From all-night gaming sessions to a life-changing epiphany: Inside the college years of 29-year-old crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried

From all-night gaming sessions to a life-changing epiphany: Inside the college years of 29-year-old crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried
Sam Bankman-Fried, founder and CEO of crypto exchange FTX. FTX Official/YouTube
  • Sam Bankman Fried, the 29-year-old billionaire founder of crypto derivatives exchange FTX, wasn't always the expert he is today.
  • Back at MIT, he was struggling to find his direction in life, according to an exclusive profile by Yahoo Finance.
  • But one altruistic movement changed his life forever, nudging him to become the person he is today.

Sam Bankman-Fried - the 29-year-old billionaire founder of FTX, one of the most valuable cryptocurrency derivative changes in the world - has quickly become one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the modern era.

But he wasn't always so laser-focused, according to an exclusive profile by Yahoo Finance. In fact, he had no plans to enter the cryptocurrency space until he discovered an altruistic movement that would change his life forever.

It all began when Bankman-Fried went to MIT - a decision decided by a flip of a coin, with Cal Tech as the other option - where he met his friends in a group house known as Epsilon Theta.

Bankman-Fried enjoyed his time at ET, pulling all-nighter game sessions that involved time pressure, something the then-freshman student enjoyed and excelled in, according to friends who spoke with Yahoo Finance. For games without the same constraint, such as chess, Bankman-Fried would insist on playing with a timer, they said.

"Think of a fraternity but replace all the alcohol with the nerdiest stuff you can imagine," Adam Yedidia, who met Bankman-Fried at ET, told Yahoo Finance.


Bankman-Fried majored in physics in college, with a minor in math. But he generally found college life boring.

"Nothing I learned in college ended up being useful ... other than, like, social development," Bankman-Fried told Yahoo Finance. "On the academic side, though, it's all f***ing useless."

Things started to change when he was a sophomore. That year, Bankman-Fried stumbled upon "effective altruism," a movement founded by two Oxford philosophy professors, which aims to use "evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible," according to its website.

This includes, for instance, choosing an organization to direct one's effort using empirical analysis and research.

New to the concept, Bankman-Fried had lunch with one of the founders, Will MacAskill, to learn more.


"That was sort of the point at which I started to think in a more principled way about what I should do with my life," Bankman-Fried told Yahoo Finance. Until then, he was leaning towards becoming an academic, but had doubts about the size of the impact he could make as a professor.

He then considered "earning to give," according to Yahoo Finance. This approach encourages "the pursuit of a lucrative career with the purpose of donating a significant portion of the earnings to cost-effective organizations," the movement's website said.

Come his junior year, Bankman-Fried was torn between working two options, Yahoo Finance reported: working for the Center for Effective Altruism itself or at finding a job at Wall Street to pursue the earning-to-give route.

The young Bankman-Fried said he felt a gentle nudge towards the latter, Yahoo Finance said.

That summer, he interned at Jane Street Capital, a quantitative firm on Wall Street. It was there that he discovered his love for trading - finally a pursuit that didn't bore him.


The rest is history.

Read more: A 29-year-old crypto billionaire who's perfected digital-currency arbitrage shares 2 tips for investors looking to get started in trading - and explains why ether is unlikely to surpass bitcoin