Faces of crypto: Charles Hoskinson, Cardano founder

Charles Hoskinson is a prolific innovator who approaches decentralization with scientific rigor. A Colorado-based technology entrepreneur, he leads Cardano's research, design, and development, heads IOHK, and manages non-crypto businesses. Here are the key things to know about the life and vision of this cryptocurrency evangelist.

Early life and education

Charles Hoskinson was born in 1987 in Hawaii to a family of doctors. His brother also became a doctor, and Charles initially wanted to follow in his parents' footsteps as a surgeon. However, his childhood fascination with computers became a passion for life. Hoskinson went on to study analytic number theory at the Metropolitan State University of Denver and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

In 2022, the crypto community discussed conflicting reports concerning Hoskinson's credentials. In her book The Cryptopians, journalist Laura Shin suggested he had embellished his background as he had neither finished an undergraduate degree nor enrolled for a Ph.D. According to Shin, both universities had confirmed this. The Cardano CEO responded on Twitter, claiming he had not completed a Ph.D. but had graduated and intended to return to Ph.D. work after retirement.

Hoskinson worked in the public and private sectors and focused on blockchain after he quit consulting. In 2013, he dedicated himself to crypto, establishing the Cryptocurrency Research Group. He also acted as the founding chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation educational committee and founded crypto-related startups — Invictus Innovations, Ethereum, and IOHK.

Invictus Innovations is the company behind BitShares, a pioneering decentralized exchange platform that emerged in 2013. Hoskinson helped its founder, Dan "Bytemaster" Larimer, vet his idea, develop a business plan, and secure funding. However, the two eventually left the company that same year, keeping their reasons confidential. Commenting on Hoskinson's resignation, CEO Bo Shen called him "the best deal maker we have ever seen."

Charles Hoskinson speaking on Bloomberg on 2017. Source: IOHK's Facebook account
Charles Hoskinson speaking on Bloomberg on 2017. Source: IOHK's Facebook account

Ethereum connection

Charles Hoskinson met Vitalik Buterin while launching an online school – Bitcoin Education Project. He became the first Ethereum CEO but stepped down in June 2014 following disagreements about the network's purpose – Hoskinson viewed it as a commercial enterprise, while Buterin wanted it to be a non-profit. Despite the falling out, both co-founders are vocal supporters of blockchain projects and decentralized finance.

Input Output Hong Kong (IOHK)

In 2015, together with Jeremy Wood, who had managed operations at Ethereum, Hoskinson founded another crypto project – Input Output Hong Kong. Wood served as its chief strategy officer until stepping down in 2020. IOHK is self-described as "one of the world's pre-eminent blockchain infrastructure research and engineering companies committed to the highest principles of academic rigor and evidence-based software development."

As a third-party developer, IOHK creates blockchains for academic institutions, private enterprises, and governments. It is "the driving force" behind Cardano. According to the official website, the IOHK team includes over 400 employees in over 50 countries.

IOHK is committed to developing protection from cascading disruption — the inherent instability of financial, governance, and social systems in which "minor perturbations" cause fundamental reconfigurations.

Hoskinson's innovative blockchain platform

Cardano is the flagship project of IOHK. The ICO for this decentralized public blockchain took place in 2017 and raised $63 million for its native ADA token. The platform went live in September 2017, and its cryptocurrency quickly gained value. By the beginning of 2018, a market cap of $32 million made it the fifth-biggest coin and a prominent rival to Ether.

As of this writing, the number of projects on the network has exceeded 2,000. This open-source smart contract platform is praised for its focus on innovation and methodical approach. Unlike Ethereum, it moves more slowly, prioritizing scientific rigor.

In October 2022, Cardano became the third-biggest NFT protocol by trading volume behind Ethereum and Solana. As of February 2, 2023, DappRadar lists 30+ decentralized apps (Dapps) running on it.

Cardano blockchain vs. Ethereum

While both blockchain networks host smart contracts, Hoskinson's brainchild is unique in many respects. It is a third-generation blockchain with a solid scientific and mathematical focus. The latter is reflected in its name — Gerolamo Cardano was a famous Italian mathematician of the 16th century. Even parts of the Cardano ecosystem are named after distinguished people of art and science, including Voltaire, Mary Shelley, and Matsuo Basho.

The Cardano roadmap. Source: cardano.org
The Cardano roadmap. Source: cardano.org

While Ethereum's primary programming language is Solidity, IOHK is based on Haskell, which was designed for education, research, and industrial applications. This language is commonly used in finance and defense contracting.

To make the network more scalable and performant, IOHK has developed Ouroboros, a unique consensus protocol. This fusion of Proof of Stake and Proof of Work offers the best of both worlds — enhanced efficiency and security. Ouroboros is the product of a collective international effort involving blockchain technology labs at the University of Edinburgh, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and the University of Wyoming.

Hoskinson vs. Buterin

In a 2021 interview, Vitalik Buterin mentioned "very interesting things that come out of IOHK research" but also suggested that the role of deep research rigor in preventing protocol failure is overrated. According to the current Ethereum CEO, "the number of failures that are outside the model is bigger and more important than the failures that are inside the model."

In May 2022, Hoskinson apparently took a light-hearted jab at Buterin when the Ethereum CEO tweeted about "contradictions" between his desire for emphasis on long-term stability and the "realization that getting there requires a lot of active coordinated short-term change." Hoskinson tweeted in response, "It's not too late to come to Cardano…."

Hoskinson's response to Buterin's tweet.
Hoskinson's response to Buterin's tweet. Source: Twitter

Concerns about Hoskinson's leadership

Some critics have called Cardano an "obfuscated scam," alleging it is missing essential components. In response, Hoskinson tweeted that he welcomed "as much digging as possible" as there was nothing to hide, "just years of progress, building, and a massive community."

Hoskinson's role as the IOHK founder has also raised concerns due to his sheer decision-making power. As a result, some analysts believe he should focus on boosting adoption and let someone else take the helm as the Cardano CEO. Others suggest diversifying the leadership team to attract more investors.

Finally, despite becoming the most actively developed crypto project in 2019, Cardano has faced multiple delays. Critics of its roadmap find it too lengthy and urge the team to speed up their work without compromising its quality. Recently, Hoskinson has apparently mocked the project’s setbacks, tweeting, "Is anything I build on schedule?" responding to questions about his new non-crypto business, Hoskinson Health and Wellness Clinic.

Other businesses in and beyond crypto

In January 2023, Charles Hoskinson announced that his Hoskinson Health and Wellness Clinic would soon open for business, and that customers would be able to make payments with ADA. According to the official website, this clinic in Gillette, Wyoming provides a wide range of services, from primary care to nutritional medicine. Its LinkedIn profile shows 11 employees.

Hoskinson's tweet about the clinic. Source: Twitter
Hoskinson's tweet about the clinic. Source: Twitter

In mid-2022, Hoskinson shared a teaser for the opening of Nessie's, a crypto-friendly restaurant and whiskey lounge in Wheatland, Wyoming. Apparently, the primary motivation for this venture was the lack of good eateries around Hoskinson's ranch. However, the restaurant is not listed on Google at press time.

In January 2023, Charles Hoskinson announced that his Hoskinson Health and Wellness Clinic would soon open for business, and that customers would be able to make payments with ADA. According to the official website, this clinic Gillette, Wyoming provides a wide range of services, from primary care to nutritional medicine. Its LinkedIn profileshows 11 employees.

Hoskinson has also confirmed his intention to acquire CoinDesk, a leading crypto news site. He suggested overhauling the incentive structure for writers to fix the "dirty secret of journalism" – that everything about this process "is about money." Hoskinson aims to achieve this though veracity bonds – financial penalties for dishonesty and incompetence. According to his vision, the news outlet should stump up money for every publication and forfeit the funds to individuals who spot inaccuracies in the reporting.

Educational projects

Charles Hoskinson has been an educator throughout his career. Apart from founding Bitcoin Education Project and serving on Bitcoin Foundation's education committee, he has promoted crypto learning worldwide.

In 2017, Hoskinson discussed blockchain education with the Barbados government. In 2021, IOHK launched coding courses in Ethiopia. Hoskinson has also been vocal about Bitcoin's growing carbon footprint, promoting Cardano as an energy-efficient alternative,

Hoskinson's thoughts on the future of cryptocurrencies

Charles Hoskinson believes projects like Cardano may eventually morph into "the financial operating systems of the world," provided the US government implements favorable regulations. This regime must view cryptocurrencies positively and "appreciate the liberty" they provide. Meanwhile, "the next generation of DeFi is up for grabs," as the industry is yet to be regulated.

The Cardano founder is also skeptical about CBDCs (Central Bank Digital Currencies), particularly China's digital Yuan endeavor. Hoskinson warns it may compromise financial freedoms, letting a few individuals control the economic lives of billions. In his view, "the antidote for this is cryptocurrency with properties that have liberty" rather than another central bank-issued asset.