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If you're looking for the statesman of cryptocurrency, you could do worse than Joe Lubin, the soft-spoken founder of Consensys, which helps big companies with blockchain and launches products based on the Ethereum platform, which he cofounded. His peers apparently agree: When he sat down with me recently to discuss his concerns about our inaugural list of crypto-asset tycoons--we found ten who hover near $1 billion and another ten who could be on their way—he said he spoke for himself and others in the ranking.
Lubin suggested that he and his ilk were simple programmers who weren't looking for public attention. He made this argument at the World Economic Forum, as we sat in a private meeting room in the "Ethereal Lounge," a three-floor building he'd quickly built out on Davos' main promenade. For a week, thousands of the world's economic elite flooded in for panels, powwows and free drinks and food. Next door, a giant Crypto HQ drew similar throngs. Hardly signs of a person or industry trying to remain private—a point Lubin, from his Davos perch, conceded.
His second argument: How were we sure our numbers were right? Fair question, one we ask ourselves perpetually. During 36 years tracking the world's richest people, we've honed our methods but kept the underlying philosophy consistent: Err on the conservative side. It's an imperfect science—and in this instance we've adopted ranges to factor in the lack of transparency and wild volatility.
Finally, Lubin brought up security: Since crypto sits outside the banking system, it's more vulnerable to theft. True among the small fry, for sure. But those on this list (and we spoke with almost everyone on it) confirmed they've taken steps to protect themselves from hackers and thugs—breaking up passwords and storing pieces in safe deposits scattered across the country.
Ultimately, Lubin, along with other members of the crypto elite I chatted with, acknowledged the importance of this project. While even the biggest crypto bulls will privately acknowledge that 95% of initial coin offerings are hype, scams or worse, a blockchain-enabled financial system of some kind is here to say. As in the dot-com boom in 1999, some of these crypto billionaires will bust, the Pets.com of their era. Others will weather the inevitable reckoning and morph into something stronger, crypto's eBay or Google. Our list provides a snapshot of a pivotal moment, part of the transparency needed to pull crypto away from its provenance as the favorite currency of drug dealers and into the adolescence of a legitimate asset class.
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