Episode 34: Today I’m speaking with TM Lee, Co-founder and CEO of CoinGecko, the world’s largest independent cryptocurrency data aggregator with over 6,000 different crypto assets tracked across more than 400 exchanges worldwide. Along with his business partner, Bobby Ong, TM founded CoinGecko with the mission to democratize the access of crypto data and empower users with actionable insights.
My conversation with TM is incredible. We talk about his entry into crypto, his remarkable entrepreneurial journey, and the original idea behind CoinGecko. Then we shift the discussion to The Graph, how CoinGecko uses it, how it can enable developers to get started in crypto, and we end the discussion with TM’s brilliant insights related to what “the next big thing” in the crypto space might be.
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TM Lee (00:23):
When I saw that The Graph has an interface that any web developer can just work on it … If I just get a web developer who hasn’t even worked with crypto at all, they come in, they just plug into [inaudible 00:00:35] subgraph using GraphQL, they can get a web app up and running instantly. I thought that was a real game changer, because it really opens up all the use cases for a developer to come in to just build something on top of it and see things happening.
Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today, I’m speaking with TM Lee, co-founder and CEO of CoinGecko, the world’s largest independent cryptocurrency data aggregator with over 6,000 different crypto assets tracked across more than 400 exchanges worldwide. CoinGecko has become the go-to source for individuals interested in learning more about cryptocurrencies and collecting important data. Along with his partner Bobby Ong, TM co-founded CoinGecko with the mission to democratize the access of crypto data into power users with actionable insights. My conversation with TM is incredible. We talk about his entry into crypto, his remarkable entrepreneurial journey, the original idea behind CoinGecko, and then we shift the discussion to The Graph, how CoinGecko uses it, how it enables developers to get a quick start into the crypto space, along with his long-term vision for The Graph and web3. We end the discussion with a brilliant insight from TM related to what the next big thing might be in the crypto space.
We started the conversation talking about TM’s professional and educational background.
TM Lee (02:28):
Myself, I have a technical background. I used to study computer science in Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. My background has always been related to software programming. I actually loved programming since my teenage years, ended up picking up development, somehow, by chance, and once I was inspired by the web2 movement and then just started coding for fun and then eventually got a formal education in computer science [inaudible 00:02:56] that as well.
What were your first impressions when you heard about Bitcoin? Were you intrigued by it, or were you skeptical?
TM Lee (03:35):
The first time I saw it when I was in college, I think there were a couple of negative vibes around it, that it was used for [inaudible 00:03:42] purposes and people got hacked, people got scammed, and those kinds of things, so I just brushed it off, didn’t really take the time to learn it through. Later on, after I graduated from school and then I got a job, some time in 2013, I just really looked at it again one more time because I had a bit of knowledge from finance already at that time because of researchers [inaudible 00:04:02] the project I worked on and combined that with the technical knowledge I got, I just took another chance to read through the whitepaper and really see what are the problems that it’s trying to solve, and that got me convinced that it’s a possible new form of money.
Also, at that time, it really triggered … I was trying to build a startup back in Malaysia. I wanted to do a SaaS project that required us to process credit cards and payments. There was no Stripe or Braintree in Malaysia, so I had to use a local payment provider, and they required me to have half a million dollars in a bank account to even start the paperwork. I didn’t have that kind of money. I wanted to just experiment with this SaaS project, and I just needed a payment provider to get this going. After I got that problem, I wasn’t able to proceed too much with the project. When I found out about Bitcoin, I realized I could charge users from all around the world without succumbing to a legacy payment processing system. I thought that was a game-changer, and that’s where [inaudible 00:05:09] on top of that curiosity.
You said you did some research on Bitcoin, you read the whitepaper, and you started to appreciate some of the problems that it could solve. You mentioned one there, it lowers the barriers of payments and things. What other problems intrigued you that you thought Bitcoin could solve?
TM Lee (05:28):
I think at the same time … It was 2015. I got a job and I made some money from my salary, and I was looking for places to invest my savings. Over time, I just looked at all the assets that are available out there. In my research, I think [inaudible 00:05:45] people talking about precious metal. At that time, I didn’t understand why people invest in gold and silver. These are assets that are not income-generating, they’re just sitting in your vault doing nothing. I was trying to find out the motivation for that. After that, I learned the history of money, how money actually worked, from rocks into gold into fiat currency. Going through the entire history of money to understand why people invested in gold in the first place got me [inaudible 00:06:13] into Bitcoin later on as potentially the new evolution of money, then in combination of this combined with the technical side of things, which is one thing to do a payment [inaudible 00:06:23] got me to further validate that this is potentially something that could be big.
Back in 2013, 2014, when it was really a niche thing … I couldn’t even find people who were excited about crypto or Bitcoin. It was really hard. I had to go to a meetup with like 20, 30 people who were like-minded just to brainstorm ideas. Compared to what it is right now, you’ve got conferences, you’ve got people talking [inaudible 00:06:44] it was really different back then to find people who would resonate with you.
You’re joining me from Malaysia, as you referenced just a moment ago. I’m always curious to ask guests of the podcasts what the attitudes and opinions of the people where they live are towards crypto and Bitcoin. How would you characterize the attitudes and opinions of the people of Malaysia?
TM Lee (07:04):
I think in the grand scheme of things, it follows the same adoption curve. There’s early adopters, there’s late adopters, and then there is the laggards. I think even back in 2013, 2014, we were able to find a couple dozen people who were interested in crypto. They are there for mining, they saw an opportunity in mining operations, and stuff like that. I think in the early days, it’s always been a very niche group. A bunch of hackers, a bunch of nerds were interested in this. I think over the years, things have changed quite a bit. We have our Securities Commission. They have issued licenses for exchanges to operate legally and also licenses to conduct initial coin offerings and stuff like that. I guess the regulators understand what this space is about and what it could do for the country, and they want to put things in control so they can take advantage of this growing space.
The late adopters could be people who don’t really understand the space … I think technically, you see that in Asia, we tend to be much slower in terms of adoption [inaudible 00:08:07] because of crypto, and we have access to the Internet right now, the pace of adoption is much faster compared to … when you look at web2 days, Asia is always two to three years behind with regard to what’s happening in the States, but right now, the adoption is much faster, as well.
You and I are speaking, TM, because you’re co-founder of CoinGecko, which is a name that most of my listeners of the podcast are going to recognize. For the one or two listeners that may not know what CoinGecko is, can you tell us what CoinGecko is?
TM Lee (08:34):
Sure. CoinGecko is basically a cryptocurrency data aggregator. What we do is we track market data like prices, volume, market capitalization for almost all the cryptocurrencies that are out there. We basically want to become the Vantage of cryptocurrency, where if you want to get any kind of information with the space, head over to CoinGecko. That’s what we really aspire to become. It didn’t start off that way. It started off as a very different product. Over time, we have shaped up the vision and the purpose of the product in such a way that we think that there’s going to be millions of tokens in the next 5 to 10 years in the form of a non-fungible token or a fungible token. I think what CoinGecko is is that we want to be the one that organizes and indexes all the information such that people can make sense of it.
If you looked at it a couple of years ago, it was really difficult to get all this information about market capitalization and where to trade them for all the cryptocurrencies that people are issuing every day. We’re seeing an increase of tenfold or hundredfold of number of tokens being issued compared to a year or two ago, so at this stage, it definitely needs a way for us to aggregate and index all of it so that people can understand this information.
You’re very humble. Obviously, most of the listeners know CoinGecko is one of the most important and well-recognized websites and platforms in the crypto space. When you look at the data on the web views and the users of what you’re doing at CoinGecko, again, it’s really remarkable. I’m really intrigued what you said there about what it is today isn’t exactly what you started off to do. What was the original idea?
TM Lee (10:09):
I think the original idea was basically a [inaudible 00:10:11] project between myself and my co-founder, Bobby. At the time, we were really interested in crypto, and we just wanted to get involved in the space, but we don’t know exactly what we want to build. At that time, one of the popular things to build was an exchange. 2013, 2014, everybody wanted to build an exchange that were [inaudible 00:10:30] but we decided to something that’s a little bit different that is … something that [inaudible 00:10:33] because we are not very good at dealing with regulations and getting a bank account, which is what an exchange has to do when they operate as a business. For us, we got into the data side of things. We saw there was a missing gap in terms of tracking all the submetrics of a cryptocurrency. I think at that time, there were maybe 50 to 100 coins. Now there’s more than 10,000 coins.
At that time, again, people [inaudible 00:11:00] look at prices and stuff like that, but we think that submetrics like how much developer traction, how much contribution a developer is making to a crypto project, how much … social metrics like how many people are talking about this particular project, how many people are discussing and creating a community group around this project, those are metrics that people are not paying attention to, and we wanted to track this number to put a score to all those coins. That’s where we saw that [inaudible 00:11:25] a coin that doesn’t have that much difference in terms of technical innovation compared to Litecoin or Bitcoin, but it has a huge social following that gives [inaudible 00:11:34] value. Then you look at other coins like, say, Monero or [inaudible 00:11:39] at the time, they had some new technical innovation in regards to how mining works, how privacy is preserved. [inaudible 00:11:46] a little bit of a different audience. I think that was some of the things that we saw … different crypto projects similar, but they have different strengths, and we wanted to quantify them in terms of numbers.
That was the initial version of CoinGecko. We really wanted to focus on those niche … It caught a little bit of attention from some researchers in different universities and colleges to look into this metric, and then over time, we thought this could be a metric that people would want to rely on, but as the space continued to grow … No two different cryptocurrencies are the same. In the past, most of the coins are issued using proof-of-work. Miners have to mine these coins. Later on, you’ve got coins that are just minted straight up from a smart contract. A lot of these things make it very difficult for us to just compare these coins just based on social metric and developer metric, and that’s where we started to deviate. We [inaudible 00:12:34] the product to see what it is that the people want to look at when it comes to understanding what crypto really is.
You mentioned when you started, there were only maybe 50 to 100 coins, and now there’s over 10,000. I would love to ask a guy like you this question. All this growth, is this a sign of saturation, is this a sign of explosive opportunity, or something in between? How do you interpret all this growth?
TM Lee (13:01):
I guess on one part, the market moves in cycles, as well. I think I’ve been through three bear markets already. In a way, you could say that yes, every time there’s an increase in the number of coins in the market, it is explosive, but then there’s an incoming potentially correction that will come in and saturate the space, if you will. What’s interesting with the current market sentiment is that it is intersecting beyond more industries than it used to. NFTs, people are starting to be able to relate to it. It goes into social, it goes into the creative economy, and then you’ve got your typical fungible tokens that goes into DeFi and figure out ways to [inaudible 00:13:40] protocol, incentivize developers. It’s much more difficult than the previous bear market which was largely related to just fundraising and a lot of stuff like overpromised projects at the time. I think it goes both ways [inaudible 00:13:54] kind of thing. It is definitely an indicator of a growing market, a growing interest, but that also means that you’ve got to be careful with what comes next.
Which is why CoinGecko is such a wonderful resource. For any listener out there that really wants to learn more about all the coins and learn more about the projects, CoinGecko is the resource you need to visit. TM, one of the things that I loved about your story and the founding of CoinGecko in doing research for this is that at its heart, it’s an entrepreneurial story, right? This was from the sense of it a little bit of a side hustle, you and Bobby working on something on the side. How do you think being an entrepreneur in the crypto space is different than being an entrepreneur outside of crypto?
TM Lee (14:35):
I think I speak from our experience. I think if you ask someone who is doing an entrepreneurship in crypto now, today, and he’s starting up today, their experience may be a little bit different. For myself and for us back in 2014 when we did CoinGecko, I think it was really difficult. I think number one was, when we did this, people don’t really understand what we’re doing in the first place, especially for the mainstream tech or the mainstream finance, which is where all the bigger market is. When we did this, we told people about crypto potentially becoming a big thing and we are just building the foundation [inaudible 00:15:07] to understand things. They didn’t really resonate with that, so that was very difficult. When we’d speak to some investors locally here in Southeast Asia, for example, we didn’t [inaudible 00:15:17] just sharing about what we’re doing. They didn’t really understand what we were trying to do. That makes it … Are we crazy ourselves? Are we on the wrong track? That sort of thing. That’s one part of it.
The second is also … The group of people that we wanted to find to help us with things [inaudible 00:15:32] much more difficult. For instance, getting a software engineer to help us with system modules that we need to build or getting writers to write the right content for us … It was really difficult to find people who understand crypto so that they can contribute to the early stage of building up all this content and resources. A lot of these things come from ourselves and also looking out for contacts within the crypto niche by itself. It’s a very niche play, but I think it’s also good, because when it was niche, it is much easier for us to get our product in front of the audience. Say, for instance, people want to look for submetrics for developer or social score for crypto. We know where the audience are, and we know how to go to them and market to them. There are a lot of interesting things that you could do [inaudible 00:16:15] crypto space that you can’t do in a conventional startup.
We could do campaigns like … I remember back when [inaudible 00:16:20] was new and it had a big community. If you went in there and just said hey, why don’t you check out our website, give us your feedback, give us suggestions, and then we’ll just tip you in [inaudible 00:16:30] that tipping culture was really strong. You could just microtip someone quite easily, and we’d get a lot of followings and a lot of suggestions that we then imbued back to the website, as well. I think these are some of the fun experience, I would say, when it was a niche, and that helped us get to a certain stage.
I think today, in terms of differences, I’d probably say with regards to … same problem, as well, but maybe not so much. The new problems that you’re facing is regulation. You’ve got huge competition compared to then. A lot of people are already paying attention to crypto as a space that could potentially grow, so you really have to do a lot more to stand out and come up with a great idea.
As somebody who started off really early on and, like you said, had the real benefit of a different market than presently exists, if you could go back in time and give yourself advice really early on knowing what you know now, what would be that piece of advice to that young entrepreneur just getting started?
TM Lee (17:27):
I think if I had the chance to go back, I would just tell my younger self to go all in. We started CoinGecko as a side project, and I think we lost some market share, or maybe there was a lot more things that we could do if we just focused 100 percent, but we didn’t know that. We thought Bitcoin would be big 10 or 20 or 15 years later, but it came much sooner than that. If we were to double down, I think things would have been much more different, but then again, on hindsight, I think what [inaudible 00:17:56] for us works for us best and so far, no regrets.
I don’t blame you. You’ve been immensely successful, and the future of CoinGecko is so bright. What is your long-term vision for CoinGecko? You’ve already mentioned that it evolved from an early idea of what you wanted to do. What’s the long-term vision presently for it?
TM Lee (18:14):
I would say that the vision, as I mentioned earlier, is that we see a world that’s going to be millions of tokens being created in all kinds of forms representing all kinds of assets, digital assets, even real-world assets, as well, will be tokenized. Everything that can be tokenized will be tokenized. We want to build the foundation or the infrastructure or the frontend for users to get all this kind of information for any type of tokens out there. People are still trying to figure out the space. What metric really matters, or what fundamental really matters in all these token assets? How do I get the most transparent information? How do I get [inaudible 00:18:50] about what this token really means? All these things need to be figured out. How can we scale up to a million tokens? Yes, you can do it for a couple of hundred or thousand tokens, but once you scale it up across different chains, across different segments or different [inaudible 00:19:03] that are used for different forms of use cases, it starts to get much more difficult.
We want to build that infrastructure towards getting there. The product will definitely look different, or we may need to launch new secondary or tertiary product to support this goal, but I would say that that’s the future that we’re seeing, and we’re just building the rails towards getting there.
For visitors that go to CoinGecko’s website and use the service, they’re going to see some important ideology on the website that I think would be important to touch on for a second here. One of those things that I believe you use as a positioning statement is the independence of CoinGecko. Can you explain what that is and why that’s important?
TM Lee (19:41):
Yeah. I think that’s really important to us, number one, because all this while, we haven’t been taking any external funding. Everything has been bootstrapped from day one, and we just reinvest the profit and run it to today. We thought that was a very important aspect of the business right now that we wanted to highlight. There’s no external stakeholders influencing any of the things that we’re doing in terms of the way coins are being ranked or even [inaudible 00:20:08] and stuff like that, and also looking at the competitive space, some of the products that were doing something quite similar to what we do are owned by, say, an exchange, or invested by a bunch of entity that may have a different interest, I would say. That’s the direction that we want to anchor it. We want to index everything in the space, it doesn’t matter what it is, and provide the most accurate information as we can based on what we can verify, and that’s where the [inaudible 00:20:35] is going, democratizing the access to data, not just in terms of the number of coins or the information that you see, but also in terms of access.
We have an API that is publicly available that gives you access to almost everything that you see on the website that can be plugged into your [inaudible 00:20:52] your app and what have you. That was also the driving force for why we created the API at that time. I think this was in 2019 or so, or 2018. We saw a gap in terms of developer coming to the space and then needing to pay for data to power their apps, even though it’s just an experimental app for them to test something out. We thought, if you give it up for free, then you can go ahead and test your app, and if it takes off, then the space will get better for everyone, including us ourselves. We thought it would be a net benefit for everyone, and we thought this would be a good way to launch API, as well. Until today, we still have a public API that we subsidize and give out to developers to play with it.
That idea is really part of the ethos of web3, right, this democratization of data and access to data? Maybe different from some of your competitors and other people in the space, it seems to be that CoinGecko has really adopted the ethos of a web3 world. Is that how you guys feel about it?
TM Lee (23:35):
Yeah, that’s really how I feel about it, at least back in 2019. Since 2019, I always thought that decentralized exchanges, having the ownership of your own keys and making sure data is openly accessible should be the way to go in this space, and I’m glad it really did happen. When DeFi took off, everyone saw … I think in the early stage, I was like, will people actually really figure out how to use MetaMask? Will, actually, people figure out how to use a DeFi product to use stocks and stuff like that? I’m glad that the market has actually picked up and got [inaudible 00:24:08] to a point that people are willing to learn to take advantage of the good things that you can get for using a DeFi product. I think at that time, I was quite afraid that it wouldn’t happen, but I’m glad that it is. [inaudible 00:24:19] company, we also try to stay on this side of things that decentralization is always something that we look for.
In addition to really having the ethos of web3 and DeFi, in addition to having this really great independence, you also have some incredible capabilities. I’d love to ask you questions about that. First of all, CoinGecko is well-recognized for being able to quickly and efficiently add new tokens to the platform and begin pulling in data and important metrics. I’m not asking for the secret sauce, but how would you explain that to listeners that are, like me, very impressed with your ability to do that?
TM Lee (25:04):
I would say this is more of an operational question that we have in place, so definitely, big props to the operations team who are diligently processing all the incoming requests on the tokens that the community has been submitting. We rely on that end. The other one is that for the whole team members in CoinGecko, we are also very much infused in the whole crypto space. Whenever we go around mingling and we saw a potential project that people want to hear about and get all this information, we try to quickly index as much as possible and get all the information that is needed accurately so that other people can have access to it, as well. Same issue for projects that we work with closely. They [inaudible 00:25:40] tell us that they want to prepare this project for life, they’ll submit the form, and then we try to capture [inaudible 00:25:43] so I would say that it’s not much of a secret sauce, it’s more like diligently trying to index and aggregate [inaudible 00:25:50] all the information to be added to the website.
Well, it is secret sauce, because even sometimes, the coins that you list are fairly obscure, and so obviously, you guys are doing something really incredible, and you have your ear, as it were, close to the ground. Another thing that I would say is a really strong capability of CoinGecko is … in terms of web traffic and users based on the bootstrapping and the independence, you are hitting the ball a lot further than maybe the size would allow. In terms of the competitors in this space, you guys get a lot of market share. What’s the explanation behind that?
TM Lee (26:29):
I would say that there could be many reasons why this has happened, and I’m glad that it really shows for itself [inaudible 00:26:34] I think some of the things that we used to do in the earlier days … as I mentioned, when the market is niche, I think it’s much easier to get your product to the front. I think the early years in 2014, 2015, when I was browsing around all the crypto websites, I realized that a lot of the content are in English, and it’s always been very American-centric, so all the prices you see are in US dollars. Coming from Asia, I saw that there are interest in Asia, there are interest in Europe and whatnot. Why is all the content only in English? We started off by translating all of our website into more than 12 different languages and priced all the assets across different currency, in Japanese yen, Korean won, Filipino dollars and so on. Back in, I think, 2017, 2018, people were coming to this space and they were looking for all these cryptocurrencies in the language that they’re comfortable with in the currency that they’re comfortable with, and that also allowed us to get an initial group of user base to come into the site even though we are player number three, four, or five at the time.
I think that got us an initial audience, and then later on, it’s more just keep iterating and building the product. We really have an initial audience that are using us. We basically just keeping asking them, “What do you want to se in our website? What is it that the biggest point is?” We’re just iterating with new features, I guess, in a way that we try to innovate as much as we can [inaudible 00:27:53] data aggregation. First one is, back then, all the exchanges were [inaudible 00:27:59] trading volume. As you know, in the crypto space, there’s a lot of manipulation and [inaudible 00:28:04] going on, so we tried to innovate this by introducing a score, we call it Trust Score, which is a blended formula that includes not just the trading volume, but we look at the order book [inaudible 00:28:14] we look at the trading frequency and other [inaudible 00:28:18] to really rank the exchanges to help user find the exchange that gives them the best liquidity for the [inaudible 00:28:26] that they want to trade.
We get complaints from traders that they’re going to the number one exchange, but when they try to buy and sell a given coin, they’re getting hit by 20 percent [inaudible 00:28:36] so what this means is that the order book is thin, it’s not real, but that the volume is jacked up somehow, in some way. That was the key point we wanted to stop at that time, and we did it. People like the ranking, and we continue to iterate on that.
Moving on from there, it’s also the DeFi thing. We saw that there is … we believed in DeFi back in 2018, 2019, and we think that this space, people want to get all the information that is needed, as well, they tell us that they want that, so we started integrating with data from [inaudible 00:29:03] using The Graph as well at that time, but that has also allowed us to expand our reach to cover all the DeFi tokens that people are interested in, and that in turn also allowed us to get a group of users to come in. I think it’s a lot of all this product iteration that we have done, I would say, and we hope that people would like to use all these features, and I’m really happy to see people making use of it and getting the information that they want out of it.
As you mentioned, TM, we’re speaking today because I run this niche podcast for The Graph audience and many listeners wanted to hear from you largely because of this post you had last year, which we’ll get to in a minute. Before we move onto some discussion about The Graph, are there any upcoming announcements or updates at CoinGecko that you’d like to share with the listeners?
TM Lee (29:50):
Yeah. I think the upcoming update that I would like to share is that we are doing a conference. There is going to be an NFT conference that we’re hosting. We actually planned to do a conference for the longest time already. We finally had a chance to do so, but because of the pandemic, we wanted to make it virtual so that everyone can have access to it. That is definitely coming. We have worked on How To DeFi 1 and 2, which is a book for beginners to get started with DeFi. If you know anyone who is new and wanting to learn about DeFi, you can share the book around. I think these are the things that we’re actively working on. Other than that, if you go to the website, you will see new stuff gets added every week, or every now and then. Basically, we’re just iterating the product back and forth. In the past couple of months, the market is crazy, and we’ve added a lot of technical debt, and we’re just trying our best to clean up the debt and also streamline the operations to make sure that we can scale when the next bull market comes, as well.
I’ll put links in the listener notes for listeners that want to attend the NFT conference being hosted by CoinGecko, or if you want access to the book, or if you just want to go on and get access to all the resources available to visit CoinGecko.com. TM, let’s shift a little bit of our discussion towards The Graph. Maybe to start the discussion, the reason why I reached out to you and so many listeners wanted me to is in July of 2020, you did a really nice Twitter post on The Graph really talking about some of its value and its core infrastructure in the crypto space. What can you tell us about that Twitter post and what you were thinking at the time?
TM Lee (31:30):
When I wrote that, I was just trying to think about how we have leveraged The Graph to do what we have done in CoinGecko. I think at the time in 2020, we had aggregated almost all the DeFi products in the [inaudible 00:31:42] space. This is before L2 and [inaudible 00:31:45] became huge. I was really surprised to see all the APIs and all the subgraphs that have been written by the community to be up and running on The Graph and allows us to plug in easily and get all the information that is needed to integrate on CoinGecko. I’m just trying to think in terms of the perspective of the other developers, as well. The experience was really nice. When we first got into DeFi, a lot of the projects were telling us that all my data is on the chain, just go and fetch it yourself. [inaudible 00:32:14] while I’m interested in DeFi, but I’m not really that deep into Ethereum at the time. This was about 2018.
For me to really easily understand events and also finding the best way to get all the transactions and also index them in a way that works and scales … when I saw The Graph has an interface that any web developer can just work on it … If I just get a web developer who hasn’t even worked with crypto at all, they come in, they just plug into [inaudible 00:32:42] subgraph using GraphQL, they can get a web app up and running instantly. I thought that was a real game changer, because it really opens up all the use cases for a developer to come in, to just build something on top of it and see things happening, kind of like how we did the API with CoinGecko, as well. We just wrote a market data API that is accessible for everyone, and then you start to see all kinds of apps being built on top of it. That’s the first one.
The second one is we got to [inaudible 00:33:06] the breadth of all the subgraphs that are out there, and the fact that The Graph has plans to decentralize this. I think when you look at the data space right now on the crypto side, you have your raw data that is decentralized, but then it’s very difficult to work with, but then all the indexed data run by a centralized data, which kind of works, it gets the job done, but it doesn’t work for certain purposes. Say you want to build a truly decentralized app, a truly [inaudible 00:33:31] you can’t do that, but once the infrastructure for The Graph is in place where the nodes are all around [inaudible 00:33:39] then you could potentially build something that is in a way unstoppable and will just keep running as long as the network is going. I thought that was a really great idea and also it makes sense. That is probably the reason what got into my head at the time, and most particularly, it’s how the adoption will be really … how momentum will really come in for the adoption for any web developer to just come in and build stuff on top of it.
I think that’s one thing that the community at The Graph is really excited about, similar to, as you said earlier, Bitcoin lowered the barrier for people to do international payment and exchange, The Graph really lowers the barrier for dapps to enter the space and create new and innovative offerings. How does CoinGecko use The Graph? You’ve referenced it a couple times, but can you give a little more detail on how you guys are using it?
TM Lee (34:27):
Yeah. Back in 2019, I suppose, we got a lot of requests that they want to see Uniswap data on CoinGecko, and as mentioned, at that time, figuring out how to index all the Uniswap data properly and at scale wasn’t something that we are focused on. We built all the modules and everything to index centralized exchanges, but DeFi was relatively new at the time. There were a couple of solutions shared to us, and one of them was The Graph. I had some time to take a look at what The Graph really is, how it works … the interface is nice, the playground is easy to use … We just started off by integrating Uniswap data. We got Uniswap V2, eventually, the market data, all the tokens that are trading over there coming in, and then later on, new decks were launched like Balancer, Curve, and then all the copies that came in after that were all plugged into The Graph as well.
It makes it really easy for us to get a project to just follow the standard, like Uniswap V2 subgraph, and then our integration will just work seamlessly. Almost, I would say, 80 percent of our decks integration on CoinGecko is powered by The Graph to some extent.
TM, as someone like yourself that has such an incredible perspective of the whole crypto space, what’s your opinion about how important a solution like The Graph is in order for the space to reach its full potential and deliver on a fully decentralized web3-
TM Lee (35:56):
I think the data side of things is a space that people aren’t really paying too much attention to, and I think it’s a really important one. There’s probably The Graph and a couple of other players that are focusing on this. I think everyone is doing a pretty good job so far in terms of the ethos of trying to make it as accessible as possible to everyone and having a decentralized mindset, as well, as this space grows into a multichain environment and also trying to make this more like a protocol and a network that everyone can take advantage of, regardless of where you’re at. The Graph … the network has been launched for maybe close to a year, or maybe more than half a year, and things seem to be moving along, like tokenomics trying to get subgraph developers to come in, and also the fact that The Graph has adopted a multichain strategy … It’s not just about Ethereum, it’s about all the [inaudible 00:36:46] EVM-based chains, as well. I think it’s definitely well on its way.
Even for us as a user ourselves, we’ve been closely following how it works for us to integrate on our site. It hasn’t really changed too much, as well, in terms of the difficulty for us. I think all in all the direction seems to be on its way.
Do you think there’s something you could say in terms of advice to developers who are thinking about entering into the space or leaving Web 2 how The Graph might be a tool or a resource for them? What are your thoughts?
TM Lee (37:18):
I think that’s valid. What I would say is that for all developers who are out there, as long as you have experience in building frontends or building web apps, if you’re looking to get into the crypto space to build something, if you integrate your app using The Graph, it’s no different than just building another web app that you are used to. It gets really daunting in the past when you have to understand what’s an Ethereum event, how to make contract calls, how to connect to an RPC node to get the data that you want, and those data are not aggregated in a way that’s easy to work with. Now all this data is being indexed and being updated by the network on The Graph, so any developer can just come in, do a typical standard frontend web app … You want some data from an exchange? You have it. You want some data from some [inaudible 00:38:09] or any other dapps? You can easily plug it in, run an API, and then there you go. You can then combine all this different data and create something new.
I think this was the promise of web2, as well. Back then, where [inaudible 00:38:23] this thing called mashups that allows you to integrate APIs from different services to create a new experience. [inaudible 00:38:29] API with photograph, combine that with some other social media data, as well, and then you get something new out of it. I think we’re seeing that promise coming in here, because data is so easily accessible to everyone, and you can then create new experiences that might become potentially new businesses in the space that helps improve the infrastructure, as well.
CoinGecko also tracks community growth and the efforts, as well, of different crypto … What’s the idea you’re seeing as it relates to The Graph’s community?
TM Lee (39:01):
I would say that this community tracking was something that … as I mentioned, we used to do it as we were starting up, but then as the market changes, no two cryptocurrencies or tokens are the same any more. It’s very hard to just say, “Okay, you have Token A and Token B, they are the same, so now you can look at the community side of things,” because they are so different, the way that it’s being issued and the way that it’s being done.
That’s something that we have … The community tracking has been not exactly the most accurate thing that you can look at in terms of numbers, but if you look at community by itself, then definitely, it’s different. You’ve got some tokens that are focused on just memes. Those kind of audience are a significant audience that may help you do certain kinds of marketing, brands, or what have you. When you look at The Graph side of things, it’s more people who understand the value of good-quality data and how to scale indexing or data across different chains. It’s more developer-centric. It’s a much more niche group. It appeals to probably infrastructure companies as a brand for marketing and stuff like that.
I would say that because the space has grown so wide and open, every token has its own subniche of group and subinterest group that appeals to them. I think it comes to the point that there’s almost something for everyone in this space. No matter what you’re interested in, as long as you’re interested in crypto, you will definitely find something that appeals to you, compared to three years ago … if I’m interested in data, my choices are very limited to a very small number of project. Now I have … from [inaudible 00:40:31] to data aggregation at the infrastructure level all the way to data for NFTs as well, if you want to. There’s something for everyone right now for the community, and this is definitely a much better time to be involved in crypto, because there’s just so many support groups, and people are just brainstorming ideas with you.
Do you think because The Graph is infrastructure and it’s relatively new into the marketplace … Do you think it’s neglected? Do you think this is one of those projects that, maybe because it’s more infrastructure, data-driven, that it gets overlooked?
TM Lee (41:02):
Yeah, I guess it gets overlooked because the market in crypto also moves in narrative, and narrative changes in cycles, as well. There hasn’t been a time where I see data as a strong narrative yet. Maybe there will be a point in time where people start realizing that data is the one that powers the entire space and all the value that accrues through it. That will probably be when everyone will be looking at projects in The Graph. I guess if you look at it fundamentally, it’s really doing a lot. It’s powering most of the devs out there, it’s helping researchers get access to data [inaudible 00:41:38] the infrastructure view, as well. It’s more of a shotgun thing. If you really want to look at … The narrative changes from time to time. That’s not something that people want to be so attached to. As long as the product is doing well in terms of adoption and getting people to actually use it because it solves a problem for them, then over time, I think the fundamental will tell for itself.
A good analogy for this is Amazon Web Services. For the longest time, it has been neglected as a cheap way to host your service, which is not really the right mindset, but people decide to say that. Yeah, it’s very easy to start a company today because you can just put all your instances on Amazon Web Services, and it works, but then you look at the amount of money they make from all these infrastructure services, it’s a lot. I think it’s more than a huge percentage of the whole Amazon family. The same is true for data play in the crypto space. Sooner or later, people will realize that it is so easy to start a dapp, it is so easy to start an app in the crypto space. I just plug in a few different data points and I can start a business around crypto. I think that is exciting when it does happen [inaudible 00:42:38] for all parties will be realized then.
Are you optimistic about the future of The Graph?
TM Lee (42:44):
Yeah. I’m seeing … based on the execution so far with the multichain environment, with the adoption that developers understand what they can get from The Graph, there is definitely good momentum there. The community is also pretty active, as well. Definitely, there is going to be a place for The Graph to be powering this space.
TM, in your opinion, then, what’s the next big thing that will happen in the crypto space, the next big milepost for the future of crypto?
TM Lee (43:12):
I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, that’s for sure. The space changes so quickly, and sometimes, it catches you off guard. I think the area that is not being paid enough attention and also will be the area that brings new people into the space will be definitely games. Crypto games have been around since 2017. There were a bunch of experiments, some people trying things out, but I’m happy to see that real traction actually happened some time last year and especially this year with Axie Infinity. People started to understand how games fit into the whole crypto model. Gamification of the whole crypto experience is also something that people are resonating with. You have your typical DeFi activity, yield farming or collecting your yields and putting your yield to work. Some people are creating a gamification experience on top of that in an interactive way or a non-interactive way. [inaudible 00:44:08] seems to be something that interesting projects or new projects might come in to bring people into the space.
Even though we saw an explosion in the last few months or so, I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. More should be coming, and this builds up on top of the NFT side of things. People are buying NFTs for the social experience, for bragging rights, or even because they just like to collect all these NFTs, but once these NFTs allows you to do certain kind of things in a game setting or in a virtual world, that will then create more utility for the NFTs and create a new economic model, as well. You could use this NFT to collateralize for loans, you could lend it out to someone to earn a yield … I think there’s a lot of possibility on that front.
Lastly, I will end with, say, virtual assets [inaudible 00:44:59] that’s also something that has been around for so long, but people are not paying attention to virtual real estate. The early version of virtual real estate [inaudible 00:45:09] you are just taking existing physical land title and then turning it into a virtual land title. That’s why when sometimes you go to some virtual land, you see there are empty plots of land, because these people are just buying it to speculate and flip it. Same issue if you go to a newly developed town, sometimes, you see empty plots of land with future development and stuff like that. I think that’s where the initial kickoff happened, but as the space matures, people are just trying to figure out how they can make virtual land useful. Perhaps this land will have some natural resources in the form of DeFi use and what have you, and people will go there and interact and do certain things and then collect this yield and then move onto another land, and all this land will somehow have value being accrued around it. This builds up on top of the game aspect of it.
I think these are two areas that have been around for a while but haven’t gotten the traction they deserve. Maybe time will only tell that people will understand this and also with the proper infrastructure that people will be able to make good use of it. It’s a little bit of a long shot, but that’s how I’m seeing it.
TM, you’ve been so generous with your time in providing such a wonderful overview of the crypto space, and what you’re doing at CoinGecko … If people are interested in learning more about you or following your work, what’s the best way to do so?
TM Lee (46:27):
Myself, I’m on Twitter, @tmlee, so I’m just there tweeting whenever I’m free. I spend most of my time over there. Other than that, you can always follow our work at CoinGecko. We are on all social channels. Otherwise, just check out our website. You can see what we’ve been doing, all the posts that we have been posting, as well. I think that’s the best way to keep up with us.
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