MyEtherWallet (MEW) exploded in popularity among ERC20 investors looking for a solid wallet, and also as a useful tool for ICOs. Two months ago, when MEW seemed to have rebranded to MyCrypto out of nowhere, the community was confused and outraged due to the limited and conflicting information that was released. For the first time since that event, Kosala Hemachandra, the founder of MEW, spoke with the Merkle about the company’s exciting next stages of growth.
The Early Days of MEW and Ethereum
In the early stages, Ethereum ran on a testnet where people could try out all of its features to see how they worked. When it went to the mainnet, developers were the first to heavily invest in it. Kosala explains, “One of the biggest problems at the time was figuring out how to securely store Ethereum. Forums and Reddit were filled with questions about how wallet storage worked. In response to this growing need for a wallet storage solution, I came up with the idea for MEW as a side project to help people seamlessly create a wallet without having to run lines of code or check in to see if they did it right.”
Despite the fact that Ethereum was barely being used at the time, Kosala’s work produced the simplest secure wallet to use, helping to increase its overall popularity. “As Ethereum grew, MEW grew and adapted with it, adding functionality to take advantage of new features as they appeared,” he told us. When Ethereum created ERC20 tokens, ICOs flocked to MEW as their wallet of choice to collect funding.
MEW and the ICO Boom
MEW was already popular at the time, but the surge of ICOs creating tutorials for how to buy their tokens using MEW elevated it even further. MEW’s ERC-20 compatibility made it an easy choice for these emerging blockchain startups. The most notable one was Golem’s record 20-minute sale, pushing MEW to its limits with a server overload that resulted in a temporary loss of service. The incident served as a teachable moment for MEW, leading Kosala to develop a more robust infrastructure and add a feature which let users utilize their own nodes.
While Kosala was developing the back-end open-source code for MEW, he needed help getting MEW’s message out. His best friend and web developer, Taylor Monahan, seemed like a natural fit. Taylor helped people connect to MEW and took over the social media, becoming the face of MEW in the community. It was a perfect pairing when Taylor joined MEW in August 2015, but last summer, the two founding partners who’d started this as a hobby together started splitting apart with different visions for the direction of MEW.
A Contentious Fork – To Put It Mildly
This eventually led to a controversial fork of epic proportions when the MEW Twitter handle with more than 78,000 followers suddenly became “MyCrypto”. Community members felt concerned over the security of their wallet funds, confused about whether MEW was rebranding, and outraged at the lack of transparency.
“It is well documented that Taylor and I were in the midst of a legal dispute prior to the fork,” Kosala tells us, adding, “This made the whole situation difficult to handle both emotionally and professionally.” The two had been in negotiations since at least August 2017. Kosala filed a legal complaint after Taylor refused to share MEW’s financial documents with him. The excerpt below contains part of an email from his lawyer which is included in the full legal complaint that’s been shared around on Reddit. The email shows that Kosala was offering Taylor a one million dollar buyout of her stake in MEW.
Neither of them addressed the court proceedings in their statements following the Twitter renaming. While Taylor explained her side in a lengthy Medium post, Kosala made a short Reddit statement followed by a brief but hopeful response prior to this interview. During all this, Kosala retained control of the MEW GitHub repository, domain, and AWS accounts, but suddenly MEW had no Twitter account of its own. “I was given a new account under the @myetherwallet handle, but it was not the original account which had 78K loyal @myetherwallet followers at the time,” Kosala recounts.
Eventually, the two came to an agreement to restore the original Twitter handle back to MEW. Taylor’s post conveyed a legitimate frustration that Kosala wasn’t playing an active role in MEW or contributing much code, leading to her interest in forming a new company. Kosala states, “It is my belief that it was the combined efforts of Taylor and I that made MEW a success; while we may have had different visions of the future, I will never regret our partnership.”
This rebrand hoax, as well as the substantial amount of phishing scams associated with MEW, are part of what led to Kosala’s new vision for MEW and its future after all this fallout.
MEW’s New Direction
The MEW wallet contains more warnings and explanations than almost any other wallet, and that can make it seem daunting to the crypto beginner. Many also complain that MEW is a little harder to set up than other wallets. These barriers are some of the issues hindering mass adoption of cryptocurrency as a payment method. Even with the major changes to Bitcoin and Ethereum over the years, cryptocurrency is still in the early days. Today it largely remains a store of value or venture capitalist investment vehicle, as throughput, volatility, and access stand in the way of crypto becoming a widely-used medium of exchange.
As a community, Kosala explains, “we haven’t really even taken the first step in mass adoption.” There’s a great deal of work to be done to make cryptocurrency readily adopted, from scalability and integration with banks and industries, to approachable interfaces that allow just about anyone to use crypto as they would cash or savings. “MEW is working on a big departure,” Kosala tells us, and it sounds like that familiar educational series of warning screens might be changing along with much more.
Says Kosala, “At the time, these explanations were important because most people are used to a centralized sign-up process with an email and password you can easily recover if you forget or lose it. It’s not that UI friendly; MEW was made for technical people when we first started. We want to inform people about making their wallet safe, [backing up] and printing it because there’s not a sign-in process if a wallet is locked. We hear them every day; we’re in the process of designing a complete UI that addresses this.”
After the fork, many members of the original MEW team went with Taylor. While the MyCrypto and MEW websites look relatively similar for now, both teams have plans for new developments. MEW has assembled a diverse new team with backgrounds in legal, finance, and engineering. This team includes a new group of full stack developers and a strong support team that’s able to respond to almost all user support tickets. MEW’s new COO, Brian Norton, brings operations management experience in fields like robotics and edutech.
MEW is working on redoing its UI and backend to be more user-friendly and modular. MEW isn’t limited to running on the Ethereum Network either. “It also supports use on private blockchains, other networks, testnets, and Ethereum clones,” says Kosala. Those “Ethereum clones” include other networks built on top of the Ethereum codebase like UBIQ, Expanse, and POA.network. Because of MEW’s large role in providing wallet services, it needs a better response to the massive number of phishing attacks launched against it.
MEW has been one of the biggest targets of phishing scams because it’s easy to copy any open-source interface. Open source allows a community of developers to collaborate, but it also makes it easy for phishing sites to copy and create a domain similar to MEW, such as one that stole a reported 1,500 Ether.
A BIG Launch for MEW
In response to that, Kosala tells us, MEW plans to launch “a mobile application where your private key stays securely inside your phone’s storage. This allows MEW to form a P2P connection with your phone, so you can verify transactions here as a secondary measure of approval compared with the old site interface without this step.”
This new addition to MEW will bring two distinct benefits. First, phishing sites will no longer be able to steal your private key since it will no longer be exposed to the browser. Secondly, it will let you verify all transactions without much hassle. This will ultimately enable users to access their cryptocurrencies with a greater degree of security.
From MEW’s critical role in the early Ethereum economy to its tumultuous fork episode, it’s held strong as one of the most popular ERC20 wallets out there. As both MEW and MyCrypto move in their separate directions, it remains to be seen if they will even remain in the same league. With a new interface that addresses past security issues and makes MEW easier to use, it stands to gain an even larger fan base.