Like many people in crypto, Sam Bankman-Fried is in it for the money. As the founder of quant trading firm Alameda Research, exchange FTX and DeFi protocol Serum, the curly haired 28-year-old has amassed a $10 billion fortune in just three years in the industry.
Unlike most people in crypto though, he’s building up a fortune in order to give half of it away. An ‘effective altruist’ he’s essentially robbing from the rich, via his preternatural crypto trading strategies, in order to give to the poor.
“Maybe without the robbing part,” he says. “In the end my goal is to have as much impact as I can, however that is. And right now, I think that’s flowing through donations, so figuring out how I can be able to make as much as I can and donate as much as I can.”
SBF, as he’s sometimes referred to, has been walking the walk for some time now. He spent a couple of months as the director of development at the Centre for Effective Altruism in 2017 and before that, gave away half of his income during his stint on Wall Street. He plans on giving away around 50% of his crypto billions too — but only after he’s finished reinvesting in his ever-expanding empire.
He does donate to causes as they come up however. He was the second largest donor to President Joe Biden’s campaign, after former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, tipping in $5.2 million.
“I was excited about the impact it might have. I basically thought that it mattered what happened in the election.”
Also, the FTX Foundation launched recently. It’ll give away 1% of the platform’s fees and match user donations dollar for dollar up to $10,000 a day. In its first couple of weeks the Foundation has raised more than $2M, mostly in user contributions, with users able to vote on the recipient charities from a carefully curated list.
The old bean bag
SBF’s growing public profile was given a shot in the arm when he was named on Forbes 30 Under 30 finance list for this year. “I’m honored,” he says. “I tend to be fairly forward looking instead of backward look and so it was cool for a bit but it sort of wore off pretty quickly.”
He also came in at number three in the recent Cointelegraph Top 100.
Famous for sleeping on his bean bag at his Hong Kong office so he never misses a trade, and it seems a key reason SBF makes more money than anyone else is that he’s barely ever off the clock.
“I’m at the office, well usually 24 hours a day. I’ll sometimes just nap on a beanbag here and obviously shoot the shit with coworkers and sometimes with people online, but mostly its work.”
He doesn’t have a girlfriend or even see many people outside of work, though he makes time to speak with his family back in the U.S. “a few times a week on the phone.” It’s safe to say SBF isn’t the type of person desperate to strike the perfect work/life balance or who even accepts that productivity decreases after the first 11 hours or so at work.
“I think that sort of narrative is substantially oversold and the brutal or inspiring truth, depending on how you think about it, is that the more you put in, the more you get out,” he says. “It’s motivating for me and it’s fulfilling, but you know, another piece of it is that, it’s how I think I can have the most impact.”
How did I get here?
The child of two Stanford Law professors, SBF discovered the Effective Altruism movement during his Physics degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Popularized by philosophers and ethicists including Toby Ord and Peter Singer the movement is focused on pragmatic ways to help others using science and reason to ensure the benefits are maximized, rather than the good intentions and poor outcomes that characterize some charitable organizations. This practical approach also extends to a hard headed examination of the best way an individual can help.
“Imagine the amount of good that you could do working directly for some cause, versus the amount that you could do working on Wall Street and donating to it. In a lot of cases you could probably actually help them out more with the donations. And so basically I checked out Wall Street.”
Friends who’d interned at quant trading firm Jane Street Capital gave him the pathway to Wall Street, and he began working there straight after college in 2014. Why did they hire a physics major with very little financial experience straight out of school you ask?
It turns out quant trading strategies are “super valuable” trade secrets which means no one teaches the successful ones in Uni degrees. Instead, firms recruit people with raw talent: maths whizzes or people with strong backgrounds in physics or computer science.
“What you need to know about markets, they’ll teach,” he says. He traded a variety of ETFs, futures, currencies and equities and designed an automated OTC trading system. While there he became interested in the insanely profitable arbitrage opportunities in the inefficient crypto markets and set up crypto quant trading firm Alameda Research to profit from it in late 2017.
The whale to rule all whales
Alameda Research has now grown to become one of the biggest companies in crypto with around $2.5 billion in assets under management, although as with his own fortune, SBF qualifies this with some provisos around liquid and illiquid assets.
Alameda is the Moby Dick of crypto whales, responsible for up to 10% of the cryptocurrency moving around the markets at any one time. “I think at particular times it can get up to about that fraction of the volume,” he says. “I think it averages a bit lower. It’s solidly in the group of the five to ten larger trading firms in the space.”
That means any trade Alameda takes has the potential to move markets and cause liquidations. In October last year, Alameda was widely blamed for crashing the price of YFI by shorting, though SBF has downplayed any impact. He believes that with great power comes great responsibility.
“It’s absolutely a responsibility,” he says, adding that he tries to follow the approach of TradFi quant firms. “Their role is to find profitable trades, but it’s also to provide liquidity and promote healthy markets,” he says. “The biggest duty is the duty to do no harm. And to make sure that what you do is, on the whole, promoting liquidity in healthy markets and efficient trading, as opposed to intervening in it.”
He adds that arbitrage trades, for example, can have positive impacts as it makes markets more efficient and brings down prices where there are premiums. Identifying and working out how to profit from arbitrage trades was the whole reason Alameda was founded. “One of the first big ones that we actually made some money on was Litecoin,” he recalls.
“There was a week in late 2017 when Litecoin was trading at a consistent 20% premium on Coinbase GDAX [now Coinbase Pro]. There’s sort of this idea like ‘Oh that’s cool, you just make 10% every half hour I guess you make infinity dollars?’ And of course, that’s not the answer.”
It turns out that trying to exploit the opportunity was hideously complicated and required, getting around trade size limits, and withdrawal limits of a million a day. “Especially a few years ago in crypto an enormous piece of the problem was figuring out the logistical steps,” he says.
Another arbitrage trade saw SBF and friends move up to $25M a day through a series of intermediaries and rural banks in Japan to take advantage of the famous Kimchee premium, which saw Bitcoin trading for up to a third more in South Korea’s hard to access financial system than the U.S.
But it was dealing with the legacy financial system that threw up the biggest challenges. “The single hardest part of the arbitrage, the piece that was slowest and hardest and most expensive and most frustrating was the fiat,” he says, noting difficulties getting accounts, which could then be shut at any moment, the archaic procedures and bureaucracy and insanely slow wire transfers.
“We spent five man hours per day in physical bank branches for a good solid five months, because that’s what it took to send the wire transfers,” he says, adding:
“Like got there at 10am and stayed till 1pm with multiple people there, to have all the meetings we had to have every single f–king day of the week, in order to send the same wire transfer we sent yesterday.”
This is one reason SBF is so passionate about DeFi – his vision is for it to one day replace the lumbering existing financial system. “The current payment rails are not efficient at all,” he says. There’s trillions of dollars of companies, which are just built around trying to abstract that away and you end up with this incredibly complex web of shit to make it usable for most people. They’re running on systems that are old and not designed even with the internet in mind.”
For many people SBF sprang fully formed as a major crypto and DeFi personality during the mid-2020 DeFi boom, as he began to make an impact on Crypto Twitter. This was a deliberate move: he’d been happy to fly under the radar in 2018 because Alameda’s quant trading focus had: “Very little need for publicity, it’s sort of mostly downside.” But when he launched the innovative crypto exchange FTX in 2019 he needed to build a community around it and he stepped up to become its public face on social media.
“With FTX as a retail facing business the more customers the better. You can build the best product in the world but if no one knows about it it’s not worth anything,” he says.
“One of the hardest and most interesting pieces has been figuring out how to get users, and increasing awareness was a big part of that.”
He seems to have figured it out as FTX became the fifth largest derivatives exchange by volume, with a $3.5 billion valuation. It’s launched a range of innovative markets, including tokenized fractional stock offerings of companies like Tesla, Apple and Amazon, as well as pre-IPO trading in Coinbase.
He’s also using his wealth and influence to try and overcome what he sees as the biggest blocker preventing the wide scale adoption of DeFi. He believes that Ethereum, including Eth2 can’t scale enough to allow crypto and DeFi to replace the existing financial system. DeFi can currently handle about 10 transactions per second, with second layer solutions enabling a few thousand TPS.
“This is an absolute hard, immoveable barrier, in terms of growth,” he says. “DeFi just literally cannot grow as an ecosystem until that is addressed. And so no long-term plan that doesn’t address it is viable. […] That is just fatal.” Even Eth2’s goal of 100,000 TPS isn’t enough for what SBF has in mind.
“If your goal is to scale to 100 million or a billion users, […] if you want to have the upside of an application that might grow to the scale of the largest applications in the world, it needs to be able to scale up to about a million transactions a second. And so you can just sort of cross off the list permanently with no recourse and not even needing to consider any other factor, any scaling solution that doesn’t get there, if that’s your goal.”
That’s what led him to become one of the most vocal proponents for Solana, a blockchain that can currently process 65,000 TPS and whose team claim it can eventually scale up to astonishing levels: 710,000 TPS on a 1 gigabit link or 28.4 million TPS on a 40 gigabit link.
He founded the Serum DEX on Solana and launched the SRM cryptocurrency in August 2020. Bankman-Fried say you can see Solana’s benefits in Serum’s on chain order book matching engine and fees of “100th of a penny to send an order and trades happen in seconds.”
“So you get a lot of juice out of having the higher throughput. And that’s really helped scale up that product base quite a bit. To the point where I think that, you know, our best guess is that, probably Serum DEX in six months of operation has, has consumed more transactions than all of the Ethereum blockchain in history.”
Ethereum’s network effects mean he faces an uphill battle getting DeFi projects and users to migrate to Solana. Even after he was handed control of SushiSwap by Chef Nomi, he was unable to convince the community to port over. “It ended up being way harder than we thought to get the existing projects to port over and way easier to just have new projects built,” he explains, adding:
“We would still be super excited for them to have an outpost on Solana. I think they still may at some point. But I also think that Serums’ gonna march on either way. In the end, like, I sort of want to have the best products and users, you know, however it gets there.”
(Following our interview, a new proposal emerged to build a version of SushiSwap on Solana and Serum, potentially called Bonsai.)
“The other part is that while the current DeFi user base is super devoted, super important and powerful, it’s not that large. Daily active users, I think it’s in the tens of thousands. I think FTX probably has more daily active users than all of DeFi combined.”
SBF’s plan appears to be to embed the Solana blockchain as infrastructure in apps where it’s invisible to most users, in order to onboard millions into DeFi. At the start of 2021, Alameda led a $50 million funding round to embed DeFi style tools in Maps.me, a European offline mapping application with 140 million users. It’ll have a multi-currency wallet with staking and swapping facilities built on Solana. FTX’s purchase of Blockfolio may follow a somewhat similar strategy.
“I think it’s gonna be a really cool product and powerful product suite for the app,” he says of Maps.me. “I’m super excited about it. I think it might really kickstart adoption.
AgeUSD to Launch as First Stablecoin on Cardano Network
Multinational blockchain technology company Emurgo initially announced the AgeUSD stablecoin in January 2021. The firm has since announced a partnership between the Ergo Foundation, Emurgo, and Charles Hoskinson’s Input-Output Global, the parent company of IOHK.
The AgeUSD stablecoin will be available on Cardano as soon as smart contract capabilities are launched on the blockchain, it revealed.
Do We Need Another Stablecoin?
Emurgo is aiming to prevent events like MakerDAO’s Black Thursday which emerged through vulnerabilities in its Dai collateralization mechanism. A mass liquidation of the vast majority of Maker vaults resulted in around $4 million in Dai being under-collateralized at the time in March 2020.
AgeUSD’s so-called “Staticoin” protocol-inspired design does not rely on collateralized debt positions (CDPs).
“Thanks to its design, the scenario that happened on Black Thursday is not possible for the AgeUSD protocol. Without CDPs, we do not have liquidation events nor the requirement for users to perform transactions to ensure that the liquidations actually work properly,”
The stablecoin runs on the Ergo blockchain aiming to automate as much as possible within the mathematics of the protocol itself. Reserve providers pay Ergo’s native currency (ERG) to mint reserve coins which represent the underlying collateral. Users of the stablecoin can also deposit ERG into the reserves in order to mint AgeUSD, it explained. This is only allowed by the protocol if there are enough reserves above its reserve ratio. Banks use a similar method to loan out funds.
The Cardano partnership will also enable its native token, ADA, to be used as collateral to mint reserves. However, the potential downside is that the stablecoin is only backed by these two assets whereas Dai is backed by multiple cryptocurrencies.
AgeUSD will launch on Cardano when it rolls out the Alonzo update that ushers in Plutus powered smart contracts. This is expected in the latter half of this year according to the roadmap.
Cardano ADA Price Update
As the long-awaited update nears, ADA prices have been cranking to new highs, the most recent ATH being $1.55 on April 14. At the time of writing, ADA was trading up 2% on the day at $1.45 according to Coingecko.
It is the sixth largest cryptocurrency by market cap which currently stands at $46 billion and there are 32 billion tokens in circulation. The token was briefly flipped by Dogecoin but has regained its position in the charts, just below Tether.
How sustainable is YFI’s current price run?
The past week saw a lot of growth across the cryptocurrency market, with Bitcoin and Ethereum seeing their values pushed towards new all-time highs. However, it is safe to say that the digital assets market is no longer just about the top two cryptos in the market, with DeFi coins such as YFI registering significant gains on the charts.
Over the past 6 months, YFI has seen its price hike by over 520 percent. Now, while this looks extremely promising for the alt, the truth seems to be in yet another shade of grey. The price hike from over $11k in November 2020 to its press time valuation of $48,415 has been less than straightforward.
Akin to many other altcoins in the market, YFI too has endured extended periods of the price going back and forth. However, given the current market scenario, how sustainable is YFI’s current price or is history going to repeat itself in the form of yet another short-term price correction?
Interestingly, data provided by Santiment highlighted that despite the bullish nature of the YFI market, there may be a bit of FUD finally creeping into the market as the price continues to remain close to the $50k-level. In such a scenario, what YFI really needs is a strong level of support for the price if bearishness is to soon hit the market.
Taking a look at a few of the key fundamentals can provide more clarity on where the price is likely to head in the coming weeks. According to data provided by Santiment, YFI’s supply on exchanges has been stagnant for a while and hasn’t been increasing. While fewer coins in exchanges are normally a good sign of hodling, in the case of YFI, if one were to take a look at past precedents, the price decline began as soon as the supply hit a stalemate.
Additionally, the analytics platform also pointed out that the current price rally began with low on-chain activity for the coin. However, over the past few weeks, a trend reversal has emerged, with on-chain activity noting a surge and the price continuing to be inversely relational to it.
With the price inching closer to its ATH, there is always the question of price discovery. YFI seemed to be lacking in this regard, at press time. The coin’s MVRV, as per Santiment’s data, placed it in the danger zone and prime for a new trend reversal, one that can induce a short-term price correction.
In the coming days, if the price correction does set in, YFI’s $44k-price level may end up being a key support level for the coin. However, if this level is flipped to resistance in the coming weeks, a lot of the upward momentum and price surge YFI saw over the past few months might be undone.
This, once again, will result in YFI’s price continuing its current trend by which the coin will be subject to strong ‘push and pulls’ at regular intervals.
EOS, Synthetix, Maker Price Analysis: 16 April
EOS can be expected to find strong support around the $6.8-zone. If Bitcoin stabilizes above the $60.5k-area, altcoins could have a chance of recovery in the coming days. Otherwise, it would be further selling pressure across the market. Synthetix and Maker posted gains over the past few days, but were likely to retrace a significant portion of their value.
EOS was trading within a rising channel, and the past few hours saw the price test the upper boundary of the channel before falling lower.
The mid-point of the channel was ceded to bearish pressure. A region of demand lay just above the $6.8-mark. The confluence with the channel’s lower boundaries could serve as strong support for EOS.
The RSI was back at neutral 50 and would drop lower to signal a shift in momentum to bearish over the next day or two, especially if EOS closes a session under $6.8. This could see EOS fall further to find support at $5.6.
Synthetix ascended past the $21. 4-level of resistance, but its retest of the same level on the back of strong selling forced the price to drop to $20.7 and could drop further. On the 4-hour, the Supertrend indicator continued to give a buy signal that would only be flipped to sell on a session close under the $19.5-level.
The 20 EMA and 50 EMA (white and yellow respectively) highlighted the bullish momentum behind SNX in recent days, with the price not sinking under these moving averages yet.
The OBV was on an uptrend and suggested that the recent spate of selling was reactionary fear, rather than sustained selling.
Two sets of Fibonacci retracement levels were plotted to highlight some levels of importance for MKR. $2,400 is a level that MKR had been stuck under from late February till the past week. The surge past this level in recent days has been rapid, and the price did not stop at many areas to mark it as support or resistance.
As such, the move back down could be almost as rapid, and some of the Fib levels laid out possible areas of support for MKR.
The MACD was correcting lower after the MACD line rose high above the Signal line to indicate overbought market conditions.
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