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Antifragile: Serhiy Tron Fights To Bring Bitcoin To Ukraine

Serhiy Tron, former boxer, persistent entrepreneur and publisher of Bitcoin magazine Ukraine, fights for stability in an unstable world.

A version of this article was originally printed in the first Ukrainian-language issue of Bitcoin Magazine, which you can buy here.

When Serhiy Tron was born in 1984, his hometown was known as Dniprodzerzhinsk, named after the founder of the Bolshevik secret police in the 1930s. In 2016, it returned to its historical name of Kamianske after rejecting communist suppression across the country, but no matter what the city was called, it was the kind of industrial center that moves the country and creates resilient and hardworking people.

Tron’s mother was an accountant, while his father spent 25 years in the military before working with victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. When asked to describe his father, Tron falls silent and loses his train of thought—asking to hear the question again before describing him as a rigid, strong-willed military man who projected qualities of command and control.

At age ten, drawing on the lessons of his hard-working city and father, Tron took up boxing, embarking on what would become a lifetime of dodging punches, battling personal and financial crises, and ultimately championing an open source software project who believes it will bring much-needed stability to a world plagued by recession and inflation.

Heavy Fuel

At the age of 16, Tron channeled the tenacity and determination he cultivated as a young boxer and embarked on an entrepreneurial journey by starting a heavy fuel oil supply company. He juggled training and business demands while taking college classes at night, but just before he turned 19, his dream of professional boxing came to an end. The accident sent him to the hospital for eight months, where he was forced to learn to walk again. He said goodbye to boxing and decided to pour all his energy into his work.

When Tron was 22 years old, his father passed away, leaving him as the main breadwinner of the family. By 2010, his company operated 120 gas stations and five oil depots near Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. He invested in technology capable of cleaning oil reservoirs and sold the extracted sediment. As his financial business grew, he was drawn to banking and in 2011 invested in Citi Commerce Bank and quickly expanded its footprint from 40 to 185 branches. By that time, the capitalization of all his businesses amounted to almost a billion dollars.

Then his next decisive fight began.

In February 2014, the Maidan Revolution, also known as the Revolution of Dignity, began with deadly clashes between protesters in Kyiv and government forces. With 80% of its business operations located in the occupied territories, Tron faced the risk of losing almost everything. But a boxer knows how to take a hit and stay on his feet, and Tron decided to leave his home and operations in eastern Ukraine and move his family to Kyiv, bringing with him all the employees willing to relocate.

“The most profitable personal investment you can make is in human relationships,” Tron explains of his emphasis on relationships rather than entities. “But you have to choose the right recipients for this investment. To be completely honest, I think I made all my money thanks to my intuition, diverse experience, accumulated knowledge and relationships with people.”

From there, however, events in Ukraine developed rapidly. With international investment fleeing the country, inflation reached 25%, which is the highest rating in the last 14 years. Ukrainian currency, hryvnia, lost 60% of its value against the US dollar. Citi Commerce Bank started hemorrhaging capital as people rushed to withdraw deposits. Tron faced two ugly options: save the bank by defaulting or pay off its customers by draining its liquidity.

As always, he didn’t shy away from a bigger, better fight and decided to pay. After a six-month struggle to keep his bank afloat, Citi Commerce Bank was sold for one, shiny dollar.

Bitcoin Mining Potential

Finding itself at another crossroads in 2015, Tron refocused on its interest in the technology industry. Buoyed by many crises throughout his life, he quickly saw in Bitcoin the promise of stability for a world of uncertainty. Mining the two most prominent cryptocurrencies early in their history, both Bitcoin and Ethereum, it was clear to him that one had fundamental advantages over the other.

“After mining both Ether and Bitcoin, I concluded that the fundamental principles of Bitcoin are unbeatable,” he says. “Ethereum appeared vulnerable to modification and human corruption.”

After traveling to China to examine Bitcoin mining equipment firsthand, he purchased his first mining machines, which offered 2 megawatts (MW) of capacity, and installed them in Romania. This research gamble worked out well enough to convince him to build a modern data center in his home country. It invested $40 million in a 10.5 MW mining operation on the premises of the Dniester Hydroelectric Power Plant in Chernivtsi, the western oblast or region, which is the smallest in the country.

Around the same time, the small town of Zug, an hour away from Zurich, Switzerland, was quickly becoming the country’s own “crypto valley” – a place where, even then, you could easily run into Bitcoin enthusiasts and eager tech investors. In 2018, betting on Swiss Bitcoin regulations, Tron established its holding company White Rock Management in the Swiss city.

Bitcoin’s popularity was growing, his business ventures were successful and, by then, Tron was a staunch Bitcoin maximalist. He invested in his next venture to set up a 30MW data center in Kazakhstan, but due to dire circumstances, he pulled out of the country in 2021. (However, with his ever-present belligerence, he notes that it’s still too early to put a lid on the matter.)

After that mining venture, Tron started thinking about where to expand. Understanding the unique incentives that make bitcoin mining such a powerful industry, he focused on the cost of electricity and jurisdictional stability and chose an area of ​​northern Sweden surrounded by hydroelectric power, installing $85 million worth of equipment there.

In 2022, the company expanded across the Atlantic Ocean into Texas’ Brazos Valley to work with a potential alternative to hydroelectric power: natural gas. Discovered during oil extraction, this gas is often either released or “flared” — burned — and Tron decided to explore the possibility of using it to power Bitcoin by building a data center there.

Based on his industry expertise, Tron theorizes that major oil and gas corporations will soon work closely with the Bitcoin industry, as the latest mining technology would allow them to continue extracting profits from depleted oil sites. He is also confident that holistic mining operations are poised to usher in the next generation of industrial success.

“In 2023, we can see a reduction in the number of hosting providers as they will continue to lose customers,” he explains. “Only vertically integrated companies, with their own equipment, data centers and full process control, are likely to survive the current market downturn.”

And now, Tron is working on its latest project located near Niagara Falls in New York State. But its fighting days appear to be far from over — in November, New York State passed a a two-year moratorium on permits for cryptocurrency mining operations that seek to retrofit fossil fuel facilities.

While some Bitcoin enthusiasts cried foul over this policy, Tron remains optimistic. He believes the Bitcoin community would be wise to adopt new environmental standards and sees the moratorium as an opportunity to do so. A positive outlook has helped him weather many battles, including the latest crypto winter.

“I think every crisis is a business opportunity because the market is changing,” explains Tron. “Bitcoin’s high price that led to the latest crash attracted a lot of quick investment and unrealistic expectations. The bankruptcies we are seeing within the ecosystem have exposed projects vulnerable to fluctuations in bitcoin and electricity prices.”

Spreading the Bitcoin message to Ukraine

Tron’s upbringing and the challenges he faced in life gave him a unique ability to find reasons for optimism while remaining a realist and sharp critic. He is sure that due to the Soviet past, Ukraine has left behind a corrupt system that continues to hinder the development of business. The businessman in him is convinced that the greatest victory of Ukrainians will be over their darker sides.

In his opinion, the media is part of this problem. In a step to change that, taking on perhaps the biggest fight of its life, Tron partnered with Bitcoin Magazine in 2020 and negotiated its publication in Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Its goal is to build a medium where the latest Bitcoin innovations are quickly shared with readers and where the best homegrown talent can be supported and celebrated.

“There are unrivaled magical returns on investing in things that support the future, such as technology, science and educational initiatives,” he says.

Under his watch, Bitcoin Magazine will remain independent from the corrupting influence of political actors. Tron believes Bitcoin’s philosophy is the best way to end the corruption left over from his country’s turbulent past. For him, bitcoin’s destiny is much greater than serving as a store of value or a medium of exchange. He sees a future in which digital assets will constitute a new market sector at the level of finance or energy.

And Bitcoin will be the leader in this, with its unsurpassed, solid fundamentals ensuring it remains the leader in the digital asset market. And maybe, according to the businessman, it will become a reserve currency and an index for other cryptocurrencies.

Tron believes that the next step after the blockchain revolution is a legitimate financial revolution. On its evolutionary path, humanity is destined to remove itself from its dependence and subservience to fiat money. For him, Bitcoin’s principles of freedom of choice and transparency will one day form a new basis for human interaction.

His belief in Bitcoin’s potential is evident in the evangelism he does throughout the region surrounding his homeland, though progress is coming faster in some places than others.

“On my recent visit to Uzbekistan, my conversations with some government officials left me confused,” recalls Tron. “I offered to bring high-quality bitcoin content and educational investment to the country and was told that it would be best if the world didn’t hear about Uzbekistan. They were afraid that outsiders would come in and screw up the great little Bitcoin ecosystem they have. But I don’t understand this logic. Again we encounter a variant of the post-Soviet perfectionist mentality. I was left disheartened, but we agreed to slowly nurture our relationship if that was what it took.”

The fight does not end

So, after hearing the story of a young boxer who tasted the dirty air of his hometown in his mouth, who was once robbed of a billion-dollar business by war, who loves his country and its people, but sees corruption for what it is, who never gives up the fight but hopes to save others from them – what are we to think of Tron?

Today, Tron’s life is filled with his wife, three children, employees and business partners. But even as a persistently busy man, he is always on the lookout for new opportunities. And yet, it leaves the impression that somewhere, deep in his thoughts, he stands all alone. He seems as if, in a way, he is still in the boxing ring, tall and broad-chested, nimble on his feet, alert and distrustful, his mind always on the long game, always ready to pull and duck, bob and weave.

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