Written by Andrew Seale
Every block in the blockchain traces its lineage back to that first mined block, the so-called Genesis Block, a timestamped, irrefutable marker that is and always will be the beginning.
In essence, Anthony Di Iorio is the closest Toronto’s blockchain community gets to a genesis block. He probably wasn’t the first to explore blockchain and cryptocurrencies in Toronto. But he created the space from which the city’s ecosystem spiralled outwards.
“I don't like to put people into groups, I don't like the ‘we’ statement, I like the ‘I’ statement,” says Di Iorio, CEO and founder of Decentral, and a co-founder of ethereum. “(I’m) not saying we don't want what's good for everybody, but if we start placing people into these groups, you start getting a very binary us-versus-them mentality and I think that's very prominent these days.”
That’s what Di Iorio saw in bitcoin and blockchain when he first stumbled on the technology in 2012: a community of individuals using clever code and cryptography to rewrite the way we think of, and exchange, value.
Growing up, Di Iorio’s face was buried in a computer (if I ever did anything bad, the computer was the first thing taken away from me, he says). “When the internet came about, a lightbulb went off,” he says recalling the first time he used the Mosaic browser in the Ryerson computer lab. “Democratized information… it took the power out of the hands of people that controlled information and started that process of radically changing all the industries to do with information.”
After college, he pursued the family business until it was sold, then used his share to launch a geothermal drilling company to heat and cool businesses using the earth’s temperature. He bought some properties and started getting interested in economics, particularly the Austrian school of economics, a radical school of thought which eschews mathematical models in favour of how individualism and human nature impacts economics.
“I was able to relate a lot of what happened in the (2008 financial crisis) with government intervention,” he says. “I realized the cause of a lot of the issues happened to be when governments pick winners and losers and the artificial bubbling up of certain industries due to government involvement in those industries.”
Bitcoin showed up as he was in the midst of his economic rewiring. “Right away I grasped it and said this is a solution that could be game-changing… here's an opportunity for something I think is going to be more important than the internet.”
He bought his first Bitcoin a few weeks later and looked for a Bitcoin community in Toronto, seeing nothing, he launched the first meet-up group. “I started becoming a centre of gravity here in Toronto for the community of interested, like-minded people who were understanding the power of this new technology and wanted a place to get together and talk about it.”
The first meet-up had a handful of attendees including Vitalik Buterin, who would go on to write the white paper on ethereum, one of the most influential blockchain-based distributed computing platforms. “(The meet-ups) started growing and growing,” says Di Iorio.
By 2013, he’d launched his first foray in blockchain, a roulette-style game that only accepted Bitcoin. Next, he set up the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada, “a national non-profit organization to help promote bitcoin and work with the media and bring it to the attention of governments,” joining as executive director. Then he launched Kryptokit, a wallet for Bitcoin, and helped Buterin and several other co-founders launch ethereum out of Di Iorio’s recently opened Decentral (home to Canada’s first Bitcoin ATM) in 2014. The following year Decentral launched an ethereum wallet but Di Iorio foresaw a growing number of cryptocurrencies.
His answer was Jaxx, a wallet capable of holding a wide array of digital currencies. “There's going to be thousands of these technologies out there, I wanted to continue my pursuit of building the interface for all of the technologies,” says Di Iorio, adding that he wasn’t about to “pick winners.”
“What’s needed is infrastructure,” he says. “We had to create a lot of new things because it didn't exist.”
Everything from figuring out for to disseminate information from all these disparate blockchains rapidly so people would know their wallet balance instantly without having to hold the entire blockchain on their phone, to “enterprise-grade” services to connect all the chains. “Continually creating more and more infrastructure to handle more users,” he says.
Along the way, Decentral has been creating partnerships. “(It’s) never us-versus-them it's always let’s bring the entire ecosystem along.”
And he has. Decentral has done 120 events since 2012. And even though the focus has shifted to building Decentral, Di Iorio is aware of his place in Toronto’s blockchain story. Now he’s trying to build a global company.
“I'm a very long-term minded person… if you think about the greatest technology companies in the world the Amazons or the Apples – it's decades of work,” he says. “You have a vision of where you want to go and our vision is to create all of the infrastructure and tools that empower people to be in control of their lives.”
Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)