Itamar talks about building a new, smart-contract based Ethereum wallet with native DeFi integrations.
Hello! What’s your background, and what are you working on?
I’m Itamar Lesuisse, and I’m the CEO and co-founder of Argent, a new type of Ethereum wallet. Argent provides the ease of use and security of the best new banking apps, yet it’s entirely non-custodial.
We believe everyone should have access to economic opportunity and self-sovereign identity. Crypto is uniquely well-positioned to achieve this, but it’s been held back by its complexity. So we’ve abstracted away all the crypto elements of the wallet. There’s no seed phrase, gas, or cryptic address. We’ve been able to do this by building Argent on smart contracts.
Before Argent, I’d worked at the intersection of tech and finance at Amazon, Visa, and BCG. Most recently, I’d founded and successfully exited Peak, the world’s biggest mobile brain training app with 60m users.
I got into crypto because I think it’s our best shot at building a fairer web and a more open financial system. That’s why we’re so keen to bring a billion people to the space.
What’s Argent backstory?
Myself and Argent’s other co-founders, Gerald Goldstein (who was my co-founder at Peak) and Julien Niset (who specialises in quantum information and cryptography), wanted to solve some of the big problems holding back crypto’s adoption.
While crypto could feel like magic at its best, it was too easy to lose assets, too scary to transact, and too hard to use Dapps. We could see that things like seed phrases had to go. We couldn’t imagine a world where 1bn people would write down a seed phrase on paper. We felt that our backgrounds in mobile product design and cryptography had given us the perfect experience to achieve this.
We focused on non-custodial wallets because the point of crypto was not to build new middlemen, and we’ve seen how dangerous it is to leave your assets with a third party.
We raised a $4m seed round in early 2018. We’ve been lucky to get the backing of some of the world’s best VCs, including Index Ventures, Creandum, and Firstminute Capital.
What went into building Argent?
We started building Argent in January 2018 and began testing with users around a year later, after multiple security audits.
At a high level, the key point on how it works is that your phone holds your private key, but this key doesn’t have any assets attached to it. It’s just a remote control to your smart contract. It’s the smart contracts that let us add features that improve security and usability, such as recovery without seed phrases and daily limits.
One important decision we made, with the help of Nick Johnson, was to design our smart contract architecture to be modular and simple, so it’s easier to audit and more flexible. When we want to add a new feature, such as our Compound integration, we just need to deploy a new module smart-contract (after it has been audited) and invite the users via the App to authorize this module to interact with their wallet. This architecture gives us, and our users, a lot of flexibility as we can add/remove/update the modules incrementally and without having to redo our smart contracts from scratch.
Another important design decision was how we integrate Dapps. We could see that people were struggling with the traditional method, so we’ve integrated Compound, Maker, and Kyber at the smart contract level. This means we can make it a native experience within Argent, and that’s why you can open a CDP or earn interest in literally a few seconds. We’ll keep core DeFi Dapps within Argent, and to help people access a wider dapps ecosystem outside of Argent, we’re integrating Wallet Connect.
What’s your business model?
We take a small cut on fiat to crypto and crypto to crypto exchanges within Argent. DeFi opens up a range of possibilities for the future, and we could even explore a subscription model for premium services.
What’s your position on the regulatory landscape today?
As a non-custodial wallet, we don’t currently fall under any specific regulation. We are though monitoring what’s happening at the international level with AML, in particular in the EU, UK, and US. We are looking forward to regulators bringing more clarity to crypto regulation.
What are your goals for the future?
We want to bring crypto to a billion people. This means making it easy and safe and delighting people with experiences they couldn’t get from the existing financial system and web.
As part of that, we’re integrating many more fiat on-ramps to Argent, to stablecoins in particular. We want people to be able to load their wallet with $100 and see $100 in their balance.
We’ll continue to find ways to abstract away any complexity, so you don’t even really have to know you’re using crypto.
And we’ll keep chatting to the most exciting Dapps to find ways to work together and give our users easy access to them.
What are your future thoughts for the DeFi market?
It’s evolving so quickly it’s impossible to make predictions. But what we’d love to see is DeFi solving real problems for people on a global scale. The beauty of it is enhancing financial access through permissionless innovation. As an example, Compound enabling you to, in effect, create a dollar savings account is remarkable.
As it grows, we’d like to see better privacy and less reliance on collateralization. We also need to ensure users easily understand the risks and mitigate them wherever possible. Composability is excellent, but how can we design systems, so the risk in one protocol doesn’t take down others?
In the long term, there’s no reason for there to be a distinct “DeFi” label. It will just be a financial service you want to use because it offers a unique experience, and you don’t need to know what’s going on under the hood.
As a concluding point, if there are DeFi Dapps out there that share our vision for accessibility, we’d be thrilled to hear from them. They should contact [email protected]