Watson Cryptocurrency Leaders

Cryptocurrency and many of the industries aligned with it have taken center stage in the business and technology sectors in the last couple of years. There is no doubt that the founders, CEOs, and executives of these and similar companies are, for the most part, brilliant, aggressive, and driven to make their respective companies successful, and in turn, revolutionize the way consumers and businesses purchases goods and services.

To better understand how the top cryptocurrency pioneers think and act, IBM’s Watson Personality Insights API was used to profile the most significant attributes and characteristics of each. Watson analyzes the psychology of language and combines it with data analytics algorithms to compile a personality profile based on the input of writing samples provided.

We targeted 17 cryptocurrency CEOs and founders who are making and leaving their mark in this exciting sector and whose companies or currencies are in the top 20 in terms of trade volume or market capitalization. A minimum of 3,000 words was required to analyze the data taken from interview transcripts and letters.

Do the traits of the world’s top cryptocurrency executives differ from other technology leaders such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, or Apple’s Tim Cook? Why do they think, act, and feel the way they do, and can such data allow others to predict the failure or success of their companies?

The process and data offer a fascinating glimpse into the minds and talents of these 17 individuals. We’ll start with an overview of the five most substantial personality traits.

Five Traits That Define Crypto Executives

Imagine you are in a Harvard MBA class, and you’re asked to outline the five most essential personality traits of successful technology leaders. What qualities would you list?

After feeding Watson the appropriate data to digest, the cryptocurrency leaders were similar to their technology counterparts in openness and emotional range. The one area where the difference was most significant was conscientiousness, or the tendencies to act in an organized or thoughtful way.

Crypto leaders were rated at 60.1 percent in conscientiousness, while tech leaders came in at 74.7 percent. The data suggest crypto leaders may be less organized than their tech counterparts, yet with multiple changes occurring at lightning speed, cryptocurrency executives must act quickly and decisively or risk losing millions of dollars.

Alan Booth, the CEO of Cryptopia, holds the top spot in this category, and one reason may be that he doesn’t fit the profile of a crypto executive. Booth took the reins of Cryptopia after working as a consultant for the company. His skill set may be closer to that of Chuck Robbins, Cisco’s CEO, than his fellow contemporaries.

The area where crypto and tech leaders showed the most commonality was emotional range, which measures how sensitive they could be to their environment.

Daniel Larimer, a crypto entrepreneur and the chief technology officer for EOS, holds the No. 1 position in this category. His most recent work focuses on ways to lower the capital cost of using the EOS network, which is one of the most successful ICOs in cryptocurrency history, raising over $4 billion since it was introduced in 2017.

Average Traits of Crypto and Tech Execs

The personality trait graphs created by IBM’s Watson give the impression that someone can look directly into the collective mind of these leaders. Each trait or characteristic is shown with lines darting to the particular areas where they excel.

A quick glance might suggest crypto and tech leaders are alike, but the subtle differences tell another story.

It should come as no surprise that the top trait for both groups is intellect. Being smart isn’t enough when it comes to leading an industry where being highly intelligent sometimes still doesn’t cut it. Suffice to say, leaders in both groups are genuinely brilliant.

They also share common traits when it comes to adventurousness and assertiveness – two characteristics that should be useful given that cryptocurrency can still be considered a young industry where making risky decisions is probably necessary for long-term success.

Where the two groups part ways is liberalism and cautiousness.

For Watson’s purposes, liberalism is not defined in the political sense but rather the willingness to challenge authority or go one’s own way. There is little doubt that cryptocurrency entrepreneurs and executives have no qualms about trudging through undiscovered barren lands, and challenging the authority of others comes with such territory. Behind intellect, liberalism is the second characteristic of crypto leaders and ranks fifth for tech execs.

Cautiousness, the third personality trait for cryptocurrency leaders, doesn’t even make the top five list of tech leaders. Does it come as a surprise to see this term used to describe an executive on the cutting edge of an innovative technology?

Dipping your toe into a pool of water where no man has yet to wander is enough to give the bravest of souls a reason to consider their actions. In Watson’s case, a high cautiousness score indicates a leader is deliberate in their actions.

If you are curious how someone such as Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, fares in such profiles, his top five traits are intellect, emotionality, immoderation, melancholy, and gregariousness.

Differences, Near and Far, of Industry Leaders

Although the top five personality traits of both groups capture their qualities from afar, Watson’s extensive measurements also allow us to dissect some specific characteristics.

Keep in mind that the differences in these traits don’t necessarily indicate one is better or worse than another, but highlight the differences between the two groups. For instance, crypto leaders, on average, demonstrate vulnerability at a 107.2 percentage difference compared to their tech counterparts.

If we flip the graph, cryptocurrency executives are, on average, 79.5 percent less friendly than technology leaders. That’s good to know if you’re considering walking up to someone like Charlie Lee, Litecoin’s founder, at next month’s cryptocurrency conference to pick his brain on the next substantial digital currency move.

IBM Watson’s overall tabulations also indicate crypto leaders are 98.4 percent more likely to demonstrate anger and 46.4 percent more likely to harbor depression.

Besides being more friendly, technology leaders are much more gregarious and cheerful than crypto generals. After all, most of their companies are more mature and have likely solidified their financial success. Crypto leaders watch currency exchanges by the hour, as their fortunes rise and fall as quickly as weather patterns.

Crypto’s Renaissance Era

If the term “splitting hairs” means anything to you, then you’ll understand that there isn’t much of a difference in the intellect (meaning intrigued by new ideas) of the top 17 crypto leaders. Only four-tenths of a percent separates the group, and of the top 16, the gap narrows to a tiny .006 percent.

Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum’s co-founder; Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase; and Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse all had a 1.0, or perfect score, in intellect.

As you might expect, Armstrong and Garlinghouse bring strong university credentials to their cryptocurrency leadership positions. Armstrong completed his bachelor’s degree in computer science and economics before achieving a master’s in computer science from Rice University in Houston, Texas. He started his professional career at IBM and Deloitte & Touche before starting his own college tutoring company and transitioning to Coinbase via Airbnb.com.

Topeka, Kansas, native Garlinghouse attended Kansas State University and Harvard Business School and made a name for himself at Yahoo, authoring the infamous Peanut Butter Manifesto, which suggested significant changes in the company’s top management.

Buterin, the youngest of the trio, can be considered the boy wonder of the crypto world. The 24-year-old moved from Russia to Canada with his family when he was 6 years old. He was so smart that he was placed in a gifted program in the third grade. After learning about bitcoin from his father, Buterin began coding in 2013, eventually producing a white paper outlining his design of Ethereum.

Although their educational backgrounds are interesting, it’s not their academic accomplishments that set them apart, but rather the ability to construct new ideas. Even more difficult is bringing them to fruition.

Buterin’s story on how he first became intrigued by cryptocurrency may even rival Steve Job’s amazing beginning. Even though his first introduction came from his father, Buterin showed little interest in digital currencies. Like some today, he felt such currencies held no intrinsic value. Yet the world of cryptocurrency kept reappearing and ultimately peaked his interest.

Wanting to mine bitcoin, Buterin’s two challenges were a lack of computing power and resources to purchase coins. He soon landed a job writing blog posts, earning around five bitcoins per article. His writing soon elevated him to lead writer for Bitcoin Magazine while he also took university courses. However, it wasn’t long before Buterin dropped out of the university and decided to travel the world learning about currencies and the technology that drives them.

Armed with new knowledge, Buterin wrote the paper that gave birth to Ethereum. Months later, the coin was introduced and eventually raised $18 million. But success wasn’t inevitable because the price soon dropped. Working through many issues, including security and potential hacking threats, Ethereum was officially released in the summer of 2016 and now is second only to bitcoin in market capitalization. In Buterin’s case, his propensity for following through on new ideas is paying incredible dividends.

In 17th place is Nejc Kodrič, the CEO of Bitstamp and one of the 100 wealthiest Slovenians. Finishing last sometimes comes with a silver lining.

Challenging the Status Quo

When you are an entrepreneur or executive working to advance your crypto company, going against the grain, such as is defined by liberalism, is, more often than not, a necessary trait.

Winners win because they consistently remain at the top of their game. The star-studded trio of Buterin, Armstrong, and Garlinghouse each scored 0.999, and several others received high marks too.

Justin Sun, founder of TRON, received a score of 0.997 and was closely followed by Cardano founder Charles Hoskinson and Ryan Taylor, the CEO of Dash, with a rating of 0.995.

Sun attended The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Peking University before receiving a master’s in political economy at Penn. The rising star was also a protege of the co-founder of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma.

Hoskinson is the founder of Cardano, a new digital currency that came out blazing with a market capitalization of over $600 million, which has grown to around $10 billion today. Hoskinson has already let the industry know he’s gunning to beat both bitcoin and Ethereum.

Taylor, who previously held a top position in a multibillion-dollar New York hedge fund, switched gears to take the reins at Dash, an open source digital currency like bitcoin. What’s more, he did it for no compensation. Since his time there, the currency has achieved incredible results.

Cautiousness in Crypto

If cautiousness is an attribute, then Jesse Powell, Kraken’s CEO, and Changpeng Zhao of Binance received top scores, right behind Sun, who led the pack.

Powell’s philosophy degree could be a reason he scored a .940 as a “cautious” crypto leader. Yet Powell could be throwing caution to the wind when he denied a New York attorney general request for information on the legitimacy of Kraken’s exchange.

Zhao, who, in 2017, had only an idea in his bank account, took Binance from virtually zero to a net worth of somewhere between $1.1 billion and $2 billion in about seven months. Zhao credits his success to the speed and security of his exchanges.

Another top score was attributed to Alan Booth of Cryptopia, who registered a 0.927. Coming in last, or in the least cautious spot, was Charles Hoskinson.

Everyone Loves an Adventure

Throwing caution to the wind usually leads to an adventure, and that’s where our next group takes us.

Taylor, Booth, and Garlinghouse captured the top three spots, but the middle of the pack was relatively close.

The co-founder of IOTA, Dominik Schiener, was fourth with a score of 0.961, only 0.014 away from the top. Schiener, an entrepreneur still in his early twenties, is also chairman of the IOTA Foundation – established to develop the company’s network.

NEO founder Da Hongfei runs a blockchain platform for distributed apps and is also the founder of a company specializing in blockchain development for institutions. He is based in China.

The title for the least adventurous crypto leader belongs to Nejc Kodrič, at 0.091, almost nine-tenths of a percent below Taylor.

Assertive Crypto Heads

Assertive could mean aggressiveness in the coin-eat-coin world of cryptocurrency.

Alan Booth, Ryan Taylor, and Daniel Larimer received Watson’s gold, silver, and bronze for assertiveness. An executive not mentioned thus far was Lon Wong, the president of NEM.

Wong has led NEM, a blockchain technology company, for the past four years, was educated in Australia, and received his degree in electrical engineering in 1985. In 2009, he used his business acumen to fund a project specializing in applied behavior analysis for children with autism.

Landing in the middle of the assertive group is Jed McCaleb, co-founder of Ripple, and Zooko Wilcox of Zcash.

McCaleb left Ripple in 2013, moving on as the co-founder of Stellar, an open source protocol designed to make cross-border transactions easier. The currency gained substantial ground since announcing their partnership with IBM last year.

Wilcox, now in his mid-40s, devoted his talents to DigiCash, Mojo Nation, and several other currencies and platforms. Interestingly, he also writes and tweets about health and nutrition.

Are the traits highlighted by Watson and possessed by these talented computer scientists and entrepreneurs enough to succeed in today’s cryptocurrency market? For the short term: Yes, because that’s precisely what they have accomplished. Only time will tell if their skills and talents are enough to take digital currencies and the technologies surrounding them to the next level.


For this project, we used the IBM’s Watson™ Personality Insights API service to examine a minimum of 3,000 words from 27 cryptocurrency and tech founders and CEOs. To collect the words necessary, we gathered letters and interview transcripts for each individual.

Cryptocurrency leaders were selected by their cryptocurrency or exchange being in the top 20 of market capitalization or trade volume, according to coinmarketcap.com. Individuals were excluded if we were unable to get at least 3,000 words for them.


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