The Zeitgeist

Rob Boyle - Product Manager, Alchemy

Episode Notes

Often referred to as "the AWS of crypto" Alchemy provides the infrastructure that helps developers build cutting edge web3 applications. Product manager, Rob Boyle shares the latest tools Alchemy is building, the web2 companies that are starting to build in web3, and what it's like building for Multichain in episode 24 of The Zeitgeist.

Show Notes:                          

00:38 - Origin Story / Starting at Alchemy

03:15 - What is Alchemy? 
06:45 - What would Alchemy be analogous to in web2   
07:36 -  What kind of devs is Alchemy building for?
10:21 -  Patterns of Web2 companies coming to Web3 

16:42 - Teaching new incoming devs 
19:07 - Keeping up with a Multichain World

23:12 - A builder he admires in the Web3 ecosystem


Full Transcript:

Brian Friel (00:06):

Hey everyone and welcome to The Zeitgeist, the show where we highlight the founders, developers, and designers who are pushing the web 3.0 space forward. I'm Brian Friel, Developer of Relations at Phantom, and I'm super excited to introduce our guest, Rob Boyle, Product Lead at Alchemy. Rob, welcome to the show.

Rob Boyle (00:22):

Hey, Brian, great to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Brian Friel (00:24):

It's awesome to talk to you today. Phantom and Alchemy are doing a lot of great work together as it relates to our new multichain project. We got a lot to talk about today, but before we dive into all that I want to learn a little bit about you. Who are you and how did you start working at Alchemy?

Rob Boyle (00:39):

I've pretty much been in tech my whole life. I grew up in the Bay Area, went to school in the Bay Area, and then I graduated about 2006, degree in computer science, was fired up to work in Silicon Valley. A bunch of my friends went and worked for this startup called, you might've heard of it, it's a bit of a thing now. I did not think that was going to be the most fun startup so I went and worked for another startup in Palo Alto. Turned out in retrospect to be perhaps not the best decision, a lot of those friends who went to Facebook are retired now quite comfortably, but I had a lot of fun, worked for a startup. I met my co-founder with whom I started two startups back to back both of which were a blast.


As with most startups, didn't really have rocketship success but we both did find our way over to Facebook a little bit later in life. But went over there and then had a blast at Facebook. Facebook is cool and that it's big enough that you can work on a ton of different problems and problem spaces within the company so I worked on integrity, finding and fighting badness, I worked on consumer products, and I also worked on Facebook developer platform. About two years ago at this point, I was looking to move on. I really liked working on developer platforms, I was looking for developer platforms in new and exciting spaces that were really innovative.


And I got a cold reach out from Alchemy and they had the fact that Jay-Z was an investor in the subject line. I was like "That's cool enough to respond." Started talking with them. It's so funny I'm like this is maybe bad for branding for myself but I'm the opposite of a lot of crypto folks where I loved Alchemy. I thought Joe and Nikil were brilliant, I thought the team was amazing, I loved the stage that they were at company-wise. And I was like "Guys, convince me that crypto is not a scam." That was the thing I wasn't on board with. I was new to it. And it took me a few months where I just went down the rabbit hole. I started talking to all my advisors and mentors, realized that a lot of them were already in crypto and web 3.0 and I was late to the game. And then over the course, I got completely convinced that this was the most interesting space to work in. And then two years ago I joined Alchemy and the rest is history.

Brian Friel (02:29):

That's awesome. You might be the first guest on this podcast that came into crypto because they thought the company was cool-

Rob Boyle (02:34):

I know.

Brian Friel (02:35):

And not that they got obsessed with the space and then found a company based on that interest. Hey, congratulations, you're the first so that's an award right there.

Rob Boyle (02:43):

I feel very lucky.

Brian Friel (02:44):

That's awesome. So you mentioned that you were working on developer platforms at Facebook, and then that transitions really well to what Alchemy has positioned themselves to be in the crypto space. I'd say for most developers who have been developing crypto some while, the term developer platform might mean something different or might not make total sense in the crypto space. Usually, people think, "I'm building my own DAP and I have this RPC provider, and all I really do is put the URL into my DAP and I go from there." What is Alchemy doing? What makes you guys say that you're a developer platform in web 3.0?

Rob Boyle (03:16):

I think there's three pieces to that. I think we have a very technical audience so they know what an RPC provider is. I'll give the overview just for anyone else who happens to be in the audience. The quick 30 seconds is, modern crypto apps have two components. They have the on-chain component, the smart contracts that run on-chain, which is the really new exciting thing about crypto, and then they have what is more traditional like a user interface like where someone goes and interacts with the dapp. What you really need is a bridge between those. The needs a way to read data off the chain, what NFTs are for sale, what NFTs do people own, interact with their smart contacts, and right to the chain, actually push transactions through the chain. Same thing is true for Phantom, to use you as an example. The wallet, it needs to understand people's activity, it needs to read and write from the chain. And we are the conduit that allows that.


What we do is provide that platform in which developers can read and write to the blockchain, we're your conduit there. For the more technical folks, that's traditionally you run your own node or you have access to a node, which is a JSON on our RPC provider which allows you to access that interface that you would to read and write from the chain. What I think makes us a developer platform and not just like a node is a couple things. The first one is scale. The way that these things evolved is you run a node and you're like "Oh, that's fine," and then you get more traffic and you're like "Oh, this node is hard it's not handling all traffic let me just spin up a second node and a third and a fourth, and then you're like "Now I need a load balancer, and now the nodes don't totally agree." As soon as you get past one node with a capacity a bunch of really hard problems emerge in managing that scale.


And so the first thing that we do is eliminate all those problems. We've spent a bunch of time on a bunch of proprietary infrastructure. We call this product super node where it gives you the interface that looks like a node interface but there's a bunch of complexity underneath the hood to account for inconsistency across nodes, and reorgs, and node upgrades, and all these different factors. We actually have an architecture diagram and the nodes are this tiny little box at the bottom, and the majority of it is all this infra that we've done to give you the feeling of a node. We've had customers who 10 or 100X their traffic overnight when they get super popular or explode or go viral, and our system just magically scales to handle that. So that's the first one is the scalability, reliability function.


The next one that I'd say is you can do a lot more if you're not just using the node interface. An analogy we like to use is building on the node interface is if all you have is a shovel, and a hand saw, and nails, you don't have a lot of leverage there versus we have a whole suite of enhanced APIs that are using power tools, and bulldozers, and modern construction equipment like our NFT API, or balanced API, transaction API. And all those things provide functionality that you would have to spend a lot of time, which we have spent, getting that functionality out of the node interface but we do it for you by building these APIs. So it really gives you a much more effective set of tools.


And then the third piece is our dashboard and our monitoring tools. In the new web 3.0 world, a lot of apps don't have the tools. The Web 2.0 world has 20, 30 years of services to help you understand the performance of your application, and how it's running, and which users are interacting with you. There's whole companies built around that. There's some startups doing this in the web 3.0 world but we provide a lot of value here where you can understand all the transactions flowing through your application, wh ich users are using it, where they are in the world if errors crop up what's causing those blah, blah. So that's really why we call ourselves a full-stack developer platform.

Brian Friel (06:33):

If we're translating this to the Web 2.0 world, what would you say are some similar analogies? Some company names that come to mind are maybe AWS, Datadog, Event Monitoring. How would you guys pitch that to a Web 2.0 company that's looking at web 3.0?

Rob Boyle (06:46):

AWS is the analogy that we draw the most to. AWS is, obviously, a massive company. You're like "Oh wow, your AWS is crypto." I almost think that undersells it a little bit because we do have aspects of Snowflake, we have aspects of Stripe even and how they help with transaction processing., We have a transaction product that helps you better to the chain. We have aspects of Datadog as you said, and Google Analytics to do some of that. The nice thing about web 3.0 is since it's a brand new industry we can take all those concepts that are really powerful in Web 2.0 and just go build them all for the web 3.0 world. AWS is the closest analogy but we wrap in parts of the other ones as well.

Brian Friel (07:20):

A one stop shop for everything you need too as well.

Rob Boyle (07:23):

Thank you, that's our pitch.

Brian Friel (07:24):

That's awesome. I want to talk a little bit about the devs that you guys are building for, right? So you painted this picture of you guys are everywhere across the developer stack. Who are these developers that you're seeing who are entering the crypto space?

Rob Boyle (07:38):

Every developer's our customer. And our ultimate goal is to have 1000X developers in the space. We think of this flywheel where when you have a new technology like blockchain, as soon as developers start building something in the space that attracts users. The more users are in the space the more developers turn their attention to it and they build more stuff which gets more users, which gets more developers, and you get this flywheel going. Where crypto sands is, development in crypto is really hard compared to Web 2.0. So the flywheel is running in sand or glue right now where it can't get spinning. And we identify it because the development is so hard it's hard to get this thing going, and some other difficulties as well. So we really just want to make development easier for literally anybody.


I'll talk about historic, our current customers. We have big enterprises so OpenSea runs on us, Phantom, to use you guys as an example as a luminary in the space, run on our platform. So we pride ourselves on having the scale and reliability to support the biggest names in the space. A lot of these companies were two people working on it on their own not that long ago so we really want to support new developers of the space. We see a lot of developers coming in who are new to crypto. They're coming from Web 2.0, they're coming from other spaces, and now they get excited about crypto. You can develop a really powerful app on our platform with a bunch of usage and not pay a cent because we have very generous free tier. And we also have education resources. We have Alchemy Ventures, a venture arm for some reason. I'll stop sharing all the stuff we do. I see a bunch of new people, I see traditional enterprises.


What I think is really interesting is increasingly we're seeing Web 2.0 enterprise companies enter the space. This is what excites me. With the most recent bear market, there's a lot of news around oh, a bunch of companies shutting down their web 3.0 efforts, and you saw potentially a pullback, but we're not really seeing that from our perspective as Alchemy. I see a lot of big traditional Web 2.0 enterprises who are still super bullish on experimenting in web 3.0. And have web 3.0 units they're building them out. We work with a ton of them. And they're way more crypto-native than you would think. I won't name the company but I talked to a very big old-school Web 2.0 company and they were complete Degen's who were very excited about a bunch of cool new blockchain technology and were very fluent and very excited about building it. So I think that's really excites me is seeing the Web 2.0 giants really continue to turn attention to the space.

Brian Friel (09:51):

That's super cool. And that's a bit of a narrative violation like you said. I noticed you guys just put out through Developer Report, you guys do this every year. Flipping through some of that, you guys have some pretty awesome numbers in there to show. I'm curious what you guys are seeing, especially as it relates to these Web 2.0 companies coming in? Are there any patterns that are emerging about why they're interested or what they potentially want to be building in the space? Or maybe even what chains they're going to first? Any patterns that you guys are seeing that maybe other people aren't aware of?

Rob Boyle (10:21):

That is a great question. The biggest pattern is that a lot of them are finding ways in which their existing business models and the value that they add to people can be augmented by web 3.0. I think that's the exciting part. If you look at Shopify, has rolled out some stuff around token-gated commerce. And that's an example where Shopify does, they build stores, and they realize oh, loyalty programs, some of these other solutions like exclusive access to key fans is a really exciting prospect, and this gets really empowered through web 3.0. So they're taking existing stuff they want to do, which is exclusive experiences for top customers or the ability for brands to give interesting experiences to people, and then using web 3.0 to go power that. So that's the pattern I see.


It's not like I see all these Web 2.0 companies being fired up about NFTs or DeFi or something, it's more them saying, "Oh, what's the core thing, the value I deliver as a business to people?" And then "Oh, there's all these ways that I can use web 3.0 to deliver more value or make that more exciting." And I think that's what actually makes crypto win. I don't know, some of these guys are like "Oh, I'll do yet another DeFi protocol." There's a lot of those. But it's when they start using web 3.0 to power the existing value chains that they already have.

Brian Friel (11:35):

It reminds me of what Reddit did with their ... They even called it digital collectibles instead of NFTs, but that was one of the most successful by the numbers successful version of that.

Rob Boyle (11:44):

They're a perfect example of this where they take something that they already do and they're like "Oh, this gets way better with crypto."

Brian Friel (11:49):

That's pretty cool. I think that's a world that I get excited about as well where it's a bit more getting mainstream people into it almost by accident or by chance. They see the value and they're like "Why wouldn't it be this way?" And it's a lot easier. Like you did, they can then go down the rabbit hole and learn everything else that's behind the curtain about crypto as well which is pretty cool.

Rob Boyle (12:10):

Our CEO Nikil has a great quote he likes to use that I love which is, "No one ever talks about using an internet application, that would be super awkward. They just talk about apps that add value." It's a little cliche at this point but the same is true of crypto. My mom is never going to talk about this cool blockchain app she used, she's going to talk about this app that allowed her to send money internationally with no fees or something. And then I can be like "Oh, that's built on crypto" and she'd be like "Oh, no way." I'm like that's how we're going to get a billion people under crypto. So the more that those types of apps start to develop the more exciting it is.

Brian Friel (12:38):

That's really cool. We also were chatting just before we hit record on this about another trend that you're seeing which is this migration off of the RPC interface. Back in the day, you're having to deal with these RPC providers directly and there's a lot of problems with scale that comes with that. I know you guys are doing a lot with abstracting stuff away. I also saw very recently you know guys put out Create Web3 dApp and just constantly making it easier and easier for them to build with. But can you talk a little bit about that trend that you guys are seeing as well?

Rob Boyle (13:07):

Completely. To another slightly labored analogy. I think working straight off JSON-RPC is like coding and assembly, or coding a web app without reactor any frameworks at all. It's pretty painful. The original people who came to crypto were super deep into crypto and that felt fine to them. They're like "Oh yeah I code an assembly all day, that's awesome. Just give me a JSON-RPC endpoint I'll go build something." But increasingly as new developers come to the space, especially Web 2.0 ones, they're like "Oh, show me the abstraction layers." Awesome. I understand that this exists, but in the Web 2.0 world I have all these frameworks and services that let me not have to think about a lot of the nuts and bolts and I can work at a higher level of abstraction. If you hit someone who's like "I have a great idea about how to use NFTs to do gated fan experiences." And we're like "That's great, but first spend two days learning how Eth Call works. It's really hard.


A bunch of what we try to do is meet developers where they are. Where they come in and they have cool ideas around NFTs and how to use them, and we're like "Awesome." We have a minting process, we have an allow list product called Spearmint, we have NFT APIs for getting data. And you can just think at the level of NFTs and not at the level of chain primitives, and that really accelerates how fast people can both learn and get up to speed and start building apps that deliver value. And I see a bunch of startups in this space too. There are a ton of startups. I'm not sure an advantage, but something that's really powerful that Alchemy has is our ventures arm Alchemy Ventures that's been super successful. People would be shocked at the number of people who run it, it's very small but they have investments in some of the most exciting companies in the space.


And through Alchemy Ventures we see a bunch of these new startups. And we've seen an explosion of startups building abstractions both in frameworks as well as services that allow people to think at these higher levels. And they're doing that on the read side, how people pull data off-chain, there's a bunch of really interesting data platform startups. As well as the right side. There's a bunch of really interesting startups helping people get data under the chain in a more abstract manner. Right now the majority of development is against the JSON-RPC interface which is more historical. In the future, I see the vast majority of development actually pointing at these higher level of abstractions. I think that's where most developers will be used to working in the future.

Brian Friel (15:07):

That's pretty cool. That's something that I think all devs here would be plenty happy to switch to. There's this meme on solana of chewing glass where the developers are all having to worry about not just finding product market fit with their own app but serializing and deserializing accounts. That context-switching is pretty brutal but it's a rite of passage. And then those devs who go through that process of chewing glass all feel very connected to one another and trial by fire experience.

Rob Boyle (15:33):

I think it's great for a sense of community for sure.

Brian Friel (15:37):

It really is. It's also helpful that you guys are turning glass into bubblegum here a little bit it makes it a lot easier.

Rob Boyle (15:42):

That's a great analogy. I'm going to give that to our solana marketing team they should use that. Glass into bubblegum.

Brian Friel (15:49):

There you go. TM, just add the credit to Zeitgeist podcast for that one.

Rob Boyle (15:54):

No worries. Hat tip all the way.

Brian Friel (15:56):

You mentioned that you guys have a couple different insights here. One, you're working with Web 2.0 companies directly. You have this ventures arm that you're making these investments in on these upcoming developer tools. You guys also have this Alchemy learn and Alchemy University platform as well though I think which captures the more long tail end of the developer. Do you think that the way we're going to be teaching developers, like these long tail devs, coming into web 3.0, do you think that's changing already? Are you guys incorporating that in your curriculum? Or is this still something that this abstraction layer is going to take some time and people still really need to learn Eth Call now or solana account to serialization? How do you guys think about that, trying to teach new incoming devs but also not abstracting too much of what makes crypto crypto?

Rob Boyle (16:43):

That is a great question. I think right now, as much as I get excited about these abstraction layers, none of them are seamless and you still need the fundamentals. If you take a modern CS class these days it's not like they start you with react to these frameworks, they start you with bare code, you're probably learning C or something. I think the same is true in web 3.0. I think our developer courses reflect this. We still teach people the basics. You really have to understand the basics. And I think the best combination is you get really fluent with the core fundamentals, the building blocks, the most basic layers. You really understand how the protocol works, you really understand how the accounts and onboarding works and signing, and then you get access to the more powerful tools. And then you're like "Oh cool, this saves me a bunch of time but I know how to use them effectively because I understand what they're doing under the hood." Our education classes reflect that. We still teach a bunch of basics, we introduce some of our abstractions.


I do think it would be a mistake if we had our education portal just telling you how to use Alchemy NFT API to build something or something. We launched a new project called Create Web3 DApp that gives you a bunch of template code. It basically helps you generate all the code depending on the app you're trying to create. The purpose of that is not necessarily so people can ignore that, it's so you can take all that code, digest it, understand what it's doing but not have to write it yourself and be like "Okay, cool." So you can get up and running fast but you still should definitely understand what it's doing. That's still important. I think it will be for the foreseeable future.

Brian Friel (18:07):

I tend to agree with that as well. That was my experience just learning the code as well. You're always looking for the equivalent of a crate react app but that's just because you want to get your ideas out in the world, but then pretty quickly you're going to need to actually learn what's going on here. I think that's the right approach for sure. So I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about how you guys are operating in a multichain world. Phantom and Alchemy came together because Phantom's expanding. In addition to solana are adding support for VM chains starting with Polygon and with Ethereum layer one. You guys, obviously, have your hands in a number of layer ones. Also, the world's moving to layer twos.


There's all this complexity that's happening in crypto and it feels like there's 1000 flowers blooming and everyone's trying to find what the right way to scale this is. I want to hear from you guys. How do you guys think about all these different L1 ecosystems? Do you believe in this multichain world? Do you focus most of your efforts in certain areas? How do you guys keep up with all these protocol changes? What's that from your guys' perspective?

Rob Boyle (19:07):

Totally. It's complex now. It's going to get worse or better depending on your perspective but I think it's going to get more complex from here. The most precious resource or scarcest resource in the world right now is block space. That is what it all comes down to. And especially if you look at onboarding billions of people onto blockchain, you're going to need so much more block space than we have right now. We don't see a clear path to that that doesn't involve a massively multichain world right now. There's some interesting scaling solutions, there's some L2s that are doing this, but if you just do the math on block space none of them are going to really meet the demand that we foresee for crypto without multichain.


And similarly, I think there's just a lot of different use cases where you can build a chain that's made for that. There are chains that are really good for gaming, there's ones that are really good for DeFi because of how the primitives are put together. So I absolutely think we're going to be in a multichain world. I saw an interesting quote from Optimism that I love. They're leaning into this really heavily. And they said, "Chains are the new smart contracts" where they want spinning up a chain to be as easy as deploying a smart contract is today. And they really think app chains, the first of which is base which, obviously, has gotten some good traction is the first of those.


We think about multichain as the defacto future. The question then is which chains do we support and how do we understand where we put that? A lot of that on our side is bandwidth constrained honestly. There's a bunch of chains I think are super exciting and we just have to be really disciplined around what chains does it make the most sense to support based on what we can provide the best support to. So that's one reason L2s have been straightforward for us but we've had to be more picky around L1s. We really pride ourselves in providing a really top-notch, incredibly reliable, incredibly scalable solution. And it is hard to do that if we're juggling multiple chains at once.


As you talked about, there are protocol releases all the time for these chains, a lot of them are moving targets. One of our requirements to work with a chain is a very, very deep relationship. So we have all of the protocol teams for all of these chains on Slack we talk to them constantly. We are pushing hundreds of fixes. I think at last count to a lot of these client teams we work really hand in hand with them. And it's hard to do that if we had 30, 40, 50 chains. So we form really deep relationships. So we have to be picky from a just how many chains we can support at the level of quality we want. But I absolutely think that we're going to have a ... Be in a multichain world.


In terms of looking into the crystal ball a little bit, I'm really bullish on the Eth ecosystem. I think using Eth as an L1 and then having a bunch of L2s and potentially thousands of app chains is a clear future. I think that's really interesting who's going to be a big player. But there's a lot of super interesting L1s. Like you said we support solana. I think they're doing really interesting stuff and have a very vibrant community. They have a future ahead of them.


And then the last piece that we're trying to think about is interoperability. There's people doing really cool projects in this space. That's going to have to be a core technology is actually being able to interact across chains. Because it's cool to say there's a bunch of chains, but if it's incredibly hard to move liquidity between them it's going to be very hard to use. People shouldn't actually even be thinking about chain necessarily if you're an end user, we have a long way to go for that to be seamless.

Brian Friel (22:15):

I would agree. We're noticing that already with Phantom's multichain betas. We're getting Eth people saying, "Hey, there's Clang source or a big mint happening on salona and I need to swap in but how do I do that? They want that simple one-click button interface. Like you guys are doing, there's a lot of lot of complexity to abstract the way behind the scenes there but it'll be a fun challenge in the year ahead.

Rob Boyle (22:35):

You guys are doing great work on this. That's what people expect, right? If you weren't so desensitized by being in crypto that you're used to all of this hoops you have to jump through you'd be like "Oh, I'm looking at my Phantom wallet, I have Eth, SOL's right there, I need more SOL. I should be able to move it over done and dusted. And instead it's a whole rigamarole. That's just not going to work.

Brian Friel (22:55):

We'll definitely get there. And we've already come a long way from the days of running the coin core full node on your desktop computer. Rob, this has been an awesome conversation. One question we ask all of our guests, and I want to hear this from you as well is, who is a builder that you admire in the web 3.0 ecosystem?

Rob Boyle (23:13):

At the risk of this sounding paid, I actually really love Phantom. I'll bring up someone else to just not to be totally a complete shill. Phantom is just upgrading the level of user experience to Web 2.0 standard. Phantom is obsessive about how good the UI is, the onboarding experience. And when I first used the Phantom wallet I was like "Oh, this feels like a Web 2.0 app, it doesn't feel like a web 3.0 app."


Web 3.0 apps, in general, is rough. It felt like a breath of fresh air. So I think you're doing a fantastic, fantastic job. I also also see it on the back end. As you know we work together on the RPC side. And if our latencies slip by a percent I get a message from a Phantom engineer right away being like "What's going on guys?" You guys are obsessive on the UI side and on the performance side. Anyway, so I really admire that. As much as it sometimes keeps me up at night because I know as soon as we have an issue I'm going to get a message the next day from you, I think you're really good.


I'll name a couple other ones. I think OpenSea is doing a really good job about also doing this multichain thing. I think they do a decent job about abstracting away chains. When you're browsing on there you can sometimes forget what chain something is on and they're trying to make that less of an issue at the front of people's minds. I think that's really the right direction to go. I really admire that. And then on the core tech. I know that's been a little controversial recently but LayerZero I think. We're going to need tech like that to be able to move across chains seamlessly so someone's got to be doing that type of stuff.

Brian Friel (24:36):

Those are all great suggestions. Appreciate the Phantom shout-out. That's definitely not required to be on this show.

Rob Boyle (24:41):

Of course. I'm an avid user so I can't not.

Brian Friel (24:44):

The feedback goes both ways so we obsess about our user's feedback too. If you have anything just let us know as well, we'll constantly try to improve on that. OpenSea and LayerZero too are great ones as well, I'll have to have those guys on the show. Rob, it's been awesome, thanks so much for coming on. Where can people go to learn more about Alchemy?

Rob Boyle (25:01): is pretty much your gateway to everything. It's your gateway to our university, learn more about education. That's your gateway to our products to get up and running and building. If you're sitting in a Web 2.0 company getting excited about building something, if your brand new to web 3.0, no matter what you can be directed. You'll find the resources you are looking for to learn more.

Brian Friel (25:21):

Love it. Rob Boyle, Product Lead at Alchemy, thanks so much for coming on.

Rob Boyle (25:24):

Brian, thank you so much this was super fun.