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Raising capital as a pseudonymous founder (soona.mirror.xyz)
53 points by jger15 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 55 comments



Honest question, is this satire?

The only hint is their mention of "KYC processes."

As an investor, I am confused who would agree to this. I would like to hear from someone who has done this.

Is there any binding legal action you could take if there is fraud? It says blended teams of anonymous and identified people but then you are just investing in the identified people and will have to go after them.

One only has to look at the history of the Silk Road to see how this goes. There was repeatedly tons of "reliable" pseudonymous sellers there who would maintain their reputation until they took a bunch of orders and pulled the rug. Over and over.


Upon further research - this was written by a general partner at https://volt.capital.

I assume they are trying to say it is possible to invest in decentralized companies with anonymous founders by their tokens and protocols. Like many do with bitcoin.


Moxie Marlinspike is a pseudonym. He co-founded of Signal Foundation.

As the article says, pseudonymous does not mean anonymous. The real identity of the person is in the legal documents and known by everybody how needs to know. The fame and credibility the person has acquired has been done using pseudonym.


And this is strange, since what they are talking about is obviously "anonymity".


Clearly they are not.

The most extreme case they mention is:

> .. Assumes team is pre-product and does not want to reveal their identities to investors. However, there are teams that choose to only reveal their identities to stakeholders for legal and financial purposes.


the footnote says that sometimes identities are revealed to stakeholders.


Why?

This is exciting. There could be a way to prove your identity without revealing it using zero knowledge proof on the contracts.

I'm seeing some of these pseudonymous companies take the form of a DAO with DAO members having say in how the tokens (funding) is distributed so the founder doesn't control 100% of it.

The investors would also be part of the DAO and can vote on proposals. Distribution of funds can be controlled through smart contracts.

It will make the landscape diverse too. There will be less biases for investors when they can't know the identity of the founder. This is making the place more inclusive.

Also, I think Sam Altman wanted to do something similar which he started with the community.

https://www.hyperscalefund.com/


I don't think it's satire, but I do think it's one of the dumber ideas I've heard.

My best guess would be it's a planted article to try and con someone into anonymously investing in a promising young DAO.


There are some pseudonyms that have built up large social audiences and are active investors in many projects that I have crossed paths with. At least one is a founder as well as an investor, etc.

Check out @boredelonmusk as an example.


Not knowing where the money comes from is pretty normal. Not knowing where the money is going is generally a bad sign.


A nominated founder promises you, investor, they have a miraculous lab machine and take a billion dollars. Turns out they defrauded you.

With all the pile of legal papers you have, what can you do to take your money back?


I have been in two lawsuits related to my startups. Your legal options depend on the country the company is operating in and the home of the person you are dealing with. You can't serve them papers without knowing their identity. Not knowing their citizenship adds additional flight risk.

A court can garnish wages and send someone to jail. Most lawsuits end in reconciliation before it goes to court because of the potential costs. Both of mine did.

This is why investors prefer to deal with American C corps above all else. This is also why foreign investors want to deal with a Hong Kong subsidiaries with Mainland Chinese companies.


I think you missed the Theranos joke. His point is that it doesn’t matter if the company is a C corp or some blockchain org, you can’t get your money back once it’s been spent by the company.


If the money is irretrievable, at least identified people can be sent to jail.


Look at https://www.deso.org/ and how Nader raised back when he was just “diamondhands”


> Is there any binding legal action you could take if there is fraud? It says blended teams of anonymous and identified people but then you are just investing in the identified people and will have to go after them.

You can simply encode the full financing agreement (along with all relevant agreements, articles and by-laws) as smart contracts, and perform all company operations exclusively on the blockchain.


"Simply" is carrying a lot of weight there.


If you compare to the weight it carries in the traditional legal and financial markets, I'd say it's pretty balanced, or even in favor of blockchain.


Fully intended as a joke :)


Do you have an example of how you might do this?

Can you encode "and we have recourse to the Delaware courts" into a smart contract? I thought you could only encode statements about things that happen on the smart contract's blockchain, but I'm not very knowledgeable about this.

If you do not have access to real-world courts, in the case of fraud, how do you recover your money? That is, suppose that investor A invests a bunch of cryptocurrency in pseudonymous founder B according to a smart contract, for a certain project, and B uses the funding to hire engineer C to help with the work. However, B and C are actually the same entity, who had no intention of doing any work at all, and B pays a generous "salary" to C and then comes back to A a few years later and says "Yeah we ran out of runway, we're gonna shut down, sorry" and A says "Yeah it happens to the majority of startups, it's fine." Then A hears a rumor about what really happened. How does A go about substantiating that rumor and getting their money back?

The only solution I can see involves B putting up collateral in the smart contract equal to the amount A invests in B, and that can only be released when some decision is made some years later that indeed B was non-fraudulent (let's imagine, for the sake of argument, there was a smart-contract court of chancery that could evaluate whether B was working in good faith and had subpoena powers, although I'm also curious about how that could work). That way, in the case of fraud, A could recover the amount they invested because exactly that much money is locked into the contract for this very purpose. But the market for venture capital where the founders already have as much money as they are raising, and are willing to lock up use of those funds while they work on their startup, is extremely small - such founders are necessarily capable of bootstrapping themselves.

So I'm genuinely trying to understand how it can be done or better yet whether anyone has done it. (Smart contracts are generally public, right? So if this has been done, it should be visible?)


A protocol / organization called Kleros is one attempt to solve this problem. A group of addresses that they attempt to verify as real people look at “evidence” and arbitrate disputes - those who vote in the minority lose money. Like most of these solutions (including escrow contracts) there’s a lot of uncertainty whether they will work in the long run. There was already a pretty bad case where Kleros ran some competition to “prove” their arbitration system worked and it arguably failed [1].

Your first scenario is definitely worrisome. I’m pretty sure it also happens all the time in the real world, just with the definition of “entity” being family or friend group.

[1] https://blog.kleros.io/kleros-vs-cat-in-the-snow-the-escrow-... - this is the Kleros side of the story, couldn’t find the claimant’s. But the reasoning shows that the jurors and Kleros have little to no training in legal interpretation


Wow, the substance of that dispute is... this is why people incorporate in Delaware. Nobody thinks the caselaw of Delaware is some sort of divinely ordained ideal corporate law. But it's predictable and thorough, which means you can write contracts in that framework and know what's going to happen. It seems theoretically possible to me that you could encode all of that in a smart contract library, but I am very curious to see if you actually could.

(One of the things you get in Delaware and many many other meatspace jurisdictions is the doctrine of contra proferentem, i.e., ambiguous clauses are read to the detriment of the person who wrote the contract and made the other person sign it. In this case, there is clearly an ambiguous clause, at least in the sense that the parties disagree on it, and clearly one party wrote it and the other party had no ability to negotiate it. This rule incentivizes people to a) write unambiguous contracts and b) not play stupid games where they try to invent interpretations of their own contract so they don't have to do the thing they said they would.)

Anyway, to the meta-level of the arbitration / escrow - if I'm reading right, the only reason it went to arbitration is Kleros voluntarily put up 50 ETH, the entire amount under dispute, into a new cryptographically-binding arbitration contract, and the two parties had a verbal agreement that the result of that arbitration would end their dispute?

Which is to say, if Kleros said "We're happy to go to arbitration but we're not going to lock up 50 ETH while it's being disputed," the process would be stuck? And especially if Kleros said "There's no reasonable argument here, we're right," arbitration wouldn't actually be binding on them? (It seems they only entertained the dispute to show off their arbitration product....)

And also, if it went to arbitration and the claimant lost, nothing would prevent the claimant from saying "I never agreed to this, and I still have a dispute with you"?


The whole arbitration was "on" Kleros - they set up the whole thing including the 50 ETH to test their system (Kleros vs. image-submitter, hosted on Kleros platform). The funds were always going to be sent, per the terms of the smart contract, to whoever the randomly selected jurors decided won. But the human interpretation part is where things got hairy, either the jurors didn't know how to read rules or they put their thumbs on the scale in favor of Kleros. This also happens in the real world sometimes, but they usually give much better instructions to the jury in the real world.

edit: I see what you're saying - why couldn't you sue Kleros Cooperative in France about this? The extent of how much "code is law" with smart contracts is a complex legal question. You don't have to accept or acknowledge anything saying that to use Ethereum or Kleros.


My comment was fully intended as a joke :)

I applaud those pushing the boundaries of what is possible with blockchains, smart contracts, etc. but I think fully encoding the ambiguity that the legal system continuously resolves is simply not possible. I'm surprised that my comment came off as something that people might say, but in retrospect, I suppose I shouldn't be; there are a lot of people that believe distributed consensus can solve all the things.


> Honest question, is this satire?

Tom Lehrer once said: "Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize."

I feel like with Bitcoin at $40-50k and Tesla at $1T we are in a similar place when it comes to investing.


With the amazing new technology of cryptocurrency, you can now give money to people you don't know with no legal recourse in case they rug you or funnel the money to criminals, yay!

Governments developed KYC laws beginning in the 2000s so that banks wouldn't inadvertently help criminals by laundering money or providing access to capital.

Vancouver is a city dealing with crazy housing prices and a fentanyl drug problem because of illegal money. The government is moving in precisely the opposite direction to the article - to require listing the beneficial owners of land[1], again to expose organized crime and prevent money laundering. Requiring real names is a feature, not a bug.

[1] - https://biv.com/article/2021/12/why-are-bc-institutions-hidi...


I think it's an interesting topic. Rather than lumping the author in with criminals and scammers, who would of course love nothing better than to take money from naive people (anonymously or not), try to identify what it would take to make you trust a pseudonymous organization or identity. For example it needs a track record you can validate. Valuable real-world holdings or a business or something else you could take legal recourse against. One certainly wouldn't give anons with nothing but an idea a million bucks quite so readily as people with real identities. But then part of the reason for that investment is the verifiable resume showing skills and experience in the right things. So you'd need some alternative that is similarly confidence-building in some other way.


> try to identify what it would take to make you trust a pseudonymous organization or identity. For example it needs a track record you can validate. Valuable real-world holdings or a business or something else you could take legal recourse against

Again, we already get all of this with real names and the existing legal system. This is really what a legal name is! Its a "pseudonym" but with enough linkage to the real world that its costly or impossible for someone to abandon it if they do something bad. Why not try to think a bit more about what systems already exist and how they help us before cheering on a new way to reinvent them poorly? I'm not suggesting the author is a criminal, all im saying is we as a society have always needed to build systems to prevent criminals from taking advantage of them, because they will. We all use email providers that block spam and sign contracts for jobs/rent too - its not because i think everyone who emails me is a scammer, its just that some are and this necessitates making the system resilient to them.


Because this isn't an article about the current systems of legal identities, it's about pseudonmys. Identities come with their own hangups and prejudices. I can't help noticing we both are both posting behind pseudonyms.


Would you give a sizable amount of money to someone you don't actually know?

Remember that one person can have multiple pseudonyms and that a lot of real life proof of existence or work cab be crafted to fool a typical person with a lot of money.

People have ran cons in real name, and succeeded. Given pseudonymity not linked to any real assets (unlike a company), it's even easier.

Heck, someone can claim to be a given Nym while not actually being that person, blockchain does not link Nyms to a legal person, and neither does any DAO known to me. The only proof would be paying gas to whoever tries to strike a real life contract off a big account with visible history. And even that can be faked if you're diligent enough and hunting for whales. Good luck fixing it.

If a government backed a DAO and had some link, there goes pseudonymity but you also have some legal recourse.


> Given pseudonymity not linked to any real assets (unlike a company), it's even easier.

A pseudonym can be linked to a company with real assets. I don't follow you here. I even referred to such a situation above. As did the article.

To answer your easy question, yes I can easily imagine scenarios where I might give a sizeable amount of money to someone that way. I have an online business and people in distant countries who don't actually know me give me sizeable amounts of money. They have my webpage which looks legit and demo software which works. There's no magic identity ingredient here to protect them. They'd move on and deal with someone else. There's a risk of course in everything. You certainly shouldn't risk money you can't afford to lose.

Now as for giving out something like seed funding, this is where it actually does start to get interesting. As I also said above, and as the author of the article also says, one needs some kind of data trail to build confidence. No you certainly shouldn't implement your due dilligence in a way that can be easily hacked with ringers or plagiarized code.


So should we not evaluate the new system by comparison to existing system? Is the crypto version just better because its new? brb gonna rewrite my entire company’s stack, they are using old code and old stuff is dumb lol

Re: pesudonyms, yeah pseudonyms are ok for posts on the internet with 0 stakes. They aren’t enough for situations where there is a potential need for accountability. I dont see a contradiction..


No. the new comes with new shortcomings that need to be countered with something extra before you can treat them equivalently to the old. This is what I meant above when I said: "part of the reason for that investment is the verifiable resume showing skills and experience in the right things. So you'd need some alternative that is similarly confidence-building in some other way."

Otherwise I'm just hearing extreme risk-aversion. And a patronizing tone for that matter. I have repeatedly used terms like "interesting" to describe the problem. Since you seem to be devoting a very limited effort towards parsing my words, let me paraphrase for you: that means it's a hard problem. Stop tell me it's hard and thinking you countered my post.


Businesses in the crypto space are trending to anonymous organizations and suceeding. Take traderjoexyz.com, which does not reveal anything that most businesses do on their web page, such as office addresses, team, etc.

Only handle names (Co-founders Cryptofish & 0xMurloc) are given instead of the human names in all documents. Most ethereum based businesses (traderjoexyz is Avalanche based) have at least a white paper with the actual people behind the business/concept.

Cheers


Would anyone here be comfortable using their official identity to confound a company with a pseudonymous cofounder? To me this feels like a gross asymmetrical information disclosure.


We all should have learned from the Silk Road that you shouldn't reveal your identity to your boss if he hides his identity from you.


Balaji from A16Z is pushing this and I asked myself why. Then I remembered that all tokens are illegal unregistered securities under US law and the SEC is running a crypto death lottery where they choose 10% of crypto startups at random and put them out of business. Pseudonymity allows founders to walk away and start again under a different name if the eye of the SEC falls on them and A16Z is legitimizing that strategy.


A lot of assumption in this thread that the only reason to be pseudonymous is for criminality. That's not the case.

I've raised a decent bit from a well-known pseudonymous twitter account. If it's a smart contract-based investment, the blockchain secures their investment, not law, so don't need their "real" name for that.

Short of needing the name for legal reasons, why do I care what their birth name is? I know they have a certain audience in my target customer base, I know they are knowledgable about my space because I hear them talk all the time in twitter spaces.

If they want to remain pseudonymous, let them! In a world where gaining a large online presence essentially rolls the dice on whether you get cancelled for something in the future, are we really surprised people want to reclaim a bit of anonymity on the internet while still being able to build a reputation they can build on?


This post raises way more questions than it answers. Has there ever been a successful company run by a pseudonymous founder in the history of business? Why is this needed now? How can this legally exist? How is such a founder going to also be a leader?


>Has there ever been a successful company run by a pseudonymous founder in the history of business?

No.

>Why is this needed now?

So the founder can commit fraud.

>How can this legally exist?

I could imagine a few schemes for doing so. Not that it matters, since this company will vanish shortly after receiving funding.

>How is such a founder going to also be a leader?

You don't need to do any "leading" if you don't hire anyone, and just disappear with the money.


Running a company completely online, especially through VR, would make pseudonymous leadership possible.

         S E E L E

            01

         S O U N D  
          O N L Y


It could be an incorrect reading on my part, but it sounds like the “capital” described in this post refers to mostly unregulated securities. I think giving an anonymous entity actual capital would probably run afoul of KYC, right?


C in KYC stands for Customer. Would this really apply to investor-project relationship?


I think it would for traditional capital, since normally you'd have an account with a bank and receive the investment via that account. But unregulated securities do a (probably intentional) end-run around that.


There are many anon teams in the crypto space. More likely to rug but it is a legit strategy. Lyra.finance is a recent one, some off the top of my head are Tornado, Grin, and Whiteheart / Hegic.


I'm a VC; there is zero chance I would ever invest in a pseudonymous founder.

That said, that doesn't mean the company and founder have to be publicly announced. I just have to know who I'm dealing with, and do my due diligence. It's totally fine for the founder to adopt a pseudonymous public persona, or for the company to remain stealth. But there is no way I'm dealing with a founder who hides their identity from their investors.

Investor-company relationships are based on trust. You can't trust people you don't know.


Perfect way to become an early investor in an anonymous Ponzi scheme. Get out of jail card for the guilty parties.


Client side error. Return home. Anyone have an archive?


Ha, an archive! I think that just shows what's wrong with web2. If the content was distributed on NFPN network (layer 3.1) using inter-transmission value-exchange HPPT protocol - you would just stake your HPPT tokens on NFPN-enabled DeGaFi marketplace and the highest bidder would then provide his storage/cpu/network resources to serve you hash of the content in the blink of an eye.

By having the signed hash you could then easily submit a CNT-UPLNK request to the closest (or fastest) DECON content-farm via NFPN or FRYA protocols and get the content almost for free (assuming your staked FRYA balance can cover the cost of this micro transaction) - so you only pay for the transmission fees.

Not that simple with centralised web these days!


Look, just give me the torrent file


"Most investors will predictably look at a nym’s Github to evaluate code quality and real shipping velocity."

What if I'm using self-hosted SVN?


And what if you pay 10 freelancers to ship under your name, making you look like a '10x developer"?


Then you’re a fantastic delegator!


What's scary is that this is for real. It's becoming the new normal.

Amazon has been a big driver of anonymous business. They don't tell the customer who the real seller is, yet, when sued for liability, they claim they are merely connecting buyer and seller. Even when Amazon doesn't know who the seller is. Amazon fought liability up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, then finally settled when it looked like they were about to lose.[1] Amazon thus enabled an entire fake product industry.

We see this all the time with NFT scams. Especially the kind that are fund-raising operations for something not built yet. Those are public offerings, and when made to US persons clearly require filing with the SEC, with all the usual disclosures and financial statements. The SEC shut down the Initial Coin Offering industry back in 2018 for that sort of thing, but hasn't gotten to the forward-looking NFT industry yet. Probably because the complaints haven't started coming in yet.

[1] https://www.law.com/thelegalintelligencer/2020/09/23/product...


This is only the new normal in the echo-chamber of the wanna-be believers of the net. No significant investor (i.e. Institutional money) is going to go along with this.




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