12 Crypto Builders I'm Watching in 2024
Dear Bankless Nation, we are entering a new era of innovation in crypto.
Major milestones on the Ethereum roadmap are in the rear-view mirror. Newer L1s are actually making material innovations never seen before in crypto. Fees are rapidly approaching zero across all compute resources.
New frontiers are rapidly being discovered or established by new leaders in the crypto space. Our leaders are getting better, too. I'm optimistic that as we're progressing as an industry, we are also choosing our leaders more carefully, learning from past mistakes. Good leaders are required in order for crypto to continue on its arc of maturity.
As we enter 2024, there are a few leaders in crypto who are experts in fields that are the current metas of crypto. I took it upon myself to list out 12 builders (I cheated with a couple of duos) who I'm going to be watching extra closely as we enter the next chapter of crypto’s arc.
As a disclaimer, these are my choices! There are, of course, plenty of other people to watch. The individuals I’ve mentioned are working in frontiers that I am personally interested in; my interests may not be yours!
I also work with some of them! (Check out my disclosures) Kannan runs EigenLayer, which I serve as an advisor to. Sassano is an advisor to Bankless Ventures. Ippolito co-founded Blockworks, which Bankless puts on the Permissionless conference in partnership with. Many of them have been podcast guests!
Sreeram Kannan // EigenLayer
Founder of EigenLayer, father of modern restaking, and beloved philosopher of mass coordination
Sreeram Kannan lives in the future, and specifically, a future that I also want to live in. His vision for how EigenLayer enables humans to coordinate flexibly in large numbers is a breath of fresh air in an industry that seems to frequently lose track of the plot.
His clarity of thought connecting technical details to abstract principles about scaling trust and coordination has won him and EigenLayer a massive spotlight as a focus for the next arc of Ethereum scalability – one that we didn’t know existed until EigenLayer birthed the concept of restaking!
With the most significant parts of the Ethereum roadmap in the rear-view mirror, restaking has taken center stage as the dominant ETH narrative in 2024.
As EigenLayer approaches mainnet, new AVS architectures come online, and the restaking markets develop, you’ll be hearing a crescendo of excitement from the Ethereum community and the broader crypto industry. The big question: Can ‘trust-as-a-service’ penetrate into non-crypto use cases by non-crypto tech companies?
Nick White // Celestia
Founder of Celestia, supplier of data, mesher of chains, modular maxi, monolithic minimalist with luscious locks looking fresh off a surf
Nick White is pushing the frontier of modularity in crypto. How modular can crypto get? Modularity, at its core, has properties highly resonant with crypto: anti-fragility, redundancy, replicability, expressivity, etc. The Celestia project has emerged as the Schelling point for investing in the concept of modularity itself.
Modular bulls believe Celestia represents the explosion of innovation space in the modular ecosystem. Was cheap DA truly the missing ingredient for the modular thesis? What kind of asset does that make TIA? Celestia DA enables Ethereum to have more rollups, which is crucial for the long-term Ethereum thesis… but is it a trojan horse mechanism to bootstrap Celestia’s own rollup-based ecosystem? Is TIA money?
I’m following Nick around the internet to get some of these questions answered. It’s also why I’ll be at the Modular Summit this year, wherever/whenever that is!
Neel Somani // Eclipse
Founder of Eclipse, producer of the platypus project, joiner of ecosystems, walker between planes
Neel Somani is pushing a frontier he discovered from first principles. After building a Rollup-as-a-Service provider and then pivoting into Eclipse, the story he articulates about how he came to the conclusion of Eclipse thesis provides a wealth of knowledge to learn from.
Being at the extreme end of something is usually not the optimal place to be, and Neel has found a place that is a middle ground between many of the leading projects of 2024 – Ethereum, L2s, Solana, and Celestia.
With the growth of the SVM ecosystem, the success of Eclipse has become a little easier to imagine. Does the thesis of the SVM on Ethereum hold weight? As the Solana-maxis and the Modular-maxis grow further apart, can Eclipse grow an oasis in the middle?
As Eclipse approaches mainnet, we’ll see what value a monolithic-L2 settling onto the highly secure Ethereum L1 has to offer the world.
Nonetheless, whatever happens, Neel will have a lot to teach us along the way.
Keone Hon // Monad
Founder of Monad, father of Molandak, parallelizer of the EVM, parallelizer of databases, parallelizer of I/O, parallelizer of parallelism
Keone has become the memeified figurehead of the Monad project, which is working to bring parallelism to the EVM ecosystem. “The speed and low cost of Solana, with the network effects of Ethereum,” has become the narrative.
Some gigabrains are pointing out that merely parallelizing a VM isn’t a breakthrough and that it’s actually DB access that needs to be parallelized. As it turns out, Keone and the Monad team have already done that, too, which is why MonadDB is a key part of the Monad innovation sphere.
Monad’s launch in 2024 is already hotly anticipated – just look at all the Nads (Monad people) trying to farm roles in the #TheRoom channel in the Monad discord. People already have their eyes on this project, trying to find the best of both worlds between Ethereum and Solana.
Andrew Huang // Conduit
Founder of Conduit, the gardener of chains, grower of volumes, deflator of costs, the framework copy&paster, and the man at the bottom of the basin
Andrew Huang is leading the charge to reduce the costs of deploying new rollup chains. All the costs. Overhead resource costs, technical complexity, and most other obstacles are all getting eliminated, thanks to Andrew and Conduit. If you think that there are going to be as many rollups on Ethereum as blogs on the internet, then you’re bullish on Andrew.
Conduit is a Rollup-as-a-Service provider – think, Cloud for Rollups. The economies of scale with a RaaS are immense. Lowering resource costs for rollups means more apps can evolve into app-chains, while all Conduit-support chains automatically get best-in-class rollup security. As the Ethereum rollup-centric roadmap matures, Andrew, Conduit, and other RaaS projects will lead the charge into the fertile garden for rollups that this roadmap has produced.
Lastly, there’s a fake boundary for rollups that I’m hoping Andrew breaks through. Right now, we generally think of Rollups as faster, cheaper blockchains. I think that’s an overly simplistic, unimaginative vision for the future of rollups. Lowering rollup costs won’t just make rollups faster and cheaper, it will open up an entirely new design space for what rollups can become.
I’m watching Andrew as he takes the rollup world from 2D to 3D.
Jill Gunter // Espresso
Strategy at Espresso, master-orderer, L2 tx pathfinder, bringer of composability, abstracter of chains, and a connoisseur of historical anecdotes
Jill Gunter has been a quiet force in crypto for as long as I can remember. Her joining Espresso Systems in 2021 as CSO was all the alpha I needed about the evolutionary path of Ethereum’s rollups.
Espresso sits at the highly permeable boundary between Ethereum and the modular chain thesis. Espresso is a sequencing module for L2 chains, making it a shared sequencer for the multiple chains that integrate with it. The era of L2 re-composability is upon us, and Jill’s vantage point at Espresso, combined with her ability to articulate complex topics, will likely find her in the spotlight a number of times in 2024.
It was a sad day when Jill's podcast Grind My Gears with Meltem Demirors put out their last episode. 😢 It was the best podcast in crypto at the time and helped provide a model for what Bankless could become.
As rollups explode in number, constructions, and complexity, it's going to be Espresso and shared sequencers that act as the binding glue that retains the shape of the Ethereum superstructure.
I’m expecting Espresso to grow in relevance in 2024, and if it’s not Jill who enters her podcasting tour era, then it’s going to be the CEO Ben Fisch, who’s worth keeping an eye on as well.
Luca Netz // Pudgy Penguins
Restorer of the Pudgys, the adult in NFT PFPs, king of distribution, and executor of industry-made promises
Lots of promises were collectively made by the NFT industry in 2021 about the potential of what NFTs could bring. Real-world footprints, gaming metaverses, and limitless brand value. Like clockwork, these bull market fever dreams turned rotten when prices went down, and founders abandoned their projects.
Luca Netz bought the Pudgy Penguin project in 2022, turned the ship around, and pointed it right towards Valhalla. Pudgy Penguin plushies showed up in Walmart stores, and the Pudgy World metaverse is coming this year.
The thing is, it seems Pudgy Penguins have only gotten started, and their current achievements are simply the first phase of a much larger plan. Where every other NFT project has failed to even discover the starting line, Pudgy Penguins have already started their race.
What does this frontier have in store for us? How big can the IRL footprint of virtual assets become? How real can the pudgy metaverse get?
You’ll have to pay attention to Luca to find out.
Eric Balchunas & James Seyfartt // ETF Experts
The unexpected main characters, speakers of trad, alignment of worlds
After a years-long journey, the spot BTC ETFs are finally live, and their debuts smashed all previous volume records for ETF launches. Now, the spot ETH ETF is likely set for approval in May.
Even if the spot ETH ETF is denied (it won't be), Eric and James will find themselves center-stage nonetheless. And even if the spot ETH ETF is denied (again, it won't), it will only be re-filed again and again until it is approved.
As the crypto industry blows past $2T in market cap and reaches toward ~$10T this next cycle, more and more assets down the stack will become interesting targets for ETF filings from TradFi. What’s next after ETH? I don’t know, but we should make a bingo card for crypto-ETF approvals, and every time we lay down an X, you can be sure that Eric and James will have something worth listening to about the event in question.
Even if zero more ETFs come this market cycle, it won’t matter. They eventually will. Crypto is the birth of a brand new asset class, and only one of those assets has an ETF.
If you are following Eric and James’s Twitter accounts, it's pretty obvious they’ve already become infected by crypto culture. It’s a one-way street. They are ours now. 😈
Li Jin // Variant
CoFounder of Variant Fund, pioneer of passion, labor recreator, pensive articulator, and bringer of warm fuzzies into cold code
Crypto is a failure unless it materially impacts global culture. There are stark differences between crypto culture and the culture found on the rest of the internet. Slowly, everything that crypto touches becomes impacted by the culture we’ve created, for better or worse.
Li Jin is the ‘better’ side of that equation. As crypto elevates itself in its products and influence, it will begin to more materially impact the psychology and culture of the people on top of its rails. “If you adopt crypto protocols, you adopt crypto values.”
Mainstream crypto products will be cultural ones – we saw this with friend.tech! Cheap data availability, modular blockchains, and parallel VMs are all great nerd snipes, but these investment themes are for the insular community. We’re going to need to discover new cultural metas to export crypto products to the rest of the five billion internet users.
Li Jin watches the frontier of consumer crypto products, which is why I watch what Li Jin is paying attention to. 👀
I love podcasts! I listen to them all the time. Taking the “Who I’m watching” prompt a little more literally, I’ve got a few that I’m listening to in 2024:
Mike Ippolito // Blockworks
Founder of Blockworks, man of many podcasts, swimmer beneath the waves, the grounded thinker tinkerer, and the Chaos to Yano’s order
Every time I talk with Mike, I learn something new. A perspective is unlocked. Something clicks. Thankfully for the world, he has a podcast. It’s technical, research-y, advanced, and well worth your time. Mike has some sort of tribal immunity gene that gives him a chain-neutral perspective while still retaining the XRP rejection reflex that ought to belong in all of us.
Even larger than Mike, his company Blockworks has become my preferred source for crypto-journalism. Journalism in crypto is hard, and Blockworks strikes the perfect balance of journalist integrity and crypto-alignment.
Anthony Sassano // The Daily Gwei
The infinite creator, the bearded bald Australian, stacker of gwei, professionally amateur node operator, humble ETH bull, figurine connoisseur
Anthony is in a different category from the above individuals. When I say “Individuals to watch in 2024”, I mean it more literally for Anthony Sassano and the Daily Gwei. The Daily Gwei is my first stop on the road to staying up with Ethereum. If you are listening to the Daily Gwei on a daily basis, you’ve graduated from the university of crypto and have moved into upkeep mode.
There’s a certain zen-ness here, and Anthony’s well-curated Daily Gwei discord is a bastion of the informed, technical Ethereum investor and enthusiast. Watch The Daily Gwei.
Deana Burke & Natasha Hoskins // The Too Online Podcast
Co-hosts of the Boys Club Podcast, The Dynamic Duo, the world-builders, sharers of feels and expressers of vibes, the eternally grounded visionaries
Natasha and Deana are crypto natives making internet-themed content for the crypto-curious and also the crypto-agnostic. In Too Online, they each bring a story that happened on the internet in the last week and tell it to the other. It’s frequently not about crypto, but it’s always content that crypto-natives can appreciate since we’re all too online, too.
After ten-plus hours of weekly dense crypto podcasts, their light and peppy 30-minute internet gossip episodes are a breath of fresh air and also remind me about the existence of the remaining 99% of society that doesn’t care about crypto-native topics (yet?).