Who is Ross Ulbricht? While he’s been known for some time as the brains and ideological force of the now-defunct online black marketplace Silk Road, his path to this role was long and winding.
In a new Wired feature, we get a closer look into who Ulbricht was before he formed Silk Road.
He was sort of a lost soul. He studied undergrad physics at the University of Texas Dallas, and then attended Pennsylvania State for graduate school. Following grad school he had a series of failed business ventures, including day trading as well as his own video game venture.
After those personally humiliating experiences, he took the helm of an online book business called Good Wagon. It was then that Ulbricht began researching bitcoin as a way to circumvent marketplace norms.
Ulbricht was a staunch libertarian — an avid reader of the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises — and he believed that economic theory could be used as “a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind.”
This led the young man to a realisation. While working at Good Wagon, Ulbricht wrote in his journal his dream; “to create a website where people could by anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them.” He knew bitcoin could provide the technology.
All Ulbricht needed was a “business model and strategy.”
While these ideas were percolating in his head, it took an act of physical destruction to cause Ulbricht to launch his site.
Then, one night in early 2011, Good Wagon collapsed. In the literal sense. Ross was working late, alone in the warehouse, when he heard an enormous crash — the sound of the library falling apart. He’d carefully designed the entire system but had somehow forgotten two vital screws, the ones that held it all together; the shelves came down, every single one, like dominoes.
Following this ordeal, Ulbricht left the company and began working full-time on Silk Road. It sold its first items — a batch of psychedelic mushrooms — in January of 2011.
As time went on Silk Road became the largest underground marketplace in the world. This, ultimately, led to Ulbricht’s highly-publicized trial and conviction.
To read more about the first half of Silk Road’s wild ride, check out the lengthy Wired piece.
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