Another Chinese entrepreneur is about to have lunch with Warren Edward Buffett. His name is Justin Sun, founder of cryptocurrency project TRON and CEO of file-sharing company BitTorrent. Sun’s $4.57 million bid is the highest on record for the charity’s 20-year history.
Since 2000, Buffett’s charity lunch has raised more than $30 million, all of which has been donated to the Glide Foundation to help the homeless in San Francisco.
Before Justin Sun, three Chinese entrepreneurs won the bid to have lunch with Buffett from 2000 to 2016. They are Duan Yongping, the chairman of BBK in 2006, Zhao Danyang, famous investment manager known as “Godfather of private equity”, and Zhu Ye, the president of Zeus Entertainment. Their combined bid is equivalent to a quarter of Buffett’s total lunch charity.
Sun started the digital token Tronix, better known as TRON two years ago. The cryptocurrency is now the 11th largest by market capitalization and is worth roughly $2.5 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.com.
“I see this as a win for the entire blockchain community,” Sun said. “We in the community know we have a long road ahead of us to educate the mainstream on blockchain’s value and proper use cases.”
However, the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO is not a fan of bitcoin. Buffett has labeled the world’s first and largest digital currency everything from “rat poison squared” to a “delusion” that “attracts charlatans.”
But when asked for comment on the lunch, Buffett laughed and told CNBC that he was looking forward to it. As for Justin Sun, he praised him as a “crypto pioneer”.
What Buffett may not know is that his lunch pal has already decided to transfer some crypto coins to his cellphone.
“I may ask a small request at the luncheon, which is to install digital currency wallet on Buffet’s mobile phone. Then I hope to send him some Tron tokens, TRX, I mean, which may become the first virtual currency in his life.”
This young businessman with a worth of 30 billion yuan talked enthusiastically about his plan in his interview with Jiemian News.
From “Opinion Leader on Campus” to “Entrepreneur of Bitcoin Community”
Looking back into Sun’s growth journey, you will find that two titles make him famous: “opinion leader on campus” and “entrepreneur of the bitcoin community”. Also, two essential skills–seizing opportunities and being good at marketing–enable him to acquire both wealth and fame.
Justin Sun was born in July in Xining, Qinghai province in China. In high school, he devoted much of his time to the Internet and novels , resulting in his poor academic performance.
Realized that he cannot handle multiple subjects, his sense of powerlessness transformed to the angriness of the examination-oriented education system.
As Gentlemen’s Quarterly reported, he “only finishes the writing part of the Chinese exam; answers in Chinese when taking an English test; when it comes to blank filling of famous figures in a history exam, he fills in the head teacher’s name for negative characters and his own name, Justin Sun, for positive ones.”
While he behaved so rebelliously, Justin Sun was not happy. Eager to be a winner of everything, he realized that taking the college entrance examination, also known as Gaokao, was not a way out. So he decided to try another shortcut: participating in the New Concept Writing Competition to get bonus points for Gaokao.
Since the competition was started by Mengya magazine in 1998, most of the first-prize winners either have been exempted from the examination or got bonus points for admission to prestigious universities.
This event has nurtured a group of talented writers, the only group in the “post-golden age of journalism” that move up the social hierarchy through writing. The most representative of them is undoubtedly Han Han who grows from a rebellious teenager to a gifted writer, then from a rally driver to a film director.
Paradoxically, both Han Han and Guo Jingming, another young writer with different writing style are accused of plagiarism after opening the door to success with the competition. And later, another celebrity was added to this disreputable list. . .
But that’s something to be taken up later. The point is that as a teenager, Justin Sun did win the first prize and an extra 20 points for admission to Peking University through his dedication and continuous contributions.
If we say that Justin Sun held the key to changing his destiny in high school, then after his admission to Peking University, he holds the key to fame.
The year of 2010 in China was the golden age for “public intellectuals”. It was in the same year that he savaged the current affairs on campus as an intern at Southern Weekend. At the end of each article, he would put a signature: “Justin Sun of the news department of Southern Weekend”.
Nanfang Media Group was recognizably famous at that time. One typical example is that former US president Barack Obama said he only wanted to be interviewed by Caijing and Southern Weekend during his visit to China in 2009.
With the support of Southern Weekend, Justin Sun, who was already an opinion leader in Peking University, finally spread his fame outside the campus. In 2010, Justin Sun and Jiang Fangzhou appeared on the cover of Asia Weekly as “China’s post-90s elites on the Internet”.
The turning point came after Justin Sun graduated.
While studying for a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania, the “youth leader” was accused of plagiarism by a Princeton graduate. Despite conclusive evidence, he adamantly denied it, saying that the two essays were just similar in style.
The response was, apparently, not as effective as he had hoped. And criticism of plagiarism continued for days, destroying his credibility. Aware that it was hard to salvage his reputation, he decided to switch from literature to business, left the dream of being an influenced public intellectual undone.
Justin Sun was very lucky. His personal assets jumped to over ten million yuan in 2013 due to his early purchase of Tesla stock and bitcoin. In his own words, he was already financially independent.
It was also in this year that he returned to China to start his business as the chief representative of Ripple Labs’ Chinese branch after he gained benefit from digital currency.
But the good fortune was short-lived. Bitcoin immediately slid into a bear market for more than two years. Like always, this opportunistic young man didn’t hesitate to change course again. This time, he acquired Peiwo, namely, “to keep accompany with me”. It is a social app to help users talk and get familiar with strangers.
In fact, the app was only an expedient. Bitcoin was what Justin Sun had been obsessive with. So in July 2017, when ICO, a digital currency, became “a chance to start-up”, he took actions again.
“Live in the HELL”
We can’t talk about Tronx without mentioning ICO.
ICO, or Initial Coin Offering, is similar to IPO (Initial Public Offering). The difference is that an IPO aims to raise money from the public for corporate development, while an ICO is about raising virtual currency from the public for the development of a company, namely an “underground stock market”.
Since its inception in 2014, the most famous ICO case in the world has been Ethereum, a platform that aims to solve the problem of insufficient expansion of bitcoin. In September 2014, Ethereum raised 31,531 bitcoins, equivalent to $18 million at the time.
With this initial funding, Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, introduced the ERC 20 token standard in 2015 (token, which can reflect value of an entrepreneur team or represent a proof of equity). Since then, Ethereum has become an “open source Android system” for developing various apps.
From then on, those who want to start a project but need money can develop Ethereum-based tokens. And it can be sold publicly as long as it meets the standards to raise fund for the projects.
What’s more, the whole process of selling can be completed automatically without third-party oversight. Therefore, This makes it easier for the people who are not originally part of the digital currency community to participate in ICO projects.
But what is more eye-catching is the story of how people get rich overnight through ICO, rather than the technological success of Ethereum. This is especially true in China.
The ICO mode entered China in 2016, and then a series of jaw-dropping numbers shocked many Chinese people who dreamed of becoming an overnight millionaire.
When Qtum went public the first day, the highest price ran to 66.66 yuan, a 33-fold increase. NEO went from 0.5 yuan to 40 yuan. The most dramatic project of them is Stratis, which soared 1500 times in one year.
Just imagine how thrilled entrepreneurs and investors would be. Waving white papers and clutching banknotes, they tried to squeeze their way into this path of financial independence.
According to the “Report on the Domestic ICO Development in the First Half of 2017” released by China Internet Financial Risk Analysis Technology Platform, in the first half of 2017, the financing scale of ICO projects completed in China amounted to 2.616 billion yuan. According to the statistics of Autonomous NEXT, a fintech research firm, 2 million people in China had engaged in ICO.
In a crazy market, however, a white paper is no longer as important as before. Some ICO projects announced their ICO plan directly, without giving any white paper. The types of cryptocurrency beyond imagination such as MLGB Coin and Leek Coin also made an appearance. Swarms of fervent investors, however, seemed to share no concern about the high risks in the grey area.
In fact, in the view of many veteran cryptocurrency experts back then, 90% of the ICO projects were unreliable. Although most of the tokens would soar briefly, they would eventually plummet under the joint operation of the issuers and private placement. Consequently, these investors would have their riches harvested by the capital.
It was against such a backdrop that Justin Sun made his debut.
On August 22, 2017, based on the decentralized content agreement of blockchain, Tron conducted sales of a total of 500 million official tokens of TRX on binance.com, one of the largest block chain assets trading platform in the world. All shares were immediately snapped within 53 seconds.
Subsequently, the seemingly smooth situation changed. Regulatory authorities decided to take actions after close observation of the ICO bubbles.
On September 4, the People’s Bank of China and other six ministries and commissions jointly issued the “Announcement on Preventing the Financing Risks of Initial Coin Offerings”, which defined domestic ICO as unauthorized illegal public financing. All kinds of ICO activities were called to stop and the existing projects were required to be cleared within the allotted time.
The following month has seen a faltering digital currency market in China with some tokens approaching decease.
In the face of stringent regulations, Tron chose to go into hiding.
According to a report by China.org.cn, immediately after the launch of the strict supervision policies, Justin Sun sold the virtual currency of investors at a high price on the trading platform and transferred the cash and the remaining digital currency to his personal wallet. He was suspected to run off with the money.
Angry investors tried to track him down by sticking stickers and unfurling banners. Under enormous pressure, Tron announced on September 4 that it would refund all TRX subscribed by Chinese traders.
Later in recalling the incident, Justin Sun said it was groundless to accuse him of “absconding with the funds”.
“It was ridiculous. Many people said that we had gone into hiding right after September 4. In fact, it never occurred to me that it was going to happen.”
Though denying “going into hiding”, Justin Sun did admit that the announcement released on September 4 had dealt a heavy blow to him and Tron.
“Three Senior managers of the company were completely freaked out by the announcement. The investors were in a panic and demanded an immediate refund. It was such a nightmare to survive those three days.”
TRON: rising from controversies
Nevertheless, Tron’s bad luck did not last long. Things began to take a favorable turn since the end of 2017 following their shift to the overseas market. Within half a month, the price of Tron soared from 0.01 or 0.02 yuan to 2 yuan, a jump of 100 to 200 times.
Along with these changes also came new controversies.
Several media outlets reported that Justin Sun sold 6 billion Tron tokens on January 5 in exchange for $300 million, an equivalent of about 2 billion yuan. This led to a plunge of 20% of Tron the next day.
Confronting with the doubt from media and the investors, Justin Sun declared that he had never cashed out. However, Liu Ming, then-Chief Operating Officer of TRON believed that Justin Sun was a skilled, ambitious actor.
“Sun is a man who has strong willingness to perform. He is also very good at acting and performing. In some circumstances, even he himself knows what he said is bullshit, he still can speak it out as trustworthy as no one could ever doubt whether it is a liar. ”
No one knows whether Justin Sun had cashed out, but public information shows that Justin Sun controls at least 45% of TRX, 45 billion pieces in total. In less than 10 months after the establishment of Tron, Justin Sun claimed that he had a worth of over ten billion yuan.
The plagiarism storm arrived following the cash-out incident.
In March 2018, in order to promote TRX, Justin Sun publicly challenged Ethereum on Twitter, listing seven reasons why Tron outperforms Ethereum.
Then Vitalik, co-founder of the Ethereum, immediately responded and suggested that an eighth reason should be added: “Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V are more efficient than typing new content on the keyboard”, satirizing that TRON’s white paper was the product of plagiarism.
Like what he had done before, Justin Sun again denied the accusation. He even declared, “In a business world, there is no point in asking about plagiarism all the time. The codes for cryptocurrency are all open source, and Ethereum also borrows a lot from bitcoin.” “In cryptocurrency, the core lies in making it happen instead of in the ideas or white papers.”
Interestingly, this time, the plagiarism scandal has not stopped the boom of TRX: in the first quarter of 2018 alone, the price of Tron tokens increased by as much as 90 times, making it the third most traded currency in the world after bitcoin and Ethereum. The market capitalization of Tron even hit a record high of $3.7 billion.
Regarding this, some data analysts said that while Justin Sun is ” just a coin seller”, he did bring new stories. And the role he played on happen to be what the industry needs at this stage.
The private blockchain experienced the longest stagnation in 2018 when a large number of vertical media and coin and blockchain startups ran out of business. BlockBeats once calculated in August 2018 and found that nearly 1,000 projects in the digital cryptocurrency industry were on the verge of bankruptcy; 80% of ICO financing projects are fraudulent and 10% are zombie projects.
He Yi, CMO of Binance told Huxiu that most of the heads of these unlucky enterprises fall short of managerial experience and that the companies managing to survive are counting on their sufficient funds.
Compared to those companies, Justin Sun is an exception. He is equipped with both sufficient funds and managerial capability. And Admittedly, what is equally important is that this opportunistic entrepreneur is very good at marketing hype.
A shrewd marketer
Publicity forms the core of Justin Sun’s entrepreneurship, and the most important element of effective publicity is “endorsement of a mogul”.
He once pictured himself as the “first post-90s disciple of Jack Ma” for that he was the only post-90s student in the entrepreneur training camp of Hupan University founded by Jack Ma in 2015.
Speaking of Hupan University, Justin Sun once described a scene in a class. He asked Jack Ma why he founded Aligames considering he once promised not to engage in the game business. Jack Ma responded that he changed his opinions on games. He used to believe that games only do harm to people, but Shi Yuzhu changed his view: playing games is an important recreation.
This became a classic of Justin Sun belief — people change positions at any time with their interests.
In addition to creating shiny identity tags, Justin Sun is also good at “gilding” himself through social events.
In 2018, when ofo, a Beijing-based bicycle sharing company couldn’t refund the deposit to its users, Sun declared he would repay 10,000 users’ deposit for Dai Wei, founder of ofo and one of the investors of TRON.
He also expressed support for Zhao Yu, who was detained for righteous deeds. The former cost Tron 1.99 million yuan and the latter 100,000 yuan.
With 2.09 million yuan, he managed to create an image of a “conscious entrepreneur” for himself and his Weibo followers grew to 1.1 million. By the end of March 2019, Justin Sun had more than 1 million Twitter followers, outnumbering Vitalik Buterin by 840,000 followers.
It is true that some of the things that he did have some benefits to the people. But in essence, his motive is to enhance his and TRON’s social influence. From this perspective, what he has done are more like marketing hype.
“I have no choice.” Faced with doubts about his deliberate hype, Justin Sun explained.
“As a startup, we are too small to get attention. If we want to get more investment, the owner of the company as well as the staffs in the department of public relations have to make noises. Yeah, I know it looks a little ugly, but we have no choice. ”
Now the question is, at this luncheon, can Justin Sun really be able to install TRX in Buffett’s mobile phone?
It doesn’t matter. What really matters is the marketing carried out by this opportunistic entrepreneur after his lunch with Buffett at Smith & Wollensky.