Always Be Shipping: Corbin Page of Meridio
What does it take to build a platform for tokenizing real estate assets?
Corbin is co-founder and product lead for Meridio, which is a platform for launching security tokens for real estate assets. Along with the core platform, Meridio recently launched their first leasing product, reLease, which allows hot desks to be rented out in crypto coworking spaces with a single transaction.
What got you into blockchain and Ethereum?
I come from the traditional financial world, having spent my 20s building fintech products for large hedge funds like Millennium. Working at these large trading shops gives you great respect for the thousands of people working on back-office processes around settlement, clearance, data quality, risk monitoring, and compliance. The systematic complexity is compounded by the sheer number of different systems built out over the past 30 years, including those running old, obscure Cobol libraries.
For a technologist, blockchain ends up being a pretty attractive solution to a lot of these problems, providing a shared source of truth for all trades and data updates. I started really getting into Ethereum in early 2016, building smart contracts using Truffle, wrapping my head around these crazy concepts of prediction markets and self-sovereign identity, staying up until 3 am watching YouTube videos of Vitalik, and quickly falling down the rabbit hole.
Any mentors along the way?
Although I was running my own company, NavLabs, at the time, I applied to ConsenSys since they incubated some of my favorite products in the blockchain space (Metamask, Truffle, Infura) and were based right in Brooklyn. Igor Lilic and I grabbed coffee one rainy morning in midtown and hit it off immediately. We nerded out about everything from the Solidity to eWASM pathway, permissioned vs. public network use cases, and how blockchain would ensure that AI does not join the unbanked when it gains sentience. It was the best.
What challenges do your spoke address and hope to solve?
After joining, my first project was to help advise the Dubai government on how blockchain would affect their real estate industry over the coming years. We looked at everything from land titling, capital markets, leasing, community tokens, decentralized Airbnb, and more.
As an asset class, real estate suffers from poor accessibility (it’s hard to invest), poor liquidity (it’s hard to sell), and high transaction costs (it’s expensive to do both), and it soon became apparent that blockchain could help alleviate these obstacles.
After my work in a Dubai wrapped up, I met Mo Shaikh and we founded “Project Pangea”, which eventually rebranded to Meridio. As part of our mission to bring the whole real estate value cycle on-chain, we built one of the first platforms to tokenize real estate assets on the Ethereum mainnet so that users could trade in and out of an asset seamlessly. Back in 2017, our original hypothesis was that commercial real estate would be one of the first real-world asset classes to benefit from tokenization and that continues to hold true today.
Which project(s) inspired you the most in your journey towards shipping?
We have no shortage of big ideas in the crypto space, so I look for products that can work today from teams that regularly ship code and move the ecosystem forward.
If you look at usage numbers, I think 2019 will be a big year for early use cases like gaming, gambling, and collateralized debt products. The ability to borrow money in a trustless, anonymous (no credit check) environment could be massively disruptive.
What was it like to develop your spoke from concept to product?
There’s a lot of complexity as you can imagine. We’re building first of their kind products, creating new business models, and solving for complex user experience challenges on top of an early, rapidly evolving technology! It’s a lot of unknowns to manage and progress to keep up with, but an absolute blast!
You need to be extremely diligent about how you and your team spend their time or else you’ll get lost in the weeds. For instance, our blockchain lead, Chris Smith, built the first prototype of our AssetToken security token smart contracts, during his interview process… And we built our first prototype without any working Ethereum transactions! Just a demo that was enough to tell the story. When a user traded a token, the MetaMask transaction was a complete mock-up!
Being deliberate with our time ultimately paid off when we launched our first token for a property in Brooklyn earlier this year and built out the investor portal and sponsor dashboard for managing the asset. Investors can seamlessly trade in and out of their position, and sponsors can track their cap table in real-time and issue dividends using stablecoins, avoiding any wire transfer or ACH fees.
If you could Bounty any part of the process, what would it/they be?
Oh, there are plenty of things! A frontend testing library that can handle web3 transactions. A DAO-like Home Owners Association smart contract. Improvements to PegaSys’ EthQL library. Tons of developer tools that Haseeb, Jon, Parker, and the rest of our team dream up.
I consider user experience to be one of the biggest problems yet to be solved in the blockchain space. What should you show the user before a transaction needs signing? What should the user see while a block is being mined? Our awesome designers Francisco and Blythe think through these problems every day, so I’d support any bounties that get more UX tests in front of mainstream users and qualify which solutions are working the best.
What was going through your mind in the moments leading up to launch and day-of?
The whole team was anxious. All tests were passing, mainnet wasn’t congested, and we’d run through the deployment steps ad nauseum. But still, finally deploying an entire on-chain architecture for security tokens is a daunting task and expensive. If something is botched, it’s a several hundred dollar mistake at best. Luckily, we have Dave, Asha, and a dynamite team that made sure it all went smoothly!
How did you manage the days/weeks/months that followed the launch of your product?
We’re still in private beta so have a low user count and long waitlist. There’s a saying in the industry that “healthcare and finance software are the two sectors where you don’t want to ‘move fast and break things’”. With that in mind, we’ve had our smart contracts audited by ConsenSys Diligence, continued to build out the web app with an emphasis on security and supported P2P swaps using trusted parties like Airswap. We’re lucky to have fantastic early users and partners like Cayuga Capital that have helped frame the product and iterate each sprint. We continue to #BUIDL and #SHIPL.
What are some of the biggest differences you’ve found between pre-ship and post-ship in terms of operations?
Things just keep speeding up! Security tokens are one of the major themes in crypto headed into 2019, and we’re excited to push along the young industry together with our customers, partners, and regulators. We still have a lot of work to do on custody, compliance, fiat on-ramps, trading venues, and accounting/tax services, but the pieces are starting to fall in to place.
From a compliance perspective, our initial AssetToken smart contract just had a simple whitelist attached to it, but now we maintain a growing library of compliance smart contracts to allow for lock-up periods, investor caps, minimum investments, and more. We’re looking forward to a great year ahead bringing the ‘Internet of Value’ to the real estate industry!
Thanks to Dave Conroy, Parker Place, and Francisco Inchauste for contributing to this post.