Lightyear.io, a new startup in the global payments space, has been launched by blockchain pioneer Jed McCaleb. Lightyear will leverage Stellar, the open financial protocol focused on moving money with the ease of email.
McCaleb, the co-founder and CTO of Stellar.org, is joined in the new project by ex-Palantir executive Brit Yonge. Lightyear will be a for-profit, enterprise facing arm of the Stellar project. The Stellar Foundation will continue to focus on the core technology, governance of the network and distribution of Lumens.
Brit Yonge said: "An analogy would be the Linux Foundation, which focuses on Linux, and they have Red Hat that sells the services. Lightyear will focus on the customers and meeting their needs, starting with a focus on remittance companies."
The Lightyear team is also talking about doing pilots with some "systemically important financial institutions" (SIFIs), doing the rounds in the City of London and Canary Wharf.
Yonge added: "The thing that Stellar brings to the table is supporting multi-asset tokens, because there has to be a bridge solution; people can't just stop what they are doing with fiat currency and just go to a digital token. There has to be some way to bridge the gap and the Stellar network by supporting multi-asset tokens, allows a very graceful transition for folks to use fiat currency and a digital token at the same time."
McCaleb stressed the importance of having the Foundation as a separate entity that maintains the protocol and ensures everything is open and neural as possible. "I think the important thing about the Stellar network is that it is open. It's much more similar to the internet where it's permissionless and anybody can start using it, but you get to decide who you are dealing with," he said.
The creation of an open system that moves money around without recourse to the sort of aggregated computational power that enforces the Bitcoin network is down to Stellar's consensus algorithm, written by Stanford professor David Mazières, the chief scientist at Stellar.
The Stellar Consensus Protocol (SCP) boasts what it calls "flexible trust": groups of nodes called quorums are sufficient to reach agreement in a distributed way. Each node decides which others to trust. Different nodes don't need to rely on the same combination of trusted participants to reach consensus.
McCaleb said: "Each participant on the network chooses the other participants on the network that it wants to listen to; so it's sort of like a friend graph in Facebook. What SCP shows is that as long as there is sufficient overlap between these sets of people – or what we call a transitive quorum – then everybody will reach the same value."
McCaleb, who was a co-founder of Ripple, said the rigor needed to solve consensus problems is often glossed over. It requires solid mathematical first principles, followed by an approach to engineering problems that are vetted by computer scientists and academics.
"If you don't have that it's not going to work. There are so many different corner cases and timing problems, you can't get it right without thinking it all the way through mathematically," he said.
So can Stellar be thought of as an open-to-all version of Ripple?
"When you describe the system, what it does, it's very similar to Ripple," said McCaleb. "But technically it's completely different code and it's based on SCP; they don't have a corresponding consensus algorithm for Ripple.
"We learned a lot from the Ripple code base, so in some ways, it is the next iteration of that. It's important that this open source project is governed by a not-for-profit and it will continue that way, which is important if you want to the world's financial infrastructure to function like a public utility, similar to the internet.
"Imagine if the internet were owned by a for-profit company, we would be living in a very different world."