Customer Interview with Jonathan Dunne, Co-Founder & Head of Technology at Talisman

OnFinality
17 min readMar 21, 2023

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Find out from Jonathan Dunne, Co-Founder & Head of Technology at Talisman, how OnFinality helps provide mission-critical infrastructure for the wallet to deliver seamless transactions to its users.

Learn about Talisman’s 1 click staking feature that allows users to stake $DOT from as low as 1 $DOT through nomination pools, and how its revolutionary single interface for multi-assets is setting a new standard for web3 wallets.

🎙️ Watch the full video here ⬇️ or scroll down to read the full transcript!

(Disclaimer: The below transcript has been automatically transcribed hence there may be minor discrepancies with what was mentioned in the actual interview.)

00:00 What is Talisman?

welcome to onfinality’s customer interview series where we learn more from leaders in the blockchain space and how onfinality’s infrastructure helps them build the decentralized future faster my name is Rob head of growth and today it’s our pleasure to have Jonathan from Talisman the self-custodial crypto wallet to join us for a chat on how they’re using onfinality hey Jonathan how’s it going

00:22

uh it’s going great Rob thanks thanks for having me

00:26

yeah all good can you tell people who aren’t familiar with Talisman a little bit more about what makes you guys special

00:32

uh Talisman uh I guess a team of really product focused um minds that are building a couple of products for the polkadot ecosystem uh firstly uh wallet extension which you can install on almost any of the desktop browsers and secondly a web portal where you can browse your portfolio and participate in lots of the different opportunities that exist in the polkadot ecosystem like crowdloans uh xcm and things like that and I guess if there was something that makes us special it’s this kind of product rigour that we apply to our Engineering Process to make sure that the experience that a user has when they’re using these chains and applications is as good as it can be

01:20 What it means to be a community-owned wallet

awesome one one interesting thing I saw was uh you endeavour to be like a community-owned wallet can you share more about that

01:29

yeah uh when we started the project we thought you know what makes a wallet project great and what makes a wallet project kind of not so great uh and then it was more so in the second column of that was the sense where a wallet project might become kind of detached from its users and it’s kind of heading in one direction but the users are asking for certain kind of other features and for the project ahead and head in in another way so we kind of set from the start that we want to avoid that as much as possible so we would want to involve the community in kind of the product development as much as we can uh and kind of foster that from from day zero uh in a kind of community oriented approach and it’s just I mean it’s really a like downstream from our objective to create a really nice product uh we think if if people that are using the product every single day are involved in prioritizing what goes in it tomorrow uh then you end up with a better outcome for everybody so that was the goal but uh it’s it’s become a really nice kind of storyline I think for Talisman because it is fun and interacting with the community

02:38 Talisman’s Smart Staking Feature

yeah I certainly haven’t seen that anywhere else and I think that really shows through in some of your features um so yeah awesome and then I guess um one thing that’s kind of a hot topic lately is staking with the SEC going after people like Kraken and and all this stuff you know come in and you know gaining a lot more prominence I noticed you just passed the 1 Million uh Dot in your nomination call so congratulations um can you talk more about your smart staking feature

03:10

um the Smart Staking Feature kind of came about when the nomination pools um update went live on the Polkadot relay chain where the kind of the minimum requirement to do self-custody staking on polkadot went from something like 180 Dot down to one Dot or maybe a couple of Dot if you factor in the existential deposit and things like that uh and that was really the key that unlocks uh what we considered to be the user experience that we wanted to provide for users for staking where it’s it’s still self-custodied the user can kind of still withdraw whenever they want um we’re not kind of running any infrastructure which takes their coins you know from out of their grasp um and it’s still an experience which the user can do in kind of one click uh that’s the idea right you want to open a position understand what that position is and kind of be done with it within a couple of clicks and that’s where Smart Staking really comes in uh where we kind of run a little process to suggest the best pool for the user so they don’t need to go through this process of kind of reading information from the chain to understand which decision to make we kind of trying to run the reasonably transparent process to to do that on behalf of the user and that’s where kind of Smart Staking or one click staking has come from

04:29 The challenge of engineering an efficient UI while still being completely transparent and placing full control in the users’ hands

awesome yeah it’s pretty painful uh in some some places and I I think I recall reading in some of your documentation at this whole um yeah focus on on users and and number of clicks to achieve certain things is a real priority which yeah it’s normal I guess in kind of a more web 2 world but um it’s pretty terrible in some web3 experiences

04:54

yeah the the tricky thing with uh focusing a number of clicks in web 3 is often that involves a sacrifice with you know if I kind of take away the complexity for the user that actually puts a lot of trust on the kind of wallet or the front-end provider to make all these decisions on behalf of the user and it’s not really in keeping with the kind of self-custody the user is always in control and it’s fully transparent kind of ethos that we want to uphold um so we have to kind of engineer around that compromise and tread the line between allowing the user to open something that they fully understand interact with an application in a way where they really kind of understand the consequences of what they’re doing but not just totally hide that information from them because it’s like an easy product design thing to do so it’s it’s like it’s a product design task it’s an education task it’s an engineering task but it’s been it’s been pretty successful so far I think

05:54 How recent negative news might have also raised better awareness on safeguarding one’s keys

yeah on that topic I guess given that things have been a bit uh dicey shall we say in the crypto market in the last year or so with all sorts of issues has that type of thing around security and people’s um concerns around security has that been a positive for you or have you had to do like additional educational um work to kind of clear up how you guys are different and kind of the pros and cons like what you’re talking about in terms of the features that you offer

06:29

it’s a positive in a sense that a lot of people have maybe migrated to a self-custodied solution in the past 12 months with everything that’s been happening with centralized exchanges like FTX um but it’s still like an ongoing challenge to educate this kind of cohort of users entering web3 to say you know self-custody is where you are really in control of of your keys and it’s on you to back it up correctly it’s on you to uh to connect to dapps which are safe um and we can do as much as we can with kind of phishing lists uh prompting the user to to kind of um implement good standards and practices for their own self-custody um but you know the past 12 months might have been tricky uh for the ecosystem generally because there was a lot of kind of uh negative news and like negative actions taken that um that might have like caused people’s trust in web3 to waiver a little bit but the outcome is that people are now more wary of these types of things and that’s only a good thing

07:39

yeah for sure I think there’s a it’s about striking that balance there’s one of the Winklevoss twins who um was talking about this a while ago I think when people say you know not your keys not your coins and he said well do you think of that in relation to your email like not your server not your email and kind of making the point that in some cases you know some people are better off you know having like trust in another party they’re probably going to do a better job for them than they are um but then also there’s um acknowledgment that uh obviously given a number of things that have gone on and kind of the opportunity around crypto that you want to have that you know the people’s ability to do these things when they want to

08:22

absolutely it’s it’s kind of dependent on the individual’s risk profile at the end of the day um but hopefully as more and more tools come into the ecosystem you can cater for these different types of of preference um as best as we can and cater for them in a safer way where they might be able to onboard with Web3Auth or something like that which is convenient and email based uh but they might kind of learn more about self-custody and their risk profile changes and those keys can rotate in in some way um so there’s a lot of room I think to innovate with this kind of thing in the future

09:04 Talisman’s revolutionary one-UI-for-all-assets

yeah for sure um it’s been speaking about innovation uh can you talk more about your portfolio management feature where you have this quite novel approach around how you um I guess show illustrate people’s assets across different platforms

09:21

yeah uh so kind of every wallet before Talisman had taken I guess a chain first approach to showing your assets and your portfolio where you really had to filter by chain uh before you could get an understanding of the assets that existed on that chain so if I wanted to see what I had on ethereum mainnet I can see that and then I’ve wanted to look at Optimism or something you know change the chain selector and then I can see the assets have on that network but you know we’re building for the polkadot ecosystem where there is a relay chain and there are dozens and dozens of parachains and the idea is that these parachains are kind of interoperable with one another so this kind of pattern of a chain first portfolio view gets pretty inconvenient pretty quickly especially with things like crowdloans which you know end of 2021 it was it was quite a while ago so we took an asset first approach instead where it’s kind of all of the chains at once in the same portfolio view and if you wanted to click into an asset then it will show you the locations of that asset so you can see where a DOT is across maybe the relay chain and a few of the parachains that you’ve bridged dot to um but the main thing is that when you see your portfolio you see all of your assets in that account no matter what chain they’re on as the first thing so that’s hopefully the approach that is sustainable is is the Polkadot ecosystem grows and and assets and positions get a little bit more complicated

10:50

yeah I guess it sounds funny um for people who may not um be exposed to this yet coming from like Tradfi or whatever but you know just that very kind of basic thing where you can’t see all of your assets in one single view easily and you guys offering that being like an innovation is kind of um interesting right but it’s still just painful a lot of these experiences and wallets

11:19 A new standard for web3 wallets

yeah um well it’s funny to call it an innovation because for us it was so kind of painfully obvious it was like you know first first job at Talisman is to get rid of the network selector that was like you know item number one the lowest hanging fruit on the tree um but I’m glad we’ve done it and I’m glad that it’s kind of caught on as a standard because uh from our perspective it really was something that needed to happen uh to support the secret system of parachains

11:49 Talisman’s roadmap — A user-first wallet

awesome speaking about that in terms of you know the the different networks and so on you can see within the wallet now currently you’re you serve polkadot and ethereum are there plans to expand wider than that

uh we were always like a Polkadot ecosystem wallet first um so that was kind of the Substrate networks and the parachains that were implementing the EVM but then it became apparent that to actually serve that community in the best way uh we should also support some of the other EVM networks because often people are bridging funds from ethereum mainnet or from an L2 into the popular ecosystem uh so in service of the popular ecosystem you could say uh we have we’ve supported ethereum mainnet a lot of the L2s and I think that philosophy is just going to continue so if there are different L1 ecosystems that would be useful for us to support so that we can help liquidity come into the ecosystem help liquidity come out of the ecosystem if that’s what the user wants to do then we’re happy to support them

12:58 The challenges of building a web3 wallet

awesome yeah I mean from onfinality’s perspective we can see you know this huge number of uh networks who support within polkadot which was really awesome they have that coverage and I guess with that um it must it must have been some struggles to get to this point you know to build a wallet it’s not easy you know um typically pretty complicated all sorts of security things to consider and so on let me just share some of the key challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome

13:28

uh yeah building a wallet is is tricky from a security perspective um but a lot of that uh is almost like a well-trodden path you know we’ve had kind of metamask has has led the way in in a lot of in a lot of aspects um there are kind of reasonably defined standards for building a wallet extension it’s actually quite a locked down environment um to develop in uh to protect the user so we followed the set of best practices you could say um engineering wise uh for security and the challenge that we’ve kind of come into specifically for building a wallet for the Polkadot ecosystem is really just the number of chains that we have to support I mean if you’re an ethereum wallet you’ve got like mainnet and a few L2s uh maybe binance smart chain or something like that and that’s really going to get you like you know 95 coverage for the for the you know chains that the users want supported and then anything additional can be you know a custom Network and you can just add that in and it’s it’s not too big of a deal but in kind of polkadot world you have you know dozens and dozens of parachains on each of the relay chain ecosystems they are implementing different kind of pallets and standards for how they’re handling assets and how the handling transfers uh they each have their own unique set of metadata so just kind of contending with that to say we want our user experience in our wallet to be as cohesive as possible but when you have peel beneath the surface you know there’s all these different chains all these different tokens different token standards to support and how can we kind of um layer over that a uniform interface so that the user doesn’t really know the complexity that’s under the hood and that’s been the maybe the biggest challenge um by being able to communicate with those with those networks via you know infrastructure like onfinality is a big help

15:26 How OnFinality supports Talisman

absolutely and I guess yeah under the hood like what you’re saying like onfinality is providing those API endpoints can you talk more about how you’ve came across onfinality and how the services benefit Talisman

15:39

yeah well we came across onfinality I guess from day zero you were always kind of one of the most well-known infrastructure providers uh and benefiting Talisman it kind of works across the two pillars of the wallet where you could say you know pillar one of building a wallet is being able to do actions with with your key pair you know sign transactions and have those propagated to the network and then pillar number two is I want to be able to see what’s in my wallet I need to be able to see my balances and see my portfolio so that I can can perform those actions and onfinality actually helps with both of those where we need to get the metadata from the chain in order to produce the signature and for that we need to communicate with the network and onfinality plays a really important role there and for uh pulling your balances and getting chain states that we can have a nice cohesive view of what’s in a user’s wallet onfinality and different bits of middleware of course you know kind of critical because where else we’re going to get that information from if not a like client

16:46 Talisman’s Roadmap

awesome would you be able to share and kind of switching gears now like what are you excited about in terms of um whether it’s Talisman or like the wallet uh niche and you know coming up like are you able to share about what you’re saying and what’s exciting for you guys

17:05

uh specific to Talisman and the Polkadot ecosystem I’m really excited about XCM V3 you know we’ve had XCM around for a while parachains of more or less settled down after crowdloans and the initial kind of onboarding period and now we can start to see some of the liquidity flow between parachains but these are really simple interactions right they’re like there’s like a Teleport there’s a reserve asset transfer that’s about all you can do on xcm uh until now because very soon hopefully xcm v3 will be merged and this kind of hopefully opens the floodgates a little bit with the kind of actions we can see between chains in the Polkadot ecosystem so that’s something that I’m really excited about for Talisman because it it uh it unlocks a lot of use cases the use cases that we can kind of jump on and say this is overly complex for the user at the moment you know what work can we do as a wallet to make this easier you know and apply the Talisman product rigor to this kind of set of use cases in the same way that we’ve done something like staking

uh and generally for for wallets I mean we were thinking about this when we started Talisman and it’s still kind of an undercurrent that we need to to to spend more time on but it’s just the fact that if you really look at uh metamask in like 2017 2018 and then the wallets today not much has changed uh you know you’re still like setting up a seed phrase uh writing it down on a bit of paper and then for each transaction it’s like you’re approving a transaction from the step yes or no you know you don’t really have much information uh regarding what’s in it and this is all I think is ripe for change I mean we can do some really cool stuff with transaction simulation and make that user experience a lot more kind of verifiable and comprehensive uh and for setting up your key pairs there’s now like a host of multi-party computation you know social recovery multi-sig kind of patterns that I think a lot of wallets can jump on um to make that a little bit easier uh because we’re still stuck in 2018 with a lot of that stuff

19:20 Tips for getting into web3

yeah I look forward to seeing that because yeah it’s some of the experiences are still a bit painful right and I think is um ultimately going to be important so onboard you know more and more people uh it’s inevitable that some of the things which you are taking is like standard you know you’re just gonna happen over time um yeah one interesting thing I guess about Talisman is your team is predominantly in Australia onfinality is predominantly New Zealand so kind of far-flung places for crypto development can you talk more about how that happens and and what advice you might give to people who are looking to maybe get into the industry um from our neck of the woods

20:06

um I was pretty fortunate uh because there was a a nice kind of web 3 Community here in Melbourne uh when I came into the space in 2018 uh so I met some really uh great mentors at the right time and managed to kind of uh use my local area as almost the um the onboarding point uh into web3 so I would encourage firstly to to see what’s in your city or in your region uh to try and meet some like-minded people in person uh but we’ve seen since starting Talisman that online communities are just blossoming uh you know it’s very possible to join a Discord or um join some kind of a community and there is actually quite a defined set of steps for how you can contribute uh you know you might start small and do some like Discord moderation or write some documentation and then kind of move on to bigger things as you accumulate trust and reputation in the community that’s something that we’re trying to foster in Talisman of the Sentinels program but you know there are dozens and dozens of these opportunities kind of across the internet so I would probably encourage people to to dive into what they’re curious about and use that as fuel to just you know explore you know different communities and Discord service because there will definitely be a way to contribute whether you’re technical or not

21:32

yeah absolutely good good advice well thanks for joining us today Jonathan it’s been a pleasure to learn more about Talisman uh really awesome product and uh great support of onfinality if you’d like to learn more about Talisman you can go to their website we’ll put the link in the description below and if you’re a web3 builder you’re at the right place onfinality is blockchain infrastructure made smarter you can check out our website onfinality.io and get stuck in thanks again Jonathan great to have you

awesome thanks Rob and thanks onfinality for the infrastructure that you guys running

no worries it’s our pleasure

all right catch you next time

See ya

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About OnFinality

OnFinality is a blockchain infrastructure platform that saves web3 builders time and makes their lives easier. OnFinality delivers scalable API endpoints for the biggest blockchain networks and empowers developers to automatically test, deploy, scale and monitor their own blockchain nodes in minutes. To date, OnFinality has served over 300 billion RPC requests across 70 networks including Avalanche, BNB Chain, Cosmos, Polkadot, Ethereum, and Polygon, and is continuously expanding these mission-critical services so developers can build the decentralised future, faster!

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OnFinality

OnFinality empowers Web3 developers with easy-to-use, reliable and scalable blockchain infrastructure. Build smarter with onfinality.io