Jay Z, Charles Schwab-Backed Ethereum App Opens Doors to Public

The behind-the-scenes blockchain startup Alchemy, which powers 70% of the top applications on Ethereum, is stepping into the public eye as it opens its services to any company or developer looking for tools to build smart contract-based projects.

Founded in 2017 by Nikil Viswanathan and Joe Lau, Alchemy until now has operated in private mode where customers had to apply to use its software developer tools. Viswanathan, 32, and Lau, 31, met at Stanford University, where they both served as teaching assistants for a database class. They have since gone on to create a firm that counts as investors Duncan Niederauer, Charles Schwab, John Hennessy, Jay Z, Jerry Yang, Ruchi Sanghvi and Will Smith. The co-founders want to remove the complexity from building blockchain applications so the nascent industry can grow.

“We’re all here because we believe blockchain will be as powerful as the internet,” Viswanathan said in a telephone interview. The San Francisco-based firm counts 4 million users worldwide and says the applications that use its services see about $7.8 billion a year move through them. Still, it’s difficult to build applications from scratch, Lau said in an interview.

“Everyone wants to build skyscrapers in Ethereum, but we don’t have the tools right now,” he said. “We have picks and shovels.”

Alchemy is helping create a new type of business model known as decentralized finance, or defi, that doesn’t feature a centralized corporation that makes decisions and is in control of operations. Instead, these blockchain-based apps run according to their code that’s stored on thousands of computers across the world. Changes to that code typically have to be agreed upon and updated by the distributed users, unlike Amazon.com Inc. which can change its terms of service whenever it wants.