How Bitcoin was saved
This article was originally published on CoinGeek on July 7, 2022.
The inside story of how a handful of individuals saved Bitcoin from those who sought to corrupt it can now be told.
History is full of instances in which individuals, acting on their own initiative, changed the course of world events. Think of Joshua Chamberlain ordering his brigade to fix bayonets and charge down Little Round Top, repulsing the Confederate forces and helping to ensure a Union victory at Gettysburg. Or Stanislov Petrov, the Soviet officer who broke military protocol by not informing his superiors of what he (correctly) suspected was a false radar signal showing an incoming missile attack, thereby preventing a retaliatory launch of Russian ICBMs and preserving life on this planet.
For the financial sector, Bitcoin’s 2009 launch promised to be as transformative as the introduction of the ‘horseless carriage’ was to 20th century transportation. However, following Satoshi Nakamoto’s withdrawal from the public stage, the Bitcoin Core developers who assumed control of the protocol had imposed limitations that were akin to removing a car’s engine and strapping the now-lifeless frame to a team of Clydesdales.
Bitcoin might have been permanently relegated to the role of a financial buggy whip were it not for the timely intervention of Calvin Ayre and Stefan Matthews, who helped facilitate Satoshi’s return in the form of Dr. Craig Wright and steered Bitcoin back onto its original revolutionary path. So, settle back as we fire up the time machine and retrace the steps through which Bitcoin was saved.
Betting on Bitcoin
In the first decade of this millennium, Matthews was working as Chief Information Officer at Australian online sports betting operator Centrebet. In 2005, Centrebet’s owners were planning an initial public offering and brought in the BDO accounting network to perform the necessary audits.
Among the three staff members that BDO sent to Centrebet was none other than Dr. Wright, who served as audit lead. Being Sydney-based, Wright was the BDO staffer who spent the most time at Centrebet engaging with Matthews’ team.
Fast forward to 2008 and Wright contacted Matthews to let him know he’d left BDO to set up his own company. Wright asked Matthews to consider him for any future contracting/consulting work and Centrebet did occasionally hire Wright to handle firewalls, security policies and the like.
In time, Centrebet decided it needed a board subcommittee to oversee security matters. Matthews was asked to chair this subcommittee and recommended Wright as an independent advisor on governance.
With Wright now coming into the Centrebet offices on a regular basis, Matthews recalled being driven “fucking nuts” due to Craig’s proclivity for barging into Matthews’ office to discuss his personal projects, regardless of whatever Matthews had on his plate or who else was in his office. “Craig was the same then as now. He has no awareness of the environment when he walks into a room.”
Many of Wright’s discussions centred on fintech, particularly early efforts by others to develop digital currency. Matthews added that “Craig had this passion to want to involve me” in his projects but Matthews always declined.
On one of Wright’s visits in July or August 2008, he handed Matthews a USB stick, said it contained a document he wanted Matthews to read. Matthews doesn’t like reading documents on screen, so he copied the file and printed it to read later. He eventually read the abstract and browsed the subject headings but, since it largely reminded Matthews of Wright’s previous discussions, Matthews ultimately tossed it on the pile of documents on his desk and forgot about it.
Matthews can’t recall if the document was credited to Satoshi Nakamoto, but does remember it being titled ‘Bitcoin’ and, to the best of his recollection, the text was close to the white paper released later that year.
A month later, Wright returned to ask if Matthews had read the document. Matthews said he’d reviewed it but it wasn’t anything he was interested in, a response that Matthews said Wright accepted and the matter was dropped.
Then in March or April 2009, Wright walked into Matthews’ office and asked him for $500. Matthews thought Wright was asking for a loan but Wright said he wanted to give Matthews 50,000 Bitcoins in exchange. Matthews declined, calling Bitcoin “the greatest load of shit I’ve ever heard of and won’t amount to anything.”
Something in the Ayre
Not long after this, Matthews left Centrebet and moved to London to work at online gambling operator Bodog UK. Matthews later moved to Manila to head up the global IT group for both the main Bodog brand as well as Bodog Asia.
Ayre had relinquished any operational role in the gaming industry several years prior but retained the rights to the Bodog brand, which he licensed to a number of independent operators in different markets. Over time, he’d gotten to know Matthews and had come to respect both his judgment and ability.
In 2014, Matthews was looking for new challenges and traveled to Antigua to meet with Ayre, who was looking to start a venture capital arm. Ayre encouraged Matthews to return to the Philippines and explore predominantly tech-focused investment opportunities in Asia.
Later that year, Matthews was contacted by Wright, who’d heard Matthews would be in Sydney around New Year’s and suggested they meet up. On January 2, 2015, they met in a Sydney hotel lobby, where Matthews said Wright talked non-stop about Bitcoin’s progress in the six years since its launch. But the meeting ended without Wright making any pitch about collaboration and Matthews was left wondering at the seeming pointlessness of the meeting.
That April, Wright again contacted Matthews, this time with a more concrete concern. Over the past few years, Wright had assembled a 45-member team to work on Bitcoin-and blockchain-related research, funding these operations by liquidating his Bitcoin holdings. He’d been selling coins that weren’t associated with Satoshi, as moving coins linked to Bitcoin’s creator would complicate issues Wright was having with the Australian Tax Office (ATO).
Matthews said Wright had “hit a brick wall” with the ATO over his claims for research grants under the government’s AusIndustry program and the relationship with the taxman had become “toxic at best.” Wright had alienated some senior figures at the ATO, including the deputy commissioner, by referring to them as “fucking morons.” Matthews noted that Wright’s Aspergers meant he’s “not the most cooperative – or diplomatic – bloke. If he thinks you’re a fucking idiot, he’ll tell you, whether you’re a tax auditor or not.”
Wright hadn’t previously explored the commercialization of his research but was now pitching Matthews on the idea of investing in his operations. Matthews had a trip to Sydney on his schedule and agreed to meet Wright to discuss the matter further.
Before the meeting, Matthews finally got around to googling Bitcoin, which led him to a copy of the white paper. Sitting at his computer in his hotel room, Matthews realized he’d read this document before. “It was like I was in a room with a ghost. The fucking hair on the back of my neck tingled.”
Later, Matthews asked Wright a pointed question: “Who the fuck is Satoshi Nakamoto?” Wright replied that Matthews already knew the answer, prompting Matthews to tell Wright to “stop talking in Craig riddles.” Matthews wanted a direct answer to a direct question: “Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?” Wright answered: “You’re looking at him.”
Wright reminded Matthews of the offer he’d made in 2009 to exchange $500 for 50,000 Bitcoin, joking that Matthews likely regretted not taking him up on his offer. Matthews replied: “If you were any sort of a cunt, you’d fucking give them to me.” (Spoiler alert: He didn’t.)
Let’s make a deal
Following this meeting, Matthews contacted Ayre, asked if he’d heard of Bitcoin. Given payment processing’s critical role in online gambling, Ayre was obviously aware of Bitcoin. Matthews then asked if Ayre knew who Satoshi was. Ayre said no, although he was aware of the mystery surrounding Satoshi’s real-world identity. Matthews related his dealings with Wright and suggested the three of them meet.
The trio later met up in Vancouver, a meeting that laid the groundwork for saving the original Bitcoin protocol. They spent three days discussing all things Bitcoin and Ayre said Wright “helped connect the dots in my brain” about how the technology worked. At the conclusion of these talks, Ayre gave Wright his “marching orders”—go back to Australia and “prepare for due diligence.”
Once in Australia, Matthews found Wright’s office empty, as Wright’s financial crunch had forced him to lay off his staff. About five days into his due diligence, Matthews discovered a room bulging with files, including blockchain-related research dating back to 2006, long predating Bitcoin’s launch. Not long afterward, a term sheet was prepared for Ayre’s approval.
The term sheet was signed at Wright’s office on June 29, 2015. After the signing, Wright rushed home, returning with a bottle of expensive champagne (Krug 2009 – an appropriate vintage). Lacking the appropriate stemware, they drank toasts out of mismatched coffee cups.
The deal, brokered by Ayre, would set up a company to acquire 100% of the IP belonging to all of Wright’s Australian companies, as well as Bitcoin/blockchain-related IP personally owned by Wright, along with the rights to Wright’s life story. In exchange, Wright received funding to rehire staff, restart his research and pay his ATO-related legal bills.
nChain Holdings was set up in London with office space and Wright and his wife Ramona found a place to live in Wimbledon. Their furniture and other belongings were in transit on the high seas so they rented an apartment for a couple weeks in Sydney’s business district. And then all hell broke loose.
Wright where they want him
Matthews was at the Sydney airport waiting to fly to Manila when he got a call informing him of the Wired and Gizmodo stories outing Wright as Satoshi. Shortly thereafter, Matthews received another call informing him that Australian federal police were swarming Wright’s former Sydney office.
Matthews left the airport and drove to Wright’s office. The ATO had asked the police to seize digital records to determine if Wright’s office was a front to justify fraudulent grant claims. Expecting to find no research whatsoever, a member of the forensic team sheepishly told Matthews that he was surprised by the volumes of data they discovered. Matthews later said the sheer number of Bitcoin-related patent applications that nChain subsequently filed is ample proof that Wright’s office wasn’t engaged in any fraudulent activity.
Matthews called some criminal lawyers who advised him that there was nothing preventing Wright from leaving Australia; in fact, they recommended he do so while they sorted out what was happening. Matthews quickly arranged a ticket for Wright on the first available flight to New Zealand.
Matthews then arranged for Wright’s wife and their children to fly to the U.K. Wright eventually flew to Manila, where Matthews collected him and took him to stay at his home. The next day, Matthews put Wright on a plane to London, where the next chapter of this story unfolded in very public fashion.
Not ready for prime time
What happened next has become the stuff of legend, or at least, an example of how swiftly the best laid plans can go off the rails. While nChain was filing patent applications, Wright was undergoing media training for his public reveal as Satoshi. Wright would suffer through these sessions—which largely focused on how not to respond to questions—but minutes before each actual interview he would suddenly balk at going through with it.
Both Ayre and Matthews say it’s now obvious that Wright wasn’t ready to deal with what he’d signed up for. Matthews said that the plan was “a perfectly natural way to do things,” assuming it involved anyone other than Wright. Matthews, who believes Wright views him as “the only consistent authority figure in his life” during that tumultuous 2015-16 period, says he was finally forced to inform Wright that he was “almost obligated” to go through with the process. Not that that made it go any smoother.
Despite Wright’s media blow-up, neither Ayre nor Matthews said they ever lost faith in him. However, they did alter their strategy for moving forward now that they understood Wright’s limitations. Ayre funded the launch of CoinGeek Media to promote Wright’s vision of restoring the Bitcoin protocol’s big-block, multi-functional utility, culminating in original protocol Bitcoin being freed of all artificial constraints in 2018. However, it was forced to trade under the new ticker BSV (Bitcoin Satoshi Vision) because corrupt cryptocurrency exchanges had misappropriated previous ones. (The BTC trading ticker is now used for a non-scaling protocol fork that is most definitely not the Bitcoin described in the white paper.)
Meanwhile, Ayre and Matthews invested in a public cloud computing data infrastructure company that supported global blockchain applications. This company rebranded as TAAL Distributed Information Technologies (CSE:TAAL | FWB:9SQ1 | OTC: TAALF), with a dedicated focus on mining and BSV’s future transaction economy. TAAL is now the world’s largest writer of transactions to a public blockchain.
Matthews served as CEO of nChain, later taking on the role of TAAL’s CEO/chairman. Ayre funded the launch of the Bitcoin Association, of which both he and Matthews were founding members. The Association is the group behind the original protocol now exactly following the white paper, including rolling out Simplified Payment Verification (SPV), aka the secret sauce to unbounded Enterprise scaling.
Ayre also created Ayre Ventures, the first and largest venture capital fund supporting start-ups that leverage BSV’s superpowers. Ayre Ventures has also funded nChain, which is now the world’s largest owner of base blockchain IP to enable enterprise-level scaling and adoption.
In 2018, Ayre debuted the CoinGeek Conference, which will hold its 10th event in London in 2023 under its new name BSV Global Blockchain Convention.
Wright continues to file more patents and is now a global keynote speaker on the IEEE conference series alongside Professor Latif Ladid explaining how original Bitcoin was always designed to integrate with IPv6 and enable the next generation of data valuation over the internet. Only those supporting rival technologies or with axes to grind refuse to accept Dr. Wright as the sole inventor of Bitcoin.
The small-block developer cabal that hijacked the Bitcoin protocol a decade ago aimed to force users onto proprietary side-chains by eliminating on-chain capacity. In the process, they also sought to neutralize the threat the original Bitcoin posed to the legacy financial giants that supported these developers. Their plot is now in tatters, thanks to the timely intervention of a handful of individuals and their commitment to seeing Bitcoin fulfill its original vision.