David Marcus, the man spearheading Facebook’s blockchain effort, has gotten a tremendous amount of spotlight lately. The rapid emergence of Libra has dominated the coverage of other crypto-related developments, as it became apparent that the social media giant’s inroad into the realm of digital assets will have most serious consequences for both the blockchain sector and the global financial system in general.
While previously the crypto industry has hardly ever had one key spokesperson — which is perhaps a natural and welcome state of affairs for a domain wherein decentralization is the most cherished of values — Libra’s newfound position at the center of global-level regulatory debate about the future shape of finance propels the project’s charismatic head to serve as the envoy for the whole cryptocurrency space.
Like it or not, old-school legislators in the United States and beyond are used to dealing with specific people representing interest groups and industry associations, so Marcus’ two appearances before the U.S. Congress have likely rendered him not just “Mr. Facebook Cryptocurrency,” but simply “Mr. Cryptocurrency” in the eyes of many people in high offices. But how did a Paris-born, Geneva-raised college dropout end up in this capacity of prominence?
From Geneva to Silicon Valley
Born into a Romanian-Iranian family in Paris, the future head of Libra was raised in Switzerland, where he attended the University of Geneva. Like so many of his future tech industry colleagues, he left school long before earning a degree in order to focus on an entrepreneurial career. At aged 23, Marcus founded his first startup — a telecom carrier — which was acquired by a larger integrated communications corporation after four years under his leadership. His first experience with payments came after he established a mobile media monetization company, Echovox, whose feats, among others, included facilitating SMS voting for big-name TV shows.
Zong, a spin-off from Echovox, has successfully establishing a payments network that allowed users to make purchases through mobile carrier billing. Putting up such a service on a large scale took Marcus negotiating with hundreds of mobile operators and thousands of merchants. It was Zong’s success that projected Marcus to the position of PayPal’s vice president of mobile upon the payment behemoth’s acquisition of the startup. It came in handy that PayPal had been bracing to ramp up its mobile services, for which task Marcus’ experience proved invaluable. In 2012, he was promoted to be the company’s president, directing the explosive growth of one of the world’s largest payment platforms.
In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg seduced Marcus to join Facebook as the head of messaging products. Marcus cited his willingness to go back to managing smaller teams (PayPal counted some 15,000 employees at the end of his term) and to build consumer-facing products and services in a more energetic startup-like environment. Under his leadership, Facebook Messenger substantially grew in terms of the number of active users and saw several improvements in its functionality — including the introduction of tools facilitating the interaction between retailers and their customers, such as chatbots supporting payments.
Marcus led Messenger for four years before the entirely new chapter of his career opened with Facebook’s announcement of him taking charge of the newly established exploratory blockchain task force — the initiative now known as Libra.
David Marcus is believed to be among the first in the world of big tech to start experimenting with cryptocurrencies, as Asaf Fybish, co-founder of blockchain marketing firm GuerrillaBuzz, told Cointelegraph:
“David Marcus is actually considered as one of the first top Silicon Valley executives to adopt and support Bitcoin. In 2013, at the LeWeb conference in Paris, Marcus stated the fact that he is a big fan of Bitcoin and owns a stash of it. He called Bitcoin a store of value and a distributed ledger. Getting this type of support back in 2013 was pretty exciting and we can tell that David has a sense when it comes to blockchain and cryptocurrencies in particular.”
“Digital Gold,” a book authored by journalist Nathaniel Popper, mentions Marcus alongside the founders of the Gemini digital currency exchange (i.e., Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss), co-chairman of Fortress Investment Group Peter Briger, and entrepreneur Wences Casares as high-profile technology executives invested in Bitcoin since at least 2013. Popper claims that Marcus got so fascinated by the original digital asset that he at some point considered quitting PayPal to launch a cryptocurrency exchange.
In April 2013, Marcus admitted that PayPal was looking into possible ways to incorporate Bitcoin in the payment company’s operations, saying:
“So I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at it, and it’s truly fascinating actually:…