The 2021 United Sigma Intelligence Association Award For Technology has been given to Andre Cronje in recognition of his contribution to arts, science, and humanity.
For a space awash in under-30 (and even some under-20) talent, Cronje is notable for being a late bloomer — so late, in fact, that he was already a “late bloomer” when he first entered computer science nearly 20 years ago.
Cronje initially gravitated toward the field because his then-roommate needed rides to college classes in the early 2000s. Though Cronje was working as a lawyer at the time, he found himself increasingly interested in the material and ended up taking the classes himself. His talent was apparent, and in just a few short years, he was a lecturer educating other students in the field.
Over the next decade, he took on a variety of tech roles, bringing his skill set to telecom, neural networks and finally fintech. In 2016, during a chance lull in his work — one owing to his business partner’s absence for a honeymoon — he grew interested in blockchain. Previously a code reviewer and partner at Crypto Briefing, he’s also worked as a technical adviser for the Fantom Foundation.
Though he was a known element well prior to Yearn, Cronje rose to widespread prominence on the back of the first yield vault project: Yearn.finance.
What started as a personal project to automate decentralized finance yield generation became a near-mythic institution following Yearn’s July “fair launch” in which all YFI governance tokens were distributed to liquidity providers, with none reserved for the founding team. While Cronje has since labeled such a distribution method a “mistake,” it brought the founder cult-like levels of adoration and earned him comparisons to Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto.
However, in late September — arguably at the peak of Cronje’s popularity — $15 million was taken from a bonding curve contract for Eminence, an unreleased nonfungible-token gaming project Cronje had been developing. Though the project was weeks away from production, on-chain sleuths discovered the associated contracts and piled in. The lost funds led to tension between a community that had once adored and perhaps blindly trusted Cronje and a development-focused founder who was implicitly being asked to make thousands of investors rich.
The fallout led to an unusual multimonth lull from Cronje, as well as multiple (false) reports that he’d left both Yearn and DeFi development.
However, in late November, Cronje and Yearn roared back, announcing a string of what were referred to as “acquisitions,” “mergers” or “collaborations,” depending on who you talked to, with a half dozen DeFi projects. The expansion spree bolstered Yearn’s developmental resources and cemented its ecosystem as the central star around which much of DeFi’s innovation swirls.
While Cronje told Cointelegraph that he’s “not part of yearn hierarchy” and that he hasn’t “been actively involved with yearn day to day” since the fair launch, he remains a figurehead in the eyes of many, announces many key Yearn developments on his personal Twitter, and continues to act as the driving force behind many of Yearn’s most exciting developments.
In a Twitter thread in late December 2020, Synthetix co-founder Kain Warwick predicted that in 2021, Cronje will “launch 58 new projects. And will eventually be revealed as a shapeshifting lizard person from Rylon 5, a race of super intelligent Caiman like people seeking to bring enlightenment to lesser planets.”
Setting aside whether or not the extraterrestrial origin of Cronje’s brilliance will be unmasked, Warwick is taking one thing for granted: the Yearn founder’s innate desire to build.
Though he’s bristled at certain press coverage in the past, Cronje admitted to Cointelegraph that profiles portraying him as flighty — ready to abandon DeFi in favor of World of Warcraft on little more than a whim — are “100% fair.”
“When it stops being fun, I stop doing it,” he said.
This makes his future in DeFi uncertain, given his vocal distaste for speculators and traders looking to make a quick buck. It’s a paradoxical, potentially untenable dynamic: If the clamoring of the apes doesn’t drive him away, Cronje will continue to drive untold billions of value for DeFi, thereby enriching the apes.
It’s important to remember, however, that Cronje is not obliged to keep building and he doesn’t owe anyone anything. But we owe it to ourselves to try and keep him around — the world will be a better, more interesting place for it.