The cryptocurrency industry experienced the tail end of a bull run and the start of a brutal bear market this year, and some firms struggled while others prospered. Two major collapses—that of Terra and FTX—had a significant impact on the price action of the largest cryptocurrencies by market cap and sent shockwaves across the industry.
While some major figures made decisions or statements that put them on the naughty list, others remained focused on their respective missions and continued to bring hope to the industry. Crypto Santa is pleased with these leaders. (Click here for this year's Naughty List.)
As a cofounder of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin has played an essential role in the development of the blockchain. Ethereum’s move from the energy-intensive proof-of-work blockchain to proof-of-stake had been anticipated for years, and many wondered if it would work at all. But Buterin and the Ethereum development team had a successful Merge at the beginning of September.
Despite all the bear market chaos, Buterin has continued to be a sound voice of reason in the crypto industry. When FTX collapsed, Buterin critiqued those who wished to discard every value Sam Bankman-Fried stood for (Bankman-Fried was known for living below his means and being vegan, among other things). While he acknowledged Bankman-Fried’s manipulation of the concept of “effective altruism,” Buterin urged Crypto Twitter to remain level-headed and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Buterin also criticized traders speculating on governance tokens, arguing that manipulating governance token price and ownership was “pathological” and goes against the ethos of such tokens. And Buterin’s not afraid to critique Bitcoiners, either—he pointed out that many have ignored El Salvador’s undemocratic government because they were blinded by the promise of Bitcoin mass adoption.
Twitter founder and longtime Bitcoiner Jack Dorsey has largely remained out of the spotlight this year—but he’s continued to advocate for decentralized social media and personal privacy. As the CEO of Block, Dorsey revealed plans for a tongue-in-cheek “Web5” this year, which aims to offer self-custodied data and take an entirely different approach to the worldwide web. Dorsey remains a Web3 critic, but his consistent stance seems to come from a place of genuine concern for the future of technology.
While Edward Snowden may be a controversial figure, he has continued to advocate for individual privacy rights. This year, it came to light that Snowden was involved with the creation of the privacy-focused cryptocurrency ZCash.
In an interview with Decrypt, Snowden also took a strong stance against the U.S. sanctions placed against Ethereum mixer Tornado Cash, calling the move “profoundly authoritarian.” He also raised concerns about the amount of user identity data exchanges like Coinbase require in order to use their services, and has remained a vocal proponent of cryptocurrency when used to promote user privacy and freedom of exchange.
Wylie Aronow and Greg Solano
Wylie Aronow and Greg Solano, two of the four founders of the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Yuga Labs, have had quite a year. NFT sales for their upcoming metaverse game Otherside saw a shocking $561 million within 24 hours, bringing the Ethereum network to a crawl. Just two months later, they allowed select users to explore an early version of their game as a “first trip.” They held a successful, star-studded “Apefest” concert event for Ape NFT holders and launched a DAO and an altcoin called “Apecoin” for their community. Aronow and Solano also began donating CryptoPunks NFTs to art museums in an effort to teach audiences about Web3 and solidify the NFTs’ status as digital fine art.
Aronow and Solano have kept working on their vision despite a barrage of half-baked Nazi conspiracy theories and an SEC investigation this year. Regardless of what you think about these two cofounders, they’ve undoubtedly held fast to their community and are working at a breakneck pace to make their dreams a reality.
In January, Ryan Wyatt left his role as YouTube’s Head of Gaming to become the CEO of Polygon Studios, a company focused on bringing Web3 projects to the Ethereum sidechain. In less than a year, Polygon has seen a huge uptick in mainstream adoption from brands like Starbucks, Reddit, and Instagram.
Wyatt has also remained charismatic and professional on social media, offering to help move projects off the Terra blockchain to Polygon when the Terra ecosystem collapsed in May this year. As we move into 2023, it’s likely Wyatt will remain a key player in the Web3 gaming space—and a voice of reason for those gamers still struggling to wrap their heads around NFTs.
DJ and electronic music producer Justin “3LAU” Blau can now add CEO, cofounder, and entrepreneur to his list of titles. Since his music rights NFT marketplace Royal raised funding back in 2021, the Royal team has been busy dropping major releases from big-name artists and building out its NFT marketplace. In November, the anticipated marketplace went live despite the ongoing bear market—a move that shows Royal’s commitment to delivering on its vision for Web3 music.
Blau has also become something of a key advocate for Web3, onboarding and inspiring musicians like his friends Steve Aoki and Dillon Francis. What’s next for Royal? In an interview, Blau told Decrypt that Royal’s likely to release a mobile app—and the startup will try its best to work around Apple’s controversial 30% in-app purchase fees to keep NFTs affordable for fans and profitable for artists.
Changpeng “CZ” Zhao
In a rare feat, Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao made both our “Naughty” and “Nice” lists this year, primarily because the executive hasn’t shied away from sharing his hot takes on Crypto Twitter.
You could see his "recent revelations" tweet that prompted the FTT selloff that brought down FTX as more damaging for the industry than helpful, but the other perspective on it is that he wisely called out FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried well before the FTX collapse (including saying on our gm podcast that SBF’s attempts to bail out troubled firms were deals he would not have made).
CZ has also remained calm and collected throughout the bear market, repeatedly arguing that bear markets are “healthy” for crypto long-term and filter out bad actors from the industry. In CZ’s view, only the good will survive.
Binance expanded into Europe this year, increasing crypto’s overall chances of mass adoption. And a recent independent audit verified that Binance’s Bitcoin reserves are more than adequate, meaning the exchange is likely in good financial health.