Sam Bankman-Freed had a plan to save humanity, and he needed celebrities to implement it. IN Going into infinity Michael Lewis’s recently published account of Bankman-Fried’s meteoric rise and fall: Big Short and Moneyball The author explains how the disgraced crypto tycoon – now in prison awaiting trial on fraud charges – claims he was motivated by the principles of effective altruism to make billions so he could give away his fortune to prevent existential risks such as the artificial intelligence apocalypse. Hyper-analytical, socially problematic and provocatively disheveled, with a cloud of black hair and a uniform of T-shirt and cargo shorts, Bankman-Fried fit awkwardly among the glamorous, bold-face names drawn to his sudden fame and phenomenal wealth. However, he calculated that he needed them to attract users to his cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
Lewis describes Bankman-Fried’s celebrity-based marketing strategy as both haphazard (he essentially invented it) and strangely dispassionate: “(He) had no idea how to build a brand and, as always, he was not interested in expert opinions on on how to do it.”
BRADY FIRST EVERYONE
To reach crypto enthusiasts—mostly young men—Bankman-Fried first turned to the world of sports. He came to the company’s attention after FTX acquired the naming rights to the Miami Heat arena for $155 million (having made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire the rights to NFL stadiums in New Orleans and Kansas City). FTX even managed to put its name on every Major League Baseball umpire’s uniform for $162.5 million, Lewis reports. FTX has signed legendary athletes such as Shaquille O’Neal and Shohei Ohtani. But the real coup was the approval of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady for $55 million in FTX stock.
“Everywhere Sam went,” Lewis writes, “people mentioned that they had heard about FTX because of Brady. Hardly anyone mentioned any of the other endorsers.”
The “cringing” pursuit of fashion
The Brady partnership was doubly effective because it came with a $19.8 million deal with Brady’s then-wife, Gisele Bündchen. The supermodel was Bankman-Fried’s gateway into the wider world of fashion and celebrity, Lewis said. It was through her that he met Fashion editor and Met Gala chair Anna Wintour, whom Lewis writes that Bankman-Fried barely knew.
The two’s Zoom meeting was, as Lewis details, a surreal collision of worlds. Wintour, perhaps hoping that Bankman-Fried would bankroll the star-studded Met Gala, patiently explained what the event was all about while the Slovenian crypto mogul pretended to listen, more focused on the video game he was playing in the background. plan. According to Lewis (as if his wardrobe wasn’t proof enough), Bankman-Fried had complete disdain for the fashion world, which he considered superficial. However, he also believed that breaking into fashion circles was the key to attracting female users to his exchange. “It was all part of the deal with the celebrity and Gisele,” former FTX PR director Natalie Tien said, according to Lewis. “Very shrinking. Nobody at FTX liked the idea, including Sam himself.”
Ultimately, he backed out of his commitment to attend and potentially finance the Met Gala, to the outrage of Wintour’s team. “They called and screamed and said Sam would never set foot in fashion again!” Tien tells Lewis.
SWIFT IS INTERESTED
Yet Bankman-Fried was undaunted in his attempts to lure celebrity representatives. According to FTX’s own calculations, the exchange has paid out $500 million in advertising deals since its inception. Lewis reports that FTX paid comedian Larry David $10 million for his highly praised critique of the Super Bowl. Only a few stars turned down FTX money. NBA great Steph Curry initially turned down the offer but later changed his mind, Lewis writes. And while Taylor Swift made headlines for turning down FTX money, Lewis reports the story was more complex:
“FTX had an agreement with Swift to pay her $25 million to $30 million a year,” Lewis writes, “but Sam was dragging his feet on the deal. “She wanted to do it,” said Natalie Tien (a former FTX employee), “but Sam kept putting off responding to her team.” Another person closely involved in negotiations between Swift and FTX said: “Taylor didn’t back down. They waited for Sam to sign it, but he didn’t.”
FTX’s celebrity deals weren’t limited to megastars like Brady and Swift. Lewis learned that the exchange paid $15.7 million Shark TankKevin O’Leary, whom the author describes as “maybe not even the second most famous Shark Tank people” – for “20 hours of work, 20 posts on social networks, one virtual lunch and 50 autographs.”
SUPER CONNECTOR WITH LIST A
According to the book, Bankman-Fried often made investment decisions at FTX subsidiary Alameda Research—the cryptocurrency trading firm he founded and into which he allegedly funneled funds from FTX clients in violation of rules—without consulting anyone at the company. . Among those decisions, Lewis reports, was a pledge to invest $5 billion in K5 Global, a financial advisory firm founded by former CAA agent and renowned super-connector Michael Kives. (Bankman-Fried’s colleagues and FTX lawyers eventually agreed to lower the amount to $500.)
During a trip to Los Angeles, Bankman-Fried was invited to a star-studded dinner party hosted by Kives. The invitation came completely unexpectedly – neither Bankman-Fried nor his colleagues knew anything about Kives, did not even know how to pronounce his name (KEE-woos), and some employees feared that this invitation was a plot to kidnap Bankman-Fried. However, he still attended and interacted (probably awkwardly) with Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Rock, Katy Perry, Kate Hudson, Orlando Bloom, Jeff Bezos, Doug Emhoff “and at least four Kardashians.”
Bankman-Fried must have made an impression. The next day, Katy Perry (Kives’ former client) wrote on Instagram:
“I’m leaving music and becoming a trainee at @ftx_official, ok