How Horizen is Redefining Blockchain with Zero-Knowledge Proofs

6 May 2024

Welcome to another insightful edition of the "Behind the Startup" series, where we dive into the journeys of groundbreaking startups within the blockchain sphere. Today, we are joined by Rob Viglione, co-founder of Horizen Labs, who will share the comprehensive saga of Horizen's evolution since its inception in 2017.

Join us as Rob recounts the milestones, technological pivots, and strategic decisions that have shaped Horizen's path towards becoming a hub for zero-knowledge projects.

Ishan Pandey: Hello Rob, It's a pleasure to welcome you to our 'Behind the Startup' series. Could you share the full story of Horizen Labs with us? We'd love to hear it, especially the challenges and victories you faced along the way. Feel free to share it all!

Rob Viglione: Horizen Labs started in 2019 as a protocol developer for Horizen, an open-source blockchain project launched in 2017. We’ve established a niche for ourselves as web3 experts through our work on a number of high-profile industry projects, including in the Ape ecosystem (ApeCoin, ApeChain, Otherdeeds); the Bitcoin ecosystem (Opal); and last but not least, the Horizen ecosystem. We’re now laser-focused on developing a modular blockchain solution within Horizen optimized for proof verification as the first step on a broader mission to turbocharge Horizen as a hub for zero-knowledge projects.

Ishan Pandey: Can you explain the shift towards making Horizen a hub for ZK technologies in Web3 and how it aligns with the platform's evolution since 2017?

Rob Viglione: For us, it’s less a shift than the next stage of a natural progression. Zero-knowledge cryptography has always been at the heart of Horizen. Initially, that expertise was applied towards ensuring privacy on-chain; then, to permissionless scalability with our interoperability protocol, Zendoo; and now to modular proof verification. The through-line has always been using zk-cryptography to solve the industry’s biggest challenges.

As I just alluded to, we’re now building a modular blockchain optimized for verifying zero-knowledge proofs. However, that’s just the first step in a much bigger mission to enable new types of cryptography to be used in Web3 that's not possible today with the verification constraints on Ethereum.

Ishan Pandeey: How does Horizen plan to leverage its position as a pioneer in ZK technology to differentiate itself in the market and attract ZK projects to its ecosystem?

Rob Viglione: The first is through our pure technological advantage. Because we have so much experience in zk cryptography, including a world-class team of cryptographers and cryptographic engineers, we have a true competitive edge. Our team has even invented a couple of highly efficient hash functions that’ll play a role in our technology, including Poseidon2 and Monolith. Our proof verification layer, currently on testnet, collapses verification costs by 90% to as much as 99% versus verifying on Ethereum. That performance speaks for itself and makes our go-to-market easy.

Beyond that, though, is our reputation and support throughout the industry. Because of the Horizen heritage and brand, we are able to attract the best builders, innovators, and talent in the ZK space. Horizen has demonstrated its commitment to the ZK industry for almost seven years now, and we’ve seen the fruits of that commitment as we’ve had many projects and partners sign on to become part of what we’re building. That will only intensify in the coming weeks and months, and we’re so excited for what’s coming.

Ishan Pandey: Considering the competitive environment and the emergence of new projects offering proof verification solutions, how does Horizen intend to maintain relevance and compete effectively with its existing tokenomics?

Rob Viglione: It’s true that we’re not the only ones operating in this market segment. But we are the only ones with seven years (or anything close to it) of experience, connections, and support in the ZK space. In my blog post, I’ve laid out my vision for Horizen and $ZEN, and explained why I thought that a new token dedicated to the proof verification layer would be beneficial. Given that Horizen began as a fork of Zcash–which was itself a fork of bitcoin–it inherited its tokenomics from bitcoin. The fixed supply cap of 21 million tokens is a significant component of $ZEN’s identity and appeal, and I feel strongly that this cap should be preserved. With all of this as a backdrop, I proposed in my blog post that a new token be adopted for the upcoming proof verification chain. This way, $ZEN’s core tokenomics are unchanged, and the proof verification layer benefits from a cryptocurrency optimized for it specifically.

Ishan Pandey: What are the potential benefits of adopting a new token for the proof verification layer, and how does this align with Horizen's mission and vision?

Rob Viglione: I’ll preface this by saying that any potential token for the proof verification would need to be adopted by the community, and that I’m speaking as a community member and co-founder of Horizen. But the main benefit of a cryptocurrency dedicated to the proof verification layer would be to incentivize the desired on-chain activity–in this case, proof verification. How this would work in practice could play out in any number of ways, but the main point is to facilitate the activity for which the blockchain was purpose-built.

Ishan Pandey: As blockchain technology and cryptocurrency adoption continue to grow, regulatory scrutiny intensifies. What are your views on regulatory challenges in the Web3 ecosystem?

Rob Viglione: I’ve long said that regulation would benefit the web3 industry, provided that it’s done in a thoughtful and constructive way. Clear rules that establish guidelines for participants in the ecosystem would foster the certainty and confidence needed for the industry to grow much more from here. I’m doing my part by assisting efforts by industry trade associations to work with policymakers and help shape constructive regulations.

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Vested Interest Disclosure: This author is an independent contributor publishing via our business blogging program. HackerNoon has reviewed the report for quality, but the claims herein belong to the author. #DYOR.