Investing in Matter Labs

A persistent problem in web3 today is the issue of scalability: as blockchains like Ethereum add users and experience unpredictable surges in network demand, they increasingly run into the same hitches of slow transaction times, high gas fees, and reverted transactions. Even as the number of Ethereum users has surged in the past year, and the applications themselves have grown more creative and attracted more capital, the number of transactions processed by miners has remained roughly flat at around thirteen per second (and the time to finality can stretch into minutes or even hours). This is, of course, baked into the secure and decentralized design of blockchains themselves: in order for a transaction to be included in a block, it must be processed by every miner in the network. While this is required for the operation of a secure and trustless network like Ethereum, it severely limits a user’s speed and quality of experience. 

Today, we’re excited to announce that a16z is leading a Series B investment in Matter Labs, which architected the zkSync solution. zkSync uses zero-knowledge proofs (specifically, zk-SNARKS), a type of cryptographic innovation, to scale Ethereum in a way that preserves its values of decentralization and security. The founders are brilliant: Alex Gluchowski has been a co-founder of three companies, and a CTO of four; Alex Vlasov is a deeply technical visionary with a research background and a PhD in Electrical Engineering. Together they lead a team committed to the long-term vision of scaling Ethereum, with an exciting roadmap ahead that includes more wallet integrations, permissionless token listings, and integrations with protocols and dApps.

zkSync 2.0 takes the computation performed by miners on Ethereum and moves it onto a zero knowledge-rollup that is processed off-chain. The computational proofs enable transactions at a lower cost and with more throughput than is available on mainnet, without sacrificing Ethereum’s security, decentralization, or composability. To achieve this latter feat, the team has built the first EVM-compatible zero-knowledge rollup, which will enable developers to reuse contracts already written in Solidity, and just as importantly, avoid needing to pay for multiple smart contract audits. 

Crucially, the zkEVM will allow contracts to call other contracts on the rollup in the same way you can call contracts on mainnet. In other words, it enshrines the same composability we find on Ethereum in the form of a zero-knowledge rollup. It also preserves all the network effects and tooling that have evolved around Solidity as the default smart contract language used by developers today. The first version of zkSync 2.0 is live on testnet, with a port of Uniswap V2 available to users. You can fill out this form if you’re on a team that’s interested in deploying on the zkSync 2.0 testnet. 

Many people thought the journey to an EVM-compatible zero-knowledge scaling solution would take years. The zkSync team went deep into the idea maze to come up with a solution much sooner than most people were anticipating. zkSync involves using the PLONK setup as a proof system  (if you want to grok PLONKs on a deeper level, we recommend watching this presentation by Alex Gluchowski or reading this post from Vitalik). As a final step, the team offers a compiler that can convert Solidity into zkEVM bytecode. The work that the zkSync team is doing is complementary to a lot of the other great work toward blockchain scalability in the Ethereum ecosystem.

One way to understand the history of modern cryptography is as a movement to secure and promote human freedom. Public-key cryptography, first proposed in the 1970s, evolved as a way to address two concurrent phenomena: advances in telecommunication that made widespread communication possible, and advances in adversarial surveillance that rendered private communication necessary. We can view cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum as continuations of this story: the SHA256 and keccak256 hash functions give us a way to create private and public keys that can authenticate transactions in an open network. Cryptography is the vital component of why these networks can operate in a trustless and decentralized manner – allowing the participants on these chains to be fully self-sovereign. The zkSync team is continuing this history. 

If Ethereum showed us what you can do with decentralization, composability, and developer freedom, Matter Labs will extend that vision by offering scalability. The activity on Ethereum L1, between DeFi, governance, NFT trading, DAO creation, and gaming has surpassed our wildest imagination in terms of creativity and progress. One way to explain the ingenuity we’re seeing comes back to the core idea of self-sovereignty inherent to cryptography, and essential to the ethos of web3. zkSync is building (and enthusiastically hiring!) for the next generation of developers, and will unleash rippling waves of originality into the already vibrant Ethereum ecosystem. We couldn’t be more excited to back the team and their inspiring vision for the future. 

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