127 Minutes With… Sam Bankman-Fried
New York magazine|February 1-14, 2021
Who was that mysterious Biden donor? A dispassionate 28-year-old with $10 billion in crypto.
By Benjamin Wallace

Sam Bankman-Fried on his office beanbag chair, where he sleeps most nights.

IN JANUARY 2018, Sam BankmanFried, then a mathy 25-year-old who had recently left Wall Street to try his hand at buying and selling cryptocurrency, spotted a fabulous arbitrage: Because of a faddish surge of interest in Japan, bitcoin was trading for 10 percent more there than in America. Much of the rest of the cryptosphere was distracted by something even shinier—the 30 percent price gap between Korean and American bitcoin, known as the kimchee premium. But Korea has a restricted currency that’s hard to turn back into dollars; Bankman-Fried had tried to crack that trade, at one point calculating whether it made sense to get an airplane, fill it with people, and fly to Seoul to all buy bitcoin in person. Instead, he settled for Japan. It was still complex (or “quite annoying,” in his words) to execute at scale, but BankmanFried and some friends, with whom he had founded a trading firm in Berkeley called Alameda Research, cobbled together a chain of intermediaries, including obscure banks in rural Japan, to take advantage of the monthlong price discrepancy. They moved up to $25 million a day. “You can do the math,” said Bankman-Fried. “That was the craziest trade I’ve ever seen.”

When Bankman-Fried and I spoke over FaceTime recently, it was 10 p.m. in Hong Kong. The lights of the city were visible out the window of his high-rise office, where he presides over a fledgling crypto-empire. Alameda, which turns over $2 billion a day, ranks No. 10 on the bitmex leaderboard of all-time mostprofitable traders. Bankman-Fried now spends most of his time building a second business, called FTX—a high-volume, low-fee platform for trading derivatives like options and leveraged tokens—which Mike Novogratz, the hedge-funder turned crypto-enthusiast, recently described as “the most innovative exchange out there.”

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