On Poloniex and Working with Justin Sun

THE BEST CRYPTO EXCHANGE!! Or at least I think so :D

My name is James Seibel and I am a software engineering manager providing my services to Poloniex, one of the largest and oldest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world. Poloniex has been acquired twice — first by Circle, the creator of USDC, and later by an investment group that most prominently includes Justin Sun.

Recently, news reports have emerged about Justin and BitTorrent with very one-sided views and gossip about what working for Justin is supposedly like. The most recent article from The Verge does their readers a disservice by failing to mention that the only three people quoted by name, Lukasz Juraszek, Richard Hall, and Cong Li, filed a $15 million+ lawsuit against Justin and have strong bias and enormous economic incentive to defame him (UPDATE: The Verge updated their article with this information).

Since the acquisition of Poloniex I have frequently interacted with Justin in his advisory role with the company. There is a lot of mystique around Justin given his status as a cryptocurrency celebrity and his P.T. Barnum-style marketing antics, which include giving away Teslas and winning the auction to eat lunch with Warren Buffett. It is human nature to love gossip and salacious details — it’s impossible not to! However those who take the gossip as truth don’t know Justin and have never worked with him.

Also — I am not a “paid shill”. I have a good career, credentials, and can get another job in the cryptocurrency industry / Boston tech scene easily. I have absolutely no problem telling anyone in my professional or personal life to go fuck themselves. I am too old to deal with shitty people and shitty companies, and value my time too highly to waste it on bad situations. I choose to write this because I’m annoyed by articles and comments that are clearly misinformed and primarily geared towards getting clicks.

That said, when I heard the surprising news that Poloniex was being acquired (again), and even more surprisingly that Justin Sun was involved, I was extremely skeptical. Like many blockchain pros I had read various reports and stories about the BitTorrent acquisition and had superficial knowledge of Justin from various marketing stunts he pulled. But I consider myself a free thinker and like to keep an open mind (I work in crypto, afterall) and was willing to give it a chance.

There was no denying that in 2019 Poloniex was not doing well. We were hamstrung by regulatory issues, our delivery of new products and features was too slow, and our market share was shrinking rapidly. We were trapped between highly-regulated US exchanges like Coinbase and wild-west offshore exchanges like Binance, and Poloniex was stuck in-between those two extremes without making a solid case for its existence. Our greatest strength was our legacy — the first exchange to list Ethereum and Ethereum Classic, the first to list altcoins, the first with margin, being the #1 exchange during the 2017 bull run, and so on. But the years since 2017 were not so good — we couldn’t scale, we delisted tons of assets, didn’t list newer popular assets, we kicked out tons of users, and generally fell behind the competition in many areas. We lacked focus and existed as a department within Circle, which had a lot of competing priorities and initiatives.

We were given a choice upon the acquisition if we wanted to join the new company. Not every employee took the offer, but many did, including me. And the acquisition turned out to be a very good thing.

For starters, the investment group that purchased Poloniex had deep pockets, a very good understanding of the cryptocurrency industry, and a very long time horizon. Circle, like all VC-backed companies, needed to show “hockey stick” growth and lacked patience for steady investments and improvements that didn’t necessarily translate into revenue quickly. Consequently, the first move taken at Poloniex was to slash trading fees lower than any other major exchange. This wouldn’t have been possible before. By sacrificing immediate revenue, we started attracting new users and previous users started coming back.

Secondly, Poloniex gave up certain markets, including the United States, entirely. This allowed Poloniex to list many new assets and started getting feature parity with the major offshore exchanges — adding 100x leverage futures, an exchange token to pay fees with, trading contests, and many other features.

During the last year, Justin has been a key advisor to Poloniex’s development and business initiatives. But what is working with Justin Sun actually like?

I’ll say this plain and simple — the accusations made against Justin are laughable. I have never seen him threaten anyone verbally let alone physically. I would not describe Justin’s physique as anywhere near a bodybuilder. He demands results and comes to the table with a lot of ideas, which I have debated to his face, and have never been verbally much less physically abused. Justin is respectful of criticism, he just wants to win and has his own ideas on how to do it, but if you disagree or have better ideas and logic to back it up he is willing to change strategy.

In terms of work-life balance, the “9–9–6” (9am to 9pm, six days a week) accusation always described of Chinese software companies is not present at Poloniex. Anyone working here does normal hours, as they did prior to the acquisition. When we have a launch coming up there can be a crush, or if a key system goes down in the middle of the night, but we are a 24/7/365 exchange which must have maximum uptime.

I would describe Justin as many young tech entrepreneurs I have met and worked for. He is data driven, challenges and wants people to justify their positions and ideas, and like many other entrepreneurs in our industry has a vision for blockchain and ideas on how to get there. The blockchain industry is far more idealistic than others I have worked in — the most passionate users generally agree with the premise that blockchain is a world changing, revolutionary technology. Justin looks at the industry from both an idealistic as well as a very business-focused angle — he wants greater crypto adoption and a better financial system, but also more users, more transactions, and more revenue. His marketing techniques are a means to an end, and (for the most part) any news he gets is good news regardless of the content.

Justin understands business, and as someone who worked at a series of VC companies that failed for a variety of reasons (unfortunately I’m batting 1 out of 5 and have lost significant money exercising stock options), I appreciate working with someone who can actually turn a profit. After working with him it’s clear to me how Justin went from literally nothing to where he is today — I am not joking that Justin regularly works 80 to 100 hour weeks. When an opportunity arises, various people among all his organizations execute very rapidly to seize the moment, which is exactly what you want in a dynamic and growing business empire.

From my narrow window inside Poloniex, I am very satisfied with both the acquisition and my interactions with Justin. He helped convert a dying business (which I passionately believed in) back into relevance. I’m sure this letter will immediately be seized upon as pandering / sycophantic / shill-bo baggins, but as I said before, I absolutely give no fucks and would sooner burn my house down than say something like this publicly if I disagreed with it.

This post is another perspective on a larger-than-life figure in the crypto space, and it’s impossible for me to know everything, but this is how I see it.

James Seibel, October 2020

crypto pro @ poloniex