Crypto entrepreneurs: Top winners and losers of 2023

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2023 saw prominent figures within the realm of cryptocurrency embarking on diverse paths, contributing to the many ups and downs of the ecosystem. 

While some recorded tremendous successes, others saw their empires fall — despite favorable expectations.

Here are some of crypto’s greatest winners and biggest losers of 2023.

Winners

In a climate that offered equal amounts of uncertainty and opportunity, numerous crypto entrepreneurs proved themselves to be resilient pioneers, shaping the narrative of 2023 while laying down the foundation for 2024.

Brad Garlinghouse

Ripple may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the company’s CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, endeared himself to the broader crypto community this year with a string of legal victories against the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

Had to take a picture in front of the @SECGov building while in town. (in case you’re wondering…no, Chair Gensler did not invite us in) pic.twitter.com/qfbfU7PrGQ

— Brad Garlinghouse (@bgarlinghouse) September 19, 2023

In July, Ripple won an important ruling against the regulatory body when the XRP (XRP) token was found to not violate securities law. That isn’t quite the end of the matter, however. The SEC continues to pursue Ripple over $770 million in fines it says the company owes.

For now, Garlinghouse is looking good, but the battle rages on.

Yuga Labs

Yuga Labs was another firm that won big in court this year. In April, a judge rules in favor of Yuga Labs in its long-running feud with Ryder Ripps and Jeremy Cahen, who had asserted that Yuga Labs’ Bored Ape Yacht Club nonfungible tokens (NFTs) were racist and antisemitic — and then copied those same NFTs to pass them off as their work.

Needless to say, the court took a dim view of Ripps and Cahan’s trolling behavior, ordering the two to pay Yuga Labs $1.57 million in damages and legal fees.

The exact sum of those legal fees has yet to be determined, but Yuga Labs wants $7.9 million.

Real Bedford FC

It was a good year for Real Bedford, which won the United Kingdom’s South Midlands League in April. The soccer team is owned by Bitcoin (BTC) podcaster Peter McCormack, who aims to take the club to the Premier League.

Some photos of our final home game of the season where we were crowned league champions.

We had a record crowd of 327, this is up from 50-80 last season. Thank you to everyone who came and has supported us. pic.twitter.com/u19kcpO3WM

— Peter McCormack‍☠️ (@PeterMcCormack) April 16, 2023

While such lofty goals may be some way off, the promotion of the club this year is one small step in the right direction. Real Bedford features Bitcoin on its orange-colored strips and has numerous crypto sponsors, including Compass Mining and Gemini.

Crypto lawyers

Between bankruptcies, fraud cases, copyright violations and everything else, one group of individuals profited handsomely at every step: crypto lawyers. In January 2023, legal firm Sullivan & Cromwell had 150 people working on the FTX case alone, including 30 partners billing at upward of $2,000 an hour. If you want to know what winning big looks like, cast a glance at the crypto lawyers.

Losers

Some of the most trusted and well-liked crypto entrepreneurs faced varied degrees of legal troubles for various allegations, ranging from misappropriation of investors’ funds to enabling cross-border routes for money laundering.

Changpeng Zhao

Did Changpeng “CZ” Zhao win or lose in 2023? It’s a matter of perspective. On the one hand, the U.S. Department of Justice forced the Binance chief to step down and personally pay a $50 million fine after he pleaded guilty to failing to adequately prevent money laundering.

Recent: India takes steps to block Binance, Huobi, other global crypto exchange URLs

Additionally, Binance had to pay a fine of $4.3 billion, the largest settlement in the history of the Treasury Department. For all these reasons, it would appear that CZ lost big in 2023.

Today, I stepped down as CEO of Binance. Admittedly, it was not easy to let go emotionally. But I know it is the right thing to do. I made mistakes, and I must take responsibility. This is best for our community, for Binance, and for myself.

Binance is no longer a baby. It is…

— CZ BNB (@cz_binance) November 21, 2023

On the other hand, however, there is the not-insignificant point that CZ may be able to avoid a prison sentence for the crimes he is accused of. If that is indeed the case, CZ may count himself a lucky man. With ample money, time and resources on his side, CZ could yet turn everything around once more.

Perhaps that’s not quite enough to call this year a victory, but it is, perhaps, an acceptable loss.

Jesse Powell

In further regulatory shenanigans, Jesse Powell’s Kraken settled with the SEC in February. The U.S.-based crypto exchange paid $30 million, leading the Kraken co-founder to falsely believe its regulatory worries were behind it.

The SEC then filed another complaint against Kraken in November, arguing the firm operated as an unregistered national securities exchange, broker and clearing house. That enraged Powell, who wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “Message is clear: $30m buys you about 10 months before the SEC comes around to extort you again.”

Message is clear: $30m buys you about 10 months before the SEC comes around to extort you again. Lawyers can do a lot with $30m but the SEC knows that a real fight will likely cost $100m+, and valuable time. If you can’t afford it, get your crypto company out of the US warzone.

— Jesse Powell (@jespow) November 21, 2023

While Powell’s righteous anger was something to behold, there now seems little doubt that paying the fine did not dissuade the SEC from further action

Do Kwon

Joining this year’s loser list is Terraform Labs co-founder Do Kwon, who was arrested in March in Montenegro and found guilty of forging official documents in June. Montenegro’s justice system sentenced Kwon to four months in prison for the crime, though this was by no means the end of his problems.

Both the U.S. and South Korea are attempting to extradite Kwon over the multibillion-dollar collapse of the Terra ecosystem and its TerraUSD (UST) stablecoin.

Sam Bankman-Fried

In November, former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was found guilty of defrauding FTX’s customers. Bankman-Fried, or SBF as he is more commonly known, now faces up to 110 years behind bars. (Some analysts believe he’ll only do around 20 to 30.)

SBF’s conviction marks one of the most profound falls from grace in the history of crypto. The exchange mogul’s fortune was at one time measured at $16 billion. Today, it is closer to $0.

1) What

— SBF (@SBF_FTX) November 14, 2022

There’s little doubt that crypto’s biggest loser in 2023 is SBF. As for sentencing, that won’t occur until March 2024.

Magazine: 10 best long reads about crypto in 2023

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