Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Yearn.Finance’s Creator Says He’s Quit DeFi, but Project Has Bench Strength

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Yearn.Finance is managing a leadership transition right now and appears to be doing so effectively.

Andre Cronje, the prolific coder and creator of Yearn, said he’s quit the project – and decentralized finance (DeFi) altogether – out of frustration with its realities. 

“I’m not building anything at all anymore,” he told CoinDesk over Telegram on Oct. 1. “I do it because I’m passionate, but if people are going to use my test environments, then lose money, and then hold me liable, it means there is 0 upside and only risk for me.”

Yearn.Finance is the leading robo-advisor for yield in DeFi and the progenitor of the “fair launch” concept that has proved so powerful this summer. However, when users piled into a smart contract he was building in late September that wasn’t ready, got hit by an exploit and then blamed Cronje, that proved too much for the developer.

This is a complicated piece of news for a reporter to share. Cronje told CoinDesk of his decision over Telegram on Oct. 1, but then asked us not to report it. This falls outside of the typical protocol for reporters and sources (“off the record” has to be stipulated up front), and yet we also appreciate that Cronje felt himself under enormous stress and thus held off on reporting.  

So we’ve sat on the news, in something of a dilemma, because we were struggling to balance respect for his wishes and the public interest in knowing whether a revered creator is still around. Word has begun to trickle out about Cronje’s move, however (including denials from others involved in Yearn), and the community has begun to sense his absence. It is no longer in the public interest to withhold this information.

While Yearn is clearly not directly comparable to Bitcoin, we think of this as something like the moment in 2010 when Satoshi Nakamoto moved on. Had CoinDesk existed then, we certainly would have treated that as news.

But it’s also worth noting that Bitcoin has persisted and thrived since then, and judging from the robustness of the Yearn community, it has a shot at longevity. 

One investor who has been very long Yearn told CoinDesk that the project would be able to handle such a transition.

“Yearn’s strongest asset is its incredible community that has coalesced in a short period of time,” Spencer Noon, of DTC Capital, told CoinDesk over Signal. “I’m extremely confident the project will continue to thrive, even if for some reason Andre decided to depart the project.”

As Cronje explained, thanks to the fee built within Yearn, which replenishes the token treasury, the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) has funding to support a staff now, who can carry on his work. 

“Now the YFI team has to take it over,” he wrote. “I mean, they have ~20+ full-time employed and very well paid people.” 

Cronje told CoinDesk that he deployed all the code that runs DeFi’s favorite portal, Yearn. He’s become somewhat legendary in crypto, creating Yearn’s governance token, YFI, which has been valued as high as $43,000 and is currently worth nearly 2 BTC.

In early September, the official Yearn.Finance Twitter account shared some members of that core team:


Cronje has gone silent on social media, and the Yearn community has taken notice.

For example, a Yearn user who goes by the handle Niffler started a thread called “Love Letters for Andre” in the Yearn governance channel. 

“We love and miss Andre,” Niffler wrote. “But it seems the most vocal individuals recently are the EMN degens that have taken things too far and sprayed some serious hate at Andre. Let’s let him know how much we love him and still appreciate him.”

(EMN is the token for Eminence, the project Cronje had undertaken that went awry; “degens” is crypto slang for “degenerates.”)

Among the 47 posts on that page, another user, whenmoon, wrote, tellingly, “I saw your Eminence tweet that morning and thought to myself…I don’t know what it is but I want to be involved. … the excitement and willingness to rush in is a testament to how much people believe in you and your ability to create cool things.” 

Cronje told CoinDesk on Oct. 1 that he had informed the staff he was leaving some time ago, but he was clearly frustrated by something that had happened in the previous 24 hours. While he was building a smart contract for the Yearn community called Eminence.Finance, users found the contract and began sending funds to it, despite no one but Cronje knowing what it was. 

That tells you how much of a rock star he was in the community. But Cronje was nonplussed.

He told CoinDesk that he did not anticipate that the DeFi community would “put ~15m into [his smart contract] without any announcements, documentation, website or understanding how it works.” 

Previously Cronje had been quite excited about the next phase of his project.

His decision to quit DeFi following the hack runs counter to an announcement he made on Sept. 29, saying that he would continue working on the new project:

Following the hack, he said he’s been getting threats from those who blamed him for an attack on code he hadn’t declared live. 

It was possible for Ethereum users to send funds to his smart contract because he worked on it on the Ethereum mainnet. In fact, Cronje’s Twitter bio has always been: “I test in prod” (meaning production, that is, a live environment accessible to the public). 

Cronje was astonished that people would be so rash to send money to a smart contract before he had declared it ready. The fact that they did is indicative of how maniacal some retail investors have become about seeking yield.

Reached by CoinDesk over Telegram Thursday, Cronje did not change any of his previous statements, saying that he was focusing on his own best interest right now.


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