Perhaps the least important takeaway from Dan Conway’s new memoir CONFESSIONS OF A CRYPTO MILLIONAIRE (Zealot Publishing; September 2019) is that he made $14 million investing in the cryptocurrency Ether. Thankfully, this book has no tales of tech-bros partying on yachts or twenty-something poseurs claiming to be masters of the universe. Instead, it’s about a married father of three with a soul-crushing job in corporate America, an addictive personality trying to overcome an Oxy habit, and a fanatical belief that blockchain and cryptocurrencies are a path forward to a better life for billions of people around the world.
Conway’s attraction to crypto wasn’t borne of a get-rich quick dream, although he certainly wasn’t immune to those. He was a true-believer because he was living the problem crypto sought to fix. He was a mid-level executive getting torn apart in a centralized Fortune 20 corporation (which remains nameless due to a corporate NDA). In 2015 , after hundreds of hours of research and underground Reddit discussions, Conway recognized blockchain’s potential to render the top-down structure of modern business obsolete. Then his impulsive personality led him to invest his life-savings, borrow $200,000 against his home, and bet it all on Ethereum, the second most valuable blockchain after Bitcoin. Fourteen million dollars later, he has escaped the rat race and is set for life.
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This book has a happy ending, but it isn’t a fairy-tale. Throughout the journey, Dan Conway faces doubts, demons, euphoria, depression, panic, and grief—things that don’t disappear when your bank account reaches a certain number. CONFESSIONS is a relentlessly honest--and very entertaining--look back by an ordinary person navigating an extraordinary situation. It’s about a guy who had a belief, acted on it, and managed to get it exactly right.
“In this memoir, Conway skillfully combines three intersecting narratives involving his ego-driven, often self-destructive ambition; his cryptocurrency gamble; and the history of cryptocurrency in general. Along the way, the author stirringly describes how, to him, cryptocurrency investment wasn’t just a new technological innovation, but rather a way to escape the corporate world that he once set out to conquer.” - Kirkus
"Epic. The first great book about crypto. And it's appropriately written by someone you've never heard of -- one of the true believers who fuel this movement by putting their money where their mouth is." - Andrew Keys, Managing Partner, DARMA Capital
Q&A With Dan Conway
What was it about your time in corporate America that crypto and blockchain technology spoke to?
Corporate America believes in the cult of the leader. I was never able to be one of those. I wanted to rise higher in the chain to make more money, but I wasn’t confident enough. My flaws would always ruin it for me. I’d flub a joke or lose my train of thought. A lot of people feel this way. And we’ve found that the so-called great leaders often have as many or more blind spots as we do.
Crypto is based on a new concept: decentralization. In the years and decades ahead, it aims to allow people to work without the control of a central authority. Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency behind Bitcoin, in particular is aiming for this. It sounds like science fiction, but institutions like the European Union and publications like the Economist have said that day is coming. Imagine a world where independent workers can plug into a blockchain, contribute to a project, and be paid without the need to have the right credentials or personality, and without a central authority making all of the rules and taking the biggest cut. That idea was irresistible to me.
What do most people NOT get about crypto? What are the most common misconceptions?
The bubble of 2017, which I lived through and which my book describes in detail, is the cause of the first misconception: that crypto is fake and/or fraudulent. There were so many scams during that period and so many people lost so much money when the bubble popped, it’s easy for someone to discount the whole space as a scam. I don’t blame them, frankly. But the reality is that the good projects, and there are many, are still plugging away, working to make crypto more usable and useful to normal people beyond degenerate gamblers or cutting-edge tech bros. This massive amount of development during the so called “crypto-winter” of the past year and half will drive the next round of adoption, and for better or worse, the next price bubble.
The second misconception is that crypto is driven solely by speculation. While greed has always played a big roll since the day Bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto ten years ago, it is not the primary driver. In my book, I describe my shock at learning that some of the biggest Bitcoin veterans never held a large stash. They’d be worth $20 to $30 million by now if they’d invested just a few thousand dollars in the early days. But that isn’t what drives them. They are still working everyday to improve the protocol and spread the word. The jaw dropping idea that keeps them going, that keeps a lot of us going, is that big institutions have let us down, and decentralized blockchains could one day offer an alternative way to organize money, work and human progress.
Have the speculation and price bubbles associated with crypto taken away from its real-world potential, or at least the perception of its potential?
Ultimately crypto’s image isn’t important. It will live or die depending on whether it solves problems in the real world for real people. Its fate will be determined by its ability to overcome the pressing technical hurdles that still exist, like its slow speed and limited capacity.
I always thought the real bull run, the bubble to end all bubbles, would occur when the technical problems were mostly solved and lots of real people started using decentralized public blockchains. That’s what we’ve all been waiting for in crypto. Everything else is a warm-up.
Who in the crypto world do you admire and who do you have scorn for?
I admire the monster intellects who make things previously impossible, possible. People like the creators of Bitcoin and Ethereum, Satoshi Nakamoto and Vitalik Buterin, respectively. But it’s not just these guys. There is an army of them. And blockchain developers are the navy seals of software engineering. They need to know game theory, advanced coding, and philosophy related to adversarial thinking. I have a friend who is an outstanding software developer. He’s one of the smartest people I know. But when I asked him whether he’d consider learning how to write consensus code to run blockchains he said, “No Way!”
I’m not a fan of Bitcoin Maximalists who claim any crypto other than Bitcoin is a scam. There is an immense amount of tribalism in this space because everyone wants their own coin to go to the moon, price-wise. But I respect Bitcoin a great deal. It started it all, and I think it will always be with us.
Reading this book, I was torn about how to feel about your crypto investment. On one hand, you were a true-believer taking an intellectual stand on something you knew was right. On the other, you’re a recovering addict who tapped into some reckless impulses to do something every financial expert would advise against. After the fact, independent of the results, how do you feel about it?
Right off the bat I tell readers not to take my book as a how-to guide. You’d have to be insane to do that. I have no desire to portray myself as a master of the universe who made all of the right moves and should be emulated. What I did was crazy on one level. I’d never heard of anyone making as big a bet on crypto, with so much to lose, and that’s saying something, considering the crypto die-hards I was traveling with at the time. But more or less, everyone is driven by the duality I was grappling with when they want to take on risk of any sort. It’s part knowledge, part inspiration and guts. In my case, my actions were turbo-charged by an addictive personality and twenty years of quiet desperation in corporate America.
The cost of doing nothing must also be measured. Life is short and pretty soon we are all dead. So at the end of the day, you have to measure that when considering taking a risk that might improve your situation long-term or hurt you in some way.
What did you learn about the past decade of your life writing this book?
I learned that I’m a writer at heart. Even when these insane things were happening to me, like when I was interfacing with my real-life drug dealer from Pill Hill, or when I was cashing out millions of dollars in crypto, I’d think, “damn, this is a great story” as if I wasn’t actually living it. Writing the book has forced me to try to make sense of everything that has happened to me. What I’ve come up with is that I’m a flawed man, driven by the chips on my shoulder.
Regardless of how many twelve-step meetings I attend, only a lobotomy would cure me of my need to prove myself. As a writer, I needed to identify and understand this about myself before I could write about it honestly. Hopefully I can hold onto that self awareness. I hope it will keep me on the positive side of the ledger in terms of my impact on the world and those around me.
You talk a lot about the corporate rat race and the struggle of keeping up with neighbors—having the right car, the right vacation, the kids in the right lessons. So after you made this big chunk of money, was it enough? Are you ever satisfied with how much you have?
We did buy a new Audi for my wife. That was our biggest splurge other than the extravagant family trips I needed to agree to in order to buy crypto. I still drive our ten-year-old Honda minivan. What’s the point? Everyone in our area drives Teslas and other fancy cars, so no one is going to be impressed if I buy a new Porsche. I’m at the middle-aged-crisis point, so buying a Ferrari, or god-forbid a Lambo’, just feels ridiculous.
But when people say that money doesn’t make you happy, they are wrong. For someone like me it has been fantastic, exactly as I dreamt it would be. That’s because I don’t have to go to work in corporate America anymore.
About The Author
Dan Conway is an expert on crypto culture, decentralization and corporate America, where he spent most of his career. He now writes about work, tech, family, and culture. His essays have appeared in Business Insider, Fatherly.com and Cuepoint. He lives in Northern California with his wife and three children. For more information, please visit his website here.