A company founded in late 2014 around a team of cypherpunk legends and Bitcoin core protocol contributors such as Adam Back, Greg Maxwell or Pieter Wuille which especially in its early years was at the center of many vigorous discussions in the era known as the “Blocksize wars”.
While proponents saw in Blockstream a team of extraordinary gifted Bitcoin wizards freed up to work on Bitcoin-related technologies without the pressure of immediate product-market fit for the long-term benefit of the Bitcoin network, critics accused the company to be introduced as “trojan horse” with the task to “block the stream” (of Bitcoin transactions).
As time has gone by and the days of heated debates have largely subsided a less emotionally charged attitude towards the firm has taken hold. Blockstream has garnered appreciation for its technological contributions to the Bitcoin space, be it the Core Lightning client which serves as one of the main node implementations on Bitcoin’s Lightning network or the Blockstream satellite network which allows for additional resilience and redundancy in case of local internet connectivity disruptions.
One of the more recent additions to the Blockstream product portfolio has been the Blockstream Jade – a foray into the space of enabling Bitcoin self-custody with a new type of hardware wallet.
The team of BitcoinVN News had a chance to catch up with Blockstream Product Manager Rich Grambergs to talk about all things Bitcoin, Blockstream – and of course the Jade, available in Vietnam via our colleagues at BitcoinVN Shop.
BitcoinVN News: The inevitable question: How and when did you discover Bitcoin? At what point were you convinced that you had to get involved professionally with building a career in the Bitcoin ecosystem? And last but not least and of special interest to our readers: How did you go about it to land a job with a Bitcoin company?
Rich Grambergs: I first heard about Bitcoin back in 2013, when a financial news channel that happened to be playing in the background was doing a short segment on it. Like many people, it seemed interesting at first but I didn’t take the time to learn more. Eventually when the price rose in 2017 and got everyone’s attention again, I decided to dive back in and figure out exactly what this Bitcoin thing was. I spent the next few years studying the network and the mechanics that made it work, and was thoroughly convinced of its potential to help change the world for the better.
Fast forward to 2021, I was running operations for our family business when I realized I wanted to spend more of my time contributing to the Bitcoin network in any way that I could. I started applying for every Bitcoin-related job I found, including a Support role at Blockstream. As a side project, I had already been running a website dedicated to simple explanations to important Bitcoin concepts, so this position seemed to fit well even though I was coming from a much different professional background. Soon after I found myself in the Jade Product Manager role and have thoroughly enjoyed being able to work on making self-custody easier and more intuitive.
BitcoinVN News: When the Blockstream Jade wallet entered the market in early 2021, there were already plenty of other hardware wallet choices on the market – why develop another one? What are some of the distinctive features of the Jade which users in the market for a hardware wallet don’t get anywhere else?
Rich Grambergs: There were certainly some interesting options on the market by this time, however our team had some pretty powerful ideas that we had not seen implemented by other devices yet. In particular, we saw a need for a fully open source hardware wallet that not only was affordable and could be built with off-the-shelf parts, but also one that was secure from physical key extraction. Typically these types of open hardware designs lack such protection, so our team decided to solve this problem with open source software instead.
The solution we implemented utilizes a clever encryption scheme that prevents attackers from stealing bitcoin keys off of a Jade by itself, which is unique compared to other options on the market. Along with this protection, Jade is perhaps the most versatile hardware wallet on the market and can be configured for every type of user. Whether you are a beginner who wants to seamlessly pair Jade to your mobile phone via Bluetooth, or if you are a more paranoid veteran who prefers to disable radio drivers and follow our fully air-gapped workflow, Jade is perfect for every step of a user’s Bitcoin journey.
BitcoinVN News: The Blockstream Jade is a dedicated Bitcoin-only wallet. The naive – and possibly understandable – initial assumption many newcomers to the space have is that “more coins supported = better”, an easily quantifiable metric they understand.
ELI5 for our readers what some of the advantages are to focus on Bitcoin-only when building a security-focused device like the Jade.
Rich Grambergs: Supporting multiple coins requires a significant amount of additional resources and can really make it easy to lose focus. As the codebase grows, so do the attack vectors, which is definitely not something you want when working on a piece of hardware with such an important function.
The Blockstream Jade team works very hard specifically at one thing – keeping your Bitcoin safe!
BitcoinVN News: Building hardware devices is by experience building business the hard mode. What were some lessons the team at Blockstream learned along the way?
Which of the early assumptions around building the product proved correct – and which quickly or over time turned out to be wrong?
Rich Grambergs: Actually, our first realization was that people were much more excited about our hardware wallet than we could have anticipated. Jade launched in January 2021 and sold out in just 2 days, so we have had to be much more careful about inventory management since then!
Thankfully our primary assumption that the market was still looking for an affordable, yet feature-rich hardware wallet has certainly proved to be correct. Our user base continues to grow dramatically and we’ve captured all levels of bitcoiners, from first-time self-custodians to veteran cypherpunks.
However I think we underestimated just how much people value alternative security options, like air-gapped communications. We released Jade with a non-functioning camera in hopes of one-day enabling it for QR-based workflows, but it certainly wasn’t a priority. After countless “When camera?” requests from the community, we realized how important optionality and versatility are to our users. Jade’s versatility is now a key-selling point and we continue to build upon numerous features that let users interact with their hardware wallet exactly how they want to.
BitcoinVN News: What is your favourite feature of the Blockstream Jade device?
Rich Grambergs: I love using Jade’s camera for fully air-gapped workflows, which in this context means communicating with your companion app by scanning QR codes instead of connecting Jade via USB or Bluetooth. This includes the ability to temporarily load a wallet to Jade by scanning a SeedQR, which is essentially your bitcoin private keys in QR code format.
This feature can not only provide some security benefits, but there is something much more intuitive about this workflow when trying to explain bitcoin basics to beginners. Allowing people to physically scan a QR code to load keys onto Jade seems to demystify self-custody somewhat and help them realize that Jade is just your signing device (or “transaction approval” device) and that it does not store your bitcoin in the way people typically think. We have a lot of resources on our Help Center and YouTube channel if people are interested in learning more about this.
BitcoinVN News: What’s in the pipeline next for the Jade? And what are some developments at Blockstream you are looking the most forward to?
Rich Grambergs: Our team is excited to continue building new features and offering unique functionality that will bring even more value to Jade, while also working to make self-custody even easier and more intuitive. This means improved onboarding, streamlined workflows with Jade’s dedicated companion app Blockstream Green, and much more. Stay tuned, 2024 is sure to be a big year for Jade!
Looking to get your hand on a Blockstream Jade hardware wallet in Vietnam?
BitcoinVN Shop – your trusted Bitcoin partner in Vietnam since 2014 – delivers directly from our warehouse in Vietnam.
No hassles and delays with customs clearance and import – same day delivery in Ho Chi Minh City via our inhouse delivery team.