Five years of transformation and still new beginnings


Denelle Dixon

Publishing date

It’s my five year Stellarversary today and strangely, it seems like a new beginning. Given the amount of time under my belt at the SDF and in this industry, it should feel like old hat, right? But, like this industry, the SDF is in constant motion with new opportunities and challenges always presenting themselves.

I happen to like both opportunities and challenges. When I started at SDF, there were new beginnings all around. For me, for Stellar, for the ecosystem, and even for regulatory bodies trying to grapple with the new technology. It was a whole host of “opportunities” that often felt like challenges.

I had the benefit of coming in to build off the foundation that Jed had laid with a lean but indomitable team at SDF. Even so, the work ahead was a massive undertaking. I realized pretty quickly that to tackle all this monumental work, SDF had to grow; we had to strengthen the organization to seize all the opportunities ahead of us.

But, it wasn’t just about growing the SDF. The more important area was growing Stellar and everything around it. And we started by defining the “Stellar minimum viable ecosystem”: which products, services, assets and company types needed to be a part of the Stellar ecosystem in order to ensure viability. Then we pushed our business development team (a team of three at that point) and our engineers into the world to advocate for those organizations to join the Stellar ecosystem. We spread our message very wide and we got to work.

We focused on increasing developer engagement, expanding the breadth of companies building on Stellar, ensuring on and off-ramps were integrated and available, and working with asset issuers to make relevant assets available on the network. We supported education and engagement with regulators and policymakers. Facebook, who hadn’t yet rebranded as Meta, had just officially entered into the blockchain world in May 2019; with their entry into the space, along came new regulatory attention. The moment marked SDF’s first foray into the policy and regulatory discussions because we saw the large need to set the right tone with these critical stakeholders.

We sought to make borderless payments using Stellar simple and real. This was our opportunity. This was our north star.

Eventually, we overcame the challenges. It was a lot of work, but it paid off — particularly when we focused on real-world assets, like USD and EUR stablecoins. But, it’s blockchain so of course, there was always a different, sexier, shinier object to lean into - like the memecoins of today - but we stayed focused on utility. We saw how important on and off-ramps were to payments and to a network’s success, so we kept our eyes trained there. Payments needed to have the crypto-to-cash and cash-to-crypto problem solved because that’s how we actually create financial access —and we solved it and today Stellar has the largest network of cash-to-crypto ramps.

Transformation achieved! Bringing together those two pieces – assets and ramps – was game changing… and it opened up the world for builders on Stellar. Stellar now averages billions of operations every quarter demonstrating it has real scalability for increased adoption. It proves it can accommodate use in everyday payments between businesses and consumers alike, powered by global on and off-ramps, and high quality and relevant assets. Stellar boasts the utility that other networks talk about but cannot point to.

And so, where are we now? At another new beginning bringing everyday financial services to the masses. Soroban, the smart contract platform on Stellar that went live on March 19, 2024, is a crucial growth step for Stellar. The platform allows developers to build whatever they want.

It’s a brave new world for Stellar, and the SDF approached its development and growth in the same way we did five years ago. We defined the requirements of a “Soroban minimum viable ecosystem,” we engaged the ecosystem, we planned for redundancy and we listened to what others wanted from Stellar. We are now skilled at relying on the tools that we have - the SCF, grants, the ecosystem, and SDF’s own internal teams- to make a lot of noise and bring a lot of attention to the work. Most importantly, we have stayed the course, stayed focused, and didn’t get distracted by the shiny objects. And now that smart contracts on Stellar are live, the work is just beginning and opportunity abounds!

Over the last five years, we have now done this twice….twice without creating fake attention, twice while engaging with our ecosystem, twice without getting misdirected by the shiny objects and the noise, and twice without losing sight of SDF’s mission. I’m not going to lie, it's not easy and staying focused is its own challenge.

I’m proud of the work we have done to help build Stellar. I’m excited by the growth in Stellar’s core numbers:

  • Total Accounts 2019: 4.1 million accounts; 2024: 8.1 million accounts
  • Total operations: 2019: 485 million; 2023: 3.5 billion

We get lots of questions about why we don’t do certain things. There is a lot of judgment about why we aren’t like a lot of others out there. We are often told that we don’t get enough attention. The truth is we are meeting builders where they are with tools and support they need to make their projects reality. We are proving the value of this technology and of innovators all over the world. And, sometimes the “focused and steady” win the race - and the race for us to accomplish our mission even through all of the challenges and opportunities.

These last five years have been the best of my professional career. I’m so grateful to those building on Stellar, to our devoted ecosystem and to the phenomenal SDF team. None of this could have been done without all of your dedication. Real transformation takes all of us. For those who haven't yet felt the magic that Stellar and its ecosystem offers, come check it out, and build with us.