1- Andre Cronje
Independent DeFi developer and founder of Yearn.finance
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.
Over the next decade, he took on a variety of tech roles, bringing his skill set to telecom, neural networks and finally fintech. In 2016, during a chance lull in his work — one owing to his business partner’s absence for a honeymoon — he grew interested in blockchain. Previously a code reviewer and partner at Crypto Briefing, he’s also worked as a technical adviser for the Fantom Foundation.
Though he was a known element well prior to Yearn, Cronje rose to widespread prominence on the back of the first yield vault project: Yearn.finance.
What started as a personal project to automate decentralized finance yield generation became a near-mythic institution following Yearn’s July “fair launch” in which all YFI governance tokens were distributed to liquidity providers, with none reserved for the founding team. While Cronje has since labeled such a distribution method a “mistake,” it brought the founder cult-like levels of adoration and earned him comparisons to Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto.
However, in late September — arguably at the peak of Cronje’s popularity — $15 million was taken from a bonding curve contract for Eminence, an unreleased nonfungible-token gaming project Cronje had been developing. Though the project was weeks away from production, on-chain sleuths discovered the associated contracts and piled in. The lost funds led to tension between a community that had once adored and perhaps blindly trusted Cronje and a development-focused founder who was implicitly being asked to make thousands of investors rich.
The fallout led to an unusual multimonth lull from Cronje, as well as multiple (false) reports that he’d left both Yearn and DeFi development.
However, in late November, Cronje and Yearn roared back, announcing a string of what were referred to as “acquisitions,” “mergers” or “collaborations,” depending on who you talked to, with a half dozen DeFi projects. The expansion spree bolstered Yearn’s developmental resources and cemented its ecosystem as the central star around which much of DeFi’s innovation swirls.
While Cronje told Cointelegraph that he’s “not part of yearn hierarchy” and that he hasn’t “been actively involved with yearn day to day” since the fair launch, he remains a figurehead in the eyes of many, announces many key Yearn developments on his personal Twitter, and continues to act as the driving force behind many of Yearn’s most exciting developments.
In a Twitter thread in late December 2020, Synthetix co-founder Kain Warwick predicted that in 2021, Cronje will “launch 58 new projects. And will eventually be revealed as a shapeshifting lizard person from Rylon 5, a race of super intelligent Caiman like people seeking to bring enlightenment to lesser planets.”
Setting aside whether or not the extraterrestrial origin of Cronje’s brilliance will be unmasked, Warwick is taking one thing for granted: the Yearn founder’s innate desire to build.
Though he’s bristled at certain press coverage in the past, Cronje admitted to Cointelegraph that profiles portraying him as flighty — ready to abandon DeFi in favor of World of Warcraft on little more than a whim — are “100% fair.”
“When it stops being fun, I stop doing it,” he said.
This makes his future in DeFi uncertain, given his vocal distaste for speculators and traders looking to make a quick buck. It’s a paradoxical, potentially untenable dynamic: If the clamoring of the apes doesn’t drive him away, Cronje will continue to drive untold billions of value for DeFi, thereby enriching the apes.
It’s important to remember, however, that Cronje is not obliged to keep building and he doesn’t owe anyone anything. But we owe it to ourselves to try and keep him around — the world will be a better, more interesting place for it.
2- Sam Bankman-Fried
Founder and CEO of Alameda Research and FTX
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.
Despite his “tradfi” background, Bankman-Fried became a prominent figure during the decentralized finance boom of 2020. Unusually, he’s fairly agnostic about much of the space (though happy to make money from it) and takes a rather dim view of Ethereum in favor of his preferred platform, Solana. He built his decentralized exchange, Serum, on Solana and launched its namesake token in August.
Bankman-Fried’s Alameda is believed by many to have played a big role in various market moves, such as crashing the price of Yearn.finance’s YFI in October by shorting it — though Bankman-Fried has downplayed his impact. He was also unexpectedly handed control of SushiSwap by Chef Nomi in September following the uproar over Chef Nomi selling 38,000 Ether and crashing the price of SUSHI. Toward the end of that month, FTX launched “fractional stock offerings” — tokenized products representing shares of firms, including Tesla, Apple and Amazon.
Synthetix founder Kain Warwick said that the “tradfi” background of Bankman-Fried, who is also known as SBF, forced everyone in decentralized finance to sharpen up to compete. “Equities and other tradfi markets are hyper-efficient and if you’ve been successful there, you are used to thinking in fractions of a percent,” he said.
“That kind of laser focus, combined with access to large amounts of capital, was a bit of a shock to the nascent DeFi ecosystem when SBF first popped up earlier in the year. But I think many projects and DeFi players learned a lot from how Alameda, FTX and SBF himself came in and really went after every last cent.”
Bankman-Fried was named to Forbes’ 2021 ”30 Under 30” list in the category of finance, suggesting he is also making waves outside the crypto industry. Alameda, FTX and Serum will continue to release innovative products, such as FTX’s freshly launched Coinbase initial public offering futures.
He will continue to work toward his stated aim of attracting more than 1 billion people to decentralized finance and cryptocurrency, with FTX’s recent purchase of Blockfolio expected to bolster his own platform’s numbers. He’ll also continue to push for the adoption of Solana and oversee the growth of the Serum ecosystem.
3- Michael Saylor
Founder, chairman and CEO of MicroStrategy
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.
In August, MicroStrategy publicized buying $250 million worth of Bitcoin for its treasury reserves. The company placed an additional $175 million into Bitcoin shortly thereafter, for a total stack worth about $425 million. Saylor revealed in subsequent comments that he had personally bought millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin for himself as well.
MicroStrategy’s Bitcoin allocations came at the beginning of the recent mainstream financial trend around the digital coin. A number of other mainstream giants publicized their Bitcoin investments following Saylor’s moves, including Square and MassMutual.
MicroStrategy bought even more Bitcoin in December — $650 million worth. Saylor made numerous bullish comments about Bitcoin throughout 2020, lighting up Twitter with bizarre threads that caused some commentators to wonder whether they could get some of what they suspected he was enjoying.
Unless the strong bullish price trend of Bitcoin changes, or some other unforeseen issue arises, Cointelegraph expects Saylor’s advocacy for Bitcoin to continue. After all, in recent months, he has become one of the most bullish mainstream players holding the digital asset. His comments appear to indicate as much, with the CEO stating that he is interested in Bitcoin for the long term — both for MicroStrategy as well as himself. His stance on Bitcoin as a hedge against inflation should also solidify as the United States continues to fight pandemic-induced economic difficulties with government spending.
MicroStrategy may even add further BTC to its holdings as other mainstream financial players jump on board the trend. As of the company’s final purchase in 2020, MicroStrategy now holds 70,470 BTC. They have cumulatively allocated over $1 billion to the asset. Due to Saylor and MicroStrategy’s massive BTC holdings, they’ll be eyeing significant profits in the future, so long as Bitcoin continues its bull run.
Saylor will also likely continue nudging other companies and celebrities like Elon Musk to buy Bitcoin while offering to advise them on the process. MicroStrategy hosted a class for corporations on the subject in February.
4- Barry Silbert
Founder and CEO of Digital Currency Group
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.
In 2020, Silbert continued to lead his firms into the cryptocurrency bull market. As Bitcoin’s price began to really take off in December, Grayscale brought back its “drop gold” campaign with a 30-second television ad on major networks in the United States.
Digital Currency Group expanded significantly in 2020. In August, DCG announced it was getting into the cryptocurrency mining game with its subsidiary Foundry. The new firm aims to meet institutional demand for capital access and offers crypto mining equipment financing, mining and staking, and advisory services as well.
In September, DCG acquired cryptocurrency exchange Luno, six years after providing the exchange seed funding. Luno co-founder and CEO Marcus Swanepoel said that DCG’s full backing will help the exchange expand and onboard new customers.
In 2021, Silbert will continue to drive crypto adoption as institutions increasingly join the now $1 trillion cryptocurrency market. Indeed, as the world rang in the new year, Grayscale announced that it bought three times the amount of Bitcoin mined in December 2020, bringing its total assets under management to $20 billion dollars.
Early in the year, Silbert stepped down from his role of CEO at Grayscale and was replaced by the firm’s longtime managing director, Michael Sonnenshein. Silbert left the position in order to concentrate on his role at DCG, which experienced massive growth in 2020.
Like many in the crypto space, Silbert has his eyes on which company will be the first to go public with an initial public offering. He said, “All eyes are on the Coinbase IPO, which will result in the repricing of many companies in the space, and accelerate [mergers and acquisitions].”
Meanwhile, some analysts have predicted that a DCG IPO could fetch as much as $4 billion.
5- Hayden Adams
Founder of Uniswap
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.
Uniswap became one of the hottest crypto projects of 2020, spearheading the DeFi rush, and it’s still the biggest DEX by volume, despite several setbacks and a decision by the community to close down the Ether-based pools for its UNI token. No doubt in part due to the efforts by Hayden, in November, the exchange reached over $3 billion in total value locked, even surpassing Coinbase Pro by daily exchange volume at one point. Uniswap was also responsible for a quite sizable airdrop, giving out some 150 million UNI tokens to users and liquidity providers.
The biggest disappointment, however, came when a code copycat exchange by the name of SushiSwap took liquidity off Uniswap, with SushiSwap now posing to be the main competitor of the pink and white unicorn.
With the third version of the DEX in sight, the platform seeks to work on the three main areas: governance, scaling and improving its automated money-making. Nate Hindman, head of growth at Bancor, told Cointelegraph:
“We hope Hayden, Uniswap and the entire AMM ecosystem will join in Bancor’s efforts to mitigate impermanent loss and make liquidity provision in AMMs less risky and more transparent for users.”
In November 2020, Carlsbad Sunshine, CEO of LID, told Cointelegraph that “Uniswap is going to be around for a long time, and pooling may evolve, but it’s not going to end.”
Now, it will be up to Hayden to live up to such lofty expectations and build upon the successes that Uniswap saw last year. Will Uniswap manage to stay ahead of the pack and fend off the fierce competitors in the form of Curve and SushiSwap? So far, 2021 is playing out well for the DEX.
6- Juan Benet
Founder and CEO of Protocol Labs
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.
More than three years following its ICO, the FIL token was finally listed on major exchanges in October, pumping 118% within the first week of trading.
A month later, Filecoin storage topped 1 billion GB, and a wrapped FIL was made available for use in decentralized finance. Filecoin also announced a collaboration with Huobi to fund a $10 million incubation center to support the ecosystem. By that point, the token price had returned to pre-pump levels.
Benet’s year wasn’t without controversy, however. Shortly after FIL was listed, he had to defend the platform against claims that Filecoin miners were striking, and earlier in the year, he had a public Twitter spat with Tron’s Justin Sun. The conflict was over the alleged similarities between Sun’s BitTorrent File System and IPFS — even down to the logo.
Filecoin’s journey seems to have only just begun in 2020. Following its mainnet launch and subsequent growth, development on the platform has continued.
Among the potential areas for future development, Benet has mentioned the possible introduction of queuing theory to improve the efficiency of the gas model, quality-of-service guarantees for certain message and transaction types, and a means of introducing encrypted transactions for future execution. Whatever happens, 2021 is sure to be an eventful year for Benet and Filecoin.
Jonathan Dotan, a fellow at Stanford’s Blockchain Research Center and a writer/producer for HBO’s Silicon Valley who recently worked with Benet and Filecoin, had this to say:
“This year’s Mainnet launch for Filecoin was a major milestone for Juan Benet and the entire team he leads at Protocol labs. But it’s just the beginning. Juan strives towards goals measured in centuries and millennia. That might sound audacious and naive, but it’s exactly how the early internet founders conceived of their task. So, as we all embark on our generation’s calling to architect the internet we deserve, Juan’s vision is important to hear out. Listen for what it inspires in all of us to give to generations far beyond us.”
7- Caitlin Long
Founder and CEO of Avanti Financial Group
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.
Long made several headlines last year for her voice in the crypto regulatory arena. In February, she announced the establishment of the first crypto-native bank in the U.S., Avanti Financial Group. In October, the firm received a charter to operate from the Wyoming State Banking Board, just behind San Francisco-based crypto exchange Kraken.
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon appointed Long to be a member of the Wyoming blockchain committee, and she used her influence to appeal to crypto users and others to support pro-crypto legislation in the state. June saw Long advocate for banking giant JPMorgan Chase to move to Wyoming to protect itself from a potential skyrocketing Bitcoin price.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many crypto events and conferences from taking place in 2020, Long was still an active speaker. She participated in both the Wyoming Blockchain Stampede and April’s Virtual Blockchain Week, urging firms to provide greater transparency in the crypto space and “not to recreate the same thing that happened in the traditional financial industry.”
Going into 2021, pro-crypto Republican Senator Cynthia Lummis will take her seat representing Wyoming. The pairing of a crypto-friendly regulatory environment and a pro-Bitcoin lawmaker may help further crypto adoption in the new year. Long has stated that Lummis wants to defend Bitcoin “against federal encroachment” and “believes in the philosophy” behind the digital asset.
Long may have several speaking engagements in 2021 as her state becomes a likely litmus test for the federal regulation of crypto in the United States. This year’s WyoHackathon will most likely be held in September.
8- Kris Marszalek
Co-founder and CEO of Crypto.com
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.
A relatively new player in the crypto space, Crypto.com exploded in popularity in 2020. Marszalek started the year off with Crypto.com announcing a series of integrations, including with Travala.com, Ecwid and Ledger. According to Ledger CEO Pascal Gauthier, Marszalek’s spot in this year’s Top 100 is well deserved:
“Kris has been one of these global ambitious entrepreneurs able to think big and bring products and services at scale to the crypto communities. Kris and Crypto.com move fast and deliver quality products.”
In May, Crypto.com expanded access to its flagship crypto-backed debit cards to include the European Union, later acquiring licenses to operate in Canada, Australia and Malta, as well. Marszalek has stated that he hopes to bring the debit card to the rest of the world.
Crypto.com joined the world of decentralized finance in the fall by launching a decentralized exchange, DeFi Swap. Propelled by the success of its debit cards, a rise in digital payment use, and user interest in staking its native Crypto.com Coin, the platform reached 5 million users in October — up fivefold from its just 1 million users in September 2019.
Marszalek has said that he intends to secure more regulatory licenses in 2021 and that his next goal is 15 million users. Within the next five years, he hopes to have 150 million users on the platform. In addition, Crypto.com’s recent foray into the ever-expanding DeFi space positions it well for 2021.
Cointelegraph expects the company to continue its expansion and growth and be a major driver of the mainstream adoption of crypto, providing an easy on-ramp for users to not only purchase cryptocurrencies but spend them in places that only accept fiat currencies. By bringing in additional users into its ecosystem through its debit card offerings, it is very possible that Crypto.com will establish itself as a ready competitor to major crypto exchanges.
Creator of the Bitcoin Stock-to-Flow model
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.
2020 was the year that PlanB arguably saw his biggest test yet. Having stuck by his Stock-to-Flow family of Bitcoin price models, 2020 saw rare criticism heat up after Bitcoin fell to $3,600. A glance at Twitter would reveal him vigorously defending Stock-to-Flow and its price targets, as many began to argue that Bitcoin would not be able to keep up with its demands. This ultimately proved to be untrue, as Bitcoin finished 2020 almost exactly where it “should” be regarding Stock-to-Flow. PlanB also released different iterations of the indicator this year, incorporating other assets such as gold.
2021 looks like it will be an exciting year for the enigmatic analyst. In terms of public activity, however, it could be his last. As 2020 came to a close and with Bitcoin accelerating, he confirmed that he planned to “go dark” and disappear from the public arena once the price reached high enough levels. In May 2020, PlanB suggested that the cut-off point for this to happen would be once BTC hits six figures. By that point, he argued, the U.S. dollar will be under threat and a war will ensue to claim the quickly diminishing available supply of Bitcoin. Until then, though, we can likely expect plenty more Stock-to-Flow updates and, as in previous years, we can marvel at the model’s precision.
Co-founder and partner of Morgan Creek Digital
Anthony Pompliano, an American entrepreneur and venture capitalist, is one of the biggest figures in crypto. Also referred to as “Pomp” in the crypto community, he is famous for hosting The Pomp Podcast and publishing “The Pomp Letter,” a daily crypto-related newsletter, to over 45,000 investors. Pomp is also a co-founder and partner at Morgan Creek Digital, the crypto arm of major investment management firm Morgan Creek Capital.
Pompliano is one of the biggest crypto influencers on Twitter, holding an audience of nearly 460,000 subscribers. As a major industry advocate, Pompliano is known for his pro-Bitcoin stance, predicting itn to outperform gold in market capitalization in less than a decade and break $400,000 in the long term. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, double-majoring in economics and sociology. He also served as a sergeant in the United States Army between 2006 and 2012.
Over the course of 2020, Pompliano actively maintained his bullish stance on Bitcoin, reiterating his positive BTC predictions multiple times. In early 2020, Pomp again predicted that Bitcoin will have broken the $100,000 threshold by the end of 2021.
In March, Pompliano rebranded his Off The Chain podcast to The Pomp Podcast to more accurately represent its content. The podcast was included in Forbes’ “Top Crypto Podcasts Of 2020” list.
Pompliano’s crypto investment firm, Morgan Creek Digital, provided funding for a number of crypto initiatives in 2020, participating in two funding rounds for American crypto lending startup BlockFi. In August, the firm led BlockFi’s $50 million Series C round after participating in a $30 million Series B round in February. In 2020, Morgan Creek Digital also invested in crypto bank Avanti and blockchain securitization platform Cadence.
The company also provided notable support to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through Dave Portnoy’s Barstool Fund. Morgan Creek Digital set up a Bitcoin address through The Giving Block to drive at least $750,000 worth of donations in crypto.
The question of how Pompliano’s $100,000 Bitcoin prediction will play out is probably one of the most exciting things about crypto in 2021 amid Bitcoin’s surge up to $42,000 in January.
Cointelegraph expects Pompliano to further expand his audience, with thousands of people willing to learn more about Bitcoin and crypto in 2021. Cointelegraph also anticipates that Morgan Creek Digital will support a number of promising crypto ventures with investments this year.