For this week’s episode, Jacquelyn interviewed Grace Torrellas, Polygon Labs’ VP of product and zkEVM product lead and co-founder and executive director of Blockchain for Humanity, at TechCrunch’s Disrupt 2023 in San Francisco. Blockchain for Humanity aims to use Bitcoin and blockchain technology to help social impact projects. Separately, Polygon Labs is focused on the Ethereum blockchain through its own scaling protocols to make the web3 ecosystem more “affordable, secure and sustainable.” The chain also aims to grow the zero-knowledge ethereum virtual machine (zkEVM) space. Breaking it down for you: zkEVM is just fancy jargon for scalable smart contracts that are compatible with Ethereum and supports a type of computation known as “zero-knowledge proofs,” that verify each transaction. Polygon Labs has over 2.9 billion total transactions since inception in 2017. The Polygon network works with web3 organizations like Aave, Uniswap and OpenSea as well as big name brands like Disney and Starbucks.
For this week’s episode, Jacquelyn interviewed Grace Torrellas, Polygon Labs’ VP of product and zkEVM product lead and co-founder and executive director of Blockchain for Humanity, at TechCrunch’s Disrupt 2023 in San Francisco.
Blockchain for Humanity aims to use Bitcoin and blockchain technology to help social impact projects.
Separately, Polygon Labs is focused on the Ethereum blockchain through its own scaling protocols to make the web3 ecosystem more “affordable, secure and sustainable.” The chain also aims to grow the zero-knowledge ethereum virtual machine (zkEVM) space.
Breaking it down for you: zkEVM is just fancy jargon for scalable smart contracts that are compatible with Ethereum and supports a type of computation known as “zero-knowledge proofs,” that verify each transaction.
Polygon Labs has over 2.9 billion total transactions since inception in 2017. The Polygon network works with web3 organizations like Aave, Uniswap and OpenSea as well as big name brands like Disney and Starbucks.
We talked about her work at both Polygon and Blockchain for humanity and how humanitarian work can be advanced in the web3 space.
We also discussed:
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Jacquelyn Melinek 0:01
Hey everyone, its Jacquelyn Melinek. Welcome to chain reaction, a show that unpacks and dives deep into the latest trends drama and news with some of the biggest names in crypto breaking things down block by block for the crypto curious. Today I'm so excited to be sitting down with Grace Torrellas from polygon. She is the VP of product and product lead at polygon z k EVM. Which Don't worry, we will get into that. We're recording in the TechCrunch Podcast Network booth at Disrupt. And it's so fun to do an interview here because this isn't the screen although you guys can't see that. I am sitting here with grace, grace, how are you?
Grace Torrellas 0:38
I am absolutely wonderful. I cannot. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be here and to have this interview with you. I've been waiting for this moment.
Jacquelyn Melinek 0:47
Oh my gosh, please. And we also did a panel yesterday we me grace, and then two other people from Solana and Aptos. So it was super fun, but I wanted to sit down with grace and get to know her better. So to start, can you give us a little bit background of your work at polygon, breaking down the jargon? What does ZK EVM mean in layman's terms, because maybe not everyone listening knows.
Speaker 2 1:09
That's really funny. Every time we're asked to explain sick EBM, we have to pause for a while to collect out all the words and you say like you just said to us the organic like so difficult to describe it without it. Let's start with the word ck, because that is probably the key point here. zero knowledge. So zero knowledge is a technology that allows us to validate transactions and to allow for those transactions to be legitimate to ensure that it's securely done. And it has all the right conditions to be transact. So, zero knowledge EBM CK EVM. It's a Roll up, roll up works as a layer two, on top of this, in this particular case on top one and L one, which is Ethereum a roll up what it does is takes a transaction and makes the computation of that transaction off chain, that creates an opportunity for that transaction to be faster, to be less expensive when compared to a layer one and to have the security that it needs in order to be validated by layer one. So therefore, we can take lots of transactions and compute them at the same time. Aggregate proves to validate that these transactions are done correctly, and then post that state change and that data on L one. I don't know if that made any sense. I'm trying not to use all the,
Jacquelyn Melinek 2:35
for me it makes sense. And the simplest way to put it is just makes blockchains faster and easier to scale.
Speaker 2 2:41
Right? Correct, because it is a scaling solution. So therefore that's a that's the key here.
Jacquelyn Melinek 2:46
I got it. You also work a lot with Blockchain for humanity. Can you tell me about what drew you to the advocacy space and how that kind of plays into the web three world I feel like not enough people talk about that.
Speaker 2 2:56
It is true. One of the things that I was fascinated by was does this technology really is so open and so borderless that you can do anything with it. And one thing that came to be very clear to me it was that he would change business models in the way that we would never think they would be. And one of the areas in which I quickly got very much involved was social impact social impact projects that will use the technology. And this is back, you know, right after Ethereum launched in 2015. And I thought, Oh, what a great way to find out what the technology can do, than to try to use it in our apply in in a project that can bring some social impact for communities, let's say the next phase of that was to create a donation tracking platform, which seemed to me was the perfect example to bring light into a dark box. You know, I always when I was trying to explain people what blockchain will enable, I said, it's like bringing light into a dark box. I love that. Yeah, I love that too. Because it really makes sense in my head. So how do you bring light into it, it becomes transparent, you understand what that process does. And in this case, we was donations, like a big black box, like people give donations, and they never know where the money will go, whether it actually spent in what it's meant for. It's like taxes in the US. There you go, which is exactly that we need to put some light on. Yeah. So yeah, so the nation tracking platform was a model that was pretty much absorbed and accepted by a lot of the Etherion community. And I created the first kind of project, give that a go. And that was a donation tracking, it's still one of the projects that actually brings a lot of possibilities for people to raise funds or, you know, bring projects into it that actually can get the benefit of getting donations. Right. Okay, so, that was one then immediately after that, we had like the madness of the ICOs and 12 in 2017. Yeah, remember that? And I think everyone thought that blockchain was a about that in DAG, all about the tokens and all the tokens all about the speculation and all about the legitimate projects that we're actually trying to
Jacquelyn Melinek 5:07
create then and now yeah.
Speaker 2 5:10
So, so it was like it hurt to hear and to and to feel that people would not appreciate this technology in the in the actual way that it was meant to be used. So that's when the idea for blockchain for humanity came forward and said, you know, we have projects out there that are actually doing really good things, we just need to make sure that people are aware of them, and that we can help them out and support them, which was the idea behind blockchain for humanity. One of the projects that came out there, which I still is my favorite one is ethic hub. And this project started by helping farmers that harvest coffee in Mexico, but they do it, you know, every time they have to harvest, they have to get a loan, to start doing the work. And this loans are usually paid at a 70 to 80% interest,
Jacquelyn Melinek 5:56
oh, that's steep.
Grace Torrellas 5:58
That's it SuperStream, no
Jacquelyn Melinek 5:59
credit cards go that I
Speaker 2 6:00
exactly this is this is taking advantage of people that are bank less, right, don't have a bank account that don't have the means to actually get there. And therefore, what they did was, you know, created a group of communities that will do kind of a co op, let's say, and then this project enabled people, let's say, in Europe, to invest, the word is invest here, add a percentage that they will get back with between four and 8%, let's say, you know, for the money that they are lending, let's say, Oh, they're they're giving the farmers to harvest. And surprise, surprise, one of the things that make me so happy about this project is that every single core but every single community repay that loan, within the timeframe that they say they would, that's 100% of the time, they didn't have one single community. That's because
Jacquelyn Melinek 6:52
they had less pressure from the interest rates that could have existed. Yeah,
Speaker 2 6:57
of course, but also the people that are behind, you know, lending this money are not usually the nicest people in the world. You know, yeah, they're a bit of sharks. Exactly. That's the word that I would use for that. So that took care of that. And I felt that Okay, so this is, this is what it's meant to do. It opens those borders, you know, allow people to have access that otherwise they wouldn't.
Jacquelyn Melinek 7:18
Yeah. And I feel like that's the type of stuff in the blockchain world that's like, never talked about when we have these headlines out there, or even conversations at Thanksgiving and Christmas, where people want to be like, How's crypto? I see, it's down, you know, like, do you still have a job, all these things, but there's other aspects that, you know, actually provide real uses. And even with, like, major corporations, I know Walmart uses blockchain technology to track their food supply. And sure that's not donations. But and it's not sexy, but it's still a use of this technology for a purpose beyond what the public eye typically sees this for. So I guess, looking at both the donation side of things and the work you do there, and then also your work at polygon, what are some of the use cases that you think haven't really been enabled yet, but you could see coming down the pipeline?
Speaker 2 8:07
Well, my work in polygon has been so fulfilling to me, because it has also given me the opportunity to step up on the technology aspect of that evolution of blockchain. I feel like the cutting edge of zero knowledge powered roll ups is it's really, it's really important. And it's bringing a significant move forward of the technology in terms of overall for anyone who wants to implement right built on this chains. So from an infrastructure perspective, what we're trying to do is make sure that we facilitate anyone who wants to build a project wants to build an application on a blockchain that is secure. And that is fast. But I feel like we still have a lot of things that are restrictive, that are limiting these experiences. Not exactly, yes, yeah. So that's something that we talk about it all the time. I think this is like the one thing that we always you know, every year, we actually talk about how the user experience needs to improve, right. But I feel like if the infrastructure is allowing for a user experience to change, meaning that the projects have the right tools, to be able to create applications that have the best user experience, I feel like that's a contribution that we're bringing forward within the polygon ecosystem. But more importantly, it was being able to be compliant in many ways that some of the blockchains perhaps wouldn't allow. We are looking at having chains, very specific chains that are very much catering to all the specific needs that a use case will require. Yeah. And I feel like that's probably where we're gonna move the needle forward, because its use case base. And I felt like that's what we need to go into.
Jacquelyn Melinek 9:45
Do you have any examples you
Speaker 2 9:46
can provide of that? Well, they're not my favorite samples, but they're there. But because recently, I was involved in this workshop with many enterprises that were very, very curious about how they would apply the blockchain in their own business models, and banks, were definitely on the top of that list and even an exchange, a stock exchange. And I felt like okay, that makes sense, right, the settlement process being so fast, but it has to be very specific to comply with all the regulations that they need to comply with. Yeah. And that's where the flexibility actually gets started. So it is a work in progress. But it's actually I think those are the ones who are going to show you know, the greatest benefit out of this customized change that we're bringing here. And
Jacquelyn Melinek 10:31
we've talked about this before. And obviously banks are a big sector that I think blockchain technology and crypto in general could work with. But polygon has also partnered with Disney in the past. So what do you think is the current state of blockchain technology getting adopted by mainstream or quote unquote, normal businesses? Are these big brands or entities that we talk about?
Speaker 2 10:52
It's amazing. I love the fact that we are also related to all these big brands. Yeah, I have a favorite one. And it's actually because before I came into this whole frenzy of crypto and web three, I was in aviation. So to me vacation is kind of like a part of my, you know, it's very deep in my heart, of course. And when I found out that Lufthansa was also part of this airline, the airline exactly miles and more specifically. Yeah, so it was a moment that I was waiting for. Because I feel like in aviation, we can solve a lot of problems, especially for like maintenance, your main parts
Jacquelyn Melinek 11:33
are even like tiny things that I don't know about. But then I get on a flight, I do know about,
Speaker 2 11:38
exactly. But there is a world out there that people are unaware of right, that will be very much benefiting from the capabilities that we have in web three. So at least it's a small step forward. But I feel like it's actually a good step, because it's a loyalty program. So it allows people to be able to understand how they can use multiple companies to use those points with and it's a little bit different in the way that it's done right now. So the technology is there to host these new applications. And I feel like that, yeah, we're getting there.
Jacquelyn Melinek 12:09
Awesome. Another question I had for you as you've been in the space for a while. Can you tell me about a specific moment, during your career where you had this like, Aha moment? Like, wow, this is actually something that could be really big. And you were excited, more so than when you even got into the space?
Speaker 2 12:26
I think it happens? Well, you get through the let's go away event in the in the in the rabbit hole. Okay, yeah. And then you feel like you're completely lost. And when I started this, there weren't really that many articles written or papers to write or to read. But I remember my husband telling me, You're wasting your time. And all I could hear was like you're wasting your time, that doesn't mean anything, or that is not, it's not gonna go anywhere. And the aha moment was actually, when I reached out to this guy in South Africa, and he was building an electrical meter for a public school that was in a very, very poor area, and with a very limited resources. And this electrical meter will allow people to send bitcoin, unfortunately, Bitcoin, it will enable the meter to transform that into what kind of a electricity and allow for the school to be lit in August, just at the end. It's like, okay, this was like the first project, I was actually interested. And this guy was amazing. He said, I'm giving it a try. And I actually, you know, people contacted me from MIT. And there is an event and MIT and they want to show this, and this is how we're going to launch it. I'm like, Oh, my God, I have to see this. Yeah. So that was this event that took place there, where somebody from the room sent a portion of a Bitcoin. And then they were at the school in South Africa, a was more than than midnight, it was must have been like two o'clock in the morning, there were kids, I was still out there. It was dark, they send over it actually took the whole generated the whole transformation to what's and then they provided the electricity. And then when the lights went on, there were the teachers and the kids old singing. And it was like, it was such a wonderful moment. Yeah. And that's when I realized, yes, this can happen. This has endless potential to do something really significantly positive as well.
Jacquelyn Melinek 14:25
I love that. I love that story. Grace, this has been wonderful. Can you leave us with a piece of advice that you would like to share with others in the crypto industry?
Grace Torrellas 14:32
Oh, wow. Okay, for the people who who are already here,
Jacquelyn Melinek 14:35
sure. Be persistent to you. We give you flexibility. Okay.
Speaker 2 14:39
The people that are already in web three, be persistent. Don't look at this only for speculation. There's so much we can do with this technology. And we haven't even scratched the surface yet. For the people who are thinking about it, I will say don't get too hung up about the technology itself or the complexity that it brings. It has other aspects. Then we need Get people from all different backgrounds to be part
Jacquelyn Melinek 15:02
of this. Yeah. Great. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Grace Torrellas 15:06
Thank you for having me here.
Jacquelyn Melinek 15:11
We'll be back next week with conversations around what's going on in the wild worlds of web three with top players in the crypto ecosystem. You can keep up with us on Spotify, Apple Music or your favorite pod platform and subscribe to our companion newsletter, also called chain reaction. Links to the newsletter and stories we talked about can be found in our show notes. And be sure to follow us at chain underscore reaction on Twitter. Chain Reaction is hosted by myself Jacquelyn Melinek, and produced by Maggie Stamets with assistance from Yashad Kulkarni, and editing by Kell. Bryce Durbin is our Illustrator and Henry Pickavet manages TechCrunch audio products. Thanks for listening in. See you next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai