It’s hard to imagine the guests contrasting as starkly as this couple: 88-year-old American billionaire Warren Buffett, dubbed “the Oracle of Omaha,” and 29-year-old Chinese cryptocurrency entrepreneur Justin Sun, once described by Chinese state media as “the face of the millennial entrepreneurs of China” (in Chinese).
The two will sit down on July 25th in historic Jackson Square in San Francisco with seven Sun-selected guests. You will dine at a location chosen by the crypto entrepreneur because it “represents the traditional and the upstart – much like the lunch participants themselves”. Sun paid $ 4.5 million to win Buffett’s annual charity dinner. He hopes the food will “bridge the gap between the blockchain industry and traditional investors” and change the perspective of an investment guru who calls cryptocurrency the “rat poison squared”. ((To update: Tron announced on July 22 that lunch was postponed because Sun was sick.)
Sun Yuchen, as he is known in China, is the fourth Chinese businessman to receive the right to eat steak and hash browns with a buffet. Unlike its predecessors (in Chinese), Sun, who was born in 1990 into a life that coincided with China’s three decades of economic boom, represents the “virtual economy.” In contrast, the American investment guru built most of his net worth of $ 84 billion by investing in companies with tangible products. Significantly, he only invested in technology companies when he acquired a stake in IBM in 2011.
Their attitude towards spending their wealth also distinguishes the two men. Known for being thrifty, Buffett still lives in the Nebraska house he bought for $ 31,500 in 1958. Sun “meanwhile likes to show off the flashy logos of luxury items he’s bought and cares a lot about his looks, forcing himself to only eat salads to stay fit,” according to a 2015 GQ China profile (in Chinese). Sun said his goal is to “show people my achievements and convince them to talk to me.”
The crucial timing of the sun
Can Buffett, who famously said he “never invests in a company he can’t understand,” study Sun’s Tron Network? The blockchain platform aims to enable entertainment content creators to share their work directly with users. According to a Coindesk report, more than 64% of the decentralized apps (dapps) on the Tron network are related to gambling, according to the analysis company Dapp Review. Users can bet with the Tron token – Tronix or TRX – and receive tokens as a prize. In an interview (link in Chinese) earlier this year, Sun said the proliferation of gaming dapps “is what we expected as the dapps are focused on entertaining people.”
Tron’s first Coin Offering (ICO) for TRX was completed in September 2017 when Beijing banned all ICOs and local cryptocurrency exchanges to rule the financial system more strictly. The ban prompted cryptocurrency founders to relocate their operations to Japan and Hong Kong and, in the case of Sun, to San Francisco last year. In 2018, Sun bought the US peer-to-peer file sharing company BitTorrent, which it plans to integrate into the Tron platform.
Two years after its ICO, Tronix is the 11th largest digital coin in the world by market capitalization ($ 1.5 billion) – but that surge might not convince Buffett of its worth.
“Buffett’s investment philosophy is to buy things at a price that is cheaper than their real value so that they have room for appreciation. The opposite is the case with “air coins,” said Shen Meng, founder of Taiwan-based blockchain company Mahamudra Technologies, using a term used by Chinese investors who are skeptical of the cryptocurrency hype.
Despite its relative success, Tron faced challenges, including recent allegations by investors that it did not crack down on a fraud project that went by a name similar to Tron’s Chinese name Bo Chang or Wave Field. The project abruptly disappeared last month, leaving investors out of around $ 30 million. In a statement (in Chinese) on China’s Twitter equivalent, Weibo, Sun said Tron reported the case to police and has no connection with the project.
Sun did not answer questions about this story. A Tron spokesperson referred Quartz to Sun’s Weibo testimony when asked about the Wave scheme and did not respond further.
From the university fly to the blockchain figurehead
Like many of his well-educated colleagues, Sun, who studied history at the prestigious Peking University, was drawn to liberal political ideas. This tendency intensified after a semester abroad in Hong Kong. He organized discussion groups and wrote articles criticizing government and school policies according to the GQ profile. After the school announced a plan to tailor academic advice to students according to different categories, such as: For example, on low-income or “extreme thoughts,” he wrote in a popular online post, the effort was “a cruel thing trying to institutionalize the tight control of all PKU students. Do I live in Nazi Germany or at a prestigious university? “Such posts helped him become famous online and landed him on the cover of Hong Kong-based Yazhou Zhoukan magazine as a young“ opinion leader ”(link in Chinese).
“Some may argue that Sun became an opinion leader just to get famous, but I think it was more of a natural result of the social atmosphere in China at the time. The people worshiped at the time were not rich people or entrepreneurs, but liberal academics or critics. Now, of course, that has changed, ”journalist Zhang Jieping, who interviewed Sun for the cover story of Yazhou Zhoukan, told Quartz.
During his master’s degree in political economy at the University of Pennsylvania in the USA, Sun discovered his passion for the crypto world. He became a paper millionaire by investing in Bitcoin early on. After returning to Beijing in 2013, he moved to Ripple Labs, the US company that developed the Ripple payment protocol. That same year he also founded Peiwo, a voice-based social dating app.
He soon gained endorsement from China’s establishment. In a 2015 interview with state-run online broadcaster CNTV, Sun said China has “the best environment for entrepreneurs in the world” (in Chinese), while the website also praised it as “a pioneer of Chinese young entrepreneurs.”
Skeptics include Vitalik Buterin
Last year, Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of the Ethereum platform, and others accused Sun of plagiarism, as there are similarities between the white paper explaining Tron’s purpose and those of other projects.
Sun denied that the paper was plagiarized.
Meanwhile, former BitTorrent executives have expressed considerable skepticism about Tron and its plans. “It’s basically a marketing machine based on a very thin veneer of technology,” Simon Morris, former chief strategy officer of BitTorrent, told the blockchain publication BreakerMag.
Last month, an editorial in the influential Beijing News said (in Chinese) that Sun’s wealth comes from fueling speculation among retail investors who fail to understand digital assets. Sun is famous for its frequent exaggerated announcements and other publicity stunts. “The Chinese public has long had a deep dislike for the conduct of defrauding private investors’ money,” it said. “There is nothing wrong with getting rich, but you have to stick to the moral principle.”
But Sun wiped its critics away. In June, when Tron’s market cap temporarily exceeded that of the US-listed Sogou, Sun pointed out that its business was more successful (in Chinese) than that of Wang Xiaochuan, CEO of China’s second largest search engine, Sogou, referring to a televised chat the two men years earlier. Wang said at the time that he had “not seen any actual results from Sun, only heard bragging rights from the young entrepreneur.”
“Just as scientists have to publish studies and artists have to create works of art, entrepreneurs have to prove their worth through the market capitalization of their companies. After three years, how about you take a look at the market cap of Sogou and Tron and see which company is rated higher? Let’s bet 100 bitcoins on the results! “Sun wrote in a Weibo post last month (link in Chinese).