12 min read

IOTA_India interviews Kumar Anirudha [IF]

IOTA_India interviews Kumar Anirudha [IF]

IOTA_India [I_I]: “I’ll start recording now!” < Bangalore/Starbucks background noise>

Kumar Anirudha [KA]: “Sure, but I don’t know if there will be anything noteworthy here, though. Where are you publishing this, by the way?”

[I_I]: “The IOTA Content Creator DAO’s newsletter, The Daily Degen!”

“So, of all the hundreds of projects out there, how did you actually find IOTA?”

[KA]: I am mostly a developer. In 2016–17, I was trying to explore the entire blockchain space, and learn. Only thing was ETH. IBM was doing a lot of work around Hyperledger. I went to the launch party of Hyperledger 1.0 at the IBM office.

[I_I]: Woah, how did you get in?

[KA]: Haha well I guess somebody from somewhere I knew invited and I just went in. At this time, we were trying to learn blockchain.

[I_I]: Who’s the “we” here?

[KA]: Well, me and my friend Akshay and a couple of others, in 2016, we went to meetups. The only meetups around here in Bangalore (India) back then were Unocoin’s BTC meetups. All were around buying BTC and using wallets.

[I_I]: Did you manage to buy a lot back then and get rich?

[KA]: No, not that much. I bought some at like 1,000 dollars or something but sold almost everything at 9,000. A little bit was left, but I sold them at 17,000. Just a bit later, it went to 60,000…That was crazy.

So, yeah, some of us wanted to know more about the tech and founded Acyclic Networks.

I was working as a backend developer back then, and working on a product that involved organizing hackathons and meetups across India. We were building a platform from that.

[I_I]: You cofounded Acyclic Labs, right? What is it?

[KA]: Oh that we founded in 2018. That was .. I will come back to it.

Wait, we are mixing up the timeline! Back to 2016. Unocoin meetups … We met a couple of people, and we started meeting every week and sharing what we learnt about crypto, sharing resources and learnings. We decided to open this up to everyone and founded what was called Blockchained India. We were shocked that 20 people showed up — April 1, 2017. We had assumed most people would think it’s a prank. As many as 150 people showed up in the second meeting at NASSCOM. It was fantastic. We were invited for events across the country, and today it’s one of the largest crypto communities in India. We were traveling across cities, and I talked a lot about IOTA as well!

In the bull market (and exploding gas prices) of 2017, IOTA came across as something different — no gas fees, no miners!

[I_I]: How did you even find IOTA?

[KA]: Well, IOTA was up on the radar at that moment, right at the top for a while, after BTC and ETH. And I came across this group called IEN.

[I_I]: Yes, yes, I know this. The IOTA Evangelist Network — Ben Royce is also there, right?

[KA]: Correct! Yes, it was a global group and IOTA Foundation members were also there, so it seemed very legit. I joined it, and saw that the people were very enthusiastic there, about IOTA and its overall vision. I learnt a lot from them, about the tech and the community part of things. I got involved with the group and became part of the steering committee.

[I_I]: You were a Developer Advocate there, right? What exactly is that? Which X Team were you part of?

[KA]: No no, X teams came very very late, a lot after this. Before this, IEN was the main group — a collective from across the globe and promoting IOTA. That’s where I met Kevin; he was heading IEN back then. There were many people around. Antonio was there, and he later created the X teams. Antonio has been a great community person, smartly leading the community. I was part of the Libraries X team and a few more. At this time, the work was mostly enterprise focused.

2018 is when I started Acyclic. It’s not directly related with IOTA. The idea was that, we were trying to solve an issue from an Indian perspective. Crypto was still very volatile and industries weren’t willing to use it. UPI (Indian payment channel) became very well known at this point, a p2p. We were trying to combine Blockchain with UPI in some way, and created a product called Sentinel. This was an infra layer, with a protocol to connect our permissioned blockchain (Indium network) to any public blockchain.

[I_I]: What does “connect” mean here? Like a bridge?

[KA]: Yes, but in 2018, “bridge” didn’t exist, so we called it a protocol. It allowed you to interact with a smart contract without having to use any cryptocurrencies. Instead, the payment will be via UPI. We went and met different payment gateway companies and banks, and partnered with a bank. The processes with banks are long, though. Almost a year it took! We focused on specific domains and got some interesting projects (NDA!) with big and interesting companies (and yes, I shilled/explained IOTA pretty heavily to them). Also, an unfortunately, some companies liked our product as a proof of concept, and for the final go-to-market product, decided to go with permissioned blockchains from prominent industry giants.

[I_I]: (Sorry, but I need to click a photo, to show The Daily Degen that we actually met. Wait, the light is horrible here, we shall do it a little later, over there.)

[KA]: At this point, though, I was more focused on this company (Acyclic) and IOTA got a bit sidelined. Plus, there were some issues (I’m sure you also know about them.). But we did quite a few projects using IOTA! I also worked with Stephen from IEN, on a concept of IOTA Gift Cards. It was exciting, but life got in the way and it sorta phased out.

[I_I]: As part of IEN, who were the IOTA bigshots you were in contact with, at that time?

[KA]: A lot of people from the IEN were joining the IF at this point. Sebastian was also a community person who was very active and later joined. Daniel was there, from the IOTA Argentina team. They were very active and famous. Daniel took over the leadership of IEN later — I was actually part of three phases of the steering committees, and I was the only constant there who was in all three phases. I was handling most of the tech side of the IEN then, like the website, Twitter, admin, that sort of thing. It was a going well; we did a lot of events to promote IOTA, and people from the IF came to present talks in such meets.

[I_I]: Are you the only prominent India-based IOTA “evangelist”?

[KA]: Yeah, I guess so! At least at that point I was. I went to different cities in India, and met different types of people (business, government/bureaucracy, tech) to pitch IOTA. Now there’s another member of the IF from India (from Andhra Pradesh, a state in south India). Oh and Merul, who’s so prominent in the community — I got to know only recently that he’s Indian. By the way, Dom was supposed to come to India for a presentation, but it didn’t work out.

[I_I]: Yeah, I really hope IOTA (Foundation and community) are able to target the massive Indian market the way Solana is. Solana is conducting these massive hacker house events, with celebrity endorsement. Plus, their DAOs (like the Superteam DAO) are extremely popular here.

[KA]: Yeah, Solana — using its massive budget — has been able to provide a gateway to crypto to thousands of young Indian students. That does give us an opportunity though, to educate these youngsters who have gotten into crypto about the advantages that other crypto — like IOTA — have. Similarly, Polygon has conducted large hackathons across Indian colleges. However, the founders have moved to Dubai now, possibly as Dubai has a better regulatory environment for crypto builders. By the way, there’s a great Cosmos ecosystem in Bangalore as well.

At one Solana event, I tried pitching IOTA to one of their most popular (Indian) celebrity endorsers — but we was like “I will listen to you only if you’re talking about Solana”. So, I had to tell him that we’ll chat later.

There are some funds in IOTA that can be disseminated for community development, and teams (including legal) are discussing on how best to go about it.

Talking of community, IOTA fortunately or unfortunately, has this very IOTA-centric community. People inside it know only IOTA and those outside it don’t know IOTA at all. The people inside this bubble are hardcore IOTA people. We have to find a way to get the message outside the bubble as well.

[I_I]: People talk a lot about the IOTA Foundation focusing more on the tech than marketing. Any views?

[KA]: Haha I guess that’s why I got attracted to IOTA, because everyone there seems so focused on the tech. I personally am exactly like that; I am not too good at the business side of things. The project team here at IF is magnificent. Holger Kother’s team. They are involved in so many projects, in Europe, Africa, and with so many companies. I got to know of all this only after I got into the IF. By the way, there is so much going on here that it seems like only the communication team actually knows what exactly, in totality, is happening.

[I_I]: Spill some secrets! What’s going on with the Bosch project? And all the other ones we used to hear about?

[KA]: Haha sorry man, I really don’t know. My team isn’t involved in those projects. But remember this, I am saying this in general: sometimes it feels like there’s nothing happening, no announcements. But things actually keep happening. It’s just that this is the way MNCs work.

That aside, now with IOTA 2.0 coming up, let’s try to organize local events and gather up people. People like you and me, we could organize some small events first, and later bigger events as part of larger meets, maybe even invite some speakers from the IOTA Foundation.

[I_I]: How did you join the IF? How did that happen?

[KA]: Well, I got really frustrated in 2020, quit everything. Started working on completely non crypto stuff. I joined a non-crypto company, and it eventually became a unicorn — but I left two months before it did! It’s because then NFTs and metaverse stuff started getting hot, and I knew I had to get back into the scene. I started to check again what’s happening in IOTA: I saw that they had changed the entire architecture, the underlying consensus. All the articles from Hans started coming out, and it was amazing! And now IOTA seemed to be getting into the “crypto” scene.

[I_I]: You mean the degen space?

[KA]: Exactly! It was always focused on data and optimization, and now it was focusing, in parallel, on more “pro-crypto” projects as well. Many new projects were coming up, and I saw this opening for “developer advocate”. I thought this is a great place to get involved in, and applied for the role. It would give me a chance to be involved with both the community and the tech. I was interviewed by a couple of guys, including Mark. He has been my manager for a long time! I was the only Developer Advocate for a while, but now a few more have come in into the Developer Experience team. Kevin joined, Dr Electron joined and so did Sebastian, and now Annie joined as the head of Developer Experience. So, we now have a 5-people team. Our job is to advocate about IOTA to developers and help them get excited about and involved in IOTA, building them the right platforms and tools (including the wiki), going to events and talking about IOTA.

[I_I]: Dr. Electron? You guys refer to one another by Discord handles?

[KA]: Haha yes, Discord is where everybody lives, right? So that’s how we mostly know them. Like Kevin, I actually didn’t know his real name for a long time! Anybody in the IOTA space, if you ask about their Discord name, people will say that yes, I know name. But if you mention the real name, they’ll go: “Who’s that?!”

There’s a new tutorials section coming up in the Wiki. Oh wait, I forgot whether it has been officially announced or nor. We’ll have to check this with the communication team. However, if you have been hanging around on Discord, you can see it’s being discussed. We’ll build some tutorials ourselves, and will encourage the community to build out some tutorials.

[I_I]: Oh yes, won’t want to get in the bad books of the comms team! Tell me a thing. How can the IOTA Content Creators DAO help the IF?

[KA]: That’s what we’ll together have to figure out, right? The content creation has to come from the community; the IF can’t be creating content, right? As much as the community can take up certain tasks, it frees up the IF to work on the protocol side. Content is the first thing that helps bring outsiders to the project. When someone searches on Google “IOTA agriculture”, we have to ensure that there is adequate content that shows up. It’d be even better if we have articles written by people who have actually worked in a specific niche domain (say, beverage supply chain tracking, or waste management, or agriculture, or energy markets) and tried using IOTA there; in this way, readers will get to know exactly what the application of IOTA in a real-world domain would look like.

[I_I]: Your answer to this question will be quoted verbatim: Is Assembly happening? Will it happen? There are many rumours, you know?

[KA]: …. If you follow the TangleMath channel, you’d be able to know about the latest research going on. Most interesting thing right now is Shimmer actually, because it’s actually a completely new network and that’s where the smart contracts will go live on. People can start creating and launching their stuff on Shimmer right away, creating native tokens and using them. Even though the documentation isn’t really updated, people have started building! It’s so amazing that people have figured their way around.

[I_I]: Sorry, I haven’t been able to keep track of that channel. Discord is a bit of information overload.

[KA]: Haha yeah there’s so much happening all over that it’s challenging to keep track. And especially if you’re into spec, the whole day is gone! Oh boy, spec is a blackhole.

[I_I]: Why not coordicide on Shimmer right away?

[KA]: Umm… I think testing is not complete yet. Last I heard from the team, there were some test cases that they were running. But it will be there. That will probably be the biggest change in IOTA in a long time!

[I_I]: Yeah, it will be a final validation that IOTA actually works! There were some questions from the community, and we would like your views on them.

[KA]: Wait, who is sending questions?

[I_I]: Well, the community… people who are active on the ICCD Discord. You mentioned ZK. Polygon has done some work on it. What implications does it have for IOTA and Assembly?

[KA]: Yeah, Polygon Hermez, right? So, IOTA team has researched the different types of ZK EVMs out there. I think ZK Sync 2.0 is the closest there is to a proper ZK EVM rollup. It’s pretty well-written. Even Starknet doesn’t have a ZK EVM. The fastest I think will be Optimism, which is not ZK obviously, but Optimistic rollups are still something that’s hugely accepted in the EV space.

I have seen internal reports of how the IOTA research teams have analysed the existing ZK EVM implementations and theoretical frameworks and it’s very extensive research. ZK Sync and Scroll are probably the closest to a real ZK EVM.

[I_I]: What’s the Indian crypto space looking like, to you?

[KA]: Andhra Pradesh is trying to be the crypto hub in South Asia, which is exciting! However, overall in the country, the regulatory atmosphere doesn’t seem too friendly to builders. That’s why we see a lot of developers and crypto entrepreneurs moving out. Surprisingly, our bureaucrats are very well versed in crypto.

[I_I]: Assembly, late to the party?

[KA]: Yes, it is a little late, especially considering something like Cosmos already there. But it’s not too late. Assembly is interesting in the interoperability space. If Assembly can get there faster, and be the only one there, first to be there in the multichain ecosystem space, plus the partnerships we’ve been working on (particularly bridges), it can be something special. There is indeed a lot of noise in the degen space right now, but most of it is just noise. I think we aren’t very late, but we shouldn’t be more late. We are in a very sweet spot right now.

[I_I]: What separates Assembly from competitors?

[KA]: The base layer IOTA — — most others are too expensive or two slow. Plus how the interchain comms will work around it, from one WASP chain to another. You wouldn’t need any bridges around it. It’s damn exciting how it’s being designed and researched. The possibilities are amazing.

[I_I]: Which super power would you like to have?

[KA]: I am a fan of Iron Man, but I’d love to have The Flash’s powers.

[I_I]: Running fast?

[KA]: It’s not just running. He can do everything fast! Think fast. I would like to think a month’s worth of ideas and code a year’s worth of programming in a second; yes the system would burn up and I’d need to “git push” before the computer catches fire!

[I_I]: What’s something people should ask but don’t about IOTA?

[KA]: It’s not a “should ask” thing, but it’s something I guess the community sorta missed or overlooked:

With the Shimmer blog post, a lot of significant things got announced, like the CLI wallet and a lot of different libraries that do unique things, that people kinda missed. I will start tweeting a lot more about these! These tools add a lot of possibilities on what can be built.

Interplanetary Database, Ocean protocol, and Stellar Lumens — these are some coins I loved. I also dived deep into Litecoin and Peercoin back in the day.