Inside Zilliqa – The most recent crypto unicorn
I think it would be safe to say that Zilliqa is perhaps one of the few, if not the only, billion dollar company that works out of a coworking space. Their office could seat at the most 30 people at full capacity. But in that office, are perhaps the smartest people working in the blockchain space, working on the technology’s biggest problem – speed and scale.
On a rainy Friday evening in Singapore, I sat down to chat with one of Zilliqa’s 9 co-founders, Amrit Kumar.
A flat structure
Amrit shared some of the early days of Zilliqa with me, which had a lot of stories that you would not find on the internet. He said, “You know, they say that in crypto, the days are very short. This was definitely not true in our case because of the hurdles that we were met with.”
He shared that as academics, the project was met with a fair share of scepticism on the team’s ability to be able to do businesses. “We academics think differently about how the business folk think,” said Amrit. “For example, we had a bit of seed financing before the ICO, but there was always the doubt about whether the project would flourish. That impacted how we hired because we didn’t want to be in a position where we had to ask people to leave. We kept it lean and our team of 9 people.”
While you won’t be able to make out from Zilliqa’s team page, Amrit told me that the company’s 9 initial members were also its co-founders. He says, “In the beginning, we had to gather all kinds of people – both from the tech side as well as the non-technology side. We had a few of us on the research side – all of whom have PhDs, a few engineers, some people in marketing and a scientific advisor.”
From the way the office was set up, you could tell that the company followed quite a flat structure. Amrit confirmed this and said, “most breakthrough ideas come from anywhere in the company. If the idea is good, and there is a consensus that it needs to be done, we come together and ensure that it gets done. That’s how it’s always been since the very beginning.”
Also, read – https://itsblockchain.com/zilliqa-high-throughput/
The academic-industry divide
When you look at the projects that have emerged from Singapore, the National University of Sciences (NUS) has had an interesting hand to play in. Kyber Network, for example, is also the product of an NUS graduate and several NUS graduates work in blockchain companies. Zilliqa is also a project that comes from the labs at NUS and Amrit gave us an insight into what powers this billion dollar production house. However, in the blockchain world, academics and industry don’t see eye to eye.
He says, “Back in the early days of blockchain and cryptocurrency, there was a huge divide between academics and the people in the industry. Bitcoin, for example, was not from an academic research. It was built to solve a real-world use case. So, in the early days, the academics didn’t really take to blockchain technology as much. However, today that divides is shrinking. More academics are seeing research problems that can be solved using blockchain and there are several academicians who are entering the space.
Interestingly, there are many academics who are starting up as well. There is a reason behind this too. Amrit says, “There are so many academics and professors who are looking at their research as more than just papers. They want to be able to commercialise it at some level and more importantly take it to the masses. Imagine writing an academic paper and all it does it go to a few conferences and doesn’t go anywhere after that. The hard work you put into your research doesn’t really live up to its potential if you don’t find a way of implementing it to the masses.”
The strategy that is Singapore
Zilliqa’s story is another feather in the cap of the Singapore blockchain ecosystem. It wouldn’t be going to far to call it the blockchain hub of Southeast Asia. Amrit believes that there are a few reasons why so many great Asian blockchain projects come out of Singapore.
He says, “Most governments have some kind of interest in blockchain as a technology. But the Singapore government has gone a step ahead and made a thriving ecosystem for blockchain development. There is government support in terms of regulations and funding. Secondly, the academic institutions have created a culture of working on the blockchain. You have PhD students and professors in the NUS working on and teaching blockchain to students. That exposure leads to great talent, which directly benefits blockchain companies starting up here.”
Amrit shared that the government is actually encouraging students to take up jobs at startups and start their own companies, so all the good talent isn’t hoarded by the big companies. Furthermore, the Ethereum community is very strong in Singapore, making it simpler to set up a world-class team from Singapore, as opposed to most countries.
The future of Zilliqa
Zilliqa is already working closed pilots with some companies and is also launching a bug resistant smart contract language – Scilla. They have also launched a 5 million dollar USD fund for companies working on Zilliqa or those who want to build tools for them. However, the key focus of the company remains on building a high throughput blockchain.
“Whatever kind of distributed application you are building, you should build it on a high throughput blockchain if it is intended for the real world. Scale and performance is a big problem in blockchain and many of us are taking various approaches to solving this problem. But if blockchain is to become mainstream, the scale problem has to be solved,” said Amrit.
Amrit concluded by saying that the company will be launching on mainnet in Q3 2018. As I walked away from the interview, I went back to the sight of the office space. 5 months ago, 9 driven people have built a company that is today valued at close a billion dollars.
What a time to be alive.
Visit Zilliqa – https://www.zilliqa.com/