Every wave of innovation requires the same elements: a new foundational technology, and a platform of tools that enable developers to build the apps that take that technology forward.
In 2017, startup co-founders and longtime friends Nikil Viswanathan and Joe Lau saw how the rise of Ethereum had significantly advanced the field of web3, yet it was still far too difficult for developers to create projects that further evolved the blockchain technology. Following an early, challenging attempt at a crypto analytics platform, they realized what people really needed was infrastructure to easily create web3 apps.
“We had this moment where we realized it was so difficult for us – as people with master’s degrees in artificial intelligence and computer science – there was no way web3 could be accessible to people all who are just getting started to code,” says Viswanathan. “We wanted to figure out how to make it accessible to the entire world.”
That realization became Alchemy, the backend developer platform that is now powering most of the top web3 applications around the world. Officially launched in 2020, Alchemy achieved $10 billion valuation in less than a year and a half, and is the technology behind every major NFT platform such as Makersplace and OpenSea. Today, it is widely known as the “AWS of web3”
I sat down with Viswanathan on the Greymatter podcast to discuss Alchemy’s rapid growth, its famously tight-knit company culture, and his outlook on the future of web3. This episode is part of Greymatter’s new crypto-focused podcast series Mint Condition.
You can listen to the episode below, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Hi everyone. Welcome to Greymatter, the podcast from Greylock where we share stories from company builders and business leaders. I’m Christine Kim, an investor at Greylock.
Today, we’re excited to kick off Mint Condition – our new Greymatter podcast series devoted to all things crypto and Web3. Joining me on this first episode is Alchemy CEO and co-founder Nikil Viswanathan.
Alchemy, which is known as the AWS of web3, was the fastest-growing company in history last year, going from public launch to being worth $10B in 16 months. Alchemy is the developer platform powering $100 billion dollars in transactions for the top web3 applications around the globe. If you’re looking at NFT online, it’s probably coming from Alchemy underneath the hood. While other companies this size are many thousands of people, Alchemy has the smallest team to impact ratio ever with only 39 people at the $10 billion dollar round and is known for its extremely tight-knit culture.
There’s lots to get into here, so let’s dive in. Nikil, thanks so much for joining us today.
Thanks for having me, super excited.
Yeah. So maybe in getting into the specifics of what Alchemy does as a product, who the customers are and just to kind of refresh/kind of get everyone up to speed on that. And we’d love to get into some details about how you guys are thinking about this current market and what the kind of progress has been to date from 2017 till now.
Yeah, totally. Let’s see. Summer 2017 rolls around, we start building crypto stuff. We’re just hacking on things. One to two months in we actually, the first product we built was this hedge fund, data science machine learning platform. Because again, our background was actually in hardcore data infrastructure, machine learning, computer vision, these kind of things. We built this kind of complex machine learning model that helped people identify things that were going on the blockchain and trade on that information.
We realized about a month or two in that it was just this kind of moment. We’re like, “Wow, this is so difficult for us to do.” And we have a master’s degree in artificial intelligence from Stanford, computer science. And if we’re struggling with this, how are we going to make Web3 accessible to people in Africa or India who are just getting started to code, and they’re in elementary school and they want to play?” It’s like, “How do we make it accessible to the entire world? It can’t be this difficult to use.”
We drew this diagram, if you check on the Alchemy website, there’s this nine-grid diagram. And fundamentally the core idea is this: in each [sector] of the computer, internet, and blockchain, the industry’s actually formed in a similar way where you have some platform that lets people build apps. Because at the end of the day, technology is only here as a utility for people’s daily lives. There’s no value in technology, inherently, besides what it could do for humans.
When you look at the computer, there were two companies that really provided the platform layer for computing, which was Apple and Microsoft. They built this thing called the operating system. So we know it as Windows or Mac. What it does is it lets developers build applications on the hardware. So it abstracts away the complexities of hardware, of RAM, of CPU processors and makes it really easy for people to build applications.
And then the really interesting thing here is what spins a cycle of innovation in the industry. Because now developers come and build apps like Microsoft Word or Excel or Chrome or whatever it is. And then normal people like me and you come here and use those things, use those products. And then that adds value to our life. Then we get more excited about it, we tell more and more friends. Then developers see a larger market, then they build more apps, so more users come in and so on and so forth. We call this kind of the circle of life internally at Alchemy.
With the internet, you actually see a very similar thing. There’s actually this business called Amazon that powers the entire internet. Whenever you go to open Uber or Airbnb or DoorDash or whatever it is, the apps are actually all run by Amazon. Amazon runs all the infrastructure for those apps. AWS on its own is a truly known business.
And it was actually really funny because I remember Jeff Bezos – when I was a freshman at Stanford – Jeff Bezos came and gave his talk. I was so excited to hear about Jeff. Amazon wasn’t what it is today then, but it was still like a really legit company. And it was really cool and I used the product. So he comes out saying Amazon Prime is super smart, and then he gets to this talk – it still sticks with me, because basically it was a sales pitch for AWS. They were launching AWS. They had just made the shift from like Amazon selling books to Amazon selling everything. And now they’re like making this shift. He said, “People will look in the future and say, wow, Amazon sold stuff? They weren’t a compute service?”
And to me, one, I was really annoyed, because I was like, “Man, you can be telling your story and about how you built Amazon, and instead, you’re coming here talking about AWS for sales pitch.”
Number two, I was like, “That’s crazy, Amazon sells stuff today. And you really think that’ll be a small business compared to compute?”
And looking back, it was kind of cool. I got to witness a moment in history that in retrospect was masterfully played out over the last 15 years.
Going back to that diagram, when you think about Microsoft and Apple doing that for computing, and AWS and Google cloud and these kinds of things doing it for the internet and powering all the applications, what we saw is there will be a development platform for Web3. And we said, “We need to build that. We need to make it really easy.”
And the reason it’s really important is two things. Number one, that’s what drives and enables innovation in the whole industry and can bring Web3 to the world. Just like computing. Computers would not be what they are today without Microsoft and Apple. And then the second thing that was really interesting to us, this was kind of the key thing where we get a gut intuition that this could be really big. But when you look at Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, those three companies, that developer platform…there are thousands of companies in technology, probably millions of companies in technology.
I think there’s a quarter billion company, 250 million companies in the world, finance, real estate, entertainment, all these things. What are the three most valuable companies on the planet, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, right? And that shows you how powerful that developer platform is, because the most impactful businesses on the planet are the ones that enable new technologies for people around the globe.
So we said, look, if this works, this is going to be really massive, but we’re just not sure if crypto’s going to be a thing. Fast-forwarding the story, we waited a year to build and release a product. Actually we built this other product because we’re just like, “The market’s too early.” We built this hedge fund data science machine learning platform. A year in, we’re like, “Okay, I think the need is here.” So we started building it, and we just went heads down for years, building the product. August, 2020, we launched publicly. Anybody could sign up and use it.
"The most impactful businesses on the planet are the ones that enable new technologies for people around the globe."
Keep in mind, and so I had this conversation with my dad in December. December 2020, my dad calls me, he’s like, “Look, you’ve been doing startups for 10 years, sorry, eight years. You’re 10 years out of undergrad, eight out of grad school, basically have nothing to show.”
It was like a tough time. We had made no money. We’ve been taking like no salary, very, very low salary. And my dad was like, “Look, you should just get multiple companies that come to acquire us.” We’re like, our company, it was doing okay is a generous way to say how the company was doing. And I was like, “Look, just why don’t you just get acquired? And have you thought about it?” He’s always been super supportive, but he was like, “Hey, have you thought about getting acquired? You can focus on your health. You can focus on getting married because you’re still single. And like all these things.”
And Joe and I had this heart to heart. And we had just launched publicly, we’d pivoted 15, probably 15, probably 13 times. And we were like, “Look, if crypto hits, this is going to be a big thing.” And we think everyone still was like, “This is not a good business.”
And because at that time, exchanges were making a ton of money, that everyone Coinbase was just like dominating, finance was dominating. No other businesses were making money. In crypto, everyone’s like wanting to build an exchange. Wanting to build a hedge fund. That’s what everyone said. But we said, we think it’s really important. We said, “Look, it could be five to 10 years for crypto to take off. I think it’ll be two to three. And then I think this will be really important.”
And we looked at each other, we’re like, “What would we do if we sold and had not a lot of money, but just a living and Joe and I are still living in our apartment I think at this time. We lived together and worked together. And basically we were just like, “We would just do what we’re doing now. This is so fun. We love it. By any means of success, we are at the bottom 10% of success of all of our friends, but we’re having a good time. That’s what matters.”
It didn’t take two years. It took 30 days for crypto to take off. January started, I don’t think we said this probably, but companies were $70 million in January. The user base blew up. Our revenue blew up. In February, the company did around $500 million. September we did around three and a half billion, 55 days later, we did around $10 billion. We’ve actually tripled our user base since then.
And the crazy part about this, we were 39 people. We didn’t have a sales team, we didn’t have marketing, we didn’t have a recruiting team. It was just kind of basically engineers building the product and we were having a good time. It was just a crazy time.
That’s a little bit of the headline: “16 months from public launch to a $10 billion company.” The backstory is it took eight years and actually a lot more before that also just kind of tinkering on stuff.
Yeah. I remember, I think the first time I met you was at ETH Denver and you guys were the whole Alchemy team. I realized, I thought I was just meeting a sliver of the Alchemy team, but then I realized how small you were.
I actually want to kind of rewind the clock and talk about your background. I would love to know a little bit about your history, how you met Joe and how you guys initially got started as entrepreneurs.
Yeah. This is a probably 12 hour story that I’ll try to condense into maybe a minute or so. It was super interesting. It’s one of those stories where you look back and you can connect the dots, but looking forward, it was not obvious at all.
I was one of those weird kids that everyone wanted to be a firefighter or astronaut – or now it’s a YouTuber, a TikToker. And I had seen Bill Gates build Microsoft, which, no one in Silicon Valley loves Microsoft. Everyone loves Apple. But to me, I was like, “Wow, this guy helped bring computers to the whole world.” And think about that impact that it had globally for billions of people.
And I think I had this realization that we lived and we were entering this day and age, where previously, when you built physical products, you could only reach thousands or millions of people by making a chair or a table or whatever. And now we live in a day and age where you have computers, you have software, you have the internet and you can impact life for people around the world, billions of people globally. And when I was looking at it, I was like, “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to build software for every person on the planet to make their life better.”
I ended up starting a couple companies and building a few products in college, and learned a lot of lessons. None of them ended up working out super well. During some of my other summers I never thought I’d work in these big companies, but ended up working at Facebook, Google, Microsoft.
Joe and I met because we were teaching assistants at Stanford together. I grew up in Texas. He grew up in Washington. We both came to Stanford and I was a year above Joe at Stanford.We both studied computer science and just had the time of our lives in college. It was an amazing, amazing experience.
And it was just kind of this really cool reconnection. Joe and I were teaching assistants for the database class at Stanford. The reason it’s interesting is databases were kind of like the precursor to blockchain. We also studied distributed systems, which were also one of the core technologies on blockchain.
We worked together for three years, built out a speaker series. One of the people we brought was [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer. And while I was at Google, I had meetings with Larry and I’d hang out Sergey, and at Facebook there’s one desk next to Mark, and that totally randomly happened to be my desk. I’m just some random intern at the time. But the reason I point this out is not to try to impress you, but to impress upon you – I had this really unique access to the people who were shaping the world, as we know today in a large part. What I kind of realized, which is that it just reinforces belief in me that, fundamentally, this technology is just a great amplifier of human capabilities. And what I realized is these people are ultra driven, worked super hard, very visionary, so much respect for them, but at the end of the day, they’re human beings. And if they can do it, we can do it too. That was kind of a really important moment.
Normally the class is 100 students or so. It’s a lot of fun to TA and get to teach lectures and these things. That quarter, they said, let’s try this thing called online learning. We had a hundred thousand students in the class and it was this crazy quarter for TA. And right after that, it spun out and became Coursera. So, Joe and I were kind of thrown into startup life day one since meeting each other. Our entire journey as friends together has been building a bunch of different companies, most of them didn’t work out. And then finally we got one that ended up doing kind of well.
Yeah, you guys had actually gone on a couple endeavors to start a few companies. I know one, Down To Lunch. But some people may know others. Tell us about these different concepts that you were trying out.
Totally. I think one thing about me and Joe is we’re super idealistic (probably to a fault). We graduated college and we both had this similar experience where I had started trying to build this live coaching software, had tried working on this company that didn’t really work out, broke up with co-founder, broke up with my long-term girlfriend, wound down the company. It was a really rough time. I went from super happy to really, really sad.
And I was six months out of college. I literally was six months out of college. One block away from campus and happiness had gone from max happiness, 100% to like 10%. And I had this kind of realization where I was like, “Wow, why am I so sad?”
The number one thing that determines your life on a daily basis is the people you’re around. I think a lot of people go through this in college and then you go out in the real world and you don’t have that anymore. And most people get that in their work environment, but I was kind of isolated because I had kind of started this thing on my own and I had this “Aha” moment. And I think Joe went through a similar experience on his own, but basically we both kind of had this realization where we have this kind of framework for life. The way we think about it is, you don’t get multiple shots in life. You get one chance (religion and reincarnation aside).
And the really crazy part about this is, like we were mentioning before, we live in a day and age where you can press buttons on this magic metal box and build something, every person on the planet used. And that was never possible before. 20 years ago, what shaped our world? Government, religion, politics, countries. What is it today? Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Bitcoin, Ethereum. Those are the forces that shaped our world.
We were just super excited. We were nerds. It’s what we loved. And from a young age, we’re like, “All right, we want to build software.” That was kind of obvious that we kind of knew that. Joe and I reunited around this idea of basically creating this dorm community post college. And we had both created houses of people to live in. And we said, “Look, if we can make it feel like we’re your friends, we can do this for every personal planet.That would be the biggest impact we can have in our lives.”
So that was the mission. And everyone said, number one, that would be the best thing ever. But two, it’s clearly not possible, because you’re not physically present. And what we said was, “Look, technology reduces the time and space between people and we can use that to create experiences like this.”
Joe tells this funny story, he was leading team Pinterest and he left Pinterest and joined and we started working together and basically in his head, he was like, “Yeah, in six months we’ll be like Facebook. And we’ll be a billion dollar company.”
And four years later we have nothing to show, nothing’s working. We’re living and working out of our apartment. It was funny because the house I lived in before was this kind of hacker house. We lived with a bunch of our friends from college. It’s funny now that one of the guys is a Stanford professor and some of the guys work with us. But right before we were there, six months before we there, Stripe was started out of the house. John and Patrick had been working there for a couple years and left. And then probably maybe 15 years before that Jerry Yang started Yahoo out of the house. It was like this random house in Palo Alto, which was a really cool experience.
So after 4 years of building, or probably two or three years of building consumer products, nothing worked. Man. It was really tough. It was actually really, really, really hard.
The single most important decision you make for your company full stop, period, no question is who you work with, who your co-founder is.I feel, literally the single best decision I’ve made in my entire life for Alchemy has been working with Joe. He’s definitely the smart one.
But so the interesting thing around the social apps was finally, we built like 10, 12 products at a time and we built this and we’re like, nothing’s working. We actually tried pivoting where at one point, we’re like, “Man, we just want to make something.” This is probably what other people externally would call at the low point. But we never felt like it was a low point. We had no money. We were paying ourselves minimum wage and living out of our apartment and working out of there. There are times we didn’t leave our apartment for seven days in a row, which now doesn’t sound crazy because of COVID.
But back in the day, people were like, “You’re insane.” One of our low points was, we tried to pivot into a body building food delivery service, because none of the social shop ideas were working. We ordered a box of Blue Apron – for those who know what Blue Apron is, it’s this food delivery kit and you assemble it. And we opened it and we’re like, “What are we doing? We don’t know anything about operations and we don’t even know how to cook.” So we just took the box, put it in the fridge, and never touched it again.
And then the next app we built was Down To Lunch. Basically it was this idea, we had moved to San Francisco to be with our friends. And basically what happened was, we never could hang out with our friends because whenever we were free, we texted two or three of them and we’re like, “Hey, do you want to hang out?” Everyone’s like, “I’m busy, I’m busy, I’m busy.” And of course we never hang out.
So one day, we’re like, “What if you could just press a button and would automatically message all your friends and see who’s free? And we’re like, “No one is going to use this. It’s literally our two friends, my team and Ravi who worked down the street and literally, no one’s going to use this.”
We posted it on my Facebook. We couldn’t even download it on the App Stores. It was like an enterprise build on my Facebook account, so you had to see that to download it. The app blew up and this is a much longer story, but the short version of it is it ended up being the number one app in the App Store in social media, millions of people around the world [used it]. New York Times put the worst photo of me and Joe in history on the front page. I will never forgive them about that. And yeah, it was just a really, really cool experience that we worked on for many years before we switched to crypto.
I love that. There are so many great nuggets there and some things that I’ve advised our own founders to consider as well. And one thing that I really love that you hit on is just how important it is, the people that you work with and the founder match. One thing I like to test when I meet with founders is, would you still work with your co-founders if your idea fails? Or is it more about the idea and the market – so much of an opportunity when you’re setting out to build a company is conviction and an idea and a market and the customers and the problem.
One of the things that I also look for in teams is high velocity. And so that can be high velocity and experimentation, which I think is really important for a consumer to see what sticks and what works. Even that pace of iteration and execution, I think ultimately is something that helps companies win in the end.
It’s funny you say that, because I would actually say that’s probably two of the most important things, period who you work with. One question I like to ask people is what would you do if you had infinite time and money? And everyone has different answers, but my answer would be exactly what I’m doing now. Basically do it for free for eight years. And I feel super grateful for our team, for Joe and just like truly blessed to get to work with these people.
I think the second thing I 100% agree with is the velocity of iteration. Actually one of our secret sauces is whatever I’ll say on this podcast is, we always focus on cutting down the cycle, the iteration time, cycle time of iteration.
Concretely, let me give you an example. Back in the day, when you submitted an app update for your app to the App Store, you took one to two weeks to get the app approved. Apple had to go approve the app and then you can ship the new build, versus something like a website where you just ship it and it refreshes instantly.
But the interesting thing here is, okay, let’s say you’re Facebook, you build a version, you spend a week or two coding a new version, you ship it to the App Store. That’s another two weeks to get approved. Now you’re already looking at a month. Then maybe you do really fast. You get feedback in a week, you build another version in another week and then you ship another version. You’re talking like one to two months to get a new version of your product in your user’s hands.
And we basically said, “Look, we can’t wait one to two months. We need to know if our idea works or not, right now. What Joe and I used to do, and we iterated this over time, but this is kind of the final version we got to, we got more and more extreme. We would dress up as Berkeley students, we would go to Berkeley campus. It got to the point where we actually started getting recognized. People were like, “Wait, you guys are back?”
And we would just go up to random people and we’d be like – we didn’t tell people we made the app because if we did, they wouldn’t give us real feedback – we would go to people and we’re like, “Oh, we’re just working for this company, it kind of sucks. Here’s this app, what do you think?” And we would just watch them use it and we would just run around campus and do this. And we’d watch people use it. And once we see like, oh their feedback, they didn’t understand this button or whatever. Then we would sit on the steps, walk away, sit on the steps, thank them, walk away, send the steps, plug in our phone to our computer, re-code the app right there, hit refresh, and then show it to the next person. We cut a two month iteration cycle time to two minutes. And it was just insane. That was kind of one of our secret sources of why we out compete with everyone.
Joe has a great quote: “The big don’t eat the small, the fast eat the slow.” And I think that’s super true, and speed for us is always our number one focus.
Yeah. And I love that we’re spending time on this history and you guys, your entrepreneurial background because there’s so many foundational lessons.
Explain your journey to getting interested in blockchain, what were some opportunities and the pain points that you observed and ultimately what made you build.
Totally. Here’s a little bit of stories. We were doing Down To Lunch. It was going really well. It was honestly surreal to after years of building stuff and nothing’s working, you wake up one day and it’s like, you look at the app store rankings, it’s like number one Down To Lunch. Number two, Facebook, number three Snapchat, number four Instagram and five was nuts.
Then summer 2017 happened. We had a college product. We were working on version two and three of Down To Lunch, I think it was version three at the time. And our users were college students, so everyone was out for summer.
Around that time we had seen Bitcoin and crypto for a long time. The guys downstairs in our apartment were Michael Dunworth and Yahni. They were building this company called Wire. It was like a payments company in crypto. And we’d hang out together and party together and play beer pong together. And they’d always be like, “Bitcoin, Bitcoin, Bitcoin.” And Joe and I definitely believed in it. We were like, “Oh, this is definitely the future. But we were very, very, very focused on what we wanted to do.
So to set the stage in 2017, this new thing called Ethereum started taking off. There was a shift when Ethereum came and it was this new building block. Let me explain what I mean by that: there were three big shifts in technology in the last 100 years. The first one was a computer. The second one was the internet and third was blockchain, or Web3.
So basically what we saw was this was a new, fundamental building block. And also one more caveat on that, there are a lot of things which seem fundamental. [For example], AI is getting a lot of excitement. Really, it’s a transformational technology, but it’s not a new building block. What an AI is, it’s just a combination of computer and internet. Machines following instructions and machines talking to each other. And almost any other kind of technology you look at is really a combination of these things. And we saw blockchain as the first, really big, fundamental new building block.
And the key insight for us was that when you have these shifts, this was a shift of our lifetime. We weren’t born when computers happened, we kind of missed the internet because we were a little bit too young in the early 2000’s/late ’90s. We were still in elementary school. When these shifts happen, number one, this is a shift of our lifetime.
Number two, when you look at people who have built these transformational companies, they were there because they were early in that shift. And a lot of our investors had done this: John Hennessy, who was chairman of the Board of Google. We’d been pretty close to him and saw him kind of ushering all these companies, Jerry Yang, from Yahoo. Reid who’s a Greylock from LinkedIn. All of these great companies.
If you’re in the right place at the right time, you have a chance to build an Apple or Microsoft, or like an Amazon or Google for the internet. That was what we realized. It was a really tough decision because we had dedicated our lives to this, we’re super focused. We had turned down all these other opportunities, and we had summer off because it was a college app.
So we said, “Let us try doing crypto stuff for the summer. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll go back to building our social stuff.” Which is going pretty well, honestly. “But if it does work out, we’ll just kind of see.” And it just kind of took off from the beginning.
"When you look at people who have built these transformational companies, they were there because they were early in that shift."
I’ve actually told all my friends, “Quit whatever you’re doing and go into Web3,” because here’s the thing, if we are right – and we didn’t know, I’m going to be super clear, we did not know crypto will for sure be successful – but we said, looking at all the patterns, the excitement, the new technology, and our smartest friends going to the BC interest, the transformational power, this new technology…We said, “If this is a new technology, we could build something massive. If we’re wrong, then at least it’ll be as interesting to work on as anything else. But if it’s right and we don’t do it, we will never forgive ourselves because this is the biggest opportunity of our lifetime.”
So I think, (really looking at Jeff Bezos regret minimization framework) that was kind of what made the decision for us.
Yeah, absolutely. I am definitely in that red pilled camp or just thinking about how blockchain technology is going to be generational in category defining for years to come. And I think there are a few step function changes where you sense this technology is really unique, one of a kind and totally new. I think blockchain is one of those, mobile is another, personal computing is another, some waves we have lived through, some waves like you mentioned are some things that we’ve heard the stories about from Silicon Valley. And I also think a more nuanced take is that sometimes these technologies actually converged to be multiplicative.
And you guys are naming Apple and Microsoft and Amazon, and now you’re on your way to be this critical layer for that developer platform. What is it like when, from a culture perspective, from a hiring, from an operational perspective, to get a 10 billion valuation like that, so quickly?
Totally. Well, you can probably see the day to day on my face with the lack of sleep lines under my eyes. But I think kind of reentering what is important to us as a team, as a business is always kind of core. And we have two core philosophies around how we think about our business.
I love building things. And I love people using that and having their lives get better. If we had optimized for money, there are much better ways we could have done it, earlier and faster. And there’s no value judgment on whether it’s right or wrong, but we view press and fundraising and all these things as tools to achieve what we want, which is helping bring Web3 to the world. The two things that we care about a ton, like a ton. What Joe and I think about 24/7, is what our team thinks about, the first one is, how do we make a magical customer experience?
And it’s funny because the CEO of Dapper – they made NBA Top Shot, CryptoKitties, all these things – called me. This was maybe four years ago. He’s like, “Look, what do you do?” And he was like, “I don’t even know what you do. But our head of engineering said this is the best customer experience he’s had in his life.” And that to me was like the ultimate praise.
The second thing I think, which is equally as important and this really shaped how we run the company. We want our team to have the best experience of their life working here. It should feel like a family. It should feel like you’re almost a college dorm. One of the secret sauces we had was our first 27 people, 22 are founders, multiple of them had run multi hundred person companies, started to run multi hundred person companies. If you actually stack rank the size of organizations people have run, Joe and I are like squarely middle.
There’s way more people on our team that have run way bigger organizations that everyone took a title cut, a pay cut. We don’t do titles. It’s completely flat to come to an Alchemy. And I just feel truly grateful for that. And I’m definitely the dumbest person in the company, no question. And I’m not even just saying that to be nice, but I think that’s an incredible thing, because we get to hire the best people in the world and I think we could have grown way faster as a business.
I know last year, one of our investors fast to Alchemy history and I was like, “Well, I actually think we could’ve grown faster.” We spend basically $0 in marketing right now. And we don’t have a marketing team. We’re just, we’re building out our go to market motion right now, but it’s not like a big machine that we invest in, but we could’ve grown way faster, but I think the thing I’m super grateful for is, I get to go to… It doesn’t even feel like work.
No one says work. I go into the office and it’s an absolute blast. I love the people I’m around. It’s so much fun and everyone is so self driven and autonomous that it’s just an amazing experience. No one at Alchemy would call me their boss. We just work together, and I think that’s the way we always wanted to be.
Amazing. Yeah. And I think one other point that you were talking through is just the timing of things. So, building through this period and through the previous bear market of 2017, 2018, 2019, ’20, and there’s some ups and downs in that period, but December, 2020, you’re right around the corner from essentially 2021, which I really categorize as this proliferation of real consumer use cases on blockchain, across NFTs and gaming and social. And I’ve spent some time on this podcast having conversations with builders in those arenas. And so just it’s an incredible testament of sticking true to what you believe in through the hard times and then having that payoff in these crazy growth spirit spurts.
Obviously, I think about the market conditions that we’re in now and the kind of climate that we’re heading into, and how this is instilling that feeling of enduring and building through the tough times, certainly for me and other entrepreneurs that might be listening to this.
Any last things you want to say about building through that phase and maybe even the phase that we’re in now, the climate that we’re in now, and the things that you’re excited about for Alchemy’s future?
Totally. I was just having a chat with Patrick Collison from Stripe a few weeks ago and it is really interesting because Stripe is a company that we look up to a lot and it is just absolutely crushing it. And I was chatting with Patrick, and basically it was like, “Hey, a humble hat aside, what made Stripe successful?” And it was a really, really interesting answer.
He basically was like, “Look, I think we executed pretty well. There’s a lot of things we didn’t do well, we could have done better properly, but the most important thing is we just picked a really good idea.” And I was like, “Wow, that actually resonates a lot.” Because I think we executed well, and I think it was the biggest thing that determines kind of the long term success of business is like, number one is the industry. Number two is the product. Number three is the timing. And I think we really just nailed it.
And when I say “nailed it”, we went through a very long, intense process where it looked hopeless for many, many years. And I think when you look at a lot of what I consider the really iconic companies like Microsoft, when Bill Gates dropped out of college, he was like, “Oh, Shit. We missed this computer revolution.” And basically what turned out was they were actually early. And that’s how we felt in 2017. We’re like, “Man, we missed it, everyone already redoing it. Crypto’s already here and Audrey happened. We’re like so late. All of our friends are winning it in like 2012 or 2011 or 2013. And we missed it.”
And I think that just the timing is so important and it’s hard. You have to take a bet. The big bets often look the craziest because they could be crazy wrong. We had taken bets before and they didn’t work out and this one happened to work out.
Then, the fourth thing is the team. I really do believe, this is another pitch to everyone of, “If you’re not in Web3, you should do Web3.” It’s kind of like, the internet is happening and it’s 1999 or 2001. I still think we’re like 1995 of crypto, but we’re like 2001, 2002, and you can even work at Google or Amazon. You can either work at Barnes & Noble or you can work at Amazon. And Barnes & Noble was the stable company. Remember in 2001, Amazon had lost 95% of their stock value. Everyone’s like, “Amazon’s dead,” all this stuff. But whether government or policy people or regular, whether they like it or not, technology is moving forward.
And I think you look at crypto and you’re like, “Do you see a world where we’re going back to gold bars and paper? Or are we going to a digital currency that anybody around the world can interact and transact with? It’s just kind of obvious that we’re going. No, we’re not sure about the timeline rush or the exact implementation. We’re not sure about the exact process, but technology’s moving forward. And if you pick the side of the technology that will change the world, it’s a really exciting time. And it’s a lot of fun.
"The timing is so important and it's hard. You have to take a bet. The big bets often look the craziest because they could be crazy wrong. We had taken bets before and they didn't work out. This one happened to work out."
I would say the biggest lessons that I’ve learned over the years, I’d say three big things. Number one, full stop period, the most important thing you do is pick your team. Picking the right team, I know just the idea in the industry is really important, but if you have the right team, you’ll be able to figure all that out.
The second thing is to have a higher level goal of what you’re trying to do. And whether it’s like, “I want to have this impact or I want to build this product or I want to be in this space,” but be flexible in the approach. A lot of times, I see a lot of entrepreneurs get wedded to their product and say, “Hey, this is my goal.”
And I told our team two weeks ago, our goal is to help bring Web3 to the world. We want to enable people to build. If there’s a better way to do that, we will scrap our entire business and start from scratch if there’s a better way. I don’t think that’s a realistic thing that can happen, but if it does, we’re fine doing that. Because for us, we are not trying to bring Alchemy, the developer platform to the world. We’re trying to bring Web3 to the world. And whatever’s the best approach there, just be flexible. If you look at the greatest companies, they’ve done this over and over and over again.
Probably the other biggest lesson (and this is early stage startup stuff that we learned) is to optimize for now. There’s so many things that in the future; you’re planning for this and you’re planning for that and whatever. In a startup you don’t know. In the early days it was just like, we didn’t even know what was going to happen three hours later. So planning stuff doesn’t matter. Just focus on making sure you’re building something that people love.And if you nailed that everything else will take care of itself.
We messed up so many things, but we really focused on building something that people loved. That was all we thought about. We weren’t thinking about what we would do with our finances in two years, or how we’d build out X, Y, Z sales team. We’re like, “Do people love what we want or do people love what we have? And if not, how do we have a great experience for them?” And just moving really, really, really fast on that.
Some truly incredible advice. I feel you guys are building a generational company in a generational category, and I can’t wait to have you back on when we’re talking about Alchemy at a hundred billion or other growth. It’ll be amazing to look back on this podcast and see where you guys take it from here.
But with that, I think it’s a good place to wrap. And thank you Nikil so much for joining us today.
Thanks for having me. It was a blast.