Looking Past The Frontman, Part III: Who Is Gary Wang, And Why Doesn’t The Media Care?
Did Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) act alone? No. Was Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison the only other person involved. Clearly not.
SBF’s rise to wealth and fame was facilitated by a network of so-called “effective altruists,” and his multi-billion dollar company was obviously far from a one-man show.
According to Reuters, “Sam Bankman-Fried implemented” a secret “backdoor” built into FTX’s software (emphasis added throughout):
In a subsequent examination, FTX legal and finance teams also learned that Bankman-Fried implemented what the two people described as a “backdoor” in FTX’s book-keeping system, which was built using bespoke software.
They said the “backdoor” allowed Bankman-Fried to execute commands that could alter the company’s financial records without alerting other people, including external auditors. This set-up meant that the movement of the $10 billion in funds to Alameda did not trigger internal compliance or accounting red flags at FTX, they said.
In his text message to Reuters, Bankman-Fried denied implementing a “backdoor”.
Bankman-Fried, Bankman-Fried, Bankman-Fried. SBF’s name appears sixteen times in the story.
Not mentioned even once: the name Gary Wang.
First of all, Sam Bankman-Fried can’t code. As quoted by Business Insider in December of 2021:
“I think most people assume I’m a good coder,” Bankman-Fried said. “I’m not. I don’t code. I’m trash. I have not written any of FTX’s code base. That’s all a lot of other really impressive people at FTX. That’s not me at all.”
Another Business Insider article from the same month, relaying what they were told by SBF, reported the following amazing fact(?):
FTX has a remarkably small staff relative to competitors. For its first six months, FTX was built by just two software developers, according to Bankman-Fried. Two and a half years later, he only has between 10 and 25 working on the exchange and all of its subsidiaries, according to the company. By comparison, Binance currently has around 180 job openings for engineers, while Coinbase has around 120 open roles in the engineering department.
Yes: Two developers built the entire exchange, purportedly. Two.
Later in the same article:
FTX’s developer headcount surprised seasoned exchange executives like Jerald David, whose career includes stints at the New York Mercantile Exchange, Dubai Mercantile Exchange, and Chicago Mercantile Exchange. (…) David said the fact that FTX was built with two developers in the first six months is “impressive,” but that operating such a high-volume exchange with fewer than 30 developers is “not the norm.” He compared the size of FTX’s developer team to that of the CME, which boasts 500-plus developers. CME recently acquired crypto derivatives exchange ErisX, while FTX’s US division bought crypto derivatives exchange LedgerX in August, effectively making them competitors.
So, two developers doing work that would normally take many, many more. Got it. Weird.
Not mentioned at all in this lengthy article: Who are these two developers?
(More than) half of the answer to that question is, of course, Gary Wang. The other (less than) half is Nishad Singh.
Wang, it turns out, also co-founded the company, in addition to having the title of Chief Technical Officer.
He also is (or was) the richest 20-something in the entire world, according to Forbes—a title he took over from SBF earlier this year when the latter turned 30.
Furthermore, Singh actually didn’t help code the “first version” of FTX at all, apparently: he says he stayed behind at Alameda in Berkley while Sam and Gary “took off to Hong Kong” to found and build FTX. That would seemingly make it one developer then, not two: the incomparable Gary Wang.
In light of all of this, wouldn’t you think his name would, ya know… COME UP… particularly when discussing a “backdoor”?
If you want to see just how critical Wang was to FTX—at least according to company lore—look no further than these tweets from the company’s official account prior to its collapse:
Fast-forward back to November of 2022 and FTX’s collapse.
On November 11, FTX files for bankruptcy.
On November 12, Reuters reports:
Ellison told employees in a video meeting on Wednesday that she, Bankman-Fried, and two other executives, Nishad Singh and Gary Wang were aware of the decision to move customer funds to Alameda, the [Wall Street Journal] said, citing people familiar with the matter.
November 14 is the day Reuters reports on the alleged “backdoor” as quoted earlier, with no mention of Wang at all.
Meanwhile, that same day, a journalist for crypto-focused news outlet The Block, Kari McMahon, asks the seemingly-obvious question that Reuters and others in the corporate press don’t. The headline of her article reads in part: “Who is billionaire FTX co-founder Gary Wang”?
One thing she does is fill in some of the most immediately relevant details related to that question. For instance:
“A deleted page on FTX’s website described him as a software engineer who used to work at Google and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in mathematics and computer science”
She also quotes anonymous sources flagging Wang as someone who (predictably) had to be complicit in any alleged backdoor at a minimum, if not the primary coder:
“If there’s a back door in the infrastructure it’s hard to think [Gary] wouldn’t know,’ said an investor in FTX. “
“Another source familiar with FTX and Alameda’s operations concurred, saying Wang was one of only a few people who had ‘root access’ to the code base.
“If it was literally not Gary putting the code in, there’s no way Gary could not have seen it and understood it,’ the source said.”
We’ll come back to this article momentarily, because it’s got a lot more information in it, but first let’s check back in with Reuters.
On November 16—two days after this article was written, and two days after they (Reuters) reported on the “backdoor”—they published another article about the FTX fiasco. This time, they do mention Wang, and Singh:
According to the three FTX sources, only Bankman-Fried’s innermost circle of associates knew about his use of client deposits: his co-founder and chief technology officer, Gary Wang; the head of engineering, Nishad Singh; and Caroline Ellison, chief executive of Alameda. Wang and Singh both worked with Bankman-Fried at Alameda previously.
Wang, Singh and Ellison did not return requests for comment.
To conceal the transfers of customer funds to Alameda, Wang, a former Google software developer, built a backdoor in FTX’s book-keeping software, the people said.
So now Reuter’s own “FTX sources” have reportedly corroborated what The Block’s sources said two days earlier: Wang built the backdoor.
Later in the article, Reuters reports that, shortly after the dominoes that ultimately led to FTX’s demise started falling, SBF says he “gathered his lieutenants Wang and Singh at his apartment to decide on a plan” and “summoned several other senior managers” to join them the following day, but that’s about it for discussion of Wang. Still no real information or apparent curiosity about this central character and co-conspirator is.
Here’s Reuters two days later (Nov 18), in an article entitled, “FTX fires three of its top executives – WSJ“:
Cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which recently filed for U.S. bankruptcy court protection, has fired three of its top executives, including co-founder Gary Wang, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing an FTX spokeswoman. The other fired executives were engineering director Nishad Singh and Caroline Ellison, who ran FTX’s trading arm Alameda Research, the newspaper said.
Ok, now co-founder and “top executive” Gary Wang has been fired. Who is that, again?
Reuters again the same day (Nov 18), in another article entitled, “Bahamas regulator confirms FTX asset seizure after hack accusation“:
While investigating the hack, FTX learned that Bankman-Fried and FTX co-founder Gary Wang made “unauthorized” transfers at the direction of the Bahamian government while “effectively in the custody of Bahamas authorities,” according to the filing.
So Wang is now “effectively in the custody of Bahamas authorities,” and is working alongside SBF to transfer assets to them (originally characterized as a “hack”). And yet, once again, he’s simply menioned in passing as the “FTX co-founder.” Is that all we know about him?
Reuters four days later (Nov 22), in “Bankman-Fried’s FTX, senior staff, parents bought Bahamas property worth $300 million“:
…high-end real estate purchases include three condominiums at One Cable Beach, a beachfront residence in New Providence. Records showed the condominiums cost between $950,000 and $2 million and were bought by Nishad Singh, the former head of engineering at FTX, Gary Wang, an FTX co-founder, and Bankman-Fried for residential use.
Wang co-founded FTX (yes, we know) and bought a nice condo. Ok… Who is he?
In the article by The Block cited earlier, she alludes to a “deleted page on FTX’s website” with info about Wang. Here is an archived copy. It says:
Gary was a college roommate of mine, although I first met him at a math camp in high school. In 2012 he turned off his BTC arbitrage bot because there wasn’t enough volume on Mt. Gox to justify it, and his botnet demolished the competition in prizes for liking the Facebook page of Avatar: The Last Airbender. What really sold me, though, was his personal website.
The link to Wang’s “personal website” goes here: https://g.ary.wang/
That website simply contains a header saying “Gary Wang,” below which it says: “Did you mean: https://zixiao.wang/“
When the user tries to click the link, the page contorts itself and makes it difficult to click. However, if one simply types that address into their browser (or you can click the link above), that page says:
So now we’ve learned something that is often omitted: Gary Wang’s real name is apparently Zixiao. (Note: Numerous media outlets did mention this in passing in recent weeks, referring to him as “Zixiao ‘Gary’ Wang”.)
Knowing this doesn’t seem to get us particularly far, though. Taking it to Google, we find a page that he apparently made while he was a student at MIT, linking to a few projects he supposedly worked on. There doesn’t seem to be a cache of this page prior to November of 2022, nor much else to go on as far as his backstory. As one Redditor put it in a thread about “The mystery of Gary Wang“:
The only thing you can find about him is that he finished MIT and worked for google for a while before becoming a founder of FTX. He supposedly also has ties to Sequoia Capital which was a backer of FTX.
The funny thing is that you can barely find any photos of this dude. There are like 3 photos in total and one of them is photographed from his back. And that photo was used on official website of FTX
Sequoia Capital also uses this photo https://www.sequoiacap.com/founder/gary-wang/
Even his profile on Forbes doesn’t have a photo of him https://www.forbes.com/profile/gary-wang-1/?sh=20249d7519d0
And that’s it. That’s all we know about a CTO of a multibillion dollar crypto exchange
Anybody has more info on this guy?
Spoiler: No one in the thread came up with any more info.
As short seller Marc Cohodes put it in a particularly prescient interview a month before FTX collapsed: “No one can find sh*t on Gary Wang.”
“Gary Wang doesn’t have any digital presence. He doesn’t have a searchable email, a phone number, and doesn’t talk to anyone that I could find… That kind of behaviour raises more questions than answers. No one supposedly worth $11 billion hides like that.” —Marc Cahodes, after FTX blew up
World’s Wealthiest Ghost
Gary Wang isn’t just a mysterious figure to money managers and internet researchers. The situation was reportedly the same even within his own organization.
Let’s look back at that article from The Block’s Kari McMahon again, and see what kind of picture it paints. Quoting four people “who worked with Wang in the past,” who she says spoke to her on a condition of anonymity, she reports:
“Gary was always extremely distant from an employee standpoint, he would most often never be in the office,” said a source familiar with Alameda’s and FTX’s operations. “He liked to work from home, he was pretty much the only person that this was okay [for]. Everyone else always had to be in the office but Gary always had the exception.”
Wang’s only interest was sitting in a room and coding, the source added.
“Gary always struck me as someone who was like, ‘just tell me what to do and leave me alone,’” they said. “Whenever there was crunch time about ‘Sam’s talking to someone and we got to figure stuff out’ Gary was never around. Gary was just a weapon to be deployed.”
[One source] said that while they had met Wang in person, they never spoke and “he rarely talked with people.”
“When you have to talk to Gary he batches all responses once a week,” said the FTX investor. He’s “hard to get in touch with.”
This is a sentiment echoed by the other sources The Block spoke to about Wang. One former FTX and Alameda employee said that Wang doesn’t talk much and doesn’t need much but remains very close to SBF, who is the person Wang spoke with the most.
Another said that Alameda CEO Ellison was one of the only people who could get a quick response from Wang.
- SBF is recruited into “effective altruism” by William MacAskill, who also directs him to Jane Street.
- MacAskill then offers SBF a job at the CEA in Berkley, where “he” founds Alameda, even though it was actually a joint project between himself, CEA CEO Tara Mac Aulay, and an unknown number of other “EAs.”
- SBF can’t code, but knows this guy named “Gary” from “math camp” who apparently happens to be able to do the work of many “normal” developers all by himself
- Gary masterminds (and is the primary coder of) the technical infrastructure that enables Alameda to execute their Japanese Bitcoin arbitrage and make a fortune.
- SBF then founds FTX with Gary, who purportedly goes with him to Hong Kong to almost single-handedly code the exchange for him.
- Despite the fact that Gary supposedly lives with SBF right next to FTX headquarters in the Bahamas, he was reportedly “never around,” even during “crunch time,” worked remotely while “everyone else had to come into the office,” was “extremely distant” and “hard to get ahold of” (except, supposedly, by SBF, Ellison, and possibly Singh—the “inner circle”); and was “just a weapon to be deployed.”
- He has almost no public presence, almost no known history at all, yet avoids any real scrutiny for years, despite simultaneously becoming (supposedly) the wealthiest person under 30 on Earth and being the co-founder and alleged technical mastermind of a company promoted by the Miami Heat, Tom Brady, Larry David, billionaire Kevin O’Leary, and countless others
- This lack of media scrutiny continues even after FTX blows up in one of the biggest financial scandals of the 21st century
Who is Gary Wang, and why doesn’t the media care?