Here we are for one more Decred talk! This is the Decred Magazine series in which we interview members from crypto-communities to talk about our projects and market-related topics. Today we are with Reuben Yap, Co-Founder and Project Steward of the Firo organization.
Hey Reuben, how are you doing?
Reuben: Doing pretty good but it’s a pretty challenging environment right now! Slightly disheartened with the recent news of Binance prohibiting privacy coins from being traded in France due to MICA regulations but it reinforces my view of the need of DEXes like DCRDex.
Glad that you are good, but those news surely create new challenges for our communities. Can you tell us a little about you? What is your Professional background? And what are your personal interests?
Reuben: Sure! I’m based in a little city on the island of Borneo in Malaysia and still consider myself to be a small town guy. Prior to going full time with Firo, I was a lawyer for 10 years where I focused mainly on corporate law and also assisting the state government in analysing their institutional frameworks and laws. I also started a pretty popular VPN service back in 2007 as an answer to online censorship and mass surveillance which got me down into the privacy rabbit hole.
I have a lot of personal interests! I run an Aikido dojo and actively box and also do some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on the side. I also play chess and Overwatch 2 to clear my mind.
Nice! I'm from Brazil so i'm really glad to see that you are interested in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Now let's talk about our main topic, how were you first introduced to the crypto market? And how/when did you become involved with the founding of the Firo project?
Reuben: I was actually introduced to the crypto market via my VPN business at the end of 2012. We were being cut off payment processors as they deemed VPN services as a risk in the same category as gambling and pornography despite it being a legitimate business. It made me aware of how financial institutions served as gatekeepers to the financial system. Additionally some of my VPN customers had said that we should accept cryptocurrency payments if we cared about privacy and that’s when we started accepting Bitcoin and Dash before expanding to other cryptocurrencies. This ignited my interest into cryptocurrencies and I jumped headlong in, assembling ASIC miners and running a mini farm. I also started holding cryptocurrency meetups in my town and I’m proud to say that many of my early attendees are now full time into the blockchain and cryptocurrency space.
Technically, I’m not a founder in the true sense of the word. There were two original founders but one was ousted early on in the project after he could not account for the funds raised from original seed investors which included people like Roger Ver. I actually joined one month after the launch of mainnet and as the other remaining founder Poramin was keen to continue and develop Zcoin (as it then was before the rebrand to Firo), I assisted him in navigating the drama and this is where my legal experience also came to the fore.
Over the years, I grew into the role and gradually assumed more and more responsibilities till I was basically directing the development and research team of Firo and Poramin was comfortable with me sharing the co-founder title with him in recognition of my contribution to the project.
That's a very interesting path that you walked. What do you like the most about FIRO? Were you expecting that it would get this big?
Reuben: I’m a big privacy advocate and one of the things that really attracted me to cryptocurrency was that it served as an alternative financial system. In a way I still see myself as someone that embraces the cypherpunk movement in that privacy preserving technology can change society to preserve individual liberty and freedoms. This is especially so with the advent of social media and mass surveillance that have shifted the scales of power towards the state and large corporations.
I am really proud of the work we have done in the field of privacy and we have really contributed to the space. The first protocol we deployed, Zerocoin was among the top three most used privacy protocols in the blockchain space. Our latest developments, Lelantus and Lelantus Spark have spurred interest in a whole new family of privacy protocols based on Grootle zk-proofs including Seraphis and Triptych in Monero and Lelantus-MW in Beam.
I wouldn’t say we are big yet but we have a growing group of people who appreciate the work and mission that we do here in Firo and we’re seeing many contributors from other projects as well who are keen to collaborate or contribute directly to Firo! The plus side of being in the depths of the bear market is that new contributors to the project will tend to stay as they are here for things beyond price appreciation.
Have you been working on anything new for the project lately?
Reuben: Yes I’ve been hard at work with the team to launch the testnet for Lelantus Spark, our hotly awaited new privacy protocol that will be Firo’s biggest upgrade yet. It allows for fully shielded payments hiding sender, receiver and amounts and does this using specialised zero-knowledge proofs that do not require any trusted setup and are designed to be easy to understand and deploy.
We also recently embarked on research on curve trees as an upgrade to Lelantus Spark to give it global anonymity sets and we have some really promising results!
Does Firo have a formal process for upgrades? If so, how does this process work?
Reuben: For technical upgrades, the Firo core team always announces what it’s working on and seeks community feedback for it. Then when we roll out the upgrade, people can choose to upgrade or not but generally technical upgrades have been non contentious.
For fundamental changes for e.g. to tokenomics, it happens on our Firo Forums where someone or the core team makes a suggestion and solicits feedback from the community. If there’s enough interest, it then goes to a vote and depending on the results, for e.g. if there’s a close tie, it may result in several rounds of voting. Eligibility of votes generally is from forum level where we recognize long term users who have been actively involved in the community discussions. This also makes it harder to rig votes with spam accounts while also not requiring any significant proof of Firo.
One of the things where we differ from Decred is that while coin holders are critical to Firo, the amount of coins you hold should not be the sole determinant of the weight of the vote otherwise it can result in whale capture. We have seen many times in the past in other projects where large stakeholders can vote to enrich themselves at the cost of the project, choosing to rentseek for quick gains instead of the long term growth of the project. Much like how most of us would agree that the richest person in the country shouldn’t necessarily be the person running it, the same goes for a project.
Instead, we believe that open discourse with reasoned public debate with the community generally leads to sound decisions that are more inclusive.
How do you see the future of Firo and the crypto market?
Reuben: I do think that we are at the cusp of a major shift in the way we think about crypto assets. While I would describe the current crypto ecosystem as still a massive online casino with magic internet money, there is a slow but steady move towards treating it as a recognized asset in the public consciousness. There will be a push and pull between those who want to stop and hinder it via regulation and those that will embrace it as people begin to lose trust in fiat currency and seek for an alternative. We are already seeing the beginnings of this with regulation ramping up using the excuse of FTX’s collapse to try and handicap crypto adoption and also ban privacy coins (which ironically had nothing to do with FTX’s failure).
For those who need an alternative, I think Firo offers a strong case by keeping your funds unseizable and private and our instant transactions also make it quick to confirm and final too making it also usable for face to face transactions. Additionally the hope is that with Elysium our private assets platform, it would also make Firo into a privacy infrastructure for other assets to enjoy native privacy. With our upcoming Spark Assets protocol, all assets contribute to each other’s privacy so that a dog coin is indistinguishable from a stable coin or even native Firo!
What other projects are you interested in? How do they differ from FIRO?
Monero is a project that really interests me. While the tech may be getting a bit long in the tooth, the way it has sustained real adoption despite regulatory challenges and surviving off totally on donations and community contributions is a real feat. It has well thought out designs from their dynamic block sizes and tail emission along with a strong cypherpunk spirit. In a way as many have rightfully pointed out, it is what Bitcoin should have been. I of course follow what other privacy projects are doing such as Railgun, Zcash, Panther Protocol, Zano, Beam, Particl and PIVX just to name a few.
While Ethereum has its own problems, I think it’s one of the few projects that remain intellectually honest about its strengths and limitations. Despite the lack of privacy and is still in the midst of solving its scalability, it has enriched the crypto ecosystem not just from asset creation but creating a whole financial ecosystem around it. Many of the industry’s best ideas stem from Ethereum which is then ported over to other L1s.
Radix is also an interesting project with a scalable consensus mechanism but also a new programming language Scrypto that aims to make it easy for developers to code safe smart contracts.
Now changing the subject a little, do you know anything about the Decred project?
Of course! Decred is one of the OG projects that pioneered on-chain governance, a hybrid proof of stake and proof of work system and also their CoinShuffle++ integration. I consider them a kindred spirit that has stayed true to its course and one of the better actors in the space. It’s no wonder that many Firo supporters are also Decred supporters too!
What are your opinions on the current Social Media platforms? Decred launched a new take on Social Media called Bison Relay, a platform that enables free speech, and free association, where every message sent is encrypted, metadata-minimized, and paid for via LN micropayment. What are your thoughts on this initiative?
Reuben: I totally support the idea behind Bison Relay and I believe there’s a need for such a platform. While my opinion might not gain me fans among the Decred community, I think in its current incarnation, it will struggle gaining traction if it’s aimed to be a social media platform. Having run it, I found having to set up a wallet, save the seed, sync the wallet and on top of that get funds into it to even begin looking into things, it’s a hard sell. In fact I gave up at the point where it told me I needed to add wallet funds and create outbound channels.
With social media platforms, one of the most important things is having a big audience which has multiplier effects and having all these onboarding frictions will limit the size of the audience. I do understand if it intends to be a small niche censorship resistant, private and decentralised free speech platform and if so, its design choices reflect that but at the cost of user experience. We also have to remember that the value of a platform is also its reach.
I see that at least one Firo community member "DevWarrior" is working hard on getting Firo's DCRDEX integration ready. What helped convince the Firo team that DCRDEX would be a good fit for your project? And do you have any plans for promotion and liquidity once the listing and pairs are available?
I think devwarrior is a big Decred supporter too!
Being a privacy coin, the need for cross-chain DEXes are critical and given that our communities have natural synergies it would definitely make sense. We definitely would happily do cross promotion and offer some liquidity and I believe devwarrior is checking to see if there are any ready made tools for liquidity provision.
How do you think the Decred and Firo communities could integrate more?
Reuben: Well interview opportunities like these are great and I think with the integration of DCRDex, there would be greater synergies between both projects! We hope to return the favour and invite DCR leaders and prominent community members into our own spaces or chats. It’s always refreshing to hear what other projects are doing.
Also if there is any joint research that we could undertake especially in the area of DEXes or privacy, that would be a great way for both projects to collaborate.
That was a really great talk, thanks a lot Reuben! Please leave a final message to the Crypto community!
Reuben: Please drop by our Firo socials to find out more and we really welcome new people into our community! Stay tuned also for our Lelantus Spark testnet launch as well that should be coming anytime now!