Of all the movers and shakers in crypto, Tron founder Justin Sun seems to care the least for what others have to say. Spoiler: they’ve got a lot to say. To date he’s laughed off accusations of clever, hollow marketing and focused his efforts on building a powerful network, launching ambitious takeovers and generally rustling jimmies. All worthy endeavors, to be sure.
From Academia to dApps
Like Gates with Microsoft and Bezos with Amazon, Sun’s name is so synonymous with Tron that it takes some mental gymnastics to dissociate the two and consider his pre-crypto days. While the blockchain world attracts a disproportionate share of oddball autodidacts, Sun isn’t one of them. On the contrary, he went the traditional academic route by attaining a bachelor’s degree in history from Peking University, before securing a master’s in political economy at the University of Pennsylvania. He also completed a three-year program at Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma’s business school, becoming the youngest person to pass out after submitting a thesis about The Birth of a Decentralized Internet.
Entering the workforce by gratefully fastening to a low rung wasn’t this particular graduate’s mission. Instead, Sun launched a hook-up app – Peiwo – in 2014. Its idea to match millennials based on live-streamed voice memos, rather than flattering selfies, was novel and the app eventually onboarded over 10 million users. Sun juggled Peiwo duties with his day job as Chief Representative and Advisor for bitcoin settlement platform Ripple, where ideas for Tron surely began to ferment.
In the years since its launch, Tron has overcome the initial backlash to cement its status as one of the world’s most talked-about, community-centric crypto projects, with Sun the ringmaster at the center of it all. Much of the press admittedly stemmed from Sun’s decision to pay $4.5 million at auction to dine with investment guru Warren Buffett – then leave the magnate in the lurch by postponing. Controversy also bubbled over Sun’s handling of a much-hyped Tesla giveaway on Twitter, with the entrepreneur eventually giving away two vehicles instead of one to make good.
From Here to Eternity
Tron’s roadmap reads like a nerd’s fantastical diary: Great Voyage; Apollo; Star Trek; Eternity. Recently, Tron launched a new stablecoin (USDJ) which uses a collateral system akin to MakerDAO; the JUST DeFi platform aims to grow TRX by helping investors passively earn USDJ by staking on TRX. USDJ’s first listing was on Poloniex exchange, which was acquired by a team of investors including Sun in 2019. Tron have also introduced a sidechain intended to allow dApps to consume less energy while assuring greater security. Its very name – the Sun Network – seems designed to inspire rage.
As for decentralized applications (dApps), Tron registered transaction volume of $4.4 billion in 2019, with gambling constituting over 90% of that figure based on 700+ apps. The CEO will hope to diversify going forward, particularly since Samsung is featuring Tron dApps on its smartphones via the Samsung store.
Haters Gonna Hate
The polarizing Justin Sun might have proven himself impervious to criticism, but that’s done nothing to slow the flak. It all started with claims that Tron’s English whitepaper contained elements lifted directly from FileCoin and IPFS. When Sun doubled down by blaming the Chinese-to-English translators, he was essentially flipping critics the bird, preserving his status as an IDGAF upstart while keeping on trucking.
A few months after that particular debacle, in the summer of 2018, Sun put the shitstorm behind him by purchasing BitTorrent for $120 million, a nice tie-in given Tron’s ambition to be a decentralized “content entertainment ecosystem.” If Sun can get BitTorrent’s 100 million users to embrace crypto via the BitTorrent Token (BTT), he’ll have done more for mainstream adoption than just about anyone.
Every year seems to bring a new controversy. In 2020, Sun acquired the Steemit social network that runs on the Steem blockchain, a takeover that so incensed the community that they implemented a hard fork to Hive. Steem’s subsequent hard fork 0.23 then targeted accounts that took part in the ship-jump, with $5m worth of coins belonging to the mutineers seized and drained. Sun was unrepentant, calling the hard forkers “malicious actors” and claiming that “we just recovered the funds… we didn’t do anything other than that.” Whatever the case, plans are afoot for Tron 4.0, with the platform’s Head of Technology Marcus Zhao touting “many exciting features” including privacy features supported by TVM, 2-level consensus mechanisms and an Enterprise Edition.
Some people view Sun as a wunderkind, crypto’s enfant terrible; others dismiss him as a self-hype machine, a perennial pain in the ass. Whatever your viewpoint, you can’t refute his success. At the time of writing, Tron is the 16th largest cryptocurrency by market cap and one of the most liquid by volume on global exchanges. You may cynically contend that’s due to well-executed viral stunts, but Sun’s follower count on Twitter is more than double that of Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin, making him arguably the most influential figure in the cryptosphere. There aren’t many things we can depend on in this life, but death, taxes and Justin Sun provoking a reaction are immutable.