But this redemption, the revenue director refuses. “We needed a sponsor who was going to be reliable for twenty years, and who wasn’t just looking for a big publicity stunt the first year.” I point out to him that Crypto.com is not even six years old, and was called something else during its first two years. “It’s true that they are gifted… It’s the most convincing conversation we’ve had,” he simply replies.
How did Marszalek convince Matt Damon and Todd Goldstein? One thing is certain: he did not have to bet on his charisma. During our conversations, he speaks in an oddly calm voice and sometimes, when I ask him a question, he stares at the floor for an eternity. At one point, he stares at the ground for so long that I think his Zoom has crashed. (“I apologize,” his spokesperson, Matt David, would later tell me. “Normally, I always make sure to tell people about these breaks.”) But when Kris Marszalek finally responds, it’s always fair and diplomatic, as if he’s just polished his answer in his mind.
“We were the most tenacious, but also the most inventive,” he says of the epic string of marketing deals he landed. “But the ability to listen also played a big role.” He reveals to me then that he likes to put himself in the place of his interlocutor and understand the slightest of his points of mental resistance, to approach them one after the other. “You always have to listen to your interlocutor very carefully. You have to be able to put yourself in his place.
“Empathy,” I tell him. Is that what you’re talking about?
– Yes. Empathy. It is very, very important.”
Looking for another point of view, I write to Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. In 1999, he made his fortune selling Broadcast.com to Yahoo. It was the deal of a lifetime, but he sees no parallel with crypto. “Most apps like Crypto.com are very profitable,” he assures me over email. He explains to me that stadium owners accept below-market rates for sponsorships “because they feel these clubs can grow significantly, which implies future opportunities.” The possibility of a crash is always present, and Mark Cuban knows it better than anyone, but right now all he sees is a booming market.
I have to admit that before the crash, my altcoin wallet had gone up a bit in value. I racked up a good amount of interest, got a few kickbacks in Cronos, and got a free month’s Spotify subscription. But I didn’t really understand why people wanted to own cryptocurrency, or why it was so expensive or complicated, but I liked being part of the club. In that sense, Matt Damon was right.
Seeking to fit in more, I go to a “CryptoMondays” meetup in Venice Beach. We find ourselves under the lights of a patio, in the parking lot of a 4-star Mexican restaurant, which has been transformed into an open-air bar during the pandemic. A few years ago, I attended an evening of this kind, then populated by unfriendly geeks. Since then, the crypto world has visibly transformed: tonight, the participants are funny, smart, beautiful and cool.
None of my interlocutors knows who is organizing the event – one participant tells me that it is spontaneous, or “decentralised”. Some have been living for years on the earnings of their Bitcoin wallets; others, like me, are just getting started. I chat with a young graduate and former javelin thrower. When I ask him about Crypto.com, he laughs in my face. “Nobody uses it.” Equally dismissive is Jackie Peters, a hip young entrepreneur working on a blockchain-based dating app. She is still deciding which blockchain her app will use, but it won’t be Cronos. “Technically speaking, nothing appeals to me about them.”