Sunday, December 31, 2023

Going Infinite by Michael Lewis

Going Infinite by Michael Lewis is a compelling book about Sam Bankman-Fried, the now-convicted founder of FTX and Alameda Research. Lewis first heard of him at the end of 2021, when Sam took FTX to $1B in revenue, up from $100M in 2020, and $20M in 2019. The book largely chronicles his rise, with the end covering his rapid fall. It felt like a satisfying conclusion was lacking, largely because it not clear where the money went. 

Lewis covers how Sam went to MIT and interned and then was hired at Jane Street Capital. It's a high-frequency trading firm and it was fascinating reading about the interview process there, one centered around probability and chance. It was to determine how someone operates in an environment of uncertainty, how do they go about making decisions? The questions were all mental math around odds, like what amount of money would someone trade for a possibility of a larger amount of money. It was testing someone's relationship to information. 

Lewis covers how these type of calculations fit Sam perfectly and his decisions involved an expected value calculation. He would at the spur of the moment change a plan based on a new calculation he made of how he wanted to spend his time. 

Sam loved things where there was only partial knowledge of a situation, and when he discovered crypto trading, he found it a perfect fit for him. Sam quit his job in 2017 to start Alameda Research as a crypto trading firm and by November 2018, Alameda Researched traded more than 5% of the total volume of crypto markets. He then founded FTX as a new company, a crypto exchange, and as this was occurring, Sam was living in Asia, and then moved to the Bahamas. In late October 2022, it all came crashing down, triggered by a crypto crisis. On November 11, FTX went into bankruptcy in the United States, as FTX should have been holding some $10B in customer deposits, but only had a fraction of that.

It's a shame that Sam flamed out given his donations to various causes, including fighting climate change and promoting democratic principles, including how he toyed with the idea of paying Donald Trump billions to not run again for President. The book closes with the bankruptcy efforts to try to figure out what happened with the money, before the trial of Sam, and it's an interesting read.