Marinade and Jito have both drawn comparisons to Lido (LDO), the best-known and, by far, the largest LST protocol in crypto. Lido has commanded most LST activity on Ethereum (ETH) but struggled to replicate that success on Solana. In mid-October, right at the start of the recent Solana rally, it quit the ecosystem. This left a wider opening for Marinade and Jito, both of which started on and stuck with Solana.
The points program could further juice growth in what’s already become the star of Solana’s recent bounceback. Its SOL token has more than tripled since mid-October as DeFi traders return to Solana’s on-chain trading, borrowing, lending and yield-generating projects, most notably Kamino.
Only 10% of JTO’s total supply is being distributed to airdroppers, who, notably, have an 18 month window to claim their treasure. Any unallocated tokens will go into a treasury controlled by Jito’s decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), which is managed by JTO holders.
Still, Yakovenko and the coterie of committed ecosystem developers continue to build the world over. This year Solana saw the launch of the blockchain-forward Saga phone, announced by Yakovenko, a former operating systems developer at Qualcomm, and got a taste of Firedancer, the upcoming secondary chain client built by trading powerhouse Jump Crypto. Low cost payments in particular is one area where Solana shows promise.
Founders and CEOs come and go in crypto’s upper echelons. But is Brian Armstrong forever?
It’s a question worth asking after the 40-year-old head of Coinbase has been on the job for more than a decade. In that time, he’s outlasted most of his business partners as well as the competition to create the most important exchange serving U.S. crypto traders.
This profile is part of CoinDesk’s Most Influential 2023. For the full list, click here.
Navigating the competitive crypto landscape
Now, Coinbase is finding potentially lucrative ways to enter new product markets, including the derivatives trading game. In mere weeks, it might begin custodying BTC for one of the many bitcoin (BTC) exchange traded funds (ETFs) waiting for regulatory approval. After all, Coinbase is the partner of choice for most of the issuers.
As for Armstrong’s biggest business foes, well, they’ve been vanquished by his home country.
Before FTX imploded under the weight of its CEO’s massive fraud scheme, Sam Bankman-Fried was planning to rewrite the rules of U.S. futures trading – an arena Coinbase entered just last month. Of course, it didn’t end up quite how he envisioned it. SBF started FTX in 2019 and resigned in 2022.
And Changpeng “CZ” Zhao no longer poses a threat to Armstrong’s top-dog stature. In November, Binance’s king of crypto stepped down as part of a deal to atone for the wily exchange’s past compliance sins. Binance remains the world’s largest exchange, and therefore a competitor to Coinbase’s global ambitions. But it will go forth without the input of the founder who put it there (Richard Teng, a relative unknown, is the new CEO). CZ started Binance in 2017 and stepped down this year as his company faced multiple investigations from U.S. authorities.
Armstrong, who started Coinbase in 2012, shows no signs of slowing down. Reached by email, he detailed several major accomplishments this year, starting with the launch of Base, Coinbase’s popular Layer 2 (CoinDesk’s “Most Influential 2023” also honors Jesse Pollak, Base’s lead architect).
Coinbase also moved aggressively into crypto derivatives this year, with the launch of a new international exchange, and the facilitation of U.S. derivatives trading through its Coinbase Financial Markets service. “Derivatives make up 75% of global crypto volumes and the industry is in need of a trusted, regulatory compliant exchange like Coinbase to offer safe derivatives products,” Armstrong told CoinDesk.
Coinbase’s political and regulatory strategy
To be sure, Coinbase faces major headwinds, particularly on the regulation front.
This June, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission launched a major lawsuit against Coinbase, accusing it of operating an illegal securities exchange, broker and clearing agency.
The case is a key one for the whole crypto industry, which, by inference, faces the same accusations of massive securities violations. Coinbase finds itself as a standard bearer for the whole industry in its fight against Gary Gensler’s SEC, which seeks to treat all tokens, bar bitcoin, as securities and therefore subject to the SEC’s remit.
Against Gensler’s depiction of Coinbase as profiting off crypto’s wild west is Armstrong’s vision of the company as something closer to a local sheriff. After all, Coinbase is one of the world’s most tightly regulated crypto exchange companies by virtue of its listing on public markets, which happened in 2021. That moment capped years of compliance concessions that Armstrong says slowed its growth but was well worth it.
“It’s more difficult and expensive to take a compliant approach. You can’t launch every product that customers want when it’s illegal. But it’s the right approach because we believe in rule of law,” he tweeted on Nov 21, after CZ pleaded guilty.
Now that crypto’s “new chapter” has arrived, Armstrong is well poised to lead its public-facing front even more than he already has.
The bald-headed CEO has never been one to shy away from controversy. In late 2020, he declared Coinbase would be a “mission-driven company” that would not engage with its employees on social activism fronts, as many other Silicon Valley startups were doing at the time. Instead, he wanted employees to focus solely on Coinbase’s commitment to crypto. This would be the single political area where Armstrong said Coinbase would engage.
In 2023, Coinbase and Armstrong pushed back in the perceived “war against crypto” with vocal calls to action against the U.S. agencies leading it. Whether it’s compelling customers to flood troublesome IRS rules proposals with comments, or criticizing the SEC for regulating by enforcement, Armstrong is seeing his statement through.
The most important entrant to Armstrong’s battle may be its non-profit, Stand With Crypto. Launched in mid-2023, the pro-crypto policy group’s stated mission is to defend the entire industry from critics in America’s halls of power.
The group is modeling its efforts around what’s worked for the U.S.’s most influential advocacy outfits. Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association both grade politicians based on their commitment to niche political issues – a tactic that helps voters divvy up their donations as well as their votes. Stand With Crypto is doing the same.
“There’s 52 million Americans who use crypto now,” Armstrong said in a CNBC interview in late September, right after he chaired a Stand With Crypto event in DC. By his actions – if not his words – he was doing what he could to be the voice for this “major constituency.”
“Coinbase was proud to help launch an independent movement known as Stand with Crypto that now has more than 100,000 advocates and unique tools that help connect advocates directly with their representatives to make their voices heard,” Armstrong told CoinDesk via email.
It is worth remembering that Stand With Crypto serves Coinbase’s business interests. This is a publicly traded company that seeks to grow by onboarding more people into its services, generating more revenue, boosting its share price for its investors. Regulatory clarity and Capitol Hill muscle could clear the field and get it done.
Regardless, it’s not engaged (at least not yet) in the narrow kind of rulemaking lobbying that will predominantly serve ITS business interests, as FTX tried to do with commodities rulemaking. The fight that Coinbase and Armstrong are leading would likely pay dividends for the entire industry. It just so happens that Coinbase’s number-one position means it stands to benefit the most.
Armstrong’s efforts to crowdsource Coinbase’s political influence points to the company’s subtly shifting strategies. Undoubtedly it’s one of the biggest crypto lobbyists in D.C., having spent $2.1 million through the first three quarters of the year.
“Now that some enforcement actions have landed, we have an opportunity as an industry to turn the page and write the next chapter of crypto adoption. I’m proud that Coinbase has always taken a compliant and trusted approach, and built for the long term, playing by the rules,” Armstrong writes. “What keeps me motivated is that I’m passionate about economic freedom, and I can see that the technology underlying crypto is powerful enough that it will help bring this to the world. Crypto isn’t going anyway, it’s the future of money, and will become a greater share of global GDP over time,” he said.
“With Layer 2, ETFs, and the Bitcoin halving next year, I’m optimistic for 2024.”
“Our integration with Uniswap allows Talos’s institutional clients to access a much requested source of wide and deep liquidity — whether that’s investors looking for exposure to various projects and protocols that are only traded on Uniswap or whether that’s market players looking for additional, deep liquidity in major instruments like ETH,” Talos CEO Anton Katz said.
Sports-betting company DraftKings publicly agreed in early 2022 to be a network validator that helped run the Polygon blockchain.
On-chain data shows Polygon gave DraftKings millions of MATIC to help its validator turn a massive profit with little precedent.
Even though it was being paid, DraftKings failed to maintain its validator’s performance and was kicked off the network last month.
In early 2022, Polygon Labs announced an “important adoption milestone” for its tech infrastructure: DraftKings would begin running one of its network validators, “marking the first time a major publicly-traded firm has taken an active role in blockchain governance.”
What Polygon neglected to disclose at the time: It was paying the sports-betting company millions of valuable MATIC tokens to do it.
Twenty months later, Polygon has sunk those millions into a validator that’s gone kaput.
CoinDesk reviewed dozens of on-chain records relating to Polygon’s validator program to make sense of the companies’ previously unreported financial setup, and interviewed former employees and validator operators familiar with Polygon’s staking ecosystem.
On-chain data reveals that DraftKings received millions of dollars in crypto directly from Polygon at the start of their “strategic blockchain agreement” in October 2021. DraftKings then earned millions more through a special staking relationship that few of Polygon network’s other validators enjoyed. Neither company disclosed these financial ties.
It’s not unheard of for Web3 companies to pay mainstream brands to take part in their crypto ecosystems, be it through marketing partnerships or tech setups. But they balk at publicly discussing the treasure they spend to build this image of mainstream adoption. The on-chain data showing Polygon’s special treatment of DraftKings provides a rare window into such an arrangement.
Representatives for Polygon and DraftKings declined to discuss the financing of the validator deal, citing confidentiality agreements.
DraftKings was not an “equal community member” among Polygon network’s 100 validators, as one Polygon executive called it. Blockchain data show it received outsized compensation to take an “active role in blockchain governance” – and then didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
DraftKings’ Polygon validator
Being a validator on Polygon’s network comes with responsibilities. By design, only 100-odd entities – corporations, staking services, crypto exchanges and others – may lend their computing power to the network at once. They do the work of verifying transactions on the platform. The network rewards their efforts by automatically sending them Polygon’s crypto, called MATIC. This is the key to the process known as staking.
Validators “stake” MATIC as collateral against their doing honest work. They can earn more MATIC rewards by staking more MATIC tokens. MATIC owners who don’t run their own validators can “delegate” their tokens to others, who do. Most Polygon validators charge a 5%-10% commission on the rewards earned from these delegated tokens.
DraftKings’ validator was different. It charged a 100% commission, meaning its dozen or so small-time delegators didn’t get a single MATIC token as reward.
“The whole point was to set and forget it,” said Boris Mann, one such DraftKings delegator, who estimated he missed around $800 because he didn’t realize the company took the whole staking reward as commission.
The DraftKings validator grew to be among the Polygon network’s largest. Its biggest delegator was Polygon: The project had delegated 60 million MATIC tokens to help DraftKings earn more staking rewards.
Polygon apparently wasn’t concerned with letting DraftKings eat its lunch – it seems that was kind of the point.
No money down for DraftKings
There’s nothing unusual about Polygon Foundation – or any blockchain steward, really – delegating its native token to other validators, people familiar with the staking industry said.
By delegating tokens to validators, foundations can pay brand partners and reward network contributors without taking a direct hit to the balance sheet. The partners benefit from the staking payouts accrued to them by using delegated tokens; at the end of the day, the foundation can get those tokens back.
“Foundations naturally have huge treasuries” of their blockchains’ native tokens, said Edouard Lavidalle, the co-founder of Stakin, a crypto staking company that runs a validator on Polygon. “They need to stake these, and diversify this stake, while caring about performance and decentralization.”
But the size of the stake Polygon delegated to DraftKings, combined with the arrangement for DraftKings to take 100% of rewards, is highly unusual.
On Nov. 14 (a month after DraftKings’ validator was removed from the network), a single Polygon Foundation-controlled wallet wielded nearly 13% of all MATIC being staked to the network. This wallet had spread 454 million tokens across 26 validators. Just over 50% of these tokens were with validators charging no commission – meaning Polygon got all the rewards. Most of the rest was with validators taking up to 10%. Just one validator (Stake Capital) with Polygon’s MATIC charged 100%, and its delegated stake was a fraction the size of what DraftKings’ was.
This chart shows how DraftKings’ validator benefitted from MATIC tokens delegated by Polygon. It took a 100% commission on an unusually large tranche. (Chart by C. Spencer Beggs/CoinDesk)
For most of the last year, DraftKings’ validator was staking 65.5 million MATIC tokens, 91% of which had been delegated to it by Polygon. Most of the rest was DraftKings’ own MATIC: 3 million MATIC it earned from staking rewards, and 2.5 million it had staked at the beginning of the relationship in March 2022.
When it did so five months later, DraftKings told its investors it would “stake digital assets it holds in its treasury” to earn rewards on the Polygon network. It did not say it had received those tokens from Polygon, nor did Polygon say it had sent any.
Polygon’s undisclosed allocation to DraftKings – and its validator’s near-complete reliance on Polygon – undercut the blockchain company’s own characterizations about the validator being like all the others.
“DraftKings will take its place among existing validators as an equal community member, solidifying our desire to achieve a decentralized, community-run consensus network,” Sandeep Nailwal, co-founder of Polygon, said in a press release on March 7, 2022.
The statement made no mention of Polygon’s strategy to delegate millions of tokens to DraftKings. At that time, it had already earmarked 10 million MATIC for the validator; by the end of the relationship, that total had grown to 60 million MATIC.
From November 2022 until the validator’s demise in mid-October 2023, DraftKings withdrew a total of 3.2 million MATIC, worth just over $2 million at current prices. It had amassed more in personal rewards than any other validator over that period. These rewards were possible only because of Polygon’s massive delegation. Without those 60 million MATIC tokens, DraftKings might have earned only 4% of what it did, data from validator.info suggests.
DraftKings’ earnings came at the expense of every other staker in Polygon’s ecosystem. The network issues only a finite number of MATIC rewards to stakers annually. At least 80% of DraftKings’ Polygon-delegated tokens came directly from the foundation, meaning they were not previously being staked. These newly delegated tokens diluted how much rewards everyone else could get.
Slouching toward irrelevance
It is unclear why DraftKings allowed its Polygon validator to fall into disrepair. But on-chain clues hint the companies’ infrastructure relationship began to shift just over a year ago.
On Nov. 7, 2022, the entire crypto industry was on the cusp of chaos. Rumors were swirling of a massive financial hole at crypto exchange FTX. Within days, it would declare bankruptcy and its founder Sam Bankman-Fried would be arrested and later convicted of fraud.
By this point, DraftKings was rolling in MATIC rewards. In eight months, the validator’s token stake had grown 120% to 5,578,691 MATIC ($6.3 million at the time). No other Polygon validator had earned that much for itself over that time. Then again, none of the other validators had been charging 100% commission on so many tokens delegated from Polygon.
DraftKings’ validator kept on going for nearly a year until this September, when it began underperforming in its core job of checking the chain. It received a first strike, then a second; in early October, it got a “final notice.” The self-policing network would soon boot DraftKings for failing to meet its requirements.
Polygon’s separate NFT deal with DraftKings remains active.
“We are working with a third-party provider to have our validator node reinstated on the Polygon network adhering to standard procedures that all Polygon validators must follow. This will not impact our customers,” a DraftKings employee close to the deal said.
Edited by Marc Hochstein and Nick Baker.
The asset, which has been valued at less than $1.00 for nearly all of its life, gained ground this week and rallied to $0.985 for the first time since August. Its volatile gains aren’t doing anything to fix GHO’s reputation as a not-so-stablecoin, but they do set the token close to the levels one might expect from an asset that’s supposed to be worth a dollar – not $0.96.
Binance targeted growth in the U.S. market, especially among “VIP” users who drove the exchange’s trading volume and thus its revenue. These power users and their liquidity helped make Binance a juggernaut in crypto trading. According to the government, Binance’s executives “tracked and monitored” the exchange’s performance in the U.S. market and even touted their success.
The service, which already has 53,000 signups, debuts as the entire Solana ecosystem emerges from a prolonged downtrend, led by the rallying price of SOL itself. It’s trading at $59 at press time, up from $19 during the depth of the bear market.
This distinction means R/Note must follow stricter rules around who can own and trade it than most other blockchain-based tokens. Avalanche blockchain is best-suited for RWAs “because it has innate features” that other chains don’t have, like the ability to set up controllable subnets, said Andrew Durgee, head of Republic Crypto.
SOL’s price jump could prove to be a win for the many creditors of FTX. The asset is now trading in a range that will make customers of the crypto exchange whole, according to Thomas Braziel, the CEO of 117 Partners, a company that closely follows the distressed asset markets. Sam Bankman-Fried was just convicted for stealing that customer money.
Eisenberg’s trial schedule was moving nearly as speedily until late October, when the Bureau of Prisons moved him from a New Jersey federal jail to Brookyln’s more restrictive Metropolitan Detention Center, hampering defense lawyers’ efforts to prepare for his December 8 trial date, according to a filing.
OPNX, the crypto trading platform tied to Three Arrows Capital’s founders, has dropped its defamation suit against crypto venture investor Mike Dudas, according to court documents reviewed by CoinDesk.
Sam Bankman-Fried once infamously offered to buy all the Solana tokens he could for $3 each. On Friday, while testifying at his criminal trial, he revealed he’d actually started buying SOL much earlier in its history, at 20 cents apiece.
In March 2022, Bankman-Fried even took a dinner with Mayor Adams at Osteria La Baia, an Italian restaurant near the Museum of Modern Art that’s owned by friends of Hizzoner and has become his de-facto after-hours office. A copy of the mayor’s public schedule has a “Hold for Mayor” meeting on March 3, 2022, starting at 8:30 p.m. ET, but does not include details of who he met with. In September 2022 Bankman-Fried was slated to meet New York Governor Kathy Hochul at The Capital Grille steakhouse – an odd meeting ground for the avowed vegan.
The new “interface fee” impacts trades in which one of the tokens is ETH, USDC, WETH, USDT, DAI, WBTC, agEUR, GUSD, LUSD, EUROC or XSGD, according to an FAQ. Stablecoin swaps will not be taxed and neither will traded between ether and wrapped ether.
“However, as we approach the defense case and the critical decision of whether Mr. Bankman-Fried will testify, the defense has a growing concern that because of Mr. Bankman-Fried’s lack of access to Adderall he has not been able to concentrate at the level he ordinarily would and that he will not be able to meaningfully participate in the presentation of the defense case,” Cohen wrote.
“Is it in the spirit of crypto that a community binding proposal take effect, because of a 1 of 1 vote? Is this the decentralization we want to see?” said Nelson Rosario, an attorney who specializes in crypto law.
“We tried something new, we learned from the experience, and we’ll keep building,” Slatkin said in the announcement. “New products, both announced and unannounced, will improve on what was developed for Real USD and Tangible will continue to be a leader in the category.”
The proposal includes provisions that would liquidate the treasury “and allow Ward and Murray to distribute the tokens,” although it does not say to whom. BarnBridge’s treasury sits above $200,000 in various cryptocurrencies according to public data on two wallets. Some of that cash is also earmarked for legal expenses by the proposal.
Ellison, 28, is the government’s highly anticipated star witness in the six-week trial of Bankman-Fried. She was the CEO of Alameda Research, the hedge fund prosecutors say stole billions of dollars from customers of its sister company, the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. (Read the government’s indictment here.)
FloorDAO, which seeks to build products for “NFT-Fi,” recently sent over $2.5 million of its treasury – in crypto tokens and NFTs – to a splinter group called FloorkDAO that was controlled by the activist investors. The investors quickly divided that sum amongst themselves in a redemption that valued each FLOOR token at nearly $5, up from $1.89 at the start of the year. The remaining FLOOR tokens are currently trading around $3.88, an indication of the value to those investors who did not choose to exit FloorDAO and instead retained their holdings.
“It is a sad and frustrating reflection on the state of legislation in our space that one of the most positive, supportive and oldest members of the community is bringing this forward,” Kevin Randleman, a high-ranking DAO member, said in the Discord.
Rage quitting was the talk of Noun town on Dec. 20, 2022, when the project’s two core engineers, Elad Mallel and David Brailovsky, introduced the controversial mechanism in a Twitter Spaces hosted by Noun Square, a media collective funded by Nouns DAO. They pitched it as a security backstop against a 51% attack, in which evil-doers who have seized majority control can force through malicious proposals, such as sending themselves the entire treasury.
Bitcoin’s founding ethos verges on libertarian, but the industry has generally managed to avoid strict categorization on any specific side of the U.S. political spectrum. Ramaswamy’s open embrace of crypto, however, could portend a rightward shift for the industry.
The San Mateo-based company is already a top name for structured investments products like mutual funds and ETFs, and so its interest in a bitcoin ETF should come as no surprise. But it has never previously filed for one, making this entrance all the more notable.
Under the crypto club’s newly enacted rage quit rules, if 20% of Nouns NFTs call for a “fork” they can split from the main group and take their share of the project’s 30,620 ether tokens (worth about $50 million at press time) with them. Each Nouns NFT is worth about 36.5 ETH ($59,600) in book value, giving the current fork a treasury of 7,598 ETH (about $12.4 million).
The idea of Glass was to give online content creators a platform for minting and selling their videos directly to their fans, where they might make more money than, say, on YouTube. Its founders saw the blockchain as bringing more transparency to this process, and also permanence, by storing them in a decentralized manner.
The Lazarus Group, also known as APT38, has been linked to hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen crypto with attacks on companies, exchanges, DeFi protocols and bridges. It’s a massive operation that U.S. authorities and even the United Nations claim funds North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.