Crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried: ‘I got involved with no clue what a blockchain was’
When an aide told me that “one of our drivers” would pick me up for my lunch with Sam Bankman-Fried, I imagined a hulking black SUV of the kind that shuttles high rollers to and from the casinos in Nassau, where the 30-year-old crypto billionaire lives. Instead, it’s a modest maroon Honda that pulls up outside my hotel.
The headlong drive along the island’s winding coast road takes us past the terracotta-roofed compound that houses Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange, FTX, which processes billions in transactions every day, and the overgrown seafront plot where it plans to build a new 1,000-seat headquarters, having moved to the Bahamas from Hong Kong after China outlawed crypto trading last year.
Bankman-Fried, known widely as SBF, also defies expectations. In just three years, the success of FTX has catapulted him to fame and a roughly $24bn personal paper fortune. His company is backed by blue-chip investors including BlackRock and government pension funds. In March, Goldman Sachs chief executive David Solomon met with him on Bankman-Fried’s Caribbean home turf. And the week before our lunch, he hosted a conference where he interviewed Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, dined with Katy Perry and Tom Brady, and was pursued for selfies by admiring fans. Even on stage, he wore his signature shorts and T-shirt.
Although Bankman-Fried has a knack for winning converts, crypto is still assailed by critics who see the sector as a financial perpetual motion machine, something…