Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology pioneer Brock Pierce ran as an independent candidate for the US presidency last year.
The American venture capitalist and philanthropist first achieved fame, however, as a child actor in Disney films including The Mighty Ducks and its sequel D2: The Mighty Ducks, which starred 1980s "Brat Pack" actor Emilio Estevez, as well as First Kid.
Recently in Dubai to address an emerging technology summit, Mr Pierce, now 40, is chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation and co-founder of EOS Alliance, Block.one, Blockchain Capital, Tether and Mastercoin, and is accredited with establishing marketplaces for digital currency.
Listed on the first Forbes List of Richest People in Cryptocurrency, Mr Pierce lives in Puerto Rico with his wife, Crystal Rose, the chief executive and founder of Make Sense Labs, and their child.
Was money significant growing up?
My parents were young, didn’t have money, but I felt like I had everything I needed. For me, money always came kind of easily. Before I went to kindergarten, I was an income-generating child paid for commercials: $400 for the day but if the commercial played nationally, you might get a $10,000 to $40,000 residual. I was blessed that I booked a lot of projects. I (also) have some residual cheques for 2 cents.
How does a child actor become a tech pioneer?
I started acting at the age of three. That led to movies. I eventually started asking myself, “What is it I want to do”? I wanted to be the creator, the entrepreneur and so at 16, I quit acting at the height of my career to try to build an internet company. I was the byproduct of the first generation of kids with computers and internet connection and I’m like, “Technology is going to change the world – I wanna be part of it”.
Did you experience financial volatility?
We raised money, filed to go public, it was about to be a multi billion-dollar business … before the whole internet bubble came crashing down in spring 2000. I had tens of millions of dollars of stock, which went “pooof” overnight.
We were basically the first company trying to pioneer how media would be distributed – user-generated content, licensed and repurposed content – we pre-sold $150 million worth of advertising contracts, raised $88m from your most prestigious investors.
There was probably a degree of hubris in there. I was day trading, thought I was smart because everything I invested in went up. I learned a lot about money [during] that period. I'd never experienced a market cycle to understand how the pendulum swings. I've (since) either started, funded or advised more than 100 companies in the technology field.
What drives you?
I don’t think money has ever been the motivator. I quit acting when I could have been making millions of dollars a year to be a potentially struggling entrepreneur living on ramen noodles. I have no problem walking away from something that is working for me. When you’ve done it once, it’s easier to do it again.
I’m very comfortable venturing into the unknown, taking risk. Most people are tethered to whatever it is that they’re doing and they’re wearing golden handcuffs, saying “It works, it’s my comfort zone, I’ve got a secure situation”.
Do you have a money philosophy?
My focus is, “Here’s something I want to do for whatever reason” and making money is the product of having done a good job. I also don’t consider my money to be mine. I may be in possession of it, but I just view myself as a steward or custodian of it.
In the world, we face very real existential threats and it is not a certainty we make it. We are in for very challenging times and I can’t take it with me. So what can I do to make a positive impact in the world now, not later? I view money as a form of stored energy, and energy wants to flow. It’s a current and the goal is to be a good conductor of it.
Does money bring you joy?
Money doesn’t typically make people happy. A certain amount of it is right; when our basic needs aren’t met, happiness is a challenge for anyone. But happiness doesn’t come from money – happiness comes from inside you. I’ve met a lot of unhappy people with a lot of money. It seems like the more they have, the less happy they become. They’re playing a game of wealth accumulation and measuring.
Money’s a tool, a very important resource that I have a great deal of respect for. And tools are neither good nor bad. It’s what we do with them.
What are you happiest spending on?
I’m an entrepreneur, so investing in projects has been my main passion. And buying historical real estate to preserve it. I have an interesting pied-à-terre in Amsterdam, an illegal Catholic church built in 1746. So much of our history is being destroyed because of opportunities to make money. Typically preserving historical buildings is a money-losing or less profitable proposition, so most people are quick to trade the past for a few more shekels.
I also just bought a cruise ship, the Funchal, built in 1961 for the president of Portugal. It was taken over by the royal family, a very historically significant vessel. It's going to be turned into a five-star hotel permanently parked in Lisbon. It would cost $150m to reproduce something like this, I paid $1.8m at auction, sight unseen.
Are you wise with money?
I hope so. I aspire to be. Then, how do you measure it? I try to be frugal, to waste not, want not. I do like to eat well in nice restaurants. So probably my biggest expense is food. But it’s normally because I’m also picking up the tab for everyone else. It’s nice to be generous. I tend not to do all that much for myself. Giving is the greatest gift. I like supporting philanthropic causes.
Do you seek value regardless of your wealth?
I generally do. Unless it’s like, in supporting an artist, not as a transaction really … the artist is giving me this piece of art and as an exchange I’m giving them money to support their life so that they can continue to make art. These are areas where I typically won’t negotiate. I started my life as an artist, so artists have a special place in my heart.
I believe in giving money away. We should all give 10 per cent of what we make. I’m ultimately gonna give everything I have. I can’t take it with me.
At what point did you realise you were a billionaire?
My definition of a billionaire is a little different than most. A billionaire to me isn’t someone with a billion dollars, it’s someone who’s positively impacting the lives of a billion people. I don’t measure success by what I have. I measure my success by the impact I have, and by what I give.
People say I’ve created more wealth for others than any human being. That’s not my quote. We’re probably not that far away from a majority of the world’s billionaires having made their money from cryptocurrency. This is the greatest wealth transfer in the history of the world. And that money is being dispersed into the hands of people all over the world.
Is it too late to invest in cryptocurrencies?
It’s still early. This is much bigger than what most people on the surface would think. We’re going to look back and it was this moment that shifted everything. It’s not just the money piece of it, it’s the underlying technology; the blockchain. Forget the price or currency, the technology creates a single source of truth, transparency, efficiency, security, history. The value piece of it is what brings people in.
Would you establish a base in Dubai?
Now would be the time. I started coming here about a decade ago. I’ve worked all over the world. I have to be in a hub of innovation. Covid-19 has re-wired the world and Dubai has become more important, from an innovators’ perspective, than maybe any city in Europe now.
What are your luxuries?
I collected watches in my 20s, had my Patek Phillippes and Audemars Piguets – but eventually gifted them, started dressing like a hippy and used to give my speeches. But I ran for president last year, so I had to adorn suits again and a couple of people were like, “Brock, time to put a watch back on”.
I have a plane, as of two months ago, a Gulfstream, but I got a really good deal. I have to be all over the country, all the time. I’m not doing it for the purposes of luxury, I’m doing it as a necessary means of time and efficiency, buying time. I waited as long as I could, flew economy, normally got upgraded – if I fly commercial, I still will as I enjoy the process of reward programmes.
Was your presidential campaign costly?
I spent $6m, personally. This first run was the exploratory mission to understand the mechanics of running a national campaign without the infrastructure of a major existing political party. Let’s just say, my basic training is completed, an expensive education and a very risky one. Running for the highest office in the world is stepping into the ultimate ring of fire; you are inviting in every decision you’ve ever made in your life to be scrutinised.