The LUNAtics aren't so crazy about Do Kwon anymore
Do Kwon, the 30-year-old mastermind of TerraUSD and Luna coins, was once the idol of a community of crypto investors that proudly called themselves "LUNAtics."
As value of Luna coins soared -- to become the eighth-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization on May 1 -- Kwon's fandom only got bigger and crazier.
Since co-founding Terraform Labs, the company behind TerraUSD and its sister coin Luna, in 2018 with Daniel Shin, Kwon made Forbes’ 30-under-30 list in 2019 and attracted millions of investment from high profile companies, including the largest crypto exchange, Binance.
But following almost a 100 percent crash of Luna overnight on May 12, Kwon is now being called a fraud around the world, the Elizabeth Holmes of crypto. His former supporters are aggressively preparing to take legal action against him.
Luna now trades at less than a U.S. cent compared to almost $120 last month.
Born in 1991, Kwon graduated from Seoul's Daewon Foreign Language High School, one of the most prestigious private high schools in Korea. He studied computer science at Stanford University and worked as an engineer at Microsoft and Apple for three months each, according to F6S, a global community for founders to interact with investors and accelerators.
“While in high school, I founded a publication that was ultimately distributed to 60 schools and 100,000 people in South Korea,” he wrote on the F6S page. “The publication sold ads to teen-focused businesses e.g. prep schools. By graduation it had become profitable with $500k ARR” (annual recurring revenue).
In 2020, Kwon was one of the pseudonymous co-founders of the failed algorithmic stablecoin Basis Cash, according to a report from CoinDesk. Like TerraUSD, Basis Cash sought to maintain a $1 value through algorithmic code.
That happened right before the launch of TerraUSD.
Kang Hyung-suk, a former engineer at Terraform Labs, told CoinDesk that Basis Cash was a side project for Kwon.
Kwon made Forbes’ 30-under-30 list in 2019 when he was 27 years old. Forbes said TerraUSD “attracted 40 million users to work with the company at launch” and that Terra was able to raise “$32 million from crypto-giants such as Binance, Arrington XRP and Polychain Capital.”
Kwon’s rise to fame owed a lot to respected financiers who willingly backed Terra coins. Some of the investors sold their coins early, reaping windfalls, while others, including retail investors, held on too long and are suffering losses.
Hedge fund Pantera Capital made a profit of about 100 times its initial investment, after selling roughly 80 percent of its holdings of Luna over the last year, according to a report in the New York Times. Pantera turned $1.7 million into around $170 million.
Mike Novogratz, founder and CEO of crypto bank Galaxy Digital, got himself a Luna-themed tattoo. The tattoo features a wolf howling against a full moon with the word LUNA next to the moon.
“I’m officially a Lunatic!!!” wrote Novogratz on Twitter on Jan. 5, thanking Kwon.
Just over a month ago, Kwon named his newborn daughter Luna. “My dearest creation named after my greatest invention,” he wrote on Twitter on April 17. “If I ever have a son I shall name him Stable [as in stablecoin]."
In Korea, Kwon was hailed as a local Elon Musk for being fantastically successful, and also for comments on Twitter that stirred up controversy.
Many of his tweets were attacks on critics of his invention and competitors. The most talked-about feud is between Kwon and British economist Frances Coppola, who criticized the algorithmic stablecoin model last year.
She tweeted to say that self-correction mechanisms of the sort used by TerraUSD will fail when panicked investors start stampeding for the exit.
Kwon replied, “I don’t debate the poor on Twitter, and sorry I don’t have any change on me for her at the moment.”
When another person asked Kwon where some of Terra’s financing would come from, Kwon replied, “Your mom, obviously.” That reply received more than 2,000 likes.
Kwon was publicly very certain of Terra. In 2020, he tweeted that TerraUSD is “the oldest and most widely used algo stablecoin in existence,” adding, “Bow before the king.”
Kwon’s personality appealed to investors when his invention was performing well. But with most of its value down the drain, it's not power to charm and convince seems to have vanished.
Kwon pitched revival plans for Terra following the crash, and asked people to vote on it. The plan was rejected by 90 percent of preliminary respondents.
BY JIN MIN-JI [email@example.com]