Chief Engineer & Co-Founder of NavCoin
CEO of Encrypt S
Craig MacGregor (@proletesseract) has a wealth of experience in the blockchain industry and plays a leading role in many cryptocurrency projects including NavCoin, NavPay, the upcoming Kauri wallet and the much anticipated Valence platform. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the future of blockchain technology in general as well as the projects he's involved in, so make sure to read on for updates on Valence, Kauri and the vision for NavCoin. Some quick background and reference material before I get to the questions.
Encrypt S (https://encrypt-s.com/) is a blockchain development company in New Zealand which has developed a number of the projects discussed in this interview such as the Kauri Wallet, NavPay, the Valence platform and contributing to NavCoin itself.
NavCoin is a lightweight privacy coin with a focus on ease of use. You can learn more about it from my review or at navcoin.org.
The Valence platform is a project which was originally intended to be built on top NavCoin but has since pivoted into a standalone platform. You can read more about that decision here and about the project itself at valenceplatform.org.
There's also some great additional reading about NavCoin, Valence and blockchain available on Craig MacGregor's Medium.
Other than the obvious (founder and chief engineer of NavCoin), tell me a bit about yourself.
I started my software engineering career as a web developer at an advertising agency in Auckland, New Zealand. We built all sorts of creative things like an app that used facial recognition software to match your face to a dog that was up for adoption at the animal shelter. I’ve always had a passion for computers, but only really got into programming in my early 20s.
What was your first exposure to cryptocurrencies and what was it that made you decide to get involved in the space?
I’d heard about Bitcoin around 2012 but i didn’t take the time to educate myself on what it was until a bit after that. It was the 2013 bull run which made me decide to pay attention and see what the big deal was. After learning about what the technology is and how it works, I wanted to get involved as an engineer in some way. I spent a lot of time on the Bitcointalk forums and discovered the NavCoin project in mid 2014, which was just getting started and I thought it looked promising. I joined that team as a Co-Founder and ended up engineering its private payment solution NavTech. The rest is history.
Where do you see cryptocurrency and blockchain technology heading?
Blockchain itself is a transformative technology, but as an industry we’re still figuring out the implications and use cases for it. I believe in the positive functions that it’s fundamentals of trustless interactions, transparency and immutability provide to society. I think we’re only at the very beginning of seeing what this technology will offer the world.
I do believe that cryptocurrencies will challenge fiat monetary systems globally one day. As an industry, we’ve still got a lot of things to figure out before mass adoption is possible though, and I don’t think many of the tokens that are around today will still be around when that happens. There are only a handful of truly decentralised cryptocurrencies that I think will survive the test of time.
In your experience, what has the attitude been towards cryptocurrencies in New Zealand, both from a government and individual perspective? How does this compare to other countries you've recently travelled to, such as Germany?
New Zealand is tucked away in a pretty isolated part of the world. Cryptocurrencies are not very prevalent here, it’s hard to find a store which accepts even Bitcoin. Our tax law, legislation and banking agreements are pretty behind the times and it does make it difficult to operate in the space at the moment. With more crypto businesses emerging lately and some of our bigger corporations showing an interest in blockchain, the landscape and attitude is shifting though.
What led to the founding of NavCoin and what is the vision behind it?
NavCoin was started to champion fast blocks, proof of stake and privacy. As a community initiative we never ran an ICO or pre-mine and anyone can freely contribute to the protocol or use NAV - for whatever purpose they see fit. NavCoin bases its community structure on Bitcoin’s model and advocates for anarcho-syndicalism, autonomy and self-action. Beyond the protocol, the core developers have a strong focus on usability and NavCoin’s motto is “Simplifying Cryptocurrency”.
There are a number of privacy coins and thousands of cryptocurrency projects today. What sets NavCoin apart?
I’ve done a lot of research into other privacy coins especially and i would have to say that there are many great solutions currently, but no absolute best privacy implementation. It’s one of the things which keeps me interested in working on NavCoin, the title of best privacy crypto is still up for grabs. It’s also a shifting target, so I don’t know who will come out on top in the end, but we are doing our best to innovate and come forward with new protocol improvements that contribute to the global open-source community.
We have been working on some unique features like our decentralised community fund, which is protected by two layers of network consensus and a new privacy implementation which we’re pretty excited about. We hope that creating a mechanism that allows the network to self fund innovation will see the network continue to improve and set itself apart from the crowds.
NavCoin is privacy-optional, as opposed to privacy-mandatory. In other words, users must opt to make a private transaction, rather than all transactions being private by default. Can you provide some context behind this decision?
The idea is that somethings should be public. For example, if a political candidate accepted NAV donations, that should be able to be scrutinised and publicly accounted for. Where as someone’s personal spending habits should be able to be private at their discretion. This way we can have the best of both worlds as long as privacy is not compromised by providing optional public transactions.
What role do you see NavCoin playing in the future?
NavCoin is designed to be a lightweight decentralised currency. We have some interesting projects in the pipeline which we hope will position NavCoin to straddle the cryptocurrency market segment as a ubiquitous payment solution. With the community fund active on the network, ultimately it will be up to the NavCoin community where the project heads and what direction it takes.
Now that the community fund vote has passed, what impact do you foresee this having?
We think it’s going to be an awesome thing for NavCoin. It really plays into our moral philosophy that anyone can get involved and that ideas are based on merit, not access. We are really excited to see the great ideas people propose and want to build. There’s already some good ones emerging on the NavCollab platform like carbon offsetting the NavCoin network, and integrating NavCoin with the Ledger Nano for when cold staking is an option.
You successfully launched NavPay, the world's first mobile cryptocurrency wallet capable of sending private transactions, for both Android and iOS. Is it getting the traction you expected? Do you have any stats as far as number of active users or total installs?
Yeah it was pretty well received. We have somewhere around 10k active users on NavPay. It’s a really nice wallet, very easy to use and you could send private payments with one simple checkbox. We’ve recently deprecated our original privacy solution NavTech in favour of the protocol based solution which is currently under construction. We’re hoping that our new solution will be just as easy from mobile, but we haven’t finalised the details into a white paper quite yet.
The Kauri wallet will support multiple currencies and will have features including atomic swaps, mobile staking and more. Is there any estimates about the number of currencies it will support, or even a list of currencies you plan to support? Will staking be enabled for any supported POS coin or only NAV?
The first release will support NAV, BTC and ETH. Beyond that we will look add support for ETH tokens and other POS coins as the next step. Yes, we plan for the wallet to be able to stake any supported POS coin which is available in the wallet.
Cold staking is a great feature in terms of making it easier and more appealing for people to make use of POS. However, some argue that it defeats the purpose of staking (to secure the network) and very few projects have managed to successfully implement cold staking. Any comments on why you think cold staking is an important feature and any challenges you've had implementing it so far?
Our implementation of cold staking provides the same amount of network security as the staking we have in production today and more security for an individuals funds. All we’re really doing is creating transactions which have two private keys associated with them instead of one. The first key is the spending key and the second key is the staking key. This allows you to store your spending key offline and only have the staking key on your hot wallet which stakes. This way, if someone manages to compromise the device you’re staking on, the only action they can perform is to stake your coins for you, they will never be able to move the coins to another address. It’s been relatively straightforward from an implementation point of view.
NavMorph is one of the most exciting features of NAV, in my opinion. It's been on the roadmap for a long time, is this due to difficulty in implementing it, or simply a focus on other features ahead of this?
We had to pivot this project and actually put it on hold for a while. I’ve written a blog post about it on my Medium account, which you could check out for the long explanation. The short version is that we were relying on Changelly for instant exchange between cryptos to “morph” them through NavTech. Their service became overwhelmed during the massive influx of users last year and became unreliable for our purposes. We decided to put the project on ice until the DEX inside the Kauri Wallet is available so we aren’t reliant on third party centralised services to perform the exchange.
The Valence platform is an ambitious project which will not only replace the existing subchain but will completely change the capabilities of NAV. What led to the decision to move beyond transactional capability?
We started to plan out some features for NavCoin like autonomous escrows, private exchanges and other advanced payment protocols, which we wanted to use the Subchain as a data source for. We got to the point where we really needed to design something from the ground up and also realised that what we were building had the potential to be cross-compatible with other payment cryptocurrencies as well.
The Valence platform will enable the creation of dApps (VApps in this case), smart contracts, and will be able to interact with off-chain applications and oracles. What use cases did you envision when you decided to pursue this?
In its essence we're looking to platformitize a decentralised application blockchain by baking in reusable components that perform a lot of the smart contract capability for common use cases like logistics, identification and escrow. Rather than developers needing to write smart contracts as code, app creators would instead simply pick relevant plugins and configure them. It's kind of like what Wordpress did for building websites, or Salesforce did for CRM's, but for blockchain applications.
The Valence platform sounds like it has a lot in common with another cryptocurrency project, Icon (ICX), which has managed to gain significant adoption across a number of industries in Korea. If you're familiar with the project, what do you feel sets Valence apart from ICX and other projects?
I’m not really familiar with ICX unfortunately. I can assure you that although there are a few projects which have similar end goals to Valence in terms of helping businesses adopt blockchain, our implementation and approach are unique in the space.
The Valence whitepaper was released back in March and there has been little in the way of updates since. Is there any news on Valence and are you targetting a specific timeline for launch? Any further updates on masternodes or VALE distribution?
It’s been a winding road since March, but we’re constantly making progress. Over the last year we’ve seen some massive changes in the regulatory landscape of blockchain technology and it’s constantly evolving. We’re not the type of team to rush into anything uncertain, so we slowed things down a bit so we could get a clearer view of how to proceed. We’re in a good position now to move forward though and build something which will be sustainable in the long term. We hope to have some of the public distribution details published in the next few weeks.
Update: Valence distribution details have been announced here. 32% will go to those who stake at least 1% of NavCoin blocks between December 1st, 2018 and Valence distribution (est. mid-2020) while the distribution of the remaining 68% is yet to be determined.
You probably get this question all the time, but what is NavCoin's marketing strategy going forward? A lot of work has been put into the Knowledge Base and Community Series but general awareness and adoption of NAV, in my experience, has seemed limited. This is surprising to me as there's a relatively large, dedicated, social community, NAV has been around for years and, despite it's current ranking, it has made frequent appearances amongst the coinmarketcap top 100.
As NavCoin Core we are focused on improving the NavCoin protocol and distributing educational and practical information about NavCoin and the NavCoin community’s projects. Traditional paid marketing is somewhat at odds with our position as developers of the technology, and from our legal advice it can also create some undesirable outcomes when it comes to US securities law. We will continue on our mission to educate and inform the wider community about NavCoin and its benefits. For example, we recently shot a video about the Community Fund which is currently being edited. However, the real truth is that the whole community has to take responsibility for NavCoin, not just the core developers, otherwise everyone is missing the entire point of what it means to be part of a system which has no central authority. The beauty of these decentralised platforms is that you have the power to be the change you want to see and the Community Fund will enable the network to self-sponsor any marketing actions it wants to undertake.
Have you, or are you planning to, discuss partnerships with other blockchain companies? Are there any businesses that you have discussed the Valence platform with?
Personally, I’m constantly talking with businesses and trying to help them accept NavCoin or understand how they could benefit from blockchain technology. My company is currently working with two great charities here in New Zealand - Forest & Bird and the World Wildlife Fund - to help them accept NAV as a donation stream. The tricky thing about partnerships and properly decentralised platforms is that even though we are the core developers of NavCoin we don’t have authority over the entire network and therefore can’t enter NavCoin itself into a partnership as such. I can tell you that my blockchain engineering company Encrypt S is working privately with a number of companies whom we hope to end up adopting either NavCoin and/or Valence.
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