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Dan Held of Kraken – Cointelegraph Magazine


Dan Held is a Texan who doesn’t drive a truck, drink beer, love Trump, or watch sports activities. He’s a tech fanatic who isn’t into coding. He appears to be like like a typical preppy dude, carrying a white-button-up shirt and carrying a swoop haircut, however he flies drones, tinkers on full nodes, and writes about libertarian ideas.

He doesn’t match the standard stereotypes. “It’s been arduous to reconcile that by way of the place I slot in.”

Soccer, Held says, is an enormous deal in Texas. Years in the past, the expansion lead at cryptocurrency alternate Kraken loved success as a soccer participant there, going 16-0 and successful state in his senior 12 months of highschool. He performed tight finish, a place that requires a excessive diploma of versatility as a mix of offensive lineman and receiver. At Kraken, he’s continued in an identical vein spending his first 12 months on enterprise improvement, and now engaged on progress.

Even whereas going undefeated in highschool soccer, the self-described “jock-nerd” was additionally crushing superior placement exams.

However Held has grown accustomed to the continuing dichotomies which have constructed his character — and, finally, his profession. He grew up everywhere in the political and societal map in an uncommon melange of experiences, spending time in Colorado, Minnesota, and Texas, ultimately touchdown in San Francisco.  

He was one of many few folks in his circles who was actually into Bitcoin in its early days, but was decidedly non-techie. What actually grabbed him was Bitcoin’s worth proposition as an answer to the failures of contemporary financial coverage. Throughout his faculty days, the 2008 monetary disaster induced him to query the system. He quickly was captivated by Bitcoin’s financial coverage and the way nicely it match with the libertarian ideology of free markets. 

Learning finance as an undergrad in 2008, Held recalled a breakdown in his religion within the monetary system and within the specialists that have been supposed to elucidate and defend it. “My professors didn’t know what they have been speaking about, everybody on TV didn’t know what they have been speaking about, all of the establishments that we had formally trusted, we couldn’t belief anymore.” It shook his foundational belief within the monetary system that almost all of us take without any consideration. 

Surrounded by the textbooks of his economics courses, he was hit with a revelation: “Wait. So, all these books are bullshit?”

In case you fall, it’s solely a 1,000 foot drop

Years of being yelled at by demanding soccer coaches have immunized Held from caving underneath stress. 

It in all probability additionally helped that his father was an excessive sports activities fanatic who bicycled throughout America at 60 years outdated. He would take the teenaged Held boys out on “14er” hikes, climbing 14,000 foot mountain peaks in Colorado. “One slip, and it’s a thousand ft till you hit one thing. That’s what I grew up with.”

To say it instilled a way of ruggedness and perseverance could be an understatement.

The teachings have caught with Held all through his profession, serving him nicely when he wanted to make fast selections underneath stress. It’s additionally hardened his resolve in the case of squaring up towards opponents.

“There’s nothing extra vital than cash,” Held insists. “It’s the underpinning of all worth in society.”

“It’s sort of humorous within the crypto area the place folks whine about competitors and so they whine about fierceness and I’m like ‘Properly, welcome to how the world works.’ There are winners and losers. Not everybody wins.”

In Held’s view, the winner in enterprise is the corporate that builds a product that serves humankind in a greater means.

All of it traces again to Texas

Texans, Held says, are a singular sort of individuals. It’s one among a handful of states that was an impartial republic earlier than voluntarily selecting to affix the US. “So, in faculties in Texas, in elementary faculty, center faculty, highschool, you pledge allegiance to the American flag and the Texas flag.”

Texan tradition is fiercely impartial, Held elaborates. The College of Texas took bodily supply of their gold from the Federal Reserve as a result of they didn’t belief them with their gold. “That’s the extent of being a Texan.”

This core underpinning made the idea of Bitcoin instantly palatable when he first heard about it. On the time, ZeroHedge was breaking information of corruption on Wall Avenue, from high-frequency buying and selling cheats to metals manipulation, all earlier than mainstream media was prepared to the touch the tales. Towards this backdrop, Bitcoin’s financial coverage stood out as a chic resolution. “I’m a libertarian Austrian economics type of man, so I heard about Bitcoin and was like, ‘Oh that is excellent. 21 million arduous cap? Genius.’ The disinflationary financial coverage is the breakthrough.”

It was a stroke of luck that landed Held in San Francisco at simply the precise time. Working for a small funding agency out of Dallas, Held was relocated to San Francisco in January, 2013. There he met crypto pioneers like Jed McCaleb, Fred Ehrsam, Brian Armstrong, Charlie Lee and now-Kraken CEO, Jesse Powell. “I’m one of many solely non-billionaires from that group,” Held chuckles.

Held approached the sector from a special angle, engaged on merchandise that resolve issues reasonably than fixating on shiny new technological methods. His first crypto-oriented resolution was a well-liked cell app that tracked real-time crypto market information known as ZeroBlock. Held admits he stumbled via the constructing course of, however created an answer to an issue he was experiencing. “I didn’t know what I used to be doing. I used to be simply laser-focused on fixing this downside.”

Throwing pennies on the FBI

To achieve customers for the app, Held employed a intelligent tactic. The FBI had just lately seized funds from the Silk Street. The funds, being held in Bitcoin addresses, have been trackable on the blockchain.data explorer. Held took benefit of being one of many earliest to see the wallets, alerting main information retailers concerning the FBI’s motion of the confiscated funds to new addresses.

“I knew a bunch of eyeballs have been about to land on that URL,” Held explains, so he despatched tiny transactions price pennies to the FBI’s pockets with a easy advertising and marketing message: “Obtain ZeroBlock, the primary app within the app retailer for crypto buying and selling.” He figures he spent round two {dollars} in “promoting” to realize over 2,000 app installs. Together with just a few different progress hacks, Held’s ZeroBlock app discovered success as a easy however helpful product. It was quickly picked up by Blockchain, the place Held acted as director of product.

Oh, that legislation? Why does it exist? What if we break that legislation? Legal guidelines aren’t inherently ethical. They simply exist.

Held stored his rebellious streak going throughout his time at Blockchain, utilizing guerilla promoting techniques to invigorate his buyer base. In 2014, a Reddit submit based mostly on a Blockchain press launch criticized Apple’s rampant Bitcoin pockets banning practices. The submit stirred up intense feelings from readers, a lot of whom filmed themselves taking pictures their iPhones as an act of protest towards the coverage. In a subsequent press launch, Held copied and pasted Steve Jobs’ traditional “Right here’s to the rebels” quote as an ironic rebuke towards Apple’s stance. “That very a lot match the early expertise of crypto, which was rebellious.”

Crypto Kitties should not the revolution

Held feels this rebellious spirit has sadly pale. The early Bitcoin ethos, he says, was about “preventing the state and being free, having the ability to do what you need together with your cash and your physique. That’s why Silk Street was standard.” Now, Held says, the area is diluted by distracting narratives like Crypto Kitties on the blockchain. “It feels a bit extra foolish as a result of the unique focus was so clear and distinct and revolutionary.”

“Folks discuss ‘Oh, wouldn’t or not it’s actually boring if Bitcoin is the one factor {that a} blockchain is helpful for?’ and I’m like, ‘Why? It’s a pair hundred trillion greenback whole addressable market!’”

“There’s nothing extra vital than cash,” Held insists. “It’s the underpinning of all worth in society.” Bitcoin, constructed for this singular goal that solves an important downside: constructing an immutable retailer of worth.

The early innovators have been wanting on the crypto area as a revolution, Held says. “We thought we’d get arrested. We didn’t know. There weren’t numerous laws again then. We weren’t positive if the state was going to clamp down actually arduous instantly and go ‘we need to squash this.’” Now, the trade is stuffed with opportunists searching for a fast exit, Held says. However one key narrative lives on: Bitcoin as digital gold.

Decentralization and breaking the legislation

After a short interval engaged on social media micropayments with an organization known as ChangeTip that was acquired by Airbnb, Held moved on to a different effort in decentralization exterior the crypto area: Uber. The expansion crew at Uber was composed of a legendary crew, Held says. The ex-Amazon and ex-Fb venture managers collected to steer the corporate have been masters of execution. Underneath their management, Held developed a data-driven progress mindset that has formed his work since that point. 

Uber broke taxi legal guidelines in each metropolis it launched in, Held says. “Uber was fiercely libertarian. It was data-driven meritocracy, targeted on, ‘Let’s go, execute and construct in any respect prices.’”

“I beloved that we have been like, ‘Oh, that legislation? Why does it exist? What if we break that legislation?’ Legal guidelines aren’t inherently ethical. They simply exist. That’s what drew me to it.”

Outfitted along with his newfound expertise, Held carried over his progress mindset and libertarian passions to Interchange, an accounting device for institutional buying and selling corporations. Returning to crypto on the peak of the ICO craze in 2017, he was baffled to see an trade that was “devoid of any product-thinking.” Folks have been busily constructing fancy tech after which searching for an issue to retrofit to their merchandise. Held estimates that greater than 99% of the initiatives had little to no grasp of product administration. 

“Finally, a product has to resolve an issue for somebody… Most engineers construct shiny issues searching for an issue. Once you connect hypothesis to that, issues can get fairly wild fairly fast.”

31 flavors

Because the narrative shifted away from ICOs, Interchange was acquired by Kraken, the place an impartial spirit stays alive and nicely immediately. Held got here on board in a enterprise improvement function, however shifted over to progress lead, eradicating factors of friction for brand new customers and optimizing the onboarding course of. 

Held reveals one other attention-grabbing dichotomy in his work at Kraken. Whereas he’s a self-proclaimed Bitcoin realist, he embraces the libertarian precept of enabling others to freely select their funding and buying and selling practices. “I’ve been tasked with serving to weave progress ideas into product with the target of accelerating buying and selling quantity. Publicly, with my very own private model, I’m a hodl man — purchase and hodl.”

“Somebody who works at an ice cream retailer doesn’t have to love each taste. They may desire chocolate or vanilla.” Held says he’s concentrating on the efficiency of Kraken no matter Bitcoin. He strives to layer in Bitcoin at any time when he can, making it simpler to grasp and surfacing content material contained in the app that may clarify the worth of Bitcoin to customers. 

Blockchain tech was constructed to construct Bitcoin

Held is steadfast in his protection of the precept of Bitcoin, not blockchain. The genius of Bitcoin, Held explains, is its means to be Gold 2.0. It solves this explicit downside very nicely. “When folks have a look at blockchains, positive they is perhaps helpful for just a few different issues, however they’re inherently dangerous at doing virtually all the things.”

“I’m nonetheless obsessed and I’m nonetheless an enormous Bitcoin believer… I believe it’s cool folks need to attempt new issues, however I’m fairly targeted on Bitcoin and I’m going to defend Bitcoin.”

This staunch protection of Bitcoin introduced Held appreciable fame within the public area. A bevy of pissed off tweetstorms and a broad vary of articles argued towards efforts to undermine confidence in Bitcoin. Held got down to dismantle a sequence of what he thought of to be intellectually dishonest arguments. 

“In 2018, I began writing about these items that simply nagged me, just like the idea that hodlers have been free-riders. That triggered me to begin writing.” Hodlers, Held wrote, are the revolutionaries.

It’s not nearly making an affordable various to PayPal, Held says. It’s about altering the world. “I’m going to defend it. I’ll write articles that can adequately clarify an excellent rational protection of sure attributes of Bitcoin. I do it as a result of I believe it’s our greatest shot at releasing humankind.”

Held believes that economies are nearing a tipping level the place the entire world will reject authorities cash in favor of Bitcoin. “So long as folks need to protect worth, I believe Bitcoin will win.”

If Bitcoin fails, Held says, there isn’t an alternate that can merely take its place. Bitcoin isn’t simply code, he says, it’s a perception. “It’s not like all that religion and belief that’s constructed into the Bitcoin ledger is immediately transferable. That dies perpetually. That basically impacts each different chain, too.”

Bitcoin = Freedom

Now, Held is devoted to progress in his work at Kraken and to defending Bitcoin in his public life. He’ll quickly launch his personal YouTube channel with evergreen content material to introduce viewers to the worth proposition of Bitcoin and to primary ideas of financial freedom.

“You possibly can’t have freedom over your physique for those who don’t have freedom over your cash. Your cash is an extension of your physique. You hung out and vitality utilizing your physique to generate that cash. It’s a compression of your whole life’s vitality.”

“The preservation of that wealth — the flexibility to retailer that wealth and switch it to anybody you’d like — is a pure human proper.”

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