“I want to make sure Web3 builders get the recognition they truly deserve” – On The Record with Matt Leising, Decential

Matt Leising is the CEO of DeCential Media He worked for Bloomberg News for 17 years and became one of the earliest mainstream journalists to write about cryptocurrency and blockchain technology in 2015. His specialisation revolves around Ethereum and the intersection of Wall Street and Decentralised Finance. Additionally, Matt is also the author of the 2022 book titled “Out of Ether: The Amazing Story of Ethereum and the $55 Million Heist that Almost Destroyed it All.

1. As one of the first mainstream journalists to cover blockchain as early as 2015, what was your first news story about blockchain/crypto? How did your editor and readers perceive it?

I remembered two early cryptocurrency stories with opposite outcomes. One was about CME Group, a major Chicago exchange, buying a pricing index for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It was a significant move for them entering the world of cryptocurrencies. My editor was interested in the story of big Wall Street players taking note of crypto, so it made it to Bloomberg.

Another early story I worked on was the debate about Bitcoin or blockchain as the game-changer. Bitcoin Marxists believed in Bitcoin’s future dominance, while others saw blockchain’s greater potential. This was back in 2015 when Wall Street was already experimenting with blockchain and Ethereum was launching. I did interviews and thought it was a solid piece. My editor rejected it and said it wasn’t worth publishing. It was quite rare for me to have a story rejected at Bloomberg, but that was one of those instances. In hindsight, he was right. The blockchain vs. Bitcoin story was niche. It mattered to crypto enthusiasts but not to the broader Bloomberg audience in 2015.

In contrast, the CME story had wider appeal. The world’s largest futures exchange acquiring a cryptocurrency pricing data provider signalled something significant. This was clear to the Bloomberg audience, even if they weren’t crypto experts. It sent a message: “CME Group takes this seriously, and you should too.”

2. How do you perceive the changes in the perception and coverage of the crypto/blockchain industry by Bloomberg or other mainstream media throughout the years?

The media’s coverage of crypto tends to follow the bull and bear market cycles. The industry first gained mainstream attention during the 2017 bull market when Bitcoin exceeded $20,000, and Ethereum surged past $1,400. During bear markets, like the one following the ICO crash in 2018, mainstream press coverage dwindled. However, I remained on the beat, covering infrastructure projects and Wall Street’s involvement in Ethereum. The crypto winter persisted until the DeFi summer in 2020, when lending protocols and interest-earning opportunities sparked the next bull market. NFTs also gained traction. When the spotlight returned to crypto, the mainstream press provided extensive coverage. Bloomberg’s coverage was diverse, which made it interesting and positive. On the other hand, some other mainstream press organizations, such as The New York Times and The Financial Times, tended to be negative about crypto, often portraying it as somewhat scammy. I believe that perception has shifted somewhat in recent years, but in the early days, they were definitely sceptical and took a long time to embrace crypto or realize that it wasn’t going away and wasn’t just a big Ponzi scheme.

In short, media coverage of crypto ebbs and flows with the prices and the attention the market receives.

Another thing to note is that as blockchain applications evolve, they can pull the market out of bear phases. For example, the ICO craze in 2017 disrupted traditional capital formation, while DeFi and NFTs later emerged as innovative uses of blockchain technology, which also revitalized the market. As we face another bear market, it remains to be seen which new applications will reignite interest and excitement in the space.

3. You initially wrote about the infamous Ethereum DAO hack for Bloomberg in 2017, which later became the influential book Out of Ether. What motivates you to write a book specifically about the event?

I found the story fascinating, particularly due to the diverse cast of characters involved from around the world. They came together to rescue the DAO, which was a critical moment for Ethereum since it was still relatively new. And this hack had significantly damaged its reputation. Many of these individuals had devoted their lives to Ethereum, investing everything they had in it.

What I admired most was how the community rallied to safeguard the remaining DAO funds from theft. The fact that the DAO hacker remained anonymous added an extra layer of mystery and intrigue. There were also technical twists and turns, like the hacker being unable to access the stolen funds for about 32 days due to contract restrictions and rules. It was akin to a bank robber who had stolen from a bank but was stuck waiting in their getaway car for a month.

During my reporting for the magazine story, I had the privilege of meeting some incredible and generous people who shared their stories and insights. The entire journey was probably the most enjoyable experience I’ve had in my career.

After writing the magazine story, I realized it could serve as a solid foundation for a book. This book allowed me to delve into the details of the DAO hack story and explore other aspects of Ethereum, such as its origins and the key figures, including Vitalik Buterin and co-founders like Joe Lubin, Anthony Di Iorio, and Gavin Wood. It provided a framework to craft a comprehensive narrative. It was truly a fun, educational, and inspiring journey that I embarked on.

4. While writing your book, you had the opportunity to interview many influential figures in the Ethereum community. Who was your most memorable interviewee, and why?

There are two interviewers that really stand out to me. The first one is Vitalik Buterin. We met in various places like Toronto, Los Angeles, and New York. He was incredibly generous with his time, spending hours talking with me. We’d dive into discussions, and these conversations span several days. I must have recorded about 15 to 20 hours of our dialogues, which significantly shaped the book. Plus, he shared emails from his early days developing Ethereum, providing me with insights into his mindset at that time. These emails revealed his anxieties, excitement, and vulnerability, which added depth to my portrayal of Vitalik Buterin.

The other memorable moment occurred near the end of the book when I met someone in Tokyo who I suspected might be one of the hackers. He knew I was writing about Ethereum but had no idea about my suspicions. We met at the Bloomberg offices in Tokyo, and it was an odd interview. He didn’t say much, but what he did say was quite strange. I felt a bit nervous because I was indirectly accusing him of stealing $16 million worth of Ether. It was a unique and unforgettable experience, unlike any interview I’d had before, filled with uncertainty about how he would react.

5. You founded DeCential in 2021. What led you to believe that there was a need for it? How does DeCential differentiate itself from other crypto outlets?

We started this project because we felt that the people driving web3 projects weren’t getting the attention they truly deserved. We wanted to shift the focus away from just technology and market fluctuations, a path often taken by our competitors. While our competitors also cover individuals, our intent was to place greater emphasis on them.

On the editorial front, we write stories for our website and produce podcasts. In the realm of filmmaking, my partner Neil Berkeley, who is an incredible filmmaker, creates short documentaries about people in the space.

We see ourselves as more than just a content hub; we’re a cultural platform that understands the significance of crypto culture in this ongoing revolution. Our content spans various areas. We explore how Hollywood and TV studios are navigating the world of web3.

Additionally, we delve into the exciting intersection of music and web3, looking at how musicians and record labels are adapting to the direct artist-to-fan connections that web3 enables, cutting out the middlemen.

6. Throughout your time at Bloomberg and now with DeCential, what has been your favourite pitch and the worst pitch that you’ve encountered from public relations professionals or companies in the crypto space?

The worst pitches are the ones that aren’t tailored to me. I get these random pitches from PR professionals about fashion brands or LA restaurant openings, and it’s clear they have no understanding of what I do. I’m certain they just hit “send” on a massive email list.

When it comes to the best pitches, I particularly appreciate the stories about founders in the Web3 space, especially those who have transitioned from traditional finance like Wall Street into DeFi or NFTs. They bring valuable knowledge to the table. So, if you’re reaching out to me with an ex-Goldman Sachs exec or someone who has a background in traditional finance and is now deeply involved in decentralized finance, you’re on the right track.

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