Beam Interview - Beni Issembert

Beni Issembert is the Chief Marketing Officer at Beam, a one of the first projects to implement the Mimblewimble protocol. Due to some technical issues our recording of Beni was not very clear, so we hope this transcript will help you follow along with the interview.

What is Beam?
Beam is not only the first Mimblewimble implementation and one of the future top leading privacy coins in the crypto world, Beam for me is a philosophy. I'm coming from the world of philosophy, of sciences, and I came to beam because of the lack of privacy and the fact that we are getting closer to what was very well described in 1984 by George Orwell. It made me think about our privacy in a much more larger scale than my usual life.

After digging a little bit into both the financial world and digital world, I discovered a couple of years ago and also by my readings and my writings, that we are living in a very dangerous way when we sacrifice our own digital privacy for so-called free services. But more than everything else, the fact that we are losing day after day our financial privacy, meaning our freedom, is very complicated for me to accept based on the fact that I am a dad and I have two kids in this world. This is especially not this kind of world that I would like them to live in.

To answer your question, what is Beam, Beam is one of the tools hopefully that will provide people back with freedom.

Why is privacy important?

The reason privacy is important in 2019 is very simple. We do consider privacy as a human basic right, and by the way there are some countries like the US and other European countries that are protecting individual privacy by law. GDPR in Europe is one of the example of the interest in protecting privacy. But so far I’m speaking about the cure not the illness itself and the problem is that our world is sick. In my humble opinion the sickness in the world is the search of transparency. Nothing has changed in the last 4000 years in humanity, I mean, we are all trying to connect ourselves to accept other kinds of people and to develop our ego as much as possible, and in order to do that, in the last couple of years we have been granted by an amazing solution of technology services, I’m speaking about Google, different kinds of social networks where we didn’t know what we were sacrificing on a daily basis. The fact that you are not able anymore to get lost in a city without other people knowing the fact that you are in the city is for me very dangerous.

The fact that I would like, as a human being, to be able to disclose some information when I want and to who I want is what I believe the basic of freedom. I'm not forced to show you my body for example but in a digital world and especially in the financial world, everybody has access to what you do. For example I need to wire you some money because I like you, not because I'm paying for something but because I like you I want to send you some money. If I'm sending you $USD, for a certain amount of money I would have to get signatures from my bank as well, then we would have electronic signatures from the final bank in the US and then you would have the authorization from you own bank confirming you received this money, it means that, in other words, that we are no longer sovereign on our money and people sacrifice their financial privacy without giving any kind of consent.

Privacy for us at Beam is also a code, a movement. It’s something we would like to develop as one of the most interesting educational challenges that we will have in the next couple of years. It's not that we are activists, we are not anarchists we are not this kind of people that dream to blow the modern society from the inside, like these other movement like the yellow jackets that are using violence. We believe in education, we believe in didactic approaches when it comes to privacy because for us privacy, and it's going to be my last sentence about this amazing concept that I could talk for hours, for us Beam privacy is the capacity for any individual to decide by itself what he wants to disclose, when and to who. Privacy is about freedom and it's an amazing thing to do, to wake up every morning to walk in the technology arena and to fight for freedom.

Knowledge, privacy = freedom and democracy… This is Beam.

What is Mimblewimble?

Mimblewimble first of all it's a spell coming from the Harry Potter universe, which we all like here we are sons and daughters of the pop culture so we like it, but Mimblewimble is, if I had to use a slogan, is what Bitcoin had to be 10 years ago. Mimblewimble is a protocol that was released by an anonymous guy called Tom Elvis Jedusor, it’s the French version of Tom Riddle. And this protocol is very elegant and is solving two main problems in the crypto industry which are privacy, I mean if you buy Bitcoin you may enjoy a certain level of anonymity but not privacy. If I have your hash I can have access to all your transactions and all I need to do is connect your hash to your identity. So anonymity yes,  privacy no. And the second problem that Mimblewimble is trying to solve with some degree of success already is scalability. Today the weight of any kind of blockchain like Bitcoin, Ethereum or even Stellar is very heavy it means that to validate a transaction miners will need to download a lot of things and it will take a lot of time. Bitcoin today is between 5 and 7 transactions per second, Ethereum if I’m not wrong is a little bit less than 15 per second and Mimblewimble from day one was 17 per second and I can tell you as of today, we have been doing further research, can achieve 30 transactions per second. So we are much more lighter via Mimblewimble than any other kind of blockchain. So this is Mimblewimble, privacy, scalability with a very high tech orientation, I mean the protocol is very elegant but quite computational challenge that's why it took to our friends of Grin more than 30 months to implement it and that's why took us, with all the good will, a bit less than 9 months to become the first coin in Mimblewimble.

What is the difference between Beam and Grin?

First of all let me magnify the fact that we are good friends. I know that some people are trying to build an artificial wall between Team Grin and Team Beam but I must say that I'm very surprised because first of all we are talking to their team on a weekly basis, where we exchange a lot of information and a lot of tips and it happen that we helped them also when it comes to some funding. I mean we are brothers and sisters from the same Mimblewimble family. We may have some differences in terms of the approach but we have the same goal, a crypto world more private and more scalable.

Now when it comes to the approach the main differences would be the fact that we have a limited emission curve and they do not. We have 262 millions of Beams total, that's it, and they have unlimited. So it's a philosophical question and debate we had with them and we didn't agree with that and that's why we did Beam.

The other thing is we have a corporate structure, and I know that what I'm about to say isn't very welcomed by some people but we are very proud to be a startup, we are very proud to have a CEO, we are very proud to have some money that assured the stability of the solution we are trying to bring. Grin on the other hand did choose a very challenging path, which is the community path by saying that they are not here for the money and the community will finance the development and maintenance of Grin. I mean I have a lot of admiration for team Grin because they do have a lot of faith in humanity, my faith in humanity is a little bit more realistic I would say, and unfortunately the recent events when i saw some other Grin member trying to get some money for living is a very sad situation for us. They did what they could in 30 months because they have day job, we did what we did in 8 months because our day job is to deliver and we decided to embrace this vision which is a treasury model, based on Zcash model, for every block emission of Beam you have 80% going towards the miner and 20% going directly to the Beam Foundation that will ensure the development and maintenance of the project. For them at Grin they are 100% a community run project which means all coins are going to the miners, which is totally respectable I have a lot of respect for that utopian best case scenario to be 100% community developed but we need to be realistic, we are a bit more older in terms of experience, our average here is 40 years old and most of the people here have had several exits in the past, I mean created a startup and sold it, means that we know and have the experience in business and that's why we walk this way and if I need to find an analogy I would say that Grin is the Big Brother, not on the Orwell style but is our big brother with a lot of love but it’s experimental and we are the little brother but we are practical.

What is the difference between Beam and other privacy coins?

It's a very interesting question because this question is the one coming back most of the time, you have Monero and you have Zcash so why do I need another privacy coin? Maybe it's a surprise to some of our listeners and readers but Zcash is not private by default. Only 10% of the transactions on the network are actually private, so in general we have a coin which is not 100% private so we have a problem, on top of that Zcash is a fork of Bitcoin so there is no scalability at all, we are not only trying to solve the problem of privacy but also the scalability.

Monero for example is another story, first of all Monero is really truly private but it’s very heavy, so it's not scalable. And Monero has also its own problems of reputation, bad use, and at the end eventually most users will forget about Monero because of these shady identity and bad use by some bad people all over the world. I mean, I would say that Zcash, with a lot of respect for Zooko because he is a good friend of ours and we really appreciate the work done by the Zcash team and what the community of Monero did, but they are 1.0 privacy coin generation, we are 2.0.

Are there any plans to implement other kinds of features?

We are walking in a research mode because it’s not an easy thing, to understand Mimblewimble and our blockchain are new. I mean we are not a fork of something we did build our blockchain from scratch using C++ languages but we built everything from scratch. So everything that we are doing is experimental, nobody has done it. So the Lightning Network that we are working is based on research and we are also partnering with a lot of people that are willing to learn a bit more about Mimblewimble. So they can build sections for their networks and coins and the most famous one you have probably heard is Litecoin where they announced they are partnering with us to implement Mimblewimble as a side-chain on Litecoin, which is very good news for them, not for us. But you know every day that we are now pushing and forcing people to use privacy tools is a big win for us, no matter what you use even if you use Litecoin but with a privacy feature.

In terms of Beam besides the lightning network we are going to release by the end of this month, beginning of April, our atomic swap feature with Bitcoin, which is going to be very good news for our ecosystem.

We stick to Alice, Bob and Carol. I mean maybe we are the only project that does care about the people who are supposed to use our product, so our clients are Alice, Bob, and Carol. We don't use them we serve them.

It means that we developed and deployed already an Android-based wallet for the mobile. Next week you will have the iOS version of this wallet, so we are working also to get a bit more adoption from I would say non crypto enthusiasts people to have them understand that something is happening there that is close to what they know and that is usable.

More than that we have published our updated roadmap last week where we explain exactly where we want to go. The main point here, and this is after scalability and privacy, is to reach a certain level of compliance. Because, I mean we need to be foolish here to believe that if you are not compliant you will survive. If you want to live in our world we must be compliant because at the end the ones that provide legitimacy is a question of compliance.

Now compliance is our main goal, we are building an opt-in auditability feature that will allow our users, but mainly business and individual entrepreneurs, to audit their transactions when they are made in Beam. This means that, as a business today if you get some crypto, unless you are living in a very specific country, but you get some crypto in terms of income, your accountant will say “No I don’t accept that” so you would not be able to count it as income and it's the same thing with expenses. With Beam, in a couple of months from now, you will be able to go to your accountant, and eventually to your tax office and to make all your transactions, if you choose to, only if you choose to, auditable. It means that you will, you won’t have to disclose the identity of the one for example that sent you some money, but your auditor would be able to know that the money that you got in Beam is legit, is kosher. I would say as the CMO of Beam and one of the guys that believes in privacy and this kind of freedom that this is, I would say, the main game changer that will help crypto to be included in our modern day to day life.

Is there anything being done to the fact that in order for Beam wallets to transact they both need to be online?

It's a technical challenge, not a conceptual challenge, it's a technical challenge that can be solved by implementing the technology already in Beam which is called SBBS - Secured Bulletin Board System which means that we do have a kind of journal that is recording in a very cryptographic way all the transactions and keeping the information which is helping us to avoid two wallets to be online at the same time. It has been solved already using SBBS technology. It will be very easy, you has a user will create a key whenever you want with a certain piece of information and that's it.

One more question regarding auditability, so people will be able to create a key and specify which information they would like to be visible on it?

Yes, I mean I can at least disclose that we are working a group of companies well known in this area, I can say that we are working with one of the big four, I’m speaking about KPMG, Deloitte, E&Y or BDO. One of them it’s official, they are working with us in the design of the auditability. But auditability means also solidarity, it's a concept of recognition of any kind of regulation, we will have to, there is no other solution, to speak to every single regular, the European one, the US one, the Asian one and to design and to customize our auditability based on their accountancy law. And this is a very big challenge and I'm very intrigued to begin because it's incredible the opportunity that we have today to help regulators in designing the way we will transfer funds in the next years is an amazing challenge and I'm very glad to be part of one of the teams that is trying to build that.

And the best example I could provide you with is regards a kind of trust level from one of the most competitive markets today, which is the Japanese one. I don't know if you know but trading privacy coins in Japan is forbidden by law. Getting back to Japan, one of our investors based in Glasgow and indeed is opening a lot of doors for us in Japan and hopefully and eventually we will be the first privacy coin to be legalized in a compliant way in Japan.

How did you fund initial development of Beam?

We raised a little bit more than 5 million dollars from private investors and VC’s, this money is going to be burned until the end of this year to finance the development of Beam. And from the end of this year we are moving the governance of the coin to a nonprofit foundation, a real one not those ICO’s one. We will not be based in Lichtenstein or these kind of things, we are going to be based in Geneva, Switzerland. And the foundation is going to govern the coin and develop it, just with a board of directors and advisors mainly from the crypto world and from the academic world but also legal affair world where we will begin our approach with some legal instances to help us to do this kind of things. The foundation, we raised those 5 million dollars to do what we have done so far and then Beam will be 100% the property of the community.

Does the Beam company have any revenue sources?

No, what we did is the people that invested in us through the company will have a percent of the treasury funds, they are getting a little portion every month for the duration of 5 years. Basically they are eating at the same table as the team, we all get a little portion every month from the treasury fund.

Why the choice for Switzerland when it came to the decision of where to create the foundation?

We chose Switzerland for a lot of reasons.

We wanted a presence in Europe, definitely. Europe is maybe not the most interesting crypto continent in the world, but for us Europe is the most advanced entity when it comes to privacy. So it's also a statement from us saying that to the community. Why Switzerland, because it’s also easier for us since we do have a local presence in Switzerland to manage the foundation. And to be frankly honest it’s the easiest way to build a nonprofit foundation that is able to enjoy both the European presence and both the external presence from Europe because Switzerland is not in Europe.

And last but not least when you register a non profit foundation, and this is not my first foundation, you need to understand and define with your beneficial owner because there is no equity in a foundation. So when, and I'm going to answer the question in your mind which is: who is the UBO of the Beam foundation? The UBO of Beam foundation are students. I mean, what we would like to do is to finance research, future research when it comes to privacy tech. It means that this Foundation has one goal which is to help the world to develop better technology and have a better understanding when it comes to privacy.

Switzerland is helping us because the regime of non profit foundation for students, for research, is easier in Switzerland than all other kinds of legislation. So that’s why we implemented our foundation in Geneva, in Switzerland. And by the way we are an international team. I’m French-speaking so Geneve is easy for me, but if you are a German speaker it's also easy and everybody speaks English also. I mean we wanted to make our lives a little bit also easier and I'm sorry for that…

What major releases did you have and what are your major releases coming in the near future?

This is a very interesting question, very important question, we are judged by the market on our capacity to deliver what we promise at the moment we promised it. So far, knock on wood, we did it. We said that we were going to do our first release by the end of December 2018, we had 3 days delay but it was delayed on purpose because we wanted to celebrate the Bitcoin 10 years anniversary, the first genesis block sorry not…

Right now we have been releasing a couple of things. Payment and exchange API, a huge API for mining pools, our Lightning Position Paper. You have the CLI command line wallet, you have also another big release. In March at the end of this month, we are going to be able to pronounce ourselves… Beam/BTC atomic swaps. We are working on a very strong integration of hardware wallets with Trezor. Like I said before the iOS wallet is almost ready for release, fast node sync, payment confirmation and payment platform integration. This is only for March.

Now if we speak about June, we have our proof of work when it comes to algo change, our lightning POC of course, the Bulletin Board for Swaps, the one-sided payments.

And more towards September of course we are going to release some stuff about, important to us, the lightning alpha, etc etc. At the end of the year we will have a lot of good things also, like the POW when it comes to the algo change, the lightning beta, and the last but not least the GhostDAG proof of concept, which is my little baby and we hope to be able to reach at time, this very important future for Beam.

What is the future vision for Beam?

If I need to dream a little bit with you guys now, and I don't want to repeat everything that has been said or to say some very marketing oriented slogan, that we will be the first privacy coin or whatsoever. I mean everybody is doing their project and you are an entrepreneur, we are entrepreneurs. I mean we are not willing to be the second, we are always are reaching the first position. But this is obvious so I'm not going to say that. What I would like to say to your audience and to you is that our main achievement will be the following one, to dream a little bit. If Beam could be one of the ultimate alternatives when it comes to digital cash and when it comes to private means of exchange and a private store of value, then we will be the happiest people on Earth.

And to conclude, this next Friday I’m going to be lecturing my big kid at school. She is 10 years old and I'm going to teach about privacy to the young generation. So let's dream together with Beam to help the young generation to get back any kind of level of privacy/financial privacy, then Beam will have achieved its main goal.

The young generation eventually will be able to use a ultimate digital cash solution, called Beam, that will help them getting back their financial privacy.

The best way to describe this, maybe as a former philosophy teacher, it’s the following one. There is a very nice guy, possibly known by most of the people on Earth which is called Plato. Plato wrote a very nice allegory which is called the allegory of the cavern. Where it’s explaining that humanity is chained and forced to understand that the shadows of themselves on the world is their reality. What we are trying to do to unchain several people and to help them to come outside and to see what is this reality.

Where can people follow up on news regarding Beam?

Our main news channel is Twitter. You will see that we are not annoying one, we are only providing news when we have them, we are very eager to keep a normal communication on our social networks and to use them for what they are, which is tools and not life. You can follow us also and be a part of the community if you are in Europe and the US on Telegram. If you are in the east part of the world we have also a QQ and a WeChat group which is well done by our Chinese community. And if you are a little bit more courageous you can take part in our discussion on Reddit and on Github where we have our code.

For more information and updates on Beam, visit the following resources:

Website | Twitter | Telegram | QQ Group | Reddit | Github | Medium