Solving Web3’s Developer Problem: Web2 Remains Hesitant

A startup building “security-focused developer tools” may sound square, but Cubist aims to take the edge off by taking care of the tricky and risky stuff

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Source: Shutterstock / Timofey_123, modified by Blockworks

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“We’re so early,” as the crypto meme goes, but when it comes to the experience of working as a Web3 developer, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

There are multiple challenges facing blockchain-focused teams looking to attract developer talent, sources tell Blockworks. These range from finding funding in a bearish macro environment, to the novel smart contract programming languages and practical considerations such as infrastructure and workflow tools.

Forcing devs to deal with novel workflow issues is a problem with serious consequences — not merely a drain on productivity, but, with money on the line in decentralized finance, major financial losses result when security missteps occur. Just ask cross-chain bridge users.

San Diego, California-based Cubist, which announced the close of its $7 million seed round today, is focusing on the tools software engineers need for multichain and cross-chain development.

The round was led by Polychain Capital, with participation from venture capital and other investors including dao5, Amplify Partners, Polygon, and Axelar.

The company’s initial focus is on chains supporting the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), CEO and co-founder ​​Riad Wahby told Blockworks, noting Ethereum has the most well established developer tooling, but only for the needs of individual developers, not larger more professional developer teams.

Some in the crypto space use the lack of developer familiarity with Solidity, Ethereum’s smart contract language, “as an excuse,” Wahby said.

“I think there is a slice of the developer ecosystem in Web2 that’s basically like Javascript or nothing…but I don’t think that’s actually the problem,” he said, adding, “I think the actual problem is, all the other tooling that goes along with developing serious applications in Web2 is just totally missing.”

Wahby cited continuous integration testing — automating the merging of code changes from multiple contributors into a single software project — as one example where Web3 falls short.

“That’s still nascent technology, whereas in Web2 that’s just table stakes,” he said.

There are only so many early adopters

For Web3 startups, the goal should be attracting developers that are not going to be your fanatics, they’re going to be your customers, according to Dean Tribble, CEO of Agoric, a company facilitating building DeFi dapps in JavaScript.

“It’s fine to get fanatics, but there are just a limited number of them, and the goal is to transition to where we get lots and lots of customers from this platform technology.”

There is certainly the programming language aspect, Tribble said, noting that the number of JavaScript developers in the world sits at 15 million and the language’s strengths in building frameworks of components — composable software from many different contributors.

“Being able to build on the shoulders of others is critical,” he said.

But a more salient problem right now is the overall market downturn. “People don’t communicate what’s the value [proposition] of it, for people solving their own problems…what’s the actual advantage here?”

Among the obstacles: New jargon, new patterns, the security hazards, the perceived fraudulent behavior — “scummy, scammy behavior,” as Tribble put it.

“FTX’s same-old-same-old brokerage fraud of mixing customer funds with investment — the fraud part didn’t have anything to do with Web3, the technology stack and what opportunity is enabled, and yet from 10,000 feet it all looks like a mess,” he said.

Tribble expects to see applications that rely on other chains bringing their value, but acknowledges the potential downside of application dependency, a form of counterparty risk.

One example is Agoric’s own stable token IST, which can be minted from Ethereum-based stablecoins like DAI, USDC and USDT that are brought over to Cosmos via bridges like Axelar and Gravity.

“But if one of those bridges goes down, that impacts our business and reputation even though we do not have control over those bridges.” 

​​Riad Wahby; Source: Cubist.dev

That’s among the problems Wahby’s team at Cubist aims to tackle — to improve the ability for developers to safely build and deploy multichain. 

“I love the hacker ethic — of course that’s part of the reason why we love to work in Web3 — but I also want somebody who’s going to give me a [Service Level Agreement],” Wahby said.

Cubist is building tools for interchain developers, using the Axelar Virtual Machine (AVM), a new piece of permissionless infrastructure, Axelar’s content lead Galen Moore told Blockworks.

Axelar has a mission to make building interchain-native applications easy, as co-founder Sergey Gorbunov said at the recent Interop Summit in Denver, where he described how developers spend 70-80% of time dealing with the minutiae of software deployment in a multi-chain stack as opposed to being able to focus on building application logic.

“It’s possible to make Web3 easier — maybe even easier than traditional web development,” Moore said.

Gorbunov sees the development of Ethereum and Cosmos coalescing in the future.

“In some sense now the Cosmos stack I think is becoming more and more glued together with the EVM stack, and I think, as time goes by, these are going to be indistinguishable ecosystems, I believe,” Gorbunov said.

But first, solving the money problem

No matter how interested in Web3 potential developers are, teams have to be able to pay them. Griffin Anderson, CEO of Phi Labs, is seeing foundations reneging on promised grants, and projects funded by token issuance are suffering from the bear market downturn in token prices.

“There’s tons of demand to build apps and projects, but I would say the overwhelming 50 or 60 percent are depending on a financial grant in some capacity,” Anderson told Blockworks.

“It’s not like they don’t know Web 2.0 engineers and don’t want to bring their friends into the space, it’s that they can’t pay their salaries, at the end of the day, in this environment,” he said.

A core contributor to Archway, Anderson is working on devising alternative incentive mechanisms to bring more developers into Web3 by leveraging the underlying strengths of the technology.

The basic concept behind Archway, which is also Cosmos-based, is to programmatically reward developers based on the value and users they bring to the network.

Finding applications that excite developers and play to the strengths of Web3 can help, Tribble said. Testing applications across multiple machines, let alone multiple chains, presents novel problems.

“That’s rarely something engineers have experienced in non-crypto…[but] it is one that Web2 engineers actually find enticing — that’s interesting from an engineering point of view — it’s part of the attraction,” he said.


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