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Vanessa Karel

Vanessa Karel

2 months ago

10 hard lessons from founding a startup.

More on Entrepreneurship

Micah Daigle

Micah Daigle

1 month ago

Facebook is going away. Here are two explanations for why it hasn't been replaced yet.

And tips for anyone trying.

We see the same story every few years.

BREAKING NEWS: [Platform X] launched a social network. With Facebook's reputation down, the new startup bets millions will switch.

Despite the excitement surrounding each new platform (Diaspora, Ello, Path, MeWe, Minds, Vero, etc.), no major exodus occurred.

Snapchat and TikTok attracted teens with fresh experiences (ephemeral messaging and rapid-fire videos). These features aren't Facebook, even if Facebook replicated them.

Facebook's core is simple: you publish items (typically text/images) and your friends (generally people you know IRL) can discuss them.

It's cool. Sometimes I don't want to, but sh*t. I like it.

Because, well, I like many folks I've met. I enjoy keeping in touch with them and their banter.

I dislike Facebook's corporation. I've been cautiously optimistic whenever a Facebook-killer surfaced.

None succeeded.

Why? Two causes, I think:

People couldn't switch quickly enough, which is reason #1

Your buddies make a social network social.

Facebook started in self-contained communities (college campuses) then grew outward. But a new platform can't.

If we're expected to leave Facebook, we want to know that most of our friends will too.

Most Facebook-killers had bottlenecks. You have to waitlist or jump through hoops (e.g. setting up a server).

Same outcome. Upload. Chirp.

After a week or two of silence, individuals returned to Facebook.

Reason #2: The fundamental experience was different.

Even when many of our friends joined in the first few weeks, it wasn't the same.

There were missing features or a different UX.

Want to reply with a meme? No photos in comments yet. (Trying!)

Want to tag a friend? Nope, sorry. 2019!

Want your friends to see your post? You must post to all your friends' servers. Good luck!

It's difficult to introduce a platform with 100% of the same features as one that's been there for 20 years, yet customers want a core experience.

If you can't, they'll depart.

The causes that led to the causes

Having worked on software teams for 14+ years, I'm not surprised by these challenges. They are a natural development of a few tech sector meta-problems:

Lean startup methodology

Silicon Valley worships lean startup. It's a way of developing software that involves testing a stripped-down version with a limited number of people before selecting what to build.

Billion people use Facebook's functions. They aren't tested. It must work right away*

*This may seem weird to software people, but it's how non-software works! You can't sell a car without wheels.

2. Creativity

Startup entrepreneurs build new things, not copies. I understand. Reinventing the wheel is boring.

We know what works. Different experiences raise adoption friction. Once millions have transferred, more features (and a friendlier UX) can be implemented.

3. Cost scaling

True. Building a product that can sustain hundreds of millions of users in weeks is expensive and complex.

Your lifeboats must have the same capacity as the ship you're evacuating. It's required.

4. Pure ideologies

People who work on Facebook-alternatives are (understandably) critical of Facebook.

They build an open-source, fully-distributed, data-portable, interface-customizable, offline-capable, censorship-proof platform.

Prioritizing these aims can prevent replicating the straightforward experience users expect. Github, not Facebook, is for techies only.

What about the business plan, though?

Facebook-killer attempts have followed three models.

  1. Utilize VC funding to increase your user base, then monetize them later. (If you do this, you won't kill Facebook; instead, Facebook will become you.)

  2. Users must pay to utilize it. (This causes a huge bottleneck and slows the required quick expansion, preventing it from seeming like a true social network.)

  3. Make it a volunteer-run, open-source endeavor that is free. (This typically denotes that something is cumbersome, difficult to operate, and is only for techies.)

Wikipedia is a fourth way.

Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites and a charity. No ads. Donations support them.

A Facebook-killer managed by a good team may gather millions (from affluent contributors and the crowd) for their initial phase of development. Then it might sustain on regular donations, ethical transactions (e.g. fees on commerce, business sites, etc.), and government grants/subsidies (since it would essentially be a public utility).

When you're not aiming to make investors rich, it's remarkable how little money you need.

If you want to build a Facebook competitor, follow these tips:

  1. Drop the lean startup philosophy. Wait until you have a finished product before launching. Build it, thoroughly test it for bugs, and then release it.

  2. Delay innovating. Wait till millions of people have switched before introducing your great new features. Make it nearly identical for now.

  3. Spend money climbing. Make sure that guests can arrive as soon as they are invited. Never keep them waiting. Make things easy for them.

  4. Make it accessible to all. Even if doing so renders it less philosophically pure, it shouldn't require technical expertise to utilize.

  5. Constitute a nonprofit. Additionally, develop community ownership structures. Profit maximization is not the only strategy for preserving valued assets.

Last thoughts

Nobody has killed Facebook, but Facebook is killing itself.

The startup is burying the newsfeed to become a TikTok clone. Meta itself seems to be ditching the platform for the metaverse.

I wish I was happy, but I'm not. I miss (understandably) removed friends' postings and remarks. It could be a ghost town in a few years. My dance moves aren't TikTok-worthy.

Who will lead? It's time to develop a social network for the people.

Greetings if you're working on it. I'm not a company founder, but I like to help hard-working folks.

Mircea Iosif

Mircea Iosif

18 days ago

How To Start An Online Business That Will Be Profitable Without Investing A Lot Of Time

Don't know how to start an online business? Here's a guide. By following these recommendations, you can build a lucrative and profitable online business.

What Are Online Businesses Used For?

Most online businesses are websites. A self-created, self-managed website. You may sell things and services online.

To establish an internet business, you must locate a host and set up accounts with numerous companies. Once your accounts are set up, you may start publishing content and selling products or services.

How to Make Money from Your Online Business

Advertising and marketing are the best ways to make money online. You must develop strategies to contact new customers and generate leads. Make sure your website is search engine optimized so people can find you online.

Top 5 Online Business Tips for Startups:

1. Know your target audience's needs.

2. Make your website as appealing as possible.

3. Generate leads and sales with marketing.

4. Track your progress and learn from your mistakes to improve.

5. Be prepared to expand into new markets or regions.

How to Launch a Successful Online Business Without Putting in a Lot of Work

Build with a solid business model to start a profitable online business. By using these tips, you can start your online business without paying much.

First, develop a user-friendly website. You can use an internet marketing platform or create your own website. Once your website is live, optimize it for search engines and add relevant content.

Second, sell online. This can be done through ads or direct sales to website visitors. Finally, use social media to advertise your internet business. By accomplishing these things, you'll draw visitors to your website and make money.

When launching a business, invest long-term. This involves knowing your goals and how you'll pay for them. Volatility can have several effects on your business. If you offer things online, you may need to examine if the market is ready for them.

Invest wisely

Investing all your money in one endeavor can lead to too much risk and little ROI. Diversify your investments to take advantage of all available chances. So, your investments won't encounter unexpected price swings and you'll be immune to economic upheavals.

Financial news updates

When launching or running a thriving online business, financial news is crucial. By knowing current trends and upcoming developments, you can keep your business lucrative.

Keeping up with financial news can also help you avoid potential traps that could harm your bottom line. If you don't know about new legislation that could affect your industry, potential customers may choose another store when they learn about your business's problems.

Volatility ahead

You should expect volatility in the financial sector. Without a plan for coping with volatility, you could run into difficulty. If your organization relies on client input, you may not be able to exploit customer behavior shifts.

Your company could go bankrupt if you don't understand how fickle the stock market can be. By preparing for volatility, you can ensure your organization survives difficult times and market crashes.

Conclusion

Many internet businesses can be profitable. Start quickly with a few straightforward steps. Diversify your investments, follow financial news, and be prepared for volatility to develop a successful business.

Thanks for reading!

Grace Huang

Grace Huang

1 month ago

I sold 100 copies of my book when I had anticipated selling none.

After a decade in large tech, I know how software engineers were interviewed. I've seen outstanding engineers fail interviews because their responses were too vague.

So I wrote Nail A Coding Interview: Six-Step Mental Framework. Give candidates a mental framework for coding questions; help organizations better prepare candidates so they can calibrate traits.

Recently, I sold more than 100 books, something I never expected.

In this essay, I'll describe my publication journey, which included self-doubt and little triumphs. I hope this helps if you want to publish.

It was originally a Medium post.

How did I know to develop a coding interview book? Years ago, I posted on Medium.

Six steps to ace a coding interview Inhale. blog.devgenius.io

This story got a lot of attention and still gets a lot of daily traffic. It indicates this domain's value.

Converted the Medium article into an ebook

The Medium post contains strong bullet points, but it is missing the “flesh”. How to use these strategies in coding interviews, for example. I filled in the blanks and made a book.

I made the book cover for free. It's tidy.

Shared the article with my close friends on my social network WeChat.

I shared the book on Wechat's Friend Circle (朋友圈) after publishing it on Gumroad. Many friends enjoyed my post. It definitely triggered endorphins.

In Friend Circle, I presented a 100% off voucher. No one downloaded the book. Endorphins made my heart sink.

Several days later, my Apple Watch received a Gumroad notification. A friend downloaded it. I majored in finance, he subsequently said. My brother-in-law can get it? He downloaded it to cheer me up.

I liked him, but was disappointed that he didn't read it.

The Tipping Point: Reddit's Free Giving

I trusted the book. It's based on years of interviewing. I felt it might help job-hunting college students. If nobody wants it, it can still have value.

I posted the book's link on /r/leetcode. I told them to DM me for a free promo code.

Momentum shifted everything. Gumroad notifications kept coming when I was out with family. Following orders.

As promised, I sent DMs a promo code. Some consumers ordered without asking for a promo code. Some readers finished the book and posted reviews.

My book was finally on track.

A 5-Star Review, plus More

A reader afterwards DMed me and inquired if I had another book on system design interviewing. I said that was a good idea, but I didn't have one. If you write one, I'll be your first reader.

Later, I asked for a book review. Yes, but how? That's when I learned readers' reviews weren't easy. I built up an email pipeline to solicit customer reviews. Since then, I've gained credibility through ratings.

Learnings

I wouldn't have gotten 100 if I gave up when none of my pals downloaded. Here are some lessons.

  • Your friends are your allies, but they are not your clients.

  • Be present where your clients are

  • Request ratings and testimonials

  • gain credibility gradually

I did it, so can you. Follow me on Twitter @imgracehuang for my publishing and entrepreneurship adventure.

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Nir Zicherman

Nir Zicherman

25 days ago

The Great Organizational Conundrum

Only two of the following three options can be achieved: consistency, availability, and partition tolerance

A DALL-E 2 generated “photograph of a teddy bear who is frustrated because it can’t finish a jigsaw puzzle”

Someone told me that growing from 30 to 60 is the biggest adjustment for a team or business.

I remember thinking, That's random. Each company is unique. I've seen teams of all types confront the same issues during development periods. With new enterprises starting every year, we should be better at navigating growing difficulties.

As a team grows, its processes and systems break down, requiring reorganization or declining results. Why always? Why isn't there a perfect scaling model? Why hasn't that been found?

The Three Things Productive Organizations Must Have

Any company should be efficient and productive. Three items are needed:

First, it must verify that no two team members have conflicting information about the roadmap, strategy, or any input that could affect execution. Teamwork is required.

Second, it must ensure that everyone can receive the information they need from everyone else quickly, especially as teams become more specialized (an inevitability in a developing organization). It requires everyone's accessibility.

Third, it must ensure that the organization can operate efficiently even if a piece is unavailable. It's partition-tolerant.

From my experience with the many teams I've been on, invested in, or advised, achieving all three is nearly impossible. Why a perfect organization model cannot exist is clear after analysis.

The CAP Theorem: What is it?

Eric Brewer of Berkeley discovered the CAP Theorem, which argues that a distributed data storage should have three benefits. One can only have two at once.

The three benefits are consistency, availability, and partition tolerance, which implies that even if part of the system is offline, the remainder continues to work.

This notion is usually applied to computer science, but I've realized it's also true for human organizations. In a post-COVID world, many organizations are hiring non-co-located staff as they grow. CAP Theorem is more important than ever. Growing teams sometimes think they can develop ways to bypass this law, dooming themselves to a less-than-optimal team dynamic. They should adopt CAP to maximize productivity.

Path 1: Consistency and availability equal no tolerance for partitions

Let's imagine you want your team to always be in sync (i.e., for someone to be the source of truth for the latest information) and to be able to share information with each other. Only division into domains will do.

Numerous developing organizations do this, especially after the early stage (say, 30 people) when everyone may wear many hats and be aware of all the moving elements. After a certain point, it's tougher to keep generalists aligned than to divide them into specialized tasks.

In a specialized, segmented team, leaders optimize consistency and availability (i.e. every function is up-to-speed on the latest strategy, no one is out of sync, and everyone is able to unblock and inform everyone else).

Partition tolerance suffers. If any component of the organization breaks down (someone goes on vacation, quits, underperforms, or Gmail or Slack goes down), productivity stops. There's no way to give the team stability, availability, and smooth operation during a hiccup.

Path 2: Partition Tolerance and Availability = No Consistency

Some businesses avoid relying too heavily on any one person or sub-team by maximizing availability and partition tolerance (the organization continues to function as a whole even if particular components fail). Only redundancy can do that. Instead of specializing each member, the team spreads expertise so people can work in parallel. I switched from Path 1 to Path 2 because I realized too much reliance on one person is risky.

What happens after redundancy? Unreliable. The more people may run independently and in parallel, the less anyone can be the truth. Lack of alignment or updated information can lead to people executing slightly different strategies. So, resources are squandered on the wrong work.

Path 3: Partition and Consistency "Tolerance" equates to "absence"

The third, least-used path stresses partition tolerance and consistency (meaning answers are always correct and up-to-date). In this organizational style, it's most critical to maintain the system operating and keep everyone aligned. No one is allowed to read anything without an assurance that it's up-to-date (i.e. there’s no availability).

Always short-lived. In my experience, a business that prioritizes quality and scalability over speedy information transmission can get bogged down in heavy processes that hinder production. Large-scale, this is unsustainable.

Accepting CAP

When two puzzle pieces fit, the third won't. I've watched developing teams try to tackle these difficulties, only to find, as their ancestors did, that they can never be entirely solved. Idealized solutions fail in reality, causing lost effort, confusion, and lower production.

As teams develop and change, they should embrace CAP, acknowledge there is a limit to productivity in a scaling business, and choose the best two-out-of-three path.

Liam Vaughan

Liam Vaughan

3 months ago

Investors can bet big on almost anything on a new prediction market.

Kalshi allows five-figure bets on the Grammys, the next Covid wave, and future SEC commissioners. Worst-case scenario

On Election Day 2020, two young entrepreneurs received a call from the CFTC chairman. Luana Lopes Lara and Tarek Mansour spent 18 months trying to start a new type of financial exchange. Instead of betting on stock prices or commodity futures, people could trade instruments tied to real-world events, such as legislation, the weather, or the Oscar winner.

Heath Tarbert, a Trump appointee, shouted "Congratulations." "You're competing with 1840s-era markets. I'm sure you'll become a powerhouse too."

Companies had tried to introduce similar event markets in the US for years, but Tarbert's agency, the CFTC, said no, arguing they were gambling and prone to cheating. Now the agency has reversed course, approving two 24-year-olds who will have first-mover advantage in what could become a huge new asset class. Kalshi Inc. raised $30 million from venture capitalists within weeks of Tarbert's call, his representative says. Mansour, 26, believes this will be bigger than crypto.

Anyone who's read The Wisdom of Crowds knows prediction markets' potential. Well-designed markets can help draw out knowledge from disparate groups, and research shows that when money is at stake, people make better predictions. Lopes Lara calls it a "bullshit tax." That's why Google, Microsoft, and even the US Department of Defense use prediction markets internally to guide decisions, and why university-linked political betting sites like PredictIt sometimes outperform polls.

Regulators feared Wall Street-scale trading would encourage investors to manipulate reality. If the stakes are high enough, traders could pressure congressional staffers to stall a bill or bet on whether Kanye West's new album will drop this week. When Lopes Lara and Mansour pitched the CFTC, senior regulators raised these issues. Politically appointed commissioners overruled their concerns, and one later joined Kalshi's board.

Will Kanye’s new album come out next week? Yes or no?

Kalshi's victory was due more to lobbying and legal wrangling than to Silicon Valley-style innovation. Lopes Lara and Mansour didn't invent anything; they changed a well-established concept's governance. The result could usher in a new era of market-based enlightenment or push Wall Street's destructive tendencies into the real world.

If Kalshi's founders lacked experience to bolster their CFTC application, they had comical youth success. Lopes Lara studied ballet at the Brazilian Bolshoi before coming to the US. Mansour won France's math Olympiad. They bonded over their work ethic in an MIT computer science class.

Lopes Lara had the idea for Kalshi while interning at a New York hedge fund. When the traders around her weren't working, she noticed they were betting on the news: Would Apple hit a trillion dollars? Kylie Jenner? "It was anything," she says.

Are mortgage rates going up? Yes or no?

Mansour saw the business potential when Lopes Lara suggested it. He interned at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., helping investors prepare for the UK leaving the EU. Goldman sold clients complex stock-and-derivative combinations. As he discussed it with Lopes Lara, they agreed that investors should hedge their risk by betting on Brexit itself rather than an imperfect proxy.

Lopes Lara and Mansour hypothesized how a marketplace might work. They settled on a "event contract," a binary-outcome instrument like "Will inflation hit 5% by the end of the month?" The contract would settle at $1 (if the event happened) or zero (if it didn't), but its price would fluctuate based on market sentiment. After a good debate, a politician's election odds may rise from 50 to 55. Kalshi would charge a commission on every trade and sell data to traders, political campaigns, businesses, and others.

In October 2018, five months after graduation, the pair flew to California to compete in a hackathon for wannabe tech founders organized by the Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator. They built a website in a day and a night and presented it to entrepreneurs the next day. Their prototype barely worked, but they won a three-month mentorship program and $150,000. Michael Seibel, managing director of Y Combinator, said of their idea, "I had to take a chance!"

Will there be another moon landing by 2025?

Seibel's skepticism was rooted in America's historical wariness of gambling. Roulette, poker, and other online casino games are largely illegal, and sports betting was only legal in a few states until May 2018. Kalshi as a risk-hedging platform rather than a bookmaker seemed like a good idea, but convincing the CFTC wouldn't be easy. In 2012, the CFTC said trading on politics had no "economic purpose" and was "contrary to the public interest."

Lopes Lara and Mansour cold-called 60 Googled lawyers during their time at Y Combinator. Everyone advised quitting. Mansour recalls the pain. Jeff Bandman, a former CFTC official, helped them navigate the agency and its characters.

When they weren’t busy trying to recruit lawyers, Lopes Lara and Mansour were meeting early-stage investors. Alfred Lin of Sequoia Capital Operations LLC backed Airbnb, DoorDash, and Uber Technologies. Lin told the founders their idea could capitalize on retail trading and challenge how the financial world manages risk. "Come back with regulatory approval," he said.

In the US, even small bets on most events were once illegal. Under the Commodity Exchange Act, the CFTC can stop exchanges from listing contracts relating to "terrorism, assassination, war" and "gaming" if they are "contrary to the public interest," which was often the case.

Will subway ridership return to normal? Yes or no?

In 1988, as academic interest in the field grew, the agency allowed the University of Iowa to set up a prediction market for research purposes, as long as it didn't make a profit or advertise and limited bets to $500. PredictIt, the biggest and best-known political betting platform in the US, also got an exemption thanks to an association with Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Today, it's a sprawling marketplace with its own subculture and lingo. PredictIt users call it "Rules Cuck Panther" when they lose on a technicality. Major news outlets cite PredictIt's odds on Discord and the Star Spangled Gamblers podcast.

CFTC limits PredictIt bets to $850. To keep traders happy, PredictIt will often run multiple variations of the same question, listing separate contracts for two dozen Democratic primary candidates, for example. A trader could have more than $10,000 riding on a single outcome. Some of the site's traders are current or former campaign staffers who can answer questions like "How many tweets will Donald Trump post from Nov. 20 to 27?" and "When will Anthony Scaramucci's role as White House communications director end?"

According to PredictIt co-founder John Phillips, politicians help explain the site's accuracy. "Prediction markets work well and are accurate because they attract people with superior information," he said in a 2016 podcast. “In the financial stock market, it’s called inside information.”

Will Build Back Better pass? Yes or no?

Trading on nonpublic information is illegal outside of academia, which presented a dilemma for Lopes Lara and Mansour. Kalshi's forecasts needed to be accurate. Kalshi must eliminate insider trading as a regulated entity. Lopes Lara and Mansour wanted to build a high-stakes PredictIt without the anarchy or blurred legal lines—a "New York Stock Exchange for Events." First, they had to convince regulators event trading was safe.

When Lopes Lara and Mansour approached the CFTC in the spring of 2019, some officials in the Division of Market Oversight were skeptical, according to interviews with people involved in the process. For all Kalshi's talk of revolutionizing finance, this was just a turbocharged version of something that had been rejected before.

The DMO couldn't see the big picture. The staff review was supposed to ensure Kalshi could complete a checklist, "23 Core Principles of a Designated Contract Market," which included keeping good records and having enough money. The five commissioners decide. With Trump as president, three of them were ideologically pro-market.

Lopes Lara, Mansour, and their lawyer Bandman, an ex-CFTC official, answered the DMO's questions while lobbying the commissioners on Zoom about the potential of event markets to mitigate risks and make better decisions. Before each meeting, they would write a script and memorize it word for word.

Will student debt be forgiven? Yes or no?

Several prediction markets that hadn't sought regulatory approval bolstered Kalshi's case. Polymarket let customers bet hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously using cryptocurrencies, making it hard to track. Augur, which facilitates private wagers between parties using blockchain, couldn't regulate bets and hadn't stopped users from betting on assassinations. Kalshi, by comparison, argued it was doing everything right. (The CFTC fined Polymarket $1.4 million for operating an unlicensed exchange in January 2022. Polymarket says it's now compliant and excited to pioneer smart contract-based financial solutions with regulators.

Kalshi was approved unanimously despite some DMO members' concerns about event contracts' riskiness. "Once they check all the boxes, they're in," says a CFTC insider.

Three months after CFTC approval, Kalshi announced funding from Sequoia, Charles Schwab, and Henry Kravis. Sequoia's Lin, who joined the board, said Tarek, Luana, and team created a new way to invest and engage with the world.

The CFTC hadn't asked what markets the exchange planned to run since. After approval, Lopes Lara and Mansour had the momentum. Kalshi's March list of 30 proposed contracts caused chaos at the DMO. The division handles exchanges that create two or three new markets a year. Kalshi’s business model called for new ones practically every day.

Uncontroversial proposals included weather and GDP questions. Others, on the initial list and later, were concerning. DMO officials feared Covid-19 contracts amounted to gambling on human suffering, which is why war and terrorism markets are banned. (Similar logic doomed ex-admiral John Poindexter's Policy Analysis Market, a Bush-era plan to uncover intelligence by having security analysts bet on Middle East events.) Regulators didn't see how predicting the Grammy winners was different from betting on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Who, other than John Legend, would need to hedge the best R&B album winner?

Event contracts raised new questions for the DMO's product review team. Regulators could block gaming contracts that weren't in the public interest under the Commodity Exchange Act, but no one had defined gaming. It was unclear whether the CFTC had a right or an obligation to consider whether a contract was in the public interest. How was it to determine public interest? Another person familiar with the CFTC review says, "It was a mess." The agency didn't comment.

CFTC staff feared some event contracts could be cheated. Kalshi wanted to run a bee-endangerment market. The DMO pushed back, saying it saw two problems symptomatic of the asset class: traders could press government officials for information, and officials could delay adding the insects to the list to cash in.

The idea that traders might manipulate prediction markets wasn't paranoid. In 2013, academics David Rothschild and Rajiv Sethi found that an unidentified party lost $7 million buying Mitt Romney contracts on Intrade, a now-defunct, unlicensed Irish platform, in the runup to the 2012 election. The authors speculated that the trader, whom they dubbed the “Romney Whale,” may have been looking to boost morale and keep donations coming in.

Kalshi said manipulation and insider trading are risks for any market. It built a surveillance system and said it would hire a team to monitor it. "People trade on events all the time—they just use options and other instruments. This brings everything into the open, Mansour says. Kalshi didn't include election contracts, a red line for CFTC Democrats.

Lopes Lara and Mansour were ready to launch kalshi.com that summer, but the DMO blocked them. Product reviewers were frustrated by spending half their time on an exchange that represented a tiny portion of the derivatives market. Lopes Lara and Mansour pressed politically appointed commissioners during the impasse.

Tarbert, the chairman, had moved on, but Kalshi found a new supporter in Republican Brian Quintenz, a crypto-loving former hedge fund manager. He was unmoved by the DMO's concerns, arguing that speculation on Kalshi's proposed events was desirable and the agency had no legal standing to prevent it. He supported a failed bid to allow NFL futures earlier this year. Others on the commission were cautious but supportive. Given the law's ambiguity, they worried they'd be on shaky ground if Kalshi sued if they blocked a contract. Without a permanent chairman, the agency lacked leadership.

To block a contract, DMO staff needed a majority of commissioners' support, which they didn't have in all but a few cases. "We didn't have the votes," a reviewer says, paraphrasing Hamilton. By the second half of 2021, new contract requests were arriving almost daily at the DMO, and the demoralized and overrun division eventually accepted defeat and stopped fighting back. By the end of the year, three senior DMO officials had left the agency, making it easier for Kalshi to list its contracts unimpeded.

Today, Kalshi is growing. 32 employees work in a SoHo office with big windows and exposed brick. Quintenz, who left the CFTC 10 months after Kalshi was approved, is on its board. He joined because he was interested in the market's hedging and risk management opportunities.

Mid-May, the company's website had 75 markets, such as "Will Q4 GDP be negative?" Will NASA land on the moon by 2025? The exchange recently reached 2 million weekly contracts, a jump from where it started but still a small number compared to other futures exchanges. Early adopters are PredictIt and Polymarket fans. Bets on the site are currently capped at $25,000, but Kalshi hopes to increase that to $100,000 and beyond.

With the regulatory drawbridge down, Lopes Lara and Mansour must move quickly. Chicago's CME Group Inc. plans to offer index-linked event contracts. Kalshi will release a smartphone app to attract customers. After that, it hopes to partner with a big brokerage. Sequoia is a major investor in Robinhood Markets Inc. Robinhood users could have access to Kalshi so that after buying GameStop Corp. shares, they'd be prompted to bet on the Oscars or the next Fed commissioner.

Some, like Illinois Democrat Sean Casten, accuse Robinhood and its competitors of gamifying trading to encourage addiction, but Kalshi doesn't seem worried. Mansour says Kalshi's customers can't bet more than they've deposited, making debt difficult. Eventually, he may introduce leveraged bets.

Tension over event contracts recalls another CFTC episode. Brooksley Born proposed regulating the financial derivatives market in 1994. Alan Greenspan and others in the government opposed her, saying it would stifle innovation and push capital overseas. Unrestrained, derivatives grew into a trillion-dollar industry until 2008, when they sparked the financial crisis.

Today, with a midterm election looming, it seems reasonable to ask whether Kalshi plans to get involved. Elections have historically been the biggest draw in prediction markets, with 125 million shares traded on PredictIt for 2020. “We can’t discuss specifics,” Mansour says. “All I can say is, you know, we’re always working on expanding the universe of things that people can trade on.”

Any election contracts would need CFTC approval, which may be difficult with three Democratic commissioners. A Republican president would change the equation.

Vishal Chawla

Vishal Chawla

6 months ago

5 Bored Apes borrowed to claim $1.1 million in APE tokens

Takeaway
Unknown user took advantage of the ApeCoin airdrop to earn $1.1 million.
He used a flash loan to borrow five BAYC NFTs, claim the airdrop, and repay the NFTs.

Yuga Labs, the creators of BAYC, airdropped ApeCoin (APE) to anyone who owns one of their NFTs yesterday.

For the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Mutant Ape Yacht Club collections, the team allocated 150 million tokens, or 15% of the total ApeCoin supply, worth over $800 million. Each BAYC holder received 10,094 tokens worth $80,000 to $200,000.

But someone managed to claim the airdrop using NFTs they didn't own. They used the airdrop's specific features to carry it out. And it worked, earning them $1.1 million in ApeCoin.

The trick was that the ApeCoin airdrop wasn't based on who owned which Bored Ape at a given time. Instead, anyone with a Bored Ape at the time of the airdrop could claim it. So if you gave someone your Bored Ape and you hadn't claimed your tokens, they could claim them.

The person only needed to get hold of some Bored Apes that hadn't had their tokens claimed to claim the airdrop. They could be returned immediately.

So, what happened?

The person found a vault with five Bored Ape NFTs that hadn't been used to claim the airdrop.

A vault tokenizes an NFT or a group of NFTs. You put a bunch of NFTs in a vault and make a token. This token can then be staked for rewards or sold (representing part of the value of the collection of NFTs). Anyone with enough tokens can exchange them for NFTs.

This vault uses the NFTX protocol. In total, it contained five Bored Apes: #7594, #8214, #9915, #8167, and #4755. Nobody had claimed the airdrop because the NFTs were locked up in the vault and not controlled by anyone.

The person wanted to unlock the NFTs to claim the airdrop but didn't want to buy them outright s o they used a flash loan, a common tool for large DeFi hacks. Flash loans are a low-cost way to borrow large amounts of crypto that are repaid in the same transaction and block (meaning that the funds are never at risk of not being repaid).

With a flash loan of under $300,000 they bought a Bored Ape on NFT marketplace OpenSea. A large amount of the vault's token was then purchased, allowing them to redeem the five NFTs. The NFTs were used to claim the airdrop, before being returned, the tokens sold back, and the loan repaid.

During this process, they claimed 60,564 ApeCoin airdrops. They then sold them on Uniswap for 399 ETH ($1.1 million). Then they returned the Bored Ape NFT used as collateral to the same NFTX vault.

Attack or arbitrage?

However, security firm BlockSecTeam disagreed with many social media commentators. A flaw in the airdrop-claiming mechanism was exploited, it said.

According to BlockSecTeam's analysis, the user took advantage of a "vulnerability" in the airdrop.

"We suspect a hack due to a flaw in the airdrop mechanism. The attacker exploited this vulnerability to profit from the airdrop claim" said BlockSecTeam.

For example, the airdrop could have taken into account how long a person owned the NFT before claiming the reward.

Because Yuga Labs didn't take a snapshot, anyone could buy the NFT in real time and claim it. This is probably why BAYC sales exploded so soon after the airdrop announcement.