Jae Kwon Returns to ‘NewTendermint’ to Battle for the Soul of Cosmos

Ignite, which rebranded from Tendermint in February, will split into two entities: Ignite and NewTendermint.

AccessTimeIconMay 25, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 5:36 p.m. UTC

Hot off a splashy February rebrand, Ignite (formerly Tendermint), the company originally behind the Cosmos blockchain ecosystem, has announced that it is splitting into two entities: Ignite and NewTendermint.

With the split, Ignite’s original co-founder, Jae Kwon, is rejoining his old team as the CEO of NewTendermint. Ignite’s current CEO, Peng Zhong, will stay on as CEO of the newly reconstituted Ignite.

Kwon co-founded Ignite (then called Tendermint) in 2014, but he stepped down as the company’s CEO in 2020 to focus on Gno.Land, his competitor to Ethereum. CoinDesk reported at the time that Kwon’s exit also came after several high-ranking employees left the company in protest of his leadership.

Kwon’s return to NewTendermint comes as the controversial founder has continued to feud with his former Tendermint colleagues. According to Kwon, they are “intentionally socially engineering” the failure of Cosmos and are conspiring to push him out of the ecosystem altogether.

NewTendermint’s new mission

According to a statement from Ignite and NewTendermint, the two companies will “hold complete independence from each other, with their own team, equity and funds.” All In Bits Inc., Ignite's parent company (in which Kwon holds a majority share), will only hold a minority stake in Ignite under the new deal.

Ignite, according to the statement, will “continue on the growth path positioned since the official rebranding,” which renamed the company from “Tendermint” in early 2022. This means Ignite will continue to focus on the development of Ignite’s flagship products: the Emeris portfolio manager and the Ignite CLI developer toolkit.

Kwon’s NewTendermint will focus on the development of core blockchain infrastructure. In addition to contributing to the development of Tendermint Core and the Cosmos SDK – tools for building Cosmos blockchains – NewTendermint will focus on the development of Kwon’s new Gno.Land smart contracting platform.

“I see a lack of cohesive vision that’s centered around like, ‘Let’s keep the [Cosmos Hub] minimal, let’s finish Tendermint [Core] according to the original vision, and let’s also explore a better smart contracting platform,’” Kwon told CoinDesk. “These are all part of core infrastructure still. So that’s what it is. It’s focusing back on core engineering.”

Zhong told CoinDesk that Kwon had always planned to return to Ignite in some form.

“Jae has been in communication with us about this project for over six months now,” Zhong said. “It’s always been the plan that a portion of the treasury will be maintained by Jae for him to focus on the launch of the Gno protocol, his new version of Tendermint [Core], et cetera.”

Cosmos and Gno.Land

Cosmos is a family of blockchains that are purpose-built to operate with one another. The ecosystem, which started with the Cosmos Hub (ATOM) blockchain, has grown to include a list of big-name chains, including Binance’s BNB Chain, Osmosis and the ill-fated Terra blockchain (which was at the center of a $40 billion token crash earlier this month).

Each Cosmos blockchain is built using the Cosmos SDK and the Tendermint Core consensus engine – tools first developed by Ignite designed to make it easy to get a blockchain up and running.

Kwon says his censorship-resistant Gno.Land smart contract platform will be built using Tendermint 2, an improved version of the consensus engine he launched to power Cosmos.

The broader backdrop

Kwon’s return to Ignite/NewTendermint comes as he claims his former colleagues are conspiring against him – and the network.

Kwon co-founded Tendermint and created Cosmos with Ethan Buchman in 2014, though Kwon’s relationship with Buchman and much of Tendermint’s early team soured around 2020. It was around this time Kwon’s behavior, according to some early employees, spurred an exodus of several Tendermint staffers – many of whom have continued to contribute to the network through other projects.

When Kwon’s No. 2 at Tendermint, Zaki Manian, resigned from the company he wrote a (now-deleted) Twitter thread stating that “Jae has subjected every internal communication channel to religious discrimination, loyalty tests and abusive rants.”

To this day, Kwon contends that Manian, Buchman and other Cosmos community leaders are secretly plotting against the network – potentially as part of a broader conspiracy.

While Ignite’s Zhong conceded to CoinDesk that Kwon is “not the easiest work with” he praised the incoming NewTendermint CEO as a “brilliant leader.”

“He has very strong opinions. But, you know, opinions, in other words, is a strong vision. So if you believe in Jae, he’s gonna lead you very far. And as the creator of the Cosmos ecosystem, he’s made something of massive impact,” said Zhong.

Battle for the soul of Cosmos

Kwon’s battle with his former colleagues came to a head this month with “Proposal 69,” a Cosmos Hub upgrade proposal which, according to Kwon, threatened to open up the network to security vulnerabilities. (The Cosmos Hub, similar to other Cosmos-based blockchains, allows users to vote on upgrades to the network using the Hub’s native ATOM token.)

Kwon says the proposal, which ultimately failed, was supported by the Interchain Foundation (ICF), an organization responsible for Cosmos ecosystem development that used to be helmed by Kwon himself. (The ICF and Tendermint both received 10% of the Cosmos Hub’s initial ATOM token distribution.)

A spokesperson for the ICF disputed this characterization, saying that the ICF did not take a position on the proposal. Moreover, the ICF's current president, Ethan Buchman, voted against it.

Proposal 69 was, however, publicly backed by Kwon’s former Tendermint colleagues – and chief Cosmos adversaries – Manian and Jack Zampolin.

As an incentive for users to vote against the proposal, Kwon said he would add “no” voters to the Gno.Land token airdrop.

UPDATE (May 26, 16:40 UTC): The fifth paragraph has been changed to clarify the new relationship between All in Bits, Inc. and Ignite (based on an update from an Ignite spokesperson). Paragraphs 21 and 22 have also been corrected to reflect that the Interchain Foundation (ICF) did not take a formal stance on Proposition 69.


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Sam Kessler

Sam is CoinDesk's deputy managing editor for tech and protocols. He reports on decentralized technology, infrastructure and governance. He owns ETH and BTC.

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