Welcome to Future of Finance, where Fortune asks prominent people at major companies about their jobs, how their firm fits into the crypto ecosystem, and what this all means for how we use money.
After spending two years building up the crypto team at the payments company Stripe, Guillaume Poncin is joining blockchain developer platform Alchemy for a new challenge as the head of engineering. Poncin has spent most of his career on the engineering side of the mainstream tech world, including a 12-year stint at Google, but he sees crypto as the catalyst for solving major financial problems at a global scale.
He recently caught up with Fortune to shed some light on his move to Alchemy, what lessons crypto can take from traditional finance and vice versa, and how blockchains can help people transfer value as easily as they transfer information.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
What drew you to crypto?
There is the technology fanatic in me that says, “Hey, this is really cool. It’s distributed systems, but very different from the way Google does them.” It’s like very much the frontier of research in terms of cryptography and running these things at scale with distributed consensus and such. So, super interesting from a technical standpoint—that got me into the rabbit hole. But then, from a longer arc of thinking about this and thinking what impact it can have in the world, there’s a lot of use cases that resonate with me in crypto. I think one that we worked on at Stripe was this idea that if you’re a creator in Argentina, or a freelancer in a country that maybe doesn’t have a very stable currency, you can now get paid with stablecoins. That’s a much better medium of exchange for you. Crypto makes that much, much, much easier to implement.
You come from an engineering background. What do you think surprised you the most about the financial side of crypto?
I had my degen moment: I did some leveraged yield farming and obviously didn’t know anything that I was doing, and so I lost a bunch of money. I mean, not a lot of money, it was like gambling money. I think the more you look into this, the more you’ll realize, “Hey, there is quite a bit of depth.” There has been decades of financial innovations, and we’re sort of retracing the steps here, to an extent, and making new steps. But there is a lot to learn in the financial system. And so the more I read about it, the more I want to read about it, and there’s just this giant rabbit hole of: There’s a lot here, and everything has been created for a reason. You can sort of start to understand how everything works if you retrace the steps to it. I find it very, very interesting academically. But it’s also this realization that most of Web3 has yet to be built. We’ve only just started scratching the surface, and there is so much we can learn from how finance developed, how other industries developed, even how social networks have developed over time.
What were you doing at Stripe, and why did you take the role at Alchemy?
I got the opportunity to build a crypto team within Stripe and focus on some of the very traditional Stripe problems, like global money movement and accepting payments and such, but also exploring what does it mean to onboard a billion users into Web3? So that was sort of the calling: Can we get a billion users to use blockchain and crypto routinely? So a lot of the focus at Stripe was that, and I think Alchemy was sort of the logical step of, “Can I have a much higher level on that?” I’m more familiar with the infrastructure layer than I am with the financial layer, so for me to have a higher level Alchemy made a lot of sense for that goal of onboarding the next billion users into Web3.
Where can you most make an impact at Alchemy?
I think onboarding lots and lots of users is probably the motivation. Alchemy, to me, is a super interesting place to do this because it’s one of these companies that actually sees what everybody wants. I think Stripe had sort of that privileged position for the space of payments. It’s very similar. What I think I can contribute is, many people see Alchemy as the RPC node provider, and then we started adding APIs on top of it. I think it’s only the beginning of the story. As we get the call to be even more reliable, more scalable, we’ll be able to support much bigger enterprise-type customers. And at the same time, try to expand into new ideas, new markets, whatever is the next big thing, maybe app chains, multi-chain, multi-region, in any number of these sort of expansions. When you try to do that, as a startup, you’ll realize at some point that you need to start to organize the great talents you have, and I think I’ve become pretty good at that. I’m hoping I can contribute that and sort of retain the velocity and the execution speed that a small startup typically has.
What lessons do you think crypto could take from traditional finance? What about the other way around?
What excites me about crypto that I would love for traditional finance to emulate is the speed of iteration. You can try your thing, and it works or it doesn’t, and then you can move incredibly fast in the crypto space. Many ideas are terrible, but you can iterate through them and get to something really cool. I love that. I love that speed of iteration. At Stripe, it became very apparent that if you want to do a transfer in the U.S., you have to use ACH, which takes five days. I know there are systems that are faster and are coming online, but trying to close that gap in terms of the iteration cycle would make a huge difference in the speed of innovation in the space. Conversely, I think crypto has a lot to learn from traditional finance. In a way, I think crypto is retracing all the steps of the last 200 years of traditional finance and stumbling into the same potholes in places and rediscovering some of the rules. We could probably run through this even faster by looking at what happened there.
How do you feel about U.S. crypto regulation?
I think there is progress. There’s a lot of movement, some that I like, some that maybe I dislike, but that’s all personal preference. I’m excited that there is activity in the legislative space. That should bring clarity, and it should make our lives much easier as developers in the space of Web3. From the vantage point of Alchemy, we’re maybe one layer down from that, so it’s less immediately impactful. But we see more and more developers in the space of Web3—we’ve quadrupled the number of teams that we work with since early last year—and many of these teams have to contend with tough and uncertain legal landscapes, so I’m actually quite excited to see that there is a lot of activity and interest in that.
What do you think is missing to onboard the next million people into crypto?
I have kids, teenagers. I would love to introduce them to crypto. They have a Revolut account. Why don’t they have a crypto wallet? It’s incredibly complicated. I don’t want to do that today. It shouldn’t be any more difficult than opening an account in an online bank, but it is. I was trying to open a bank account for my wife—for my wife’s business—and it took me a week, back and forth. All of this is insane friction. My hope for crypto is that it becomes as simple as getting an email address.
What are the biggest engineering challenges you see in Alchemy’s business of powering billions in on-chain transactions?
The blockchain has a very unique engineering problem. All of this code is open-source. Anybody can run a node on the blockchain. It’s a decentralized network, it’s peer-to-peer. If you want to do that in your garage, you can. As a hobby project, you can very easily talk to the blockchain directly. But if you’re a big company, if you’re a startup in the space, and you’re starting to get traction, doing it yourself becomes incredibly difficult. Because now you have to maintain multiple nodes. They have to be consistent with one another. You have to worry about scaling or when you have a spike in traffic. All of that work essentially is something that becomes more and more of a specialized skill set. And if you’re building an NFT marketplace, maybe you don’t want to dedicate half of your company to developing that skill set. The thought for Alchemy, and where we can help, is to make all of that much, much easier.
What do you think is the future of finance?
In layman’s terms, because I don’t precisely know finance, I would love for the future of finance to be programmable money, if you will. In very simple terms, I want to be able to have a bucket of money, create a bucket of money, move money between buckets, and then exchange money with others. I want to treat that like I treat information and have very convenient tools and be able to tell my Alexa device to move money between accounts. All of that should be programmable and very, very easy to interact with.
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