It began as a Tuesday like any other, with most of us off tracking the everyday progress that's been the hallmark of the XRP ecosystem. Several major news stories have surfaced since that day, and I managed to cover some of them in subsequent blogs; two of them with an amazing amount of stories about XRP, Ripple, Coil, Kava, Cinnamon, and others.
And in the middle of it all, on XRPChat, something very interesting was brewing.
A stranger had appeared in our midst, with an unbelievable first post. We were skeptical. It went something like this:
"Hello all. Just wanted to introduce myself. I'm Bob Way, formerly of Ripple. Thank you in advance for allowing me to join your forum.
Back in the early days of crypto I was pretty active in the Bitcointalk and Ripple communities (under the username "Red"). In fact my community participation was what directly led to me going to work for Chris and the gang at OpenCoin. I made a lot of good friends in the forums five years back. I'm hoping to make some new ones now.
Now, understand that for those of us on XRP Chat, we've seen a lot in our day; the old forum closing abruptly, only to be replaced by a new one run by @Karlos (XRP Chat avatar), and then with the rise of XRP through the crypto rankings, we endured what seemed like frequent attempts at infiltration by Bitcoin maximalists, or just plain trolls with nothing better to do.
In between, the forum has been a source of deep philosophical discussions and open debates, with - mostly - a positive bent towards digital assets and specifically, XRP. In fact, XRP Chat is where I got my start; I was blogging on XRP Chat before I even knew that's what I was doing.
But this story isn't about me.
Who Is This Guy?
The community's natural immunity kicked in.
While a smattering of old XRP Chat members remembered his name and face from prior YouTube videos and Ripple presentations, some on the forum were reluctant to trust that he, in fact, was the Bob Way that he said he was.
After all, Ripple employees - even former ones as he claimed to be - were not very open about their viewpoints or experience. In some cases, non-disclosure agreements serve to restrict how much they can share, and in other cases, it's just a personal decision on the part of the former employee to 'go their own way' after logging a prestigious entry on their Silicon Valley resume.
But this poster - if it truly was Bob Way - seemed quite open and talkative about his viewpoints, and was willing to share what he knew.
So the skeptics kept challenging him to prove that he was, in fact, who he said he was.
Bob responded with a wonkish reply and a story about online skepticism run amok, posing with a high-heeled shoe next to his head in an effort to recreate Jenna Jameson's now-Internet-famous recruitment of 4Chan hackers. He put his own spin on it, however, also posing with an amazing stash of Ripple and XRP clothing and tchotchke:
Amazingly, some were still not convinced, and asked him to post a transaction on the ledger, which he eventually completed, proving his identity with cryptographic certainty.
Q & A
In the course of my follow-up to his introduction on XRP Chat, I asked Bob a number of questions, which he was kind enough to either 1) Answer, or 2) Point me to an entry on XRP Chat that addressed that topic already. Here's a few of these questions I asked him:
Question (Hodor): "You have a long history with Ripple, and you get into some of that on XRP Chat. Can you indicate the one accomplishment at Ripple you are the most proud of?"
Answer (Bob Way): "Inventing the Ripple “Pre-Validation” concept. At least that is what they call it now. I called it pre-transaction negotiation. It is what allows businesses, banks, and payment services to decide IF they want to participate in a payment transaction BEFORE any money actually moves. It removes a huge number of failure cases that the current banking system has.
It is a core feature the RippleConnect integration technology, which is itself the basis for xCurrent. And those RippleConnect “Pre-Validation” features are used in xRapid and xVia as well."
Question (Hodor): "Who at Ripple do you revere the most from a thought leadership standpoint?"
Answer (Bob Way): "You are trying to get me in trouble!
You said “most” so that means Arthur and David equally most. If Ripple were a Marvel movie, they are Captain America and Iron Man. They’re key to every plot. Stefan isn’t officially at Ripple any more. But he is by no means out of the picture. Obviously he is Nick Fury. Secretly trying to get everyone to do the right thing.
But Chris had fought other wars before any of us had even gotten there.
Being 'constructive' rather than 'disruptive' was all Chris. And Brad is improving on everything and making Ripple “the” thought leader in so many new areas. Brad would be Thor, son of Odin who swings a big hammer.
You can all guess who Loki is!"
Question (Hodor): "When it comes to use cases, I generally think of XRP as fitting three major ones:
- Cross-border bridge asset (xRapid, Corda Settler)
- Micropayment medium of exchange and value (Coil, Omni, etc.. )
- Smart contract settlement mechanism (Codius smart contract applications, derivatives)
Of those three use cases, which one do you think will be realized first, and which one do you think will result in the biggest demand for XRP?"
Answer (Bob Way): "It is so awesome that you see how they all work together. So many others don’t yet.
You’ve left out xVia and xCurrent. Those are going to be able to use XRP as a bridge asset as well.
I think that consumers are going to feel the obvious effects of Coil and the open Internet of Value first.
Consumers may actually be sending cross border payments via RippleNet at the same time or before, but I’m not sure it will be branded as XRP or Ripple at the consumer level.
Smart contract applications will also be running at the same time, but most consumers won’t need to know what that means.
But the biggest demand for XRP is going to come from businesses using RippleNet banks and payment providers actually sending a high volume of small value payments. This is what makes the bridge currency case compelling and drives traders to buy XRP in order to feed liquidity into the RippleNet flows."
Question (Hodor): "Which criticism of XRP angers you the most, and why?"
Answer (Bob Way): "The ones that criticize the motives of Ripplers.
This includes criticism of the mystical or dubious 'founder of the XRPL.' This is because I know that none of them have a greedy or malicious bone in their body. I personally feel a bit 'shady' when I compare myself to them and their behavior.
And I know I’m at least a decent guy."
Question (Hodor): "What do you view as the weakest aspect of XRP in terms of utility, and why?"
Answer (Bob Way): "The weakest aspect has nothing to do with the XRP digital asset itself. The weakness come from public misconceptions about its role within the broader RippleNet financial system. Currently, most people don’t understand how the existing financial system works. So they have trouble seeing how RippleNet’s atomic payment and instant settlement transforms things. And settling through XRP just adds one more level of confusion on top of that.
That is a key thing I hope to address in my posting on XRP Chat."
His Origin Story
Bob's interaction with cryptocurrency began far earlier than my own; in 2010, he was seeking to develop his own digital currency when he stumbled onto Bitcoin. He became a regular poster on Bitcointalk, and was a contrarian in some respects within that community, asking tough questions about the concept of stablecoins, years before they were made a commonplace fixture within crypto.
He also thought, un-apologetically, Bitcoin could be improved upon by a better design.
And in 2013, he discovered XRP, along with its championing organization and business, Ripple. Enduring the push-back on Bitcoin-centered forums like Bitcointalk, he continued to learn about what the team at Ripple was doing, and found that the original engineers at Ripple had implemented many of the improvements that he and others had originally suggested for Bitcoin.
Bob Way quickly became obsessed with XRP, and became one of the top posters on the original corporate-sponsored forum:
"I was studying Ripple to see if I could fork the code and apply it to my project. But when I was studying it, I realized that I didn’t need to fork the code and launch my own network. I could actually use the running network as it already existed.
So in service to my project, I started studying Ripple deeper and deeper. And it was glorious, and really compelling, and gave me possibilities for my project that I’d never even considered. And I started posting in the Ripple forums to ask questions at first. Then to talk about the cool things I learned. Then to discuss the interesting possibilities for the future that the Ripple technology helped me see. And while I was doing that I also began answering questions for others and engaging with the community. It was a really exciting time for me and it was really a huge amount of fun!
And after six weeks, I realized I was thinking more about Ripple than I was about my own project. And I was poor and didn’t have any financing or connections to support my working on the project anyway. It was probably a “pipe dream” at that time because of those limitations, any way.
So I asked my wife, 'Do you think I should ask ‘the Ripple people’ for a job?'
And she said, 'You mean a job where you actually make some money? You already seem to be working a full-time job for free. Hell yes! Ask them for some money.' "
In June of 2013, he asked Ripple if they would hire him, and they agreed, making him only the 10th hire after the original founders.
In his own words, he's played multiple roles, as you would expect in a small and nimble Silicon-valley startup, including: 1
• The original Integration Engineer • Designer for the Ripple "pre-transaction messaging" system • Designer for the Ripple Rest API • Designer for RippleConnect/xCurrent • Original Product Manager for RippleConnect • Original member of Ripple Research (including the ILP atomic mode and XRP bridge currency incentive analysis) • Original Sales Engineer once Ripple pivoted to a banking sales model • "Intellectual Property Wrangler" between the research, engineering and legal teams
He obviously played a unique and critical role in Ripple's growth through some very challenging periods of the company's history, and, despite his claim that he "purposely kept a low profile," the requirements of being in one of the most high-profile startups in blockchain required him to provide leadership in public capacities at different turns.
One forum member managed to unearth an old YouTube video with Bob Way providing some commentary.
Just as both Ripple - and digital assets generally - were beginning to claim their rightful place in the global financial system, both his career - and life - were abruptly put on hold.
The Big "C"
It was a tough topic. He slowly eased the eager audience at XRP Chat into what had prompted his abrupt departure from Ripple and re-calibration last year, hinting at 'some health issues' early on in the conversation, re-assuring readers that "all's well now."
In a follow-up, I noted this comment, and avoided asking him directly about it; but true to form for almost every person I've observed from Ripple, he decided to confront a challenging subject head-on. He revealed that he'd had a bout with cancer, and had caught it early; the scare had left him shaken, however, and had prompted an abrupt change in his daily routine, most of which had to do with treatment and other preventative measures he'd undertaken.
"(The cancer scare) makes you realize your mortality ... In addition, I had also left Ripple and it is surprisingly hard to decompress from five years of constant (but awesome) daily stress ... I didn't know what to do with my time.
... when you don’t actually have anything in particular that you absolutely “must” do, then you are burdened with the responsibility of having to make good decisions on your own. It sounds ridiculous, and I don’t expect any sympathy for this. So many people have so many things they absolutely must do, that they don’t have any time for the things they want to do.
As I came out of my funk, I did a personal analysis of what seemed like my sensible options. Then I tried to measure them against my life goals. That was surprisingly hard to do rationally."
Like many that have done battle with their own mortality and won, he waxed philosophical, noting the strange introspective questions he'd been forced to ask as 2019 approached.
His ultimate decision was to move forward in a different direction rather than returning to the daily grind and pressures of traditional corporate life. Instead of 'more of the same,' the experience prompted him to chart a course on a completely separate path: One which would see him at the helm of his own ship now, championing an idea that had been forming for some time.
"What I really wanted to do was to work on my project. It is actually a project I started on before I discovered Ripple."
The New Venture
Out of curiosity, I asked Bob about his new project, and his first sentence provided a jolt of adrenaline:
"Mind your own business."
My jaw dropped. I had offended his sensibilities in some way! But when I kept reading, it became clear that he was making a purposefully-dramatic statement about the focus of his new project:
"I feel strongly about minding my own business, and allowing you to mind yours.
And that is what my new project is about. If you say that to a lot of companies these days, they’ll tell you, 'Our business, IS minding other people’s business!' And my new project puts a stop to that. It addresses most of the problems you see in the news about tracking people across the internet, and hackers stealing personal information.
If I had to describe it in a short phrase I’d say, 'It’s a Privacy Business.' While other companies are in the business of watching everything you do, my new project is a business that makes money protecting your privacy and keeping your personal and behavior information away from those other companies.
It does this by changing how money flows through the world.
Stefan (Thomas) and I are great friends, and have been discussing my concept in our free time over the years. It is one of several, 'pre-existing technologies' that I had to make OpenCoin (the original legal name for Ripple) acknowledge was mine before joining the company."
It seems like the right place for me to stop here and remind readers about the fact that Bob Way is very self-deprecating, almost to a fault. It took some effort for readers on the forum to uncover the true depth of his knowledge, in addition to the number of patents that are attributable to him:
"I remember about six or seven. One was from before I joined Ripple. Two Ripple-related ones have been issued, and the rest are pending. Some of those have been published, but others might not have been yet.
I really don’t have a checklist around."
In his description of his project, he focused first on what Coil is doing, and how its payment and content model creates a loop:
(The above diagram is my depiction of what Bob was describing)
Bob indicated that his business will enable something that, on the surface doesn't seem possible: a complete elimination of the cost to consumers in the above Coil loop:
"So what is the only draw back to that symbiotic loop? Well, of course, I hate parting with my own money! And so does everyone else.
So what my project does, is let you use Stefan’s new project to pay creators. The twist is my project lets you pay creators using somebody else’s money. It’s like when you are a kid and your dad had to pay for everything.
That eliminates all barriers to consumers using Stefan’s system, by removing the consumers’ cost. These are symbiotic systems."
In evaluating his points, I was led to specific conclusions about what must be the intersection of his technology, and if I'm correct, it's no wonder that he doesn't want to reveal more; another company could 'beat him' to the finish line in this regard, and create the necessary ingredients to realize his vision.
While he teased the new project, in every case he stopped short of pulling the curtain away too much:
"So every “consumer” gets two things when I link my venture with his via ILP and XRPL:
- 1 ) better content from happier creators (learn about Coil)
- 2a) more privacy and protection from tracking (coming soon!)
- 2b) All at no consumer cost. (coming along with the added privacy)
But it is even better than that for consumers. But you have to wait to hear more about that.
It was a final statement demonstrating how strongly he believes in his new project - the one that he'd put on hold to work at Ripple for five years during some of the most tumultuous times in the cryptomarket.
Other than my new 'Who to Follow' section in my usual blog, I'm reticent to provide critiques or opinions on people, as I think that when a viewpoint is provided based on a narrow set of interactions through social media, that it's not nearly as accurate as if you'd met the individual in person. My goal, especially after my own brief interaction with him online, is to meet Bob Way 'in real life.'
Bob Way strikes me as a thought leader.
He is undoubtedly one of the most intellectually-fearless people I've run across; like David Schwartz, he seems to enjoy tough questions, and relishes philosophical conundrums, challenges, and fascinating bits of human behavior in connection to technology.
He is self-deprecating. Not in a shallow effort to further elevate his own status, but as a tool in connecting to others online in a way that puts them at-ease in a setting where the free flow of ideas can happen naturally and without obstruction. But make no mistake, no matter how comfortable you may feel: He is formidable. I get the profound sense of a 'quiet superhero' in his interactions online, just in the little that I've read from him.
And he's a talented author in his own right.
If you've read any posts from him so far on XRP Chat, you might have already come to the same conclusion. Not only did he not need me to write this blog post, I was honored that he even responded. It seems that he, like so many others that have graduated from the hard-knock 'School of Early Ripple,' is a master communicator.
With all of that said, I'll leave you with the answer to my final question posed to him:
Question (Hodor): "Which technology in fintech / blockchain tech / DLT do you think is most exciting that hasn't been given as much air time as it deserves?"
Answer (Bob Way): "My new project of course. It is the only thing I know that could be even bigger than XRP!"
To follow him on social media:
- XRP Chat: https://www.xrpchat.com/profile/23155-bobway/
- The Internet: http://bob-way.com/
Sources and Credits:
Cover Art: Thank you to W3 Schools