TL;DR: The Spiciest Person of the Year for 2019 is Jihan Wu. We narrowed the field to less than a half dozen total, including four runners-up. Numbers 5 & 4 & 3 and 2 are in the books: businessmen more than 6,800 miles apart, one in Hong Kong, the other in San Francisco, running popular cryptocurrency exchanges; an American sh*tposter who riled up the ecosystem with biting commentary; and, of course, a French developer who searched for P2P electronic cash’s conscience. Wu beat them all this year, and in part because he embodies elements of each. The co-founder and CEO of the world’s preeminent mining company, Bitmain, reemerged spicy, combining shrewd business decisions, sly use of social media, and a moral fervor in reclaiming his professional life’s work.
Jihan Wu is Spiciest Person of the Year for 2019
This year began with terrible headlines for Jihan Wu. The end of 2018’s rumors revolved around his company’s supposed imminent demise. A much-anticipated initial public offering (IPO) was looking shaky at best. Cryptocurrency speculative markets tanking didn’t help matters. Mining itself was thought to be on the ropes, as block rewards were placed against declining prices.
In fact, by mid-January, Wu was out as CEO. Depending on which source, he and his co-founder were either demoted or sacked, kept on the board due to equity, or simply taken from day-to-day executive decision making. It was a wild come-down for the young crypto-made billionaire, who prior was often a sure name on success lists, touted as a visionary. The China-born mogul had been effectively pushed to the cold, according to reports, as Bitmain’s board sought to perhaps move from crypto altogether and into artificial intelligence (AI).
Wu is a passionate advocate for peer-to-peer electronic cash, embracing the larger block enthusiasts in the long-running and very contentious scaling debate. He became a partisan, rare for CEOs. He had a position. He made statements. He judged. That brought enemies, especially among BTC maximalists and rival projects, who cheered any waver in Wu’s or Bitmain’s market dominance.
News accounts only worsened for Bitmain in the short term, the mining manufacturing company he brought to life and helped grow. Layoffs all over the world. Crypto-related parts of the company were disbanded. It was bad. In a way, it made a lot of sense. Being arguably the most successful business in the ecosystem meant that if the industry took a dive its Goliath would probably take the biggest hit. It did.
By Spring, more rumors surfaced Wu and cohorts dedicated to peer-to-peer electronic cash were going to start a custody venture. That potential news was dwarfed, of course, by Bitmain allowing its vaunted Hong Kong Exchange (HKEx) IPO application to officially lapse. It would have been the first of its kind for crypto.
However, for the talk of Wu perhaps leaving Bitmain altogether, enthusiasts noticed he was still speaking, still presenting to learned audiences about issues like centralization. As communities such as Ethereum debated the wisdom of proof-of-work mining and use of ASICs, both close to Wu’s professional work, momentum was gaining for proof-of-stake arrangements and hybrids like ProgPow. He argued either change would only centralize Ethereum further, and that ASICs tailored to the needs of the project were better suited ultimately for its goals. Whatever was happening around Wu, he wasn’t shrinking from important industry debates.
Not Going Anywhere
For someone supposedly being pushed away, Wu’s public actions ran directly against rivals’ hopes. He continued making the rounds at conferences, tweeting occasionally, and heading investment rounds on behalf of Bitmain to help build other ventures quickly turning into unicorns such as Japan’s Liquid.com. Yet, tantalizing media pieces were all about counting Wu and Bitmain out, done, finished.
— CZ Binance (@cz_binance) May 8, 2019
Heading into Summer, in fact, Wu continued to keynote top conferences, including The Way Summit in Moscow, where he spoke again about decentralization in mining. Some news outlets took notice, but since it ran against the narrative Wu was out, done, finished, caput, his very public appearances and lectures were largely ignored. He was even slated to speak in late June at the BTC maximalist conference Bitcoin2019 in San Francisco, again to little fanfare or comment.
His influence was obviously still keenly felt by industry heavies who chose not to give-in to rumors and gossip. When Binance was clobbered for 7,000 BTC in a giant hack, its earnest CEO mused about a re-org of the chain, rolling it back as it were to recover customer funds. It was a huge party foul, a public relations gaffe of monumental proportions. He was ultimately talked out of such prospects by the likes of a sagely Wu.
PSA: Bitcoin Has Been Hijacked
Lowkey, Wu’s social media game was very spicy all of 2019. He’s widely credited with being the final straw in causing a bad actor in the space to rage quit from Twitter completely. And though his image and name were used in a lot of publicity for that BTC maximalist conference in San Francisco, Wu wanted it known just where he stood with regard to any confusion about P2P cash.
JihanWu just followed @BotFaketoshi
— Big Blockers (@big_blockers) March 17, 2019
Hours after he tweeted a video claiming Bitcoin Core (BTC) had been “hijacked” during the scaling debates, a sudden change came over the BTC maxi conference organizers. That or Wu was purposefully trolling to get disinvited. Either way, it was a shot at critics who wanted earnestly to believe Wu was sidelined or taking a break from the fight for crypto’s purpose.
Whatever the case, Jihan Wu reiterated his well-known position through that tweet at 8:40am PST, and by 3:27pm PST, not seven hours later, BTC conference organizer David Bailey appeared to respond in an effort to at least save face and perhaps keep his remaining speakers on message. “Disappointed to share @JihanWu will not be speaking @bitcoin2019conf,” Bailey lamented. “I’ve known Jihan for many years, since Bitmain was underdog battling corrupted BFL&KNC, and have great respect for his contributions and the company he built (by age 30!).”
Propaganda and Truth
To anyone paying attention, he was, if anything, more feisty and driven than ever before. A great example was a tweet by YouTuber Crypt0, lamenting tension between BTC maxi insistence upon digital gold and BCH’s stressing P2P electronic cash. He noted how even discussing the change by maxis wasn’t allowed to be mentioned. “Very classical discussion between propaganda and truth,” Wu commented on the thread.
As the year began winding down, it was also evident Wu had been building while observers were sure he was effectively over as a major player in crypto. The beta release of his spinoff project Matrixport was revealed in early July, which included ambitious plans for custody services, OTC trading, and cryptocurrency lending while being “headquartered in Singapore with offices worldwide.” The startup promised “to launch more regulatory compliant blockchain financial services,” touting its membership as a “Swiss FINMA Supervised SRO,” and its strategic partners were listed as Bitmain, BTC.com, Antpool, and Bitdeer.
The venture would go on to invest in a Chinese media startup, making its presence known. Indeed, the truth of the matter is that the market humbled Jihan Wu but it very obviously didn’t dampen his spirits. By Fall, he was headlining Bitmain’s World Digital Mining Summit in Germany. There, it was increasingly clear he had been plotting to build his way out of whatever mess markets had left. The mining giant announced at the conference its latest series of rigs and mapping of the ecosystem’s underlying industry for validation and transaction security.
Back in the Saddle
Where Wu ultimately sealed his fate as our Spiciest Person of the Year came when internal company messages were leaked. Jihan Wu has retaken leadership of Bitmain, citing the giant’s poor performance and lack of executive cohesion. Co-founder Micree Ketuan Zhan was out. Wu returned as Chairman and Executive Director in what analysts described as a dramatic overturning.
Crypto industry leaders such as Haipo Yang (our #4 Spiciest Person of the Year) from the exchange CoinEx noted, “Congratulations @JihanWu Take over @BITMAINtech control again. Wish Bitmain great again.” Bitcoin cash (BCH) surged on the news in early October more than 10%, leading all top coins by market cap in 24 trading.
Apparently, he felt disagreements between Bitmain’s executives devolved into, in Wu’s eyes, an intolerable power struggle. He had long urged leadership to restructure during the plumming 2018 market, to thin ranks, in order to stay nimble; Zhan disagreed. Bitmain had grown too large, too unwieldy. Zhan reportedly attempted his own power move, ending when the two initially agreed to step down as co-CEOs back in January. Wu explained he allowed an initial compromise with Zhan to save Bitmain.
Time for a Change
He also detailed how the mining leader was inches away from disaster, as purveyors and banks were threatening credit lines. Without a critical bump in crypto speculative prices, Bitmain might’ve been toast. And even with a better market, it continued to lose pool dominance and hardware equipment share. It allowed major competitors like Canaan to gain, eventually launching the first US crypto-related IPO, a milestone industry insiders were sure was Bitmain’s not too long ago.
Zhan and others also wanted that pivot toward AI, something Wu referred to as a venture, not the company’s core mission. While promising, AI was still a long way from being profitable. Wu contrasted himself with Zhan, insisting he knew the business from both sides, tech and finance, better. It was time for a change.
With all that written, documented, Jihan Wu for sure brought the most spice in 2019. Peer-to-peer electronic cash fans are curious to see what he offers in 2020, a critical year for Bitcoin, especially as the so-called Halvening looms (Wu has said it won’t be the price boon many hope). As it stands now, Bitmain remains atop the mining world, Wu is back to steer that ship, and markets have seemingly stabilized though admittedly too low for most tastes. We can’t be sure what the future will bring, but Jihan Wu has proven he will be part of its shaping for many years to come.
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DYOR: CoinSpice is your home for just spicy crypto things. We’re not affiliated with any cryptocurrency project or token. Each published piece is intended for information purposes only, not investment advice and not in the hope of impacting speculative markets. There are plenty of trading sites and coin-specific advocacy journals out there, we’re neither. CoinSpice strives for rigorous accuracy in our reporting. Information presented here is contingent usually on a host of factors, and the ecosystem moves fast — prices change, projects change, and at warp speed. Do your own research.
DISCLOSURE: The author holds cryptocurrency as part of his financial portfolio, including BCH.