Welcome to Built on Bitcoin - Covering everything on Stacks
Jan. 24, 2022

E37: Bringing Stacks to the Masses with an Easy-To-Use Mobile Wallet - Ken Liao - Founder of Secret Key Labs & Creator of Xverse Wallet

Complicated onboarding is THE biggest problem in attracting new users to crypto. Secret Key Labs is looking to solve this problem for the Stacks ecosystem by making a mobile first wallet experience that is dead simple.

Listen in to this episode to find out how they are bringing STX, CityCoins, Stacking and NFT's into one simple interface in the palm of your hand.


Complicated onboarding is THE biggest problem in attracting to users to crypto. Secret Key Labs is looking to solve this problem for the Stacks ecosystem by making a mobile first wallet experience that is dead simple.
Listen in to this episode to find out how they are bringing STX, CityCoins, Stacking and NFT's into one simple interface in the palm of your hand.

Follow their Twitter to stay informed:
Secret Key Labs: https://twitter.com/secretkeylabs
Xverse Wallet: https://twitter.com/xverseApp

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Stay updated on everything going on in Stacks
https://www.builtonbitcoin.xyz/

Follow me on Twitter:
@JakeBlockchain
Transcript

Ken Liao (Xverse)

Jake: [00:00:00] Ken I'm excited to talk to you. You've been in Stacks awhile. And, there's a ton of talk about, but I see you around a lot in the discord and I almost know you because I don't know who you are because you don't have a profile picture on your account.

Like by decision, you have just the gray Discord thing. And I can tell like half the time that that might be Ken, because he's super engaged and always answering questions. What is your stance of not choosing, you know, you have, you have a logo, something like why, why have you gone this neutral route?

Ken: Yeah. So, you know, I think it's mostly, I'm just too lazy to upload one, but, but also I think, um, I'm a pretty private person, so I don't really like to, you know, upload a bunch of pictures everywhere. Several years ago, I've already like disconnected from all my social media, like Facebook, Instagram, everything.

And I tried to keep my sort of presence on the internet pretty limited. [00:01:00] Um, so that know I can, I can be private if I want to.

Jake: Got it. Yeah, I did the same thing. Like four months ago I deleted my Facebook and it was by far the best decision I made all last year. Like last year I, you know, started this podcast, found Stacks.

That's pretty fantastic. The thing that Facebook has been the best I could, my life is so much better by not using so much social media. Uh, it just gives me so much peace of mind to be able to just like focus on the thing. I want to focus on not be reactionary to all the craziness on social media.

Ken: Oh yeah, for sure.

Jake: Yup. I would love to get into some of your background because you've started this company. It sounds like you have a technical background as well. What is before stacks? What what's some of your background and how you, how you'd kind of like led to this, this area?

Ken: Yeah. So my training is in engineering, so I was a software developer.

[00:02:00] I spent a few years in banking and finance before I started my first company, which was a different company where I worked on mobile software. And then in 2017 I found out about Stacks, but back then it was called Blockstack and I was really Drawn to sort of like the grand mission of the project, which was to create a user- owned internet where it's more equitable and more fair.

And you know, it's not just these companies like Facebook, you know, profiting off of the user's data and things like that. I thought it was much more meaningful. Uh, just any regular startup where it's just like the relentless pursuit of profit and constant optimization in order to improve, uh, you know, your numbers.

So, yeah, so I joined Blockstack or Stacks in 2017 and while I was there, I worked on several different pieces of software, including [00:03:00] the first Stacks wallet, the first version of that. And then eventually I moved on to the JavaScript tooling, developer tooling, which we're calling, Stacks.JS.

And then from there last year, I was able to found this new company Secret Key Labs to basically focus on mobile wallets for the Stacks ecosystem.

Jake: It seems like the more, I didn't know, you had a Blockstack history as an employee, so it's one more like domino of there's so many employees that like, they start there and then they kind of branch out and they don't stay in the, they don't stay at the company, but they stay in the ecosystem and they kind of build adjacent to it.

I can almost imagine like you, Patrick, Xan, like at a table and you're like, "okay, we're leaving. Where are we going? Who's doing what? Let's not overlapped. But, and it's cool. Cause you guys all do different things, but why, why did you decide to build mobile first things? Why, why did that gravitate toward you to?[00:04:00]

Ken: When I was at Blockstack. We already had a desktop wallet and the browser extension was being worked on.

So. The, the piece that was missing was actually a mobile. Right. And I had a background in mobile apps, so I thought, you know, I would put my experience to use and build the first Stacks mobile wallet and that's, that's what I did. And I think. You know, you were talking about how like, uh, you know, all these former employees started their own things.

I think it was just due to the fact that All these guys were all very entrepreneurial, right. And they all had like their own ideas and they all wanted to, you know, build something on their own. And it also sort of speaks to the strength of the Stacks community. Right. All these guys, even after they leave the.

Stacks parent company [00:05:00] or Hiro.. They're still in the ecosystem still building on the same platform and technology.

Jake: Yeah, I think the more I think about it, it's, it's one of the more bullish signs for Stacks because when you have, you know, people. Hardworking and intelligent that found a project and then they still decide the best use of my time is to keep investing in this ecosystem in the ways that I can, but still kind of like scratch my itch and do it and go own away.

Yeah. That's, that's like the best thing that you can see, like I'm sure Muneeb was just like, yes, like we were doing it right. The, the long-term vision is coming to fruition.

Ken: Yeah.

Jake: When did Secret Key Labs start?

Ken: So we started early last year. We launched the beta version of Xverse wallet in February of last year.

And since then we've iterated and we launched into production. I believe that was September of [00:06:00] last year. Uh, and since then, we've just been building on top of that. Yeah.

Jake: And is the main product you guys have the Xverse wallet, or is there a suite of things that you guys are working on?

Ken: Yeah, so the main focus for us right now is Xverse wallet.

Um, we also work on the Xverse pool, which the goal of that is basically to allow, Stacks holders of all sizes. It doesn't matter how much you have to be able to. Receive the rewards from the stacking protocol because .As you know, if you, if you stack by yourself, there is actually a minimum that you need to hit, which is quite high.

So by creating a pool, we allow users to have smaller amounts of Stacks. To also participate in the system, which, you know, one. Increases the participation in the network, right. Increases the security and they lets the smaller guys benefit from, from the, the [00:07:00] whole proof-of-transfer system.

Jake: Yeah. I know when I was first starting out, I was like, man, there's no way I could ever stack, like, I can't get 90,000 stacks I'm way too far behind.

But then you find out about Friedger pool and Xverse and plan better andOkCoin has been a good partner now to, uh, One thing I, and this is a personal request, but I think the biggest thing missing right now for mobile is authentication. Like if I see an NFT drop and I'm not at my desktop or laptop, I'm going to miss that mint on STXNFT.

Is that, is that a hard problem to solve? Because it seems like there's two main wallets that kind of exist as experts. And I think rise is the other kind of big one, but no one's done mobile authenticaton yet. So what I'm curious about that.

Ken: Yeah. So we're actively working on a solution to this, and we've been talking to the, the other, you know, wallet [00:08:00] developers as well as, uh, Hiro and Stacks Foundation.

Um, I think the main challenge here is actually bridging the different platforms. So when you say like, you know, you want to do things on your mobile wallet, but it really is, um, a variety of variety of different platforms because, um, for a mobile authenticator to work, you have to first be able to use.

a desktop web app. Right. But that's probably like the primary use case. And then you will have native mobile apps and you might also have a desktop native apps on top of that. Um, and you might have mobile web apps, right? All of these different platforms require a slightly different protocol in order to communicate, right.

And I think we want to be very careful when it comes to deciding what this protocol is standard is. So we don't end up like, you know, some of the other projects out there, for example, Ethereum has many [00:09:00] different ways of connecting your wallet to, uh, to a dApp right? Like if you're using a Coinbase wallet, um, You can, you have to choose the Coinbase wallet connect, uh, when you're, when you're connecting.

So I think we want to make it easier for developers and users so that if the whole ecosystem can come up with one single sort of standard and we all just use that, then there's no need for users to. Uh, okay. Choose which wallet do you want to connect to when you use your dApp, right. Um, and I think we would probably have to tackle this like piece by piece.

So we, what we're doing at Secret Key Labs is, uh, we're tackling the first piece, which is the mobile web apps. So, we're building an in-app browser in Xverse wallet. Once it's completed, all the [00:10:00] existing Stacks apps built for the web, will just work on mobile. Right. And then after we've done that we can go from there and expand to, you know, native mobile apps or, uh, you know, desktop apps, uh, or just, you know, using a, like a QR code scanner to connect with.

Just desktop web apps and websites.

Jake: Yeah. Got it. And so just, just for my own clarity, cause I'm not that bright, you're saying. We are working on now is an in-app browser. Where if I go to arkadiko.finance, or STXNFT.com I'll, I'll see a mobile version of the site and I can click log in and then transact, just like on the regular browser.

Yeah. And then on the app version, if someone has a dedicated app on say, iOS, you'd be able to kind of like within the ecosystem authenticate within just being logged in your first, but then we'll hop over to the app and do what [00:11:00] you need to on that side.

Ken: Yeah. Yeah.

Jake: Got it. Okay. That makes me over the moon excited.

That's the one thing where there's been so many NFT launches where I'm a desktop user by, by default. I'm changing my ways this year, but there's been so many times where I'm just like, okay, I got to race home. Hopefully there's no traffic because in 15 minutes, as soon as launching would, would be so much better if I can just do it from my phone.

So yeah, I think a lot of us are waiting for that. What's some other things that you guys are working on. For this mobile functionality. I know one thing I brought up in the discord to you is to be able to switch profiles and he said, that's on the roadmap. Is there any other things that are kind of coming down the pipeline that we can expect?

Ken: Yeah. So. Is a better support for NFTs, right? So right now there's a lot of sort of hype around NFTs and in Xverse, it's pretty basic when it comes to, uh, NFTs, you can, you can look at your NFTs, um, and we [00:12:00] want to make it a better experience so that you can transfer it NFT potentially. Uh, participated in these NFT marketplaces, trade them, um, look at the market stats for the NFT that you hold.

We're also looking at supporting CityCoins. So right now you could see like a hold CityCoins, like MiamiCoin, NYCCoin in your wallet. Uh, but we want to also enable stacking of those coins. So just like how you can participate in Xverse pool to earn a reward, you can also, uh, stack your MiamiCoin or NYCCoin and earn a reward in STX through.

Jake: Got it. That would be cool. Have you, have you been watching film sequence closely? Because from our side and I've been mining since the beginning and I could see people in the community getting impatient by things not going well from use cases [00:13:00] that that price trend line is going down and they want something to happen right now.

Uh, do you have recent anything as far as, from your perspective on as builders people in the ecosystem that CityCoins is missing or could do any, any low-hanging fruit that you see for CityCoins?

Ken: I think in general, it takes time, you know, for developers to so get onto new platforms. Right. And, um, especially like when it comes to CityCoins. The user base might not be like as big as some other coins right there.

I think the people who are most interested would be people from those cities. Right. And I think it just takes more time for people to, uh, to get to notice this technology and figure out what are the, uh, things that will enable. Right. I'm I'm not like, uh, an expert on [00:14:00] CityCoins. I don't really keep tabs on everything that's happening.

I'm sure there's a lot happening. And, uh, yeah, I wouldn't go into like price and things like that because I'm more focused on just building the technology versus looking at the temporary price fluctuations.

Jake: Yeah, totally. Yeah. I've seen, I've seen some things like, uh, you could pay for things locally, like using as a currency.

Not sure how useful that would be versus like people that are already, still trying to figure out Lightning and that kind of thing. So I think that's kind of putting the cart before the horse maybe. Um, yeah, I think it's, I agree. It's like, it's such a new, novel thing that it's easy to take an NFT from a theory or the idea of from Ethereum and port it to stacks and kind of follow that blueprint, which

You have warp speed crypto and you have snail pace government, and we're trying to bridge those two [00:15:00] and, you know, create things in a new novel way that's never been done before. I think it's super hard.

Ken: Yeah. And you know, like for things like NFTs right. Look at how long it took NFTs to go from conception to where it is now.

Right. It's it's been like how many years. Right. So I think it's too short of a timeframe to look at city coins and say, oh, nothing's happening. It's I think it's only been less than a year, only a few months since MiamiCoin launched. Right. So I think we should wait and see. Yep.

Jake: Yeah. I'm, uh, I'm printing, putting together an anniversary video for the foundation.

So I've been doing like a timeline of how things happened and yeah, it's like in August, mining started for MiamiCoin and besides that, this is number one NFT launch there wasn't really a whole lot that happened till Stacks punks in August, I think, or September, and then STXNFT marketplace launched.

So it was [00:16:00] like seven, eight months of not a whole lot happening. And now these past few months have just been like outrageous. Like you can't even keep up, there's so much going on. So I hope so. The coins can be that same kind of thing where, you know, once you have a couple of primitives built, uh, it just unleashes like the flood gates that people that.

Come to CityCoins, because I think I do think that CityCoins is one of those, like X-Factor things for stacks where you can't really mimic in the same fashion anywhere else.

Ken: Yeah, definitely. And I think a lot of the sort of applications that you would envision with CityCoins, it would kind of require a mobile wallet because you be in like a physical location of know some kind of government facility or something like that, where, you know, you don't have access to a desktop computer.

So the easiest way to sort of interact or use CityCoins would be through a mobile wallet. So we want to build that support in to enable these kinds of.

Jake: That's super smart. If, if people were [00:17:00] curious and wanting to like reach out to kind of like start to lay that groundwork, people come to you and start to like brainstorm.

Ken: Oh yeah, definitely. Okay. Yeah.

Jake: Right on. Well man, we've breezed through most of my questions. I think the main one I want to kind of, well, a couple one to end on is. Uh, what do you see as the biggest needs or missing things in stacks right now overall? And let's not include your wallet cause we already know we'd need what you have.

So outside of Xverse and a mobile wallet authentication, what are the kind of like the big dominoes that need to come soon?

Ken: Yeah. So I think, you know, um, in general I think a better sort of user experience for. Uh, the Stacks ecosystem is needed to lower the barrier of entry, uh, for our users, because right now, things are not as user-friendly as it has.

They should be a lot of [00:18:00] people basically put off by like all these new terms, all these new way of thinking. Right. So I think there's a lot of work left to, uh, bring the user experience to the level of. Average person that doesn't know a lot about Stacks or blockchains can benefit from, you know, how these apps, right.

I think there's a lot of potential in Stacks as a smart contract platform, um, that can be unlocked once we can get over this sort of user experience barrier. Okay. Um, and then I think also. Better performance and reliability. Right. So right now, um, you know, we're making constant improvements to the network has been the recent, uh, 2.05 upgrade, right.

To, for better throughput and things like that. Um, and there's still some issues right now. I think with things like micro blocks where, um, it just makes [00:19:00] it less useful than they really should be. Right. I think a lot of people arn't using micro blocks because it's not a for sure thing that every miner is going to, uh, mine micro blocks or the next miner is going to accept micro blocks.

Right now. It's kind of iffy whether or not the micro blocks happen. Right. Uh, and I think that's kind of stopping its use and. I think micro-blocks really address the problem where people find that latency between blocks is really high because a lot of people expect the, kind of the NC that some of the other blockchains, which, you know, they have their own trade-offs, but you know, they optimize for speed and, um, people are just expecting a higher throughput.

Um, but I think micro blocks will get us there. So that's one thing to improve. And then I think another thing is, uh, you know, more Bitcoin-enabled apps because stacks is built on [00:20:00] Bitcoin, right? There's a lot of things that you can do where other blockchains can't. So you can actually trigger a smart clarity, smart contract from a Bitcoin transaction.

And that's not something, you know, a lot of other blockchains can do. And. I think it's really powerful because that means you don't even need to be a stockholder to participate in things. Buy-in and a T right with, you can just send a Bitcoin transaction to complete the NFT purchase. I think that'll be really big.

I think we might be missing a little bit of infrastructure, uh, for us to get there, but I'm hopeful that these things will, you know, will be completed in the next, in this year. Maybe.

Jake: Yeah. I just crossed, did you see the lightning enabled NFT release that.

Ken: Oh, I, I saw the news, but I didn't really look into it yet, but, uh, it, it sounds, yeah, basically I think, I think that's, that's kinda, that's the kind of thing that [00:21:00] will, um, basically bring stacks to the more mainstream sort of Bitcoin users.

Jake: Right. And no, I, I totally agree. I think, um, cause I, I bought one and so I logged into my Strike wallet and you just scan the QR code. It pays Lightning invoice and then. Uh, you know, there's like a little like ticker, like it's waiting processing, and then it just says, okay, cool. it's in the explorer..

And then you wait and you get your NFT. And it, yeah, it really did shock me like that is the onboarding experience that you want. Like, and now the cash app is supporting lightning wallet. I think that we now have some of the pieces where if that primitive gets mature enough, that you can. I'm not a heavy coder, but if you just drop the entire application to be the payment part, you don't have to really use Hiro per se.

You can maybe do sponsored transactions and then Lightning payment. And all the user does is open up their strike or their cash app. And they buy that, uh, NFT pass to whatever or a concert ticket like [00:22:00] that can be an absolute game changer.

Ken: Yeah.

Jake: Yeah. I'm super optimistic on that one.

Well, I guess last question, and I'd like to end on this kind of like, uh, optimistic kind of. Uh, just wonderous note in five years time, let's say everything has gone swimmingly for Secret Key Labs. What does, what does that look like? Like in your ideal future, what are you, what are you guys working on?

Ken: Yeah, so I think ideally in five years where even less than that, we want to be sort of like the gateway to the Stacks ecosystem. So we want to be on as many platforms as possible to make it easy for anyone from anywhere to interact with Stacks apps. Right. Uh, and we want to see, uh, you know, Stacks smart contracts, the sort of like mainstream much more mainstream than, than it is right now.

And I think, yeah, I think there's a lot of applications that can be unlocked and we want to be the [00:23:00] enabler.

Jake: Okay. And then, uh, made me think of one more question when it comes to Bitcoin moving like lightning and taproot and these kinds of things. Are you guys staying up to date kind of like, as like, are you taproot enabled currently?

Like how are you guys moving with how Bitcoin core is moving?

Ken: Yeah, so we're a little bit slow in terms of the, uh, you know, Bitcoin improvement, but I think eventually we want to be, uh, You know, compatible with taproot and want to integrate lightning into the wallet. Uh, just like lightning just makes a much better experience if you're dealing with like, you know, smaller amounts of Bitcoin and then you want like lower transaction fees.

In fact, I think it will help us a lot with Xverse pool where we're distributing the Bitcoin from stacking. And one of the reasons we have a minimum is because the Bitcoin transaction fee is actually pretty high. So, [00:24:00] uh, if you stacked, you know, a smaller amount, it might not even be worth it for that transaction to happen.

So if we're able to use lightning for that, we can really reduce that and basically get the minimum to, you know, even less. The vehicle

Jake: is there, is there like a, send many equivalent to Bitcoin or do you have to send them each, individually?

Ken: Oh yeah, you could, you can send to many people at once with Bitcoin.

Okay. So the, the, uh, transaction that distributes the Xverse pools Bitcoin work reward, every cycle is one single transaction and it goes out to like hundreds of users.

Jake: Got it. Very cool. Well, that's all the questions I have. Is there any closing thoughts or something I missed you want to talk about?

Ken: not really, but I'm pretty excited for Stacks in the coming year. As you can see all these, you know, projects coming up, all this NFT hype. Yeah. I'm pretty excited. [00:25:00]

Jake: we have where working, if people want to find out more about what you're working on, where can people find you?

Ken: Yeah, so I'm on discord. Uh, you can just ping me, um, and you can find out about Xverse at xverse.app, uh, which is our website.

Um, yeah,

Jake: beautiful. Ken, this has been great. I love what you guys are building it's super needed. I can't wait to buy my NFTs with Xverse andthanks for taking the time my friend.

Ken: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.