Issue #38: Altruists and Good Samaritans
My brother got married this weekend, so my Friday and Saturday nights were spent drinking and dancing instead of writing. I’m not complaining.
But it means this issue will be shorter than usual.
Crypto gets a bad wrap for being full of speculators, people looking to get rich quick without doing any work or understanding what they’re buying. I can’t say that doesn’t exist, because it does. I also understand why the media likes to talk about it. It’s sensational, and it’s low hanging fruit. Greed is human nature and easy to understand.
And as often as that narrative dominates the crypto headlines in bull markets, I couldn’t help but see examples of the opposite this week - altruists here because they want to do good in the world and believe crypto is the best vessel for doing it, and good samaritans who understand the technology is new, buggy and people make mistakes.
The value of these people to the industry and culture cannot be overstated.
Let’s zoom in…
Altruism is “acting out of concern for the well-being of other people”. In other words, selflessness.
The cover article of Forbes this week was dedicated to Sam Bankman-Fried, 29-year old billionaire founder of FTX, one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world (s/o to my good friend Steve Ehrlich for his first cover!)Amazingly, despite Sam’s overnight success in crypto, he admits he isn’t a true believer. The ideology behind it doesn’t get him going, the opportunity to make outsized returns does. But there’s a refreshingly positive twist to the story. Sam wants to make as much money as he can to give it all away to causes he believes in.
He has popularized in crypto something called “effective altruism”, a philosophy and social movement that advocates the use of evidence and reasoning to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Essentially, applying a business lens to philanthropy. Seems obvious in the day and age of big data and algorithms.
Andreas is one of the faces of Bitcoin. Arguable the most prolific speaker on the topic over the last 10 years, he has been a fixture on conferences panels, podcasts and talk shows. I came across one of Andreas’ Youtube videos this week, and it transported me back to when I was diving into crypto for the first time. I religiously watched his videos and tuned in to his twice-a-week Let’s Talk Bitcoin podcast.
I first met Andreas in January 2014. I was organizing an underground crypto meetup in Los Angeles and learned he was in town for an evening. I sent a cold email and to my surprise, he agreed to swing by our small event. There were probably 10 or 12 of us at a hotel bar in Santa Monica, and he spoke with our group for several hours.
I remember reaching out a few days later thanking him and asking if I could send a small amount of BTC as a thank you. His response - “donate it instead”.
Andreas spent the next 5 years on a non-stop speaking tour around the world, teaching people about Bitcoin and why it matters. He was rarely paid, instead doing it out of a genuine desire to educate people about something he felt was important.
He did it brilliantly.
To the surprise of many, in late 2017 Andreas revealed on Twitter he hadn’t made a fortune on Bitcoin’s run up to $20,000 like most assumed. He used all the crypto he had to pay for travel and living expenses. Believing if anyone deserved to make money from Bitcoin’s surge it was Andreas, the Bitcoin community donated over 100 BTC in 72 hours.
To this day, the most selfless person I have met in the industry. Thank you Andreas.
This technology is new and the projects are ambitious. I’m amazed there aren’t more costly mistakes and accidents. But when there are, it’s nice to see people do the right thing.
Two weeks ago, crypto exchange Bitfinex accidentally paid a $24 million fee for a $100,000 transaction. They were sending $100,000 of Tether to their own DeFi platform DeversiFi and mistakenly included the high fee.
The miner that received the fee had every right to keep it, but promptly returned the majority when the exchange reached out and explained what happened.
In 2019, an Ethereum user made a similar mistake. The user was sending ETH and honestly mixed up the amount and fee fields. Over three separate transactions, the user sent 2,730 ETH in fees, worth $365,000 at the time ($9.5M today). Fortunately, the user was able to connect with the miner that received the fee and negotiate for its return.
Over the last two weeks, one of DeFi’s largest projects, Compound, has been under pressure to resolve a vulnerability in their smart contracts that accidentally distributed over $100M in COMP tokens to users.
Fortunately, many of the wallet addresses that received free COMP as a result of the bug have returned them back to Compound.
I like to think the people involved in these stories understand the bigger vision here, and how important it is for everyone to row in the same direction. Because in this case, a rising tide really does raise all boats.
Behind every crypto company and protocol are people. Behind every node on the network are people. For a technology that is supposed to operate trustlessly, honest and selfless people are awfully important to its success.
Let’s not lose our humanity in an attempt to turn everything over to software. We clearly need it.
Thanks for reading,
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