Joining Pantera Capital: Dropping out of Harvard Business School in a Crypto Bear Market
Why now, Why Crypto, Why Pantera, and What's next!
I am thrilled to announce that I am taking a break from Harvard Business School to join the investment team at Pantera Capital, where I will help build out their portfolio, with a focus on DeFi investments.
First, a recap of my journey so far:
Despite trying to buy Bitcoin with a credit card back in 2012 — and failing — I eventually purchased my first Bitcoin and officially joined the crypto class of 2017. I have been fascinated by the space ever since, and started professionally investing in crypto in 2019.
Thanks for reading Messy Problems! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
My journey has been a mix of VC, operating, and writing. I have an woefully underutilized law degree from Cambridge, built e-commerce companies in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and have been in Fintech / Crypto / Consumer VC for the past 4 years, most recently as a Principal at Saison Capital, a multi-stage (Early/Growth/LP), multi-geography (US/Asia) investor. As the first employee at Saison Capital, I am proud to have worked with its excellent team (and a few other secret degens) to help make it one of the top 10 Fintech CVCs globally (alongside Coinbase, Alameda) in just 3 years.
The first year of my MBA involved juggling academics while diving down the DeFi rabbit hole. Helping Bessemer Venture Partners dive into crypto, and doing research with Messari — a feature of my analysis of the Fat Protocol Theory here — I ended up spending a lot of time on stablecoins, AMM design, and DeFi, writing about design choices in cross-chain infrastructure, crypto treasuries, and MMO Dynamics in Web3, as well as experimenting with ideas to build around b2b stablecoin yield farming.
I love diving into the technical aspects of the next wave of DeFi, and firmly believe that developing one’s ability to quickly understand complicated mechanisms is an investor’s only real long-term moat.
It is easy to invest in a bull market. It is hard to make money in a bear market — even though many of the best projects were born and nurtured in the depths of crypto winters.
Dropping out of Harvard to work closely with founders while the hype dies is the best way to focus on learning everything I can while supporting the founders building the next cohort of industry-defining companies.
Crypto moves fast — remember when everyone was trying to be an OHM expert? There is a large inflow of world-class talent from Web2 and TradFi flowing into the crypto ecosystem, and I want to be with these folks as they combine the best Web2 building principles with the best of Web3 to help create the permissionless, transparent, global, and iterative tech foundation of our economy.
After speaking to various TradFi and crypto-native funds, it became clear to me that I wanted to join a diverse team of crypto-native investors and builders who had seen, invested in, and survived past bear markets, positioning themselves to capitalize on the next run-up. The team at Pantera embodies that perfectly.
Dan Morehead, Pantera’s founder, combined extensive TradFi credentials with the vision required to have recognized the potential of crypto and blockchain technology as early as he did. Dan knows how to spot and move fast to invest in new tech paradigms, but brings wisdom and experience from his time at Goldman, Deutsche Bank, and Tiger Management.
Joey Krug, Pantera’s co-CIO, comes from the opposite spectrum. Joey has an operator/builder background and extensive technical skills. As a Thiel fellow, he co-founded Augur, one of the first protocols built on Ethereum. He’s since founded Eco, and continues to leverage that operator mindset to identify the best founders and getdeep in the weeds with them on thorny technical or business challenges.
Paul V, Partner at Pantera, needs no introduction. As one of the most well-connected crypto OG investors, Paul has had 14 years of experience investing, more than 8 of which have been in crypto. He has an extensive blog on crypto where he’s dropping the latest developments in Web3, which I have been following for years (which I highly recommend).
Over the past 8 years, Pantera has built one of the largest and most recognizable crypto portfolios, with over 200 portfolio companies, and was also once again the top crypto VC in 2022. Besides some of the industry-defining companies that Pantera has historically invested in like Circle, Alchemy, 1Inch, Amber Group, etc, I’ve been really excited by some of the recent investments like Psyoptions, Swim Protocol & InfiniGods.
The big unlock for me about why to dedicate my time to crypto was really about how open source culture tied into the concept of ‘Open Source Money’ & ‘Open Source Disney’.
A. Open Source Money
As a TradFi fintech investor looking at backend banking and payments infrastructure, I realized what an inefficient financial system existed. We have created siloed databases (some that depend on obscure programming languages like COBOL) to help keep track of who owns and owes what.
Crypto promises an open-sourced financial system built on the promise of a transparent, global and interoperable system of value. A financial system which is inherently functional 24/7, low maintenance, constantly iterating and improved upon from a set of global eyes rather than 5 engineers in a bank, with permissionless engagement with the system.
This system has the potential to turn intermediaries into permissionless protocols, and remove friction from the way we exchange value. As we saw from the Internet incrementally removing friction from communicating information (people were asking why we needed information that fast back then), an incrementally frictionless financial system allows for the exponential growth in second-order business models.
This point on incremental improvement is an important one. The wrong question to ask is ‘what is the unique use-case that is solved?’, but rather ‘what behaviors could be unlocked if this was easier?’. Here’s an example of that fallacy where 1995 David Letterman points out that the Internet was not useful for broadcasting and recording sports games, since we already had radio, television and tape recorders. He missed that the creation of a technically superior (but not previously non-existent) communication technology would unlock greater use cases, if streaming technology was easier. This was not about the specific use-case of watching sports on your desktop monitor, but about how this communication protocol would one day power information directly to laptops, handphones, and other devices. We do not need to imagine that crypto will eat up the entire financial world tomorrow — we just need to believe it can grow as fast as the Internet, which after 40 years, is still only 20% of retail sales.
Is the current state of crypto the end-state of this new financial system? Probably not, which is why I am excited to be investing in new crypto companies. It is indisputable that large parts of crypto today are solutionism or fundamentally regulatory arbitrage. Sometimes, crypto leads to fragile economic systems that blow up to the detriment of retail investors. That is bad. However, we can create better payments systems, better remittance platforms, and more transparent, permissionless financial ecosystems when we use blockchain technology in the right way.
I simply ask the question: If we were to design a more efficient global financial system from scratch, what technology, principles and mechanics am I more likely to use? What would the exchange of value look like if it were easy?
B. Open Source Disney
I was a kid of the 90s, and grew up around forums, being in school when Wikipedia was launched, and understanding how open source knowledge can make the world a better place.
I grew up in an Internet world where the digital pursuit of knowledge was a selfless goal. If you needed to find out more about something, you went to forums and talked to forum mods who would help redirect you within an ocean of crowdsourced information. Besides the free flow of information,was the free flow of social interactions.
I obsessed over video games growing up, almost playing Halo 2 competitively, immersed in Runescape, Neopets, MapleStory, and really nerded out. I grew up in Singapore, a small island, and interacted with my cultural world through the Internet. I spent countless nights staying up reading Halo fan fiction on Fanfiction.net. Through pure passion, the fanfiction community brought the Halo universe to life, through hundreds of thousands of pages of elaborate back-stories and fantastical writing.
The biggest takeaway was that a lot of cultural value that exists in society and culture are driven by people using the Internet to coalesce communities around niche passions to build a common fantasy world. That our culture is driven as much by our grassroots community, as it is by giant cultural behemoths like Disney and Hollywood, and that they can work together. Web3 offers the promise of creating structures that allow grassroots communities to capture value together, around community-directed cultural properties.
I have always been a firm believer in the power of keeping knowledge free, and how it can propel society forward. This is why I write extensively about tech, and build open-sourced projects that give back to the community and help others. I believe that Web3, leveraging open source principles, fundamentally represents an opportunity to fulfill these values, while helping founders build great companies.
Lastly — The Asks:
Are you a Web3 founder/ investor, particularly around DeFi and its adjacent verticals?
Hit me up at Chia[at]panteracapital.com. Although I get the opportunity to look across sectors at Pantera, my background was from DeFi research, and TradFi fintech, and I would love to dive deep into those spaces with you. I love talking about how existing mechanics could be improved, and how we can design incentives to bring more institutions into crypto.
My goal is to spend more time talking to CTOs & Engineers.
Please send me more technical white papers and academic finance papers. I went through law school by getting drunk at 9pm, and waking up at 1am to finish 50 pages of reading for a 10am meeting with my professor. I was built for reading white papers, and want to be reading as many of them as physically possible during this bear market. One of the most fun I had was diving into understanding the design choices in cross-chain infrastructure.
The easiest way to have a conversation with me is for us to dive into new ideas and primitives to build. See you all around the internets.
Thanks for reading Messy Problems! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.