Rob Viglione is the Team Lead and Co-Founder of Horizen, a blockchain platform that aims to enable an application-rich and inclusive ecosystem through its leading-edge sidechain solutions. Formally a trained physicist, mathematician, and military officer, Rob’s experience working on satellite radar, space launch vehicles, and combat support intelligence informed much of his understanding of how blockchain technology could change the trajectory of global societies.
You’ve been involved in blockchain since the early days. How did you initially get introduced to the technology?
Slashdot ran an article highlighting Bitcoin’s dollar parity in 2011 that grabbed my attention. As someone who was increasingly concerned about imbalances in the global financial system, Bitcoin seemed the perfect experiment in creating free market money for the digital age.
When did you first realize that you wanted to contribute to blockchain and cryptocurrency?
Like many others who were enamored with Bitcoin in the early days, once I started diving in and putting my money where my ideological mouth was, I couldn’t help but want to be an active part of the financial revolution. It was much too exciting to passively watch on the sidelines! The first thing I could think of at the time was offering tutoring in physics or math for Bitcoin, but oddly enough there wasn’t much of a market for that! I ended up actively involved by hosting educational meetups in Afghanistan while I was deployed there. This early experience shaped my views of where crypto can have the highest marginal impact on welfare, mainly in less stable and more politically volatile parts of the world.
You’ve been involved in many early projects such as Bitshares, BlockPay, Zclassic, Seasteading and Bitgate. What were some key lessons that you learned for what will or will not work in the marketplace?
There were so many lessons to be learned! The biggest is the value of resilience and building a strong team that can work through the crazy volatility that is crypto. This industry goes through extreme volatility and all-too-frequent hype cycles that can easily distract projects from core missions and laying solid foundations. The challenge is to keep focus on the long term, while incorporating scant, but valuable, signals from a deluge of noise in the periodic manias, but mainly to stay alive long enough to deliver real value!
What was your inspiration for launching Horizen?
I originally co-founded Horizen as a hobby project while wrapping up my PhD dissertation, it was never meant to explode like it did. There were two contributions we wanted to make to the Bitcoin ecosystem, and launching our own experiment seemed the best approach to just get things done quickly. The first part was to bring sustainable economics to crypto, the main idea being that there are many different kinds of stakeholders that contribute to the success of a decentralized ecosystem and sustainability means everyone needs to be compensated on the margin. The other big idea, and the one that people mainly associate with Horizen, is in scaling privacy. We now live in a world where data has exponentially increasing value, and people are waking up to the reality that they’ve inadvertently signed up to the Faustian bargain with big tech to give up all semblance of privacy and rights to their own data in exchange for platform usage. Our insight is obvious: there’s no reason to think of these things as mutually exclusive, and there’s a multi trillion-dollar market for building tech ecosystems where people control their data and retain their privacy.
Could you tell us what is Horizen is and why it matters?
Horizen is the world’s largest network of interoperable blockchains focused on user and application privacy that scales. The ecosystem is set to disrupt big tech platform business models in that users control their data, can elect full privacy, and directly participate in the network’s totally decentralized infrastructure. This matters more than ever in a world that’s waking up to the reality that data has real and exponentially increasing value, and privacy has been unacceptably violated at all levels of our digital lives.
In July 2020, the beta release of Zendoo, a decentralized and customizable sidechain solution was launched. For readers who are not familiar with what a sidechain is, could you define it in non-technical terms?
A sidechain is a parallel blockchain that is interoperable with another chain. Zendoo is Horizen’s blockchain interoperability protocol, and it allows developers to launch their own fully customizable blockchains that are interoperable with the Horizen network, gain the economies of scale the network affords with its large infrastructure, and it comes with a sophisticated cryptography toolkit for user and application privacy. What makes Zendoo special is that it is the first totally decentralized sidechain protocol in the blockchain industry.
How does the Zendoo sidechain compare to what is currently in the marketplace and how does it enable businesses and developers to affordably create private or public blockchains?
Zendoo is the first totally decentralized sidechain protocol in the blockchain industry, which means it does not require trusted parties to validate transactions between chains and thus has security that scales. Another important difference from earlier sidechain systems is that Zendoo is an asymmetric protocol in that the main Horizen blockchain does not need to know anything about any sidechain, but sidechains need to closely track the main blockchain. In this way, developers have full freedom to customize their blockchains without requiring any changes in the Horizen mainchain, which would become a limiting permissioning bottleneck on growth.
Could you tell us about ZEN and what benefits it provides holders?
ZEN is both the transaction currency and the utility coin for the Horizen network. The coin aspect is just like Bitcoin in that there’s a limited supply that will ever be released, emission is totally decentralized where work must be performed to obtain it, and with Zendoo, ZEN also has use as a sort of transaction “gas” for the application platform. There’s a unique value proposition here in that ZEN holders get the supply limitations of Bitcoin with a utility demand similar to Ethereum.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Horizen?
There’s a growing awareness in tech that ecosystems require community over customers, and that’s exactly how we’ve been thinking of our users from day one. Horizen is a community startup that happens to use blockchain technology to meet its mission and to disrupt what’s a multi trillion dollar industry in need of disrupting. Our notion of community starts with core intangibles like respect, inclusion, and transparency that have thus far laid the foundations for such a strong, cohesive, and positive community that is exploding.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Horizen.