Interview with Michael - Pylons
Updated: Nov 26, 2021
Last week, we spoke with Michael Sofaer, the CEO of Pylons, a company that is on a mission to bring digital items to the world and power meaningful value and self-expression for all. Built on Cosmos, and incubated at Tendermint, Pylons is a fast and interoperable system for brands and creators to build engaging products with meaningful NFT experiences.
Interested in reading about his opinions on the blockchain industry? Then continue reading the interview below:
1. What was your first experience with blockchain/cryptos?
I've been working in and out of the blockchain industry since 2013, when a friend asked me to help him build a Bitcoin exchange. I wasn't really particularly interested in cryptocurrency, but I was interested in leading software teams, so I put together a team and we built a Bitcoin exchange. And since then, I've been really trying to find a way to make blockchain matter for regular people.
For example, NFTs right now are widely used but they have been here for quite some time now. I don't like the NFT name by the way, but I think the idea of having digital assets that aren't money stored on the blockchain assets is very interesting. For example, I think CryptoKitties are the first real example of a successful blockchain asset that wasn't about being money. And it really changed the way I think about blockchain. From that time I thought that money or currencies are actually the less interesting piece of what you can do with blockchain. Money is pretty simple and kind of boring anyway. But digital stuff, like games that run on reliable servers, IP [intellectual property] and fashion that are on-chain, that’s the real deal. To me, those verticals are much more interesting from a product perspective, and can actually make a difference in people's lives.
2. What’s the story behind Pylons?
So, I was CCO of Brian Kelly's Fund, BCM, for a little while. And as part of that, I vetted the Cosmos team and their white paper. We also helped them raise the seed fund for that project. And I've been a huge fan of Cosmos since then. At that point I was technologically aware of the potential. And when I saw Crypto Kitties, my immediate thought was “this is a really cool idea, it's never gonna work on Ethereum, but we can make it work on Cosmos”. So Brian (Kelly) and I poked around at it for a while but he eventually decided he wasn't interested in developing software. He wanted to trade tokens.
So we parted ways and a year later I started it up and did it myself. I took a Cosmos SDK, which was very new at the time, and I started building something where games could run properly. And also I tried the sort of primitives around property, like buying and transforming items and using property to affect other transactions. Great, next I wanted to build those primitives directly into the chain so that everything runs really, really fast. And we can actually have a massively multiplayer experience here. We can really have people use this because we're not going to have, like, gas fees And I've been building it since then. And, right now you know we’re in a pretty good place. The chain runs and we have an integrated wallet product and we have some demo apps already.
3. So Pylons run on the Cosmos blockchain?
Well, we use the Cosmos SDK, but it's a sovereign blockchain. The way the Cosmos ecosystem works is that everything in Cosmos has a sort of his own chain. And there's a protocol called IDC that allows you to move tokens between the chains. But we're not on the Cosmos Hub or anything. If the Cosmos hub were to go down, Pylons would keep running.
This is really what made me want to invest in Cosmos in the first place. I feel it is a truly fully Federated model where no chain is dependent on any other chain, I think matches what made the Internet succeed.
4. What’s your favorite project in the industry besides Pylons?
I got my new friend Garrett. He once pointed me to a project called Parallel, which I love because of what they're doing in terms of making digital property interesting to the masses, which is nice and optimal.
The Gravity DEX is also something to monitor. The user experience / user interface for the Cosmo sub gravity decks is going to be very nice as well.
In terms of blockchains, I really like Avalanche. Their consensus mechanism is just incredibly brilliant. Solana is super solid as well. There's a lot of really good projects right now, actually.
In contrast to three years ago, when everything was a scam, and everyone was making all this money on these terrible, terrible projects. And I felt frustrated as a technologist, that being good didn't matter. I actually think there's a lot of really good stuff right now.
5. What is the value offered by Pylons?
We’ve seen the rise of Axie Infinity, a game that is generating passive income in emerging economies. I’m not going to talk further because I think everyone knows it already. But what I'm trying to do with Pylons is make experiences like that of Axie more accessible for developers. If you want to build an experience that's mediated by digital property, there's no reason you should have to know how to write a smart contract, which is a really difficult thing to do. There was a 600 million dollar hack to PolyNetwork and the idea that devs of the world will learn Solidity well enough to not get their projects exposed is not going to happen.
We need more friendly tools and that’s what Pylons is trying to achieve. When you build a state machine in Pylons, you build it in JSON. You just define your state machine using JSON. You publish the JSON off the chain. The chain runs the same machine. So there isn't this concept where you can write these transactions and get yourself in trouble. There's just no room for that in the system, because I don't think in the end that developers out there building experiences for people want to have to work at that low level. So that's my vision, try to make things like Parallel and Mavis with Axie Infinity, much easier to build and launch.
6. If you could change one thing about blockchain and crypto in general, what would it be?
I would say that the space is currently actively hostile to people who don't deeply understand cryptography and information security, and I would change the direction to be more supportive of those people, and committed to protecting them even if they never really understand.
7. What is a question you most often ask in relation to crypto currencies and blockchain?
Is this providing current value, or is everyone involved still focused on future value?
8 What would you like to see implemented in the blockchain industry in general, either in your own project or in your favorite blockchain?
I would love to fight the battle of more wasted energy equals more security. I think it's just not true. I think if it should be better, I think the inefficiency of inefficient proof of work [algorithms] is just waste. Bitcoin, the amount of pollution it produces to create, like, ten bits of randomness every ten minutes is just like completely out of line. We can get secure randomness more cheaply than that.
And I think the fact that people don't frame it that way and like, pretend that there's more security involved somehow, is more secure because there's so much waste. Like, then people just don't challenge that. It's just a lie and people just don't challenge it. And I would like to see the industry challenge that and take that on because I think it's a really big problem.
If we cut the block rewards by a factor of 100, that would reduce the pollution by a factor of a hundred as well. I wouldn't change the philosophical nature of Bitcoin. It would just make there be less carbon.
9. What is the most common problem you have with blockchains/cryptocurrencies?
I think the user experience is bad, universally bad in the blockchain world. There hasn't been enough sort of rethinking of what the user experience paradigm should be around cryptocurrency. And so we're just doing the same dumb things that we were doing six years ago. So I guess the question I would ask and that I want to keep asking is like, how can we make this easier to use? Do you need every single thing in your blockchain in your area?
10. How’d you solve it?
Trying to simplify as much as possible. And it goes all the way to the tokens. A lot of projects get launched with tokens that don't need tokens to really operate. They need the token to make money, right? They need the token so that they can say “Okay, we need a mystery to get past”. We need to be in a place where we don't launch protocols that are worse than they should be and are more painful and hard to use than they should be because they have some weird token in their design to get an ICO.
Like, we got to find a way that we can actually build products that are the right product for the job. Now, has that product been the one that succeeds and not the product, but it's like the road product for the job. But also, you need to have this token, and also it would burn this token at this rate. And so you need to buy $50,000 with it, and the price will go up, and that if you can't edit, you don't do that. You can't build an app. I think that's ridiculous.
11. What is your take on NFTs and gaming, where do we go from here?
NFTs and blockchain games are definitely going to attract millions of users and are a very interesting use case for the industry going forward. For example, I’m really looking forward to music and tickets. It's a stop-gapper of piracy and bad money, basically, which will also help clean it the name of the industry, which normies think is currently happening. I think embedding those use cases into real life is going to be healthy for the industry.
And ticketing is one of my main partnership targets I’m planning on. I really want to be involved, because I think that it's actually a pretty simple set of transactions that you support and need to be able to do live redemption. Pylons don't have a base fee. Most transactions are free on the network, given a lease charge fee on page transactions. But what that means is that you can find you can redeem a ticket at entry and not have to sign it. You do not need that recency for that, right?
I think that is going to open it up to actually being able to use tickets. And again, with Tendermint scalability, we should be able to actually run live venues in terms of electricity.
Another interesting use case is tokenizing real life items. Like, for example, like if you wanted to throw a virtual T shirt, and then if you get a ticket voucher, give a T shirt voucher to, like, one ticket at random that was checked in that actually showed up.
Like, that's the kind of thing I want to do that I think it's going to be Super, super fun. So I'm actively trying to find partners that are sort of interested in doing a ticket in play like that on the network.
12. Where do you see the future of the industry and the use case for blockchain?
I think Fashion will be a central use case for blockchain. Skins in the different metaverses are going to be ubiquitous. Think about CryptoPunks, they are really fashion. That’s what blockchain is going to be about.
But fashion in the sense of a brand, or in the sense of tracking provenance of clothes?
We’re increasingly digital and our social interactions are digitally mediated. The things we love and we identify are digitalizable. I mean fashion in the sense of demonstrations of investments and affiliations or commitments to digital creations and brands.
Creators promote each other stuff and basically democratizing the culture. How do we take culture from influencers promote what they like or are paid to. If we can make blockchain the proper cultural distribution channel, we could create a Devil wears Prada type of cultural democratic experience.
We thank Michael for the interview. If you are interested in Pylons, be sure to check out their website.
Do you know of an interesting blockchain project that would be interested in having an interview with us? Feel free to send me an email, we’d love to hear your thoughts and publish them on our blog.