DAVID LEDGERWOOD: Joel, thanks for joining us today.
JOEL NEIDIG: Thanks for having me.
DAVID: Can you tell us your two-minute story for the audience?
JOEL: The SIMBA Chain is a blockchain-as-a-service platform. What we're trying to do is for the whole usability issue with blockchain right now like “How do you democratize that and get more people using blockchain and make it really accessible to the end consumer and just kind of make it part of their daily lives?”
That's what's SIMBA Chain’s goal is. It's to make it really easy for not only users but also developers to enable their users and even freelance developers who are trying to create blockchain applications.
It's kind of difficult right now so we're trying to make it very user-friendly with familiar interfaces like iOS, Android, and the web and just provide templates that access our API that communicate with smart contracts and blockchains.
Our story starts back in 2017 when we were founded. We were founded out of a DARPA ( Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) project and we were doing secure messaging for the military.
So we wrote a grant and were awarded with the University of Notre Dame. Out of that, we started our company, SIMBA Chain. We have founders from the University of Notre Dame. Since then, we've landed several department defense contracts also with large enterprise trying to help their users use blockchain and mostly focus on supply chain enhancements.
DAVID: It's interesting that you say that. Supply chain comes up all the time and I sincerely believe now having done probably six different hyped busting blockchain conversations that that seems to be the place that a lot of people are focusing on.
Why is that? Is it just a ripe use case? Why supply chain innovation?
JOEL: I think it's because of the complexity of supply chain. Usually, the ownership of the data is in multiple silos. And so, when you have something like that, blockchain leads itself very well to getting that data to the right people at the right time, and then knowing who’s accessed that data and verifying that the data is correct ─ the whole adjudication of “Hey, I sent you those parts. You haven't paid yet. I've already invoiced you” and they're like “No, I haven't received them.”
Blockchain is going to say, “Hey, I know you've received it because we both are looking at the same digital ledger and it was signed by a specific person” because it was signed by their wallet. You can identify it all the way down in.
And the smart contract thing is amazing because it just automatically executes all those situations and all the different things that happen. So two parties can come together and agree upon how that smart contract should look whether it's a purchase order or an invoice and all those different things.
It's really going to disrupt the EDI which has been around since the seventies trying to make this thing happen a lot easier.
I think blockchain is really going to disrupt that area because it's going to execute automatically and take away all these third-party trusted VANs that are currently in between with customer and the supplier. We don't need that. We just need the customer-supplier relationship and we don't need these third-party trusted companies handling the transactions. It should just be on a blockchain.
I think that's where it's been really a good use case for blockchain. And we have those instances on our platform. We have web templates and iOS templates and Android templates with smart contract templates that are designed to enable people to get started really fast.
How do I get into blockchain? What's the next stage for someone who is a senior developer in something else?
JOEL: Actually, we have an open invite right now so anybody can email us at email@example.com and request access to the platform. We monetize our top ten percent. Most people, based on their transactional loads ─ for a freelancer, he wouldn't be heading that threshold. So they can access the platform for free.
What they can do is get an invite from us and we'll give them access to the platform. We've got videos on YouTube channel that walk them through the platform.
But there's no coding involved, actually. They can come to our platform, log in, create a smart contract just by defining their assets and transactions in a dropdown box; and then, it auto-generates the solidity code for them.
They, then, can auto-deploy that to the Ethereum network. Right now, that's the main one we focus on . We'll be supporting more protocol like Hyperledger and some other ones later on Stellar. Right now, we're focused on Ethereum.
But they can easily deploy that through our platform. And we also do off-chain so you can have file system and IPFS to access those, too. We have those nodes already set up for them that they can easily deploy.
And then, we auto-generate the API that communicates with their smart contract. As soon as they create their smart contract, it's a specific API generated for their use case which is pretty cool. So they can create their own API keys. They can create their own user IDs. We have user groups and roles that they can give certain people authority to do certain things with their API that they generate.
So it's really built like building an entire blockchain back end for a developer who is just concerned about the user experience on an iOS or Android or web template.
We also auto-generate the user interface based on that smart contract methods like the method calls. We auto-generate the user interface for them in the dashboard so they can actually download that and use that as a springboard to developer applications.
We have templates that they can also download. We're just trying to make it super user-friendly. They don't have to worry about the deployment to the blockchain and things like that.
We also have notifications they can set up for email so they can get notified when certain things are happening on the blockchain on their distributed application.
DAVID: This is awesome. Congrats on making something more mature in a not mature a space! I mean, this topic of “Hey, we need more middleware to make this accessible” is very pertinent.
Let me ask you this. All this sounds amazing but you and I both know “Hey, you're a software engineering organization.” What was the speed bump you hit hard in the middle of this? What were some of the difficult engineering stories to get this far?
JOEL: At the beginning of the project, we've kind of went to our engineers and said, “Hey, stand up in Ethereum Node” and they were like “Okay.”
Two months later, they came back and said, “Man, that was difficult.”
It just took them so long to understand how to set it up and communicate with it and then deploy the smart contracts to it. We really just tried to streamline it and make it easy.
So with our own difficulties, we created this product.
We're not an ICO. We're a traditional software-as-a-service company so we don't have any plans to do a token because we plan on supporting multiple protocols. People will just use our service to help them build their own. People can launch an ICO with our platform, essentially, and they can create their own smart contracts, deploy it, mint some tokens, and do all kinds of stuff.
But from our standpoint, we're just going to remain providing that service to everyone else that is interested in that business model.
The difficulty that we started off with was just trying to understand how to deploy these different things. We do permissioned and private networks so people can deploy it to the mainnet of Ethereum but we have our own circle of life permissioned network that they can deploy to and set more permissions to that layer.
They can also add their own nodes. So you can deploy your own. All you have to do is just whitelist our API on the different nodes that you may be deploying.
So you can just use SIMBA as a deployment tool. You don't have to use us as a host.
And that allows them to be very distributed in keeping true to the blockchain.
DAVID: The level of maturity and the product definitely speak volumes. Let me ask you this. I ask everybody on the show, “How do you evaluate what is a senior software engineer? What are the heuristics you use to prove that the people you're hiring are absolutely A-plus? What do you measure and how do you source that out?”
JOEL: When we first started talking with people, we asked them almost like the situation where you asked “What are some major difficulties that you had to overcome throughout your career?” They had to kind of think about it.
And so, if they had a really good use case of “Yes, here's the problem I ran into and I didn't know how to solve it but I was able to overcome it,” those are the kinds of people that we look for in a senior developer level. We give them that kind of situation.
DAVID: Engineering being a problem-solving disposition and skill set, you're not necessarily about a particular stack or how you code this or a particular algorithm but the overall mindset that senior software engineers bring to the table.
How do you come down on remote software engineers versus in the office?
JOEL: All our developers are from all over the world, believe it or not. We have some developers in Wales. Some are from South Africa. We just look for the best. We don't really care where they're located. It's like “Who can we find who is the best at what they do?”
A really good developer can solve the problems of three, four, or five that maybe created.
Can they self-manage? It's like a big thing. Can I give them tasks and they just come back and knock it out, understand the end goal, and be able to deploy that?
Right now, I'm actually in the office right now and I'm the only one here. But we have eight developers. Everybody is like either at their house or ─ as I've said, we have a couple in different countries.
It's kind of like a new way. Everybody comes together. We do meet up monthly and some teams meet bi-weekly. But there are definitely a lot of tools out there like Slack and different ways that we just stay in real time communication.
DAVID: What quick advice would you give somebody from a more legacy environment who is just realizing, we've got to think about this remote thing but we don't do it yet and we're kind of scared of it?
JOEL: I think what you have to look at is the end result. Workplace environment is great and there's definitely a place for that. But if you're trying to achieve this product and you need that level of skill set and it's not in the area that you're living where you're actually geographically located, then you have to look without and you have to look in other areas where those people are located.
There's plenty of technology today that allows us to do that.
DAVID: Hey, Joel, thanks so much for spending the time. It's really great having you on.
JOEL: I appreciate it. Thank you.