Described by some journalists as the “Godfather of DeFi,” Cronje is constantly building new blockchain projects, coding most of the applications himself. Yearn Finance, a decentralized yield generation and aggregation tool, was the first of its kind and is still recognized as one the most popular dapps in decentralized finance (DeFi).
Despite multiple successful and innovative ventures, Cronje has a strained relationship with the DeFi space. He announced that he was quitting DeFi multiple times and has taken months-long sabbaticals before returning to build new projects. He is also known for deploying projects prior to thorough testing, a practice that has garnered criticism from users and caused controversy in the past.
He frequently writes on a Medium blog about Web3, offering readers an inside look at the financial, technological, and personal elements of developing DeFi applications.
Andre Cronje was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and earned a law degree from Stellenbosch University in 2003.
In the early 2000’s while Cronje was working as a lawyer, his roommate asked for rides to college computer science classes. Cronje became interested in the subject and began to sit in on the classes himself, and subsequently enrolled at the school. He completed a three-year computer science program in just a few months and became a lecturer at the Computer Training Institute Education Group.
Cronje spent the next decade working as a software developer and engineering manager at various companies, including telecoms, big data, mobile security, and fin-tech firms.
Role in the cryptocurrency community
Toward the end of the 2017 Bitcoin bull run, as public knowledge of cryptocurrency was growing, Cronje himself started learning about blockchain technology. Already experienced with distributed networks from his work in the telecom industry, he spent his free time studying GitHub repositories and crypto whitepapers to develop his knowledge of blockchain and crypto technology.
He eventually performed code reviews at Crypto Briefing, a cryptocurrency publication, and took a job with Fantom, a South Korean directed acyclic graph (DAG) blockchain.
After working in crypto, Cronje was disheartened by what he called “token culture,” which focused on the trading and financial elements of crypto, rather than the technology and products. “There's so much time, energy, and capital wasted playing the token game as opposed to playing the product game, which in the long term has a benefit for the token," he said in an interview.
Cronje had developed a preference for stablecoins but noted that he had trouble managing his funds. He was treating the coins the same as he would a traditional savings account. "I wasn't comfortable making cryptocurrency decisions, because I do not understand the cryptocurrency markets," he said.
He started iEarn (which would later become Y.Earn, then Yearn Finance) in 2020, with the original purpose of maximizing his own crypto returns. Yearn finance utilizes yield farming, a practice that allows investors to earn rewards by depositing their coins into a DeFi app.
Yearn is built on the Ethereum blockchain and aggregates several other DeFi protocols, including Curve Finance. It is a yield aggregator, which allows users to deposit funds that then automatically move between different protocols to seek profit-generating strategies by using various trading and lending and borrowing services. The more funds a user deposits, the higher the potential to earn rewards. This process lets users optimize their crypto earnings by making passive income on their assets.
Cronje built the site himself and used his own funds, without outside capital, to launch the project. It quickly became one of the fastest growing apps in the DeFi space, captivating the crypto community and giving Cronje significant publicity.
YFI token fair launch
In July 2020, Cronje released the YFI token in a “fair launch,” where all coins are given to liquidity providers, with none being reserved for Cronje or other early Yearn developers. A fair launch is considered one of the most decentralized token distribution systems since ownership is distributed equitably and transparently, with no particular individual or group receiving specialized treatment.
After Cronje announced the token, deposits on the platform jumped from $8 million to $300 million. The fair launch, and the fact that Cronje did not set aside any YFI tokens for himself despite having the authority to do so, garnered significant media attention and brought Cronje cult-like status within the DeFi ecosystem.
Eminence funds exploit
In September 2020, Cronje teased a new Web3 project called Eminence, which he described as a DeFi protocol for a gaming multiverse. He posted a vague announcement (consisting of artwork with no hyperlinks) on Twitter one evening before going to bed.
He woke up the next day to find that users had already deposited $15 million in DAI into the project, even though it had no user interface or front-end. Users were able to find the open-sourced smart contract and swapped tokens directly into the contract.
At the same time, another user was able to exploit the code and stole the $15 million in funds. A short time later, the same user inexplicably transferred $8 million back into a Yearn finance contract.
The project was only a few days old, and even though it was hosted on Ethereum’s mainnet, it was still being tested by Cronje and a small team. Cronje received criticism for releasing an incomplete and untested application that resulted in losses for investors.
Cronje’s long-time Twitter bio read: “I test in prod.” “Prod” refers to the production environment, the last stage of development where tested, user-ready software is deployed and executed. He notes that he builds software quickly to tackle problems and that people should use his projects with caution.
He tweeted: “Disclaimer: when I build software, I build it for myself. If you do insist on interacting with it, please use caution, there will be bugs. Interfaces are built to make my life easier. I will make mistakes. If you don’t understand it, please don’t use it.”
Cronje has threatened to quit DeFi multiple times, citing unrealistic expectations from users, harsh criticism, and little financial gain for himself. However, he has repeatedly returned to the space after short-term absences, constantly building new dapps or working on new projects.
In a February 2020 blog post titled, “Building in #DeFi sucks,” he writes: “Not a sensationalist title, honestly it sucks. It’s expensive, the community is hostile, the users are entitled.” He ended up returning to the space after this post to expand Yearn Finance.
In October 2020, shortly after the Eminence funds exploitation, he quit again, telling CoinDesk, "I do it because I'm passionate, but if people are going to use my test environments, then lose money, and then hold me liable, it means there is 0 upside and only risk for me."
Cronje’s other recent Web3 projects include Keep3r, a marketplace where developers can offer blockchain-related services in exchange for crypto, and Fantom Network, a platform for developers to build and deploy decentralized applications.
Andre Cronje essentials
- Andre Cronje is a software developer and entrepreneur, known for creating Yearn Finance, a protocol that helps users earn yield on their digital assets.
- A constant builder, Cronje is known by some as the “Godfather of DeFi” for multiple successful applications and ventures.
- Cronje has a contentious relationship with DeFi, often threatening to quit and returning after short absences to work on a new project.