Jun 29 • 34M

What Are Decentralized Conversations?...and Other Web3 Concepts for SaaS People

A conversation with Anudit Nagar at Convo Space

 
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Patterns and prophets, in SaaS and Web3

Update from Allison: I’ll be taking a break from the newsletter for a couple of weeks, first for PTO and then to think more carefully about the next content series I want to publish. I’d be grateful for your feedback on what to keep doing, stop doing, and start doing. Reply to this email - I’d love to hear from you!

Here’s a question I’ve often wondered about: When I publish a podcast like this one on Substack and then post it to LinkedIn, how can I integrate the LinkedIn comment threads into the Substack post itself? That way we could all have one big conversation about this topic, rather than siloed ones across social media platforms. Even better, wouldn’t it be valuable if anytime my article was discussed anywhere on the internet, anyone could easily keep up with and participate in that conversation?

That’s exactly the topic that I explored in this podcast episode with Anudit Nagar, Co-Founder at Convo Space, which is backed by ConsenSys, Ethereal Ventures, NfX, Protocol Labs, and other Web3 investors. Crypto tokens might be under fire right now, but Web3 builders in the B2B world like Anudit are heads-down building. We discussed:

  • What is the value proposition of decentralized conversations, for both consumers and developers?

  • What exactly are the Web3 aspects of his company now, and what might they be in the future?

  • What will his go-to-market motion look like?

As always after these Web3 conversations, my brain is exploding. Feel free to reach out to me with any thoughts. You can also read the lightly edited transcript of the conversation below. Let's dive in!

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Leadership Roles

As always, I’ll share a few leadership roles at companies I’m excited about:

Transcript

Allison: Anudit, I'm so excited to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for joining us.

Anudit: Thanks a lot, Allison. Stoked to be here.

Allison: So to get started, can you tell us, how did you get into the Web3 world?

Anudit: I've been in the Web3 space for about four years now. I primarily started working in the Web3 space for a college project, and I randomly typed in the words "decentralized storage" on Google, and out came IPFS and Ethereum. I fell into that rabbit hole and have never looked back since then.

Allison: Tell us about what your company does.

Anudit: Convo Space actually started out as an early hackathon project. But the idea really came when I was talking with my co-founder, and we were ranting about the design of a website. But then I was on that website, and she was on WhatsApp, and we had to jump into these different silos to be able to communicate about really anything on the internet. We said, "Hey, what if you could be on that website and talk about whatever we are seeing right there on that interface? And not have to jump through all of these silos? What if we could pick up that same conversation wherever we are?"

So we started building this interoperability layer, wherein I could have a conversation on a website, and then switch to another website and continue the conversation. The goal is to continue that conversation freely, wherever I go. And we wanted to do all of this in a completely decentralized manner, wherein we have all the goodness of Web3, like self-sovereign identity and ownership, where people have sole control over their data.

Allison: I could see why a lot of people on the consumer side, consumers would really appreciate being able to chat with their friends wherever they are. You can imagine having a conversation about a topic of interest and exploring multiple websites together, for example, that relate to that topic. Might there be business use cases for Convo Space as well?

Anudit: Absolutely. One of the biggest problems that we’ve face when we're building out Convo Space is that we realized was there weren't any tools, libraries, or really anything for us to able to build this consumer product. So first, we had to actually build out the infrastructure, the code libraries, tools that developers can actually use to be able to build such a decentralized conversation layer for the internet.

Now it’s as simple as a single line of code that people can drop into their websites to spin up a mini comment section on their blog. It's really all you need to build and get started hacking in the space.

Allison: I'm wondering from a personal standpoint, why I might actually benefit from using Convo Space, and I haven't used it yet. As you know, and the readers know, I have a Substack and there are community features that you can enable there, so I can allow people to comment on my post. But what's a little bit frustrating is that I might post an article or a podcast to LinkedIn, there might be a really interesting conversation that people are having about the article in LinkedIn, but because people may be primarily reading these articles or listening on their phones, they're not often commenting on the Substack. So if I use Convo Space, could I enable conversations to move between platforms?

Anudit: Absolutely. Our core focus with Convo Space is interoperability. We don't want to build another silo. In the Web2 realm, to be able to build an incredibly popular, scalable business, you had to build a silo. WhatsApp has become so big, only because you have to be on WhatsApp, because only then can you talk to other people on WhatsApp. That was the only way to actually scale it to billions of people.

But within Web3, we finally get this concept of positive-sum games, wherein everyone can contribute data to this decentralized conversation layer, and any other platform can pull and continue those conversations anywhere else. For example, in the traditional world, if I had to talk to you, and if I was a WhatsApp, then you would also to be on WhatsApp. But in the Web3 world, we could have somebody on WhatsApp, somebody on Telegram, somebody on a website, somebody in the VR world, somebody on your Substack, all talking about that same conversation in the same group. They have completely different interfaces and completely self-owned data structures, identity that only they can control and be able to do all of those same things in that same seamless Web2 ecosystem.

Allison: This is really fascinating. I can see now from my own standpoint why this actually might be very useful.

Who exactly are you marketing your product to? Who are your customers?

Anudit: For now, it's just developers. If we talk about the Web3 niche that we are focusing on right now, it's primarily towards this ecosystem of NFTs. Because right now, one of the biggest problems in the ecosystem for Web3 is the information asymmetry, wherein you have to follow those popular Twitter accounts, the right accounts, to be able to understand what's happening in the ecosystem. Or let's say there is a certain hack that has happened, how do you alert your users? That's where Convo Space has become this way in which people can propagate information in a much faster manner, because you could just leave a comment on Etherscan or anywhere else on the web, and it can travel to wherever the actual consumer is using the product or consuming information.

Allison: It sounds like I wouldn't be a direct customer of Convo Space using my Substack. Probably Substack would have to work with you directly. Is that right?

Anudit: Yes. But with Substack, I think it has this capability where you just drop in an HTML code that you copy from Convo Space, so you can use Convo Space independently. So you aren't directly dependent on Substack to be able to integrate Convo Space.

Allison: Oh, interesting. So I literally could use your product by incorporating the HTML. And would you be charging me directly for that?

Anudit: No. The small little embeds and different websites are all free. Anyone who wants to hack on top of the raw APIs and libraries can just grab that API key. And it's also free. Only when you're scaling up to very massive user loads, then it's mostly a paid service, and we still haven't built that up.

Allison: Got it. Tell us a bit about your pricing model. How exactly do you make money?

Anudit: For now it's mostly free, but when you upgrade, it's priced for every single request. So if you make a hundred thousand requests that day, maybe it's roughly $20 or $30 a month. Because we’re in the developmental stage right now, we aren't really charging for any of it. But that's where our head would be at.

And especially within Web3, it opens up this idea for tokens and crypto to be incorporated into it. Imagine a specific application on your own computer. Imagine a mini version of Convo, wherein on your own local computer, you'll be able to store all your social data, like the way it's stored on Twitter service, you'll be able to do that on your own computer. You can build and hack on top of that local node so that you don't have to depend on us to be able to host that application data.

To simplify that a little more, we would be decentralizing the entire infrastructure down to the community, so that people don't have to depend on us, just the way you can spin up an Ethereum node and independently participate in that network. You'll be able to do all of that, be able to make fees from all the API requests, be able to post it for yourself or for others, and actually incorporate a token to be able to do all that. That's the Web3 aspect of it, of being able to be decentralized the community. But right now, it's purely focused on SaaS.

Allison: I see. So would you consider yourself to be running a Web3 company right now?

Anudit: Pretty much, yes. But the investors and people that we have on board always know that even though Web3 is the part that we are starting with, none of our libraries, none of the products that we built out are just for Web3 companies. It can used by anyone up there.

Allison: Got it. So you don't currently have a token?

Anudit: Do not.

Allison: So tell us, in what way exactly are you Web3?

Anudit: We are Web3 in a way where most of our entire stack is using a decentralized service. That includes how data is stored, and how we link data to an actual user — on that last note, in the traditional Web2 world, actual users are identified with Gmail IDs. You can sign up your account using Facebook, Google, or use your own emails, but then Google can any time revoke your access to it, or if you lose your access to it, then you lose data. Within the Web3 word, that entire ownership of that data lies with you: you own your own identity, you hold the private key, so nobody else has access to it.

This important because of rules like GDPR and CCPA. But also we have the single button on Convo Space, so that within a single click, you can erase your data from every single interface provider and developer out there that you've given access to. You can go anonymously, because you own all that data. You could revoke access at any time, or even just delete it from every single interface. That's the power that we want to give to users that almost no Web3 platform is really capable of.

Allison: So literally with a click of the button, I could eliminate anything I had ever said on any platform on the internet.

Anudit: Any and all conversational data that is passing through Convo Space.

Allison: That's powerful. Wow. On that note, do you think that the category that you're in tends toward monopoly? Do you think that Convo Space will ultimately own all conversation that happens on the internet, or will there be multiple players? And if so, why?

Anudit: Even right now, there have been multiple different companies way bigger than Convo Space who have tried doing decentralized social media conversations. Platforms like Status, Streamer, and many others have tried. None of them have actually caught on. That's simply because Web3 has this thing where we love to sort of ship and build things, but to actually build products that are in need is a completely different category and a problem that both Web2 and Web3 companies face. So it really has to address a core need for people. And right now, Discord, Slack, Twitter are all great. I mean, there isn't really any core use case that Web3 brings to the table for which people would say, "Hey, I need this." Most of them are nice to have.

So that's where we bring about this idea of self-sovereign data, identity, and also this interoperability that you get along with it. That's where you sort of, by default, create these positive sum gains where even though everyone's using Convo Space, the entire code space is open source. Anyone can hack and build on top of Convo Space, they don't need our permission for it.

It sort of tends into monopolies, but those monopolies are beneficial for everyone else because everyone else can benefit from it, contribute to it and then gain benefit out of it. There’s a mutual economy behind it. Building public goods that are beneficial for all people — it's far, far better. And with Web3 you have this inherent economy where you can literally program money into your entire code base and define how people would use it and be able to make money out of it.

Allison: I want to distill the value proposition of what you're doing into a few words. Do you think that the real demand, the need to have this, is coming from the consumer asking for the protections you mentioned earlier — anonymity, the ability to delete things — and then developers in turn are responding to that consumer need by embedding Convo Space into their sites?

Anudit: Let’s say someone is building their platform, and they embed an entire comment section or they create a simple social media product. The biggest problem is the cold start problem: once they start getting users, those users have to sign in, write their entire profiles, start commenting on things, start interacting, and building their entire community around it.

But let's say those users want to try out a different platform. Now they have to start again from scratch, create their entire profile, start commenting. Because Convo Space becomes this interoperable layer across multiple different platforms, people can just integrate with it so that conversations and communities can move along with the user. That’s what the core proposition has been for people to integrate with Convo Space. Now developers have libraries and APIs to easily make that happen.

Allison: I want to switch gears to your go-to-market. Can you tell me a bit about what go-to-market means at "The Convo Space"?

Anudit: Convo Space started out as a personal need, and then it gradually became bigger and bigger, where more people started using it, and we started getting feedback and incorporating it. Since then, as we started getting that flywheel moving, most of the feature ideas have come directly from the actual market and the users. So for go-to-market for Web3 right now, especially because it is such a small ecosystem and such a small niche that you can literally just talk to the people and be like, "Hey, what do you need?" And once they start building on your platform, they can be like, "Hey, we want more insights about who the user is. Maybe if you can just send us their Twitter address and their Twitter profile. Or maybe if they're doing something on OpenSea?”

To go on a brief tangent, I’ll say more about that specific request from developers. Even before you talk to people, you have this inherent need to establish trust. Even before we came on this podcast, you knew about me, we looked up each other and we were like, "Hey, this might be a good conversation to have." So you're mentally trying to establish this trust. And people want to do that also in a decentralized manner. So we started building out this product called Omnid, which comes from omniscient ID.

Going back to how you interact with your users: To reduce the gap between ideation and execution for literally any company is very, very important. But it’s even more important in Web3, because the attention span and the speed of innovation is 10 times more than any other industry. So if you build something right now, it'll probably be outdated in the next week. Maybe someone will come up with even a better idea and everyone will start using that.

So go-to-market in Web3 is very interesting because you have to talk to so many people, get that feedback instantly, incorporate it, and be able to ship out that improvement as fast as you can.

Go-to-market is interesting also because right now nobody knows what they're doing. Everyone's trying to figure it out.

Allison: It sounds like being an open source company is perhaps really beneficial to you, given the requirements to act very quickly, is that right?

Anudit: Very, because of that and also because you're building these incredibly complicated protocols, so putting things out to the wild wherein anybody can test it, break it and figure out their way through it. They can see if they can gain access in some way, or if they can do something malicious. Because everything is open source, if anything breaks people can just file an issue or figure out why it’s not working, independent from us.

You don’t have to trust us or indirectly verify the code that is running. You’re not bound by the black box of not knowing how Twitter works — how are they using my data, how are they processing it, where are they sending it?

Allison: How exactly do you engage with your community? What product are you using, who is actually messaging people? How exactly do you gather feedback?

Anudit: For now, we were running on a very lean team. In terms of social, it's just us and our team managing all of it for now. Most of our feedback comes from Discord, wherein we can very easily talk to people, understand what they need. In terms of broadcasting to the world, it's primarily Twitter. But I would say we aren't very active on the social presence primarily because both me and my co-founder aren't very social people. So we would definitely like to up our game and hire better community managers. So far it's just been word of mouth.

Allison: It sounds like from what you've said so far, your go-to-market will be primarily self-serve or maybe with the support of your community. And I imagine other help guides that you could provide. Do you expect at some point to have really large customers that are trying to incorporate Convo Space into what they're doing and if so, how will you support them?

Anudit: Absolutely. Our core focus from the get go was to be able to onboard even the biggest of partners. Let's say if Twitter one day wants to switch their entire stack to Convo Space, all of that is possible. We would be able to happily migrate all of their existing data very easily onto Convo Space. All of our libraries are in compliance with most of the industry standards that institutional partners require for compliance.

Allison: Wow. And apart from social media platforms using you, what would an enterprise customer look like?

Anudit: An enterprise customer might say, "Hey, I want to view all the conversations that are happening about this specific feature of a product that we are building out, across the world. I want to be able to catalog them and process the feedback."

Allison: If I'm interpreting you correctly, it sounds like there's an enterprise use case, as with Twitter, which might be to incorporate conversations about particular topics into my website or application. But there might also be use case, which is to monitor conversations that are happening about specific topics, perhaps for consumer research purposes. So if I'm an e-commerce company trying to understand a bit more about fashion trends for a particular segment, it sounds like I might be able to tap into Convo Space's data, to understand what my target demographic is saying about products that I might be launching in the future. Is that right?

Anudit: Exactly.

There are public conversations and private conversations. Public conversations are things that can be queried and understood by everyone. Private are just between the people that you allow. So let's say if it's a personal group between you and your family, and you're talking about the specific website, it is only accessible by them. But public conversations can be pulled by other companies, to be able to easily understand what's happening anywhere on the web. So a company can ask, "Hey, I want to know all conversations that are happening about XYZ artist’s new album on Spotify.”

Allison: Did you ever think about helping consumers, or the people actually participating in these conversations, be able to monetize the data about their conversations, since that data might be interesting to companies?

Anudit: Yes. Users have this ability with Convo Space to convert their data into a data token, which essentially means package it up and upload it to a service called Ocean Protocol, which allows platforms to be able to invest in your data, and so you can monetize it. Platforms could also use it for private machine learning algorithms.

Allison: On the hiring front, I remember you mentioning that you're thinking about hiring some community managers to help you and your co-founder. Who might be the people that you would be hiring after, that are doing something community- or customer-facing in some way? Basically I'm wondering, what roles will exist at your company over the next year or two that are not product and engineering?

Anudit: Both me and our co-founder have an incredible interest in design. So we wanted to shift our entire infrastructure so that our personal roles are focused more on designing and building beautiful products. The primary new roles will be user research, design, animation, and people who have spent their time and energy on how users interpret the world. Because technical work and actually working with users are two completely different worlds.

Allison: As my last question, I'd love to know, what are your tips for people in the Web2 world who are looking to get into Web3?

Anudit: My biggest tip would be to just build something and get it out there. It might sound like probably the worst advice anyone can give, especially because you don't really want to get out things that are half baked. But it's important to experiment and see what the space is capable of before you make that entire decision of whether or not you want to actually focus your efforts into it. And I have personally found out the best way to understand about this space is to just build something.

If you're active in the social ecosystem, look at the more creative people who are building these incredible services for people to be able to harness the power of Blockchain, Defy, NFTs. Find a product idea for something that wasn't really possible in the realm of Web2.

With Web3, users have more control and say with the products that they're using, and that can be an incredibly powerful motivator, but also a demotivator for products. So it needs a lot of mental attention to be able to figure out, but at the same time, it is very fruitful in terms of understanding more about your product.

Allison: Anudit, thank you so much for this conversation. I learned a great deal and I'm sure others who are listening to this will as well.

Anudit: Absolutely. Thanks a lot.