“Crypto Titans” is a series of personal interviews conducted by CoinMarketCap with prominent and forward-thinking minds tinkering on and behind the scenes of the cryptocurrency landscape.
This interview is the first in the series, featuring Brandon Chez, the little-known founder who started CoinMarketCap in his Queens apartment in May 2013. Since then, CoinMarketCap has grown to be the most referenced price-tracking source for comparing thousands of crypto assets.
What got you first interested in cryptocurrencies?
In 2011, I was on my lunch break at work. I usually read Hacker News, a news aggregator for tech and startups. I just read this article, the headline was something to the effect of “Bitcoin reaches parity with the U.S. dollar.” It got my attention because it was just really interesting, people were trading it. Some people had got in really, really early and made a lot of money.
My first reaction was, oh, this must be some kind of scam or Ponzi scheme, all the typical initial reactions people usually get. But I was also fascinated with the technology portion of how it was open source.
From there I did a lot of research, I looked into what other people had said about it, tech people that I trust and follow. And they said, yeah, it’s open source, I don’t see anything obviously wrong with it. That gave me a little more confidence to look more into it, and after a couple of months I said, okay, I’m not going to lose all my money immediately (at least immediately!) I think it was Mt. Gox at the time, I opened up an account and did a little trading just for fun.
Did you end up losing any money in Mt. Gox?
I did not, but I know some people that did, and read a lot about people that did. I can’t imagine how painful it must’ve been. But no, I personally didn’t lose any on Mt. Gox, thankfully.
How has a failure in crypto set you up for better decision-making?
I’ve left some crypto on online services that were hacked or that disappeared without notice. It’s always a good reminder that if you don’t control the private keys, you don’t truly own the crypto.
Whenever I use online services, I try my best not to leave crypto there longer than necessary.
There’s a current debate in crypto about the benefits and drawbacks of new users keeping their crypto on exchanges, as they aren’t tech savvy enough to have control of their private keys (looking at you, Peter Schiff). Do you have an opinion?
I think it’s OK [to leave crypto on exchanges], as long as you’re aware of the risks. If you know that at any point in time this exchange can get hacked or they might die and run away with your private keys — it’s all about accepting personal responsibility.
If you’re OK with losing a hundred dollars or whatever on an exchange, that’s fine. But just don’t put more than you’re willing to lose, in either case.
If you don’t feel comfortable holding your own private keys, then don’t put your life savings in there. Only put what you’re willing to lose in a worst case scenario.
After some of the major scams like Bitconnect and major disasters like Mt. Gox, has your overall belief in crypto changed?
I think they’re unrelated. If anything, I think these events are just necessary to further the awareness. I think it’s just a natural step in the evolution. For example, when Mt. Gox collapsed, that was at a time when 80 to 90 percent of all Bitcoin was traded through an exchange. When that happened, that made sure that in the future, we don’t store all of our coins on one exchange, which gave way to competition for a lot of other exchanges.
With Bitconnect, that taught a lot of people lessons, too. Now people are much more cautious with their funds, and they won’t be so quick to put their crypto in any product that promises them really unrealistic returns.
I think they were both really bad events, but I think some good came out of them, too.
What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to enter the world of crypto — be it in investment or a new job? What advice should they ignore?
The best investment you can make is in yourself. Get intimate with the technology. Start contributing to projects that interest you.
Then, when crypto inevitably goes mainstream, you’ll be in high demand for the experience and knowledge that you’ve accumulated. You should be skeptical of anything promising to make you a quick fortune.
Given how the industry has evolved, do you think the industry at large should embrace regulation or champion freedom and deregulation?
It depends on the use case. Crypto is certainly flexible enough to work within regulatory environments, but it’s also a great tool to champion freedom and deregulation. It’s similar to how we have internet that complies with regulations alongside unregulated dark web networks. I believe crypto will offer a similar paradigm.
What is your vision of what the crypto industry could become in the future?
In the short to medium term, I believe crypto will offer a truly viable alternative to fiat money. First, in countries with unstable political environments, and eventually in many other countries. In the long term, I envision that many applications and services that exist today will have viable decentralized alternatives and/or competitors.
I think Andreas [Antonopoulos] has a good one [motto]: banking the unbanked or banking the other 6 billion people. I really resonate with that mission statement for crypto, it’s about empowering people that don’t have what we have in the Western culture. And then hopefully when that [crypto] takes over, that’ll wake up the banks and the governments to being more open to evolving our current money systems, because there’s a lot to be desired there, as you know.
That is the case in Venezuela where people have no other option but to put their money in physical goods, or if they’re lucky enough, to get it into crypto. That’s one case where I think it’s doing good, giving options. I’ve heard of some lending programs in Africa. I don’t know too much about them, but I’ve heard there’s been some success in areas of Africa.
Necessity is the mother of invention. If it’s a matter of life and death in those areas, they need something to store their wealth, store their value.
Can you debunk some common myths in crypto?
I don’t know if these are myths or common misconceptions. The really basic ones are, you can’t split a Bitcoin, you can’t own less than one Bitcoin — many people don’t know that.
There’s also, “Bitcoin is a scam or it’s a Ponzi scheme.”
No, it’s not a Ponzi scheme. Just something very different from what we’ve seen before.
This interview has been edited and condensed.