journalist, tech entrepreneur
What is wrong with the current crypto wallets, how open-source can help solve them and is it possible to create real wealth management for the DeFi? I had the opportunity to sit down and talk about these issues in greater detail with Dan Dadybaev and Aibek Esengulov, 22 y.o. Chief Growth Officer and CTO of Unstoppable crypto wallet endorsed by the creators of Z cash, the most secure cryptocurrency out there.
Why have you started Unstoppable? I mean, there are not that many 22 y.o. co-founders striving for financial freedom, open economy, and decentralization. Why is this important to you, and what is the story behind the product?
Our team consists of several entrepreneurs with startup experience, highly skilled creatives, and engineers that you would typically expect to find in some of the most demanding IT powerhouses. Before working on Unstoppable, we were already building together. Between 2015 and late 2017, we worked on a B2B SaaS startup and were doing quite well.
All was going well until a point when we started having issues with the financial system and regulatory landscape around it. At some point, these regulatory issues began to interfere with our ability to innovate and significantly limited us in the scope of features we could integrate into our products. Such status quo also made it clear that financial sovereignty is a tricky subject and that aspects of ownership and property are conditional. Without going into details, we experienced issues with corporate banking services and the ability to get paid for our services worldwide. At some point, we just got tired of that and decided to pivot.
You would never think about how things work in that domain unless you're confronted with that in practice. All these things combined made us reconsider what we do and how the world works in general. That was a life-changing moment and ultimately resulted in us looking into Bitcoin and everything else in that ecosystem.
From day one, we didn't function as you would expect from a traditional startup. Most of us are libertarian-minded and are considered co-founders. The company has a horizontal structure (hence Horizontal Systems) and defies the traditional corporate culture.
That said, we are well organized and have a good understanding of the expectations and responsibilities of each. There are no sticks or bonuses, the same pay for all, and profits are divided equally between everyone, and there are high expectations from everyone involved.
In your opinion, what are the main issues with mobile crypto wallets that existed before Unstoppable?
Shortly after we got into crypto, we first need to build tools we would like to use ourselves, i.e., a wallet that acts as a private bank account. Being easily accessible and easy to use were both equally important factors for us.
A brief look at the wallets around back then made it clear that none of the solutions were even close to the level someone would expect from a decent financial instrument. When you have money that you actively invest and at the same time do not trust players in the financial system, your needs are somewhat unique at that point :)
The fact that most wallets around then had little to do with the ideas championed by decentralization and non-custodianship made it clear that wallet application will be our first significant effort in the space. First two years, it was mainly in the building phase, and only in early 2019, we got an actually usable version. It's being built upon since then. We envision another 6-12 months of active development before partially shifting to other aspects of the space.
Who are your users, what is the persona? How will the product evolve to meet their current and future needs?
We focus on people that have assets they want to invest in and share our ideals. Typically, these are well-earning (or high net worth) Millenials and far-sighted people from a traditional finance background. These people have assets and would love to put them to work in crypto. At the same time, they have high expectations from the instruments they use.
We are building a wealth management instrument for the decentralized world. As new financial protocols are being built on Ethereum and other blockchains, we are generally among the first to integrate them and, as a result, provide the first smartphone gateways to these services.
Our users are people and investors with more than 100K in ready-to-invest assets. Firstly, we aim to onboard these people into this new ecosystem by providing them with easy-to-digest material.
Crypto is complex for someone unfamiliar, and we try to make it easy for them.
And secondly, we try to provide them with the best instruments to evaluate, monitor, and analyze the growing number of crypto assets available and avoid scams. The type of instruments that people working as investment managers in Wall Street are used to.
One of your most endorsed characteristics is security. Usually, a higher security level comes at the cost of usability. How do you solve this problem in Unstoppable?
Indeed, higher security standards have significantly higher costs in terms of engineering and creative resources.
Building a custodial (non-secure) wallet is a no-brainer and, for the most part, can be done by a 1-3 people team in 1-2 months. Most of the currently popular wallets fall in that category. On the other hand, building a secure non-custodial wallet that adheres to security standards and other best practices outlined by the open-source community in the blockchain sector is a task of another magnitude. It takes time, patience, and the right mindset.
Moreover, Unstoppable is natively built using native mobile technologies rather than relying on building interactive websites.
When you expand the security aspect to privacy, the task becomes even more challenging depending on how high your personal understanding of privacy is on the internet.
Many companies champion privacy typically try to assure users about the measure they take internally to keep users' data safe. On the other hand, we take the 'leak no data' approach and try to ensure that user data never leaves smartphones and user's connection always remains private even from internet service providers.
Is there any secret sauce in your security approach and implementation? Why is Unstoppable more secure than competing wallets?
We don't necessarily think Unstoppable is the most secure wallet around.
First of all, theoretically, hardware wallets are more secure as the attack surface on them is significantly smaller. In the same way, desktop wallets are less secure than mobile wallets.
That said, security is a spectrum, and for the most, any well-built non-custodial wallet is secure enough. It's more secure than most of the financial tools currently being used by them. Security is a many-sided concept. While hardware wallets may offer best-in-class protection for the extraction of private keys, other aspects such as privacy or poor usability may open up ways for exploits, as we have seen many times in recent years.
We value wallets by the teams behind them and the mindset driving these teams. Our secret sauce is patience and the right mindset for the engineering process. These are two things that can not be bought with money and typically what differentiates good engineering teams (that you can find in many tech companies) from great ones. As unconventional as it may sound, we try not to work very hard but rather work in the right way.
With Unstoppable, we build a wallet that can potentially outlive our team and engineering/creative efforts behind it. That was one of the premises behind the wallet's name as well. Unstoppable wallet should remain functional even if Horizontal Systems stops working on it and we disband as a team. While that goal is a work in progress, we are already there for the most part. As far as we are aware, there are no such wallets out there.
Our code is fully open source, well structured, and not a single essential feature in Unstoppable wallet app is dependent on some centrally managed servers. Any capable engineering team can resume our work and take it further.
The term "capable" is vital here!
What does open-source verification look like? Why is this important from the security/privacy standpoint?
It basically means that the wallet app runs on your device using the same code published on the open. From a security and privacy standpoint, it means that a user does not need to trust the people behind the wallet app because they can potentially verify that the app they use indeed works as it says it does.
Even if the app is open source and verified, it doesn't mean that there are no potential bugs in the logic powering the app.
Unstoppable works with multiple protocols, including Uniswap on Ethereum, how this affects the UX, and how complex the integration task was?
The integration itself is not complex. The challenging part is to make this whole thing user-friendly without bombarding users with a lot of options/complexities and but at the same time, enable power-user features for those who need them.
For instance, some people may not really bother whether they use Uniswap or 1INCH to execute a trade; they just need the most effortless way at the best possible price. On the other hand, some people may need to make use of advanced trade settings available in these protocols while executing a trade via TOR connection.
What do you think the crypto will look like in five years? What are the biggest challenges for further mass adoption, and are there any realistic ways of overcoming them?
It's hard to imagine, but it will surely evolve significantly. The pace of evolution in this space and interoperability within the DeFi ecosystem is just mind-blowing. Most people, even those familiar with space, do not really see this aspect.
In 2018, when we were just starting with the wallet, we dreamt of having a genuinely decentralized DEX as the tools around back then were significantly limited in scope. In just two years, we have seen space evolve so fast that it becomes challenging to see how things will play out moving forward. We are excited though, the decentralization of finance is out and happening and can not be stopped.
It's yet to be seen how the regulatory aspects will impact the space. If the regulators are smart enough, they will embrace the technology and find ways to make it safer for people. If they try to forcefully ban some of the stuff around, they will likely fail and perhaps even make themselves irrelevant in the long term.
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