From growing up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood on the east bank of the Yamuna river in Delhi to becoming the founder of the $6-billion Polygon blockchain, Sandeep Nailwal’s journey is nothing short of remarkable. Born in 1987 in a farming village called Ramnagar in the foothills of the Himalayas, Nailwal’s parents moved to Delhi when he was just four years old in search of a better life. However, they ended up settling in the impoverished settlements on the east banks of the river, known as Jamna-Paar.
Nailwal describes this area as similar to the Bronx in New York, a tier-three area with a ghetto-like feel. He recalls seeing cows roaming the streets and the prevalence of illegal guns, though knives were the weapon of choice. Despite the challenging circumstances, Nailwal eventually started attending school at the age of five, thanks to the intervention of a local school owner who noticed that he wasn’t enrolled. The school itself was small, with 20 cramped students in a room not much bigger than the one Nailwal points to in Dubai while recounting his childhood.
Home life was equally challenging, with Nailwal’s father battling alcoholism and gambling addiction. This resulted in financial instability, often leading to the family being unable to pay the monthly school fees on time. Nailwal vividly remembers the humiliation of being made to stand outside the school as a punishment. These experiences shaped his determination to succeed and influenced the kind of person he aspired to be.
Now a father himself, Nailwal reflects on his own upbringing and strives to be a better parent to his young son. However, his journey took an unexpected turn when he found himself thrust into a paternal role at the age of 10, responsible for caring for his baby brother after an accident. He describes his brother as his first son and recounts how this responsibility marked the end of his childhood.
Nailwal’s entrepreneurial spirit began to emerge during his teenage years when he started selling pens at a markup and tutoring other students to make extra money. After graduating from college, he hoped to pursue a prestigious engineering exam at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), but financial constraints led him to enroll in a tier-two college instead. Determined to achieve greatness, he saw his future aligning with either climbing the corporate ladder like Indra Nooyi or starting his own revolutionary internet business like Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook.
Inspired by the hype surrounding Facebook, Nailwal chose to study computer science, still harboring dreams of building his own social media platform. While working towards his degree, he honed his data analysis skills by assisting the regional BJP party with electorate analysis. After a brief stint in the workforce, he pursued an MBA and met his future wife, Harshita Singh.
Although Nailwal enjoyed a successful career at Deloitte and Welspun textiles, he carried on working on his own projects, developing solutions such as a GPS-based system for optimizing cargo vehicle deliveries and a B2B service platform for project management. Balancing his job and these side projects became challenging, as he felt a cultural pressure and a responsibility to provide a better life for his family.
However, with the support of his wife, Nailwal decided to take a leap of faith and pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions full-time. He borrowed money to pay for his wedding and dedicated himself to building a B2B services marketplace. Nonetheless, he eventually shifted his focus to blockchain technology, particularly Ethereum, which he believed had the potential to revolutionize various industries.
Nailwal co-founded a blockchain services startup called Scope Weaver and became an active participant in the local Ethereum community. It was during this time that he met Jaynti “JD” Kanan, who proposed tackling Ethereum’s scalability issues using layer-2 Plasma technology. Inspired by the idea, Nailwal invested his Bitcoin savings in their joint venture, leading to the development of Polygon, a layer-2 scaling solution for Ethereum.
Today, Nailwal’s journey from a Delhi slum to the forefront of the blockchain industry serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs worldwide. His relentless determination and resilience in the face of adversity are a testament to the power of self-belief and hard work.