Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood brings Polkadot to China

By Nicole Jao
4 min read
Gavin Wood, founder of Web3 Foundation and co-founder of Ethereum. (Image credit: Web3Foundation)

Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood was in China last week to promote Polkadot, his highly anticipated blockchain project worth a reported $1.2 billion. He was warmly welcomed in the country where the technology has amassed an enthusiastic following.

The network protocol project is the first work from Wood’s Switzerland-based non-profit Web3 Foundation and aims to enable different blockchains to interact with each other.

TechNode caught up with the former Ethereum CTO during the Beijing stop of his four-city tour. The event attracted a lot of attention in the capital with hordes of developers and blockchain aficionados in attendance.

Polkadot recently closed a private token sale to fund its development, bringing its valuation to a whopping $1.2 billion, although Web3 Foundation did not reveal the full list backers. Chinese funds provided “fairly substantial” support, Wood said.

Wood shares China’s enthusiasm toward the blockchain sector, telling TechNode that the country is one of the most important markets for his ambitious new project.

Interoperability

Polkadot protocol is based on proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus and it creates an environment allowing data structures—not just blockchains—to connect to the network. It aims to tackle some core issues in blockchain networks like interoperability, scalability, and security. Simply put, the goal is to build a secure blockchain network for different types of blockchains to collaborate and benefit from each other’s core competencies—a chain for chains, so to speak.

Although some media reports suggested that the Polkadot had struggled to raise funds, Wood told TechNode that around 5% of the total token supply had been sold as targeted.

The hyped-up project isn’t controversy-free. It has received a lot of pushback from the Ethereum community, because Parity Technologies, Wood’s other company, powers large chunks of Ethereum and handles some $50 billion in assets. The similarities between Polkadot and Ethereum’s Serenity (also known as Ethereum 2.0) raise questions about possible conflicts of interest.

Wood said that Polkadot intends to be an “innovation platform,” which was also his vision for Ethereum in the first place. But to him, the two projects have different approaches to the same vision.

Innovation will drive users and usage cases, said Wood, adding that Polkadot aims to do so via its Substrate, which can be thought of as the toolkit for developers to build new projects.

Polkadot will allow new projects to connect with existing blockchain projects as well as new ones. And it allows flexibility such as when determining whether developers will provide their own security or if they want access to shared security that Polkadot provides.

The project is less about trying to build a platform for interoperability for pre-existing projects, although that is not to say that pre-existing projects like Bitcoin and Ethereum are not valuable in terms of building bridges. In fact, that is something that Polkadot will probably do in the near future.

During the Beijing event, Liu Yi, partner at crypto asset manager Random Capital, teased the Cdot Network which will provide relay services specifically for Polkadot’s parallelizable chains (parachains) in China. The aim is to lower the threshold of creating new blockchain projects in the ecosystem. It will also work with the Web3 Foundation to help provide local developers training about Polkadot’s Substrate as well as incubate new blockchain projects.

Wood revealed that Polkadot’s main net will be ready for launch as early as November. But before then, the team will focus on the Kusama, which is an experimental version of Polkadot, a “canary-network” as he calls it, which refers to a canary down the mine, serving as a warning of dangers and risks.

China’s blockchain suitability

The project was able to attract Chinese capital not only because of Wood’s association with Ethereum, he said, but also because Chinese investors are aware of the significant interest and activity in the local blockchain and developer community. Wood has high hopes for participation from Chinese developers.

China’s rapidly shifting regulatory environment can be difficult to navigate especially for those foreign to the market, but regulations are not a key concern for Wood.

“If I wanted to launch a new payment system or a new token, that will become a problem [in China], but that is not really what Polkadot is trying to do,” he said. “This technology for me is not about cryptocurrency, it is really about trust freedom and the ability to construct new businesses without having to have a business at all… Although tokenization plays a role in this, it’s not the critical thing nor is it necessary for all of it to work.”

Moreover, Wood believes that the China market’s potential is found it its entrepreneurial spirit, seen often within the community.

Wood noticed in recent years when dealing with China and parts of Europe that there are a lot of people seeking out new ideas, a fervor that he compared with that seen in the early days of capitalism. It is why he believes that China is perfectly fitted for blockchain development.

“Blockchain is really all about having people to create open-ended deals and other people that accept the deals,” he said, adding that China is notably home to an abundance of people ready and willing to engage.