Today I am speaking with Denham Preen, Co-Founder at Float Capital, a peer-to-peer asset protocol, that provides leveraged returns without over-collateralization or liquidations. Float has recently garnered attention in The Graph ecosystem due to the launch of something the team is calling “Subgraph Uncrashable,” a framework that generates helper functions in your GraphQL schema that makes common subgraph bugs impossible.
During this interview, Denham and I talk about his entry into crypto, the impressive web3 community emerging in South Africa and throughout the entire continent, the origins of Float and how it works, Subgraph Uncrashable, and the ways in which Float uses The Graph.
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Denham Preen (00:18):
The Graph is clearly seeing massive adoption market share. It’s clearly positioned in a space. And it’s not just resting. It’s sitting back. It’s taking the initiatives and building out.
Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today I’m speaking with Denham Preen, co-founder at Float Capital, a peer-to-peer asset protocol that provides leverage returns without over collateralization or liquidations.
Float has recently garnered a lot of attention within The Graph ecosystem due to the launch of something the team is calling Subgraph Uncrashable, a framework that generates helper functions in your GraphQL schema that makes common Subgraph bugs impossible.
During this interview, Denham and I talk about his entry into crypto, the impressive web3 community emerging in South Africa and throughout the entire continent, the origins of Float and how it works, Subgraph Uncrashable, and the ways in which Float uses The Graph.
As always, we start the discussion talking about Denham’s educational background.
Denham Preen (01:48):
So first off, I’m from Cape Town, South Africa, so I did my undergrad at a small university called Rhodes, economics and computer science as my undergrad. And then I did my post-grad in computer science as my focus, and that was at the University of Cape Town or UCT.
Denham, that’s interesting, right, because for most listeners, and certainly for me, those seem like divergent fields of study, computer science and econ. Do these fields relate to each other more than maybe meets the eye?
Denham Preen (02:18):
Yeah, great question. I think one of the beauties of computer science or studying that field is it’s not really specific to a certain domain. By that I mean it applied to any industry or interest that you have. And I think with economics there’s definitely a lot of applications where the two overlap. And I think in the crypto world, you get token economics to economics and there’s definitely a lot of interplay between this field of economics and computer science.
So I would say that there are maybe divergent to the unseen eye, but in terms of there being an overlap, especially in the crypto world with tokenomics, and I still spoke about this at one of the conferences called Youth Safari in Kenya, and just dived into some of the more basics around token economics and how they interlink.
One thing I’ve been asking guests of the podcast when they join me and say that they have a background in studying computer science, I’d like to ask if during their studies at any time, did they learn about crypto, did they learn about Bitcoin or any of these web3 blockchain type of themes? And I ask this question just because I think it’s fun to get a sense with people all across the world studying the same topic, if there’s any emergent trends at the university level where people are exploring and talking about these themes. So is it true for you?
Denham Preen (03:41):
Yeah, superb question. So I graduated maybe five or probably a little bit more years ago. And at that time we were introduced to it, distributed ledger systems, part of the big A, B, C, D of big tech AI, big data, cloud computing, and then distributed ledgers.
So we definitely touched on it, but funny enough, my core diving into the blockchain space, at least at university level, didn’t know it at the time, but my two founders, they worked on what’s in hindsight was maybe just quite early. So it was quite simple into diving into distributed ledger technologies and these comparisons between centralized systems and decentralized and distributed systems. And so I read the paper and that was maybe my most academic jump into to blockchain from an academic perspective studying computer science.
Well, Denham, as you mentioned in your introduction there, you’re joining me from South Africa. I’ve had the opportunity to interview other guests that have joined me from South Africa, but I always enjoy getting a sense from guests of the podcast what the attitudes and opinions of the people where they live are towards crypto and web3. So what can you share about what’s going on in South Africa as it relates to web3 and blockchain?
Denham Preen (05:02):
Totally, totally, totally. Great question. It’s multiple facets why web3 is applicable to South Africa and the greater Africa.
So I did listen to your prior podcast with Kent Fourie, a friend of mine from Graphrica, and I think if we dive into the different sectors of it, one being there’s great tech talent within Africa, and usually African countries are at a different standing point in a greater economic, macroeconomic view and this makes the talent super high quality at more affordable rates for different companies. So there’s a lot of great tech talent within as South Africa and Africa.
And I think if we look at it in terms of some of its applications, unfortunately within Africa and Third World countries, we quite often see quite a bit of corruption. And I think innately with this definition of corruption, it’s linked to this inability to have transparency and trust and it just makes the system very, very useful. This transparency that comes the paradigm of blockchain and all these different pieces that fit together that are really well positioned to solve African context problems.
The other one I just want to touch on within the African landscape, I know again, touching on going to Youth Safari last year. I was based in Kenya. Maybe need to be fact checked on this, but someone mentioned that Africa was one of the biggest transactors of volume, transactors of USDC. And this is quite prevalent in remittance, these cross-border payments. And usually these remittance, middle parties, they are massive fees and naturally crypto is this really global system. It’s not tied to a specific location and therefore make transacting is a lot cheaper and it allows people to get around these exorbitant remittance fees, just transferring money across countries. A lot of African people will work in one country to send money back home. That is the definition of remittance and there it’s been super prevalent, it’s super applicable, solving real world problems right now. Yeah, just a really great application.
I appreciate you mentioning Kent, and as you said there I had the opportunity to interview Kent Fourie for episode 62. Encourage listeners to go back and listen to that if they missed that one. Cancer, a brilliant guy with a real hands-on approach to how web3 and blockchain could impact South Africa and the world Denham. I want to ask you this follow-up question and again a little bit of a standard question I ask on the podcast, which is one thing that I’ve learned by hosting this podcast is developing parts of the world seem to me to be adopting crypto at a greater pace than more developed parts of the world. And you essentially said that there. But I want to just flip the script here and ask you, do you see or perceive that in places like the United States, the interest in crypto being more of a speculative nature versus where you are at home and there’s a real utility driving interest?
Denham Preen (08:16):
Yeah, sure. Deep question and I’m not sure I know the perfect answer for it, but I will say the underlying technology is absolutely incredible and because it’s absolutely incredible and it’s simple and it’s beautiful, we get quite a lot of, I don’t know, fluff on top of it. And this fluff might be the difference between speculation and fundamental or book value. Your book value is X and your speculation value or what gets priced in is considerably higher because they’re trying to price in this future value that it might be.
So yes, I think what you’re saying makes logical sense. I’m sure there’s definitely still a heavy speculation in developing countries, but it is possibly quite likely however beyond just providing value to Third World countries, and I think the adoption happens maybe a bit quicker because the problems are more prevalent or there’s greater pain points, and because it’s a greater pain point, this adoption comes in a bit quicker and there’s less challenges or blockers or just your lack of regulation or issues to try develop these things further that it might make it easier to adopt or faster to adopt in developing countries.
So then I’d be interested to know then, based on the fact you studied econ, you studied computer science, what it was that happened or the journey you took to decide, hey, I’m going to go work and pursue a career in crypto.
Denham Preen (09:47):
Yeah, so to unpack my career and up until this point or let’s say before I got into the cryptosphere, I was always quite passionate about startups and read Peter Thiel’s Zero to One and was quite hard to keeping up to date with the different things. And yeah, I’d like to pursue this potentially more riskier career path of the startup. It’s quite exciting, it’s quite adventurous, there’s a lot to unpack in it.
And this brought me to working with a few different startups, maybe my first job was as a developer in a startup and then grew some skills and then moved into a consulting space working with a couple of different startups again. To be honest, they’re quite like cross multiple different demands, med tech, property tech, just really unpacking it. And I think the driver there was more the startup world.
And then where for me I started to progress a little bit further is after this consulting phase I started working for a VC. That’s a venture capitalist or private equity, the same realm of investing in companies. And what I would do is I’d perform their due diligence from a tech perspective. So I’d have to sit there and write these very objective reports on their portfolio companies or potential portfolio companies and dissect their technical stack.
And I say an objective view because you can have quite strong opinions in the tech world. So I’d have to come in and say, “Cool, this landing website is built in XYZ, it’s a up and coming strong tech, and some of the assets are loading really slowly so this is potentially areas of improvement or XYZ. And it went down to things such as helping in hiring and really just working with a lot of different startups in that field. And that was my preceding startup career focus and learned a lot of different case studies, which is really fantastic.
And then how I got into crypto was through a hackathon. So my two co-founders I studied with as well in computer science and we are close friends. We went into different fields. One went into machine learning side, the one went straight into the blockchain career and we joined to do [inaudible 00:12:07] e Cape Town, a really fun, really awesome marathon. We flew in from overseas, we were working in different jurisdictions at the time, and took part in this hackathon. And we developed this project called Wild Cards and we were fortunate enough to be one of the winners of the hackathon.
And this was the intro to… Learned so much at this hackathon, so much value adding that we really dive into it further. We took our product and launched live, which was a project focused on endangered animal conservation. It was really awesome, aligned closely with me, especially coming from South Africa. And yeah, that was initial stepping stone.
And then from there got into the [inaudible 00:12:50] soft incubator in Paris. So we moved up to Paris to carry on and then got into another incubator in Switzerland and that was with crypto value venture capitalist CVVC. And really awesome path, learned so much. It’s quite great. So they obviously invest in you and then just more than providing you with capital, they foster you and develop you further and just got some awesome talks from different people in the crypto industry and the opportunity to learn more. But that was pretty much my path into crypto, very much from a tech driven perspective, very passionate about the building and what the blockchain paradigm can provide.
If we go back in time, when did you first become aware of crypto? And I got to imagine it was probably in those days when you were working in a startup environment.
Denham Preen (13:39):
I think my initial introduction to crypto was pretty early on. I happened to meet a guy in Thailand covered in tattoos that was raving about Bitcoin and how this thing was going to be the future. And then in hindsight it would’ve been great to kick my past self in the butt and say, “Listen a bit closer.”
But he didn’t seem too much of an idol. And I don’t know if I took him too seriously, but he is probably laughing right now at the amount of Bitcoin he told me he was holding. And maybe that was my first introduction. And I was a little bit skeptical. I didn’t fully understand the technology and I think it’s healthy to be skeptical, especially in the space where the technology is so clever. There’s a lot of fluff on top of it where people dive in and things and you really should look at things for their true value.
Anyway, going off on a tangent, but I was a little bit skeptical. I was like, okay, cool, this is my first introduction. And then I think this is maybe even early on in my undergrad, so I wasn’t too deep in the tech world. I came back and I continued my studies and then there was a little bit of talk around. And I was like, cool, this is interesting technology. Maybe I should dig a little bit deeper. So a little bit of self-studying, a little bit like, cool, let me see this and that and read a bit further and you understand the difference in a transactional block blockchain such as Bitcoin and then this virtual machine blockchain, which is a Ethereum computing system. And just lured in bit by bit and it became more and more interesting.
And I think it was by my post-grad with my two other co-founders where I naturally [inaudible 00:15:21] chained to them. I was more interested. And then still, I think it was more from my side dabbling in just the little bit, putting it a little bit of my savings and it exploring it a bit but not taking it too deeply. And then I think when we built quite a bit on top of it, that’s when I was like, wow, okay, this is going to change the world.
Denham, this is not an uncommon theme to hear on the podcast. Someone starting or first impression of crypto being somewhat of skepticism but then eventually it switches into conviction for the space. How would you explain to somebody who might still be in that skepticism phase of their journey and don’t quite understand or realize what now, what was it for you that was a light bulb moment that switched you from skeptic to someone with conviction?
Denham Preen (16:10):
Yeah, I suppose it was really understanding it and looking at it from a personal perspective. So I think what a lot of people or a lot of the input I was receiving was from, and keep in mind studying economics and having a bit of a finance background and then going into computer science, I would say I was fairly, maybe experts a bit of a strong word, but I was better versed in this field and I should have known more. And the people that were maybe introducing it to me were less known. So I was a little bit like, okay, is this just a soundboard that you’ve heard from someone else and it’s all bouncing around? What was my maybe more realization?
Was this or [inaudible 00:16:51] this conversion of being a skeptic to a hardcore web3 [inaudible 00:16:57] is this deep understanding and looking and being like, okay, cool, so you can do this, you can do that. And realizing, oh, my goodness, this changes the entire fundamentals and this changes this. And I think for me it was taking the time in a personal capacity to explore it, try and understand and look at a few different things. I think you can look at a meme token and be a bit baffled and not fully understand it and just look away. But truly there is some resounding technology. It’s absolutely knocking things out the park and it’s because of this that there’s this, I know things happening in the ecosystem which might not be as face value valuable, but yeah, it really is a sound technology.
Well, Denham, the reason why we’re speaking today is because you are one of the founders of Float and there’s been a lot of pickup on Twitter and other places about some of the tools that you and your team have contributed to The Graph ecosystem. I want to talk more about that, but before we do, what can you tell listeners about Float and its Origins?
Denham Preen (19:08):
Yeah, exciting, keen to unpack the world eventually into The Graph and the problem solution case is really solving for us. But to tell you a little bit about Float and its origins and where we came from.
I’ve touched on a little bit, but my two co-founders, we met at university, went into the different tech fields, joining in for this hackathon. We’re fortunate enough to win this hackathon and we took our project a little bit further. And with our prize money, we knew there was another one coming up in India. In India and I thought, sick, let’s use our prize money to get a flight. So we booked a flight there, carried on bouncing around hackathons and then this took us to XYZ and slowly but truly we just got more and more ingrained in the blockchain space. Ended up doing some consulting.
My two co-founders are fantastic, they’re really awesome. Both computer science backgrounds as well. Quite a strong tech background. I think the entire team of Float has quite a strong tech background, really something we focus on. And this venture and journey together for us culminated with Float.
So Float was not our core product at the time and we were doing some consulting work. We did some stuff with safe or [inaudible 00:20:31] knows it Safe previously, couple other names. And Float was a culmination of our skillsets coming into a platform.
And Float is a tokenized derivatives platform where you can get leverage and you can trade different asset classes. And it came up from our exploration into these different DeFi protocols. I would say Float exists in the DeFi space and looking at and trying to analyze it. And I think blockchain first off is the future of finance, let alone decentralized finance, purely because its operation. And this journey kind of unpacked bits by bits and it culminated in Float.
I keep saying this to you, but there are themes that continually emerge on the podcast when I speak with different guests and one of them is this hackathon experience, meaning somebody has an idea, they work super hard on it, they win and then they just reinvest that winning into a plane ticket to the next hackathon. I’ve seen it here before and here you are describing a very similar process. What was your experience working in that hackathon and how important do you think these hackathons are for the industry?
Denham Preen (21:48):
Hackathons are absolutely awesome. They are an incredible way of putting developers into the ecosystem, letting developers tinker, let them play. And obviously there’s a bit of a shortage of developers in the industry or the greater scheme of the demand for developers is maybe greater than the supply. And it’s a really cool way of just drawing developers into the space, again, tinkering with different systems, different technologies, these awesome workshops at hackathons, this is where I was first introduced to the mechanics of [inaudible 00:22:22] diet and how it operated as a stable coin.
And you tinker this, you tinker that, and from a developer’s perspective it’s super fun and exciting. There’s big prizes up for grabs and they make it quite accessible to build different things and there’s a lot of support and facilitation. We’ve done so many hackathons, loved it so much. I think we’ve maybe felt… Well, I think we’ve moved into more of a mentoring at hackathons position that way because I think hackathons are intended to bring developers and tinker with technologies and stuff like that.
It’s a bit unfair, at least from my perspective, if we try just do it a bit of a money grab. So from what we are working with now, we enjoy hackathons from more of a mentorship perspective, but it’s been truly awesome and they make it really accessible to get prizes. There’s also just smaller prizes after for grabs as you intuit technologies and stuff like that. But we’ve been fortunate enough to take part in ETHCapeTown, ETHBerlin, ETHIndia as I mentioned before, ETHTehran, mostly the Ethereum ecosystem was where we dabbled.
We took part as Float team in Avalanche Summit last year, the hackathon host wine code club, truly awesome, really fun. We split up into three teams. We’re again, fortunate enough to win in a few different domains. There’s actually a YouTube video of our experience. Quite fun if anyone wants to dive into that. I’m sure if you just search Avalon Summit Float team, you’ll find it. But yeah, truly fun. Hackathons are incredible.
I’ll put a link to that YouTube video in the show notes. So any listener that wants to watch that video, please visit the show notes. So let’s unpack Float a little bit here and you’ll have to forgive me, I’m not the sharpest guy when it comes to Defi, but can you break down a little bit how Float works?
Denham Preen (24:24):
Absolutely. So we like to say Float is the easiest way to get leveraged long or short exposure to different asset classes. And essentially through these smart contract mechanics, we pair these long and short traders. And in our D1, the natural progression question is, what happens if long pool is not equal to the short pool or there’s not as much long positions to short positions. And we sold that with something called [inaudible 00:24:52] Floating Exposure. So the exposure or the leverage would fluctuate within a band and without the two, which is what we currently working on for architect, we’ve implemented a novel mechanism which essentially has a third pool and this third pool is for market makers and ensures constant exposure or leverage.
Some of the other cool outcomes from having this peer-to-peer system is that we don’t have liquidations. And that’s not to say there’s no risk in using the platform, but it’s pretty awesome that there’s no risk of liquidation. And if you are a trader in the DeFi space, you’ve probably been liquidated at some point. But with our system we don’t use collateralized debt positions and this means there isn’t a need to maintain the margin, and so you aren’t at risk of liquidation, which is a pretty cool and novel outcome of what’s seemingly quite simple.
Well, that’s a great overview and makes a lot of sense of what you’re building there. When it comes to use cases or your ideal user, who did you have in mind or what use case did you envision for Float?
Denham Preen (26:02):
So Float is built for traders, that is DeFi users with financial sophistication. We want to open leverage position. We have a world understanding of both DeFi and the finance side and are comfortable with handling their risk, but it’s both for users who want to go long or shorten any asset class. So at the moment we’ve stuck with a few different asset classes, but it’s really cool is as long as our fantastic fans of Chat Link can provide us with a price feed, we can provide that asset to trade on the platform.
And historically we’ve focused on crypto assets, so allowing for leverage ETH or Bitcoin positions. We had a really cool market called the Flippening, which allows you to trade on ETH’s market cap in comparison to Bitcoin’s market cap. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the term the Flippening, but this is a play on Bitcoin and Ethereum, which is the one that’s going to pass each other, which is very well contested.
But yeah, if you want to learn more, check out our docs, hop over to Float.Capital, there’s links to the Discord, feel free to answer any questions. Team’s in there on a daily basis. We use it as our internal messaging platform really to stick one-to-one with our users.
I am familiar with the terminology Flippening and I’m sure a lot of listeners are, but for a little bit of context here, there’s a debate within crypto about whether Ethereum will one day flip Bitcoin as the largest token or project in the space. I want to get your opinion on that Denham. So where do you come in on that? And like you said, it’s well contested so I highly doubt you and I’ll solve this today, but do you have an opinion on the Flippening, if it’ll happen, when it’ll happen, these types of things?
Denham Preen (27:43):
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think people like to unpack the Flippening from different perspectives or context. So some say the Flippening is actually based on transaction volume or number of transactions and then some maxies will come take one side or the other.
But I think where my potentially biased viewpoint comes in, and I’m not a max on either side, you see value in both, maybe looks at it and says, “Okay, well, Ethereum, we look at the market cap and the Ethereum market cap is considerably less than the Bitcoin market cap. However, if you look at the ecosystem or the value that’s built on top of Ethereum, I might say that Ethereum has already flipped Bitcoin.” That’s my light view without diving into too deep and throwing strong opinions around. But from that side, I think maybe Ethereum, if you look at complete value of the ecosystem, has surpassed Bitcoin.
Well, it’s timely you bring that up because I recall reading in the last six months, I think there was almost 800 million of transactions completed on Ethereum and that is by far a market leader in the space and it’s remarkable. So to your point, maybe the Flippening has already occurred, but an interesting debate for sure and only time will tell. I do want to ask you about the Float team. You’ve mentioned your two co-founders a couple of times, but what else can you share with listeners about the team?
Denham Preen (29:17):
So we’ve been pretty focused on finding the absolute wrinkliest brains out there. We are super stoked to be working alongside each other. We have a pretty flat structure, we work with cool people that we have a little proxy test and something like, “Would you be happy to hang out them in a waiting room at the airport? Would you get along?”
So we all get along pretty fantastically. The team is gigabrains, smart as can be. And personally I enjoy hanging out with them. We have some good banter. We got in quite a few workaways, some cold swims. And solving hard technical problems together aren’t always linked to what exactly we’re working on, but just enjoying the math problems and playing some chess. Yeah, it’s a really cool team and we focus on working on problems we feel passionate about, but we should feel take enjoyment from. Life’s so short to really not enjoy the work you do or the peers you work alongside. Yeah, truly awesome team to be working with.
For listeners who want to learn more about Float, what’s the best way for them to dig in and see what’s going on over there?
Denham Preen (30:32):
First off, I highly recommend just going to the platform, playing around a bit, making a trade on the Testnet. You can go to Testnet.Float.Capital, no real money, just playing around. That’s on Mumbai, the Polygon Testnet. And other than that, Float.Capital is the site. You can head over to our docs, that’s Docs.Float.Capital. You join our Discord, there’s lot of links to our discord throughout the site. We have an ISO technical primer or intro to where to get started, jump into XYZ part of it. We’re always online to answer questions and, yeah, lots of different places to find out more about Float.
Well, as I said before, I’ll put those links in the show notes. So again, if any listener wants to learn more about Float, please visit the show notes and you’ll find links to everything that Denham just mentioned there. When we were preparing for this interview, Denham, I asked you a lot of questions just to get a sense of all the things that you and the team are working on there. And you mentioned something that I wanted to ask you while we were recording, which is you have some conviction for blockchain or DeFi being the future of finance and I’d just love to get your take here for listeners, why do you have that conviction?
Denham Preen (31:43):
Great question. So blockchain in my view is the future of finance. Blockchain is a very applicable system for a lot of different use cases. So I think what helps in unpacking this is drawing it down or coming back a little and saying, “What actually is blockchain?” And for someone that’s maybe not technical or someone that’s not familiar with the blockchain space, a blockchain can be viewed as a database. It’s viewed as somewhere where you can store information. And because of this decentralized structure of a blockchain i e, you’re not reliant on a single point of failure to manage this database, it creates this different paradigm and it becomes a better system for managing data that needs to be extremely reliable. And when I say extremely reliable, I mean like let’s say finance, transactions, you send money from A to B, you need that to be accurate and reliable and stored securely.
Now, blockchain is super fantastic for applying to this use case. It does introduce some other concepts to think about in different paradigms that we said before, such as transparency. All information is public. Anyone can see, although maybe not so much of the progressions in ZK tech, which is quite cool and exciting, but it’s simply a better system for managing finance.
And just to unpack a little bit more, if we take a look at two different, the historical way of accounting, company A and company B, company A sends money to company B and this goes from one bank to another and on both of their journal entries, the one has money coming off, another one has money coming on. Now, naturally if there’s a accounting clerical error, there’ll be a disparity and it’s like, okay, we’ll find whatever it is. I think there’s a leeway of something like 5% or something.
But anyway, there’s this disparity and that percentage of over a grander scheme is quite significantly high. Whereas blockchain uses a single ledger system, i.e., company A and company B are using the same database to manage these transactions and this means that there’s no possibility of there being a clerical error. There’s a single ledger. And this is truly so beautifully simple and it’s so applicable to the use case of finance. That percentage, although could be small at the value of what’s being transacted, it’s a significant amount of value that’s just being purely lost. It just disappears into the ethos for my little pun.
So Denham, as I mentioned at the outset, we’re talking today because of some of the cool things that Float is doing with relationship to The Graph. Before I ask you about those very specific solutions you’ve been working on, do you recall when you first became aware of The Graph and what some of your thoughts were about the protocol and the problem it was trying to solve?
Denham Preen (35:18):
Yeah, absolutely. So we were introduced to Graph pretty early on, maybe wasn’t as big as it is now and obviously a monolith in the space providing an absolutely incredible service. It’s clearly found product market fit. And we were introduced The Graph back at the end of 2019 and I think it was a little bit more clunky back then. I remember sitting with my co-founder in Switzerland and going through a little bit and error messages might not have been so helpful as they are now. It’s a different language to dissect if you’re not familiar with the [inaudible 00:35:58] crypt. But we committed with it, The Graph team was super helpful. It really paid off us in terms of being a technology we could use and this problem with solving of capturing or indexing data from the blockchain in a customizable fashion is incredibly useful for building back ends for your data application.
And another key point, real time. And what I’m emphasizing, this is a lot of data or indexing systems. They capture data from the blockchain but they are staggered so they take snapshots and I won’t pick any names up, but essentially they’re taking data from the blockchain which is slightly lagged. So any real time application flow to you. Perform a transaction to open a position, you know need to see that position open when you mint it. And The Graph provides this real time data for indexing this data from blockchain, and this is really useful for any user-facing app where it needs to be real time if people are transacting and super glad to explore and taking this journey from initial developer experience. It’s obviously come a long way since then. Been an awesome adventure.
So does Float then use The Graph?
Denham Preen (37:20):
So at Float we do use The Graph. It’s important to know our UI for users transacting. And beyond that we’ve built additional parts into our Subgraph to assist us in alerting to identifying anomalies within our smart contracts or just to track that and make sure we’ve got our finger on the pulse in terms of any security issues. It’s been fantastic in getting data, analyzing number of users and metrics that we use to identify what are features that are quite useful, how many users are using stop glasses. That data’s initially captured in the Subgraph for us to analyze and take further.
And yeah, it’s been pretty essential for our tech stack. It’s a critical piece of infrastructure. I think the [inaudible 00:38:16] Graph set up on using an RPC or trying to fetch data directly from the chain is, if you look in the hindsight, it’s fun. You really couldn’t aggregate like historical data. You can look at something at a point in time but you can’t amalgamate it all together and this service offering from The Graph is really fantastic.
Well, as I’ve mentioned a couple times Denham, we’re talking today because of a problem and a solution that the team at Float worked on with respects to The Graph and Subgraphs. I remember when I first became aware of what you were doing, it was on Twitter and there was this tweet about that was making the rounds throughout the community and I dug a little deeper. I saw that it ended up on The Graphs docs page and so I knew we were dealing with something really important and valuable for the community. For anyone that isn’t familiar with this, how would you explain what Unreachable Subgraphs is and the story of how it came about?
Denham Preen (39:12):
Yes, absolutely. So it entirely comes from a self need basis. We built it for ourselves. We actually have built a few different additions on top of Graphs for our own personal use case and I think that’s great driver to values. We are the users of our own product. And so we built this tool internally for ourselves and quite fortunately through a Graph grant we’re able to open this up and generalize it so that any Subgraph uses technology in this Subgraph to ensure app time. But just to give you the tl;dr, the Subgraph Uncrashable project is a tool that’s built into the Subgraph CLI, which allows for, it generates helper functions for your Subgraph that make it very, very difficult for your Subgraph to crash. And what I mean by this is, when you have a Subgraph in production, if you have an unaccounted edge case, and I can unpack one of those, your Graph can experience downtime and this is because you missed something.
And so what the Subgraph Uncrashable framework allows for is to capture this potential downtime and rather alert you of this edge case in your system because usually, usually, 99% of the time, it’s linked to a single edge case that was from a single user that was really unaccounted for, not something that you could have easily predicted. You can write all the tests you want but you just simply didn’t account for the scenario. And I can unpack a simple scenario which makes it a bit easier, but it essentially ensures uptime and we initially built this before Subgraphs grafting appeared and that’s obviously helps out quite a lot now. And if you’re not familiar with graph grafting, just check it out in the docs. But for you to deploy a Subgraph, there’s a ton of data to index and for it to sync and catch up and essentially you deploy a Subgraph at a point in time in the past based on the block number and it’ll index all this data and it’s called syncing.
So as this catches up, if you have a production system that’s been live for a year or so, it takes quite a while, and this can be in the order of a couple days for your Subgraph to catch up. And so we really wanted to prevent Graphs from running down, i.e., continuous uptime. And we’ve done this through the Subgraphs Uncrashable framework, which is just these help functions which you can use to ensure that you can’t make maybe common errors. There’s something called a race condition where you load an entity, you call another function, you save it, you save it, and then it picks up on the one saved before the other, then your entity or data point disappears. And this is quite, should I say, possible to do.
And our framework ensures everything is completely autonomic so that you don’t have issues loading and saving. And there is a bit of a nuance to understanding it and we’ve got some great docs in it and it is in The Graph documentation as well with detailed installation instructions. Quite straightforward, you can install it with a flag when you’re initializing your Subgraph. But yeah, super helpful, really great tool for trying to ensure that your graph has continuous uptime and that’s a super valuable feature.
Just to come back a little bit to The Graph grafting feature. Now if you do experience an issue, you can make changes, developers can fix a solution and then sync The Graphs or that code from a point in time, which is more recent so it doesn’t take an order of days anymore to catch up, but still very useful. Your developers aren’t getting alerted in the middle of the night saying, “Hey, system’s down, we need to quickly debug and solve this error to get it back up for other users.” And usually, as I said, 99% of the time, it is very fully accounted for and it’s just 1% that’s not or this one user has done something completely unexpected that’s caused downtime or bit of panic for everyone.
That’s an incredible overview and I’m sure a lot of listeners will be excited about what you’ve done there and I’ll put links to the docs in the show notes. I want to ask you a question about Subgraphs, and I think I’ve asked it before on the podcast, but I’d love to get your opinion on it. And it’s this idea that by virtue of what The Graph has done and the impact Subgraphs are having in the web3 space and maybe in this particular case within the DeFi and what Float is doing, I wonder if you think about it in terms of a format war, if Subgraphs have won that, are they the winner of the format war in web3, meaning that they are the default format by which people will always query data from blockchains? What do you think about that?
Denham Preen (44:19):
For sure. I mean The Graph has clearly seen massive adoption market share. It’s clearly positioned in a space and it’s not just resting and sitting back, it’s taking initiatives and building out improvements and additional ways and approaches of indexing data with substream teams, et cetera. It is so well positioned in that industry. It is a critical piece of infrastructure. It’s clearly seen adoption. I think one of the just simple ways of proving that adoption exists in different boilerplate projects. And when I say boilerplate projects, this is something that someone at a hackathon will grab and down it and use to develop their dap or idea.
And the Subgraph is baked into these applications is like a pre-formatted boilerplate that users can use to build on top. And so it’s very ingrained in the ecosystem. It’s definitely well positioned. It’s taken the decentralized routes, something that maybe is not as quite as important as the smart contract side of things, but obviously the data about that’s really important for it to be decentralized as well. And so you’re not just falling into this… I mean the word dapp itself, decentralized app, is a bit of a oxymoron or something that’s not quite always true. The smart contracts are very much decentralized. Now we’ve put this decentralized data layer as well, which is fantastic. And often the website’s just essentially hosted, but we haven’t seen a progression to taking these apps to decentralize apps, dapps, with are we hosting and such like that.
Can I ask you a follow-up question about that in the range of how important decentralization is. You mentioned earlier in one of your remarks that there are other solutions that people can use if they want to go find or get data off blockchain, but one thing that sets The Graph apart is that it is a decentralized network. How important is that to you and what’s your estimation of how important it’s to other users that The Graph is decentralized?
Denham Preen (46:23):
It is so critically needed. I think in the longer term and the ethos of blockchain, having decentralized data infrastructure on top of the underlying smart contracts in these backend systems is critically important to the ethos of the space. Now it’s quite a challenge to fully decentralize systems and data basically, a play on the blockchain trilemma or decentralized trilemma of large data and stuff like that. So The Graph design really well in creating the system and integrating the GRT token into its play of ensuring that this data is decentralized but it allows for users to reliably,, or more so develop as reliably know that this data is true and not manipulated or centralized. I think that’s what I’m trying to get to, the difference between decentralized and centralized. And an example of a centralized backend is someone that’s built ground up custom solution, probably quite buggy, quite challenging to build out. This is data points versus blocks.
Well, Denham. Now we’ve reached a point in the podcast where I’m going to ask you the GRTiQ 10. These are a lot of fun and listeners really enjoy hearing different guests answer the GRTiQ 10. There are 10 questions I ask each guest of the podcast every week and I do it in hopes that listeners will learn something new, try something different, or achieve more in their own lives. So are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?
Denham Preen (47:48):
Yeah, hit me.
What book or articles had the most impact on your life?
Denham Preen (48:03):
I could dive into a couple different philosophy books, but I’m going to say [inaudible 00:48:07] both out yours. I think in terms of impact, as cheesy as this sounds, I think I have to go with Steve Jobs’s biography, not because it’s going to change your life, but as I read it when I was much younger it had some radically different views but at least broke the mold. And it resonated with me, which was a catalyst to me thinking differently and, well, Steve broke a lot of legacy industry and was a very impactful book for me personally.
Is there a movie or a TV show that you would recommend everybody should watch?
Denham Preen (48:45):
I would go with Ready Player One. I think it is a fantastic movie to watch, especially with the growing metaverse, especially particular time now. Or I would potentially also include The Matrix, of course. It’s got multiple facets to it. But again, another interesting case study on a utopian future of the metaverse.
If you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
Denham Preen (49:16):
So this one I think I’m going to go with a bit more of a personal one and I’m going to go with the World of Birds. It is a band which my brother is in and I think if I could only ever listen to one more music album, I would have to go with my brother.
How about this? What’s the best advice someone’s ever given to you?
Denham Preen (49:35):
Advice I haven’t followed myself, but it was to learn on someone else’s money until you’re 30.
What’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think most other people have learned or know quite yet?
Denham Preen (49:48):
I would go with you don’t get up if your seat is too comfortable.
What’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?
Denham Preen (49:55):
Bit of a cop out, but I’m going to go with a pen and paper notepad. I have an ever expanding to-do list and that’s perfectly okay. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to get to all of it. It’s just a great place to jot down ideas, make context switching easier, you can just pin things down, just good old pen and paper. And a lot of the things on the to-do list can be completely arbitrary or coming out of the box that are not specific to what I’m focused on right now, but a lot of it’s just taking shots on goal and taking as many shots on goal as you can, ticking off these items and being okay with missing, but really focusing on keep taking those shots.
Based on your own life experiences and observations, what is the one habit or characteristic, Denham, that you think best explains people finding success in life?
Denham Preen (50:51):
Success in life. It poses a good question to what defines success, but I would maybe go against the grain on some things that people might come across. But I would say don’t break what’s not broken.
And I’m going to give a little example, and this is maybe a bit close to me or someone I’m thinking of specifically and we chatted about this, but if you’re someone who wakes up at 10:00 AM but is massively productive, then don’t listen to the 5:00 AM club and tells you otherwise. Don’t break what’s not broken.
And then the final three questions are complete the sentence type questions. So the first one is, the thing that most excites me about web3 is…?
Denham Preen (51:31):
The same reason that it is unfortunately sometimes shrouded in fluff or is scams and there’s extra stuff that doesn’t really support the ecosystem, but it’s because the technology is so simply elegant and there’s a completely new paradigm. It’s breaking so many molds, it’s really taking complete concepts forward in a way that couldn’t be thought of or could never get adopted before. And they’re such fantastic, massively many of these little micro experiments that have these slight tweaks on different governance models and how you can collaboratively come to conclusions and systems.
And I think what’s so cool about these different governance experiments, and I call them experiments, but a lot of them are in production functioning really well, but they essentially govern themselves. So these systems are essentially saying, “Okay, cool, well, this voting system isn’t working optimally for us. Let’s have a vote and decide if we can tweak it to a slightly different system.” And it just changes the way you think of society and it’s truly unreal. It’s absolutely awesome.
Another book maybe I can throw out there quickly is Glenn Weyl’s Radical Economics. Also a really awesome book, unpacks a bit of governance. These concepts are something that couldn’t be brought to light, but through the blockchain and this system, it’s quite simple to get into production and it’s [inaudible 00:53:03] experiments from there.
Great answer. And how about this one? Complete this sentence. If you’re on Twitter, then you should be following…?
Denham Preen (53:17):
Float_shipping. No, I’m kidding. Should be following GRTiQ. No. Okay. My true answer is going to be our CMO at Float, that’s Campbell Easton, 11 out of 10 banter, and some hot news on current crypto affairs. He is fantastic. And beyond Twitter also, let’s go with Lens. Lens is obviously super cool and his handle on there I think is Bunk Bunker.
And the last question. I’m happiest when…?
Denham Preen (53:42):
Connecting with fans and family. Social connections was the standard takeaway on the Secret to Happiness. This is from a TED Talk actually, which is on the longest social study. It’s something like 80 years. Don’t quote me on that. But it was essentially dissecting this massive group from two different backgrounds over 80 years. And the takeaway on the Secret to Happiness was having better family and social connections.
Denham Preen, thank you so much for taking the time and being so gracious in your answers. An incredible explanation of the team at Float and the problems that you’re working on, as well as how you’ve incorporated The Graph and even contributed to the ecosystem by building some important solutions for developers and those working in The Graph community. If listeners want to learn more about you and follow things you’re working on, what’s the best way to do it?
Denham Preen (54:46):
First off, a massive thank you for having me. It’s been an awesome chat and very fun. Really excited about The Graph, the ecosystem, where it’s progressing. Been super helpful in our journey, and from even pre Float in this general blockchain and crypto progression of my personal career as well as team and my co-founders. For any news, you want to follow along, keep up to date on what’s happening, you can check out Float_shipping. That’s our Twitter. Our Discord is in multiple places, but this has just go to Float.Capital and follow the links there. And of course, just try out the app, play around. There’s Testnet.Float.Capital on Mumbai, which you can play around with. And my personal Twitter is Denham Preen. That is D-E-N-H-A-M P-R-E-E-N.
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