Harsh Rajat talks about future of banking, EPNS protocol incentives and where is a business model for decentralized push notifications.
Hello! What’s your background, and what are you working on?
Hello Awesome folks! I am Harsh Rajat, Founder and Project Lead of Ethereum Push Notification Service (EPNS). I love to dabble into all things tech and have been like that from the past 11 years which is also the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey and yes, for those who are wondering how old I am… My first social network was myspace and orkut :D.
I got introduced to crypto through bitcoin in the initial 2016 bull run and started trading with the gold standard formula of buying high and selling low, though crypto got really interesting to me in 2018 with Ethereum and programming which lead me to be here.
This eventually led to Ethereum Push Notification Service (EPNS) which in its core is a decentralized middleware protocol that enables any smart contracts, dApps or even traditional services to send notifications to wallet addresses, as long as those wallet addresses have opted in to receive them from a particular service. There is also a DeFi aspect to the protocol that is used to enable incentives or passive earnings for the users along with receiving these decentralized notifications.
We lovingly call it the “Missing piece of Web3” that is required to bring the UX of Web2 to Web3, if picture is worth a thousand word then video should be a novel for what we are doing.. Haha, on that note, here is our 30 seconds teaser video.
What’s EPNS backstory?
Previous technology often follows a pattern which can be observed to find ways to address the pain points in upcoming technology. As Mark Twain puts it, History doesn’t repeat itself but often rhymes. There is a great amount of things we can learn from observing and of course, being at the right place at the right time. The genesis of the idea was when we sat down to observe what, if any pain points still exist in the way blockchain apps (dApps / smart contracts / services) that we can solve. We were quick to realize that something felt a bit odd and narrowed it down soon to how Web3 tech behaved a lot like the early days of the internet.
Think 2004ish when GMail was launched and changed inboxes forever. At that point of time, the internet was still growing and services offered there behaved exactly the same way it does so in Web3 right now. For instance, you as a user were expected to login to the mailbox to check the email, reply to friends / work and then come back to it sometime and rinse and repeat. If you were the trendy one back in those days then maybe you went to myspace and orkut as well! But no matter the service, you were always going back to check on your actions.
This drastically changed with notifications in 2010. All of a sudden, services began to reach out to users whenever an action was required from their end, it increased engagement rate to 7x and massively improved user experience. Notifications have been so engraved into our lives now that we hardly realize most of our online actions are caused by them, think about it, whatsapp, facetime, emails, payments, games all inform you now. You don’t go back to them to check it out.
Contrast this experience with any dApps, smart contracts or services you interact with on web3. There’s no way to inform users(wallet addresses) any time an important event occurs, instead, the user is assumed to go back to the service time and time again to check their activity. For instance, Liquidation on AAVE, Compound or any DeFi, DAO Governance proposal (Yam!), or ENS / dEx orders. Each of these are a reality right now but no solution exists to address them and the problem will only worsen as more services come to Web3.
This was the moment that we realized that this stone age era of communication in blockchain needs to go…you are not foreclosed by your bank without proper notices that reach you, but DeFi while enabling awesome use cases does that to you ohh so often and we wanted to fix that. With this new found observable knowledge, and the destiny which led us here from being a mobile app entrepreneur in 2010 and seeing the transformation notifications had, we kind of understood that this is what we are meant to create and thus Ethereum Push Notifications Service (EPNS) was born.
One of the most recent and biggest validation we received was from Gitcoin grants round 7 where we were among the top 3 projects with over 214 contributors. Ethereum biggest asset is it’s awesome community and the type of love we got from the awesome community motivated and humbled us at the same time, soon after, some of the biggest Web3 leaders gave us the next validation we needed in terms of support and backing via seed funding for $750k coming from Balaji Srinivasan, Scott Moore, Anthony Sassano, DeFiDad, Mariano Conti among several others.
What went into building the EPNS?
Short answer to this is it took a ton of valuable insights, feedback, advice from everyone in Ethereum including the awesome community, advisors, early backers. When we started, we knew roughly what we needed to deliver but no insight on how to do it and where to start. That’s why we took the idea to Ethereum Foundation and they to this day play a major role in offering us mentorship and guidance on whatever things we need.
This small step of writing to them was the start of building EPNS. Little did we know that this single email would lead us to building EPNS on EthGlobal, getting selected and mentored on how to synthesize users suggestions in IDEO PVD which would then lead us to getting selected and featured as top 20 projects in Gitcoin Kernel which will then transition into huge backing from community in Gitcoin grant apart from winning grants from AAVE and Matic and finally getting us funded.
Throughout the journey, the only thing which we kept in mind when building EPNS was to talk about it to everyone, make mistakes and ask for help from everyone in the community. I feel proud to say that most of the brilliant ideas, advice and feedback we have gotten for EPNS is from the awesome Ethereum community and we can never repay them for being so awesome.
But we are not done building yet, EPNS protocol also dabbles in DeFi for generating passive earnings and thus before we come to mainnet, we have to ensure that the protocol is battle tested and goes through thorough audits which is the phase we are going through currently.
What’s your business model?
We are big fans of game theory and ensuring win-win for all actors involved in the ecosystem. This ideology along with building the world’s first decentralized notification protocol meant that we can get creative with our business model which is what we went ahead and did, that is created a business model that supports and rewards all 4 participants of our ecosystem:
- Services that send notifications: They are rewarded in our governance token $PUSH which is rewarded based on the verified number of user wallets that have subscribed to receive their notifications. This ensure that we not only attract official services (AAVE, Compound, ENS, etc) but also third party developers who have the ability to create useful notifications for the Web3 ecosystem as they are also incentivized to do so
- Users who receive notifications: We wanted this to be a user centric protocol at it’s very heart, this means that the protocol values users a lot, this means that the user have a lot of win win scenarios including receiving notifications from the services, getting passive income from receiving notifications, rewarding them in tokens for active ecosystem participation, rewarding them for participating in governance and then some more.
- Infrastructure / User wallets showing notifications: Our end vision is to have user wallets and any end point that serves as an entry point for Web 3 to start supporting notifications and EPNS protocol. For that, our governance system will ensure a perpetual split in the fees for these as long as they can get the governance proposal passed via on-chain governance. The fees segment is collected and distributed via the protocol and will be borne by the services in future as micro fee per notification, monthly or yearly subscription.
- Governance Token Holders: The token holders essentially control the core features of the protocol and decide the way forward, for which the protocol rewards them the most by ensuring that they are rewarded for their efforts and are incentivized to balance the protocol. The rewards to token holders are dis in $PUSH tokens which is converted a part of the fees and thus can be really creative in our business model which is what we did exactly.
The DeFi characteristic of the EPNS protocol incentivizes users to earn rewards. The protocol has $PUSH , a non-refundable functional utility token designed to reward users for continuous involvement and engagement in the adoption of the protocol and to achieve the vision of becoming web3 notification standard. $PUSH will be used as a medium of exchange to interact on the protocol. The token is necessary to vote on the features of the protocol. The protocol fees are charged in $ETH or $DAI within the EPNS protocol, but the $PUSH token holders may vote to change these fee parameters.
What’s your position on the regulatory landscape today?
Well, this is tricky to answer… if a smart contract code is law then isn’t that regulated. Also, how do you regulate globally? I do think that some regulations might do good for the ecosystem but they can’t be based on old knowledge. People working in DeFi have trouble understanding it at times, so how can old laws be relevant.
Think about it, let’s take self-driving cars for example, if an accident occurs, who takes the blame? The car, the person sitting in it, the software developer or the roads / environment. There is no direct answer to this in the current legal and regulatory framework and that’s the same with DeFi. New innovations require loads of understanding and creating rules that are meant to provide a fair balance for everyone, I believe the current regulatory landscape needs to understand this a lot and then come up with a framework suitable for this ecosystem then trying to fit an old one into a new innovation.
What are your goals for the future?
The vision with decentralized notifications is always to get them adopted to the entire blockchain ecosystem. This means that we are aiming very high where in smart contracts, dApps see this as necessary as any other infrastructure.
From the other end of the spectrum, we want notifications to be shown on every user wallet, rather than just our apps and dApps and that’s why the entire game theory has been designed to support these goals.
For product goals, we just want the EPNS protocol to be as easy to adapt as it could possibly get in terms of services, users and infra / user wallets which while seems like a one liner requires us to create simple or complex scenarios and adapt the protocol to support all of them. The only way to do this is to test, validate hypotheses on users and services, create those features and validate again which is what we are aiming to focus on doing in 2021!
What are your future thoughts for the DeFi market?
I see DeFi as the future of banking! We now have the tools to create a global bank and any person can take a swipe at it with what they think is the best way to solve this. This is no mean feat, giving power to anyone in the world to take a swipe at finance means we will see countless innovations which will give rise to something better! If it hasn’t occurred yet that is :).
Innovation requires removing boundaries, with traditional finances, there have been so many legal requirements which are sometimes even needed that they have for better or for worse have gone stale. DeFi removes those boundaries and if someone, anywhere around the world creates a system that achieves network effect then in essence, we would have created a better finance for everyone! Without even leaving our home or office while we were at it!
Where can we go to learn more?
Awesome! You can join us on telegram: https://t.me/epnsproject where we hangout the most and get chatty. But if you just prefer twitter and following our progress then we are there as well: https://twitter.com/epnsproject