The Billionaire's Folly, Part II: Into the Ether
meeting the big kahuna
Hello! If you’re still a subscriber, you must know I’m publishing my story of working in crypto in a series of chapters. If you missed the previous chapters, start with these:
The Billionaire’s Folly: An Ethereum Story
Into the Ether
Dubai, April 2017. ETH: $48.
Raheem had a laugh that somehow sounded like both a giggle and a guffaw. It was never really clear to me how he managed to make both noises at once, as if he was trying to keep it together and enjoy himself simultaneously. It did seem genuine, at least.
I was nervous. I was behind on my work for the week again and had no desire for another dressing-down. I had to finish another presentation this weekend, more slides on how drones would revolutionize telecom in Saudi Arabia and other fluff. Instead of working, I was across the street having coffee with Raheem. Mohamed had introduced me to him over Whatsapp - he was leading the new Middle East office for ConsenSys. My leg twitched under the table as I tried not to convey my internal panic. There was only one door now - get the job or get fired, I kept thinking, although Raheem’s laughter put me at ease.
“So, like, we’ve made a lot of relationships with the government here in Dubai,” he told me. “You know, we need someone who gets the culture. We can’t just import some guy from New York, you know?” He hinted at having deep connections in the region, and expressed some frustration that other people at ConsenSys did not get how doing business here could be unique or ‘sensitive.’ One teammate from New York had suggested we use blockchain for voting, which had been met with a mix of consternation and laughter from the ministers. They don’t vote here, someone had to whisper.
I knew something of what he meant, having lived in the Middle East before. I spent my semester abroad in Syria, before that country became a synonym for limitless misery and conflict. Dictatorship was not new to me.
Recently I had had to convince Saira to call me on some unheard-of video calling app, because as I explained to her FaceTime and Skype were illegal. The government essentially owned all the cell companies, and wanted us to pony up for long distance. This was the logic of a benevolent authoritarianism: we could live in our ultramodern skyscrapers, but for any new business or technology the powers that came along they needed not one cut but many: at each stage of any deal there was a labyrinth of companies that all owned each other, each inevitably leading back to the Royals.
“What if you get caught?” she had asked, her voice signaling concern. To her, the lack of freedom was something to fear. A British citizen had been recently deported for raising money for charity on Facebook - another punishable offense, as only the government’s charities were allowed. But to me, the constant surveillance meant safety: I walked around unbothered late at night, alone, both here and in Syria, traveling wherever I wished, knowing an ever-present eye was on me. As long as I never discussed politics, I could continue in these small transgressions, knowing if I ever crossed a line - a thin, invisible line that you only developed from talking to the other expats - each little sin would be used to throw the book at me. I had once tried to discuss politics in Damascus, asking a local friend about the “Lion King,” the codename expats told me to use when talking about Bashar al-Assad. I saw the immediate look of fear in my friend’s eyes and knew now to press the topic any further.
For all the oddities, it was clear to anyone living there the rulers knew what they were doing. The Emirates had created a rival to London and New York out of literally nothing: in the 1980s it had simply been a highway in the desert, leading to nowhere. They had combined their biggest advantages, oil and empty land, to create massive airport runways as the foundation for the biggest airline outside America. They had made capitalism work for them - just as early Americans had when they arrived on someone else’s land. It was a place in transition, but unlike many other dictatorships they were excited by the future, as long as they could shape anything that came along to their liking.
Still, even I had to learn a few things. Sometimes the stereotypes were wrong. The vast majority of Saudis I met drove beat up old Japanese cars they filled with free gasoline. Sometimes the stereotypes were true. A co-worker did not come to meetings in Saudi because the client had no women’s bathrooms. They did not see the need.
“I do have a lot of experience with difficult clients,” I told him, blandly summarizing these lessons.
His eyes lit up. “Yes! You know how it is then.” He related to me how things had started here: ConsenSys had been selected from dozens of startups to join the Dubai Future Accelerators, or DFA, an incubator meant to foster partnerships between exciting startups and the government bureaucracy.
Most startups failed to sign any contracts, but thanks to Raheem, ConsenSys had been able to use DFA as a springboard to get an audience with the Sheikh, the Crown Prince, and their inner circle. Blockchain would be the next hot technology, we explained, and now was the perfect time for Dubai to get ahead of everyone else. Even Silicon Valley had barely begun to understand blockchain’s implications. Like Saudi Arabia, Dubai wanted badly to shrink its dependence on the ever-shrinking riches of the oil industry; the Crown Prince Hamdan saw an opportunity to make his mark on the country’s history by jumpstarting the tech scene. ConsenSys had flown in its experts from around the world to run workshops on the merits of blockchain. We described how Ethereum improved on Bitcoin and could revolutionize both business and government.
Dubai in particular needed to improve its government services in identity and land registries, and here we proposed a transformation based on Ethereum smart contracts. Dubai could be the first, redefining the concept of government itself. The local leadership was convinced. In late 2016 the “Dubai 2020 Blockchain Strategy” was born: a proclamation to the world that Dubai would use smart contracts to digitize all government services and create a completely paperless administration by 2020.
There was one problem: no one in the government--or really anywhere in the world--knew much about blockchain. They would need an advisor on this journey. Who better to help them than us?
On March 14, 2017, the Dubai government made a head-scratching announcement: it named ConsenSys and IBM as advisors on the blockchain strategy, putting competing visions of blockchain in play. IBM had created its version of a blockchain, one controlled by a central party. They championed a blockchain they had built for Wal-Mart as an example of how corporations could profit from the technology, and they distanced themselves from any mention of Bitcoin or Ethereum or decentralization. Our view of blockchain centered on digital currencies, and theirs was completely antagonistic to them. A rivalry was created that would define my time in Dubai.
Ethereum was already on an uptrend when the announcement hit the press. On February 28, ConsenSys, along with Microsoft and JPMorgan, had announced the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, a trade group meant to build an Ethereum upgrade to handle smart contracts for big business. The price had doubled from $15 that day to $28 by the Dubai announcement. Within 10 days of the latter, it had grown to $50. Anyone who believed in Ethereum’s potential had tripled their money in just a few weeks.
“A few more bucks on Ethereum’s price, and Joe will basically be a billionaire. Then we can just hire shit-tons more people here and be a huge unicorn,” Raheem explained. He giggled. This was the first time I realized a critical link between ConsenSys and the Ether price. Joe was funding the company with his crypto. Our war chest grew with every success. Raheem hinted that he too had bought a lot of Ether - and might be profiting millions already.
“But more than that, we could do a lot of good here,” Raheem noted. “The government runs everything in Dubai, and we could really help them improve people’s lives.” Dubai could even be the gateway to reforming the whole Middle East with tech, a blockchain revolution to supplant the region’s many failed states. “It’s a win-win,” he guffawed.
How often in life did you find something that could help people and make you rich at once? I was impressed and felt hopeful after a long time. But I also still needed to get back to the office.
“You should meet Joe, actually,” he concluded, finally wrapping up our chat. “He likes to interview everybody.”
I was taken aback. “He’s coming to Dubai?”
“In a couple weeks,” he said. “Let’s hope he likes you.”
It was 2 am and we were still getting yelled at.
“These projections are crap,” Sevag had told my team in the conference room. “We need to finish this by Thursday morning. I don’t care when you do it, just be ready by then.” I felt a deep embarrassment, the red-faced kind from the schoolyard when every humiliation feels life-threatening.
After Sevag stormed out, a younger teammate, maybe twenty-three years old but already burned out, glanced at me wide-eyed. He asked if we would have to stay up all night. I thought about it. I had two days before meeting Joe and I could cut in on precious sleep to learn more about blockchain—or try to salvage what was probably my last chance to save this project. I felt like a prisoner, staring at the watchtower in the yard, calculating how far I could make it before I’d be shot. Just. Run. I told the team we would be better off getting some rest. We could start on fixing the projections early in the morning.
I sulked back to my hotel room.
Resting on the bed, I checked the price of Ether. It was up another 15% in the three days since I’d spoken to Raheem. We can hire a shit-ton of people...I thought back to how many interviews it had taken me to get my first job: forty rejections before my first offer. Raheem was Pakistani, like me, so we could connect easily. But now I had to impress a CEO? I had taken some long odds here. I always blamed my interview failures on being brown, which felt accurate since so many of my friends felt like they ran into the same walls. I internalized this kind of thinking, which only made my anxiety around interviews worse. But I had to do so, because I am a millennial, and self-victimization is endemic to our generation, and self-doubt is a major theme of this story.
Joseph Lubin, I googled. This man had made billions off crypto and yet was ready to spend all of it in the cause of advancing blockchain. What made him tick? I found a speech on YouTube from a few weeks prior. “Has anyone heard of blockchain? Or Ethereum?” he asked a lethargic crowd. He looked a little awkward on stage, his right arm clasping his left. “The token is now number 2 behind Bitcoin,” he noted, pointing to a chart showing the price going from $0.20 to $4. The crowd warmed up.
Bitcoin, he explained, was so secure because it allowed anyone to have a copy of its database, which is essentially a history of transactions (“distributed ledger”). Anyone could also submit transactions to this ledger, as Alice would try to pay Bob $10. But the transaction would only be approved if everyone agreed that the math worked out. If she had the funds, the transaction would be approved and committed to the “blockchain,” which was essentially a cryptographically secured (“chained”) history of these transactions (stored in groups, called “blocks”). Voila! Secure, digital currency.
Bitcoin was undoubtedly better than the US dollar, Joe explained. It was faster than a traditional bank, was more secure, and did away with the exorbitant fees. The audience began to sit up and listen. “With Ethereum, you can develop any program you can dream up,” he said, mentioning burgeoning applications in supply chains, banking and loans, and even music. “Identity is really messed up,” he continued. “The poor often have no passport, no license, especially in the Third World. We are building something called uPort, which will enable self-sovereign identity, and will enable you to control your own personal data.” The ums and pauses in his speech stopped altogether. Now he had the crowd enchanted. “We are also building next generation financial infrastructure,” he noted, which would help bring banking to the unbanked left out from the economy and provide credit to those most in need of it, creating a free account on Ethereum for anyone who wanted one. Joe’s favorite topic was decentralized music: every time a song was streamed, the artist never received payment directly - most of the money went to record labels, or Spotify, who paid artists a sad and exploitative pittance at less than a penny per stream. Even then, those pennies were split up with managers, and a dozen other intermediaries that were legacies from a world when CDs needed to be printed and most music was played on the radio. Ethereum would remove these middlemen. ConsenSys was already building Ujo, an app to make sure artists would be paid directly for their work.
ConsenSys seemed to have a decentralized application for everything, I thought, a fully fleshed out vision for how the world could run on blockchain. All I had to do was convince this guy on screen that I understood how it worked.
It was 2:25 am but I felt more awake than I had all day. This was more than a hot tech company or an escape from my abusive boss. This was a chance to improve the lives of millions, billions, something my aforementioned millennial self wanted deeply.
I had to find out more about how this miraculous software worked. Sleep could wait. I googled “public key cryptography,” and started to take notes.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” - Arthur C. Clarke
Part math, part magic.
Cryptography is the game you play with your friends as a kid-- trying to send notes in class with the words spelled backward and numbers replacing half the letters so the teacher wouldn’t be able to read about your crush on Billy. (Years later, Billy turned out to be a lout.)
Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other blockchains all rely on a special type of math known as public key cryptography. Everyday you log on to wi-fi, use email, check your bank account, or perhaps send some embarrassing selfies. Your private (perhaps, very private) data is floating all around in the air for anyone to steal. Why can’t they?
The answer is a very complex version of your secret notes in class. Imagine a special, expensive, fountain pen that can only write your signature - no one else’s. Everyone knows it is yours, and you signed your marriage papers with it. Forgery is impossible…but if you lose it, the guy with your pen (key) did not steal your things. No, he is you; he can prove it through the papers for the car and the house. He can produce the signature. So it is his house now. And his wife. Hopefully he isn’t Billy. All it took was the pen.
Moreover - with a blockchain, the signatures are visible to everyone. The idea is a distributed ledger, where everyone has a copy of all the transactions. As long as everyone has their own pen, it is impossible for there to be fraud. Alice can send money to Bob without a bank. You can write a contract over the Internet and know the money is secure. The “signatures” are not your name but instead a random string of numbers and letters, making this semi-private. In a world where banks didn’t keep your money safe so much as steal it and tech companies didn’t keep your data safe so much as sell it, blockchain had the potential to get rid of both. Dozens of startups would jump into the space, and ConsenSys was one of the first, starting in 2014, fully dedicated to building for Ethereum, an exciting new upgrade over Bitcoin.
Think of blockchain as a little bit like doing an embarrassing dance in a room full of blind people. You’re totally fine, as long as they are all actually blind. (Maybe add a few hackers outside, trying to peep inside.)
Governments also use cryptography extensively to protect secret files, and the NSA invented many of the most common algorithms in cryptography. China and Russia tend to worry that the US government built a “backdoor” in these - a master key that could unlock every message from secret plans about their missile programs to Putin’s web browsing habits. The NSA is the blind guy who brought a hidden camera. Don’t trust that guy.
Sashimi and a Kahuna
Dubai, April 2017. ETH: $61.
The day of my interview arrived and I would now confront my future face to face. The head of HR greeted me at the entrance to the restaurant. “Before you meet Joe,” she said, “we thought it’d be helpful to meet David, who you will be working with closely.” David stood up as we approached him, towering over us both at 6’6”. He was young, about my age or just younger. A brown v-neck stretched over shoulders broad enough that I knew he could never sit in an airline middle seat. A pair of glasses gave him an unmistakable resemblance to Jeff Goldblum. I thought about telling him this but reminded myself I would tell no jokes today.
David dived right into it. “So what do you know about blockchain?” I gave him the best summary of Joe’s speech from a couple days before and how inspiring I found it.
“Great, I’m glad you see the potential,” he said coolly. “One thing I have to warn you about though, is that our job here is to prioritize and figure out what Dubai can actually do with this stuff today.” He squinted a little, whether to convey seriousness or due to the bright sun I didn’t know. “A lot of people use blockchain to just talk about pipe dreams. Cows chugging coffee could not produce the volume of bullshit you see in this space. Does sifting through that sound fun to you?” I nodded. The more he spoke the more I liked him. His seriousness meant this was the real deal. He grasped my hand in his enormous one, said thanks, and left. Now for the big kahuna, I thought.
The two bald men sat down across from me. I knew both were ex-Goldman, and had worked in hedge funds or venture capital afterwards, so they were probably going to be hardasses. I wondered if they had chosen a sushi restaurant on purpose, as the chef in the open kitchen a few feet away sharpened his knife and sliced a little tuna into sashimi.
Joe and Jared were completely alike and wholly different, much like long-lost brothers might be. Both spoke in low, gruff voices, with a tendency to grip the table when speaking. They both laughed at their own jokes first and then looked around to see the other’s reaction. Nonetheless, Joe had a demeanor that was thoughtful and relaxed, wearing a graphic tee shirt with his Macbook resting in front of him. Jared seemed like a literal bulldog, a short beard accentuating his tendency to gnash his teeth while he thought. His dress shirt looked heavily starched.
Jared asked most of the questions. “What do you think about our strategy?”
I had done my research. “You guys really emphasize open source,” I said, “and that will help grow the community of software engineers faster. That was how Google used Android to take over eighty percent of cell phones.”
“We’ve heard the Android comparison before,” Jared noted, easing slightly. He asked me what opportunities for blockchain I saw in finance, and I mentioned Know Your Customer regulations (KYC) that were painful and needed better data. Butter me up, because I’m on a roll.
Joe piped up. “Would you like to have equity in that kind of product?”
“Wow,” I said. “Equity in the product itself?”
He explained ConsenSys’ unique structure: he was an investor in all things Ethereum. The goal was to build an ecosystem rather than a one-off product. To create the Ethereum-based world he imagined, he needed to unleash our creativity, rather than try to come up with every idea himself. In exchange, we got the chance to be independent entrepreneurs.
“We call it the hub and spoke model,” Joe added.
“That sounds very decentralized,” I said. Dammit, a joke.
“That’s the whole point,” laughed Jared, easing my sudden anxiety. “Look,” he said, gesturing with a rugby player’s hand, “we’ve got potential to win as many as a dozen projects here in Dubai, and we could make a lot of impact. But the real reason we’re investing is because if IBM wins here, they will rule the blockchain roost. They don’t care about changing the world. To them blockchain is just a fancy database.”
“Yeah, we had to deal with them a lot at Strategy&,” I said. “They’re everywhere in the Middle East.”
“Exactly. IBM is Darth Vader. We need people with the skills to take them on. And if that goes well, you might be able to launch your own product, what we call a spoke. Does that interest you?”
I nodded my affirmation.
“Good,” he said. “We’ll get back to you soon.”
I was sitting in the black SUV that took us to our Riyadh office every day when I stumbled across a surprising headline in the local Arabic paper. There, buried in the back, it noted that seventeen extremists had been arrested for a plot to blow up a soccer stadium. (My Arabic is not great, but because I received my language education at American institutions, I learned words like “bomb” and “missile” much earlier than I needed in everyday conversation. Ah, Orientalism.) I flipped over to the BBC - somehow, this had received no coverage in Western media.
I was thoroughly confused. But as I thought about it, I realized the BBC likely had barely two people reading local Arabic news, but none had the time to read page B17. For the local government mouthpiece paper to bury this news was genius: it would never get out. I wondered how much we really know about these places. The likely answer is that we are mushrooms - kept in the dark and fed shit. Even as I write these words three years later, the world is falling apart due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Who knows if it might have been caught sooner if some BBC journalist read the Party newspaper in China all the way through? All I could take away was that I was probably too afraid of yesterday’s news and not afraid enough of tomorrow’s.
Meanwhile, something like Ethereum - which could change the world, was making people millionaires everyday, and would be on everyone’s minds within months - had barely scratched the surface of public consciousness. In my research I had found only one article interested in Dubai’s blockchain work in the Wall Street Journal. Crazy people posted on blogs and Reddit and that at the time was how to get “news” on crypto - a source just hidden enough to be a treasure trove of alpha. I was one of few in the know.
My phone dinged as we drove and I flipped it over full of anticipation. I had been waiting to hear back and HR had now sent an official offer. “Congrats!” the email began. The feeling of elation ran down from my head all through my limbs, a lightning bolt of euphoria. I flipped the phone back over to hide the message and waited until I was at the office to duck into a dark corner.
“I got the offer,” I said over the phone to Ahmad, my schoolmate and now colleague. He was elsewhere in Riyadh, working at another client’s office. I wanted to confer with him on negotiating strategy. ConsenSys wanted me to take a serious pay cut. I was willing to, but how much was too much?
I expected excitement, but his response was lukewarm. This was not the same friend I’d had in school, the one who I had met in Cartagena on spring break, laughing with me after he had just tossed another classmate into a pool from the Spanish mansion balcony. He apologized - he was so exhausted he had been at the doctor all weekend for chest pains. Now he was having to make up the work he missed. He was literally near death from overwork.
I decided not to negotiate any further. I steeled myself up to go and talk to Sevag. I would say I was quitting, and shake his hand to show some class and gratitude. I spit in my palm and rubbed it around, smiling as I headed back to my desk.
Dubai, May 2017. ETH: $155.
“I’m not happy,” the man with the Harvard Business School notebook told us. It was my first meeting with a ConsenSys client, one that was paying us millions to be a world leader in blockchain. I came in excited, first day jitters and all, Ether up another $100, expecting the client to be holding a toast to our genius. We were sitting in their sixtieth floor boardroom, looking down on the Gulf as if from the heavens.
It was the last time I would wear a suit. A few weeks later I would overcorrect, greeting a CEO in a t-shirt I had purchased at Wal-Mart for eight dollars. But for now I still figured appearances mattered and the guy across from me certainly did so too.
“We’re running into challenges with the back end,” Andrei responded factually. He was also suited up, leaning his head to one side as if carrying a weight on one shoulder. We had been begging the NYC office to send reinforcements, and Andrei had volunteered. He was the best we had.
Nabeel did not find that answer satisfying. “There was so much progress early in December. That was great, but now it’s June and the app looks exactly the same.” He pulled on his sleeve and glanced at the Patek on his wrist. “How can we make this go faster? And how come we don’t actually see the blockchain part?” Nabeel had a trim beard, and was slim and handsome with well-kempt hair. I could smell his career accomplishments from across the table: big shot at McKinsey, followed by this job, a cushy golden parachute. He reminded me of Sevag, the guy who shouted about font sizes being wrong and that the deck was as useful as toilet paper - actually toilet paper is more useful - don’t laugh - and now it’s 2 am so you’ve got 6 hours to make it better. I looked him up later and lo and behold, he had worked at Strategy&. Fantastic. I visualized myself jumping from a frying pan, right into this office.
Andrei had told me before the meeting he had flown directly from Vancouver. He clearly had not slept too well: cattle class for the startup guys. He told Nabeel that we were hiring as fast as we could - here I was, Exhibit A - and working on fixing the bugs with the blockchain.
“Does every transaction really have to take fifteen seconds?” Nabeel complained. “It’s like dialup, but worse.” Andrei tried to patiently explain why the consensus algorithm took so long and how we might fix it and why you didn’t need to “see” the “blockchain” to use it. This bored Nabeel so much I thought his eyes might fall out of his head.
“Okay, well, let’s try and make this demo good,” Nabeel said as he picked up his papers. “The CEO wants to be sure that we are ready for our big announcements with the government.” I wondered if we could really make Ethereum run faster like we were promising. From what I had read, there were brilliant cryptographers trying to figure that out, but even they said it was six months away. Until then, we were going to wave our hands around and hope clients did not get too irate. We headed for the conference room where a few men in white headdresses awaited.
This was the big dogs room, where the floor to ceiling windows showed a vast panorama from the Gulf to the Burj Khalifa and Dubai’s extensive skyline in between. I sat down and tried to connect to the wifi. “Um, is IT around?” I asked. “Can they help us out here?” Andrei had just told Nabeel about our hiring push, and here the first recruit could not even work his laptop properly. I was desperate not to look stupid.
The HBS notebook opened, then closed. The pen tapped impatiently. The clock was ticking and I felt sweat start to build inside my suit. I tapped Andrei on the shoulder. Do you want to give it a go? I mouthed.
He stiffened his shoulders. He had probably hoped I would wow the client, and I was passing the buck. To beat IBM, to successfully deliver these projects, we needed the cavalry, and so far the cavalry (me) had fallen off his horse. But he had rehearsed this more than I had, and actually knew something about blockchain. He opened his laptop and turned to the CEO.
“As you all know, our client has been a major contributor to the advancement of blockchain in the United Arab Emirates...”
After our close call with disaster in the real estate demo, Andrei and I rode back in the Uber together after the meeting. Our first big client was eager to get rid of us. I apologized to Andrei for what had happened.
“It’s not your fault,” he said. He explained that our demo in December had been excellent, but it was a paper tiger: there was no blockchain working behind the scenes. I raised my eyebrows with worry. Elizabeth Holmes, the CEO of Theranos and teenage Steve Jobs wannabe, had been excoriated in the media for hocus-pocus demos, presenting spurious results from blood tests to investors on her way to defrauding them out of nine billion dollars. Now HBO was making a documentary about her lies. But Andrei reassured me that this is actually typical: startups always build demos that only work for five minutes, but that is often good enough to close the first sale. ConsenSys had been fairly upfront about it, too. Every tech startup had to sell a bit of vaporware. It was building the real thing that was the hard part. “The road to revolution is going to be bumpy,” he finished.
“And billion dollar valuations,” I added. I felt somewhat reassured. You would think explosive growth is a good thing, but with it comes a perpetual feeling of teetering on the edge, between otherworldly success and massive failure, applause or laughter. I was not used to it then. Jeff Bezos has a rallying cry at Amazon - “it’s always day one.” This felt more like negative one.
At the center of Dubai are two massive concentric circles of highways, with the Burj Khalifa dead center. Driving around them, you feel like you are being swung around the end of a slingshot. The centrifugal forces spiraled us around, back to our modest co-working space.
“I need to learn this blockchain stuff better,” I admitted. “It’s hard to be a leader when you’re not sure what you’re talking about.”
“I’m not sure blockchain is what matters to them,” Andrei disagreed. “Nabeel just wants his announcement. They’re paying us to build a nuke so they can kill some ants. And make a big boom.” He made the shape of a mushroom cloud with his hands.
Andrei shook his head and rattled off the names of a few books he thought would help. “At least you’re here now,” he continued. “Half of Dubai is on vacation, it seems.” He was right. Last week, we had been on a call with Jared to discuss another project, an audacious idea to rebuild Dubai’s university diploma system with Ethereum. I had been listening in from a labor camp, where I was handing out Ramadan meals to the workers. Look at me, I thought, living up to my blockchain ideals. Then until mid-call I was jolted awake when the practice pitch suddenly became heated. “Who’s going to make the final decisions?” Jared demanded of the others, while two teammates argued back. I ducked out of the serving line into my car. By then, the pitch had devolved into a shouting match between Raheem and Jared, with no clear winner. “I need a vacation,” Raheem said afterward, filing off stage for a meditation retreat in Thailand with his precious Eth winnings and leaving our first project in limbo. Now I had joined this real estate project, which was supposed to be the “good” one.
We stepped out of the Uber in front of Emirates Towers. The sudden change in temperature immediately fogged up my sunglasses. I walked around blindly for a moment, trying to pretend nothing was wrong. “Door’s over here,” said a tall man in a puzzled voice. David was holding the door open, a 24 oz coffee in his other hand. He turned to Andrei. “Back to New York? When are you coming back?”
“I’m hoping not to come back,” he admitted. “You guys are hiring, right? I just came to try and be meshy.” I blankly accepted his words, not understanding the term.
“Awwwww yeahhhh,” David said as he fist-bumped Andrei. “Did you see the new trailer for Silicon Valley?” Andrei nodded. Blockchain had become fertile ground for comedy, and Silicon Valley, the beloved HBO show about the startup Pied Piper, wanted to include crypto in its next season. Andrei told us our CMO had spoken to them about how a PiedPiperCoin could work. She had explained to them why she referred to Joe as “white Morpheus,” because he could convince anyone of Ethereum’s potential. Perhaps Joe could appear as a guest star, she had asked. They turned down our offer. It’s HBO’s loss, we laughed.
But once Andrei departed for the airport, David privately steamed to me about how easily our one ally had abandoned us while ConsenSys looked for sitcom fame. I asked about meshy and what it meant. “Oof,” he said with a sigh. “I’ll explain that when you’re ready.”