The Rise of Ethereum, the Future of DeFi, & the Transformation of Crypto Media | Camila Russo

Today's episode of Hidden Forces is made possible
by listeners like you. For more information about this week's episode
or for easy access to related programming, visit our website at and subscribe
to our free email list. If you listen to the show on your Apple podcast
app, remember you can give us a review. Each review helps more people find the show
and join our amazing community. And with that, please enjoy this week's episode. What's up everybody? My guest on this episode of Hidden Forces
is Camila Russo, the host of The Defiant Podcast, and a former Bloomberg News reporter responsible
for covering emerging markets, European stocks and digital assets.

She's also the author of "The Infinite Machine,"
the first official account of the rise of Ethereum. A story full of determination, ingenuity and
intrigue. In the first half of our conversation, I asked
Camilla about her experience working as a journalist in Argentina, how she got interested
in covering cryptocurrencies as well as her process for writing such an ambitious book. The rest of the episode deals mostly with
the book itself including a conversation about the ICO craze of 2017 and the impact that
it's had on Ethereum, its developer community, and investor appetite for funding new ventures
and initiatives in the space. This part of the conversation continues into
the overtime where we also debate whether or not the ICO model itself is the ideal mechanism
by which to fund, early-stage, open source innovations. We also discuss what it's like to be a journalist
covering crypto today, how the media industry in crypto has changed in the years since the
onset of the 2018 bear market and the opportunities for more sophisticated high-quality journalism
in the space going forward.

And with that, please enjoy this week's episode
with my guest Camila Russo. Camila Russo, welcome to Hidden Forces. Hi, Demetri. Thank you so much for having me. It's great having you on. How do you feel? Good. I'm excited. A little bit nervous. A little bit over a week ahead of the launch
of my book. So, it's an interesting time for me. So, does it publish on the 13th or the 14th? The 14th. The 14th. So, Tuesday of next week. This episode is going to publish in all likelihood
on Monday of next week, so people will be listening to it right before the book publishes. But we live in the internet age now, so you
can just pre-order. Yes, please do. So, before we get started, maybe you can give
our listeners a sort of brief background although I am interested in kind of probing into your
background a little bit because you lived in one of my favorite countries. You're from South America and it seems that
a lot of people that have origin stories in crypto have strong intersections with Argentina
specifically. Yeah, yeah. But why don't you tell the listeners your
background, where you're from and how you got into the space.

Sure. So, like I mentioned, I'm from Chile, from
Santiago. I'm a financial journalist. I did, most of my career at Bloomberg News. I was there covering markets, started out
as an internship in New York then I went to Argentina for over four years and Madrid,
then back to New York. And that's when I was in New York in 2017,
I really started covering crypto and I was completely fascinated by the space, and pitched
to write a book on the history of Ethereum in end of 2017.

In 2018, I started writing the book with HarperCollins. And 2019, I left Bloomberg to finish the book
and also because I wanted to do something on my own. Once I turned in the first draft of my book,
The Infinite Machine in June of last year, I founded The Defiant which is a newsletter
that's becoming more of a media company focusing on decentralized finance. So, that's me. Well, that's exciting. Now, you open up a whole new front of questions. So, you started The Defiant and you said in
June 2019? Yep. And when did you leave Bloomberg to focus
on writing the book? January 2019. January. So, you're very ambitious. Where were you in the writing process at that
point in time? When I started The Defiant or when I- No, when you left Bloomberg. Oh, I was probably like halfway done through
writing the book. So, you already felt pretty confident about
how long was it going to take you at that point? Yeah, yeah. Like I had the goal of turning in my draft
by June.

I didn't want to delay it any further. I really wanted to publish a book as soon
as possible and I wanted to do it in the best way possible, so I just thought I don't want
to be doing my job at Bloomberg halfway. I don't want to be doing the book half way
and so that's why I decided to leave. Honestly, after eight years in the same company,
I thought it was time to start something new. Yeah, people say Bloomberg is like the Borg. So, get assimilated.

Yeah, you get wrapped in. Yeah. So, I normally ask my guests when or how they
got the idea to write their books. But in your case, the idea itself as you wrote
in your own book it was something that it seemed almost very obvious, why hadn't it… The only question was why hadn't anyone done
it? Yeah. But I wonder maybe then the appropriate question
to ask is when or how did you get the idea that you were the person to write the first
official story of Ethereum.

That's a good question. First, I want to give like a little bit of
background of when I became interested in crypto and it was back in Argentina. Like you said, a lot of people who are driven
to the space have this kind of intersection with Argentina at some point in their lives
and that was the case for me and it was in 2013 covering Argentine markets, seeing how
people were really being hurt by double-digit inflation and currency controls. I wrote about how people were using bitcoin
to protect their savings and skirt these currency controls. And so since then, I was always really interested
in this space. And then in 2017, like I said, I was back
in New York and really had the opportunity to cover it more like full time because of
the huge interest there was at the time to write about crypto. So, I was at this boom in crypto at Bloomberg
News like one of the biggest financial news organizations and I was one of the few reporters
covering the space there.

So, it really kind of gave me like a crash
course in crypto writing about the space every day and with really good access to the best
sources there were because I was at Bloomberg. So, it was an incredible place to be at the
time. So, at the end of the year I really thought
first, it's amazing what just happened like this explosion in crypto, and I thought it
really needs to be documented. Writing a book is something that I had always
wanted to do so I thought this is kind of my opportunity to finally write a nonfiction
book. And so I knew I wanted to do it in crypto
because that's the space I had been covering and the space that I was fascinated about. Thinking about what the best story was, like
I said, it was pretty obvious like Ethereum was a great story to tell, which hadn't been
told before. And as to why me? I think it's interesting because I think that
this highlights something that I think attracts many people to crypto which is how new it
is and how ripe for innovation it is.

And because it's so new, it feels like nobody
really has ownership to it. At least that's how I felt at the time because
like I was in Argentina, I covered this space for five years almost, but it didn't feel
like it was my place to write a book on Argentina because there are better end reporters who
have been covering Argentina their whole lives who are Argentine, who I don't know, have
so much more experience than I did. But when I was in crypto, it just felt like
I was in a good spot relative to other journalists. Maybe some had a couple years more covering
this space than I did, but it didn't feel like I was like at such a disadvantage to
others. So, I think that's a great point to highlight
that because the space is so new and open and decentralized and nobody owns it, but
I felt that I can tell this story too.

Although, you'd be surprised. The only English book written in English on
the economic history of Argentina that I'm aware of is Paul Blustein's book and that
was, I think written in 2003 and it was titled, And The Money Kept Rolling In. In fact, he cited Casey. He mentioned Mike Casey. He cited Casey in that. So, there actually hasn't been that much written
on Argentina, believe it, which is shocking because it's such an interesting case study. Maybe I should look into that for my next
book. Yeah, that's your next book. Well, so back to Argentina though. Why do you think that so many people have
caught the bug who were either in Argentina or had some intersection with Argentina. Is it because of how dysfunctional their particular
government is and how dysfunctional their currency is? I think it's a mix of things. I think for sure people in Argentina instantly
get the value of an independent, sensorless, monetary system because of how dysfunctional
their own system has been for decades, almost for their entire history. People in Argentina, it's funny because they're
everyone like you talk to a taxi driver and everyone is super financially literate.

Everyone will know the rate of the dollar
a day. Everyone understands what inflation is, which
is obviously very different than countries where you don't need to know all that stuff. But in Argentina, it's kind of like an everyday
topic to understand. Even like the bond risk premium is something
that makes headlines. So, it's something that people get, how much
irresponsible monetary policy and irresponsible fiscal policy can really directly hurt your

So, when people listen to what bitcoin is,
they get it. They get why it's important and significant. And I think another aspect which is maybe
not as talked about is that I think Argentines are really innovative people. And I think it's- They have to be. They're constantly stifled. Yeah. It's true. I've talked about this with different Argentines
and people who have lived there and it's like, it's interesting, the amount of innovation
that comes out of of Argentina and under great entrepreneurs like the few big blue chip stocks
that have come out of Latin America have come out of Argentina, Globant and Mercado Libre,
they're both Argentine companies. So, you have all these examples of Argentines
being great entrepreneurs and great innovators.

And yeah, it's exactly that. It's because they have to be, because they
constantly go through these crises, cycles where they lose everything then there's like
a big boom usually fueled by populism and then they lose everything again. So, they have to constantly be reinventing
themselves. And so I think that's another reason why they're
kind of open-minded to try something new like crypto. I can't remember now what the saying is, but
there's some kind of saying that relates to like there's always a way, how they always
find a way in Spanish. How important, and then we'll move off of
Argentina, but how important was living in Argentina in terms of your sort of interest
in crypto? I don't know if you kind of answer that already. And I looked on my own to see when you first
started writing about it. It looks like you first started writing about
it in 2013 covering Bitcoin, but give me a sense of your personal development and your
interest in this space.

How did that kind of happen? Yeah. Like I mentioned, I think living there was
really instrumental in my interest for crypto. And I think maybe to add more context to this,
my own background coming from Chile before Argentina. So, Chile is a little bit of… In some ways, it's the opposite of Argentina
and that it's very conservative or at least it was. It's changing a little bit. But it's usually one of the more conservative
Latin-American countries when it comes to monetary and fiscal policy. It's been traditionally a pretty stable country
switching between two center right, center left parties. And so I came with this context and having
lived myself that having this more conservative way of handling finances and currency, it
usually works out like Chile has done pretty well compared to its neighbors. And then covering Argentina with Bloomberg,
which meant being constantly looking at markets. So, I was looking at how the black market
dollar was spiking while the government hid the real rate of the dollar and tried to control
the rate by having an artificial official rate, how all these populist policies were
the government just printed money to subsidize people, just cost huge inflation which ended
up costing people in the end.

They say an inflation is a way to tax the
poor and that was definitely the case in Argentina. I was constantly covering the different ways
and very creative ways that Argentines were doing to protect against inflation and it
was very frustrating to see that the government really could come and tell you what you could
and could not do with your own money. I lived that firsthand because I was earning
Argentine pesos when I was working in Argentina. And when I first got there, there weren't
currency controls and the first thing my co-workers told me was, "As soon as you get your salary,
you need to buy dollars and just keep everything in dollars." And I was like okay.

So, when I did that, I got my salary and I
just like online bank. I switched my pesos to dollars. And then one day, a couple of days after Cristina
Fernandez was reelected and I was covering this at the Bloomberg office, she went on
TV and said people aren't allowed to buy dollars anymore, and that was it. No warning, no debate. It didn't have to go through the Senate, nothing. She just announced you're not allowed to buy
dollars anymore. And sure enough, I went into my bank account
and the option of converting my peso account to my dollar account just wasn't there anymore. That just really Illustrated to me how frustrating
it can be when a government just dictates what you can do and you can't do with your
own money. I just couldn't believe it.

So, I think that really kind of… The same thing when I heard about Bitcoin
that it was this independent currency, that that's not controlled by any government or
any central bank, it really did make sense to me and I thought it was a really powerful
idea. Are you surprised that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies
haven't gained more traction in the developing world or in countries like Argentina? Well, yes and no. Like I said, there's definitely a reason to
own Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies especially in countries with inflation and currency controls. So, I would expect anyone who can would own
crypto. But at the same time it's still really hard
to do. It's not a very intuitive process with having
to understand how to handle your private keys and your wallet, and I don't know. I think it's still complicated and takes a
few steps to do. I don't think we're there yet in terms of
onboarding, and fiat, and off-ramps. So, I think it's understandable but not everyone
kind of gets it. Well, we'll have time to get into all the
contemporary stuff in the overtime, but I want to use the rest of our time today and
the full episode at least to discuss the book because as I mentioned to you before we started
it, I agree with you that this is one of those topics that is just strikingly book worthy
and you couldn't have really gone wrong by deciding to focus on it.

And it's very much kind of in the vein of
a digital gold and so far as it follows a very sort of clear structure. It begins with Vitalik pretty much and it
moves through to the post ICO boom period, which is kind of where we're in today. I'm curious, what was the process of writing
the book like? How many people did you interview/ How did
you keep track of all that material? And I also wonder, did you do all your research
or most of it up front and then just kind of do whatever additional research you need
to as you started writing? But was most of it done at the very beginning? I'm kind of curious about that whole process.

Sure, yeah. So, I started researching by first talking
to the very early co-founders. I had like a preliminary conversations with
a few of them. I spoke with I think Charles Hoskinson and
Amir Chetrit, and I think someone like Steve Narov I think. I spoke with a few early people to just give
me like a very broad overview of the early days so that I could structure the early days
part of the book and know who I had to talk to.

So, I did five very preliminary interviews
just to get that rough idea. Then with that and the basic structure kind
of mapped out of the first half of the book like the early days part of the book, I went
to… My goal was just to interview as many people
as possible who were there, who saw things as they happened directly. So, my goal first was after talking with these
early people, I got the sense that there was this group of eight co-founders. So, my thing was like, okay, first get the
eight and then I go from there. I wanted to get Vitalik last. So, you didn't already have a pre-existing
relationship with Vitalik? No. Its very impressive. You must not have any sort of inhibition. You pretty much could just cold call anyone
or go pitch anyone as an individual.

Yeah, basically. That's a good skill to have. It's all that years at Bloomberg where you're
just like pressure to get stuff out every single day. You can't have any in inhibitions. You just need to call people and get an interview. So, I didn't have any like any relationship
with Vitalik at all and just like trust that I'd be able to get to him somehow. So, I spoke with seven co-founders and in
the meantime I was like trying to find a way like someone to contact me with Vitalik because
he didn't initially replied to my email. So, I asked people to introduce me. And so as I was interviewing the very early
people, I was also trying to contact Vitalik. Usually the way I did the interviews was I
tried to do them in person. So, I timed big interviews with conferences
or times where I'd be nearby. An example of that is the interview I did
with Gavin Wood.

I did it in his Berlin apartment and I timed
that with a conference or something. I'm blanking out on what was going on. Yeah, I went to Berlin for an Ethereum Hackathon
or conference in Europe. I timed it with a trip to Souk, to visit the
Souk House. So, I was like actually there at the Souk
House. I went to Berlin. I also went to Amsterdam to interview Jeff
Wilkie, but that didn't end up working out and I had to do the interview over Skype,
so that was a little bit frustrating. That's really exciting. You got to learn a big piece of the history
of cryptocurrencies firsthand. It's really a special experience. You must feel very fortunate. I am. It was an incredible experience. I'm really happy I decided to write this specific
story because I think first, the characters are incredibly interesting. Vitalik himself is just such an amazing character.

This 19 year old genius thinking of this platform,
but beyond that, that stereotype, this really kind of mature leader, I think it must be
really uncommon to see someone like him that's so young and leading such a huge project with
so many different people behind him. Well, you definitely seem to have a high opinion
of him or a soft spot for him in the book. How many hours did you spend with him directly
in conversation in sort of preparing for the writing of the book? So, I interviewed him for I think over two
hours and then emailed back and forth for a lot of the fact-checking.

And then have interviewed him since like… I interviewed him again at ETHWaterloo for
another hour. I saw a recent Q&A that you did with him on
stage. Was that the one? I think the most recent one was for Ethereal. The one where you asked them what the… In fact, that's the same one that you closed
the conclusion of the book with where you asked- Right. Yeah, that's the one. … him about the value of the network. Yeah, yeah. So, I guess three hours with him plus emailing
about fact-checking stuff. I mentioned to you, I think it was before
we started recording that I had Vitalik along with Vlad Zamfir a couple of years ago to
talk about the road map and the problem of scalability.

And it was a very interesting experience to
have him on the show and to engage him in conversation because he is so unorthodox in
the way he thinks and in the way he speaks and communicates. So, that was a valuable experience for me. I'm curious for you, what was that experience
like? When you first met him and you engaged him
in conversation, what did you find most notable and what kind of insight did you glean in
those early interviews? So, I think what surprised me the most was
that I always thought Vitalik would really focus on just the very technical answers and
I think that's because when I had seen him do interviews with other people, that's what
maybe the interviewees focused more on, but anyway.

So, I was expecting him to not want to go
into more personal aspects of his own life and I was a little bit nervous to ask him
about his childhood and what was school like and things like that. I thought he would just brush off and not
want to talk about it, but he was like really happy to go into that like just more personal,
non-technical, like non-Ethereum related questions. So, that was a really good surprise. I mean, you wrote this in the book that he
was growing up an introvert. Yeah. In fact, I think you spoke to at least one
of his teachers in Canada, right? Mm-hmm (affirmative). And then as he got older, he got he became
more extroverted. What accounts for that? Do you think it was just the circumstances
of his role in Ethereum in particular that sort of forced him to grow up sooner than
he would have otherwise? That's one really remarkable thing about Vitalik
that he was extremely introverted when he was a kid at least according to…

I spoke with his mom and dad and his university
professor, that it was tough for him to make friends at first, to participate in class
and share different interests with other kids. According to his mom, he started to come out
of his shell a little bit first when he changed schools to like a smaller more specialized
school. So, that allowed him to meet other people
with similar interests. And I think really with Ethereum having been
forced into this position of leadership, I don't think even if that's not what he liked
really most love and loves to do like standing up on stage and inspiring people, maybe it
wasn't what comes more naturally to him, but he was forced to be in this position because
he believes in Ethereum so much.

So, he just went ahead and did it and got
on stage at that Miami conference when Ethereum was announced and had this huge kind of reaction,
positive reaction to his talk. From there, he kept evolving and improving
and talking onstage, and I guess with time, he got good at it or at least… I mean, I think he's pretty good at public
speaking now and he's very kind of loosened up and makes jokes. I think he's found his crowd and just maybe
he's more comfortable. But it's definitely been a big evolution. I mean, according to what his parents said
that he was like when he was a kid. Where did the rainbow unicorn come from? Yeah, that's interesting. I think it's really hard to say, but I think
where it comes from is- Not all of our listeners will actually know
what I'm talking about, so maybe you can fill them in.

Though I'm sure anyone in the crypto community
already knows what I'm talking about. Yeah. So, Ethereum has this very unique aesthetic
filled with rainbows and unicorns, and just like mythical creatures all around. It's very kind of internet centric with memes
and, I don't know, pixelated images and emojis, and that sort of stuff. I think it was born out of the Nyan Cat emoji. You know what I'm talking about? It's like a little flying cat on a piece of
toast and there's like a rainbow shooting out of its tail? It's like this meme or emoji in the internet
where it's like a flying cat. Yeah. It's like a low-resolution cat on a Windows
95 machine or something. Exactly. And there's a rainbow flying after it. So, on the very early Ethereum t-shirts, there
was one Ethereum t-shirt that had the word Ethereum and a Nyan Cat underlining Ethereum
with the rainbow underlining the word Ethereum. So, I think that's one element that really
started it. And then I've seen a couple of like YouTube
videos by early Ethereans where they use the Nyan Unicorn.

So, there's a different emoji. Instead of a cat, there's a unicorn. So, I think it was just this internet culture
picking up these different memes and it just seems like the unicorn and rainbow really
stuck to this group of people. And I think it's partly because when you look
at Ethereum developers, they're pretty much in a similar kind of demographic. They're mostly- Super geeky. Yeah. They're obviously super geeky. They're computer scientists. They are mostly Millennials on the younger
side and like 20-something.

Zoomers. Yeah. This thing about memes is just so fascinating
to me. I have a friend who's in his mid-20s and he
sends me stuff all the time and kind of educates me, keeps me up to date on the memesphere. And the memes that I'm following the most
lately are actually memes of Sergey Nazarov which is super funny because I saw this one
where they had him in what would look like a TV. Like he was on television with CNN scrolling
underneath that he'd been killed in a car crash. Clearly an allusion to Vitalik and claims
that he had died. And you see these constant sort of references
to comparing him to Vitalik. But at core, they're meant to be funny. But they also clearly play a much larger role
in terms of community. And community is such an important part. I mean even Vitalik talks about this. It's a part that for someone like me for example.

I always could appreciate in general terms
that having a strong community is great if you have open-source development, but it's
much bigger than that in crypto. So, I'd love for you to maybe talk to us a
little bit about what you've come to understand about the culture. I mean, we're talking a little bit about it
now. But the significance of culture in Ethereum
and how that clearly differentiates it from something like Bitcoin. And I should also mention one of the other
things that is very obvious about Vitalik is that he's not ideological. And so ideology in particular Austrian economics
ideology and sort of libertarian anarcho-capitalism is a big part of what bitcoin is about. And one of the interesting things about Bitcoin
is that you see a lot of these internal schisms in the culture where people that come into
it need to sort of adhere to some of these ideological framings. Vitalik obviously doesn't have that, and so
as a result also Ethereum writ large is not really ideological in that sense, even in
when it comes to the issue of the supply schedule.

But tell me a little bit about what you learned
about the culture and I'd love to know how memes play a role in that and why that's significant
for the future of Ethereum. Super interesting topic. I think memes absolutely play a role in crypto
because in the end they're a way to synthesize narratives. And so I think we are constantly looking for
shortcuts of ways to understand the world better or easier or more easily and I think
that's what memes help do. They really pack so much information in one
image and a couple of words. So, I think that's why they're so powerful.

They spread, they mutate like people make
them their own and they communicate something very quickly. Especially in a community like the cryptocommunity
where everyone is online all the time in different forums on Twitter and Discord or wherever,
these memes are particularly powerful like maybe more powerful than in other communities. Oh, definitely. I think they're not to be underestimated. I think they can definitely be an incredibly
powerful tool in a community. The LINK Marines have really excelled at this. I think the synthetics community is great
at memes too. Maybe not coincidentally but the tokens have
done really well. Because in the end, they're a way of doing
a little bit of propaganda like spreading the word on your project. So, it definitely helps. About Ethereum culture, yeah so we talked
a little bit about this, the whole unicorn rainbow aesthetic, and it does come from memes
and internet culture. Like I was saying, it appeals to this demographic
of really geeky millennial hackers. I think that's what really differentiates
the Ethereum community from the Bitcoin community is that a lot of the people I spoke with within
Ethereum come to Ethereum because they're excited about what they can build on this

So, For those who don't know the Ethereum
network the way it's different from the Bitcoin network is that it's Turing-complete which
means it can process anything that a computer can process, whereas Bitcoin is more limited
in its capacity to do that. So, different developers who were may be attracted
to crypto and had looked at Bitcoin but we're disillusioned with it because they couldn't
really build anything on it, came to Ethereum because of this flexibility. And so because Ethereum attracts people for
a different reason than bitcoin is that we don't see this ideology there. People usually go to Bitcoin because they
are attracted to this sound money idea that's very appealing to libertarians, but in Ethereum,
it's more like people go to it because they're geeks who want to build stuff. And so they can be libertarians because it's
still crypto. It's still the case that many people in Ethereum
will be libertarians, but you also get tons of liberals.

If you're like developers, a millennial developer
in a big city, you'll likely find tons of liberals in that kind of demographic too. So, you get more of a mix of people there. So, if you had to choose, although this might
be unfair to choose one chapter or one story. So, maybe you can give us a few of them, but
what are some of your favorite stories that when you were researching them and then also
writing them, you just felt really exciting and you were excited to share them with readers. Was it stuff that had a lot of personal drama
or was it things that got more technical, for example? Yeah. Let's see. I think it's really hard to think that.

I mean, the DAO fork is obviously like a great
story because it involves a lot of high stake decisions and a lot of stress and a lot of
unhappy people. Yeah, yeah. I think the DAO fork is an obvious one, but
I think there are lesser known stories that are super interesting like the chapter I called
The Red Wedding is I think really dramatic. The reference to the Game of Thrones blood
scene. Uh-huh (affirmative).

And it's when the eight founders and other
people working on Ethereum at the time congregated in the Souk House. Some people thought they were going there
to sign documents to turn theorem into a company but in the end what ended up happening was
that two of the founders left or were kicked out depending on who you ask. Amir and Charles. Exactly, yeah. And Ethereum ended up becoming a foundation
or Vitalik made that decision after much deliberating in the past few months, but it was a really
intense moment where the people in the room kind of decided that this would be done. So, I think that's not as well-known as the
DAO fork but probably equally dramatic. And what else? I think the chapter on the Miami houses, I
really liked researching because this is one of the few moments where all of the Ethereum
co-founders where in the same place.

Well, not all of them, but Jeff Wilkie and
Mihai couldn't be there. But it's really odd that there weren't really
many moments where you had most of the founders in the same room and the Miami house was one
of them. And it was really exciting because Ethereum
was just a project, so it was really easy to dream and everyone was on board and not
fighting as much.

And Vitalik made this announcement at the
conference. So, Gavin was there thinking it would be a
hackathon to build Ethereum and he was really disappointed to find people in the house just
drinking and dreaming of going to the moon. So, that's another interesting one. So, this story, The Red Wedding was in particular
one that I pulled out and put quotes from in my rundown for today's conversation because
the way you told that story…

First of all, it felt like you had a certain
amount of admiration for how Vitalik handled it at the time as well as the role that he
played in deciding that Ethereum would be a non-profit and an open-source project. And also how that changed him. I mean, you actually said Vitalik was only
20 years old at the time, explicitly made at that point. He looked like any other young geek in his
worn-out jeans and faded T-shirt and rail-thin frame. That kind of goes back to that point about
his leadership and his evolution. You've dealt with a lot of these other characters
in the book and some of them weren't particularly… Well, it didn't seem particularly magnanimous. Some of them already have a reputation for
not being. But what was that like dealing with all of
these different egos and each of them have different expectations about how you're going
to describe them, their role and what you think their role was.

And I'm sure there have been instances in
the book where the stories didn't converge. Charles may tell you one thing, Vitalik will
tell you a completely different thing and Gavin will tell you something in between. So, how did you manage all of that? What were some of these individuals like? Can you give us some insights about that? Because that's super interesting. Let's see. It's tough. About the process of the book which I guess,
I never really finished telling you about. Right. I did all the interviews starting with the
founders and then leading to everyone else. I did over 100 interviews, those of ours. And once I had that, I sat down and started
writing the story and then I often went back and did second interviews, when I was missing

Once I completed the entire book, I did fact-checking
where I took out like I did bullet points of all the facts where I mentioned the different
characters in the story. I emailed them to them so that they could
check what I was saying about them. But they haven't really… I don't think they've read the full book yet. So, I'm not sure. Maybe ask me this question in a month and
I'll tell you if everyone- If I was one of these guys and you were writing
a book about Ethereum and I was in it, if I had reason to be anxious about how you would
depict me, I probably would be. So, I just imagine that some of these characters
whose reputations are not stellar post Ethereum, I just wonder what that might have been like? Where any of them particularly controlling
about the image that you would paint of them? Were they concerned about it or did everyone
pretty much just give you what you wanted? No.

I actually had a relatively good experience
in that sense. Nobody was particularly controlling because
in the end there was not a lot of opportunity to control anything. What I did is like I said I did most of these
interviews in person. I spoke with them for several hours, couple
of hours and I had everything recording. I just asked them, tell me the story as it
happened. I then went back if there were anything that
wasn't exactly like somebody else said with the fact-checking. So, I don't know. The only thing I gave them space to change
was the facts that they told me. And in the end the story I tell is, is the
story that came out of all these different interviews. So, if one of their stories didn't exactly
match in the end, I went with what most people who were there told me happened.

So, I think that's how I handled kind of those
differences in my perception of what happened. We're going to spend the period of the ICO
boom and craze, and bust. We'll probably talk about most of that in
the overtime, but I'd at least would like to start during the full episode because it's
so interesting. When we're living in the aftershock of that
period and the hope is that a lot of really great work and building has been done during
the bear market with a lot of the money that was raised during the boom. And there's a lot of controversy around this. A lot of people raised a lot of money rather
because during this period, the big story on the technical front that I remember and
this is what I talked to Vitalik and Vlad about when they came on the show and that
for listeners I think was like episode 49 was the problem of scalability and we discussed
sharding, we discussed state channels and other solutions both layer one and layer two.

And proof of stake obviously, FFG and CBC,
Correct By Construction which was LADs. In your research, how much progress has the
community really made here on addressing issues of scalability in the last three years? I think progress and scalability has been
really incredible in the past few years. When I started writing the book, there weren't
really any scaling solutions being used by "consumer debts". Right now we have debts like loop ring using
zero-knowledge proofs and optimism doing these tests with optimistic roll-ups.

And Plasma finally launched and it has its
state. It's a separate channel where it has disagreement
to support BitFenix's tethered transaction. So, you have concrete results of all these
scaling solutions and all the research that's been done so far. So, I think progress has been amazing. what are you sort of most excited about. How much headway have they made? I've heard Vitalik talk about… I mean, for most of what I see, it's incremental
solutions with the aim and focus being on something that you're also focused on which
is DeFi which is basically scaling Ethereum enough that they can fulfill at least some
of the hopes of creating a decentralized financial system, right? Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, what about that sort of excites you the
most? You mean what about DeFi? Yeah, what about DeFi and also what about
some of the sort of base layer implementations make that possible? So, in other words, I've actually talked with
briefly on two occasions.

Actually, not so briefly. The framework guys who have actually been
on your show, Vance and Mike I think is the other guy's name. Mm-hmm (affirmative). And we've talked about this because there
are huge investors in the space. They're very educated on DeFi. And that was kind of one of my questions which
was what has really changed in Ethereum in the last, let's say, three years that has
created an opportunity in decentralized finance? Was it just on the distributed applications
front or is there something… Has work been done on the network, on the
base layer that has… And maybe on secondary layer solutions that
has enabled or made possible some of these other applications? And obviously with the broader implication
of what can we expect to see in terms of use cases and proliferation of stuff like this? Yeah.

It's a good question. I think for now most of these DeFi applications
aren't using second layer to scaling solutions. Yeah, there's a couple that I mentioned but
the large majority are transacting on layer one, which just tells you there's a huge potential
for the space to keep growing as they kind of move to layer two solutions. And I think what really happened in the space
to enable this DeFi explosion was, one, the amount of money and interest that was going
to Ethereum during the ICO boom. So, that funded many of the top defy projects
today. So, Maker DAO raised money around that time.

Kyber did as well. And many top other DeFi projects were created
and funded because of the ICO boom. So, people kind of love to hate on ICOs and
partly with good reason too. But a lot of good also came out from that. And then secondly I think the bear market
and having kind of… Not having the distraction of the price mooning
and then just constant headlines and people getting rich and scams and all of that. And just having to get their heads down and
build and ship on what whatever they promised during the ICO days. We're seeing the product of all that building
right now. So, I think that's kind of the beyond whatever
marginal improvements there were made to like the base Ethereum layer which I don't think
there were huge improvements. I mean there were like a few forks during
that time, but I think what really explains DeFi today is that the ICO boom and bust.

It is. So, it's kind of dark bandwidth effect. It's the money that came in and the fact that
a lot of these projects… It's interesting. I think that in a sense cryptocurrency is
the success that the community is seeing in terms of raising money is actually itself
an indictment of the profound failures of our institutions to properly fund academic
research. The type of research that gave us the early
internet protocols. You've got the private sector trying to fund
this and it's been problematic. It's been problematic in terms of ICOs. Also, the ICO is another great example of
the profound failure of our regulators. Again, it's almost like… For me, the larger issue is just how utterly
captured and incompetent and corrupt our legacy financial system is. That is a bigger story in terms of what I
see rather than the substance of the decentralized finance or blockchain at the moment. I think also this comes across in the conversations
I've had with Vitalik and other developers in the space.

These guys and gals are excited to build stuff,
but what they're building takes a long time and it takes a much longer time to build than
what the investors expected or hoped because a lot of people, most people that got involved
in the space that funded it should never have been involved in the first place. They were just looking to get rich, most people
that were speculating on the currencies.

And so I think that's a big sort of story
here which is that you've got a lot of these smart people trying to develop stuff. They'd be in a much better, I think, situation
if they could focus on building and not be going through these booms and busts, right,
which is what a lot of the open source development community had in the '60s and '70s. I'm not sure I agree with that because I think
these booms and busts, like I said, they're bringing money to the space and I think it's
tough to rely on private donations and charity to get open-source protocols working.

That's not always a sustainable business model. And I think that's the great innovation of
blockchains and crypto actually that it has baked in this incentive which is the token
which allows open-source platforms and applications to actually be sustainable in the long-term
because they have these tokens. It certainly has attracted capital. There's no question about it, but I think
it's attracted so much capital one because central banks have created a tremendous amount
of liquidity. That's enabled that capital to flood into
early stage and it's also because of the profound failure of governments and central banks and
regulators both to keep white-collar criminals accountable and also to actually restrain
their provisions of credit. So, anyway to kind of a larger…

I know it's kind of heresy for this community. I used to be a much more of a proximate libertarian,
but what I've seen in over the years I think in that sense I have a lot more in common
with Vitalik and that I've become much more nuanced in my thinking around this issue. And in terms of like nonprofits, I agree. I actually mean specifically that because
we don't have faith in our government and understandably why we've lost faith in our
government, we don't have the type of moonshot projects and initiatives and collaboration
between the government and the private sector that we had obviously during the war, but
then in the post-war period, the 1950s and 1960s in particular.

That would have seeded these type of early
stage innovation because this is very capital-intensive. And my point about the boom and bust is that
simply something like this, I don't think is well served. And we'll get into this in the overtime because
I want to ask you, this goes to the question of the legacy of the ICO craze because so
much of what the ICO boom was, was ERC-20 tokens.

It was stuff that was enabled because of Ethereum. A ton of these people were able to basically
scam investors. Right. So, how has that set back the community? There were a lot of people that got into this
space that were excited about it and it became disillusioned, right? So, there are consequences to the bust. But we'll get into all of that in the overtime,
Camila. And I also want to ask you something that
you're, I think particularly qualified to talk about, which is journalism. Maybe journalism writ large, but also journalism
specifically in the space. One of the things that I found really fascinating
having come in or sort of gotten in deeply in 2017 was how the podcasting environment
changed. And also just the media environment more broadly,
there were certain people that had a bigger voice at that time and then we saw that dramatically
change. And I think a lot of that had to do with the
success of Bitcoin during the bear market. And a lot of the people that were covering
Bitcoin really became the prominent voices in the cryptocurrency space. So, I'd love to talk to you about that.

And just maybe a little bit more about DeFi
and whatever else you're interested in discussing. For regular listeners, you know the drill. If you're new to the program, Hidden Forces
is listener-supported. We don't accept advertisers or commercial
sponsors. The entire show is funded from top to bottom
by listeners like you. If you want access to our premium content
which includes transcripts to every conversation we've ever had on the program, copies of my
run downs, which are elaborate show documents created by me ahead of every episode, this
one includes lots of rainbow colors, what looks like a hurricane, Ethereum DeFi liquidity
vortex, a picture of Vitalik holding the…

This was when he was pronounced dead, Camilla,
right where he took a picture? Right, yeah. Right. And finding new uses for blockchain rather
than newspapers. So, my rundown as well and also the overtimes,
which are the second part of my conversation with my guests. You can head over to
to access all of that and subscribe. Not only is the content worth it, but it's
a great way of showing your support for the show and the work we do. Camilla, stick around. We're going to move the second half of our
conversation into the overtime. Today's episode of Hidden Forces was recorded
in New York City. For more information about this week's episode
or if you want easy access to related programming, visit our website at and subscribe
to our free email list.

If you want access to overtime segments, episode
transcripts and show rundowns full of links and detailed information related to each and
every episode, check out our premium subscription available through the Hidden Forces website
or through our Patreon page at Today's episode was produced by me and edited
by Stylianos Nicolaou. For more episodes, you can check out our website
at Join the conversation at Facebook, Twitter
and Instagram @HiddenForcesPod or send me an email. As always, thanks for listening. We'll see you next week.

You May Also Like