At a fateful meeting in Zug, Switzerland, on June 7, 2014, Ethereum’s eight cofounders gathered together in a rented house in the woods, dubbed “the spaceship,” to decide the future of what was to become the world’s second-biggest blockchain platform.
They never did sign the document incorporating Ethereum, which is what had brought them there in the first place—the blockchain platform remains a non-profit. Instead, two stepped down from their active roles. But, from that point on, all eight were enshrined as co-founders of a startup which is now worth a cool $27 billion.
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Today, only one of the eight co-founders remains actively working on Ethereum—their grand experiment for a new financial revolution. “They were all huge personalities, huge egos, some more than others,” Camila Russo, author of The Infinite Machine, the startup’s first published history, told Decrypt. “That kind of points to why the eight aren’t in Ethereum anymore. They were just too big personalities to be sharing.”
Most of them, however, are still in the crypto space. Many of their names will be familiar—some less so. Here’s what they’re up to five years after the start of their breathtaking venture.
Ethereum was conceived by 19-year-old, Russian-Canadian, computer science geek and Bitcoin Magazine writer Vitalik Buterin in November 2013. Buterin’s whitepaper, written after three years spent exploring the emerging crypto sector, was his response to the limitations of Bitcoin, and proposed a platform enabling any decentralized, censorship-resistant application imaginable.
Buterin was a reluctant leader, said Russo, but time has proven him to be a good one. His youth and passion—and the fact that Ethereum was such a good idea—made him an inspirational force, and his commitment to Ethereum remains unquestionable.
He’s tried to take a backseat in recent years, to focus on Ethereum 2.0—the next phase of the blockchain platform’s development, which will enable it to scale. Controversially, he’s determined that rollout will begin as early as the end of the year.
He is the only one of the Ethereum co-founders still directly working on the platform.
Mihai Alisie, a graduate in Cybernetic Economics, was making a living coaching and playing poker in his home country Romania, when he heard about Bitcoin. He got in touch with Buterin in 2011, and they decided to set up Bitcoin Magazine, and then worked together on Egora, a decentralized eBay for Bitcoin.
Alisie helped to establish Ethereum’s Swiss base, incorporating the initial startup, opening a bank account for the fledgling crypto company (not an easy process), and dealing with lawyers and Swiss officials on the legal framework critical for the pre-sale campaign.
“In the early days this was just a bunch of people with great ideas and grand ambition, it was not clear that there was going to be a success,” he told Decrypt.
He was vice-president of the Ethereum Foundation until late 2015, when he turned his attention to Akasha, a social framework for Ethereum.
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Alisie is not nearly as involved with Ethereum as he was before, but his social network experiment is taking shape and may even launch in time to coincide with Ethereum 2.0.
Anthony Di Iorio
Like Buterin, Anthony Di Iorio hails from Toronto. He had family money and had dabbled in marketing and ventures, investing a cool £1 million in a geothermal drill business before Bitcoin grabbed his attention. He met Buterin at a Bitcoin meetup, which he himself organized in November 2012, and was one of the first people that Ethereum’s creator asked to be a co-founder.
But Di Iorio didn’t appear to be as keen as some of the other co-founders on the non-profit path that Ethereum adopted, according to Russo. And he largely took a backseat after this was decided.
After Ethereum, Di Iorio was chief digital officer of the Toronto Stock Exchange for a short time but left to found Decentral—developer of the Jaxx digital wallet, which first launched in May 2018. In the same year, Di Iorio made the Forbes list of the top-20 richest people in cryptocurrency, with an estimated net worth of $750 million-$1 billion.
He stepped down as Decentral CEO in September 2019, and, according to Russo, has since shifted his focus into the health and wellness space.
Buterin met Amir Chetrit, a US-Israeli national, at a Bitcoin business conference in Amsterdam in September 2013. The latter had dropped out of his computer science degree and then dabbled in real estate in the years prior to 2008, when—like nearly all the other founders—he began to doubt the traditional finance system.
He got into Bitcoin, and, at the time he met Buterin, was working with Israeli startup Colored Coins, a project to manage real-world assets as tokens on top of the Bitcoin network. Buterin also worked on the project before he came up with Ethereum; in December 2013, he asked Chetrit to join him.
At the co-founders’ meeting in June 2014, Chetrit came under fire from Ethereum developers and other co-founders for his lack of input on Ethereum, and agreed to step down, while remaining a cofounder.
He quietly supports various different blockchain projects, but is very low-profile, and doesn’t like publicity, said Russo.
Charles Hoskinson wanted to be a mathematician, before becoming disillusioned with the profession and taking an increasing interest in Bitcoin. Born in Hawaii, and raised in Colorado, Hoskinson already had experience of raising money for an early version of a decentralized exchange when he was introduced to Ethereum, and Buterin, by Anthony Di Iorio.
He became one of the original five Ethereum co-founders, and was named CEO in December 2013—taking a leading role in setting up the Swiss Foundation, and its legal framework. Hoskinson was an early advocate of Ethereum as a pro-profit corporation, which chimed badly with many of the others, and ultimately led to his departure. “It was a huge crush to him when he was told to leave,” said Russo—who spoke to all the founders about the circumstances surrounding the decision.
Hoskinson went on to support Ethereum Classic, the rival blockchain that was born out of Ethereum’s controversial hard fork in 2016. In tandem, he launched Cardano, which has risen to become the sixth biggest cryptocurrency by market cap, since the rollout of a major new blockchain upgrade earlier this month.
“He’s convinced that Cardano will be the real Ethereum killer. And the thing that succeeds in bringing decentralized applications,” said Russo.
British computer programmer Gavin Wood was introduced to Bitcoin—and, subsequently, Vitalik’s whitepaper—by Bitcoin evangelists Amir Taaki and Johnny Bitcoin. He got in touch with Buterin, and offered to write an implementation of Ethereum in the C++ programming language. He met the first five co-founders in Miami, just before the North American Bitcoin conference in January 2014, where Ethereum was due to be unveiled.
After being the first to get an Ethereum testnet up and running, he demanded a place at the top table. The others agreed, but not without some pushback. In April 2014, he published the Ethereum Yellow Paper, a technical specification of Vitalik’s white paper, and later proposed Ethereum’s native programming language Solidity.
“He really does believe that he was a main builder of Ethereum, and arguments do support that,” said Russo. “He believes that he had an even more important role in Ethereum than Vitalik—to some extent.”
Wood continued to work on the Ethereum code, via Parity, the company he founded with his partner Jutta Steiner. But now he is solely focussed on the Web3 Foundation, and its interoperability blockchain project Polkadot—a competitor to Ethereum.
Another computer programmer, Jeffrey Wilcke was in the Netherlands working on Mastercoin, the first ICO, when he heard about Ethereum. He got so interested that he decided to write an implementation of it in Google’s Go language on the quiet. He was added to the founders roster alongside Gavin Wood in early 2014.
Wilcke had begun his software implementation—which was later renamed Go Ethereum, and then simply “Geth”—at roughly the same time as Wood began his version on C++. But each, being unaware of the other, had worked separately. Having two implementations later turned out to be fortuitous: there would always be a backup.
But, after the controversial hard fork, a series of hacks, and the birth of his son, Wilcke handed the supervision of Geth over to his right-hand man Peter Szilagyi. At the end of last year, he hinted at the frustrations that had caused him to quit.
Now, with his brother Joey, he has a games development studio, Grid Games, and recently put some of the ether he received from Ethereum up for sale to fund development. Grid Games has now begun recruiting developers.
The most experienced of the eight founders, Joseph Lubin graduated in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton in 1987.
A diverse career in software engineering, music producing, business and finance followed before Lubin became interested in crypto and made contact with fellow-Canadian Di Iorio through the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada. Later, he was introduced to Buterin, and was asked to join the group of co-founders. Di Iorio and Lubin’s deep pockets kept the fledgling Ethereum afloat.
Lubin was already planning a for-profit company to build the platform’s application layer when the decision to make Ethereum a nonprofit was made.
The company he launched, Consensys, has become an incubator for other blockchain startups (and an editorially independent Decrypt) but has also been key in recruiting influential Ethereum partners—such as JPMorgan, CME Group, BNY Mellon, Credit Suisse, Banco Santander, BBVA, ING, UBS, BP, Intel, and Microsoft.
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