The world of cryptocurrency and blockchain is rapidly evolving, but CoinJanitor‘s Marc Kenigsberg remembers the early days like they were yesterday—except he says the early days are still here. BitIRA was able to speak with him about his crypto journey so far, getting glimpses into the challenges he met along the way and the optimism that has persisted.
BitIRA: What personally drew you into crypto?
Marc: So I think in 2013 I was reading random articles and it mentioned bitcoin. The article noted that something had happened… that someone was going to use bitcoin for something. I’d never heard about bitcoin, but my interest was piqued. I Googled it and there wasn’t a lot of information available.
As an outsider looking into the community, I was struck by its complexity. I was trying to wrap my head around this idea of this virtual currency that it is but it isn’t, and that was created but not by anyone you could specifically recognize. I knew that I just had to figure out what this thing is.
Without realizing it at first, I ended up spending the next few hours just trying to understand what it was. I actually stood up at my desk and turned around to everyone in my office. I was like, “Okay everyone, stop what you’re doing. I just read about this thing called Bitcoin. I don’t get it all quite yet, but it’s gonna change everything.”
And they looked at me like I was insane.
I remember walking out of the office that day to take a break and thinking, “I have to figure out how this works.” It was immediately obvious to me that such a thing could work, that it represents the material change in the way we did everything—not just from a payments or a money perspective.
You know, crypto is kind of the ultimate manifestation of the open-source software philosophy, but in a capacity that can be applied to society. I basically spent the next few days trying to learn. Like everyone else, I’d become accustomed to Google anything and get an immediate answer; but for crypto, there just wasn’t an answer. It really was very, very difficult; I’m quite technically savvy, and yet even for me there were parts I just couldn’t wrap my head around. I spent the next few days kind of going down the rabbit hole.
I decided to start blogging about my journey. I started writing articles about what I was finding. I’d learn something about consensus mechanisms, or the way encryption works, and then I’d write that into an article—writing the materials I wish I could have found when I was looking for them.
I started just writing about crypto, and what happened was that I was really, really engrossed by the technology. I started spending more of my time actually writing about bitcoin and learning about it than actually working on any of my other websites. And after a couple of months, I’d gotten an email from some bitcoin conference in Europe that asked me to come. I was searching for the conference so I could vet it, but I couldn’t find anything; it was that early. I couldn’t find anything, and I was a little nervous.
I didn’t turn it down. I went to this conference, and it was this tiny event in a small function room of the hotel. There were only about 200 people there. And it was amazing because I got to meet some some of the really early people in bitcoin, the pioneers—people who’d been on the scene for a couple of years already and who were trying to spread the word. I got to spend a day or two, just hours and hours, talking to people who were working on the most elementary aspects of technology.
I remember coming back home and thinking: this is now my career. I don’t know exactly in what form; I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, or how to make money from that… but having seen this, there’s nothing else that I want to work on as much as this.
BitIRA: What is it about bitcoin that really drew you in?
Marc: So from a technical perspective, I think I was very lucky in that the material I digested first really portrayed the beauty of bitcoin. So what’s beautiful about it? In its simplest form right the technology itself—especially like eight years ago—isn’t actually impressive. Nothing’s really new in terms of a technical perspective; if you look at it, for example, Merkle trees are 40 years old. Encryption has been in use for decades.
The beauty of bitcoin is the balancing of economic incentives amongst a network of selfish actors. And yet it’s beautiful. The thing that was so amazing about it is that no one has to make sure everyone plays nicely. If people want to play nice, everyone benefits. But people don’t want to play nice. The system is designed to take advantage of their greed in a way that everyone benefits. So what was beautiful about it was a self-sustaining model that didn’t require someone to you know inhibit human behavior, nor was the basis of the system that people would operate altruistically or in a way that’s different than thousands of years of history.
Let’s also talk about the application of the technology. I think I was a bit slow in uptake.It really took me a long time to understand—in tangible terms—what the technology would be used for. I think the obvious things are payments, smart contracts, ownership of digital assets, et cetera.
It really took me a long time before I really developed my own perspective, albeit from bits gathered from all over the place. But at least, a vision that felt to me like I could see it rather than just reading what someone else wrote. It really took me years to kind of see my own vision.
BitIRA: How was CoinJanitor born? Tell me the story.
Marc: So CoinJanitor started—like so many good things—at a bar, and it actually kind of stemmed from an argument we were having about the number of altcoins out there. How many are there?
Someone made the point there’s at least a few hundred of these coins, and the discussion basically became, wait a minute, there this coin and that coin…and there’s probably thousands of coins, right? So we’re sitting there drinking and we got into a discussion that basically became an argument of how many coins there are.
Then we went to look. We tried to Google and see, and it was clear that no one actually knows how many coins there in. So I got into an argument with someone who was more on the thousand side, while I was more on the at least five thousand side.
I end up spending the next day trying to get an answer—I’m slightly competitive by nature, after all. I wanted to actually prove the point. Then it dawned on me that the fact that there isn’t even an answer is probably indicative of a much larger problem than we realize. These coins could actually do damage if we don’t even know how many there are. It’s kind of this creeping death that could potentially come in and be toxic.
So I sat down with with two of the project’s founders and we both got into this discussion. Are old coins actually bad for bitcoin or not? And the more we spoke about it, the more we really believe they were. And we kind of came to a point the discussion where we realized there has to be a mechanism for cleaning; we looked at other markets, and every mature market has a liquidation mechanism… but crypto doesn’t. And there’s a premise that because the digital it doesn’t use resources. The example I always give it is like wouldn’t you send satellites into space. You know we just kept sending them thinking there’s plenty of space up there. That is, until we went and realized that we’ve created a junkyard. So I started speaking to a few people about how we’ve got to do something about this. No one either saw it as a problem or cared to do anything about it.
I realized that I had one of two options: either to campaign to convince someone to do something about it, or to figure out a way to do something about it. And I figured the second would be easier to do so.
BitIRA: What are the biggest challenges you face, whether with CoinJanitor or crypto in general?
Marc: In terms of crypto, I think perception among people is the biggest challenge and can be incredibly demotivating. You can easily hear some of these really uninformed comments even within the community that dismiss bitcoin: “oh that’s used for drugs” or its criminal money, or that it has no value because there’s no physical counterpart. In the beginning I really argued a lot, but then you get to the point where you just can’t anymore.
But it’s frustrating because I really believe in bitcoin, and not just as a job or as a professional thing—I really believe it’s gonna make the world a better place. And to hear these like uninformed comments and know that the knowledge gap is so wide that it would take an hour to get to a place where you could even begin to offer the explanation of why it’s not true is extremely difficult.
And you know, people worry about bitcoin and money laundering, it’s one of the scariest illicit uses. But do you know which currency is used the most for bad stuff? The dollar. This doesn’t make or destroy the dollar. It’s just the most widely accessible, and transferable; it has its fungibility.
But then if I come at it from a non-emotional perspective, I think I think in the beginning the learning curve—just access to information—was a huge, huge problem. Like you know I’m technical to a point but I’m not really a full time developer; there were a lot of times when you know an answer on online forum or something would just be out of my depth. I was very lucky to have met some really great developers, and I learned a lot from people over the years. The good news is that today the access to information is much better.
In terms fo Coin Janitor specifically, I think that the biggest challenge is probably education, also because we took a route of really trying to avoid just copying the market at the time. We didn’t do advertising, and we didn’t like try and raise money in the ways ways people do. We really positioned ourselves as an organization more than than a commercial business. Everyone who was interested in joining the community in the beginning would get an email saying, “Are you aware of the fact that this is not a project for money? Tt’s a zero revenue business…”
I remember things like you know like a proof of threshold of utility you know stuff like this is a term we use a lot you know because they coined concepts for us. So the fact that we saw like some of the language from our LA paper on your new project website that it appeared was great because that means that we have actually succeeded to some extent in convincing people that it’s the necessary mechanism.
BitIRA: This has been fantastic. Do you have any concluding thoughts for us?
Marc: Yes, I’d really like to say two things.
First of all, thank you to all the people who have helped us. There were a lot of people behind the scenes who helped, and then a lot of people in the community who stayed involved with us. It wasn’t easy to always believe, and even today after two years of working on the project, I recognize that we are at least a year to two year ahead of the market.
The market hasn’t yet gotten to the point where Janitor is a normal day-to-day thing. And the reason we wanted to build that before it got there was because if it was needed you know like urgently at a time, it wouldn’t be able to be done fast enough and I think it would have been damaging to the market. We’re building CoinJanitor so that when the real damage sets in, we’e there to clean up the mess.
I really urge people to either try and understand it, or to go ahead or ask questions because because I’m 100 percent convinced that the market will prove us right. I’d like to be a strong liquidation mechanism by the time that happens so we can absorb more damage.
Then, in terms of you know a more general comment here, I’d like to just say one thing about bitcoin: bitcoin is very, very new. A lot of people reading this don’t appreciate how new it is. The Internet in 1990 is the parallel example; bitcoin will look very, very different 10 years from now—very different. The time spent, like half an hour an hour to learn a little bit about crypto could be one of the best time investments that people could make. After all, the majority of what the bitcoin industry will be has not been built yet.
Right now, the focus is on core technology baseline development, which will always evolve, but there will be a whole world of supporting services that will arise. It’s like how with the internet, the majority of industry and services are supporting service and peripheral industries: whether it’s hosting or in a marketing company or social graphics or web development, it’s not actually the thing itself. It’s all the services that enable the thing to work. The same will be true with bitcoin.
There’s room to get involved. You can you can still get in on this. It’s still really, really early. Take the time to learn.