Good morning defiers! I interviewed Plasma Group cofounder Jinglan Wang, who believes she and her team have cracked the DeFi scalability puzzle. They’ve shifted gears from plasma to optimistic rollups, which can processes fewer transactions per second than plasma but supports smart contracts. The first demo of this technology was unveiled last week during Devcon, with Unipig Exchange, (which I cover here.)
DeFi projects often say they don’t need many transactions per second right now –and Jinglan explains why that view is flawed. She also talks about her past life as a Bitcoin maximalist and tells the story about her literal scar from the start of the 2017 crypto bull market.
Image source: Forbes
The interview is edited for clarity and brevity and I’ve bolded my favorite quotes.
Camila Russo: How did you first get involved in crypto?
Jinglan Wang: I tried to start a Bitcoin class at my university and it was rejected, but I was the co-president of the MIT Bitcoin Club. The environment there was really conducive to creativity and all the people there are super awesome. I organized the 2016 MIT Bitcoin Expo and through the process of organizing that, I met a lot of people who came to speak because I was their primary points of contact. And just looking into who these people were, what they could talk about, figuring out the agenda, figuring out who to invite, I learned a lot about the breadth and depth of the space at the time.
I was studying art and computer science at Wellsely College. I didn't finish my degree. I bounced to start a company called Eximchain and I left before they ICO'ed, around 2016 or 2015.
CR: What did you do after that?
JW: I was sort of like in a free float. I did some work with Zcash, some work with SIA, some work with various random projects. Then I was like, I need a real job and my parents are upset that I don't have a job or college degrees. So I started working at NASDAQ as a product manager for their blockchain projects. They had like seven different blockchain projects under their belt at the time.
CR: Wow, you were able to get this big job at a big company, having dropped out of colleague.
JW: NASDAQ was a sponsor for the IDEO blockchain fellowship, and I was one of the fellows. I think that was a really good recruiting pool for them, for blockchain savvy people.
I worked there for about a year, right before Ethereum hit $300. [She points to a small scar on her ankle] This scar is from that time. I was at a bar eating lunch with my coworkers and I saw that Ethereum hit $300, and I threw my hands into the air and I thought the bar stool was nailed to the ground as they are sometimes, but it wasn't. And I fell backwards and my ankle hit the metal bar stool and it split my ankle open. So now as the scar fades, I'm like, we've come a long ways in crypto.
CR: So to get so excited, you must have already been really into Ethereum?
JW: I used to be a Bitcoin maximalist but I think the vibes are different in the Bitcoin and Ethereum communities, and I was just really entranced by how friendly the Ethereum community was and how no matter what your skill set or what your level you were at, you were always encouraged to contribute.
CR: Cool, so you got into Ethereum for the people, more than the tech. So what did you do next?
JW: I moved to San Francisco to work on Handshake, a decentralized naming system project with Joseph Poon. I learned a lot from everyone who was involved in that project –a lot of crazy, brilliant people. I worked with them up until launch or announcement, about four or three months.
CR: How did you start Plasma?
JW: I was working on this course called Cryptoeconomics.Study with Karl Floersch, and it's now run by this awesome person named Kevin Ho. I was writing the plasma chapter of the course and I was like, wow, this seems straight forward. Why has nobody built it yet? Unbeknownst to me at the time there were people working on implementations, but we were like, why don't we build it? So Kevin took over Cryptoecomics.Study and Karl and I, as well as Ben Jones and Kelvin Fichter, who is no longer with the project, started Plasma.
CR: Can you tell me in very simple terms what Plasma is?
Essentially Plasma is what you would call a Layer 2 scaling solution. It is also an off chain scaling solution. Basically, people make all these transactions off chain, a party called the aggregator bundles these transactions and posts a digest, or a summary of it or hash, to the Ethereum main chain.
CR: So why the transition from plasma to optimistic rollup?
JW: Plasma can do a lot of transactions per second, like 20,000 easily. But it's only for simple sense and normal transactions. Like, I send you money, that type of transaction. It cannot do smart contracts and you can't build applications either. So we went around to the community and talked to projects and we were like, hey, we have this scaling solution, Plasma, do you like it? And they're like, oh, it might be cool, but can you do smart contracts? Can you do Uniswap? Can you do any of those cool things? We told them you can't, but you can get 20,000 TPS. Still, they weren’t interested.
We went back to the drawing board and created Generalized Plasma, which allows you to create applications on plasma and a limited set of types of smart contracts. But it still wasn't enough.
So we created optimistic rollup, which borrows heavily from the Plasma designs as well as Vitalik's Shadow Chains designs from 2014, and it can run full Solidity smart contracts on Layer 2, which is super sick. And now when people are like, can you do Uniswap? We're like, yeah, in fact we have a demo and it works and it's fast and it feels good to use.
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