Wrapping up my crypto MBA to build a scalable and equitable internet

Last Friday was my last day at Coinbase. Today I join O(1) Labs to lead business development and help launch Mina.

Coinbase - the crypto MBA

At Coinbase, the time one spends at the company is sometimes referred to as your crypto MBA, due to the wide range of exposure you get within the crypto space. Having done an actual MBA right before joining Coinbase, I can say it's quite true. Inside and outside of the company, you meet and learn from the brightest minds in the space, and get to work on a wide list of challenges. Even better than an MBA, you get to actually build products and solutions that make an impact. If you're thinking of building a career in crypto, Coinbase is the best place to start and grow.

I joined Coinbase two years ago when we were 120 people. It is now about 800 people. I had the privilege to work with some amazing individuals across the entire company on a diverse set of projects - laying the foundation for our Japan launch; launching Coinbase Custody by partnering with a third party broker-dealer; acquiring two companies, Paradex and Keystone; launching Coinbase Wallet and establishing it as a platform for DApp developers; launching and growing USDC through our partnership with Circle; the Libra project. When one is expected to deliver on such different projects, you understand how important it is to stay true to a mission and exercise the right values every day. I've huge respect for Brian and Coinbase's leadership team in making these front and center at Coinbase - they truly work and matter.

I also want to thank Jim, Emilie and Sam for putting a lot of faith in me and helping me grow. What I've learned from them and many other individuals at Coinbase have made me a much better person and team player.

What you also learn when you work on many different types of projects is what you really get a lot of energy from. Although Coinbase and its businesses provide fundamental infrastructure for the crypto industry and will, in my opinion, grow to serve many more millions of people, what I've discovered is I get much more energy out of building platforms that enable others to create unlimited applications and services. This is how the internet fundamentally changed the course of humanity, and is how crypto can help put it on a better track than it is today.

Mina - a scalable and equitable internet

Last summer, I wrote that today’s internet has two key missing properties:

  1. It doesn’t hold “state”, independent of trusted operators
  2. It doesn’t have a native mechanism to transfer state

The ability to easily and efficiently transfer value is at the heart of economic development and modern finance. With the invention of blockchains, we now have a way for participants in a network to hold and transfer state (and thus, value) in a digitally native format, without (theoretically) having to trust any intermediary. However, being a new technology, we have seen it run into fundamental scalability challenges. What I mean with scalability is not only throughput, or transactions per second, but many more aspects, including time to finality, developer experience and scalability of economic models. As a result, we have been able to make limited progress on 1 and 2 above. State is still held by trusted operators like miners and full nodes. It is then transferred by hosted wallets like Coinbase. We’re back where we started.

What’s needed is a way to apply new technologies to create predictable roadmaps that solve these challenges, similar to how Moore’s Law presented an economic framework to scale computing capacity. There is no silver bullet however, so it's important to apply the right technologies to the right problems.

O(1) Labs is developing Mina to initially address two of these challenges:

  1. the tradeoff between throughput and decentralization
  2. developer experience

Those familiar with the Bitcoin scaling debate will know that the Bitcoin blockchain's capacity is not scaling because there's no known way to do so while keeping access cost low. Access cost here means the cost of verifying the validity of the blockchain. It's already quite expensive and complicated for an average person to directly interface with the Bitcoin blockchain (i.e. run a node) - you need dedicated hardware and experts to maintain access. The more you increase capacity or throughput, the harder it gets. That is why, we've been left only with decentralization - which is a novel feature just by itself, but not sufficient for use cases beyond store of value.

Increasing throughput on existing blockchains not only re-centralizes these networks, but also makes access harder for developers. Professional developers want to be able to self maintain as much of their application stack as possible. The more service providers they are bound to, the more platform risk their product or business faces. If developers cannot easily and reliably build applications using cryptocurrencies, you take away half of its value proposition. With today's blockchains, developers need to rely on service providers to run their applications, such as Infura with Ethereum. Although these service providers provide a ton of value to the ecosystem, they are centralized platforms in the network, making application development riskier and harder for developers.

O(1) Labs has put together a world class team to apply zk-SNARK technology, specifically recursive SNARKs, to fix the size of the blockchain (hence the name O(1)) to a couple kilobytes. One easy way to visualize this is as a picture of the state of the blockchain, not too different than how we all perceive the physical world around ourselves. By doing this, you enable

  1. decentralization with much higher throughput - the entire blockchain can be validated with just a couple kilobytes of data regardless of the size of the blocks;
  2. anyone, including developers, to access the blockchain without having to go through intermediaries, with just a couple lines of code.

What's also important to note is that although there's some really sophisticated math and engineering being applied to Mina, it's not some voodoo magic that solves the decentralization and throughput tradeoff. Rather, it's a framework that makes sense economically. Up until Mina, blockchains had only one type of economic actor on the supply side (miner or staking node) tasked with two things: i) ensure the network arrives at a consensus, ii) monitor and filter out fraudulent transactions and spam attacks. With Mina, we add a second type of supply actor (snarking node) that is tasked with compressing the blockchain. In return for their service, these nodes get rewarded in a similar way as staking nodes.

In summary, Mina proposes a fundamentally new framework to make blockchains decentralized at scale. And it's not in some distant future - public testnet is launching this Wednesday (July 24th), with a mainnet release in the next coming months.

Help Build a New Chapter for Crypto

I can't be more excited to join O(1) Labs and help the amazing team Evan and Izaak have put together go to market with Mina. This technology will usher in a new wave of use cases and developers to crypto and enable so much more for Bitcoin, Ethereum and others. I want to emphasize this last point as so much time is wasted on the conflict between the different cryptocurrency communities - most of these teams are inventing some amazing new technology, and we should all be working together to bring this to the 99.9% of the population that hasn't used crypto beyond buying some with the hope that it goes up in value some day.

If you're interested to learn more about Mina, visit our website, watch this or this introductory video and join our public Discord (most of the protocol development is done publicly).

If you want to contribute to Mina, here are two options:

  1. The SNARK challenge has been going on for some time to increase the efficiency of SNARK proving and validating. You can still join until July 29th.
  2. Sign up to join the public testnet when we launch it on Wednesday!

And if you're interested in joining a world class team of cryptographers, engineers and internet enthusiasts, check out our careers page.