Today I am speaking with Sebastian Buergel, Founder at HOPR. HOPR is not your average web3 project—it’s a decentralized, incentivized mixnet that takes privacy to a whole new level. By obfuscating all metadata, including IP addresses, HOPR is creating “a private internet for everyone.” And as you will hear, Sebastian is another brilliant intellect building in web3 with an unwavering commitment to privacy.
During this interview, Sebastian talks about his fascinating background in microtechnology, recounting his journey from academia to becoming a trailblazing founder in the web3 space. We also talk about the 2017 ICO Craze, where Sebastian shares firsthand experiences that shaped his perspectives of the industry. He then takes us on a deep dive into the world of web3 privacy, unraveling the core aspects that HOPR addresses with remarkable innovation. You’ll also hear Sebastian offer thought-provoking insights on entrepreneurship, the web3 industry, decentralized apps, and his perspective on The Graph.
The GRTiQ Podcast owns the copyright in and to all content, including transcripts and images, of the GRTiQ Podcast, with all rights reserved, as well our right of publicity. You are free to share and/or reference the information contained herein, including show transcripts (500-word maximum) in any media articles, personal websites, in other non-commercial articles or blog posts, or on a on-commercial personal social media account, so long as you include proper attribution (i.e., “The GRTiQ Podcast”) and link back to the appropriate URL (i.e., GRTiQ.com/podcast[episode]). We do not authorized anyone to copy any portion of the podcast content or to use the GRTiQ or GRTiQ Podcast name, image, or likeness, for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books or audiobooks, book summaries or synopses, or on any commercial websites or social media sites that either offers or promotes your products or services, or anyone else’s products or services. The content of GRTiQ Podcasts are for informational purposes only and do not constitute tax, legal, or investment advice.
We use software and some light editing to transcribe podcast episodes. Any errors, typos, or other mistakes in the show transcripts are the responsibility of GRTiQ Podcast and not our guest(s). We review and update show notes regularly, and we appreciate suggested edits – email: iQ at GRTiQ dot COM. The GRTiQ Podcast owns the copyright in and to all content, including transcripts and images, of the GRTiQ Podcast, with all rights reserved, as well our right of publicity. You are free to share and/or reference the information contained herein, including show transcripts (500-word maximum) in any media articles, personal websites, in other non-commercial articles or blog posts, or on a on-commercial personal social media account, so long as you include proper attribution (i.e., “The GRTiQ Podcast”) and link back to the appropriate URL (i.e., GRTiQ.com/podcast[episode]).
The following podcast is for informational purposes only. The contents of this podcast do not constitute tax, legal or investment advice. Take responsibility for your own decisions, consult with the proper professionals, and do your own research.
Sebastian Burgel (00:00:19):
Because processing data from a blockchain is messy, so we need a layer on top of the blockchain that indexes all the relevant data for you and makes sense of that and presents that in a useful fashion.
Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today, I’m speaking with Sebastian Burgel, founder at HOPR. HOPR is not your average web3 project. It’s a decentralized incentivized mixed net that takes privacy to a whole new level. By obfuscating all metadata, including IP addresses, HOPR is creating a private internet for everyone, and as you will hear, Sebastian is another brilliant intellect building in web3 with an unwavering commitment to privacy. During this interview, Sebastian talks about his fascinating background in microtechnology, recounting his journey from academia to becoming a trailblazing founder in the web3 space.
We also talk about the 2017 ICO craze, where Sebastian shares his firsthand experiences to help shape his perspective of the industry and its future. He then takes us on a deep dive into the world of web3 privacy, unveiling the core aspects that HOPR addresses with remarkable innovation. You’ll also hear Sebastian offer thought-provoking insights on entrepreneurship, the web3 industry, decentralized applications, and his perspective on The Graph. As always, we start the discussion talking about Sebastian’s educational background.
Sebastian Burgel (00:02:13):
So I studied double E, that’s electrical engineering, at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and did my undergrad catching up on people think about electrical engineering, lots of engineering. Unfortunately it’s pretty much most of modern applied maths, and then finally got to apply that. Did my masters in biomedical engineering, and did microtechnology for my PhD. Was building micro devices for cellular analysis. So we did single-cell studies, lots of clean room work. So these rooms with funny yellow light that I spent plenty of time in, worked in cell labs, pretty interdisciplinary. And I would say the common denominator for my work was software. So there was lots of software development in all of that in conjunction with hardware development, and that was always fascinating for me.
Longtime listeners of the podcast will know that I’ve had a lot of different types of engineers on the show many times. And in your particular case, you had electrical engineering followed on by microtechnology. What spurred your interest in studying those fields? Do you remember?
Sebastian Burgel (00:03:26):
To be totally honest, I always wanted to get into physics and specifically astrophysics, and people eventually convinced me that this is basically a form of art that is not so applied, and you can’t do much with it. And I like practical things. I like to say that I’m a simple engineer by now. I like applied things. I like building tools that can help us improve something of the status quo on this planet. I think there’s plenty to improve, and that’s where I’m coming from. And always been fascinating building stuff, pushing the envelope and trying to do something that people previously thought was impossible.
And I’m curious about learning more about what you did with microtechnology. You explained a little bit of it there, but take us a little deeper. What were some of the things you were working on and some of the research that you did during that time of your life?
Sebastian Burgel (00:04:20):
I think the most fascinating project was unfortunately the one that I had to drop to get all in on crypto in the end, but it was building micro devices for studying drug discovery of human parasites. So when we hear about parasites, many people think about malaria, and that’s right. Malaria is something that is a pretty bad disease, but there’s tons of research on it, primarily thanks to actually Bill and Melinda Gates that put billions of dollar into malaria research. But the next schistosomiasis, the next most abundant tropical disease, parasitic disease is not known to anyone. There is nobody who is really doing research on drug compounds to be found there. That’s really messed up.
So basically the goal was, can we use microtechnology, something that has been pushed forward via billions and billions of research and development money to build faster CPUs, faster GPUs, all that stuff, and use the long tail of that technology, which we don’t need anymore, to build something entirely different with that technology? So that’s what we used in the lab that I worked in, to build micro devices to study these organisms and to help find novel drugs against infectious diseases. It’s really nasty stuff.
I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask someone like you with your background, and I haven’t had the opportunity to interview somebody with this extensive of a background in this type of field on the podcast this question, but how does somebody like you experience a global pandemic? You have a lot of scientific background. You understand some of these things at the most basic and fundamental levels. Tell us about how you experienced a pandemic and what you thought about that whole experience.
Sebastian Burgel (00:06:08):
I think it’s been a pretty wild time, this whole COVID pandemic. I worked in biolabs before. I worked in various classes of biolabs where there is some bad stuff in some of these labs where you need proper safety precautions and stuff like that. But still actually having this COVID spread across the planet, what I find still so unsettling about COVID was how bad quality of data we got. I was living in Europe. I was living in the US when COVID started, and I could not get reliable information about how bad this thing is, about the current infectious information of people. That’s something I found absolutely mind-blowing. We think we know when something on the dark side of the moon happens, but at the same time, there is this huge outbreak in every single country on the planet, and still we don’t have the capabilities of getting up-to-date data information from our governments and the agencies that work to contain those. I found that a pretty scary, and I thought we were more advanced than that, but it turns out well actually, there’s lots of catching up to do for all of us here.
Sebastian Burgel (00:07:36):
I think it’s actually at least as much the mindset as it is the technology, and the mindset of free and open-source innovation is so important. And building these, that was actually one of the reasons that got me out of academia, seeing how people built their little walled gardens, retain information and work on validity metrics, it’s pretty bad. So I would say a few things can be improved by decentralizing resilient technologies such as blockchains, but to me it’s really as much about this open-source mindset to everything. I find it absolutely horrific that people have patents on drugs that can cure people. So that’s not how innovation for humankind should progress, and that’s why I’m really happy to work in a field that just spreads this mindset of open innovation and collaboration really.
So going back a little bit to your education, you studied some impressive things and ended up getting a PhD in microtechnology. What did you do after university, and how did you start your professional career?
Sebastian Burgel (00:08:44):
I was basically on track to stay on an academic career. I had a postdoc position with several PhDs that I was supervising, and then something quite dramatic happened, and this quite traumatic thing that happened was actually Ethereum Devcon 1, so the first Ethereum developer conference, which just happened to be in the week after I defended my PhD in autumn of 2015. And I was like, “Whatever, I’ll just go to London and find out more about this completely messed up thing called Ethereum where nothing works and it’s all a mess. And maybe if I talk to the people I can make sense of it.” And to me, that was really my magic moment when, you asked me about my career, I would say where my career got completely off track of being in academia, working on microtech and realizing, this is the thing that I’ve been waiting for for a long time, that there is an absolutely incredible new world that’s opening up here. I’m among the first who can explore that and play with that technology and just get really deeply engaged with it. And that’s how I started getting into crypto.
What was the prompt for someone like yourself who’s working so far outside of crypto? You’re already on an impressive career track. What was it that said, “Hey, I’m just going to take a chance and go learn about Ethereum?” Most people would be highly dismissive of it and say, “Why would I go attend a conference, learn anything about this?” But something must have drawn your attention. What was it?
Sebastian Burgel (00:10:12):
So to me, I always wanted to get in a startup direction and toyed with a bunch of ideas that never saw the light of day. And I always thought, damn, I wish I would be only 10 years older to participate in the dot-com times in the ’90s. I grew up in Germany. It was obviously not as popular as here in the US. Also, this whole startup culture is, to a large degree, still not there in Germany. So there were some things that were going against me, and I always thought, damn, I wish I could have participated in this thing. And if something like this ever comes around again, I’m going to drop everything I’m going to do, and then I’m going to go all in and engage. And when I was at this Ethereum developer conference, this Devcon 1, that was really that moment when I was there and I was like, “Man, this is challenging absolutely everything.”
And I’d written software for a bunch of different things, and there was something new here. For the very first time, we couldn’t just code colorful things that pop up on your screen and logic and databases and stuff. We could program money, and that really took a while to get me, but then when it got me, it got me full force. We can code programs that hold money. I can code something that holds more money than I will ever hold. I can just do something which has this level of autonomy, autonomous software. Ethereum early on was basically advertised as this unstoppable world computer. Now that’s a little bit cringe if we think about it today, but back then that was a fascinating concept. I can build programs that cannot be stopped. It’s almost like this cyborg thing that you can build. I found it terrifying, fascinating, and empowering all at the same time.
Was this experience the first time you had heard of or come into contact with crypto, or had you heard about Bitcoin before? And if so, do you recall what those first impressions were at that time of your life?
Sebastian Burgel (00:12:11):
Yeah, actually I had. So a good buddy of mine with whom we were toying about some startup ideas, he told me “Hey, Sebastian, there is this thing called Bitcoin. We should check it out. Maybe we can do something with it.” And that was in late 2013, and we started building. I never traded. I was never a finance guy. I had absolutely never ever traded anything in my life. And we were like, “We can do this Bitcoin thing. We can trade it, and we get maybe rich and can do whatever we want to in our lives.” And it worked well for two months, and then that brutal bear market of 2014 hit, and that was not good.
Another thing happened was that I got Gox, so this huge exchange. It’s about as big as Binance and Coinbase combined today. Went just down, took all my Bitcoin with it. And I was like, this is all crazy. Our startup idea got butchered by a lawyer. We found out there is something that I’ve never heard of that’s called financial market regulations. It was all quite the turnoff. And everybody told us what we wanted to do we couldn’t do. All my money was gone. It was all quite disheartening early on, I would say.
What’s remarkable about that is that you came back, and you got reborn through Ethereum. You would think that first experience, again, given your professional track that you are already on, would have been enough to check that box. How do you reconcile that?
Sebastian Burgel (00:13:34):
It was really this interest, this curiosity in building something that was so far completely impossible. And to be fair, everyone needs to have some person that is nagging them and telling them to check out this thing. And you’re like, “Whatever. I will eventually. You are so annoying about it, so I will check it out.” And the guy who did that for me was Meher Roy, my friend Meher, who is now a show host at Epicenter, maybe a shout-out for another podcast. And founder, of course, of one of the biggest staking companies out there. We were attending these Bitcoin meetups, and he would just not let me go without promising him that I will check out Ethereum. And I did. And again, nothing worked back then. So if people look at these crazy little projects where absolutely nothing worked, that was Ethereum in 2015. And then I checked it out, and I found I was absolutely mesmerized.
Epicenter’s come up on the podcast many times before. So it’s a great plug, and I know it’s very highly respected. And so what happens then after Ethereum Devcon 1? What did you do next?
Sebastian Burgel (00:14:41):
First of all, it was all about learning this new thing and finding out what it can do. So you have to see, Devcon 1, it was the first time where multiple people really came around together and tried to think, what can we do with this? So one idea that was floating a lot around there was let’s build a DAO. This DAO later on happened in a quite dramatic fashion. And I was thinking, no, I don’t want to build a product just yet. I want to learn. I just want to learn about this stuff. So what we did back then, actually with Meher and another guy, we got together and we basically said, “We want to just learn about this technology and teach others about it.” I think in continental Europe at least, there were some in the UK who were a bit earlier than the US probably, we were the first professional company who would offer workshops for Ethereum that would teach people solidity, that would teach people what is this blockchain thing actually about.
So that’s how we started, and I thought, we’ll probably do that for two years. Then everybody in the whole planet knows about this blockchain thing, and then we find something else to do. Well, it turned out things take way longer. So it turns out education is still very underdeveloped today. There is still so much education needed to get crypto to mainstream. So over that time, we pivoted to software development. So many people didn’t just want to learn about Ethereum, they also wanted some handholding on building stuff with it, and that’s how we got into basically being one of the first dev shops that was exclusively focused on building Ethereum-based applications. And that was a good time. And there was this ICO craziness happening. People approached us about building millions of dollars worth of tokens that they had no idea how they would even work and more often than not actually failed. It was very wild times. That was now in 2016, ’17.
That was your first foray into entrepreneurship, and as we’ve talked about prior, you were an academic and had all the credentials in academia to go on, and yet here you are. You become an entrepreneur, and you go into this startup world. How did you make that leap?
Sebastian Burgel (00:16:53):
So basically, initially I tried to combine my academic activities with my interest in blockchain topics, and we had to write this research proposal for our professor. And I showed it to my professor, and he literally told me that Sebastian, he would be quite happy if I would keep my esoteric hobbies outside of my work. And he literally called it my esoteric hobbies. So that was okay, if I can’t do this at work, then I’d first taken an unpaid vacation to just take off and fool around with this thing. I actually at the time co-founded another fintech company that was using blockchain tech for cash management. So that’s what I did together with Rick, who is now again, my co-founder at HOPR. So we built this fintech, and we had a stable coin in there. We had basically a decentralized exchange in there.
We built a bunch of really crazy things until I had to learn this pretty hard lesson that back then it was, again, 2016, ’17 for traditional investors, and we had the largest Swiss retail bank as our investor, this blockchain was very crazy stuff. It was basically like you’re asking a bank to launder black money. That’s literally how it felt like. Blockchain equaled Bitcoin equaled black markets. Back then, it was all illegal. It was all the devil. That was, again, pretty harsh to see. So I basically left that project because I really was committed to go all in on crypto, not build some legacy financial applications.
What have you learned about entrepreneurship as a result of that experience? And of course, we’re going to talk a lot more about what you’re doing presently, but what have you learned about entrepreneurship, the characteristics or qualities that make someone successful at being an entrepreneur?
Sebastian Burgel (00:18:48):
I guess the interesting thing is I did two startups at that point. One was a product, and the other one was a service. And I’ve seen it both was just a constant hustle. It was a constant hustle to get investors, get those next big gigs, work with the smartest people. And it was interesting for me, there were a lot of things that I had no clue about. So again, accounting, there is HR topics. If you come out of academia, all these things are not even on your radar, nowhere. So I had taken some courses. I really learned while doing, and that was hard. That was hard, but it was the most fantastic way to actually learn how stuff works. I learned how an order book works by building one. I learned how accounting works by having to file annual accounts for a company. I feel sorry for everyone who went to a business school and had to learn that in front of a blackboard, where we could do that in a small startup. So that was very educational.
So what makes a successful entrepreneur then? What’s the quality or characteristic one must have?
Sebastian Burgel (00:19:52):
I would say persistence. So to me, I think it’s really about persistence. And at the same time, I guess I’m still figuring it out, what a successful entrepreneur must have. But I would say so far persistence. And no matter what happens around you, and no matter if people call it a bull market or a bear market, both are very tricky in their own way. Keep going and stick to what you see as a real value contribution, not falling for hype because both bears and bull markets have their crazy hype stories that both don’t make sense in their unique own ways. So keep going, keep building value.
The second ingredient you need is a way for new listeners to discover the podcast, and this is where we need your help. When a listener takes five minutes of their own time and leaves a five-star rating and review wherever they download the GRTiQ Podcast, the directory algorithm sees it as a vote toward displaying the podcast to people actively searching for more information about web3, blockchain and potentially The Graph. If you’re one of the listeners who’ve already left a rating and review, then please consider recommending today’s episode on social media or with a friend. When listeners recommend an episode on social media, more people access the content and hear our guests’ stories. And who knows, maybe your rating or review or sharing the episode on social media will be the thing that introduces the next Indexer, Delegator or core dev team to The Graph ecosystem. Thanks for listening.
I understand fully what I think you mean by how a bear market can be a challenge for an entrepreneur, but I’d love to hear how you would explain why a bull market might be a challenge for an entrepreneur.
Sebastian Burgel (00:22:37):
I think the bull market is the most distracting time. Everybody is on Twitter, and you are hyped. You feel the energy, and this is really difficult to stay on track. You see this crazy NFT shit next to you blowing up, making millions of dollars, and you’re thinking, should I be trading punks in my day job or should I actually do something? And you see people who are actually trading, and they’re making millions of dollar in a day. And you’re thinking, what is wrong with me? What is wrong with me that I’m building something and I’m not trading some JPEGs or some shit tokens and making millions of dollar a day. What have I missed?
And ultimately these markets come around, and you see that as quickly as some people make money, just as quickly people lose money, and building something of sustainable value is the most long-lasting positive effect that you could work on. So it’s just the energy of a bull market is hugely distracting. It’s also energizing, but not exclusively in a constructive manner. The other thing, and this is something I see more in hindsight now, it’s way easier to connect to great people in a bear market. In a bull market, all these conferences, they are 10X the size. You can’t talk to builders. Now in these really rough times, you can talk to everyone. Everyone is open. As I sometimes say, “All the tourists are gone.” That’s great.
As you project out and you think about the future of the industry, how do you think about the bulls and bears? Do these things start to look more like traditional markets, where the highs aren’t so high and the lows aren’t so low and we get a little bit more of a traditional market type of cycle activity? What do you think?
Sebastian Burgel (00:24:19):
To be honest, I hope so because it’s been too crazy. Something going up by literally 100X and then going down 99%, it’s not healthy. It’s primarily not mentally healthy. I met a lot of people and tried to help out a lot of people who got great jobs and then lost their jobs and were very down from that. I found it concerning, especially for younger people who come into this market with some crazy expectations in really good times, then going through a really, really rough time when things go down. So I really hope that things flatten out a bit. Of course, it will still be cyclical like most things in life are. You have ups and downs in all markets and all situations. But I do hope that things aren’t just going to be as intense as they are in these early days of crypto.
A common question I ask entrepreneurs when I get the chance to speak with them on the podcast, there’s been a bunch, as you might imagine, web3 is fertile territory for people that are interested in being an entrepreneur. But I have this question about fear, and it’s based on my own theory that what prevents most people from joining a startup or pursuing their own entrepreneurial ideas is this fear of failure. How do you think about that? Are you afraid of failure?
Sebastian Burgel (00:25:33):
Yeah, fear of failure I guess is a real thing. So for me personally, what has helped is I don’t really care so much what other people think about me personally. And that’s part of persistence, and it’s growing a thick skin. I really didn’t handle it well early on when I got rejected from investors and competitors. It’s been harsh. And eventually I was like, I do not care if somebody thinks I’m an absolute clown. So I think having this level of, I don’t care if there’s 100 people in front of me who think that I’m an absolute clown. It’s the level that you should get to to be an entrepreneur. So I think if you’re a person which is thinking of themselves very highly, that’s probably not helpful. Be humble. Humbleness does pay off to get down this entrepreneurial route. And again, you will get mostly rejected. You will get mostly rejected all the time.
Well, Sebastian, you mentioned this just a moment ago, but I want to go back and double click on your experience at SONECT. This was, as I understand, your first formal startup experience. Tell us again what you were working on there and some of the experiences you had there.
Sebastian Burgel (00:26:44):
Indeed, we were building a product for cash management. So basically it was a solution for cashback, which in the United States and the UK is probably quite a no-brainer. In continental Europe, largely in many other countries, it largely doesn’t exist. So we were building a solution for cash management that avoided banking rails. I guess you can see that’s how crypto came in there. Having this entire solution for cash management, and we had a bunch of other ideas that you could have built on top of that also. And to me, the most interesting thing here was to face these huge financial institutions, we wanted to get integrated with banks, with major retailers, just seeing how incredibly political that game is, to see how incredibly slow moving that is. And something that I didn’t even know how it’s called back then, I would today call permissioned innovation, was really one of the things that I found the worst. I’m not even exaggerating, you had to play these political games for months to get a meeting with the guy who could tell you something which you would need for the next step.
And I’m not talking about some very secret business internals. I’m talking about stuff like API definitions. So you work with the banks, you want to get the payment API to integrate with your project. And you think you go on a website, and you find that stuff there, and then off you go. You fork something on GitHub, and it was absolutely mind-blowing as a developer to come there and play these games to find information about how an API works to build the most basic integration of anything. So to me, that was before DeFi. So that was before DeFi was a thing. That was before I learned about this term of permissionless innovation. It was absolutely mind-blowing to see how we humans built these artificial barriers that hinder innovation for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
And so I became extremely bullish when then DeFi came around and permissionless innovation and this compulsability. You build something that I can utilize in my own product. Anybody else can utilize my product and build something on top of it. It made me extremely happy to see that. And to this day, I am the most bullish on DeFi, not because I like finance. In fact, I find finance actually pretty lame. But because I see how incredibly broken the old world is, what incredible barriers we have built for ourselves there, and how we just have this rocket fuel of permissionless innovation and incentives in crypto.
I love what you just said there. It’s super interesting to me to think about permissionless innovation and the experience you had at SONECT. So I want to ask you this question then about what is it fundamentally about web3 or blockchain or crypto that facilitates this idea of permissionless innovation?
Sebastian Burgel (00:29:43):
So permissionless innovation really, first of all, let’s nail down what it means. It’s I don’t need to come to you to ask for permission if I can use your product. Anybody can come and just access it. And there’s multiple layers to how it is established and enforced. So the first one is obvious, you built that on a blockchain which is censorship resistant and open. So for example, this API horror story that I had in my previous startup is somebody could shut me out, and somebody could exclude me from their API by just not giving me an API key. So I could just not run their service. They could retain that information from telling me how it works. Now, in public blockchains like Ethereum, that’s not the case because nobody can stop me from making a transaction on Ethereum. That is super important.
The second one is that even if you don’t like what I do, we have this open-source attitude. And what that means is even if we don’t like each other, even if we have some disagreement, in the worst case, I can always fork it off. So I can take a product, fork it, which means basically copy-paste it and build my own modifications on top of it. And that is a very fundamental value that we have to defend. Because without this fundamental right of forking something, of copying and doing your own modifications to it, it’s difficult, and you put yourself in a power position that you can abuse. So that’s why I am very passionate when it comes to free and open-source nature of this whole space.
And the third one is really we have to uphold that and not go down this route. Even if we are in a public blockchain, we have to actually open-source stuff. It’s not great if you build a smart contract that nobody knows how it actually works. That’s a no-go. And by having these different components in it, that’s what retains our right for permissionless innovation in Ethereum and public blockchains beyond.
So going back to your time at SONECT, what eventually happened at SONECT, and what did you do after that?
Sebastian Burgel (00:31:50):
So SONECT is still around to this day. It’s doing well. It’s doing more traditional financial stuff. Actually back then, we did not use the public Ethereum blockchain. Again, we’re talking about early 2016. We used something that sounds very cringe now, a private blockchain. So we had a private blockchain back then we thought would outperform Ethereum because it’s so much more scalable and whatnot, until I eventually realized, well, a private blockchain is really the worst of both worlds. It’s as slow, immature and shitty as a public blockchain, but at the same time, it is just as permissioned as any legacy database.
And as we got more and more pushback on our public blockchain story from investors, from partners, from literally everyone, and my commitment to working on public open-source software has only grown over that time and grown my understanding of why I feel so committed to that, I decided to leave and focus solely on consulting and basically built Ethereum smart contracts for others. I was then, on my team, the hired gun who would basically support anyone who needed us. That was the time around this ICO craziness, so that was going well. Lots of people needed solidity developers. Lots of people needed to integrate solidity into their web apps and build stuff around it. It was a really nice time. At least the first half of this ICO craziness was a very pretty time.
Well, I want to ask you more about that. So please tell us what it was like being a consultant, working and helping others build in this space in and around 2017 during this ICO craze. And for the benefit of listeners that maybe have joined the industry a little bit later than that and aren’t even familiar with what is meant by the ICO craze, do you mind providing some context?
Sebastian Burgel (00:33:43):
Absolutely. So in the early times of Ethereum, people found out that you can build something that’s called a token. So you can launch your own token. If I remember correctly, one of the earliest versions of the ethereum.org website, it said, “This is how you can build something like Bitcoin in 20 lines of code.” And people were like, “Huh, that’s cool.” Because so far, even before that, people launched their own forks of Bitcoin. So people called them sometimes a bit disrespectful, shitcoins. So early on, even Ethereum was just a shitcoin because it was just bad copy of Bitcoin, but that was cumbersome. So if you think about it, you need this whole network of miners, of node operators, of wallets. All that stuff is something you needed to build.
Now with Ethereum, building a token on top of Ethereum, you didn’t need that. You needed literally this, I think it was around 20, 30 lines of solidity code, and the infrastructure was given to you. It was ready to go. You could use the Ethereum miners. You could use the Ethereum nodes. You could use the Ethereum wallets. All of that was provided for you. So that was interesting. So people were coming up with really interesting ideas that they built around a token. There were early versions of a prediction market. Gnosis was among the first who were doing that. There were people building DAOs, like Aragon was one of the teams building that, among the first. So really interesting stuff.
And then you had a lot of opportunists who didn’t actually understand what was all happening. And quite frankly, they needed some handholding from then service providers like us who were helping them, “Hey, let’s build a token.” So that’s what we did. So people would come to us, and they wanted to do their initial coin offering, which typically meant token offerings. So people also call it TGE, token generating event. All very cringe looking back at it now, but very funny times back then. So you have to imagine I get these phone calls, “Hey, Sebastian, I want to build a token. Can you help us?” I’m like, “Sure, I can help you, but we are booked out. For the next three months, there is absolutely no chance.”
Plus I knew that if I would ask them, “Hey, do you have a law firm that you’re working with who’s consulting you?” I knew they would take longer anyway. And I had this one project that was the craziest. They called me up and they say, “Hey, Sebastian, we’re going to do this ICO.” And I was like, “Sure, when are you going to do that?” And they were like, “In two weeks.” I was like, “No way on earth that’s even possible. Do you have a law firm?” They were like, “We don’t need a law firm. We just copied the terms and conditions from this other project. We’re ready to go.” I was like, “How much are you planning to raise?” And they were like, “$100 million.” “So you have no idea how this thing works, and in two weeks from now you want to raise $100 million.” So that was one of the crazier projects. And the funny thing is they did. They did raise a lot of money, and that was pretty wild to see back then how that was all working.
When you think back then to the 2017 ICO craze, you had a front row seat to this. You were certainly very active at the time, and you were working with different projects participating in in that. What did you learn about number one, the industry as a result of going through that experience and number two, personally about what you wanted to pursue and work on as the industry would evolve from everything that happened then?
Sebastian Burgel (00:36:53):
So first of all, what was interesting is even in 2017 it was still the Stone Age of Ethereum. So you basically had almost no testing tools. You had almost no debuggers that would help a software developer to understand what’s going on and also what’s going wrong. So tooling, everything, even today UX is pretty bad, to be very honest. Back then, it was so much worse. So we had no tools. You were completely in the dark about what you were building. So it took just way longer to learn and to progress. But that was the time where, to me, the value proposition of Ethereum became clear, and that’s something I’m very grateful for, for having the time to really understand and dig deep to build this resilient software that almost nobody can shut down that is really very different in nature from everything else.
So my biggest lesson to learned was that Ethereum and other public blockchains is not just a fancy database. And to this I think there’s like many people out there, even some of the biggest VCs, which misunderstand that. We’re not here to build more scalable technologies. We’re not here to have business process automation. We’re building something on a blockchain that is ultimately resilient. We’re building something that empowers an individual, not a corporation, not a nation state, but an individual. That is the one value proposition that blockchains bring us. If that is not what you’re after, please build with Web 2.0 technologies because they’re great. They actually work, and you have a 100X less headache than building on decentralized technologies. So that was something very educational for me on a high level, working in crypto. And I would say personally, to be frank, I learned that I don’t want to be a service provider for life. Because as a technical service provider, you don’t get to work with the best projects out there. You get to work with the people who need you because they don’t have capabilities by themselves. That was not always fun.
So this takes us to the point in your story where you go to work on HOPR, and I want to spend the rest of the time talking a little bit about what you’re building there and shining a light on the incredible work. Before we get to that, if you don’t mind, how did HOPR emerge then from this experience that you were having in 2017?
Sebastian Burgel (00:39:13):
I was working in this service company. Our service company was called Validity Labs. And at Validity Labs we would build decentralized application, honestly, mostly stuff around tokens, token launches, tokenization platforms, a bunch of things like that. And there were a few projects which actually were interested in building truly decentralized applications. And as an engineer, that’s something that’s pretty interesting. So what does that even mean? You think about what sort of technologies do you need to build decentralized technologies and decentralized applications, dapps as people call them. Money is fine. Money is done. We have Ethereum. People can build their own token on it. There’s stable tokens, there’s volatile tokens, there’s some DeFi that started to appear that was done. But what I thought about building applications finance is not really at the core of apps that I’m interested in. I’m interested in games. I’m interested in social media. I’m interested in maybe some marketplaces.
So a lot of other things are needed, for example, storing data in a decentralized fashion, but there were a bunch of projects that got in that direction. There’s also this requirement for decentralized computing power, actually not just subtracting one ether from your account and adding one ether on my account, but actually building decentralized compute rendering like graphics and stuff like that. And also in that field, there were a bunch of projects and still are that are progressing in that field, but the niche that we found that didn’t really have any go-to solution in the web3 space was data exchange. In computer science people always talk about Alice, Bob, and Charlie. And I would say, “How does Alice meet Bob in this web3 world? So how do Alice and Bob talk to each other In the web3 world?”
There was no project that would tackle data exchange, especially in a privacy respecting fashion. And I thought that was something that was absolutely needed. Just looking at it from a software stack. You need compute, we got it. You need storage, we got it. You need value exchange, we got it. But communication in peer-to-peer networks that is privacy respecting is something that I thought was very fundamentally needed, and that was the starting point for HOPR.
For listeners that aren’t familiar with what HOPR is and what you’re presently working on and contributing to web3, can you provide just an overview and introduction?
Sebastian Burgel (00:41:42):
So as I said, so how does Alice talk to Bob on the internet? Basically my computer, I have my Roger at home, can talk to yours, and in the process I can connect to your computer and send a message. And in the process, you learn something that is called an IP address, which is basically a online representation of my home address. And basically I send you an envelope that has some content in it. You read it, and you see the return address on the back of the envelope, and you send an envelope back to me. Typically, we put stuff in an envelope. You can also send me a postcard. The equivalent here is I’m talking about unencrypted and encrypted information, but still it is very visible to you and other third parties that the two of us are exchanging information. And that is something which is not great.
It’s not great in the web2 world because there’s providers who are spying on us and data harvesting us. But in a web3 world, that was something that pretty early on became clear to me, it’s way worse. That’s something that many people find very counterintuitive. In a web3 we think by decentralizing all the things, we are solving all the problems. Well, it turns out on the privacy side, we’re making things worse. That sounds weird. What I mean by that is in permissionless peer-to-peer networks, you do not have trust assumptions. I guess nobody in the crypto space likes Mark Zuckerberg, who was data harvesting all his users and so on. But still you can trust Mark Zuckerberg to some degree because you know you can enforce some basic rights against him and Facebook.
Now, in a web3 world, that is not the case. You are in a peer-to-peer network. There’s literally anarchy. So you do not know who the other peers in the network are. You cannot enforce basic laws and regulations, at least only very, very difficult, especially in an international context. So what I’m saying is that in order to move safely in the web3, we need much more privacy protection than in the Web 2.0 world. There is no Zuckerbergs that you can trust a little bit in the web3 world. All your information is either safe or it’s not.
How do you reconcile then this really informed perspective on the importance of privacy between two parties but also the public nature of blockchain? In some ways it seems like as long as I know somebody’s address, I’ve got them forever, and I can track just about every transaction on a public blockchain from that point forward. So how do you reconcile the two?
Sebastian Burgel (00:44:24):
That’s really difficult actually. So if I know your Ethereum address, if I know that you are alice.eth, I am bob.eth, we can track each other all the time. And privacy is a multi-stack problem. So basically on multiple layers in the stack, we need to tackle privacy. We need to tackle privacy on-chain, and it’s very smart people working on that. I’m very happy about that. But that’s not all. On-chain privacy gets a lot of attention. The great folks at Tornado Cash, which are unfortunately in a little bit of a difficult situation due to regulatory interventions of the US, but otherwise there’s a bunch of on-chain privacy projects. But what we are working on at HOPR and which I find crucial is this IP layer.
So as I mentioned, when Alice talks to Bob, she sends her IP address to Bob so that Bob came it back to her. That’s something which is very fundamental and which is very fundamentally broken. The internet was not built with privacy in mind. So what we are trying to solve at HOPR is exactly that. We’re trying to bring privacy to the transport infrastructure that brings data from any peer to another for any sort of application. So that’s what we’re trying to solve. And that might still mean that the blockchain in and by itself is not private, but people are working on it. So I believe that people should focus on one thing and do that really well. There are some people who focus on-chain privacy. We focus on this underlying data transport infrastructure.
HOPR refers to that transport layer as the Achilles heel of web3, and that’s strong language. The Achilles heel is essentially that one point whereby you can bring the whole thing down. How is it that that transport layer is the Achilles heel, so to speak, of web3?
Sebastian Burgel (00:46:12):
I think that’s actually very true, and that’s why I think this analogy is absolutely right. So even if we had perfect on-chain privacy, even if we used things such as Aztec or Allio, there’s a bunch of privacy-focused chains and privacy-focused L2′s out there. Even in that case, let’s say I know you’re online, and I can find your IP address. I see your IP address is doing something because you woke up and I see markets are moving, so some token going way up.
Then again, you are going offline, nothing is happening, you’re coming on online again, markets going way down. So this is metadata which is leaking, and I can use metadata against you. I can use metadata to find out information about you. So this metadata is crucially always exposed on this most bottom layer in the stack. It is most bottom layer that is responsible for data transport. So data transport must be private. Otherwise, everything that we built on top of it can also be data harvested and traced back to where you’re coming from, and eventually your IP address becomes your primary identifier in the web3. And that’s pretty messed up and goes, again, back to the fact that the internet was not built with privacy in mind, and web3 existing on top of the internet is having a problem there that must be fixed.
And to put this within context, in web2, that metadata is really what is the cardinal sin, so to speak, of web2. This is where Mark Zuckerberg and the others are harvesting and selling user data. Do I have that correct?
Sebastian Burgel (00:47:57):
100% right. So we all probably know these examples that you searched on somebody, maybe not even you. You had some friend at home, and they were searching something on Google, some specific product. And the next day, let’s say they were searching some ladies’ shoes, and let’s say the next day you’re sitting on your sofa, you’re wondering, why do I get ads on ladies’ shoes of that particular brand? And how is that possible? Well, that’s possible because maybe your friend was connected to your home router and had the same IP address, therefore, this IP data was used to link the two devices. And from this point on, we know these two people have something in common because they use the same digital home address, which we call the IP address.
So all that is at the very center of data harvesting in web3. It’s what is used for targeted advertisements. It is used to data harvest everything about you and link user profiles across different profiles. Your Amazon account and your Google account, your Facebook account, your Instagram account, your TikTok account, all these things are connected by means of the IP address.
So Sebastian, what can you tell us about the community built up around HOPR, and what are you working on?
Sebastian Burgel (00:49:48):
At HOPR, we want to solve transport level and IP privacy. And maybe before I get to the community, let me get to why do we even need a community. So why can’t we just sit down and solve this problem and then ship it? How HOPR works and how HOPR tackles this problem is instead of me sending data directly to you, it’s being relayed. The data packets are hopping through multiple different computers in the HOPR network to reach you. And this data packing, hopping around and getting relayed, that’s where the name HOPR comes from. So data packets are hopping around and getting relayed. In computer science we also call this reeling of data hop. There’s multiple people running nodes, so running a computer that is running the HOPR software and that is ready to accept data packets from me. For example, sending it. Let’s say it’s Alice. Alice sends it to Bob, Bob sends it to Charlie, and Charlie sends it to Nick.
So this is really how we establish privacy because when Nick gets the data packet, he doesn’t see that it doesn’t actually come from Charlie. Charlie was just a relayer. He also doesn’t see it came from Bob before. He also doesn’t see it came from Alice before or me as the original sender. And that is how HOPR provides privacy in the web3. And now if you think about that, let’s say I was personally operating all these machines, that wouldn’t make sense because if I operate all these machines, I could inspect all of them and find out, oh okay, it went to Sebastian one, Sebastian two, Sebastian three, and then to Nick. I know who’s talking with whom. You could deanonymize it. And in order to prevent deanonymization of data, we need to have a versatile, broadly distributed network of node operators and can’t just run the show ourselves.
And that’s why we need a community of node runners out there that do so. And currently the HOPR network has approximately 200 nodes, which are online, which are operated not by us. We have a couple of development nodes obviously as well, but the actual network that is online right now is several hundred nodes, which are run by the community. And that’s why we need a community, and I’m very grateful for having people, even these days, even in a dark bear market, that are with us, that are upgrading their software to provide privacy for others in web3.
So then who would be the target user of HOPR?
Sebastian Burgel (00:52:18):
HOPR is really broad. You can use HOPR for any data transport, and that’s really hard to grasp. So you can use HOPR for building a private chat app. So you, as a developer, could build an ultimately private chat app. And here actually we have built a demonstrator chat app once. You can use HOPR for something that’s totally not crypto. You can use it for med tech, the field that I left before I got into this whole crypto thing. You can use it for sending confidential information from a hospital to a patient, but you can also use it obviously in crypto.
I mentioned how peer-to-peer networks, which most crypto networks are peer-to-peer, so different computers, how they can have privacy among one another. If I don’t want you to know that I am running an Ethereum node, then I could use HOPR for running an Ethereum node. And in fact this example of Ethereum is, in fact, not a totally random one because there is actually a very fundamental privacy issue on Ethereum that we have researched quite deeply last year. So if you want to, I can get a little bit deeper into that direction.
Well, I do want to go a little bit in that direction, and I think it’s great timing as well because recently Vitalik published a blog post, The Three Transitions, and talked about the three things necessary for Ethereum to reach full maturity, the next three-mile post, if you will, of what needs to happen within that community. And one of them was the privacy transition. So within the scope of what you just said, that there is fundamental privacy issues at Ethereum and also within the context of Vitalik recently publishing this blog post, how do you think about that and what’s going on there?
Sebastian Burgel (00:54:02):
I think it’s even more important than most people realize. Obviously, maybe I’m a bit biased here, but no, I really deeply think that privacy is even much more important than most people realize. So I will give you two examples of there. So Vitalik is mostly talking about on-chain privacy, so about preventing address tracking. That’s not what I’m referring to. I’m again referring to this fundamental data transport privacy, and that one is even more important than most people realize. Most people here have probably heard that Ethereum has this beacon-chain with these validators. So Ethereum doesn’t have miners anymore. That’s why it’s so energy efficient, which is great, but Ethereum actually has these validators.
So you need to stick 32 ETH on your machine, and then every now and then, typically every couple of weeks, your machine gets selected at random and produces a block. And when you produce a block, there’s a pretty decent payout, because you get some block rewards, you get the transaction fees and something that’s a little bit funny that’s called MEV, we don’t need to get into it, but basically you earn a bunch of money. It’s a very rare event. It only happens once every couple of weeks or every couple of months even. So that’s one activity that you’re most interested in that your node does.
The second thing that you know it does is for other people that produce blocks, you provide what is called an attestation. So when Nick produces a block, I will sign off on it, put my signature under it and say, “Hereby I attest that this block is correct.” Now what can be done, and in fact we have carried that out for research purposes, is I can observe the network, I can data harvest in his network and see when Nick is producing an attestation, I can link it to his IP address.
Now why is that bad? So Nick is constantly producing these attestations, and I will find his IP address. Why is that bad? Because eventually it’s next time to produce a block, he’s happy. He knows he will get a juicy payout for that block. Well, it might be that I am actually the one who, at random, happened to be the block producer right after Nick. And now that I have deanonymized Nick, I know his IP address, I can launch a very targeted attack against his computer. Maybe he’s running a home staker, so I can launch a very targeted attack against Nick. He will only be offline for 10 seconds. So he might not even notice. Oh, that was on little glitch. Oh, I’m online again. So he might not even realize that he was online, but he misses his block, and this high-value transaction, the transaction fees roll over to the next block that happens to be me. So that is one very fundamental privacy issue that Ethereum has on the consensus slide. So it’s called the consensus layer of Ethereum.
And a second example, which is maybe a little bit closer to most of us who are just users of Ethereum and not validators, is your crypto wallet. Think about it. Most of us who interface Ethereum, I guess most people here use a wallet called MetaMask. There’s many others that I encourage people to also check out, but whatever wallet you use, your wallet doesn’t know how many ETHs you have. Your wallet doesn’t know your ERC 20 token balance. It’s asking a provider. That provider is called an RPC provider. RPC stands for remote procedure call. So asking your remote computer, “Hey, tell me my ETH balance,” and you’re telling me, “It’s 1.23 ETH.”
So in the process, we have, again, the same issue. So you get to learn my IP address. And people say, “Oh, Sebastian, I don’t care. I don’t care if Nick learns my IP address.” Well, the problem happens to be that I don’t just have one wallet. All of us have multiple wallets. So Nick, by seeing my IP address, can link my different accounts together. So again, my IP address becomes my primary identifier in web3, which I find quite scary. So by means of IP tracking, you can link all my different accounts.
Think about it. Many people have an ENS account, ether name service, where you can create your domain or have co-ops, these proof of personal little things that you get at a conference that prove that you attended it. All these things are tied to your identity. And maybe then you have an account that you don’t want people to know about. Well, it turns out these accounts are linked by means of your IP address to that RPC provider, and the RPC provider can do that linkage and can deanonymize you. I think that’s a pretty big issue that we want to solve.
So Sebastian, as I’m sure you’ve picked up and certainly longtime listeners of the podcast know, I’m not very technical in background, and a lot of the things you’re describing I understand in concept, but at a technical level, I don’t really fully understand it. So when I hear these things, sometimes I think, wow, these are problems that seem really, really important. And I’m shocked in some ways that they haven’t already been addressed. And other times I’m thinking, well, this is an emergent technology, this is an emergent industry. These are the types of things you just work on. So what would you say to somebody like me who has that mindset, and how do you go about even fixing these types of things?
Sebastian Burgel (00:59:08):
So what I find most scary about privacy leaks is you’re not losing your money. When you get hacked, when your wallet gets hacked, all your money’s gone in one instance. With privacy, it’s much more subtle. So if you leak private information, that information leaked in perpetuity. So if somebody can link your accounts, they will know what you’re doing with your accounts, even if you use that in 10 years from now. So that’s something I find very disturbing, and that’s why I do think that we should take privacy much more seriously. And specifically it is linkage of accounts. I do not want an RPC provider that is this technical thing that my wallet requires in order to tell me how many ETH I have and a bunch of other things, I don’t want them to know all my accounts. And indeed, that is something that people are getting increasingly conscious about, and that’s why we are working on a solution towards that.
So what we are building at HOPR is not just this underlying general purpose infrastructure that we did talk about, but what we’re building is a product here that you can use to keep your wallet private. Just to name the two biggest providers are Infura and MetaMask, they’re multi-billion dollar companies. If you don’t want these multi-billion dollar companies to harvest your data, to link your accounts and to know your every move that you take in web3, that’s what we’re working towards fixing. So we’re working on something that’s called RPCh, which stands for RPC over HOPR. It basically allows you to integrate something into your wallet, which gives you this layer of privacy.
So you can imagine it really like you have this wallet that connects to somebody directly and leaks information. So we are building this shield, this privacy shield. This privacy shield called RPCh is something that you can use to make your Ethereum wallet on any EVM chain private. And that’s something that we’re currently building. It’s currently in alpha. Can use it already today. It’s free of charge if you want more privacy for your Ethereum wallet.
Sebastian, this has been incredibly informative, and I feel very fortunate to learn so much about HOPR and learn more about the problem you’re trying to solve. For listeners that want to also learn more and get a little involved and maybe try RPCh, what are some best ways for them to connect with the community there and get involved?
Sebastian Burgel (01:01:33):
I would say two things. I guess the obvious links that we will share, but there’s two things that I find very educational. We built a tool called DERP, which stands for Dumb Ethereum RPC Provider, which you can find on derp.hoprnet.org, which shows you everything that your wallet does. So I find this incredibly useful. If you just want to see, hey, what’s my wallet doing? it shows you the problem. And the second thing is if you see you want to find out more about how to fix that, you can go to rpch.net. rpch.net is the website for this product that I just described. And that is actually using HOPR under the hood. So you can find us on Twitter or Telegram. We’re called hoprnet, H-O-P-R-N-E-T, on all platforms.
And we have a pretty active community. If you want to run a HOPR node and earn money for relaying data for others, you can come there. If you want to learn more about privacy or find out how you can use RPCH, need some handholding, we’re always happy to help you because web3 is about supporting each other, educating each other, and that’s something that I’m always happy to do. Do reach out to us. web3 is about collaboration.
web3 often gets characterized as different things. Number one, it’s a revolution against the sins of web2. Sometimes it gets characterized as a economic revolt about equality, and then of course, data or privacy gets bolted on there. How do you see it? What is web3 fundamentally about?
Sebastian Burgel (01:03:06):
So web3, to me, is about technology that empowers the individual. It is technology that does not seek to build these great kingdoms and castles. It is technology that empowers the individual versus other individuals. You don’t want to get screwed by some other individual person. It empowers you versus powerful corporations. You don’t want to get rugged by somebody removing API access. That’s happened to me trying to build a fintech. And you want to defend yourself against nation states. And I am increasingly concerned about nation states becoming ever more powerful and taking decisions against the will of their people. So web3 is about resilience, and on this path to resilience, everybody is talking about decentralization. To me, decentralization is just a means to an end, and that end is empowering the individual. And the second component, which is the equally important as decentralization, is privacy. So privacy and decentralization are the two pillars of the web3 to me. And sure, you can use economic incentives for that if that helps. But that’s not the most important thing about it.
So Sebastian, I just have a couple more questions for you before I ask you the GRTiQ 10. And these questions have to do with The Graph. And as I know you are familiar with, a lot of listeners of this podcast are enthusiastic about The Graph. How does The Graph fit into the things you’re working on at HOPR?
Sebastian Burgel (01:04:41):
Two things. So first of all, we are active users of The Graph. So if you are using HOPR tokens, chances are you stake your HOPR tokens. We have also some community NFTs. So for some community activities, you can earn some NFTs, which you use in our staking ecosystem. And it’s a website called stake.hoprnet.org, which is heavily using The Graph in order to render absolutely everything. It’s your gateway to the HOPR ecosystem. If you want to run a node, you go to stake.hoprnet.org, really fun web front end. Now that’s not just a web front end. That is actually loading data from The Graph, and that’s what we are actively using. So really we’re using subgraphs for a whole bunch of things in the HOPR ecosystem that we’re leveraging.
And the second thing is how do I foresee The Graph using HOPR? The Graph’s actually trying to decentralize and trying to properly decentralize, which I find absolutely amazing and very, very laudable. Now again, for The Graph, and this is not specific about The Graph, so I’m not picking on The Graph. This is a general problem in the web3, every infrastructure that is decentralized has a bigger privacy problem than decentralized cover piece. So the decentralized version of The Graph, you have the Indexers and the users, these two have to be protected. I as a user do not want to leak my queries to some antagonistic individual who might be data harvesting me who might want to front run me and understand what I’m doing in the web3. So that’s why I see a private version of The Graph, not tomorrow. It’s still going to be a bit further out, but eventually I want The Graph to be privacy preserving for the users, which is especially important in a truly decentralized version of The Graph. So it’s, I would say, a mutually beneficial collaboration and partnership.
And then the final question I want to ask you is about something you said earlier, and you only alluded to it, but I want to come back to it, which is the importance of being able to build truly decentralized applications. How do things like HOPR and The Graph bring that vision and the importance of truly decentralized applications to life?
Sebastian Burgel (01:06:56):
So I see HOPR really low in this infrastructure stack. It’s the bottom above which you transfer data. The Graph, to me, is really this layer that makes sense of all the data on Ethereum and other blockchains. So it’s like this data making sense layer. So I want to go on a decentralized exchange website like Uniswap, and I hope Uniswap will be properly decentralized eventually and will use The Graph for absolutely everything that they do there. Because processing data from a blockchain is messy, so we need a layer on top of the blockchain that indexes all the relevant data for you and makes sense of that and presents that in a useful fashion. So I find that absolutely useful if we want to see real mass adoption and easy building of application that is easily consumable for both consumers and developers alike.
Well, Sebastian, I’m sure listeners will agree with me, you have so clearly articulated the ways in which HOPR is addressing some of the problems related to privacy within web3. And then I think about The Graph. How critical do you think the problems that The Graph is working on to the future of web3?
Sebastian Burgel (01:08:09):
You need something like The Graph to actually access information on the blockchain because what else are you going to do? Well, you’re going to ask some centralized RPC provider. That’s not great. So you need somebody, and ideally a decentralized network like the one that The Graph is building, to give you that data. So The Graph is basically a decentralized data access layer of the web3. And the keyword here is decentralized. Now HOPR is the technology that makes this decentralization happen in a privacy respecting fashion. In peer-to-peer networks where you don’t know the other peers, you are much more exposed than in today’s world where you know the counterparty. If whoever is on the other side might be your worst enemy, you maybe want to stay more private than you were before. So that’s what HOPR fixes. The Graph is the data access layer. HOPR is the data privacy layer. Plays perfectly together in this vision towards building truly privacy-respecting and decentralized application, which are resilient in empowering the individual, which to me is the core tenets of the web3.
We’ve now reached a point in the podcast where I want to ask you the GRTiQ 10. And this is a listener favorite about how they can learn something new, try something different, or achieve more with their own lives. So Sebastian, are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?
Sebastian Burgel (01:09:28):
Let’s try it. It’s probably the most difficult ones for me.
What book or article has had the greatest impact on your life?
Sebastian Burgel (01:09:45):
So it was probably the one that got me off track from my academic work, which a bit unsurprisingly, is the Ethereum Whitepaper. I think everybody in this space should take half a day and read the Ethereum Whitepaper. It’s not very technical and had profound impact on me.
Is there a movie or a TV show that you think everybody should watch?
Sebastian Burgel (01:10:10):
I’m not into much of watching myself. I did watch a lot of Star Trek, and I recommend it because it shows you a positive future. It’s the positive future. I have a positive mind, so that’s why I found that one inspiring in my personal history.
And how about this one, Sebastian, if you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
Sebastian Burgel (01:10:35):
Which one would I choose? I would probably listen to the German band, Rammstein, which would be one, or Scooter. So yeah.
What’s the best advice someone’s ever given to you?
Sebastian Burgel (01:10:49):
Somebody has taught me at some point, never stop asking questions, especially when something is obvious. Ask questions about the stuff that is obvious. Ask questions in general.
What’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think most other people have learned or know quite yet?
Sebastian Burgel (01:11:07):
Oh, that’s a tough one. I think considering what we’re doing here in this space, really thinking deeply about what is it that we are actually doing here? What is crypto all about? And to me, as we talked about before, it’s about empowering the individual. I think many people have not understood that, and they’re chasing some ghosts with this amazing technology.
What’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?
Sebastian Burgel (01:11:41):
Life hack? I’ll tell a recent one. When I feel not great in general, I realize that it’s not that I don’t feel great in general, I feel bad about something specific. Reframing that you don’t feel bad, you feel bad about something specific and you can get over this specific thing and then life is going to be better again.
Sebastian, based on your own life experiences and observations, what’s the one habit or characteristic that you think best explains how or why people find success in life?
Sebastian Burgel (01:12:14):
Persistence. I think it is persistence in both life and business.
And then the final three questions are complete-the-sentence type questions. The first one is, the thing that most excites me about web3 is?
Sebastian Burgel (01:12:28):
The ability to build something that nobody has thought about before and could not have done before.
And how about this one? If you’re on Twitter, then you should be following?
Sebastian Burgel (01:12:38):
And the last one, I’m happiest when?
Sebastian Burgel (01:12:42):
I finish my day. I have achieved something. I spend time with friends and partners and my dog and have time to still cook a nice meal.
Sebastian, I want to thank you so much for taking the time and not only sharing your story, but really providing insight and education around the problems that HOPR is addressing within the web3 space. It’s been incredibly informative, and you’ve been very gracious. So thank you so much for your time. If listeners want to learn more about you, follow some of the things that you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to stay in touch?
Sebastian Burgel (01:13:27):
So I would say the best one is to stay in touch on Twitter. Twitter is an amazing research tool. Twitter is not just a social network. It is something that many people in the web3 space use for research and personal connections. Do use it and stay in touch with me there. And Nick, for you personally, thank you so much for hosting this and shining light onto the web3. Education is one of the most important things that’s going on here. Thanks for taking that seriously.
Please support this project
by becoming a subscriber!
CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION
DISCLOSURE: GRTIQ is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any other way connected with The Graph, or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates. This material has been prepared for information purposes only, and it is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, tax, legal, financial, or investment advice. The content for this material is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The Graph token holders should do their own research regarding individual Indexers and the risks, including objectives, charges, and expenses, associated with the purchase of GRT or the delegation of GRT.