One of the great things about reporting on the blockchain/crypto industry is the infinite variety of interesting, smart people doing bold, crazy things. From daring entrepreneurs and builders, to inspired thinkers and communicators, this space has no shortage of colorful characters pushing the envelope. It’s in this spirit that we present this year’s Most Influential, a selection of people who did exceptional things in 2019. Whether it was Caitlin Long establishing Wyoming as the “blockchain state,” or Rune Christensen corralling MakerDAO, or David Marcus launching Libra, these people made an impact and shaped the conversation, for better or for worse.
The selection was made in a three-step process. First, staff drew up a longlist. Then, we asked readers to vote for their favorites in a survey. Then, based on all opinions, we made a final choice. Note: People are chosen for having exemplary years, perhaps the most significant year of their careers. This is not an all-time influencer list; some well-known OGs were not included. For instance, Jack Dorsey made the cut this year for not only championing bitcoin in Silicon Valley, but funding a development team to work on its core protocol. Gerald Cotten of Quadriga infamy helped us learn (again) the truth of the old adage: “not your keys, not your coins.”
Whatever your views of this selection may be, we hope you enjoy the discussion it is likely to spark. Debate, bicker, ponder, but most of all, tag #mostinfluential2019 on Twitter. Happy Holidays.
This year, Jack Dorsey emerged as the leading rep of bitcoin culture in Silicon Valley.
The Twitter co-founder and Square CEO is more relatable and trustworthy than Mark Zuckerberg and more rounded than Elon Musk, the weed-smoking mogul with a pop star girlfriend.
When asked if he would consider joining Facebook’s Libra Association, Dorsey replied: “Hell no.” Instead, he is betting on a different approach to mass technology: borderless and permissionless assets.
Wyoming residents Caitlin Long and Chris Land drop a bombshell at Consensus Invest, a blockchain industry event in Manhattan on November 12. They do it rather quietly, on a minimally attended panel Long moderates called “Beyond the Vault: The Legal Aspects of Crypto Custody.”
The panelists include general counsel of crypto exchange Kraken Mary Beth Buchanan, former SEC commissioner Annette Nazareth, and Land, general counsel at the Wyoming Division of Banking. They spend most of the panel exchanging legal jargon with digital asset expert Long, who spearheaded the Wyoming Blockchain Task Force’s efforts – where Land was also counsel – until it dissolved this September. The Task Force had realized its goal of making Wyoming the country’s most crypto-friendly state.
“This is untested,” says Land, “but we are feeling confident that the Wyoming Special Purpose Depository Institutions will be able to operate in New York without a BitLicense.”
There’s no doubt about it: Andrew Yang has Big Crypto Energy. The 44-year-old appears to be the only current presidential candidate to have an official policy on cryptocurrency. To wit: “Create clear guidelines in the digital asset world so that businesses and individuals can invest and innovate in the area without fear of a regulatory shift.” (Not even Elizabeth Warren, who’s spoken skeptically of crypto, has a plan for that.) Yang advocates for, among other things, clear token definitions and tax rules; he’s vowed to work with sponsors of the Token Taxonomy Act and Wyoming legislators. (He is also a proponent of blockchain voting.) “Other countries, which are ahead of us on [crypto] regulation, are leading in this new marketplace and dictating the rules that we’ll need to follow once we catch up,” Yang wrote in a November blog post.
Can David Marcus convince us to trust Facebook with the future of money? He’s trying, and it might work.
Marcus is the urbane, quick-witted face of the Libra project, the entrepreneur who does not crack under pressure, despite constant haranguing from all quarters. When Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook may not be the “ideal messenger” for Libra, he has Marcus – who is warmer, more cosmopolitan and better spoken than his boss – to take up the mantle.
Friends say he is persistent and resilient. “That type of opposition and that type of resistance, I think it is what fuels him,” says Hill Ferguson, who worked with Marcus at Zong, a mobile payments company, in California.
Sergey Narazov is the 31-year-old son of Russian immigrants who moved to New York in the early ’90s. Both of his parents were engineers and they weaned him on computers from an early age. He recalls being only around five years old when he first sat in front of a keyboard. He was reading programming manuals in middle school. Growing up, he remembers being obsessed with Legos, taking old cathode-ray televisions apart to see what made them tick, and playing a lot of real-time strategy video games. As a student at New York University, he majored in Philosophy & Management ― but it was clear to him early on that he wanted to be an entrepreneur. In 2010, he served as a teaching assistant to NYU Professor Lawrence Lenihan, the founder of the early-stage investment company Firstmark Capital, and he followed that up with a six-month stint at Firstmark doing technical due diligence on technology startups.
“The reason I took that job over other jobs,” says Nazarov, “was because I wanted to learn how people build technology companies.”
In the early days, when MakerDAO was just a loose collective of coders and thinkers, Rune Christensen would hold court and talk for hours about his vision for decentralized finance, or DeFi. So much so that his colleagues came to refer to these long sessions as “Rune Radio.”
As MakerDAO has become the most important project in DeFi, and DeFi has emerged as the most viable corner of the ethereum world, Christensen, who is Danish, 29, and very tall, hasn’t stopped talking. With a mop of distinctive blond hair and a manner that isn’t especially disposed to humor, he is relentless about the project he’s helped create. But then there is a lot to talk about: MakerDAO has a novel and complex structure, which takes time to understand.
When Meltem Demirors was first starting out in the working world, she had two very distinct sides: Corporate Meltem and Fun Meltem. Corporate Meltem was, by her own description, “cutthroat,” highly organized, all about project plans and deliverables. She was working in the oil and gas industry, employed by Deloitte as a strategy consultant, and then for a short time as a corporate treasury analyst at ExxonMobil. The other Meltem was just as intense, but in a different way. “Fun Meltem was like, ‘Let’s explore all of the weirdness in the world and go to music festivals and go live in the desert of Morocco with a goat herder,’” she says.
Muneeb Ali has lived more than a decade in New York City, becoming a feted Web 3.0 entrepreneur in that time and the beneficiary of millions in startup funding. But it hasn’t gone to his head.
Ali set up Blockstack, a “decentralized computing network and app ecosystem,” in 2013. The goal was nothing less than building “the missing link in the internet,” according to Brittany Laughlin, the group’s head of investor relations. Laughlin helped incubate the company during its early phases when she worked at Union Square Ventures, a VC firm known for its early investments in startups like Twitter, Etsy and Coinbase.
Ted Livingston is fighting the Securities and Exchange Commission on a point of crypto principle. Call him foolhardy or brave, he hasn’t backed down.
Some background. Livingston is the Canadian founder of Kik Interactive, a messaging app that gained one million users in 15 days when it launched in 2010, well before rivals like Facebook Messenger got off the ground. By the time Tencent, the Chinese internet giant, invested $50 million in the summer of 2015, Kik was valued at $1 billion. Then, in 2017, Livingston made a fateful decision. Rather than raising more VC money, he launched an ICO, selling off kin tokens for more than $100 million
Mystery Man Gerald Cotten died leaving his customers with next-to-nothing. Or did he? Have we learned nothing from the weirdest, most explosive story of the year? “Gerald Cotten, CEO of QuadrigaCx died about a month ago,” said the message, sent to CoinDesk’s news inbox on Jan. 2, 2019, roughly two weeks before the exchange announced Cotten’s exit from this world.
“His death has been kept a secret because there are no funds and the whole company will collapse if a sell off occurs,” said the sender, who claimed to have attended Cotten’s funeral service but did not identify himself.
I sent follow-up questions but got no response back.
When Craig Wright tried to intimidate a cat in an astronaut’s mask, bitcoiners changed their avatars to “We are Hodlonaut” in solidarity. We talked to the real Holdlonaut – a man from Norway – about the experience.
The most influential archetype in bitcoin is the pseudonymous man.
In 2019, another mystery man suddenly emerged on Crypto Twitter as a folk hero representing the freedom to speak the truth and maintain one’s own privacy. It was the feline astronaut Hodlonaut.
In April 2019, Hodlonaut took to Twitter to castigate Craig Wright, who claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto despite skepticism and inconclusive evidence. The tweet (now deleted) reportedly called Wright “mentally ill” and a “pathetic scammer.” So Wright and his supporters promptly started preparing to sue Hodlonaut, even offering a bounty to anyone who could discover the space-cat’s identity.