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Breakpoint 2023: DeFi is Broken. How to Fix It on Solana

Published on 2023-11-09

Eugene Chen of Ellipsis Labs discusses DeFi's drawbacks and proposes solutions on Solana.

The notes below are AI generated and may not be 100% accurate. Watch the video to be sure!


At Breakpoint 2023, Ellipsis Labs co-founder Eugene Chen provided an insightful critique of the current state of decentralized finance (DeFi), which he believes is broken and in need of substantial fixes. By comparing DeFi to traditional finance (tradFi) and emphasizing the need for innovative changes, Chen highlighted the shortcomings that have prevented DeFi from reaching its full potential. With a strong argument in favor of utilizing high-throughput blockchains like Solana, Chen presented a vision for creating a more sustainable, efficient, and user-friendly DeFi ecosystem that could rival and even outperform traditional financial systems.

Key Points:

The Current State of DeFi

DeFi has fallen short of its initial promises of openness, fairness, and transparency, due largely to compromises in other aspects like user experience and sustainability. Eugene Chen points out that while DeFi has succeeded in delivering a decentralized framework, it has positioned itself more as an experimental playground than a stable financial system. The infrastructure originally imposed by the Ethereum network prioritized decentralization at the cost of practicality and efficiency, leading to a less competitive position compared to tradFi.

The Solana Approach as a Solution

Chen advocates for leveraging the capabilities of high-throughput blockchains, such as Solana, to construct a more viable DeFi system. Solana's architecture offers high transaction speeds and low costs, broadening the possibilities for protocol design that facilitate intense competition and rapid innovation. This approach allows for fully on-chain protocols with higher degrees of permissionless access and composability. Key to this paradigm shift is the implementation of on-chain order books, which is uniquely feasible on Solana, allowing DeFi to offer tighter spreads and better liquidity.

Phoenix: An Example of DeFi with On-Chain Order Books

As an example of what's possible with Solana's technology, Chen presented Phoenix, an on-chain order book DEX (decentralized exchange) that provides quality liquidity and competitive spreads, outperforming even some centralized exchanges. This is made possible by the robust infrastructure of Solana which allows for rapid adjustments and reduced costs for market makers, leading to a scenario where active market-making can be profitable over passive liquidity provision strategies used by AMMs (automated market makers).

Facts + Figures

  • Eugene Chen works at Ellipsis Labs and is a core contributor to Phoenix, an order book DEX on Solana.
  • DeFi promised an open, transparent, fair, and auditable financial system but compromises in performance and sustainability have hindered its success.
  • Traditional finance is built on outdated infrastructure, which is often resistant to innovation.
  • DeFi on Ethereum relies on AMMs, which have higher spreads and are unsustainable without incentives due to passive liquidity constraints.
  • On-chain order books, as implemented on Solana, allow for more competitive spreads and higher liquidity.
  • Market makers on Phoenix's Sol USDC pair are profitable, unlike AMM LPs who tend to lose money on equivalent pairs.
  • DeFi is at a crossroads: continue on an Ethereum-centric path or embrace high-performance blockchains like Solana for better financial protocols.

Top quotes

  • "DeFi needs to outperform tradfi. This is our core mission at Ellipsis labs."
  • "The way DeFi outcompetes tradfi is by enabling rapid permissionless innovation so we can move faster than tradfi."
  • "In the steady state, the system needs to work without incentives."
  • "On-chain order books are only feasible on a chain that has high throughput and low fees."
  • "Order books in DeFi today are only possible on Solana."
  • "This active liquidity is uniquely enabled by Solana’s high performance."
  • "We can embrace Ethereum maximalism, which means accepting off-chain systems, uncompetitive liquidity, and unsustainable liquidity. This is DeFi dystopia."
  • "We can actually build this better financial system with open access, transparency, and permissionless innovation, and it's only possible on Solana."

Questions Answered

What is DeFi and how does it compare to traditional finance?

Decentralized finance (DeFi) was conceived as a more open, transparent, and fair financial system built on decentralized blockchain technology. It aims to provide an alternative to traditional finance (tradFi), which operates on established, often antiquated, infrastructure that can stifle innovation. DeFi promises to outdo tradFi by removing middleman and allowing for seamless financial transactions, although real-world implementation has faced challenges in user experience, sustainability, and protocol design.

Why is DeFi seen as broken, and what are the main issues?

According to Eugene Chen, DeFi is seen as broken primarily due to poor user experiences and unsustainable protocols. This stems from the limitations of using first-generation blockchain infrastructure, like that of Ethereum, which was not designed to handle the high transaction throughput necessary for efficient and competitive financial operations. These constraints have led to wider spreads and a general lack of price improvement mechanisms in DeFi compared to centralized exchanges.

How does the Solana blockchain's approach propose to fix DeFi?

The Solana blockchain offers a high-throughput, low-cost environment that allows for the creation of more sophisticated DeFi protocols, like on-chain order books. This approach keeps the core values of DeFi intact, including permissionless access and innovation, while vastly improving user experiences. By enabling active liquidity management and competitive spreads, Solana's technology promises a sustainable and more profitable DeFi ecosystem that could rival traditional exchanges.

Can DeFi deliver quality liquidity comparable to centralized exchanges?

Yes, on-chain order books on high-throughput blockchains like Solana are positioned to offer quality liquidity comparable to, and in some cases better than, centralized exchanges. For instance, the Phoenix DEX on Solana provides tighter spreads on certain pairs, showcasing the potential for DeFi to match or exceed the liquidity quality of centralized exchanges.

What is the significance of having Phoenix as an example in this context?

Phoenix, an on-chain order book DEX on Solana, serves as a real-world example of how the principles discussed by Eugene Chen can be applied to create a competitive DeFi platform. Phoenix's success in offering profitable market-making and competitive spreads against centralized exchanges illustrates the potential for high-performance blockchains to dramatically improve the landscape of DeFi.

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