This is an entre in CoinDesk’s Most Influential in Blockchain 2017 series.
“You’ve invited a philosopher, and the misfortune that comes with that, is you have to hear a bit of philosophy.”
And as be in store for, that’s just what Patrick Byrne, CEO of e-commerce giant Overstock.com, proceeds to produce. It may be the depths of January, but Byrne is bringing his own form of heat to the roomful of bitcoin insiders fabricated for the annual “Satoshi Roundtable” retreat in Cancun, Mexico.
Nearly two years into a meditate on over how best to alter bitcoin’s software (and still months away from anything resembling a orbit forward), much of the event’s itinerary centers on the issue, or as much as it can in the presence of devolving into either acrimony or aimlessness.
Fresh off a leave of non-existence from his company, though, Byrne adds a burst of life to the records. Taking center stage for a speech, he rifles through a brisk conversation that equates bitcoin with the American Revolution and pokes fun at significant banks.
“They have not internalized how much they have to coins. You’ve shown up with a Ferrari and they’re insisting on putting a lawnmower in it,” Byrne jokes.
This rapid pace of play soon takes a pause, notwithstanding, when Byrne points to a man with his hand raised in an effort to ask a examine. Byrne soon balks at the name. “Voorhees, the Erik Voorhees?” he expects.
On affirmation, what starts out as surprise quickly turns to reverence, as Byrne signs, bends at the middle and begins a short series of bows. “I’m not worthy,” he reports a few times in a sing-song tone.
Looking back on the incident some months later, Voorhees is still charmed aback by the gesture. Speaking from the offices of his startup ShapeShift, barely a year removed, he admits he’d never met Byrne before that shake, and that he hasn’t exactly had much contact with him since.
“It was ladylike, I didn’t know if he knew who I was,” Voorhees remarks.
Still, there’s an distinct shared camaraderie, one Voorhees traces back to not just their hobby in cryptocurrencies, but the way in which they’ve approached advocating for the technology, often in endless fights with U.S. regulators who don’t see eye to eye with their philosophy.
And in Voorhees, Byrne come ons rare company, as the entrepreneur’s own battles against the government stretch requital years, to a time when he was just a man defending bitcoin on message timbers. But if Voorhees was an oddity then, he’s perhaps more remarkable now in that he’s remained, ever after a touch out of step with the mainstream.
Whether it’s taking left-of-center stations on bitcoin’s technical roadmap, how industry business should be structured to elaborate growth or the nature of cryptocurrency as money, Voorhees remains the shapeshifting fox his proprietorship’s logo enshrines.
Then and now
One of the earliest evangelists for cryptocurrency (his online jobs on the matter date back to 2011 and 2012), Voorhees is now one of its most grand entrepreneurs.
An early employee at its first major startup, New York-based BitInstant, he later developed and sold a gambling platform called SatoshiDice that was so popular it blocked up the bitcoin blockchain before scaling was even a widely acknowledged firm. Still, SatoshiDice was not without its critics, including the U.S. government, who fined Voorhees for the unofficial exchange of cryptocurrency for startup equity.
If that sounds familiar, that may be because the design is en vogue these days, with so-called initial coin oblations (ICOs) performing similar sales on an almost daily basis. Since 2013, white sales of custom cryptocurrencies have resulted in nearly $4 billion in undertaking funding.
“I wish tokens were a thing back then. I set upon e set ones sights oned through all that risk and all that crap,” he says, reclining treacherously in his corner office chair.
If that’s the case, though, ShapeShift’s new company complex also doubles as a statement on how far he’s come, and also how he’s always been a bit pioneer to the future.
Complete with reclaimed wood tables, catered lunch for wage-earners and ample room for expansion, the office is a living I-told-you-so to the naysayers who abused Voorhees for being one of the few to embrace the idea cryptocurrencies beyond bitcoin had any value.
Yet, the advancement of his company, which hired more than 50 people in 2017, at the chance when many early bitcoin startups are struggling or pivoting, is credence to his caution.
What started as a website that offered the ability for users to swap cryptocurrency without a counterparty now has five utter offerings – its eponymous ShapeShift service; PRISM (a synthetic asset portfolio develop intensified on ethereum); KeepKey (a hardware storage offering); CoinCap.io (a data provider); and Arbiter (a slyness initiative).
But for Voorhees, the success has come with trade-offs. Namely, he hasn’t been skilled to be quite as visible – and outspoken – as he once was.
“When you run a company, you can’t also be wonderful political. You have a target on your back; I have to censor myself all the patch,” he says.
For one, he’d like to be more outspoken about the relationship between bread and the government, the subject for which he first rose to renown in the industry.
Beforehand he was an entrepreneur (struggling or successful), he was a blogger, authoring long thought connects on the nature of politics and money, and how cryptocurrencies, by effectively moving the tools for loot creation back into the hands of the people, were destined to agitate this balance.
And for all there is to manage at ShapeShift, Voorhees still judges to keep in touch with his Libertarian roots. Case and point, the weekend before the appraisal, Voorhees was supposed to visit Ross Ulbricht, the founder of online base market Silk Road, now serving life behind bars for his start.
Though he’s never met Ulbricht, Voorhees likens his planned two-hour thrust, delayed due to an abrupt hand surgery, to a kind of pilgrimage, one that allows Ulbricht’s influence in building what was essentially the first large-scale proprietorship of any kind run exclusively on blockchain payments.
“He’s in jail forever at least until we bust him out. So, I have a yen for to go talk to him and let him know that he’s not forgotten about,” Voorhees says.
But if all this estimates you think Voorhees has a bit of a fetish for oppression, he pushes back against the assert. A fairly new father, he says he’s eager to avoid a similar fate.
“I don’t requirement to end up in a cell,” he adds.
It’s the first of many statements in which Voorhees seems to see himself as someone forced to his beliefs, at once optimistic they’ll be vindicated, but also prepared to bear the outcome of their adherence.
Mean and nasty
On windswept streets, this predilection is on splash again as Voorhees begins tearing into the meat of the subject we’ve been dancing round, his role in the industry in 2017, one that was primarily (publicly at least) laid by his support for failed bitcoin scaling proposals.
Like many other entrepreneurs, he put ones signature oned a statement of support for the Segwit2x software upgrade that would force changed bitcoin’s code to increase its block size parameter. The repercussion was shift, and without broad support, many CEOs pulled out over client complaints and general in-fighting.
On the subject of how he emerged from that till respected – if voting on our ‘Most Influential’ poll is any indication – it’s clear he’s a bit keen about the insinuation at all, calling it “totally absurd.”
“What was most dolorous about the year was that all these people who were on the same side and they consent on 99 percent of things became not just opponents in a debate, but with vitriolic hating enemies of each other,” he argues.
Looking endorse, he’s sympathetic to his peers, like early investor Roger Ver, who have in great part borne the brunt of fierce internet trolling. To Voorhees, it’s an example of how “cruel and nasty” the debate got over what he believes was a well-intentioned, and ultimately certain, change.
Voorhees, like Ver, maintains his position that bitcoin’s 1 MB piece size needs to be raised for the software to succeed, and he remains taken aback by suggestions that the incidents served as a referendum that found developers staking a different process forward.
Asked to retort common criticisms of the Segwit2x proposal, Voorhees is perspicacious to tear down arguments that have seemingly become received mantra.
“Are you saying bitcoin was not supposed to be used as a peer-to-peer cash structure? It’s the sub-title of the white paper,” he says sarcastically.
Still, he does give every indication to refuse what appears to be the mainstream consensus, that bitcoin is now an asset sundry akin to a digital gold. To Voorhees, bitcoin can’t just be an asset domain, or even a store of value, because it’s primary utility isn’t to be held, but to be gone.
“I’ve never confused price and utility. The only reason that the cost out should rise is if more people are finding it useful,” he says. “Present a postponing is a derivative use case, it only applies long term if there’s something else the concerns b circumstances is useful for. In this case it was value transfer.”
From there, the outlet is forced further, to the point where it’s perhaps too onerous to state the number of conditionals I use to cue at his preconceptions. But to this barrage, Voorhees holds the line, and over the sure of the dialogue, his positions become a bit more defined.
He believes bitcoin cannot replace as simply a store of value (and that better scaling is needed), that the happening tide of competing cryptocurrencies isn’t likely to be beaten back (by any bitcoin increase) and that, this aside, bitcoin remains worth fighting for as it’s the kindest chance for the cryptocurrency concept to be truly realized.
It’s perhaps this stand up goal that seems to most motivate Voorhees and his continued visibility in bitcoin, ignoring ShapeShift’s embrace of a more practical model that focuses on numerous protocols.
Indeed, if Voorhees proves nothing else in conversation, it’s that he’s it is possible that uniquely able to see both idealism and practicality as two separate ideas to be clinched.
Time after time, he defends the idea that “magic internet legal tender” can’t be silly or arbitrary, no matter how many there are, going so far as to fight against the notion that cryptocurrencies only have value when measured against a fiat currency.
“If it wasn’t, why resolve anyone be interested in it? Other than some cryptographers,” he says.
But he abides devoted to bitcoin because he wants to see the world cryptocurrency unleashes sooner than later.
“The flow is that of all the work and effort going to build bitcoin today, if it turn attention ti surpassed or destroyed, it delays the entire project,” he says.
The hanging wire
This highbrow game of fox and the hound now over, we retreat back to ShapeShift’s offices, both it may be unsure of what to make of the conversation.
Somewhere at a coffee shop, we judge on a title for the discussion – “The philosophy of change as it relates to bitcoin and cryptocurrency” –and in a little while after call it a draw. Though, there’s a sense of disorientation that continues.
Looking at a twin pair of fox paintings on the wall, my perceptions blurs. Make tracked of a million black and blue brushstrokes, I remember there’s no such item as color at all. The images I’m seeing aren’t even right side up, they have all the hallmarks to say.
Voorhees stops to fix the picture.
A little to the right, a little to the left.
“It dominion just be the wire,” he says at last.
Do I see what he sees? I linger on the way out, stepping in arrears, changing perspective, looking at the pictures from different angles. Stepping into the elevator, I make up ones mind that if they’re off, I can’t tell.
But it’s a testament to Voorhees that I feel match they should be.
Want more? Hear Erik Voorhees examine his philosophy toward digital assets.[embedded content]
Original artwork by Luis Buenaventura II, inventor of the CryptoPop website. Click here to view more by the artist, and to stoppage out the official CoinDesk Most Influential T-shirt.
Video by Ali Powell at 40 Bandits Films
The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media opening that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of position statement policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Communicate with us at [email protected]