“Nothing surpasses the human aspect of building, and when it’s a genuine joy to work with the people alongside you, everything else seems to just fall into place.”
Welcome to Serum Stories, a new interview series
Working with the teams building in the Serum ecosystem is always a surreal and awe-inspiring experience. Innovative projects and ambitious, talented people continue to emerge and push the boundaries of what was originally thought possible through their integrations with Serum DEX.
There are certain teams who demonstrate such burning ambition, clarity of vision, commitment to the community, and individual integrity that we are simply inspired ourselves.
This week, we’ve had the wonderful opportunity to interview the Zeta Markets team, the Solana Season Hackathon winners and trailblazers who turned heads with their rapid pace of development and innovation in the under-collateralized options space.
We wanted to share what we’ve learned from the Zeta crew about their personal and strategic accomplishments, their perspectives on the Serum and Solana communities, and what they’ve learned through their journey. It’s an interview and founders’ story for everyone, builder or retailer.
1. You’ve taken the Solana community, and the wider DeFi community, by storm. Everyone’s watching your team now, especially after you became the winner of the Solana Season Hackathon — and congratulations again, by the way.
For those who may not be in the loop: What’s your 30 second elevator pitch about who you are and what you’re doing?
Thanks for that! We are all so super happy to have come away with the win.
Overall, I’d say Zeta is a protocol bringing the CeFi options trading experience onto DeFi. All the liquidity fragmentation, poor profitability, and prohibitive fees you experience in current DeFi options, we’re looking to solve — all in a composable L1 protocol.
We’re trying to push the frontier and really bring a friendly, easy to use options experience for everyday traders as well as institutional investors.
2. You mentioned that the core team — all from Australia — started with just four people, and you were university friends who reconverged and started working together on Zeta? That’s incredible!
What’s the story behind how you reconnected and began collaborating on this? What is it like working with close friends on an intense project like this?
Yeah, it’s a crazy story. We’ve all known each other for a long time, and we all got into crypto during 2017, mostly speculating and trading, a few of us were even market-making on both CeFi and DeFi exchanges.
We’d been talking for ages about building something in crypto though, and after the initial craze had died down, we’d all pursued traditional careers in tech and trading. A while back at the start of the year, we got to talking again about how DeFi Summer was in full swing, and started brainstorming to see how we could make an impact in the space. We looked around at what had been built, and naturally, we got to options; and then we realised we had the perfect team to begin building, and then it was more like, “why aren’t we doing this?”
This project has really been the perfect storm for us to get to know each other better as mates and show off a little how we’ve levelled up since our university days. It’s great because we’re all so passionate about the space, about what we’re building, and about working with each other. The hours have been intense, and it’s been fairly stressful, but I don’t think anybody’s grown tired of working on it. You learn a tonne about yourself and about starting a project that you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to in a more conventional workplace.
3. You’ve built a solid community as well. The communities, whether it’s on Telegram or Discord, look excited, they look fun, and everyone seems so helpful and positive. It’s clear the Zeta Markets team takes community building very seriously.
What steps did you take to make all of this happen? Is there anything you want to say to your communities right now?
Shoutout to the ZetArmy! These guys and gals are the main backbone behind Zeta, and we’re huge believers in community-built projects. We’re all just community members ourselves who contribute to the codebase of Zeta — and we couldn’t be more stoked to be surrounded by like-minded, passionate people.
We think the magic in our community really comes from the fact that there’s a real product and vision, and that everyone is making their own mark on Zeta’s progress. Sheep and Maz, who are our community managers, have been amazing stewards of the growing Zeta family, making sure there’s opportunities for everyone to get involved. And the community has stepped up big-time! Whether its loading-screen visuals, multi-language translations, or alpha product testers, there have been so many people involved in Zeta from day 0.
We’d like to give a huge thanks to all the people distributed across the globe who’ve joined in for the ride. We love hanging out on Discord, Twitter, and Instagram with absolutely everyone and are so excited that we’re a part of this amazing community.
4. Would you like to share some of your positive or most favourite experiences in these past few months at Zeta Markets? What would you say makes it all ‘worth it’?
The whole experience of the Hackathon is still a blur, and still one of the highlights of this whole project. From seeing contributors go full-time on Zeta, to late night sessions debugging the front-end so we could record a trade — we went through a whole bonding experience, and of course the cherry on top is to come out with a win after that!
Another favourite moment is one that we have seen a few times: it’s the moment where we bring one of our friends onboard to help and we see them fall in love with the project, the mission, and the community. We are extremely fortunate to have some extremely talented people around us who also happen to be our best friends helping build this project.
Likewise, it’s been such an honour being able to meet some of the best and brightest in the ecosystem. Despite many of them having countless years of trading experience, oftentimes, they are more than happy to give up their precious time to sit down and hash out protocol design or test early alpha demos.
5. You are all big believers in this idea that crypto derivatives are going to be Defi’s next big opportunity, and of course, one of the key ingredients to creating a performant, decentralised options market is having an underlying Layer 1 technology that is both fast and affordable.
Besides the technical advantages of Solana as your choice of Layer 1, what other factors (technical and non-technical) do you feel have been important to consider when building a decentralised options protocol and how did they bring you to decide to build on Solana?
When it comes to building an options DEX, there’s a lot of complexity that might not initially meet the eye. Some of the core aspects that underpin a good options trading platform are the orderbook (for buying and selling options), the margin and liquidation system, the options pricing model, as well as the settlement system.
From a technical perspective, we came to the conclusion that Solana best suited our needs for building out each of these functionalities due to its inherent performance advantages. For the orderbook, we had the amazing Serum DEX (the only fully on-chain orderbook) at our disposal. For the liquidation system, as you might have guessed, it’s critical to be able to update this in near real-time, otherwise, you can fall into nasty situations where accounts fail to be liquidated and go over-bankrupt, forcing our platform to bail out from an insurance fund.
Similarly, having situations where prices become unreflective of current market conditions opens the platform up to arbitrage and exploitation. Pyth solves this. By providing price oracle data updated on a per-block (400ms) basis, we can make our platform incredibly responsive (like a CeFi exchange).
Last of all, settlement of funds upon expiry will take a mere second, a far cry from other chains that otherwise might have you wait upwards of 15 minutes to get your juicy payout.
The other key technical advantage is that by building on a purely L1 chain, we have the flexibility to compose with any other Solana protocol; for example, we can sell our deltas off to spot platforms like Mango without needing to worry about them being on a compatible scaling solution or side-chain.
In terms of non-technical considerations, I guess the main objective we are trying to achieve via our platform is to lower the barrier to trade options. We understand that they are inherently complex financial instruments to grok for a non-expert audience. Hence, we put a lot of effort into education, good design, and usability (we think Robinhood has done this incredibly well).
For us, it’s taking a complex back-end (Solana) and designing simple and intuitive trading experiences without taking away from the utility of the platform (a lot of options implementations we’ve seen in crypto can come off as over-simplified betting markets). Eventually we want to get to a state where the user doesn’t even know (or care) if they’re trading on a blockchain back-end, and we think Solana can get us there with its super-fast speeds and negligible transaction fees.
6. Do you believe there’s any “secret ingredient” that makes your team what it is today?
The people! We think that having the right community and the right contributors is what’s really driven our wins so far, and we’re so excited to keep building with everyone who is in the community (and the people that are yet to come)!
Nothing surpasses the human aspect of building, and when it’s a genuine joy to work with the people alongside you, everything else seems to just fall into place. The passion and genuine enthusiasm of the people beside you is a big motivator, and it starts to not feel like “work” in the traditional sense.
7. What would you like to say to those out there who are thinking of building something new and exciting, but who maybe aren’t fully certain about the start-up lifestyle, the direction of DeFi, or perhaps the state of the Solana and Serum ecosystems?
When the idea for Zeta was being hatched, we were all in great, traditional jobs which we loved. Naturally we were unsure about leaving industries we were passionate about for another industry that we were also incredibly passionate about! The turning point was really talking to the builders in the ecosystem, interacting with the existing DeFi communities, and seeing how much genuine support and traction there was for contributors in the space. Crypto is, most of the time, a huge family, and we all realised it was the right choice to jump into the deep end — and none of us have looked back since!
We think that DeFi summer isn’t over, and the innovation in the space is one of a kind. Regardless of the state of the market, there will be incredible people doing incredible financial engineering day and night. With the help and support of the team at Serum, Solana, Pyth, Mango, and all the other projects who have helped us along the way, we’re excited to keep pushing frontiers with the rest of the space.
We hope you enjoyed the interview! And a huge thank you to team Zeta Markets for making this happen.
And there’s more where that came from!
We would love to continue having these kinds of conversations with all the incredible teams building on Serum and sharing them with you. Just let us know who you want to read about next!
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