Sep 22, 2022 - Economy

Bitcoin diehard Udi Wertheimer trolls against crypto tribalism

Photo illustration of Udi Wertheimer in a collage of cube shapes.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Brady Dale

Bitcoin changed Udi Wertheimer's life, and then mocking its copycats turned him into a micro-celebrity. He had every reason to double down on that approach, but the latest crypto boom changed him — now his favorite folks to mock are all the people copying his old playbook.

Why it matters: In an era when it seems like every tribe that could behave tribally is doing so and nothing creates online celebrity faster than attacking tribal heretics, Wertheimer is one of a select group of bitcoin diehards who has done something very surprising: he's changed.

What they're saying: "If I had to rate inventions, I think [bitcoin is] one of the most important ones of recent times," Wertheimer tells Axios in an interview in Lower Manhattan.

  • Wertheimer says bitcoin has been very useful as a testbed for use cases like crypto-based lending, but each time those markets get proven on bitcoin founders find they can be done better elsewhere.
  • "There's also usefulness going forward, and that's what I think us bitcoiners need to figure out," he says.
  • Before 2021, it's unlikely anyone would have heard Wertheimer making those kinds of concessions to other projects. "I look at my old bitcoin-only content and I get irritated," Wertheimer says.

State of play: Wertheimer is a bitcoiner who is mainly known for being known. He started as a software developer, but he was early enough in bitcoin that he now operates more like a small scale investor.

  • His presence on Twitter is his main claim to fame, where he's one of the funnier voices advocating bitcoin and blockchain values.
  • Long-time followers of Wertheimer have watched his change of heart in real time, on the timeline.

Context: Within crypto, there's a ferocious divide between certain bitcoiners and everyone else. There's a thing called "bitcoin maximalism" that argues that bitcoin is the only digital money, and everything else that has come since is bad.

  • Wertheimer used to agree with that position, mainly because he viewed almost everything else from the last boom, the 2017 and 2018 initial coin offering boom, as bad.

Yes, but: When decentralized finance and NFTs took off in 2021 and 2022 however, Wertheimer found he had to admit that those really were things people wanted.

  • Many of Wertheimer's peers have turned on him now that he's expressed openness to those industries.
  • But for his part, Wertheimer is baffled that bitcoiners aren't trying to build markets for people to buy NFTs. To him, that's exactly the kind of digital economy bitcoiners were hoping for early on.

"It's a circular economy where people are anonymous. They can build things without other people giving them permission, without registering anything, without asking for permission. You just do it, and bitcoin isn't used there at all," Wertheimer said on a recent podcast appearance.

Style notes: For Wertheimer, his chief forum for communication, is largely play. "It's mainly an addiction for sure," he says. "Everyone I know, I know from Twitter."

  • "I try not to just troll for the sake of trolling. For me, it's an attempt to convey information that's less dry," he says. "Even when I'm being edgy, I'm still trying to have a point."
  • Wertheimer thinks it's irrational to look at an investment like a religion. For example, a Walmart shareholder might by a little bit of Target stock, just in case, and no one would criticize.
  • At the same time, he's not trying to ask anyone to be "nice." He's just asking bitcoiners if being so exclusive is actually in the long term interest of bitcoin.
  • "My intention is not to change people," he says. "What interests me more is to encourage people like me to speak up."

The bottom line: "I could just not care," Wertheimer says, but the truth is he actually does think bitcoin is important.

  • Wertheimer sees a world where most people only have one option for storing the value they earn, and usually only one fairly uniform financial system, which may or may not work for everyone — unless they find bitcoin.
  • "I think my biggest hope is it gives people optionality. It already has," he says.
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