Our list this year has been determined by the choices that influenced our industry in 2020. While we may not agree with these choices, or endorse those who made them, these are the people who made a difference to the crypto industry in 2020 — and who will guide the direction of the sector in 2021.
All of us
We don’t know who you are. You could be in Argentina or Zimbabwe. You could be Anastasia or Zeke. You could be eighteen or eighty. We don’t care who you are, either.You could be conservative or liberal. Introverted or extroverted. WWE or MMA. It doesn’t matter. This is not to say we don’t care about you, a real, live human being — we do. We think you’re quite lovely, and thank you for reading.
But in the decentralized networks in which we have made the choice to participate, our characters and characteristics, our predilections and prejudices, our commonalities and contrasts can be left at the door. They’re unnecessary, thank you.
For a space awash in under-30 (and even some under-20) talent, Cronje is notable for being a late bloomer — so late, in fact, that he was already a “late bloomer” when he first entered computer science nearly 20 years ago.
Cronje initially gravitated toward the field because his then-roommate needed rides to college classes in the early 2000s. Though Cronje was working as a lawyer at the time, he found himself increasingly interested in the material and ended up taking the classes himself. His talent was apparent, and in just a few short years, he was a lecturer educating other students in the field.
Still in his twenties, Sam Bankman-Fried is so committed to never missing an opportunity that he’s known to sleep on the bean bag at his Hong Kong office desk. After finishing his physics degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014, Bankman-Fried spent three years as a trader at the quantitative trading firm Jane Street Capital before founding his own trading firm and liquidity provider, Alameda Research, in 2017.
Bankman-Fried founded the cryptocurrency and derivatives exchange FTX in 2019, which has grown quickly to become the sixth-largest exchange by volume, boasting a $3.5 billion valuation. He is also a well-known philanthropist and may have aspirations to political influence, donating $5.2 million to President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign.
Michael Saylor, the head of business intelligence firm MicroStrategy, went from bashing Bitcoin in 2013 to being one of the digital asset’s most enthusiastic proponents in 2020. Coming from a military background, Saylor excelled in school, earning multiple degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Also a pilot, Saylor spent a period of time with the United States Air Force Reserve. He founded MicroStrategy in 1989.
Barry Silbert was an early investor in the crypto industry, getting his start all the way back in 2012. Before getting into crypto, Silbert received his Bachelor of Arts in finance at Emory University, worked as an investment banker at Houlihan Lokey and was the CEO of Restricted Stock Partners. He went on to found two of the most widely known enterprises in the cryptocurrency industry, Grayscale Investments and Digital Currency Group.
Grayscale is most well known for its flagship Bitcoin investment trust, while DCG provides seed funding for blockchain-related companies, as well owning and operating Grayscale and Genesis Trading. An early investor in Coinbase and Ripple, Silbert has been named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by Ernst & Young and has also made Fortune’s “40 Under 40” list.
Hayden Adams came onto the crypto scene when he decided to learn how to code using the Solidity language that powers the Ethereum network. This was after he was laid off by tech giant Siemens, which was, according to him, “The best thing that ever happened to me.”
Thereafter, Hayden perfected his knowledge of automated market makers and decentralized exchanges, which led him to launch Uniswap in late 2018. The second version of the DEX came in May 2020, and soon, the total value locked on the decentralized application was going through the roof, inspired in part by the SushiSwap liquidity mining rush. But even with SushiSwap now running its own gig, Uniswap is still going from strength to strength.
Juan Benet is an American computer scientist who founded Protocol Labs in 2014. The following year, he created the InterPlanetary File System, a peer-to-peer network protocol for storing and sharing data in a distributed file system.
In August 2017, Benet launched the Filecoin project, raising over $200 million in just 30 minutes during an initial coin offering. Filecoin builds on IFPS and allows users to rent out their unused hard-drive space, logging all transactions on a blockchain.
A Wall Street veteran, Caitlin Long first came across Bitcoin in 2012 in economics circles at the Austrian School. She fully immersed herself in 2013 when an article on how to buy and store Bitcoin hit her inbox. With a passion for “honest ledgers” and the goal to make securities markets fairer by issuing and trading securities on a blockchain, Long was chairwoman and president of the blockchain startup Symbiont until 2018.
She co-founded Wyoming Blockchain Coalition in 2017 and served as a gubernatorial appointee at the Wyoming Blockchain Task Force until 2019. Long currently chairs WyoHackathon, a nonprofit hackathon, and is CEO of Avanti Financial Group.
Kris Marszalek founded cryptocurrency payments company Monaco in 2016 as a way to give everyday users better control over their finances and data. The company rebranded to Crypto.com in 2018 to better reflect its core mission to accelerate the global adoption of cryptocurrency, and it now offers crypto debit cards, centralized and decentralized exchange services, and more.
A self-described lifelong company builder, Marszalek founded several startups before venturing into the crypto space, including major e-commerce platform Beecrazy, which he sold to iBuy Group Limited in 2013. Prior to launching Crypto.com, Marszalek served as CEO of Ensogo, an online discount retailer in Southeast Asia.
Little is known about PlanB, one of the most revered analysts in the cryptocurrency space. Sheltering under a pseudonym he has used everywhere from social media to video interviews, the quantitative analyst has spent several years examining and forecasting Bitcoin price action. Hailing from the Netherlands, he came to Bitcoin with a background in law and quantitative finance. In addition to his now world-renowned Stock-to-Flow Bitcoin price models, PlanB also works as an investment manager, adding that he is part of the team that handles a balance sheet worth billions of dollars.