Warren Paul Anderson – VP of Product at Discreet Labs – Interview Series
Warren Paul Anderson is VP of Product at Discreet Labs, which is developing Findora, a public blockchain with programmable privacy. Previously, Warren led product at Ripple for 4.5 years working on the XRP Ledger, Interledger, & PayString protocols, the RippleX platform, and RippleNet's On-Demand Liquidity enterprise product. Prior to Ripple, in 2014 Warren co-founded Hedgy, one of the first DeFi platforms for derivatives using programmable, escrowed smart contracts on the Bitcoin blockchain. Warren has two bachelor's degrees from Northwestern University, and did graduate studies at Harvard University.
You’ve been involved with Bitcoin since 2011, how did you initially learn about Bitcoin?
In 2011, I was working as a co-founder of another startup, and we were working on some PCB hardware design. I was up late, rendering some of the hardware while blasting music over the really, you know, loud, noisy servers, and there was some downtime while the rendering was happening. I was surfing Twitter, and I can't remember exactly who it was, but someone I followed shared a link to the original Bitcoin white paper, and said, this is pretty cool, you should check it out. I had nothing better to do at the time, so I read it… then I re-read it, then read it again, and before I knew it, it was like 5am! I thought, wow, this thing is really cool and I have to check it out more. I think it was the next night, I installed what they called the Bitcoin QT client, which is the original kind of way to run a Bitcoin node. I installed it and after a couple of attempts, I was actually mining Bitcoin. And I thought it was great! Unfortunately, there wasn’t really anything to do with it and there wasn’t much of a community online at the time, so it was just kind of this interesting thing to tinker with. I think I shut off the miner and just kind of kept it in the back of my mind. I’d go back to it every now and then check it out, and play with it and do some mining, but that was really the extent of it during those early years for me. So, yeah, I discovered Bitcoin through Twitter!
You’ve had several “tours of duty” working across different products, protocols, and platforms at Ripple. What were some of the most memorable products that you worked on?
I said this to my sister who recently had twins, that as a product manager, when you launch a new product, it's like giving birth. Of course, she very quickly corrected me that that is not an appropriate example! But I will say that as a product manager, launching a product is very personal. You put a lot of time and effort and you work with a great team to get it done and it becomes familial, it becomes part of you. I'd say some of the most memorable things I’ve worked on would include the XRP Ledger protocol. It's one of the top blockchains in existence. It has a large user base and is novel in a lot of ways. It was one of the first to introduce both asset issuance and supported something called the account model, which is also used by Ethereum. I was working with the amazing c++ team on that project, and I was fortunate to learn a lot on how to work with really solid, seasoned engineers and get an inside view of a lot of best practices that way.
Another one that sticks out I actually co-invented, it was one of the enterprise products called, xRapid at the time (it's now called On Demand Liquidity). We actually developed and issued a patent on the technology, which was my first published patent. It basically uses cryptocurrency to do cross border transactions. So there's a fiat transaction into cryptocurrency, then the cryptocurrency is sent to another country, and then it is transacted back into the local currency, all within a matter of seconds. It was pretty revolutionary at the time, because usually these cross-border transactions take days, so going from days to seconds was a huge breakthrough.
I also worked on something called Interledger, which a number of my colleagues invented. It was one of the first protocols to focus on interoperating some of these payment networks and blockchains so you could transact from one blockchain to another, which again, at the time, was not a trivial thing. So that was pretty cool. Yeah, I’ve been fortunate to work on a lot of cool things, which I refer to as tours of duty, and I was always inspired by a lot of great engineers and researchers on those projects.
In March, 2021 you joined Discreet Labs to work on building Findora. What was it about this project that attracted you?
I've been working in the blockchain cryptocurrency space full time since 2013. And, you know, to date, I really haven't seen any project solve the privacy problem in cryptocurrency. And in a way that makes sense for the modern day demands of finance. I actually first heard about Findora, at the Stanford Blockchain Conference back in, I think it was either 2019 or 2020. The project was on my radar and in the back of my mind and I saw they were looking for someone to lead the product team. So, I took the opportunity! I think Findora is solving the privacy problem in a very sensible way, using zero knowledge proofs and multi-party computation, which is, really, kind of cutting-edge technology. I think that Discreet Labs is kind of becoming a pioneer in being able to implement these technologies to solve privacy. So, I thought that opportunity was one of the best that I could find, because it will also help introduce more institutional volume into the cryptocurrency space, because institutions no longer have to run on private ledgers, they can now run on a public blockchain while still preserving privacy.
Could you share with us how Findora differentiates itself from the competition?
There's been several generations of different blockchains that have kind of approached the privacy issue. The first generation is what I call transactional privacy. These are projects like Z Cash and Monero, where they implement a form of zero knowledge proofs to do transactional privacy. And that's really it. So, they don't support things like asset issuance, where you can create tokens on the blockchain, and they don't support programmability through the form of smart contracts. So that's kind of the first generation of privacy blockchains.
The second generation is approaching privacy in another way, either at, what we call the second layer, which is building privacy protocols on top of different layer one protocols like, for instance, Ethereum. Building a privacy layer on top to make the transactions underneath more private. Some projects even do this through the use of mixers which are a little dangerous, because mixers tend to attract a lot of fraudulent activity and money laundering. Then another way that this is done is through something called trusted execution environments, or secure enclaves. Secure enclaves are deployed in a way to do private computation using specialized hardware. There are a few projects out there, like Secret Network and Oasis, who both use this model. They're both layer one blockchains, but they rely on this kind of specialized hardware, which requires some trust. Most blockchains are designed around a zero-trust model, so TEEs kind of fly in the face of that. Findora not only supports the transactional privacy component, but also allows private asset issuance. Several teams in the Findora ecosystem are also working to support more programmable privacy through confidential smart contracts using pure cryptography, which requires no specialized hardware (zero trust). The kind of cryptography that's being used are zero-knowledge proofs, which can be designed to be more special purpose depending on the use case. Discreet Labs has built an entire library of zero knowledge proofs to support various types of complexity statements, and that's really what sets Findora apart from the rest of the pack.
Findora takes advantage of the fat protocol, could you explain what the fat protocol is and why it’s important?
The notion of the fat protocol was introduced, I think, in 2015, or 2016, by someone at Union Square Ventures and it's this notion that base protocols will actually grow in value and utility more than the layer 2 applications sitting on top of the protocol. In the more traditional internet protocol stack, it was the opposite – the application layer grew much bigger. So, for instance Facebook, Google, Amazon, all these kinds of applications that are sitting on top of the internet are far more valuable than then the internet itself, as far as actually having a market value. Google and Facebook are even laying fiber optic cables across the sea, you know. They are practically building their own kind of private version of the internet. Blockchain networks on the other hand the actual base layer protocols like the Bitcoins and Ethereums of the world are becoming fatter and fatter, because more utility applications are being built on top of them and those are feeding value back into the underlying base protocols. Findora taps into that fat protocol thesis as a layer 1 blockchain where there's a lot of features and functionality being built at the base layer that will benefit the applications built on top of it, which will then feed more utility value back into the base protocol. So, Findora is a fat protocol and it's one that's particularly focused on building out programmable privacy.
Findora uses bulletproofs, what are these and how are these an improvement on previous implementations of zero-knowledge-proofs?
Bulletproofs are a form of zero knowledge proofs that were originally invented by the former research team behind Findora. The ways in which Bulletproofs are different are threefold: (1) the size of the proof is smaller, (2) the proof can be verified faster, and (3) they do not require a trusted set-up. So, Bulletproofs are one of the most succinct of the zero knowledge proofs. In fact, if you parallelize the processing speed, I believe you can actually verify the proofs in less than half a millisecond. That's quite fast and with a little work, might be able to scale to meet the needs of modern ecommerce transactions. Bulletproofs were really a breakthrough in this regard, so we're standing on the shoulders of giants.
What’s your vision for where Findora will be in 5 years?
This is a question I ask the teams and the developers working on Findora a lot! I think in five years, what success for Findora would look like is being a top 10 cryptocurrency by market cap, which is just a proxy of the utility value that will be generated through developers building on Findora, using the programmable privacy via confidential smart contracts. I can see traditional financial institutions also using Findora to deploy all types of different financial contracts, business contracts, and day-to-day ecommerce transactions while preserving competitive business intelligence. With Findora, institutions can tap into the decentralized security of a public blockchain, but also be able to preserve the privacy as if they were running on a private ledger. I see Findora ushering in a lot more Wall Street liquidity onto public blockchain networks, while also supporting more of the DeFi developer use cases to extend privacy to smart contracts, DEX’s, AMM’s, NFTs, stablecoins, and more.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Findora?
This kind of goes back to the previous question, but the long-term vision for Findora is not just about programmable privacy, we think that privacy is a key enabler for actually supporting self-sovereign, decentralized identity. So, this kind of speaks to the case that as the digital economy is expanding, our digital identities are becoming more and more important. We have our physical identities, you know physical passports, physical fingerprints, biometrics, etc., but then you also have your digital identities. We need to be able to build out sensible privacy preserving technology that can support self-sovereign, decentralized identity so I can take that digital identity everywhere I go and ensure it is secure. I can use it to transact online, I can use it to vote online, I can use it to trade goods and services with other people online and I don't need to worry about my privacy, or my identity being stolen, because it's only my digital footprint that I can revoke at any time. So, the real vision is being able to enable a more private, self-sovereign, decentralized future for individuals in the digital economy.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Findora.