Andre Cronje has little good to say about crypto tokens.

This summer, when every decentralized finance (DeFi) startup on Ethereum started goosing their growth with “governance” tokens, Yearn Finance‘s creator, Andre Cronje, dropped a growth token on it without reserving any of them for himself.

This article is part of CoinDesk’s Most Influential 2020 – a list of impactful people in crypto chosen by readers and staff. The NFT for the artwork here – by Yonat Vaks – is available for auction at Nifty Gateway, with 50% of the proceeds going to charity.

Any token distribution that eschews set-asides in this way is now known as a “fair launch.”

“Andre invented a new way to launch projects, without money,” said Scott Lewis, of the metrics project DeFi Pulse. ”He proved you could launch a DeFi project by just building something and then getting a community and then using the revenue from the thing you built to fund a team.”

The distinctly counter-cultural move becomes less surprising once the man is understood as more creator than developer, more artist than arbitrageur.

On Erica Kang’s YouTube show at the end of September, Cronje compared decentralized finance (DeFi) in 2020 to the initial coin offering (ICO) boom in late 2017. “We’re sort of in the same space now, where everything thinks they need a token. They really think they need a yield farm,” he said.

Thoughtless me-too’ing, he went on, makes “it difficult for someone looking in from the outside to take this DeFi movement seriously, because, now when you come in as a potential interested investor who might want to look for some of these opportunities, you first have to read about sushi vampire attacks and pickle farms.”

Cronje is ambivalent about the industry’s potential. He both believes it is overhyped but also regrets the cynical fixation on gains, as he said in March 2019 on another YouTube show, CryptoZombie. He told of how he went to Consensus 2018 and, while people were kidding themselves about blockchain’s transformational potential, they “had a sense of hope” he said. By 2019, he saw people either leave crypto or grow jaded. “People have realized the product is a lie, adoption is a lie – all of those things [are] kind of garbage – and the token is the new product,” he said.

Despite his copious reservations about this space, Cronje pushed the first commit on what would become Yearn Finance on Jan. 20, 2020. A yield optimizing application, Yearn has teased the billion-dollar mark for assets under management in its Ethereum-based smart contracts.

It is important to note that Cronje did this. Not a team, not a company. He is very clear that he operates on his own, and I submit this is no accident. In various podcast and video appearances over the last year he has said many ways that he could leave at any time, and he’s keeping that option open in no small part by never committing to something he can’t responsibly abandon.

“I have no vision. I have no plans. I have no goals,” he told Kang. “For now it’s fun. Maybe in a month it’s no longer fun and I go back to playing Warcraft.”

When someone warns people again and again that he could leave at any time, it might mean that person really will.

Cronje has often been tempted; Satoshi did.

Uncle block

On that note, let’s deal with something up front: Cronje would not speak to me for this story because I wrote a post in October that said he was leaving DeFi that he didn’t want me to write. 

I wrote it because that’s what he told me, and I knew that there was a lot at stake. Yearn had, then, over $700 million in assets wrapped up in it, buoyed in no small part around a cult of personality around Cronje.

CEO Stani Kulechov, of the crypto money market Aave, has worked with Cronje unusually closely, though they haven’t met in person. “Knowing Andre, he doesn’t care too much about the financial aspect. Even if he cares, he won’t care that much. It’s more about products – creating something and people saying: ‘That’s cool.’ He’s a builder at heart,” Kulechov said.


After that story came out, Cronje wrote me on Telegram that he wouldn’t reply to my messages again. Nevertheless, I reached out for an interview for this profile and was met with silence. He was true to his word.

Regardless, as soon as I had reported what Cronje had told me about leaving, he was back in the game. Had he been on his way back then anyway? Looking back on it now, he probably was, but I didn’t know his history well enough yet to understand him more as more an artist than an engineer.

Initial commit

Cronje dates his interest in crypto back to the tail end of the last bitcoin bull run, sometime around late 2017 when he started looking at white papers and Github repos, when his business partner of the time left him on his own for a bit to go on a honeymoon.

“If he didn’t get married and didn’t go on honeymoon, I’d probably still be doing the same stuff we’d been doing the last five years,” Cronje said.

In September 2020, on Laura Shin’s podcast “Unchained”, he would say that late 2017 “was the first time there was enough assets, and there was enough protocols and there was enough toolings.”

Based on his LinkedIn profile, Cronje is a bit older than most folks in the crypto set. He studied law before he studied code. When code started interesting him he got up to speed with incredible alacrity, and that quickly got him hired in the telecommunications world, which familiarized him with distributed (if not decentralized) systems.

Once crypto had his attention, he began doing code reviews at Crypto Briefing. Eventually he started working for an ICO-funded project named Fantom, a directed acyclic graph blockchain out of South Korea.

Even then, he was already frustrated about token culture. “There’s so much time, energy and capital wasted playing the token game as opposed to playing the product game, which in the long term has a benefit for the token,” he said on the YouTube show, “Oh Hey Matty”, in March 2019.

Nevertheless, he took on the challenge of helping people with crypto tokens get more crypto tokens.

“The Yearn thing actually started because I had my own little stablecoin portfolio and I was trying to manage it like a savings account.” Cronje said on the July 29 FTX podcast. “Ninety percent of DeFi is just figuring out how these protocols interact with each other.”

He favored stablecoins because he didn’t like dealing with impermanent loss, the way liquidity pools of other, volatile tokens lose dollar value even as they increase crypto value. “I wasn’t comfortable making cryptocurrency decisions, because I do not understand the cryptocurrency markets,” Cronje said.

PUBLISHED BY– Brady dale


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