Connecting the Internet economy
09 November 2021
Author profile image.
Adrian Hope-Bailie
@ahopebailie

In early 2015, I started an email conversation with a fellow engineer who I’d met through a W3C mailing list. That conversation turned out to be the start of an almost 7-year journey that has led to today, and the launch of a new company, with an incredible group of co-founders, advisors, and supporters I’ve met along the way.

At that time, I had been working in the card payments industry for the better part of a decade, and I was frustrated.  Frustrated by the fact that networks like Visa and MasterCard are described as “open-loop” when in fact they are closed schemes controlled by an oligopoly of multinational companies that meet behind closed doors. Frustrated that these networks are the only practical way to perform low value payments and yet they are only accessible through layers of intermediaries who all add their own fees. Frustrated that in many parts of the world these “global” networks are simply inaccessible. Frustrated that promising new technologies and ideas, like Bitcoin, Open Transactions and PaySwarm, were being scorned or simply ignored by the industry I was a part of.

I’d been researching these new technologies and trying to document some of my own ideas. I had a theory that open standards would play an important part in improving global payments. My explorations led me to the W3C’s Web Payments Community Group and ultimately to meeting Evan Schwartz and Stefan Thomas at Ripple. They were just starting to test the waters in the standards world with a new idea they had been cooking up. The working title of the project was five-bells, and I sat on my patio in Johannesburg on a warm summer evening in March 2015 when they talked me through it. I was instantly hooked.

By April 2015 I had joined Ripple and was working with Stefan and Evan on what would soon be known as Interledger. We worked on Interledger for a number of years, taking inspiration from the design of the Internet and slowly solidifying the various layers of our stack. After a fews years Stefan started his own company, Coil, where he was planning to take Interledger to new heights. I was excited to join him and started building a Coil team in Cape Town. Through a stroke of luck I met Don and Matt, two incredibly smart and talented engineers who were also drawn in by the potential of Interledger and the challenge of fixing global payments.

Fast forward another few years and Interledger is a living breathing payments network moving billions of payments between independent network participants Coil, Uphold, and Gatehub. But if the Interledger is to be the Internet of Value, then what we’ve got today is still just the ARPANET.

As anyone will tell you, building a network is hard, but moving real money on that network is much, much harder. Technology is only 20% of the challenge. At Coil, we’ve proven that the Interledger technology works and that it can support Web Monetization as a use case, but the dream of an Internet of Value is not yet fully realised.

For the last year or two, we’ve toiled with the problem of how to grow the Interledger network and enable new use cases. In the Cape Town office, we became a little obsessed with figuring out how Interledger could be used for a wider set of use cases, doing the work to understand what it would take for an existing bank or digital wallet to connect to the network and enable those use cases for their users. In the mean time, Cairin joined the team bolstering our engineering talent (and adding a little design flair).

The end result was a proof-of-concept Interledger native wallet called Rafiki (now deployed on the testnet at https://rafiki.money) and the framework for an open standard enabling those use cases called Open Payments.

Rafiki became the basis of a bold new open-source project at Coil to deliver a complete Interledger tech stack for any stored value account provider to use to connect to the Interledger network.

But, as I said before, technology is only 20% of the problem. The global payments ecosystem is complex, in the midst of major disruption, but still highly regulated.

Cryptocurrencies, DeFi and Web3 are attempting to revolutionise the landscape of finance and payments by simply discarding the assets and currencies we have and replacing them with new ones. But central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), mobile money, domestic instant payments systems, and Open Banking are also threatening to completely change the landscape of more traditional fiat-currency digital payments.

It’s a moment in history when technology like Interledger could play a critical role. But the network needs to grow. We believe that the most critical first step to growing the Interledger network is connecting more licensed participants. We need to bridge the worlds of new and traditional finance and leverage the strengths of both. We need wallets and banks with the legal footing to operate within the regulations but also the foresight to see the promise of technologies such as DeFi, CBDCs and Open Banking.

We launched Fynbos because we’re tired of waiting around for these entities to discover Interledger and start experimenting with projects like Rafiki. We’re getting licensed and getting out there to proactively connect new participants to the Interledger network.

We’re done with global payments networks being closed off and exclusive to banks and big multinational corporations that focus purely on developed economies. We’ll continue contributing to the open-source Rafiki project as the core of our product and will develop additional products and services around it that enable anyone to join the Interledger network as easily as signing up for a new Internet account at an ISP.

We’re done with payments standards being developed behind closed doors and access only granted to an exclusive set of companies. We’ll be doing everything out in the open, working on open-source code like Rafiki and open standards like Interledger and Open Payments.

The next billion Internet users are coming online from countries where the card networks provide no cover. The next billion Internet entrepreneurs are going to charge their customers less than $5 per payment. They can’t pay 30%+ of that in processing fees. At Fynbos, we have an incredibly talented founding team, the backing of great partners (more to come on them soon), and advisors like Faisal Khan, and we’re building a better global payment network for the future Internet economy.

If you’d like to get connected to the Interledger network, or want to join us on this mission of connecting the Internet economy, get in touch via [email protected], or follow us on Twitter @fynbosdev and LinkedIn.