Crypto ‘Grandpa’ Throws His Cowboy Hat Into the Ring

brock pierce
Cryptocurrency magnate Brock Pierce.

A digital currency pioneer speaks to Hamodia about Bitcoin, life, politics, and (virtually) throwing $3 billion in the trash

It’s a cryptocurrency world, and we should all get used to living in it.

At least that’s what the man who describes himself as “like the grandfather” of “the world of digital currency” believes.

The “grandfather” is 40-year-old Brock Pierce, a child film actor-turned-video and gaming entrepreneur, whom Forbes estimated to be worth between $700 million and $1 billion in a 2018 piece, “The Richest People in Cryptocurrency.”

Pierce, a free spirit who often wears cowboy hat, sport shirt and shorts, is sitting in the Hamodia office, his long blond hair nearly reaching the top of his smartly pressed blue suit jacket, talking about his life, cryptocurrencies, and the political career he is seeking to embark on.

To some, cryptocurrency is a house of cards, a figment of imagination with no real value; it fluctuates wildly and could crash at any time. But Crypto Grandpa argues that the value of currency, like any product, comes only from “a shared belief system. And the more people believe something has value, the more real that value is, and then markets, or supply and demand, is what prices that value at the most, like, basic level. What do we trust? What do we have faith in? Historically, we just had to take what was given to us, what we’re told we had to use, versus we the people choosing what we believe in.”

His industry may be nascent, but it will “most likely affect everyone, whether they want it to or not,” says the crypto pioneer, when asked whether cryptocurrencies will ultimately affect everyone’s lives, including technophobes.

“The world is changing more and more rapidly. The future is going to happen to you or it’s going to happen with you. I think that choosing to be part of that change — because the future is built, being co-created by us collectively — I think you’re better off choosing the future you want to live in, rather than being forced into living one that was chosen by others.”

Pierce cautions that he is not encouraging anyone to invest in cryptocurrencies “or anything else,” because “in general, I’ve learned it’s best not to give financial advice to people.”

But the crypto pioneer, who can speak esoterically, lyrically and at length and drop a flowery slogan a minute, says he does encourage people “to invest in themselves, in their own knowing. Go buy $10, $50, $100, something you can afford to lose. It’s not about a financial investment; what you’re doing is you’re taking the time to use it, to understand it, so that you can begin your own journey of knowing. And then through that knowing to be able to make informed decisions for yourself.”

***

 

brock pierce
Pierce at a cryptocurrency summit in Utah in 2018. (DavidCLeePhotography)

Brock Pierce grew up in Minnesota, then spent much of his adolescence in California as a successful actor. An early adopter of technologies, as a teenager Pierce was involved in a dot-com startup that created online videos, among other technological ventures.

It was only natural that Pierce, who had money from his film career and business ventures, would also become an early participant in the new world of cryptocurrencies.

“I’m one of the internet 1.0 entrepreneurs, the youngest old guy in the business,” he likes to say, “because I started at 16, before most 16-year-olds were able to start companies and raise money.”

Being an early entrant to the cryptocurrency world does have its perils, like (wince alert) throwing $3 billion in the trash (not a misprint). Back around 2011 (the first year Bitcoin reached $1), Pierce had moved to Ukraine, and his then-fiancée was unhappy that their garage was so stuffed with junk that it didn’t even have room for a car. So Pierce, a self-described “hoarder,” began discarding things — including a computer that he had forgotten contained some 50,000 Bitcoins. As we sit for our interview in April, one Bitcoin is worth over $56,000. Few people ever become millionaires, and even fewer become billionaires. But how many can say they threw over $2.8 billion in the trash?

“Well, I’ve lost and thrown out a lot of devices,” Pierce says with a laugh. “I’ve lost so many devices with coins on them or just negligently, not caring, because it was like spare change. But that spare change now is, you know … I still have a bunch of the devices that I’ll try to go through because people on my team do find a million dollars here and there. It’s pretty commonplace in my digital couches that we find very large sums of money lying around that I didn’t consider to be of any value. But I always look at everything that I’ve lost based upon its value then.”

Many people who got into digital currencies early have somewhat similar stories, Pierce says, like those who got Bitcoins valued at pennies, then sold them for $5 or $10 — a then-astounding fifty- or hundred-fold profit, but just a fraction of a percent of what the currency would be worth just a few years later.

This wasn’t Pierce’s first loss; as a teenager he had “$50 million worth of stock that went to zero.” But the entrepreneur has been too busy creating things to dwell on loss. Besides, he says, “Money doesn’t motivate me.”

So what does motivate a patriarch of the latest technological craze, which could transform our financial systems and our lives as we know them?

“Impact,” he answers unhesitatingly, a word he uses more than just about any other. “I’m a father. I care about our collective future. And I recognize that some of the things I can do, and some of the things I know, can potentially make a very big impact in the world.”

Pierce is chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation, co-founder of Blockchain Capital venture fund, and he founded cryptocurrency Tether, along with lots of other work in the field — “Most of the major innovations in this industry, the stuff that’s kind of moving the whole thing forward, one could argue that I’ve been at the creation and founding of most of the major innovations” — though he frequently leaves companies after founding them and moves on to other projects.

“I love creating things, so I started creating things more and more. But when I tried to control things that I was creating, I realized that it wasn’t working very well. I helped put something together, then I’d run off to go do something new, but when I own a majority of the company, the three people I left behind that have to run the business every day, and I don’t show up for three months, because I’m running around the world on something else, they’re in the trenches, and they’re going, ‘That Brock, we do all the work; why does he own so much more than we do?’”

So Pierce takes a hands-off approach — both in decisions and ownership stake: “I’m like a doula for creation. I create things and then I normally leave, and then I come back and check on things a couple of years later.”

And what does a man do with unimaginable wealth (he describes the Forbes estimate as “accurate enough”) when his primary concern is impact? Give it all away, of course. “More or less everything — I can’t take it with me — I hope more sooner than later.”

And how will a crypto pioneer who opposes centralization give away his fortune? Using blockchain technology, of course, “building software systems, so that the governance is controlled” by the many.

“I invite anybody else in the world to donate — and based upon how much you’ve donated, you have that many votes. The governance of those funds is something where normally the creator wants control. But the idea here is utilizing this software to relinquish control to allow for greater impact.”

(Bitcoin has gone sharply down in recent weeks, and has fallen below $38,000.)

***

brock pierce
Pierce with publicist Ezra Friedlander (L) and chief of staff Yidel Perlstein in the Hamodia office. (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

Crypto Grandpa is now seeking to move into the political field.

Pierce mounted an independent run for president in 2020, spending millions of dollars of his own, making it onto the ballot in more than a dozen states, and garnering over 49,000 total popular votes, good for ninth place.

He acknowledges that he was not expecting to win but says, “I achieved everything that I was attempting to achieve: to understand the mechanics of the system. I didn’t have a political background. There are a lot of ways to enter politics, a lot of ways that are probably safer and cheaper. But I chose to do the most accelerated version, which is to just go run for an elected office on a national platform, to understand what it takes. I viewed it as basic training.”

The candidate can be described loosely as a social liberal/fiscal conservative, with a platform that includes ending the war on drugs and ensuring a balanced budget. But he also advocates for what he calls a Universal Earned Income, which sounds like a still-in-development cousin to Andrew Yang’s more famous Universal Basic Income. Pierce’s plan, as he explains it, would have all Americans earn, rather than simply receive, a stipend — though he still hasn’t fully developed the proposal, and what exactly would have to be done to earn it. That’s one advantage of being a third-party, longshot candidate who doesn’t win: “I never finished my policy proposals because I didn’t have to.”

But now Pierce is seeking a more realistic role in politics. He has hired Boro Park political activist Yidel Perlstein as his chief of staff, and publicist Ezra Friedlander. On the day of our interview, Pierce, a lifelong independent, met separately with New York Congresswomen Yvette Clarke and Nicole Malliotakis — a Democrat and a Republican, he points out — as part of his goal to both educate elected officials on cryptocurrencies and push the U.S. government’s adoption of them, and to introduce himself to the political scene. After our interview, he’ll head to dinner with an El Al executive.

Pierce says he was asked by “a lot of people to run for Mayor of New York City” this year, though he ultimately declined, but he’s been involved, donating, according to the New York Post, thousands of dollars to city candidates including mayoral hopefuls Eric Adams and Carlos Menchaca, Brooklyn Borough President candidate Robert Cornegy and Councilwoman Farah Louis.

brock pierce
Pierce with former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, at a campaign stop during Pierce’s 2020 presidential bid.

“I’m still very involved in this election,” he says. “I’m just not operating as a candidate.”

But starting next year, anything could happen, depending on what possibilities he sees, and where he is willing to relocate.

Pierce’s primary residence is Puerto Rico, where he has created a colony of crypto enthusiasts, based out of a former monastery-turned-hotel that he bought. (Even his move to Puerto Rico was, according to Pierce, part of his interest in making an impact on others: he moved shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, because he wanted to make an impact on the hard-hit economy. The tax incentives, he says, helped attract others to join him, but is not what motivated his own move.) Pierce notes that his native state of Minnesota once elected an independent governor (Jesse Ventura, 1999-2003), and that he also “spent a good amount of my life in California. I made a big impact out there — that’s clearly something that could happen”; and as with any businessman, has long had ties, if no official residence, in New York. When this reporter points out that California Gov. Gavin Newsom is in political trouble, Pierce replies, “Newsom or Cuomo — who’s in more trouble right now?”

And lest anyone believe Pierce has anything short of the grandest ambitions, he says, “There’s clearly a possibility that I would run for president again.”

***

A serious political run would likely mean he’d have to join a major party; but for now, Pierce proudly notes that he doesn’t fit neatly into any political box: “Republicans all think I’m a Republican. Democrats all think I’m a Democrat. Libertarians all think I’m a Libertarian.”

Pierce describes himself as a “conscious capitalist.”

brock pierce
Pierce with Miami Mayor and tech proponent Francis Suarez.

“I think about the holistic impact of the things that I do, and the impact I’m having on the world and people around me. That’s where the ‘conscious capitalism’ comes from. I think that’s the answer — somewhere in the middle. And I think the vast majority of Americans are there. I represent the 60% to 70% of Americans that are in the center, whereas a minority of people on the right and the left have been dictating American politics.

“I’m a progressive — maybe not in the way that they use the term with Democratic politics. But I’m progressive in that I’ve got bold ideas. I create progress through the actions of the things I do. I don’t mean it as a political term; I represent progress quite literally. In terms of being liberal — forget the politically triggering, loaded meanings of these words — I think I’m a pretty liberal human being. When it comes to being conservative, or fiscally conservative, I’m a businessperson. These terms have been applied to parties and become so politically charged that we’ve almost forgotten their meaning. They’re not mutually exclusive. I can be all of those things somewhere in the middle, because most of us are.

“I can be a progressive, liberal, fiscal conservative, conscious capitalist.”

Pierce generally believes in states’ rights and smaller government. But as his universal earned income plan would indicate, he doesn’t have a laissez-faire viewpoint either, particularly, he says, as rapidly increasing technology will mean massive job losses.

“I believe in economic incentives and creating incentives that lead to optimal outcomes. But we’re living through a period of time in which the economic division between the haves and the have-nots in this country is such that, if we don’t find a way to solve this — when you put someone’s back up against the wall, where they’re starving, and they’re undergoing these types of challenges — remember, our morals and principles are secondary to survival when those types of instincts kick in. And if we want to push millions and millions of people into a state of that type of desperation without figuring it out, that’s where the pitchforks come out. So I often pitch very wealthy people on the fact that for reasons of self-preservation, you should start understanding that you can’t have this type of wealth divide, and then kick everyone to the curb, and expect things to work out. And once I start showing how the jobs are going to be lost, and then I start explaining, most people go, ‘Yeah, you’re right, Brock, we actually do need to figure out how to do this.’ I do agree with that fundamental premise that, yes, jobs are likely going to go away at a rate like we’ve never seen before. And if we don’t make sure that people’s most basic needs are met, you’re probably going to have a revolution.”

***

Pierce believes economies progress when they are not constrained by past beliefs.

“I’ve spent my entire life doing what I would call impossible things,” he says. “Impossible, meaning no one has ever done it before.” A primary focus of Pierce’s has been ensuring the U.S. government’s understanding and adoption of cryptocurrencies.

Pierce (left, back to camera) holding court in his crypto colony at “The Monastery” in Puerto Rico.

He notes approvingly that the Federal Reserve “is now looking at utilizing blockchain technology and creating a digital dollar,” recognizing what the Chinese government has done with the Chinese digital yuan.

“Now, the question is, how do we do it? Because there’s a right way and there’s a wrong way. I would hope that we do things the right way, and I’m available to serve.”

Yidel Perlstein says being a political influencer — supporting like-minded candidates and educating officials about cryptocurrencies — may be a better idea for Pierce at this stage than actually running for office.

“He may be able to accomplish more by helping political candidates instead of actually running for elected office,” Perlstein says. “Right now, Brock is a king in his own world, his own boss, who can do pretty much what he wants. Once you get to political office, you learn quickly that a lot of garbage goes with it, and you get lots of criticism. And you can’t just focus on things you are passionate about, like cryptocurrencies and improving the economic system; you’ll need to clean up the trash, fix the potholes. Is that what Brock Pierce is best suited for?”

Perlstein winks and says, “I guess we’ll find out.”

***

Bitcoin, the most famous of all cryptocurrencies, was created by a person or people using the name Satoshi Nakamoto, whose identity has been the subject of endless speculation. Pierce has a DeLorean with the license plate SATOSHI. Before the Crypto Grandpa leaves the Hamodia office, I have to ask, for the record, expecting no answer, whether he is in fact, or knows, Satoshi Nakamoto.

“We’re all Satoshi Nakamoto,” says Pierce, straight-faced and philosophical as always. “If you choose to get involved, this is a co-creation, and what makes it successful is it’s a shared belief system. Because Bitcoin’s creators chose not to take any credit, we can all take some credit. All of us who have contributed are in this together.”

***

Asked what life has taught him, if it can be distilled into one of his trademark slogans, Pierce, the 40-year-old who’s had a lifetime of experiences and is planning many more, appears to be looking inward, thoughtfully and deliberately, as he replies.

“Life is largely about being present. Being in the moment. This moment. Gratitude is the attitude. Be grateful for everything you have, even if it feels like very little. It’s where you operate from. When you operate from a present attitude of gratitude, that is the making, that’s the canvas, that’s the foundation of good things happening. If you’re living in the past and complaining about this or that, this bad decision you made or this thing that someone did to you, that is going to shape your present and future reality. If you’re overly concerned about what’s coming next that you don’t really have any control over, that’s probably going to cause you to miss whatever it is that that opportunity that’s presenting itself in the moment of now. It’s pretty basic stuff: Love your family. Love your friends.

“Try to stay in that space.”

rborchardt@hamodia.com