: That first one, that issue of theft, that really can be defined as custody. If you want to trade your [00:08:00] assets, do you have to give up custody and give permission to a third party to control it? That to me is the primary benefit of a decentralized exchange and really kind of 95% of the reason for using one. If you’re a user that’s interested in either self-custodying, because that’s something that’s appealing to you, you like the digitization of assets, kind of this cryptocurrency revolution or because you have, and I think plenty of reason to do so, you have suspicion [00:08:30] on the ability for centralized exchanges to keep your cryptocurrency safe.
Another reason would be kind of the ease of onboarding. In order to trade on these decentralized exchanges, your account is actually your private key and your wallet. You don’t need to create a new signup process, and then deposit into the centralized exchange in order to participate. You just show up with your wallet and you’re ready to trade. That’s really helpful for new users that are already familiar with the cryptocurrency [00:09:00] process, understand kind of private key technology that they can easily move to one of these new platforms.
And I think that’s part of what gets me excited, you know, if we see continued development and hopefully future adoption of decentralized applications, is this notion that you have an account that can work and be used at all sorts of different platforms and applications. It’s actually something we have struggled with, with some of our users where they’re used to creating a username password and getting them used to this [00:09:30] notion that it’s actually this Ethereum wallet. That’s what you use. It’s your password, it’s your login, it’s your account, it’s everything but it’s not inherently restricted to just IDEX. That’s a bit of a mental model, kind of a shift that we have to work with to educate our users.
Clay: They already have their account if they have an Ethereum wallet. What other problems does it solve?
Alex: One of the other things that I think a lot of decentralized exchanges are doing is also help [00:10:00] democratizing access to these assets. We have, on our platform, we don’t charge any listing fees for projects that want to be listed on IDEX—that’s part philosophy, and in part a function of the way our operations work that. If we find a project that is high quality and has a team that’s trying to execute, we want them to be able to get exposure, and if others want to participate in the project, we’d like for them to be able to do so via IDEX. Part of that’s coming from our roots. We were bootstrapped in order to [00:10:30] develop and launch our product, and we don’t think those that can’t pay a large listing fee should be shut out of participating in these markets.
Clay: What kind of user persona do you think this feature set attracts? It’s a little bit difficult, because people are trading from the other side of Ethereum addresses and you don’t know who these people are, you probably can’t have them fill out an onboarding survey, or maybe you can, but you don’t because it’s not consistent with the ethos. But do you have a sense of [00:11:00] who your customer is?
Alex: I think we’ve seen a transition in the customer base that correlates roughly with the overall transition at kind of an aggregate level within the cryptocurrency space. When we were first developing this and first launching test nets, it was very much those who were already in the cryptocurrency space, often developers themselves, highly technical, and were very much just curious about the capabilities of trading through [00:11:30] a smart contract and directly with just using your private key as authorization. Over time, as the cryptocurrency market has grown and become more popular with “average consumers”, we’ve seen that user base transition as well. But you’re certainly going to be relatively technical to have found and be able to use IDEX.
One of the things is just the fact that IDEX only trades assets that are already on the Ethereum blockchain. You can’t show up with a credit card and use it on IDEX. You [00:12:00] have to have already acquired cryptocurrency, in this case ether. That in and of itself is one barrier that ensures that the users who have found us are relatively technical. Another one is the fact that you do use a private key or some sort of wallet—that’s another thing that users need to understand before they get there.
I think that’s one of our focuses from kind of a UX perspective. It’s really our job as DEX builders to make sure that we start to ease that process. We’ve started with kind of focusing on the market that understands and [00:12:30] is very receptive to this architecture. I think that’s going to be a big focus of ours over the next few years is how do we make it easy for someone who doesn’t want to necessarily learn those things, or those aspects aren’t of interest to them, to show up, use the platform and still get the benefits of a decentralized exchange without having to understand all the complexities.
Clay: We talked a little bit about the pros, and you touched a little bit on some of the cons to trading on a decentralized exchange. Let’s flush that out a little bit more. What other [00:13:00] downsides do you think exist with your average decentralized exchange? What isn’t available to traders on these platforms?
Alex: I mentioned how you can’t use a credit card or something to just jump into the platform immediately. that’s because inherently fiat currency is not supported on the exchange. That is changing a little bit with the introduction of stable coins. Stable coins are essentially a bridge between traditional bank accounts and currency into the cryptocurrency world. [00:13:30] You’ve got stable coins, Tether being the most famous, but also the launch of TrueUSD and Circle’s new USD Coin, that essentially becomes a representation of a bank account balance, but on the blockchain as a crypto asset.
We can’t trade dollars. The smart contract has no knowledge of dollars in your Bank of America bank account, but it is able to trade these cryptocurrencies that are issued by these third parties that are used to represent bank account balances that they control. That is an [00:14:00] element that is improving, kind of that ease of use.
One of the other challenges is that, and this kind of ties in with that previous comment, is that the only assets you can trade or those that are on that particular blockchain. IDEX operates on the Ethereum blockchain, which means that we’re unable to trade Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ripple, EOS, other assets that are on other competing blockchains and that’s just because of the nature of the fact that—similar to the reason it can’t interact with a bank account—it’s unable to [00:14:30] interact with other blockchains that it isn’t connected to. That again, is another issue and challenge that a lot of projects are working on, this notion of interoperability or cross chain communication where assets can be transferred, so to speak, from one blockchain to another.
Clay: In summary, the quote currency has to be Ethereum. In the case of IDEX, you’re limited to assets on the Ethereum blockchain, and there’s no easy [00:15:00] fiat on-ramps or new users who want to get involved. Is there anything else on that list?
Alex: I think that’s a pretty good list, at least off the top of my head.
Clay: Maybe some slight user experience challenges to getting a Ethereum wallet set up, why do you think, why are decentralized exchanges synonymous with Ethereum trading? I can’t think of a single notable—in terms of volume—decentralized exchange that doesn’t operate entirely within an Ethereum ecosystem.
Alex: I think the [00:15:30] reasons are twofold. The first Ethereum was the first capable smart contract blockchain that really had kind of the tooling, the scripting language, the ability to create a smart contract-based exchange. It’s the first one that people really looked at it and say actually from a technical perspective, “This is something we can build, and set out to do so.” The second I think is linked to the ICO boom of 2017 and early 2018 where [00:16:00] tying back to those previous comments, you can only trade what is on that particular blockchain.
Ethereum has been by far the dominant exchange for issuing ICOs and tokens. I think I read something like over 85% of tokens have been on the Ethereum blockchain itself. I do think you’re going to see this change, you’re going to see DEXs expand or build on other blockchains because (1) other blockchains are [00:16:30] coming out that have smart contract capabilities and you can create an exchange that trades using this same type of architecture, and (2) you’re going to start seeing projects either launching directly on or potentially migrating over to other blockchains.
Clay: To what extent is the dollar value of funds raised through an ICO in a given month, a leading indicator of what your revenue will be? Are they somewhat correlated, are they tightly correlated, or they loosely correlated?
Alex: [00:17:00] They’re definitely loosely correlated. I was looking at a chart the other day of ICO funding, and it was interesting to see how much it actually correlated with the price of ether. One of the individuals who was commenting on it was speculating that it’s actually ICO who is driving the Ethereum price. Which would make sense that if Ethereum is the funding mechanism of choice for ICOs, as there are more going on, demand for ether is going up. As there are less going on, demand for ether would go down, [00:17:30] either due to less users needing to buy it to get into the ICO or because ICOs themselves are selling after they’ve done their funding raise.
But back to the original question of correlation with IDEX, we’ve seen that it’s more followed kind of the macro trends within the crypto market, and it’s really just been a function of kind of traffic and interest from some of the more, you call them the retail trader or the average consumer. We saw a lot of activity in March and April of last year, and it’s definitely [00:18:00] dropped down a little bit with kind of some of the pullback in the ICO market.
Clay: Let’s transition now to chapter two, which is a step-by-step walkthrough of what it would take for someone who’s never acquired a crypto asset, and they’re coming to the space fresh. Let’s walk through step-by-step what it would take for that person to get to the point where they can execute a trade on IDEX, all the way through post-trade settlement. What does that look like?
Alex: The first step is [00:18:30] you have to get your funds converted into some sort of cryptocurrency, and ultimately it needs to be in ether. Being on the Ethereum blockchain, that’s going to be kind of the bridge between traditional currency and this exchange itself. We do not have a fiat on-ramp today, we’re exploring opportunities through partnerships, but what that looks like at this time is you would go to another exchange—one that does accept credit cards or wire transfers—a way to get something [00:19:30] from your bank account into that exchange, to then get Ethereum itself or get ether itself to bring over to IDEX.
Once you’ve made that purchase on another exchange, you actually have to have a way to interact with IDEX itself. You can’t just send from Coinbase directly to IDEX and start trading. This is what I mentioned earlier, the idea that your private key becomes your account of sorts. We support multiple different ways of interacting with IDEX. [00:19:30] And really all of them are, the term is wallets, but it’s really just different interfaces for managing and working with a private key. We have kind of a built-in wallet within IDEX, that if you want, you can just enter your private key directly into the website, and then begin depositing and trading from there. That feels very much like if you’ve used the MyEtherWallet interface and you go to their website, everything’s run locally on your computer, so your private key is never sent to the servers [00:20:00] of the website itself. But it gives you a web interface to interact with your private key and send instructions to the blockchain. In this case, deposit, trade or withdrawal.
The second and probably most popular option is through one of the many software wallets out there. MetaMask is probably the one that people are most familiar with. This is a browser plugin that keeps your private key and allows you to sign transactions using that private key at various applications. This is kind of a way to [00:20:30] separate the private key and message signing itself from the application that you’re interacting with. In this case, your key is never even exposed to the local version of IDEX. It’s always within just MetaMask itself, and you’re signing transactions and sending them to the exchange.
And then the third one that we recommend most users use is the hardware wallet approach, primarily Ledger Wallet. This is the safest way to trade and actually use decentralized applications because your [00:21:00] private key never touches a computer that is connected to a network. It’s stored within a physical hardware device, and then that device is connected to your computer through USB, and you’re just sending messages and information back and forth. When you want to do something on the exchange, it sends the correct details to the wallet, you then sign that transaction, and that signed message itself is set back to the exchange. You can think of MetaMask as a software [00:21:30] method for separating the key from the exchange, but the key is still stored on your computer somewhere. Whereas the hardware wallet takes it one step further and puts it on a separate device.
Clay: You’ve got some ether on a hardware wallet, and you go to the IDEX website, once someone’s gotten to that point, what do they do next?
Alex: You’ve got your wallet, you get to the website, and then at that point it really starts to feel like a traditional exchange, with the exception that every action you do is getting confirmed by your private key. [00:22:00] Let’s assume you’re using a Ledger Wallet, because like I said, that’s the one that we recommend. When you go to deposit funds, it feels just like a normal exchange. You fill out the amount and you click deposit. But instead of that happening automatically or telling you to send your cryptocurrency to a certain address, you then get a little pop-up, a notification on your ledger that’s asking you to confirm that action.
And this is where that interaction happens between the exchange and the hardware wallet. the wallet is getting instructions that says, “You’ve chosen to deposit this much of this [00:22:30] token or of ether.” and then you have to actually explicitly approve it on the hardware wallet itself. This is really that layer of security because no one can make any transactions or trades without also confirming on that hardware device.
Clay: You’re not depositing funds into a trade, you’re depositing funds into some kind of balance that exists on a smart contract out of which you can trade. Is that correct?
Alex: That’s exactly right. The way I describe the smart contract to [00:23:00] people is that it’s kind of like a giant vault safety deposit box. The vault itself is the outer layer of security, so that’s the smart contract. And then within it, you have individual safety deposit boxes associated with each customer. When you deposit into the smart contract, it’s going into the same smart contract that everyone else’s funds are, that larger vault. But within it, your private key is the only one that can access and authorize either a trade or a withdrawal of your [00:23:30] specific set of funds, your own individual safety deposit box.
Clay: You transfer funds to a smart contract that is kind of what you’re trading out of. Let’s say you want to go then make a trade, what does someone do in order to execute a trade?
Alex: That point it feels very much like a traditional exchange. You’ll head over to the part of the application that it’s got every other component that a traditional exchange would have. [00:24:30] It’s got a list of the markets, their recent prices and volumes. It’s got a chart for each market showing the trade history. There’s order books with bids and asks, where you can see orders that others have placed, existing limit orders that are available to fill. And then you’ve got a way to execute a buy or a sell. And just like a traditional exchange, you can either do a limit order, which you will be able to specify the exact price that you want to sell at.
Assuming there’s not an order on the books that meets your criteria, that will be added to the [00:24:30] books as a new limit order. Or you can take a market order, in which case you’re saying, “I want to buy or sell this amount at whatever the best price is on the market.” In that case, the system’s going to match you with other users who have already authorized their trades to happen within the same system.
Clay: This feels different than how other decentralized exchanges work. Is this idea of having an IDEX balance held in a contract, is that unique to how your exchange works?
Alex: [00:25:00] There are others that use a smart contract-based approach. [00:57:00] There’s kind of two different fundamental approaches. There’s trade directly from your wallet, where you are authorizing, 0x is the most popular of these, the 0x protocol. And essentially when you create a new trade or a new order, you are authorizing the 0x smart contracts to move those funds from your wallet in the event that they find a counterparty who meets your criteria.
In our case, we actually require the user to [00:25:30] deposit to the contract before they’re able to authorize any trades, and we do that for two reasons. One is the fact that if you are trading directly from your wallet, there’s a period of time where you could be matched with another user. The trade could be pending on the blockchain, but you can actually back out of the trade by moving your funds out of that wallet. There’s nothing that prevents you from backing out of a trade, if it moves against you during the time that it settles on the Ethereum network.
The other piece is that [00:26:00] because you’re relying on the blockchain and your wallet to be kind of the source of truth for how much funds you have and what’s available to trade, you have to wait in between every transaction before you can make another trade. Those are two—I think we’ll probably dig into it a little later—but kind of two elements of the user experience that the combination of using a deposit smart contract as well as routing orders, signed transactions through the exchange itself to submit to the contract, we’re able to solve a lot of the user [00:26:30] experience challenges that come from using a decentralized exchange.
Clay: I’m on your website now and I see in the upper right-hand corner a button that says “unlock wallet”. That is essentially analogous to logging into maybe a traditional Coinbase or Gemini— centralized exchange logs in on your website is “unlock wallet” is that correct?
Alex: That’s exactly right. It’s kind of bring your own account [00:27:00] type approach where, instead of creating a new username password, you’d actually come with your wallet and it’s, as I mentioned, it can be in one of those three forms, private key, key store, a software wallet or a hardware wallet.
Hey, this is Clay cutting in here from the editor’s booth to let you know that this episode of the Flippening podcast is brought to you by the Nomics API. If you need an enterprise-grade crypto market data API for your fund, smart contract, or app, then consider trying out the Nomics API. [00:27:30] Our API enables programmatic access to clean, normalized, and gapless primary source trade data across a number of cryptocurrency exchanges. Instead of having to integrate with multiple exchange APIs of varying quality, you can get everything through one screaming fast fire hose. If you found that you or your developer have to spend too much time cleaning up and maintaining datasets, instead of identifying opportunities, or if you’re tired of interpolated data and want raw primary source trades [00:28:00] delivered simply and consistently with top-notch support and SLAs, then check us out at NomicsApi.com.
Clay: Let’s move on to chapter three—the history of decentralized exchanges. I think now that we’ve spoken a little bit about what a decentralized exchange is and given folks a pretty concrete look at the step-by-step process for getting to the point where you can trade on one of these exchanges and actually [00:28:30] executing a trade, I think it’s important to take stock of where we’ve come from and how we’ve arrived here. Putting your historian hat on, how would you describe sort of the underpinnings and philosophies, and maybe first couple of steps that paved the way and laid the foundation for the emergence of decentralized exchanges?
Alex: I guess that there’s a couple of things that all decentralized exchanges have in common. [00:29:00] First, is this notion that users are authorizing all movement of funds with their private key. That’s kind of a fundamental tenet. And within that, what that means implicitly is that if you want to create an order ahead of time, create a limit order, that has to be authorized by the market maker, the person who’s creating that order and putting it out there in the world for someone else to come along and fill it. Where they start to diverge is in where those orders are hosted, and how [00:29:30] those orders are executed, and we’ll kind of dig into that a little bit.
This kind of talks to the evolution of decentralized exchanges. The very first iterations, and I mentioned earlier Etherx, so this is one my co-founder worked on that never made it to market but was one of these early implementations of a fully on-chain, as we call it, a fully on-chain version of a decentralized exchange. What that means is that anything related to orders or settlement actually was written into the blockchain. When you create a limit order, you’re specifying the [00:30:00] amount and the price.
For a simple example, you’ve got 10 clay tokens and you want to sell them for one ether. When you create that limit order, you’re signing with your private key that you will sell these 10 tokens for one ether, and no other deal is satisfactory. You’re not willing to sell them for 5, and if someone else is willing to pay 20 or pay you more, you’re unable to match with that. You’ve agreed to one explicit deal. The early implementations of this, you would actually send that transaction and [00:30:30] mine it in the blockchain, so that the order itself showed up in the contract, so that anyone else looking at the blockchain could see that this order existed and was available for taking.
One of the challenges with this is that any time you want to place an order, you’re having to pay the network gas fees in order to make that order and have it appear on the blockchain. Similarly, if you ever want to cancel that order, you have to pay another gas fee to remove it from the blockchain. And each of these requires not only a cost, but also time. You’ve got this latency component. [00:31:30] The next iteration looked at this and said, it’s no less secure if we mine the limit orders, than if we have the limit orders available off chain and available for someone else to come and fill and dispatch the whole trade itself to the blockchain.
Just to elaborate on that a little bit, there’s two pieces, there’s really two authorizations that are required for a DEX trade. [00:31:30] You have to have the maker sign his side of the trade that says, “I’m willing to,” in this case, “sell these 10 tokens for this one ether.” And then you’d have to have the taker come along who also agrees to the other side and says, “I’m willing to buy these 10 tokens for one ether.” The original versions had both the limit and the order being mined on the blockchain, while future ones said, “We can just have that user kind of pre-sign and authorize that trade,” but not until it needs to be executed do, we actually dispatch anything to the blockchain for settlement.
Clay: That first version, it sounds like the only type of order [00:32:00] that can be placed is an exactly priced order, and maybe there was some UI that would sort those in terms of variation off of some kind of derived spot price. But essentially, takers were just coming in and picking off a specific order, there was no unpriced orders that could take place. Is that correct?
Alex: That’s exactly right. And that’s exactly how it works even today on decentralized exchanges because [00:32:30] you are authorizing a specific order for it to be filed against. You’re saying, “This is either the price at which I want to buy or sell,” or as a taker you’re coming in and saying, “This is the order I want to be matched against and that I want to fill.”
Clay: So, on decentralized exchanges, at least today, there are no market orders, for example.
Alex: And the way you kind of describe market orders would be, it’s a UI type element, right? You can have an option in the UI that says market order, [00:33:30] but when you choose that, it’s really just saying, “Find the best priced order for me based on how much I want to buy or sell, and then match me with that specific order.” If that makes sense.
Clay: It’s hard coded into the transaction that you’re taking a specific order. So maybe there’s a slight, if highly improbable chance that that order could drop off.
Alex: Yeah, that’s exactly right. We actually we’re revisiting this. We’re planning to release an updated version of our contract that will [00:33:30] get rid of the specific order kind of a process, and instead make it one where, similar to existing exchanges where you say, “I’m willing to sell up to this price, or down to this price and I’m willing to buy up to this price.” And then it gives a little more leeway in terms of what trades can be matched with others.
Clay: Essentially, market orders with some built in like floors and ceilings.
Alex: Exactly, yeah. Because if someone can get a better deal by being matched with something else, [00:34:00] then of course they’re going to be okay with that.
Clay: You mentioned Etherx being one of the first decentralized exchanges that was about to launch, but perhaps never went live, or in fact never went live. What were some of the other early pioneers in the space?
Alex: Yeah, so I think Oasis DEX I believe was the first one to launch and really gain some traction, and that was an example of a 100% on-chain approach. Limit orders were mined into the blockchain, [00:34:30] and then users would come along. You could actually trade on it without even using their UI, because you could actually look at the blockchain itself and see what orders were available. Ether Delta came along, and they were the first ones to say, “We don’t have to have every limit order be mined into the blockchain because at that point no funds are actually being traded. It’s really only the full trade that we care about using the blockchain,” because that’s the critical step, right? That’s the part in which one user’s funds are [00:35:00] swapped for another. It’s essentially you can think of it, you deposit into the smart contract, which kind of acts as an escrow agent, and then you sign a limit order which is kind of preapproval for this trade and only this trade.
And then Ether Delta provided a UI where users could see and sort those orders and understand what kind of pre-approvals were out there to trade against. And this again, you didn’t actually need a UI, you could sign a preapproval and send it to someone via Skype [00:35:30] or a telegram. This was this kind of this notion that two users can agree to something without having to either mine it into the blockchain or necessarily know and trust each other.
Clay: These early 100% decentralized exchanges were essentially UIs on top of a smart contract, and they could be completely unbundled, the UI and the smart contract.
Alex: That’s exactly right.
Clay: Where does it go from there? This has a very short history. I know of Air Swap, and 0x and [00:36:30] Radar Relay, and Paradex, they’re some somewhat notable brands in this space. What’s the path between EtherDelta and the emergence of IDEX, were you developed in parallel to 0x and Air Swap? Were they around for you to consider building on top of their infrastructure? Where does IDEX come along in the arc of this very short history?
Alex: We were close to launch when 0x went live, and we actually looked at it as an alternative, thinking that [00:36:30] there’s someone to manage our smart contracts and certainly they had a lot of popularity and had a lot of mine share. We thought there would be many benefits to building on it, but there were actually some subtle nuances that made it not suitable for our design, at least the way 0x was designed at the time.
Just to dig into what those nuances are, for both OasisDEX and EtherDelta, there is this component of once a taker finds an order that [00:37:00] they want to fill, approves it and signs it with their private key, how does that transaction, that trade, then get to the Ethereum network for processing? On both OasisDEX and EtherDelta, as well as 0x relayers the taker is responsible for submitting that signed transaction.
There’s couple of implications of that. First off, when a taker submits a signed transaction to the network, everyone can now see it. It’s now public that it’s sitting there waiting to be mined. Other users are then able to [00:37:30] see this transaction and potentially front-run that trade by trying to sign a similar order or the same order but paying a higher gas price in order to do so.
You have these issues where users are able to jump in front of each other, and it doesn’t maintain the price-time priority that’s so important for decentralized exchanges. One of the other challenges is, in that example, you aren’t sure that your trade is actually going to go through. Which can be very problematic for those who are [00:38:00] performing algorithmic trading strategies where every trade is critical, and you’re making a small amount on mini trades overtime time.
Clay: Just interjecting here, is it actually possible to front-run in the traditional sense because the way these contracts work is that you’re actually sniping a specific order? If, you have a taker that wants to buy an order placed by a maker, they’re actually calling that out explicitly. If someone front-runs that, [00:38:30] it does not necessarily follow that the taker is going to buy from the front-runner of the original order placed by the maker. Correct?
Alex: Well, it is more so that someone else would front-run the taker and go for the maker order that they’ve already tried to submit.
Alex: If that makes sense. It’s really around this coordination piece. You can think of it as the UIs that you’re using, all of that updates with the speed of a [00:39:00] centralized server, so it happens pretty much immediately. But when you actually go to execute the trade and submit it to the Ethereum blockchain, there’s this waiting period where it’s out there, everyone can see it, but it has yet to mine. And that really has two implications; it’s that others can jump in front of you, so you’re not sure you’re going to get that order.
One simple example of this, it might not even be malicious. One of the big challenges was on EtherDelta, multiple users would try to fill the top orders on the books, because this is a popular market, [00:39:30] there’s a lot of trades going on, multiple users are trying to get it at the same time. Everybody’s dispatching their trade to the network, but only one of them is going to be successful. Everybody else’s trade is going to fail and then they’re going to have to go back to the order books and try to find the next best one.
Clay: And they just lost their gas.
Alex: They lost their gas, and it has this weird side effect where, as the volume grows, the user experience gets worse, because you’re gonna have more and more users competing for the same top-priced orders. It doesn’t even have to be malicious front-running, [00:40:00] it’s just the side effect of everybody trying to get the top order in their best interest.
Clay: This is more about the collision of take our orders, it’s not about algorithmically seeing that a taker order is there, buying it from the maker, and then turning around and immediately reselling it to the taker before their order can go through?
Alex: That’s exactly right. It’s more just the byproduct of users doing what they’re trying to do, which is fill the top best-priced order.
Clay: [00:40:30] You’ve got a 0x coming on the scene in a more primitive form than it is now, you considered that it didn’t meet your design requirements. What else was on the scene at the time? Was AirSwap around at the time or is this pre-AirSwap?
Alex: Just to really quickly finish up with the design requirement piece, the innovation that we had at IDEX was to once the orders are signed by the maker and the taker, that signed transaction is passed to IDEX itself, [00:41:00] and IDEX is the only one authorized in the contract to submit these trades for settlement. The reason that helps is because you now have one actor coordinating that trade submission process who can then say, as in this previous example, “Actually, that top order has already been filled by these two people over here, you now have to go to the next best priced one.”
You can have your order books update immediately even though there’s this delay in settlement. The other piece that’s beneficial is because [00:41:30] we know that users trades are going to mine, it’s just a matter of time. Users balances on IDEX actually update immediately, and they can continue to trade even while that first trade is waiting to settle. So, say you come in and you sell some tokens for Ether, you can immediately move to another market and use that Ether to buy a different set of tokens. Behind the scenes the exchange is dispatching those two trades in the correct order, so that the sell mines before the buy. That way the smart contract is always staying in sync with what’s happening within [00:42:00] the centralized exchange.
Clay: How do you handle the collision of taker orders? Is it based purely on timestamp? Do you go down to the millisecond, the nanosecond, what level of precision is available there and what do you do if two orders are placed at the same time?
Alex: It’s going to be based on which one gets to the server first. If two users are trying to get the same order on the books, one of them is going to be successful, whichever one shows up first, and then the other user [00:42:30] is going to get a message saying that the order is no longer available because it’s been filled by someone else. I was just going to say, that’s why when I mentioned earlier, we want to change that so that instead of matching with a specific order, you’re giving parameters. That way if there’s another order on the books that meets your criteria but isn’t the exact order you are trying to fill, we could then match you with that second-best order without you having to re-approve.
Clay: That makes complete sense. A decentralized exchange is almost [00:43:00] analogous to going into a store or going to amazon dot com, and not saying, “I want to purchase a tennis racket that is this model and brand, but actually I want to purchase inventory item number 1265041.” and if someone else has purchased that for you, then the order fails, which is kind of ridiculous.
Alex: Yeah. And then the goal of us as [00:43:30] UX designers is to make the front end so that from a user’s perspective, even though that’s how it’s working internally, they can’t tell the difference, right? If those two inventory items are in fact the exact same, and the user’s willing to pay the same price or both of them meet their criteria in terms of pricing and amounts, they’ll get matched with the second one without even knowing that the other alternative was there.
Clay: Let’s move on to chapter four, [00:44:00] which is about the components and attributes of a decentralized exchange. The way to approach this is to first speak to the components of any exchange. What do you think are the core functions that can be unbundled from each other in the execution of trades on an exchange?
Alex: Every exchange is going to have a set of order books. This is the way that those who are placing limit orders are able to communicate [00:44:30] with others what their price and amounts are. Actually, I shouldn’t say every exchange because there are platforms such as AirSwap that don’t actually have order books, and they actually use a different approach to match users ahead of time, and then have them work to negotiate price and amount. I shouldn’t say that the only way to trade is through an order book structure.
Bancor is another example where they have the automated liquidity provider where you don’t see an order book, you’re selling into this contract which is then giving you a price and [00:45:00] amount based on how much you’re trying to buy yourself. But the majority of exchanges that users are familiar with have this order book approach where you can see a list of existing orders, how much users are willing to buy or sell, and the amounts that they’re willing to do so with. That’s going to be pretty much universal to both centralized and decentralized exchanges.
Clay: I realized, this is kind of basic, but I want to make sure that this is a comprehensive guide. Let’s describe a little bit the relationship [00:45:30] between orders and trades. In a lot of ways, an order is a parent object of a trade, so you can have an order, it can be canceled, it can be 100% filled or it can be partially filled, it can be partially filled and then canceled. It almost seems like if you were using a database analogy, or an object-oriented analogy, there’s this parent-child relationship between orders and trades. There isn’t a one-to-one correlation there. [00:46:00] There can be a variety of trades executed against one order over a long period of time. Have I described that correctly?
Alex: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I would just say an order is just one-half of a completed trade. Someone’s got to be there first. Someone’s got to show up and say, “Hey, this is what I’m willing to sell or buy, and this is the price I’m willing to do so at.” And then others can come along and as you said, [00:46:30] that’s when a trade happens, when a counterparty comes along and says, “I agree to those terms.”
They might not want to fill all of it, which is how you get partial trades. That person who placed the first order, can then decide, “Do I want to cancel the rest of it, leave it out there for someone else to fill it?” Really, fundamentally, an order is that first person who is agreeing to what will ultimately be a two-sided market and a two-sided arrangement.
Clay: We’ve talked about order books. What are some other components that are common to almost all exchanges?
Alex: [00:47:00] The second big piece is the—and I’ll call it the matching process—and this is really how do users who are coming to buy or sell, who want to be takers, how do they find what orders are available? As I mentioned, some exchanges are taking the approach of matching makers and takers before they even create the orders and decide on quantity or amount. More traditionally, takers will come along and they’ll see the order books and then they have the option of either [00:47:30] selecting a specific order that they want to fill, or they can choose something like a market order, which is essentially a way of sorting, it’s kind of a sorting and matching process on what else exists out there.
A market order, the way it works is users will specify the amount that they want to buy or sell and then the exchange will match them with the best orders available that meet all of those criteria in terms of the full amount. If the top order doesn’t have enough inventory, then there’ll be routed into multiple orders. [00:48:00] Going back to what we were talking about earlier about matching with specific inventory, in the case of a DEX, you’re actually matched. It’s more of a sorting function, the UI, that actually helps you parse through what orders are available and helps match you with the specific order that meets your criteria.
One interesting, I think, concrete example of how this would differ from a centralized exchange is, say there are multiple orders to sell a certain token at one Ether. In a centralized exchange they could actually combine [00:48:30] all of those orders into one record on the order book because from a user perspective, they’re all the same thing. They’re all fungible. They don’t care which one they’re actually routed into.
In the decentralized exchange, those are actually each discrete signed transactions from potentially different market makers. It actually does matter which one you’re matched into, and each one, if you want to, have an order that’s big enough to fill all three of them, for example, you’re actually going to have three separate transactions dispatched to the network.
Clay: We’ve got [00:49:00] order books. We’ve got some kind of matching process that pairs makers with takers. For complete newbies listening to this, how would you define a maker and a taker?
Alex: The maker is the one who shows up first to this transaction. They’re the one who puts the initial order out there of, “These are my terms,” the price and the amount that they’re willing to buy or sell. The taker is the one who comes to the exchange and sees that available order and decides to take it from the books, hence the terminology.
Clay: [00:49:30] Essentially, taking the other side of that trade and completing the transaction. We’ve got order books, we’ve got a matching process, what is the next component of an exchange?
Alex: What we haven’t talked about is custody of funds and this ties into trade settlement as well—trade execution and settlement. In a centralized exchange, as I mentioned earlier, you’re depositing your funds and you’re sending them to a wallet that they control. When all of these trades are happening, [00:50:00] there’s actually no transfers going on, on the blockchain. The database that the exchange runs is updating everybody’s balances, tokens and cryptocurrencies are moving back and forth, but it’s all within their internal records. The blockchain itself isn’t updated until a user actually goes to withdraw. In that case, it’s an interesting paradigm where the settlement is one-and-the-same with execution, but there’s this extra step before you can take possession of it. There is a withdrawal process before it actually comes back to a key that you control.
[00:50:30] Decentralized exchanges are a little different in the sense that, the trade settlement actually moves the cryptocurrency on the blockchain, in the sense that it actually moves from control from one user to the other. If you’re buying tokens with Ether when that trade is settled, you’re actually relinquish control of that Ether and now you have tokens under your control and your possession.
One of the, and this ties into the differences in our design versus others, one of those nuances is the execution piece. As I mentioned, [00:51:00] our big difference is, once a maker and a taker have agreed to an order and both users have signed their side of the trade, how does that completed trade get to the Ethereum network for processing? On other decentralized exchanges, it’s the end user’s responsibility to dispatch it to the network, which can lead to some of those challenges where you can have multiple users trying to fill the same order at once. On IDEX, IDEX actually controls that execution process where matched trades are dispatched to the contract [00:51:30] through the exchange, so that we can continue to have trading activity and keep the order books up to date in real time while the settlement process is happening on the Ethereum network.
Clay: Thinking about centralization, decentralization, as a continuum, we have maybe OasisDEX or EtherDelta on one end of the spectrum, completely decentralized. We’ve got Coinbase, Gemini, Bittrex, other exchanges that folks have heard that are completely centralized, and we [00:52:00] have IDEX somewhere in the middle. Certainly not at either of those extremes. Let me see if I have this right, at IDEX the order books are centralized, the matching process is centralized, and the custody is decentralized, is there another parameter here to consider or is that basically correct?
Alex: Yeah, so those are the, I’d say the [00:52:30] base components of making a trade happen. There’s also the area of what assets are available for trading, the notion of token listings or asset listings. Under a centralized exchange, obviously, that’s entirely under their control. They’re choosing what is available for trading.
Under a fully decentralized exchange, you can control it through the UI, in the sense that OasisDEX could update their UI such that you can’t see certain tokens, or you can’t interact with certain [00:53:00] token contracts. But on the blockchain level, there’s no restrictions to what you can trade, because the contract itself is designed to be open and allow anyone to be able to trade and interact with it.
That’s a little different than our design. Because we’ve made the decision to have IDEX control the trade submission process that means we’re also in control of essentially what assets can be traded because all of the trade dispatches have to go through the exchange itself. Because of that, [00:53:30] we actually control the token listings and have a process to vet and approve projects before bringing them on the platform.
Clay: Can you mention just one or two other decentralized exchanges that are neither completely centralized nor completely decentralized, that might have a slightly different configuration than you do, and what components of those processes or of those exchanges are centralized versus decentralized?
Alex: Radar Relay is an example of one that [00:54:00] they are not fully decentralized in the sense that the orders are hosted off-chain. The limit orders are still these pre-approved transactions that the maker orders. It’s something that a user has signed ahead of time and given, in this case is 0x contracts, the approval to make the trade if someone else comes along and agrees to those terms. However, the dispatch process and the, I guess we’ll call it the execution process, how does a fully [00:54:30] signed and approved trade get to the network for processing that is decentralized. In the sense that you can go through.
When you’re on Radar Relay, your account is actually the one sending it to the network for dispatch. You could actually go to their website and you could get some of the orders and then dispatch them later entirely outside of the Radar Relay UI, or you could take a limit order that you created there and send it to a friend via Telegram, and he’d be able to fill the other side. And that’s because there’s really [00:55:30] no relation between the 0x contracts that are executing the trades and the exchange itself is more of a UI interface to interact with that set of contracts.
Clay: Not only is the matching process not on chain, it might not even be online at all. A couple of people might meet at a coffee shop and agree to a certain price and they’re just using the decentralized exchanges like a settlement in clearing house sort of mechanism. Is that right, or [00:55:30] am I not thinking about this correctly?
Alex: No, that’s exactly right. Fundamentally, it’s definitely a nuance point, but it hinges on whether or not if you can interact with the contract entirely without the assistance of a UI or another third party. As I mentioned, the fact that we control the dispatch process means that users are unable to initiate trades on IDEX without going through IDEX itself. [00:56:00] We talked about why we think that’s a valid and very beneficial trade-off because of the vast improvements it brings in UX. But one of the admittedly drawbacks is that other decentralized exchanges, their contracts can be interacted with directly without going through the UI of the creator.
[00:56:30] This wraps up and concludes part one of this two-part deep dive on decentralized exchanges. Part two comes out next week. See you then. If you’d like to discuss this episode with others, please go to nomicstelegram.com.
That’s it for this week. To sign-up for a free crypto investing newsletter, listen to other episodes, or get the show notes from this episode, please visit flippening.com. I also invite you to check out the startup that funds this podcast, [00:57:00] Nomics, at nomics.com. Finally, if you’ve got value from the show, the biggest thing you can do to help us out is to leave a five-star review with some comments and feedback on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcast. Thanks for listening and see you next week.
Part 2 Transcript
Clay: Welcome to Flippening, the first and original podcast for full time professional and institutional crypto investors. I’m your host Clay Collins. Each week, we discuss the cryptocurrency economy, new investment strategies for maximizing returns and storage from the frontlines of financial disruption. Go to flippening.com to join our newsletter for cryptocurrency investors and [00:00:30] find out just why this podcast is called Flippening.
Female: Clay Collins is the CEO of Nomics. All opinions expressed by Clay and podcasts guests are solely their own opinion and do not reflect the opinion of Nomics or any other company. This podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions.
Clay: We’re just about to kick off the second and final installment of this series on [00:01:00] decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges. Like I said in part one of the series, I believe this is the best content you can find anywhere online about this topic. We really go deep in this two-part series. I’m joined in this exploration by Alex Wearn, co-founder and CEO of Aurora Lab which creates IDEX. IDEX, if you haven’t heard of it, is the number one decentralized application [00:01:30] in terms of transaction volume on the Ethereum network, it’s also a decentralized exchange.
This two-part podcast is broken into 10 chapters. In the part one of this series which you can hear in episode 33 of this podcast, we discussed: what decentralized exchanges actually are and the problems they solve, what it would take for someone to get to the point where they can execute a trade on a platform like IDEX or other decentralized exchanges, all the way from depositing [00:02:00] money through post-trade settlement. We also discussed the history of decentralized cryptocurrency exchange, and the components and attributes of a decentralized exchange.
Part 2 two of this exploration, which is the material that follows and which you’re about to hear, is comprised of five chapters. In chapter five we look at control and regulation, and what decentralized exchange owners actually have control over versus what they don’t have control over. Chapter 6 is a review of the top blockchains [00:02:30] for decentralized exchange. In chapter seven, we talk about sourcing liquidity. Chapter 8 is about different approaches to exchange tokens. Aurora DAO has an exchange token. Binance has an exchange token. I believe [inaudible [02:42] and other exchanges more and more are creating these exchange token and they seem to be doing well, at least Binance’s exchange token is doing incredibly well. Chapter nine is a look at the organization that creates IDEX known as Aurora DAO. Chapter 10 is an [00:03:00] exploration of what the future of decentralized exchange might look like
We’re just about to kick things off, but before we do that, I wanted to provide two announcements regarding Nomics.com, the company the produces and funds this podcast. The first announcement is that this episode of the Flippening podcast is brought to you by the Nomics API.
If you need a An Enterprise-Grade Crypto Market Data API For Your Fund, Smart Contract, or App then consider trying out the Nomics API. Our API enables programmatic access to [00:03:30] clean, normalized, and gapless primary source trade data across a number of cryptocurrency exchanges. Instead of having to integrate with multiple exchange APIs of varying quality, you can get everything through one screaming fast fire hose. If you found that you or your engineering team have to spend too much time cleaning up and maintaining datasets, instead of identifying opportunities, or if you’re tired of interpolated data and want raw, primary source trades delivered simply and consistently with top-notch [00:04:30] support and SLAs, then check us out at nomicsapi.com.
Announcement two is that Nomics—the company that creates and funds this podcast—just launched our forums at forums.nomics.com. Prior to being forum based, our community was on Telegram. We’re really happy that we switched away from Telegram. Anyway, if you want to discuss this podcast episode or any other Flippening podcast episodes, please join us at forums.nomics.com. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program.
[00:04:30] Here, without further ado, is part two of our deep dive on decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges. We start off with chapter five, which is a discussion of control and regulation as they relate to decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges.
[00:05:00] Alex, if a regulator showed up at your door today and wanted you to implement controls and adhere to regulations, what are the things you could implement versus not? As a decentralized exchange, I imagine you wouldn’t be able to seize user funds, reverse trades and all that but there are some things that you can do and that you have done. Can you summarize what you have control over versus not?
Alex Wearn: IDEX, we only have control over the UI, and [00:05:30] the part of the system that interacts with the smart contract in order to dispatch trades. If someone came and forced us to shut down, we could take the website offline, we could take the UI offline, but we couldn’t do anything to the contract itself. This is a bit of a nuance point, but the fact that we dispatch trades to the network or to the smart contract our self and we allow people to continue trading or we update the order books immediately. One of the things there is that we can’t have people withdrawing from the exchange, [00:06:00] from the contract, if there’s still a trade in process still waiting to settle. We actually dispatch all withdrawals to the contract ourselves as well. Both trades and withdrawals are signed by the user but dispatched by IDEX to the contract.
One of the concerns though is that if our site goes offline, how could users get their funds out of the contract? We have a time-delayed withdrawal system that we call the “escape hatch” that users can interact with directly if their wallet, and their address has not done anything on the contract [00:06:30] after a period of time, after a few days. This gives users the peace of mind knowing that even if the website goes offline forever or hit by a bus or whatever, their funds will always be safe in the contract, and they’ll always be able to get access to them.
Clay Collins: A regulator could ask you to take down your website, to de-list tokens, to cancel all trading that’s happening on the platform. They cannot force you to reveal the names of your users, they can’t force you to seize user’s funds, and they can’t force [00:07:00] you to execute trades with a different set of inputs or parameters than what the user agreed to. If the user said they’re willing to pay up to a certain amount for a trade, that can’t be screwed with. Is that, approximately right?
Alex Wearn: That’s exactly right. I think this is one of the areas that we spent a fair bit of time digging in with our legal team. There’s actually a bill in front of Congress right now that would make it so non-custodial [00:07:30] software providers—in this case decentralized exchanges—would be exempted I guess clarity that they would be exempted from MSB requirements. It’s kind of this interesting challenge. They’ve already talked about it for wallets, basically saying that if you create a wallet system that allows users to transfer money, in a sense transfer cryptocurrency, but you don’t actually have control of it. You’re just giving them a way to use their private key to interact with the network, that is not considered an MSB. They have not provided clarity around decentralized exchanges.
[00:08:00] People are trying to read the tea leaves and see where it’s going to go. Like I said though, there’s a bill in front of Congress that would be great if it passed because as you said, there’s limits to what we can actually do, given that we only control the UI component and we don’t control the blockchain itself.
Clay Collins: Can you speak to your listing policy a little bit and the kind of tokens that you embrace and would love to see more of on your platform, and the kinds of tokens that either are in the gray area [00:08:30] or that you have to reject outright.
Alex Wearn: We have all of our listing guidelines published on our site. One of the things that upfront we’re looking for is any token that pays a dividend or has any of the classic hallmarks of security. The SEC hasn’t given 100 percent clarity on how they feel about every ICO. They have said that they’ve taken some enforcement action against some that are clearly a security–they were either promising returns or guaranteeing dividends, which we look for that information and [00:09:00] are unable to list projects that have those components or those elements.
Another thing we’re looking at and it is admittedly a bit more subjective, is for quality projects. This is where it’s a bit of a challenge because by listing on IDEX, whether we like it or not, there’s an element of endorsement. The fact that it’s been listed on the platform, users have come to trust us and believe that we’re a place that they can find interesting projects using blockchain to solve a noble problem.
[00:09:30] With that, we have to make sure we’re thinking about that responsibly. That means working with projects to vet them and understand a little bit about the technology they’re building. We actually have a team that Skypes and interviews, just has a brief conversation with all of the token creators. It’s amazing how much you can find out in 15 minutes about the user’s intention and what they’re trying to do and why they’re creating a blockchain token, or if they choose not to show up to that interview process [00:10:00] that’s also a pretty telling sign.
That’s how we approach it and we’re constantly revising this because like I said, it’s a balance. If we don’t list something, we’ve got users spamming us on Twitter and in all our different social channels saying list this project, why didn’t you. Then if a project doesn’t work out, you’ve got a bunch of people complaining, why did you list this project in the first place? It goes back to our ethos where we want to be democratic about it. Ourselves being a bootstrap product, we know that big, flashy marketing budgets and 50,000 Twitter followers isn’t always indicative of a great project. But at the same time [00:10:30] we need to be cognizant of the reputation and inherent endorsement that comes from putting a token on our site.
Clay Collins: It’s amazing how much you can assess out just by asking someone to go on a webcam and show their face and discuss with them their project. That really weeds out a lot of the riff-raff, I found.
Alex Wearn: Absolutely.
Clay Collins: I’ve recalled in the past you speaking to efforts to stop phishing attacks, what kind of phishing can happen on a decentralized [00:11:00] exchange, and what steps can you take to prevent it?
Alex Wearn: The phishing attacks that you see on a DEX are basically the same type that you would see on something like MyEtherWallet. The goal is to trick the user into thinking that they’re at the DEX or the Wallet website, entering in their private key information, and then once you have that, you have the ability to go in yourself and take that user’s funds.
Clay Collins: Just to clarify, the goal of these phishing attacks is to obtain a private [00:11:30] key and you can insulate yourself against some of this simply by using a hardware wallet. Is that right?
Alex Wearn: Exactly right. That’s why we encourage people to use hardware wallets or even software wallets like MetaMask. If you go to a fake version of IDEX and you’re using MetaMask, they actually don’t get access to your private key because you’re never entering it into the application itself. I mentioned this distinction earlier, but when you’re using the real IDEX, you’re entering in a private key, but it’s all stored locally. [00:12:00] It’s never sent outside of your browser, it’s just used on your local machine to interact with the website. Whereas if you go to a phishing site version of IDEX, they’re going to record your private key and as soon as you’ve done that, they’re going to go and try to withdraw all your funds and take them elsewhere.
Clay Collins: One telltale sign that you’re on a fake version of IDEX is if they don’t even allow you to use a hardware wallet. Are there phishing attacks also where the goal is not to get the private key, but instead to just get a user to deposit [00:12:30] funds into a smart contract that’s controlled by the scammer?
Alex Wearn: I don’t know if we’ve seen those. Most of them are essentially cloning the website, using a URL that sometimes is not at all related to IDEX, but the classic misspellings of it, IDEX. something, other than IDEX.market. Trying to find some way to trick the user into thinking they’re on the site.
It’s something that we’ve worked to combat. We’ve been working with this company called PhishFort. [00:13:00] They’ve done a great job at helping us identify and take down websites. I think within the first week of working with them, they took down over 60 fake versions of IDEX.
Clay Collins: Wow.
Alex Wearn: It’s unbelievable.
Clay Collins: 60?
Alex Wearn: The other popular thing we see is–we have yet to release a mobile application. We occasionally see, and this is something else they’ve helped us combat, but we are seeing IDEX mobile show up in the Android store. It’s the same sort of problem. Users would open it on their mobile phone, enter in their private key, [00:13:30] and at that point, they’ve pretty much lost it.
Clay Collins: What they essentially do is like, they’re always scanning, likely in an automated fashion for people trying to pretend they’re you and then sending in take down requests to various service providers and app stores and stuff like that. Is that right?
Alex Wearn: That’s exactly right. Yep. I guess there’s one interesting story. We had a user that fell for a phishing scam through some other medium. I’m not exactly sure what, but it wasn’t through IDEX itself. [00:14:00] He had some funds in his wallet but the majority of them were actually deposited into the IDEX smart contract. And the thief did not know that and did not check the transaction history. The user was actually able to recover most of his funds because they were in the contract rather than in the wallet, and the thief didn’t think to check there.
Clay Collins: Let’s move onto chapter six, which is around the top blockchains for decentralized exchange. Decentralized exchanges are kind of inherently [00:14:30] linked or they always seem to be linked with Ethereum. What else do you think is in the running to be a platform for decentralized exchange? How do you see this type of exchange operationally happening with other blockchains in the future? What does that path look like?
Alex Wearn: There’s really two kind of criteria that I touched on earlier that are critical to, at least in this stage, making a DEX [00:15:00] make sense in terms of building on some of these other platforms. The first one is just the smart contract capabilities. At the moment, and perhaps never, Bitcoin does not support smart contracts. Building a DEX on top of that network is not technically possible. You look at other ones such as Stellar, EOS, Tron, Wanchain, Icon, a bunch of different other ones that are using kind of a smart contract approach.
The second one that we kind of look at is the actual assets that are [00:15:30] listed on the platform itself. I think I mentioned that this is why the vast majority of projects have started and stayed on Ethereum for the time being is because we’re looking at, “What’s the number of projects and tokens that can even be traded on this type of DEX?” And that comes from the fact that cross blockchain solutions are not there yet.
In terms of looking at where we’re going next, we’re really looking at which blockchains have properties that make it an improvement upon Ethereum. For example, [00:16:00] EOS is one that has a faster transaction or a higher transaction throughput and faster settlement times. Those are elements that make it potentially an appealing alternative to building on Ethereum. The second one is looking at which assets, which blockchains have assets and projects launching on top of them. Because again, if you don’t have assets on that network, there’s not as much utility to having a DEX platform.
So that, I think you’re also going to see it grow over time. [00:16:30] I think you’re going to see these other smart contract blockchains start to launch projects, maybe recruit projects from over from Ethereum. I think you’ll see some projects migrate because some of these other blockchains have better capabilities or kind of better performance specs, if you will. We kind of have our finger to the wind, if you will, and we’re actually working to develop on some of those so that we can be positioned to expand IDEX to these other blockchains when the time comes.
Clay Collins: Just to summarize, I heard you speak to like in terms of a framework for considering other blockchains to build decentralized exchanges around [00:17:00] its functionality, what are the number of tradable assets that exist, and probably the size of the networks around those tradable assets, settlement time, and throughput. Anything else?
Alex Wearn: Those are the big ones, and it’s really, what is there to trade and how well can the blockchain support this type of trading that we’re trying to design? One of the other interesting pieces is a lot of those are focused on interoperability. Icon, Aeon, and Wanchain are examples of ones that are [00:17:30] focused on bringing assets from one blockchain to another. That’s a really cool concept, the idea that you could have a proxy asset on this smart contract blockchain that allows you to trade and control an asset that’s a primary asset on another blockchain. The big example being, can you trade Bitcoin in a trustless way without a third-party custodian but through a smart contract platform?
Clay Collins: Rootstock or something like that.
Alex Wearn: I’ve been meaning to dig into Rootstock a little more. The ones that come to [00:18:00] mind are ones that use an approach to essentially have nodes in their network control both the issuance of assets on their platform as well as the movement of funds on the other primary blockchain. You can think of it as nodes in the smart contract blockchain are kind of like a multisig approval process. It’s not exactly that, but they have kind of a multisig approval process over funds on the primary chain.
It’s like if you deposit Bitcoin into this smart contract blockchain, you would get a proxy Bitcoin that you could [00:18:30] use, you could trade, you could spend. When someone wants to withdraw, the process just happens in reverse, that proxy version is destroyed, and they get back the original Bitcoin on the main blockchain.
Clay Collins: I think the only alternatives that I have heard of gain any kind of traction, however small, around being a platform for token issuance is Stellar and Neo. Have you considered those? Are there others that you’re actively considering right now?
Alex Wearn: We are looking at both of those. I think you’re right that [00:19:00] it’ll be interesting to see the evolution of what projects kind of move or launch on these different platforms. I think it’s going to be a combination of new ICOs, those that are just a new issuance in the market, migration of existing ICOs, those that maybe choose to go to a different blockchain if the performance capabilities of theory are not there. And then also, there’s kind of this emerging class of tokenization of traditional financial assets. This idea that stocks, the [00:19:30] equities, bonds, tokenized real estate, all sorts of different, more traditional financial instruments, bringing those to the blockchain. Where does that start to emerge?
A lot of people were excited about Stellar as an option for solving some of those more traditional finance products. Also, I hear a lot of buzz about EOS in terms of a blockchain that has better performance capabilities and it’s something that projects are either launching on or migrating to.
Clay Collins: It’s still very early days, nothing approaching critical mass.
Alex Wearn: [00:20:00] Yeah, absolutely.
Clay Collins: Let’s move on to chapter seven. The topic here is actually sourcing liquidity. As an exchange operator, how do you think about getting liquidity to move to your platform? I think this is kind of a tricky question because one aspect of this is just basic user growth, that in order to have a functioning exchange, you need a critical mass of makers and takers making or taking either side of the trade. [00:20:30] But I know that a lot of exchanges purposely do activities other than just simple user acquisition to source liquidity for their exchanges and for their customers. Do you guys engage in any, biz dev or partnership programs? Have you created any that are explicitly for sourcing liquidity in a more traditional sense?
Alex Wearn: We don’t have any direct agreements with market makers to date. It’s something we’ve been exploring. I think there’s a couple of things that [00:21:00] we’ve found that have been instrumental in our success. One of them is just the design itself. The fact that everything happens in real time in terms of order books and balances being updated, it’s very conducive or complementary to traditional bonding and algorithmic trading strategies.
Your bare liquidity providers are not sitting at the computer 24/7. They are managing it in a programmatic way, and part of that is [00:21:30] they want to know that if they try and execute an order, that they’re going to get that order, and they want to know that they can place and cancel orders immediately. Having those two components is critical for them to be able to adapt trading strategies that have been successful on other platforms and easily and quickly bring them over to a decentralized exchange.
Clay Collins: Can your smart contract, as it exists today or your set of smart contracts, be extended to accommodate maker-taker schemes [00:22:00] or incentivization programs?
Alex Wearn: It can. Actually, the maker-taker stuff, we have two different or a couple of different things that we’ve kind of explored on that front. One of them is we have a membership token. It’s called IDXM, IDEX Membership, and this token, when users hold it in their wallet, actually the smart contract, it’s recognized on the blockchain and it adjusts the fee percentage that the user pays. If you have a full membership, then you actually incur zero fees on the exchange.
The fees are set [00:22:30] by the exchange itself off chain, but we use this membership token to kind of recognize and understand, does this person participate in this program? This is a way for users to kind of pay upfront, if you will, for their anticipated trading needs. This is a very popular program for those who are larger traders and are planning to bring more liquidity to the platform.
We don’t have a scaled trading fee structure, but we do have our own token, [00:23:00] our own exchange token, Aura, and we rebate that. We distribute that to users who trade on the platform proportional to the amount of volume that they trade. This is an example where the more you trade, the more of this token you will earn. This token is actually going to have a role in our plans for future decentralization. We want to take those off chain components that we currently manage and move them, migrate them towards a more decentralized architecture, and this token is going to be instrumental in running and operating [00:23:30] nodes in that network. This is where users can trade on the platform, earn this token, and eventually actually run a node that will give them a percentage of the trade fees from the exchange.
Clay Collins: The traditional maker-taker scheme that I’ve seen is one where takers pay a fee, makers either pay a smaller fee or don’t pay any fee at all, and then part of the taker fee is given directly to the maker in the “currency” of the trade or just in whatever the scheme is denominated in, maybe US dollars. Do you see something like that in your future?
Alex Wearn: [00:24:00] We’re exploring that. We do have a maker-taker differentiation where the maker fee is 10-basis points and the taker fee is 20-basis points. We’re considering some of those other structures in terms of either further reduced fees or rebates, but we haven’t implemented anything yet.
Clay Collins: Let’s move to chapter eight, which is about different approaches to exchange tokens. I think a lot of people are familiar with Binance coin. [00:24:30] They’re doing things like taking profits from their investment arm and using that to buy back BNB. They’re actually paying a lot of their customers in BNB. You get discount, you get cheaper trades if you hold it or if you pay your trading fees at BNB, but there’s a spectrum of options that exist here. There’s a range of different things that people are doing or that exchanges are doing with their native token. What does your token do? You mentioned [00:25:00] you get free trades and you mentioned that you get some kind of rebate that’s based on the amount of trading volume that you’ve executed on an exchange. Are there any other components to this?
Alex Wearn: Yeah. Just to clarify, we have two separate tokens. We have the membership token, which gives you free trades as well as the alternative is you can choose to have a higher rate of earning those rebates, and the second token, [00:25:30] which is known as Aura. Before we jump into that, I think you’re right, you’ve seen a couple of different strategies and designs for exchange tokens. I think BNB is obviously a very popular one.
I’ve studied a little bit, so I may have a few details wrong. But my understanding is some of the key benefits right now is you get discounted trade fees if you pay in BNB. That bonus diminishes over time and I think it expires five years after the token was launched. You have the Buy-In Burn Program where they’re using profits from the [00:26:00] exchange to buy BNB from the open market and burn those tokens, though I believe that is going to stop once the supply has been reduced to $100 million BNB.
Unclear to me if Buy-In Burn is going to continue after that point. They’ve committed to making BNB a core token or a component of their future decentralized exchange. I imagine it may be something like, if they have a gas fee like Ethereum, you’ll have to pay using BNB. That’s kind of one approach, [00:26:30] but it’s not 100 percent clear how, as Binance continues to have success in the future, how the value will accrue back to the BNB token. You can see some correlations, but it’s not a direct relationship necessarily.
The other popular one is going to be 0X. 0X’s approach is as a fee token where you have to use the token to pay fees if you’re going to have a relayer that’s using the 0X smart contracts for execution. The other piece is that 0X is going to have a future governance role in upgrading and development of [00:27:00] new components of the smart contract system.
This one we think is potentially problematic for a couple reasons. There’s a kind of well discussed issue around fee tokens, this notion of the velocity problem. And to simply summarize this, the idea that users don’t want to hold the token for any longer than they need to pay for the trade fee, exchanges don’t want to hold the token for any longer than they need to accept the fee because they have costs in dollars or Ethereum, whatever else. So, you’ve got a bunch of sell pressure from both sides [00:27:30] and no one wants to hold it for any longer than is needed to transact.
The potential change to this would be the governance aspect, which I think remains to be seen. How compelling is it for exchanges to hold that token to have a say in the governance of the network? The other piece is that we think it kind of forces the token on users and adds friction by making them purchase that token in order to use your software to begin with.
Clay Collins: Another aspect of these tokens is that, [00:28:00] at least on Binance, they have BNB as the quote currency for a number of their markets. Do you envision instead, you know, in addition to having markets denominated in Ethereum, that you would have them denominated in IDXM or Aura?
Alex Wearn: I think eventually, we’d like to do the same sort of thing, to add it as a base currency because that helps us to increase liquidity and trading volume on that token pair itself.
Clay Collins: Interesting.
Alex Wearn: And then so just to explore a little bit on our token design. We’re using Aura as a proof of stake token [00:28:30] for the further decentralized future of IDEX. And there’s a great Medium article that we published, kind of I wrote with my team, on how we’re approaching this process. If anyone’s interested, come to our Medium and take a look. It’s pretty detailed and you’ll see a sneak peek at how we’re thinking about this in the future.
But simply put, the idea is that we’re taking the current centralized components of IDEX and putting them on their own network. This network will be powered by the proof of stake token Aura [00:29:00] and those who run nodes in this network will do the jobs and functions of IDEX today. But for doing so, they’ll get paid a percentage of the trade fees from the exchange. I think the term that I’ve seen from Multicoin has been work token. It’s something you need in order to participate in the operations of the platform—Auger being another example—and as the platform grows, as you do more work, as it becomes more popular, you are actually able to earn more revenue [00:29:30] for that work that you’re doing.
Clay Collins: Oh, that’s interesting.
Alex Wearn: Yeah.
Clay Collins: The return for doing the same amount of work increases as you hold more of that token.
Alex Wearn: Exactly. You hold more of the token. The payouts are a function of how much you are actually staking. And then the staking token is also necessary to provide the security of the network. People are probably familiar with Ethereum’s intentions to transition to proof of stake. This is an alternative to proof of work mining where, instead of using the [00:30:00] hashing power and solving the hash algorithm to find kind of this random number, and then in doing so, you’re now incentivized. Honestly, that’s the proof of work system where you spend all this electricity and energy to find the right inputs and then you’re going to get rewarded if you tell the truth.
In this case, proof of stake, you’re putting up these tokens essentially as a form of collateral. And if you don’t act honestly, if you don’t behave as you’re supposed to according to the rules of the system, then you risk losing this stake. That’s kind of how we vision this [00:30:30] design is the Aura will be a proof of stake token and those who stake Aura and run nodes in the network will get a percentage of the trade fees for doing so.
Clay Collins: Conceptually, IDXM is for traders, for basically members of IDEX, and Aura is for operators of the decentralized exchange—operator is kind of a weird term—but sort of nodes on the network that IDEX is operating on top of.
Alex Wearn: That’s exactly right. And as I mentioned, we’re distributing Aura [00:31:00] to those who trade on the platform, and we’re trying to make the process as democratic as possible. We’re thinking of how we can segment the different functions of the exchange to make it so that anyone can participate in this node operation process. We think that a staking token model is one that really aligns. There’s this emerging field of tokenomics, token economics, of how do you use these decentralized crypto assets to incentivize [00:31:30] and coordinate the actions of a group of diverse and unconnected individuals?
So rather through coercion, how can you design an economic incentive structure that everybody’s going to kind of road towards the same direction? In this case, we think that this staking token design is going to be instrumental on our future success. And you can kind of imagine this, there’s this term in Amazon, the flywheel where, in this case, users trade on the platform. They’ve earned the token for trading on the platform. They can use that token to run a node and stake and actually earn a percentage of the trade fees, [00:32:00] which incentivizes them to trade more on the platform, tell their friends about it, bring more liquidity. It’s kind of this virtuous cycle where the more you trade, the more you earn, the more you have that you can earn through staking, and it continues to grow.
Clay Collins: IDXM is for membership and reduced trading fees and Aura is a reward for a trade volume on the exchange, so the rewards are not paid out in IDXM?
Alex Wearn: That’s correct. They’re paid out in Aura.
Clay Collins: Let’s move on to [00:32:30] chapter nine, which is just an exploration of the centralized aspects of IDEX as an organization. Can you tell us a little bit about fundraising, team size, location, where you’re domiciled, all of those sorts of things that often aren’t talked about with regard to these projects, but I think, which are nevertheless very interesting?
Alex Wearn: Absolutely. From a funding perspective, to date, we have been bootstrapped from kind of an investment perspective. [00:33:00] Myself and I, my co-founder, are the two equity owners in the parent company. We have helped bring forward revenue or kind of use a different revenue model through the sale of IDXM. W sold 1,600 memberships in December and January of 2017 and 2018 to the general public. That was kind of an alternative revenue model that allowed people to essentially prepay for their trade fees through the purchase of IDXM.
Since then, we’ve been fortunate enough that [00:33:30] we’ve been able to continue operations through the income from the exchange itself. We are exploring the option of strategic investors in our token. We think that there’s some benefits there to either get people to kind of help us. I guess there’s some strategic investors that have capabilities that could bring us to kind of where we want to be in the future. We think of those as either market makers and liquidity providers because that’ll help align even further, or those maybe with other projects in the space [00:34:00] or potentially other blockchains where we would want to take IDEX to.
Clay Collins: And then team size, headquarters? What kind of entity are you? Where is it located?
Alex Wearn: The team is 20 right now. We have 11 engineers, four support staff, and five on the business side, as well as a couple of different contractors that we engage with, for example, our PR company. The company is incorporated in Panama and my co-founder, my younger brother is down there, but the vast majority of the team is spread out all around [00:34:30] the US and the world. We’ve got myself in Chicago, we’ve got some developers in LA, San Francisco, New York, up in Texas, really all over the place.
Similarly, our support staff is even more kind of decentralized with some up in Canada as well as one over in Vietnam. The support staff was great. We actually found these guys, they were, this was kind of early days, we were doing every job from building the site, marketing, communications, support, and we had to sleep [00:35:00] at some point. And so, we just go offline and hope that when we woke back up, Telegram wasn’t too backed up in terms of questions from users.
We actually found our support guys. They were the ones who are just willing to jump in and answer questions and show that they had an understanding and a willingness to help others. It was a great option, kind of example of promoting from within the community. And these guys have just been absolutely fantastic.
Clay Collins: Do you do payroll in Aura or IDXM?
Alex Wearn: [00:35:30] We do kind of bonuses in Aura. Our payroll is primarily in Ether or others. We do have conversions to Fiat and direct bank payments for those who prefer that.
Clay Collins: Chapter Ten, our final chapter. What do you think the future looks like for decentralized exchange?
Alex Wearn: I think there’s a big component of technological advancement. That’s going to be kind of this cross-chain connectivity. The idea that you’re going to take this property of an atomic swap that exists within a smart contract and [00:36:00] expand it to connect to other blockchains. So really, how can you trade not just Ethereum-based assets, but also Bitcoin, Litecoin, EOS, etc, all through the same kind of decentralized in private key noncustodial architecture?
The other component is going to be on just the improvement of the blockchains themselves. As these blockchains start to scale and the cost of operating on these blockchains goes down, you’re going to see it make more and more sense for users and exchanges to migrate their [00:36:30] volume to these types of decentralized exchange architectures.
And then one of the other pieces that I’m really excited about is just the increasing tokenization of assets. 2017, we saw the ICO boom. Now we’re starting to see a lot of the security tokens come on the scene where this is more of a traditional equity structure, but in a token format that helps improve liquidity as well as make it easier to issue and actually comply with some of the regulatory requirements around either lockups or which individuals can actually own and [00:37:00] access these tokens. I think you’re just going to see that proliferation continue with all sorts of traditional financial instruments coming on the blockchain as well as the continued development on the utility token side of new types of assets and instruments that we’ve never seen before.
Clay Collins: As hyper tokenization ensues, it does seem like Ethereum is a natural fit for a lot of these, for tokenized real estate or reads for derivatives on the blockchain, some of these bespoke derivative products that you can create on the fly, security tokens, [00:37:30] most of them, if I think about tokens issued by securitize.io, or TokenSoft, or Harbor, or Polychain, they’re all ERC-20 based. I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to facilitate those types of trades with your exchange. What do you think about the notion of a security token exchange? Does that need to be different from any other exchange, or not, or even exchanges just for non-fungible crypto collectibles? [00:38:30] Do you think that requires a separate type of exchange or do you think all of these things eventually just converge?
Alex Wearn: The way I think about it is that there’s going to be this kind of fundamental underlying layer that allows for the exchange of assets, and then it’s going to interact with either different UIs or different maybe other partners to help satisfy other requirements. In the example of non-fungible tokens, that’s going to be a fundamentally different process. You’re not going to have an order book for crypto collectibles, right? It’s going to feel more like an [00:38:30] eBay style process where users are going to post a specific item.
For something like a security token exchange, you’re going to have different requirements in terms of either onboarding users or some of the regulatory requirements. In that case, you might partner with a third party who’s going to know those individuals and check and make sure that they meet, for example, the accredited investor status that is required for a security token in the early days of its life cycle. So that’s really what we’re focused on is, how can we build that underlying base layer, [00:39:00] and then find the right partners to work with to start hosting and supporting kind of this emerging proliferation of products and projects.
Clay Collins: I think something that’s worth noting is that a lot of these security token platforms, to me at least, seem like they are a most compatible with decentralized exchanges because they work by white listing the Ethereum addresses of folks who are allowed [00:39:30] to hold that token. With a traditional centralized exchange, someone could actually, if they get around some of the systems that are in place, they can actually hold the token that they’re not allowed to have. But on a decentralized exchange, where the transaction or where the trade is settled to the blockchain, that wouldn’t even be able to go through unless their Ethereum address is whitelisted. The mechanisms for controlling who holds versus [00:40:00] does not hold that token are on chain entirely. It seems compatible with your philosophy.
Alex Wearn: Absolutely. It goes back to that idea of programmatic assets. I think regulators are, as they dig in more, they’re in many ways excited by the promise of the fact that you no longer need someone watching to make sure that they’re compliant. You can actually bake that compliance into the asset itself through the technology and the capabilities of these crypto assets. [00:40:30] I think it’s a really exciting future.
Clay Collins: Alex, you’ve been very gracious. Thanks for giving us so much time and sharing so freely of your wisdom and knowledge and experience. I appreciate you being here.
Alex Wearn: Yeah, you’re welcome. Appreciate it, Clay. Thanks for the time.
That concludes part two of this conversation with Alex Wearn [00:41:00] from IDEX. I’m off to start working on our next episode. See you next week.
That’s it for this week. To sign-up for a free crypto investing newsletter, listen to other episodes, or get the show notes from this episode, please visit flippening.com. I also invite you to check out the startup [00:41:00] that funds this podcast, Nomics, at nomics.com. Finally, if you’ve got value from the show, the biggest thing you can do to help us out is to leave a five-star review with some comments and feedback on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcast. Thanks for listening and see you next week.