An interview with Roham Gharegozlou

October 14, 2020

Roham Gharegozlou, CEO and founder of Dapper Labs, sits down with Running Through Walls podcast host and Venrock partner, David Pakman, to talk about Dapper Labs, Flow, and the 5 stages of blockchain gaming evolution. This is an abridged version of the conversation, the entire Venrock podcast can be found here.

David Pakman: To start with your background, were you interested in tech and entrepreneurship at a young age?

Roham Gharegozlou: I had a computer in my bedroom before I was ten and I made my first affiliate website at fourteen. I didn't end up studying computer science in college so a lot of my technical background comes from hacking back in those days. In terms of entrepreneurship, that took some more time: I was a bit of a lone wolf when I first started and it took me a while until I had the maturity to lead a team and inspire others to join. 

Can you give us a quick overview of Dapper Labs and what got you to start the company?

Dapper Labs was the world’s first and leading blockchain entertainment company. We built CryptoKitties which to this day is the world’s most successful blockchain consumer app. The reason we made it is that blockchain is more open, it puts users back in charge of their data, and creates opportunities for entrepreneurs without platform risk. Consequently, we were able to bring hundreds of thousands upon millions of new people into the world of crypto, which has been our mission since the beginning. 

Can you tell us more about what the CryptoKitties’ launch was like? 

When we launched CryptoKitties, we realized that the demand was there from the consumer standpoint, but when people started coming to our website trying to interact with our application, we saw that the platform wasn’t ready for the scale we were bringing. The bigger problems and the reason why we scaled Dapper Labs to address them at a fundamental level, were around user experience: the cost of interacting with anything on the blockchain at that time, and for us as developers it was the slow pace of making improvements. 

Let’s get deeper into your latest project, the Flow blockchain. What are the benefits of using Flow as a layer one solution?

Flow is a blockchain that essentially takes care of the hard problems for you so that you may focus on your application:

  • Flow doesn’t use sharding and is built around Cadence, our own programming language that is easy to use and makes writing smart contracts safer and more secure. Simultaneously, it doesn’t add to development time but in fact cuts it down up to 80%!
  • Flow comes with built-in payment onramps that allow users to come with their mobile phones and spend money in blockchain applications as if they’re buying something from Shopify, rather than having to jump through the hoops of  KYC, money laundering screenings, etc.
  • Flow has built-in developer tools, many of which are now open-sourced, where developers can easily get started and progress through the funnel of building blockchain applications one step at a time, instead of having to learn a lot of theory before writing even a line of code. 

In terms of applications we’re building on top of Flow, the first one is NBA Top Shot: a collectible experience wrapped around the highlights culture of the NBA. Because Top Shots are digital, they can include various functionalities: there’s a full-scale mobile game coming out at the end of this year where people will be able to use their NBA Top Shots to play against their friends, show off their skills, and showcase collections.

What are your predictions for the next phase of blockchain gaming? Where will we be in 5-10 years?

 I can’t pretend to give an exact timeline but I see blockchain gaming in 5 phases:

  1. Crypto collectibles and crypto art which are both alive and healthy on Ethereum, with ‘underground’ industries of digital artists who create and sell their art to a healthy market of crypto art patrons.
  2. Collectible games such as CryptoKitties which I predict we’ll continue to see many more of on Flow because the cost is so much lower, while the ease of use and ease of development are so much higher.
  3. Full games with collection loops, I count NBA Top Shot into these because we have a full mobile game coming out in Q4. The NBA collectibles are the fuel that runs through the machine, analogically to existing gaming markets.
  4. Smart contract-driven games are projects in which the game itself is an open platform that anyone co-create. When we port CryptoKitties to Flow, you’ll see developers being able to build on every aspect of the new game. Again, this provides huge benefits to the customers: in case of a regular app, you download it, buy items inside of it, but the assets disappear when the app goes away. In smart contract-driven games, the entire funnel is reversed. You buy an asset that you can form an emotional connection with because developers will build use cases for it, making user acquisition easier and broadening customers’ range of choices.
  5. A fully open, fully on-chain virtual metaverse is the last category and something we haven’t seen yet. Instead of a single app or a single interface, I think of it as the entire state of the blockchain available for any developer to build on, any individual to access, and where the assets can interact with each other and smart contracts can be built on top of each other. Because this is all software, I don’t think it’ll take 10 or even 5 years to get there, but I’ve always been optimistic. 

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