Trump-worthy quotes for an interview? Roger Ver can generate dozens of it in no time, as he talks and cares about things most people are passionate about, like money, freedom, or the right to be in charge of your own destiny. He also has no filter and shares whatever is on his mind, not giving a second thought about potential outcomes. The man is frighteningly genuine.
I first heard of Roger after reading Digital Gold by brilliant Nathaniel Popper from the New York Times at the beginning of my blockchain journey.
I was impressed by Ver’s weekly value added to the industry at the time. The events described in the book portrayed him as smart, creative, and energetic, trying to get involved in any decent venture in the field and use any trick or tool available to make things happen.
From Bitcoin Jesus to Bitcoin Antichrist
So, I kept an eye on him. Lots of criticism has been published since then accusing him of:
– being OK with insider trading in crypto,
– letting the whole crypto community down with ridiculous fights over the Bitcoin Cash fork,
– hijacking Bitcoin Cash network
– or bashing Bitcoin Core developers on stage during his presentation,
– being bad because he spent time in jail for selling explosives on eBay,
– or pure evil because he is rude to the journalists.
And the list goes on (it doesn’t include “eating babies alive” yet, but with at pace it might soon).
However, my motto is “trust but verify”. That being said, while collecting all those negative labels in my mental “Roger Ver” bucket, I always wanted to get a chance to judge for myself as I couldn’t believe that someone who was acting so rational and positively affected lives of many may be that evil.
I asked my trustworthy friends who had a pleasure meeting Ver in person to share their thoughts. They said Roger is a bundle of pure energy, driven by the desire to promote something he believes in. This feedback reinforced my curiosity.
Worst question ever
I was both terrified and excited when I finally got my interview with Roger scheduled (took about 1,5 months to sort it out). My list of questions (which was shared with him prior to the conversation, of course) included “What are your flaws?” and some other unpleasantries, so I was mentally getting prepared for the middle finger situation, just in case.
The full version of abruptly ended interview:
“What’s your least favorite question coming from journalists?” – I decided to start safe and let the response lead my interviewing strategy.
“What’s the price of bitcoin going to be next month or next year or whatever… ,“ – he responds.
Okay, guilty. I also had this one in my list, and now I am crossing it out because Roger is right. What’s the value weight of this information anyways? Anyone can come up with any number and be wrong or right. Only time will show.
The unquenchable source of creativity
On my list of top fascinating things Roger did to promote bitcoin was putting up this billboard in Silicon Valley so a bunch of millionaires could become aware and maybe sprinkle industry’s entrepreneurs with some gold dust.
I asked where did this and other ideas come from, and what was the story behind this ad.
“I think I already had a billboard there advertising products from my company Memorydealers.com that I worked at before bitcoin. And, you know, changing the world with a better form of money for everybody on the planet to use is a lot more exciting than just advertising some additional optical transceivers. Optical transceivers are nice and important. But I wasn’t going to be able to change the world with my optical transceivers, whereas peer to peer digital cash was on its way to changing the world.” – He answered.
“My ideas definitely came from reading books. I think a lot of people don’t appreciate just how big an opportunity it is to be able to read books. Because you can read books by the smartest people ever lived. And reading such books is kind of like having a one on one tutoring session with somebody, you know, is one the smartest people to walk this earth.” – continued Roger.
I wondered who were his favorite “tutors”, so I asked.
– Adam Smith would definitely be one of them, – he said.
– Have you read anything good lately?
– I’ve been reading stuff on, I guess, futurism or even transhumanism. I think people don’t appreciate just how much the world is about to change for everybody, once we have machines that are more intelligent than humans. Right now the smartest thing on the planet is, you know, a human brain. Though we will give up that position pretty quickly. And even if you give a dog’s brain a thousand years to study calculus, it simply isn’t capable of understanding it. And I’m sure there are problems in the universe that the human brain isn’t even capable of understanding, let alone solving it. Once we manage to create this intelligence the world’s going to get a whole lot more exciting. And, I guess, if you had to sum up my “religion” in a single word it would be Extropianism. Which means that I identify myself as someone who wants to increase the amount of intelligence in the universe. – explains Ver.
So what’s the deal with Bitcoin ABC and Bitcoin SV?
One of the major industry news breaks in November 2018 was the fork of Bitcoin Cash and fights over it between Roger and Craig Wright, known, amongst the other things, for claiming to be Satoshi. Something that started as “business as usual” grew into quite an emotional hassle with some accusations, mentioning child pornography and espionage. That alone turned off many serious players from getting deeply involved in the crypto space. According to some analysts, it became one of the causes of an overall cryptomarket free fall at the time.
“I think that’s an example of “bad news sells”. People click on bad news or confrontational news. It was just a difference of opinions, and these differences were incredibly minor. I think the large part of it was caused by ego. I suppose that was the real cause of the split rather than the actual technical disagreement. Though, I also think that’s the beauty of the free market where everybody gets the product that they want. Some people like Coke some people like Pepsi, even though both are almost the same. But everybody gets their version of Cola. And I guess that’s the case with digital currencies here.” – Ver shared his perspective on the situation.
I am curious which camp does he belong to Coke or Pepsi.
“I think if you look at the market share… BTC is Coca-Cola and Bitcoin Cash is probably looking like a root beer. There are lots of people who love root beer, but it’s not nearly as popular as Coke. That’s where we’re at at the moment.”
Why bother about tech if there’s no simple way to use crypto?
Roger’s major criticism and the whole reason behind fighting for Bitcoin Cash is “centrally planned production quota on the amount of block space that the network is allowed to produce.”
“The central planning and production quotas lead to horrible outcomes,” – he elaborated.
“We should stop and ask ourselves where Bitcoin would be today if this centrally planned block size production quota hadn’t been imposed upon the network. We’d have more adoption, more users, higher market cap, more economic freedom would have been created across the entire planet today if not for this centrally planned production order on a block space.”
I am still having doubts thinking what’s the use of super cheap and fast transactions if there’s no friendly user experience and my mom still has to ask me if she ever wanted to purchase or spend crypto. I wondered if it crosses Roger’s mind from time to time.
“Of course those are all problems that need to be solved, but those problems have been added to the list by the full block policy and the block spac production quota. Now the transactions instead of being fast, cheap, and reliable by the intentional design of these central planners are slow, expensive, and unreliable. So, people, your mom included, have even less of an incentive or need, or desire to use something that’s slow expensive and unreliable. Bitcoin used to be fast cheap and reliable when people all over the world were starting to use it. So I guess that’s one of the other immense frustrations of mine. When I got involved in the industry, it was so much better than the traditional system and now, you know, guys like Venmo and Paypal, and banks are scrambling to catch up, to make sure their systems are almost as good. And what frustrates me is that I have always worked very hard towards giving that new form of money to everyone every day. But success is not guaranteed.”
“Let’s say good guys won and gave the new money back to the world for anyone to claim their economic freedom back. A complete triumph of cheap reliable fast and lovable digital money. What would be your next steps?” – I asked.
“I think just getting the word out and showing people why it’s more useful than their normal bank account or their credit card and then building the use cases that make Bitcoin Cash or any cryptocurrency more useful to people. We are already doing this.” – said Ver.
He then continued talking about one of his investments – Purse.io. Using it people can save up to 33% purchasing selected items at Amazon.com or exchange their unclaimed Amazon credit or gift cards on crypto.
“Another massive use case, – he proceeded – and I don’t take part in it myself directly, but, of course, lots lots of people around the world love to use drugs. You can have drugs delivered right to your door while using cryptocurrency. From my point of view, that people own their bodies and have the right to consume whatever products they want, I think that’s a great thing. Apparently, lots of other people share my opinion because they’re busy using it. Maybe, from the marketing perspective in the mainstream economy that’s not the best tool but the word gets out, and people find out about it. I once talked privately to a pretty well-known venture capitalist within the space. I asked him how he found out about bitcoin. The only thing to spark his initial interest was the ability to buy drugs with it. Though, later, he grew to appreciate the technology.”
What’s the plan for Bitcoin.com?
I asked about the recent news on building a personal crypto exchange at Bitcoin.com, one of the assets owned by Roger Ver, and how the reasoning behind it, reported in Bloomberg, made me doubt. Building an exchange to boost media traffic – does it make any sense?
“I’m sure that’s just another example of how sometimes you say, you don’t think it is newsworthy, and it all goes viral. So, we’ve been planning to launch an exchange on Bitcoin.com this year, but so many other things were taking higher priority. But of course, an exchange makes perfect sense: the rest my team and I, we have much experience in the space, and we have what it takes to make a beneficial exchange. If you have a popular exchange and you can promote cryptocurrency adoption with it. So overall it’s just another fantastic tool to spread more economic freedom to the world.” – he explained.
I questioned Roger about some of the previous crypto exchanges he got involved with and a track record of poor judgments of character.
Take for example Mt. Gox (when 850,000 of bitcoins, representing 7% of currency’s total supply at the time of the announcement disappeared) or BitInstant (their CEO Charlie Shrem was arrested for “conspiring to commit money laundering by selling more than $1 million in bitcoins to users of the black market website Silk Road,” and Roger himself later called Shrem a “jerk”).
Roger took it well. No sign of irritation, just laughter, and a happy looking face.
“Yeah, I think that’s probably one of my biggest failings. I can’t imagine ever cheating somebody myself, so I just can’t imagine anybody intentionally cheating me. I am so trusting of other people. But hopefully this time I’ll have some good help from people around me to figure out who is worth trusting and who is not. It’s also worth pointing out that at the time of Mt. Gox there were no other options, people-wise. It’s CEO was the only option in the world. Today there are lots of choices, back then there was only one. So that’s the difference.”
I asked about things other than the exchange. What are the short-term goals for Roger’s ventures?
Besides exchange being one of the top priorities (including the addition securitized assets of traditional companies, which is the future, in Roger’s opinion), there are still other points on the to-do list.
“In the very short term, we are making it so that we have fungibility in Bitcoin Cash. We want to build a privacy tool right into the bitcoin.com wallet so that it will make it really hard for companies like Chainalysis to do chain analytics learning where people’s money come from and where they go. In addition to that, we want to make it super easy for people to buy and sell bitcoin cash right from their wallet in a way that is easy and convenient and hopefully unstoppable by regulatory jurisdictions.”
The plans sound foolproof, but I am getting worried that someone wants to hide the data on the blockchain. In our recent investigation of SwissBorg post-Initial Coin Offering development, we definitely could benefit more from the blockchain analytics.
I voiced my concerns.
“I hope anybody that cheated or stole from somebody or committed a crime is caught and punished. However, if you study what makes money money… One of the characteristics is fungibility. If it’s not fungible, it’s not good money. So I don’t think that point is negotiable, and hopefully, even with fungible money, we’ll still be able to catch bad guys that do bad things to people. Like right now if someone you know uses cash to hire a hitman or do something bad, you can’t call the Federal Reserve and say: “Hey, somebody used cash! Who was it?”. There have to be other ways to find the bad guy rather than tracking the money on the blockchain.” – he explained.
Is he evil?
Still dissatisfied I didn’t quite manage to figure out if he is truly evil or not, I asked about his involvement in any charity work.
“Interesting insight from economists is that even when people give to charity, they’re not doing it to help other people. They’re doing it to help themselves. Let’s say you gave $20 to some guy on the street. You are not doing it to help him. You’re doing it because you value the feeling that you get from giving him the $20 more than you appreciate having that amount of money yourself. That’s how I do it, I guess. Even last night I gave $30,000 in bitcoin cash to the people in Venezuela. They definitely need some help right now because of the stupid government policies there that have destroyed the entire economy. So, I’m glad to give $30,000 to people in Venezuela to help them, and that’s nice, but the actual reason I did so was that it helps spread bitcoin cash adoption and I value it more than I appreciate having that sum myself. That being said, every single month I donate around $60,000 to various charities I like. For example, $10,000 per month goes to antiwar.com, some libertarian related causes, and more. – I am doing it because I love the feeling that I get from it more than I like having an extra $60,000 per month myself.” – Roger shared with me.
I asked if he did anything good for a particular person, doing good for others on a personal level. He recalled a curious story:
“As you are probably aware, I sold some firecrackers on eBay a long, long time ago. Back then I knew a guy who was basically homeless or on the verge of being homeless. He was an incredibly smart guy. He just had a hard time focusing on the things that are the most important. For instance, he could be thinking about designing a genius of a cardboard box. People assume it’s simple, but it’s a huge amount of thought, planning, effort, and resources gathered from all over the world. Those would come together to make a cardboard box, which is amazing, but it isn’t something you necessarily need to spend all day pondering and planning. So, the guy I mentioned had a hard time focusing on that. His name was Bob, I think. I let Bob move into my apartment, and tried to help him get his life together and get back on his feet. You know, get a job or start a business, or get his life back in order. So, when the police came, raided my apartment, took me to jail and got me evicted from that apartment, Bob ended up being homeless again. I was, you know, in jail so I couldn’t help him anymore. I don’t know what happened to him after that. I was in jail and had my own problems to deal with but, you know, I was trying to help somebody and make the world a better place. And the police surely didn’t help with that.”
There’s a lot of drama and struggles in Roger’s life.
Honestly, I probably could write a book about him. Even this jail period could pass as a storyline for a whole season of Law and Order. So, Roger was cornered to plead guilty for selling “explosives” on eBay. He spent 10 months in federal prison and was threatened with 7-8 years behind bars if he refused to sign the plea. The ironic thing about it is that the case was prosecuted in May 2002. The “explosives” Roger was selling were meant to be used as the crop protection from deer, birds and other guys like that.
The product called Pest Control Report 2000 and had being produced by Missouri company called Max 2000 that was operating and selling the “explosives” to consumers and resellers till January of 2003 while Roger was in jail.
In January Max 2000 was ordered to stop production. However, even the company’s founders didn’t get their time in prison, they were just banned from producing and selling explosives again and asked to “award plaintiff judgment for its costs”.
So, was it a fair game? I am not sure.
It’s worth mentioning that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was a part of Max 2000’s investigation. Those guys were highly criticized by Ver during his political career as a Libertarian candidate for California State Assembly back in 2000. In his usual and probably even more passionate/emotional/no filter manner he was calling them murderers, referencing the horrible massacre in Waco, Texas in 1993: 75 people (including kids) died as a result of ATF’s attempt to arrest David Koresh, the leader of Branch Davidians, or as they called themselves “the students of the Bible.” That speech most likely impressed not only potential Ver’s supporters but also ATF’s representatives.
Though, as they say, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and probably, at some degree, the jail sentence made today’s Roger who he is.
He is a human.
-What’s your personality type?
-I don’t remember precisely but it’s the one that most libertarians are, INTJ or something.
I googled that statistics and the most convincing information I found was on Quora with the following numbers from tests ran during one of the Libertarian conventions: “…of the room of maybe 100 people, a good 85% were NT types. Of those, about half were INTJs, a quarter were ENTJs, and the remaining quarter split into INTPs and ENTPs.”
I am an INTJ too and when I found that out, I understood why I could be such an ass sometimes. So, I figured that might be an excellent starter to a Ver’s drawbacks conversation.
And that’s where I followed with that: “this test actually helps you understand and improve yourself because you become aware of your flaws. So do you have any? Would you like to fix those?”
– Of course, I want to be the absolute best human being I possibly can which means constantly trying to improve myself every single day. So I’m learning more, acquiring new skills and knowledge. Life is short, so I want to do it as quickly as I possibly can. I hate sleeping. I wish I didn’t have to sleep at all, but if you don’t sleep then you can’t function… So my shortcomings, I’m sure there are lots lots lots lots of them. However, one of the most significant ones is probably not being able to recognize your weaknesses. So one of the biggest goals is to figure out the flaws and try to fix those.
– You can always ask me. – I giggled.
– Of course, tell me!
– Well, just as an example, sometimes I’m a big jerk to people because I’m getting too demanding and impatient when someone does something wrong.
– I do that too.
– Yeah, once I saw your interview when you got really upset about something…
– I think we’re talking about the one where I gave the guy the middle finger…
– Yes, my favorite.
– I definitely regret having done that. However, if you watched the interview, and it sounds like you have, he was actually just trying to push my buttons, and he succeeded. I don’t think anybody would ever do that in person, though. Maybe I’m wrong, – Roger burst into laughter
– So, you don’t see that many shortcomings. It’s fine. You were saying that you are learning a lot of new skills so what’s on your learning list apart of sleeping less?
– I’d like to see that fixed technologically – when people don’t need to sleep anymore and can function just fine. The greatest skill I need to have I think it’s personnel management. Bitcoin.com employs over a hundred people now. That’s the biggest company I’ve ever had to try managing, and it’s a difficult skill that it is hard to master. So I’m still learning, and I’m not very good at it yet, or at least not nearly as good as I would like to be.
– But what’s the process? Did you hire a tutor? Are you seeing someone for that?
– I downloaded some books from Amazon Kindle about personnel management and that sort of thing. So now I need to take a break from working and read those books, and then, hopefully, I’ll be able to apply the concepts I learned effectively.
I asked him what would be his superpower of choice if he could have any.
“Not having to sleep. It’s like getting to function 24 hours per day, instead of 16. It’s a huge increase in the number of efforts you can make every day to achieve your goal. It’s like adding an extra third to your lifetime.” – he admitted.
– How about a second favorite superpower? – I just couldn’t let go.
– Maybe speed reading. I’d love to be able to read way faster and absorb the information as accurately as I can reading with the pace that I have.
– I see, and looking into the crystal ball what would you like to know?
– That’s a good question. Much better than “what’s the price of bitcoin would be next week.” I guess I’d want to know if the methods that I’m utilizing to achieve my goals are going to end up being effective or not. I think I take achievement itself for granted, and I just want to make sure that I’m using the right method to do it.- So the final goal is ….?- See cryptocurrencies compete with governments’ issued currencies and stripping away government’s power to control the money supply.
Fueled by economists
I wanted to ask him if he is happy, but I don’t have to. I can see that he is.
So I asked about the perfect day instead.
– I am enjoying my everyday life quite a bit. I guess a bad day is a day when I don’t have time to go to my jiu-jitsu practice.
– Would you like to become a world champion in jiu-jitsu?
– Sure, I’d like to be, but I’m about to turn 40. So it’s too late for my age and skill set.
Roger’s birthday is in January. I wondered if there’s anything special planned for the big day.
– No particular plans. I almost never do anything special for my birthday and I’m not interested in holidays or all that sort of stuff.
– Still, there has to be at least the best present you have ever received?
– So, David Friedman, the economist, has specific views on gift-giving which we share. The idea of giving a gift to somebody is to show that you know and care about the person enough to know what would be useful and what that person would appreciate. So by giving a gift, you have to figure out what they would like and enjoy. Thus, you are showing that you know and care about the person. So it’s not about spending a ton of much money on the gift, but rather the fact that you took the time and effort to understand what they would like. So my best gift was from my brother, and it followed the principles outlined by Friedman. He bought me a car battery maintainer, for cars that haven’t been used for a long time. I have a couple of vehicles in USA that I haven’t driven for about 4 years, but thanks to his device, the battery is hopefully still ready to go.
We chatted a bit more and at the end of the conversation, Roger (a true salesperson) showcased the Bitcoin.com wallet. I installed it and received $10 worth of bitcoin cash to see how incredibly quick and easy it is to use.
After I left the video chat room I made a $15 donation to my favorite charity (to reimburse for the hassle) on Roger’s behalf, called ShareTheMeal. Who knows, maybe it will end up in his favorites too.
Fundamentally Ver is a person driven by a great goal. Yes, he may be not be opposed to “insider trading”, and can be fiery and rude, but we’ve heard Bill Gates expressing his discontent in a quite a vocal way and Elon Musk being very snappy. It just means that they are passionate about what they do and interested in making things happen.
And, well, it’s great to have more relentless doers in the crypto space, right?