“It’s about uniting the world, with crypto technology being a means to an end.” – On the Record with Zhiyuan Sun, Cointelegraph

With a background in financial journalism, Zhiyuan got into crypto writing after seeing its potential to transform society beyond systems of finance. After several years of experience writing for major financial media outlets such as The Motley Fool, Nasdaq.com and Seeking Alpha, he transferred his knowledge of finance to crypto at Cointelegraph and has quickly emerged as a candid and thoughtful voice in the space. 

A self-proclaimed travelling crypto enthusiast, Zhiyuan spoke with us from Central Europe where he is based for the year on his thoughts on decentralization, his take on the bear market and the extent to which it is similar to traditional financial markets, and his ultimate hope for the potential of crypto. 

RubyCan you tell us about your journalism journey and how you ended up writing about crypto?

I’ve been in the space for close to five years. I started out as a financial journalist for firms like Seeking Alpha and The Motley Fool. And then I gradually transitioned into crypto after realizing the potential of the industry. Yeah, so I’ve been with CoinTelegraph for about a year and aside from covering news, I also write for their magazine and outside of CoinTelegraph, I also do advisory work for a few crypto firms like Radio Caca NFT. And right now, I’m with a firm called Super Power Squad and they’re making a Blockchain game that’s based on the BnB chain and they’re about to roll that out very soon and yeah, so it’s a mix of journalism and advisory work. 

Ruby: What kind of work were you doing as a financial journalist, What’s your origin story? 

When I was in college, I studied something much different as I was studying engineering. However, in my school there was a Bloomberg terminal where you could access financial news and I kind of got addicted looking at that and decided to transition into finance. In the past few years I’ve published about 600-700 articles, mostly for the Motley Fool. 

Ruby: How has your background as a financial journalist helped you transition to the crypto space?

It definitely helped. It’s a very novel industry, but the way finance and tokenomics works is not that different from traditional finance, it’s just a different form. So it definitely helped eased the transition.

Ruby: What is the potential of crypto in your words/what attracted you to crypto and how far do you think we are to reaching the promise of crypto? 

I think we’re still in the early stages. What attracted me to crypto is really the potential to be international, not just for payment systems, but for a system of governance as well. 

This is the first time in human history where you have people working together all over the world on projects related to crypto. You can have a project developer based in Sri Lanka, and another one based in Australia, working together towards the same goal. We have seen this a little bit with Web2.0 but not quite the same scale as many crypto projects today. 

Number two is that we’re starting to see an entire system of DeFi and e-commerce payment solutions being set up with many crypto projects and I think that it’s really quite interesting because slowly but surely, we’re seeing that the world is becoming more integrated with blockchain technology, so that’s something that’s very exciting to me. 

Ruby: What does a day in the life of Zhiyuan look like?

Is there a typical day? I curate news from my inbox. From my contacts, whether it’s PR firms, or projects. And I select the best 3 and I curate them into news. 

I also spend time networking with industry stakeholders and getting their commentary and their opinions, their vision on how they view the crypto space in the next few years. 

I network with people who are in blockchain security to see what they’re doing to weed out bad actors and better protect the community. 

Ruby: What do you think are the obstacles for DeFi and Crypto to have higher adoption in the mainstream? 

I think the obstacles are to ironically establish trust in the industry, because right now there’s been a lot of scams, hacks, and questionable players. Unfortunately, the cost of launching a hack or a phishing attack is very lucrative from a risk standpoint. For example, if a hacker does launch an attack on a protocol, then it’s very hard to track the assailant down, with everyone being anonymous, lack of KYC, and lack of regulation. 

It doesn’t cost much to launch an attack and the rewards for launching an attack can be quite high, so there’s a lot of people doing it and that’s a major obstacle to establishing trust. We do have people and organizations working towards deterring these attacks, but right now there’s not a lot of accountability. If attacks like the Ronin hack keep happening, it will slowly and surely erode trust in the crypto space as a whole and that’s a critical problem to address. 

Ruby: What kind of stories do you like covering and what do you like reading?

I enjoy stories about blockchain forensics, like DeFi Detectives and Bounty Hunters. I think it’s very important that we try to remove the circulation of bad players from the system, so everyday users can trust the protocols they use. It’s important that blockchain forensic firms and players get the proper coverage they need to boost their reputation as a decentralised police in the system and to cover their work on removing these players. 

Ruby: What are some of the challenges you experienced as a journalist and have you found it different to traditional news?

There’s a lot of fake news actually compared to centralised finance – i can’t really take what people say for granted, there’s a few companies I work with like yours (YAP Global) for example where i can take things at face value, but 99% of the time i can’t as a lot of entities pitching stories have an agenda behind it or trying to get marketing exposure which doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for news coverage, so i have to be a lot more vigilant in assessing the pitches that come through. 

Ruby: What’s a piece of pitching advice you want everyone to know?

One is brevity and two is quality over quantity – the pitch doesn’t have to be very long or sugar coated. If it’s a big development like a raise, one or two sentences will be sufficient followed by a press release in PDF. It’s keeping things simple and only pitching when there are big developments. 

Ruby: What’s your take on the crypto winter we’re currently experiencing?

These cycles are usually prevalent for about two years or so, maybe one year if you’re lucky. And every time a bear market cycle starts in crypto, it always has something to do with the erosion of trust. So if you look at the early 2010 in the past decade, the first Bitcoin Bear market, the Mt.Gox hack, where thousands of bitcoins were stolen. That quickly eroded the trust in crypto exchanges. Before, around 2013 or 2014, a lot of centralized firms like JP Morgan were planning to hire staff for the crypto department. But with the Mt.Gox hack, a lot of it came to a halt. And it wasn’t until recently, in 2020 for example, we’re starting to see DeFi projects spurring up. So that recovery of trust took over 5 years. 

With the recent hedge fund liquidations, hedge fund insolvencies, a lot of it is unfortunate, but there’s a lot of trust being eroded. I think it might take up to over three years to recover. Maybe in three years, we can see governments around the world coming to agreement about how to regulate crypto. I think once that agreement is reached, we can see the industry recover to its heights last November. 

Ruby: Do you think this downturn will deter newbies from entering the space? 

Yeah, most definitely. If I was a newbie right now, trying to get into the space and I look at the news, “Celsius becoming insolvent, Three Arrow Capital rumours of insolvency”. So I think the recent developments in the sector would definitely deter a lot of newcomers. 

We could have witnessed mass adoption in 2020 or 2023 without the hacks, but with the scammers and questionable players, adoption may be deferred to 2026 or 2027. 

Ruby: What effect do you think this downturn will have on regulation?

I think that governments have always understood the crypto industry from the very beginning, probably more so than a lot of people trying to get into crypto right now. So regulation is basically inevitable. It’s just a matter of how much users are willing to give up for the benefits of regulation, in order to outweigh the risks. Because as I’ve said earlier, there has been a surge of bad players in the sector launching attacks because of the low-risk high-reward nature of crypto attacks due to the lack of regulation.

I think we’re going to have to see concessions being made from the crypto community, for better regulation in order to restore trust. And this is inevitable. It’s like in 1919 where before The Great Depression, during the roaring twenties, a lot of investment banks were investing in consumer deposits. So, investment banks and retail banks were investing together into consumers deposits that were 10 to 20 times leveraged. All it took was a 5% drop in the stock for consumer deposits to be liquidated.

After that, in the 1930s the regulation of the securities industry took place. Even with market crashes happening, we know we’re not going to lose our deposits. So I think something similiar is going to happen with crypto. Maybe it will be a more extensive KYC (know your customer), maybe it’s like tracking transactions that are off-chain. 

But unfortunately, what I witnessed is that with 100% decentralization, it’s just not sustainable. So maybe in the future we’ll see something like 10% centralization, 10% regulation, and 90% decentralization. So it’s just about determining what that ratio is to optimize everyone’s interest. 

Ruby: Is the bear market exposing projects that don’t have strong fundamentals?

Absolutely. Right until regulation comes, I think it’s important that projects plan according to market cycles, which can be very turbulent. This means having a cash runway on hand for the next 12 months or so. 

It’s probably something you don’t see in centralized finance. For instance, in stocks, you don’t really see mid stage companies having 36 to 48 months of cash on hand just sitting in the bank, not investing in anything, not putting in operations, just sitting in the bank. But I think that’s really important for crypto protocols and projects to survive. 

Ruby: How do you keep up to date with all the movements and developments in the crypto space? 

I would say the most important thing to do is filter. Maybe 98% to 99.5% of all information i get in crypto everyday is just noise. For example, for every 10 articles i read, only one or two has information that is valuable to me. 

Ruby: What do you think of the state of crypto Twitter?

Twitter is such a resource in journalism and in crypto and it’s such a fascinating innovation. It’s become something like a decentralized SEC (Securities Exchange Commision). For CeFi (Centralised Finance) companies, if you want to look at a company’s financials, you have to go to the SEC or a local regulatory authority to view the stuff like financial statements, materials news. But with Twitter, a lot of crypto projects are posting their data like transaction data and daily active users via Twitter. So it’s a great way to get updates in a timely manner. So I think there’s a potential for Twitter to evolve into something greater. An even greater role than right now for the industry when it comes to getting the correct source of news and information. 

Ruby: What is exciting you most about the crypto space at the moment?

How cryptocurrency and blockchain technology will help internationalize the world. Not just connecting crypto enthusiasts worldwide, but also connecting participants by introducing them to the financial system via borderless tokens, borderless payment solutions. 

I’m also very excited about workspace integration. Having participants all over the world contribute to the same crypto project. 

Essentially, it’s about uniting the world, with crypto technology being a means to an end. 

You can read Ziyuan’s coverage on Cointelegraph here

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