The “ecosystem” surrounding a blockchain project has quickly become a buzzword, and for good reasons. Because public blockchains need users to succeed, they are heavily dependent on community development and engagement. Meanwhile, most aspects of distributed computing — blockchain technology itself — are completely new.
Those pioneers brave enough to launch a project on any current blockchain should expect heavy protocol development with frequent changes, brand-new and untested developer tools, and a lack of legal framework or precedent to guide them.
Into this void steps NEO Global Development’s US$100m EcoBoost initiative, a major project from the “Ecosystem Growth” department. By providing technical support, promotional advice, community outreach, and exchange partnerships for its NEO projects, EcoBoost aims to provide vital infrastructure for its entrepreneurs and successful businesses.
Shanghai’s John Wang is the director of Ecosystem Growth. Wang brings years of practical experience with Accenture, as well as his Australian accounting and business degrees. NEO News Today’s Colin Closser spoke with Wang in Shanghai.
NNT – Colin: Most people don’t know you, especially our Western audience. They don’t know a lot of individuals from NEO Global Development. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to work at NGD?
John Wang, NEO Global Development: Well, I just celebrated the first “anniversary” of joining NGD. NEO is growing, so we are recruiting people. Personally, I’m Chinese, but I lived in Melbourne, Australia for seven years after high school. My university major was business. So after I came back from Australia, I joined a consulting firm, Accenture, and focused on management consulting for five years.
After I left Accenture, I built my own company, a startup, which focused on serving the startup community. It’s quite like AngelList, the Chinese AngelList. For that company, I got three rounds of investment.
I bought the [NEO] tokens quite early in 2017. I think my friend gave some to me before that. In those days, they mentioned a lot about Antshares [now NEO] and Da Hongfei to me. So I was quite curious, like how was it that I’m Chinese, but I don’t know about it?
So I went back to the Internet, searching, “what is Antshares, who is Da Hongfei?” I watched videos, and read articles about Antshares. And I realized, blockchain is not just a token that can be used to send money to you. It can be used for industry in the future, and it is a totally new economic paradigm. So in early 2018, I decided to leave my own company, and to join NEO. So, that’s the history of how I joined NGD.
Colin: So, “Ecosystem.” Can you help our readers understand what is meant by the term “Ecosystem”? It’s a cliché, a word everyone uses, but even I had to look it up for this interview. Is it a combination of projects, development, and capital?
John: For this question I think I should start from my daily task. I’m responsible for the NEO Ecosystem Growth department and the NEO Eco Fund. So, my daily work is to connect with the exchanges, the dApps, the community, and institutions. We talk with different people — maybe Russian, Indian, Western, South American people. The goal for our department is to extend the ecosystem of NEO, and to effectively allocate the resources of NEO to each individual project.
We are exposed to a large number of projects and institutions every day, they all have different needs, provide different services, and link these different people. So we need to be familiar with the entire ecosystem of NEO and give them direction. In my concept, ecosystem is more like a country. There are hospitals, shops, banks and different institutions. People in this country can find the services which they need on time. Therefore, for ecosystem, the most important thing is that it is complete. If it just links the various organizations bluntly, without any strategy, it is not an ecosystem! The ecosystem should be a system that can help everyone to grow efficiently and provide them with various opportunities.
And also for the future, we are working on building solutions on the NEO blockchain. For example, a dApps solution, a DeFi [decentralized finance] solution, an STO solution. In the end, we might not profit [directly] from this kind of solution, but for any project which wants to join the NEO ecosystem – they can get the resources and infrastructure to build everything on NEO.
Colin: That’s interesting. You’re talking about making an STO template to allow projects to jump onto NEO?
John: We actually talked about making an STO solution. We are making a standard, which others can use. But it’s not the only thing. I personally don’t think that for the STO solution, the technical side is the hard part. The hard part is to have global distribution channels. So we are also looking for global partners. We are currently talking with Liquefy, we are talking with Pandaq, and TokenMarket. And in the future, we may also work with them to build the different distribution channels in Europe, in America, in Asia. I think that part is what the projects are looking for.
Colin: I remember two years ago, when I was developing a project on NEO, I was just working with a tutorial and a smart contract template. Things have come a long way in two years, a lot of support has come along since then.
All this support is meant to create a healthy ecosystem. What is NEO Global Development looking for?
John: Actually for the developer, we are looking to build a user-friendly ecosystem. And for the public blockchain, we are looking to have NEO become the enterprise-used public blockchain. I think these both have been mentioned many times at conferences.
But back to our department, back to our work – we needed to get to know the projects, our partners, as quickly as possible. And analyze how we should complement them, and what resources we should allocate. Our job is more like the coordinator [director]. My hope is that NEO or maybe NGD can help Eco projects more efficiently.
Colin: Does your department handle DevCon?
John: DevCon is organized by the whole NGD. It is mainly planned by our marketing team and our department has taken part of the work. For our department, we only organize NEO.GAME, in Tokyo. Do you know that one?
Colin: Yes! That came off pretty big. You had a lot of people there, didn’t you?
John: Yeah, 1500 people, I think.
Colin: Bigger than DevCon! And most people outside of Japan have never heard of it.
John: For DevCon, the attendee mostly is developers. But it’s easy, for the game conference, normal people will go. For the GameCon, this time we mainly invited local Japanese projects and institutions to participate, and the whole process is Japanese, so it is a little bit difficult for people outside Japan to participate. But I see that 1,500 is quite a lot of people.
Colin: For any blockchain conference, for any blockchain, that’s a lot.
I was recently writing about John deVadoss, NGD Seattle head. He was talking about how he sees NEO’s vision as a platform, a platform to run dApps and integrate with enterprises.
The biggest platform is Ethereum, they have a pretty large ecosystem in crypto terms. What are NEO’s goals versus Ethereum’s goals?
John: Well, I think it’s by different ways. We are actually looking for the same thing, to bring blockchain to the whole world, I think we have the same goal.
Ethereum is very decentralized, anyone can join the ecosystem. But I’m not quite sure that Ethereum, currently, can support real business–
Colin: –I don’t think any blockchain, any blockchain in its current state, could support a real enterprise, a Fortune 500 company, running all their customers through a blockchain. I think it would collapse any chain, the technology is not there yet.
John: Yeah. But I’m a consulting background. So somehow, I always think about the solution. For NEO, we focused on the Smart Economy from the start. And somehow, I think enterprise use does not mean you can reach 10,000 or 20,000 TPS. The enterprise use is more related with the service side.
For example, for Ethereum, if enterprise is working with them — They cannot just call Vitalik to get technical support. Now, they may work with a third-party project to provide the support. But for real business, from what I know, it is still not enough.
For NEO, we are trying to build the technology that is suited for enterprise use. And we expect that our ecosystem actually can support an enterprise to fit into blockchain. We will provide long term support to the enterprise.
So personally, I think enterprise use is not just technical. It’s also about infrastructure.
Colin: Let’s talk about EcoBoost. That’s been the big announcement, it has “Eco” in the name, it’s tied to the ecosystem growth. You mentioned the Eco Fund at the beginning of this interview – that Eco Fund is now rolled into EcoBoost, right?
John: Eco Fund can be part of EcoBoost. So actually, we are announcing the details next week, but for EcoBoost…I think most people only remember one number, the $100 million.
But personally I think it’s not the only thing we should remember. If we only remember the $100 million, I should be fired at the end of this year.
Colin: [Laughs] Or, we’ll just move you to marketing, right?
Where will this $100 million go? This is not one payment, it’s a long vision.
John: For EcoBoost, actually we will have two steps.
The first step is to recruit NEO EcoBoost Eco Partner. This partner can be an exchange, it can be media, it can be an institution. Everything that’s related to blockchain. But we hope that the partner is a high-quality partner. What we hope is for the exchange to be [a respected, high-volume exchange], we hope the media can be [a widely read and respected cryptocurrency media outlet]. That’s what we expect.
After we spend this month recruiting EcoBoost partners, and evaluate the resources they can provide to the NEO ecosystem, at the end of this month [June 2019] or the beginning of next month, we will announce the list. And we will also list what kind of resources they will provide.
EcoBoost will be the whole thing — NNT can be a part of it. Eco Fund can be a part of it. The exchange can be a part of it. So on that page, we will show all projects which consider to join NEO and what kind of resources they can bring to NEO ecosystem. In the future, it will build healthy relationship between the projects, NEO, and the other partners and it will be long-term relationship.
Colin: How long do you expect this EcoBoost strategy to be the main strategy for NEO? A few years, a couple of market cycles?
John: EcoBoost is not the strategy of NEO, it is the long term support plan of NEO. The EcoBoost Partner list may change regularly. With our ecosystem growing, we want to invite more and more partners join this plan, and EcoBoost will clearly let the projects know what kind of support they can get.
Colin: It seems like individually, as an employee, your focus has been more on the gaming side of things recently. Is that because those projects are more ready to use blockchain?
John: As employee, I work in Eco Growth Department. We are focused on NEO’s entire ecosystem. Blockchain gaming is part of our work, we are also working on decentralized finance, the STO, the telecom solution, and others. But the reason we are working on the games, is because I realized that NEO’s infrastructure for the dApps three months ago was not quite good.
We did not have an extension wallet, we did not have enough SDKs [software development kits], we could not integrate with the game engine very well. If we don’t even have the documentation, if we don’t have these things, how can dApps develop on NEO? You were a developer, so you know, right? Therefore, the first focus of us is to build these infrastructure for the dApps as soon as possible.
Colin: Yeah, I had some problems compiling smart contracts, even the template smart contracts, two years ago. Due to the stability of the tools that were available at the time. So I understand how three months ago, there could still be issues.
John: I think that “user-friendliness” is not just a PR [public relations] word. That’s why I believed in the change that NEO needed, and spent three or four months to build the dApps’ infrastructure. Currently we do have the extension wallet, we do have the documentation, we do have the SDK. All the developers can use our “Developer Guide” to get instruction.
Some people were blaming us. “Why has NEO become a game chain?” I’m not into that! Actually, currently more than 90% of blockchain dApps are games, as games naturally access blockchain. My expectation is that after high quality blockchain game dApps are running on NEO, it will be easier for developers to build other dApps on NEO.
Colin: And in the meantime, if a game doesn’t work, it doesn’t hurt anything. It’s a good way to test the infrastructure, right? Because it’s just a game.
John: Right. We got lots of feedback from the blockchain game teams. They would share information about development issues, so we connected them to our R&D team to coordinate. We might not have known what issues we had, but now we know, so we can do updates, we can improve infrastructure.
For the game part, I think our development structure is nearly done by this stage. So maybe for after June, we can focus on some other part, such as decentralized finance or STOs. Maybe after another half of the year, more industries’ ecosystem infrastructure can be ready, and more developers can come to NEO and develop the different things on it.
Colin: Yes, I’ve been a little confused at how people have mis-interpreted NEO’s gaming focus. It’s a means to an end! It’s not that NEO is a gaming chain. It’s that [games] are a great way to develop.
John: It’s hard to explain to the people, somehow. That you have to do something in order to fix something.
Colin: Yeah! [Laughs] In order to fix something, you have to do it!
John: Yeah. So otherwise, we cannot find what issues NEO has. I’m okay with other people not understanding at that moment, but in the end, I hope developers in the future can develop everything on NEO more easily. I believe that if we are doing something good for NEO, people will eventually understand it.
One other thing: Currently on the NEO blockchain we only have some simple games. But for the really high-quality games, it normally takes more than six months to do the developing. I think in maybe two or three months, there’s going to be some of the really high-quality blockchain games going live on the NEO blockchain.
And for the rest, I know NGD has had lots of staff changes. But personally I do believe that we will build good relationships with new friends and old friends. I admit that NEO was not quite close with the outside before. But we are trying to fix it, I hope that NEO can have more and more friends in the future.
The reason I joined NEO, it’s belief. To be honest, it’s really belief. I’ve been in the crypto market since 2013. My foreign friends always joke with me “Chinese only believe in money.” But in fact, in NGD team, we do have the belief, and whether you like NEO is a very important element when we recruit employees. I can say without any hesitation, NEO is my only belief. I am proud to work for NEO, I hope it can be my last job.
Colin: For me, it’s not a belief that Antshares is going be a financially successful project. It’s like, once you see it, and you see what it could be. I know what NEO could be! And I’m not leaving until I see it happen.
John: I stayed in Australia for seven years, so I know how the Chinese people’s thinking is so different from the Western thinking. But in NEO’s community, I can feel no matter where you from, people join this community because they believe in NEO. Therefore, NEO is definitely not a Chinese project, and nobody will try to make it become a Chinese project. So maybe I’m Chinese, Da Hongfei and Erik are Chinese, but in my heart, I hope that NEO will be known by people as a global project.
Our goal is to build a project which belongs to everyone. That’s also my belief, and if one day NEO is not on that track, then I will leave NGD.
Colin: You want it to be a world-class public global blockchain.
John: I hope it can be, it should be, a global blockchain. I think that the purpose, the soul of this blockchain should belong to everyone, different countries, different people. Yes, to contribute and help NEO to become a world-class project: that’s why I joined NEO, that’s the mission.
John Wang is director of Ecosystem Growth at NEO Global Development.