Coming up with a list of the 100 most influential people in crypto and blockchain is hard in any year. But doing it in 2021 is particularly difficult as the industry advanced from moving into the mainstream to actually being in it.
The same applies to Blockchain, which went from being a technology a few big corporations were testing into one that the likes of Walmart, Dole, Maersk and Nestlé are actually using on the ground. Banks like Citi, HSBC and even JPMorgan are getting into the business.
Politically, cryptocurrencies have gone far beyond the “Bitcoin is for Silk Road” and “Libra is bad” narratives. Questions about bitcoin and crypto were raised at the confirmation hearing of the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen. The incoming head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, spent the last few years teaching digital assets and blockchain at MIT. The chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, went from pooh-poohing a central bank digital currency to promising that a digital dollar will be a “high priority project” for 2021. China, meanwhile seems ready to launch one this year, but it won’t be first—The Bahamas took that honor with its Sand Dollar.
And inside the industry, Anchorage won a federal banking trust charter. Coinbase filed with the SEC to go public—the first for a pure crypto company—with a direct offering. The rush into decentralized finance became a stampede, with the total value locked in DeFi projects having grown from about $500 million a year ago to $44.9 billion now, according to DeFi Pulse. Bitcoin itself, which plunged below $4,000 in early 2020, just broke through the $60,000 ceiling.
Which is to say, there’s a whole lot of change in the air. So how do you go about defining—and ranking—influence?
One answer, of course, is follow the money. That means venture capital, to be sure, but there are now a lot more streams feeding the river.
Bitcoin is now being called “digital gold”—a store of value that can overtake the yellow metal. And not just by crypto insiders such as the Winklevoss twins, but by the likes of Rick Rieder, chief investment officer at the world’s biggest asset manager, BlackRock, which controls $7.8 trillion. The head of digital assets at investment banking giant Goldman Sachs recently said 40% of the nearly 300 Goldman Sachs institutional customers already have exposure to crypto assets.
Mainstream companies like Tesla, Square, and insurer Mass Mutual have followed MicroStrategy in pouring hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars from their corporate treasuries into Bitcoin. Investing legends like Stanley Druckenmiller and Paul Tudor Jones are public boosters.
Another answer is that you have to do a lot of research, gather a lot of names, and come up with a process that looks at things like assets under management, the potential impact and reach of projects, the way solutions are actually solving problems or disrupting industries, and the impact that thought leaders can have on determining whether an industry that claims it can change the world actually does it.
We also found time to look at some of the highlights and lowlights members of the crypto industry and community have found themselves in over the past year. You can find that look at who got it right and who got it wrong over the past year here.
A list of this kind is by its very nature fairly subjective, particularly when change is coming at this speed and growth at this size. That means that on this third annual list of the Modern Consensus 100 Most Influential People in Crypto you’ll find a lot of familiar names missing, new ones added, and positions changed. And you’ll disagree with some.
It’s also a huge task, and a team of Modern Consensus writers and contributors—Connor Sephton, Adrian Zmudzinsky, Anthony Bevan, and Michael Hillmeyer—pitched in. Names and rankings were discussed and a list slowly emerged.
With that, we bring you the third annual Modern Consensus 100 Most Influential People in Crypto.
No. 1 Vitalik Buterin, Co-founder, Ethereum
At 25, Vitalik Buterin is already well on the way towards his second act.
With Ethereum getting clogged by its own success, the need Ethereum 2.0 is greater than ever. Moving the No. 2 blockchain from its current proof-of-work consensus model to the faster, more energy-efficient proof-of-stake (PoS) can’t happen fast enough. Especially with mind-boggling gas prices caused by the explosive growth of decentralized finance, or DeFi, projects giving competing blockchain protocols the opportunity to stalk its DeFi projects. ETH 2.0 is currently in Phase 0, so the often-delayed project is finally out the door, but has to get in gear.
That said, ether—which is storming the gates of $2,000 these days—and its various ERC tokens still dominate smart contracts and DeFi. Which means the so-called “Ethereum-killers” like Algorand, Binance Smart Chain, Cardano and Polkadot have their work cut out for them.
No. 2 Mu Changchun, head, People’s Bank of China Digital Currency Research Institute
For years now, the slow drumbeat of a digital yuan has been growing ever louder—and as tests continue to proliferate, China is on the cusp of launching the world’s first* central bank digital currency. It’s easy—and not wrong—to give the credit to President Xi Jinping, whose control of China is absolute and ordered the nation to become the world leader in blockchain.
But the digital yuan CBDC is the big story of 2021, and at the center of this operation is Mu Changchun, who heads up the People’s Bank of China’s Digital Currency Research Institute. Since 2019, he’s offered plenty of morsels that give us an insight into what the world should expect—“controllable anonymity” being one of them.
Mu has a lot of power here. There’s the prospect that the digital yuan could be used as a weapon for de-dollarization—weakening the U.S.’s geopolitical influence—and, it could hasten a shift away from old-fashioned paper banknotes. Also significant is that he could disintermediate WeChat Pay and Alipay, which collectively control 94% of the Chinese payments market. The central banker has insisted he’s not interested in taking on these two companies. But make no mistake, the steps he takes could have ramifications for many sectors.
*Technically, The Bahamas’ Sand Dollar is the first CBDC. China’s will matter, however.
No. 3 Gary Gensler, nominee for Chairman, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
The news that Gary Gensler was moving from his position as a professor teaching blockchain and digital assets at MIT to the top of the SEC—assuming he’s approved, which seems very likely after the Senate Banking committee voted in his favor—was greeted by a roar of joy by the cryptocurrency industry. After years of Bitcoin-skeptic Jay Clayton’s SEC providing little in the way of clear regulatory guidance while filing unregistered securities lawsuits that have torpedoed major projects like Telegram’s TON and now threatens Ripple, here was “our guy” in the driver’s seat.
There’s no doubt at all that Gensler understands blockchain and cryptocurrency better than anyone inside the U.S. government, and that clear regulatory guidelines about what is and isn’t a security will be forthcoming. And, it is hoped, approval for products like Bitcoin exchange traded funds (ETFs).
That said, the industry would be wise to be wary of what it wishes for: Gensler knows crypto, warts and all, and “clarity” isn’t the same thing as “what we want.”
No. 4 Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, CEO, Binance
Not satisfied with running the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, CZ’s company launched the smart-contract-ready Binance Smart Chain, which is growing more and more popular with DeFi. It runs in parallel to Binance Chain, built as a platform for a decentralized exchange (DEX). That blockchain’s native token—Binance Coin (BNB)—already stormed up to the No. 5 slot on the list of the largest cryptocurrencies by market capitalization, with nearly $35 billion.
The firm pulled out of the U.S. aggressively in November, booting American clients after creating the independent, U.S.-regulated Binance.US exchange. Beyond that, Zhao’s venture arm, Binance Labs, is an active investor putting money into companies as well as 10-week on-site incubators for early stage start-ups.
Of course, Zhao also kept up his penchant for controversy, suing Forbes and two journalists for a story questioning the exchange’s claims that it did not control the reportedly independent Binance.US—a concern the Commodity Futures Trading Commission reportedly shares.
No. 5 Brad Garlinghouse, CEO, Ripple
Despite XRP being bounced from the major U.S. exchanges, and losing high-profile client MoneyGram, Ripple itself is doing quite well, according to Brad Garlinghouse, who said the firm has signed 15 new clients to its bank-focused international payments network since its troubles began in late December.
Still, this could be the make-or-break year for Ripple, and the entire crypto industry has skin in the game. The bank-focused international payments company is fighting for its life against a lawsuit filed by the SEC on Dec. 22. The enforcement agency declared the cryptocurrency at Ripple’s core, XRP, an unregistered security that the firm has been selling illegally for seven years. The agency wants the $1.38 billion Ripple earned from XRP sales in that time. It is also demanding Garlinghouse and Ripple executive chairman Chris Larsen give up the $600 million they made from XRP sales. That drove most major U.S. exchanges—and high-profile client MoneyGram—to suspend XRP trading, causing the then-third-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization’s price to plummet. While it’s come back, XRP is now No. 7.
The outcome of the case could define what is and isn’t a security, which is why Garlinghouse says the firm is fighting for the entire industry. The referee changed, however, when Gary Gensler took over at the SEC. So, a settlement now seems a lot more plausible. Either way, Garlinghouse said the fight hasn’t had that much of an impact on Ripple’s core business of allowing banks to quickly and cheaply move funds across borders, as most of its clients are outside the U.S.
No. 6 Brian Armstrong, CEO, Coinbase
Coinbase is about to become the first pure crypto firm to go public—with a direct listing instead of an IPO—that may value the firm at $100 billion. His exchange’s former general counsel, Brian Brooks, went to Washington, D.C., as acting Comptroller of the Currency and brought in hugely important regulatory changes, including allowing banks to custody and make payments with stablecoins.
Which isn’t to say that Armstrong had a perfect year. A tone-deaf argument in favor of corporate neutrality in response to the Black Lives Matter movement caused an exodus of some 60 staff members and led to two harsh and humiliating New York Times articles alleging that the company discriminated against black and female employees—which Coinbase vehemently and angrily denied.
No. 7 Dan Schulman, CEO, PayPal
A new entrant to the list this year, Dan Schulman has pulled a 180 over the past year or two. Rubbing shoulders with pin-striped bankers and regulators at the World Economic Forum in 2019, he declared crypto was more of a “reward mechanism” than a currency—and that there wasn’t much appetite among retailers to accept digital assets.
To quote Phil Collins, take a look at him now. Schulman has presided over PayPal launching a crypto service in the U.S., and international markets beckon. More than 29 million merchants will get a chance to accept payments made in bitcoin, ether, litecoin and bitcoin cash, The company is already reportedly buying more bitcoins than they can be mined. He’s now suggested crypto will become a core part of the business as consumers abandon cash.
PayPal is in the early days of its crypto journey, but Schulman is one to watch because he’s made it clear that the e-commerce giant has “an extensive road map around crypto, blockchain, and digital currencies”—and the company is investing heavily in the space.
No. 8 Mike Novogratz, founder, chairman and CEO, Galaxy Digital
Mike Novogratz has made at least three fortunes and lost parts of two. As a partner at Goldman Sachs in the 1990s and as CIO of Fortress Investment Group’s Macro Fund in the 2000s, each of those company’s respective IPOs made him a fortune.
In 2017 Novogratz founded Galaxy Digital which calls itself “the bridge between the crypto and institutional worlds.” Galaxy Digital’s business lines include trading, asset management, principal investing, and advisory services. A strong supporter of the idea that Bitcoin is an institutional class asset, Novogratz’s Galaxy Digital reported $1.2 billion in assets under management. Recently, Novogratz has predicted Bitcoin will reach $100,000, trashed Dogecoin, and launched an Ethereum fund.
No. 9 Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.)
The freshman senator from crypto-friendly Wyoming is a long-time Bitcoin owner and the mother-in-law of Unchained Capital’s Will Cole. A deeply knowledgeable crypto fan, Sen. Lummis has already brought the strongly pro-crypto voice to Congress that many had hoped now-former Sen. Kelly Loeffler would. Lummis spoke about the financial innovation blockchain and digital assets can bring, as well as the need for strong regulatory clarity, in venues ranging from banking committee hearings to Anthony Pompliano’s podcast.
Sen. Lummis in February announced the formation of a Financial Innovation Caucus to educate Senators and their staffs about Bitcoin, as well as the financial innovations being sparked by cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. She also brought it up directly with Janet Yellen after the Treasury Secretary unnerved bitcoin supporters at her confirmation hearings. For the first time, Bitcoin and digital assets have a real champion in the halls of Congress.
No. 10 Barry Silbert, Founder and CEO, Digital Currency Group
If you want the very definition of influence in the crypto sector, look no further than Barry Silbert, the man in charge of Digital Currency Group, a company buying Bitcoin faster than it can be mined. Data in January showed that 28,943 BTC was mined in January—and its Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) bought 41,430. All of this will contribute to a supply squeeze in Bitcoin that could push up prices.
Last year, DCG began entered the cryptocurrency mining business with Foundry, and acquired the Luno exchange. It also runs Genesis, a digital currency prime broker, and owns crypto industry news site CoinDesk. In addition, DCG is a major venture capital firm, having backed 175 blockchain-related companies including Circle, Elliptic, Kraken, Ripple, and Zcash.
It hasn’t been a perfect year, however. DCG snapped up $250 million of Grayscale Bitcoin Trust shares recently, when they began trading at a 13% discount to the value if the BTC it owns (although its premium has been as high as 40%). The company also hired a chief financial officer for the very first time. Expect Silbert’s tentacles through the sector to expand even further as 2021 continues.
No. 11 Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla & SpaceX
How do you manage to be both the world’s richest person and an “outsider” at the same time?
Build two companies that exude cool and disruption—electric car manufacturer Tesla and rocketshipcompany SpaceX. Have a strangely named child (X Æ A-Xii) with a currently hot recording artist (Grimes). Throw in a penchant for saying whatever you want—including marijuana-themed jokes that you’d have to be high to tweet—to your 48.8 million Twitter followers even if it enrages regulators with a fair bit of power over you—like the SEC.
To influence crypto directly, have Tesla buy $1.5 billion in BTC for its treasury and then champion it, along with a ridiculous joke/meme-themed cryptocurrency—Dogecoin—to the point that you can add or subtract billions of dollars of market capitalization with a tweet. In other words, be Elon Musk.
No. 12 Hayden Adams, Founder, Uniswap
It’s been a strong start to 2021 for Hayden Adams and Uniswap. Just six months after launching UNI tokens at $3 apiece, the digital asset is worth 10 times as much. Users who benefitted from an airdrop of 400 UNI at a price of $1,200 will be sitting pretty right now.
But there’s no room for complacency. Adams and Uniswap are being indirectly affected by the surge in fees on the Ethereum blockchain, which have forced DeFi protocols—and traders—to seek out low-cost alternatives. One of the beneficiaries has been Binance Smart Chain and PancakeSwap, which has seen its trading volume overtake Uniswap some days.
Adams will be seeking to ensure that Uniswap remains a relevant force in the fast-moving world of DeFi. Top of the agenda will be the launch of Uniswap V3, with UNI’s value surging as speculation grows over the features that will be on offer.
No. 13 Andre Cronje, founder, Yearn.finance
You could say that Andre Cronje has the Midas touch when it comes to DeFi. Despite the fact that he stressed the Yearn Finance token was designed to be “completely valueless” with “zero financial value,” YFI hit dizzying highs of $51,859.15 in mid-February. Not bad considering it only launched last summer.
Cronje has cemented a reputation as being highly regarded by the crypto community—and heavy is the head that wears the crown. There have been setbacks in his fledgling project, not least when more than $11 million was lost in a recent exploit.
Nonetheless, he’s an innovator—and his innovations never fail to grab the attention of the DeFi sector. Yearn Finance had been on something of an acquisition spree as 2020 drew to a close, but it seems the protocol is starting to row back on this strategy. In March, the protocol announced that a previously announced merger with Cover was being abandoned.
No. 14 Naval Ravikant, co-founder of AngelList, Metastable Capital, and Spearhead
Naval Ravikant is best known as co-founder and CEO of AngelList, a platform that enables investors, startups, and job seekers to connect. Early this year, it launched a rolling venture fund to make it easier for fund managers to raise capital on an ongoing basis.
An early investor in Twitter, Uber, and Yammer, among many others, Ravikant also is co-founder of crypto hedge fund MetaStable Capital, and his Spearhead investment fund just raised a $100 million fourth fund
No. 15 Jesse Powell, CEO, Kraken
Generally speaking, 2021 is shaping up to be a big year for exchanges. Many platforms are watching Coinbase’s direct listing with a laser-like focus—and may decide to follow suit if its stock market debut is deemed to be a success.
Step forward Kraken’s CEO Jesse Powell, who recently revealed to Bloomberg that he’s considering taking the exchange public this year… provided that the company is able to secure a valuation that exceeds $10 billion.
He’s unmistakably bullish—and in that same interview, he said that Bitcoin could go to “infinity,” with prices so high that measuring its value in dollars is pointless. A $1 million price tag in the next 10 years? Perfectly reasonable, he says.
Powell and Kraken are charting their own path in other ways. The exchange recently became the first digital asset company in U.S. history to receive a bank charter that’s recognized under federal and state law.
No. 16 Mark Andreessen, Co-Founder & General Partner, Andreessen Horowitz/a16z
Marc Andreessen has been a major technology player in Silicon Valley for decades. He co-founded Netscape which created the first dominant web browser—which lives on to this day as the basis of the Firefox browser. Andreessen moved into angel investing and then venture capital with the 2009 founding of Andreessen Horowitz. The firm invested in Facebook and Twitter among other highly successful start-ups and embraced Bitcoin and blockchain by 2013.
In mid-2018, it announced a16z crypto, a new $350 million fund focused solely on the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. Last year Andreessen Horowitz raised a second a16z crypto fund, this time even bigger at $515 million.
No. 17 Micree Zhan, Co-Founder, Bitmain
Infighting was a dominant theme for Bitmain in 2020, overshadowing what should have been a lucrative, momentous year for the company. Micree Zhan was locked in a power struggle with co-founder Jihan Wu, plunging the mining equipment giant into peril.
The end of the tussle finally came into sight in January, when Wu confirmed that he was resigning as CEO and chairman of Bitmain. He went on to stress that the dispute had been solved in an “amicable, and more importantly, a constructive manner.”
Alas, it seems controversy is never far away for Bitmain. Taiwan has now accused the company of “severely threatening the development of our semiconductor industry” by poaching talented chip engineers.
With Wu now establishing Bitdeer Group as a rival firm, Zhan will have his work cut out to remain top dog in the mining space.
No. 18 Michael Saylor, CEO, MicroStrategy
Michael Saylor’s influence on Bitcoin will probably never be as big as it was in 2020, when he kicked off the run of public companies investing their treasury in BTC—and announcing it publicly—with a $250 million purchase on Aug. 11, when bitcoin was under $12,000. Last month, he added another $1 billion.
That first-off-the-line status made MicroStrategy’s continuing investment, and Saylor’s thoughts on the topic, market-moving. It’s impossible to say whether bigger names like investor Stanley Druckenmiller, Mass Mutual insurance ($100 million), Square ($50 million) and most recently Tesla ($1.5 billion) would have put their assets behind the idea that Bitcoin is a better store of value than either gold or cash as COVID-related stimulus packages in the U.S. and around the world saw dollars printed by the trillion—or at least announced it publicly, without Saylor blazing the trail. With Bitcoin now north of $50,000 and the likes of Blackstone, Citi, and Goldman Sachs advising clients to buy crypto, it’s too much to give Saylor all the credit. But he certainly started the mainstream investment ball rolling sooner than it might have.
So, his name still carries plenty of weight in the crypto community, and it seems likely from February’s MicroStrategy World 2021—which attracted nearly 7,000 firms to attend the Bitcoin for Corporations sessions—that his firm will be doing more than just evangelizing in 2021.
No. 19 Sam Bankman-Fried, FTX/Alameda Research
He was recently crowned as the world’s second-biggest blockchain billionaire with a net worth of $10 billion—boasting a bigger bank balance than perhaps some better-known names in the industry, such as Binance’s Changpeng Zhao (No. 4) and the Winklevoss twins (No. 22 and 23).
But with joint roles as CEO of the FTX exchange and quant cryptocurrency trading fund and liquidity provider Alameda Research, Sam Bankman-Fried is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Bankman-Fried’s unshakeable work ethic is matched by a determination to be philanthropic—and he’s vowed to give up to 50% of his net worth to charity. This has been matched by the launch of the FTX Foundation, with 1% of all net fees from the exchange being donated to the world’s “most effective” charities. Users can vote on which good causes should benefit—and more than $2.6 billion has been earmarked for non-profits so far.
His influence also extends to the political sphere. His gift of $5.2 million to Joe Biden, one of the largest of his presidential campaign, was second only to Michael Bloomberg.
No. 20 & 21. Tyler Winklevoss, Co-Founder & CEO, and Cameron Winklevoss, Co-Founder & President, Gemini
It’s been a year of vindication for Tyler, the more vocal of the Winklevoss twins behind the New York-based Gemini exchange. Last August—long before the bull run began—he wrote an impassioned blog post in which he argued that Bitcoin was well-positioned to cannibalize gold, predicting that BTC will hit $500,000. Cameron called BTC “gold 2.0.”
That price point remains a long way off, but the idea that bitcoin is a digital gold outclassing to yellow metal has been taken up—or at least taken seriously—by mainstream sources ranging from Bloomberg analyst Mike McGlone to BlackRock CIO Rick Rieder.
Both men have been evangelizing about crypto for years, but Cameron is the less prolific of the dynamic duo on Twitter. (He’s got 400,000 followers compared with Tyler’s 550,000—and his brother has written twice as many tweets.)
On social media, Cameron’s message is clear: Things are just getting started for Bitcoin. He likes to lean on stocks to hammer his point home—you might have thought you were late buying into Amazon when it was worth $133 in 2010, but it’s now worth 20 times as much.
Expect to see a lot more of the Winklevii in 2021. As if one film about their lives wasn’t enough, a new blockbuster is on the horizon that’s based on the book “Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal and Redemption.”
No. 22, No. 23 Brad & Bart Stephens, Co-founders & Managing Partners, Blockchain Capital
Brad & Bart Stephens are descended from West Coast technology banking royalty. Their father, Paul Stephens, was one of the founders of the Robertson Stephens investment bank that was lead underwriter for many well-known technology companies through the Internet boom of the late 1990s.
In a mid-2019 interview with Modern Consensus, Brad told us he was introduced to the crypto space through video game currencies and Brock Pierce, the founder of Tether. In 2013, Brad and his brother Bart founded Blockchain Capital with Pierce. They had already been funding a bunch of startups through Stephens Investment Management Group, their family office, and wanted to invest in a VC fund specific to blockchain.
They are now two of the most active investors in the blockchain space. They have funded more than 72 companies across the crypto ecosystem with a portfolio that includes BitGo, BitFury, BitPesa, BlockOne, Blockstream, Chain, Civic, Coinbase, Filecoin, Harbor, Kraken, Messari, Orchid, Radar Relay, Ripple, Securitize, and 0x. This past year Blockchain Capital joined the Libra Association, (now known as the Diem Association), which after a significant shift in strategy is aiming to create a series of national stablecoins.
No. 24 Sergey Nazarov, Co-Founder and CEO, Chainlink Labs
Chainlink, the decentralized oracle provider, is refusing to sit still—with Sergey Nazarov continually adding new features that are designed to address the pain points that exist in DeFi.
One big upgrade that launched in February was Off-Chain Reporting, which is set to enable DeFi platforms to bring far greater amounts of data on chain without incurring gas. On Twitter, Nazarov said this would deliver a “10X improvement in overall scalability.”
Now relied on by hundreds of blockchain projects, we could start to see Chainlink diversify beyond the price feeds that initially made it popular.
No. 25 Charles Hoskinson, Founder, Cardano
Like other Ethereum co-founders, Charles Hoskinson has branched out to pastures new—and his creation, Cardano, has also been touted as the silver bullet that could wrestle market share away from ETH as it continues to creak under the strain of congestion and high fees.
ADA’s march up the cryptocurrency rankings—currently it’s No. 6 by market capitalization—has often coincided with major Cardano upgrades, with a recent example adding smart contract functionality. The “Mary” update also paves the way for non-fungible tokens to be created.
Hoskinson’s influence lies in how he’s applying his deep blockchain knowledge to build what could be a better form of Ethereum. Although the developer is determined to “provide economic identity to the billions who lack it” through Cardano, he and his team will have their work cut out to establish dominance.
No. 26 Gavin Wood, Chief Web Officer (CWO) and Founder, Parity Technologies
Gavin Wood’s come a long way after co-founding Ethereum. Now, through decentralized web blockchain infrastructure firm Parity Technologies, he’s created a protocol that’s been dubbed an “Ethereum killer”—Polkadot.
As developers fed up with sky-high gas fees look for alternatives, the momentum has firmly been in Polkadot’s court. Aside from offering greater levels of scalability—handling a higher number of transactions to keep costs low—Polkadot’s cross-chain mentality could prove crucial as attention turns to interoperability. DOT has surged up the rankings, too—quadrupling the price of $9 seen on Jan. 1. It recently broke into the top 10 cryptocurrencies by market cap, currently holding at No. 5.
Overall, 2021 could prove a nail-biting battle between Ethereum and younger upstarts such as Polkadot, Binance Smart Chain and Cardano.
No. 27 Joe Lubin, CEO, ConsenSys
After a couple rounds of layoffs at his hard-hit, Ethereum-focused, Brooklyn-based software company/incubator/ investment firm ConsenSys, Joe Lubin restructured it into two entities, one that focuses on blockchain software and one that focuses on investments into the decentralized finance and cryptocurrency space.
Lubin won a couple of key partnerships over the past year, notably acquiring JPMorgan’s enterprise blockchain platform, Quorum, while the bank in turn took a stake in ConsenSys. Quorum was developed internally by JP Morgan on the Ethereum network, for which he was a co-founder. Then in January, Quorum won a spot on China’s government-controlled Blockchain-based Service Network—which puts it front and center with all Chinese DApp developers. And, ConsenSys partnered with Société Générale on digital euro test this fall, issuing a $44 million bond.
And, of course, with the price of Ether skyrocketing, Lubin and ConsenSys’ finances must be presumed to be in good shape.
No. 28 Jack Dorsey, CEO, Twitter & Square
It’s possible that putting Twitter-founder Jack Dorsey at No. 5 on last year’s list was a bit… overambitious. But he was a big mainstream name pushing the Bitcoin narrative forward at a time when few were, and his payment company Square’s early embrace of crypto in March 2019 was a big step—albeit one that is now overshadowed by PayPal’s embrace.
But his impact was large, and not just because of Square’s $50 million bitcoin purchase in October, followed by a $120 million purchase in February. He launched the Bluesky project to create a decentralized, open-source social media platform; founded the Cryptocurrency Open Patent Alliance (COPA) to fight off crypto patent trolls; told the Human Rights Foundation that “blockchain and bitcoin point to a future, and point to a world, where content exists forever;” and said bitcoin is “probably the best” open currency of the Internet. Now, a non-fungible token (NFT) of his first-ever tweet is going for $2.5 million at auction.
Oh yeah, he also decided to “start small” in philanthropy, establishing a $1 billion charitable foundation.
No. 29 Caitlin Long, CEO, Avanti Financial Group
Wall Street veteran turned Wyoming Blockchain Coalition co-founder turned banker Caitlin Long has long been a loud and well-respected voice for crypto regulation. Now her fledgling digital asset-focused Avanti Bank & Trust has a charter from the Wyoming State Banking Board that will let it become the bridge between traditional banks and crypto she intends it to be.
No. 30 Jerry Cuomo, VP and CTO, IBM Automation
Rumors of IBM Blockchain’s demise are wrong according to reports, which say there were layoffs on the business side “but not one developer” was let go.
Hyperledger Fabric’s ecosystem is growing, but is still dominated by IBM, and is used by a number of enterprise blockchain projects that are full-fledged business lines including: IBM Food Trust (Walmart, Dole, Nestle); TradeLens container shipping (Shipping lines Maersk, MSU, CMA CGM; Canadian and Russian customs; Ports of Singapore, Rotterdam, Los Angeles); Trust Your Supplier (ABInBev, Cisco, GlaxoSmithKline). IBM Blockchain is also working with Moderna to improve COVID vaccine management and—through its Trusted Identity division’s Digital Health Pass—New York to create a vaccine passport.
As for VP of Blockchain Technologies Jerry Cuomo, his responsibilities have been expanded to all of IBM Automation, which includes IBM Blockchain.
No. 31 Fred Wilson, Partner, Union Square Ventures
Fred Wilson is a legend in New York City venture investing. He co-founded one of the earliest Internet-focused VC firms, Flatiron Partners, back in 1996, although the bursting of that first Internet bubble led to Flatirons’s closing in 2001. Like a good entrepreneur, he was back at it again a few years later with Union Square Ventures which has been an early investor in many companies that you’ve heard of like Twitter, Etsy, Zynga, Kickstarter, and Coinbase along with some you might remember including Tumblr.
Wilson’s long running blog, AVC, which he’s been writing daily since 2003, is where you can find many of his thoughts on the crypto investing, DLT, DeFi, NFTs, UBI, and many other non-acronym issues of the day. He’s also been a frequent judge, along with several other names on this list, of the annual NYC BigApps competition started by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in which teams use municipal data to build tech products to solve issues affecting New York City. The latest cycle of NYC BigApps focused on building blockchain applications for the city.
No. 32 Dan Morehead, founder and CEO, Pantera Capital
Dan Morehead initially started Pantera Capital in 2003—and at the time, it was described as a global macro hedge fund. How times have changed.
The company started to focus more heavily on cryptocurrencies 10 years later. Now, it has invested in some of the biggest names in the space—including Blockfolio, Circle, Coinbase, Ripple and Zcash. Morehead’s backing of Coinbase is set to pay dividends when the company completes a direct listing on the stock market later in March. There’s no lock-up period for current investors as no new shares are being created—and it’s been said this method creates “instant billionaires.”
As crypto businesses proliferate, what will be the next big innovation in the sector… and what will Morehead do with the windfall?
No. 33 Charles Cascarilla, CEO & Co-Founder, Paxos
Paxos CEO and co-founder Charles Cascarilla has had a big year, but nothing was bigger than the news that PayPal has selected the stablecoin issuer and cryptocurrency exchange’s brokerage provide custody and power its customers’ trading. The firm raised $142 million in a series C round late last year. A New York State-regulated trust company, Paxos recently applied for a federal bank charter.
No. 34 PlanB/@100TrillionUSD
The hugely influential Dutch analyst PlanB is known for creating the stock-to-flow model, charting Bitcoin’s price over the coming years—which has proven incredibly divisive. It’s the type of thing that crypto enthusiasts might get into a fight over after one too many beers.
But after BTC managed to crack $30,000, then $40,000, then $50,000, more investors are beginning to take PlanB a little more seriously. Some—such as Arcane Assets CIO Eric Wall—may be feeling a little sheepish after offering to bet $1 million that PlanB’s forecast wouldn’t be reached.
There’s still some way to go before his prophecy is fully realized—PlanB projects that BTC is set to trade within a range of $100,000 to $288,000 by December. Despite occasional jitters in the market, he stands by these figures—and indeed, Bitcoin closed February above where this contentious model said it should be.
No. 35 Jeremy Allaire, CEO, Circle
Things are looking up for Jeremy Allaire as USD Coin’s market cap continues to surge, with the Circle CEO claiming that the stablecoin has been wrestling market share away from rivals such as Tether’s USDT. In a recent tweet, he said $3 billion of USDC had been in circulation as of Dec. 1, 2020. Fast forward to mid-March, and this had trebled to $9 billion. Circle created a Stellar Network-native version of USDC, which is also native on Ethereum and Algorand.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s recent ruling that stablecoins can be used for banking transactions—he called it a “huge win”—will add further momentum to Circle’s offering in 2021—and inevitably, he’s a firm believer that USDC will prove instrumental in modernizing the world of cross-border payments.
No. 36 Elizabeth Stark, Co-Founder and CEO of Lightning Labs, Lightning Network
Elizabeth Stark is the at the forefront of Lightning Network development. Lightning Network is a protocol meant to make relatively small Bitcoin transfers instant and nearly completely free, thanks to a secondary network that runs on top of the Bitcoin blockchain—a level 2, also described as a “Visa” network for Bitcoin payments.
Stark did not appear in headlines or make the news too often last year, but Lightning Labs made significant progress. During 2020, the company released new software versions and new features, notably the Lightning Loop on-off ramp for Bitcoin and Lightning Pool to improve liquidity.
Next year we can expect Stark’s Lightning Labs to keep making slow but steady progress towards turning Bitcoin into a practical, efficient, and fast means of payment—as originally intended. With exchanges like Kraken coming onboard, 2021 may be the year the Lightning Network strikes.
No. 37 Andreas Antonopoulos, author, speaker, Bitcoin evangelist
Author 2107’s “Mastering Bitcoin,” which has launched countless adventures in blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, Andreas Antonopoulos is a well-known technology expert and an early bitcoin evangelist. He has founded several blockchain companies, consults extensively, and is a regular and popular speaker at both live and virtual industry events.
He remains an incredibly influential figure in the cryptocurrency community, and a passionate supporter of Bitcoin’s original decentralized ideals. So, when he attacked blockchain intelligence firm Chainalysis as “fundamentally immoral” and “basically in an arms race against privacy” in April, it was a broadside that couldn’t be ignored.
He’s also a fierce opponent of bitcoin-based exchange-traded funds, saying they are antithetical to the decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies, as they remain in the central control of a custodian.
No. 38 Chris Brummer, rumored nominee, Chairman, Commodity Futures Trading Commission
First off, Brummer’s nomination hasn’t even been formally announced. That said, whoever takes over the CFTC will sit somewhere on the top half of this list. Brummer, a Georgetown Law professor, runs the annual D.C. Fintech Week conference and hosts the Fintech Beat podcast—which means he is far more than a little familiar with the cryptocurrency and broader digital asset space. He also knows his way around the CFTC, as he currently sits on its Subcommittee on Virtual Currencies. Combine that with MIT digital asset professor Gary Gensler (No. 3) heading up the SEC, and the regulatory future of the cryptocurrency industry looks a lot brighter than it did a year ago.
No. 39 Hester Peirce, Commissioner, Securities and Exchange Commission
Long the lonely pro-crypto voice on the SEC, Commissioner Peirce (pronounced “purse”) earned the moniker “Crypto Mom” for her strong support of Gemini’s failed 2018 ETF proposal. She’s kept to that position, most recently arguing that the strong and clear regulatory regime the crypto industry has been calling for is more urgently needed than ever as mainstream banks, financial institutions, and other corporations jump into the Bitcoin business. With crypto-skeptic SEC Chairman Jay Clayton gone and former blockchain and digital asset professor Gary Gensler on the verge of taking over, Peirce’s opinions on the need for and shape of crypto regulation will likely carry a lot more force.
No. 40 Paolo Ardoino, Chief Technology Officer, Tether and Bitfinex
It’s been a good year for Paolo Ardoino, who despite his title has become the public face of top stablecoin issuer Tether and its sister company, cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex. For one thing, Tether has been growing like wildfire, reaching the No. 4 slot for the largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization—with $38 billion—behind only Bitcoin, Ether and stealthy newcomer Binance Coin. And with banks newly permitted to custody and make payments with stablecoins, the future is bright. Not that there aren’t a few obstacles on the horizon, notably up-and-coming competitor Circle’s USD Coin (USDC), which is No. 13 by market cap. Then there is the growing chorus of calls to regulate stablecoins—perhaps harshly—coming for international financial organization and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde (No. 59).
The big relief came froms New York’s attorney general. After several years, the AG’s office settled a fraud and state securities law violation lawsuit for a very modest—compared to what it could have been—$18.5 million. That came as a result of the $750 million Tether loaned Bitfinex after it was robbed of some $880 million by a con man—which left Tether’s claim to be backed “one-to-one with U.S. dollars” only about 74% true for a time. That loan has been paid off. While civil suits remain—one demanding $1.4 trillion in damages—much of its load has been lifted.
No. 41 David Schwartz, CTO, Ripple
One of the original developers of the Ripple consensus network, Schwartz also calls himself an “architect” of the XRP ledger. As CTO, he’s built a rare thing in crypto—a payments network that is actually being used in the real world. And if it’s under attack by the SEC in the United States, it’s still going strong in the rest of the world—where the vast majority of transactions take place.
The company’s RippleNet software aims to take over the old-fashioned business of interbank money transfers by knocking the traditionally days-long process down to a few seconds. And it On-demand Liquidity product uses XRP as an instant transfer of value, avoiding the legacy system’s need for banks to park million and millions of dollars in other banks around the world to ensure payments are made in an at least vaguely timely manner.
Schwartz also commands respect under his @JoelKatz persona on Twitter, where his nearly 200,000 followers value his humor as much as his crypto insights.
No. 42 Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States
Is CFTC nominee Chris Brummer (No. 38) more important than Janet Yellen? Not by a very long shot. But she’s got a whole lot more on her plate—the fact that cryptocurrencies even came up during her confirmation hearing is more of a testimony to the industry’s growing importance in the financial industry than a statement of her interest.
That said, despite an early scare, her position has come off as basically neutral. Not of the Bitcoin-is-for-money-launderers-and-terrorists brigade but not a supporter either. However, she seemed in favor of clear regulation, and that’s something she and the crypto community can agree on.
No. 43 Olaf Carlson-Wee, Founder and CEO, Polychain Capital
A Silicon Valley star who long sported a mullet, Olaf Carlson-Wee became one of the first Coinbase employees after graduating from Vassar. Three years later, in 2016, he headed to San Francisco to start Polychain Capital, described as a combination crypto hedge fund (to manage digital assets) and VC firm (to invest in early stage blockchain companies.)
During the first cryptocurrency mania, Polychain Capital vaulted to prominence as it racked up investments from backers such as Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures, Sequoia Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners. By late 2017, the firm boasted more than $1 billion in assets under management. The following year, those assets plummeted by 40%.
These days Polychain is partnering with the Web3 Foundation to launch a new investment fund for projects building atop the Polkadot network. Investments include Algorand, CoinList, MakerDAO, and Dfinity. One example of a recent venture investment is Polychain’s participation in the Series A funding of River Financial which services traditional retail investors who want to trade Bitcoin with the same simplicity as trading stocks, tax lot tracking and account statements.
No. 44 Peter Thiel, Founder, Founders Fund
Peter Thiel is Silicon Valley’s legendary digital money merchant prince. Alongside Elon Musk, Max Levchin, Reid Hoffman, Ken Howrey and others in the PayPal Mafia, he birthed the era of fast, secure ecommerce. Founder of the controversial analytics firm Palantir and an early investor in Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp and other Silicon Valley giants, Thiel was a billionaire many times over before investing in bitcoin. Thiel’s partners at Founders Fund include Napster co-founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker and it boasts a portfolio that includes SpaceX and Airbnb.
Among his prominent crypto investments is Layer1, which this year announced an aggressive and ambitious plan to bring 30% of Bitcoin’s hashrate from China back to the U.S. Other notable investments include Block.one and bitcoin. Through another company, Valar Ventures, he’s backed BlockFi, TaxBit, Bitpanda, and TransferWise.
There are countless stories from Silicon Valley CEOs of how Thiel changed their lives. His Thiel Foundation gives a small number of young entrepreneurs $100,000 over two years to skip college and pursue their business dreams—Ethereum-creator Vitalik Buterin (No. 1) among them.
No. 45, Gary Tan, Co-Founder, Initialized Capital
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian departed Initialized Capital and seed investor Y Combinator (as well as Reddit) this year to focus on activism and a new venture capital company Seven Seven Six.
However, Gary Tan remains at the helm of Initialized Capital, whose portfolio company founders have created more than $100 billion in market value since 2012—including Polychain Capital, Cointracker and one of its early investments, Brian Armstrong’s (No. 8) Coinbase. Armstrong just bought another firm Initialized invested in and exited, Joe Lallouz’s (No. 89) Bison Trails
No. 46 Rune Christensen, Founder, MakerDAO & CEO, Maker Foundation
Rune Christensen is the founder and CEO of Maker, the firm that developed the Ethereum smart contract of the decentralized stablecoin DAI and the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) that governs it. While in April last year he defined this company “completely pointless” and started making progress to dissolve it, the work that this organization did left a permanent imprint on the whole cryptocurrency industry.
Maker’s year began badly, with MakerDAO clobbered by the “Black Thursday” Ether crash. That led to its creation of the first algorithmic stablecoin completely backed by on-chain assets. While Christensen’s Maker project and its design choices themselves proved to be controversial, it spawned a new breed of tokens called “algorithmic stablecoins” which are seeing rapid growth. Also, according to decentralized finance data service DeFi Pulse, over $6 billion of crypto assets are now locked in Maker’s protocol, more than in any other DeFi project.
No. 47 Stani Kulechov, Founder and CEO, Aave
Aave has been one of the big beneficiaries of the DeFi boom. And although Stani Kulechov believes that many yield farming programs are unsustainable, he’s exceedingly bullish about the sector’s prospects in the coming years.
The opensource protocol that Kulechov founded is firmly in the No. 3 spot in the rankings of top DeFi platforms—bigger than the likes of Uniswap and Curve Finance.
A significant milestone recently came when the Swiss digital assets firm Taurus announced that it was integrating Aave’s protocol—enabling institutions and banking clients to “directly deposit and borrow a wide range of digital assets.”
Kulechov is also one to watch because he’s branching out into new roles. It recently emerged that he’s joining Variant Fund in a part-time capacity, an investment firm that firmly believes mainstream platforms will be owned by their users in the future.
No. 48 Michael Gronager, CEO, Chainalysis
It was a good year for Chainalysis CEO Michael Gronager, who closed a $100 million Series C funding round in November that valued the blockchain intelligence firm at $1 billion—making it a unicorn.
The firm’s bitcoin and cryptocurrency tracking tools have been used by much of the U.S. law enforcement soup—including the FBI, IRS, DEA, ICE and the SEC—in a number of high-profile cases, including the closure of the world’s largest child pornography site and terrorist funding sites. Of course, 2020 it’s had its downs, with criticism for attempting—with fair success, it says—to track privacy coins. Most notably, Andreas Antonopoulos (No. 37) criticized it as being “in an arms race against privacy” and fundamentally immoral.
A co-founder and former COO of Jesse Powell’s (No. 16) Kraken exchange, Gronager’s firm first shot to prominence by locating 650,000 Bitcoins stolen from Mt. Gox. Now it is not only providing law enforcement with crypto tracking tools, it is training agents on how to use them effectively.
No. 49 Dave Jevans, CEO, CipherTrace
Self-described cypherpunk Dave Jevans’ blockchain analysis firm CipherTrace launched several new tools this year, notably Armada, which adds cryptocurrency capability to the transaction monitoring tools long used by traditional banks to flag risky transactions.
It also added predictive risk scoring to its cryptocurrency racing tools; claims it is getting closer to being able to track transactions across top privacy coin Monero (without identifying users); and on March 11 unveiled CipherTrace Traveler, designed to help exchanges comply with coming international regulations—the FATF “Travel Rule”—requiring exchanges to identify customers on many transactions.
The firm is also pursuing business with countries developing central bank digital currencies (CBDC), which the firm says can preserve both privacy and anti-money laundering (AML) compliance.
No. 50 Simone Maini, CEO, Elliptic
Elliptic co-founder Dr. James Smith stepped back from the CEO role in April to focus on product development, promoting COO Simone Maini, whose background includes stints at Deutsche Bank and corporate investigations firm Kroll, to step up. The reason Smith cited was that the crypto risk management and blockchain analysis business was growing too fast for him to balance both the leadership and development roles.
Maini’s doing a bang-up job. The firm raised $28 million in a Series C round earlier that year to fund its growth in the Asian market. It also expanded its crypto intelligence services to regulators and law enforcement agencies—which it formerly worked with but not for—as it focuses on the regulatory technology, or RegTech, market.
No. 51 Jerome Powell, Chairman, Federal Reserve
Powell’s tune has changed dramatically over the past two years. In November 2019, he called a digital dollar pointless, adding that the country did not need a digital currency.
A year later, he said it was more important to get a central bank digital currency right then it was to get it first.
Now? The digital dollar is a “high priority project” and 2021 will be “an important year” for the creation of a U.S. CBDC. He also promised to “engage with the public pretty actively.”
No. 52 Kris Marszalek, CEO and Co-Founder, Crypto.com
Chris Marszalek is the CEO and co-founder of Crypto.com, a cryptocurrency financial services provider for individuals, previously known as Monaco. His firm closely resembles a crypto bank: it allows for loans backed by crypto, earning interest on digital asset deposits, and offers crypto Visa debit cards in the EU, Canada and Australia, as well as an exchange.
In May 2020, Marszalek led Crypto.com’s conquest of the European Union before also acquiring licenses allowing for his empire’s expansion to Canada, Australia and Malta. He also guided his company as it joined the DeFi battle and launched its swap service. This year, we expect his firm to reach even more jurisdictions.
No. 53 Diogo Mónica, President, Anchorage
Crypto custodian Anchorage took a huge step forward for the whole cryptocurrency industry when it received the first national trust charter from Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks in January.
While it is a non-depository institution, the charter puts it “firmly on the same regulatory footing” as any national bank in the U.S., Mónica and CEO Nathan McCauley said. Among other things, the charter means it meets the standards for a “qualified custodian”—which the SEC requires investment advisors to use for clients’ funds and securities.
Then in February, it raised $80 million in a Series C funding round.
No. 54 Raj Dhamodharan, EVP Blockchain and Digital Asset products, Mastercard
Given that 721 million Mastercard credit cards are in circulation internationally, the company’s announcement that it will allow its customers to pay with cryptocurrencies—those with suitable compliance measures—is significant. It has the potential to turn Mastercard into one of the most important players in the digital assets sector overnight. In September, Mastercard rolled out a testing platform for central bank digital currencies—another subset of the crypto field that seems ready to explode.
As head of it blockchain and digital asset products, Dhamodharan has an opportunity to make the payments processing company a big player in crypto thanks to its early adopter advantage. But with many crypto firms setting themselves apart from legacy payment giants by offering cheaper fees, will Mastercard have to start accepting a smaller slice of the pie?
No. 55 Cuy Sheffield, Senior Director, Head of Crypto, Visa
In December, Modern Consensus reported that “the payment processing giant will start collaborating with Circle Internet Financial, the firm behind the USD Coin (USDC) stablecoin, to help credit card issuers integrate the USD Coin into their platforms to send and receive crypto payments. Businesses will be able to send international USDC payments to any Visa-supported business. Still, before the funds can be spent they will need to be converted to fiat currency.”
Back in October, Visa authorized Coinbase to issue Visa crypto-enabled debit cards directly to customers in the United States. These cards were first rolled out internationally earlier last year. And in February, it launched a pilot program to provide “a bridge between digital currencies and merchants” via API to fintech firms, allowing them to add crypto features including the ability to buy, custody, and trade digital assets held by digital asset bank Anchorage.
No. 56 David Rutter, Founder and CEO, R3
R3’s open-source Corda is not quite a blockchain, but rather built on the distributed ledger technology that underlies blockchain. Born as a Ripple competitor in the cross-border payments industry, it has evolved into a company focused on Corda as an enterprise blockchain platform focused on financial services solutions.
It’s been a huge year for R3, with coups including a shocking announcement of an enterprise blockchain solutions partnership with IBM—which champions competing Hyperledger Fabric. The important DAML smart contract language became available on Corda. Beyond that, the influential IEEE said in April that Corda met U.S. government security standards while Ethereum, Hyperledger Fabric and MultiChain did not. In February, R3 launched a confidential data sharing solution, Conclave.
On the banking front, Corda was adopted by the major bank HSBC and several major Thai banks. The Corda-based Spunta interbank reconciliation platform now works with 85% of Italian banks. And R3 has partnered with Nasdaq’s Market technologies arm to offer digital asset solutions to institutions issuing, trading and settling financial instruments.
R3 is also heavily focused on central bank digital currencies, and is working South Africa and Sweden, among others, on Corda CBDC pilots—as well as a multinational CBDC pilot project supported by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) between Thailand and Hong Kong, which was recently joined by China and the UAE.
No. 57 Michael Arrington, partner, Arrington XRP Capital
A securities lawyer and serial entrepreneur who was the editor of TechCrunch, Michael Arrington’s history with VC investing includes stakes in Uber, Airbnb, and Pinterest. In late 2017, he founded Arrington XRP. The $100 million fund chose XRP, the coin that powers Ripple’s On-Demand Liquidity solution as its base denomination.
In 2019, Arrington XRP acquired ByteSize Capital, after raising an additional $30 million. At the end of last year it joined the DeFi Alliance, a trade association for decentralized finance professionals that has created its own incubator, accelerator, and new investment fund for startups in the field.
No. 58 Juan Benet, Founder, CEO, Engineer, Protocol Labs
Three years after a blockbuster ICO, Filecoin, the brainchild of Protocol Labs, finally launched in October 2020, with its FIL token doubling in value within a week. The Web 3.0 storage provider has gone from strength to strength since—and by mid-February, it boasted a capacity of 2.5 billion gigabytes.
Benet will be hoping to showcase Filecoin’s distinctive use cases as 2021 continues—preserving datasets and potentially providing much greater scale than centralized cloud storage providers, amid concerns that their infrastructure won’t be able to keep up with demand.
In some ways more importantly, Benet is the driving force behind the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), a peer-to-peer distributed web protocol aims to break the stranglehold of tech giants by decentralizing the internet.
No. 59 David Treat, Senior Managing Director & Global Blockchain Lead, Accenture
Accenture has strong relationships across many blockchain protocols and consortiums, including Hyperledger, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, and R3’s Corda, as well as partnerships with IBM, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services. It is also a founder of Chris Giancarlo’s (No. 94) Digital Dollar Projec as well as a leader of the InterWork Alliance to create standards and trusted certifications for tokenization. In the first IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Blockchain Services 2020 Vendor Assessment this August, it was named one of four field leaders.
Writing in Forbes in February, Treat said, “The time to evolve from internal to collaborative processes is now. Companies that leverage the benefits of working from shared data with their partners are going to have an advantage when it comes to co-innovation that companies that go it alone will miss out on…. the companies that lead will be those that shed the orthodoxies of the old physical data center world and embrace working in blockchain-based multiparty systems.”
Treat himself is on the board of Hyperledger and the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, and holds several blockchain-related patents.
No. 60 Raoul Pal, Founder, RealVision
Raoul Pal is a highly regarded mainstream investor and former hedge fund manager. He is the founder and CEO of macroeconomics advisory publication Global Macro Investor, as well as investment news and research site Real Vision Group. Among its offering is the Real Vision Crypto channel.
A highly respected and followed personality in the cryptocurrency community, Pal increased his Bitcoin portfolio allocation from 25% up to 50%. He appeared on most financial news websites when in February he admitted to being “irresponsibly long” on Bitcoin, but said that it is “basically eating the world” and explained:
“Bitcoin is destroying all other assets in the world, and I have never seen this before in my career where an asset has drawn the attention of the likes of Elon Musk and mainstream institutions like no other asset.”
No. 61 Anthony “Pomp” Pompliano, Co-Founder & Partner, Morgan Creek Digital Assets
Anthony Pompliano is an American entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and the co-founder and partner of hedge fund Morgan Creek Digital Assets, which purchased his previous company, Full Tilt Capital, an early-stage VC fund. He is the owner of one of the most widely recognized names and faces in the whole cryptocurrency industry.
Pompliano is also the publisher of crypto news sources The Pomp Podcast and “The Pomp Letter.” He also has well over 626,000 followers on Twitter and mostly tweets about cryptocurrencies, which makes him a force to be reckoned with in the space.
No. 62 Jae Kwon, President, Interchain Foundation
The Cosmos Network, which describes itself as an “Internet of Blockchains,” came into its own on Feb. 18, when its Stargate update brought its highly-anticipated Inter-Blockchain Communication (IBC) protocol online. That allows all of the more than 200 blockchains built on the Interchain Foundation’s highly scalable Cosmos Network to interoperate easily—adding greatly to their usability and fulfilling a key goal of the Interchain Foundation.
These include the increasingly popular Binance Smart Chain, the Band Protocol’s oracle, and the collateralized debt platform Kava. Its native token is ATOM, currently No. 15, with a market capitalization of $4 billion. And tacit support from Coinbase in the form of staking rewards didn’t hurt.
Silicon Valley alum Kwon started Tendermint Inc, which develops the Tendermint proof-of-stake consensus algorithm, as well as the Cosmos developers kit and IBC protocol. It wasn’t all cheers this year, as Kwon and early developer Zaki Manian had a very public, very nasty feud that broke up the Cosmos team, but did not derail the project or stop them from working together—from different companies.
No. 63 Robert Leshner, Founder and CEO, Compound Labs
The rise of DeFi protocols in 2020 has seen a new generation of crypto executives gain influence, and one of them is Compound Labs founder Robert Leshner.
The distribution of COMP tokens to the protocol’s users was a big hit—pushing out a fair chunk of the governance rights for the DeFi borrowing and lending protocol to its community
He’s confident that centralized finance platforms are going to increasingly adopt the backend operations of DeFi protocols in the coming months and years—something that will only increase his standing in the crypto community further.
Leshner has also taken a dim view of Ethereum—warning that the current infrastructure on offer is slow and expensive, meaning it’s impractical for smaller transactions. Compound has now launched a new blockchain that facilitates cross-chain borrowing—and if it gains traction, the network could be among the band of projects draining market share from Ethereum.
No. 64 Christine Lagarde, President, European Central Bank
She’s by no means a friend to the crypto sector—but Christine Lagarde’s influence when it comes to regulation cannot be overstated. Now president of the European Central Bank after a stint as chief of the International Monetary Fund, we described her appointment in 2019 as an optimistic development as she would “bring a positive outlook on digital assets”—perhaps prematurely.
Although Lagarde has expressed enthusiasm for central bank digital currencies—the digital euro—and FinTech in general, Europe’s efforts for developing their own offerings have moved at a glacial pace. She’s also taken every opportunity possible to criticize Bitcoin. Back in January, she warned BTC is used for “funny business” and must be regulated globally. With Bitcoin’s price in the ascendancy, and institutions increasing looking to hold crypto in reserve, we could see Lagarde turn her words into deeds this year.
No. 65 Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain, Data and Digital assets, World Economic Forum
As the head of all things blockchain and crypto for the World Economic Forum and a member of its executive committee, Sheila Warren is among the industry’s most prominent “big thinkers.” Among her biggest projects in 2020 was creating a “Blockchain Bill of Rights” setting out 16 “Presidio Principles” in four categories aimed at ensuring and protecting users rights and privacy. Among them: Ensuring users know how a service is operated, and its potential risks; creating standards for protecting data; limiting data collection to the essentials; giving users the freedom to create, manage, and independently store cryptographic keys.
With the rush to follow China (and The Bahamas) into central bank digital currencies growing, designing CBDCs will be a strong focus of Warren and the WEF, which released a CBDC Policy-Maker Toolkit in January. As for 2021, Warren told CoinDesk last month that the four trends she’s watching include blockchain-based digital identity that preserves privacy, institutional adoption of blockchain, using non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to empower creators, and decentralized infrastructure.
No. 66 Umar Farooq, Head of Blockchain Initiatives, JPMorgan
JPMorgan’s chief executive Jamie Dimon has wasted little time in making it known that he’s a Bitcoin skeptic—and that he thinks regulation beckons.
But that doesn’t mean that the U.S. bank isn’t investing aggressively in blockchain. Step forward Umar Farooq, who is at the helm of Onyx, a new business that’s home to JPMorgan’s blockchain and digital asset ventures.
Onyx has certainly generated some attention-grabbing headlines since launching last October—and recently tested blockchain payments between satellites orbiting Earth. (As you’d expect, headline writers deployed plenty of puns for that one.)
Back on terra firma, JPMorgan has been hiring dozens of blockchain professionals as it doubles down on its client-focused JPM Coin. As Farooq’s experimentation continues, some big announcements from the bank could be in the offing as 2021 continues.
No. 67 Tom Jessop, President, Fidelity Digital Assets
The head of Fidelity Digital Assets has been making some big inroads this year, not the last into its own parent company. In August, Fidelity Investments’ chief strategist launched a Bitcoin Index Fund. On March 1, the firm’s director of global macro, Jurrien Timmer, called bitcoin a digital gold that has gone mainstream as a legitimate inflation hedge—those are from the parent company, not FDA. Jessop’s division has not been sitting on its heels, rolling out a program allowing institutional customers to use bitcoin as loan collateral in partnership with BlockFi recently.
Jessop spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs focused on creating and investing in tech platforms for capital markets. In the mid-2010s, he helped put together Goldman’s investments in fintech startups, including Circle Internet Financial. He became enthralled with bitcoin long before the virtual currency was talked about in investment circles, and in 2017, moved on to join Chain, a vendor of blockchain technology to enterprises.
No. 68 Roham Gharegozlou, Dapper Labs, NBA Top Shots NFTs
Roham Gharegozlou is the CEO of Ethereum-based non-fungible token company Dapper Labs. Under his leadership, the company launched “Cryptokitties,” the collectible cats that took the world by storm and were sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Gharegozlou’s firm is arguably the leader in the digital collectible non-fungible tokens space, and this position has been further cemented when the company struck a deal with the National Basketball Association in August 2019, forming NBA Top Shots, which has quickly driven to the top of the NFT industry, racking up more than $354 million in sales over 2.2 million transactions since October, including a Lebron James dunk that sold for more than $200,000. It far outstrips other NFT collectables in popularity, according to CryptoSlam, which cites nearly 240,000 Top Shots owners.
No. 69 Willy Woo, analyst, @Woonomic
On-chain analyst Willy Woo continues to be one of the most influential voices in the Bitcoin price game, having racked up almost 335,000 Twitter followers. In October, he launched The Bitcoin Forecast, a newsletter that comes out roughly every 10 days to two weeks. While free, there’s a $50 monthly upgrade available offering on-chain forecasts every two to four weeks, data-backed buy/sell advice, and access to AMAs.
Still, it was hardly a perfect year, as Woo’s Woobull.com site lists him as a partner at hedge fund Adaptive Capital—which went belly-up after being caught March 2020’s price collapse, presumably because it got caught flat-footed when the BitMEX exchange went down under a DDOS attack during the worst of the crash.
No. 70 Kathleen Breitman, co-founder and CEO, Tezos
Along with co-founder and husband Arthur, Kathleen Breitman started Tezos, a smart contracts platform designed to fix several weaknesses its designers saw in Ethereum’s governance and technology. The proof-of-stake protocol is on a roll lately, with XTZ reaching an all-time high of $5.09 this past Valentine’s Day. It’s since down about a dollar, but still doing well enough to be No. 32 by market cap.
Tezos aims to be futureproof, with a secure and upgradable infrastructure designed to embrace changes without needing hard forks, and a smart contract language designed for complex contracts. It met that goal well enough to win the contract for the first-ever central bank digital currency—The Bahamas’ Sand Dollar—as well as being tested by France as a digital euro platform.
Having raised $232 million initial coin offering (ICO) in July 2017, Tezos found itself in the SEC’s crosshairs, and settled a potentially fatal lawsuit for $25 million in September. Even beyond that, it’s been a rocky road, with a power struggle nearly killing the project early on, and Breitman getting a reputation for a fiery temper—and language—when dealing with detractors.
No. 71 Silvio Micali, Founder, Algorand
Algorand appears to be going from strength to strength at the moment—and figures from December suggest that an average of 500,000 transactions per day are posted on its blockchain, with more than 500 companies developing applications. And with Ethereum clogged and gas prices spiraling, Algorand is making an aggressive push to eat its DeFi lunch.
Silvio Micali now has its sights set on what 2021 has in store, and he plans to walk the tightrope between added functionality and maintaining decentralization. In 2021, he has vowed that Algorand’s block size will increase, and the time it takes to add a new block to the chain will decrease. The real rabbit out of the hat moment will come if Algorand manages to grow its transactions from 1,000 to 46,000, which is one of the company’s aspirations for this year.
No. 72 Stuart Levey, CEO, Diem Association
It’s been a year of pulling back for the Diem Association, better known as the Libra Association until it rebranded in December. It also changed the project from a single stablecoin that would be back by a basket of international currencies and be used by Facebook’s 2.7 billion customers to a series of single-currency stablecoins like the dollar-backed LibraUSD and euro-backed LibraEUR in April. The next month it pulled back from Facebook’s David Marcus as its unofficial frontman, hiring Stuart Levey as CEO.
An HSBC chief legal officer and a former first undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, Levey goal was clearly to comfort worried and outraged politicians and regulators, who fear the stablecoin could undermine national currencies, weaken central bankers, and give little-trusted Facebook a lot of economic power. Since then, Levey filled out his executive team, applied for a payment license from Swiss regulator FINMA, and touted a Q1 2021 launch of the LibraUSD. And there it stands, unlikely to move until Levey can convince regulators to get on board—or at least stop fighting.
No. 73 Kristin Smith, executive director, Blockchain Association
Kristin Smith is executive director of the Blockchain Association, an industry lobbying organization for the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry. Like most industry lobbying groups, that gives her several hats: translating complex ideas and products to laypeople—notably members of congress and the presidential administration; promoting the goals of the industry, notably getting clear regulation in place and keeping it favorable; and acting as a unified voice for the industry.
With politicians increasingly interested in crypto, and a new administration bringing in regulators who understand the business and view it largely favorably (see Gary Gensler, No. 3; Chris Brummer, No. 38) she’s got her work cut out for her, but in a good way. There should be less explaining that Bitcoin is not for darknet drug dealers and more pursuing and influencing vital policy decisions.
No. 74 Perianne Boring, President, Chamber of Digital Commerce
With cryptocurrencies becoming firmly ensconced in the financial mainstream, enterprise blockchains moving out into the real world, a digital dollar CBDC suddenly on the front burner, and a growing movement to push regulations at the international level, industry associations that can lobby and educate are more vital than ever.
Boring is a blockchain policy advisor to the OECD and adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, where she teaches a class on fintech and blockchain. Starting out as a legislative analyst for the House of Representatives, Boring was a financial television program host before founding the CDC in 2014.
No. 75 Ria Bhutoria, Director of Research, Fidelity Digital Assets
The crypto industry is one that’s dominated by white men, but Ria Bhutoria is a shining example of a woman in a high-profile position—offering in-depth insights into how the markets are evolving, and dispelling common criticisms about Bitcoin. Undoubtedly bullish on the BTC’s future prospects, she believes that we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to institutional adoption.
Bhutoria has also been ahead of the curve in championing Bitcoin as a store of value. In a report last summer, she wrote: “An analogy is that investing in Bitcoin today is akin to investing in Facebook when it had 50 million users with the potential to grow to the more than 2 billion users it has today.” How prescient Bhutoria’s words turned out to be. Cementing her position in the top 100, insights from Fidelity Digital Assets’ director of research are fast becoming essential reading.
No. 76 Katie Haun, General Partner, a16z
Katie Haun is the first female general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, also known as a16z, an influential venture capital firm headquartered in Silicon Valley with well over $10 billion in assets under management.
Haun is co-head of a16z’s two Crypto Funds along with Chris Dixon, which at $865 million combined are among the largest VC funds dedicated to cryptocurrencies and blockchain. The latest, Crypto Fund Two, closed with $515 million in capital commitments in April 2020. Last year, az16 created a free video-based “Crypto School” for aspiring crypto entrepreneurs.
Haun is on the board of directors of Coinbase and HackerOne, and teaches at Stanford University. She is also a former federal prosecutor who led investigations into both Mt. Gox and Silk Road and created the government’s first cryptocurrency task force in 2015.
No. 77 Paul Brody, Blockchain Lead, Ernst & Young
Paul Brody is a Principal and the Global Innovation Leader for Blockchain Technology at Ernst & Young (aka EY), one of the largest accounting firms in the world, dubbed the “Big Four.” The business of accounting revolves around ledgers, which are organized records of transactions that have traditionally been centralized at a bank or a corporation. So, it should be no surprise that the most forward-thinking accounting firms also love the decentralized ledgers of blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Last year Brody’s EY and partners ConsenSys and Microsoft launched the Baseline protocol, tools released into the public domain to enable private and secure transactions on public blockchains—specifically Ethereum. The idea is to keep corporate data safe while allowing companies to use smart contracts to automate and track transactions. Earlier this year, he predicted a big financial app service like PayPal or Robinhood will launch consumer-focused DeFi.
Its enterprise-focused EY OpsChain and EY Blockchain Analyzer platforms aim to allow clients to use either public or private blockchains for safe, secure, and regulatory-compliant transactions.
No. 78 Mathew McDermott, head of digital assets, Goldman Sachs
When Mathew McDermott, head of digital assets at the global investment bank Goldman Sachs says that 40% of its 300 institutional customers already have some exposure to cryptocurrencies through products like derivatives and securities, it’s a safe bet the mainstreaming of crypto is in the present, not the future. Speaking recently, he added that Goldman Sachs was seeing “huge” demand from institutional clients including hedge funds, asset managers, banks, corporate treasurers, insurance firms and pension funds.
Those comments came as McDermott announced that Goldman Sachs was reopening its crypto trading desk, and is reportedly looking into launching a Bitcoin ETF and starting up digital asset custody services. Longer term, he’s looking at bring distributed ledger technology into credit, mortgage, and even trading markets, as well as considering a stablecoin of its own in the vein of JPMorgan’s JPM Coin.
Appointed in August, 46-year-old London-based McDermott is a financial markets veteran rather than a fintech native.
No. 79, John Jansen, CEO, Deribit
The leading cryptocurrency options exchange is at the front of a skyrocketing market, with traders taking just 12 days this year to record one quarter of the total options volume of 2020. Deribit offers cash-settled options, as oppose to physically settled options like No. 2 exchange OKEx.
No. 80 Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, India
Home to 1.3 billion people, India has the potential to be one of the world’s biggest crypto markets. According to many reports, that isn’t going to happen with Narendra Modi at the helm.
Undeterred after the Supreme Court overturned a de facto ban on banks working with exchanges, his government is reported to be pursuing radical action to ban private cryptocurrencies—a move that would send shockwaves through the country’s burgeoning sector. While this has been reported for months, a ban bill said to be close to making its way through parliament calls for an outright ban after a six-month grace period to allow crypto investors to sell.
It remains to be seen whether the new report is correct, but regardless, world leaders will be watching closely to see how a hardline approach works in such a large country. That doesn’t mean India is turning its back on crypto altogether—a digital rupee seems to be on the horizon.
No. 81 Charlie Lee, Creator, Litecoin; Managing Director, Litecoin Foundation
Ex-Google engineer Charlie Lee is the creator of Litecoin, a fork of the Bitcoin code that tweaked a few variables and adding a different hashing algorithm.
Currently the No. 9 cryptocurrency by market capitalization, the altcoin rose to prominence only after getting listed on popular crypto trading platform Coinbase in May 2017. Sometimes called digital silver to bitcoin’s digital gold, it recently got another boost when PayPal included LTC on the initial list of cryptocurrencies available on the platform. But Lee now wants to boost litecoin’s fortunes by jumping on the privacy coin bandwagon and incorporating some of those features.
Lee outraged the Litecoin community in 2017 when he sold his litecoins at the height of the market—and refused to be sorry. He’s currently taking on the NFT craze, which he says reminds him of the 2017 ICO craze.
No. 82 Ryan Selkis, Founder and CEO, Messari
A former managing director of CoinDesk, Ryan Selkis’ Messari is bringing some much-needed unbiased data and research in the industry. Founded in 2018, the firm is getting a growing reputation for strong and unbiased data—notably the Messari real Volume crypto trade volumes—as well as its analysis and especially its forecasts.
Selkis has a strong brand, on Twitter and off, but his occasional potty mouth has gotten him in trouble—most notably when Bitwise withdrew its support of Messari’s 2020 summary report due to some of the language he used describing Litecoin and Stellar Lumens, among other things. Nor is he a fan of DeFi, recently taking to Twitter to predict “it will soon run out of victims to fleece.”
No. 83 Vlad Tenev, CEO, Robinhood
Vlad Tenev made his influence known for all the wrong reasons during the GameStop saga—with Robinhood users expressing outrage when restrictions were imposed on trading shares made popular by the WallStreetBets Reddit group. He later made an impassioned apology in front of Congress—and argued that a cash squeeze was behind the restrictions, not an attempt to save the short-selling hedge fund that was a major investor and one of its biggest clients.
The Robinhood CEO remains a big figure in the world of digital assets, given that the trading app he runs—beloved by millennials—attracted six million new users for its crypto service in January and February alone.
Looking ahead, Tenev will be seeking to mend fences following claims that Robinhood’s reaction to the GME short squeeze undermined the company’s vow to democratize investing. A top priority for 2021 will likely include an initial public offering.
No. 84 Scott Melker, @scottmelker, The Wolf of All Streets
A former world-renowned DJ, Scott Melker turned his attention to cryptocurrency several years ago and has since built up a large following as “The Wolf of All Streets.” His focus is on both Bitcoin and altcoins, with daily market coverage coming from Twitter alongside more in-depth content on his dedicated website.
A regular guest on industry podcasts, Melker interviews some of the best-known figures in the cryptocurrency space on his own, in addition to offering pure market analysis. He also offers his $15-a-month daily newsletter The Wolf Den. In July, the Binance exchange named him the North American Influencer of the Year for 2020.
No. 85 Denelle Dixon, CEO and Executive Director, Stellar Development Foundation
A lawyer who left a position as COO of the Firefox browser’s Mozilla Corp to join the Stellar Development Foundation, Denelle Dixon is passionate about Net Neutrality and encryption, as well as giving technology users more choice and control. The SDF supports the Stellar Network and its lumen token, focusing on faster and cheaper cross-border payments—like Ripple, which SDF co-founder Jed McCaleb also helped create. The lumen, which was at about $0.04 last March, is currently at $0.40.
Denelle Dixon is passionate about Net Neutrality and encryption, as well as giving technology users more choice and control. It has been a, well, stellar year for Dixon, who saw Circle add a Stellar-native USD Coin stablecoin—joining Ethereum and Algorand—which added an important source of liquidity. The SDF also worked with one of Europe’s oldest banks and German crypto firm Bitbond to create a bank-issued euro stablecoin on Stellar. But the big news came in January, when The Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation chose the SDF to help it build a central bank digital currency.
No. 86 Justin Sun, CEO, Tron
Justin Sun had been keeping something of a low profile—for him—before coming up just short of the $69.3 million winning bid for NFT artist Beeple’s “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS” at Christie’s. Early 2020 was not kind to him. While he did—finally—manage to have his $4.6 million charity auction meal with Warren Buffet it was a reminder of how big an embarrassment the debacle was for him in 2019, when he was forced into a last-minute cancellation, either by illness or Chinese authorities who felt he was overdoing the hype.
Then came Steem. The social media blogging platform moved onto his Tron blockchain—a would-be Ethereum killer—in February. But a month later Sun got involved in a battle with Steem validators, who moved to limit the voting power of the 20% of all STEEM tokens he received when buying Steemit. After a hostile takeover in which he tricked Huobi and Binance into helping him hard-fork that voting limit out of existence, Sun saw much of the community decamp to Hive via their own Steem hard fork, which transferred over everything except his tokens.
Finally, his DLive streaming video platform was used by the Jan. 6 Capitol Building attackers to live-stream the riot, leading to a congressional inquiry into DLive’s moderation of extremist content.
No. 87 Michael Sonnenshein, CEO, Grayscale Investments
Michael Sonnenshien’s Digital Currency Group-owned Grayscale Investments’ various crypto currency trusts were for a long time the only game in town for institutions that wanted to exposure without actually buying any cryptocurrency directly.
The vast majority of its assets under management are in the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, which saw its shares hit premiums as high as 40% over the value of the BTC it held. However, with a new crypto-knowledgeable and crypto-friendly sheriff in town in the person of SEC chairman Gary Gensler (No. 3) it’s considered more and more likely that exchange traded funds (ETF) will finally be approved—providing serious competition, as Grayscale trusts are a way for U.S. investors to get around the lack of ETFs. Recently, that premium dropped to a deficit of as much as 13%, forcing Grayscale to close the fund to new investors and pour $250 million into a share buyback—with good effect.
Disclosure: Modern Consensus Editor Leo Jakobson’s only crypto ownership is having some 401k money invested in Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.
No. 88 Meltem Demirors, CSO, Coinshares
A powerful and articulate advocate for the crypto industry, CoinShares chief strategy officer Meltem Demirors is influential because important people consider her worth listening to—and they’re not alone. Her Twitter account has nearly 150,000 followers and she’s frequently quoted by news outlets from both the crypto industry and mainstream media. She is a highly-sought speaker at industry conferences live and virtual, as well as at venues ranging from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School to the U.S. congress—where she was famously asked to define “s***coin” for that august body.
Demirors is also co-chair of the Word Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cryptocurrencies. In her role at CoinShares, a digital asset management firm with $3 billion under management and a venture capital portfolio, she is in charge of developing ways for institutional investors to gain access to the crypto market. Demirors recently moved from New York to New Hampshire, trading “taxes and incompetence” for the “Live Free or Die” state.
No. 89 Joe Lallouz, CEO, Bison Trails
Joe Lallouz has led blockchain infrastructure provider Bison Trails as its CEO from it founding in 2018. Since then, his firm has since been on the front lines of developing and deploying data center solutions for cryptocurrency companies.
It supports a growing number of proof-of-stake protocols, ranging from mobile payments-focused Celo to Ethereum 2.0 to—most recently—Cosmos, with secure, highly available, and geographically distributed nodes. It is a founding member of the Diem Association (formerly Libra)
This summer, the company launched double-signing protection software designed to drastically reduce the slashing penalties PoS validators face. More recently, it launched Global Blockchain Sync, a service designed to make syncing blockchain nodes 100 times faster.
But its biggest news came in January, when Brian Armstrong’s (No. 8) top U.S. cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase acquired Bison Trails, leaving the whole industry holding its breath to see what those two firms can do together.
No. 90 Adam Back, CEO, Blockstream
A cryptographer and cypherpunk, Dr. Adam Back is a leading candidate for the mantle of Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s mysterious creator, who cited his work in the Bitcoin whitepaper and used his Hashcash, a proof-of-work system for countering denial-of-service attacks, as a foundational element for bitcoin mining.
Blockstream’s best-known product is the Liquid Network, a Bitcoin sidechain somewhat similar to Lightning Labs’ Lightning Network, but is largely used for fast, confidential transactions between cryptocurrency exchanges. Light Nite launched its gaming non-fungible tokens (NFT) on it this year.
No. 91 Zac Prince, Founder and CEO, BlockFi
Zac Prince is the founder and CEO of DeFi lending firm BlockFi. Under his leadership, the company achieved many things—among others reaching $1.5 billion of assets under management by late August 2020 as the company registered a ten-fold increase in revenue. Which in turn helped it raise $50 million.
Prince also guided BlockFi as it struck a deal with financial services giant Fidelity to provide a DeFi custody service for institutional customers at the end of last year. In February, the firm launched a Bitcoin trust offering meant for institutional investors, effectively taking on the current market leader Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.
No. 92 Chris Giancarlo, project director, Digital Dollar Project
After departing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) chairmanship, where his interest in supporting the fledgling cryptocurrency industry earned him the nickname “Crypto Dad,” Chris Giancarlo founded the Digital Dollar project to boost for a U.S. central bank digital currency—back when former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell were pooh-poohing the idea.
Now Mnuchin’s gone, Powell (No. 51) has changed his tune, and the project Giancarlo started with Accenture has a much higher profile—and potential impact.
No. 93 Marc Cuban
Marc Cuban may be best-known as owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team, but his fortune dates to the 1999-2000 tech bubble, when he sold an internet radio company to AOL for billions.
Until recently a Bitcoin skeptic, Cuban is coming around—particularly thanks to DeFi, which he believes could be a game-changer for Bitcoin—and non-fungible tokens. And the enjoyment he finds in Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency he says shouldn’t be taken too seriously, is nonetheless helping its price a great deal.
No. 94 Charles Rettig, Commissioner, U.S. Internal Revenue Service
Now in the middle of a four-year term as head honcho of the Internal Revenue Service, Charles Rettig has overseen an aggressive clampdown on crypto tax enforcement, as well as an aggressive move into federal Bitcoin tracking operations.
While the IRS is making a concerted effort to track down those who are failing to declare profits made following the sale of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies—a question about crypto now also appears prominently on the first page of Form 1040—the agency’s involvement with bitcoin and crypto tracking goes deeper. Its agents have been involved in many of the high-profile criminal cases brought as a result of blockchain tracking operations.
As a whole, 2020 was also dominated by IRS attempts to clamp down on the use of privacy coins such as Monero—spending $1 million in an attempt to crack the cryptography that ensures transactions are obfuscated.
Expect Rettig to continue his determined efforts to clamp down on rule-breaking among crypto investors—with measures that could affect businesses operating in the space, too.
No. 95 Roger Ver, Founder, Bitcoin.com
Roger Ver describes himself as a libertarian, an anarcho-capitalist, a peace advocate, and an advocate of individualistic ideals. Still, his focus was probably not on peace given that in 2002 he pleaded guilty to selling explosives on eBay and served a 10-month sentence because of it.
After his sentence ended he moved to Japan in 2005 and renounced his United States citizenship after obtaining Saint Kitts and Nevis documents. Ver served as the CEO of Bitcoin.com where he earned the nickname of Bitcoin Jesus before switching to supporting Bitcoin Cash (BCH) following a contentious hard fork.
Ver is now one of the biggest Bitcoin Cash boosters. While BCH fell out of the top 10 cryptocurrencies by market cap recently, the coin made the cut as one of PayPal’s four supported crypto assets.
No. 96 Jackson Palmer and Billy Markus, co-creators, Dogecoin
Compared with most members of our top 100, Billy Markus is probably among a small number who sincerely wish they held no influence in crypto at all. Bear in mind that Markus, alongside Jackson Palmer, started Dogecoin as a joke all the way back in 2013—and genuinely didn’t expect it to end up with a multibillion-dollar market cap. But, it’s starting to get some utility—Mark Cuban’s (No. 93) Dallas Mavericks accept it, Coinflip’s 1,700 ATMs dispense it, and crypto payments firm BitPay lets merchants accept it.
As DOGE’s value rose in February, pumped by Elon Musk, Markus wrote an open letter to the Dogecoin subreddit and said: “People are talking about Dogecoin going to $1—that would make the ‘market cap’ larger than actual companies that provide services to millions, such as Boeing, Starbucks, American Express, IBM. Does Dogecoin deserve that? That is not something I can comprehend, let alone answer.”
Markus, who exited the community in 2015 and sold his not insubstantial DOGE stake, also condemned the “pumping and dumping, rampant greed and scamming” that had infiltrated the world of DOGE. However, it’s currently the No. 15 cryptocurrency by market capitalization, with about $7.7 billion. So his opinions count.
No. 97 Mati Greenspan, Founder, Quantum Economics
Long known as the top analyst at social trading platform eToro, Mati Greenspan spent much of 2020 spinning up Quantum Economics, an analysis, advisory and money management firm focused on cryptocurrencies. A knowledgeable and frequent commentator via his Twitter account, @MatiGreenspan, and the QE Newsletter, Greenspan is someone who’s insight and opinions are widely respected and sought.
No. 98 Donna Redel, Board Member & Blockchain Committee Co-Chain, New York Angels
Donna Redel is a board member of NY Angels where she co-chairs the Blockchain Committee, leveraging her experience as managing director of the World Economic Forum, chair of the New York Commodity Exchange (COMEX), and CIO of Prudential Securities.
No. 99 Laura Shin, journalist and host, Unchained and Unconfirmed podcasts
The “Unchained” and “Unconfirmed” podcast host and Forbes Magazine contributor is not only a prominent voice in crypto, but also a no-coiner. With excellent access born of a strong reputation, she covers the fascinating characters of the blockchain world the same way she would investigate government spending projects without being in the infrastructure business.
No. 100 Beeple (Mike Winkelmann), digital artist
The work the world-renowned auction house Christie’s described as his magnum opus, “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS”—a collage of the art he’s been posting daily for more than 13 years—just sold for $69.3 million. That’s $69.3 million.
Measured by the price tag of his works, that make him one of the top three living artists, garnering prices that outstrip the likes of Francisco de Goya and Marcel Duchamp, as the New York Times noted. That brought digital art as non-fungible tokens (NFT) into the art world’s mainstream overnight.