DeFi is the future (and a hack can’t convince me otherwise)

Despite the hardships and the seedier side of crypto that my first project was subjected to, I’m choosing to stay in this industry and try to make an impact


Artwork by Crystal Le


My journey into the world of cryptocurrency began with a touch of serendipity back in 2011 when I experimented with bitcoin mining on my MacBook.

However, it wasn’t until much later that my interest in crypto really took off. My first project, Nirvana, was inspired by the DeFi craze, particularly Olympus DAO. My team saw real potential in refining its model to make it safer and more appealing to investors.

Unfortunately, during the week of our audit process, we were breached by a bad actor — a rogue security engineer named Shakeeb Ahmed, as we would later find out. Ahmed returned the funds and was just sentenced to three years in prison, but it was a living hell to get there.

The incident shook not only our team, but the entire community. However, even after the harrowing experience of the hack itself and the years-long process to get justice, I’ve still chosen to remain in crypto. 

The material outcome for me, both personally and professionally, was a testament to the power of collaboration, perseverance and justice. Despite the hardships and the seedier side of crypto that my first project was subjected to, I’m choosing to stay in this industry and try to make an impact.

A $3.5 million hack — and its resolution

As the saga unfolded, the importance of unity and transparency in the crypto community became increasingly evident. 

Through collective efforts and unwavering resolve, we not only unraveled the complexities of the hack, but also paved the way for justice to prevail. While the scars of the ordeal may linger, the resilience of the DeFi community serves as a beacon of hope, reaffirming my commitment to innovation tempered by vigilance.

The journey towards resolution began with outreach. Following the hack, we proactively sought guidance from other projects who had faced similar challenges. Among others, Crema and Beansprout shared invaluable advice on how to navigate the aftermath. Through Crema’s suggestion, we connected with TRM, a renowned entity in the cybersecurity realm. Our efforts saw numerous obstacles. Despite exhaustive investigations, we hit dead ends and were often confronted by the complexities of international jurisdictions.

Read more from our opinion section: It’s time to take back our digital communities

Amidst the frustration, a ray of hope emerged. In October 2023, a Homeland Security Investigator reached out, offering the prospect of cooperation in an ongoing investigation. Eager to contribute, we shared every pertinent detail, including insights gleaned from our interactions with the hacker. This collaboration bore fruit when HSI divulged information regarding the other protocol involved in the hack, further intertwining our narratives.

The path to justice, however, proved arduous. But our cooperation further strengthened SDNY’s case, making them able to pursue precedent-setting legal action against the perpetrator that would determine that “code is not law.” And in the end, after months of meticulous exchanges with HSI, IRS investigators and SDNY, law enforcement was able to identify the hacker.

Where the journey has taken me

Growing up in various cities across the Northeast, I’ve always felt a sense of wanderlust. My journey through life, in both the USA and in my time overseas in Bali and Thailand, has kept one thing consistent — my passion for entrepreneurship. 

My conviction that I needed to grow the crypto space wasn’t dimmed after the Nirvana hack: In fact, the hack just triple-reinforced my conviction that this industry was where I needed to take my career. Post-hack, I reflected daily on the paramount importance of asset safety and risk management in the crypto space. For obvious reasons, I was purpose-driven by this above all. Much introspection, meditation and ideation on this led to the inception of a current venture, one focused on revolutionizing risk management in DeFi.

As I continue on this journey, I’m reminded of the resilience and adaptability inherent in the entrepreneurial spirit. Each challenge is an opportunity for growth, and every setback is a chance to emerge stronger. 

In the realm of DeFi, collaboration is not merely a choice but a necessity — a testament to our shared responsibility in safeguarding the integrity of the ecosystem. As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of DeFi, let the lessons learned from the Nirvana Finance protocol hack serve as a testament to not only the indomitable spirit of innovation, resilience and cooperation — but to the fact that we need to bring risk down in crypto in every way. 

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