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Interview with Peng Zhong — CEO & President at Tendermint

Our team has recently talked with Peng Zhong — CEO & President at Tendermint — on his background, Tendermint’s mission, long-term priorities and strategy, its goals and roadmap for 2020, Starport, connection with enterprises, challenges of balancing regulation with the decentralized ideology, and more!

What brought you to the blockchain space? When did you first hear about crypto and Tendermint in particular? How did you become part of the project?

I read about Bitcoin on Hacker News when it reached $1. I think this was 2011. I brushed it off as a novelty. In 2012, when BTC reached ~$130, I started accepting it for my web design business.

In 2013, I was contracted by Jae Kwon to build the frontend for FtNox, a crypto exchange named after “Fort Knox” and “Mt.Gox”. In mid 2014, the infamous Mt.Gox exchange revealed it had lost 850,000 BTC and had been fraudulently operating as a fractional reserve. This revelation kicked off a brutal crypto winter, and the price of BTC wouldn’t recover for 2.5 years.

During this bearish period, Jae Kwon emailed me and asked if I wanted to help build the next great thing in blockchain. I believed in the long term future of crypto and accepted this job offer. I became the first employee of Tendermint in late 2015.

Could you tell a little bit about Tendermint, and what kind of problems the team is trying to solve?

Tendermint has a vision for a more open and accountable decentralized economy that is governed by its participants.

What is the company’s mission, long-term priorities and strategy?

We encourage people to build their own decentralized organizations, governance platforms, social networks with the open source Cosmos tools that we provide. For the best projects, we provide mentoring, marketing support, and capital investment to help them get their new projects off the ground.

Could you share Tendermint’s goals and roadmap for 2020? What will be next? How do you envision Tendermint will evolve over the next few years?

For this remainder of this year, our goal is to support the community and help get the Cosmos SDK to Stargate, also known as v0.40. At the time of this interview the first release candidate for Stargate has arrived. With this update, the interblockchain communication (IBC) protocol is enabled for the first time, and allows the permissionless exchange of tokens across sovereign blockchains.

We’re extremely excited about this mult-chain future, and internally we’ve been working on Starport to bring this incredible future a little closer to present day.

A while ago, your team launched Starport, the open-source rapid prototyping tool that lets developers quickly build blockchain apps in two commands. Could you please explain to our readers what Starport is and why it’s important?

Starport is the easiest way in the world for people to build a blockchain. Unlike Ethereum, Polkadot, or Avalanche, you don’t have to buy our token to be a part of the Cosmos ecosystem. You and your community of token holders have sovereignty — absolute ownership — over your foundations.

Even more than just a sovereign chain, Starport lets you send and receive tokens from your chain to any other chain is built with Starport, the Cosmos SDK, or any other blockchain platform that supports IBC.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the blockchain space? Aside from Tendermint, which projects are particularly exciting?

The DeFi space in Ethereum is definitely the the most exciting today. I keep a close eye on projects that have strong product-market fit like Uniswap, Maker, and Yearn. Yearn is particularly impressive project in terms of how quickly they launched their community.

What is your favourite project from the Cosmos/Tendermint ecosystem? What projects do you consider promising today?

I’m biased, but my favorite project would have to be one of our own: Starport. As developers become more and more invested into our ecosystem, they tend to forget how much effort it took for them to understand it in the first place. Working on a product focused on developer experience makes sure we prioritize the first-time experience for new people learning about Cosmos. I don’t think there’s anything more important.

The big question for every blockchain platform is connection with enterprise. As you see it, what could this enterprise blockchain ecosystem look like?

As an enterprise, investing into blockchain technology shouldn’t have to massive amounts of time or capital. With the current version of Starport, you’re able to build a new blockchain in minutes. My goal is to make the Cosmos platform easy to enough to use so that any enterprise team can spin up a new chain to solve their business problem, like they do with Google Sheets or Airtable today.

In your experience, are there any challenges of balancing pragmatism and regulation with the decentralised ideology?

Regulation is always going to be trailing technological innovation. By being a part of the blockchain ecosystem you are already participating in a legal gray area. I think all of us in this space have the shared vision that decentralized ledgers are a net positive for humanity. Disregarding anything particularly egregious, I’m hoping that regulators will work with us on a good faith basis.

Many validators use cloud-based services such as AWS to deploy nodes, meaning that they are reliant on a centralized entity. In your opinion, does it affect decentralization in any way? And if it does, are you going to deal with it somehow?

Decentralization is a spectrum. Most of a blockchain application being validated on a combination of Google Cloud, AWS, and self-hosted setups is a massive improvement over traditional centralized applications. I think over time we will see that chains consisting of mostly self-hosted validators result in a more resilient application than ones that are primarily cloud hosted. We can also create metrics that incentivize self-hosting.

What does work in Tendermint mean to you personally?

Bitcoin has been around for 11 years, but crypto continues to be a cutting-edge and fast moving industry. I enjoy working in a new field of technology and taking part in creating the initial green field standards and platforms. I joined Tendermint five years ago to focus on bringing the benefits of blockchain to the masses. We’re still far from that, and I’m excited to move this further.

One last question for prosperity. What is your favorite crypto meme?

I like “few understand” from $YFI’s Blue Kirby. Sadly the Blue Kirby account has been deleted by its creator, but this Twitter account had a massive impact in Ethereum DeFi for the brief period it was around. We’re all early adopters and this meme sums up the entire crypto ecosystem.

Let’s keep building!

Follow Peng on LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub.

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Paradigm is an ecosystem that incorporates a venture fund, a research agency and an accelerator focused on crypto, DLT, neuroscience, space technologies, robotics, and biometrics — technologies that combined together will alter how we perceive reality.

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