When we last spoke to TRON spokesperson Cliff Edwards, he told us that 2019 was going to be the year that the cryptocurrency firm had to prove there was “method to the madness.”
With updates to the Sun Network, more apps being developed and progress on the company’s efforts to move BitTorrent – the file-sharing company it acquired last year – on to the blockchain, no one could accuse TRON of sitting idle.
But there is still – at least from the outside – a lot of madness. Canceled lunches with Warren Buffet, conspiracy theories claiming that company CEO Justin Sun had been arrested in China, and accusations thrown around by past employees mean many remain suspicious of the firm.
To be fair to TRON, some of these stories have ended up being completely false, with many journalists seeming to be more eager to dish dirt on the company than actually do some basic research and fact-checking.
“As a former journalist, I can’t understand why some outlets behave the way they do,” Edwards told Finance Magnates. “They take a snippet of someone else’s story, don’t do any fact checking and then run with it.”
“There was one instance where an outlet put out a story about us that was false. They didn’t reach out to me or anyone else at TRON for confirmation. Then when I contacted them, they didn’t admit they were wrong or retract their piece. Instead, they put in my quote right at the bottom of the piece and framed it as though we were acting all guilty.”
Probably the most famous case of the cryptosphere getting it wildly wrong was when reports emerged that Sun had been detained in China. In response, the TRON CEO posted a picture of himself in San Francisco, standing next to Edwards, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Not a lone incident
Sadly, such incidents are not uncommon in the crypto media.
Take the recent court case involving Craig Wright. Mainstream outlets have claimed that he is required to pay $5 billion to the brother of his now-deceased, former partner Ira Kleiman. As the Financial Times rightly reported last Thursday, this is not the case – even if it is likely to happen in the near future.
Still, TRON seems to get more flack than most – if not all – other cryptocurrency companies. Is that because, I asked Edwards, the company keeps slipping up or is there something else at play?
“Firstly, I think that TRON is a big company and Justin is a popular figure in our industry,” said Edwards. “So when you write something about us, people will read it. And they’re probably even more likely to read if you have something negative or critical to say.
“The other thing is this sort of tribalism in the cryptocurrency industry. You look at other tech rivalries – Apple vs Microsoft – and something similar exists. With crypto, I think that, because money is involved, it makes things much more heated. People want ‘their’ coin to win and so everything else becomes a ‘shit coin.’”
Of course, there are genuine ‘shit coins’ out their in the ether. And if TRON doesn’t want to become one, it is going to have to deliver on its products.
The company has, as noted, shown signs that is doing that. But, according to Edwards, things won’t happen as fast as the TRON team thought they might twelve months ago.
“If I had to rate us so far, I’d probably give us a B,” the TRON spokesman said. “I think that our major problems have come from a disconnect between our expectations surrounding product development and how easy it is to build the technology we want.
“It’s not just that it’s been harder than we thought, we also needed way more people. Our team has grown from 200 people to just under 400 since the start of this year.”
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Those new people have been spread across a number of different divisions. Though ‘TRON’ might seem like a monolithic entity, the group is more akin to your typical, large technology company.
Currently, the cryptocurrency firm is working on several large-scale projects, including creating a decentralised internet platform, developing a network for applications and moving BitTorrent to the blockchain. That’s alongside a number of smaller goals the company has set itself.
“If you looked at the company at the end of last year, it was a bit chaotic,” said Edwards. “We had so many projects and not enough manpower.
“That meant a lot of people were more in ‘start-up’ mode. Instead of working on one project, they were doing lots of different things. Now that we’ve effectively doubled our staff numbers, people can work on one project and really commit to it.”
Change in strategy
Despite the growth in personnel and, one would assume, a commensurate increase in product development speed, TRON has also been quieter in 2019 than it has been in the past.
Since February, for instance, the company has been testing its new version of BitTorrent. But aside from a couple of announcements made then, TRON hasn’t been making a huge amount of noise about the product.
“If you look at 2017 and 2018, before we really had a marketing and comms team,” said Edwards. “You’ll see that we were making announcement after announcement after announcement.
“Justin himself has admitted this was not the right thing to do. It created scepticism of our product. I think we’ve learned to be much more cautious. We aren’t going to over-hype a product and then find it’s not ready for launch when we said it would be. We’re also much more strategic in what we say publicly – our messages are much more targeted towards a specific goal.”
To finish our interview, I had to ask a couple of tougher questions. The first involved Lucian Chen – a former technology worker at TRON. In May, Chen published a post on Medium saying that TRON’s network is much more centralised than it claims to be.
TRON responded by claiming that Chen had been fired in January and that he had not, as he claimed, left the company of his own free will. The cryptocurrency company also said that Chen had embezzled money, stolen insider information and that he was never – as he said he was – chief technology officer.
“When this all came out, I had actually forgotten about [Chen],” said Edwards. “This was one of those things where, again, the press took everything at face value. This guy was fired months before his announcement and is still under investigation in China.
“The whole thing was very self-serving for him. I mean, he is launching his own company – do people really just assume that he’s dishing the dirt on us out of the kindness of his heart?”
These things may be true but it doesn’t mean that what Chen said was necessarily false. What about TRON’s set up – is it as centralised as Chen claimed?
“Look, I’m not the CTO so I can’t give you a precise answer,” said Edwards. “Chen said that we are totally centralised which is obviously not true. What I would also say is that every company in this space – whether they say so or not – is wrestling with the issue of decentralisation.
“The faster a service is, at least for now, the more centralised it’s going to be. What we’re doing is developing a number of initiatives, so that we might eventually offer a service where it’s totally decentralised and another where it’s mostly centralised.”
Technological controversies aside, I also had to ask Edwards about the lunch with Warren Buffet. What happened and is it still going to take place?
“It’s being rescheduled,” said Edwards with a cryptic smile.