Brock Pierce’s net worth might be as high as $1 billion, according to Forbes, but he doesn’t dress anything like your average tech billionaire. He eschews both pricey suits and humble hoodies in favor of the Burning Man look, which on the day I meet him means a black vest over a white sleeveless shirt, a pair of spangly cargo shorts, and too many bracelets to count. After greeting me in his suite at Vegas’s Aria hotel—he’s here as a speaker for World Crypto Con—he puts on a black, wide-brimmed hat for a quick photoshoot.
Pierce adheres to an alternate definition of billionaire, which he spells out the day before, at his convention keynote: “someone who positively impacts the lives of billions of people.” Right now he’s focusing on positively impacting Puerto Rico, where he and his friends want to build what’s been described as a “crypto utopia” (though he tells me “it’s not a cryptocurrency thing at all”). Pierce says his goal is to make the island—where the tax breaks are extremely generous—a better place for all in the wake of Hurricane Maria. “We’re going to rebuild Puerto Rico with money that we saved from the IRS in a Robin Hood fashion,” he told Rolling Stone in a recent, 6,000-plus-word feature.
The Rolling Stone profile also delves into the controversy surrounding Pierce, a former child actor and current chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation. In 2004, an ex-business partner of Pierce’s at the internet video company Digital Entertainment Network pleaded guilty to transporting minors across state lines for sex. Pierce himself was named in DEN-related sexual misconduct lawsuits, though that litigation was either dropped or settled. He was never charged criminally and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Later this month, he plans to release hundreds of pages of information he hopes will “put all of all of this to bed.”
BREAKER spoke to Pierce, who turns 38 tomorrow, about his public image, his Puerto Rico plans, and what it’s like to get roasted by John Oliver.
You were a child actor, most famously appearing in The Mighty Ducks. What lessons did you learn from your time in Hollywood that you apply to your life now?
I get asked all the time, “Should I let my kid be an actor?” And I’m like, “Well, do they want to act?” If the kids want to, then sure, why not? They’re like, “What do I have to worry about?” I go, “Not much. They’re mostly going to develop some wonderful skills.” They’re going to go on a lot of auditions, if they’re lucky, and they’re gonna face a lot of rejection. They’re going to be told, “No.” “No.” “No.” “No.” “No.” Handling rejection is a valuable skill that will serve you well throughout the rest of your life. Second is you get very good at interviewing. That’s what it is to audition—you go in and do job interviews.
You recently were profiled in in Rolling Stone, and the writer called you the cryptocurrency “world’s first cult leader.” What do you make of that description?
The word “cult” is often misunderstood or misinterpreted, so I wouldn’t use that word. I certainly would never call myself a cult leader. But I’m honored. The fact that Rolling Stone is calling you anything interesting is quite a privilege. There’s not many of those publications in life where you’re like, “Ah, checked an important box.”
Obviously what the writer was getting at is that you have the sort of personality that draws people to you. Is that inborn or is it a skill you developed?
I guess the question is, Can charisma be taught? I imagine, yeah, if you make it a focus of yours, you can probably learn how to develop something along those lines. I was blessed with it, probably from birth.
You’re perhaps the leading advocate for establishing a cryptocurrency paradise in Puerto Rico. What’s your current vision for the island?
It’s not a cryptocurrency thing at all. I happen to be a cryptocurrency person and a number of my friends that have come down there to try and contribute are as well, but it’s definitely not a crypto movement. It’s a movement of conscious beings that are interested in living for something more than themselves.
I spent a lot of time in Puerto Rico in my youth. I eventually went back down in 2014 to establish a bank there, because our industry had banking problems and needed solutions. Then I started telling a bunch of friends a couple of years ago that there’s gonna come a time where we’re gonna move to Puerto Rico. They’re like, “OK. Yeah, yeah, whatever.” And some of them that I had more at-length conversations with were like, “Yup, just tell me when.” And I said, “We’re probably going to go the end of 2018.”
"The main problem that Puerto Rico suffers from is a brain drain. That is far more devastating over the long term than any hurricane."
Then what happened is the hurricane hit. I was like, I’m not going to wait a year and a half to go. They could probably use assistance now. As everybody else was fleeing, we went in to try and contribute in the ways that we can. But it’s definitely not a crypto focus. Most of the time that we spend down there understanding the island’s history and getting to know the people, understanding its culture, understanding its strengths, understanding its weaknesses. And just generally helping people, whether it be installing solar panels to give families access to energy, putting roofs back on houses, or all sorts of little things supporting the arts, the culture, the school.
The main problem that Puerto Rico suffers from is a brain drain. The people with the intellectual capital, the human capital, the spiritual capital, the financial capital, the people with the means are the ones that are generally first to leave. That is far more devastating over the long term than any hurricane. So the main areas of focus for us right now are in figuring out how to support the students, figuring out how to create opportunities for these amazing engineers and amazing people that historically would be leaving. We can bring the angel investors, we can bring the mentors, we can bring some startups to create job opportunities, we can bring the capital to take Puerto Rican entrepreneurs and let them actually start building things.
You’ve had your share of naysayers, people thinking that a bunch of white guys coming into Puerto Rico smacks of colonialism. How do you respond?
I don’t think there’s actually much of that. What you’ve seen in the media were paid actors from Chicago and New York.
You mean the video where you’re getting yelled at [during a community meeting in Puerto Rico]?
Yeah, I’ve got full dossiers on them. They’re not even Puerto Rican. They flew in just to do that.
Who’s hiring them?
That I’m less sure about. But I’m sure it’s political in some nature. It stinks of politics.
The reality is, Puerto Ricans are skeptical. And for good reason. They’ve got 500 years of history of most everyone coming to their island and not leaving things better than they found it. But I wouldn’t say that it’s confrontational. It’s almost always hopeful. It’s like, “I love what you say. I hope you actually do some of these things.” I spent a lot of time with Puerto Ricans, and I don’t ever have any of these issues other than that which have been created by the media—and then the trolls that respond online because they are relying on a bad data set from which they form their judgment.
Do you respond to trolls online?
I try not to. But everybody should be a naysayer, in the sense that what we’re attempting to do is a bit crazy. Most people you know wouldn’t even be able to comprehend it—the idea that a bunch of people would go move somewhere to try and make life for others better. It’s so outside of the realms of self-interested people.
It seems like crypto attracts a lot of people like that—get-rich-quick schemers, “When Lambo?” people.
Generally, it’s only the noobs. There are some people that have been around for a while that have that mentality. Crypto, because of the economic incentives and the fact that there’s been historical gains, has a way of attracting people that show up with greed on their mind. But once you’ve actually started going down that rabbit hole and you start to understand the impact that this is going to have on the world… You came through the door with greed, but you leave with religion.
Going back to the media portrayal of you: As a relative newb to the space myself, the first time I ever heard of you was when John Oliver covered you on this show. He was pretty hard on you.
He’s a comedian, he’s hard on everybody. It’s like going to the comedy club. When the comedian calls you onstage, expect a roast.
How did you feel when you saw that segment?
I laughed. I’ve seen the episode twice, and both times I thought it was entertaining. This is John Oliver, this is what he does. I’m a fan. If you look at what he says, it was actually pretty positive. He’s like, “Who’s this man that likes to dress up like he’s at Burning Man all the time?” [Gestures at outfit.] I’m obviously not embarrassed by that. If you actually just parse out the things that he said, it’s not very bad.
But when he says, “Google ‘Brock Pierce scandal’”—
Alright, go for it. Please. Yeah, tell everyone to Google me. Thanks for the call to action.
In that Rolling Stone piece, you talk a lot about the sexual misconduct allegations against you. I read a recent interview where you said you’re going to release “a 700-page file on everything that will forever put it to bed.”
We’re almost done. It’ll be comprehensive, and in very simple bullets cover every major thing that anyone would ever want to know in a way that you can simply get all your questions answered. It will, once and for all, hopefully put all of this to bed. And then for anybody that is interested in doing deep research—which very few people will, but there are some people that actually want to verify everything—all of that data will be there for people to go as far down that rabbit hole as they like.
And you think once people see that, they’ll actually drop it?
Haters are gonna hate. No matter how much evidence you provide. Like flat earthers. No matter how much you show them the world is round, they’re always going to believe the earth is flat. I’m not criticizing flat earthers, but I’m never going to convince you of my belief system that might be different than yours.
You’ve often compared your life to a video game. So what level are you on right now?
I don’t know how the leveling system works in that regard. But we all have the ability to view our lives through whatever prism we want. I grew up as a gamer, I played a lot of role-playing games. So I look at life from that perspective. You know, I got my utility belts and all. [Lifts shirt to show his utility belt.] My clothes all have many pockets. I grew up as a magician as well, so you learn to always have your bag of tricks.
How do you see the game ending?
The game is ultimately in realizing that we’re not here for ourselves. The game is in helping others to achieve as much as they can. I’ve got concerns about the direction in which we’re all going. And I think the key to creating a better future for all of us is increasing the consciousness of as many people as possible, making people as aware of the need to be looking after each other, our planet. There are a lot of improvements needed in the world, and needed quickly, because we’re moving at such a pace right now. We’re living in exponential times. And if we don’t make some meaningful changes, I’m very concerned about our future.
But overall, are you optimistic?
I’m an eternal optimist. I think we’re going to get there. But the universe loves drama, and if all of this were a movie, you’d want to take it right to the brink. And then the day is saved at the very end. Of course, the universe wouldn’t just make it smooth and simple. It’s gonna have suspense.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Photo by Mark Yarm.