Prysmatic Labs - Raul Jordan
5 min read

Prysmatic Labs - Raul Jordan

Interview with Raul Jordan of Prysmatic Labs
Prysmatic Labs - Raul Jordan

Today we have Raul Jordan for an interview. He co-founded Prysmatic Labs and is a Go developer working on the Ethereum blockchain protocol. Prysmatic Labs aims to help the blockchain scale by implementing proof-of-stake, a way for the blockchain to operate without computationally exhaustive mining, and sharding, a method to increase the number of transactions the blockchain can handle. You can follow Raul at @raulitojordan and read his articles here.

Brian Wei: Tell me about yourself and how you got into the tech ecosystem.

So it’s a pretty typical path--I studied computer science at Harvard and before I didn’t have a programmer’s laptop because I had the intention of becoming a biomedical engineer. I took CS50 and I thought that was interesting. Also, I have built several websites for fun and, in freshman year, I built this app called Instanom with a few friends. It was an app where you can order food delivery from Harvard Square to your dorm. This was even before the delivery apps and it was a little project that we had. We were doing quite a bunch of deliveries and people started to ask, “Hey you built that website? This is pretty cool!” We then got into a few more digs after that and we thought, “Hey, we can build stuff that people can actually use.” And that was very exciting.

As time went on, I started working at a research lab and I realized there is a big disconnect between the information that students have and what the research labs are working on. With a friend, we decided to put together a company called Kynplex that would make it easier to communicate what is happening in science as a student. We were more of a scientific news aggregator site. We ended up receiving a Thiel Fellowship and took some time off from school to work on that. One thing that attracted me to tech is there is always something exciting and new regarding technology. We also realize that if we were to work on this, this would be a ten year commitment at minimum, and if you are not passionate to a certain extent, then you shouldn’t do it. For us, it was more of a school project. It wasn’t something that we dreamt of doing for the next ten years.

So I had a little crisis, but I soon discovered blockchain projects relating to Ethereum. It was this mind-blowing kind of paradigm shift that I realize that I can bring to the world. So I have been really excited on working on new sets of technology that I can be on the forefront. And I have been working on that ever since.

I understand that you started with Kynplex while you were a freshman at Harvard. What is Kynplex? What problem or problems was it trying to solve?

Originally it was a small project. We wanted to make it easier for students like us to see what’s going on in the latest research labs of Boston in terms of projects, papers, and cool new ideas. Eventually we wanted to make it as an overall platform for people who are interested in science to keep up to date with the latest information in laboratory research without making it too technical. We wanted to make easily accessible, scientific information with high quality content. So that was the original goal. I did not continue with Kynplex after a while. We [the founders] decided what we wanted to do in the next ten years and decided to move on.At the moment, I am a co-founder of a company called Prysmatic Labs, where we work full time on blockchain and Ethereum technology.

What do you look for in a co-founder? And as a follow-up, what do you look for in a team as you start growing the company?

I had two co-founders total during my time at startups. The first was Grace, a friend of mine from college. She was also class of 2017. We were both motivated to solve the problem. We didn’t think about it too much in terms of deciding about co-founders or how it was going to be a long term commitment. We didn’t think about it too much and so we just went with it.

In the new company, I was looking for someone who is technically capable, someone who is much more so than I was. My current co-founder was a senior software engineer at Google in New York. He was one of the core developers on the team with the Golang programming language at Google. I really looked for someone who has the talent on working on such a difficult project.

Some people look for interdisciplinary co-founders, people who have complementary skill sets but really at the end of the day, they look for someone who can understand but develops your work and vice-versa. We had disagreements in the past [at Kynplex] because my co-founder was non-technical.

What are the best parts of working at an early stage company? What are the challenges?

I think the biggest challenge is navigating through the idea maze. So the idea maze is the thing where there’s no clarity as to where to go next, such as, “We should do this or we should do that. Maybe we can pivot into this.” It’s a giant maze to navigate. It’s more of an art than anything else. The great part about it is that you get to experiment on the things that you want to do. You can try out new things and you can really learn it from the people who did it before.

I understand that you found Prysmatic Labs. What are the problems are you trying to solve at Prysmatic Labs, and why are they problems in the first place?

The Ethereum network is a blockchain and it has the second largest cryptocurrency called Ether. It is trying to create an open network where people can build applications that are decentralized and unstoppable. For example, anyone can access a bank without going through a financial system. You can build implementations that focus on resistance, where no company or government can censor and control. And that’s a very powerful thing in a world where the ownership of data is becoming more of a luxury.

So the problem with the network is that it currently cannot scale. It is extremely slow and has other usability problems and concerns. We are a team who are building out the core infrastructure for the scalability of Ethereum. We are implementing throughput. We are implementing security and overall agreement for the overhaul of how it works. We are mostly system level engineers who work heavily on the backend and the protocol itself, from the research angle as well.

From what I understand, you all are trying to implement a fully featured sharding client for Ethereum 2.0, right?

That’s right! We actually started off that way but now we are building out Ethereum 2.0’s functionalities in terms of how it works, the protocol, sharding, the proof of stake--all of those sorts of projects. That’s our responsibility now.

What are the greatest challenges so far in implementing Prysm?

The greatest challenge for us in implementing it is really a never before seen solution to the problem. There’s never a sharded proof of stake, scalable blockchain before. It is a very new concept. It only existed in research for a few years. The reason why no one tested it out in the wild is you do not know what sort of attack vectors and bugs that may come up or how it may fail or blow up. It’s really difficult. Another thing is to find new solutions that did not previously existed out there.

What do you recommend to students who are considering to start a company?

Sure, I think not taking yourself too seriously is really important. Especially as a student entrepreneur, it is very easy to see that everything is a zero sum game where investors are scary or everyone is competing against each other. In reality, investors want to see you win alongside them. It is a mutual relationship that is really beneficial. So it is very easy to see students scared of fundraising and going out there. Overall, you shouldn’t take it too seriously and understand that it is uncertain and difficult. Everyone who is helping on your journey wants you to win. It shouldn’t have to be zero sum.

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