Author: Wu Yingya

Media: CoinVoice

Date: 07/20/2018

Even when compared with booming global blockchain industry, ArcBlock is a very special company.

In the early stages of the industry, most companies sought to achieve the ultimate success in a large field. But ArcBlock is different. It is aimed at a seemingly narrow goal: to create a blockchain application service platform that helps the majority of blockchain developers easily develop and deploy decentralized applications.

Most blockchain companies choose to write white papers before they make products, but ArcBlock writes white papers during research and development, so there is no delay between the release of the white paper and the technical progress of ArcBlock. The Open Chain Access Agreement, which is scheduled to be released in July, is the basis of the development tool OCAP Playground for the Open Chain Access Protocol, which was released at the end of June.

From the perspective of capital and community, the specificity of ArcBlock is indeed valuable. A month ago, the company was acquired by Netease founder Dinglei. Recently, CoinVoice interviewed the founder and CEO of ArcBlock, Robert Mao, a successful entrepreneur who formerly worked at Microsoft. He has a unique perspective on blockchain, the token economy, team management, enterprise culture and financial freedom.

Why choose a narrow track for ArcBlock? He said that the narrow track is a good thing, and the currently narrow track is likely to broaden. Once upon a time, the airplane was considered a hobby for nerds. Now, it is ubiquitous.

What is ArcBlock's ambition? Mao said that ArcBlock has no ambitions other than to improve the blockchain ecosystem, and the current goal is to keep pace with Ethereum.

Robert likes to compare today's blockchain opportunities to the Western Gold Rush of the year. While others dig gold mines, he sells water and tools. ArcBlock holds the safest card, but requires a great amount of engineering and patience.

The following is an excerpt from the interview. I hope to inspire you:

Track | For entrepreneurs, choosing a narrow direction is especially beneficial to them.

CoinVoice: There aren't many comments on ArcBlock online. Do you think this is a bad thing or a good thing?

Robert: We spent a lot of energy on pre-development, and it is normal to not see a lot of outside reports during that time. But with the recent release of the product, if you’re not hearing more online, it may signify that our work isn’t being well received by the market.

CoinVoice: Before this interview, I saw some of your speeches and reports. You like to compare the opportunity of today's blockchain economy to the Western Gold Rush.

Robert: Like the Western Gold Rush, the giants and small players stand on the same starting line.

CoinVoice: In the face of such a great opportunity, why don't you dig gold mines instead of selling tools and water?

Robert: In the gold rush era, some of the 49ers succeeded and discovered gold mines, but most failed. At this time, strategy is particularly important. Generally speaking, people who choose to sell tools and water have a lower risk of failure. The trade off, of course, is that the chance of great success is also reduced.

CoinVoice: Is it difficult to sell “tools and water”?

Robert: Not everyone can do it. It requires you to have enough experience and technical strength. Under most circumstances, the technical difficulty and engineering prowess required to build the platform is far greater than that required to build blockchain applications.

In addition to technical strength, it’s important to be patient. To continue the metaphor, if you sell tools to the gold digger, you will be exposed to some very successful miners. How do you keep the initial excitement, but quietly concentrate on the tools, improve the quality of the water, and not get blinded by the prospect of riches? That is a very difficult thing.

CoinVoice: Because it’s so difficult, would you say that ArcBlock is almost without competitors?

Robert: When we started this project, not only did we have no competitors, but when we consulted some experts, they were worried that this idea was too far from the mainstream.

However, as ArcBlock heats up, we are now slowly seeing similar ideas in other projects. Competition will gradually emerge, but as of right now, competition is not a major issue.

CoinVoice: If there are no competitors, or few competitors, does this mean that the track you chose is too narrow?

Robert: For a startup project, a narrow track is a good thing, because the narrow track is likely to widen. To give an example, when Apple introduced the iPod, it was just an MP3 player. A person I knew in the MP3 industry thought it was incredible, but Apple is a big company and some thought that doing such a small, specific thing meant that Apple was going downhill. But in retrospect, Apple was being smart, and cornering a narrow market.

So for entrepreneurs, choosing a narrow direction can be especially beneficial, because with less competition, you can simply focus on the project, on the other hand, and you never know when a market that looks very narrow may actually become very wide in the future.

One book I like very much, Zero to One, has a point: successful entrepreneurs always need to know secrets that others don't know.

CoinVoice: What do you think is the biggest value of ArcBlock?

Robert: I think ArcBlock’s greatest value will be reflected in the formation of its developer community. That is to say, when ArcBlock has enough developers and those developers have generated value on the platform, we will have value. No matter how perfect our design, if no developer succeeds with ArcBlock, we will have no value.

CoinVoice: So the mission and vision of ArcBlock is to help developers succeed?

Robert: Correct, by making it easier to develop and deploy decentralized applications.

CoinVoice: Are your particular “tools and water” necessary for the success of developers?

Robert: To do a good job, one must first sharpen one's tools. Without advanced tools, there is no way to mine for gold efficiently, no matter how much courage you have. People need tools and water.

In a traditional business setting, people who provide tools and water are at risk because the giants do not need tools and water, they have unique weapons and sufficient food. Providing tools and water is a passive move, which will not benefit you.

But in the gold rush era, both the giants and the small players start in the same place. It is unknown who will succeed in the end. Luck trumps everything, so everyone’s chances of success are the same.

CoinVoice: Does ArcBlock have a bigger vision?

Robert: We hope that we are just a jumping-off point. If we launch the revolution of cloud services and decentralized applications, developers will be truly free. This may be our bigger vision.

CoinVoice: What are the values of ArcBlock?

Robert: At the beginning of the company's establishment, I recommended all team members read “Principles: Life and Work” by Ray Dalio. The most important so-called “principle” is not to be afraid of making mistakes, because you can learn from them, and not repeat them.

Blockchain is a fresh industry. Everyone is inexperienced. We are all groping forward. Under such circumstances, it is inevitable to go in the wrong direction and do wrong things. The most important point in ensuring the core competitiveness of our company in the uncertain future is to stick to our principles of experimentation and transparency.


Layout | Things that seem simple are actually the hardest

CoinVoice: Have you made mistakes in the year and a half of building ArcBlock?

Robert: There are countless trial and error processes.

CoinVoice: How can you ensure that your development progress is consistent with your white paper when you keep making mistakes?

Robert: We are not the same as other projects. Other projects release white papers first, and then work. We are working first and, then writing our white papers.

CoinVoice: What do you think is ArcBlock's biggest innovation and the most prominent highlight?

Robert: The biggest highlight now is the open chain access protocol. There are all kinds of chains in this industry, each with different architectures, development languages, etc. For all developers, is can be potentially difficult to choose, causing headaches and delays. The release of our open chain access agreement was lauded by many developers.

Another highlight, not as visible, but still important, is our token economy system. ArcBlock's token economy and token service system is projected to go beyond the token ideas of Ethereum and EOS.

CoinVoice: What is the point of surpassing Ethereum and EOS?

Robert: ArcBlock's token, ABT, we call it a programmable token. We are not positioned to make a Turing complete virtual machine. but we do have a small vision: making a programmable token that can be used to tokenize everything. It is not just a token - a digital currency - but it can also represent a ticket, a voucher, a certificate, or it can be a mechanism for access control. In addition, the ArcBlock Token allows developers to build their new token on the basis of our token. Currently, the biggest value of Ethereum is to let users send ERC20 token, but the ERC20 token of Ethereum is completely unequal ETH. ETH is a first-class citizen and ERC20 is a second-class citizen. The mechanism of ABT design is completely different. Every application’s token is treated equally to ABT. This token mechanism will be our biggest highlight in the future.

CoinVoice: But your white paper hasn’t devoted a lot of space to the token mechanism.

Robert: There is too much content in the white paper. Our token mechanism is based on the completion of our support components, so we feel that we should use more space in our white paper to describe those parts.

CoinVoice: Has it been difficult to develop an open chain access protocol?

Robert: Moderately difficult, which is why the industry thinks we can make it. What ArcBlock does is like building a world-class skyscraper in Beijing. This plan has engineering difficulties, but it has no technical challenges.

CoinVoice: What is OCAP Playground?

Robert: OCAP Playground is a very simple developer tool. You can think of it as an auxiliary application. While a developer is working on OCAP, the OCAP Playground can be debugged directly. After a test is completed, the test result can be directly converted into a part of its code, so that no debugging is required from the code level. The OCAP Playground is the same as the OCAP gate.

CoinVoice: OCAP Playground has been online for more than half a month. What advice and feedback have you received?

Robert: Since the launch of the Open Chain Access Lab, there have been many users trying new things every day on OCAP Playground. Every day, a hundred additional unique visitors are added. Of course, this number is very small compared to many websites. But there are only about one thousand people around the world who have submitted any blockchain code.

The most common feedback is that we should add more examples and demo code. The product has just been launched, and it really needs to be improved in time for documentation.

CoinVoice: What is the next application for ArcBlock?

Robert: The OCAP Playground itself is relatively simple, but the problem is that we are not doing a good enough job of guiding the user. Although it is free for anyone to try, it is still not clear. Many people don't know what to do on it. We see this as a design issue, so the product after OCAP Playground will be called OCAP Playbook.

A playbook is a form of code that can be executed immediately, in addition to a code-related interpretation document.

CoinVoice: What is the logic of ArcBlock’s product design?

Robert: Everything, simplified. Simplify the difficulty of blockchain application development and simplify the deployment of those applications. To simplify, you need to sacrifice some complex scenarios, and focus on implementing most of the less complex scenarios. ArcBlock's system is simplified both conceptually and in terms of implementation.

To simplify, engineers need to do hide complex workings within a simple interface. Today, regardless of user experience design or product design, everyone emphasizes simplicity, but true simplicity is actually difficult. For example, the iPhone has very few buttons, and is simple enough to be used by young children, but the iPhone is one of the most complicated personal computers in the world, with many sophisticated designs and sensors.


Cooperation | Supporting developers helps developers make money, like Apple’s support for Instagram

CoinVoice: Which companies has ArcBlock partnered with?

Robert: Almost 20 companies in the industry have formed a partnership with us. Most of the companies are blockchain startups. We have been having some discussion with a few heavy-hitters in the industry, which we will announce at the right time.

CoinVoice: What is your cooperation model?

Robert: There are three main types. One is technical cooperation. The platform needs to support various public chains. We currently support Bitcoin and Ethereum, and we hope to support more and more others.

Second is complementary technologies. We will cooperate with exchanges and wallets. Some are technical, and some are in the commercial market. For example, for some energy and system security companies, it is easier to use blockchain technology.

The third is infrastructure cooperation. ArcBlock is essentially a new generation of cloud computing services, so some companies that could see the value of cloud computing and blockchain in the early days have also cooperated with us. At the right time, we will announce the results!

CoinVoice: How did you build your community?

Robert: The construction of ArcBlock’s community has been relatively simple. Most members our community are developers, or at least, the target users are developers. For developers, you need to be straightforward, honest and technical. The more honest you are, the easier it is to gain consensus, and build community around it.

In addition, we plan to host a lot of hackathons, which is are very good social environments for developers in the United States. A small number of developers, immersively invested in each specific technology, for anywhere from half a day to two days. It is as helpful for individuals’ personal growth as it is for promotion of our product.

CoinVoice: How do developers form a consensus?

Robert: There are three main aspects: First, you should have enough confidence in your product to believe that technology can withstand any test. Second, lower the barrier to entry. The more simple something is, the more people who can use it. The overall idea is to make the blockchain easier to develop. Third, let the developers make money, that is, support developers by giving them what they need to build successful projects. We will make developers who have strong application ideas successful with our platform’s construction. Just as Apple once supported Instagram, until it was finally bought by Facebook at a high price.

CoinVoice: What is your personal ambition?

Robert: Actually, I have built a lot of companies, and there are some successes from the perspective of business returns, but there are also some failures. I am always trying my best to do what I like and believe in. Therefore, in that regard, I am always successful, so I don’t have much ambition. I just want to make a valuable product that is used all over the world, though perhaps this particularly flat idea is the biggest ambition of all.

To start small, I hope that ArcBlock blockchain technology can one day go hand in hand with Ethereum.


The personal | As long as you manage the company, no matter how much money you have, you will never be free.

CoinVoice: Did Ding Lei decide to invest in you because of your personal relationship?

Robert: Personal relationships have a lot to do with it. This matter is very simple. Ding Lei is sensitive to technical vision and could see the potential in ArcBlock early on. He paid attention to the blockchain industry, and found me personally. Blockchain has deceptive projects. Some projects look great, but it is difficult to determine if they can make it. Ding Lei knows I am honest, and he also believes in my technical ability.

CoinVoice: As an ArcBlock consultant, has Ding Lei has given you some business inspiration?

Robert: Although he is a busy man, we often talk about it. As a consultant, his support is multi-faceted. If we encounter problems, such as public relations crises, we will talk.

CoinVoice: What was the motivation for your first venture?

Robert: The reason for my first venture was simple. When I was in university, I did a successful scientific research project. When I graduated, my professor hoped that the project would be implemented in reality, so I started a company. We are very fortunate that we have done a very good job and have made a lot of money without any difficulties.

CoinVoice: Is money a problem for you?

Robert: Money is always a problem, because my goals are constantly improving. The bar keeps getting higher. Chinese society always talks about "financial freedom," but me and my friends in my entrepreneurial circle feel that we will never be free, because our goals keep changing, getting bigger.

If achieving financial freedom means breaking even without labor, then begging on the streets is financial freedom, but if you are a company with ever-changing pursuits, you will never achieve this so-called "freedom."

Above is the English except from the original interview in Chinese: