Ics? He held the first. Stablecoins? He dreamed of them by accident. Vitalik Buterin tried to get him on board to help launch Ethereum, but he was too busy. He is JR Willett, one of the most fascinating men in the industry.
In 2012, Willett, now 41, felt he could improve Bitcoin by making it possible for anyone to create protocol-supported interoperable tokens. He published a white paper describing the new model and invented a way to finance the project with a token sale. He procrastinated for the next 18 months, hoping someone else would bite the hook. Finally, he surrendered and announced Mastercoin’s initial coin offering, which inspired Ethereum and all subsequent ICOs.
“I felt like I was putting into words what was obviously going to happen, people were already talking about it and I thought, ‘Why hasn’t someone formalized this at least a little bit?’ I got tired of waiting for someone else. ‘
In the early days, he was concerned that digital currency would cause a dystopia in which late adopters would run out of a penny or form a world government to regulate everyone’s transactions. He’s still worried, but things are going better than he feared.
In the sea of exceptional and charismatic people who rise to the top of the world of digital currency, Willett stands out. Not in his absolutist conviction of a set of principles, not in his journey from poverty to wealth, not in his “manic drive” to pursue a project, not in his enormous charitable activities, and not so much only in his artistic endeavors or great visions. for the future. No. Willett stands out because despite the amazing things he has put in place, he remains a humble family man who never forgot the most important thing.
The first ICO
When the world sounded like 2012, Bitcoin was pretty much the only game in town. Bitcoin, blockchain and digital currency were the same, except for the nascent Litecoin fork which was not yet three months old (LTC was created through mining, just like Bitcoin). This is where Willett came to stir the pot, posting what he called “The Second Bitcoin Technical Document”.
the mastercoin prospectus is fascinating. it was the first ICO, and when it comes to white papers, it’s really good. It even has risk disclosures! describes many ideas that would be implemented years later: DEXes, stablecoins, tokenization, chain government https://t.co/noFt1PKzUD
– nic carter (@nic__carter) December 8, 2020
“We claim that the existing Bitcoin network can be used as a protocol layer, on which new layers of currency can be built with new rules without changing the base,” he wrote. The idea was to make it possible to create new and functional tokens on Bitcoin in such a way that smart contracts could regulate their interactions. “Mastercoin supports the creation of proprietary tokens for use in securities, deeds, user-backed currencies and even shares of a company,” the technical document explains.
This sounds very similar to Ethereum today, complete with interoperable ERC-20 tokens and smart contracts. This is no coincidence, considering that Ethereum was inspired in part by Willett’s ideas.
“Vitalik came to us initially with his ideas and we told him, ‘We have some other things we want to do first.’ He didn’t want to wait and it’s good for him not to. Ethereum was the result of that.” .
Willett even mentioned the idea of stable currencies and wrote that “if you think Bitcoin has a reputation problem for money laundering now, wait until you can store ‘USDCoins’ in the blockchain!” This was a new idea: he invented the concept.
The launch of Mastercoin, and the sale of tokens, was announced in July 2013. It was the first ICO and the coins could be bought at an exchange rate of 100 MSC for 1 BTC. These early coins were received from the “Exodus Direction,” which served as Mastercoin’s equivalent in the genesis block, while Bitcoin was the beginning, Mastercoin was imagined as the next era.
When Willett announced Mastercoin on the Bitcointalk forum, he thought of it as a one-time shortcut to dodging the “right way” to raise money. “It didn’t feel like an innovation at the time,” he says.
“I thought I had found a small shortcut, I just didn’t have time to fly to California, put together a launch pad, and talk to venture capitalists, most of whom hadn’t heard of Bitcoin.”
Eventually, Mastercoin became the Mastercoin Foundation, evolving in turn into the Omni Foundation, which Willett founded and where he still serves as chief architect. Willett says transparency was very important to him in creating the nonprofit and explains how he used a public spreadsheet to record all expenses.
“The problem with that was that when we started running out of money, everyone knew we were running out of money, and that took a little wind out of us,” he recalls with a smile. Today, Omni Layer is an “open source, fully decentralized asset platform” that allows you to “create and exchange digital assets and custom currencies”.
When asked if he regrets not becoming a billionaire CEO, he lets out a laugh. “I’m sure there would have been fun things about it,” he says stunned, but goes on to explain that he’s a minimalist who barely has anything his kids don’t need. “What do you get from being super rich, if you have a minimalist mental state? You just have a lot of problems,” he predicts. Is there perhaps a nuance of repentance?
“Maybe the regret is that he could have done very well, but hopefully, people who become billionaires will do very well.”
Willett brought what he calls an idyllic childhood with a father who “always had a gift for money and investment” and began teaching him how to program the family’s Apple II-GS computer when Willett was only 10 years old.
While still in high school in Oregon, Willett spent the summers working as a store assistant doing unglamorous work like sweeping and cleaning toilets. He once wrote a simulated virus and made his employers believe they had been hacked. “They had an old IBM computer, I think I wrote it at home and then took it to a floppy disk,” he recounts with a laugh.
When Willett later learned that he could make a living doing “what he had been doing for fun,” getting a computer science degree from the University of Seattle Pacific was “obvious.” He graduated in 2002.
After two years as a software developer at the “emerging knitting company like” Alerio in Oregon, he joined Dynon Avionics, where he was promoted to a senior position. During his 11-year career there, he created flight planning software and calibrated instruments that were used in such exotic applications as the SpaceShipOne spacecraft, which completed the first manned private space flight in 2004.
In 2012, she joined her current employer, Cozi, as a software development leader, where she designs mobile calendar apps that help families stay organized. Sounds like a good fit. He says, “I’ve always considered myself a family man, even before I had children.”
That’s right: Willett, the inventor of both the ICO and the algorithmic stablecoin, still has a day’s work. “You can’t have all your money tied to digital currency,” he said, referring to paternity responsibilities.
It was around 2010 while working at Dynon Avionics that Willett “fell into this [cryptocurrency] hole and I never went out «. He watched as the price of Bitcoin rose to $ 0.25 and recalls the installation of a beige computer tower, which successfully extracted a 50 BTC block on its own for a few weeks with only one central processing unit, or CPU.
CPU mining soon became impossible, as GPUs (graphics processing units) and later ASIC miners (specialized mining software chips) connected to mining groups came to dominate the landscape. “Even then, it was unusual to get a block from a CPU, but it wasn’t unheard of,” Willett recalls.
Unlike others of his time, Willett did not come to see digital currency as a universal savior or liberator of humanity. Instead, he foresaw a dystopian future, which worried him deeply. He never wanted to burn the banks metaphorically or turn the system upside down, because that kind of thing will surely hurt many, many people who depend on existing structures.
“It seemed to me something that, if it grew enough, could damage financial systems around the world. I thought, that’s the kind of thing that’s best to have only on the defensive, as an insurance policy.”
Willett admits that the idea of Bitcoin damaging the global financial infrastructure “sounded pretty crazy in 2010-2011, when very few people had heard of Bitcoin, but I’ve always thought that money issued by the government is much more fragile than them. »He adds that a bank run could happen if people lose confidence in fiat, and now, there is a valid alternative to that.
For Willett, money is a “shared hallucination” that works well if everyone follows the game, but it can quickly sink if people prefer to “choose not to participate”.
This is not necessarily what Willett wants, as such a situation would leave those who do not have digital currency in a desperate situation. Not everyone knows digital currency and not everyone has the money to invest or the confidence to risk their capital. It would be a tragedy for them to be left behind. But, “Thinking about this possible potential outcome, it would be nonsense not to own at least some digital currency,” he says.
“If a turning point comes at which everyone tries to get out of government money and buy digital currency … it would be on the scale of a global war on the amount of human suffering.”
Willett admits that in 2012, he “greatly overestimated” the speed at which digital currency adoption would take place. Some of his writings of the time came with a particularly dystopian inclination, such as predicting that governments “try to destroy all decentralized computer networks (including the Internet)” to achieve a “strong, centralized, [blockchain powered] a world government that earns its income by ruling strictly in the freedom of trade to collect taxes «.
“When I wrote this, I hoped it would be a year or two away,” he recalls. It no longer looks so bad. “The later you arrive, the less disruptive it will be,” he says, referring to the view that a larger base of digital currency owners will result in a less turbulent transition to digital currency.
Willett is confident that there will only be more cryptographic billionaires, as he expects the bullish market to continue for some time. “In general, there is an increase of about a hundred times, followed by a fall of about ten times. It happens in the course of months or even years, and then it happens again.” He considers Ether to be the best. bet today, and recently predicted a maximum ETH of around $ 9,500 for this cycle.
“I am optimistic that our cryptographic billionaires, whatever they may be, will eventually become cryptographic philanthropists, especially if this world we are building ends up causing a lot of pain and suffering to people who adopt it late.”