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Sandeep Nailwal, CoFounder of Polygon, on setbacks, community building, and rebranding

In this episode of Web3 Unlocked, Kenzi Wang and Diksha Dutta speak to Sandeep Nailwal on his entire journey with Polygon so far. He discusses how he got into Crypto, his commitment to the developer community, and what the future looks like for Web3 today. Here is a deep dive into the conversation, featuring edited excerpts from the podcast.

Why Web3 Matters

There is a vast movement as far as the internet is concerned to evolve from a standardized structure to one that is truly equitable and has more peer-to-peer interactions.

"We are interacting with and spending the larger chunk of our life on—whether it's a game, social media, or whatever it is—it is very important to now democratize these systems. And that's what Web3 is doing."

Computer Science Engineer To Web 3 Founder In early 2016, Sandeep left his job in a B2B startup and started learning about deep tech. With Ethereum, he saw the opportunity to run more complicated business logic on the blockchain. He met his co-founder after identifying Ethereum scaling issues. They agreed to build a platform with full smart contract capabilities and not just payments.

"I was looking for a way to write business logic that could be computed in a decentralized way, and when I found Ethereum, I knew it was what I had been looking for. So I immediately decided to shut down my previous business and dedicate myself fully to programming."

The Funding Journey

Once the MVP was done and funding needed to be secured, big roadblocks emerged. No Crypto VC wanted to invest in Polygon (erstwhile Matic) when the ICO market was down. One reason was the bear market, and the other was probably a racial bias.

"We met a very famous VC, who had an Indian counterpart, and he said - Why do you need so much money? Why do you want to raise $5 million? You just need 150k-200k…You have some Indian developers who will work at 20k per year. I think because we were not from Silicon Valley…VCs underestimated our abilities."

This pushed Polygon to the community funding method.

“We had to compensate for that [lack of funding] by grit and hard work for the longest time. And that became the foundation of Web3 as a whole. So when the community joins the project at such an early stage, they practically help you scale."

Polygon’s valuation cycle:

  • The public came at a $25 million valuation

  • VCs came in at an $8 billion valuation

Defining Success

Recounting the difficult periods while building the firm, Sandeep says even his wedding ceremony is a blurred memory because it was overshadowed by a Bitcoin crash that took place two days before.

“I mean, to be honest if you asked me if I like thinking about those times? Were they really enjoyable?... I'm not sure. They were very tough days."

Using a childhood anecdote, Sandeep explains his approach to success and the definition of failure.

“In childhood, we used to play stage one, stage two, stage three [in videogames]. So I used to think failure is when your stage is not changing. So as far as the stage is changing, that the game that you're playing is changing, it's fine. It's not like it becomes harder or easier. I think it's just that the stakes change, the game changes, the state changes.”

Matic to Polygon

Rebranding was a strategic decision for the company. After becoming successful with project Matic, which was meant solely to resolve Ethereum's scaling issues, the company could not be based on just this one solution. The team knew they had a lot more to offer when it came to tech, and sticking to the old name would not do justice to the work they were set to do.

“I was very clear that if we want to build something, which stay three decades from now, it cannot be singular technology based. The core goal has always been mass adoption, and for that, you need a full suite of these Web3 solutions. We've been working on that. So that was one reason [for the rebrand], and the second reason was that we wanted the community to register this change. That's why the rebranding was important, in our opinion.”

Community. Community. Community.

Well-known for his strong commitment to developers, Sandeep highlights its strategic benefits. Even when Polygon had $50,000 in the bank with a $5 million fundraise from Binance, they were still doing $5000 hackathons, outspending other projects that had raised $50 million.

With his heart rooted in community, Sandeep's biggest motivation is making a name for India. He says, "Imagine if we fail from here, right, we will let down 2 billion people of this Indian subcontinent, because the next time a company comes this far where Polygon has come…people will still discard them, they will say, "No, no, see, remember Polygon? Even if they did some noise, they made some noise for one or two years and then eventually…Don't worry, they will never make it big."

Being a Web3 VC

Sandeep is today being approached by 50% of the Web3 projects that are being built globally. People are looking for investment from Polygon all over the world. He says that being a Web3 VC is something that comes naturally to him, given the industry context and his intuition about teams that can make it.

"It's all about context and empathy. Learning by doing is the most effective manner of learning. This allows us to understand the problems people are trying to solve and the kinds of solutions they can come up with. It's our biggest power."

Here is a list of the selected time stamps on the different topics discussed during the podcast:

00:00 - 00:40: Sandeep’s commitment to community

00:40 - 05:43: Importance of Web3 and Polygon’s purpose

05:43 - 12:09: How Sandeep got into Crypto

12:09 - 15:06: Early days of building & raising funds for Polygon

15:06 - 17:17: Racial bias and lack of support from VCs

17:17 - 18:56: Community funding & capital from VCs

18:56 - 20:53: Can early funding impact growth?

20:53 - 21:49: Bitcoin crashes and Sandeep’s marriage

21:49 - 24:02: Reaching milestones and working hard

24:02 - 25:41: Future goals for Polygon

25:41 - 30:39: Decisions made pre-Polygon

30:39 - 35:19: Building community support & investing in community

35:19 - 38:55: The strategic decision to rebrand

38:55 - 44:58: Attracting talent from Web 2

44:38 - 50:16: The potential of the Web 3 Indian startup ecosystem

50:16 - 52:45: From a Web 3 founder to becoming a VC investor

52:45 - 54:57: Word connection game with Sandeep

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