Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Vegan Billionaire Giving Away All of His Money


Sam Bankman-Fried is a billionaire thanks to Bitcoin and his crypto trading company FTX. But the vegan altruist says he’s only making money to give it away.

If you tuned in to Super Bowl LVI, you may have seen an ad from FTX starring Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld fame. In pure David fashion, he quirkily played a series of notable characters throughout history, snubbing great moments in time as meaningless. He poo-poos discoveries including the wheel, the fork, coffee, electricity, a toilet, the Walkman—even the Constitution—all before thumbing down cryptocurrency.

It was one of the more well-received commercials during the event with ad airtime largely falling to electric vehicles and alcohol spots.

But it was more than just a good commercial. It was all part of FTX’s efforts to give away Bitcoin, thanks to its co-founder, the altruist Sam Bankman-Fried. The ad drove users to Twitter where FTX gave away more than seven-and-a-half Bitcoin. (One Bitcoin is currently valued at nearly $45,000.)

In less than three years, Sam Bankman-Fried, 30, has taken FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange platform that he co-founded, to a valuation of more than $32 billion.

The FTX CEO’s personal net worth is valued at close to $25 billion, making him one of the world’s 70 richest people and the richest 30-year-old on the planet.

But Bankman-Fried isn’t taking space trips to the outer layers of the atmosphere or having bridges deconstructed so his yacht can pass through. The vegan animal rights activist, who reportedly sleeps just five hours a night, is advancing both the personal causes he champions, and the cryptocurrency market he sees as the future. He doesn’t plan on keeping his billions; Bankman-Fried’s goal is to give away most of his net worth.

FTX x Super Bowl LVI

“If what you’re trying to do is donate, you should make as much [money] as you can and give as much as you can,” Bankman-Fried told Vox of his philosophy last spring. “And if what you’re trying to do is have direct impact — not through donations — then you should think about what career allows you to have the most direct impact and go straight to that.”

To that end, FTX ran its first ads during the NFL’s Super Bowl LVI. It wasn’t the only crypto ad running during the game, but it may be the most significant.

But the ads weren’t just to lure new customers for the app; it’s also to curry favor with regulators. The move is part of FTX’s efforts to propel itself to the top of the crypto trading pile. The recently retired Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady appears in a spot for the platform. FTX is now a sponsor of Major League Baseball, and it spent $135 million to rename the Miami Heat basketball stadium the FTX Arena.

“We want to make sure that we’re painting, hopefully, a healthy image of ourselves and the industry,” Bankman-Fried told the Washington Post. “We’re optimistic that we’re going to be able to grow our U.S. business — a lot of that is working with U.S. regulators on bringing new products to market.”

Bankman-Fried recently relocated FTX from Hong Kong to the Bahamas, a move that gets him closer to the U.S market. “The U.S. is an important global hub. What happens in the U.S. tends to reverberate around the world quite a bit,” said Bankman-Fried.

Cryptocurrency’s future

As cryptocurrency grows at rapid rates, concerns have increased over consumer protection and a glaring lack of oversight. Bankman-Fried testified in front of Congress last December and again last spring about risks and regulations for cryptocurrency.

While much of FTX’s business is outside of the U.S., he says regulators here are slow to move on policy, even though a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 16 percent of Americans said they have invested in, traded, or used cryptocurrencies—a number only expected to grow.

Image courtesy Austin Distel on Unsplash

“It would be healthy for everyone involved if there was a regulatory pathway to getting licensed and bringing federal oversight,” he told Barron’s.

But as much as Bankman-Fried is willing to help define and defend the crypto world, the altruist is no loyalist. He would abandon it for something more lucrative if that meant being able to make more money to give away.

“He’s a phenom,” Kevin O’Leary, star of ABC’s Shark Tank, who recently invested in FTX and is a paid spokesperson, told Forbes last October. “He’s achieved a lot so far, and he has the respect of a lot of investors—I’m one of them—but his job is just beginning.”

Effective altruism

At the heart of everything Bankman-Fried does, there is a commitment to help—to make billions of dollars just to give it all away.

“There’s a chicken tortured for five weeks on a factory farm, and you spend half an hour eating it,” he said. “That was hard for me to justify.” 

Giving away millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin during Super Bowl LVI contributes to that goal by raising awareness for FTX, and, he hopes, expanding his own net worth so that he can support more charitable causes.

“My goal is just to find out how I can do the most good,” he told Vox. His plan is to give away all of his money in his lifetime. And that means continuing to make it.

“It’s not just like, how do you do some good with your life, but if you want to do as much good as possible what do you focus on,” Bankman-Fried said.

That has included a long list of animal charities, organizations working to address climate change, and fighting tropical diseases. And in 2020, it also meant politics. He was one of the biggest contributors to the Biden presidential campaign.

To date, the billionaire says he has given away at least $50-100 million to causes.

“If you’re trying to have a lot of positive impact in the world,” he said, “it’s probably going to be things that people end up seeing.”


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