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Erik Voorhees – Cointelegraph Magazine



“We felt like we were doing God’s work,” explains cryptocurrency funds pioneer Erik Voorhees as he remembers attempting to transform the unbelievers within the early days of Bitcoin.

The person whose playing platform SatoshiDice was as soon as chargeable for half of all Bitcoin transactions, is now an elder statesman of crypto and the CEO of the ShapeShift alternate.

He remembers Bitcoin being written off as a joke on the Cash 2020 convention in Las Vegas again in 2012. On the time he was working for BitInstant, one of many first Bitcoin exchanges, they usually had a sales space proper subsequent door to PayPal.

“I remember the PayPal people nearby kind of snickering at us. A couple of them had maybe heard of Bitcoin. If they’d even heard about it, it was a total joke — a stupid scam on the internet, or something. It was a totally unproductive conference.”

Historical past has not been form to the snickerers and scam-sayers, lots of whom have since been transformed. In 2020, eight years after the convention, Paypal lastly joined the fray, enabling customers to purchase and promote crypto, and it’ll quickly add it as a technique of cost at 29 million retailers.

Voorhees unfold the gospel of Satoshi on the convention alongside Charlie Shrem and Roger Ver. Shrem was the founding father of BitInstant, seen by some as a martyr to the trigger after serving two years in jail on a case associated to an alternate consumer reselling Bitcoin on the darknet market Silk Highway. Ver was maybe the largest believer of all, incomes the nickname ‘Bitcoin Jesus’ for his charismatic promotion of the forex.

“In terms of proselytizing, Roger was the absolute best. He was a total maniac about it” Voorhees recounts with a chuckle.

“Even for Charlie and I, who were very much supportive of the general sentiment, It was pretty overwhelming and just incessant.”

“Everyone that works at a startup feels a little bit like they’re changing the world, that they have this huge mission, and certainly every company tries to amplify that,” he says, being a CEO himself. However for Bitcoiners, Voorhees clarifies, “it is really a ‘change the world’ kind of thing, and to change the world on a fundamental level. It’s to change the institution of money itself — that is a profoundly tall order.”

Vorhees explains that he sees Bitcoin as nothing lower than revolutionary:

“It’s not just a better user-interface for the money that people had before. It’s a different type of money that changes government, changes culture, changes social and economic relationships on a very very deep deep level. That’s why it’s taken so long to to catch on, to get recognized, because it is trying to move into such an entrenched institution.”


It is 2012. @ErikVoorhees @rogerkver and I made a decision to pool our cash collectively for the primary #Money2020 occasion. We instructed them we wished the most effective sales space we may afford, however we would have liked to be subsequent to the @PayPal sales space so we will present the world OUR monetary system!

Welcome, Paypal!

— Charlie Shrem (@CharlieShrem) October 21, 2020


Libertarian roots

Now 35, Voorhees spent his early ‘90’s childhood within the mountains of Colorado earlier than transferring to the College of Puget Sound close to Seattle in 2003. He studied worldwide economics and enterprise however doesn’t actually really feel like he learnt both.

“In the entire major of economics, though I had courses in the history of economic thought, I never learned about the Austrians,” he says, referring to the Austrian Faculty of economics. Typically ignored by mainstream Keynesian economists, Austrians are obsessive about issues like arduous cash and decry unbacked fiat currencies so that they have been embraced by gold-bugs and the Bitcoin group, which is in spite of everything, usually known as ‘digital gold’.

A freshly minted graduate in 2008, Voorhees left to pursue journey in Dubai the place “anyone with a college degree could immediately get a job, because they were growing so fast.”

Working as a marketer for an actual property company, he watched from a distance because the world he thought he knew started to buckle beneath the burden of the unfolding World Monetary Disaster. Dubai didn’t really feel its results till half a yr later, he recounts, describing the interim as “this very weird period where Dubai was going through this massive economic boom, and the rest of the Western world was falling apart.”

From this desert oasis spared from the worldwide drought, the enterprise and economics graduate “started really understanding money on what I felt was a very fundamental level.” For Voorhees, the story of cash is an easy one: “money emerges as the good that is bartered for most frequently.” That was gold and is at the moment fiat cash, but it surely may simply as properly be one thing else, if a extra helpful and environment friendly cash was embraced.

Upon this realization, Voorhees took on a “very strong aversion to fiat currency and to government control of money” as a result of as a believer in a market economic system, he felt that no authorities ought to management the value or distribution of any items. “Money was actually the most important good of all, and thus most important to not be centrally planned. And yet it was even in, you know, allegedly capitalist economies,” he says.

“A capitalist economy that has a government-managed money system seemed completely antithetical, but I didn’t have any answers or solutions to that other than some kind of return to the gold standard, which seemed somewhat anachronistic.”

Voorhees returned to Colorado after two years overseas, quickly transferring to New Hampshire to affix The Free State Venture, an organized political migration which he describes as “a multi-decade initiative to move 20,000 radical libertarians to one small jurisdiction [New Hampshire] to hopefully have an outsized influence on the political structure.” It was there, within the firm of fellow radical libertarian political activists, that Voorhees encountered Bitcoin in 2011.

“At that point I got completely hooked, and a year later ended up leaving New Hampshire and moving to New York to join Charlie Shrem at BitInstant.” There, he took the reins of promoting as worker quantity three.

It was round that point that Charlie Shrem, Roger Ver, and Erik Voorhees — every of whom would go on to develop into crypto-luminaries in their very own proper — pooled their cash collectively to arrange a Bitcoin sales space on the Cash 2020 convention in Las Vegas. “We needed to be next to the PayPal booth so we can show the world OUR financial system,” Shrem recounted. Vorhees says they didn’t convert anybody to Bitcoin on the convention regardless of their greatest efforts.

Perception in false earnings

Vorhees admits he was a Bitcoin Maximalist, a believer within the one true coin who rejected all false currencies. “I used to be a maximalist. Obviously when I got into Bitcoin, it was kind of the only coin,” he says.

“As other coins came out I dismissed them, scoffed at them, and generally didn’t like them because I felt like they were a distraction from the important project.”

Although he tried to give attention to Satoshi’s imaginative and prescient, the brand new initiatives began gnawing at him and he realized that lots of them “were doing things that Bitcoin wouldn’t do or couldn’t do.” By mid 2014, his conversion was in full swing.

“My whole mindset began changing. One of the most important things about Bitcoin is that it is decentralised. And it seemed to me antithetical to have a decentralized digital economy where there is only one chain — you know, one code base, one chain, one set of economic rules. It seemed very appropriate that you would get multiple different digital assets, and that was actually part of the decentralization, part of the virtue of Bitcoin was that Bitcoin isn’t the only thing there.”

He tempers this by including the standard provisos — most tokens are rubbish, many are scams, a majority will fail. “It’s only a minority of them that are interesting, but a minority is a lot more than one.”


ETH People… attempt to not develop into to Binancechain what the Bitcoin Maxis are to Ethereum 🙏

— Erik Voorhees (@ErikVoorhees) February 19, 2021


He nonetheless has empathy for his “shortsighted” maximalist friends, who he sees as victims of human nature’s tendency towards tribalism, which expresses itself in a number of methods, “Certainly it expresses itself in religion. And it has expressed itself in crypto, and some portion of people- their mind twists itself into complete advocacy of one flag and complete derision of all others.”

“[It’s] a group psychological phenomena and I don’t know how that stops, but I do think it is really harmful for the growth of decentralized digital finance generally.”

Playing with Satoshi’s cube

Solely a yr after studying about Bitcoin, Voorhees launched Bitcoin-based playing website SatoshiDice in 2012, which took the younger crypto group by storm.

“On Reddit, this guy posted that he had created this casino-like mechanism where there’d be this dice roll, and based on the dice roll, a user would either get their coins sent back or lose them. I tried it, and there was magic in it immediately […] So I started working with him.”

This was groundbreaking as a result of “it allowed any person in the world to place a bet by sending a Bitcoin transaction” regardless of the place they have been from or how their native legal guidelines ruled on-line playing.

What’s extra, the participant didn’t have to belief SatoshiDice, as a result of “it was provably fair,” which means that it labored like a clear machine the place all odds and internal workings have been open for anybody to examine. Governments around the globe have numerous commissions to manage and audit playing operations, however SatoshiDice’s operate probably made such organizations out of date, powerless, or each.

“SatoshiDice showed you what the odds were. It was transparent with the odds, and you could prove that the rules were fair.”

The straightforward, trusted, and permissionless nature of SatoshiDice introduced big success to the platform. Inside months of launch, the sport was chargeable for as a lot as half of all Bitcoin transactions.

SatoshiDice had an unofficial IPO on the MPEx alternate, a kind of Bitcoin inventory market the place unregistered Bitcoin firms provided shares and paid dividends denominated in BTC. These have been the forerunner of the ICO increase a number of years later, and attracted related consideration from authorities for breaking securities legal guidelines.

Although the on line casino was “making a tonne of money,” it was additionally overwhelming as Voorhees felt his job of “running the world’s biggest Bitcoin casino” was distracting him from his better calling of preaching the great phrase of Satoshi. Regardless of ongoing progress, he reluctantly offered the enterprise in 2013 for 126,315 BTC which was then value $12 million. That may be a cool $6.25 billion right now.

Combating the system

Voorhees didn’t get pleasure from calm for lengthy, because the US Securities and Alternate Fee (SEC) quickly got here after him for making a public providing of unregistered securities. Voorhees thought-about this unfair, seeing that his buyers had made exponential returns. He ended up settling for $50,000.

“That was nine months of total misery, dealing with them. If I didn’t despise the government before, I certainly did it after that. It was such bullshit.”

A core worth of his is that folks needs to be free to transact with one another voluntarily, and that no authorities company has the precise to return in between them. In his worldview, “institutions and government exist purely to curtail people’s power over money,” whereas “crypto gives people total economic power to make transactions in any way they wish, and no one can stop it.” As Voorhees sees it, these two forces will inevitably conflict.



Voorhees’ firm Shapeshift permits customers to commerce cryptocurrencies with out identification verification. Issues weren’t all the time that method — in 2018 Voorhees says his firm fell beneath the identical guidelines as conventional banks and due to this fact needed to implement Know Your Buyer, or KYC, identification verification procedures, making nameless transactions inconceivable. “That was absolutely miserable. Our customers hated it. I hated it.”

However by 2020, decentralized exchanges (DEX’s) which permit customers to commerce with out depositing their funds with a 3rd social gathering have been gaining floor and made it attainable for Shapeshift to reorient its enterprise and re-align with its libertarian values. All KYC was deserted, and the platform grew to become a gateway for customers to commerce on numerous DEX’s. “I had learned with Satoshi Dice that an economic relationship didn’t need anything other than a public key to send in a transaction, and anything else could be based around that,” he says.

Voorhees says that his opposition to KYC isn’t all the way down to ideology however his want to guard customers towards issues like identification theft.

“Identity theft in the US alone is something like a $30B to $40 billion a year problem. It is more costly than all forms of property theft combined. It’s this massive thing, and crypto comes along and solves that problem.”
However how dedicated is he to this precept? Would he class it as theft if a authorities accessed consumer knowledge to tax a consumer’s unreported monetary transactions. “Yeah, exactly. Taxation is absolutely theft,” he responds with blunt matter-of-factness.

The WSJ investigates

ShapeShift’s ethos has confirmed controversial amongst adherents to the principles and laws round conventional finance. An investigation by the Wall Avenue Journal alleged Shapeshift customers had laundered $9 million through the platform. Nonetheless a third-party evaluation by blockchain intelligence agency CipherBlade instructed the investigation was flawed in assuming that funds have been illicit even after passing via 4 completely different arms, inflicting the $9 million determine to be inflated by an element of 4. It’s clear that Voorhees, who is generally calm and composed, was deeply affected by this.

“Here’s The Wall Street Journal coming after us, calling us the money launderer, when their own inflated number would put us as far better [at combating money laundering] than any of the major banks that they write about all the time.”

There’s a noticeable quaver in his voice. The battle is private.

We spend the final minutes evaluating attitudes towards cash in several societies. Within the Nordic nations for instance, all taxes are a matter of public file. Voorhees finds this disturbing, including that “a lot of people with money feel guilty about it” whereas creating wealth in an moral method he believes is an efficient factor for society.

“I would like to see people who become very wealthy, first of all be proud of that, so long as they did it in an ethical way, and to use those resources in whatever way they think is best. I think that’s how that’s how economies grow and I think there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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