After several "temporary breakups" in 2020, in early March of this year, Andre announced that he would leave DeFi forever. Lots of people were angry with this decision, but some said that perhaps "DeFi doesn't deserve Andre".
Andre once said, "I have no vision. I have no plans. I have no goals. For now, it's fun. Maybe in a month, it's no longer fun and I’ll go back to playing Warcraft". But did he really mean it?
Who is Andre Cronje?
Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Andre Cronje is a prolific coder and Web3 developer who has changed the face of DeFi. He is best known for creating Yearn Finance and Keep3r (V1), as well as his participation in other high-profile DeFi projects, including Hegic, Pickle, Cover, PowerPool, Cream V2, Akropolish, Sushiswap, and others. Andre Cronje is also a software architect with 20 years of development experience.
Andre Cronje’s personal life is a mystery
Andre Cronje seems to be a private person. There is no information regarding his private or love life. His age and net worth, also, remain in mystery. However, a Twitter account named Eric speculated that Andre left DeFi with nearly $2 billion thanks to his hands-on effective crypto ventures.
For a space awash in under-30 (and even some under-20) talent, Andre is notable for being a late bloomer — so late, in fact, that he was already a “late bloomer” when he first entered computer science nearly 20 years ago.
Andre studied law before studying code. He brushed aside an L.LB degree program from Stellenbosch University in 2003 and took approximately half a year to complete a Computer Science degree required to cover three years. He initially gravitated toward the field because his then-roommate needed rides to college classes in the early 2000s.
Though Andre was working as a lawyer at the time, he found himself increasingly interested in the material and ended up taking the classes himself. The stunning achievement earned him a teaching job at the same college (Computer Training Institute).
The honeymoon and the road to crypto
Andre entered the crypto space during the last Bitcoin bull run, sometime around late 2017 when he started looking at white papers and Github repos, when his business partner at the time left him on his own for a bit to go on a honeymoon. "If he didn't get married and didn't go on a honeymoon, I'd probably still be doing the same stuff we'd been doing the last five years," Andre said.
The impressive returns earned by stablecoins invested in the crypto networks drew him to invest in such platforms. But even then, he was already frustrated about the token culture. "There's so much time, energy and capital wasted playing the token game as opposed to playing the product game, which in the long term has a benefit for the token," he said.
Nevertheless, he took on the challenge of helping people with crypto tokens get more crypto tokens. His software coding skills came into play when he finally developed a program that could automatically move the stablecoins to the yield platforms. His discovery attracted two cryptocurrency companies: Aave and Curve Finance. The collaboration of the three birthed iEarn (which would become Y.Earn or just Yearn).
The innovations of DeFi’s “GodFather”
The lonesome builder
It was in February 2020 that Andre released the yield farming aggregator, Yearn Finance. It allows digital asset holders to invest cryptocurrencies in the platform in exchange for returns. The annual growth of invested assets on Yearn ranged from as low as 1% to as high as 45% for some assets as of May 5, 2021.
Unlike other decentralized finance projects requiring a team of experts to code the protocol and source venture funds from investors, Andre used his funds to put it up. He spent around $51,000 of his own money developing the project, “almost all of my savings,” he said. The money spent included $36,000 on independent audits and another $13,000 on design and branding.
A developer with an artistic soul
Andre is more like an artist than a technical developer. He has the tendency to deploy directly to mainnet. As his Twitter bio has said, "I test in prod." By "prod" he means "production", and by "production" he means Ethereum mainnet.
Stani Kulechov, CEO of Aave, who works closely with Andre, said he'd try to get Andre to do testnet tests, but he didn't like doing so in those days. It wasn't his style. "For him, deploying on the mainnet is practically creating a piece of art and putting it in a public place," Kulechov said.
YFI token - a fair game for all
On July 17, 2020, Andre revealed his plans for his own growth token: the YFI token. This is when his profile went into the stratosphere, precisely because he would not set any aside for himself. All of it would go to liquidity providers. He used the platform for farming YFI as an ordinary user.
It brought the notion of fair launch to DeFi. On Yearn, anyone who put liquidity in a few pools would get an equal shot at the YFI tokens going forward, no pre-mine, no set-aside, no early heads up to insiders.
"Andre invented a new way to launch projects, without money," said Scott Lewis of the metrics project DeFi Pulse. "He proved you could launch a DeFi project by just building something and then getting a community and then using the revenue from the thing you built to fund a team."
Dozens of projects were inspired by the Yearn launch to launch in that same way.
After YFI was launched, its market cap shot beyond 1.1 billion USD and reached the all-time high price of 44,000 USD. Investors can earn YFI tokens by staking them on the platform’s contracts hosted by the Balancer and Curve decentralized finance platforms.
The Keep3r Network ($KP3R) - the “Tinder for work”
Andre announced the release of Keep3r on October 28, 2020. Though the developer quickly blogged that the network was not live yet, due to his initial YFI project’s success, crypto lovers swiftly purchased the KP3R token once offered on Uniswap. Shortly after launch, the token became so volatile that it shifted prices at an average of 1 USD per minute, and after a short time, the token price hit a roof of 317 USD.
Keep3r can be described as a "Tinder for work" platform where job posters look for experts (keepers) to help them perform their tasks. Both parties enjoy the network’s incentives. The network comes in handy for projects like Yearn Finance with workforce limitations to delegate some maintenance or job tasks to experts (keepers) in exchange for a reward.
In the Keep3r platform, the developer uses his programming skill to complete the tasks. The Keep3r platform hosts the KP3R token. The more coins a user has, the more significant the reputation on the network.
yCredit: Andre’s 2021 Innovation
Towards the end of December 2020, the DeFi leader added to his list of innovations a new DeFi protocol: yCredit. It’s a loaning protocol. Traders holding ERC-20 tokens can borrow yCredit coins at a rate of 99.5%.
For instance, if a user holds 10 USD worth of ETH on the yCredit platform, they can get a yCredit token loan of 9.95 USD. However, if they burn the 10 USD, they can get a refund of their ETH. The platform allows borrowing or buying any ERC-20 token that is compatible with the program. The protocol accepts popular tokens like AAVE, BNB, ETH, sUSD, WBTC, and YFI.
The role at Fantom Foundation and the birth of ve(3,3)
Andre is also known as an inspiration for Fantom Foundation - a company with experts for blockchain development and integration. He worked as a Technical Advisor, contributing to Fantom's technological superiority today.
Earlier this year, the community became excited when Andre launched ve(3,3) - a new token model that he believes "will change the way a token is designed in the future".
Learn more: Solidly, ve(3,3) & Andre Game: A breath of fresh air for DeFi
Andre’s flirtation with DeFi’s doorway out
Andre's relationship with DeFi has never been simple. He has attempted to leave DeFi several times but always came back, but this time felt different.
The first flirtation in March 2020
Working on his own, Andre built Yearn into a major DeFi protocol, holding over $8 million in its contracts. But when it became more widely used, floods of comments came in that he couldn’t deal with.
"I’m a one-man team, I don’t have funding, I don’t have support, I’m not charging fees or making any revenue, I can’t do customer support 24/7, how am I supposed to operate?" wrote Andre.
It’s not hard to see why community members want clear communication. In February, someone exploited two DeFi protocols: Synthetix and bZx to issue themselves flash loans to take home close to $1 million. Even huge DeFi projects, like MakerDAO, are open about major vulnerabilities that keep user funds in the lurch. But this quest for knowledge quickly became abuse.
"No matter what you do, they will be unhappy," said Andre, bitterly. Then, he disappeared.
The second flirtation in August 2020
But Andre came back to DeFi, only to leave again.
In mid-July, Yean blew up; at its peak, users had $345 million worth of cryptocurrency locked up in yEarn’s smart contracts. This was by all measures a huge success. But not for Andre. “Close to rage quitting again. So sick and tired of this space,” he said. It’s the same problem Andre complained about when he threw in the towel at the tail-end of February: DeFi’s toxic community.
A pseudonymous crypto researcher, "Hasu," sent Andre a draft of a blog post arguing that Andre could steal about $40 million of yEarn’s customers’ money—held in "yVaults"—whenever he wanted. Hasu said to Andre: “When I see a single person (whose name, for all we know, might not even be Andre Cronje) custody $40m, I think ‘that's a potential risk. People should at least evaluate it before investing."
Andre told the researcher: "I just don't get why everyone is so adversarial and targeting my project so much. There are multi-million dollar VC raised projects out there that can all instantly steal funds, there are custodial services lying about being DeFi, and there are active scams. And yet here I am, not a single penny raised, building on my own, and I just get attacked 24/7."
He told people not to use his protocol, and when concerns were raised, he handed the community control over the token, he said. And, after reading Hasu’s draft, Andre immediately relinquished more control of yEarn users’ funds to a community-controlled wallet.
He drowned his sorrows further, saying: "Pointless trying to be a builder in this space."
This was a second flirtation with that doorway out.
The real breakup in February 2022
"Andre loves to build things. He will always be back," said Kulechov. He described Andre as "like a DeFi brother". That prediction turned out to be correct — at least until early this year when Anton Nell, a senior solutions architect at Fantom Foundation announced, "Andre and I have decided that we are closing the chapter of contributing to the DeFi/crypto space."
Nell clarified that the latest decision is "unlike previous‘building in DeFi sucks’ rage quits, this is not a knee-jerk reaction to the hate received from releasing a project, but a decision that has been coming for a while now".
After this surprise announcement, cryptocurrencies associated with Andre’s projects, such as FTM and YFI, dove sharply — YFI plunged 13% from almost $20,000 to $17,000. FTM was down 15% over 24 hours. Solidly (SOLID), which was only launched, has fallen 64.73% in a day.
Some contributors to projects associated with Andre expressed surprise at the market reaction to the news. “People burying YFI, you do realize Andre hasn’t worked on it for over a year? And even if he did, there are 50 full-time people and 140 part-time contributors to back things up,” tweeted banteg, a Yearn developer.
While Andre did not state the reason for leaving this time, we can speculate that DeFi’s toxic community has become the last straw for him. On FTX's show, Tristan Yver would ask him what kind of advice he had for others who wanted to build DeFi products.
He answered, "You have to hate yourself more than the stuff you build." DeFi moves at such a pace, he explained, that it demands total commitment. He said, "DeFi has made me neglect my life, my health, my sanity. I do have to put it first, and if you're not willing to do that it's going to break you."
Maybe Andre would like to take a break to play World of Warcraft and take care of his personal life. Then when he's ready, he'll come back, like many times before.
Let's hope so. It’s important, however, to remember that Andre is not obliged to keep building and he doesn’t owe anyone anything. But we owe it to ourselves to try and keep him around — DeFi will be a better, more interesting place with his presence.