Pantera, Coinbase, Multicoin back firm claiming to have built ‘highly scalable' blockchain with tried-and-tested sharding solution

Quick Take

  • NEAR, a San Francisco-based company, is joining the race to build a “highly-scalable, developer-friendly,” blockchain
  • The firm, which began development in 2017, has just closed a $12.1 million Series A, backed by the some of the biggest names in the space, including Pantera, Coinbase Ventures, and Multicoin
  • Investors are hoping NEAR’s sharded, proof of stake protocol will provide the backbone to a new wave of decentralized applications

If you haven't heard of NEAR, it may be time to familiarise yourself.

The blockchain-building firm has secured $12.1 million in its Series A from a small army of high-profile investors, including Pantera, Multicoin, ACapital, Coinbase Ventures, and Ripple’s Xpring. Notable angels include Naval Ravikant, Andrew Keys, and Balaji Srinivasan. The round was led by Metastable and Accomplice.

The firm’s flagship product is a public, proof-of-stake blockchain that focuses on “usability and scalability”; the two major obstacles for existing blockchains. To do this, NEAR boasts a new sharding solution without "theoretical limit” to its capacity and a “developer-friendly” UI to encourage speedier output of decentralized applications (dApps).

“Building for [Ethereum] is really poor,” NEAR’s CEO and former Microsoft developer Alexander Skidanov tells The Block. “We want to attract normal programming, normal developers,” whose inclusion he said was the missing ingredient for mainstream adoption.

NEAR is up against the likes of CasperLabs, which is also working on a truly “scalable” blockchain and has recruited Ethereum’s star developer Vlad Zamfir as its lead architect in a bid to speed up his sharding work. Skidanov also noted that while Ethereum is also working on a sharding upgrade, it is “moving extremely slowly,” with Phase 0 set to launch in January. In contrast, NEAR has already reportedly rolled out an early version of its sharding protocol, which it says will help "launch a global movement" and pave the way for mass dApp uptake. 

Clearly, NEAR’s international founding team is not short of confidence – with due reason according to investor and General Partner at Electric Capital, Avichal Garg.

“The Near team is a rare combination of engineers who are both theoretically deep and also extremely pragmatic,” he said in a statement. “They are one of the few teams to have previously shipped a sharded, distributed system used at scale,” boasting former programmers from Google, Facebook and Niantic.

Now, NEAR has opted to pursue a traditional venture capital route, securing funds in exchange for native tokens (known as SAFTs). This is as opposed to an initial coin offering (ICO), a public fundraising tool that saw the likes of Polkadot raise tens of millions of dollars.

The firm, which has been in stealth since 2017, said the new funds would be used to recruit more developers, to accelerate the development of additional tooling and to launch the NEAR Protocol mainnet,” scheduled for year-end. It declined to comment on its current valuation.

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