Influential Crypto Figures: Who is Justin Sun?

A controversial leader who straddles the East-West divide, Justin Sun has rocketed to stardom in crypto. For better or for worse, the young Chinese mogul is one of the most dynamic figures around.

By
John Tunney
on
July 11, 2021
Category:
Biography


Brief Introduction

Justin Sun is one of the most controversial figures in crypto. Sun is the CEO of TRON and BitTorrent, whose respective crypto tokens are the 25th and 50th largest cryptocurrencies with a combined market cap of over $6B. The young mogul has seen his career trailblaze through both China and the USA. A founder of multiple companies across tech and crypto, Sun has seen his projects banned in China, accused of plagiarism in the USA. All the while, millions follow him on Twitter, and the world tracks his every move.

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Sun has seen controversy and success at nearly every crossroad, and the crypto founder certainly knows how to carry the spotlight. Early on in his career, the Chinese national faced attacks and exposure for the validity of his TRON technology, which copied code pages without citations.  According to TheVerge, his workers even mutinied at BitTorrent amidst his grandiose ambitions to bring the dark web to the light.

A graduate of prestigious universities in both China and the USA, he is a serial entrepreneur before the age of thirty. Before founding TRON in 2017, he started in Silicon Valley by working for Ripple Labs and then launched the popular Chinese chat app Peiwo. Sun even became a protege of famed Chinese mogul Jack Ma becoming the first millennial graduate of Ma’s personal business school, Hupan University. Both a dissident and a vanguard, Sun is a shining light in crypto and is a significant figure across the East-West divide.

A Glimpse of Sun 

The history of Justin Sun is rocky. In a tweet by the accomplished young entrepreneur, he summarized his life 53 days prior to his 30th birthday. 

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Yet there is much more about Justin Sun than the tweet shown above. A detailed expose by Global Coin Research explained how he was born in 1990 to a middle-class family in Qinghai and grew up in the southern province of Guangdong. His mother was a local newspaper reporter, and his father worked in the city planning bureau.

His parents divorced when he was eight years old, and his mother fled to Italy and remarried. Soon after, Justin was placed in boarding school. During this time, he became estranged from his family, and he cited the loneliness and lack of love from his family he felt as his motivation to be successful. At one point, he wanted to become a master of the age-old Chinese board game GO. From early on, it was obvious he wanted to become a great success.

Sun first graduated from Beijing University with a Bachelor’s in History in 2011. In China, he led a group of underground liberals and famously criticized the school and student leadership. His experiences in China showed an apparent clash with the socialist values of the country.

In 2012, Sun began investing in Bitcoin, supposedly using large amounts of his college tuition fees. He then got his Master’s in 2013 from the University of Pennsylvania in Political Economic, specializing in East Asian Studies. He earned a reputation as a trouble-maker in school, where he did things such as purposefully answer English tests in Chinese. He managed to still do very well in school by becoming close with his teachers. 

Initially a student of humanities, Sun wanted to be a writer. At UPenn, he started an online magazine called “New Youth.” Not without controversy, his magazine received public accusations of plagiarism to which Sun vehemently denied. While in the US, he studied Ayn Rand and entrepreneurship. He initially believed that the secrets of social progress lay in the minds of historians and writers. But while in the States, Sun reflected upon these values and decided that he needed to become an entrepreneur if he wanted to change the world.

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According to Sun’s LinkedIn page, he furthered his education at Hupan University, a Chinese business school founded by Alibaba founder Jack Ma. Sun was one of 30 students hand-selected by Ma to be a member of the inaugural class and is the only millennial graduate of Hupan University. Justin Sun sees himself in a very similar light as Jack Ma. The Alibaba mogul has also been a controversial figure in Chinese business for quite some time and has been reprimanded by the Chinese state for his massive wealth and personal influence over the Chinese economy. Justin Sun is very much following a trail paved by men like Jack Ma. The internet has been a gateway for many Chinese to Western values, and both Ma and Sun have faced controversy within China for their actions. It’s safe to say, Sun is hungry for the spotlight wherever he goes.


How He is Tied to Crypto

Sun is widely known as an early Bitcoin investor. He famously invested college tuition fees in bitcoin between 2010-2012. Upon graduation in 2013, before officially entering the blockchain realm as a crypto founding contributor, Justin’s first job was working for Ripple Labs based in Silicon Valley. Ripple, known for its token XRP, is described by Sun  as “a decentralized payment system supported by the value of the network, which allows different currencies to exchange freely and with zero delays.” Sun eventually became the head of Ripple China. Ripple was a great introduction for Justin to the world of decentralization and the tech world of the United States. 

Much of his success can be likened to his continuing ability to find controversy and success. While in China in 2014, Sun went on to launch Peiwo (Callme), the country’s largest voice streaming chat app that earned over 4 billion matched conversations. The audio match-making app was later banned in China for promoting non-socialist thought. Sun’s app was among several apps banned in China for similar reasons, but he was known for burning more bridges than connecting them. 

Three years after launching Peiwo, he founded TRON on Ethereum’s mainnet. Tron was created as a blockchain-based decentralized platform meant to allow for easy sharing of digital entertainment content. In short, TRON looks to decentralIze the whole internet. Critics have shot at Sun for his holistic and liberal approach to content.

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In 2018, TRON left Ethereum to build its mainnet (blockchain network that can be used to transfer cryptocurrency). TRON uses its cryptocurrency called Tronix ($TRX), which can be used to purchase content on the platform.

He did not stop with Tron. In 2018 he also acquired and became the CEO of BitTorrent (now known as Rainberry) as the once-popular site began to languish. BitTorrent is used for online file sharing and has over 170 million users. The protocol is used by the likes of Netflix, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Sun incorporated BitTorrent into the TRON system, making TRON the world’s largest decentralized internet platform. 

TRON

The UPenn graduate’s most notable venture is TRON, which he founded in September 2017. As explained in a Kraken post, the goal of TRON is to use blockchain to eliminate the middleman between creators and consumers. The venture is meant to enable anyone to upload content to the platform, and the viewers can choose to pay creators for the content of their choice. Sun used his burgeoning profile to attract influential investors to the project, including Clash of Kings founder Tang Binsen and CEO of bike-sharing startup OFO Dai Wei.

TRON is accompanied by the crypto $TRX coin, which can be used to purchase content on the software. $TRX was originally on Ethereum's mainnet, but it became its own token in 2018 when TRON left to build its own mainnet. Unlike other cryptocurrencies released around that time, $TRX did not focus on separating itself from a technological perspective. 

Although many view it to be extremely similar to Etherium, $TRX attempted to differentiate itself through its mainstream go-to-market strategy. The protocol’s code has faced significant accusations of plagiarism, while some have tried to criticize Sun for his repeated acts of cutting corners.

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After being acquired by TRON, BitTorrent launched its own token ($BTT) on the TRON blockchain in 2019. BitTorrent itself endured controversy from all angles. The site was Sun’s attempt to surface the dark web content so all the world could see. BitTorrent had a product called BT Live which Sun wanted to become a Pandora's box for the best and worst on the internet. Sun apparently had a grandiose vision of piercing the Great Chinese Firewall through BitTorrents decentralized nature. BT Live was pulled after a confrontation between Sun and the creators.

If TRON were to be successful, it would potentially eliminate the major tech companies currently dominating the entertainment streaming industry. However, many critics of TRON claim it is inferior to Ethereum, citing plagiarism and bad design and advise avoiding the project entirely. Time will tell if TRON can prove the critics wrong. 

Notable Events in Sun’s Life

  • 2010: Sun makes his initial investment into Bitcoin, using his college tuition money
  • 2013: Justin begins his professional career with Ripple labs as a representative and advisor
  • 2014: Sun founded Peiwo (Callme)
  • 2017: Mentioned in Forbes 30 for 30 for Peiwo App 
  • 2017: Sun founded TRON
  • 2018: Sun acquired BitTorrent
  • 2018: Graduates from Hupan University, for which he was one of 30 hand-selected by Jack Ma (and the only millennial) to be the future business leaders in China.
  • 2020: Sun skipped dinner with Warren Buffet, which cost him $4.5M at an auction. Significant controversy surrounded the event, which pitted the young crypto leader at the center of a geopolitical fiasco.


Significance in Crypto

Love or hate him, Justin Sun is one of the most influential figures in all of crypto. He has his fair share of critics, and a former employee even called him an evil genius who cannot be stopped. Only time will tell if he can live up to the hefty goals he has set for his TRON platform. If TRON does reach its potential, it could lead to a massive shift in the structure of digital media. 

The performance of the coin $TRX will obviously be heavily dependent on the success of the entire platform, but some see investing in it as a bet on the continued future success of online media.  Consumers would directly pay the creators, rewarding them more fairly for their work and eliminating the need for platforms like YouTube or Netflix. The site could become the bastion of liberalism to bridge the East-West divide that Sun wishes it to be. It could be safe to assume, only a controversial figure like Sun can successfully tear through the current technological divide between East and West.


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John Tunney

John Tunney is an accomplished analyst and crypto enthusiast. The UCLA alum has been actively reporting and blogging for 3 years, and has a passion for all things finance.

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