One of the people that Joe Biden should thank for becoming president is a 28-year-old cryptocurrency zealot who sleeps on an office beanbag chair most nights, believes businesses focus too much on social responsibility, and has, seemingly out of nowhere, become worth $10 billion.
This is Sam Bankman-Fried, who represents a new breed of entrepreneurs who think obsessively — and, at times, counterintuitively — about the value of becoming rich. Their civic-mindedness doesn’t lead them into do-gooder careers, but into earn-earn-earn careers where they can maximize their fortunes. And Bankman-Fried has ridden the crypto boom to more or less check off part one of his two-part plan that goes like this:
Make a tremendous amount of money by any means necessary. Then give it all away by the best means possible. (Well, what he doesn’t spend.)
The founder of a rapidly growing startup called FTX, which offers a platform for people to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, Bankman-Fried now considers $10 billion a “reasonable” estimate of his wealth and progress to date.
But he cut a low profile until last year, only known really in crypto circles and among effective altruists, a community of philanthropists and believers who think that money and time should be donated not based on personal interest but on the projects that are proven by data to be the most effective at helping people. But Bankman-Fried turned heads over the last year when he became one of Silicon Valley’s biggest contributors to groups supporting Joe Biden, at least in terms of disclosed giving. He donated about as much to Democrats as did famous tech titans like former Google CEO Eric Schmidt or Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
Why did he do so much for Biden, someone he has never met? Well, because he said he crunched the numbers on how much impact each dollar would have if he donated it. That’s the same approach that led him to get involved with Mind the Gap, a data-driven donor group very popular in Silicon Valley led by his mother, Stanford professor Barbara Fried.
And yet he is a unique liberal megadonor. While many liberals want to focus on how billionaires can exacerbate inequality, Bankman-Fried wants to focus on how billionaires can maximize their winnings.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Is your objective when you’re thinking about the company, or thinking about just your work in general, still just to maximize net worth?
I think the answer is closer to yes than no. The core plan is still ultimately donate as much as I can, and then most of what I’m going to do now that matters is maximizing the amount that I can make that will lead to that.
Your point of view is still that the best way to achieve change is to make money in phase one, and then give it away in phase two. And I’m curious, because that is maybe kind of crass, but it’s also not really in line with a lot of…