LOS ANGELES — Half-naked and humiliated, I knelt, cowering, on the shag rug.
My first time as a cam girl, I’d say, had gone reasonably well.
I was lodged at the “Spankhouse," a triple-storied Venice Beach apartment with a direct view to the Pacific Coast. Ameen Soleimani, the visionary whom I’d come to interview, was bunkered away, once more, in a “coding hole.” And William “Wills” de Vogeleare, his diminutive, cad associate and co-founder? He’d disappeared into some dusty corner of the house, doing God knows what.
So I was left alone with Allie Eve Knox and Kiara Skye, who work for Soleimani’s project, Spankchain, which is one of the only crypto startups—so I’d been told—that is actually worth a damn.
But the conversation had dried up, so the women made a horrifying proposition. Since I am a “journalist,” they said, I really ought to make an effort to understand the thing I was here to write about.
I ought to get on cam.
Soleimani (left) scrawls sweet nothings on a whiteboard as lead developer James Young (second from left) watches, transfixed.
That’s what Spankchain is—at least on the surface. It's a cam site. Performers set up an account, link up their webcams, then film themselves naked, fully clothed, having sex, playing Mario Kart, baking brownies, tickling themselves, whatever. And the feckless masturbators who watch them? They pay for these performances, in cryptocurrencies. Tipping certain amounts triggers specific actions set by the performer — “squirting” and “vibratoy” being the official suggestions on the original pitchdeck.
My own vile predilections aside, why, exactly, was Spankchain worth traveling 5,000 miles from my squalid flat in London, to see? More to the point, how did I convince my editor to spend the money to send me here?
Spankchain, they'd told me, was the decentralized future in action. It was a true micro-economy, funded by cryptocurrency and built on Ethereum, that had triumphed on that one metric where almost all other Web3 startups had failed: it was actually being used—by 4,000 “viewers” and 700 performers worldwide, no less.
And it is being used because it has a use. By affording its performers financial sovereignty, through cryptocurrency, Spankchain has already solved a litany of problems faced in the adult industry: Sex workers say that banks and payment providers, such as PayPal, sometimes freeze their accounts to shield themselves from the stigma. Providers issue refunds, or “chargebacks,” to the accounts of viewers caught with their pants down, at the expense of the performers themselves. And on the other side, cam sites, solely because they can, extract up to 60 percent cuts from performers’ earnings.
But banks and PayPal and GoDaddy and “Chaturbate” can’t seize or freeze performers’ cryptocurrencies. These are secured cryptographically, spread across the distributed lattice of computers that make up the Ethereum network. And since records began, in April, performers on Spankchain have demonstrated this proposition to be true: they have racked up around $100,000 among themselves in profit, around 20 times the amount they would have collectively trousered on regular sites.
Spankchain’s smutty branding also conceals its deeper ingenuity—it features one of the first implementations of state channels, an off-chain technological sleight of hand that could rapidly scale Ethereum’s capacity. Like a Trojan horse, Spankchain is infiltrating the greater world and quietly, almost surreptitiously, working to make Web3 happen.
For the hundreds of sex workers who use Spankchain’s services, this all amounts to a kind of economic emancipation.
A first-hand look at Spankchain
Allie Eve Knox leans on a hot rod.
But for a nervous schlub like me, screwing up the courage to actually appear on Spankchain was somewhat less liberating.
I was able to begin my “performance” using an account set up by de Vogeleare, the co-founder. Instantly, I was in deep trouble. Competing against an array of beautiful men and women, I was unable to pull in traffic.
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Nothing worked. I opted for ironic self-castigation. I tried some old Jewish jokes, though I am a young Jew. We tried changing the video title to “Protestant virgin’s first time”—a seductive tale of innocence, corrupted—then the less blasphemous “Ex-Trump staffer tells all,” figuring White House insider gossip was a pornographic category of its own.
Failing all that, I took off my shirt.
That one, surprisingly (to me and anyone who knows me), worked.
Indeed, by some point, I'd amassed a few degenerate viewers. A “Sexual Jedi Knight” called “TantraPunk,” who would later claim to have once sustained a single, continuous orgasm for several months pinged me a few bucks’ worth of Spankchain’s own cryptocurrency, “BOOTY.” Molly Meowz, a fellow cammer, took pity on me and credited me another ten BOOTY during her own cam session.
Porn leads adoption because people need to get their fix, and they don't care how they do it, and they'll jump through extra hurdles to, like, wank.
But alas, my efforts were still falling flat. I had five viewers—way shy of breaking that record of 700—and no amount of rambling about my upbringing or flapping my arms would help me.
At this rate, I’d never make it in this cut-throat cam-model-industrial-complex. It’d be back to selling shoes—or worse, still working for this loathsome website.
It was time for the nuclear option: We goaded Virgil Griffith, a major figure in the Ethereum Foundation who had been sauntering about upstairs muttering to himself for the past few hours, to join me. We thought perhaps if this witty, eccentric crypto icon blathered about “governance solutions” or some such nonsense, our increasingly bored, crypto-curious viewers would return to a state of mild arousal, or at least engaged confusion.
But Griffith was not the right choice at all. Painfully clothed, he started to yap like an oddball professor from a 1950s puppet show, and became rapidly, despairingly lost in some awful soliloquy about ... resource allocation? ... funding goals? The sick bastard butchered whatever erotic tension remained.
And the viewers turned off in the extreme, dwindled to zero.
Finally, and mercifully, de Vogeleare staggered in from wherever he’d been—he seemed to only ever stagger—and called out, “Ben's on cam!?” His innocent question was my cue to laugh a sheepish “yes," and beat a hasty retreat.
But we all knew the disgusting de Vogeleare had been watching from the adjacent room.
How else could I have made $26?
ConsenSys's snow-dappled headquarters in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
A brief history of Spankchain
The creation myth of Spankchain begins nearly two years ago, on April 12, 2017. That’s when, like a driven, millennial Lucifer, Ameen Soleimani began his descent from the Kingdom of Heaven, to pursue a life of depravity and sin.
Shrouded in a black hoodie, he had just concluded the first half of a dull conference call with his superiors at ConsenSys, a massive, rapidly growing VC firm invested heavily in Ethereum. (It also funds the wretched Decrypt.)
Streaming the call from his outpost in LA, Soleimani—one of the company’s brightest young developers—could make out a who’s who of company heavyweights, staring him down. Among them was the billionaire founder himself, Joseph Lubin, who was tuning in from the company’s graffiti-splattered headquarters in Brooklyn—looking like Silicon Valley’s answer to Bruce Willis with his shaved head, chinos, and dark t-shirt.
Delivering his words with a disarming cheerfulness, Soleimani then began what was perhaps the most bizarre pitch this (or any) company had ever received: he wanted $2 million to spin out from the mothership to set up an “evil”—as those present would later describe it—outpost in San Francisco.
This is actually about a people who have been discriminated against by banks, and Ethereum for them represents an actual alternative that gives them the ability to store money, to send transactions, in ways that cannot be censored or seized. And that's really powerful.
Ameen Soleimani, Spankchain co-founder
More precisely, he planned to colonize the Silicon Valley frontier, raze it to the ground, and in its place install himself as the benevolent Dark Lord of an empire of sin.
His superiors were not at all on board. But nor were they surprised.
Soleimani, you see, has always been absorbed in dark, twisted fantasies. He is the Devil’s advocate, an industrious plotter, a dreamer and a coder. And he codes everywhere. He codes curled up on his bed, 25 hours a day. He codes sitting down. He codes standing up, at parties, fixed in the center of the room like an automaton, lost in a matrix of ones and zeros. When he’s not coding, and the music’s no good, he’s plotting elaborate homicides on Player Unknown: Battlegrounds, one of those hideously difficult, Battle Royale-inspired melees which pits you in combat against 100 other elite players, which you win when everybody else is dead.
Soleimani has won ten times.
Soleimani's rise to fame
Soleiamani (second from left) schools performers on Cryptotitties, marking Spankchain's first appearance at AVN. The booth is shut off, with an open bar in place.
He was born in Washington, D.C, in 1991.
After a disappointingly wholesome childhood, he studied chemical engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in upstate New York. He discovered Bitcoin in his college fraternity fairly early on, and ordered a batch of mushrooms on Silk Road.
“They came with this, like, Ganesh poster,” he recalled.
After graduating, he abandoned chemical engineering and took up coding. He proceeded to fail at various startups, including a “Bitcoin arbitrage bot,” and a “Spotify for journalists.” He made a trivial sum of Bitcoin then lost it all in the collapse of crypto exchange Mt. Gox. “I lost everything,” he said. He was joking. He was fine.
Living on the literal balcony of an impossibly cramped Berkeley “rationalist house”—owned by a few of the luminaries involved with the LessWrong blog, a favorite of Ethereum inventor Vitalik Buterin—Soleimani made two concurrent discoveries.
A slide from Soleimani's fateful presentation to ConsenSys.
He discovered Ethereum first, glancing over some of the Twitter posts that had been aggregated by his “Spotify for journalists" platform.
Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum could handle smart contracts, magical chunks of code that digitally enforce contractual agreements between multiple parties. Whereas artificial intelligence would replace labor, smart contracts would, supposedly, replace decision-making processes, automating away human failings.
Then Soleimani discovered Moloch, the Canaanite god of child sacrifice. More precisely, he discovered “Meditations on Moloch,” an essay on Moloch by web philosopher and LessWrong contributor Scott Alexander.
It was a weird, brilliant piece of work. It sought to understand why in all human societies, people tend to sacrifice the good of the collective in favor of short term gains. Nobody benefits from a society in which everybody, say, rapes and murders, but we do it to each other anyway. The culprit, Alexander wrote, was “Moloch”—not that it was literally the fault of an ancient demon, but that, by giving the malaise a name, we could hope to defeat it.
Soleimani became, and remains, hopelessly obsessed.
“It basically describes coordination failures,” Soleimani said to me later, his voice deadened from another prolonged session of Adderall-fuelled coding. “We want to spend money on infrastructure and hospitals and schools, but instead we spend it on guns and bombs.”
The reason he left was he wanted to do all the dark things. He wanted to burn everything down.
Soleimani said this matter-of-factly—he wasn’t offering a hippie cliché. The beauty of Alexander’s essay was that it couched the problem in almost scientific terms. “It makes it really obvious that every time anybody starts a sentence with, ‘If only we could all just...’ it's a waste of their time and everybody else's,” he said.
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He figured that Ethereum, whose core proposition was to yield our worst instincts to the amoral, absolute authority of code, could optimize human behaviour—and put an end to Moloch’s reign.
Bound by this conviction, he sought work as an Ethereum developer, quickly landing a dream job with ConsenSys in mid-2016, whose flagship Brooklyn office he slept at for six weeks straight. After a senseless, abortive attempt to put video game classic “Pong” on the blockchain, he began to do good: He helped develop early implementations of state channels, a novel way to scale Ethereum “off-chain” without compromising security. Equally impressive: after moving to LA, he built the first “token curated registry”—basically a listicle, with equity.
But, over time, he grew frustrated with ConsenSys’s slow, deliberative work ethic, and began to act out. In one instance, he attempted to broker a deal with a prospective partner without consulting his superiors, before getting caught red-handed. Lubin scolded him. “There’s a reason this company is called ConsenSys and not Unilateral,” Soleimani recalled him saying.
Still, the fact was, he desperately wanted Ethereum to do well.
Convinced that rewiring society with smart contracts could vanquish Moloch, Soleimani began to dream up increasingly ambitious ideas. In particular, he hoped to devise a “micropayments” system on Ethereum, allowing anybody to instantly tip anybody for anything, which he believed would spur greater adoption.
One night, when he was sitting in a bar with his colleague Akhil Fernando, Fernando, deadly serious, suggested that Soleimani build a micropayments platform for cam models.
Farmville's James Young (left) ponders state channels.
Although Soleimani wasn’t keen on the idea, he tried, like his rationalist heroes, to think rationally. “The whole point of being rational is to identify truths that you don’t want to believe, that you have some bias against believing,” he told me. “I was trying to do lofty things like education. But the shortest path to getting all of it done was to go through the most lucrative path” — which, he realized, was porn.
It began to make sense. “This is actually about a people who have been discriminated against by banks,” he said. “And Ethereum for them represents an actual alternative that gives them the ability to store money, to send transactions, in ways that cannot be censored or seized. And that's really powerful.”
That’s not glib marketing talk, “Molly Meowz,” a Spankchain performer and industry veteran told me later. As well as pointless constraints like “chargebacks,” even accepting Bitcoin for her services—a popular choice among sex workers—required going through exchanges such as Coinbase, themselves beholden to old-school regulations. “They have been known to close sex worker accounts, like PayPal and the banks,” she said.
Allie Eve Knox, Spankchain’s head of outreach and a performer herself, expressed her exasperation. “You have these rich bankers closing performers’ accounts, then going home and jerking off to the women whose accounts they’ve just closed,” she said.
There’s another point: porn, historically, has driven all manner of technological adoption—it could do the same for Ethereum.
“Porn leads adoption because people need to get their fix, and they don't care how they do it, and they'll jump through extra hurdles to, like, wank,” said de Vogeleare, Spankchain’s co-founder. He doubled down. “A guy will like, you know, sign up for a fucking wallet and go through all the bullshit and get his private key so that he can, you know, get off.”
You have these rich bankers closing performers’ accounts, then going home and jerking off to the women whose accounts they’ve just closed. Allie Eve Knox
You have these rich bankers closing performers’ accounts, then going home and jerking off to the women whose accounts they’ve just closed.
Allie Eve Knox
There was, however, no way in hell Soleimani could pitch a porn site to the venerable ConsenSys. “Joe has deals with Sheikhs in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “He doesn’t want to have a conversation [where a Sheikh is] like, ‘What is this in your portfolio?” (Lubin later told me much the same.)
Soleimani had a flash of inspiration. He didn’t need ConsenSys’s permission—he just needed its money! With enough charm and chutzpah, he reckoned, he could secure $2 million to set up an ideologically distinct, “evil” outpost in San Francisco, dubbed Moloch Ventures, which would traffic in all the filth Lubin deemed too damaging to the flagship brand.
It would also embrace “disruption theory,” which meant undercutting competitors by generating little to no revenue. (See, “Spankchain takes a mere five percent,” above.)
This was the pitch Soleimani delivered, in his black hoodie, at that conference call in April, 2017.
Soleimani exhorts his employers to make less money.
A new slide, bearing the visage of Soleimani’s favorite demonic God, Moloch, flashed on screen. Soleimani cheerfully explained who Moloch was—the Canaanite god of child sacrifice, yadda yadda yadda. He explained the urgent need to expand, aggressively so, and thus laid out his portentous conclusion—the malignant spirit’s all encompassing grip was beginning to tighten around ConsenSys.
He wanted $2 million for office space in the Bay Area, three top-class devs and one “meme warrior.”
Though amused, Lubin and his subordinates hardly warmed to the idea. “While I find your opinion spectacularly valuable …” Lubin began, before proceeding to explain why it wasn’t, in fact, spectacularly valuable at all.
“At ConsenSys, while we all loved Ameen and continue to love Ameen, and he’s an awesome talent, on the business and marketing side as well as technically, we felt that our approach was not aligned with having a strong, dark presence,” Lubin told me recently.
“There’s so much more that’s immediately interesting in the blockchain space, to companies, to people living in Venezuela, Zimbabwe,” he added.
I asked him if he’d at least enjoyed the presentation.
“It was an exquisite piece of entertainment.”
One month later, having chemically engineered his consciousness with a sharp hit of acid, Soleimani decided to leave ConsenSys and form Spankchain, alone. After sleeping in until three the next day, he set up a video call with Lubin.
“You look like shit,” Lubin said.
“I know. I did a bunch of acid and didn’t sleep.”
“That was dumb.”
Soleimani agreed, then explained the reason for his call. He planned to quit, believing his opportunities would be better outside the company.
“I think you underestimate ConsenSys,” countered Lubin.
“I think you underestimate me,” Soleimani later recalled saying.
“The reason he left,” Lubin told me later, in the ConsenSys Brooklyn office, “was he wanted to do all the dark things. He wanted to burn everything down.” Not wanting to make his friend sound like too much of a demon, Lubin corrected himself a bit. “He’s dark in a very light, in a very productive, in a very constructive, reasonably healthy way I think.”
Soleimani's Spankchain pitchdeck describes the natural evolution of new technologies.
In the late spring of 2017, Soleimani started doing “market research,” which mostly involved watching a lot of porn.
Once he’d seen all there was to see, he moved to San Francisco to set up a team with a few trusted associates—among then James Young, one of the lead developers on the decidedly less pornographic Facebook hit, Farmville.
One night, crammed into a car and very stoned, the team brainstormed names. Someone ventured the name, “Spankchain.”
“We all just died laughing,” Soleimani said, doing a mock drag of a spliff and drawling, “spaaaaaankchain.”
The name stuck.
But Soleimani needed to bring in investors. He made a pitch deck, a black and pink powerpoint presentation that ran under the pseudonym, “Spanktoshi Nakabooty.”
The first 13 slides were standard fare—the prospective business model, fundraising, the underlying mechanics. The rest of the powerpoint featured a 116-page stack of hardcore pornography.
Soleimani put it up on Reddit. “It was pretty immature,” he said.
At ConsenSys, while we all loved Ameen and Joe Lubin
At ConsenSys, while we all loved Ameen and
But that was the point. It was a “memetic filter,” he explained, a device meant to intentionally polarize, sifting out the pearl-clutching porn-haters from the moral degenerates Soleimani was eager to work with.
The filter did its job when it dredged up de Vogeleare, who would sign on as Spankchain’s co-founder. A bronzed California dude with a heart of gold, de Vogeleare had previously worked as a platform designer. But his real area of expertise was sex workers, having apparently “spent a year in Argentina with a different escort every night,” he later told me.
Seeing Soleimani’s pitch, he fell in love. His favorite part, he told me, was the 116-page-strong “deck of porn.” He reached out to Soleimani as a matter of urgency, via Reddit.
“I’ll stop whatever I’m doing now,” he told him.
(That was easy, he told me, because wasn’t actually doing anything, save “watching the price of ETH.")
“Do you have any experience?” Soleimani asked.
“I’ve dated a couple of cam models,” de Vogeleare admitted.
“Great!” said Soleimani. “You have a powerful intuition for user experience.”
Soleimani had found his sidekick.
William "Wills" de Vogeleare "working" in the Spankchain offices in Venice Beach, Ca.
Spring became summer and the markets continued their ascent. Regulators had yet to crack down on ICOs and startups were printing literally billions of dollars out of thin air. For the month of August, the duo, fat on their growing crypto stashes, rented out a $20,000 Hollywood mansion, partied, coded and played Player Unknown: Battlegrounds until the chairs broke and the pool turned green, incurring thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.
But nobody was investing in Spankchain. Lubin had offered and then reneged on a $500,000 seed round. Soleimani forked up $50,000 of his own funds, but it wasn’t enough. They, like everybody else, would have to to do an ICO.
And thus, they prepared to sell off 300 million “SpankTokens” to the waiting public.
To distinguish themselves, the Spanksters ran a bespoke token sale using Spankchain’s very own, newly cobbled-together state channel infrastructure. “We actually wanted to show that, hey, this is what we're building and it's already built,” said de Vogeleare. The sale would last two weeks—they hoped to sell 30 percent of the tokens minted for a minimum of $5 million, and keep the rest.
But they very nearly made a mess of the whole thing.
To keep it fair, there were no restrictions on the time at which potential buyers could place bids, meaning there was little incentive to come in early. But it turned out to be too fair. Though one beneficiary threw in $700,000 on the first day, only a faint dribble of funds ensued for the next two weeks—nobody was coughing up. To complicate matters further, the adult industry branding made it unmarketable. Few exchanges would list the SpankTokens. Few news sites would cover the sale itself. (Decrypt didn’t exist then, but we probably wouldn’t have covered it either. Well, maybe.)
It looked, increasingly, as though all was lost.
Then, with only a few hours left until ruinous defeat, the floodgates spilled open: An anonymous investor they have since nicknamed “Moby”—after the whale—had suddenly put in a $2.5 million bid. Investors lying in wait for a signal poured money in, bringing the total raised to $7.5 million by crunch-time.
“That’s the last time I build anything that fair,” Soleimani said.
Abandon all self-respect, all ye weary travelers who enter the Spankhouse.
From there, Spankchain began to take shape. The team funneled the token sale proceeds into operations. They decamped the Hollywood mansion to rent the open-plan, three-story “Spankhouse” in Venice Beach ( Lubin, hilariously, signed his name on the contract as a reference). And they finished up the site.
On New Year’s Day, 2018, Spankchain put out its first live demo, featuring the pornstar Giselle Palmer. The “crypto nerds” watching her, Soleimani recalled, had beseeched her to stay fully clothed, and talk about math. Apparently, they eventually relented, because that day yielded the first ever “blockchain-based orgasm.” It was trebles all round.
Later that month was the AVN awards. Shunned by the industry veterans present and desperate to make an impression, they built an app called “Cryptotitties,” which would let pornstars put up topless pictures of themselves for crypto donations. Allie Eve Knox, who was at AVN that night, recalled joining a long line of performers keen to expose themselves.
Knox and Skye, who was also present, would join Spankchain in marketing and outreach roles. They had berated Soleimani, telling him he needed more women, and he agreed. “[Ameen] hears you when you say things,” said Skye. “Which is rare for men in power.” By making use of Knox and Skye’s connections, Spankchain was able to bring in a steady influx of performers.
In April, 2018, Spankchain launched a private beta, "Spank.live." As both an ideological gesture and a marketing ploy, the company put out bounties of $25,000 for politicians caught sleeping with sex-workers. Specifically, they were seeking to catch lawmakers who had voted to pass the controversial Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which activists had warned would discriminate against sex workers.
They caught one too, claimed De Vogeleare, who declined to reveal the sex-crazed lawmaker’s name.
By October, the platform, then in public beta, had grown exponentially. Some 700 performers had cammed on the site, and more planned to join.
Kiara Skye lost beneath an avalanche of Spankchain merch.
Before she’s even started breakfast, Molly Meowz will get on cam, and continue to stream throughout the day. Like many of her fellow performers, she discovered Spankchain by way of Cryptotitties, her first introduction to the tentative wonders of bankless banking.
It wasn’t perfect. For one, she and other performers struggled to attract normal people to the site, many of whom—despite de Vogeleare’s hunch—weren’t prepared to navigate a complex new technology for the same degenerate thrills they could get elsewhere. But enough displaced crypto enthusiasts sustained her: At the market’s peak, when it was easy to separate HODLers from their investments, she was pocketing up to $500 a day.
She found it stress-free, and easy to use. A near absence of creative restrictions, along with an “instant-tipping” function that processed live payments in real time, helped enrich the intimacy of her streams. And if the day’s takings failed to cover her expenses? She could share her streams with regular sites, no questions asked.
Yet, as the year wore on, the crypto markets began to veer into November’s catastrophic downturn, and, by October, she and other performers were struggling. Most of them were taking their earnings in Ethereum, which was prone to devalue at any time, and frequently did. “I lost money, for sure,” said Meowz, whose daily winnings plunged to around “$20 to $70 a day.”
Seeing that this was a growing problem, Soleimani unveiled another token, called the BOOTY.
The BOOTY Token
Belying its ridiculous name, the BOOTY token is, in fact, a fairly ingenious stablecoin, meaning its notional market price remains steady, allaying performers’ fears of their earnings dropping to zero.
Often, stable coins are pegged to reserves of more stable assets — the US dollar, gold, steel. Yet the peg relies on investor confidence, which, like the underlying assets themselves, may be in short supply. More often than not, the peg breaks.
BOOTY was built using an as-yet-untested macro-economic theory on a micro-economic scale. Previously the domain of chemists, “control theory” held that keeping a vat of hot water at a stable temperature would require a continually, automatically adjusted input of cold water. A growing number of fringe economists had begun to realize that applying the same theory to an economy, carefully dribbling in newly issued currency— like cold water from a tap—to maintain steady levels of inflation, could have miraculous effects.
Obviously, an economy is immeasurably more difficult to monitor than a vat of water. Unless, as it happens, that economy is rendered transparently on a single database. A la, a blockchain.
Spankchain made the perfect use case.
Some 18,846 worth of BOOTY tokens is stored in a “Spankbank.” Holders of the distinct SpankToken, among them investors and performers, steadily emit new “BOOTY.” To maintain the BOOTY’s stability, “SpankBankers” must be at all times be ready to respond to a “booty call.” Like a real-world margin call, the booty call requires investors to sell off a number of tokens to stabilize supply and demand. And it seems to have worked. BOOTY, pegged to roughly one dollar, has so far remained stable.
“$1 tips is my favorite thing ever,” said Meowz, the performer, who often get tipped less than a nickel on regular sites. “That's kind of offensive. Like, I get you're giving me money, but you can't even give me a whole dollar?”
In the open plan Spankhouse kitchen/living room, Soleimani recuperates from a boozy, PUB:G fuelled house party.
Immediately after Soleimani unveiled BOOTY, he got a devastating call. A hacker had exploited a vulnerability in the newborn code and stolen $30,000 dollars’ worth of the currency—$10,000 from the founders and $20,000 from the performers.
The team went into battle mode. They pored over the code, hoping to hunt down, quarantine and neutralize the offending bug. “We went line by line through the [smart contracts] and listed every single vulnerability we could think of,” said Soleimani. Miraculously, the team located the hacker’s cell number.
Soleimani gave him a friendly call.
“I’m Ameen Soleimani,” he began. “I’m the CEO of Spankchain. Do you know why I’m calling you?” He explained that he knew the hacker had stolen all of his money.
“Congratulations on winning the ETH SF hackathon!” he announced, drily. “Great attention to detail.”
“I’d also like my money back. If you give it back to me I’ll give you $5,000 dollars.”
Amazingly enough, the hacker complied, before helpfully revealing there was another vulnerability, this one with $4,000 in it. Soleimani dared him to steal it, promising the same amount if he could.
The hacker did exactly that.
The next month, as the bear market hit its nadir, Spankchain made headlines when it joined a spate of crypto startups, among them ConsenSys, that had been forced to lay off employees. The staff dwindled from 20 to 12, with Soleimani citing the company’s need to ”downsize” to focus on product development. He figured that, with the crypto markets in the doldrums, Spankchain needed to market more aggressively to regular, run-of-the-mill pickle-ticklers instead of the regular crypto-perverts who constituted the site’s majority audience.
“It was mostly my fault for hiring people too early,” said Soleimani. To protect their reserves from future woes, they transferred a bulk of it to Dai, another of the few stablecoins known for not slipping its peg. (BOOTY is reserved for the performers.)
A few months later, in January 2018, Spankchain scooped app of the year at the AVN awards in Vegas.
The launch of Spank.live, April 2018. De Vogeleare (third from left) and Soleimani (third from right) beam like proud mothers.
Ethereum's unlikely champion
High up in the Ethereum food chain, people are beginning to take notice of Spankchain. “The marketing is just hilarious, and the technology is groundbreaking,” said Lubin. “It wouldn't bother me at all if [ConsenSys] were using any of their technology.”
Spankchain also enjoys the occasional affections of the Ethereum Foundation, whose head of special projects, the same Virgil Griffith who buzzkilled my cam viewers, was recently taken on as an advisor.
The highbrow intellectuals of the foundation (the “Jedi Council,” Soleimani disparagingly calls them) and Spankchain’s would-be porn mongers make strange bedfellows, yet there’s a certain frisson, nevertheless. While Soleimani’s taste for sparking outrage can at times threaten the foundation’s reputation—Griffith recalled having to plead with him to cancel a deeply explicit presentation at a conference that would have surely alienated the distinguished Islamic Scholar who came before him—it is also instructive.
“[The foundation’s] strategy is, we want to be the king that you would want to have, therefore we become king,” Griffith explained. “But sometimes I think we’re a little too nice.”
Yet Spankchain, too, is nice—and appears to be making good on its wholesome pro-sex worker, pro-women pledges. “We can age, and we’ll still get a paycheck,” said Knox. Even TantraPunk, the viewer with the endless orgasms, agreed. “[Soleimani’s] not some sketchy fly-by-night adult industry entrepreneur.”
Soleimani’s hoping his next project, “SpankPay,” a service that integrates Spankchain’s micropayment channels with regular porn sites, will be even bigger. Against all odds, the 27-year-old coder from D.C could become an adult industry heavyweight. Is that what he wants?
“I’m happy to be a porn tycoon,” he said. “But the reason that I started Spankchain was because I thought it was a good use case for the technology, for both blockchains and the micropayment channels, specifically. “
“I’m just doing it to get laid,” countered de Vogeleare.
“Yeah, he’s not doing it to get laid,” de Vogeleare concluded. “It’s to serve his God, Moloch.”
Lubin doesn’t think it’s to serve his god, Moloch.
“You believe that shit? I think that’s playful marketing speak,” he said offhandedly, eviscerating a macadamia nut. “It’s just fun for him.”
But what does Soleimani care? He's back in his coding hole, whacked out on Adderall. He’s absorbed in another project, the “MolochDAO.” It’s a decentralized fundraising platform, designed to resolve “coordination failures” and serve Ethereum’s ever-widening community, or something. This time, he reckons, he’ll get Moloch good. He’ll save the world. People will live happily, in peace, forever.
A fine task for a demon-worshipper, cryptographer, and pornographer.