How I Got Started In Crypto

“Think about the most important thing you could be working on right now… Why aren’t you working on that right now?” –Aaron Swartz

Prologue (2010)

I was in distinctly remember storming out of the U of I Siebel Center’s computer lab one day in 2010, frustrated with some computer science homework problem not working and feeling disillusioned at the dry, academic type problems I was working on. I remember thinking – “Is this what my career is going to be like? This sucks!”

As I walked towards the main door to leave, I noticed a guest lecture taking place. On a whim, I stopped in to see Aaron Swartz giving a talk which was about social responsibility in software and “using your powers for good.” It really made it click for me that software allows you great power to apply leverage in the real world. And not on academic toy problems – on anything you want! His enthusiasm was contagious. He also punctuated the lecture in the Q and A portion by saying something I often come back to – “Think about the most important thing you could be working on right now… Why aren’t you working on that right now?”

It’s something I think about often. Follow your passion. Do something that matters. Do it now. Why aren’t you doing that right now??

This moment reignited my enthusiasm for getting gud at building software and for open source software. More importantly the open source movement which is more than just writing code. Pretty much immediately I recognized that open source suffers from incentive misalignment problems. The potential for crypto to fix this is one of the things that first got me SUPER excited about it.

Bitcoin Mining (2013-2014)

Fast forward to about 2013, I was working full-time as a software developer, working on open source projects here and there, and I was really into the Tor Project at the time. Tor is a network that allows you to stay anonymous online, which obviously attracts some nefarious activity but also enabled political dissidents, journalists, law enforcement, privacy weirdos, and others to use the internet while concealing their identity. I was running servers in the cloud and out of my apartment at my own expense when someone suggested I slap some GPUs on them to offset the cost. This became a fun little project that me and my friends ramped up over time. We mined Bitcoin, Litecoin, and millions of Dogecoin. Unfortunately we sold all that Dogecoin lol.

The window of time when hobbyist could mine closed very quickly. I started mining with a little computer and a few GPUs, whirring and producing a ton of heat in the living room of my apartment. We added more over time. My girlfriend (now wife) thought I was nuts at the time which wasn’t exactly wrong. I was also mining in the cloud, renting “on-demand servers” for an arbitrage that lasted like a month. By 2014, you needed a warehouse and ASICs and huge amount of hardware to be competitive at all.

Silk Road (2013)

What made me dive in with both feet was the Silk Road. I find markets fascinating and black markets can add another layer of intrigue. Some dismissed Bitcoin as only used by criminals on the the darknet drug markets but to me this is what made me think this was going to be a big deal. You’re telling me that people are buying and selling drugs on the internet, during the “War on Drugs” and the Feds can’t stop them? How are people fading this??

I continued mining and building applications. I made a browser extension that let you buy things on Amazon using crypto. I made various mobile apps that did all sorts of things and solved relatively niche problems.

OpenBazaar (2014-2015)

One project I was particularly excited about was OpenBazaar. OpenBazaar was aspiring to be a peer-to-peer marketplace for physical goods, sort of like a decentralized eBay. I thought peer to peer money (Bitcoin) needed peer to peer markets – seemed like a no-brainer to me. I contributed code to the first iteration of the marketplace which was ultimately scrapped for a re-write. I had plans to be an “arbiter” on the platform – someone to settle disputes for a small fee. I had built a number of supporting tools. I was absolutely geeked out about this and I thought it was going to HUGE. Like the Silk Road, but legal. In hindsight, the reality is that it probably would have been like the Silk Road… period. Who else would use an extremely clunky peer to peer setup for anything but extremely illegal goods? I was a little naive.

Unfortunately this project didn’t really get off the ground. A lot early crypto projects from that era suffered a similar fate due to being too early. They ended up having to build a lot of infrastructure themselves which distracted from finding product-market fit. Nobody has found product-market fit in this niche, so maybe this was doomed to fail, but they could have moved a lot faster if they had launched after Ethereum came out to smooth over many of the UX pain points.

There was kind of a lull, from my perspective, after OpenBazaar and before Ethereum. There was the opening innings of the Blocksize Wars in Bitcoin, you had professionalization of Bitcoin mining, and some other things but I remember going to Bitcoin meetups and having no big, new developments happening in between. That hasn’t been case since including during some dark bear markets. During this time I really leveled up my technical skills and

Cosimo Capital (2017-)

Late 2015 / early 2016 things started heating up again. My business partner, Luke, and I started going to the Ethereum Meetup and started running strategies with our own money on Ethereum. We actually pitched our employer at the time on a product, almost a product/strategy hybrid, that was never really going to gain acceptance within the web2 company we were working at (although it was a great idea). They looked at us like we had 3 heads. We tried to invest in Polychain at the time when you would just email Olaf Carlson-Wee and he’d get back to you. We hesitated briefly and missed the window. It’s funny because we might not have started our fund if we did that, although it would have been a great trade.

We kept running our strategies and meeting with people interested in the space. We eventually found a group of backers which is when quit and launched Cosimo Capital. We seeded the fund with our own capital, a group of advisers who had been running hedge funds longer than I’d been alive, plus a group of additional investors. This was late 2017. We had a few more months of sunshine before a brutal bear market in 2018-2019 but we had a great group of investors and advisers who were with us for the long haul.