The Big Interview

Zilliqa co-founder Max Kantelia talks about the world’s first sharding-based blockchain

In this exclusive interview, Zilliqa co-founder, Max Kantelia, talks about the future of the industry and the world’s first sharding-based blockchain

Eloquently spoken and impeccably dressed, Zilliqa co-founder Max Kantelia arrives on time for our interview. Self-described as a life-long entrepreneur and investor, he believes that too many people are wasting their energies trying to understand “horrendously complicated” protocols. Instead, they should be thinking about how to create the “big scalable applications” that will change the game forever.

A brief introduction to Zilliqa

Sitting around number 40 on CoinMarketCap, “depending on which day of the week, which time of day” you look at it, Zilliqa may have flown under your radar until now. Singapore-based and with its mainnet launched in January of this year, however, this is not one of those blockchain projects with nothing to show.

In fact, it’s the world’s first sharding-based blockchain that solves some key issues surrounding other protocols. The fact that Zilliqa may be new to you is because Kantelia admits:

“I don’t like getting up on stage and talking about something until I’ve actually done it. Now we have technology that works, it’s the time to do that”.

Pushing up his glasses and looking every inch the quintessential intellectual in his tailored suit, he reveals that the majority of the Zilliqa team is made up of PhDs, professors, and computer scientists. He, however, is not one of those. Kantelia’s job is to drive adoption and raise awareness of the project outside of Asia.

Like Bitcoin or Ethereum, Zilliqa is a protocol, designed “from the ground up”. There were three main goals the team was trying to reach: high throughput, security, and better economics for miners. “I’m very proud to say we’ve achieved all three of those”, he says.

How does Zilliqa work?

Without going too deep into the weeds (after all, as Kantelia points out, how many people know exactly how the internet works?), Zilliqa uses a technique called sharding to achieve high transaction time. He reveals:

“The difference between Zilliqa and Bitcoin is so stark. To process one Bitcoin in US dollar terms is the same cost as processing 40,000 Zilliqa tokens. That’s a huge game-changer because the economics will be passed on to the end consumer”.

Sharding, Kantelia says, is “really just divide and conquer”.

“If you want to process 100 transactions, divide them into 10×10 and process them in parallel. It sounds easy, but it’s technically hugely challenging, especially if you want to use a consensus protocol. We use something called pBFT (practical Byzantine fault tolerance) to make that work”.

The three key problems Zilliqa set out to tackle

Zilliqa reaches an extremely high transaction speed because, as Kantelia says, “seven to ten transactions a second doesn’t really cut it”. But how does it achieve its other goals of security and miner economics?

He says that Ethereum’s Solidity while being a “very expressive language”, leaves too much room for human error. A lot of the hacks that have happened in the crypto world are because a programmer writes a piece of code for a smart contract and makes an error in the contract.

“That means that your code has a bug in it, and when that code goes out onto a public blockchain you can’t retrieve it. To a hacker, that bug is like a glowing green light. They exploit that bug and they freeze or they steal the assets. The DOA attack was a very good example of that. We felt that wasn’t good enough”.

Zilliqa has, therefore, created a programming language called Scilla that is “secure by design”. It forces a programmer down a “very narrow pathway of how they write the code” and when they finish, they can perform a verification. He explains:

“You can mathematically check that your code doesn’t have any bugs in it before it goes to the public blockchain, this is “another game-changer”.

As far as miner economics are concerned, the Zilliqa team saw that as a problem a long time ago. Just taking the example of gaming, Kantelia says that many gamers are passionate about gaming on Ethereum, but can’t afford to play anymore because the cost of gas is so high. Zilliqa is a low-cost transaction engine.

“Technologically, we’ve done everything we said we were going to do, now it’s time to really push adoption of the chain”.

What verticals is Zilliqa designed for specifically?

Zilliqa has three core verticals in mind currently. One of them is “obviously” gaming. The other is combating advertising fraud, making advertising more contextual, and fighting and fake news.

Zilliqa is already working to achieve this through Project Proton, a much-publicised partnership with Mindshare, one of the world’s biggest digital advertising agencies. “They have $30 billion in revenues every year”, he enthuses.

There are also some “very interesting things developing around securities tokenisation”, although, he believes this will take some years to become mainstream. “I don’t think it will go mainstream soon. It’s going to take years, the world’s biggest regulators need to take time to decide what they’re going to do…

The ICO thing came and went (and we all know why), but securities tokenisation is real because we’re talking about asset-backed tokens. Some people are not clear about the benefit it really gives you. But I think that things like fractional ownership are absolutely doable. We’ve identified these three verticals and are now working very hard to drive adoption”.

The path to becoming a top ten blockchain

I wonder if making developers learn another language isn’t adding an extra layer of complexity and therefore hindering adoption. However, Kantelia insists that Zilliqa is “aggressively out there” with teaching programmes and training courses. Moreover, they plan to “take Scilla up a notch or two” by making it more high level and easier to learn.

Kantelia admits that while he doesn’t look at Zilliqa’s price, it’s not irrelevant by any means. Among his many goals is to be a top ten “or even top five blockchain”, so he constantly studies its ranking.

Unlike some other projects, Zilliqa doesn’t intend to be the only blockchain. “I don’t believe that that will ever be the case. I don’t believe there will be just one blockchain, as much as I also believe that there won’t be a thousand. There will be a handful of winners in this game. I am sure consolidation will come”.

The biggest aspects still to work on are adoption and interoperability. “We have to make sure that blockchains can work with each other”, he says. Both public blockchains and permissioned blockchains must be able to work together, in a type of “hybrid blockchain ecosystem”.

Kantelia believes that “we may not even know that we’re using them… and we don’t need to worry too much about how the tech works because it will just work. But as a consumer, you will see the benefit of cheaper, faster, and better”.

How long will it take for this consolidation and interoperability to happen?

“I always show people a screenshot of something called the Netscape browser in 1994. That’s where we’re at with blockchain today. It’s 1994 and there is loads to come. Somewhere around all this crowd, there might be another Sergey Brin  who’s got an amazing application for blockchain…

My advice is to be bold and brave and try to think about applications. Don’t worry about the tech, our scientists and engineers are the people who are fixing all that. Just think about how you’re going to create those really big scalable applications that will change things for the better, for the consumer”.

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