The Defiant has compiled a list of the personalities that defined the year for DeFi and web3 — these are founders, hackers and investors who helped advance the open economy; politicians and regulators who are laying the groundwork for the industry or threatening to restrain it; CEOs in DeFi adjacent industries who, with their global influence, shape the space; artists and community builders who are pushing crypto further into mainstream culture.
pplpleasr, NFT Maestro
It was a big year for Pplpleasr (Emily Yang). She was already well-known in DeFi circles last year as she worked closely with projects in the space during DeFi Summer, but in March her fame exploded with the video she created for the launch of Uniswap V3. The clip was sold as an NFT, going for over $500,000, which she donated to the Stand With Asians movement. PleasrDAO, a collective of NFT investors, formed to bid for the piece, and has become one of the most prominent NFT collectors.
Later in the year, Emily created the art for The Infinite Garden, a documentary about Ethereum, and designed the cover for Fortune’s August/September 2021 issue, which was sold as a limited series of NFTs for $1.3M. She also collaborated with DJ Steve Aoki to create a piece which was auctioned off in Sotheby’s. This was the year of NFTs, and within NFTs, few artists shone more than Emily.
Samczsun, DeFi Hero
Those two words, coming from samczsun are the most feared by any DeFi project’s founder as he has been known to alert teams to potentially catastrophic errors in their code. But rather than exploiting them for personal gain, he has chosen to help fix those bugs to keep DeFi degens safe. He does get compensated, but as he told The Defiant in an interview back in March, 2020, he mostly does it for the challenge – and for fun.
The anonymous white hat hacker in October, 2020, joined venture capital firm Paradigm as a research partner, but that hasn’t stopped him fighting DeFi crime. Earlier this year he found a flaw in SushiSwap, one of the space’s biggest projects. Other projects where he has found bugs or potential exploits include Curve Finance, Ethereum Name Service, Synthetix, Kyber Network, Nexus Mutual, Hegic Options, Aragon, and Yearn Finance.
Nayib Bukele, Crypto Prez
No head of state shook up crypto more in 2021 than Nayib Bukele, the 40-year-old president of El Salvador. When Bukele embraced Bitcoin and made it the legal tender of the Central American nation, Satoshi Nakamoto’s grand plan for a digital monetary alternative took a step forward. Now the real test begins as Salvadorans adapt to using Bitcoin in their daily lives, and there’s already been pushback. Bukele is sticking to his guns — on Dec. 21 he tweeted that El Salvador had purchased 21 BTC.
Jack Dorsey, Recalcitrant Maxi
Bitcoin maximalists provide great entertainment on Crypto Twitter, saying that DeFi will never be able to achieve the things it’s already doing and embarrassing themselves with their radical closed-mindedness, refusing to acknowledge all the innovation happening outside of Bitcoin (“not a cult”). But there’s one maxi, whose willful ignorance has been especially harmful and he happenes to be at the center of Twitter itself: Jack Dorsey.
Dorsey as the former head of Twitter and CEO of Square (now called Block), and as someone who sees the potential of blockchains to become the underlying architecture of the financial system and of an internet of value, is uniquely placed to support web3. But instead of embracing the actual development that’s already happening in DeFi he has chosen to try to build only on Bitcoin instead. Time will tell whether he’ll be successful in doing what many others before him have tried and failed to do.
Cooper Turley, Full-Time DAO-ist
Cooper Turley seems to be everywhere in DAO-land. He is as a strategist for decentralized, music-streaming platform Audius and advisor to Variant Fund, but that’s far from all. His path towards going full-time DAOs started in 2018 by contributing to collectives including MetaCartel and Moloch DAOs. That led to the creation of Fire Eyes DAO, where he helps web3 startups grow their communities and launch tokens.
Coopahtroopa attributes much of his success to writing; he made a name for himself and learned deeply about the DAO, DeFi, and NFT space by contributing to various publications, including this one. Through Fire Eyes, he was closely involved with the launch of tokens like NFT marketplace Superare’s RARE. He also helped create Friends with Benefits, the token-gated community that’s exclusive to FWB holders. And that’s just to name a few of the many projects he has advised and invested in — he’s also an investor and advisor to The Defiant!
Chris Dixon, Ultimate DeFi VC
Dixon, a general partner at a16z, was all overDeFi in 2021. He played a key role in raising the VC firm’s whopping $2.2B crypto fund — its third — and his team backed projects ranging from payments platform Celo to NFT emporium OpenSea to Compound, the lending play. He has led Andreessen Horowitz Crypto to become a gravitational force in DeFi and web3, with the firm owning equity and/or token stakes in almost every major project, across every vertical. Dixon also evangelized for DeFi in numerous posts. In his latest, he likened the advent of “programmable blockchains” to smartphone innovation.
Do Kwon, Innovator & Ecosystem Builder
Do Kwon is the co-founder of Terraform Labs, which is building the Terra ecosystem, a fully-fledged, self-contained, alternative financial system. At the core of this network sits UST, a stablecoins that has managed to largely maintain a peg to the US dollar relying on a system of incentives and algorithms bolstered by the LUNA token, and without actually holding any fiat. This has been a major feat, which no other algorithmic stablecoin has managed for as long and as successfully, with UST recently crossing the $10B market cap mark.
Beyond its stabelcoin, the Terra ecosystem also includes the money markets platform Anchor; Mirror, which allows users to trade synthetic versions of stocks and other assets; Astroport, a decentralized exchange; and still other projects making up this DeFi galaxy, inhabited by self-described LUNAtics. Terraform Labs has grown big enough to be noticed by the SEC, which is investigating the Mirror protocol. Kwon seemed unphased though, with Terraform suing the SEC back for “failure to follow its own rules.” https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/mYc2ouIMCVQ?rel=0&autoplay=0&showinfo=0&enablejsapi=0
Daniele Sestagalli, Serial Founder
Few DeFi entrepreneurs are as prolific and outspoken as Daniele Sestagalli. An early Bitcoin devotee, Sesta, as he likes to be known, maintained must-read Twitter discourse even as he co-founded a trio of headline-grabbing projects: Wonderland, which forked from OlympusDAO, is a treasury-backed stablecoin play; Abracadabra a DeFi debt venture; and Popsicle Finance, a yield optimization platform. The latter suffered a $25M hack in August but Sesta reimbursed the victims, and distributed a 20% bonus to those who held onto all their ICE tokens.
His projects, together with Olympus DAO, were responsible for the movement dubbed DeFi 2.0, which intends to better align incentives between project teams and users.
Banteg, Hacker Extraordinaire
Banteg embodies the ultimate DeFi hacker. An anonymous dev with a bunny avatar whose skills led him to become a core member of the Yearn Finance team. Under Banteg’s watch, Yearn has consistently been among the largest DeFi protocols by TVL and has continued to innovate in its quest to deliver the best yields possible to its users.
Banteg has also demonstrated a passion towards supporting the broader ecosystem, proposing that a percentage of fees for Yearn treasury go to fund Ethereum public goods via Gitcoin grants, and more recently, advocating for the protocol to contribute to a new DAO dedicated to legal advocacy for DeFi.
Elon Musk, the Shitposter Par Excellence
Elon Musk, wears many hats – or crowns, to some – Technoking of Tesla, CEO of Dogecoin, co-founder of SpaceX, and the richest person in the world. Still, to Crypto Twitter, Musk is above all, its most powerful shitposter.
Early in the year he sent Bitcoin soaring 14% when he said Tesla would accept BTC as payment and hold the token on its balance sheet. Then he sent Dogecoin soaring when he tweeted it was his favorite crypto. He changed his tune in June when he tweeted his apparent break up with Bitcoin, complete with broken-heart emoji; BTC dropped 7%. Shibu Inu tumbled in October when Musk tweeted he didn’t own any. He appears to relish his influencer powers, but for investors his whims are a white-knuckle ride.
Cathie Wood, TradFi Queen
Cathie Wood ’s ARK Web x.0 ETF was the first ETF to invest in Bitcoin back in 2015, via Grayscale’s Bitcoin Investment Trust, and she continues to champion crypto. This month she told CNBC Bitcoin could add $500,000 to its price, as institutions dive in, and that Ethereum could be even more undervalued. She’s also eyeing the rollout of a BTC ETF and is a proponent of web3. Still, this year was a test for Wood’s ARK Innovation ETF, which championed the likes of Tesla. The fund is down 21%, a serious reality check after returning 152% in 2020. The true test of a money manager is how they rebound. Given ARK’s performance this year, she’ll have ample opportunity to show her resilience in 2022.
Brian Armstrong, CeFi King
It’s hard to have it both ways in crypto, but Armstrong, the CEO of Coinbase, is trying to be the centralized crypto company at the center of decentralized finance. Coinbase spearheads USDC, the sector’s most popular stablecoin together with Circle; it launched its own non-custodial wallet, and it is working to offer DeFi-sourced interest rates via its interface. The latter effort caused it to run afoul of the SEC by not registering its new lending offerings. In a blistering Twitter thread, Armstrong accused the agency of “sketchy behavior” and squelching innovation. When you play in the middle ground of CeFi, there’s a lot more rules to reckon with, especially now that the biggest US crypto exchange is now a public company.
Mark Zuckerberg, Worst of Web2
It wasn’t his embrace of the metaverse and changing Facebook’s corporate name to Meta, as cringe as that was. Nor was it his incredulous testimony to Congress in October following revelations from whistleblower Frances Haugen that Facebook had ignored its own employees’ pleas to address the lies and racism thriving on the mammoth platform. No, Mark Zuckerberg’s worst Web moment was the video of him hydrofoiling on the 4th of July and holding the Stars & Stripes. Nothing captured the arrogance and contrived coolness of the 37-year-old billionaire better than this clip, which seemed like it would never end.
Alexis Ohanian, Best of Web2
The Reddit co-founder Ohanian led the web2 social network that’s taking the most significant steps to integrate and support web3, working with the Ethereum Foundation to provide development resources to scaling tools, and launching its Community Points on an Ethereum testnet. Reddit is also working with Layer 2 Arbitrum to see if it can launch its Community Points there.
Ohanian has actively invested in tech and blockchain companies since resigning from Reddit in 2020. This year his VC fund Seven Seven Six, together with Polygon, announced a $200M initiative backing projects at the intersection of social media and Web3. Ohanian has been a long-time advocate for a more open internet, speaking in Congress and lobbying the FCC to support net neutrality.
Gary Gensler, DeFi Villain
The chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is a rare player — a regulator who actually understands the intricacies of blockchain. That doesn’t mean he’s going to go easy on crypto as he proved with a series of initiatives to stop the industry from operating “outside the perimeter,” as he put it.
Crypto has countered his offensive sneering at how he has vowed to “protect” investors against the dangers of airdrops, 10x gains and bountiful yield farms, all the while making room for imperfect financial instruments like a futures-based ETF.
So far it’s been mostly saber-rattling, but Gensler did define virtually all crypto offerings as securities or contracts subject to regulation under existing laws. That’s more than any other major regulator has done before.
Hester Peirce, Enlightened Regulator
SEC commissioner Hester Peirce, also known as Crypto Mom, has been one of the loudest advocates for a clear regulatory framework for the cryptocurrencies, which would provide the necessary protections for investors, without stifling innovation in the flourishing industry.
One of her biggest contributions is her proposed Token Safe Harbor, which would give blockchain startups a three-year grace period to launch without fear of prosecution, to give projects enough time to meet the agency’s requirement that a network be sufficiently decentralized for its token to not be considered a security.
This year she has continued to push towards friendlier crypto regulation. Earlier this month, Peirce said it was disappointing that Gary Gensler’s regulatory agenda failed to include clarification on digital assets.