Interview with Mr. Teck Chia, Head of Binance X
Last week Zagreb briefly became the epicenter of the crypto space thanks to the organizers of the Shift Money conference, who brought together the leading minds of FinTech and blockchain for 2 days of talks, pitches, intensive networking and after-partying.
During the conference we were lucky enough to sit down with Teck Chia, the head of Binance X. Read on to find out why this recent initiative from possibly the most famous organization in crypto is significant for the wider blockchain ecosystem, and who the program is for.
In your career prior to Binance you’ve worked at a lot of large and famous tech companies. How is working for Binance different compared to your previous experiences?
Most of my career has been in Silicon Valley, this is the first time I’ve worked in a company based outside of Silicon Valley, a distributed company so to speak. There are a lot of differences, and some similarities. I’ve worked at high growth companies at an early stage, and Binance is just that.
The speed at which Binance moves is very similar to when I was at Facebook, where they move very fast and people are empowered to do their work and also come up with new ideas and initiatives.
A big difference from most companies I’ve worked at is that Binance is distributed over multiple locations, so I work with a lot of people I’ve never met in real life.
Even on my Binance X and Binance Labs teams, people are spread all over the world. Calls must be scheduled in a timely fashion, sometimes it’s necessary to overcommunicate on matters, and you need to have good rapport among teammates – those things become a lot more important in a distributed team. I see my team members at most 4 times a year, at most. We try to organize team buildings once a quarter, and sometimes we meet at conferences.
Another notable difference is that in the crypto market new things happen every day, so at times it can get very interesting, whereas in the traditional tech things are a little bit more stable.
At Binance, you’re heading the Binance X program and you’re a partner at Binance Labs. In your own words, can you explain the difference between those initiatives and how they are focused?
Binance X is a lot more developer-focused and we’re in charge of building the developer community to innovate on top of the Binance platform, and also supporting the ecosystem at large, so the mandate is a little bit larger than Labs, which is mostly focused on investing in projects and running an incubation program.
We strive to come out with new initiatives to further our mission, which is really building stuff that ultimately gets mass adopted. To get there we need to cultivate a lot more developers in the space and help them learn how to build on blockchain and on our platform, collaborate with each other, and get our support for the next stage once they attain some initial level of traction.
You’ve just mentioned Binance platform – What elements does that entail?
Our developer-facing products and services include the Binance chain – our public blockchain, Binance.com APIs, Trust Wallet (which is open source) and the Binance Charity Platform. We plan to add more stuff over time, such as futures trading products, lending, staking – those will probably be getting exposed through the API at some point. Binance chain is definitely a huge surface area to build on.
You said Binance Labs focuses more on investing, does that mean Binance X doesn’t do investing as such?
We refer the projects looking for an investment to our other internal teams – e.g. to Binance Labs, which requires a stake in the form of tokens or equity. At Binance X, we run a Fellowship program, a no strings attached grants program that supports open source development.
We want to help build free and easily accessible tools and services that are meant to serve as building blocks for third-party developers making their own crypto products and services.
In that case, what are the typical sums that Binance X fellows can expect as financial assistance, and under which terms?
We give out $5K a month for 3 months or $15K in total. It’s a small grant but we hope that they can focus their efforts on building something that either becomes sustainable, or you seek grants from other foundations so you get more community participation, and also you focus more on delivering value to the end users and developers, and in turn if you are able to do that you can monetize to some extent, people are either going to donate money or just pay for it.
How does Binance X support the projects specifically? Is there an internal team in place that works together with the project teams that choose to build on the Binance chain, and how can they help?
Apart from financial support through the fellowship, we aggregate all the learning materials for developers to onboard easily to our platform, and other platforms as well – for instance we support a lot of Ethereum and Grin based projects, mimblewimble, e.g. we refer them to the right people and help them connect, we do a lot of such things behind the scenes.
Generally speaking at Binance X we’re very external-facing, we go to a lot of events and speak at a lot of places. As we engage with the developers and projects out there, in some way we become a channel for outside people to engage with Binance internally, referring them to the right teams within our organization, e.g. Strategic Partnerships, M&A team, Strategic Investments, etc.
“Ultimately, if crypto finds mass adoption, it’s good for us too regardless of which chain turns out to be the dominant one.Teck Chia
The industry is so small at this point, it’s one third of Facebook in terms of market cap, and that’s not even the real market cap, so we need to work together to advance the industry as a whole.”
Are there any significant disadvantages in engaging with Binance X as a remote team?
Given that Binance X doesn’t have headquarters in the traditional sense or some fixed office location, that makes us a fully distributed team – effectively, every team member works remotely. Therefore all of our fellow projects are “remote” as well, operating from all across the world. When working with our fellows, basically it boils down to scheduling calls across 3 continents.
Binance X has started very recently, back in August of 2019. How are you satisfied with the results so far and the number of applications? Have you noticed more teams applying from certain countries or regions, and how does the eastern European region compare to the rest?
We’re very happy with the results so far, in a few months we’ve had 54 projects and a lot of them are very well known in the space. Because of that initial success we got a lot of inbound requests, so we’re processing a lot of people as Binance X is getting noticed more and more. The projects are spread across the globe but there’s a good number from Europe, about a third, partly because that’s where the initial fellows were from, so they would refer other people.
Also I think Europe has a lot of universities involved in blockchain research, and a ton of developers, especially in Eastern Europe where we have a fair number of fellowship projects, mainly from Russia. Eastern European people simply have a better understanding of the need for cryptocurrencies 🙂
As for some other notable regions, we have fellows in Germany (Berlin), France, UK (London is a big one), US of course, a few in Asia – we’re not discriminatory in terms of geography, it’s just the talent that matters. Europe has a lot of talent, and overall Eastern European countries tend to have a better understanding of why there is a need for cryptocurrencies. Cities like Berlin with its cypherpunk vibe and associations such as Germany’s ChaosComputerClub are what makes Europe a great place for crypto.
Which types of projects are you looking to support? Can you already single out any success stories from among the Binance X fellows?
There’s a team from Russia called Button Wallet, they did a MetaMask Chrome extension with better architecture and BNB support, they also created text wallets on top of Discord and Telegram, so you can easily transact crypto inside Discord and Telegram with text messages.
We support the Grin ecosystem, so we’ve backed fellows who have built some easy-to-use wallets given that Grin is very hard to use.
Austin Griffith did a Burner Wallet, so you can easily create a wallet on a browser and export the private keys later.
I could go on for days, a lot of them are very famous projects, for example at London-based TokenAnalyst they do a lot of analytics that they publish on Twitter that gets retweeted by a lot of people – they actually create data analysis that gets very viral, a recent one was about fund outflows between exchanges, however their project for the fellowship aims to index the Binance chain and find insights.
Also we have JamesPrestwich, a pretty famous blockchain researcher who works on inter-blockchain communication with his Summa project.
and Patrick McCorry, a former professor at King’s College, who’s now doing Layer 2 watchtower services, plus many more.
As we’ve noticed a strong upsurge of DeFi dApps through 2019, what sector do you see taking the center stage next?
I don’t know. Technology is never linear, so typically you cannot reason one at a time, let’s say if “set 1, 2, 3” happens then the fourth thing will happen, and it will just go gangbusters, that’s not the way it works. Usually you have 15 things that happen, 5 of which are critical, 4 are not as critical, and then the remaining 6 are necessary but not sufficient, so all these things combined hit the jackpot and you have the inflection point.
DeFi is one of the things that showed up this year that got a lot of attention. I don’t think it has gained massive adoption yet, at this point it’s just hype and attention, so we’ll see. So far crypto exchanges are still the only ones that really got massive adoption, but also within fundraising I think IEOs to some extent provided demarketized fundraising for a lot of projects. On our end we curate one IEO a month for the Binance Launchpad, and a lot of these projects are actually shipping a lot of things after the Launchpad.
What’s the 2nd most in-demand skill needed in the crypto space today apart from development?
Understanding of the current financial and economic systems, and how using crypto could revolutionize how things are done today. Understanding the history of monetary systems and policies and why certain things happened, why we went off the gold standard, why there’s fractional reserve, why there’s central banks, how interest rates work.. In broader terms, how the economy works, why we have recessions, why there’s this disparity of many billionaires coexisting beside many people not having enough to eat.
Where do you see people with those skills and knowledge fitting in, do they join DApps, cryptocurrency-focused projects or larger infrastructure-level blockchains? Where would you place those people?
Those people would be found thinking of new products and services leveraging crypto.
I think those need to be founders, with strong, comprehensive knowledge of both
1) why crypto, and 2) how you should disrupt. In order to successfully bring to market something that’s going to challenge the current systems, you need to be tactical with your approach. With crypto startups there’s so many things at play, like game theory, economics, distributed systems, cryptography, computer science, etc. so developing a profound overall understanding of those domains is critical in the success of the new generation of crypto founders.
How does Binance choose countries where you engage in active community building and expanding your local reach and presence, thorough events, meetups etc?
We don’t discriminate by country size, we just go wherever there’s talent.
Our Binance Angels program is how the local communities engage with us and get organized.
Well, thank you for patiently answering all of our questions Teck, was great talking to you! 🙂
After the interview we went to do some digging on our own, and Binance X turned out to be quite a rabbit hole 🙂 We invite you to check out the Fellows page and learn about the many useful tools built by the next generation of developers from all over the world.
Better yet, check out the Request for Projects page, laying out in detail the kind of additions to the ecosystem Binance X would be happy to support.
There’s also a part of the website specially dedicated to learning, with plenty of docs and tutorials to help you start building on the Binance platform.
In conclusion, we’d like to quote Flora Sun, Teck’s colleague and Director at Binance X, conveying the mission behind this noteworthy, developer-focused initiative:
“In the crypto space, we are still waiting for killer apps that would get mass adoption. We believe that to uncover these use-cases, the ecosystem has to create building blocks that could be quickly and easily assembled into products that can be brought to market. A blockchain entrepreneur should be able to easily build a product from an idea, bring it to market and iterate on features until it attains sustainable growth.Flora Sun
For that to happen, we need more crypto-related SDKs, libraries, UI kits, services etc. that could help bring more products and services to market. However, a lot of these projects may not necessarily have sustainable business models that could fund their development. Nevertheless, they are critically important in getting the crypto industry over the hump, and they are best structured as free and open-source projects. This is the reason why we started the fellowship program. We want to do our part in supporting free and open-source building blocks of the blockchain stack.”
If Binance X got you curious, consider applying for the fellowship – they accept applications on a rolling basis.