When you read the bio of Jeremy Gardner’s LinkedIn, it reads one sentence: “I want to change the world.” He has had an interesting path in life that has led him to do just that through being one of the most active voices in the cryptocurrency community. From growing up in rural Western Massachusetts to dropping out of college twice to establishing one of the first decentralized prediction markets in the world, Augur, Gardner now focuses his time educating his peers on upcoming developments in the blockchain world as well advise innovative projects in the space, one being Basecoin. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to inquire Gardner how he got into the position he is in today and what he thinks the future has in store for the crypto universe.
What was it like growing up in Northampton, Massachusetts? Did you ever think you would be involved in something like crypto?
Northampton is a political vaccuum— a small college town in Western Mass where liberal political views and social progressivism were the only perspectives I was exposed to. Granted, as a child in the post-9/11 era and growing up in the wake of the Great Recession, this was probably a blessing, despite the filter-bubble I viewed the world from. My family is middle class, my dad being a teacher and my mom working on non-profit documentaries and I am an only child. Thus, money and finance were not something we really discussed in my household. There were no entrepreneurs where I grew up, either, and the world of tech seemed so far away. I always had a strong urge to change the world, and given the context of my upbringing, politics seemed like a logical life course. There was nothing to in my childhood or teenage years to foreshadow my dive into bitcoin and blockchain technology— besides a lifelong proclivity for hustling (and what could have been interpreted as entrepreneurship.)
How did you first get into Bitcoin? Since first buying it in 2013, how has the cryptocurrency field as a whole changed?
After working for the governor of Massachusetts and helped run the campaign of the woman who is now attorney general in that state, both in 2013, I became deeply disillusioned with politics. I had first read about bitcoin in 2011 in Rolling Stone magazine in an article about the Silk Road. However, it was only two years later when bitcoin had jumped from $10 to $200 that I first purchased some.
Back then, in 2013, I bought bitcoin because it seemed like a speculative bubble I could ride— and it was. I sold at around $1,000 and dismissed it was a tool for buying drugs and speculation— it wasn’t particularly interesting to me. But when I took a deep dive into the technology a few months later, everything changed. The potential for the frictionless exchange of value sparked a fire deep down inside me that has only grown as this technology has scaled far beyond bitcoin. You see, that potential was limited to decentralized money when I had my first epiphany about bitcoin. Now, however, blockchain technology represents the disintermediation of middlemen and unnecessary rent-seekers across industries. That is a remarkable development.
Between cofounding Augur, working for Blockchain Capital, and helping lead several blockchain projects, how did you taken advantage of these opportunities in front of you? Was it skill, luck, or both?
Opportunities rarely arise on their own— as individuals, we engender them. This occurs through the relationships we cultivate, the value we create, and the knowledge we obtain. I am incredibly fortunate to have discovered bitcoin and founding my educational nonprofit, the Blockchain Education Network, when I did. Through my nonprofit, I met Joey Krug, my cofounder of Augur. We made several calculated decisions, which included leaving school, focusing on our startup, and joining a team that had no idea what they were doing. This would lead to Augur’s creation. The decisions that made Augur succesful (thus far) were a combination of arrogance, naivete, shrewness, and timing.
There’s no amount of skill that can make up for good timing, and vice versa. There was a long period of time where I questioned whether the decisions that I have made that have made me succesful, both from a professional and financial perspective, were a product of luck. But the more I have reflected on this, and the more time that goes by, I realize that luck is a manifestation of circumstance, and we create much of our circumstances.
A lot of your work involves you traveling the world evangelizing Bitcoin; What are your ways of doing so? How do you explain Bitcoin and blockchain technology to people who are completely new to the subject?
Since 2015, I have rarely focused on evangelizing the folks who know nothing about bitcoin or blockchain technology, or those who don’t want to believe in it— that’s not my strength. My energy has been far more directed towards providing those who want to learn about this technology with the necessary means. Firstly, for total newcomers and young people, that’s through the Blockchain Education Network, or through the educational magazine I served as founding editor of, Distributed. I think young people are much better educated on this technology by their enthusiastic peers than by people like myself speaking down to them. For the older folks, a 108-page primer on blockchain technology is the perfect gateway.
Secondly for those that have caught the bitcoin/blockchain bug, I’ve spoken and worked with Fortune 500 companies, political leaders, and government agencies that already grasp this tech at a base level; as well audiences as large as 3,000 people (or several million if you include online videos.) For these folks, my general understanding of the sector allows them to develop a holisitic views of the ramifications of blockchain technology— and that’s the audience I have the greatest success with.
What is the reaction to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies outside the United States? Are some cities crypto communities more mature than others?
Bitcoin and cryptoassets are now a totally global phenomenon. I can’t go anywhere in the world, and I mean anywhere, without seeing or hearing signs of Bitcoin fever. The top cities/communities are (in no particular order) San Francisco/Bay Area, New York, London, Berlin, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Zug, Buenos Aires, and Tel Aviv. SF/NYC/London definitely have the top locks on talent/startups but there’s fierce competition globally.
What’s it like living in the Crypto Castle? What is the most interesting conversation that you have been a part of while living there?
The Castle wouldn’t exist if I didn’t love living there. It’s fun, stimulating, and rewarding. Having Bram Cohen and Vitalik Buterin engaged in my living room was an intellectual tour de force. When George Hotz was building Comma.ai in my basemen, we had countless epic philosophical brawls. Back in the Augur days, we had the entire team as well as our advisors Elizabeth Stark and Robin Hanson at our house one night. It would be impossible to highlight a single conversation.
What non-profit work are you involved in and what effects have you seen from it?
The Blockchain Education Network is my baby that I have neglected at certain points in my career, but one that has spawned billions of dollars in enterprise value through startups and tokens (Augur, IOTA, Coinlist, Bolt, QTUM, to name just a few) that past members have helped found. The advocacy, academic, educational, and lobbying work our students have done globally is remarkable. It’s hard to measure the scale of the impact of the organization. I helped raise over $80,000 for the organization over the past couple of months to scale the nonprofit.
Unsung is another nonprofit I helped cofound, which I hope will help combat food waste and hunger at scale. We finally have a full-time dev team working on the application so I hope to see real results in 2018.
In a Business Insider article in August 2017, you predicted that Bitcoin would reach $10,000 a coin in 5 to 10 years. Since then, Bitcoin has blown past that. Is exponential price increases an inherited trait in Bitcoin at the moment? Where do you see the price a few months from now?
I hate speculating on the price of crypto and when I do, I try to be incredibly conservative. However, there’s no world in which I would have predicted the recent price rally. It seemed so unfounded, given debates over scaling, forks, and lack of investor education and tools. That being said, bitcoin is now a household (albeit misunderstood) term and technology. With this development, and the introduction of more mature financial instruments and investment vehicles such as options, futures, hedge funds, and potentially ETFs, I think bitcoin could move towards the $50,000 price mark in the next year, although I would be unsurprised if its price stagnated due to the reasons for surprise about the rally that I outlined above. At this point, though, a significant dip below $10,000 would be a short-term cause for concern, and it’s hard to see the price moving beyond $50k in the foreseeable future. But I do not claim to know anything about the future price of crypto— this is just my gut talking. Bitcoin should be bought, foremost, for its significance as a digital store of value and, potentially, as a means of exchange. I’m not a big fan of day-trading, or even trading at all (unless done on a longitudinal basis.)
Do you think we are in a crypto bubble? If so, what are some signs of it?
The guy who bought bitcoin at the top, when it spiked from $2 to $30, and then came crashing back down to the single digits, bought in “a bubble” and looked like an idiot at the time. Assuming he held, he looks like a genius today. So it depends on your time horizon. Could the crypto-asset market cap correct by 90% in the next year or two? Totally. Do I expect that same market to be exponentially higher in ten years? Absolutely. Thus, crypto can be in a bubble and undervalued at the same time.
What have you learned/conclusions have you drawn from Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies?
Don’t trade. Buy cryptoassets with long-term potential, ignore the shitcoins, and HODL.
There are trillions of dollars captured by rent-seeking middle men across industries— we now have the tool to disintermediate them.
Evaluate new technologies with deep skepticism and a healthy dose of open-mindedness. The best investments (100x-plus) I made in this space (ETH, REP, QTUM, XRP) were all dismissed as “vaporware,” “shitcoins,” and “moonshots.” I had theses, however, that if proven correct, stood up to all the FUD I heard about the projects.
Where do you see Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies a few years from now? What do you think the timeline is for full mainstream adoption?
It’s so hard to say. One month in “blockchain time” is equivalent to a couple of years in most industries. We will absolutely see whether some technologies and use cases live up to their hype— countless more will emerge. Many coins and projects will fail— and that’s a good thing. This industry needs to undergo an extreme maturation.
Do you think Bitcoin will always be the “crypto-reserve currency?” If so, why?
It’s hard to imagine Bitcoin being displaced as “digital gold”— but it’s possible. BCH has real momentum behind it, but their roadmap is less thoughtful than Core’s. It’s hard to imagine a new cryptoasset displacing BTC in “gold” sense. However, I could see “stablecoin” efforts like Basecoin or MakerDAI becoming a global reserve cryptocurrency and transactional currency before bitcoin. An distributed ledger-based global digital currency initiative introduced by the World Bank/IMF/G20/UN doesn’t seem impossible, either.
The 24/7 nature of the crypto world can sometimes be an information overload. What do you do when you need to take a break from it?
I unplug. I go for a hike or to a concert. I do Burning Man events at least once a year for a week or more. I am flying back from two weeks in Bangkok and Bali, where I checked twitter daily, and email even less. There’s no opportunity or pressing news that I value over my sanity. It is incredibly important to take a digital detox/blockchain break. I spend time with family and friends and do things I love besides crypto. I also stopped reading Reddit and most forums— they’re too toxic. I use friends and Twitter for breaking news and relatively reputable news sites like Coindesk, Bitcoin Magazine, and mainstream outlets like NYT, WSJ, Wired, etc. for more long-form journalism.
Since we are at the end of the interview, is there anything else you want to add?
Don’t be greedy, always be ethical, and help make blockchain technology real. Those who do this for the money usually get burned. Focus on long-term valuation creation and you will be immensely rewarded.