While helping to compile Fortune’s annual, flagship 40 Under 40 list, we wrestled with a quandary. In the vast, ever-expanding universe of digitized money, which visionaries and virtuosos deserved installment on our glossy walk of fame? We had many candidates in mind.
The obvious: Brain Armstrong, CEO and cofounder of Coinbase, and Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum, have both appeared on the 40 Under 40 list in years past. They remain two of the brightest stars in the fin-tech firmament. But because they are so young—Buterin is 24 years old—does this mean they will inhabit guaranteed slots until their quadragenarian birthdays—in Buterin’s case, in 2034? Does the youth of these precocious programmers effectively exclude others from recognition?
The germ of an idea sprouted: What if we created an extension of the franchise? Fortune has never done so before. But in this case, the decision was self-evident. The burgeoning crypto-cum-fintech world was important enough to justify a spinoff. Thus, The Ledger 40 Under 40 list was born.
Demonstrating the industry’s influence, five laureates on the main list intersect the offshoot. In addition to Armstrong (No. 1) and Buterin (No. 2), there are the Collison brothers of Stripe (No. 4); Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt (No. 5), dual CEOs and cofounders of Robinhood; and Pavel Durov of Telegram (No. 10). Beyond them, a host of new, worthy faces: Jihan Wu of Bitmain (No. 3), Rana Yared of Goldman Sachs (No. 6), the Winklevoss twins of Gemini (No. 8), Rachel Mayer of Circle (No. 16), and more. All of these pioneers are pushing boundaries at the bleeding edge of finance and technology. All of them warrant acclaim.
Indeed, we’re convinced that we’re witnessing the birth of something special. The last time we observed such an explosion of technical talent and tenacity in so short a span of time, we were staring down the dawn of Web 2.0, which brought on businesses such as Facebook, YouTube, Uber, Airbnb, and Snapchat. (These companies’ execs continue to dominate our headline 40 Under 40 list.) The fast approach of the Web’s next iteration—Web 3.0, as some prognosticators have called it—signals a new era, one wherein a seamless interchange of value is woven into the very fabric of the network. This movement merits a spotlight all its own.
And so we invite you to peruse The Ledger’s selection of young movers and shakers building the world’s financial future. Take a gander; be inspired. We’re proud to note the honor roll features 15 women—about 38% of the total. Of course, we’re sure there are individuals whose work escaped our attention. If you spot any candidates who should be on our radar, please send their names our way and we’ll consider them for next year. We’ve already begun having productive conversations toward that end.
Oh, and if you’ll be under 40 in a year, remember: There’s time yet to make the list. Better get cracking on that world-changing idea of yours, dear reader.
THE LEDGER’S LATEST
Google Expands Blockchain Push with Digital Asset Tie-Up by Jeff John Roberts
Introducing The Ledger 40 Under 40 by Robert Hackett et al.
To the moon… Bitcoin breaks $8,000. Free speech on the blockchain is happening in China. A new Winklevii book. Wall Street conducts first physical crypto swap to settle Bitcoin futures. Coinbase completes insider trading investigation, gives away gift cards, and gets into politics. Gibraltar fires up its own crypto exchange. Bitcoin has nowhere to go but up, says a big-time investor.
.…Rekt: Augur enables death bets. Most Bitcoin trades are utterly worthless. Venezuelan bolivars hyperinflate. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro tries desperately to make the Petro a thing. Iran copies Venezuela. The CFTC says the U.S. is “falling behind” on blockchain. Mike Novogratz’s crypto firm is off to a rocky start. By the way, whatever happened to those celeb-endorsed coins…?
BALANCING THE LEDGER
This week The Ledger team sat down with Stephen Ehrlich, CEO of Voyager, a startup that’s developing a no-fee crypto trading app. View the episode to learn why Ehrlich, a veteran of E-Trade, has no interest in running a crypto exchange, but extreme interest in becoming a crypto broker—without charging commissions!
Think cryptocurrency is a bubble? HowMuch.net, a site that publishes data visualizations about money, created an infographic that compares the total value of the crypto market—about $300 billion—to the multi-trillion-dollar markets for gold, real estate, derivates, and more. If you’re looking for a bubble, look no further than the global market for debt, which is nearing $250 trillion. (For reference, the U.S.’s national debt makes about 9% of that total.)
MEMES AND MUMBLES
Go with the flow. Vint Cerf, co-author of TCP/IP, the information transfer protocol that made the Internet as we know it possible, harbors doubts about blockchain tech. Cerf, who now serves as Google’s “chief Internet evangelist,” recently tweeted a photo depicting a “simple flowchart” that tells people blockchains are effectively useless and unnecessary.
Cerf’s tweet reminds me of what he told me when I asked him for his thoughts on blockchains last year: “I think that the claims that blockchains will change the world are hyperbolic for the most part….It has become a kind of magic pixie dust for some proponents.” (You can read that story here.)
FOMO NO MO’
Don’t miss out: Hester Peirce, a commissioner at the Securities and Exchange Commission, opposed the agency’s decision not to approve a recent application for a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund, or Bitcoin ETF, submitted by the Winklevoss twins. Peirce says in her dissenting opinion that the SEC is inhibiting innovation and creating a chicken-and-egg, bootstrapping paradox for the crypto industry. If the agency approved the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust, then that would nudge the crypto markets toward maturity, thereby overcoming the very issue that causes the SEC to have reservations about granting approval in the first place. An excerpt from her text:
I am concerned that the Commission’s approach undermines investor protection by precluding greater institutionalization of the bitcoin market. More institutional participation would ameliorate many of the Commission’s concerns with the bitcoin market that underlie its disapproval order. More generally, the Commission’s interpretation and application of the statutory standard sends a strong signal that innovation is unwelcome in our markets, a signal that may have effects far beyond the fate of bitcoin ETPs.
To be honest, we wouldn’t be surprised if Peirce pops up at a cryptocurrency shop within the year…