TL;DR: In 2018, the Spiciest Person of the Year was a no-brainer. This year, however, spice flung around the ecosystem multiple times daily at least and so the choices are plentiful. We’ve narrowed it down to four runners-up and an eventual champion. Number 5 is Jesse Powell, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange, San Francisco-based Kraken.
Number 5, Jesse Powell, CEO of Kraken
“For Kraken,” Powell told CoinSpice, “2019 was a year of building, scaling systems, making preparations for the next wave. It was actually nice that the markets gave us a bit of a breather.” The co-founder and CEO shot out of the box in January, laying down how regulatory capture leading to the most perverse type of rent-seeking comes by way of US law enforcement, burdening relatively small businesses and startups.
“On the one hand,” our Number 5 Spiciest Person of the Year explained then, “we are happy to assist to the extent legally possible in the capture and prosecution of violent criminals and thieves. On the other hand, nobody likes having a gun to their head, being forced to divert labor from one’s own objectives to somebody else’s.”
Powell isn’t naive about security, and understands the risks, even for exchanges like his. Later that same month, he told Bitcoiners, “PLEASE do not store more coins on an exchange (including @krakenfx) than you need to actively trade. Use @LedgerHQ or @Trezor. DEXes are not a panacea — look at The DAO. Open source just means exploits will be discovered sooner (probably not by good guys).”
Modeling How to be a Good Actor in the Space While Taking Exactly Zero Sh*t
Indeed, not too much longer after when Canadian exchange QuadrigaCX went belly up under mysterious circumstances, Powell revealed, “We have thousands of wallet addresses known to belong to @QuadrigaCoinEx and are investigating the bizarre and, frankly, unbelievable story of the founder’s death and lost keys. I’m not normally calling for subpoenas but if @rcmpgrcpolice are looking in to this, contact @krakenfx.”
He’s known for calling things straight, taking a very un-CEO-like, in the traditional sense, public stand as a model for the ecosystem. When former Bitcoin Foundation Chair Peter Vessenes reasserted claims against what was left the Mt. Gox plunder, Powell thundered, challenging him directly, “Unbelievable balls on [Vessenes] to hold up payouts to thousands of victims for years with an entirely frivolous claim over a botched partnership attempt. How could you think that your $16B claim should be senior to the actual account holders’? How do you show your face?” Powell would also try and warn the Gox Trustee about dumping recovered BTC onto the market.
At the core of Powell’s public persona is a visceral sense of justice, of keeping score, of taking exactly zero shit. When a newer crypto news outlet published what read like a hit-piece on Kraken, after having accepted investment from a direct competitor, characterizing market moves within the Kraken platform as “suspicious behavior,” the CEO was a one-man army. The article questioned Kraken’s volumes, cited unnamed sources, and generally felt weak to veteran readers regardless of their opinions about Kraken or Powell.
“Your piece was ad hominem,” Powell raged (see image, above), “and you went first, and you didn’t care to do the slightest bit of research or ask for comment. I did not publish a hit piece on you as if it was fact-based journalism. Have a look in the mirror, bud. If you don’t want to get hit back, don’t bully me,” demanding Kraken’s name be pulled from the article, corrected heavily at least (see first image above), or that the piece be scrapped entirely. The publication quickly dropped its protestations after Powell’s thrashing.
Exchanges gained ever-more power in 2019, consolidating around a host of factors. As Powell is fond of explaining, a good business model capitalizes on mania in either direction. The American Gold Rush was a prime example. Sure, some prospectors found early fortunes, which then spurred others to seek their own. Those who really made out, in the end, were fellows at the mountains’ bottom, selling shovels, pans, and the equipment of dreams.
“Yes,” Powell told CoinSpice, “exchanges have some power but they’re also in competition among each other. Same concept applies to grocery stores and shelf space. Ultimately, we’re all at the mercy of the consumer. There are thousands of tokens and we are always reevaluating our selection,” presumably referencing a controversial delisting due to a notorious and widely assumed bad actor.
We haven’t even touched on Kraken proper in 2019, its growth and funding. That too was a model of how to build a unicorn while holding onto principles and navigating regulations. “In 2020,” Powell told us, “we are going to refocus on more outward/client-facing upgrades. New apps, more assets, more funding options, more advanced order types and trading tools. Looking forward to seeing how the market responds to the Bitcoin halvening and some other major events.”
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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.