Featured Interview with Brian Hoffman (CEO)
Founded in 2014
3 Co-Founders, 6 Full Time Staff
OpenBazaar is one of the most interesting and ambitious projects I have been watching since Amir Taaki and his team first made the DarkMarket proof of concept. As opposed to trying to explain what it is all about OpenBazaar have a really simple, quick and high level video that gives a great overview of the project:
First Question Brian – When did you first get into Bitcoin? Can you give some details?
I was doing public key encryption for my previous employer and came across Bitcoin while doing research probably in 2010 or 2011. It was an interesting idea, but at the time it didn’t seem all that useful because there weren’t really a lot of things to do with it besides trade it. I really got into it a while later when there seemed to be a lot of interesting extensions and other projects being built on top of it around 2013.
When did OpenBazaar change from DarkMarket?
I found out about DarkMarket about the same as a lot of people after they won the Toronto Hackathon and they released the code on GitHub. I offered to contribute code and support to DarkMarket, but they only had built it as a proof of concept and relinquished control of the project. I forked the project and renamed it OpenBazaar, to focus on creating a tool that kept the principles of being private, free and support Bitcoin, but expanded the target audience from illicit trade to agnostic worldwide trade.
For those who do not know the history of DarkMarket the video below shows the original proof of concept design being presented:
Where did the inspiration to work on/create OpenBazaar?
I had been looking for something interesting to do in the development side of Bitcoin and I never really was that great of a C programmer, spending most of my time doing web application development and three-tier web programming, so working on the core protocol wasn’t really that viable. DarkMarket and subsequently OpenBazaar gave me something that I could work on in my spare time and that other people were really excited to help out on. It was great to have the open source support and it happened very organically.
What is your technical background?
I have a BS in Computer Science and worked over 10+ years in IT consulting and development for everyone from Boeing, Hilton Hotels, Neiman Marcus and FedEx to government clients in both the classified space and regular agencies. I worked mostly on PKE (public key encryption) and identity and access management systems, but dabbled in datacenter migrations and other projects as well.
What do you do on a day to day basis at the moment and what is your team doing?
Our team is working primarily on building OpenBazaar version 2.0 though we also still update & maintain the current version for our users for ongoing usability, privacy and security.
My work day to day consists of running Open Bazaar1, the company we founded, which involves standard CEO responsibilities like finding really great people to expand the team and work on OpenBazaar as well as managing the timelines and development process to make sure we can get out the new version as soon as possible.
How are you going to make money from OpenBazaar or is it a not for profit? Is it getting many users at the moment? What sort of volume?
OpenBazaar1 is a venture-backed, for profit company and we are simultaneously building the OpenBazaar protocol as well as several applications which will utilize it. Revenue will be produced in the form of value-added services that will make aspects of the entire complicated ecommerce process easier for our users to scale and manage. Current growth is steady at around 1,500 new users per month and anticipation is high for the release of version 2.0 later this year.
Screenshot inside OpenBazaar
Can you explain more about OpenBazaar 2.0? What new features will we see?
OpenBazaar 2.0 is an upcoming major release that will move the network to being fully distributed rather than simply decentralized. You can read more about the future of P2P trade on OpenBazaar here.
With the rise of Altcoins will OpenBazaar 2.0 work for more than just Bitcoin?
Can you describe the process of turning your idea into a reality?
Having a proof of concept code base to start from was pretty powerful. It at least gave me and the project contributors ideas of where to start, but I had a lot of experience building community networks and knew a lot about Bitcoin so we just started plugging away. Building a strong open source project where contributors felt good submitting code and ideas was key. We had so many great volunteers early on and it has continued. Bringing the smartest people you can to your work is key. Also surrounding ourselves with advisors and investors who really understood the space was extremely helpful.
Can you walk me through the critical components of Open Bazaar?
OpenBazaar the most liberating, most private and most secure marketplace available for people who want to buy and sell things online.
Version 2.0 is built on top of IPFS, which itself combines a DHT with a cryptographically authenticated data structure called a Merkle DAG. Users seed their store data on the network in a way that might be familiar to Bittorrent users. When other uses visit you store, they cache your store data and begin seeding it themselves.
IPNS, an authenticated namespace, is used to authenticate all store content against a OpenBazaar ID.
The trade protocol exchanges messages using the libp2p network layer.
The app includes a custom built SPV Bitcoin wallet and has an option to swap it out for bitcoin if the user chooses.
What is the greatest challenge you have faced?
The greatest challenge of OpenBazaar has been building software that is both decentralized and equally capable as industry standard ecommerce platforms that are already working for people. Centralized tech stacks are extremely optimized whereas peer to peer technology is still far behind in many ways. Also building a network where full control is given to the users and not regulated by a central point of control is extremely difficult.
What would be the best case scenario for Open Bazaar in 5 years time? What will it be like?
Best case scenario is that we have millions of users doing business online using OpenBazaar either through the core software or through other products built on top of the network. I would also like to see different types of contracts and use cases being supported (e.g. auctions, insurance contracts, gambling, other investment vehicles).
What are the biggest factors in your success so far?
The biggest factors in our success have been the enthusiasm and support of our staff and community. We also pride ourselves on delivering on our promise to deliver working software, which we did with the 1.0 version of OpenBazaar last year. Many projects in the space never actually deliver their promise and fade away. We have continued to build on the excitement of our community and are looking forward to dropping 2.0 on the world in the next few months.
What is your advice to someone who wants to create a similar business to yours?
I would say build a strong community and brand simultaneously with your product. In order to get people to use and share your product you will need an active and excited audience that will spread the good word and grow your network. Also having a working product is key to getting people to participate. This means you’ll have to really do a lot of heavy lifting yourself early on and build your team and contributors as you go. Also if you’re going the traditional VC investment route then having a strong community of supporters and a working product will get you so much further than a great idea.
If you could start again what would you do differently and why?
We would probably keep our product scope much smaller and get product out much more quickly to get feedback. Also we would probably focus more on getting stronger documentation to developers so they could build apps on top of OpenBazaar sooner.
Do you have a marketing strategy to get new users on board at this stage? It seems that the program is working perfectly but you need users now?
We do, we are working at a more grassroots level to keep building relationships and awareness of the current version of OpenBazaar as well as planning a big campaign around the 2.0 release.
What are all your points of contact people can contact you on? (social media, email etc)
Friends can find us on, of course, the OpenBazaar website! We want to connect with anyone who loves what cryptocurrencies are doing for the world and is looking for a free, secure and private way to transact online.
What do you need from the community to help grow Open Bazaar? (more testers, volunteer marketers, funding etc.)
All of the above! We need people both using the app and telling us about it as well as looking forward to the upcoming 2.0 release with a few surprises along the way. We need the feedback from our community to build this marketplace to combine the virtues of decentralization, like security and privacy, with the best usability possible.
If people would like to stay up to date on current version tips & tricks as well as 2.0 news they can sign up for our newsletter on our company website OB1.
Have you faced any legal issues around Open Bazaar?
No and we don’t anticipate it. We believe in a future where users are empowered to make their own choices and in choosing to use free protocols, are liable for their own decisions.
I remember first thinking it (DarkMarket) was an unstoppable version of the silk road but now likely more like the ebay of Bitcoin? Are there limitations to what Open Bazaar can be used for?
There are no restrictions inherent in the OpenBazaar protocol though users are encouraged to be mindful of others participating in the network and of laws and restrictions in their area.