SPOt-light #018 [APEX]

As any SPO within Cardano knows, running a node comes with its complications, trouble and error messages. Diving deep into the CLI (Command Line Interface) and troubleshooting is a daunting task at times. Luckily for #Cardano there are people like the Operator of APEX Pool, that relentlessly helps people to find the needle in their proverbial haystack and get their pools up and running again. This SPOt-light features a man who is a visible contributor to all major channels revolving Pool Operation, please enjoy the read and drop a like, a follow to both @STAYKPool and @cardanoapexpool.

Hello George. Tell us a little bit about yourself, what are your areas of expertise? (Tech, finance, other), how did you learn about Cardano and what led you to adopt the role you currently play in the ecosystem?

I am an IT specialist with 24 years of experience. I’ve been working daily with Linux servers for about 21 years, and also with a lot of other equipment: firewalls, routers, switches, load balancers. Currently I’m working as a Solutions Architect for a big company, and I am also running a Cardano stake pool, Ticker: APEX.
I knew about crypto for a long time, but I was not really interested in it. I became interested last year in February and I was actually attracted by Cardano from the first moment. I saw the famous whiteboard Youtube video with Charles Hoskinson, then another one of his videos about security online, and I decided I wanted to learn more about Cardano. In less than a week I had already started my mainnet stake pool, and about one week later the testnet one.

What is the current state of your Pool, how is it setup and are there any developments in the near future? If its a Bare metal server, include a picture, were curious how you roll!

The stake pool is currently running on virtual machines, which are running on hardware servers rented in a Data Center. The Data Center does not belong to a famous provider, so from this point of view the stake pool is really supporting the decentralization. Recently due to circumstances I started to run some additional unregistered relays on some other infrastructure, like Digital Ocean and other well-known providers to test their services and to have more flexibility. I am also testing some High Availability scenarios on testnet for the moment.

Were there any problems, obstacles to overcome on the way, and if yes, how did you tackle them, what resources did you use?

I did not have any obstacles so far. But the testnet stake pool has helped me improve my setup and be prepared for mainnet, when the stake pool started minting blocks. Doing all the maintenance operations without the fear of of losing the rewards helps you gain confidence that you are doing it right.

So, starting out is sometimes tough from a technical standpoint, but that might not have been the largest hurdle considering your expertise. Can you pinpoint where your operation is most challenged?

By far, the most difficult thing is attracting delegators. So far I am unable to do this. The stake pool was just above 60k ADA total delegation for a few months before receiving the IOG and CF delegations, even lower than 60k when this happened. Even after receiving the delegations from IOG and CF, I am still unable to attract and keep delegators. A few came, some of them left, I don’t want to think what will happen when the delegations will move. Probably most of them will also move to other stake pools.

As you just mentioned, a huge influx of stake has landed in APEX, and as per IOG, it’s a community endorsed delegation. Cardano Foundation is a separate and less transparent process. What do you think made you eligible for this?

I like helping other people with Cardano related issues and questions and because I am in front of a computer many hours every day, I am doing this daily. I am also helping other stake pool operators with less technical experience, and I assume they gave positive feedback about me and recommended me for the most recent round of IOG delegations. The Cardano Foundation delegation took me by surprise. I don’t know why they picked APEX stake pool, but I assume for the same reason: they noticed that I am very active, helping the Cardano community on different channels: Telegram, Discord, Reddit, Twitter and the Cardano Forum. I also wrote some articles and published them on the stake pool’s website (Link HERE), and I believe they answer many questions that the new Cardano users might have. I also wrote a python script that can perform payments with ADA and Cardano native tokens, and made it open source. A few weeks ago I also became active on the Cardano Stack Exchange. I believe it is a mix of all these things. I don’t have another explanation, but I am very happy and grateful for both delegations.

I’ve seen you mention in a previous interview (link) that you ‘realized you had to run a stake pool to really contribute’. Is that vision still accurate and does it apply to everyone interested to support Cardano?

I wanted to contribute to the blockchain by running a node, and I realized that I have to run a stake pool to actually contribute to the decentralization. I still believe this is accurate, but there are also other ways to support Cardano, not everyone should run a stake pool. Distributed Delegation helps greatly too! Most of the new people on Cardano have basic questions that can easily be answered by anyone who was involved for a few months. Helping the new people with answers and guidance is also a very good way of supporting Cardano.

We as SPOs have some means to contact each other and shoot problems and solutions back and forth for the maintenance and daily operation. It’s safe to say your contribution FAR outweighs your consumption, and we’d like tot hank you for that! Sincerely, but as a bit of a double edged sword, doesn’t that keep the ‘competition’ alive longer?

It is true that my contribution outweighs my consumption, because I really want to understand how things work and I read a lot of documentation. I did not use any guide when I created my stake pools, I developed my own scripts, which require a lot more work and understanding of the UTxO model. It is also true that by helping other SPOs I’m helping the “competition”, but the real competition are the exchanges and probably the large multi-pools which already have tens or hundreds of millions ADA delegation, not the small stake pools, which usually need the help. And I know that by helping other SPOs I will not get delegators, because they delegate to their own stake pools, but I am still glad to do it.

We see a lot of Big Pool operators successfully managing multiple pools. It seems like a good idea from where most people stand. Some people think this hurt decentralization, how do you feel about this and how does it affect the purpose of Cardano?

I don’t believe I would personally open a second stake pool if by a miracle my stake pool becomes saturated. At least not in the current conditions. I don’t know what it will be like if k becomes 2000 or 5000 for example in the future. I am not a fan of multi-pools, but as long as their SPOs are also contributing the the Cardano ecosystem and they stay honest, I do not see running multiple stake pools by individuals as a big problem. The protocol allows it, too. But I don’t like to see the big multi-pools competing in all possible projects that are bringing them even more delegation and more ADA incomes, while the small stake pools are struggling to attract delegators to mint a block from time to time, to be able to still operate. Many small stake pools retired because of this reason. I would like to see multi-pools supporting the small stake pools.

Why should people delegate their ADA to your pool, is there any difference between yours and other pool? This is your sales pitch 😉

People should delegate to my stake pool because I have the technical knowledge and experience to run a stake pool (and I can do a lot more than that), and the delegation will bring them good rewards with APEX stake pool. As long as the delegation is big enough to mint many blocks each epoch, like now, rewards are stable. I am reachable on many channels, people can talk to me daily (I am online 16-18 hours every day), and I believe delegators should be able to ask their SPO questions. And last but not least, I believe I am a good person.

Any final thoughts? Some shoutouts?

My life has certainly changed since I am involved in Cardano. I virtually met many good people that I talk to very often and I am happy to be a part of this great community. I am very active in the Cardano community, and I wish I were able to quit my full time job and only work for Cardano related projects, but for the moment this is not possible. I hope this will be possible some day in the next 1-2 years.

As a fun fact: while answering the questions, I also filled in the form to run a validator node for dcSpark’s Milkomeda sidechain and I helped an SPO (who sadly retired his stake pool recently, because of lack of delegation) to move his former pledge (a nice amount) from an address on a Ledger hardware wallet to another address on a Ledger hardware wallet. His scripts were not working anymore with the current versions of cardano-node and cardano-cli, and I knew how to make them work. It was the first time we ever talked to each other. And as a reward, without me asking for anything, he promised he will delegate the amount to my stake pool, and of course I am very happy about that!

See? the philosophy of selfless acting and helping pays off! If there is anything we learn from joining Cardano is the sense of unity in the ecosystem. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions and give a little insight in the how and why of APEX pool, and more importantly the person and mentality behind it! For everyone thinking: hey, We need to keep these guys around, delegate some ADA to APEX and help this guy spread his knowledge further!

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