Highlights from Bitrue x NEAR Foundation “Ask Me Anything” Session | by Bitrue | Feb, 2023

From the Bitrue blog.

2nd February, 2023 — In another edition of Bitrue’s Twitter Spaces “Ask Me Anything” session, we invited Mariake Flament, CEO of NEAR Foundation, to talk about all things NEAR Protocol. Founded in 2017 by Illia Polosukhin and Alexander Skidanov, they started to explore the program synthesis with the proclamation that singularity is NEAR. Eventually, they decided to move from AI to build their own blockchain and that’s how NEAR Protocol was born. The original vision was to give developers an easy pathway to build decentralized applications that could scale easily. It was 2019 when the NEAR Foundation was eventually founded as a nonprofit fostering NEAR’s ecosystem to grow and protocol development. Shortly after that, the NEAR main net was also launched in April 2020 and became completely autonomous by September 2020. Since then, NEAR Protocol has closed a 500 million funding round in 2022 and definitely have big plans ahead.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the main Q&A’s during that session below:

Q1. How did you get into crypto?

So, look, I was working for Expedia and for Hotels.com. I was very happy being in basically, Web 2 companies. At the end of 2015, I had a call from a headhunter that literally said something along the lines of, “Hey, there is this great start up in Bitcoin.” And I was like, okay, this is the wrong number. I’m not going to work for criminals. Because at the time in my head, anything related to Bitcoin was just what I could read, see or even remotely try to understand from headlines. And actually, it turns out that the company for which I was headhunted was for Circle. Thank goodness for the headhunter because he actually insisted and he said, “Hey, just have a look at the brief and let me know what you think.”

This was one of those moments where I remembered perfectly where I was when I read the brief. I thought, “Oh my God, something big is happening. There’s this whole technology that I had never heard of or looked at!” To me, it was the same, I’m a computer science engineer by trade and I had never heard of blockchain or crypto. That was when I thought, where have I been? And then, I fell into the rabbithole, becoming lucky enough to be part of the earlier journey with Circle. So, I worked with and for Jeremy Allaire (CEO of Circle) for almost four years. Firstly, as the Managing Director for Europe and then also as the Chief Marketing Officer for the company. So, that was my start in crypto.

Q2. What is the fundamental difference between NEAR Foundation and NEAR Protocol?

The role of the Foundation is a decentralized ecosystem because at its core and its heart, the NEAR ecosystem is extremely decentralized. The role of the Foundation is threefold. One, to help raise awareness of NEAR and NEAR protocol and what can be done with the technology and upon the technology. The second pillar of things that we focus on helping support the growth of an ecosystem that builds on the technology, which is NEAR Protocol. Thirdly, the Foundation helps by continuing to get decentralized governance. This also helps in navigating what’s actually happening in the space from a regulatory perspective.

The Foundation itself is not for profit and based out of Switzerland which has the mandate along the three pillars that I’ve described. The NEAR protocol is the Tech. It’s the underlying technology that is actually open source and permissionless. Anyone anywhere in the world can decide to build on the protocol and therefore build on the technology. You have a lot of different nodes and projects within the NEAR ecosystem. Projects, for example, such as what the Pagoda team is working on, which comprises of many core builders and core project executives who helped with building the protocol from early days.

There are also other projects and infrastructure in place such as Machina and Aurora, which is our EDM, etc. In a nutshell, the Foundation is one of the ecosystem participants. It’s not for profit that operates on the three mandates to help raise awareness, support, and help steerhead decentralize governance for the ecosystem.

Q3. There has not been that many projects out there who are openly not for profit and just trying to figure out how to do more with everything that we have now. Is there any reason why it was established as a separate entity rather than just a subset of NEAR Protocol?

Yes, it was established as a separate entity. If we believe and want to adhere to decentralization, that actually means having different nodes, different legal entities, different projects, and different owners who will actually spearhead things in different directions. Therefore, the importance of having different separate entities is linked to the fact that we are not for profit. Consequently, it drives a certain mindset. What I find fascinating in particular is the the twofold role of the Foundation. One, it is the notion of it being here to serve. Essentially, it means being here to serve and do things selflessly in order for others to succeed. A lot of the things that are being done by the team who is in the Foundation are completely selfless. They are constantly thinking about how they can help others succeed, how they can ensure that the roads are being built, that the schools are there, that they have basically the infrastructure that they need so that they can thrive. That’s quite a mindset that is different from (other organizations) that you can observe, for example, in a for profit organization.

The role and the goal of the Foundation is not to exist perpetually nor is it to grow and to become the biggest thing that it can ever be. Again, it’s a specific mindset. When we think about the mandate that we have, we have to gradually become super small or even irrelevant and ideally not be needed at all over time. From the Foundation’s perspective, success happens when the ecosystem have grown to become autonomous, self-sustainable, and when there is no need for human interference to plug in gaps in the roads, and no one is needed to make sure things are patched when they need to be patched. I think that is also one of the reasons why it was set as a not for profit. I’m based in Zug, which is in Switzerland, where there are actually quite a lot of different projects that are looking into that approach because in Switzerland, the statutes of Foundations (not for profit) is actually extremely concise, regulated, and has a very clear framework. This allows ease to operate within defined (known) boundaries and therefore also gives a level of trust to the projects that is being spearheaded and built.

Q4. What is the day in the CEO of NEAR Foundation’s life?

I’ve been now in the role for a little bit over a year. I joined in January 2022, and it’s been a h*** of a year, because of what we’ve all been through in crypto. 2022 has definitely been a year with a lot of drama, a lot of reshaping, and a lot of things. So, I would say there hasn’t been actually two days or even two weeks that have looked the same. But if I look at a macro level, these are the type of things I spend time on: #1, I spend time on the team of the Foundation. So, how do I make sure that the foundation itself is a very well functioning machine? That includes things like: What is our treasury management? What is our financial position? Are we delivering what we need? What is the next strategic partnership that can be done for the ecosystem? And where is that? There are quite a lot of things that actually are traditional and operational for making sure that the team can actually function and work well.

#2, I spend a lot of time with and on the ecosystem. So I try to carry out that, in a way, that is structured. For example, we have what we call an ‘Influencer Roundtable’. The goal of that is, with a certain set of criteria, the key participants in our ecosystem gather and get together every week to share core information about what is happening across the ecosystem. So this is something that we’ve helped spearhead and we are also one of the participants. By participating, we are able to listen in to what are the issues of the key players in the ecosystem, what’s working, what’s not working, and what we should be thinking of. So, that’s another part.

#3 I spend some time one-on-one with a lot of different projects. Last but not least, I spend time on things for example, AMAs like these too. So, those are some of the things that link back to the three pillars of the Foundation, raising awareness, supporting the ecosystem, and helping spearhead governance. Quite a bit of my role is actually also evangelizing, going out there, going to conferences, speaking at AMAs, or enabling cohorts who are onboarding on our Partner Accelerator Programs (for them to actually understand what is NEAR and what they can build on NEAR). But yeah, I would say, broadly speaking, it’s not been two days the same, definitely not two weeks the same (in crypto). I’m just hoping 2023 might be a bit less chaotic than 2022 was.

Q5. Are there anything else in particular that you would like to share about NEAR or NEAR Foundation that set it apart from other projects?

If we look at what the premises were on which NEAR was built on and how NEAR came to be, that would help a lot. So, when Alex and Illia started working together, their first idea pondered upon how they can get AI to take over the world and have AI self-create programs and projects everywhere? To do that, they had a very large network of people around the world who were actually helping build their company. To pay these people, they thought, “Okay, we heard about blockchain, so let’s use blockchain and actually pay people with that.” And then, they realized that actually it was completely unusable. When they realized that, they thought, “Okay, so clearly this concept of blockchain and crypto doesn’t work, what’s going on?” That’s when they actually deep-dived and interviewed almost all (if not, most) different Layer 1s and projects that are out there. By the way, if anyone is interested in that, It’s called it’s the “Whiteboard Series” which is available on YouTube. So, they did the Whiteboard Series with all the different projects out there and said, “Okay, how does this work? What is this bit and parts?” So on and so forth. Later, they took all the best bits of every project and blockchain out there (that was there), and said, “Okay, if we take this part, add it to that part, do it with this, and so on and so forth, then we can have the best blockchain!” I think the spirit of how NEAR was created is really interesting.

The second thing that sets us apart was actually at the heart’s core of everything, which is Usability. Usability on NEAR is actually super strong today. For example, Sharding. Sharding enables infinite scalability. Right? But at the heart of what it was designed for was also, how can we make sure that things become usable and completely transparent for the end user. For example, when you look at the wallet that is available on NEAR, not only is it a wallet that’s actually extremely seamless and very easy to use, but it’s also actually a wallet that enables walletless onboarding. So, what this means is that when we integrate, for example, with some of our partners, which could be gaming companies, or, for example, Sweat, which is one of our partner, as a user, you don’t even need to know that you have a wallet. Right now, on Twitter, a lot of people are talking about the ‘walletless experience’. Well, that’s something that has always existed with NEAR and on NEAR.

Usability, for NEAR, also meant making sure that it’s developer-friendly from the start. Developer-friendliness is extremely important. For us, this means making it possible to code in many different (programming) languages and making its web assembly-based. Recently, in 2022, we even developed it so that if you know how to code only in JavaScript, then you can actually still code and develop on NEAR. This core concept of usability, we believe, is fundamental because when we think of the next wave of where is Web 3 going, actually we are still in this space where we have to explain what is blockchain, what is a wallet, how you log in, and so on and so forth. However, to achieve true mass adoption, we need to move away from that, right? It needs to be so seamless and so transparent that anyone, even people who are not familiar with the technology, can actually use it, and really get to the use cases that are transformational. So, that’s really beyond Sharding, Sharding is just one of the key components that helps with scalability. But beyond that, we think that actually enabling true usability and seamless experience, whether you’re a developer or a user, is what differentiates NEAR.

Q6. Would you say that is kind of like the ultimate goal for a project like NEAR?

Since the start, NEAR has always been very focused on mass adoption. Therefore, metrics like user activity and user engagement becomes very important. It is not necessarily derived from other metrics only like TVL or other metrics. If you look at technology adoption, where and how is the value derived? Well, value is derived from people truly use the underlying technology. So, for us, we think on a long-term basis and the key metric we look at is monthly active accounts.

On that topic, there’s a lot of Layer 1s and a lot of different projects, but actually that’s not the end game. Right? A Layer 1 is a part of a tech stack and if you have a tech stack that is scalable and usable, then, on top of it, you can build other components and start adding other bits and pieces. And actually, the true ultimate need right now in Web 3 is more on the idea of how can you enable anyone, anywhere to discover, because discoverability in Web 3 is still a very big issue.

How can we discover all the dApps and apps that are actually happening seamlessly? How can you enable decentralization not only on the back end, but also the front end? What we think is that, to achieve true mass adoption, you need usability. We’re very focused on monthly active accounts and users. We are working on enabling more discoverability that is building on top of the protocol itself. Because we think that’s where ultimately, when we get there, we don’t have to explain what is Sharding, what’s a Layer 1, and what’s a Layer 2. But, we will be able to get real use cases that drives millions of users.

Q7. What is the roadmap for 2023 and what’s the expectation that wants to do this year?

I think it’s fair to say that 2022 has been extremely challenging. Actually, one of the first things that we felt very strongly was the Ukraine war. A lot of our community is from Ukraine and actually was at the time, based in Ukraine. Of course there was Terra Luna and then there was FTX. I think it’s been an extremely turbulent player, but nevertheless, amidst that year, it’s absolutely incredible to see the strengths that NEAR went through.

For example, to give you a couple of numbers, we went from 2 million total accounts to 23 million total accounts. We went from 100,000 monthly active accounts to over 1 million monthly active accounts. We went from roughly 250 developers and went to over a thousand active developers. We went from 100 projects to over 1000 projects and from 50 million transactions to 250,000,000 transactions. And last but not least, we had roughly in 2021, 30 million of outside funding for projects in the ecosystem. And in 2022 we had over 350 million of outside funding to actually back and fund the projects that are being built on NEAR. So it was a year of absolute, tremendous growth and amidst all the drama and everything that has happened. Not only that, we did actually had the opportunity to raise quite a lot of capital and we’ve been extremely conservative in how we approach deploying that.

And I don’t mean to be conservative or negative, I’m actually being careful and again, putting this servant leadership hat on for the NEAR ecosystem, we think through how we can deploy it best and how we can make sure that if times become really difficult like that, we have what’s needed. Today, the NEAR ecosystem has very, very strong treasury both in Fiat and in $NEAR tokens. The NEAR ecosystem has incredible talent that continues to build and has access to actually external capital in order to continue growing those projects. The fundamental technology here is very strong and actually will continue to enable great projects to be built on NEAR.

Q8. Is there a way to kind of explain the structure of NEAR Protocol as a whole (e. g. NEAR Foundation, NEAR)? What are the sub entities and what are the different kind of roles and responsibilities within such an ecosystem that is so large?

I think that’s probably one of the parts that we want to improve: the idea of how do you discover who is doing what and where are the key players? So, a great place to actually learn about that is definitely to visit NEAR.org. There is actually quite a lot there. You may browse about, for example, the ecosystem funds that help get funding if you build on NEAR and who are the key projects that actually are building on NEAR. Some of those key projects include Sweat (an application that has over 150 million downloads and users), Play Amber (a gaming company), and Seatlab (a ticketing option).

Once you get into the ecosystem, finding your peers is actually probably one of the best way. But again, for 2023, one of the key things we’re working on is enabling better discovery, because it’s a growing ecosystem that continuously expands. Even as a professional working in the ecosystem, I find myself discovering new projects and new builders everyday. It’s almost impossible to catch up. But I think that’s also the beauty of decentralization. At the end of the day, there is someone somewhere who is building something that’s interesting that is basically enabling and contributing on the protocol. So, I would say the best place to start is definitely NEAR.org. Following us also @NEARProtocol on Twitter is another great way to start deep diving into how things are structured.

This article came directly from the Bitrue blog, found on https://bitrue.medium.com/highlights-from-bitrue-x-near-foundation-ask-me-anything-session-36abead94ec7?source=rss-c4759c9c6535——2

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