Governance Podcast RCast

RCast 46: A Conversation with the Board Nominees

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Five out of six of this year’s Board of Directors nominees—Steve Henley, Eric Meng, Darryl Neudorf, Steve Ross-Talbot, and Dan Salkov—discuss their plans for the future of RChain.


Greg: First of all, thank you, Derek, for hosting, and thank you to all the board candidates for agreeing to chat. Let’s kick it off, pass it amongst each other. I’m going to let you guys self-organize. The first question from the community: Why do you want to help this project? 

Steve H: I’ll go ahead and start. Hello everyone. Welcome to the podcast. I came to RChain about a year-and-a-half ago. Actually, I should say, I entered into the blockchain space about a year-and-a-half ago. I’m part of a team bringing a new form of transit to the Tampa Bay area to help solve traffic problems. The form of transportation is called aerial personal rapid transit.

With this system, like any transportation system, you need a payment system. We’re hoping to create a digital transit token, ideally on a blockchain. The payment system needs to be fast, scalable, and secure. That led me to RChain. 

Whatever I can do as a co-op member and also as a potential future board director to help RChain achieve its goals of becoming the scalable solution for blockchain for industries more broadly will help with my endeavors here locally in bringing the new form of transit to the Tampa Bay area. 

Darryl: That is so cool. I remember you talking about that last week. It was really exciting to hear about the project that you’ve been working on. It’s totally in line with what I perceive as the “why” of RChain. That’s why I got involved. 

I got involved way back in this Synereo days. It’s important to note that RChain wasn’t really built on the idea of a cryptocurrency that could gain in value and make a bunch of investors a lot of money. It was built on the idea that we’re trying to create social coordination technologies for the betterment of humanity. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the “why.”

It’s thrilling for me to conceive of the idea of being involved so actively as an actual member of the board. I’m grateful for the opportunity. 

Steve R: Pi calculus. That’s one reason. Robin Milner was my mentor. Save the planet. That’s two pretty good reasons. 

In particular, why RChain? Obviously, it’s got the Pi calculus. It’s got the aspiration of having some impact positively on sustainability. Importantly, it’s the attempt of having decentralized governance within RChain itself. For those people that listen to this, I posted something on Discord by Roger Hallam. Roger is really interesting because he founded Extinction Rebellion. He talks in a YouTube video about how to achieve decentralization without compromising speed and velocity, because often when you do very decentralized organizations, they’re very slow. W3C, for instance. 

He talks about how they’ve done it. They did start with a centralizing core. When you look at the development so far of RChain, it parallels what Roger says. I’m very encouraged by that. The idea that I can use all my math and computer science stuff in an environment that’s nurturing and supportive toward a more participatory approach to decision-making in whatever field, that’s the only reason to carry on.

Greg: Awesome. I did want to just mention that while Pi calculus was an influence early on in my work, RChain is based on the Rho calculus, not the Pi calculus, which is a significant improvement on Robin’s already awesome stuff.

Eric: I’m Eric Meng; my nickname is Dimworm. I’m from China. I got involved in RChain because I love Rholang. I think RChain is the most difficult to understand in blockchain. I have read a lot of articles translated into Chinese written by Jaja and Atticbee. That’s easy for me to really understand RChain. The most interesting thing is the theory level innovation of RChain. It’s very different from other blockchains. Rho calculus and Rholang is not about blockchain. That’s the most important point that attracted me to this project.

Dan: I’ve been involved in crypto for many years, going back to 2013. I have a heavy interest in it. In the last couple of years, I’ve been much more involved. I’ve also been following RChain from the beginning; several years ago, before the first token sale. I’ve always been extremely interested in the project and I think some of the high-level mathematics is very interesting. As a potential board member, I want to act in the best interests of co-op members and stakeholders and want what would make the most successful structure for the co-op.

Greg: Thanks for your answers. The next question: What are your qualifications in business or in the cryptocurrency industry? 

Steve H: As for my background in technology, I worked for Verizon for a number of years. Before it was Verizon, it was a GTE; they joined with Bell Atlantic. I was with a smaller business unit. Essentially, I was in the customer-facing role of dealing with the cellular infrastructure for North America. I transitioned into Central America and South America, where I had an opportunity to brush up on my Spanish in order to communicate. It gave me a sense of the importance of managing customer expectations, exceeding customer expectations, and the importance of customer support. That is the crux of my technical expertise. 

Here in the Tampa Bay area, we have a community organization called BlockSpaces. They originally started as meet-ups in 2014. These were people in the area who had an interest in cryptocurrency and blockchain. Over time, the groups became larger and larger. BlockSpaces decided, to get a place of their own. They opened up a facility in Tampa; about a year-and-a-half ago I joined the membership. The space is a great opportunity to meet other people who are in the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain recently, and also who have been in the space for a long period of time, to get that rich history of what has been happening. 

BlockSpaces has also been a great exposure to the wide field of blockchains that are out there. We’re focused on RChain, but all of us maybe know the top 10 blockchains, but there are others that are out there. Getting exposure to what the field is like is very enlightening: the strengths, the weaknesses, and what makes a particular project unique. That has been helpful in helping me to appreciate the strengths of RChain and the differentiating factors that make us unique.

Dan: To answer the question about qualifications: I have a financial background. I also have experience being a market analyst, as well as a strong academic background. I believe RChain is going through something right now and I have quite a bit of experience with large-scale transitions. That’s literally my job. I have seen, from beginning to end, successful implementation of very large-scale projects. I worked with Bank of New York Mellon through their multi-year transition. I also am currently working for T. Rowe Price; they’re going through an internal transition as well. I believe that this would qualify me. 

Steve R: What do I bring to the table? On the academic side, I am a professor of distributed computing. As I said, Robin Milner was my mentor, without whom we wouldn’t have Rho calculus. From an academic perspective, understanding how to wield process algebra in a distributed system—I understand it enough to be fairly dangerous. 

On the other side, I’ve been a serial entrepreneur. I’ve worked with VCs and startups. I’ve also worked in some big SIs, like Cognizant, where I was doing intrapreneurship. One of the things I bring to the table is being laser-focused as to how to implement and ensure that, as Dan talked about, how those transitional steps get broken down into measurable KPIs against which you can seek additional investment to do the next piece of work. 

What I want to devote my time to, which I’m doing at the moment, is figuring out what those business models need to be. Not with a view to reaming huge profits, but with a view to sustainable growth. Sustainability is a key aspect of this. How we map those transitions required to deliver is something that I’ve done before with many of the startups that I’ve worked in and many of the large corporations that I’ve worked for. 

From a technology perspective, my first company, Spirit Soft, gave the world JLS. For those of you that hate ESBs, my apologies. We also gave the world ESBs. We also gave the world the first commercial CP systems. I really understand the nature of protocols and how those work and how we might describe them from an engineering perspective, not just to an academic perspective.

Eric: I have 20 years of experience in high tech and telecom. I got involved in the crypto space in 2013. In 2017, I founded TokenJar. It’s a dApp built on their ax protocol. Its feature is a one-click free listing-focused on long-tail ERC 20 tokens. I am planning to build a staking pool for RChain named WeNode. I’m currently developing a Chrome extension, a light wallet for RChain. Being from China, I can help RChain to achieve mass adoption in China.

Darryl: It’s so exciting to have you onboard, Eric. I’m so excited that there’s someone representing the Chinese community that’s on the board. I’ve never had a chance to tell you that. So thank you. 

I feel unworthy after hearing all these other amazing qualifications. I approach things from a bit of a different angle. I’m not a developer. I’m not involved in finance. I’ve always loved technology. I’ve always believed that technology would provide a solution to the problem in the music industry. I’ve been producing music for about 30 years. 

If you look at it from a business angle, I’ve overseen budgets anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000 to make an album. That usually involves dealing with all sorts of different personalities and different angles. The quest is always to find something that satisfies the artist’s needs, yet make something that’s potentially viable and salable for the label. 

There’s a correlation in that. Ultimately, the way typical record contracts are structured, it’s the artist’s money because it’s the artist that has to pay it all back. I look at it in the same way in the co-op. Ultimately, we’re talking about the members. This is a community. This is a member-based organization. We’ve chosen a co-op because it’s the best wait to organize a decentralized application. 

I also have a background in working for co-ops. In the nineties, I worked for Canada’s version of REI. It was called Mountain Equipment Co-op. During that time, I saw the co-op grow exponentially. It was very interesting to observe how they handled that scale. Like they say, most businesses fail at the scaling level. I was able to witness and participate in the growth of a co-op and observe some of the solutions that they were able to establish as they went forth. 

Interestingly, as happenstance has it, I became a shop steward for the union representing the union to the co-op member’s management. That was a really interesting situation because I found myself on the management side because, being a co-op, the employees were pretty happy. It was a really great experience and it ignited my passion for all things co-ops. 

What I would like to involve myself with as a board member is getting more involved in what is very vital: growing a flourishing and active member base focused on the “why” and governance. We have a long way to go. We’re very young co-op. Most young co-ops start in a fairly centralized way and branch out, and we’re about to go through that.

Greg: I want all of you on the board. The collective intelligence we have gathered here is pretty awesome. I’m very impressed. Let’s move on to the next question. What are some of your past successes? Let me actually throw out two. Do you have experience leading teams? Darryl, since you went last on that one, why don’t you take those two questions? 

Darryl: Most of my experiences leading teams is, again, in the music industry. A band is a team. I was in a band; that’s how I first got started. I learned a lot about mediation in my experience with the music industry because there’s a lot of different people with a lot of different ideas and attitudes and feelings about what it is they’re doing. When you interweave that with art, you get some pretty passionate viewpoints. I pride myself on being someone who is a good mediator. 

I also taught at an audio production school. I was the head instructor and designed the curriculum. As a teacher, I learned a lot about learning because I found that the best way to teach is to listen. I learned how to engage a group of people into something that could be interesting. 

Dan: Currently, I am working on a project team. Our team is broken into the project team, which is my team, and the reporting team, which is the adjacent team. I’m leading many projects, and I get to lead people from the reporting team to get help. For me, that experience is very valuable. A lot of what we do, it just makes sense to delegate certain parts out and work as a team supporting each other. 

Steve H: An interesting example of a team environment that I’ve had in my recent past is being on my Homeowner’s Association. I moved into a new community that had just come up out of the ground shortly after 2000. It’s a community of 40 villa units; everyone was new to the community. I initiated the community coming together by having a potluck dinner at the clubhouse. This was a great way for everyone to get to know each other. It turned into, “Hey, how are we going to organize this?” Our Homeowner’s Association, we need to set this up and have representation because we were a smaller community in a much larger 780-home community.

We had a management company that we were working with. They said, “Your community has to organize; you need to have elections and meetings.” Somehow by organizing a potluck dinner, it turned it into organizing the Homeowner’s Association by organizing the elections and subsequent meetings. That led to me becoming the president of the Homeowner’s Association and forming these quarterly meetings, bringing everyone together to talk about issues moving into and living in a brand new community. 

Working with a management company, which had expertise in running a Homeowner’s Association, they had knowledge that I lacked. I was either the president or the secretary-treasurer for 16 years. I finally handed the baton onto another group because others need to get those experiences as well. That was a team experience in the form of a community coming together, which was very rewarding.

Eric: Before I got involved in crypto space, I serve as the Vice President of KTI. It’s a Chinese digital advertising company with over 200 employees. In 2017, I founded TokenJar. We have six members and we created the Chinese version of a Rholang tutorial. I also organize the Chinese community for RChain. We have over 3,000 members in WeChat groups.

Steve R: I’ve built and led three different types of teams over a career that started in 1980. So that dates me. I’ve been in computing for a long time. I’ve built and led movements—political movements in the anti-Apartheid days. I’m used to being able to speak passionately about things. I’m either passionate or I’m not. If I’m not, then get rid of me. That’s why I ended up leading movements in the anti-Apartheid years. I saw South Africa win its freedom as part of that. Maybe what we managed to achieve was a tiny helping hand to freedom in South Africa. 

I’ve also led standards groups. I chaired all the WS standards in W3C. That’s interesting because that’s much less about passion. It’s more about an incredible degree of patience in order to get different stakeholders in a standards committee to agree on something that often some of them don’t want to for whatever reasons. I got quite good at, essentially, boring them into submission. When I need to play that long game, I’m pretty well-versed at doing it. 

Out of my tenure in W3C came choreography and session types, which are not dissimilar to Rho calculus, but a little different dealing with a slightly different problem, for which my colleagues wrote an ACM “Paper of the Decade” award about year-and-a-half ago. On the standards front, I’m used to being able to deal with very different sets of stakeholders who often don’t want to agree. I get them to agree.

I’ve also led and built product teams. That includes all the technical staff and a lot of the administrative stuff that is required as you start to grow. The key aspect for me as leading, regardless of what type of team, is that I’m pretty good at mentoring people. I’m pretty good at left-field thinking. I don’t always hire the obvious, but I’m pretty good at picking people. I’m an enabling sort of person. I like my teams to be enabled. I don’t want to have to dictate to them. I want them to get on with it. I just move out all the obstacles to ensure that they can do what they do best. 

I’m good at knowing my weaknesses in a situation. Pairing up or hiring people that fill those sorts of weaknesses, which helps you build a team to achieve what objectives you need to. I’m very open, so I really do believe in retrospectives and hearing what I call EBIs, so that people instead of framing a criticism can say, “Hey, it would be even better if we did this.” I tend to be very open and hopefully enable people to participate more widely.

Greg: Awesome. A wonderful range of experiences here. If I could just go down the line here and ask a quick yes or no. Do you have experience sitting on the boards of companies apart from RChain? 

Steve R: Yes. 

Steve H: Yes. 

Darryl: No.

Eric: Yes. 

Dan: No.

Greg: Do you understand the RChain technology?

Steve R: Boy, that is a big question. If by understanding somebody would mean when there’s a problem, call Steve and he’ll figure it out quickly, then no. But if it’s do I understand it on a conceptual level? Do understand the Rho calculus? Do I understand how to build highly complex distributed systems? Do I understand how to build an organization to support such distributed technology? Yes. But don’t ask me to code.

Darryl: As I said before, I’m not a developer, so there’s no hope in heck that I will understand it at any level of someone like Greg or Mike Stay. But what I do understand about RChain technology is that we are providing a truly scalable, correct-by-construction, concurrent network that will function. 

I actually met Vitalik back in the day. I got involved in the Ethereum community when it was first starting out. I’m from Canada and the burgeoning Ethereal community started off in Toronto. I have a bit of an understanding of the core concept of what got this all going in the first place. I’ve been around the whole idea of what ended up becoming Bitcoin since the nineties. A lot of these ideas were floated around back then. Bitcoin could have been invented in the nineties, as I understand it. We had Phil Zimmermann with PGP. We had Nick Szabo with smart contracts.

I was part of communities that were involved in all that kind of thinking back then, which is why I got involved so early with Synereo. I was doing a Google search for an open-source social network. I found Greg and joined the cult. I have a good grasp of what RChain is capable of doing and what we want to do with it. I have a fairly good grasp of the solar system and the various stages that we’re attempting to shoot for. I have a good understanding of what we need to do as far as community-building throughout those different stages. 

Eric: I like Rholang concurrency, compositions, reactive smart contracts, and in terms of sharding, we use namespaces. The most interesting is LADL. I really cannot understand LADL, the spatial behavior type system is too complex for me, but I’m learning it.

Dan:  I understand RChain tech specifically as it pertains to blockchain and it being a platform for decentralized computation and concurrent processing. I have a background in mathematics and calculus, so I believe that helps me as well. I also understand it at an academic level. I’ve been reading and following RChain since the beginning. 

Steve H: About a year ago, I started on my journey of trying to understand RChain. My go-to source has been YouTube. I watched almost all of the RChain-related videos that are out there, from the RCon conference in Berlin to Greg’s computational calculi presentation, and RChain community Rholang videos from Jake Gillberg. One of the things I like so much about it is there’s so much there, broadly and deeply. After a year, I still feel that I’ve got a long way to go. But that’s part of the fun and the exploration. 

One of the components that I really like is the Monday morning Casper stand-ups. That is probably one of the most important calls for anyone in the co-op community to sit in on because Casper and the consensus model that we bring for the proof of stake, that’s our differentiating factor from this world of proof of work. Once we get that piece—all the other components of RChain have been built or have been proven years ago and we’re repurposing it—but the Casper consensus protocol, that’s the new piece. Once we get that down and get proof of stake working, that’s the big game-changer. Having that insight and participating in those discussions is exciting.

Greg: Awesome. Thanks to everyone for those answers. Let me give another pair of questions since we’ve got about 15 minutes left. The first one: How should funding for Venus be handled? Right on the heels of that: What are the marketing plans once Main-net is launched?

Eric: Main-net is the new start and the beginning of our efforts to rebuild confidence. Currently, the bear market is making our efforts hard. It’s hard to raise capital through selling RHOC. We need to raise the capital for Venus development. We should try to contact more institutional VCs and let them know the roadmap of RChain. I think the market will turn up in the next couple of months. That’s a chance for us to raise enough funding. 

Steve R: How should funding for Venus be handled and what should be good marketing plans? These actually are related, so you can’t cut them into two. It might be, for example, that certain solution spaces will need all the capabilities of Venus in order to be successful, in order to deliver a sustainable revenue into the co-op that allows the co-op to sustainably grow and allows the network to grow beyond the cooperative itself. It really depends upon those solution spaces need and whether they need the features that will be in Venus. 

A good marketing plan is one that implements a business strategy or a business roadmap in keeping with the technology offering that you have from the differentiators you have. I don’t have a clear view of how Venus should be handled other than by whatever the same mechanism would be for Mercury into Main-net. There may be some other mechanisms, and actually, I’m actively investigating these at the moment, and hope to have some answers or some direction for the AGM. It’s one of the things that I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks. 

That includes a focus on a business strategy or business roadmap, one in which we potentially could go to parties that we are interested having in the co-op, and those parties would be able to assist in the funding of Mercury to Main-net and toward Venus, and all of the marketing dollars that need to be put in place, and all of the organizational structure that needs to be put in place to actually deliver on a marketing plan.

That business strategy and business roadmap are actually the most important things because within the scope of that there will be a view on Venus from a financial perspective against a return perspective, and a view on Mercury to Main-net, and so on. I’m actively involved in that stuff, but I don’t have concrete answers to either of them. 

My gut feel is that Venus is that Mercury’s to Main-net’s imperative, Venus will probably take care of itself when that pops out. That’s my gut feeling. We have to see what happens over the next few weeks and months before we can be sure of that. Hopefully, at the AGM we can have discussions about business strategy road maps. 

Steve H: I agree with Steve in the sense that it’s not quite clear exactly what the pathway or avenues to successful funding for Venus will be. As we get to Main-net and further beyond, it’ll become more apparent whether it’s going to be capital partners, family offices, a resurgence in the cryptocurrency market, or perhaps with a showcase of Main-net, there’s an increase of awareness of the RChain project that it could be more a broad community investment. It’s not quite clear yet of what the path is. Certainly, we need to gather marketing collateral materials that we need to communicate and improve our messaging or communication of what the project is. That’s something that I’m involved in as well.

As far as marketing, there’s a broad range of industries that are out there that would be good candidates for blockchain. Knowing where to start helps to set the tone and tenor of direction. We’ve talked about RSong in the music industry and energy and so forth, but perhaps we need to develop a type of template or scoring mechanism where we can take a particular industry and run it through a process of determining based on the trustlessness and all the various components of what the strengths of blockchain are to do a scoring mechanism of what industries may rise above others. For instance, telecom and the call-clearing industry may be a good candidate. Once we have identified particular industries that are top candidates, pursue those. That’s one approach to marketing that may have certain advantages. 

Darryl: I agree with Steve Ross-Talbot in that it’s interconnected, marketing and how we get funds for Venus. I’ll start with the marketing aspect. First of all, to understand Venus, we need to understand Mercury and Earth. We’re hopefully pretty close to Main-net. Once we do, in theory, some things will change. Hopefully the world will discover that we’ve created a minimum viable product demonstrating all the work we’ve been doing all this time. In theory, that should generate some interest. 

Eric brings up a very important point. It’s the elephant in the room, but a lot of us are afraid to talk about it. We’ve survived a crypto winter and now we’re in the crypto doldrums. It’s a very difficult market to get any kind of investment. We have to really show that we’re doing something special and unique. 

We learned something really important in the last month: there’s a community out here that really wants to jump in and help out. That’s really exciting. We should nurture that. We don’t have a lot of money right now to put in a big huge marketing campaign, but there’s a lot we can do in the grassroots. I’d like to explore that, get out there and reach out to people who have like minds focused on things that are changing. 

One thing that I’ve thought about for a while is taking a page from the playbook of the Mozilla Foundation. We are a nonprofit co-op.

Greg: I need to correct you there, Darryl. The cooperative is for-profit.

Darryl: As far as I understand it, it’s registered as a nonprofit. 

Greg: It’s a for-profit company. We cribbed almost every part of the structure from REI, which is for-profit. 

Darryl: Ok. The Mozilla playbook is based around a nonprofit foundation that has a for-profit corporation that’s a wholly owned subsidiary of it. This could be another vehicle that would perhaps give us another funding angle. If we were to focus on starting a for-profit that is focused on building bridge solutions, like what RCat is doing, we could provide another investment vehicle outside of those who want to directly invest in RHOC. That’s something else that we could entertain and pursue, put it out to the member base and see what they have to say about it. 

In the here and now, I’m not thinking so much about Venus, but on grassroots. That’s what’s kept us going in the last month, and I think it could keep us going into the future.

Dan: Funding Venus and marketing plans are very intertwined and one in the same. At the organizational level it makes sense to hire experienced salespeople to pitch to investors. We also really want to market to investors as well. I would even want to see some sort of fundraising meeting. We should also include market research to make the project more attractive to investors. That’s how I would handle funding Venus and marketing plans going forward.

Greg: I just have to ask, how would you pay for that?

Dan: That’s why I was saying that we should start fundraisers, so that we can potentially fund things specific for that through events where we can meet and talk face-to-face with investors.

Greg: Got it. Understood. Awesome. All right, thank you. Let me move on here. Oh, no, sorry—we’ve only got about two minutes left. We didn’t quite get through all of our questions. If you want, you can see the list of questions on Discord and answer the remaining questions there. 

I want to close out with an observation that occurred to me when I saw the first U.S. Democratic candidate debates, which was, “Here’s a group of intelligent, articulate people. Why do we have to winnow it down to one? Why couldn’t they just all work together as a team?” In startup situations or situations like we have with the global crisis around climate change, it’s pretty much all hands on deck. Anybody can wear a particular hat at any one given time. 

I would’ve really liked if all the Democratic candidates got together and said, “You know what, we’re a team. We’re running as a team, not individually.” There’s an interesting opportunity here with the RChain board. I’ve been very impressed by everyone’s presentation of themselves. I’d love to have the board comprised of the giant brain that is all of you.