Shaheen Counts (EOS Blocksmith) and Domenic Thomas (Worbli) join Zack Gall at Scaling Blockchain after the SF #EOSHackathon to discuss Worbli's launch as an EOSIO sister chain and EOS Blocksmith's challenges and goals as a block producer on multiple chains including the EOS mainnet and Worbli.
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Dominick Thomas: How's it going, Zack? Thanks for having us.
Zack: Nice to get you guys on the show. We had an opportunity to be in person here. I thought it'd be a unique opportunity to kind of talk about what you guys are doing with the EOS community, so we'll start with Dominick. Who are you? I know your name? What project are you ... I just said this stuff. We'll just keep rolling. So, Dominick, tell me a little bit about your background and what got you into EOS in the first place?
Dominick Thomas: Yeah, so I got into Bitcoin like 2010 and just like a lot of people ran across it in Bitcoin talk forums and was really excited about the prospect of digital currency and the economic rabbit hole we all dive into. And I did some GPU mining back in the day and just kind of followed its since. Then I got involved with our current founding team, Craig and Rob, and wanted to get into really seeing if we can make an impact in fintech.
Dominick Thomas: We're looking for a blockchain for our project and really thought that launching a Cryptophia bank would be a great opportunity in the space. And so ran across EOS and fell in love at the beginning, just thought it was amazing.
Zack: Was EOS the first chain you decided on, or did you compare a lot of other options before making a commitment to one chain?
Dominick Thomas: Yeah, we looked at everything. We looked at Hyperledger, we looked at Quora, Ethereum of course. Looked at Stratis a little bit. Yeah, our CTO Rob did a ... He took about four or five weeks in late December, early January. EOS was the clear winner. Our only concern was, it wasn't launched yet. But I had faith in Dan and team to get launched in June and we knew our timeline, so yeah, we committed to EOS.
Zack: Was the plan always to make your own custom implementation of the EOSIO Blockchain-
Dominick Thomas: Yeah.
Zack: Or were you originally thinking possibly on the main one?
Dominick Thomas: We just knew with the compliance stuff that there'd be no way to have a fully compliant financial services blockchain on a public ... It's just too many rules that we'd have to basically impose, right? Like, do all main net users want to go through AML/KYC? I don't think so.
Zack: Block. One didn't even KYC their ICO, so you can kind of make an assumption on the audience and-
Dominick Thomas: Yeah.
Zack: I get that. Now let's go to Shaheen.
Shaheen Counts: Hey.
Zack: What's your background? What brought you into EOS? And tell us a little bit about EOS Blocksmith and what you guys are doing, and what you guys represent?
Shaheen Counts: Sure, sure. I'm kind of a bit of a misfit in the blockchain space. I'm actually a physician, I'm a head and neck surgeon or ENT. People still ask me, "So you retired and now you do this?" And I'm like, "No, I'm still practicing-
Zack: I have to tell a story about this.
Shaheen Counts: Okay.
Dominick Thomas: I knew about EOS Blocksmith because you guys were putting some decent blog articles out long before the main net launch, but I didn't really know any of you guys individually. Shaheen was in one of the telegram channels and he said he was thinking about starting a meme contest. So I was like, "I love memes. Let's be friends." So, we started this like private channel with me, you, and who are those two other guys?
Shaheen Counts: Elim from US Nation, and I think Justin from our team.
Dominick Thomas: Yeah. So we have this little meme channel. We found that we all have this love for memes, which I don't think it's crypto specific, but when times get tough, a meme kind of makes you smile. And the one day I was asking you questions, I don't know what it was about. I was like, "Did you tweet about it yet, or did you launch your contest?" And you were like, "Sorry, I was doing surgeries all day. I was a little busy." Because there's a lot of really smart people in this space. Even doctors, but not typically like people practicing surgery.
Shaheen Counts: Yep. Yep. Surgeries get in the way of some of this EOS stuff sometimes, but it's kind of a fine balance between the two.
Zack: What's your role within Blocksmith?
Shaheen Counts: Yeah, so I'm one of the original founders of Blocksmith. Being in the medical space, I've been in education my whole life. 13 years of post high school schooling, it makes you really good at education. We wanted to not only promote EOS, but we wanted to kind of be one of the leading block producers as far as education goes, so we've been making a lot of educational videos. Because EOS has some pretty interesting differences and complex topics as far as network resources, and how the voting structure works. DPOS is a little bit more challenging than other blockchains and so we've been doing a lot of promotional videos. And we helped organize a lot of conferences, we helped organize the [crosstalk 00:04:54].
Zack: Yeah, let's get into that. So, EOS Blocksmith is one of the core sponsors of not only this conference we're at currently the Scaling Blockchain Conference, but also a lot of the social events over the course of the weekend that people kind of congregated at before and after the hackathon. That was really cool.
Shaheen Counts: We were so excited to have all this buzz in the Bay area, and so we were like, we gotta do stuff and have people hanging ... A lot of the fun of these conferences is networking with people in the space as well.
Zack: It's a blast.
Shaheen Counts: It's been great.
Zack: Honestly getting to meet everyone in person has just been awesome. I kind of got to get to back to Worbli first, get into the sister chain thing, and then having your own unique set of block producers. So, the regulational ... Not risk, but regulation, the need for KYC, was kind of the main driver to have to launch your own chain?
Dominick Thomas: Absolutely.
Zack: With your own chain, you obviously needed block producers to run it. What criteria did you set to determine your group of block producers? You have what, 30 now?
Dominick Thomas: Yeah, so we have 21 active and 12 backups at this point. We're calling reserve block producers, it's a little different. Their duties for our chain are basically to kind of like on call at this point. But, the major thing was just relationships, right?
Zack: I keep, I keep, sorry. I don't know where to look.
Dominick Thomas: As a startup chain and the sister chain, I think we were talking before this, that we think this will be a common practice in the future but it certainly wasn't 10 months ago when we were starting to build the project and build the relationships. And so, a lot of the criteria was around teams that believed in what we were doing, that were interested in taking a little bit of a risk with us. We're not traded on exchanges right now, so the time and energy and effort that's gone in has had to be an investment of the team's resources and time. But, the major thing is that, first of all, is it a professional organization that we think is going to be around because there's business risk.
Dominick Thomas: We can't have block producers just filtering in and out all the time, that it wouldn't look very good for us with compliance bodies. They had to be willing to go through financial auditing. They have to be willing to go through a corporate AML/KYC. Those were a big criteria.
Zack: I guess let's get back to this. What was that process like, going through the due diligence process to be approved as a block producer for the Worbli chain? What was it like?
Shaheen Counts: Yeah. Well, it's definitely different experience for the main net where it's kind of wild, wild west and there's tons of block producers that are not even incorporated at this point. It made us have to kind of make sure that we were doing things that we wanted to be doing the right way by the time we signed in.
Zack: Was it relatively easier, was it a difficult process?
Shaheen Counts: It was pretty straightforward by just going through the legal documentation and dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.
Zack: So what connected the two of you? Did you approach the block producers, or did you kind of have them approach you? Like, how did your initial core group get decided? Because, I think I heard of your chain the first time when EOS New York made their official announcement.
Shaheen Counts: Yeah. No, luckily I met Dom really early on. Blocksmith was one of the few block producers who went out to the Consensus Conference in New York earlier in May and we were trying to envade-
Zack: Those ConsenSys guys do great research.
Shaheen Counts: That's a whole different topic there. But, yeah, the most fun part of the whole conference for me was I messaged people in the EOS space. And I was like, "Who's gonna be in New York during the conference?" And thankfully Dom responded and he came with Rob from his team, and we got to meet each other and talk a little bit then.
Zack: Cool. You mentioned your career, like job outside of crypto. What were you doing before crypto?
Dominick Thomas: I have similar backgrounds. I ran an integrative medical cliniç, and it was like physicians and doctors in multiple locations. I got my MBA at Hopkins, the Baltimore area where I live. Yeah, I just always been interested in tech and decided to sell my practice and make a career change.
Zack: Are you also a doctor?
Dominick Thomas: No. No. Not practicing anymore.
Zack: Still a highly intelligent person, I'm sure.
Dominick Thomas: I guess. It depends on which day of the week.
Zack: I think everyone in the EOS space is a genius, because they all agree with me on a lot of things.
Dominick Thomas: There you go. Right.
Zack: So what were the biggest hurdles and difficulties with launching the sister chain, because it kind of got off to a rocky start? I know when Taylors first announced their fort, it was kind of not taken well by the community. And even worse was I think when WAX even prior to Taylors announced what they were doing. Whenever you guys first announced, there's is still that sort of negative perception, not by the majority, but by a subset of the community that they weren't sure about a sister chain because ... I think it just comes down to token value.
Zack: People don't wanna take value away from their EOS main net token. How did you address that, and what were your thoughts on that?
Dominick Thomas: Yeah, well. I think it's sort of like anything new, right? There's fear around new things. I feel like a lot of people forgot that the original vision that Dan had always put forth was that there would be a sister chain. EOS built a fork, right?
Zack: I think the narrative changed greatly. Prior to the main net, it may have been said before, but it wasn't as noticeable that they were gonna be thousands of chains. If you listen to the way Brendan Blumer speaks and Dan has spoken recently, within the last month or two, it seems like the verbiage that they use has changed. It sounds like it's just gonna be thousands of chains and each application might have its own chain.
Zack: And we're seeing this resource capacity getting hit because of all these dice games just eating it all up. We're hearing rumors of these casinos possibly spinning up their own chains just to keep up with the resources. Obviously, there's potential scaling solutions Dan might have in mind. But as we sit today and probably in the foreseeable future, there is a need for this, and I think it's the path forward. EOS Blocksmith, you guys are typically in the 30s for the BP rankings?
Shaheen Counts: We're kind of in the 50s now.
Zack: 50's now?
Shaheen Counts: Yeah.
Zack: That's sad.
Shaheen Counts: I appreciate the 30s.
Zack: I think of you as about 38. It's like saying I think you're a 10.
Shaheen Counts: Nice.
Zack: Yeah, it's sucks that there's people that add all this value to the community, EOS Blocksmith being a great example of it. You guys have been so proactive and positive during this entire weekend hackathon event, where over 500 developers from the EOS community showed up in force. And everyone I met is just as enthusiastic as me, just as enthusiastic as you, just as enthusiastic as you. And you're adding all this value. You're not alone, there's other block producers doing that. Then we see some of them in the top 10, five, one, two, and we don't see the same value they're giving to EOS in the main net.
Zack: It's kind of frustrating to me as a block producer, when you're doing all this stuff and putting all of this effort in and you're getting compensated a fraction of these bigger players that, I hope they're doing more in maybe their local areas, but I just don't see it. I don't know if it's a disconnect in communication, but is that a source of frustration for a block producer that does so much and doesn't get enough love?
Shaheen Counts: Yeah, I know. It's definitely one of those things that's frustrating at times. At times it's really exciting when you're doing better than you'd hope for. And at times you're just scratching your head like, "What? There's no correlation. We're doing all this stuff and we're not getting votes, or these guys aren't doing anything and they're getting all these votes."
Zack: I was talking ... You guys, this is terrible. The CEO of EOS Canada, I can't remember your first name.
Shaheen Counts: Mark.
Zack: Mark. I'm sorry Mark. I was talking to Mark, and I was asking him to kind of explain diffuse because it sounds really useful and awesome. I was with my friend who is developing smart contracts and I wanted to see his reaction. See if it made sense, it was very useful. Of course it did. But EOS Canada just released that, it's a great tool, but all of a sudden they went from always being in the top five block producers, now they're like in the high teens. I don't understand it, and it's gotta be frustrating.
Zack: So that's where I see a lot of value with what Worbli has done because they gave a new revenue stream to a block producer that is giving so much to the community, but not being compensated. Because at the end of the day, this is a business. People need ... I guess if you're a surgeon, maybe you can get by without a block producer's salary. I'm sure you have more technical people who are hands on and full time in the weeds.
Shaheen Counts: Absolutely.
Zack: This is a business and you have to have cash flow to operate a profitable business. I think that's where all these sister side chains are all gonna really add value because it's going to give a revenue vehicle to people like you, block producers like you. And there's dozens of them and it just gives you that opportunity. Is that one of the main considerations when you wanted to do it?
Shaheen Counts: Yeah, yeah. Definitely that was a big consideration. I think these are all interesting choices as far as a block producer business goes, whether to be a producer on alternate chains. You mentioned earlier that a lot of the verbiage that Brendan Blumer and Dan Larimer are using recently kind of speaks towards an ecosystem with multiple chains. I think that's been there all the time, if you really listen for it.
Zack: Yeah. I agree.
Shaheen Counts: They were kind of saying that, they've emphasized it more I think in the last couple months.
Zack: Sometimes we forget things that are said a long time ago.
Shaheen Counts: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And people hear things the way they wanna hear them, and especially if you're thinking, "Okay, I own this EOS token. I want its value to be high, maybe these other channels can take away from that." I think that's always been the fear. But I think the reality is that I think all of these chains are just gonna help grow a healthier ecosystem. One where they're sharing tools, learning. It's like science, right? You don't get jealous of the lab next door, you can learn, build off of their infrastructure or their breakthroughs.
Shaheen Counts: I imagine ... We were talking about this a little earlier Dom and I were. I imagine a system where like it's going to be easier. It took us so much work to get the main net launched, months and lots of work by lots of teams.
Zack: You seem to spin up your chain pretty easily.
Dominick Thomas: Yeah, but to the value prop, EOS Detroit's a great example.
Zack: Yes, they're another one.
Dominick Thomas: I've seen them everywhere and they're one of our top 21 producers because we know what they bring to the ecosystem. Their enthusiasm for EOS, they're tireless, they're at every event. They're always promoting the network. And that was something we definitely thought about in giving them a position was, we knew that that was gonna keep their team going. It's going to give them something to look forward to. Hopefully we're gonna trade at a reasonable price here in the near future that will give them some revenue.
Dominick Thomas: We gave them some work on our portal. Because that's the other thing, people are not seeing the secondary value of chains. We're creating jobs in the industry as well, right? There's a lot of work to be done. There's another opportunity for DAPS to launch on another chain that might potentially be priced out in certain areas. We have a Worbli Network Fund, which will be another way for people to generate some fundraising.
Zack: So, tell me-
Dominick Thomas: All that, it all adds, right?
Zack: This fund, is it similar to what the WPS was meant to be?
Dominick Thomas: Exactly. Yeah, I worked on that committee with Thomas Cox and that's how I met a lot of people In the hospital I was very interested in the governance that's a big advantage to us, why we also chose EOS. Yeah, it's just gonna be a 1% inflation. It's gonna start out as a kind of a more straightforward application process. We've got a team within the foundation that will evaluate. But part of the decentralization process will be putting that out to the community.
Dominick Thomas: We think it'll be probably in the spirit of what the WPS was originally meant to be. Community voting, community committees deciding on the proposals, that kind of thing.
Zack: So the governance structure ... So your block producers are chosen because of the process to become one.
Dominick Thomas: Right.
Zack: If a block producer is, let's say, they're also in the 40s or 50s but they haven't been in touch with you. If they reached out to you, is there an opportunity of just bringing in more standbys you pretty much set in stone? How agile is your group of block producers you currently have? Are you basically set, or are they going to have some turnover over time? How do you expect that to turn out?
Dominick Thomas: We expect it to have upwards of at least 100. I've said that one of the huge strengths of EOS is you do have all of these technical teams, right? With surgeons, and computer programmers, and people with business backgrounds, graphic design, investment. It's a huge amount of talent that's attract.