This interview has been edited and condensed.
Cointelegraph had the opportunity to speak to ConsenSys’ Ajit Tripathi at BlockShow Europe 2018 about his experience leaving Wall Street for the crypto world, what new ConsenSys projects he’s most excited about, and why crypto regulation changes from country to country.
Molly Jane: Could you tell us a little bit more about what ConsenSys does and what your role is there?
Ajit Tripathi: ConsenSys is a venture production studio based in Brooklyn, and now we have offices in London, in about 30 countries, including London, Paris, South Africa, Australia, and Singapore — we're building teams all over the world to essentially develop blockchain-based solutions. We create a lot of startups, we're technology builders, and we are creating tools, components, infrastructure and solutions for a decentralized ecosystem.
If I had to put this in one line, we create technology for N-sided marketplaces.
What that means is, today, the whole world is dominated by centralized platforms, like banks or the likes of Facebook — they all dominate either data or assets and become rent-seeking participants in the economy.
We want to shift that to a peer-to-peer paradigm, where the individual is empowered. We think technology, especially blockchain technology, has a big role to play in creating an ecosystem where we do not depend on these dominant intermediaries in every single market for information and assets.
My focus is on decentralized exchanges, regulation and policy. Decentralized exchanges are peer-to-peer marketplaces for exchanging digital and digitized assets. And what that means is that, historically, we've had centralized exchanges, for the most part, right? Like the NASDAQ, or NYSE, and so on and so forth, that are very efficient in terms of providing liquidity but then are not so great for low-liquidity assets.
I come from the enterprise space. I worked for Goldman Sachs, Barclays, UBS, PwC — some of the most established institutions and the kind of intermediaries I talked about — and I sort of bring the whole power, and this innovation in the crypto ecosystem, to institutions and legacy. My role is to help some of these institutions understand what's going on in crypto and how they can leverage this technology to participate in this decentralization revolution, so to speak.
MJ: These past few months have seen what some would call an “exodus” of Wall Street players leaving the traditional financial sphere for the crypto sector. As someone that has gone down the path, can you speak to the reasons that brought you to ConsenSys?
AT: I can't speak for everybody's motivations, right? On the one hand, some people are excited about the growth of the crypto ecosystem, and that's perfectly honorable and great. And some people are excited by the sheer amount of wealth that's flowing into this ecosystem, and that's perfectly honorable as well.
I'm an engineer, I came from technology and did some work in consulting and regulation. In the process, I met Joe [Lubin]. Joe is the CEO of ConsenSys, and Joe has something about him, he is an inspirational figure, he has this ability to excite people about this future.
Like this decentralized internet, and then this decentralized insider-marketplace idea that we are building, in so many, different sectors of the global economy. This whole thing about being able to build something, something that's futuristic. A lot of large institutions want to innovate, or companies want to innovate, but they have the innovator’s dilemma, they're tied to what exists today, and they are scared of disrupting their own businesses.
With ConsenSys ,there is no such thing, right? ConsenSys exist to create new things, ConsenSys does a lot of experimentation, ConsenSys is purely focused on innovation, and that's what made me really excited about ConsenSys at this time, because if you have an idea and if you have a team — and you can actually make things happen — then ConsenSys is a great place for people to go. And we are hiring right now.
MJ: What projects is ConsenSys currently working on that you’re the most excited about? Are any close to mass adoption?
AT: It’d be very, very difficult for me not to be excited about some of our projects. Blockchain is an early-stage technology, right? But, at the same time, in the enterprise space, we have seen a lot of progress. Truffle is the most popular development tool in all of the Ethereum (ETH) development community, then Metamask has had 1 million downloads — it's a wallet. Infura can support up to 12 billion transactions a day, which is for read-only transactions, and takes a lot off the load of the public Ethereum blockchain.
For a wide range of digital assets that need this peer-to-peer discovery for exchanging, we are working on this next-generation decentralized exchange platforms. Trustology is our platform for an institutional great crypto custody that will go live at the end of this year. I mean, we have 40+ projects: we have a "blockchain for social impact" project, we have a venture capital arm now, we are creating a lot of ventures in partnership with enterprise customers.
In some sense, our role is to unleash this entrepreneurial spirit — or energy — of the whole blockchain community, whether it's the enterprise community or the crypto community, and these are all starting to converge.
MJ: I’ve noticed on your Twitter that you had been very vocal against the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) privacy bill. Can you explain your position?
AT: Yeah, I have strong views on that. So GDPR is well-intentioned, right? I mean, it was partly that our current privacy regime is outdated — that previous regime needs an update.
Because, now, we have Facebook, and we have Google, and you have lots of these data intermediaries — it's central monopolies that are taking everybody's data and selling ads back to them. And as we found out from Edward Snowden, they might be giving their data off to the government for surveillance.
But if you look at how the regulation has been written, then it has some significant flaws. Regulation needs a little bit of adaptation to the technology that's emerging, because privacy isn't the only need, right? Europe needs to remain competitive against other jurisdictions, we need to create great technology, we need to make sure that our economies are competitive against China, and India, and the U.S., and so on, and so forth. We need a technology ecosystem in this continent that's competitive. And GDPR runs the risk of being too restrictive.
For example, we have a right to be forgotten, now what does that mean in practice? I did a lot of consulting for banks, and at PwC, and now if you try to actually delete a customer's data from the bank because of the GDPR, there are 10 other regulatory requirements that prevent you from doing that. So, in theory, it sounds fantastic but — in practice — implementing GDPR is really hard now, and it can actually make people very concerned.
Parity, which has a KYC utility PICOPS — which is very popular with the Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) — had to stop its service because now they are really concerned about GDPR. [From] now on, you definitely want to have KYC and AML regulations, ICOs comply with all of that. And now suddenly we have to stop a very useful service called PICOPS because of the GDPR. These guys don't want to be in legal trouble because they are offering a great service, right?
We are working on a project with the European Commission. It's called the EU Blockchain Observatory, and we invite all the blockchain ecosystem participants to engage in that process. At some point, policymakers and regulators will adapt GDPR to this new and exciting technology that's coming up. But until then, there is a lot of confusion and and uncertainty in the marketplace.
MJ: Could you speak more about the general regulatory uncertainty in the crypto space, worldwide?
AT: Regulatory approaches around the world are rooted in their culture, right? For example, when we talked to kids at the dinner table in the U.S. when they're not behaving, we tell them to go to their rooms. In China, in India, we might actually hit them.
So crypto is like this kid growing up, and regulators are like these parents who behave in ways that are attuned to their culture.
Now some of these are knee-jerk responses from regulators around the world because, for example, in China there was a Communist Party Congress just before Bitcoin (BTC) was banned. The government didn't want social instability, and there was a very bullish market that could have caused a lot of problems for individual investors. A lot of these things that regulators are doing are well-intentioned, but part of the challenge is that the crypto community hasn't really engaged with policymakers.
We haven't tried or invested in educating, so — initially — Bitcoin came out of a bit of a revolution. We were rebelling, the crypto community was rebelling against the "Chancellor Bailout," and Occupy Wall Street was the theme.
But now that kid — the rebellious teenager — has grown up a little bit. It's time for us as technologists to engage with the other processes of the society like regulation and policy, and work collaboratively, help regulators understand what's going on, help governments understand what's going on, educate ourselves on why the rules are the way they are, why the securities laws are set up the way they are. And then, maybe, find this ground where the technology can develop and create the fairer world, but, at the same time, without causing some of the issues that might occur if we are not responsible in using this technology.
MJ: Thank you so much for speaking with us and attending BlockShow!
AT: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure.