Chris Whinfrey, founder of Hop Protocol, is solving one of the most complex challenges in the field: bridging.
In this article, he has an interesting conversation about his past, how Hop Protocol became one of the most trusted bridges, and where his excitement is about the future.
What inspired you to join the crypto space?
I first learned about Bitcoin shortly after graduating in 2014. I lived with some Bitcoin club founders at the University of Michigan and fell down the rabbit hole. The development of blockchain at the time was just forking Bitcoin and doing these different things with it.
Vitalik had already released its Ethereum whitepaper at the time. As soon as I heard the wind, I fell in love with this thing.
I absorbed everything I could find online, studied as much as I could, and started tinkering with Solidity.
Basically only the main web pages help you code tokens in Solidity, but this usually doesn’t work because they upgrade the compiler so quickly. Then there’s Solidity gitter. There’s a guy named Arachnid who helps you learn Solidity. In the early stages, he really kept me up to speed.
Then I moved to Boston, and at that time I was just doing iOS development. My background is in computer science and I really wanted to join the crypto field full-time and look around for opportunities.
I couldn’t find anything in Boston, so I quit my job and started the Ethereum Developers Meetup in Boston. I also opened an Ethereum development store called Level K with a few friends. We started doing smart contract development and eventually audited different people in the field. Yes, that’s how I started.
How much have Ethereum’s development resources and tools improved, and what has been the impact?
Even until 2017, I would say most people didn’t really build something useful. In 2017, most serious code was just about tokens, and then there were some very small contracts to achieve some utility.
Until then, few projects were doing anything other than tokens. Today, we have the OpenZeppelin library, which is able to combine these basic building blocks in different ways. We also have these different apps that you can build on. So we have exchanges and loan markets and all these basic layers that really unlock a lot of different things. So I would say it’s very easy today to get an app up and running, connect to the front end, and actually build something useful. But back then, if you can do that, you can easily raise tens of millions of dollars through an ICO and become one of the biggest projects.
What do you think you’ve learned over the past few years?
I think the most important thing I would say as a member of a dedicated crypto community is to think long-term. If you have a long-term mindset in the crypto space, I think that puts you 90% ahead of the team, especially in this cycle, where crypto Twitter plays a bigger role in the narrative and is where all the discourse happens.
Too much noise. A new hot story pops up every two weeks, and if you’ve been chasing these, you’re probably too late, because it’s usually some people trying to take advantage of something that’s already there, and if you’re just starting to build, then you’re already behind the bandwagon. But there are also a lot of different opportunities in this field, and if you’re looking for them, they’re always in less compelling places.
I find it useful to have some conviction and keep a low profile, rather than chasing the hottest narrative. Just thinking beyond the current cycle can help us free ourselves from the noise.
How was the Hop Protocol born and why do you need Hop?
Hop emerged as a necessity. Our current team was also working on a contract-based account wallet, Authereum. The project is aimed at users who are relatively new to cryptocurrencies, trying to provide a web2 experience while maintaining all the ideals of web3. Authereum is completely unmanaged, but you can still log in with just your username and password. We abstract things, like gas fees for users, to make them really easy to use.
But then, the summer of DeFi arrived.
Gas prices skyrocketed, and soon we pushed the cost of the contract account to the user, and the cost became higher and higher. In the height of DeFi summer, I think it would cost more than $200 just to deploy a contract-based account. This is an ultra-lightweight agent, and it costs us over $200 just to deploy this agent and assign the ENS name. As a result, all regular or new users are completely squeezed out of the market by the Ethereum price.
So we realized that if Authereum had a future, it would be on the second floor. We need to find a way for users to not only go to the second layer and use the second layer, but never touch the first layer. So, eventually we found Hop and realized that it had a lot of potential, even beyond Ethereum applications.
While we were doing this, Vitalik came up with Ethereum’s rollup-centric roadmap and listed cross-rollup transfers as one of the open issues on the Ethereum scaling roadmap. This excites us very much. So at that point, we started seriously thinking about focusing on Hop and letting Authereum step aside. This is an opportunity to build the core infrastructure for Ethereum and a dream for all of us.
So, to get some feedback from the research community and see what people think, we released a white paper and a demo in early 2021. The response has been fantastic. That summer, we released Hop, a year ago. Since then, our total transaction volume has exceeded $3 billion.
$3 billion is a big number! Do you have any goals when you released Hop?
We have goals, but we’ve been achieving them quickly, so those goals aren’t as useful in pushing ourselves.
I think the numbers we see today really pale in comparison to what we see in the future. I think cross-chain bridges are still fairly new things, especially in terms of being the real core of the crypto user experience.
I think as Ethereum scales, if we really see finance emerge on Ethereum and appear in the broader multi-chain crypto universe, then we could see trillions of dollars in cross-chain bridge transactions every year.
It may also be comparable to the trading volume of the DEX. And now we see that the transaction volume of DEXs is much higher than that of cross-chain bridges.
What is Hop’s approach to building a scalable token cross-chain bridge? How is it different from other cross-chain bridge vendors?
For Hop, we took an approach that focused on trustlessness and security. In our view, this is inseparable.
In fact, I recently gave a talk on cross-chain bridge security, delving into every cross-chain bridge hack incident that has occurred in the past two years. Cross-chain bridge hacks have caused nearly $2 billion in losses, much of which is due to multi-signature leaks.
In fact, Hop doesn’t have a multisig to propagate this information, it’s a fully credible cross-chain bridge, which has put it beyond a lot of cross-chain bridges. From a security standpoint, it’s different because no single multisig can be targeted and then drain the cross-chain bridge.
Another thing we accomplish with our method is the unique spoke model. By using Ethereum as a hub, we use native messaging cross-chain bridges for each of the networks we support as a way to communicate with those networks. When we communicate across multiple or two different second layers, it goes through Ethereum and then returns to the target second layer.
The native cross-chain bridge we use to communicate with the network also supports the network’s native token cross-chain bridge. As a result, these networks have become fully dependent on the security of native token bridges. If Hop can also isolate these risks into those networks, then the security of Hop is very close to the actual native cross-chain bridge.
We think it’s a very secure method that won’t have any of the issues we’ve seen with cross-chain bridge hacking incidents. In fact, most of these vulnerabilities are smart contract vulnerabilities. This can happen to anyone, but a lot of it has to do with signatures or other mechanisms that we don’t see in Hop.
If we can add additional support to more networks and more Layer 2 networks, and plan for catastrophic events in these Layer 2 networks, it will be isolated to that network and all users on that network will be at risk. From a security standpoint, we believe this is the only way to scale horizontally across chain bridges, so that’s also the approach we took from the start.
How does the bear market affect your team and your progress?
We love bear markets. It’s a great time to build and bury your head in your head. We’re a super lean team, so we can get a lot done without a lot of cash. So from that perspective, a bear market isn’t as scary for us as it is for a lot of teams because it needs to continue to raise big funding for a lot of teams that are pretty heavy on spending. However, I think we’ve seen a lot of noise die down during the bear market, we’ve been burying our heads and should have some cool updates soon.
What are the successful results of liquidity mining? What does this look like for you?
One of the goals is distribution. Hop has a very large treasury. One thing our team did differently compared to many teams in the space was not raising huge amounts of venture capital before issuing tokens. We want the DAO to be where the value lies, to be an entity that has complete control over everything.
We see that if we raise a lot of money as a company, then we may not necessarily be obligated to put the DAO first, which creates a conflict of interest. We will be more motivated to drive value to equity. We see a lot of teams doing that, and we don’t like the model.
Our different approach is not to do large-scale fundraising, but to put more tokens into the DAO treasury so that the DAO can benefit from any kind of distribution in the treasury, whether it is a private sale of the treasury, or liquidity mining, etc.
Hop has a large number of tokens to distribute, which I think is important for its long-term success. We want to achieve a wide distribution in the Ethereum community. Therefore, liquidity mining does provide a great conduit for anyone who wants to earn tokens through participating networks.
I think subsidies help open up new markets, but that’s not necessarily sustainable in the long term. Specific to the Hop project, I think it makes a lot of sense for where it is today. Given that many markets benefit greatly from these subsidies, this makes sense today. In the future, I think after Hop achieves widespread distribution of tokens, it should slowly remove subsidies and start looking for more sustainable models that don’t involve the perpetual cost of DAOs.
One big thing that helps achieve this is the next version of Hop, which should be more efficient, especially for long-tail assets that don’t trade as much as DAI and USDT. When it launches, I think the community can start thinking about different ways to implement distribution.
Hop seems to have a very solid community. Was this the result of the decisions you made at the beginning of your founding? How did you attract a strong community?
We’ve found the same thing, and it’s hard to say it’s a direct result of our early decisions, but we do want Hop to be community-owned. This is the main reason why large-scale financing is not done and the community is allowed to take over early.
In terms of governance, we also try to strike a good balance for the community and push things forward that need to be pushed. For other things, we also pretty much let go, allowing different community members the opportunity to get involved and play different roles. I would say that having a strong community is very important to our long-term success.
Lito is one of the best community managers. Lito and I met when he was building the cryptotesters community, and I was very impressed with the work he did there. From the beginning, I thought it was a match made in heaven.
We also have a designer we work closely with, named Genesis. We’ve been working with her since the days of Authereum, and I’ve always been impressed with her design work.
Is there anything you would like to say about the next version of Hop? What’s next?
What I can say now is that we’ll release the details of the roadmap soon. But it will be an open discussion with the community. So stay tuned. We’ll release more details soon, though.
Will Hop stop focusing only on rollup-to-rollup transfers?
I think we’re very focused on the rollup ecosystem right now. But the main requirement for Hop to support a particular network is a message bridge with Ethereum. I think in the short term it will be mostly rollup, but as we see the development of message bridges with other layers, support for these networks may be considered. It’s a community decision. All of these things go through a DAO governance vote, and the community weighs the cost-effectiveness of adding a new network.
I think there are some very exciting technologies emerging or developing around messaging around Ethereum and other chains that involve SNARKS. Once the technology is ready, I think this will unlock the bridge between Hop and many non-Ethereum chains.
Who do you think is the closest competitor to you? Is there someone you really admire?
I think the competitors we’re most worried about are those who don’t necessarily care about decentralization or trustlessness as much as Hop, because there are a lot of shortcuts to make things more efficient and flexible to support different chains by bridging. Especially like multi-signature mode, you have a set of permissions to control all funds on the bridge. So I think these products have a lot of traction in terms of trading volume.
I would say that for these teams, I do admire their business development and these methods, but I would rather see the space take trustlessness and decentralization more seriously, rather than just moving in the direction of commoditization across chain bridges, regardless of the trust model.
Ultimately, I think if we can build a very secure system, it’s because it’s completely trustless. The idea is that in the end it will win because it will be the cheapest place for capital costs.
Do you think there will be multiple cross-chain bridge winners? Or do you think there will be a cross-chain bridge to dominate all bridges?
I think we might see a power-law distribution, as we’ve seen in many different markets, and there could be a dominant winner in each category. The same is true for the messaging layer. But I do think there will be long-tail cross-chain bridges, and we’ll see a very diverse cross-chain bridge ecosystem, but in terms of cross-chain bridge volume, it may not be very evenly distributed.
Which L2s do you think will succeed?
We would definitely bet that Ethereum will have a very diverse rollup ecosystem. I would say that I think all rollups that have formed ecosystems will succeed. They will constantly compound these network effects, which will be very effective for them.
We’re also seeing more new entrants on the ZK side. This seems to be a very competitive area, and I think that’s a good thing for end users. There are a lot of different teams taking different approaches, so the end user should get the best stuff. It should be interesting to see who survives and who doesn’t. But I do think we’re going to see the emergence of multiple ZK rollup ecosystems.
Another type of rollup we’re starting to see is the Arbitrrum nova-style rollup. I guess you could think of the current DyDx StarkEx deployment as similar. This also uses off-chain data availability, as does StarkWare’s ImmutableX. This rollup structure is not strictly a rollup, it does not use all the data availability of Ethereum, and it can find use cases like social media or gaming. While this is not fully decentralized and completely trustless, its cost drops dramatically and becomes very cheap. Even if they don’t share the complete security of Ethereum, having these rollups can become very, very interesting.
Reddit, for example, is now trading their tokens on Arbitrum Nova. The cost needs to be essentially zero because Reddit doesn’t want users to pay the cost and doesn’t want to pay the cost itself. That said, now all of these tokens are on Arbitrum Nova, and they can be bridged to Arbitrum One and bridged to Ethereum to enjoy complete security there. You can see how valuable it is to have these ecosystems next to each other. So I do think we’ll see some use cases for scaling solutions that leverage off-chain data availability.
Given that we’ve been talking about layer 2 for 4 to 5 years and haven’t really seen the use cases in action, it’s really cool to be able to actually use those things on top of it now.
Any advice for cryptocurrency investors now?
Have a long-term view. If you stick to more than one cycle, I think you’ll see that the real thing is created by people who really believe in cryptocurrency. This is usually the result of spanning multiple cycles. That’s often what I value the most.
Posted by:CoinYuppie，Reprinted with attribution to:https://coinyuppie.com/conversation-with-hop-protocol-building-a-scalable-token-cross-chain-bridge/
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