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CoinDesk's Most Influential People in Bitcoin and Blockchain 2015

(@coindesk) | Published on December 23, 2015 at 10:39 BST


As we look back over yet another fascinating year for bitcoin, it's natural to assess the individuals that helped influence the industry.

This year, of course, it's not just about bitcoin anymore: the technology underlying bitcoin, the blockchain, has taken own a life of its own, with institutional interest in blockchains almost reaching a frenzy. In a development that would have seemed almost impossible a year ago, banks and major financial institutions are starting up blockchain projects to probe the possibilities of the technology.

The industry needs influencers to point the way on technical or regulatory issues, to build awareness, to dream up revolutionary new solutions to serious global problems and to build elegant new enterprises to take this exciting emerging tech to the masses.

We had our own ideas as to who those people were in 2015 and we also asked you, the public, to give us your opinions in our reader poll.

For this year's top 10 list, we took into account the year's biggest events, the nominees' individual contributions to the community and the results of our poll.

So, who reached the top 10 this year? Read on to find out...

10. Bobby Lee

Bobby Lee at Bitcoin 2014

The CEO of Shanghai-based bitcoin exchange BTCC (previously BTC China), Lee has been influential in helping bridge east-west divide in the bitcoin community.

Lee often appears at conferences and recently played a significant part in the ongoing scalability debate, translating and moderating at the Scaling Bitcoin Workshop to ensure China-based miners could talk to Western developers.

His prominence is such that he can make headlines as easily as anyone in the bitcoin space, and his popularity with the community saw him voted to the Bitcoin Foundation's Board of Directors.

9. Blythe Masters

blythe masters

There has been a lot of talk about the scarcity of women in tech, and the bitcoin space still has work to do. Blythe Masters, however, is a notable exception, being the highest-profile finance executive in the blockchain space, and arguably, the industry at large.

Masters was the global commodities chief at JP Morgan Chase and is now CEO of Digital Asset Holdings (DA), a firm providing settlement and ledger services for digital assets.

Her expertise and prominence has seen her make the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek, while her startup has made the most acquisitions in the space and is rumoured to have received funding from JP Morgan and Santander.

While Masters is not exactly a fan of bitcoin (she's been publicly of both minds about the matter), she has done as much as anyone to promote blockchain technology on Wall Street, even turning down a job running Barclays' investment bank to stay at DA.

8. Balaji Srinivasan

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 11.29.13 AM

Srinivasan is the head of 21 Inc, a once-secretive startup that long accrued vast amounts of VC cash even while few people outside the company had any idea of its business plan.

In March, however, 21 finally made global headlines when it was revealed that it had raised a total of $116m, the most of any bitcoin firm – ever. This raised the question, what was its amazing product or service going to be?

At last, in May, leaked documents revealed tests that showed 21's technology could enable machine-to-machine bitcoin transactions that could be used to, say, facilitate real-time marketplaces for Internet bandwidth.

All was quiet for a period, until it finally released a product, a small-scale mining device called the Bitcoin Computer, which began shipping on Amazon in November.

Lodged patents hint at more to come, but many believe the 21 Bitcoin Computer will be the start of a new wave of developer innovation in the industry.

For raising the profile of bitcoin across the globe and bringing a mass bitcoin device to a major outlet, Srinivasan has certainly been an influence in 2015.

7. Theymos

Mystery man

A divisive figure in the bitcoin community, Theymos is the pseudonym for one of the moderators of Reddit's bitcoin forum, r/Bitcoin.

His style of moderation has generated controversy due to perceived strict and opinionated policy rules and alleged censorship, with one user suggesting jokingly Theymos would possibly ban Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin's inventor.

Things got so bad that other entrepreneurs have tried to displace r/Bitcoin as the industry's main discussion board forum.

Bitcoin evangelist Roger Ver, sometimes called 'Bitcoin Jesus', started Bitcoin.com forum partly to provide an alternative site for discussion, and another reddit forum, r/btc, was launched. Then there's the unlaunched DATT initiative, which is aiming to decentralize Reddit altogether.

Whether you agree with Theymos' style, he has undoubtedly had an influence on the community and its discussions, though this influence is likely to be challenged again next year.

6. Gavin Andresen

gavin andresen

With the bitcoin community currently engrossed in a serious technical debate about how to best alter the code to allow greater numbers of transactions, the network's long-time maintainer has unsurprisingly taken a leading role in the conversation.

Andresen was outspoken with his view that capacity should be drastically expanded – and quickly.

The programmer took to forums to enthusiastically push his case for Bitcoin XT, a new client designed as a way for miners to vote away bitcoin's current 1MB block size limit.

While the plan continues to be debated, the manner in which Andresen introduced the idea proved divisive, with the sudden release of Bitcoin XT causing its fair share of exaggerated, and negative, headlines.

For his regular involvement in the bitcoin community and work on bitcoin's code, Andresen was also in last year's list, where he placed fifth.

5. Vitalik Buterin

Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum

Despite his youth, Buterin has already built an impressive resume in the digital currency industry, having been involved in several notable projects outside of his initial editorial endeavour, Bitcoin Magazine.

After participating in the creation of Dark Wallet and KryptoKit, the Toronto native founded Ethereum – a specialized blockchain network for decentralized applications.

Given his role as figurehead of the project, Buterin also a regular on the conference circuit and was one of the four individuals to appear on last year's Most Influential poll, where he placed sixth.

However, 2015 was arguably more important for the crowdfunded project, which after sky-high expectations was met with delays and consistent rumors of behind-the-scenes difficulties.

Still, Ethereum has persevered, with the project throwing a marquee event in London to showcase the enterprise interest in its now live, though still early-stage tech, and becoming the home to a number of new startups.

In short, 2015 was a year in which Ethereum really had to prove itself, and though it's still early, it's safe to say it's become an integral part of industry conversation.

4. Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam

Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam

The co-founders of Coinbase have done as much as anyone to help take bitcoin mainstream, with their user-friendly international exchange and wallet platform providing a simple way for non-techy people to buy, hold and use bitcoin.

But as their startup develops, Armstrong and Ehrsam have shown an increasing willingness to exert their position as industry thought leaders.

This year, Armstrong and Ehrsam became more comfortable using their company blog and social media presence to promote their ideas on how they believe bitcoin needs to move forward.

In the process, they weren't scared to flag what they felt was poor media coverage of the technology or promote bitcoin over altcoins.

While Coinbase gets some community criticism on social platforms for its strict adherence to global regulations, the pair have certainly done their bit for bitcoin.

3. Wences Casares

Wences Casares

The CEO of bitcoin security startup Xapo, Wences Casares continues to be one of the bigger celebrities in the bitcoin and blockchain industry.

More notable is that this attention comes in spite of the fact that Xapo has remained relatively quiet in 2015. The startup released few new products and services this year, and is now engrossed in a lawsuit with the former employer of a number of its key executives.

But while Casares has been quiet on the business front, his evangelical talks receive widespread coverage, even for non-news announcements, and he will tell anyone who will listen about how bitcoin can change the world.

The Argentinian entrepreneur is even credited with spreading the word about the digital currency throughout Silicon Valley and reticent financiers on Wall Street – a mission which, he has said, drew laughter from skeptics.

2. Brian Forde

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 11.49.10 AM

Since being brought in to head MIT's Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) this April, the ex-White House senior advisor has made great strides in highlighting the benefits of bitcoin and the blockchain to those both inside and outside of the prestigious university.

As part of MIT Media Lab, the DCI is now seeking to engage other departments in its work, whether its with its School of Engineering or School of Broadcasting & Journalism, so that a new generation of young minds is exposed to the emerging technology.

Though his public presence has since been more subdued of late, Forde hit the ground running, talking widely of the need to promote the technology in a way that people can understand while setting out the DCI's goals.

This year, he has also harnessed the power of the MIT brand to bring the technology to groups that have been historically underrepresented in industry conversations and been outspoken on subjects such as New York state's BitLicense regulations.

1. Satoshi Nakamoto

search for satoshi

The pseudonym for the much-discussed genius (or geniuses) that invented bitcoin once again proved his or her vast influence over the industry this year.

With Wired's and Gizmodo's 'revelations' that Craig Wright, an Australian entrepreneur, was the much sought-after Nakamoto, bitcoin's elusive creator showcased just how much attention he can generate for the technology.

Even in a week when the industry produced its most widely acclaimed proposal to address scalability and its oldest trade organisation seemed ready to collapse, Nakamoto overshadowed all other developments.

What followed has become somewhat of a predictable script.

Pundits argued Nakamoto's true identity doesn't matter, while other media outlets sought to uncover flaws in the emerging evidence. Regardless, the conversation soon spread beyond the bitcoin community to mainstream publications the world over.

But while often branded as "bitcoin's creator", Nakamoto is also the inventor of its decentralised ledger, the blockchain. And even as big banks seem increasingly keen to harness the power of "the technology", Nakamoto and his or her invention remains at the center of conversation, earning the number one spot in our poll.

Honorable mentions

There were many other notable individuals who played their part in the bitcoin and blockchain over the last year.

The following 10 individuals also received impressive numbers of votes from our community: Andreas Antonopoulos (bitcoin advocate and author); Dan Morehead (Pantera Capital CEO); Mike Hearn (R3CEV chief platform officer); Chris Larsen (CEO at Ripple Labs); Barry Silbert (CEO at Digital Currency Group); Roger Ver (angel investor); The Blockstream developersElizabeth Rossiello (CEO at BitPesa); Tim Swanson (director of market research at R3CEV).

Want to share your opinion on bitcoin or blockchain in 2015, or a prediction for the year ahead? Send ideas to [email protected] to learn how you can join the conversation.

Trophy image via Shutterstock 

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