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Crypto thought leaders - Balaji Srinivasan

In the third of our crypto thought leaders series, we feature one of the most intriguing figures in the crypto landscape, Balaji Srinivasan. He is someone with a unique background as both an academic and entrepreneur. Furthermore, he possesses a diverse range of knowledge and is able to explain complex concepts behind blockchain technology with clarity and ease.

For all these reasons, Balaji is a guest on crypto podcasts, has more than a quarter of a million followers on Twitter and has been published in various eminent journals.

Who is Balaji Srinivasan?

Balaji Srinivasan is of Indian origin but his parents moved to the US in the early 70s. Although both physicians, they didn’t want him and his brother to follow in their footsteps, instead encouraging their children to pursue careers in computer science.

Srinivasan holds a BS, MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering and MS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University. During his studies, he co-founded a successful genomics startup called Counsyl, a leader in molecular diagnostics, which later sold for $375 million to Myriad Genetics, Inc.

In 2012, he made a significant shift in his career, stepping back from an executive role in Counsyl and completely devoting himself to crypto-related projects. He co-founded a Bitcoin mining company 21.co, which attracted attention from the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. After six months of persuasion, Balaji Srinivasan accepted an offer to become the youngest General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. He would focus on Bitcoin, biomedicine and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

In 2015, he decided to step down from his General Partner role and return as CEO to his initial Bitcoin startup 21.co. The company was facing more than $80 million in debt commitments after the Bitcoin crash but a new team led by Srinivasan managed to save the company from bankruptcy and rebrand it to Earn.com two years later. This blockchain-powered service pays users in cryptocurrency for completing tasks. Fast forward a year and Coinbase bought Earn.com for a staggering $120 million. As a result, Balaji Srinivasan had a new role as Coinbase’s first CTO.

However, it didn’t take him long to shift his role once again. After only one year at Coinbase, Balaji decided to move forward with other projects. These included Coin Center, a nonprofit advocacy centre for crypto policy issues, Nakamoto, a crypto community journal, and many others. His most recent endeavour is 1729, a newsletter that pays you in bitcoin.

Srinivasan is also an occasional Stanford University professor of data mining, statistics, computational biology and bitcoin engineering. He has received various awards, including the Wall Street Journal Innovation Award for Medicine, the MIT Technology Review for Top Innovator Under 35 and one of Scientific American’s Top 10 World-Changing Ideas.

Publishing highlights

Although he is very popular on Twitter and uses his channel daily, Srinivasan strongly believes in decentralised media. He suggests a three-step strategy for gradually exiting Twitter and engaging with followers through newsletters and long-form opinion articles he regularly publishes on his Medium channel.

Quantifying decentralisation

In July 2017, together with Leland Lee, Srinivasan introduced the Nakamoto coefficient, which is a simple, quantitative measure of a system’s decentralisation. It represents the “minimum number of entities required to compromise a given system”; the higher the minimum Nakamoto coefficient value, the more decentralised the system is. Benchmarks for blockchain decentralisation still use this measure today.

The blockchain Is the internet of money

Referencing Andreas Antonopoulos’s revolutionary book, this Wall Street Journal article examines the significance of blockchain technology, stating that “the blockchain is the most consequential technology since the internet.” While this may have been published in September 2017 during a time of blockchain hype, Srinivasan was able to articulate the power behind blockchain technology in a way that is still relevant today.

And What Has the Blockchain Ever Done for Us?

After the infamous Bitcoin crash of 2018, the sentiment around crypto and blockchain was growing very sceptical. However, this piece proves that Srinivasan never doubted the power of blockchain. He reviewed the reasons behind people’s distrust of new technologies and why blockchain has already established itself as a profitable 10x investment with meaningful application in areas such as digital gold, international wire transfers and crowdfunding.

Balaji Srinivasan: Living in the Future

Balaji has appeared on several podcasts and at many conferences in his career but this conversation with David Perell is a great overview of who he is, where he came from and what he believes in. He talks about his education, previous successful companies and future investments, as well as how he identifies talent, his diverse range of interests and the ultimate goal of technology.

Quotes and opinions

On why he got into crypto:

“I'm interested in businesses that take digital bits and turn them into interfaces for physical atoms. I'm also interested in drones, Bitcoin and 3D printing.”

“The Internet is programmable information. The blockchain is programmable scarcity.”

On the potential of Bitcoin and other digital currencies:

“We believe the most significant long-term application of bitcoin may be reducing the upfront cost of internet-connected devices to make them more accessible for the developing world.”

“Isn't the purpose of bitcoin mining simply to get rich - or not, as the case may be? Well, at 21, we are less concerned with bitcoin as a financial instrument and more interested in bitcoin as a protocol - and particularly in the industrial uses of bitcoin enabled by embedded mining.”

On the future of Bitcoin and blockchain technologies:

“By, say, 2025-2030, I expect that there will be multiple jurisdictions that allow the tokenisation of virtually any scarce resource, all the way down to personal tokens.”

“The rise of all these new tokens and public blockchains means the internet will, in the long term, become by far the biggest ‘stock’ market — once the regulatory issues are worked through — just as it has become the biggest library.”

“The internet increases variance in everything. Crypto attracts the world’s leading cryptographers and the world’s most impulsive day traders. Sometimes these are even the same person.“

Thought leadership status

Balaji Srinivasan is one of those people whose originality and innovative thinking shapes the narrative of the future. Whether he is leading blockchain startups into multi-million dollar businesses, writing comprehensive articles to share his passion and vision for blockchain technology or engaging with his Twitter community about the future of crypto, Srinivasan has definitely earned his status as one of the most radical and eye-catching crypto thought leaders.

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