EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Matthew Spoke, Founder & CEO of AION Network

EDCON 2018 took place in Toronto last week and Cryptovest had a chance to catch up with Matthew Spoke to discuss the future of AION, the roadmap for the rest of 2018, some key challenges, and some advice from Matt.

AION is a multi-layer blockchain network that was designed to solve the primary challenges faced by 1st  generation blockchains. This includes scalability, privacy, and interoperability. The AION Network has the ability to bridge different blockchains, both private and public. Matthew Spoke, the founder and CEO of AION, has a very impressive background and is a very strong leader with the ability to guide this project to success. Interoperability is a key issue for mass adoption and it’s great to see that Matthew has been working on a solution. With his vast experience from consulting at Deloitte, to being a Fintech advisor for the Ontario Securities Commission, as well as being a current board member of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.

CV: I'm here with Matthew Spoke, CEO and founder of AION at EDCON 2018. Why don't you tell me about what AION is planning to accomplish for the rest of 2018.

Matthew Spoke: So I guess two general categories, tech and non-tech. On the technical side, we just released our mainnet about two weeks ago. It went extremely well, so now it's a matter of ramping that up, so that's on the mining side. It's a proof of work for hash network, so there's a number of new nodes joining the network on a daily basis. We're working on a couple of partnerships to kind of make sure that there's a good amount of stability on the mainnet. We’re starting to get projects considering AION as where they might host and launch their applications and their businesses, maybe even their ICO's. So that is the mainnet itself.

The next major milestone that's coming is we're building this token bridge that essentially allows us to migrate our AION ARC20 token, which is on the Ethereum network over to the AION native coin. So designing this decentralized bridging protocol for us to be able do that migration. It's kind of a single use case bridge right now, just for the movement of the AION coin, but the goal is to then take that bridge design and broaden it so you can very generically do the movement of any coin or token across those two networks. So that you can essentially, on one side lock up a balance, on the other side create a balance, and make sure that you still maintain that constant supply. It could sit on top of multiple networks, so there's a few gap projects in the Ethereum ecosystem that we're working with on doing a dual implementation of their apps.

CV: Can you name any of them or is it confidential?

Matthew Spoke: Well the one that we've already somewhat been public about is...We have a partnership with Bancorp that... we were in Tel Aviv couple weeks ago doing some tests and demos with Bancorp around what it would look like to relaunch Bancorp on top of AION. Then eventually what it would look like to actually use the bridge so that the Bancorp BNT token could float between the two networks pretty freely. And then we've got a couple of new applications that are just going to be natively launching on top of AION.

So that's just the mainnet itself. Some of them, we're waiting for that bridge functionality to be able to do and we're talking a lot more about what do cross chain applications look like. Applications that are not restricted or constrained to a single network, but applications that could build their token supply and logic on top of multiple networks.

CV: So if an existing ERC20 token moves onto the AION mainnet, is backwards compatibility an issue for them at all?

Matthew Spoke: No. We did a migration demo at AION X this week. So we had our first Developer Conference, and the migration is… I'd say you're in the 95 to 98% compatibility [range]. When you're looking at an existing Solidity based application on Ethereum, there's a couple of characteristics that we've changed. We've done some redesign on how the VM is structured for optimizing performance, and we've changed a couple of things like the data work size, so if you're building an Ethereum app, you'll refer in the Solidity contract to the 256-bit data work size. So there's little switches like that. We have a 128-bit default data work size, but generally, it's a five-minute effort to take an existing app and migrate it. We did a demo of what it looks like to migrate Bancorp.

The other big 2018 technical monster that we're working on is we're designing a completely new VM from scratch...the AION virtual machine. It'll continue to support Solidity as a smart contracting language, but the actual execution engine will be completely redesigned. And the purpose for that is we're building a new smart contracting language that's like a Java family language.

CV: So you're building your own specifically for the AION network?

Matthew Spoke: Yeah. It’s more to capture a lot of the strengths of the Java ecosystem and for a lot of these mainstream engineers that work heavily in the Java ecosystem and there's just some performance and security features of Java that we really like as a language. So we're taking a lot of the design characteristics of the Java virtual machine and using them to design the AION virtual machine. Probably the easiest point of comparison that we'll be able to point to is the idea of parallel transaction processing versus sequential transaction processing for...larger scale. So we've got a dedicated team just working on that design and when we implement that into the network, you'll still be able to run Solidity apps. There will still be that backwards compatibility, but there will also be a new option for running apps in a Java language.

CV: So where do you see AION in the next two years? What do you hope to accomplish?

Matthew Spoke: We set some targets this week at AION X that we made public. I guess, in terms of quantifiable targets, we're targeting AION to be...and this one's a little bit more subjective, it's tough to measure, but AION to be a top-five DApp platform within 12 months, so in terms of places where people will build their applications. There's a lot of outreach and awareness and community growth that we need to to do to make that happen. We have a target to make it a top 10 mined network for proof work like GPU networks, so if you look across at Monero, Zcash, Ethereum Classic, and Ethereum. Getting into that top 10 list of cache power that's pointing to the network and then top 10 by market cap, overall, that’s our 12-month targets.

Beyond that, the looser targets just have to do with more physical locations for our teams. More meetups, more face time with developers in the community. We're doing a lot on the corporate partnership side. We're still heavily involved in the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. I sit on the board of directors there, and so part of our strategy is also going after the attention of some of these larger corporations as to why AION is a good fit for some of their challenges where they’re still talking about private networks and now increasingly talking about private networks and how they connect to public networks and so interoperability is becoming a big question in the enterprise market; it’s where we want to pitch them on connecting into a public network at some point.

One thing that's probably worth mentioning ... we kind of ... again, we announced this on Wednesday [At Aion X on May 2, 2018]. We're shutting down our business [NUCO], so we don't have a business per se anymore. We don't do client services. We don't build products for customers.

CV: So is that the Nuco side of it?

Matthew Spoke: Yeah. Well, it used to be called Nuco, where we do a lot of custom work with banking clients and government clients and that type of thing. Where it was developing proof of concept applications for different use cases, in different industries. We've shut that down. So now exclusively, we're rebranding ourselves and restructuring ourselves into the AION Foundation. It's gonna be completely non-profit like R&D Initiative. Still with an eye towards partnering and evangelizing what we're building but our goal is to create an ecosystem of companies that use what we're building to build business models, services and products around us. So we've got about 15 companies today, all in, in terms of companies that are using AION as their underlying infrastructure. We're trying to grow that to, call it, 50 in the next year, of companies that would go to market selling AION as the solution.  We're just there to actually continue pushing the roadmap of AION forward and support these companies however we can, but we won't get involved in the end customer [or] custom work that needs to be done.

CV: So it's more a business to business?

Matthew Spoke: Yeah, It's more like ... think of it as not too different from how the Ethereum Foundation is structured. [The] Ethereum Foundation would not go out and do a project for a bank, but there [are] many companies in the ecosystem that would do that using Ethereum as a foundational technology.

CV: Okay, so the BIA, AION, Wanchain, ICON...you guys have been collaborating?

Matthew Spoke:  Yeah.

CV: Sort of sharing technology and resources, I assume, together, for a while. What would you say differentiates AION from the other two? Even though all three are focusing on interoperability.

Matthew Spoke: Very different use cases. I think we're the only ones that are taking a very specific focus on the generic interoperability between, not only financial applications, but even non-financial applications on top of blockchains between public and private networks. Wanchain is a good example. The majority of their protocol is focused on token swapping and token trading across many networks, which is a huge market. It's like, lock up [a] token here, unlock a token here, and allow for it to trade on a single chain. The Wanchain design [is[ using secure multi-party compute, so we're really interested in the design of that function but that function is not the breadth of our design. ICON, very similarly, they still run a for-profit business that launches consortium chains in South Korea. They have a consortium chain of securities companies, a consortium chain of universities, and a consortium chain of ... I think four or five of these things. And they really designed ICON as kind of...they call it the nexus, the connecting fabric to bring these South Korean consortiums together.

They [ICON] may go beyond that, but they still have this design of, “Let's build consortiums and then, let's connect those consortiums to each other." And so ICON almost came out of necessity to make sure that there was a mechanism to connect those consortiums. So, different approaches to the market, different use cases.

CV: What's one piece of advice that you would give someone who is just starting out in the blockchain space? Or new developers that are looking to get involved? Based on your experience so far, what's one piece of advice that you would give them on how to start? Some failures to avoid. Just some tips.

Matthew Spoke: Depends on their background, but generally speaking, make sure you have a good clear understanding of what problem you're trying to solve. I think there's a lot of people in the market today that are just out there because of the hype and the excitement and the money to be made and if you just try to boil it down to, "What are you actually doing? And what are you building?" It's tough to get a clear answer sometimes. So focus on the problem to be solved. I think that long-term, it's easy to get caught up in the short-term hype. Long-term, the projects that survive and that last, would be the ones that have fundamentally changed something, like technically changed something and matured something. There's too few of those types of projects, and I think we could use a lot more people that are focused on the fundamentals.

CV: One more question, just about the regulatory environment. I saw that you're working with the Ontario Ministry of Finance.

Matthew Spoke: Yeah, I'm on the Board of Advisors to the Ministry of Finance right now. There's an election coming up so that board might change. I've been on the board of the Ontario Securities Commission through 2017, and I'd say it's tough. There's a group of companies right now in Canada...We actually just had a meeting earlier today with a bunch of us representing BC and Ontario.

Right now, we've got a couple of guys in Quebec that we're talking to about the changes that need to happen to make Canada a really welcoming place for this type of technology and it's not an easy problem to solve because it touches so many layers of government and it touches so many types of legislation. A lot of people talk about securities legislations being the biggest challenge but there's also tax policy. There's also anti-money laundering rules. Some of this is provincial, some of this is federal, so it becomes really complicated in terms of how do you actually, meaningfully move the needle. We are in the process of organizing an industry association among Canadian companies to start to advocate for fairer policy because there's too many people considering leaving Canada.

CV: I guess on a more global scale, just regulation across the entire crypto space in general, how do you feel about a global regulatory body vs. self-governance and just having people that really understand and know the tech from the inside [take control], and giving them the power to govern the rules.

Matthew Spoke: I think that's the only possible conclusion and this is the challenge we have. I use Canada as an example because that's where we spend most of our time. The challenge is, regulators are constrained to their jurisdiction, and it's very difficult for them to think globally when this technology really is global. We're already in four countries, four offices, four teams and that's just going grow over the course of the next year, two years, and you're seeing companies pick up and move. Regulatory arbitrage is becoming a big thing, so it's kind of short-sighted for a country to say, "Hey, this is what we're doing within our jurisdiction." I don't think that there's been any governments that have shown a huge amount of understanding yet. Not understanding in a sympathetic way, I mean understanding like just technical understanding of what the hell is going on in this industry.

I think the only logical conclusion is that this technology is going continue to exist whether the SEC likes it or not. Whether the government of Canada likes it or not. Whether the Chinese government likes it or not. So I think it's up to people in the industry, like the people building the stuff to self-impose some guiding principles on appropriate behavior and the right conduct that we should have. What's appropriate in terms of marketing and promoting.

I suspect we'll see these self-regulatory groups form. Whether they get granted authority from their local governments or not is a separate question, but one way or another, I suspect we'll see best practices emerge and people will say, "Hey, do you comply with this global crypto best practice that's been established by leading companies around the world?"

Hopefully, eventually, governments can just feel comfortable that that's a good enough framework and it protects investors and all that good stuff.

CV: So what's the one key take away you'd say you want people to walk away with from AION X that you guys had earlier in the week?

Matthew Spoke: Well, I was actually blown away, I hadn't been keeping track of our registration. I was blown away with how many people showed up so ... It was a lot bigger than I was expecting. I think we ended up at 650 registrants and for our first year developer conference, we're really excited about that. I guess two key takeaways...I mean, AION's open for business. There's a lot of functioning software that can immediately deliver value to developers that are looking to building applications. [Secondly], we intend to make that event an annual event. Likely move the event globally, to start plugging into different communities around the world and we'll probably end up hosting meetups or attending conferences in different regions where people are from anyways, people who might be reading this, so that we get a chance to connect to people one on one.

CV: Everyone's always curious to know what other cryptocurrencies people are holding in their portfolios, even though everyone's writing their own project, I'm sure people are still holding onto some Ether, Bitcoin or something else other than their own project's crypto currency.

Matthew Spoke: I don't do a lot of investing in this space. I mean, I'm a pretty long-term bullish believer on bitcoin, so I'd say that's probably one that I'll continue to hold and be a big believer in. If I were to look into the DAP marketplace, there's a few that I find really interesting. I'm a huge fan of the design behind MakerDAO, I think that's a great project and what they're trying to prove with governance is really cool.

I love the team at Kyber. We've gotten so many people...there's so many great people working on cool projects but I don't do a lot of broad investing or betting on projects, or anything like that.

CV: Alright, well I want to thank you for your time. And have fun at the rest of EDCON.

Matthew Spoke: Thanks.