In our first ever "21 Questions by Decentralize Today", we feature Yan Pritzker, the author of the new Bitcoin book, Inventing Bitcoin. This easy to digest and informative book will help you learn everything you need to know about Bitcoin in just two hours. Get it on Amazon this month and 50% of the proceeds will go to the Bitcoin For Venezuela Initiative for humanitarian aid.
Most people, upon first hearing about Bitcoin, don't really understand it. Is it magical Internet money? Where does it come from? Who controls it? Why is it important? For me, understanding all the things that come together to make Bitcoin work - the physics, math, cryptography, game theory, economics, and computer science - was a profound moment. In this book, I hope to share this knowledge with you in a very simple and easy to understand way. With nothing but a high school level math background, we will walk through inventing bitcoin, step by step. - Yan
Let's get to know more about Yan and check out his answers below!
DT: Describe yourself in three words and give a brief explanation of each.
Yan: Learner - I enjoy challenging myself with new things. In this respect, Bitcoin is one of the best things to study, as it requires incredible depth of knowledge, not just in technology, but economics, game theory, and more.
Hobbyist - I collect hobbies. Some of the things I like to do are playing guitar and piano, rock climbing, high altitude mountaineering, travel, cooking, practicing martial arts, and recently landscaping. I tend to get super deep on anything new I pick up.
Adventurer - I'm usually bored just sitting around. When my wife and I went to Hawaii, I promised her one day of "resorting" - just laying around. Halfway through the day I had to ask her whether we were done resorting.
DT: What were you doing for a living in the pre-bitcoin world (pre-2009) and how did you discover/stumble upon Bitcoin/Crypto?
Yan: I grew up playing with computers and starting coding when I was a kid. During college I had my first experience at a startup and was so amazed with the experience, I decided wanted to make a career out of early stage startups. I worked as a developer at a number of early stage startups, eventually working my way as co founder and CTO of reverb.com, where I supported the technology team as the company grew to 150 employees and half a billion in sales.
I first heard of Bitcoin on slashdot.org in 2011. However, I didn't really pay attention. I did buy some around $30/coin but later sold the bottom at $2 thinking it was a scam. I once again heard about it in 2013 and bought the top again at $1000 but was too busy to research it properly. It wasn't until 2016 when I found out about Ethereum that I finally decided to investigate crypto. It took me about a year of intense immersion in podcasts, videos, articles, and tweets to work my way back to Bitcoin, where I decided to focus my energy.
DT: How would you describe what you do to a 5 year old?
Yan: This is a tough one, because I actually have a five year old, and explaining something as complex as Bitcoin is not an easy task. I would say I am helping people learn about a world changing technology that helps people save their wealth and escape bad living conditions.
DT: What was your first ever job (even as a kid)?
Yan: When I was 7, we were immigrating from the former Soviet Union. We couldn't take any real money with us (the government only allowed us to exchange $100 per person at the official exchange rate). Instead, the word on the street was that we had to bring goods to sell in our new country. Certain types of goods were easy to get in Russia, and others were not. We brought mercury thermometers and diamond tipped glass cutters (no joke). During immigration, we spent a month in Italy. My parents put me to work walking the beaches selling thermometers and glass cutters. I remember demonstrating the glass cutters to people on the beach using their wine bottles. Who the hell needs a glass cutter on a beach? People didn't really buy my stuff but they gave me money because I was a cute immigrant child.
DT: How and why did you start your current profession?
Yan: When we first moved to the states, my dad got me a Commodore 64. On this computer, I learned to type in my first basic program. I was totally hooked by the idea that I could make the computer do things. By the time I got to junior high I was learning to code. In high school I started writing bigger programs and did some of my first paid work as a developer. I went to college thinking I was going to study computer science and linguistics to become a machine translation expert. Instead I experienced my first startup and became obsessed with the life at early stage startups. I came to enjoy doing the huge variety of tasks required of early startup founders and employees, rather than the more focused task of just writing code.
DT: Who is your biggest inspiration when it comes to work/business?
Yan: When I was a kid I looked up to Bill Gates. He had built this incredible company and changed the world with his software. It was also one of those nerdy kid to world impact story that I could identify with as a child. I think Windows sucks now, but what he did with Microsoft was quite impressive and important. In my twenties I read everything by Seth Godin I could get my hands on and was obsessed with his teachings. Later I was inspired by Steve Jobs and his product vision and attention to detail. Of course he was famously quite mean to people, and I take no inspiration from that. These days I don't really pay attention to what other people are doing, and work on my own stuff.
DT: You have one thing to say to your 18 year old self. What would it be?
Yan: Get off the computer, and go play outside.
DT: Your favorite superhero or fictional character, and why?
Yan: If I had to choose, probably Batman. Because he overcomes trauma and builds himself up. He doesn't have super powers, he's just smart and strong from his own training. He uses science to build his weapons. I like the self-made man aspect of his story. Although to be fair, he did inherit a whole lot of wealth.
DT: What were you like as a student?
Yan: I didn't have great attendance in any of my classes in college. A few of them I never even showed up. I only went to classes that were really interesting, which were mostly linguistics classes. Most of the computer science was totally divorced from real life and frustrated me, although I did really enjoy a class where we modeled how to build a CPU from scratch. I'm lucky in that I'm a fast learner and was able to get a B level grade without much effort. I seldom tried for an A. I was spending most of my time tinkering with stuff that I thought was interesting and getting paid on real world projects.
DT: You have the power to solve one world problem. Which one is it?
Yan: I would like to rid the word of autocratic and dictatorial rule. I want people to be free to do what they want, travel where they want, and spend their money how they want. I guess that's why I work on Bitcoin.
DT: Bitcoin has many philosophical underpinnings. Which one speaks to you most?
Yan: Having come from a country that actually practiced economic censorship (it was illegal to own foreign currencies like the USD), as well as central planning and abuse of the printing press, the sound money and censorship resistance aspects of Bitcoin are incredibly relevant to me. Today we are watching the same story play out in Venezuela as we had in the Soviet Union: despots who think they can plan the entire country's economy at gunpoint. I think Bitcoin has a real role to play in changing how much power we give the state to create such preventable disasters by taking away their ability to abuse and take away our money.
DT: How are you with money? Stingy? Generous? Do you bargain? Tip big?
Yan: Usually generous, depending on the circumstances. I have a soft spot for musicians and street artists and usually overtip them grossly. I somewhat have immigrant mentality and will bargain for stuff, but will also buy frivolous things that I don't need.
DT: Where do you see Bitcoin as a network in 10 years?
Yan: I believe we're on a very long adoption cycle, longer than anyone is anticipating. This is not my unique idea, but I think there needs to be a culture shift for Bitcoin to be adopted as a money worldwide. And that culture shift ultimately comes from a generation that grows up with Bitcoin as the new normal. A kid born today will be using Bitcoin before they grow up to be old enough to have a bank account. From that kid's perspective, the banking system will appear foreign and broken. Maybe this kid will grow up with stories from her parents about how the government debased their money and how they lost everything. That's when we'll see adoption. There are some models that predict that we will enter into hyperbitcoinization within ten years and Bitcoin will replace all money. I don't think the culture shift and the capacity to onboard so many people will happen that quickly. If we have 10% of the world holding bitcoin in ten years, that would be a really good outcome in my book.
DT: What does your family think of Bitcoin / crypto?
Yan: They support me in what I do because they trust me. They have varying degrees of understanding of the technology and the market. Being immigrants, I think they get the idea of a censorship resistant money better than most.
DT: What book are you reading at the moment?
Yan: I don't read a lot of books because my attention span has been ground down by twitter and medium, although I am trying to be better. I'm reading Homo Deus by Yuval Harari at the moment. It has some interesting futurist thinking in it; not sure if anything revolutionary, but I'm halfway through.
DT: What grinds your gears or is your pet peeve?
Yan: I don't get easily frustrated, but if there's anything that I don't like these days is people being nasty to each other online. The trolling is out of control. I think our culture is devolving into one where it's easier to make fun of someone than to have a serious and respectful debate. It doesn't help that our president is a troll, which sets the tone for the country. Or perhaps he's just the personification of the country as it already was. In either case, I don't like it.
DT: Do you have an "I lost my private keys" story?
Yan: I haven't lost my keys, but I did buy at $30 and sell at $2, so there's that. Actually, scratch that, I did lose all my keys just now as I was typing this, so please don't come at me. No bitcoin stored on premises.
DT: What have you learned recently that made a big impact on your work / personal life?
Yan: I've learned to take a more critical look at some of the news and information out there. Being immersed in Bitcoin has helped me see how wrong the media is about Bitcoin. And if they're wrong about Bitcoin, what else are they wrong about? I've also become significantly more conscious of the direction society is heading with regard to giving up our rights in the name of safety.
DT: Your thoughts on Facebook's Libra?
Yan: I don't get how it will work economically. For stable economies like the USD, you're asking people to buy an asset that will fluctuate in USD value. For unstable economies, it makes more sense. On the other hand, there's no way the US government will want Iranians buying Libra coins which are backed by the USD, so I'm not sure how that will work. If it helps people in Venezuela have something stable to use for exchange, that's great. But I don't know if the governments of the world will let it even take off. If does succeed, I fear that it may become a tool for censorship and surveillance like WeChat has in China.
DT: What's your next dream project?
Yan: I want more people to learn about and buy bitcoin. I'll be following up my book with more educational resources. I'm looking at doing an audiobook, and maybe some other short form content for beginners. I've also been looking at building an app to help people buy Bitcoin triggered by certain events.
DT: Imagine you are at the end of your days and you have achieved all the personal and work success you could ever dream of. What does your life look like, in a nutshell?
Yan: Luckily I am already living my best life. I get to work on interesting stuff (Bitcoin), spend time with my children, travel, work in the garden, and practice martial arts. I have always tried to live in the moment and enjoy everything as it comes. At the end of my days, I'll probably still be spending time with my kids, learning new hobbies, and trying to keep myself healthy. I don't believe in creating some vision of a life that I will live when I reach some random goal. Life is too short for that.