“In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure,” observed business executive Seth Godin, during the dotcom era. It’s a cliché, but an accurate one: only a few of today’s big crypto names are likely to have a long-term future. Most will simply fizzle out after failing to attract enough users.
But Arthur Breitman, the founder of Tezos (XTZ), is confident his project won’t suffer the same fate. Many still associate Tezos with controversy, but Breitman argues that it is a genuinely unique product.
Crypto Briefing met up with Breitman at Paris Blockchain Week. Dressed informally in a maroon t-shirt with the Tezos logo emblazoned on his chest, he explained that Tezos is unique in being a truly leaderless smart contract platform.
The Schelling Point*
Rival platforms have diverged from what cryptocurrencies are actually good at, Breitman says. Instead of focusing on the asset-class’ natural strengths, Ethereum is fixated by its 60,000-strong developer team, whereas Bitcoiners keep repeating that they have the highest hashrate.
“It’s as if hash power is the only thing that matters,” he said. It only matters, he argues, if people actually use it.
What ultimately attracts users, in Breitman’s view, is the ability for a project and its message to survive for a long time. “You need to have a coherent narrative surrounding your existence,” he said. “That’s the main shilling point.”
The Tezos message is simple: “it’s the only chain you need; it calibrates to do anything.” By refusing to take a figurehead or leadership role behind the development, Breitman hopes to allow community members, the real users, to determine what they want Tezos to look like.
This, in his view, shows just how important governance is for a blockchain platform.
Breitman says that Tezos is the first project to take governance seriously. Any Tezos ‘baker’ – a block producer with a minimum ‘roll-size’ of 10,000 XTZ staked on the network – can submit proposals which can be voted on by other bakers, after a three-month amendment period.
For a proposal to pass, it needs an 80% quorum, something Breitman believes is “very thorough” and acts as a natural barrier against poor-quality, silly or dangerous proposals from being implemented.
Besides providing a safeguard, Breitman believes that governance can also allow Tezos to adapt over time. “Governance ensures the longevity of the platform,” he says, and having a series of “meta-rules” prevents it from becoming obsolete.
User requirements will likely change, especially in a sector where technological progress is already rapid. Having “rules about changing the rules” will allow Tezos to stay relevant and competitive.
Of course, community governance is no guarantee against Tezos being sabotaged. But Breitman believes that, even in the event of a crisis, the underlying technology can improve without having to resort to a fork.
These “meta-rules” are already on their way. The first proposal under discussion is to drop the roll-size down to 8,000 XTZ. This is the first time the voting mechanism will be used, and Breitman, the founder, was not consulted.
According to Breitman, this shows that the community is already becoming autonomous.
“It’s great that Vitalik thinks on-chain governance is a bad idea,” Breitman added. “It means it’s probably not going to happen on Ethereum, which is fantastic.” As technology advances, he thinks Tezos will be able to adapt and keep up with the times.
Take me to your
The sector is used to treating different functions as mutually exclusive: you can have a smart contract platform or a privacy coin, but not both.
But that’s the wrong approach, Breitman says. Developers are currently working on bringing new privacy payment features to Tezos, as well as establishing lines of credit, in the same way as can be done on Stellar (XLM).
What the Tezos platform offers is a strong governance model, Breitman says, which rewards developers for submitting good ideas without getting bogged down in the underlying infrastructure.
In a way, Breitman’s relationship to the platform is a microcosm of what Tezos is offering to the world. “I want to be helpful,” he says. His influence and expertise can promote the platform, but it’s the community who actually build and adapt the platform to whatever they want to do.
The role of the Tezos founder is ultimately “unimportant.” It is a supportive role, but not the main driver behind the development. “The product may speak with a French accent,” Breitman emphasized, “but it’s truly an international, distributed project.”
Breitman is not an active agent for Tezos’ success, and he doesn’t lead from the front in the same way as Buterin does. A death hoax on Breitman would be unlikely to have anywhere near the same impact as the one which affected Ethereum in 2017.
Because it doesn’t have a leader, Breitman believes that Tezos will gradually supersede its competitors. Buterin has said he will leave Ethereum at some point in the future; Breitman has already started to slip away.
Whereas many blockchain creators are treated like messiahs in their communities, Tezos’ founder seems intent on cultivating the opposite image.
*This article has been updated to use ‘Schelling Point’ rather than ‘shilling point’. We apologize for the error.