Who Is Vitalik Buterin?

Written by Jason Simpkins
Posted June 19, 2017 at 1:20PM

The inventor of Bitcoin, “Satoshi Nakamoto” remains a mystery, but there’s a definite face behind the cryptocurrency’s biggest rival Ethereum.

It’s that of Vitalik Buterin.

Buterin is a 23-year-old coder — a vagabond who lives out of a backpack and crashes on couches wherever he happens to be coding.

He isn’t backed by VC money, and he’s not looking for an overnight windfall. Rather than set himself up for an IPO, he structured his “startup” as a nonprofit foundation based in Zug, Switzerland.

As a teenager, Buterin first wrote blog posts about Bitcoin for a meager sum of five Bitcoins per piece — about $4 per post at the time. When the site went belly up, he started posting teaser paragraphs of new articles in Bitcoin forums, soliciting contributions to finish his post. And in 2011, at the age of 17, he co-founded Bitcoin Magazine with a fellow programmer.

In the years since, the print and online publication has accumulated 1.5 million readers with Buterin writing most of the articles.

All this work came to fruition last year when Buterin released Ether, his cryptocurrency competitor to Bitcoin.

The currency immediately made waves. And over the past year it’s soared from less than $1 in value to $400. That’s brought the value of all existing Ether to nearly $34 billion, nearly on par with Bitcoin whose value totals $42 billion.

Gaining the attention of technophiles and entrepreneurs, Buterin partnered with Joseph Lubin, a software expert and former hedge fund manager.

Lubin was crucial in helping get Ethereum off the ground, providing much of the initial funding. Now, he runs ConsenSys, a Brooklyn-based incubator that builds Ethereum applications. The group has already hired more than 50 developers and produced hundreds of apps. And ConsenSys is still recruiting programmers to reinvent every major industry from finance, to energy, to healthcare.

Ethereum’s boosters believe the network could someday power a host censorship-free social networks, public utilities, ride-hailing apps, crowd-sourced prediction markets and investment firms, and even governments.

The only thing standing in the way is skepticism.

“The main advantage of blockchain technology is supposed to be that it’s more secure, but new technologies are generally hard for people to trust, and this paradox can’t really be avoided,” Buterin wrote in an email to Fortune. “We have to just live through it.”

It may take some time for Ethereum to gain mainstream acceptance and fulfill its potential. But many of its early investors have already reaped financial windfalls.

Buterin, meanwhile, recently addressed the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I started in the Blockchain space six years ago,” he said. “I earned 20 BTC, 8.5 of them I invested into buying a shirt. Bitcoins I spent are now worth $20,000 and the shirt is long gone.”

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Jason Simpkins

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Jason Simpkins is a seven-year veteran of the financial publishing industry, where he's served as a reporter, analyst, investment strategist and prognosticator. He's written more than 1,000 articles pertaining to personal finance and macroeconomics. Simpkins also served as the chief investment analyst for a trading service that focused exclusively on high-flying energy stocks. For more on Jason, check out his editor's page. 

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