I am Steve Lee, lead of Spiral, the open-source bitcoin initiative of Block. We have funded over 50 people to work on FOSS bitcoin.

Topics to ask me about:

  • Spiral
  • Block
  • Various projects Spiral supports: LDK, BDK, VLS, Bitcoin design community and bitcoin design guide, Stratum v2, Fedimint, etc.
  • LN ecosystem "roadmap"
  • Mobile LN wallet architecture considerations
  • Centralization forces on bitcoin and efforts to improve
  • "PMing" in open-source bitcoin
  • Framework for FOSS bitcoin projects
  • Future of bitcoin mining
  • Future of self-custody and self-sovereign bitcoin
  • PoW vs. PoS hot takes

Let's go!


As an angel investor and also as someone who is part of a bitcoin-forward organization in Block, what business models do you envision and are most excited about on a bitcoin standard, considering that all software, products and services are largely preferred to be

  • open-source
  • built on open-protocols
  • have no vendor lock-in
  • have no centralized points of control and ownership / trust-minimized
  • abide by self-sovereign ethos of bitcoin etc

All of the above seem antithetical to the business models of web2 technology companies. Curious how you see the future of entrepreneurship and business unfolding on bitcoin?

I think bitcoin infrastructure and tools need to be free open-source as that is a prerequisite to a fair, neutral global money. However, I don't see why businesses and services that adopt bitcoin as the medium of exchange need to avoid charging money or trying to create vendor lock in. IMO it will be business as usual competing in the market place by offering the best product to the right set of customers. Bitcoin factors into this by simply offering a unique new form of money that likely unlocks to customer bases and new types of services.

I'm a developer located in the US that has been contributing to some of the popular Bitcoin open source projects.

My full time non-bitcoiner software engineering job pays me close to $200k and I need that much money for myself and my dependents.

I want to work full time in Bitcoin.

Is there a way to get similar amount of funding so I can fully work on Bitcoin? If so, how?

This can be challenging. The nominal Spiral grant is $100k for 12 months. We also support developers getting additional grants from other funders as long as it is for the same project/work, and HRF, Gemini, and others have done this before.

There also may be full-time opportunities at some companies that allow you to work on FOSS bitcoin, although typically that is in conjunction with working on a commercial product.

Seems like a good day for some PoW & PoS hot takes…

In your opinion, what are the biggest weaknesses of PoW, and the biggest strengths of PoS?

[Here's[(https://twitter.com/moneyball/status/1558840214545731584) my attempt at steel manning the PoS argument.

I personally think it is a good and healthy thing to have both PoW and PoS systems that are well developed and experimented with, as the 2 systems have distinct characteristics. But I strongly believe PoW is the key invention of Satoshi and critical to deliver bitcoin's unique properties, and PoS makes the wrong tradeoffs for a global money that is fair and neutral to all participants.

appreciate the thoughtful response, thanks!

I think this debate is a trap and is useless. We should ignore it totally. I really do not understand why @moneyball bring it on. Maybe just to tease shitcoiners or stir the shit?

I think it is important the bitcoin community is able to articulate the unique properties of proof of work to a variety of audiences including people new to crypto and to lawmakers.

IMO the content available today is geared toward bitcoin enthusiasts and isn't very accessible to other audiences. If we ignore it, the majority of people in other audiences are likely to not appreciate the advantages of PoW over PoS and conclude PoS is superior because "it wastes 99.5% less energy."

I fully expect the pressure to only increase post-The Merge.

Bitcoin community was screaming (not just articulate it) for years about the differences. Now we are just gaslightning the useless debate. Who still doesn't get it, fine... HFSP Who is new - read the fucking tons of documentation and articles, you don't need another endless debate. Who is already in Bitcoinlandia for years, will just ignore it.

Do not waste your time and energy with this bullshit. We already pass that phase.

I really think the HFSP attitude is a bad approach to onboarding new people to bitcoin. And like I said, the content available the past 7 years is optimized for hard core bitcoin enthusiasts. There is very little content that is approachable for curious, reasonable people who do not have an inordinate amount of time to research the subject.

No is not. I was teaching and onboarding nocoiners for the last 10+ years. And I onboarded hundreds... HFSP term is used for those who are really square heads and still don't want to understand.

For curious and reasonable people, you just have to say it: "Bitcoin or shitcoins, you choose".

We already pass that time when we try to behave nice with shitcoiners and try to convince them to come on the right path. We are at war and we have to be stronger and keep our path straight and do not let anyone to not even distract for a second with useless debates.

Bro you are not at war. Jfc

We are most definitely at war and the stakes are no less than the freedom and self-determination of humanity itself.

Yes, I am. With shitcoiners and banksters. I will die on this hill.

extreme stance like that is always counter productive. Just look at far-right far-left.. both crazy

Here it's just far-bitcoin or far-shitcoin

I know it's fun to war, but bitcoin-maxis turning into bitcoin-extremists is probably not helpful

How is the process of starting and running your own lightning node going to be simplified/streamlined in the future?

I spend most my time thinking about mobile wallets, so my answer will be biased toward that. Some things that can help include:

  • The LDK project just announced rapid gossip sync. This will enable client-side pathfinding, which preserves user's payment privacy, while being highly performant on a mobile phone.
  • I mentioned in another answer an LSP spec which is in the works. This combined with more LSP services in the marketplace will allow any mobile wallet to have automatic channel management for their users.
  • The LDK project is working on a new FOSS piece of infrastructure that any LN wallet can use to backup LN state in the cloud and allow for multi-device access to a LN wallet (imagine a user wants to access their wallet from their phone and their laptop).

Steve Lee in the house, lead of Spiral! Wow, this AMA will go viral Left hand, right hand, yeah, we're chiral If you don't buy Bitcoin, it doesn't matter:

because I will

How much time loss there is for each new developer added to a team? For example, if 1 developer produces an output of 1, 2 developers produce 1.9? And 30?

Most founders I talk to say 1 dev -> 2 devs yields 1.5x output. I suspect dev output scales logarithmically with the number of devs, ie every dev reduces the output of all the others, until you start adding managers.

Communication just scales really poorly so it makes sense from that perspective. If you have N devs, there are N(N−1)/2 relationships.

What if instead of managers you just hire more developers?

It depends on whether they're working on LNURL or bolt12 ;-)

What types of roles & skills would you say we need more of in the bitcoin & Lightning space?

Certainly need more developers. But I actually think at this point the marginal value of 1 more PM would provide more value, as a great PM can unlock a lot of untapped value in a project that already has multiple developers. When I use PM in this context, I'm referring to what I'd call a "decentralized PM," a person who helps a FOSS project get more organized, coordinate between other related projects, helps recruit more developers to the project, helps find designers to help the project, creates a plan to grow adoption of the project, and speaks to users of the project to learn more about their needs.

This is what I want to do. Have you heard of anyone hiring for this role in this space?

What did you do to break thru mental blocks on projects during your spiral/Google career?

Generally speaking I've always had dozens of mini-projects going on simultaneously, so if one of them gets blocked (for whatever reason), it is easy enough to pick up another important project and make progress on it.

Thanks for taking time for an AMA. I would love to hear your background on PMing in Bitcoin - how do you think about leading an organization in the open source world vs any of your previous experiences at Google or elsewhere?

What are the biggest differences from a PM strategy perspective, and what makes open source initiatives you all fund or lead most successful (vs a traditional closed source software company)?

I think my time at Google helped prepare for open-source PMing. When I PM'd at Google (at least back when I was there), my team had developers all of the world, and developers held most of the power. I learned how to build credibility with the developers as well as build relationships with other functions including legal, marketing, business development, and external partners. At no point did I have authority over anyone or any decision, but I was able to identify stakeholders, listen to their needs, and help develop an overall plan that people bought into.

These same skills are crucial in FOSS projects particularly bitcoin. For any aspiring FOSS PMs out there, my advice is to build relationships with folks and learn what motivates them and what is important to them. It then just becomes a matchmaking problem where when a problem arises, you know who likely needs to be involved to solve it (often cross-project and cross-company), and often the people will organically come together to solve the problem. These ephemeral Team Bitcoin projects are one of the coolest things about working on bitcoin.

Thanks for all your insight!

What do you think "A"-level success for LN looks like in five years, and what do you think are the UX or behavioral barriers that exist to getting there?

There remain major issues with UX, security, privacy, and scaling. I think most UX, security, and privacy issues have known solutions, many of which are actively being worked on. Given some of these changes require modifications to the spec itself, then the LN implementations, and then the wallets, this is a multi-year development roadmap. However, in a 5 year timeframe, I expect LN-enabled bitcoin wallets to offer an excellent UX with good security and privacy. My biggest concern at this point is that it "only" scales a few orders of magnitude over on-chain bitcoin, and if we want to offer the benefits of bitcoin to the entire planet, and possibly machine-to-machine as well, we'll need to innovate our way to that. Or, worst case, LN will just complement other systems that have different tradeoffs, such as Fedimint.

Steve, what's your favorite Sci-Fi novel?

What are the foundational principles you live by and infuse into your work?

With the focus on mobile can you discuss the bandwidth benefits of 5G impacting bitcoin and lightning?! With such high speeds is it possible for each phone to become its own Bitcoin node?

What are the biggest barriers to self-custody and what kind of solutions would you like to see developed or improved in order to address that?

I really like what the team at Block is building. They're prioritizing improving recovery and creating more peace of mind for mainstream users. I don't think the current suite of products are well-suited to normal folks.

Taproot will be a part of the solution to improving self custody. I think there is room for much more experimentation with social recovery. And inheritance too.

There's been tremendous progress the past 10 years for self custody, but I believe we'll see even more progress the next 10 years. The UX and security will become so good that the question will flip from "Why would I self custody?" to "Why would I trust a 3rd party?"

Can you respond to the general distrust that exists towards larger parent orgs and the projects they decide to fund?

I've generally found the bitcoin community to be supportive of Spiral (and Block), which I've been really happy to see. So perhaps it has to do with how large organizations approach funding and engaging the open-source bitcoin development community.

Based on the research you've seen at Spiral and Block, what seems to be the biggest barrier to entry for onboarding a non-technical no-coiner to Bitcoin and Lightning?

What criteria does Spiral use to decide which projects should receive a grant? or how are grant projects prioritized?

Here's our criteria. Happy to answer any more specific questions.

What is the culture like at Spiral? It seems like a really, really unique part of an already unique organization. How are you all able to have the freedom to do what you do, and how sustainable do you think that is?

I've been really impressed by Jack and the Block organization that they've held true to their word, 3 years later, of never telling us what to do. They've trusted us to do the right thing for bitcoin.

I think the value Spiral has already delivered not only benefits all of bitcoin, but has clear benefit to the company itself. I'd strongly encourage other large companies in the space to create similar types of organizations as it seems like a no-brainer. You can invest far less than 1% of a company's R&D budget in such an org in order to meaningfully accelerate bitcoin's adoption, and if bitcoin succeeds, the organization is in a much stronger position than if it were simply standing on the sidelines the entire time.

When you look at the broader LN ecosystem (outside of Spiral/Block), what developments or ideas are you most excited about?

Stacker News of course! :) I really like what Stakwork is trying to do too.

There are also a group of folks working on an LSP spec which, combined with the maturity of the LSP market, should really help mobile wallet developers.

Interesting, can you elaborate on what this LSP spec might unlock for mobile wallet developers?

Here is a link to the specs development: https://balls.dev/

What's the most surprising thing you've learned funding FOSS bitcoin?

That finding and training developers is harder than finding $$$ for support. Both of course matter and more money is needed from new funders, but FOSS bitcoin devs are hard to find. Not only do they need to know how to code, they need to be passionate enough about bitcoin to want to work on open-source bitcoin, and they need to be able to "be their own boss" by defining their own projects, manage their time well, and be able to self-motivate. It is a rare breed, and we're lucky to have those that are doing it.

Is there an open source training documentation or roadmap that one can utilize to ramp up on Bitcoin development?

For example, what training do devs go through when you bring them in Spiral?

I believe devs can train themselves provided proper documentation/videos and if Spiral can find the $$$ to support them then the ecosystem would explode!

There are some high quality training programs out there, although there needs to be more of them and we need more scale. But do check out Chaincode, Jimmy Song's Programming Bitcoin, and Summer of Bitcoin.

Don't you think it a bit tone-deaf when there are countless unfunded devs and projects in the space?

What do you say to them?

Yeah I've been contributing for over a year for free. The grants and pay are so opaque in Bitcoin community that he has not encouraged me to take the leap fully.

I want to work full time in Bitcoin but also gotta pay the bills and feed the family

I'd definitely like to learn more about how we (Spiral and other entities that fund developers) can do a better job of being transparent. What information is missing about the Spiral grant program?

Listing grant amounts could be one option. Few people here seem unclear about that and may prevent them from applying.

So many projects shipping with actual users are held back for lack of support.

The response here is so out of touch it sews further distrust...

What are the major centralization forces on bitcoin, where do they come from, and how do we improve them?

Do you believe anything about the future of bitcoin that most bitconers don't agree with you on?

@Lux referred me to this post, in relation to this article I wrote promoting the onion routing protocol I have started working on https://stacker.news/items/71383

It's basically using lightning and onion routing to protect identities and locations to produce a network like Tor but that actually can grow, as well as potentially disrupting the mobile internet access business and facilitating use of Bitcoin and Lightning with open access points that provide bitcoin chain and LN data for light mobile clients, something that would be essential for ubiquitous use of LN for POS payments for retailers and other in-person payment purposes.

Are you guys hiring? if so what are you looking for? Any specific language/tool proficiency I should study? Planning to apply in the future.

What products are missing in the Bitcoin/Lightning application space?