Crypto Developers Reveal the Perils of Anonymity

The total value locked on the Solana network reached billions of dollars, based in part on sham protocols by two brothers working under multiple aliases. For showing how divorced TVL can be from the truth, Ian and Dylan Macalinao share a spot on CoinDesk’s Most Influential 2022.

AccessTimeIconDec 5, 2022 at 12:32 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 28, 2023 at 2:28 p.m. UTC
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Superstar coders Ian and Dylan Macalinao roared into 2022 as the powerhouses behind Saber, the hottest protocol in decentralized finance (DeFi) on the Solana blockchain. Their vision was to build an empire atop Saber’s stablecoin-swapping software by attracting partners, developers and crypto capital into their coder collective, Ship Capital. For a while it worked: At its height Saber held billions of dollars in total value locked (TVL), becoming the biggest fish in Solana and a critical layer for nearly a dozen other interlocking protocols. It even pushed up the price of Solana’s SOL token. Saber’s success turned the Macalinao brothers into developer celebrities renowned for their golden touch. They parlayed their sterling reputations into a $100 million venture capital fund.

But the Saber empire had a shaky foundation. Ian – by all accounts a gifted developer – was the secret puppet master controlling many of his ecosystem’s subordinate parts. Protocols including Sunny and Quarry and Crate that purported to be independently built were actually his; he spun them up under the guise of at least 11 pseudonyms in order to inflate the perceived value sloshing around Saber and Solana.

“I devised a scheme to maximize Solana’s TVL: I would build protocols that stack on top of each other, such that a dollar could be counted several times,” he wrote in a memo obtained by CoinDesk and detailed in the August exposé, “Master of Anons: How a Crypto Developer Faked a DeFi Ecosystem.”

In the wake of that story, Ian and Dylan were ousted from their VC fund, exiled from the Solana DeFi ecosystem and nixed by Aptos, their planned new home. Investors in their projects – particularly projects Cashio (hacked) and Sunny (abandoned) – remain deep in the red. Saber, whose code was concrete, persists as an important piece of Solana’s DeFi infrastructure.

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Danny Nelson

Danny is CoinDesk's Managing Editor for Data & Tokens. He owns BTC, ETH and SOL.


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