Voyager sat down with John Wu, President of Ava Labs, for the inside scoop on how he got started in the world of crypto, new and upcoming features for Avalanche, how they view AVAX’s position in the greater crypto-sphere. And, additional details regarding the Avalanche and Voyager partnership
Ava Labs makes it simple to launch decentralized applications on Avalanche, the fastest smart contracts platform in the blockchain industry.
Voyager: Tell us a bit about your story, and how you discovered the world of crypto and blockchain.
John Wu: Moving from the traditional financial world into crypto and blockchains had much to do with a desire to overhaul the traditional financial world to make it more efficient and accessible.
As an institutional investor, it’s easy to wade through all of the operations and back-office mandates because you have entire teams dedicated to these functions. My job was to find great investments, and the institutional machinery makes the rest happen.
But once I started investing for myself and looking at what I call ‘new alternatives’, like crypto in 2014, I realized where the weak points for institutions have been. Specifically, the mountains of paperwork and unclear compliance guidelines that compounded the reputational risk many institutional brands found untenable back then.
I saw enormous potential in this field, but had no easy way to access it as an institutional investor, so I set out to build the infrastructure for private market investors to discover, transact, and manage their alternative investments in one easy workflow.
Seeing the massive opportunities happening in blockchains with the advent and successes of programmable finance, I joined the SharesPost Digital Assets Group as CEO to take these concepts and make them compliant.
We succeeded in building the first marketplace offering secondary trading as well as custody of digital securities, before I moved on to start my own venture.
V: From getting started in crypto, what led you to Ava Labs?
JW: I first met Ava Labs Founder & CEO Emin Gün Sirer in the mid-2010s, sharing our visions of how blockchain will intersect with finance. His vision shaped Avalanche into the solution that I was looking for, and beyond that, what the markets have needed.
Around this time, all we heard was how Blockchain was going to save us all by revolutionizing traditional finance, global monetary policy, supply chain economics, and more. But it soon became clear that blockchains weren’t yet ready for the challenge.
As a technology, several obstacles needed to be removed before it became a viable alternative to our existing centralized infrastructure, namely speed and scalability.
The stars aligned when we caught up in 2019 and I saw what Avalanche could do. Avalanche had begun to emerge as the next evolution of blockchain, a fast, secure, and efficient platform built by people who understand traditional markets and what it takes to improve them.
Not only would it give private and alternative markets an incredible technological foothold, but also the scalability to move confidently into the future.
For years, I had imagined a future where investors can buy shares of private companies as easily as public equities. A future where real estate can be traded in a second, and equity vested directly into a founder’s account every year, quarter, month, or even streaming each second.
Avalanche was exactly what I had been looking for.
V: In simple terms, how would you describe Avalanche? What is the mission you’re setting out to accomplish?
JW: Avalanche is the fastest smart contracts platform in the blockchain industry, as measured by time-to-finality. Any smart contract-enabled application can outperform its competition by deploying on Avalanche.
It’s important to distinguish the goals of Ava Labs from the goals of Avalanche. Avalanche is meant to be a high-performance platform for builders around the world to create decentralized applications without the limits we’ve seen in Blockchain 1.0 & 2.0.
Ava Labs is making it simple to launch decentralized applications on the Avalanche public blockchain, while also empowering individuals and institutions to digitize all the world’s assets on one open, programmable platform.
V: In an increasingly crowded playing field of blockchains and smart contract platforms, what sets Avalanche apart from the rest?
JW: Avalanche is equipped to bring the masses onto blockchains and into DeFi. It has low fees, near-instant transaction finality, and an underlying platform that is eco-friendly.
In addition to supporting all current DeFi applications built with the Ethereum Virtual Machine and tooling, Avalanche is the premier platform for individuals and enterprises to easily create powerful, reliable, and secure private or public networks and applications with complete control over their implementation.
These “Subnets” can be the foundation for the creation of new ecosystems of value in asset tokenization and regulated institutional use cases.
Last week, Deloitte formed a strategic alliance with Ava Labs to enable a new disaster recovery platform that uses the Avalanche blockchain to help state and local government officials simplify and streamline disaster reimbursement applications to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Avalanche is only a year old, but already proving it can be the technology that bridges the gap between enterprises, institutional and decentralized finance.
V: Could you share more about how Avalanche solves the classic blockchain trilemma of security, scalability, and decentralization?
JW: Over time, people have come to a false understanding that blockchains have to be slow and not scalable. Avalanche is the best solution to the trilemma right now, employing a novel approach to consensus to achieve its strong safety guarantees, while achieving quick finality and high-throughput, without compromising decentralization.
It is blazingly fast with near-instant transaction finality, enables up to millions of independent validators to participate as full block producers (currently over 1,100 such nodes securing Avalanche today), and safety thresholds well-above the 51% standards of other networks.
That said, the Avalanche Community is working tirelessly to advance that edge with each upgrade.
V: Now, to touch on the AVAX token. What is the utility of the AVAX token, and how is it different from (or similar to) other cryptocurrencies on the market?
JW: AVAX is the native token of the Avalanche platform and is used to secure the platform through staking, pay for fees, and provide a basic unit of account between the multiple subnetworks created on the Avalanche platform.
V: In our research on Avalanche, we know AVAX is looking to truly disrupt the world of decentralized finance (DeFi). What do you think are DeFi’s biggest pain points, and how does Avalanche look to solve them?
JW: The question I consistently hear from friends and former colleagues from Wall Street over the last 6 months is “we get bitcoin, now what’s next?” My answer has consistently been DeFi, but now there’s a wealth of data and growth to support my view.
DeFi has grown so fast in volume, value, and users that it’s now expanding beyond Ethereum to complementary smart contract networks like Avalanche.
This is an inflection point in the maturation of this sector, and sign that its users are ready to turn this niche space into a massive ecosystem that can compete with the likes of Wall Street.
That said, there are still challenges to user experience with extensive transaction delays, cumbersome UI/UX, and high transaction costs on Ethereum that often cost more than the collectible itself.
Avalanche tackles the transaction cost & speed issues by design, but the team at Ava Labs is investing heavily into infrastructure that will improve the experience for users and developers across the Avalanche community. New wallets purpose-built for Avalanche, better explorers, and the best bridging experience of any layer-1 are just a few of the many initiatives to make Avalanche a platform for anyone to get into DeFi.
V: The NFT market is also incredibly hot right now. How do Ava Labs and Avalanche currently play in the NFT space, and how does it plan on playing a major role in the rise of NFTs?
Avalanche is the home for over 70 NFT projects, including upstarts created by anonymous founders to giants like Topps who have launched NFT series for properties like MLB, Bundesliga, Godzilla, and Bazooka Joe. With low fees, near-instant transaction finality, and an underlying platform that is eco-friendly, Avalanche is proving it is possible for anyone in the world to access the potential of NFTs, without the environmental and user experience issues.
In addition to supporting the Avalanche NFT ecosystem by contributing to the development of the Avalanche public blockchain, Ava Labs also acts as an enterprise-focused studio that helps household brands enter the NFT space with confidence in the technology and implementation.
We understand the internal pressures and reputational risks of exploring emerging technology, so this is especially important for us.
V: We recently announced Voyager was expanding its support for Avalanche. Tell us a bit about why this news excites you and the team at Ava Labs.
JW: We’re excited to be working with Voyager to bring Avalanche DeFi and this ecosystem full of innovation to its users. Voyager is pioneering an experience that seamlessly integrates staking, NFT, and DeFi functionalities into a very familiar for users of mobile-first financial services.
These applications have previously been too costly for users, as transaction costs on other networks can skyrocket and price out many users. As a low-cost platform, this makes Avalanche DeFi a perfect complement to Voyager’s application to keep it, and its users at the cutting edge of this space.
V: What’s next for Avalanche and AVAX? Anything you’re particularly excited about on the roadmap?
JW: I can’t share any specifics, but I expect more builders to choose Avalanche as the first network they launch new applications on, more blue chips to expand to Avalanche as we’ve already seen with Aave, Curve, and Sushi, and more users to try the platform and get hooked for good.
Through Ava Labs’ partnerships with firms like Deloitte, we also expect continued, and even accelerated, growth of traditional finance and enterprise applications building on Avalanche.
V: And now for a couple of fun questions. You get to have dinner with one person, alive or dead, who do you choose?
JW: I would love to say just one person, but there’s a much more pressing need for me.
The Ava Labs team has really been born out of the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve all formed digital bonds and shared moments over Google Hangouts or Zoom or Telegram, but jumping from a room of about 10 people before lockdowns to over 130 today is a massive leap.
I love the metaverse, but there is no way to recreate the in-person experience of breaking bread and sharing dinner. So I’ll choose a giant dinner table where all of our Ava Labs teammates can have a face-to-face dinner.
Fortunately, that opportunity may be coming up around the Avalanche Summit in 2022…
V: Where do you see crypto ten years from now?
JW: Blockchain will be integrated into daily lives and we won’t even talk about the underlying technology, as much as what it empowers us to do.
Think of it like Amazon Web Services (AWS), where so few people understand its intricacies, but use it every day. In my first entrepreneurial venture, starting a tech hedge fund about 12 years ago, my investors would not let me host my servers in AWS. I had to have physical cages in the basement of my office. Today, those same institutions would probably think we were crazy if we had cages in the basement with a second disaster recovery location.
In terms of the crypto markets, the mix of the close to 10,000 tokens on CoinMarketCap will change radically. The total may increase slightly, but the mix will change. New projects that are built with utility will replace old ones that serve little purpose.
This is great for an industry leader like Voyager because their offerings will increase multi-fold, and its position as a pioneer of this space is an excellent edge.
V: We know you’re really busy, so we can’t thank you enough for the time.
JW: Absolutely. This was fun, thank you. For more of my thoughts follow me at @John1Wu on Twitter.