Top 5 blockchain industry influencers
door Jochem Wieringa
The world of Bitcoin and blockchain technology is a very exciting one. It’s a world that generates a lot of headlines, sometimes good (promising innovations, big investments, disrupting inefficient institutions) and sometimes bad (hacks, money laundering, black markets). We’ve compared the blockchain ecosystem with the Wild West in this article. Like the Wild West, the blockchain industry is being shaped by the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Today we will describe some of the most interesting good guys: these visionaries have been shaping the blockchain industry until now. The Bad will be subject of a future article. And the Ugly? We’re not a fashion blog.
Bitcoin, the first and most well-known implementation of blockchain technology, is invented by Satoshi Nakamoto. The creator of Bitcoin has done everything to remain anonymous. In the early days of Bitcoin he appeared on forums using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto before disappearing completely early 2011. Nobody has discovered his, her or maybe even their true identity. And many people have tried, among which numerous hackers, journalists and even linguists. A few examples: Newsweek wrote a heavily disputed article claiming to have found the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto in a 64 year old Japanese American named Dorian Nakamoto. Another theory is that Satoshi Nakamoto is one, or maybe even three Europeans operating from Finland. Some researchers even claim to have found reason to believe that Satoshi Nakamoto could be the cover of a government agency. Whoever Satoshi Nakamoto is, most researchers seem to agree that he owns around 1,5 million bitcoins. That’s 10% of all existing bitcoins, amounting to a staggering $600 million dollars at today’s valuation. While we might never find out who Satoshi Nakamoto is, he will continue to be a hero for many Bitcoin and blockchain enthusiasts. His impact is such that he has even been nominated for a Nobel prize in economics this year.
Update: while I am writing this article, journalists at Wired claim to have found the identity of Nakamoto in an Australian scientist named Dr. Craig Wright. Only a few hours after Wired’s publication, Gizmodo backs this story up with other information resulting from a parallel research they were also doing on Dr. Wright. Follow the above links for some juicy details, including a security expert found dead next to a loaded gun and the possible whereabouts of Satoshi Nakamoto’s bitcoins. Whether or not Dr. Wright will turn out to be the real Satoshi Nakamoto, these events prove that Nakamoto had good reasons for disappearing in anonymity: following the publication in Wired, Australian police raided Dr. Wright's house and offices in a large scale operation. Never a dull moment in the world of Bitcoin.
In 2011, Vitalik Buterin founded a cryptocurrency related blog called Bitcoin Magazine at the age of 17. Vitalik’s deep understanding of programming, mathematics and game theory soon became apparent in the articles he wrote, making him a well-respected voice in the Bitcoin community despite his age.
His vision on where blockchain technology should be headed resulted in Buterin founding Ethereum in 2014, one of the most ambitious blockchain projects currently active. Its goal is to “decentralize the Web”. Buterin’s status in the blockchain scene resulted in him being able to attract several heavyweights in his team and to raise $18 million in crowdfunding. Even in this early stage of the project, companies like Microsoft, IBM and Samsung are already experimenting with or offering services based on Ethereum. So even though Ethereum is still in a very early stage, it is already making waves. More on Ethereum can be read here.
Roger Ver is known in the blockchain scene as Bitcoin Jesus. Before Bitcoin was launched, Ver tried his hand at politics as a Libertarian, and was a successful entrepreneur, running a website selling computer parts. He bought many bitcoins when they were priced as low as $1 each. The subsequent rise in value made made sure he never had to work again.
Even though he could have retired, he chose to help the blockchain scene and invest his gains in a lot of other startups involving Bitcoin or blockchain technology. Among those are quite a few that are now leading the blockchain industry. Ver also actively promotes Bitcoin on many occasions, earning him the nickname Bitcoin Jesus. The point he makes is not only that Bitcoin and blockchain technology are good investments, but mostly an activistic one: by decentralizing corrupt or inefficient central organizations we can make the world a better place.
Apart from his activist stance, he has donated 1000 bitcoins - around one million dollar at that time - to an educational foundation. He also donated $160.000 to help Ross Ulbricht (a.k.a. Dread Pirate Roberts), to help him in his legal case of being accused of running notorious online black market Silk Road. Helping Ross Ulbricht is one of the examples of Ver being true to his Libertarian values.
Not all people in this list are equally eccentric. While Andresen might not be as much a public figure as the others on this list, Andresen’s role in the rise of Bitcoin should not be underestimated. Andresen has been the lead developer on the Bitcoin project in the early days, shaping most of Bitcoin into what it is today, after Satoshi Nakamoto disappeared. Nowadays, in his role of Chief Scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, Andresen still has significant impact in Bitcoin’s underlying technology. In that role he also spends a lot of time in the Bitcoin conference circuit, explaining about the technology behind Bitcoin.
While still at college, Marc Andreessen created the first web browser. Soon after, he co-founded Netscape, another Internet browser, which became publicly listed when Andreessen was only 23 years old, making him one of the first Internet multi-millionaires. Netscape was later acquired by AOL for $4,2 billion. He also co-founded Loudcloud, which was eventually sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1,6 billion.
Currently Andreessen is managing partner at one of the most influential investment firms in Silicon Valley: Andreessen-Horrowitz. He also sits in the board of directors at Ebay, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard and others.
In regard to blockchain technology, Andreessen has compared the invention of Bitcoin to that of Personal Computers in 1975, and the Internet in 1993. Quite a bold statement. This stance on blockchain technology explains why Andreessen invests heavily in blockchain technology. His outspoken vision on Bitcoin and blockchain technology, the high regard he has among other investors, combined with his large investments in the blockchain space, make Andreessen one of the key people that shape the blockchain industry.