If you’re still wrapping your head around blockchain 1.0 (Bitcoin) and blockchain 2.0 (Ethereum), you’d better hurry up because blockchain 3.0 is already taking hold. And ArcBlock, a Bellevue, Wash.-based startup, is part of the evolving world of this new technology.
The company, which launched in 2017, is engineering a platform that developers can use to build new applications or a better blockchain.
“We are like [Amazon’s] AWS for blockchain,” said founder and CEO Robert Mao. “It’s a foundation service.”
Mao previously worked for Microsoft Research, and has launched three other startups, two in China and one in Seattle. He took the role at Microsoft in part to learn what it’s like be employed by a big company. He was there for more than five years, discovered that he prefers smaller operations and learned a surprising lesson.
When Mao was building startups, he’d fretted about competing with big corporations. He’d thought, “they have huge resources. What if I have to face the competition with a big company?” Then he realized that startups and tech juggernauts face similar changes, just at a different scale.
“There is no magic there. We’re all facing the same problems — and they’re bigger and slower,” he said. The corporate boogeyman was vanquished.
ArcBlock has 18 employees and is a steering committee member of the newly launched Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) Cascadia Blockchain Council. The company was selected for the WTIA Founder Cohort Program for venture scale startups, and participates in Microsoft for Startups and AWS Activate for Startups. Mao is also a founder of the Seattle Entrepreneurship Club.
There are other companies forging a path in blockchain 3.0, which Mao described as the “Wild West.” He said it’s a challenging space for entrepreneurs. U.S. regulations in the sector are more stringent than in Europe and parts of Asia. But Washington state is something of a leader and in April passed legislation encouraging the development of blockchain.
ArcBlock’s customers include a mobile app developer and a company making next generation games where players build their own worlds, like they do in Minecraft or Second Life. Using blockchain technology, the world’s people create can be maintained indefinitely, regardless of the fate of the gaming company.
“The best way to do that is to put the data of the game in a blockchain,” Mao explained.
Customers pay for ArcBlock’s services using the company’s cryptocurrency, which is abbreviated ABT. The per month prices are based on the level of usage, including support, training and analytics. The company could eventually expand its pricing approach to include subscriptions, licensing or a sort of hybrid model.
“Blockchain is not just about the cryptocurrency. People are looking to blockchain to solve real problems,” Mao said. “We think the blockchain as an application platform is going to be huge.”
One of the company’s bigger competitors, he said, is Silicon Valley-based Cosmo.
We caught up with Mao for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
What does your company do? Give us your 2-to-3 sentence elevator pitch. Your entire blockchain development journey — from code to the user experience — is easily managed with ArcBlock’s blockchain development platform making it easy to build, manage and deploy decentralized applications, or Dapps.
Inspiration hit us when: In 2013 when we were building Bitcoin mining machines we began reimagining the internet as it was originally intended, as a completely decentralized ecosystem where the user is in control and free to use the services they want, and to give users the ability to share only the information that they choose to share.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: ArcBlock’s first round of funding was $1.5 million raised through an angel investor. In January of 2018 we completed one of the most successful initial coin offerings (ICOs) to date.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: At ArcBlock, we use what came before us as inspiration by creating tools that do one thing and do it well. And that can then be connected to each other to build powerful tools and ecosystems.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Staying focused on the user experience and ensuring that our platform and tools are accessible, useful and solve real problems by using good design in combination with our technologies.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Not converting all our Ethers (Ethereum’s cryptocurrency) to cash when it was at its high.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund firm. Whether as a startup or as we grow into a larger company, we believe that his ideas of how to build a strong and effective team to steward the company forward where anyone can speak openly and honestly is critical to our success. We want an environment where collective decision making is the standard and we give everyone the ability to be radically open and transparent with their opinions. We want a company where everyone’s opinions are valued and no one hides from their failures because whether a failure or success, it is always an opportunity to learn and become better.
Our favorite team-building activity is: We enjoy a good game of laser tag and taking long hikes.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We are always looking for people who are willing and are able to continuously improve.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Make every experience a learning experience — that way you get value out of failures and successes equally.