Founder Stories: Sergey Gorbunov - Axelar
Published 4th August 2022 by MSV Team
We’ve got some brilliant projects within our portfolio and want to tell you more about the founders and teams behind them. On a regular basis, you will have the opportunity to learn more about specific projects through our interviews. Feel free to post any questions you may have further down in the comments section.
In today’s interview, we spoke with Sergey Gorbunov, Co-founder of Axelar. Let’s go!
Hi Sergey, thanks for participating in our interview. To begin, could you please give us an introduction about yourself? How did you get into crypto?
OK, hi, thanks for having me. My name is Sergey and I'm a co-founder of Axelar. Axelar, in brief, delivers secure cross-chain communication for Web3, so that dApp users can interact with any asset or application, on any chain, with one click.
I did my PhD at MIT working on designing advanced cryptographic protocols and systems. Prior to that I worked with Software Defined Networks. I got interested in blockchains at the end of my grad school where I started to play with some early ideas for a scalable blockchain system. As a founding team member at Algorand, I helped to develop and take it to the market. My team at Algorand also led the effort to standardize BLS signatures, which has been followed by Ethereum2.0 implementations and others.
While in the early days I purely focused on the technical problems and tried to solve them for the market, the more I understood about the space and played with different technologies, the more I understood the value of permissionless systems and the impact it will have on society.
What is Axelar? When and why did you start this project?
Axelar delivers secure cross-chain communication. At the core is the decentralized Axelar overlay network that supports Turing-complete message passing and composability of programs. Above the network sits a simple API that enables developers to build seamless cross-chain dApps that allow their users to interact with any application, any asset on any chain with 1-click experiences.
My co-founder Georgios and I started the project in 2020. We saw Web3 was evolving into a multichain environment. Now, the multichain future is apparent: there are many credible blockchains on which to build. We believe the specialization in platforms and experimentation in consensus approaches will continue to expand and diversify. And, we believe these experiments can't exist in silos of users and liquidity. For application developers, they need to be able to choose the best blockchain for their use case, without sacrificing access. For users, they need to be able to combine the assets they want with the applications they want, without taking unnecessary risks that come with ad-hoc bridges and less-than-optimal security approaches.
Could you expand on Axelar’s “plug-and-play connectivity” approach?
Our entire thesis is based on the idea that developers can focus on building great experiences for their users. They don't have to focus on non-core functions because they can connect easily to those functions via cross-chain communication. So, the Axelar network is designed with APIs and an SDK that make it easy for developers to plug into functions, assets and users, anywhere in Web3. Securing cross-chain communication is very complex and difficult, but the developer can integrate it via a process that is very simple and intuitive.
In many ways, Axelar is analogous to Stripe, which handles the complexity of payments, dealing over various banks and payment networks, making it painless for developers who rely on the payments function in their applications.
Why did you choose the Delegated-Proof-of-Stake model?
Delegated proof-of-stake is the most permissionless approach to security at scale in Web3. Permissionlessness enables decentralization and over time, we know that decentralized approaches are the most secure. That's why all the major L1s have adopted dPoS, and that's how we've seen it get battle-tested over time.
DPoS allows us to maintain a robust system with high liveness and safety gurantees, while building all the core functionality needed for processing cross-chain transactions (such as validator membership chains, permisionless relaying, etc.)
In addition, dPoS also has these great network effects, which have contributed to the growth of the L1s. One of our testnet validators, ChorusOne, had a good, forward-looking blog post some years back, outlining some of those benefits in detail. https://medium.com/chorus-one/the-internet-of-blockchains-part-3-network-effects-proof-of-stake-f045858ab782
How can developers integrate Axelar’s protocol with their products?
We've worked hard to make integration with Axelar network super easy. Application developers can integrate interoperability into their code with a simple API calls using the smart contract language of the platform they choose to build their dapps. We've worked to make complexities like gas payments on multiple chains as simple as possible, using services in our SDK.
For protocol developers, integrating with Axelar is also very simple -- at least as far as the technical aspects are concerned. We can onboard a new EVM chain in a matter of minutes, as we've shown in live coding demos. That's a benefit of having a consistent network architecture. (By the way, the other side of this benefit is the ability to quickly suspend traffic to chains, if they are having security or liveness issues. We recently put that capability to the test when Terra collapsed and were able to quickly stop transfers to and from the Terra network.)
Which ecosystems are already integrated with your network, and what other networks can we expect?
Right now we have more than a dozen chains integrated with Axelar, covering EVM chains, Polkadot chains and Cosmos chains. Bitcoin is on testnet, and we're constantly working to identify and add new blockchains to the network.
Can you tell us more about the Axelar team, your journey whilst growing the startup, and your plans for the future?
My co-founder Georgios and I were founding team members at Algorand. We've recruited heavily from MIT and the University of Waterloo, where both founders have affiliations. At this point we're at about 35 employees, total, with about 25 of those in engineering. We've been fortunate to be able to recruit a team of inspiring and excellent people. For example, core engineer Joao Sousa built the first practical implementation of Byzantine consensus, BFTSmart, which has served as inspiration for many researchers over the years.
In addition to Morningstar ventures, we've also been fortunate to secure the backing of other leading investors such as Coinbase Ventures, Dragonfly Capital, Binance Ventures, Polychain, to name a few.
With this team and these backers, we've come a long way in a short time: We began our mainnet roll-out in January and in April we rolled out General Message Passing, which makes Axelar a truly Turing-complete cross-chain network. Since then, we have seen major projects adopt Axelar as an interoperability standard. That includes leading dexs on Avalanche and Cosmos, and we're now starting to see many projects in the NFT space building cross-chain with us.
For the future, our priority is to continue supporting new projects building cross-chain with Axelar, and continue growing the number of chains we connect. We're also always hiring, and you can see all the open listings at axelar.network/careers.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
I think we're on the cusp of a new paradigm in Web3: application developers building for optimal user experience and utility, rather than embracing the trade-offs of a siloed ecosystem; and users interacting with the applications and the assets they choose, in any combination -- perhaps with very little awareness of the infrastructure underneath. This is very much the way Web2 operates and I believe it's an essential step for Web3 on its way to scale to users in the 10s or 100s of millions.
Thanks a lot for your time Sergey and good luck with your project!
If you have any questions for Sergey please use the comment section below.
The Morningstar Ventures Team