Updated with comments from Joe Lubin.
NEW YORK—Mike Dudas keeps offering me a job at his website, The Block, at a rate far higher than what I could possibly dream of at Decrypt. But I keep declining, because I’d sooner go and join ISIS than toil in his trigger-happy tweet abattoir.
But I could use the money, to be honest, so I’m keeping him dangling at arm’s length just in case the Decrypt piggy bank runs dry. But having a hungry Dudas on one’s back is hard work. He’s relentless—like a pedophile priest—and, like an attractive, ginger choirboy in 1980s Boston, I’m disturbed that this decrepit old man has taken such an obsessive liking to me.
Just recently he said, “Yeah, I'm going to recruit the fuck out of you next week.”
Dudas, 39, is the CEO of The Block, a wildly successful crypto news aggregator that serves other publications’ stories—and, occasionally, its own—to some 490,000 users every month, according to SimilarWeb. Its paid “Genesis” feature, he told me, serves an additional 200-plus subscribers, who are confronted with the Faustian choice of paying $1,000 a year or $125 a month.
“Our goal is to have more than a thousand subscribers by the end of the year,” he said. “And if you kind of just draw, literally, a linear line from when we launched to the end of the year, we're right around that level.” (A Genesis subscriber, when asked why she signed up, said, “I basically subscribe to everything lmao. It’s my job haha.”)
The first time I saw Dudas he was gesticulating wildly to a camera for dozens of minutes, for this video, which has 40 views. The second time I saw him we were both drunk. The third time was in an industrial backwater of Paris, on a low stone bench cast half into shadow beneath a row of oaks. The fourth time, we had a curry at Sathi, in Manhattan’s appropriately nicknamed “Curry Hill” neighborhood.
Dudas, clad in a dark grey sweater and glowing a crimson medium rare in the Manhattan heat, waltzed in fifteen minutes late and made a beeline for the bathroom. He took several minutes, so I asked him if he had perhaps done a large poo.
“No,” he said. “I peed, then I tweeted.”
At his suggestion, we ordered two paneer tikka malasas, and a couple of coconut naans. As the heaps of food gradually began to sedate Dudas, I was able to tease him open as though he were a recalcitrant, portly clam.
The man. The myth.
Dudas in real life is warm, expansive and sharp, and appears to have few noticeable psychological defects. He’s not even altogether too disgusting to look at: he has a round, cherubic face and, when caught in a flattering light, glows ravishingly, like a mystical, translucent worm.
His friends and colleagues speak highly of him. "Mike Dudas is like the Steve Jobs of crypto-journalism (but only the good parts)." said Stephen Palley, The Block's lawyer and a partner at Anderson Kill, LLC. Even David Gerard, the blockchain hater I had curry with earlier this year, sings Dudas's praises—not least because he paid him. "Like his fellow entrepreneur Elon Musk, he could sometimes do with a monitor for his Twitter, but we love him really," he said.
It's true: Dudas in person is markedly different from Dudas on Twitter, where he presents as an insane, manic depressive. He tweets like Elmer Fudd shoots his shotgun; from the hip, and nearly always in the foot. The other day, for instance, he tweeted about EOS, the crypto startup that raised upwards of $4 billion in an ICO that barely anyone understands:
“I will not allow the $EOS ‘founders’ to get away with raising $4B unscathed,” he foomfitted. “I am coming after every single one of them: @bytemaster7, @brockpierce, @BrendanBlumer, @blockone stooges and the rest. The money trail is easy to follow and must be cleaned up before we go mainstream.”
After a while, he deleted it.
He explained to me that he wrote the tweet blackout drunk after Liverpool F.C.’s blinding victory on Tuesday. The idea to harass the startup emerged as he lay next to his wife in a hog-like slumber, from a deep, dark place he doesn’t talk about at parties.
Why is Dudas so aggressive on Twitter? There are two competing theories. The first is that it is in fact a marketing strategy—a way to build brand, provoke conversation, “have a presence,” as he told me.
The second is that Dudas has zero control over his impulses.
He told me how it usually plays out.
“The team writes a piece, there's some pushback from the company, entity or project, whatever it may be,” he explained. “I go out and, and you know, viciously defend our honor, right? That we’re error free. But because I defended [us] so aggressively publicly, [...] that becomes the story more than the story itself.”
But, he admitted, “no journalist, no researcher, nobody who's put in a significant amount of work, appreciates what they've done being turned into a circus. So we literally have put in place protocols, procedures where...I'm not going to put my own editorials on our work.”
Now he’s only allowed to “comment about the world,” he said. Nothing more.
The making of a Dudas
Dudas, 39, was born in New Jersey to “upper-middle class or lower-upper class” parents. His father ran a tool and die manufacturing company; his mother was a teacher. He transplanted to Connecticut at an early age, and was schooled near Yale University, in New Haven. He studied Public Policy at Stanford, and, like a grotesque toad, hopped his way between business and marketing roles in a range of companies that included Disney, Venmo, Google, Braintree and his first love, Button, a payments startup he co-founded.
Button offered the young Dudas a revelation: in 2013, when Bitcoin began to enter mainstream consciousness, Coinbase reached out to Button and asked whether it would accept payments in Bitcoin. Dudas refused, but grew intrigued.
Working at Button also offered Dudas perhaps his greatest asset. During his tenure there he began to accrue Twitter followers by the hundreds, nay, thousands! He admitted his large following—which has now broken 30,000—was instrumental in his building up of what would eventually be The Block.
Did he come across his following organically?
“I just tweeted a lot,” he said, “And that really just compounds, you know?”
I didn’t trust Dudas, so I asked Geoff Golberg, the Twitter analyst and Elementus founder best known for exposing the "XRP Army," to do a bit of digging. Within minutes, Golberg procured an in-depth analysis of Dudas’s followage, and came to a disappointing conclusion—there’s nary a bot in sight and it’s all above-board.
“It looks like he gained ~8,000 followers in 2018, and around 8,000 YTD for 2019,” Golberg explained. “He had a solid 10K+ following prior to crypto. Point being, I would say Dudas already had established himself as a sharp tech mind and had a solid Twitter base prior to immersing himself in Crypto Twitter.”
Crypto Twitter certainly helped, though. As Dudas himself pointed out, “you need a tribe.”
It wasn’t long before Dudas became enmeshed in the Cryptoverse, for good or for ill. His interest in Button, where he had been reduced to overseeing a total of six junior employees, began to wane, and he decided to move on.
In early 2018, crypto was getting interesting. The bull market was abating but interest in the underlying technology wasn’t. Dudas believed a major retail market was emerging, and wanted to tap into it. But he quickly saw there was an informational paucity in the industry and pivoted, hashing out plans for The Block instead.
He began to solicit investments. He talked to the industry’s movers and shakers, among them ConsenSys, the VC incubator that funds the wretched Decrypt.
It didn’t go well.
“I have direct verbal quotes from [ConsenSys CEO] Joe Lubin saying, ‘We are not going to do anything in news that doesn’t have anything to do with Ethereum,” he said, munching plumply on a juicy square of paneer.
Imagine his frustration when he learned that, roughly around the same time, ConsenSys had hired a former TIME editor named Josh Quittner to helm a rag called...Decrypt.
“It’s been a slow, slow journey to forgive that,” Dudas said.
Quittner, for his part, has forgiven Dudas for a variety of real and imagined sins. He even says he likes him. “He’s done really well for himself, considering his affliction,” he confided darkly.
Lubin, meanwhile, disputes Dudas's version of events, saying Dudas had in fact pitched a series of interconnected "physical spaces" that would cater to various facets of the crypto "community." “I thought his network of work spaces was interesting and it was something we had been thinking about for awhile," said Lubin. "But I just wasn’t yet interested putting lots of energy into that idea."
Nevertheless, ConsenSys’s (supposed) snub didn’t stop Dudas. Among others, he convinced Coinbase to pitch in $25,000 and began recruiting researchers and journalists. (Though recently Dudas gave the trivial sum back after crypto Twitter cranks said the Coinbase investment represented a conflict of interest. )
Now The Block, Dudas says, is crushing it.
As crypto news site Modern Consensus “exposed” last month, the company has a valuation of $10 million and has secured some $1.75 million after it “bled” $747,000 in 2018. What’s more, it’s reportedly hoping for “$1.1 million in revenue by the end of 2019, with $560,000 coming from subscribers, and the rest from ads.”
(Dudas claimed Modern Consensus’s hit piece backfired and that several investors, including a former financier of Cointelegraph, reached out to him to offer funding after it was published.)
The site’s post-money valuation, he told me, is now $11.5 million. Not a sum to sniff at, but will it come to fruition? Dudas tells me The Block’s 17 full-time staff burn through $150,000 collectively each month (roughly $8,800 per person), which, according to some very informal back-of-the-envelope calculations, gives it around eleven months left—and that’s before we take into account other expenses, such as office-space, network costs, Dudas’s own exorbitant salary, and the daily blood transfusion he gets from a cat.
That leaves it with its “Genesis” platform, a paywalled service that offers analysis and journalism to around 200 subscribers, each of whom must fork up either $125 a month or $1,000 a year for access. Save for the news content, that means each painstakingly researched article put out by analysts Ryan Todd, Larry Cermak and Steven Zheng will ultimately reach no more than 200 unique users, a pathetic number even by Decrypt’s standards.
During the course of my in-depth research, I learned a little-known fact about The Block’s legendary “tiny posts,” many of which are rewrites of other sites’ (often paywalled) stories. These “adapted rewrites,” I discovered, are mostly written by a full-time writer in Poland. Sometimes she is given a byline. But mostly her work is consigned, thanklessly, to the aggregator, where pieces go unnamed.
A couple of weeks ago, The Block reporter Frank Chaparro ridiculed a Decrypt article covering rumors about a Bitfinex IEO, and insisted that The Block would never publish anything with the word “rumor” in the headline. How humiliated Dudas and the gang must have been the following day, then, when they discovered that the Polish writer, oblivious to the drama of the night before, had dutifully churned out an article based on the exact same rumors!
That wasn’t her fault, of course; she is by all accounts a tireless and consummate professional. But there’s evidently a conflict at the core of The Block’s model. Indeed, it’s hard to be the “first and last word in crypto news,” as the site purports to be, when the supposed “first word” is regularly lifted from others’ work.
“How do you feel about running a third-rate news aggregator?” I asked Dudas at one point, hoping to provoke him into a squealing rage that would, with any luck, kill him.
“That’s actually how Quittner would describe us,” he said.
“Yes, that’s what you are,” I pointed out, bravely sucking up to my boss. Who is editing this piece.
The only things shamelessly aggregated are “the pieces you can read,” Dudas scoffed.”The ones you can’t afford are really, really high quality.”
“Ok, so nonsense is only spewed out to 99.9 percent of your readers?’
“It’s not nonsense,” he protested. “It’s not.”
He was laughing, but as he did so pricks of sweat surfaced on his skin. His left hand trembled, arthritically.
Perhaps I imagined this.
And maybe it’s not fair to grill Dudas on this, because in reality he exerts no influence over the The Block’s editorial process, save for offering story ideas—which The Block reporter Frank Chaparro insists are mostly bunk anyway, despite Dudas’s claim that his constant “scoops” account for at least a third of the Block’s reporting. Dudas told me he isn’t even part of The Block’s editorial Slack channel.
The Grand Dudas Apology Tour
Lately, Dudas has been maturing. He has been acting less aggressively on Twitter. As a result, he told me, he’s deleting fewer tweets.
“I used to delete all my tweets when I was, you know, a normal person,” he said. “And now that I have this slightly higher...”
“I do have high blood pressure, and I’m managing it,” he confessed.
When Dudas gets particularly piqued, he still blocks people. He blocks (then unblocks) me. He blocks my colleague Tim Copeland, and whines to me about him on Twitter whenever he does. He blocks Coindesk Regional Managing Director Wong Joon Ian, when Joon Ian is ridiculing Dudas for blocking him. Dudas has blocked so many people that there was a Twitter account whose sole purpose was to retweet Dudas’s tweets to people blocked by him—until the account itself was blocked.
But he’s trying to atone.
“It’s the Grand Dudas Apology Tour,” he told me in Paris, in March. He’s been doing the rounds, apologizing to a laundry list of current and former blockees with whom he's had Twitter spats, among them Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao and Cornell's Emin Gun Sirer.
Sirer is still blocked, though.
Still, this is to Dudas’s credit. As one Block hack told me, he can “charm the white off rice” when he needs to. “He has this way of connecting with people that’s astounding but also eyebrow raising,” the reporter said. “I’ve never seen someone eat chicken parmigiana off another’s plate, get away with it, and then see it translate into a meaningful relationship.”
“What’s incredible is that he somehow managed to convince all of us to join,” another Block hack chimed in. “I still don’t know how he did it. [Redacted company] would literally pay me twice as much.”
But so far, his charm has failed to work on me. Maybe [redacted company] will give me a job instead.