Joe Lubin
Joe Lubin in his ConsenSys office in Brooklyn, New York. Vincent Balestriere / IBT

Ethereum co-founder Joe Lubin defies most of the stereotypes associated with tech industry tycoons. In a startup scene fueled by Soylent and artisanal coffees, Lubin keeps a bottle of Hershey’s syrup on his desk in Brooklyn, New York, and regularly squirts it into his coffee cup.

As Lubin’s chair swiveled behind the desk he shares with his assistant, cluttered by papers, computers and an empty mug with chocolate stains, Lubin talked with International Business Times about where he sees the cryptocurrency industry heading in the near future.

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He sees blockchain as more than a new type of network infrastructure, with immutable ledgers that are almost impossible to hack or fake, plus peer-to-peer channels that let people transact directly without fee-collecting gatekeepers like AirBnB or PayPal. In his mind, the future of cryptocurrency isn’t just money transactions like bitcoin. Ethereum could help reinvent the internet itself, making it more flexible, fair and secure.

“There won’t be a single powerful entity that controls the system or controls gatekeeping into the system,” he said. Lubin wants to use blockchain to democratize power through technology.

Imagine a future of the internet without Google and Facebook overlords. Or at least, a future where those powerful corporations have less control over user data. Transaction accountability would be transparent to all while virtual identities remained under personal control. In this blockchain-future, people themselves would reap profit from user-generated content, forcing the tech industry to rebuild exploitive business models from the ground up.

Ethereum evangelists are working to build this digital utopia. And Lubin is one of the most influential figures making tangible steps towards that dream. “Most of us were young ‘hackers’ trying to do ‘cool things,’” fellow Ethereum co-founder Mihai Alisie told International Business Times. “He [Lubin] was more of a ‘retired banker’ wanting to do ‘good things’ with the gained experience while working ‘on the other side.’... I think he added stability to the whole early core of members.”

Ethereum, the world’s most diverse blockchain network, is second only to bitcoin in usage and popularity. Ether tokens currently tie with bitcoin cash in terms of price, ranked right behind bitcoin itself. Ethereum was based on a paper written by a whiz kid named Vitalik Buterin and launched in 2015. Lubin was part of the founding team that took Buterin’s bitcoin-inspired idea from concept to code. Then the 52-year-old computer scientist from Toronto founded the startup Consensus Systems, helping partners like the United Arab Emirates and Microsoft create real-world blockchain products and services.

Ethereum sign on Joe Lubin's desk at ConsenSys headquarters in New York. Vincent Balestriere/IBT

Alisie described Lubin as one of the key influencers making cryptocurrency mainstream. Rather than seek to dominate the blockchain space, Lubin became its soft-spoken shepherd.

ConsenSys is now widely considered the world’s leading blockchain consulting company, with more than 200 employees across dozens of countries. “We are a pretty powerful magnet at the center of our small but rapidly growing ecosystem,” Lubin told IBT. “We are growing by several people a week. Now we will be growing by five and 10 and 30.”

The New York headquarters is located in an open workspace in a Bushwick warehouse, covered with a huge painting of a bird and graffiti tags on the outside. Inside, the noisy office teems with the vibe of a scrappy startup, a mixture of languages, white board scribbles and furious typing.

Overall, Ethereum is reportedly worth more than $24 billion. So far, Lubin’s office has declined to comment on his net worth. “I think that the majority of people involved in the early days of Ethereum were motivated by pure passion and curiosity,” Alisie said. “Money was treated as more of a side-effect ‘if we do this right.’ ”

People have been known to leave cushy jobs at the New York Stock Exchange and Deutsche Bank to join Lubin’s team. Sometimes blockchain enthusiasts just show up without invitation and insist on contributing, drawn by Lubin’s down-to-earth approach.

That pragmatism came from years of experience in the corporate world. After graduating from Princeton in 1987, Lubin went on to work at Goldman Sachs, then a few small high-tech startups, before he got really involved in cryptocurrency. He started using bitcoin a little around 2011. It wasn’t until he read Buterin’s Ethereum white paper, about how bitcoin’s core technology could create a much more diverse peer-to-peer network, that Lubin really became passionate about blockchain.

Lubin met Buterin at a bitcoin conference in Miami in 2014. After some all-nighters with a few like-minded developers at a small beach house, Lubin became the U.S.-based lead for the new blockchain network’s legal infrastructure. Finance is one of the most heavily regulated sectors in the tech industry, so launching a cryptocurrency network is especially tricky. Lubin’s perspective kept the project grounded.

“In the early days, I worked closely with him [Lubin] on the legal strategy,” Alisie said. “He was mainly handling the U.S. side of the lawyers while I was in touch mainly with the U.K. and Swiss lawyers.” Alisie said Lubin was among the co-founders who used their own money to fund the project until they launched the ether token “presale,” the predecessor for all of today’s initial token offerings.

They deliberately chose to tokenize fundraising for Ethereum, crowdfunding with the cryptocurrency community, instead of raising venture capital the old-fashioned way. “That would have been completely antithetical to the project,” Lubin explained. “Learning more about how the world works led me to believe that decentralization is a powerful and important force. … You don’t need to use top-down command and control as an organizing principle and can move to rich communication and consensus formation.”

Basically, Lubin is betting Ethereum will soon reshape the economy with more accessible, globalized networks. Not just one internet to rule them all, but many networks that lend themselves to entirely new business models. Bitcoin was the first real cryptocurrency. Now Ethereum enthusiasts are working to show cryptocurrency can do things fiat currency like dollars never could.

For example, blockchain could be used to make music distribution platforms ruled by artists and fans, not record labels and media gatekeepers. Artists could control individual songs, stored in a blockchain file instead of a basic MP3, which would help emerging artists engage directly with audiences and make a livable wage from their work. No one could copy or share a block without the artist’s approval. The blockchain startup Ujo Music is just one of the many Ethereum projects Lubin’s team is involved with.

All things considered, if you’ve got a wild idea for how to use Ethereum, anything from digital passports to a coding academy specifically for blockchain skills, Lubin’s team has the best track record for turning cryptocurrency dreams into reality.

The price of ether token has fluctuated over the past month, landing at around $299 a token on Aug. 14. Even though that represents huge growth from the $12.40 price tag it had last summer, even slight dips in the market now spark anxiety among speculators. Lubin and his ilk don’t worry about short-term price variation. “It’ll correct itself and keep building,” Lubin said of inflated valuations. “The value of the overall ecosystem will go higher and higher.”

During the summer’s cryptocurrency boom, Ethereum reportedly attracted attention from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, Singapore experimented with an Ethereum-based national currency. It’s now commonplace for popular media outlets like Fortune, Mic and GQ to publish instructions for buying ether tokens. Within mere months, Ethereum started making blockchain technology mainstream in a way that bitcoin never could.

Lubin expects Ethereum’s star will keep rising, and its use cases diversifying, regardless of fickle market valuations. “There’s no way to move the [token] price to exactly where it should be. It always overshoots, and then it undershoots,” Lubin said. “It’s shocking to see what a straight line Ethereum has moved. It hasn’t moved back all that much.”