Amber Baldet: Don’t Force Public Blockchains ‘Down Enterprises’ Throats’
Having left one of the world’s largest financial institutions to build an ethereum startup, Amber Baldet appreciates both the needs of enterprises and the potential of open, decentralized blockchains.
But in the Clovyr co-founder’s view, it’s too soon for the former to start doing much with the latter.
“We want to build those bridges out to the public networks, but I don’t think you get there by shoving public chains down enterprises’ throats before they are ready,” Baldet told CoinDesk.
Rather, a gradual process of bridge-building between public chains and the private kind favored by corporations is needed, believes Baldet. This is the task Clovyr was designed to perform, while keeping decentralization front and centre.
“Until there is credible on-chain privacy or very well-designed privacy preserving architectures for enterprise applications on public chains, it’s a bit premature,” said Baldet, who oversaw the creation of Quorum, the private and privacy-centric fork of ethereum, when she was the blockchain lead at global megabank JPMorgan Chase.
Baldet, who formed Clovyr in May with ex-Quorum engineer Patrick Nielsen, was in London to announce a partnership with IHS Markit & Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS) to build their Decentralized Ecosystem program.
Earlier this month at Devcon 4, Clovyr released its first standalone tool, a code search for ethereum developers writing smart contracts in Solidity, the programming language.
Baldet’s comments come as enterprises, once dead-set against public chains, are tentatively exploring the possibilities there. The 500-member Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, for instance, is developing standards which will port privacy-enhancing modifications into ethereum, and global consulting firm EY has championed enterprise use of public chains.
On the other hand, some enterprise blockchain builders, such as the R3 banking consortium, believe the full-broadcast design of public chains, which is naturally disposed to sharing data with other nodes, is fundamentally the wrong architecture for businesses.
Another immediate concern is scale: Baldet said a single large enterprise moving any portion of its core operations to the ethereum blockchain would shut it down faster than CryptoKitties, the popular tokenized cat game that inundated the network with transactions.
Rather than being overloaded with computational complexity and burdened with a ton of smart contacts, a better endpoint for the public ethereum network is to be “a connective fabric between things that are happening elsewhere,” she said.
Even in her banking days, Baldet espoused cypherpunk ideals about privacy. In her view, it is critical, not only so enterprises can protect their secret sauces, but also for human consent over how the data we generate is handled.
Hence, Baldet wants to make building and connecting decentralized applications (not necessarily blockchain-based ones) easy and intuitive, while eschewing centrally controlled, data-hungry surveillance capitalism.
Yet Clovyr also takes a practical approach. An example, said Baldet, could be something simple like creating a workflow for document signing and verification across different entities within a business, where DocuSign might have been previously used.
In that scenario, “you don’t need to do a $20 million infrastructure lift of an existing application, so much as you simply enable that connectivity – and from there it’s a more organic way to build the ‘blockchain use case.’ You don’t need to get 10 organizations around a table with a bunch of lawyers and spend six months deciding everything up front,” said Baldet.
While the blockchains being built by enterprise consortiums like R3 and Hyperledger will solve business problems of their target demographic, there’s much more on offer, she said, adding:
“What we have right now is great for the 1 percent of businesses that can afford the expensive consultants and pay for the use case creation.”
But like history, software development moves in cycles. ColdFusion, a scripting language used for web development in the 1990s, required expensive consultants, noted Baldet. Thereafter, a rapid period of evolution led to a point where thousands of mom-and-pop shops were registering dot-com addresses with reusable e-commerce carts they didn’t build themselves.
“So we want to create those reusable components that dramatically lower the barrier to entry for the 99.99% of people in the world who have not even begun to explore what blockchain can mean to their business,” Baldet said.
Regarding Clovyr’s business model, Baldet said she wanted to clarify that it is not a “dapp store” nor is it a pure interoperability play like Hyperledger Quilt or Polkadot.
And while Clovyr makes it easier to search libraries and use them to spin up networks, Baldet is careful not to have the model conflated with the notion of “blockchain-as-a-service.”
“Right now, what we have is everything that is ‘as a service’ comes to you from a central provider. Yes, we are creating that experience for developers, but we are not trying to create an intermediary that forces what they build to constantly phone home to Clovyr,” she said, concluding:
“Delivering the usability modern developers expect in a privacy-first way isn’t easy, but it’s a problem worth solving.”
Amber Baldet with Rob Underwood of FINOS photo via Ian Allison for CoinDesk