Few people in Toronto seem to be talking about the important role that this city has played and is playing when it comes to cryptocurrencies (specifically Ethereum). And if you believe, as I do, that Ethereum and other blockchain technologies have the ability to form the backbone for an entirely new kind of world, then this is kind of a big deal.
The Financial Times recently published this article about “Wall Street’s crypto whisperer.” It is about a guy named Joseph Lubin who is the founder of a crypto company called ConsenSys and previously the co-founder of Ethereum. Lubin is from Toronto.
If you read the article, you’ll see that Lubin is a pretty bright guy (and now a billionaire with his crypto assets). Born in Toronto, he ended up going to Princeton to study computer science. He worked on Wall Street for a bit (hence the whisperer moniker), but also did a bunch of other interesting stuff, including moving to Jamaica with a girlfriend and working on music production.
In 2013, he was back in Toronto and went to a Bitcoin meetup in the city. The article says it was in a downtown warehouse (which makes it sound pretty cool and underground). And at this downtown warehouse meetup, he met a guy (actually a teenager) named Vitalik Buterin. Vitalik had just written a white paper on what would ultimately become Ethereum and he gave Lubin a copy. Lubin was so “blown away” when he read it that he decided to join the movement.
The two (and presumably others) would then go on to live together in shared houses in Toronto, Miami, and Zug (Switzerland), and work on this new smart contract technology. Today, Ethereum has a market cap of nearly $400 billion (as of September 12, 2021).
Even if you ignore for a second that we’re talking about crypto technologies, this is still a fascinating city building story. It is fascinating because it shows the value of in-person urban interactions (again, the two allegedly connected at a meetup in a downtown warehouse). And it is fascinating because the Toronto braintrust has been instrumental in advancing a technology that could arguably end up powering not only the future of the internet but perhaps the world.
At the same time, it strikes me that we need to be much better at both celebrating and encouraging these kinds of new ideas locally. Are we out in the world telling this story to the best of our abilities? Have we properly positioned Toronto as one of the most important places for cryptocurrencies and innovation in general? Mayor Suarez of Miami has been a great promoter of his city in this regard.
“Innovation” isn’t usually neat and tidy. It happens on the fringe and it is often not obvious at the outset. Imagine what an Ethereum pitch would have sounded like back in 2013. But this is how new ideas start. And Toronto has proven to be full of them.