Singling out overachievers in a space that hosts more overachievers than there are nodes in a blockchain is no easy task. So buckle up for more controversial moments than Elon Musk’s Twitter feed as we take you through 13 wavemakers who have really made a difference. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. Is there anyone you think we missed?
Satoshi Nakomoto, the man/woman/legend who started it all when they wrote the Bitcoin white paper. Nakomoto holds in the region of 1 million BTC (worth around $5 billion at the time of writing). This also happens to make them one of the richest people on the planet. Questions around the mythical creator abound. Is Satoshi alive? Is Satoshi a group of people? Could it be smart contracts pioneer Nick Szabo, early Bitcoin collaborator Hal Finney, or Dorian Nakamoto who bears the same last name? Whoever Satoshi is, even in their public absence they continue to sway the scepter.
Bit Gold creator
“The quiet master of cryptocurrency,” as one podcaster referred to him. In 2005, blockchain pioneer Szabo proposed the concept of “bit gold” as a form of digital currency, similar to precious metals. Many see his Bit Gold idea as being the precursor to Bitcoin, which has led to speculation about him possibly being the face behind the Satoshi Nakomoto nom de guerre. He has denied the connection but the arguments for are convincing.
Co-founder and CEO of Lightning Labs
Stark’s Lightning Labs aims to speed up payment processes on the Bitcoin blockchain by adding another layer on top of the network, called the Lightning network. It’s a potential solution to one of Bitcoin’s most pressing problems, whether the network can scale to global usage as a truly global currency.
The polymath philanthropist, writer, coder, crypto genius, and co-founder of the world’s second-largest coin, Ethereum, continues to be among the torchbearers in crypto. Buterin co-founded Ethereum in 2013, looking to build on the capabilities of blockchain technology. The Ethereum blockchain enables decentralised applications to run on a decentralised network, using the blockchain for data storage and smart contracts. Seemingly, he’s also a standup human being, recently donating about $1 billion in crypto to a crypto Covid-relief fund for India.
Founder and CEO of Tesla (and other multimillion-dollar enterprises)
In January this year, Elon Musk changed his Twitter bio to “#bitcoin”, resulting in a BTC price spike of almost 20%. Through Tesla, he also invested $1.5 billion in BTC. Musk again recently made headlines by reversing his decision to accept BTC as payment at Tesla, citing worries about the coin’s energy usage. Inevitably, the markets reacted. Musk and his 280-character views on crypto hold some serious sway, whether these views hold water is a topic of heated debate.
Executive director at the Blockchain Association
Smith is the Blockchain Association’s executive director, where she’s primarily focussed on developing a crypto roadmap for public policy. It essentially means that she breaks down and communicates the intricacies of blockchain and crypto on a level that would both make sense and seem legitimate to lawmakers, while also clarifying complicated legal concepts to programmers on the tech side of things. Smith is essentially crypto’s version of the Universal Translator from Star Trek.
Founder of McAfee
Internet security software pioneer turned yoga guru turned cryptocurrency pundit turned fugitive turned prisoner, McAfee’s had an eventful life. His musings and role in the cryptosphere have mostly been pure, outrageous punditry, but in the spirit of any-publicity-is-good-publicity, his role in elevating BTC and other cryptocurrencies to the public sphere is undeniable. McAfee currently keeps busy tweeting from a prison cell in Spain, where he’s serving time for fraud.
Founder of Twitter
The guy who created Twitter has a Bitcoin emoji in his Twitter bio, and a clock in his home/kitchen displaying only the current price of Bitcoin. C’mon, if that doesn’t say love for crypto, what does? The founder of one of the most influential platforms on the planet is also one of the biggest proponents of Bitcoin and blockchain, and recently said that if his payment company Square and Twitter didn’t need his help, he’d be working on the cryptocurrency full time.
Founder of the Digital Currency Group
Blockstream, Coinbase, Ledger, Lightning Network, Ripple, Xapo, Coindesk, and, yes, Luno… Not a bad list of investments that Barry Silbert has given his support and money to through his Digital Currency Group. Founded in 2015, DCG is among the busiest investors in the digital currency industry, with investments in over 150 companies in 30 different countries. Subsidiaries of the company include Grayscale Investments, a digital currency asset manager managing upwards of $20.2 billion in assets, and Genesis, a digital currency broker where clients can trade cryptocurrency.
Founder and CEO of Luno
You know cryptocurrency has filtered down to the layperson’s level when parents ask their children about this “Bitcoin thing.” Emerging markets are often touted as having the most to gain from cryptocurrency adoption, and Marcus Swanepoel has been a key player in making it a reality. Swanepoel founded Luno in 2012, before which crypto users and investors in Africa, Malaysia and further afield were incredibly limited in terms of options. Today, Luno has around 2.1 million users in South Africa alone, where it was founded, which is around the same number as South African Twitter users.
Founder and CEO, Coinbase
After graduating, Armstrong spent time in Argentina working on his education company that matched students to tutors. Here he saw first-hand the effects of hyperinflation on the South American country. Years later, while working as a software engineer at Airbnb, he was again faced with the difficulties of fiat money transactions to and from South American countries. This inspired him to seek an alternative, driving him towards cryptocurrency. In 2012, he received $150,000 from the Y Combinator startup accelerator to pursue his idea for a platform that would enable people around the world to buy and store crypto. This would eventually become Coinbase, one of the world’s leading crypto exchanges today.
Founder and CEO, Binance
Google “CZ” and the first result that pops up is Changpheng Zhao – that’s influence, annexing two letters of the alphabet as your own... Before his career in cryptocurrency, CZ built high-frequency trading systems through his company Fusion Systems. In 2013, he joined Blockchain.info as the third member of the cryptocurrency wallet's team. Binance is currently the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world by trading volume, which is even more impressive if you consider that the platform was founded only four years ago, following a $15 million funding round raised during an initial coin offering.
Founder and CEO of AZA (previously BitPesa)
Rossiello saw in cryptocurrency the solution to costly and lengthy business payments from developing markets to developed markets abroad. AZA is currently operational in every major African currency and facilitates payments into G20 currencies directly. Rossiello sits on the World Economic Forum's Future Council on Blockchain.
With cryptocurrencies going mainstream in a big way, it seems that every month a new crypto influencer enters the fray. It’s an exciting time to be alive, whether you’re a crypto enthusiast or, inevitably, a soon-to-be one.