BTSE AMA Highlights: A Conversation with James Whitley, Co-Founder of off-piste, on October 21, 2021

On October 21, 2021, the BTSE Telegram Community invited off-piste co-founder James Whitley for an AMA.

off-piste is a decentralized expiratory futures synthetic asset protocol on the Solana blockchain that facilitates price and demand discovery in nascent markets. The protocol’s first project is a pre-public trading market using synthetic assets.

Here are the consolidated and edited highlights of the AMA.

• • •

off-piste Team

BTSE Moderator:

Tonight we are honored to have the team from off-piste join us. Please introduce the backgrounds and experiences of yourself and your core team.

James Whitley:

I come from traditional finance — private markets and a CFO program at one of the largest pharma companies in the world. Barrett has a technical background — quantitative finance, mathematics, data science, and engineering. And Alex has extensive startup product experience, specifically in taking complex concepts and boiling them down into simple UI/UX that brings it to the masses.

Beyond that, the rest of the team is global and split between our Rust engineers, a great front end, and marketing.

• • •

What Does off-piste Do?

BTSE Moderator:

Please introduce what off-piste does and your motivation for building this project.

James Whitley:

off-piste is developing expiratory futures-like products on the Solana blockchain. This means that we can help provide price and demand discovery on any market that currently doesn’t have good trading opportunities; simply put, we’re making the untradeable tradeable.

• • •

What Problem Does off-piste Solve?

BTSE Moderator:

What is the main problem that the team is aiming to solve, and how are you guys making it happen?

James Whitley:

The cool thing is that the protocol is generalizable, more of a primitive for people to build on than just a marketplace. But to get specific, we’re starting with pre-public markets (pre-IPO / IDO) because large groups of market participants have historically been excluded from these opportunities. I’ve heard it described a while back as governments telling people, “You’re not rich enough to get rich.”

Furthermore, whether it’s an IPO or an IDO, we typically see a lot of volatility around launch and capital left on the table by the companies going public. This means that capital they could have raised to grow the business is instead being eaten up in gains for the handpicked clients of the underwriters.

We leverage Serum’s central limit order book for true price discovery that you just can’t get using an AMM. As we see in widely traded public markets, you don’t get real pricing info until retail and institutions are participating together in a bid/ask marketplace. Most importantly, we also give global access, which starts the transition to a global capital market mindset instead of being tied to regionalized markets.

• • •

off-piste’s Investors & Partners

BTSE Moderator:

Before that, please share with us your current investors/partners and partnership plans with other projects.

James Whitley:

There will be some big updates in the near future about investors, but we’re not ready to announce anything about that yet.

That said, the partnership side is super exciting for us, and it’s one of the things we love about working in the Solana ecosystem. We started partnership announcements this week:

● Switchboard — pulling prices from Serum to facilitate collateralization calculations

● GenesysGo — RPC nodes

● Serum — compatible with the DEX

● Sacra / Lagoon — two financial research providers for pre-public companies who will be writing sell-side research reports and providing alternative data for market participants to view

We’re also looking at a number of groups in the future like Parrot/Raydium for collateral stablecoins, Solrise as a digital asset manager to partner with structured products, and others to provide yield farming opportunities — and more!

• • •

Benefits of off-piste

BTSE Moderator:

Trading pre-IPO companies as a start sounds exciting, but can you share with us what kind of benefits or returns we can see?

James Whitley:

We can’t get into return projections. And with the many types of markets we’ll be launching in the future, each will have its own risk profile. This is about the fun of trading new products. After all, one of our mottos is “let the people price it,” so returns will be up to the participants placing orders on the order book.

BTSE Moderator:

Since users would essentially trade private companies where information is less readily available, what kind of risks might users face when trading on off-piste?

James Whitley:

There are a few ways to think about this. First, in futures markets, this is always the case. An individual trading oil always has less information than the desk at BP. However, that information asymmetry can actually help the market. The person with more information can keep an overheated market in check or bolster an oversell.

Even in the equity markets, many participants never dig into public equity financial filings or model out discounted cash flows. Information asymmetry exists in all markets, whether structural or effort-driven.

That said, and most importantly, we think it’s extremely important to have the safety of market participants front of mind. That’s why we’ve created two partnerships for research that will be provided to all platform participants: Sacra provides long-form research reports similar to initiating coverage reports from sell-side equity groups, and Lagoon is an alternative data provider out of Israel that provides data on job growth, sentiment analysis, and more. We’re excited about giving participants this sort of info for the first time, and we’re also in the process of signing up similar partners on the pre-IDO side for protocol research.

• • •

Trading Pre-IPO Companies on off-piste

BTSE Moderator:

How does trading pre-IPO companies work on your platform?

Who chooses these companies, and how can users express their views on off-piste’s platform?

James Whitley:

Market participants are effectively expressing their opinion on where a company or protocol should be valued upon public offering. You can take either a long (with or without leverage) position or borrow from the lending pool to go short. Participants interested in either hedging an underlying exposure or generating yield can also mint assets, which is an inherent short position. Positions can then be traded on a central limit order book on an intraday basis to ensure liquidity. Larger players will also be able to take advantage of the order book to implement complex trading strategies that they are used to in traditional finance markets.

For each set of markets, the core contributors may suggest a few to start. However, going forward, the intention is that community members can propose and vote on which markets to initiate

• • •

Upcoming Features & Products

BTSE Moderator:

What other features or products can we expect from off-piste moving forward? What other products can we trade other than pre-IPO companies?

James Whitley:

The thing we’re most excited about is the generalizable nature of the protocol. Taking the FTX approach, we wanted to build something like templates that can help the community spin up more — and more diverse — markets faster than anyone else. Expiratory futures can be created around ANY nascent market. As we mentioned, we’ll be rolling out pre-token markets more or less concurrent with the launch. From there, we plan on launching markets that are both crypto-based (NFT, yields, etc.) and traditional (economic indicators, hedging).

We’re making it possible for our users to gain access to financial opportunities that they normally would not have access to, and that’s something that we could not be more excited about. Our financial systems are more than overdue for an upgrade, and we know off-piste will be a huge part of making that possible.

BTSE Moderator:

How can people participate in the off-piste ecosystem aside from trading?

James Whitley:

I think there are many interesting ways to get involved, and that’s a key to building a protocol that has real utility.

The biggest opportunities for non-traders will be around yield and governance. Even if you’re not a trader, you might find contributing USDC to a lending pool is an attractive yield without needing to follow the markets. Perhaps even more impactful, you could hold the native token and participate in governance. I’m a big behavioral economics nerd, and I definitely see the opportunity to innovate market safety and incentivization.

• • •

How to Sign Up for off-piste

BTSE Moderator:

Is the off-piste platform already live? And, if not, is there any way for us to sign up for early access?

James Whitley:

We’ll be launching on devnet in the next few weeks. The best way to stay up to date is by joining our Discord. Early access to everything from announcements to launches will be announced there to our community. Plus, as an early community member, you’ll get early access to anything new we have to share.

• • •

off-piste Token

BTSE Moderator:

Are there any plans for off-piste to launch a token? What would be the use of that native token?

James Whitley:

Yes, we do plan on a token launch! This will likely be a small launch close to the mainnet launch by the end of the year. Details can be found in our litepaper on our website, but uses will include community governance like which markets to launch and eventually tiered benefits like trading fee reductions.

• • •

Community Questions

Trinh Thi An (@RiLhozun):

Trust and security are essential in any business; what makes investors, customers, and users safe and secure when working with your project?

James Whitley:

Great question. And one we take very seriously. We consider it to be a competitive advantage. Many of us have traditional finance experience, and the goal is to bridge the gap between TradFi and DeFi. We’ve seen that retail traders often come back after an exploit, but we don’t know that institutions will. This is in the front of our minds, and we’ll only launch after audits clear. We’ve also got one of the best security teams in the business full-time working with us — ongoing, not just a one-time audit — to continually monitor safety. Finally, we like building in Rust on Solana because it’s used to build mission-critical applications in industries like cybersecurity, defense tech, etc.

• • •

Elsa Greyhart (@Fritzvanover1990):

Did you consider community feedback/requests during the creation of your product to expand on fresh ideas for your project? Many projects fail because the target audience and clients are not understood. I’d like to know who your ideal consumer is for your product?

James Whitley:

We pride ourselves in solving real-world problems, not just developing a cool idea without knowing if it’s a fit. We’ve talked to everyone from individual traders worldwide to market makers to investment banks and family offices. We need all of these people to trade and participate in governance for the ecosystem to thrive.

• • •

Yelena Dejesus (@YelenaDejesus):

Can you list 1–3 killer features of this project that put it ahead of its competitors? What is the competitive advantage your project has that you feel most confident about?

James Whitley:

Sure thing! With markets like pre-IPO, real estate, etc., we want to attract not only crypto-native people but also non-crypto participants.

#1 is making a smooth, easy UI/UX. I think most of us would agree that the bulk of DeFi front ends are confusing nonsense. Check out our Twitter for some sneak peeks at the UI.

#2 is portfolio margin. Unlike having a margin/collateral ratio for each trade, your leverage and collateralization will be calculated across your portfolio of positions.

#3 is simply the new types of products we’re offering. It will become more clear once we move past pre-public, but expiratory futures open up a whole new way of trading that you can’t do with perps or spot.

• • •

Allice Queen (@Nubia_hudgens_1997):

Almost 80% of investors have just focused on the price of tokens in the short term instead of understanding the real value of the project. Can you tell us the motivations and benefits for investors to hold your token in the long term?

James Whitley:

Yeah, we aren’t concerned with token price in the short term. We’re building something that will be the first protocol to provide real benefit to the financial markets, instead of just swapping around crypto tokens on a meme platform. I think the ability to be at the forefront of governance is exciting. One of the things that regulators complain about is that crypto is the wild west. Let’s build something that has a great community-driven framework for safety and transparency.

• • •

Lai La Em Day (@embonminh):

What is the most ambitious goal of your project? Could you share with us any upcoming updates?

James Whitley:

The most ambitious goal is something that I touched on before.

1 — make the untradeable tradeable. That’s creating new markets with mass appeal that haven’t been able to be traded before. This will help people reduce risk in their portfolios or gain exposure to things they’re interested in.

2 — make localized capital markets irrelevant. We believe with the right set of incentives, a global capital marketplace is the future. We want to drive that progress.

• • •

Twitter Questions

Q1 — @SilakYamon

Adoption is one of the most important factors for all blockchain projects to be more attractive in investors’ eyes. Can you tell us how the off-piste team plans to achieve adoption in reality?

James Whitley:

We need to develop adoption on several fronts. That’s crypto-native people, non-crypto natives, and institutional traders. We’ve got specific marketing initiatives to get the word out to crypto and non-crypto. On the institutional side, we’ll be interacting with an order book via API, so they’ll be able to implement traditional trading strategies. We also realize that areas like Asia and SE Asia are important, so we’re partnering with teams on the ground to make sure we cultivate a global group.

• • •

Q2 — @KiyokoSumaru

When did the idea to create the project begin? Who initiated it? What is the biggest goal that your project has towards the end of 2021? What are your project goals for the next ten years in the crypto world?

James Whitley:

The idea came as we were trying to figure out how to give more people the opportunity to participate in what we’ve spent our careers on. The cool thing is that we went from problem to blockchain as the best solution, not being in blockchain and looking for a problem to solve. The biggest goal is to launch our devnet, complete initial audits, and go live!

Over the next ten years, we want to see the border between DeFi and TradFi removed. There’s no reason most finance shouldn’t be handled on a blockchain.

• • •

Q3 — @ErikMclean7

Tell me a bit about the tokenomics. Could you fill us in about what makes $Offpiste an interesting project to hold? The reflection, of course, is always an appealing source of passive gains. What else makes it interesting?

James Whitley:

You can see the basics of tokenomics either in Discord or in the litepaper on the website. In short, for holders, we think market participation is awesome. Community members will be able to propose and vote on which markets to initiate. In a sense, you’ll be the ones driving the future of finance!

• • •

Q4 — @FaisolFivesouls

Nowadays, NFT gaming projects are trending, and there are a ton of NFT game projects launching. Does your project have a plan for NFT gaming?

James Whitley:

We love NFT’s and NFT gaming. We are trying to find the best angle to participate and add value. This could be around futures, metaverse offerings, or structured products. We’re also exploring ways to do something natively, as a couple of our early investors have lots of experience developing in this space. I know that’s not too specific, but things are in the works, and we’ll have more soon!

• • •

Q5 — @Techkia

Each project has interesting stories before it is created. Can you tell people about the story that motivated you to build and develop a great project like yours?

James Whitley:

We initially built an AI/ML recommender system that took arbitrarily long documents to match up startups with investors and vice versa. Once we had those clients, we’d start trading secondaries for them. The idea of pre-public trading was originally Phase 2 for us. But we realized we couldn’t impact enough people with the first part of the plan, and Phase 2 was an opportunity to open things up and create transformational change. Looking around for the best way to do this, we realized DeFi was the only way to accomplish what we wanted.

• • •

Upcoming Plans

BTSE Moderator:

Please share with us any plans you have in place. Are there any new exciting partnerships or developments?

James Whitley:

Of course! Keep an eye on our Discord and Twitter! We’re always announcing new partnerships as we continue to build the bridge between TradFi and DeFi. We’re also launching our podcast and building out new avenues where you can play a meaningful part in our community. off-piste is reimagining what trading looks like, and everything we’re creating now is designed to help you access the future of finance.

• • •

off-piste Social Media

Twitter: https://twitter.com/offpiste_io?lang=en

Medium: https://blog.offpiste.io/

Discord community channel: https://discord.gg/UvXXwWcQt6