Q&A with James Bayly, Head of Business Development @ SubQuery
The blockchain industry can be a polarising space, depending on where you sit regarding its place in the future technology ecosystem.
We caught up with James Bayly, Head of Business Development at SubQuery, a high-growth New Zealand blockchain startup that is focusing on the infrastructure layer of blockchain as a technology.
The conversation delved into what a blockchain is, some of the common misconceptions around the space, as well the growing demand for non-technical talent as the market begins to mature.
About the Speaker
James Bayly is the Head of Business Development at SubQuery, a New Zealand based blockchain infrastructure company.
Getting to know James
Favourite book you have read recently?
Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari.
Favourite hobby outside of work?
Paragliding in the summer, skiing in the winter.
One daily habit that keeps you productive?
I have a notebook that never leaves my side, every task I do and every thought I want to keep gets written down right away.
Favourite piece of tech you use regularly?
Noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones, an oasis of silence and thought in a busy workplace.
One thing you would like to learn next?
My next challenge this year is to learn to fly planes.
Transcription of the Q&A with James
“...you can visualise a blockchain as a book, and every 10 seconds, a new page is added to the book.”
Welcome, everyone. Today, we are having a chat with James Bayly, Head of Business Development at SubQuery, talking about what SubQuery actually does as a business, a little bit about some of the common misconceptions around the blockchain industry and why now is an exciting time to be a part of the journey of SubQuery.
James, great to have you onboard and looking forward to chatting.
Yeah, thanks for having me, Greg.
First up, for people that would have no idea as to what SubQuery actually does, at a top line, what is SubQuery and what is the problem that you're looking to solve?
SubQuery is a blockchain company. Blockchain, when you think about it, it's a whole new way of storing information, sharing information, communicating information, and organising things.
We are not quite sure about all the use cases of blockchain, which we can delve into later, but it's essentially a new way of doing things on the internet.
The way that blockchain is structured requires us to rethink a lot of core fundamental pieces that we take for granted in our current world, in the tech world, in regards to the internet, and in regards to how we store information.
Primarily, a blockchain is a chain of blocks. It's in the name. What that means is you can visualise a blockchain as a book, and every 10 seconds, a new page is added to the book.
Every 10 seconds, that page has everything that's happened in the past, which could be, for example, all transactions that were made, every bit of money I sent, every Bitcoin I sent to you, Greg. The problem with this though is that like a book, a book is a really terrible way to store information when you want to search it.
So if you are looking at a novel, for example, and you're going to find every single page that a character appears on, you have to go through every page and look at it and scan that page and look for that name, look for that character's name.
When you're building applications that need to access data, the data is stored in that blockchain and that book of pages.
When you're building applications that need to access that data quickly and efficiently, need to access that data to be able to do some really cool stuff to make a really nice user interface, a really easy user interface, blockchains are a terrible format for that and what you need is a tool like SubQuery.
SubQuery is what we call a data indexer. It's essentially a process or a system that will constantly run in the background. Every time that page is added to that book or that block is added to the chain, it will scan that new block or that new page and take off the information that you want.
Now, everything goes on the blockchain, right? There's a lot of stuff that you don't care about for your application. All I want is the information that I need for my application. And so, another advantage of SubQuery is you take all this unstructured information that's on the blockchain, this massive gigabyte of data, and you take exactly what you need of it.
You can convert it into the format that you need for your application. SubQuery manages that entire process running permanently in the background. The outcome that you get is that you get a data set that you can use in your application to build a really good user interface.
“People conflate blockchain with cryptocurrencies and NFT's and all these other crazy things that you see in the news...
That's a really good explanation. Is blockchain infrastructure typically how you'd categorise yourself?
Yeah, that's correct. Fundamental infrastructure for blockchain.
In terms of some of the misconceptions around blockchain as a technology, is there a comparison to technology adoption across history that you can make to give people confidence that this is an industry that will be around in the long term?
People conflate blockchain with cryptocurrencies and NFTs and all these other crazy things that you see in the news, right?
Blockchains are the technology that powers them. They're just applications of that technology. It feels like to people in the industry that we're in the late '90s, where there's a lot of garbage and crap going around.
A lot of slimy salespeople with a lot of smoke and mirrors, raising huge amounts of cash and talking a big story.
The point here is that fundamental blockchain technology may be as prolific as the internet is 20 years on from the 90’s. We are using the internet now every single day of our lives. Maybe in 2040 blockchain may be the same. We will have to wait and see.
“That's a huge scale at the moment, doing over 200 million API requests for our infrastructure every single day for data from hundreds of different projects.”
Focusing specifically on what you guys do, what is the current state of play for your business? How long has SubQuery been around and where are you at within your own journey within that space?
It's been crazy busy for us at SubQuery. We launched our first product in January 2021, so last year.
Since then, it's just exploded in use. We've got hundreds of customers. We provide a couple of tools. One is an open-source solution that some teams will run themselves and use, but we also provide what we call a managed service, where teams can give us their implementation of a subgroup project and we'll run it for them.
That's a huge scale at the moment, doing over 200 million API requests for our infrastructure every single day for data from hundreds of different projects. There are many, many customers all around the world, some in New Zealand, but yeah, mostly overseas, right? It's a very international-focused company.
We've grown as well from a headcount point of view. When we started, there were seven of us around a table just over a year ago and now it's about 40 people here, most working on SubQuery.
That's either on the open-source solution or it could be in a managed service, but also in a decentralised product that we're working on as well.
There are a lot of new features and development, and that's really just a testament to the growth that we've had building a core fundamental piece of infrastructure.
For our customers, the value proposition is it just saves a huge amount of time and development effort and that resonates really well.
“I'm lousy but dangerous. Dangerous if you give me your code because I break things, unfortunately.”
Switching gears, to your personal career journey, James, what is your background and how did you end up working in blockchain in the first place?
I studied as a software developer years ago and I was a lousy software developer so I gave up on that pretty quickly.
I'm lousy but dangerous. Dangerous if you give me your code because I break things, unfortunately. But I've always played around in the product management space.
I worked with a few companies, both large and small, some big corporates, and some small startups. I forget how much I hate corporate life and every few years go back into that, and then realise what a mistake I've made about 10 months into it.
All of that experience is useful in terms of, how do you run a big business and how do you run a small business? We're transitioning through that phase right now at SubQuery.
I've been involved in blockchain tangentially through some companies for some time. It's always been an interest. It's one of those big growth areas. If you look at where's a big growth in the new leading-edge industries and software development, it's either AI, which you need a PhD to understand, or it's blockchain.
Those are the two big hypergrowth industries in software development. And so, blockchain is always been quite appealing because I don't really want to do a PhD.
But yeah, it's led me to here, right? I joined part-time thinking it would be a great side thing to practice on. I had never worked in BD previously.
I'm head of BD, but you wear many hats on the side, so I'm doing everything all the time.
You find that product management is selling stuff internally or figuring out the value proposition for a new product internally. It has a lot of parallels to the skills you needed in sales, marketing and business development. The difference is you're just selling externally.
Interesting. And then I suppose what's been your experience going full-time into the industry relative to what you've done in the past?
I think if you want a relaxed life and prefer a nine-to-five job, you can have that in blockchain, but yeah, everyone in this industry is working their asses off because of the international nature of the industry.
It's very all-consuming. I'm in the right phase of my life, where I'm happy to be living and immersed in it. Some people like that. Some people want something that they can really throw themselves into and see the value come out of it.
We can do a release in a day and we can see that outcome straight away. So, I've really enjoyed it. It's given me a good challenge that has excited and motivated me.
I think that's the main thing I like when I'm looking for a job, is a real challenge, a challenge that you can throw yourself into and you can actually create an outcome. There's nothing worse than designing a perfect solution and really putting some effort, and then being told, "Actually, it doesn't really fit on our roadmap," or "We can't get the budget for this."
How would you describe the types of people that you're looking for that might be excited to come and be a part of that journey? Do they need to be people that are already passionate about blockchain or have some experience in the space, or what does that ideal person look like?
I do a lot of interviews with people and I always ask the first question, "How much do you know about blockchain?" and half the time, nothing or nothing more than what you see on the media and reading the news about Bitcoin and so forth.
It's not a prerequisite at all. A lot of people, if you know a lot about blockchain, you're probably working in the industry already. It's a very new thing. If you've been in for a blockchain for more than two years, you're considered an old-timer. That's how new it is.
I think the main thing is a hunger to learn, which is the ability to learn fast because we're in this industry right now where things are just slightly different. The way that you do BD, the way you do marketing, the way that you build the code, and the way you deploy the code.
For example, there are certain coding practices that you can't do in blockchain code because of the way the blockchains are structured.
So, it's the ability to learn quickly and adapt to this and to figure out like, "Okay. There's this problem." There may be a solution out there in this ecosystem, but it's not on Stack Overflow because there are only so many developers here.
How do you solve this? How do you get around this? So it's creative thinking. It's being able to learn and adapt quickly, and it's being able to like bring in these processes from what we call the Web2 world, the existing software development industry and see what will work in our industry and what won't because some things don't work, but some things do work well.
It's the flexibility, the adaptability, but the willingness and the ability to learn quickly. Those are the main pieces that denote a good person to jump in.
“...the roles that we are trying to add are more focused on non-development roles, finding people that can take us from a tech startup to an established business...”
In terms of the growth that you guys are experiencing, you mentioned you've gone from a small team up to 40 people in a very short space of time and that growth continues.
Is it just developers or engineers that you are looking for? What types of roles are available for people who could be curious about SubQuery?
There are a lot of developers already, right? The blockchain industry is built by developers, but we're transitioning to this point where it's not just developers that we need, it's everything else.
We are all flying by the seat of our pants in terms of how we do marketing, how we do strategy, how we do accounting, and how we do business development, for example.
So really the roles that we are trying to add are more focused on non-development roles, finding people that can take us from a tech startup to an established business that runs and operates efficiently, has great marketing, HR, business development, customer support, customer success.
It's not hiring for a role title. It's hiring based on skills on where they could fit in and potentially cover multiple areas. We don't usually have seats that we're hiring for. We are looking for skills because those skills aren't just… A job title is the least important thing. It's the skills you have.
Appreciate you taking the time to connect today, James. I think in terms of getting a deeper understanding of what is actually happening within the New Zealand blockchain industry that was really interesting.
It is amazing to hear the growth that the team at SubQuery is going through. For people that are listening and curious and all interested in learning more about what the team are up to, James and the team would love to hear from you. So, thanks for taking the time.
No, thanks, Greg. Thanks for having me.