Sid Powell – CEO & Co-Founder, Maple Finance Ep #69

EPISODE SUMMARY

Sid Powell is the CEO & Co-Founder of Maple Finance. Maple is transforming capital markets through technology and count traditional finance and crypto-native firms as customers. Joe McCann guest hosts. 00:35 - What is Maple? 01:32 - How does Maple determine Credit worthiness? 02:55 - Expanding the addressable market 04:35 - Who uses Maple and how they get started 08:18 - Defaulting and the recapture of collateral 13:21 - Maple's advantages against challenges lenders face in crypto 16:45 - Why use Maple: Governance and growth 19:27 - From Ethereum to Solana Integration 23:37 - Maple and Composability 27:13- Partnerships and future initiatives 29:56 - Bringing non-crypto folks into DeFi / Partnering with Circle 32:33 - Views on Contraction 34:59 - How Maple started and where it is going 39:04 - Monetary policies and how they affect Maple DISCLAIMER The content herein is provided for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness, or fitness for any particular purpose. Those who appear in the content may have a financial interest in any projects referenced, and any content herein is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice, or any other advice. This content is intended to be general in nature and is not specific to you, the user or anyone else. You should not make any decision, financial, investment, trading or otherwise, based on any of the information presented without undertaking independent due diligence and consultation with a professional advisor.

EPISODE NOTES

Sid Powell is the CEO & Co-Founder of Maple Finance. Maple is transforming capital markets through technology and count traditional finance and crypto-native firms as customers. Joe McCann guest hosts.

  • 00:35 –  What is Maple?                    
  • 01:32 – How does Maple determine Credit worthiness?
  • 02:55 – Expanding the addressable market  
  • 04:35 – Who uses Maple and how they get started
  • 08:18 – Defaulting and the recapture of collateral
  • 13:21 – Maple’s advantages against challenges lenders face in crypto
  • 16:45 – Why use Maple: Governance and growth
  • 19:27 – From Ethereum to Solana Integration                
  • 23:37 – Maple and Composability          
  • 27:13- Partnerships and future initiatives
  • 29:56 – Bringing non-crypto folks into DeFi / Partnering with Circle
  • 32:33 – Views on Contraction              
  • 34:59 – How Maple started and where it is going                  
  • 39:04 – Monetary policies and how they affect Maple

DISCLAIMER

The content herein is provided for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness, or fitness for any particular purpose. Those who appear in the content may have a financial interest in any projects referenced, and any content herein is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice, or any other advice.  This content is intended to be general in nature and is not specific to you, the user or anyone else. You should not make any decision, financial, investment, trading or otherwise, based on any of the information presented without undertaking independent due diligence and consultation with a professional advisor.

Joe (00:09):

Hey everybody. Welcome back to The Solana Podcast. I’m your guest host, Joe McCann. And today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Maple Finance CEO and founder, Sid Powell. Sid, welcome.

Sid (00:22):

Hey Joe. Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Joe (00:24):

My pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this one. For the folks that aren’t necessarily familiar with Maple Finance. Can you just maybe give a brief introduction as to who you guys are and what you do?

Sid (00:35):

So, Maple is a DeFi lending platform. We think of ourselves as a marketplace for institutional lending. So, the right type of mental model to think about that with is, in the same way that Shopify provides out of the box tooling to run an eCommerce business. What Maple is trying to do is provide tooling to run a lending business that just happens to be on chain. So the way that Maple works at a high level is you have managers of pools, we call them delegates, they’ll set up a pool, which is like an on chain lending business or on chain credit fund, people and institutions deposit into that. And then, the manager goes and originates loans to corporate borrowers out of it. So, it’s recreating a TradFi credit fund or a TradFi lending business, but doing this on-chain.

Joe (01:18):

That raises a first question for me, that is, if I’m providing a loan to an actual business, how does Maple go about determining the credit worthiness of that particular business?

Sid (01:32):

It’s a good question. And, what we’ve tried to do with Maple is be asset light, in that, Maple does not want to be the lender or the balance sheet lender itself. Instead, what we’re trying to do is give people who have the expertise to underwrite and assess credit. So I think, people who were in credit teams at financial institutions before, or they might have been in investment banking, but they understand credit and underwriting loans. What they’re doing is they would follow a fairly conventional process where they would meet the management of the borrower, assess their financials, so balance sheet profitability, and then enter a loan contract with them, and set commercial terms around it. So, it is replicating a fairly conventional and tried and true process of assessing whether a borrower can repay the loan. It’s not really reliant on on-chain determinants of credit worthiness in that respect. Really where the blockchain comes in is actually settlement and management of loans and portfolios of loans.

Joe (02:28):

Got it. That makes total sense. I mean, you’re really saying, “Hey look, TradFi folks that understand how to evaluate credit, and credit risk, and credit worthiness, here’s a new avenue for you to do this, which is on chain.” And so, does that imply that there’s more or less a much larger market for this, or is it more just breaking down the barriers of how TradFi credit funds, or credit debts actually tend to work?

Sid (02:55):

It’s both. I often like looking at business history and one of the things I was always really interested in was the way that when Sony released the Walkman, it actually expanded the addressable market of people listening to music, because they made it more portable and therefore easier to access. And so, I think with this, what we’re trying to do is we’re breaking down the workflows of running a lending business, but we’re making it 10X simpler and less costly to run and operate that lending business or credit fund. And so, I think what that does, it actually expands the addressable market of people who can do credit to businesses, institutions and corporate borrowers. I think that market’s really underserved, and I think that’s actually going to crimp innovation and entrepreneurship in the economy and in the private sector.

Sid (03:41):

And so, what we’re trying to do is expand the supply of people who can operate and run lending businesses, so that the private sector can get access to more and better credit. And the demand for that is not really being well met by the banking sector today. So I think, there are a few suppliers in the private credit or private debt markets. These would include players like Fortress Group. But I think with this technology, if we’re successful, we should see a lot more of those types of players, because it will be significantly easier to set up and run that business. Those businesses will be more profitable to run. And, this is beneficial for the economy.

Joe (04:19):

And so, how does someone get started with Maple then? I mean, it sounds like there may be a couple of different avenues. I just want to make sure we go through the permutations of the opportunities for, say, individuals or actual companies that want to create this Fortress 2.0, if you will.

Sid (04:37):

Yeah. So, the central company or user of the platform, that role, we call it a delegate. But that’s the manager of a pool. And so, they’re, in effect, your lending business that’s being conducted on chain. So those types of players, how they would get started, they go through due diligence with us. And then, once they’re admitted to the platform, we really want to go through and see what sector they would be lending to, how they would attract institutions or individuals to lend into their pools, and then who on the other side are going to be the borrowers. We want to make sure that it’s either a new sector. It’s a growing, it’s a profitable sector. It’s one where there are fairly credit worthy borrowers. We’re trying not to get into things that are too speculative. It’s not for small businesses and for startups. It’s more for established companies that are profitable, that have a great track record, and a big opportunity.

Sid (05:31):

So, that’s one side. And then on the other side, institutions who are going to lend into the platform or individuals. I mean, this could be wealth aggregators, hedge funds, family offices, high net worths. But what they’re looking for is a place to park capital and pretty simply earn a yield. That yield is going to be higher than going into things like AVA or Compound, because you’re taking credit risk. You are lending to corporate borrowers. And so there is risk involved in that. But, generally these types of players have a fairly long time horizon and they’re reasonably sophisticated in their understanding. So, that’s lenders.

Sid (06:07):

And then, the other side is borrowers. Now these are typically corporates who are crypto native at the moment. So, that’s the small wedge. If you think about, when you’re going to attack a market, you have to start with a wedge. And what we did was started with crypto native companies who are generally market makers, high frequency traders, or arbitrage traders. But, that’s one sector within the crypto industry that we can attack first. And then, next we want to look at other sub sectors, which could be infrastructure. So it could be players like Figment, Blockdaemon, Chorus. Could be Bitcoin minors, like Marathon, Core Scientific, any of these publicly listed players, or even large private players. And then beyond that, we want to start to look at SaaS companies. The goal here is not to live solely within crypto. We think crypto is tremendous infrastructure, but it’s infrastructure that gives us an edge over traditional finance. And so, that’s not really going to be successful until you can actually bridge and replace traditional finance in lending to those sectors.

Joe (07:09):

Yeah. That’s really smart. Spoken like a true founder too. You got to start with your wedge and expand from there. I love that. This raises an interesting point though, today, starting with, say, crypto companies, I think makes a ton of sense. But more importantly, when folks create a pool and then, say, a family office or an institution decides to lend into that pool, what happens if someone defaults, right? So, in traditional finance and I’m definitely butchering this a little bit just to keep it short, but let’s assume a business goes to a traditional bank and says, “I’d like to borrow a million dollars for working capital.” And they say, “Well, what’s your business?” “Well, my business is…” I don’t know, “We build warehouses.” Or something, right? And they say, “Well, what are you going to pledge as collateral?” Well, maybe they own the land, right, that they’re going to build these warehouses on or something.

Joe (07:56):

In theory, and maybe even in practice, if they were to default on that loan, the lender would then have a legal claim against, say, the land that they pledge as collateral. How does that work? Not only necessarily just in the wedge that you’re using with crypto companies today, but as you move towards, call it, infrastructure companies and even potentially SaaS businesses, how does default work in the recapture of that collateral?

Sid (08:24):

The way that lending began in crypto was largely over collateralized and it was using liquid financial assets, cryptocurrency, to serve as that collateral. And then, the lender would take possession of it, and then liquidate it if it drop below a certain rate, or if the borrower fails to repay. It’s now evolved towards under collateralized lending. Certainly most institutions borrow under-collateralized now. And this means really what you’re having to do is underwrite and assess the strength of their balance sheet. A lot of people think that this is an aberration, but this is actually most commercial lending.

Sid (08:56):

So, if you’re lending against real estate, that would typically be an asset backed lend. But if you’re lending to say Apple or a large technology company, typically they don’t have a lot of property plant and equipment. They don’t own a lot of land and you’re not going to get your money back by being able to sell their land. Instead, what you’re looking at is the equity of their balance sheet and the profitability of their business. And so, where this type of lending can evolve would be effectively a secured loan, but the security for that loan would be a charge over that corporate entity. So that’s what we’re looking at as we expand into other sectors.

Sid (09:38):

But, I think, to be able to actually serve the broad corporate market and eventually have Fortune 500 companies borrowing through DeFi, you need to get comfortable with that type of risk, which means assessing the balance sheet of a borrower. I will say that, if you take security over a house and a borrower defaults, the foreclosure process is about 18 months. You’ll get your money back, but it will take a significant amount of time. So it’s not liquid collateral. And anyone who thinks that DeFi lending against those type of assets is going to give them an instant payback if there’s a default, is going to be disappointed. But, if you’re lending against the assets of a corporate, you want to make sure, ideally, they’re not going to default. Your recovery’s going to be lower than if you’re lending against a house. But, your probability of default is probably also correspondingly lower if you’re lending to a large corporate than an individual who just owns a house or a small business, who’s pledging a house as collateral.

Sid (10:34):

You are still lending against effectively the strength of the business and the profitability of the business. But, as crypto goes into other sectors, I can see asset backed loans also playing a role. We would look at real estate backed loans, but currently one of the main issues is that, that requires paper filing in any individual state that you borrow from. So, it’s not even 10 years behind, it’s 40 years behind in terms of actually having to file security and manage the opposite of that.

Joe (11:02):

Got it. Very helpful answer. I think, the takeaway really is, “Look, if you’re lending money to Apple…” I love that example. “You’re not necessarily having them pledge their One Infinite Loop address and ownership of that land as collateral.” You’re saying, “Look, it’s Apple, right? They’ve got a ton of cash on their balance sheet, or they’ve got great potential for future cash flows, et cetera, et cetera. We’re just taking that to something like Maple’s platform and folks can assess.” Like you said, it’s really up to the lenders to assess the credit worthiness, right?

Sid (11:33):

One of the innovations that we’ve tried to build in is that if you’re coming to the platform and you want to deposit into a pool, you don’t have to be a sophisticated underwriter yourself. What we’re trying to build is a way for you to assess that here’s a pool that is lending to this risk profile.

Sid (11:50):

Let’s say, mega cap companies based in the U.S., here’s the historical performance. It’s earned this much in yield. There have been X number of defaults. And then, you have a bio on the management team that is making those lending decisions. And that enables you to decide, “Okay, I’m going to allocate a bit into this pool and maybe a bit into a second pool.” Rather than, you having to come to the platform and go, “Well, do I want to lend to company A? Or do I want to lend to company B?” Because, it’s not really in most people’s expertise or ability to devote that time to doing that. And I think that was why earlier peer-to-peer lending platforms like Lending Club didn’t quite take off and achieve widespread adoption, because that model is just super inefficient for both the borrower who’s coming to a platform and doesn’t know who they can borrow from, as well as the lenders who come to the platform and don’t know how to assess whether Apple is going to repay its loan. Apple’s probably a poor example, but some other company.

Joe (12:48):

Well, and speaking of defaults, we would be remiss not to talk a little bit about some of the challenges facing the lending industry in crypto right now, without having to necessarily name names. I think it’s pretty well understood at this point that there’s been some stress in the credit markets, if you will, when it comes to crypto. Can you talk a little bit about maybe how Maple does or does not “hedge” against that, being more of the facilitator and it’s really on the lender’s ability to evaluate that risk? Or, are there any sort of advantages that Maple provides that theoretically could have mitigated some of the challenges that some of the lenders in crypto have faced?

Sid (13:29):

So there’s probably three key advantages or differences for doing this in DeFi, which would’ve been risk mitigants. So, the way that Maple works is you have multiple pools, each pool is a basket of loans that you can deposit into and effectively you’re lending to those borrowers on the other side. Number one is that, all of the loans and flow of funds is totally transparent and on chain. So if you go into a Maple pool, you can see who the 25 different borrowers are. So you’d never have a situation where you wake up tomorrow and you find out that a Maple pool was actually lending to a borrower that you had no idea about. And that that borrower was 30% of the pool. So, transparency is risked mitigant number one.

Sid (14:05):

Number two is that the withdrawals and flow of liquidity is all just governed by smart contracts. So, as cash flows back into the pools, people can withdraw. So, you’d never have a situation where you go and you find that on a discretionary basis withdrawals have been halted. At the moment, liquidity is constrained, but it’s purely dependent on just paybacks of the loans, which are coming through over the next 60, 90 days and beyond. And then, element three, as you can see that, there is a reserve for each of the pools. So the reserve is there and it can absorb some of the credit losses. I would say, our reserves in the pools at the moment are probably undersized where they should be on a normalized basis and that’s a learning, but conceptually having that reserve on chain, I think, gives people who are lending inter pools and into protocols comfort when they can effectively see the buffer that is available to protect people who are a senior there. Otherwise, contrasting that with more black box CeFi lending, it’s just a feature that is not there.

Joe (15:08):

Weird. So you mean more transparency is actually better for market participants?

Sid (15:13):

Well, I think, yeah, at this stage with current events, it’s a clear argument, yes. I think, where CeFi lending has advantages is obviously in flexibility, having a protocol and being governed by those rules obviously creates inflexibility and slows things down a bit. But, I would say ultimately what we’re actually trying to design is a system that is resilient and robust enough to shocks that it doesn’t require a bail in, or a lender of last resort concept, because over a long enough period of time, you will see enough volatility that stresses things that rely on a single counterparty. We saw during the GFC, everyone was insured by AIG. Well, when there was an out-sized level of defaults, AIG went bust, then no one was insured.

Joe (16:03):

That’s right. Yeah. It’s interesting, I was chatting with a coworker of mine who was at Lehman Brothers during the GFC and he was having a little bit of flashbacks to some of the stuff that’s been happening in crypto today with the CeFi-related lending.

Sid (16:17):

Yeah.

Joe (16:17):

Let’s talk a little bit about Maple itself. So the protocol, this is obviously The Solana Podcast, we’re going to get into the Solana integration in a second, but I really wanted to provide the listeners with a fairly solid understanding of the actual product and the business, and also the business of lending. So they could understand maybe what Maple’s token is, and what does the protocol do, and how does governance work? So, could you maybe just talk a little bit about if I’m a Maple token holder, and maybe I’m staking Maple, why have this protocol, and what does the governance actually do for the future of Maple’s growth?

Sid (16:54):

It’s a good question. And so, the way that the token fits into things is, it can be staked. So, that’s the first use. The second is that, when you stake it can be deposited into that pool cover. Pool cover is your subordinate reserve. And so, the purpose that therefore provides is, providing a safeguard and some absorption for credit losses, in addition to being used as the governance token to make decisions on the platform. So, what you would do then, in terms of a workflow, so you might stake it, then you’re receiving a portion of the establishment fees.

Sid (17:27):

So, Protocol Treasury earns about 66 basis points on loan origination volume, and then half of that goes to pay stake tokens. And then, the other element where the stake token participates, is that, if it’s put in pool cover, pool cover is paid a portion of the interest. So, generally in most pools, it’s about 10% of the interest cash flow. So, if a pool is a billion dollars, paying 10% on average, it’s a $100 million in interest, 10% of that, so $10 million would go to pool cover. So it’s going to pay effectively for credit protection there. That pool cover is comprised of the token and USDC. In future, we’ll just have single-sided depositing of the token.

Sid (18:10):

But therefore, it receives a portion of revenues for actively participating in the credit protection of the pools and the senior lenders on the platform. So, that’s how it figures in the platform both economically and from a risk allocation perspective. And I think, risk allocation is super important, because as I alluded to before, this is one of the ways in which we’re trying to fix some of the problems inherent in TradFi lending. So, an alignment of incentives is super important and the pool delegate, so that team of managers who are deciding who are good borrowers, they have to put some of their capital into that subordinate reserve, the credit reserve. And they do that so that if there are defaults, they are among the first to take a hit. And that helps ensure that they are incentivized to maintain pretty good credit standards.

Joe (18:57):

It’s really cool, because there’s so many ways that you can participate in Maple. But also, the notion that folks have shared incentives and are aligned is I think one of the most powerful aspects of the protocol, but that raises the question of, “Well, man, it seems like a lot of scope for some engineering talent.” Let’s dive into a little bit of the tech, not get too deep, but certainly enough to give people an understanding of what it is that you’ve built, and ultimately why and when you added salon integration? What does that look like for your team? And, what has been the lessons learned from starting on Ethereum, and then adding Solana support.

Sid (19:36):

Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, looking back at our tech stack that we have on Ethereum. So, we launched the Ethereum version of the protocol in May of 2021. And then, we were steadily growing. So, Ethereum, or the protocol as a whole, has done about 1.5 billion worth of loans to date. It’s pretty good for 12 months. But what we looked at as we built out Ethereum… So there’s certain things that you really keep in mind when you’re developing. So, upgradability was something we debated for a long time, because if you have upgradability, it gives you flexibility. And it means you can move faster, ideally not break things, but it gives you the ability to iterate, but it’s less secure, because upgrading a protocol or upgrading a component of the protocol, that’s how hacks and exploits can happen. So, we initially traded more on the side of security there and inflexibility.

Sid (20:26):

Now, as we near launching pools V2, we are thinking about upgradability and how we can have something that evolves. But, it was around late last year, I was actually at Breakpoint Solana in Lisbon, and I was meeting a lot of founders who were coming from TradFi backgrounds and looking at building things on Solana. And, we had been receiving comments from people who were using the platform about the transaction costs on Eth. And so, that prompted us to start looking at, “Could we build on layer twos? Should we evaluate alternative layer ones?” And, being at the conference, yeah, I was very much struck by, one, the level of development in the ecosystem, particularly on the DeFi side. Two, the level of talent that was moving across there. And, a lot of our clients and borrowers, like Alameda, obviously have a lot to do with the Solana ecosystem.

Sid (21:13):

And so, we started researching who was doing Maple on Solana. We met a team that was called Avari, and then we ended up acquiring them. And that meant that we were able to get live on Solana probably six months ahead of where we would’ve been. And it gave us access to really good talent in terms of Rust engineering, which was super short on supply. So, for us, it meant, one, speed to market. Two, talent acquisition. And, Jeff and Quinn, the two guys who came on board the team, really aligned with us in terms of values.

Sid (21:43):

And, it’s given us now I would say the advantage of being on two chains is that you can start to build out a differentiated product that ideally isn’t cannibalizing what you’ve already done on Ethereum. It should be meaningfully differentiated. And that’s why I’ve been pretty excited to see things like the launch of the Solana phone, because the more differentiation and uniqueness that we have on the ecosystem that product is built on, the more we can serve a differentiated market, whether if you have something like, SolPay, that starts to introduce tech or SaaS companies into using crypto and blockchain to support their financing, then that’s a market we could go and lend to.

Sid (22:24):

So anyway, that’s a long-winded answer. But, that was why we started looking at Solana. And as we’re evolving that product, so there’s now about 113 million in loans on Solana, Genesis and X-Margin are each running pools there. We’re trying to see, how can we build that product to serve either a unique customer base, whether it’s like SaaS companies or a unique and differentiated lender?

Joe (22:46):

Got it. Yeah. The Breakpoint conference last year, I think, was really eye-opening for a lot of folks that were just getting familiar with Solana. And, the response I’ve heard from most people is that, just the developer activity and the developer acumen, the technical acumen of the developers that were migrating towards Solana was a super strong signal to why they wanted to participate, or in your case support Solana. One of the key features of Solana is this concept of composability. So, the notion that protocols can almost operate as Legos and you can build various things, developers can build various things. Is there a notion of composability with what Maple’s doing? Meaning, could developers actually try to build something with Maple powering it, or as a piece of some bigger product, or protocol idea that they may have? Or is Maple more meant to be, “We’re a vertically integrated thing that supports Solana’s chain”?

Sid (23:46):

Yeah, it’s an interesting concept. It’s, do you go the Apple route and you be vertically integrated and control your destiny? Initially, the concept from Maple was for tranche fixed income, but then it evolved to be full stack lending. And that was because DeFi was so early that we didn’t really want to be dependent on other protocols to get to market and to grow. And so, we took more of the Apple approach early on. Now as I look at DeFi, one, I think there’s actually going to be a contraction in the scope of different products on DeFi for a while. And so, being vertically integrated is strategically pretty good for us, but the counter to the apple approach would be where Microsoft has found itself now, where I think, arguably before they might not have had a stronger set of products outside of Windows and Office.

Sid (24:30):

But, now when you look at what they’ve got, they’ve got GitHub, Teams, Xbox, gaming, Activision. They’re actually adding this full suite of things, where when you go into their ecosystem, you have access to all of this. And it’s a very interesting product to serve to institutions or enterprises from Microsoft’s side. And so, I’m looking at what is within the lending product suite, whether it’s yield. So this could include swaps, could include things like credit scores, could include flavor of insurance or credit default swaps, or it could include different types of credit indices. What are the adjacent or complimentary products that would, one, make our product offering stronger, and two, enhance the strength of a product that’s trying to partner with us.

Sid (25:16):

So, credit scores are really a natural one. But, I’d say, at this stage, it is very early on in that space just because people aren’t conducting most of their economic activity on chain. But other things like fix for floating swaps, or hedges, I think, are a pretty good complimentary one. It’s still very early, but those are the natural ones that I speculate about, because that was what I used to do when I was in banking. We’d also have to go on frequently talk to a swaps desk, or a ratings agency. So I think those would be naturally the first ones.

Joe (25:44):

Got it. Yeah. There’s a conversation that I have with a number of the founders that I advise on their companies about staying very tightly scoped to what you’re building, versus opening up almost an API, or a set of SDKs, or a platform if you will. And there’s just trade offs to both of those, right?

Sid (26:01):

Yeah.

Joe (26:02):

One is that if you are vertically integrated, well, you really control not only your destiny, but you also control the end-user experience, and what that end-user… How they’re going to interact with your product/protocol. And that’s super important, but it could potentially restrict the potential speed of the growth of what you could be doing in these adjacent areas like you’re describing. Whereas, if you, say, theoretically, open up a platform with APIs and SDKs for developers to build on, you’re not necessarily controlling that end-user experience, and that could be potentially detrimental to the brand of Maple, assuming someone has a poor experience. But, it’s a great trade off to make, right?

Joe (26:40):

And I think, staying the course of what you guys have done thus far, the fact that you’re even thinking about CDSs or credit scores. I mean, one of the questions that came to mind earlier was, if you’re bridging a lot of what happened in TradFi, are we going to start to see a ratings agency? Are we going to start to see the CDOs and CDO squares, and for the listeners that may not know what that is, it’s a collateralized debt obligation that could then also have various tranches associated with it, which unfortunately led to a big portion of the global financial crisis. And we don’t necessarily want to recreate that. But I guess, from my perspective, how do you think about that roadmap that you’re doing. And, where are you going to be doubling down, or are there other areas where you want to partner with folks? And, how do you think about that going forward?

Sid (27:24):

Yeah, I actually think about a lot. I mean, we get a lot of inbound interest in partnerships, because I feel like we’ve been around a little while and we’ve demonstrated a certain amount of traction. So that’s good. But then, a big question becomes how do you decide and prioritize amongst those opportunities? And what I try and think about now is… I think, a big focus for us is which opportunities get us fastest out the gate in terms of serving non-crypto native customers right now. So there’s a certain question of, how much do you want to be doubling down serving crypto native borrowers, versus say, leaping out and serving SaaS companies? And to serve SaaS companies, the types of product integrations that you might need, or just any customer outside of crypto, would be things like on and off-ramps.

Sid (28:07):

Now, that’s a really intensive product development on the legal and compliance side. It’s actually pretty simple build, but it starts to become a strategic question of, “How much effort do we want to devote to something like that, versus say, evaluating an alternative L1 or going to an L2?” I think, the scale’s probably tipped in favor of looking at how quickly you can get out and serve just a wider set of customers. And I would say, part of our role at this stage is trying to educate people who are not actually in crypto already, and try and bring them into crypto and into DeFi, rather than bringing DeFi to them. Instead of evangelizing about it to the people who are already in crypto. I think what we’re trying to do is just demonstrate a very workable product to people who are not already in there and wow them with what we think the huge benefits over doing this through the traditional financial system.

Joe (28:57):

I mean, look, I love the notion and the approach of trying to get a lot more non-crypto people into DeFi. I think, one of the things that I look for when I talk to founders or folks that are in the ecosystem… And I know that Anatoly and Raj did the same thing, and the Solana lab team more broadly is like, “How can we get more and more users that aren’t already in the space?” And, there’s a couple ways that you can do that. One is, you can build an amazing product that’s very easy to use. Easier said than done.

Sid (29:29):

Yeah.

Joe (29:29):

But the second is some partnerships. And, what brought this to mind for me was I think when we met in-person, it was at a dinner that Jeremy Allaire, the CEO of Circle put on. Could you maybe talk a little bit about how maybe the Circle is an example of how you’re thinking about levering someone in this space that is absolutely doing God’s work out there, working with institutions and folks trying to get them into crypto and DeFi? Jeremy’s done an amazing job of doing this with USDC and what he’s been doing at Circle. So I’d love to get your take on if Circle is an example of how… Or someone that you would partner with to help accelerate some of those non-crypto native people into DeFi.

Sid (30:08):

Definitely. So, Circle, as you said, is a great partner. So, the pools lend on Maple in USDC, which is the vast majority of the lending that’s happening on the platform, and also wrapped Eth. But if we look at USDC, this is absolutely essential infrastructure, I think, for DeFi, because having this secure stable currency in a digital form, which we can then distribute loans to corporate borrowers, as well as companies who are coming into DeFi and looking to earn a yield, are wanting that yield in stable coins. But, where Circle has been tremendous, and I think where there is a huge opportunity to grow is, one, there is the Circle yield product, which could potentially be integrated with Maple and a partnership there would offer people access to yields coming through the platform. What they’ve actually done really well, which is underrated is, the front-end of the Circle treasury and USDC product has, I think, the best off-ramp in the market.

Sid (31:05):

So, we use it for our own corporate treasury management and when we have to pay things in fiat. And, having that product, that’s a really good Trojan horse, that if a regular non-crypto company starts using that, they have a seamless on and off-ramp through which they could access a product like Maple. So, I could lend to a company and let’s say that company is doing SaaS, or it’s a FinTech business, or even a business in real estate or construction. So, if we could lend USDC to that company, then they could take that through the Circle front-end, convert it into fiat, and then use it to pay vendors, suppliers, salaries. And so, I think, the growth and proliferation of stable coin usage is super essential and it’s going to precede wider adoption of DeFi, because it’s a necessary part, it’s key, picks, and shovels for the space. But I’d say that’s how the Circle partnership is super important for us.

Joe (32:03):

Yeah. The folks at Circle are great. I have nothing but positive things to say about them as well. And, there are other partners in this space that I think have been super helpful as well to DeFi adoption. As you think about these partnerships… What struck me earlier about when you said you think there’s going to be a contraction in DeFi, how does evaluating how Maple is going to play in this space relative to the potential contraction that you’re seeing? So, maybe to unpack this a little bit, can you talk about maybe your view on the contraction and how that may or may not influence how you want to go out and partner with folks to bring on those call it a 100 million new users into DeFi.

Sid (32:46):

The contraction is happening broadly across all risk on assets. So, people are going risk off for crypto for equities. And, what’s happening is that because crypto is a much smaller market, the outflow is felt more acutely. But we’ve seen out general outflows from crypto and DeFi lending as a whole. And, what it’s forced us to do is probably consolidate around a core working product. So, in this case, it’s probably caused us to, say, push out potential partnerships that are maybe less clear in their scalability, because it’s a bird in the hand, two in the bush. So, if you have a customer set that is working and partnerships that are working, you have to be more circumspect and conservative in the new ones, because you probably have less bullets. And so, what the pullback is forcing us to think about is, if we wanted to go and target a new set of borrowers, who is a new set of borrowers that we could potentially sell to lenders who would need to deposit into the pools that are lending to those borrowers?

Sid (33:46):

So, it forces us to think about matching and extending the markets that are offered on the platform, i.e., the pools that are offered on Maple. And, in terms of integrations, it forces us to concentrate more acutely on what partnerships, for example, Circle as well as off-ramps will help us extend our reach to serve customers who are outside of crypto. So things like credit scores, you have to be a little bit more conservative about, because probably the next six months, there’s not going to be as much on chain activity. And so, the amount of value you could get out of, say, an on chain credit score is probably diminished for the next six months. It’s not that it wouldn’t work eventually. It’s just that, probably that goes down your priority list in the near term.

Joe (34:33):

Got you. Yeah, that makes total sense. Can we talk maybe a bit about your company? We’ve been talking so much about DeFi, and of the product, and this and that. I probably should have asked this at the beginning of the podcast, but can you maybe just talk a little bit about the company? How old the company is? And, where you’re located? Potentially remote, like most modern companies. And, what does the the roadmap look like for folks you want to bring on or folks that you’re looking to add to the team? The reason I bring this up is that a lot of folks that tend to listen to the podcast are very passionate about participating in the Solana ecosystem and are interested to hear about how companies started and where they’re going.

Sid (35:13):

We have an interesting structure. So, two segments, we’ve got the DAO, which raised capital. And the DAO is effectively governing the protocol and it has a multisignature that will implement any major changes, deploy new contracts. And then, we’ve got the operating company, which is employing developers, conducting business development and marketing. And so, that’s domiciled out of Australia. And that company receives grants from the DOW, which cover operating costs and cash burn on a quarterly basis. And I suppose with those two segments, it’s worth noting, so most of the team is remote. They tend to be based out of the US, Canada, UK, and Western Europe. We try to aggregate everyone around not too many time zones, so that it was easy to coordinate calls when I was living in Australia. I used to have to do 4:00 AM calls most days.

Joe (36:02):

Brutal.

Sid (36:02):

Yeah. But, we’ve got about 36 people at the moment. And so, we were hiring more aggressively. I think in current market conditions, we paired that back a little bit, but we are still hiring. So, if there are good people out there who want to join a team, we are looking for a couple of engineering roles at the moment. We’re looking for a capital markets associate for anyone who is in TradFi or investment banking, and looking for a change into crypto. Never a better time to do it. And so, I actually want us to run a pretty lean model. So I think, me and my co-founder have always been of the opinion that you add people on the basis of jobs that need to be done, rather than just headcount for headcounts sake.

Sid (36:42):

And so, I’ve definitely been inspired by the FTX model there in terms of how much they’ve been able to ship for how lean they are. I would say, we’ve actually developed a sales team, operations marketing, as well as product engineering and design. So, we are a fairly complete core. And so I think, there are potential roles on the team for someone in sales, design, or engineering, if there are good people out there. Yeah, that’s where we got to at the moment.

Sid (37:13):

But in terms of roadmap, the roadmap for us is we’re launching pools V2. So there’s a really complex engineering ask there. And, the team is doing a lot of research. And particularly with the market events of recent market volatility and some of the points and implosions we noted in the CeFi side, we’re trying to take learnings and incorporate them into pools V2.

Sid (37:37):

So this would include things like, how to have a better withdrawal mechanism? How to have better cover support, i.e., credit protection, because people are really more acutely concerned about that. And that’s something that probably wasn’t a big market focus six months ago. And then, better asset liability matching, which is that point I made about sustainability of a lending business. You can’t fund term loans without call deposits. And so, we just want to get better about matching those up.

Sid (38:05):

But then, on Solana, what we’re focused on at the moment is things like open term loans, active collateral management. These are the types of things that we think is going to be super interesting tooling to bring more CeFi businesses onto DeFi rails. So I think, we recognize that is a core customer set of ours. And it’s like, “How do we build the tooling that means that you would want to run a multi-billion dollar lending business on top of DeFi rails?”

Joe (38:30):

Wow, fascinating. And man, could we use that? If there’s anything that we learned, I think, this year thus far is, self custody is definitely going to be a key thing going forward.

Sid (38:40):

Self custody is king.

Joe (38:41):

Yeah. Well, look, this has been an absolutely fascinating conversation. I have one last question for you. And, we will absolutely hold you to it long-term. You’ve been talking a lot about lending and there’s an interest rate associated with those loans in the United States. And, I think some of the other central banks are following suit. We’ve been raising interest rates. So, how do you think a little bit about competing with some of the broader interest rate markets and something that Maple can actually provide? Does that actually factor in? How do you think about, I guess, monetary policy from central banks relative to the business that Maple’s building?

Sid (39:20):

For a really long time rates on crypto were outside rates in, let’s call it, the real or traditional economy. And that was because there was a lack of liquidity there. Then, what we saw, rates and traditional economies started to go up, but because there was actually more supply coming through, particularly earlier this year, we actually saw rates drop. And so, the delta between TradFi and DeFi/CeFi rates really compressed. Now, we’ve seen with the implosion of liquidity… Liquidity has totally dried up. We’ve seen rates go way wider again.

Sid (39:54):

So rates now blowing out to mid-teen levels, you can probably clear in crypto and DeFi. I’m a big student of financial history. And I look back at the last time that inflation was this bad, which was probably the Volcker era. And, cash rates got up to double digits to break the back of inflation. And I’m interested, because I still think that lending rates in the traditional economy are sub-inflation. And therefore, everybody who’s lending in the real economy is still earning a negative real rate of return. Whereas, in crypto, at least you’re earning a rate that clears inflation. But I’m interested to see, and I wouldn’t be surprised if rates continue to go up in the cash rates and the TradFi economy up to high single digits. And then, in DeFi and crypto that probably pushes them close to high teens. And yeah, I wouldn’t consider that out of the ordinary. I think, people assume that because we haven’t seen that in 20 years that that’s not possible, but I would say, in the 60s, rates were pretty normal low single digits. And in the 80s, inflation was double digits, so.

Joe (41:00):

So basically, to wrap it all up, you’re saying, crypto rates will be clearing inflation, whereas the real economy, likely not so.

Sid (41:10):

Crypto you can’t have that distortive effect of the central bank, where you have people who are lending out at negative real rates, because they’re below inflation. I think, in crypto, there is a demanded risk premium. And, it’s a more pure form of capitalism, I would say, where people are going to price rates so that they can clear a real positive rate. So I’d say, with supply inflows being limited, I’d say that effect is more exacerbated. So I probably expect to see the spread between crypto and TradFi actually widen over the next 12 months.

Joe (41:44):

Very cool. Well, we will absolutely hold you to that. And in 12 months, we will verify that you were correct. Sid, this was a great conversation. Thanks so much for sharing your story with Maple. And, if folks want to find you and Maple online, where should they look?

Sid (42:01):

So you can go to our website, maple.finance. That’s where you can find the web app, any news and updates. If you’re active on crypto Twitter, you can find Mapl @maplefinance. And you can find me @syrupsid, both one word. If anyone wants to reach out, happy to make contact with them.

Joe (42:17):

Great stuff. Thanks, Sid. Well, it was an awesome conversation. It was such a great time hosting The Solana Podcast again. My name’s Joe McCann. I’ll see you guys next time.

Sid (42:26):

Thanks, Joe.

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