Blockchain is a technology that should be entirely based on the distribution of power and information away from central authorities. But many people have been critical in pushing the technology forward. Here is a look at some of the most influential people in the industry today.
While JPMorgan Chase's managing director, Jamie Dimon, was beating Bitcoin as a fraud, his employee Amber Baldet put the bank at the forefront of Wall Street's efforts to exploit the blockchain. Madame Baldet, 35 years old and until recently head of the bank's blockchain lab, conducted a project to create a friendly version of the Ethereum software, known as Quorum.
Since then the quorum has become one of the most popular places for companies and governments to start building blockchain projects. But Mrs. Baldet, who has never ceased to be an explicit defender of hackers and privacy on Twitter, has always seemed too big a personality for an outdated bank.
At the start of this year, she separated and created her start-up, Clovyr, who is building with a partner from her days at JPMorgan. He compared Clovyr to an app store for blockchain, open to many competing approaches to blockchains today. Illustrates his unusual ability to bring together business fields and hackers working on technology.
Brian Behlendorf was a leading name in the technology world long before his rather late arrival on the blockchain scene. In the early 1990s, he started one of the first companies that created websites, which led him to create the Apache software that is still used by many web servers.
His work on open source software was driven in part by his interest in alternative culture, which also made him one of the first players at the Burning Man festival. In 2016, it was brought by the Linux Foundation leads a not-for-profit known as Hyperledger which aims to create a standard blockchain software that anyone can use.
While the project was initially led by IBM, Mr. Behlendorf, 45, helped bring other big names that are helping to make Hyperledger the goal of much of corporate and government interest in blockchain today. Hyperledger now supervises several blockchain projects, but its biggest product is Fabric, which is used by everyone, from Walmart to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mr. Behlendorf, meanwhile, has tried to make sure that the technology has kept its soul open-source even if it has started to become mainstream.
Apart from the blockchain inventor known as Satoshi Nakamoto, no name in the world of cryptocurrencies is more recognizable than that of Vitalik Buterin, the 24-year-old inventor of Ethereum. Mr. Buterin had the idea of Ethereum after he left college when he was only 19 and few imagined that the awkward teenager could make it work.
Its creation, however, is now the second most valuable cryptocurrency after Bitcoin. Beyond that, Ethereum paved the way for a future direction for the blockchain, serving as a new type of shared global computing network. This has attracted thousands of developers who are building on Ethereum.
The system was buggy and provided an opening for many bad actors. But Mr. Buterin's ideas have also been popular among many companies and government agencies, who are now experimenting with their versions of Ethereum. Many competitors have also raised funds to build systems to improve the basic concepts set by Ethereum, but Buterin's leadership has so far kept Ethereum at the forefront.
There are few signs of prestige in the larger blockchain world of an investment by venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz. While co-founder of the company, Marc Andreessen, who has received the most attention for his support for the industry, is Chris Dixon who leads the company's work in the area.
Dixon, which created start-ups acquired from eBay and McAfee before becoming a venture capitalist, was responsible for Andreessen's first big Bitcoin bet in 2013, when the company became a major investor in brokerage Bitcoin Coinbase. This ended up looking smart while Coinbase became the industry's multi-million dollar giant with more customers than Charles Schwab and eTrade.
Since then, Mr. Dixon has distributed the company's money to a wide range of minor projects in the industry, and recently created a $ 300 million fund that will focus exclusively on digital tokens. Mr. Dixon has also brought the pen essays to Medium to explain and support the biggest ideas behind blockchain-based technologies – in particular, the ability to create new decentralized protocols that can be governed by communities rather than companies.
The libertarian politics of Daniel Larimer took him to Bitcoin in the early years. But the graduate in Virginia Tech made his name and his fortune by building new types of cryptocurrencies with more extensive functions than Bitcoin.
This started with an exchange that should have made Bitcoin trading easier, and relied on its domestic currency, known as BitShares. He left that project before taking off to create Steemit, a new type of social network, powered by its own token.
Steemit still works today, but Mr. Larimer's biggest success came with his latest creation, Block.one, and his digital token, EOS, which is set to compete with Ethereum. Block.one, where Larimer, 35, is the chief technology officer, raised more than $ 4 billion from investors to build EOS, making the most successful cryptocurrency fundraising project with a good margin.
The start of the EOS currency has recently been plagued by technical delays and obstacles. This, and Larimer's story of leaving unfinished projects, have attracted many skeptics. But if nothing else, Mr. Larimer and Block.one should have enough money to turn EOS into a contender in the crowded world of cryptocurrencies.
Each of the three things that Jed McCaleb created in the last decade would have been enough, alone, to make it one of the most known and controversial characters in the cryptocurrency universe.
The soft-spoken native of Arkansas began in 2011 by reciting something on a whim and throwing together the website for the Mount. Gox, the infamous Bitcoin exchange that became the largest in the world before imploding in 2014. McCaleb had come out of the Mount. Gox relatively early and has emerged mostly unharmed, allowing it to create Ripple, a cryptocurrency that aimed to improve on Bitcoin by eliminating the difficult process of mining, among other things.
Ripple has become the third most precious cryptocurrency in the world and the one with the most connections to the traditional financial world. McCaleb, 43, left Ripple ahead of his most recent successes, following a fall with his co-founders. But this allowed him to create another new digital token, known as Stellar, which he envisioned as an update to Ripple. He has already won partnerships with IBM and several Silicon Valley start-ups.
While many of Wall Street focused on blockchain technology and eliminated cryptocurrencies, Michael Novogratz drove the field – and made a fortune – by betting that the real innovation is in Bitcoin and the other digital tokens it generated. In 2013, when he was in the private equity firm Fortress Capital, Novogratz – a former military pilot and partner of Goldman Sachs – made the company one of the first in the financial sector to actually purchase Bitcoin.
This bet gave Mr. Novogratz, 53, a wrestler in Princeton, a good blow to redemption after the closure of his great hedge fund at Fortress. Last year, Novogratz began what he described as a kind of full-service investment bank for cryptocurrency projects, called Galaxy Digital.
He had to reverse course on plans to open a huge cryptic hedge fund when the markets suddenly got worse in December. But he is still putting his money where his mouth is, creating what is probably the biggest institution selling Wall Street on the virtues of cryptocurrencies.
In the ongoing struggle to ensure that Bitcoin becomes a mainstream use while remaining faithful to its ideological roots, nobody is more crucial than Elizabeth Stark. Mrs. Stark, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is the CEO of Lightning Labs, a start-up that is building tools that can stratify new features – and new transaction channels – on top of Bitcoin's blockchain.
There is currently a limit to the number of transactions Bitcoin's blockchain can handle, which has led to significant battles between companies and developers on how best to expand the network. Mrs. Stark, who was already a supporter of a more open and egalitarian Internet, became a camp leader who wanted to keep Bitcoin relatively small, loyal to its ideological roots as a decentralized network, with no one in control.
At the same time, he proposed and started building a method to add layers on Bitcoin that can handle many new customers and transaction types. These "second-level solutions", as he called them, seem to be Bitcoin's best chances to expand to conquer the world and have already been launched. The work has turned Mrs. Stark into a prominent public face of a large Bitcoin community that often challenges organization.
Valerie A. Szczepanik
Given that the cryptocurrency industry has sought clarity about what regulators will permit, no agency was more important than the Securities and Exchange Commission, and no person at the S.E.C. it was more central than Valerie A. Szczepanik. A former patent attorney who joined the S.E.C. in 1997, she was recently appointed senior advisor to the agency for digital resources and innovation.
But Szczepanik was involved in the work of S.E.C. in the area immediately. She has worked on various law enforcement actions against fraudulent cryptocurrency projects and was co-responsible for the agency's Dark Web Working group. In addition to punishing bad actors, Ms. Szczepanik led the agency's effort to define the boundaries that will determine what form the legal and blockchain cryptocurrency projects can take.
The interventions that he held were welcomed by some of the industry because they have shown that they understand the technological nuances of the projects out there.
When his group decided that the second most valuable digital token, Ether, would not fall under the responsibility of the agency, it triggered a major rally in the markets. But that decision has only clarified a bit of regulatory uncertainty in the industry. The actors of the sector still follow every word of Mrs. Szczepanik for an indication of where the sector will go.
Jihan Wu, a 32-year-old Peking University graduate, has become one of the most unlikely leaders in the cryptocurrency universe. Bitmain, the company that Mr. Wu built with his technical co-founder, Micree Zhan, manufactures the machines that crunch many calculations for my new Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.
Bitmain has used its proximity and connections with computer production centers in China to build more efficient and profitable machines than any other competitor. Today, most estimates indicate that over 75% of the computers that extract Bitcoin – and a similar number of machines that extract other cryptocurrencies – come from Bitmain. This turned out to be an important position to occupy because it is the computers that extract Bitcoin to vote on Bitcoin software updates.
Mr. Wu has been at the center of the battles on how to expand Bitcoin's ability. The fighting and the collapse of a cryptocurrency by the Chinese government, did not prevent Mr. Wu from turning Bitmain into one of the most precious companies in the industry and a crucial actor in any conversation about the form of computer networks that are behind most of the existing cryptocurrencies.