2022 Reflections

What a year. 2022 is in the books.

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A graphic made about us by Solana News

I’m excited to kick off my annual, year-in-review reflections. Before we zoom into the finer details, let’s quickly look back on some of this year’s significant events (that I remember):

On the world stage, we witnessed the start of the Russia-Ukraine War, crazy inflation, the Omnicron variant, US quantitative tightening, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the global population hitting 8 billion people, Britain going through three prime ministers in 51 days, protests in Iran, Chinese lockdowns, the first photograph of the Milky Way black hole, and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Focusing in, across crypto we had the fall of FTX, Luna crash, 3AC implode, Alameda commiting fraud, Celsius blow up, BlockFi going insolvent, dYdX announcing the move to Cosmos, and Elon bought Twitter.

In my direct line of sight at work, we saw the alt L1 wars fizzle, Drift pause, Mango get exploited, and Aptos perform a pretty terrible launch.

Me in Turks and Caicos

at mrgn

Most of my year was spent working on mrgn, so it only makes sense I start off my review with the now-infamous crypto org. Edgar and I watched the team headcount grow to seven. We officially hired Anders, Jakob, Cyrill, Ben & Connor in 2022. For context, we basically started mrgn with the commencement of 2022.

Against the odds, we made 2022 a successful year at mrgn.

2022 was the most volatile, destructive year in crypto… ever. Considering the industry is crypto, that’s a consequential statement. Funny enough, the bulk of that destruction was over-indexed towards Solana — the chain mrgn is built on. To say the team at mrgn — and everyone else in the Solana ecosystem — is resilient for making it through this year would be an understatement.

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The Singapore GP race track being built (I watched the race later in the year)

marginfi, our core protocol, was at the center of these crosshairs. What makes marginfi novel is that it recognizes positions on other exchanges (like Drift and Mango, mentioned prior) and gives traders the ability to use those positions to collateralize new trades on new exchanges. Reliability with the exchanges we’re cross-margining is an important ingredient to our success… in 2022 we didn’t have that. Apart from the issues at Drift and Mango, there was a point where practically every decentralized exchange (DEX) on Solana was paused after the FTX collapse. Alameda — their sister trading firm — was pulling huge balances of SOL from validators (to be used as assets in bankruptcy proceedings) and this caused a significant amount of blockchain instability.

This is just a sneak peek into the adversity we faced, but let’s also highlight the wins.

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Showing off new merch at mtnDAO

In 2022, we became the first team in crypto to cross-margin derivative products (starting with perps) across different DEXs. This was a massive accomplishment. For the first time, sophisticated traders had a quasi-prime brokerage/clearing house hub to trade with unified liquidity, portfolio leverage, and a single trader interface across their favorite on-chain exchanges.

In an industry full of copy/paste ideas, it was nice to put out something new. However, we didn’t stop there.

Next, we became the first team in crypto to offer an adaptive, delta-neutral arbitrage vault across derivative products, fully on-chain, to anyone. This picked up popularity fast. It took us about 3 days (in the middle of the bear market) to receive $30M in commits.

However, right before we could go live, Mango was exploited for $100M. This was a primary venue we wanted to use with the black box, so we had to pause the launch and reasses on-chain liquidity.

Liquidity has been a struggle on-chain. We’ve felt this across all our workstreams — from marginfi to mrgn research. Despite the smaller breathing room, we’ve continued to push forward. This year, mrgn research built the most latency-efficient trading infrastructure on Solana, currently powering the highest-performing MEV operation across performant chains. In 2023, we’re going to continue to push on the liquidity front at mrgn research, with expansion into market-making across partner DEXs.

This underscores the broader expansion of mrgn as an org. We started this year with marginfi. We’re now ending this year with marginfi, mrgn research, structured products, trading infrastructure, and MEV. marginfi became mrgn group. Soon, we’ll have a new, breakthrough product added to this ecosystem :)

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Sand-boarding in Dubai

Outside of firsts, we did some fun things for the benefit of the surrounding crypto community amidst the chaos. We launched Liquidity Crunch.

For context, many teams and individuals in the space had exposure to FTX. Whether it was personal or company balances on the exchange, having Alameda or FTX as an investor, or even holding large balances of Solana as an investment… people were hurting after the FTX collapse. The worst part was that, in many cases, these were individuals using crypto for what it was meant to do. Non-US citizens were holding USDC to hedge against their native currency. Investors were diversifying into digital assets. People were supporting and funding new projects in the ecosystem. FTX put these use cases into question because it failed at the point of centralization. We can’t let something like that deter us.

We saw the fallout from FTX cause a lot of pain. This pushed us to design some cereal box NFTs with notable details of the FTX collapse, partner with a few teams across Solana, and launch the collection marking that chaotic day. We donated all profits to a few individuals/teams that were deserving, doing our small part to help people recover. I really enjoyed putting Liquidity Crunch together and shipping it in the 2 weeks following the collapse.

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Some WeWork in Singapore

around the world

I traveled a lot in 2022 — probably the most I’ve traveled in a single year, ever. The shortlist of places I spent significant time is as follows (in order of time spent):

  • Singapore
  • New York
  • Salt Lake City
  • Boston
  • Scranton
  • Turks and Caicos
  • Miami
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
  • Lisbon
  • Nassau
  • Chicago
  • Dubai
  • Bali
  • Rhode Island
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The view from my apartment in Boston

There are too many places here to feature each one, but I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t highlight a few of the more consequential places. Let’s start with Singapore.

In 2022, I spent more time in Singapore than anywhere else. I went there to build out mrgn’s relationships across a variety of trading firms. Because of the ambiguity with regulation and cost structure tied to operating in the United States, many firms trading digital assets have elected to set up operations elsewhere. Singapore is a hot spot for this activity.

My time in Singapore was successful. I met some lovely people in particular from Folkvang, Alphalab, LedgerPrime, Fisher8, Galois, Pattern, GSR, Nibbio, DACM, Tower, Auros, Orca Global, MGNR, Amber, Babel, 3AC, TPS, Alameda, and Jump. During that time, I also met people from dba, GoldenTree, Ergonia, Menai, CMS, Marshall Wace, and a few others.

I also met some new, lovely friends from the industry. I got to hang with Tristan and the Zeta crew pretty frequently, as well as TT at Sino. Jeff and Vyomesh at Folkvang were always fun to be around, and the biking day with Udai at Galois was lots of fun. Finally, it was always great seeing Emily at Alkimiya who always made me feel welcome.

Outside of work, I got to immerse myself in a different culture with amazing food, awesome public infrastructure, and great weather. I grew a lot as a person there, getting to live on the other side of the world by myself. I’m excited for my next trip back. There’s certainly a future where I spend some long-term time there (or somewhere close) a few years from now.

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The view from my apartment in Singapore

In 2022, I was also able to take some personal trips. I went up to Boston, across America to SF, or down to Miami to say hi to some friends. I also got to do date nights in Bali and Dubai. I have some of the best friends out there, and skipping over a few extra miles to see them is something I look forward to doing more of in 2023. Ideally, more of these trips happen in America — that way I can have an easier time taking Bō and don’t walk out of the plane with cramps. However, I’m certainly down to make a few overseas exceptions.

personal wins

I was able to sneak in some personal wins in 2022. This year I sold my first tech company. Cabana Health, the consumer health-tech app Tom and I started in 2020 and ran until 2021 had a successful exit in 2022. This was an awesome learning experience and a nice ending to my first big venture-scale tech pursuit. Cabana is responsible for throwing me into the startup world, and I’d most likely be in a dramatically different place right now without that venture. Cabana led me to 1) drop out of school, 2) join my first hacker houses, 3) meet investors across silicon valley, 4) meet other entrepreneurs in tech, and 5) see the progress happening in crypto, sparking a deeper interest.

I joined mrgn knowing at a granular level how to build products, manage teams, raise money, coordinate stakeholders, facilitate growth, and much, much more. Exit or not, Cabana was worth it. The acquisition this year was just icing on the cake.

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Checking out the Salt Flats in Salt Lake City

mrgn research was another big win. Before Cabana, I managed a small hedge fund from 2015–2019 called Katalpa Capital Management. This was my first bigger entrepreneurial venture. I was attracted to investing because I loved competition, especially when I was up against the best. I was a big sports player, and a lot of the same approach I applied there carried over to investing. As practice sets you apart with basketball, research sets you aside with investing. That made it very natural to name mrgn research, mrgn research.

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View #2 from the office in Singapore
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A shopping street in Orchard

We started mrgn research for two main reasons. First, we wanted to stress-test marginfi with an adaptive product built on top (the “black box” mentioned prior), and this would take a trading focus. Second, we saw the lack of liquidity across on-chain programs as traders moved to centralized exchanges (before the FTX collapse) and wanted to help out fellow dApps.

We aligned the start of mrgn research with a key hire (Ben) to build out our infrastructure, and we were off to the races. The success we’ve had since then is incredible, but this is really just the start. Nevertheless, starting up a trading arm was very nostalgic to my first jump into company-building back when I was 15 years old.

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Our offices + the mtnDAO building in Salt Lake City

I also got to invest time and energy into some amazing founders this year. I want to do more of this in 2023. If you’re making crypto real — specifically if you’re working on integrating crypto payments into real-world things — please reach out. E-commerce, events, retail… if we can seamlessly navigate these systems using crypto balances, we’ve taken a massive step. This applies globally. For example, the payments system in America actually works pretty well right now, but globally this is much more fragmented. The use case for crypto at its base layers is stronger when you look out across the world… don’t neglect this. Let’s build a global, permissionless payment system and actually bank the unbanked. I’m ready to help in this area.

The biggest win of all was getting Bō. I have an almost 6-month-old Maltipoo puppy running around my apartment, thanks to the perfect timing of him not having a home in Salt Lake City earlier this year. I knew I wanted to get someone like Bō when I would be traveling less, and it’s looking like I’m going to do that in 2023.

In 2023, I will be the ultimate dog dad. I can’t wait to watch Bō grow up, teach him manners, and do everything I can to keep the both of us healthy. I hope Bō grows big and strong in 2023… I’m very happy we’re a team.

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Bō before his first haircut

new interests

I’ve started diving into game theory and math this year. This has surfaced in a practical sense by studying the game of poker. I’d like to start playing poker in 2023 and test the theories I’m studying in real-time. Poker has been a nice little mind-bending escape from my day-to-day responsibilities, which is something I need.

I’d like to explore more of the theoretical side of math this year as well. In 2022, I was constantly faced with “risk management”. Whether it was my personal holdings, protocol solvency, my reputation, or even the way I was spending time across workstreams, or allocating my focus and energy in life, risk was constantly in focus. I’d love to infuse a deeper understanding of math with my perception of risk to inform the way I operate. In 2023, I welcome more left-brain thinking.

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View #1 from the office in Singapore

The sustainable systems I strive to build (in work and life), my game theory pursuits (in poker and everything else), and the quantitative work we do across mrgn (with trading, risk systems, and even things like distribution and marketing) can all benefit from diving deep into my new interests. Therefore, I shall dive deep in 2023.

My right brain needs some love too, and I want to make sure I spend time doing creative things in 2023. I’ve been eyeing music and video production for a while now… perhaps I can see where that takes me. This is certainly an area in which I need to improve. There’s a ton of inspiration out there, I just gotta get after it.

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Getting out of the airport in Lisbon

what’s next

There are some big things I want to accomplish in the new year. I’ve spent some time talking about mrgn (where I spend most of my time) and the new research arm… so let’s start there.

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View from The Palm islands in Dubai

We’re going to scale mrgn research (MR) in 2023. We started MR by researching on-chain trading infrastructure, creating latency-efficient, precise systems for quantitative trading, and live testing with MEV. This opened up a lot for us, and now we’re going to take the next step. Market-making, as mentioned previously, is high on our list of ways we can contribute to the ecosystem. We’ll be kicking off a partnership-driven market-making workstream in 2023. We’re also paying close attention when it comes to opportunities across different blockchains. We’ll be watching Cosmos and Sui in 2023

There’s also a new product launch slotted at mrgn. This will be an exciting addition to the Solana DeFi landscape — something at the base layer that will give all teams the flexibility they need to level up. Watch out for this launch coming after the new year.

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Me working in my room in Singapore

The marginfi protocol will also have some exciting new functionality in the new year. It’s exciting to see venues like Drift, Zeta, and soon Mango go back online. Sophisticated traders will have a much easier time trading across these DEXs soon.

On the personal front, I’m excited to host some communal nights at Anders’s and my apartment. Watch out for poker nights, movie nights, and a regular cadence of nights with friends. It will most likely take all of 2023 to get good at poker, so I’m excited to make poker night profitable in 2024. If you’re in NYC and would like to say hi to Anders and me around the FiDi area, hit me up! I’m excited to meet new friends in 2023.

In 2023, I’m excited to spend more time curating my personal brand. I gained 60% of my following this year on Twitter, so next year I’d like to push that number closer to 80% (an audience of around 10K). I think this is important on the professional front, especially as the figure directing our growth efforts at mrgn. I’ve also become a more visible figure within the Solana ecosystem and across the crypto trading world. I’m excited to double down here and expand to new niches in 2023. I’m aiming to break into new formats of video and audio, while also putting out more long-form content. We’ll see where I land at the start of 2024.

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Riding a camel in the Arabian Desert

In 2023, I’d like to publish more research. Writing is something, in particular, I really enjoy, especially when I get to dive deep into certain topics. 2023 can be a year where I take certain research and make it accessible for those who can use it to push crypto forward.

Finally, I’m considering formalizing my angel investments in 2023. I think there’s space for an operator fund with crypto founders who are close to the action. To my knowledge, an operator fund doesn’t exist that’s native to Solana, and a lot of work could be done across different chains (Ethereum, Cosmos, Sui, and potentially others).

Blockchain tribalism (and bag-holding) has skewed a lot of investors’ “opportunity assessment” across crypto, so I think there’s a chance to cut through the noise and do something impactful here.

Oh, one last thing. In 2023 I’d like to achieve a better balance between work and life. If I do this correctly, I’ll get improve in both camps. Wish me luck :)

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Flying into NYC with baby Bō

people that made this year

I’m incredibly grateful for the people I have in my life. My year was made because of them. Given how closely intertwined our relationships are with our well-being, I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t highlight a few amazing people in my reflection of the year. Here are a few key people I’m grateful for:

Bō (not human): The baby boy has to go first. I absolutely cannot wait to watch Bō grow up and become a teenager this coming year. thx for keeping me on a tight schedule Bō — here’s to a year of good health and great memories.

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A crisp morning walk with Bō
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A slightly warmer walk with Bō

Edgar: 2022 was a pretty successful year man. We’re not doing too shabby. I look forward to being pushed by you this year, as well as giving you a second set of eyes on the obstacles you’re working through. Let’s continue on the path toward greatness — a lot awaits.

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Eating really good kbbq in Singapore with some of the team

Anders: I’m excited to team up in 2023, both at work and at home (we’re roommates). I can’t thank you enough for taking on the task of “uncle” to young Bō. It takes a village to raise a child. Let’s build something epic in 2023.

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Smoking cigars in Nassau with Anders

Jakob: We’re blessed to have you fighting in the trenches with us at mrgn. This is going to be a year of great, new things. I think we have a shot at leaving our names in the history books, and you’re a central part of that. I’m excited to take on 2023 together.

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Judging people with Jakob in Nassau

Cyrill: You bring exactly what we need to mrgn. Your work has been critical to our success, and we’re incredibly lucky to have you. I truly fear nothing as long as we have you in our corner. 2023 is not ready for all we have in store.

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Deciding to move to Singapore for a few months

Ben: Your work leading the mrgn research arm has been unreal. Let’s take over in 2023. There’s a ton of opportunity to push this whole ecosystem forward, and you’re one of the very few people capable of capturing it.

Connor: Your agile work across mrgn has come at a time we need it most. You make everything we do behind the scenes usable and workable by the masses. Accessibility is everything. I can’t wait for the world to see the bulk of your recent work in 2023.

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Moving into the new apartment in NYC

There were also some good friends on the other side of work that I’ve gotten to hang with in 2023. All these people continue to shape my life.

Tom, Kaito, Ami & Charlie — y’all have had amazing years, and I’m just lucky to be a small part. Thanks for your continued friendship. I’m excited to do more in 2023!

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Having fun with friends in San Francisco
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Venturing to Providence to visit friends

To the industry friends I’ve met across crypto — thanks for welcoming me, welcoming mrgn, and being passionate about the things we all find so important. Let’s do everything we can in 2023 to bring more people into crypto.

To my family — I love y’all. Your support does not go unnoticed, and I wouldn’t be me without you.

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Eating lunch with family in Turks and Caicos

To 2023 — I’m coming for your neck.

Fin.

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MacBrennan ◾️

@marginfi • @mrgntrade // prev built & sold finance + tech companies