Today is a unique episode of the podcast – a two-interviews-in-one episode!
As you already know, one of the big announcements from Graph Day 2022 was that Messari, an industry-leading market intelligence platform, would be joining The Graph ecosystem as the first-ever Core Subgraph Developer. And as you heard in a previous episode, I was fortunate enough to briefly interview Ryan Selkis, Founder and CEO at Messari, backstage at Graph Day.
Today’s episode will feature two interviews with members of the Messari team. First, we will hear from Ryan Selkis, who generously made himself available for another interview. During my discussion with Ryan, we have a high-level discussion of how the Core Subgraph Dev grant came together, what it means for Messari and The Graph, and we also discuss a range of other topics, including his advice for entrepreneurs, his vision for what happens next in web3, and an experience he when a well-intentioned tweet caught a lot of attention and went viral.
Then I am pleased to welcome Vincent Wen, Engineering Manager for the on-chain data team at Messari. Vincent and his team are managing all the work going on related to the Core Subgraph Developer grant. And, as you will most certainly hear, Vincent is brilliant and has a keen eye for how The Graph creates value for developers and web3! Vincent and I talk about the nature of the grant work he and his team are contributing and how you can get involved, how Messari uses The Graph, and so much more!
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Vincent Wen (00:00:19):
Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today is a unique episode of the podcast, a two-interview-in-one episode. As you may know, one of the big announcements from Graph Day was that Messari, an industry-leading market intelligence platform, would be joining The Graph ecosystem as the first ever core subgraph developer. As you heard in a previous episode, I was fortunate enough to briefly interview Ryan Selkis, founder and CEO at Messari, backstage at Graph Day. Today’s episode will feature two interviews with members of the Messari team. First, we’ll have the opportunity to hear once more from Ryan Selkis, who generously made himself available for another interview. During my discussion with Ryan, we have a high-level discussion about how the core subgraph developer grant came together, what it means for Messari and The Graph, and we also discuss a wide range of other topics including his advice for entrepreneurs, his vision for what happens next in web3, and an experience he had when a well-intentioned tweet caught a lot of attention and went viral.
Then I’m pleased to welcome Vincent Wen, engineer manager for the on-chain data team at Messari. Vincent and his team are managing all the work going on behind the scenes related to the core subgraph developer grant. As you will most certainly hear, Vincent is brilliant, and has a keen eye for how The Graph creates value for developers and web3. We talk about the nature of the grant work he and his team are contributing, and how listeners can get involved, how Messari uses The Graph, and a lot more. I started the discussion with Ryan by asking about the backstory for how the core subgraph developer grant came together.
Ryan Selkis (00:02:43):
Well, the short story is I’ve known Yaniv Tal since 2018, the last fair market. We actually spent a little bit of time together in Berlin, around the 8th Berlin Conference [inaudible 00:02:54] at the last fair market, and we spent a couple of hours together at dinner. I knew that what he was working on was crazy ambitious, and if it was successful, it was going to be a pretty interesting protocol, and a bit of infrastructure to actually access these decentralized protocols, and get critical information about these decentralized ecosystems. At the time, we were more focused on aggregating global information about the top assets, and we had a combination of research analysts, kind of market data feeds, on-chain data feeds, and just pulling from a number of third party APIs, to give people a good holistic look at the overall health and status of a given project.
So we were going broad, The Graph was going deep, but we stayed in touch, and keenly watched the development of the protocol over the years. When we got together internally, and started thinking about seriously producing on-chain analytics and building more of our on-chain data capabilities in-house late last year, The Graph was the first part that came to mind, given the historical relationship. So I reached out to Yaniv Tal, and Tegan Kline, and Eva Beylin, and basically said, “Hey, we’re excited to dig in here. I think there’s a lot of work that we can do as an open source developer of subgraphs. We can help with standard setting. We can help with building a lot of this kind of core infrastructure, and almost be a power user of the subgraphs, in terms of a front end for some of these subgraphs, and show people what can be possible if they were running their data applications for their protocols and financial products using subgraphs, and The Graph protocol.”
Then fast-forward six months, we became the first front-end core developer of subgraph, core developer working on standard setting, developing common taxonomies, and high quality like QA process around subgraphs, so that users of these subgraphs have a good bit of reliability baked in when they’re leveraging the system, they know who the subgraph developer was. They know that these subgraphs are being well-maintained. They’re being upgraded when there are any protocol level developments, and because we’re kind of a power user, and we’re [inaudible 00:05:06] our own products, that I think was pretty valuable to the community. Ultimately, we’ll ensure that more people are built on top of in auditing the technical work that our team is doing.
I want to double-click on something there, which is the value back to Messari. So for The Graph community, it’s very clear the value that you’re going to be adding, I think standardization of subgraphs, for example, is a very important step forward, but the value exchange on the Messari side, the things that motivated you, what are those things?
Ryan Selkis (00:05:34):
Well, I think it’s a more stable foundation to build on instead of just building another data silo to access public blockchain data. The blockchains themselves are public by design, so we wanted to contribute to that in a more of an open source way versus running our own centralized infrastructure, and applying our own kind of methodology to a paywall’s bit of data that is otherwise publicly accessible. I think long-term we’ll be publicly accessible. We just cut out the middle path here, where we would rather get paid to produce good open source tooling, and then leverage that ourselves because we think it’s a more sustainable path forward for the industry. Then importantly, I think The Graph did bootstrap a community as a valuable network in its own right, and some pretty interesting economics on a go-forward basis for their community of stakeholders. I think this is something that reduces all of our upstream data dependencies, and some of our infrastructure costs. It allows us to contribute to a broader open source mission, and then there’s good financial alignment given the grant that we received, and the multi-relationship that we have.
So as CEO of Messari, you got your team together, you decided to pursue this grant, what does success look like? When you talk about the team and say, “Hey, three to five years out,” to feel successful in this particular contribution it needs to look like what?
Ryan Selkis (00:06:54):
We’re looking for 200 subgraphs at a minimum for the first couple of years. So just the number of networks, I think, is the first milestone and some low hanging fruit. Beyond that, we really want to see this towering the majority of the Messari on-chain library, so hopefully The Graph can continue to extend in other base layer protocols. We can have good interoperability between rollup chains, and the Ethereum Masterchain, and other EVM-compatible chains, but beyond that, Cosmos, Solana, other layer one systems, I hope are all built on top of subgraphs, and we’re ultimately able to play part in the QA of each individual ecosystem subgraphs.
Given your unique perspective of the crypto landscape, and all the work that you and your team at Messari are doing, I would love to get your perspective on how important The Graph is for the future of web3, and the whole crypto mission. What are your thoughts on that?
Ryan Selkis (00:07:57):
I think blockchain data, structured blockchain data, and standards around how you access that, and how you ultimately build applications around that data, it’s really important to, A, have some standards, and B, have those standards be open source, and publicly accessible and auditable. If you look at the other on-chain data providers today, they all have private APIs, and are built on proprietary stacks, so that creates censorship opportunities. It creates single points of failure in the system. Ultimately it pushes responsibility for the maintenance of those kind of data structures, and that data middleware into single centrally-owned entities. Obviously, anytime you’re pushing different points of centralization, it makes the overall ecosystem less robust, and so it just comes down to a design decision. Really, I think that’s more akin to like Android versus iOS, with The Graph being the Android model, and ultimately I think the much more scalable model going forward as we think about how should the crypto data stack get built out.
So there’s a lot of storylines to follow in web3, and anyone that follows you on Twitter knows you’re like at the tip of the spear on a lot of these different topics that spring up all the time. Some of these things are DeFi, some of these things are NFTs, some of them are related to privacy and regulation, but data alone is a storyline, and its importance to web3. What are your thoughts on that? I mean, that seems, to me, as I try to understand web3 and what it means for the world, seems like data is front and center.
Ryan Selkis (00:09:37):
I think that there’s three different parties that make money in web3 long-term. There’s the validators of different networks, so for Bitcoin that could be the miners, and the note operators, they’re incentivized by something like Lightning Network. For Ethereum, it’s going to be the stakers, and for many of the other proof-of-work chains it’s going to be the stakers, so the validators are one class. The developers, the people who are actually building and maintaining these systems obviously will be compensated. Then, ultimately I think the data providers are the third element there. So anyone that’s building the data middleware, or connecting the feeds from the off-chain worlds to the on-chain worlds, and empowering some of these smart contract applications, I think that’s where most of the value will accrue long-term. So if you take that view that structured data is going to be the fuel for a lot of web3 applications, then the folks that are doing a good job of creating and maintaining those standards, and those data source, I think are some of the big winners.
Obviously, The Graph has a protocol, and folks that are building on The Graph, Chainlink similarly, I think are two that should stand to capture pretty significant value.
How strongly do you feel about this issue related to the web3 stack needing to be fully decentralized? I know it’s somewhat controversial. A lot of people have different opinions on it, but what’s yours?
Ryan Selkis (00:11:02):
I don’t think it needs to be fully decentralized, but I think you need to have a spectrum of centralized services, and decentralized services, and The Graph, I think, is the leading decentralized option right now. It’s less about whether one is better or worse, there are different design decisions, and trade-offs. Ultimately, I think it’s great that there are centralized infrastructure companies, and data services companies that build on them, but I think it’s healthy and necessary to have an open source, more decentralized compliment.
As you track all the different things that are happening in web3, and you’ve got this incredible view of it all, what are the next big milestones that you’re watching for? In other words, is regulation the big milestone that we need to keep watching for or is there something else?
Ryan Selkis (00:11:48):
I think crypto is certainly susceptible to the kind of macro environment and geopolitical conditions, we saw that in the last six months, but outside of just the real world, and what’s going on with the general economy, I think regulation is probably the second most pressing item. It’s not necessarily in forearm fire, it’s as much an opportunity as it is a threat. We’ll get a lot of clarity in the next 18 months in terms of which direction that breaks.
Is regulation going to be one of these things that’s actually a catalyst for greater adoption, meaning most of the crypto community looks at it as almost like an existential threat, but the truth might be something more in the middle, where it catapults greater adoption?
Ryan Selkis (00:12:32):
That’s the hope. I think it depends on what the letter of the law looks like in the US, and Europe in particular, because I think as those two regions goes so go the West, and so go certain more democratic locations in Asia. I discard China from the equation, and some of the other more top-down, very strictly militantly-managed economies of course, but Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Dubai, and The Emirates, all these other areas in the Middle East, and in Asia seem to be kind of bending favorably. So really, I think the battleground, right now it’s the US and Europe.
When it comes to disruption, and what greater adoption will do to existing and traditional economies, where do you see the greatest disruption coming? Obviously, DeFi comes top of mind to a lot of listeners. I’ve had a lot of guests on that focus on DeFi, but are there other industries, healthcare, other things that might be prone to disruption as crypto’s greater adoption?
Ryan Selkis (00:13:37):
I would love to see healthcare insurance, and healthcare … not healthcare services, but the kind of healthcare payment system, and payments and coverage disrupted. I think everybody would. It’s been decades in the making, and we still haven’t had a good catalyst for the wholesale solution, but that’s one that’s interesting. I think single purpose DAOs are pretty powerful, a potential catalyst. The combination of having a community-owned wallet that can deploy resources around a certain set of goals, or mission alignment, whether that’s a friend group, or whether that’s more mission-oriented like some of the city-based projects or … I’m an investor in a company called Vibe Bio, which creates DAOs that essentially allow communities of patients with rare diseases to also pool capital to fund therapeutics, and studies and research. It’s like a patients’ community with embedded financial upside, to the extent that they’re able to solve this chicken and egg problem that exists in biotech, for funding things that aren’t big ticket items that can be blockbuster drugs.
That’s one example, but I think Gitcoin has hundreds, or thousands maybe at this point of examples about public rents funding that can be done really efficiently through these kind share vehicles. I think that’s underappreciated right now, and that’s still very, very early innings, and can be pretty transformative outside of just DeFi.
When you think about all of crypto, and the dialogue that’s happening in terms of regulators determining what’s a security, what’s a reserve currency, all these different storylines, you always have utility tokens in the mix. How do you think about, given all the work that Messari does, utility tokens, and how they fit within the crypto space?
Ryan Selkis (00:15:36):
I don’t know about … Utility tokens are, I think, a little bit too general, it feels more like a 2017 term. I think we can break these different ecosystems into pretty clear sectors at this point. If you’re talking about true commodity monies like Bitcoin, and maybe Ethereum straddles that line a little bit, but layer one systems, or virtual machines, and virtual computing platforms, basically like the L1s, and the rollups, and some of the other kind of base layer chains, I think that’s a whole class of blockchains and related tokens. There’s different shades of DeFi, there’s decentralized exchanges, there’s decentralized lending, on-chain asset management, et cetera. So you’re starting to see not only the sector of DeFi, but the sub-sectors emerge, and you’ve got everything that’s going on with decentralized file storage versus video transcoding, versus hardware, power networks like what Helium is doing, and Pollen, and so forth.
There really are … I don’t really believe utility token is a, it’s kind of a throwaway term at this point, it is really more about, “Are you talking about a network and a token that has some governance, and potential cash-accruing rights for the owners of that token in exchange for participation in a given protocol?” If the answer is yes, then it has utility, and if the answer is no, then it probably is not that fundamentally interesting. Whether that makes it a security or not, I think we shouldn’t be using 90-year old statutes to define what these internet commodity, money, tokens, cooperative shares, whatever you want to call them, what they are. But what I think is interesting is we’re not just talking about valueless governance tokens, or tokens associated with white paper deliverables, there’s real networks with real transaction activity, real commerce, and real applications that are working today, and the question is, “How do we get to scale of those systems? Then ultimately, are those different system design sustainable?”
When I had the first opportunity to meet you, which was backstage at Graph Day, you were generous enough to meet up with me after giving a great presentation, and do just a short interview about the news of the day. I was struck by your presentation, but also your background is really impressive as well, you’re a quintessential entrepreneur. When I met you, and have gotten to know you, I’ve come to realize you could probably do a lot of different things with your life and your career, but yet you’ve chosen to pursue a career in a profession in crypto. Why?
Ryan Selkis (00:18:17):
I’ve been doing it for a decade, and it’s been a pretty good run so far. It’s sort of survivor bias, I think, more than anything, if it hadn’t worked out, I probably wouldn’t be here.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, and this is something I think you’re exceptionally great at, what have you learned through that? What is your advice to my listeners who want, in some sense or another, to venture into web3 and be an entrepreneur? What are the key lessons that you’ve learned in your career?
Ryan Selkis (00:18:42):
I think it’s just get building, not everyone necessarily should be an entrepreneur, I think anyone can be, but it really goes down to what your motivation is. You can be an engineer that’s an entrepreneur. You can be someone with no technical experience that’s just a hustler, and be an entrepreneur, but it really boils down to your mindset and motivation, and frankly, your storytelling ability. I think the key thing for me has been being able to tell stories, and that’s been crafted through my writing, that skill carries over into entrepreneurship really well because you’re constantly selling, writing, telling stories to investors, to recruits, to customers, especially in the zero to one phase. They’re buying a story, they’re not necessarily buying a product. Hopefully a little bit of both, but I know early on for us, and for every zero to one idea that isn’t bootstrapped by a technical founder, you’re selling a story and something that you’re going to do. I think just storytelling ability is probably one of the most important attribute or components of success for me, but I think in general for other entrepreneurs.
The other thing is just continuing to eke out positive progress, and forward momentum and progress, I think is an underrated skill. So growth compounds, and momentum is a hell of a drug, and when you have it, you got to latch onto it, and when you lose it, you got to figure out how to get it back quickly. I’d say those are the two big cornerstones of things that I would tell people are important. In addition, all the platitudes of surround yourself with good people, work hard, have grit, whatever you want to talk about, but I think storytelling is far and away the number one, and using any opening to keep momentum, and build momentum is the other critical part of success.
You’re incredibly active on Twitter, and like I said earlier, you’re always at the tip of the spear on news, and topics that are widely circulating, how do you stay in touch with everything? How do you stay abreast of all the information that you’re taking in and distributing?
Ryan Selkis (00:21:05):
Well, we built a good product. I leverage our own product. I do have a good curated feed both from our internal Slack, just what’s happening in the day, and what are people on our team discussing, and then just my own Twitter, carefully curating, and being selective in who I follow, what my information diet looks like after nine years of watching people come and go, and understanding who’s got interesting things to say, and who’s got high signal bits of information that they’re putting out in the world.
Well, I’m sure a lot of my listeners who follow you on Twitter will agree, one thing about your Twitter feed is you take on a lot of different topics on different issues. It’s incredible to me that you, again, you can stay out in front of this stuff and keep informed, but I’m curious about, over the years, if you’ve taken on different topics, has anything surprised you in terms of how people have responded, or a particular tweet has garnered maybe more attention than you would’ve thought it would?
Ryan Selkis (00:22:02):
I have a somewhat famous tweet that I tweeted on Christmas of 2019, and it went viral for all the wrong reasons. Something to the effect of, “If you don’t work hard in nights and weekends in your 20s, you’re not going to have a successful career. Sorry.” Of course, the internet blew up, and articles were written, and there was a lot of gnashing of teeth, and a lot of hysteria about how terrible that sentiment was. I think it’s a great tweet because everybody reads into it exactly what they want to. The critics hate it, and then the people that recognize the kernel of truth, which is you have to work hard before you can work smart. I think the worst piece of advice that any young person can get after follow your passion is work smart, not hard, because the reality is almost no one in their 20s knows that to work smart.
There’s no substitute for time, and if you want to space that out into 40-hour weeks over the entire of your 20s, that’s totally fine, but if someone is working 60 hours a week, then by definition they’re going to be 50% ahead of you by the time they hit the age of 30, other things equal. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have family, or that you shouldn’t maintain your social relationships, or friendships, or anything. I think the trick is to the extent that you can own your own 60 hours per week instead of being on someone else’s clock, it’s a hell of a lot easier to do that in some cases than it is to even work 40 for someone else. This is the classic quip on entrepreneurship where, “I quit my nine to five, so I could work nine to nine,” or some equivalent of that.
There’s a lot of truth to it, but being able to control what you’re working on, the pace that you’re developing, and set your own curriculum and course, I think … I would say if you have one decision that you can make in your 20s, it’s to just really push yourself and figure out where your limits are, because even if you hate the first couple of years of your career, it’ll probably give you some perspective. It’ll give you some experience that otherwise you’re just never going to get. It’s good to have the experience of hating something because it’s too many hours, or it’s too grueling, and you’re losing your mind. I’m not saying that people should push themselves to the breaking point, but I hated the first couple of years out of school because I was working too many hours, and I knew that I didn’t want to be in that line of finance. Looking back, being in that accelerated curriculum basically was a table setter for the rest of my career, and gave me a lot of foundational skills, even though it was painful.
It was like a hard grueling workout, you knew you could survive it, you got through the other side, all kinds of optionality, and then you control your own destiny after that. So not everybody wants to do that, and I think that’s fine, but I think it is a really dangerous lie that people can tell young workers that you don’t need to outwork your competition. I think we’ve gotten soft, and I like it when people have a little bit of an edge, a little bit of a motor to them, and understand that if you work hard in your 20s you set yourself off of your 30s, and hopefully retire early, or you get lucky by betting on DeFi. I figured I’d get that off my chest since that comes up every once in a while. I think it’s so obvious and intuitive, and noncontroversial, and fortunately, some of the people that are drawn to work with me feel the same, and still have a pretty good balance.
Well, one of the things I wanted to shine a bright light on today is Mainnet. Mainnet’s coming up, it’s a huge event for Messari, and the community there. What can you share with listeners about Mainnet and what they can expect?
Ryan Selkis (00:25:51):
Yeah. So we’ve got New York 21st through 23rd of September. We’ve got probably about 4,000 people going to be in town. We got 200 speakers who’s lined up going to be descending in New York, so it’s going to be one of the best weeks of the year, certainly in New York City. It will be one of the, I think the largest professional conference in the city this year. I don’t necessarily count the festivals like NFT NYC, but for folks that are in the trenches full-time on the builder side, the infrastructure side, funds, folks that are new and coming into the space from big tech or Wall Street, this is usually a hot ticket, and we’re pretty excited.
So how can listeners get more involved with Mainnet?
Ryan Selkis (00:26:36):
You go to mainnet.events, or you can go to the Messari site, access the ticketing site directly through that interface, and of course if you want to follow me or Messari, I’m @twobitidiot, all spelled out, two bit idiot, or Messari Crypto, @MessariCrypto on Twitter.
Ryan, you’ve been very generous with your time, I really appreciate it. I know you’re a busy man with work, but also you’ve got a family, so thank you for taking the time. I want to conclude our interview here with the GRTiQ 10. This is a new segment I recently added, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask someone like you these 10 questions. Are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?
Ryan Selkis (00:27:13):
All right, let’s do the lighting round.
What book or articles had the most impact on your life?
Ryan Selkis (00:27:29):
Thank God you put book or article, The Tail End by Tim Urban. Tim Urban is the best blogger in the world, he’s got a blog called Wait But Why, and if you Google The Tail End, it is something I read a couple of times for a year, it’s saved and stuck to my browser.
Is there a movie or a TV show that you would recommend everybody should watch?
Ryan Selkis (00:27:47):
I just hyped up Office Space to one of my younger colleagues today because I was very disappointed that she’s never actually watched it, but I think in general, I would say Pulp Fiction, and Shawshank Redemption. Fun Facts, they were both nominated the same year as Forrest Gump, they both lost. In my opinion, two of the best movies ever made lost to maybe the third best movie ever made in the same year. Talk about how far Hollywood has declined since 1994.
If you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
Ryan Selkis (00:28:19):
This one’s a wild card, and I’m sure I’m going to piss off the purists Metallica fans, Metallica’s S&M album with the San Francisco Symphony is one of the best live albums that I’ve ever listened to.
What’s the best advice someone’s ever given to you?
Ryan Selkis (00:28:40):
That’s a good one. I want to remember the exact quote. My first boss said something kind of middle of my career when I was grabbing drinks with him, something to the effect of, “There’s two general rules in business, don’t burn bridges, and stand up for yourself, and if you have to pick between the two, burn the bridge.”
What’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think most other people have learned or know yet?
Ryan Selkis (00:29:07):
Most of life is just brute force and just relentlessness. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in your face aggression, but I think people can shape reality to their benefit if they just develop that mindset.
What’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?
Ryan Selkis (00:29:27):
Based on your own life experience and observations, what do you think is the characteristic or habit that best explains why people are successful in life?
Ryan Selkis (00:29:38):
I’d say relentless and positive, and ultimately positive sum, that’s three things, but if you could combine that into one word, I think that’s what it is, grit.
Then the final three questions are complete the sentence type questions. So complete the sentence, the thing that most excites me about web3 is?
Ryan Selkis (00:30:03):
The design space.
If you’re on Twitter, then you should be following?
Ryan Selkis (00:30:07):
Me, of course, @twobitidiot.
Lastly, I’m happiest when?
Ryan Selkis (00:30:12):
I’m happiest when I have no meetings on a calendar, I can write for eight hours, and I can sign off [inaudible 00:30:20] play with my kids.
Now the second interview featuring Vincent Wen, engineer manager for the on-chain data team at Messari. I started the discussion with Vincent by asking about his role at Messari, and how it relates to the core subgraph developer grant.
Vincent Wen (00:30:47):
Well, thank you so much for having me here. I’m the engineer manager for the on-chain data team at Messari. I oversee all subgraph development efforts going on here, as well as the applications that we are building on top of the subgraphs. I’ve also been acting as the main point of contact for Messari as one of the core dev teams.
When did you first become aware that you were going to be working on a grant with The Graph?
Vincent Wen (00:31:14):
Pretty much late last year, early this year. The whole thing actually happened pretty naturally. I basically started out using subgraphs to get on-chain data, and then that became me building subgraphs, and eventually leading the subgraph partnership. Basically, what happened was towards the end of last year, Messari decided to invest heavily into on-chain data, especially around DeFi, and of course subgraphs are pretty much the best source of on-chain data out there, especially if you’re looking at the aggregated metrics of the higher level data. Basically, I was one of the two engineers working on just ingesting a ton of data from different subgraphs, and while doing that, we discovered a lot of influence when it comes to using these subgraphs, especially as a data consumer, as a data aggregator, it’s sort a protocol, and we thought that we are in a very unique position to solve these pain points. Basically, as Ryan mentioned, we met up with a couple members of The Graph at East Denver in February, and then we decided to pursue this partnership, and I naturally became the person leading this relationship.
Vincent, you mentioned that you got your hands dirty by building some subgraphs. What was that experience like? Can you explain why subgraphs are so important?
Vincent Wen (00:32:43):
Oh, yeah. It’s actually a very interesting experience, a very good learning experience for me. You probably know that, but for the audience of the podcast, when we’re talking about blockchain data usually the data come in a very raw format, the event logs, the transactions, the call traces, and most of the data are not very meaningful or insightful. You look at a million different transactions coming out of Uniswap, how do you think about the protocol as a whole? Is it doing well? Is it healthy? Is it growing? For example. Those questions are hard to answer, and we do that using subgraphs. So subgraphs, the way I see it are basically mini data pipelines that goes from the blockchain, from the on-chain world to the off-chain world. It does a lot of the transformation, a lot of the aggregation, such that on the other end of the data pipeline you have something that’s much more meaningful both to users like us, as well as research analyst or data science, for example. So that’s where we really value subgraphs.
Do you remember when you first became aware of The Graph?
Vincent Wen (00:34:01):
Yes, I do. I have a very vivid memory of this. It was pretty much I think the second or the third day after I got into crypto. This was late 2020. I was on Coinbase. I was just starting to use Coinbase, and then Coinbase had this Coinbase Earn Program, where you watch a couple videos, and you answer some questions, and you get to basically earn free crypto. I think The Graph was maybe the second or the third video that came up, and the videos are extremely well-designed, I really like them, they are short, they are to the point, all the graphics are amazing.
My first impression with The Graph is that it’s very different from all the other blockchains. It’s very different from Ethereum, very different from Bitcoin, and it’s a lot like a library. If you think about a library, that’s essentially a place where it’s a index of human knowledge, whereas The Graph is more like … The Graph indexes blockchain knowledge, and then all the books are basically small categories of different human knowledge, and then the same thing would apply to subgraphs that indexes specific parts of blockchain knowledge. Then we have the Curators that are essentially acting as librarians to signal that knowledge.
Well, you’re obviously a subgraph developer by virtue of the grant, and some of the work you’ve already described, are you participating in the protocol in other ways? For example, are you a Delegator, or does Messari run an index or anything like this?
Vincent Wen (00:35:44):
Not yet. We haven’t done much delegating. We haven’t done much indexing. We’re not a infrastructure company so we don’t do a lot of that, but we build, mostly build on PowerPost the raw data. Obviously we built a ton of subgraphs, and we also participated in the curation side, of course we curate all the subgraphs that we have published to the decentralized network. We’re hoping over time maybe we can get more involved in The Graph ecosystem in other ways.
Vincent, I think you’ve referenced it here, and I know Ryan referenced it in the prior interview, how does Messari use The Graph? In terms of being a consumer of the product to The Graph, is Messari a big user?
Vincent Wen (00:36:32):
Oh, yeah, we are a huge user. I want to make it very clear that we are not building the subgraphs just for the sake of building subgraphs. We are, first and foremost, consumer of these subgraphs. We ingest data, and we consume the subgraphs from every single one of those that we have built, and we use them in many different ways. In Messari Mainnet, that’s kind of our annual conference that’s going to come up in a month, we’ll announce two major products that are built on top of the subgraphs, that we’ve been working on for close to a year now. I think it’s going to be very exciting, but stay tuned, you’ll hear more from us.
I want to help listeners better understand the nature of this grant, and the work that’ll be done, and you’ve touched on it here, but since you are the guy on the frontlines representing the Messari team on this core subgraph developer role, what can you share with listeners that don’t know exactly what this grant is for, and the nature of the work you’ll be doing?
Vincent Wen (00:37:38):
Okay. This grant is a little bit different from the other core dev grant. This is the first and only core subgraph developer grant, and it’s different in such that the core dev grant like StreamingFast, Figment, Semiotic, they contribute to the protocol, The Graph protocol, whereas we build a lot of subgraphs, and we lead the standardization work in a way that we contribute to the ecosystem. I see our role as we’re driving adoption, we’re driving usage, and we’re adding value on top of The Graph network. I see this grant being two different parts, one building a ton of high-quality subgraphs, and the other being leading the standardization effort. In terms of building high-quality subgraphs, I think the keyword here is high-quality because there are lots and lots of subgraphs there, and we want to make sure that when it comes to data, the quality, the accuracy, the completeness, and the freshness of the data is very important. We want to make sure, one, we extract as much data as we can from the protocols, and all the data is being calculated in the most accurate way possible.
We actually have a team of QA, subgraph QAs, as well as a number of protocol specialists that really go deep to understand different protocols not only on an individual level, but also across one particular sector, to make sure that we are getting the correct data, we are aggregating them in the right way, and we are aggregating the useful metrics. That means we’re not only exposing the raw events and transactions, we’re also aggregating on both the two level, accountant position level, as well as the protocol level. Then we also built a number of tooling to help with this work, subgraph style X, Y, Z is a really nice validation tool that we’ve built, and some of the other smaller ones.
Going into standardization, the standardization part, I think this is the part that gets me really excited. I think it’s not just about building the subgraphs for it, if you look at the grant fact, the deliverable is about delivering 200 subgraphs, I think this is about changing the way that web3 protocols, or just people in this industry look at financial reporting, look at doing research among different protocols. So if you look at traditional financial reporting, if you go to Google Finance, Yahoo Finance, there’s the income statement. There is the earnings report that’s extremely well-defined, well-standardized for the entire industry. You can just pull a company’s financial report, and you don’t need to know much about the company, but you know exactly what each field in that report is supposed to mean, and then you can derive a lot of meaning out of it. That kind of work hasn’t been done in crypto. No one has taken that work in web3, and we want to be the first one doing that, and we want to be doing that using subgraphs, that’s one of the best ways to do it.
More concretely, we want to have a unified methodology of how we are deriving the metrics. We want to make sure the metrics are really well-defined, really well-documented, all the numbers are normalized in the same way that anyone can just go in and use the data directly. I think a really powerful secondary effect of that is when people come build on top of our subgraphs, instead of having to handle each subgraphs individually for each different protocols, which is a ton of work because Defi is a very fragmented space, everyone does things a little bit differently, they can just take our standard and use it across all the protocols, and things will just work. The analogy I like to give is instead of building a house with brick and mortar, these standardized subgraphs are like prefab that you can build a house, and it makes the whole process so much faster and easier.
That’s a brilliant and analogy, Vincent, and very helpful. I appreciate your answer there. This is maybe a bad question, or even maybe a little bit of a naive question, but I do want to ask it, and that is since you’re creating standards for subgraphs, theoretically, once your core dev grant kicked in, standardization began, but there were a bunch of subgraphs that kind of predated the standards that you and the team have built, so am I thinking about this correctly, is there an auditing process that has to go back and look at all the existing subgraphs, and be like, “Hey, there’s a new standard here, and you got to retool these a little bit here,” or is this just kind of looking forward? Maybe I’ve just got the wrong question here, but how would you answer that?
Vincent Wen (00:43:06):
Yeah, absolutely. We want to cover as much of the space as possible, meaning that for the protocols that predate the standards, or the ones that already have subgraphs, we are pretty much rebuilding new subgraphs for every one of these protocols according to the standard. There’s actually a lot of learnings, a lot of findings along the way, sometimes we discover an error in one of the existing subgraphs, and we talk to the dev teams and they’re like, “Oh.” No one basically audited their subgraphs. People have just been taking the data for granted, and having us do that work, I think really contribute to the data quality of the entire ecosystem.
Vincent, a lot of people in the community are very excited about the Messari partnership, and all the value you’re going to add in terms of these subgraphs standardizations, but there’s other community members also making some pretty cool contributions, of course Soubound Studio was just recently released by Soulbound Labs, getting a lot of attention in the community. This is a no-code, easy interface for people to quickly create subgraphs. I’m curious if you’ve had a chance to see that, and some of the other things people in the community are contributing, and what your thoughts are.
Vincent Wen (00:44:24):
Yeah, I have. I did take a look at their website and their product. I actually have had a number of conversation with their founder Jordan, and I think he’s amazing. They have a amazing team, super smart, super driven, and super dedicated. What they are doing is a very interesting way for people who are not necessarily technical to build or use the subgraphs, and make it a much more friendlier user interface, and kind of this Code Jam way of essentially generating the subgraphs for people to quickly use, and really get their foot in the door in The Graph ecosystem. It’s definitely a very good way to onboard new users, as well as new developers.
I also know that they have some super exciting work under development that’s actually part of it is built on top of our subgraphs, and could be a potentially massive value add to not only The Graph ecosystem, but the web3 community as a whole, but this is still there. I think they’re still under in stealth mode. I can’t talk too much about it, but if you ever bring Jordan onto the podcast, I think he’ll be able to share more.
Sure. Yeah, a little alpha there. I appreciate you talking about that, and we’ll keep our eyes on Soulbound Studio. Certainly a great contribution from a cool team working within the community. I want to ask you about the team that’s working with Messari. I remember the announcement, and of course you presented at Graph Hack, you did a great job, there was an open invitation to people in the community that wanted to participate and join in some of the work going on there. What’s the detail there?
Vincent Wen (00:46:08):
For the listeners who want to get involved, there are many different ways, and we are doing this work as a public good, and as a open source community-driven work. We want to get as many people as involved as possible. So if you come from an engineering background, if you think this work is really exciting, we are hiring, and you can just go to our website, go to the careers page, and we have a list of probably 20 different roles that we are hiring for right now. In particular, I think there are two or three that’s related to the subgraph development effort that has been going on. We are especially interested in people with web2 data engineer background, so if you worked with data pipeline before like Fivetran, Spark, I don’t know, Airflow, Dagster, or with big data warehouse, BigQuery, Snowflake and all that, I think you’d be a great fit for the team. We’re also hiring for a number of rust engineers, so if you have rust experience, welcome to apply to us.
If you want to contribute to our subgraphs in a way that’s not as a full-time job, you are welcome to do that as well, just like any subgraph that you want to build for any protocol, feel free to get started on it. We have a very detailed instruction on how you can contribute in our GitHub repo, and feel free to start the PR, we can talk more about it, we can review the code. Then if you are non-technical, you can still help us with developing the methodology, kind of providing feedback on the data, if you want to look at what kind of data metrics we’re aggregating, and see if there’s anything that’s missing, if there’s anything that you are interested in, you can help us review our data, just use it. Let us know if there’s any issues or if you have any particular feedback. Lastly, but most importantly, I highly encourage everyone to build on top of our subgraphs. We spent a lot of effort building these subgraphs, and we want them to be used. I think there’s so much you can do on top of these subgraphs.
Very helpful information, Vincent. I’ll post links to some of that information in the show notes, so I encourage any listeners that are interested in getting involved to visit the show notes. Vincent, have you learned anything new about The Graph as a result of the work you’re doing in the ecosystem? You mentioned you first heard about The Graph on Coinbase as a lot of people have, but now you’re doing this important work, and you’re in the ecosystem building, have you learned anything new?
Vincent Wen (00:49:08):
Yes, I have. I actually learned quite a bit of things. I think just through this experience, I really got to know a lot of members of The Graph, both the technical side, as well as the non-technical side. I think you guys are some of the most amazing, most mission-driven team in the entire web3 space. Definitely some of the best engineers I’ve ever worked with. The Graph protocol itself, I think there’s also a lot of interesting thing I learned. One in particular, this is actually, I think most people probably don’t know about this, is that The Graph is really a truly decentralized network, in that it’s different from a lot of the other decentralized networks or protocols that it has this hub and spoke model, where you have The Graph protocol at the center, where it doesn’t have any engineers.
It doesn’t have a developed team, but it has this spoke of other core devs, Edge & Node being the first, and then StreamingFast, Figments, and all the other core devs that all contribute to the protocol in different way. This is uniquely different from Uniswap, for example, that has Uniswap Labs. Compound has Compound Labs. OpenSea has Ozone Network. I don’t think there’s a … I honestly cannot think another protocol that works in this hub and spoke model in the web3 space, and I think this is truly amazing.
Well, I know that Messari has a really good perspective on what’s going on in DeFi, and so much of the value that Messari offers to crypto and web3 is kind of in that sector, so to speak, of DeFi, but I’m curious if you’ve also developed a stronger opinion or any observations about how important The Graph is for web3 and for Defi?
Vincent Wen (00:51:12):
Oh, yeah, of course. I think it was something I shared in my tweet, one of my tweets earlier, is that I truly believe that to build an open and decentralized internet, we need open and permissionless data. Right now, The Graph is pretty much the only protocol who’s doing that. We have a lot of centralized data provider, we don’t have many decentralized ones, and this is going to be really important for the access of web3 crypto blockchain data, more concretely what The Graph does with all the open API, with all the subgraphs, it drastically lower the barrier to entry for web3 data. So anyone that wanted access to web3 data, like a college student, like a normy, we call a normy who’s maybe web3 curious, they don’t have to pay for a expensive subscription to Nansen or some of the other centralized data providers, they can just go to find the subgraphs, go to the playground, plug in the query, and then they’ll start looking at the data. It takes literally minutes, it’s truly permissionless, and I think that’s going to be huge for the decentralization of the web3 ecosystem.
Going back to that point you made about the community being mission-driven. I think that was one of the first observations I made as well after a few months of running this podcast, and the opportunity to speak with so many different people, it always surprised me that there’s people living all across the world doing different types of work with different types of background, but coalescing around this mission, this value system in The Graph and in web3. I’d be curious to learn more about the experience of working within The Graph community. Was it welcoming? Did you feel like you had all the support and resources you needed to complete this grant work?
Vincent Wen (00:53:15):
Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s an amazing community, it’s so welcoming it’s a little bit overwhelming. I think a key difference between The Graph, and other web3 protocols is that The Graph really has a place for everybody, so anyone and everyone can be a part of the community and contribute in some way. If you are technical, you can be a core dev, you can be a community contributor, you can be an Indexer. If you’re less technical, you can still participate by being a Curator, being a Delegator, there’s a subgraph del, there’s an advocate del, there’s just so many different ways that people can get involved in The Graph community, and of course the core devs are amazing. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of them in person at The Graph Day, and the events following that, really deep, deep domain expert at what they do. I’m super excited to work with these folks.
Vincent, I asked the same question to Ryan. I really want to ask it to you as well, and it’s this question of what does success look like? So, if you forecast out 5, 7, 10 years from now, how should we think about what success looks like given the grant that you’ve received, and the work that you’re doing?
Vincent Wen (00:54:36):
Officially, the deliverable we have for this grant is to deliver 200 subgraphs. I don’t think that’s the best way to think about success. I think at the end of the day, it’s really about driving adoption. We want to build this huge number of high-quality subgraphs so that anyone who’s looking for web3 data, it should be no-brainer for them to use The Graph instead of any other data providers. In addition to building these 200 subgraphs, there are three things I’m hoping for to accomplish at the end of the grant. The first is making The Graph the destination for high-quality data. I think this is especially important given how fragmented the crypto state is, especially when it comes to data. Today, a lot of our researchers or data scientists, when they look for data, they have to go to 5, 10, 20 different websites, different data providers to find particular metrics that they are looking for. I hope by building these subgraphs, they don’t need to do that, they can just come to The Graph, look at one subgraphs, it will contain everything that they will ever wish for.
Then the second is about driving wide adoption of our standard, this is not just across The Graph ecosystem, but across Defi, and across web3 as a whole. I mentioned earlier that if you look at [inaudible 00:56:11] there is a lot of existing financial standards, fighting standards, and report, and earnings, whatnot, this does not exist today in crypto, but I think in five years, in 10 years, people will need something like this. People will want something like this. I hope we are doing the foundation work to make this happen, that all of the metrics, all of the methodology that we are defining today will be widely adopted by the industry. Lastly, we want to see a lot of people building on top of our subgraphs, and to bring more developers and users into The Graph ecosystem because we just have these amazing data sources that people can use directly.
I’m impressed, Vincent, with all the answers you’ve given so far, I almost hesitate to ask this next question, but I’d really like to get your perspective on the utility of The Graph. You’ve already talked so much about data, and subgraphs, and stuff, but expanding on some of these things, how do you think about the utility of The Graph?
Vincent Wen (00:57:13):
The way I see The Graph is that it’s essentially web3’s API or the API to blockchain. We do have native JSON RTC API on the blockchain note, but you cannot pull a lot of data from that. I think The Graph really fills that missing gap in order for people to retrieve not only meaningful data, but they retrieve the data in a really good way to power their use cases, to power their applications, to power their dashboards. Honestly, there are not that many players in the space that’s providing this capability, and The Graph is the only decentralized one that’s doing that. I think this will be especially important after EIP for force, where a lot of the historical data will be removed from the native Ethereum clients, in which case The Graph will essentially be the best source for anyone to access historical data, and access the data in a verifiable way, which is something that you are just not getting from any of the centralized players out there.
The really interesting piece that makes all of this work is the well-designed tokenomics of The Graph, that there is the kind of interplay between the Indexers, the Curators, the Delegators, the subgraph developers that put this thing all together, and make it run smoothly. I think that in itself is a very good innovation for the space.
What are the next milestones then people should be paying attention to as it comes to the grant work that you’re doing at Messari?
Vincent Wen (00:58:58):
A couple of things. The first is in a month we will have Mainnet, our Messari Annual Conference, and we are going to make two important announcement there, which again, are built on top the subgraph work that we have been doing, and it should be super exciting for the space so make sure you watch out for that. Actually, I have a promo code that you can use to buy ticket for Mainnet at a discount if you wanted to look in the show notes. Then in addition to that, we’ll be migrating all of our subgraphs to the decentralized network over the coming months. We’ve just started that work, we’ve migrated somewhere between, I don’t know, 8 to 10. We’ve also started [inaudible 00:59:51], so if you are looking for subgraphs to use, you can take a look at those.
Lastly, we are going to transition into substreams over the next couple of months as well. We’re just playing with the developer of a preview right now, and we are working on building a lot of the important building blocks to substreams things like pricing library. If anyone has worked with subgraphs before, you probably know pricing is a very challenging problem, so we’re going to make that module, and I hope that everyone will be able to use it to get prices easily. In Substream, we are going to make contract calls easy, which is currently pretty difficult at this point, but in general, building on our substreams.
So for anyone interested that wants to attend Messari’s Mainnet conference, you can find a discount code in the show notes. Vincent, this is in New York, it’s on September 21st, if I’m remembering right, and it’s an in-person event?
Vincent Wen (01:00:51):
Yes, it is in person. There’s going to be about 4,000 attendees, and it’s in New York, September 21st to 23rd. It’s going to be incredibly exciting. It’s going to be at Pier 36. The entire space is customized specifically for this event, and we have over 200 guest speakers from all over the ecosystem. Make sure you come.
Yeah, incredible, for sure. So anybody that’s in that area and wants to get that discount code, check out the show notes, and thank you, Vincent, and the team at Messari for providing that discount. Well, Vincent, now we’ve reached a point in the podcast where I’m excited to ask you the GRTiQ 10. These are 10 questions I ask each week to every guest of the podcast, and I do it to help listeners learn something new, try something different, or achieve more. I had the opportunity to ask them to Ryan, so I want to ask them to you. So Vincent, are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?
Vincent Wen (01:01:44):
All right, let’s start with this. What book or articles had the most impact on your life?
Vincent Wen (01:02:01):
Principles by Ray Dalio.
Is there a movie or a TV show that you would recommend everybody should watch?
Vincent Wen (01:02:09):
I recently watched this movie that maybe not everyone, but I think every engineer, every kind of computer science major or people who have a technical background should watch it, it’s called Imitation Game. It’s a really, really well-made movie about this British person called Alan Turing. He’s essentially the father of computer science or just computers in general. It’s a truly fascinating movie. It’s a little bit sad, but I highly recommend.
If you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
Vincent Wen (01:02:49):
I listen to bass so I would take Apex by Excision, it’s the Dubstep God.
What’s the best advice someone’s ever given to you?
Vincent Wen (01:03:00):
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
What’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think most other people have learned or know yet?
Vincent Wen (01:03:08):
That web3 is going to take over the world, and I’m trying to make more people know by the day.
What’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?
Vincent Wen (01:03:18):
It’s a working from home or being able to work remotely. This is truly amazing on my productivity.
Based on your own experiences or observations in your life, what characteristic or habit do you think best explains people finding success in life?
Vincent Wen (01:03:38):
I think there are so many answers to this question, but if there’s just one, I would say grit.
Then the final three, Vincent, are complete the sentence type question. So the first one is complete this sentence, the thing that most excites me about web3 is?
Vincent Wen (01:03:54):
The people and the culture.
How about this one, if you’re on Twitter, then you should be following?
Vincent Wen (01:03:59):
This Twitter account called Animals Going Goblin Mode, it is hilarious.
Lastly, I’m happiest when?
Vincent Wen (01:04:08):
I’m making progress.
Vincent, if people want to follow you and track what you’re doing, what’s the best way for them to stay in touch?
Vincent Wen (01:04:23):
You can follow me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is v_for, F-O-R, _vincent, so V for Vincent with underscore in between, and you can also find that in the show notes. You can also follow our subgraphs development in our GitHub repo, so that’s github.com/messari/subgraphs, and make sure you give it a look.
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