The year 2023 was a turbulent one for the crypto industry, with highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies, heroes and villains. As the year comes to an end, let’s take a look at some of the most influential and controversial figures who shaped the crypto landscape this year.
These are the people who made a positive impact on the crypto industry, either by promoting innovation, adoption, regulation, or education. They are the ones who brought joy and hope to the crypto community, and deserve to be on the nice list.
- Changpeng Zhao: The founder and CEO of Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume, continued to defy the odds and the regulators, as he maintained his vision of a decentralized and borderless crypto ecosystem. Despite facing multiple legal and regulatory challenges from various jurisdictions, Zhao kept Binance running smoothly, expanding its services and offerings, and supporting various crypto projects and initiatives. He also invested $500 million in Twitter, becoming one of the largest shareholders of the social media giant.
- Brian Armstrong: The co-founder and CEO of Coinbase, the leading US-based crypto exchange and one of the first to go public, was a vocal advocate for crypto innovation and regulation. He challenged the SEC’s overreach and lack of clarity, and supported the legal defense of Tornado Cash, a privacy-oriented Ethereum project that was sanctioned by the US Treasury. He also announced that Coinbase would rather suspend its Ethereum staking service than censor transactions from sanctioned addresses, showing his commitment to decentralization and transparency.
- Vitalik Buterin: The co-founder of Ethereum, the second-largest and most widely used blockchain platform, was instrumental in the successful launch of Ethereum 2.0, the long-awaited upgrade that aims to improve the scalability, security, and sustainability of the network. He also contributed to various research and development efforts, such as the merge of the proof-of-work and proof-of-stake chains, the rollups scaling solution, and the Verkle tree data structure. He also donated over $1 billion worth of crypto to various charitable causes, such as the COVID-19 relief in India, the longevity research, and the animal welfare.
- Jack Dorsey: The former CEO of Twitter and the current CEO of Square, the payments company that rebranded to Block, was a staunch supporter of Bitcoin, the original and largest cryptocurrency. He advocated for Bitcoin as a tool for financial inclusion, freedom, and empowerment, and integrated it into his products and services. He also launched a decentralized social media platform called Bluesky, which aims to create an open and user-owned internet. He also resigned from Twitter, saying that he wanted to focus on his other projects and let the company grow under new leadership.
- Cathie Wood: The founder and CEO of ARK Invest, the investment management firm that specializes in disruptive innovation, was one of the most prominent and bullish investors in crypto. She consistently bought the dips and held her positions, even as the crypto market experienced a severe correction in the second half of the year. She also expressed her confidence in the long-term potential and value of crypto, and predicted that Bitcoin would reach $500,000 in the next five years.
- Michael Saylor: The co-founder and CEO of MicroStrategy, the business intelligence company that became one of the first and largest corporate holders of Bitcoin, continued to accumulate and advocate for Bitcoin, despite the volatility and criticism. He also hosted the Bitcoin for Corporations event, which aimed to educate and encourage other companies to adopt Bitcoin as a treasury asset. He also launched a Bitcoin mining subsidiary, called MacroStrategy, which pledged to operate with 100% renewable energy.
- Elon Musk: The founder and CEO of Tesla, the electric vehicle company, and SpaceX, the aerospace company, was one of the most influential and controversial figures in crypto. He boosted the popularity and price of Bitcoin and Dogecoin, a meme-inspired cryptocurrency, by endorsing them on his Twitter account, which has over 70 million followers. He also accepted Bitcoin as a payment option for Tesla, before reversing his decision due to environmental concerns. He later resumed his support for Bitcoin, saying that Tesla would accept it again once it becomes more energy-efficient.
The Grinches: The crypto villains of 2023
These are the people who made a negative impact on the crypto industry, either by hindering innovation, adoption, regulation, or education. They are the ones who brought fear and despair to the crypto community, and deserve to be on the naughty list.
- Gary Gensler: The chairman of the SEC, the US securities regulator, was widely seen as a crypto antagonist, as he pursued an aggressive and hostile approach to the crypto industry. He sued several crypto companies, such as Ripple, Uniswap, and BlockFi, for allegedly violating securities laws, and issued numerous subpoenas and requests for information. He also refused to provide clear and consistent guidance on the regulatory status of crypto assets, and rejected all the proposals for a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF).
- Sam Bankman-Fried: The founder and CEO of FTX, the crypto exchange and derivatives platform, was blamed for the collapse of his company, which triggered a domino effect that affected the entire crypto market. He was accused of engaging in reckless and unethical practices, such as manipulating prices, liquidating positions, shorting competitors, and bribing regulators. He also faced multiple lawsuits and investigations, and was forced to file for bankruptcy protection.
- Justin Sun: The founder and CEO of TRON, the blockchain platform that claims to offer high scalability, low fees, and smart contracts, was exposed as a fraud and a scammer, as he was involved in various scandals and controversies. He was accused of plagiarizing code, inflating metrics, bribing influencers, censoring critics, and stealing funds. He also lost the control of Steemit, the decentralized social media platform that he acquired in 2022, after a community-led revolt and a legal battle.
- Craig Wright: The self-proclaimed Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous creator of Bitcoin, continued to assert his dubious claim and sue anyone who challenged him. He also promoted Bitcoin SV, a fork of Bitcoin that he claims to be the true vision of Satoshi, despite its poor performance and adoption. He also faced several legal troubles, such as the ongoing lawsuit with the estate of his former business partner, Dave Kleiman, and the investigation by the Australian tax authorities.
- Elizabeth Warren: The US senator and the chair of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Economic Policy, was a vocal critic and opponent of crypto, as she repeatedly called for more regulation and oversight of the industry. She claimed that crypto was a threat to the financial stability, consumer protection, and environmental sustainability, and urged the government to crack down on it. She also dismissed the potential benefits and innovations of crypto, and advocated for the creation of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) instead.
- Kim Jong-un: The supreme leader of North Korea, the isolated and authoritarian state, was accused of using crypto as a tool for evading sanctions, funding nuclear weapons, and launching cyberattacks. He was reported to have amassed a large stash of crypto, worth billions of dollars, by hacking exchanges, mining coins, and running scams. He also allegedly used crypto to pay for the assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in 2017.
- Mark Zuckerberg: The founder and CEO of Meta, the rebranded name of Facebook, the social media giant, was criticized for his attempt to dominate the metaverse, the virtual and immersive extension of the internet, by launching his own crypto project, called Diem, formerly known as Libra. He was accused of copying and stealing ideas from other crypto and metaverse projects, and imposing his centralized and monopolistic vision on the industry. He also faced backlash from regulators, lawmakers, and users, who questioned his motives and trustworthiness.