In this episode, Benjamin Hor, market research analyst of CoinGecko is joined by Brandon Millman, co-founder and CEO of Phantom wallet. Benjamin interviewed Brandon on the background of Phantom, the differences between Phantom and other crypto wallets, their plans for NFTs, as well as their upcoming plans for Phantom.
[00:01:45] What is a wallet in crypto space?
[00:05:31] Why is Phantom built on Solana?
[00:08:15] What separates Phantom from other wallets?
[00:10:21] Phantom’s plans for NFTs
[00:12:16] Interesting stats on Phantom
[00:16:15] Thoughts on the front end designs of dApps
[00:18:05] Future features that can be introduced into crypto wallets
[00:23:50] Plans for Phantom in the second half of 2021 and 2022
Quotes from the episode:
“The most concrete plans we have right now is, number one, we want to support the NFT community on Ethereum by giving them a wallet where they can view their NFTs.” [00:10:52]
“In August we actually saw 2.3 million SOL stakes total, which at today's price is like around $260 million. And then we have an in-wallet swapper. We saw $105 million through that.” [00:13:07]
“Wallet is just not this static place to hold coins, can actually also be your sort of identity in this sort of Web 3.0 world.” [00:20:11]
Watch the Podcast on YouTube
Phantom - https://phantom.app/
CoinGecko - https://www.coingecko.com/
Bobby Ong [00:00:00]:
Welcome to the CoinGecko podcast. I'm your host, Bobby Ong. Each week we will be interviewing someone from the blockchain industry to learn more about this fast moving cryptocurrency economy. If this is your first time listening then, thanks for coming. The CoinGecko podcast is produced each week to help you stay ahead of the curve. Show notes can be found at podcast.coingecko.com. I highly encourage you to join our newsletter, where we send out top news in the crypto industry every Monday to Friday. Come back often and feel free to add the podcast to your favorite RSS feed or iTunes. You can also follow us on Twitter and Telegram at CoinGecko.
Benjamin Hor [00:00:38]:
Hi, Brandon. Welcome to the CoinGecko podcast. Welcome everybody. For today's episode, we have Brandon Millman, the co-founder and CEO of Phantom wallet, a Solana-based crypto wallet. If you're watching this on YouTube, we at CoinGecko would really appreciate if you hit the like and subscribe button below. Before we started the podcast episode, here's a little bit of info about Brandon Millman. Brandon was formally an engineering leader at 0x responsible for growing and developing multiple engineering teams throughout his tenure. These teams develop multiple decentralized technologies, including 0x's RFQ system, which is actually a tool for professional market makers to provide liquidity on Ethereum, as well as 0x's API, a multi chain DEX aggregation engine, which accounted for billions of dollars of trade volume per week. Prior to 0x, Brandon, was actually a senior engineer at Twitter, where he joined in 2013 and worked on many teams, spanning recommendations infrastructure, and Twitter for iOS. Welcome to the CoinGecko podcast, Brandon.
Brandon Millman [00:01:44]:
Hey, thank you.
Benjamin Hor [00:01:45]:
So let's get into it, Brandon. Without getting too technical, can you give us a simple explanation of what a wallet is in crypto?
Brandon Millman [00:01:53]:
Sure. And yeah. Thank you. Thank you for the introduction and I appreciate you having me on. So yeah, you know I guess what exactly is a wallet? So I guess I can tell you what a wallet, in my opinion, what a wallet used to be, and then what a wallet is today. So before, lot of people would consider a wallet to be a piece of software that you use to just hold and secure your crypto or digital assets. But actually the definition sort of evolved in the recent years and now a wallet can actually help you do stuff with your crypto too, by giving you access to a world of blockchain applications and dApp. So, and when I say dApp I mean, something like Uniswap, OpenSea applications on Solana, et cetera. Nowadays a wallet is more of a access point to those types of applications more than it is just a way to store your crypto.
Benjamin Hor [00:02:46]:
I guess what you're saying is, it's like a gateway now, right, to all sorts of applications.
Brandon Millman [00:02:51]:
Benjamin Hor [00:02:52]:
So before we get a little bit more into Phantom, I guess we want to explore abit, because you come from a very interesting background before crypto, you actually used to work as an engineer for Twitter. How and why did you end up making the switch to crypto?
Brandon Millman [00:03:07]:
Yeah, that's a good question. My experience probably resonates with quite a few people out there who currently work at "big tech companies". So yeah, you know, I, think over the years of working at a large scale consumer tech company, basically it became sort of disillusioned with the typical like work loop, which is usually involved at these companies. So, you know, it usually involves a lot of AB testing, politics, like various roadblocks and sort of a, kind of a loop that you go through and after sort of, you know, over four years of that just sorta became disillusioned with the entire process and everything and yeah. Sort of the magic of like software tech that sort of had before it's kind of lost at least for me. So, yeah, anyway, so I knew I kind of wanted to do something different kind of, I wanted to break into a nascent industry and eventually found myself into Ethereum, which at the time really blew my mind because it was sort of this entirely new way to build consumer apps, which I was very familiar with. So instead of signing in with an email and password, you just plug in your wallet. And, you know, everyone shares data on this sort of like huge open database. It was really interesting and very different from what I was used to.
And so, you know, eventually I found myself spending a lot more time, just like reading white papers, and this was like back in 2017 versus doing sort of normal work. And I found that as you know, this is like the signal and sign to just dive in. So anyway, that's how I got started. And you know, I actually sort of drawn in by sort of like this more consumer angle, stuff like decentralized Uber, decentralized Twitter. There's like a lot of chatter about those types of things like in 2017. Just cause it was like the first time people were sort of exposed to this sort of staking and then quickly realized that the technology was like way too early for these types of really lofty applications. So ended up looking for something more on the infrastructure side, and then I ended up finding my way over to 0x, which is actually this interesting blend between like infrastructure product, but also have like a consumer application angle to it as well, like trading being like the most popular thing to do on Ethereum at that time. So anyway, that's how I got started.
Benjamin Hor [00:05:31]:
Very interesting. I can totally relate to the disillusion with corporate lifestyle thing. Pretty much what happened to me as well. Anyway, now let's get back to Phantom, right? So Phantom is based on Solana and I guess the question is why did you choose to build in Solana as opposed to other chains like Ethereum? Are there even any other plans to build on other chains?
Brandon Millman [00:05:56]:
Yeah, I get this question a lot. Yeah, you know, my co-founders and I spent four years doing sort of this deep dive on Ethereum. So we come from this Ethereum background pretty much experts in dApps in the Ethereum world and launched number of like large scale, widely used dApps. So basically we knew we wanted to tackle this problem of developing a wallet that's a gateway to blockchain applications. And when, when we got started, basically what we wanted to do was take a bet on a nascent ecosystem that was missing its flagship sort of gateway or wallet for applications and so we were kind of considered a number of different chains. And at the time Solana had like a lot of early signal that it would be a big winner that at least that we saw. So we have basically every single new blockchain platform has the same sort of pitch, faster and cheaper. That's sort of like the crux of it. So of course you have sort of like baseline stuffs like that. But I think there was other things like from our perspective, there was actually a small, but actually genuine core of community development around the technology. Solana had this adjacency to big players like FTX and jump trading, stuff like that.
And another crucial thing for us coming from this decentralized exchange background was a very large deployment of native USDC on the chain and we knew that liquidity for stable coins is sort of lifeblood of decentralized exchange activity. So that was another big sign for us. Yeah. So that was, you know, a couple of things. I think another key observation was that there was a very large overlap of users on Solana on other chains as well. So basically there's people who are using Solana, they didn't just come from nowhere. A lot of them had started on Ethereum and they wanted to branch out or, you know, got sort of priced out because of the fee situation earlier this year. But anyway, so that, you know, that's how we got started. But our medium to long term goal is to become a multi-chain wallet that gives users access to kind of a world of dApps no matter where they live. So we're sort of starting our journey with Solana. But our first foray into sort of becoming on multi-chain wallet will be with our cooperation of Ethereum, which is going to be later this year.
Benjamin Hor [00:08:15]:
Oh, sounds good! So I guess the big question is what separates Phantom from other wallets, let's say Sollet or Metamask?
Brandon Millman [00:08:25]:
Totally. Yeah, what separates them? I'd say, I could rattle off features. So stuff like you know, there's like you can view your NFTs in the wallet, or you can stake in the wallet. You can like participate in the underlying network and stuff like that. But in my opinion, the key difference is sort of like the DNA envisioned for the product. So I might sound a little bit cliche, but basically we're just taking an extremely user first approach to everything that we do at Phantom. And that actually goes beyond just the app itself, but also into areas like support, messaging, content, social media, stuff like that. Basically it all comes together to, with the goal of forming a brand and experience that users really love. And that's something that's actually been missing from the crypto industry as a whole, in my opinion. So I'd say that's like the real key differentiator, and I think you kind of see that when you read some of the reviews or look at some of the hype, like a lot of it is about a user having that like amazing first time experience with the product. And then I think one more thing is that we're building the wallet at a later time than some of those others. And so we get to basically enjoy the advantage of having a lot of these trends, like DeFi, NFT, multi-chain, they're sort of at the forefront right now. And we basically get to design the wallet with those trends in mind, whereas, for example, something like a Metamask came out in 2016,2017, you know, that terminology did not even exist so they could not even design a wallet around it. So we're sort of lucky that we're coming a bit later. People have sort of figured out what blockchains are good for, or at least a couple of different things like DeFi and NFTs. And so yeah, we get to like, sort of benefit from that.
Benjamin Hor [00:10:15]:
Yeah. I guess it's the second mover advantage [inaudible].
Brandon Millman [00:10:20] :
Benjamin Hor [00:10:21]:
Yeah. So you mentioned NFTs quite a bit. And I myself and I guess everyone else is quite familiar and kind of riding the JPEG hype. And I personally also use Phantom as well. What I really like about Phantom is the NFT display, like you mentioned. Are there any other plans for Phantom to further capitalize on the NFT hype?
Brandon Millman [00:10:43]:
Yeah. I'd say, yeah, concretely, we've been chatting about sort of a few ideas, but we don't, we don't have anything super concrete. I mean, well I guess like the most concrete plans we have right now is, number one, we want to support the NFT community on Ethereum by giving them a wallet where they can view their NFTs. Right now, actually entire Ethereum space is sort of underserved in that sense. Typically the mental model for users is that the wallet is storing their coins and that's what they get with ERC-20. They go over to OpenSea whatever they buy an NFT, and then for some reason, it doesn't show up in their wallet, sort of breaks their mental model. And so we want to, yeah, first of all, to support the NFT community, the largest one at the moment on Ethereum by giving them a wallet where they can view their NFTs. I guess that's something concretely that we're going to be doing to kind of capitalize on the NFTs sort of trend and yeah, the second thing is that we're going to be building and providing mobile apps so that people can sort of participate in NFT drops or on the go, which is something that we hear about a lot. A lot of, you know, these NFT drops have happened on certain times, so, and people may not have ready access to their laptop or computer. So they, they really want like a mobile option. And so that's also something that we're going to help try to provide for people, especially on the Solana side at the moment. So, yeah.
Benjamin Hor [00:12:08]:
Yeah. I'm smiling because I can completely relate.
Brandon Millman [00:12:10]:
Benjamin Hor [00:12:14]:
[inaudible] or airdrops, definitely. So anyway Phantom actually launched in April, right, early April this year. So do you have any interesting stats on the project that can share with our listeners?
Brandon Millman [00:12:25]:
Yeah, we launched in April. Basically, yeah, we had started with sort of this beta program where originally you would sign up with your email to get in and then you move to this more like invite-code-based model. Anyway, the point is we've been sort of slowly ramping up since April and yeah, we just finished up August. So I can sort of rattle off some stats about sort of like how our August went. So, yeah, I'll just talk about a couple of them and yeah. If any of them don't make sense, just let me know. So yeah, we had 180,000 monthly actives for August, which was awesome. We have this sort of in-app staking, so you can participate in this Solana network and by staking to a validator. In August we actually saw 2.3 million SOL stakes total, which is at today's price is like around $260 million. And then we have an in-wallet swapper. We saw $105 million through that. And then yeah, of course you can use the wallet to interact with dApps and stuff like that. And so in terms of like dApp transactions or anytime someone saw a pop-up, they clicked confirm. So we saw like a 1.8 million times of dApp transactions to the wallet. Just the month of August.
Benjamin Hor [00:13:40]:
So I'm curious, what was it like before August? Because I'm guessing that the numbers here are actually a sign of huge growth because of the NFT hype currently in Solana. Is that correlated with the users growth?
Brandon Millman [00:13:56]:
Totally. Yeah. There's definitely a number of launches that happened in August specifically that are fueling a lot of that growth. I'd say NFTs definitely has a lot to do with it, but then there's also a couple other things going on. There's this project Star Atlas, which is doing an IDO. There is Raydium did sort of like a campaign, and Mango Markets also did their token launch as well. And so I think all of those factors combined sort of made August like a really awesome month.
Benjamin Hor [00:14:26]:
All right. Sounds great. So like I said, I'm actually a Phantom wallet users as well, and I really liked it. And I was also reading some of reviews about your wallet, and one particularly caught my eye. I'll be reading it out here. So, "A wallet can make or break a chain. Having spent some time with Phantom's beta, I can say that makes using Solana a lot more fun." Reading this statement actually reminded me of what you actually said earlier about the gateway and how it becomes a gateway. A wallet becomes a gateway. Could you explain in that context, why wallets are essential to chain survivability?
Brandon Millman [00:15:01]:
Yeah, honestly it's pretty straight forward. I mean, it doesn't matter how like fast or fancy the chain is underneath. Basically a user's first experience really matters. Is it something that most people can understand? People using application they open it for the first time, they have a first experience first touch of it, it really colors their sort of entire experience moving forward. So, and really someone's experienced with a blockchain and with a wallet is actually sort of one in the same experience. And if someone's first experience with a blockchain is with like a very slick and polished product, then they maybe have like a 10 times or even maybe like a hundred more times more likeliness to stick around. And so, yeah, basically that's the way I see it. You know, the entire sort of space right now is just stuck in this sort of tools made for developers for consumption by other developers sort of mindset. But you know, yeah, everyone can agree, like first impressions really matter. And if someone is using something like Phantom to interact with Solana for the first time, and in my opinion, they're like way more likely to come back and use it again because they had such a great time.
Benjamin Hor [00:16:15]:
Yeah. So actually, you kind of led me into my next question, which is talking about front end design, because like you said, a lot of apps in crypto are designed for developers, maybe not really designed for consumers and normal users. So what are your thoughts on the current state of the user-friendliness of dApps and especially for front end designs?
Brandon Millman [00:16:39]:
Yeah. Overall stuff is definitely getting much better. That's definitely true. Especially when you kind of look back at what we had with like in 2017. Do you remember like ETH or Delta, that type of stuff, like overall it's definitely getting better. But I feel like we're sort of at this local maximum right now where there's just a really low bar. And it's not getting better cause there's not really any short-term incentive to make it better, at least for a developer. I think it's sad, but the way that the short-term incentives are structured right now, it's honestly way easier to copy and paste something as quick as possible and grab cash than it is to actually like thoughtfully hone a product and experience. And, you know, that's sort of like the state of things today. So people are sort of incentivized to get something out as quickly as possible, hype it up as much as possible and without necessarily thinking with a five-year outline set or something like that. You know what I mean? Like, Because the payouts don't come out until that amount of time later. Anyway, so yeah, basically, yeah, one of the things that we're trying to aim to do with Phantom is kind of like redefine where that bar lays for the industry. And actually just like, yeah, like I said, just like create like a thoughtful and a cloned experience.
Benjamin Hor [00:18:00]:
Yeah. I completely agree. Like I said, fan of Phantom. Anyway, crypto wallets are quite straightforward right now in the sense that they are platform, you mentioned that they are gateway to store and secure digital assets. You have any thoughts on what other products or features that can be introduced or integrate with in the future?
Brandon Millman [00:18:20]:
Well, yeah. Yeah, like I alluded to earlier, I think yeah, wallets are, nowadays they're actually much more than just a platform to store and secure crypto. Nowadays wallets are sort of this window or gateway into dApps and I think that right now people are just starting to figure out that that's the case and learning to think about wallets a bit differently and this trend will move just more in that direction. And so because of this, yeah, wallets are sort of a really natural place to take, like " verbs that people usually do with their cryptos, like swapping staking lending, Wallets are really great place to take things like that and perhaps incorporate them directly into the wallet in this more convenient form. So I think over time, sort of see the wallet perhaps blend more of this gateway becoming an application itself or, you know right now having sort of different types of windows into applications, like right now with Metamask or Phantom, obviously you can visit any site you want and connect to it. That's sort of one way to access a window. But you can also imagine it's sort of like similar to the way that there's like a swapper in Phantom right now. There's a world where we take like different things that people love to do in dApps, and sort of distill them down to like a more convenient form, like directly into the wallet. Right now we do that with like swapping and staking. I think there's like a lot of opportunity to do that with other things that people love to do.
Benjamin Hor [00:19:46]:
So I get the hint earlier that you mentioned decentralized platforms and you coming from Twitter itself, do you think that might be a potential consideration where people chat through wallets? Social media.
Brandon Millman [00:19:59]:
Yeah. I mean like, I can't say that we have any concrete plans for that, but that's definitely possible. And yeah, that's also part of sort of this new mental model of what a wallet is. Wallet is just not this static place to hold coins, can actually also be your sort of identity in this sort of Web 3.0 world. And so, you know, if it's your sort of identity in this world, it also may be the most natural place to tackle a problem like that as well. And so, yeah, definitely. It's definitely interesting idea and definitely could be something that we venture into or whatever, but I'll be clear that we don't necessarily have any concrete plans at the moment.
Benjamin Hor [00:20:38]:
Oh yeah. It's still a long road ahead.
Brandon Millman [00:20:40]:
Benjamin Hor [00:20:42]:
Okay. So there have been talks about wallets, like Metamask, who have hinted at token drops in the future. Right. And coming from a wallet yourself, what is your opinion on wallet-based tokens and how can they bring value to the both, the project and its users?
Brandon Millman [00:20:59]:
Yeah, that's an interesting one. I can say that I have also heard those rumors or whatever. I think it's an interesting space overall. I'll be curious to see if Metamask does it, and I'm just interested in seeing what happens. You know, for us, it's something that's on the table. I mean, it feels like everyone is doing a token nowadays. Like no matter if it really makes sense or not. So, you know, like for us, it's on the table, but you know, we don't really have any concrete plans at the moment to do on. You know, in my opinion to do one would be to the goal would to be, to sort of decentralize the wallet, spread the decision-making and sort of direction of the wallet across like a community of users that love to use it. Personally, that would be my design goal with, with of launching a token. The problem with that right now is that in my opinion, we're actually nowhere close to fully understanding how the wallet fully evolves. We barely have scratched the surface with like what dApps are, right? Like people are just figuring this stuff out. And so, yeah, we're nowhere close to understanding like how this stuff is going to shake out. And so it doesn't really make sense to try to decentralize a wallet at this point. The environment that we're in right now, because it's rapidly changing it requires a lot of very tight focus and iteration to get things done right. And that's just not going to happen in this sort of decentralized community environment. That type of thing requires like a very tight focus team to be like with their sole focus on just iterating on that without sort of the baggage of perhaps doing a coin vote or something every time something needs to happen or something like that. So I'd say at this point probably doesn't make sense, but in the future could definitely make sense.
Benjamin Hor [00:22:49]:
I get it. It's trying to make sure that tokenomics doesn't interfere with the product or governance.
Brandon Millman [00:22:56]:
Yeah. I mean, I'd say, and this is a, you know, this is something I guess a quote from Will, who is like the CEO of 0x, I think he would say a lot is basically we want to create something that's worth governing. If this token is supposed to be a governance token over a protocol, we want to create like a protocol that's worth governing. I think very similarly like we want to create this wallet that's worth like being owned by the community and decentralizing it first, before we even consider doing something like that. And in my opinion, we're like not even close. Like we've created this cool product, people like it or whatever, but the entire ground is sort of shifting underneath our feet and there's going to be a lot of challenges ahead and a lot of ideas. So once that point comes, I think we could be interested in potentially doing something like that, but in my opinion, yeah, it's not the time right now.
Benjamin Hor [00:23:46]:
Right. I get it. Totally get it. So I guess my last question for you is this what are the plans of Phantom in the second half of 2021, and later on 2022? You've already alluded to potentially creating a wallet on Ethereum. Anything else?
Brandon Millman [00:24:04]:
Totally, yeah. So, I'd say for 2021 and just closing up the year we have basically three main focuses. So the first focus is to continue to perfect and push forward the experience that we have today on Solana. And so what we have is a great start, but there's definitely things that we can be improving on around user safety, education, and just features in general. So we really want to make sure we're pushing that forward, sort of being in the position that we are now. Second main focus is to incorporate Ethereum into the wallet, like I mentioned earlier. That's going to be really interesting cause that'd be our first foray into the wallet going from like single chain wallet to multi-chain wallet. And so that will incorporate a number of changes sort of in the way people interact with the app and stuff. So, that's gonna be awesome. And then, third focus is to develop mobile apps. And so, that's a number of things. Quite a few things, but that's what we're going to be focusing on for the end of 2021. And for 2022 it's a little bit more open. We definitely want to be incorporating more networks and chains. The actual sort of ordering and maneuvering around that. It's not something that's totally set in stone yet. But it's pretty safe to say we're going to be incorporating more chains over the course of 2022.
And yeah, I guess one other thing right now is, that's on my mind for 2022 is, we really want to start to push the boundaries of what the wallet is and stuff like that. Right now, we are sort of "playing catch up", like there's a lot a number of wallets already on the market. There's a set of features that everyone expects from a wallet. And so we're sort of in this mode right now where we are getting to that point where we have everything that everyone already expects from a wallet. And by the end of 2021, I think that we'll have all those things. But in 2022, what we really want to do is sort of push the boundaries on a lot of these different aspects of the wallet product. So, you know, for example, onboarding. Onboarding is something that most people feel like can be improved. A lot of times we show users these mnemonics, and recovery phrases, and expect them to know how to store them safely and stuff like that. "Just copy this and store it somewhere." That's usually what people say. It can be a lot better than that for sure. Basically 2022, we want to take the time to really divide the product into different sections or areas that like onboarding, education, et cetera, and really think about how we can sort of innovate on those things, like push them forward. Right now we're sort of just getting up to speed with everyone else. And next year is going to be a lot about like pushing the onboard a lot more.
Benjamin Hor [00:26:50]:
So 2022 is the year of innovation then, right. So yeah, it sounds really cool. I think I'm all out of questions now. Is there anything else you would like to add or share that I might have missed out?
Brandon Millman [00:27:02]:
Yeah, no, that's that's a good question. I think it was pretty comprehensive. I, we talked about pretty much everything that I wanted to talk about. Yeah, I just wanted to emphasize like it's been like a really awesome experience launching a consumer product in crypto. It's a double-edged sword, the user base is extremely rabid. And so, there's no shortage. There's a fire hose of suggestions and things that people want that you hear from Twitter and et cetera. And sometimes it can be quite overwhelming. But also recognize that it's almost like a super power for someone who's launching an application in crypto to sort of get this very direct access to feedback and suggestions from users. I think there's a very few other industries where that actually is the case. And so, yeah, I just wanted to mention that that was kind of an interesting thing for people who may be on the outside of crypto, who are looking in, and they're curious to start something or they're curious to do something. It's been really a really awesome and unique experience in that sense. Just sort of having such direct access to your actual consumers. Yeah, I think that's pretty much it for me.
Benjamin Hor [00:28:06]:
Okay. Thank you so much, Brandon, for your time. Thank you for sharing. Yeah. Thank you for tuning in guys for the podcast.
Brandon Millman [00:28:14]:
Bobby Ong [00:28:15]:
All right, that wraps up the show. Thank you for listening to the CoinGecko podcast. If you like our show and want to know more, check out podcast.coingecko.com or please leave us a review on iTunes. If you have any feedback, do drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us for more next week. See ya.
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