Early this year, I joined the ranks of blockchain early adopters, primarily as an investor but also as a student of the technology. With the launching of this product, EtherPool, and the publishing of this post, I’m now a proud evangelist :) Like many, I had been hearing about bitcoin for a few years and I read a super interesting long-form article on Silk Road but I never dug deeper. My friend Henok Tekle of ~10 years has had tremendous success as a blockchain investor, first trading cryptocurrencies and now investing in ICO’s. He invited me to the party by including me in his ever-growing global group of investors who share intel and deal flow.
Only a few weeks after immersing myself in this still niche field, I reeled in one of my fellow American expats here in Stockholm, Tamir Sen. After our first few group deals, we noticed so many pain points in the workflow that could be relieved with an app. We shot ideas back and forth at the gym a few times but never made plans to build anything. Tamir happens to be a rockstar backend developer, and one day he messaged me:
To be clear, I’m a newbie, but I want to give a super brief overview to readers who are newer than I am to this space.
The blockchain is a decentralized, transparent, distributed, pseudonymous ledger. This means that it records transactions and everything it records can’t be changed, reversed, controlled (by a central authority), or forged. The database is permanent and anyone can look up any transaction that was ever executed.
There are so many applications of this technology, including cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum. Many are being built as we speak- this is where the investment opportunities arise. Startups building blockchain applications will raise funds via an ICO (Initial Coin Offering) just like a traditional startup will raise funds from angel investors. However, the ICO receives payment in ethereum (ETH) instead of fiat ($, £, SEK). The ICO grants tokens instead of shares. The tokens are built on the ethereum protocol, which is why ICO investors invest with ethereum instead of bitcoin. Ethereum is much more programmable and includes the ability to create smart contracts, which is how my product, EtherPool, was built. ICO’s have in total raised $1.3B in 2017 so far. That’s not a typo! It’s a massive market but includes a lot of speculation.
I am an advocate of blockchain technology so I wanted to use their skills, knowledge and passion to facilitate its evolution. Here is how I designed my first product -
The biggest pain points are that the pool creator/organizer must:
Tamir learned Solidity, the language on which the ethereum protocol is built, faster than I thought was humanly possible. He launched our backend on Github. We spent a few weekends in coffee shops where he ran tests and I sketched task flows. Our solution is an effort to provide the best UX within the constraints of the ethereum smart contract system.
Although we focused on pool creators for v1, we also improved the UX for investors. All of the features below are brand new solutions for investors in this space:
All of my blockchain investor chatter happens on Telegram with ~150 people from around the world. I used this network to create research chat groups. My research goals:
My screening criteria for creators was whether they have created a pool before and plan to create one again.
My screening criteria for investors was whether they have invested in a pool before and plan to invest in one again.
I took notes all of the interesting or repeating answers in order to begin classifying the results to look for patterns, which resulted in creating user flow diagrams and task lists.
The second part of our research gathered evidence for whether users would pay. Even though EtherPool is free and open-source, we always want to invest our energy into something people really want. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so I collaborated with pool creators to start requesting money for their services. The timing was perfect because deal flow was increasing and pool creators were getting burnt out.
It is hard to determine the % of investors who voluntarily contributed because it’s unknown how many saw the message. However, for the next 3 ICO’s, ~40% of investors who invested added the voluntary tax. In the mandatory contribution, 100% paid in order to be able to participate.
All users must “execute a transaction” with the ethereum network in order to take any action. For creators, actions include deploying (launching) a contract, setting or editing values and whitelists. For investors, actions include investing or withdrawing ether and claiming tokens. Users execute transactions on MyEtherWallet with data that we generate for them. For most of my design process, Tamir and I thought executing a transaction would look like below:
With this flow, users would execute a transaction with the network and our system would poll the backend every 30 seconds and eventually refresh to confirm the user’s action. I was concerned with this because users lose all sense of control, waiting 30, 60, or 90 seconds for the system to update. There is no handbook for creating blockchain products. Tamir laid the foundation but we had to test a ton of tasks to find the best possible solutions.
Our solution is to generate specific data for the user to execute a transaction in MyEtherWallet, at which point MyEtherWallet will respond with a Transaction ID. When a user pastes the ID into EtherPool, it will automatically update.
The navigation is crucial because it gives the user context for where she is. Blockchain users don’t log-in like traditional products, but we need to serve up different views for creators and investors and give them the logged-in feel. Interestingly, users are never logged into EtherPool. Instead, they log into MyEtherWallet with their encrypted wallets. The data that we give to the user and the user gives back to us will sync in the backend so that we- and the blockchain- confirm identity.
I focused on delivering value to creators during their onboarding process. Onboarding lets creators create a pool while educating them on the necessary key values and constraints that define it. Onboarding also shows the creator where she is throughout the whole process. Test out the flow:
Tamir built the backend and I designed the product from start to finish in about two intense weeks. Anyone who has ever built a product can relate: there were some planned features that we had to scrap for v1 because of an unknown amount of development work. Other feature ideas that emerged from our research were always on the back burner for post-v1.
Ideas to improve EtherPool after v1:
Thank you for reading my adventures in design and the blockchain. I am bullish on this emerging technology. It’s impossible to predict the reaches of its applications but I’m excited to see what happens. During the dotcom boom, could you have imagined a global taxi dispatcher? Or a digital birth control? There were “experts” in the 90s saying that the internet was a fad!
I would love your feedback on anything I’ve written or designed. I’m new to design and even newer to the blockchain. Post anything in the comments and I promise to reply. I have some portfolio highlights on my personal site https://rolandomathi.as 😎
Thanks again to Tamir Sen. EtherPool should be ready within the next few weeks. We are still building out the front end, but I will update this article when it’s ready! 💻