- The endgame would create sub-DAOs in Maker and shift the protocol’s backing to ether
- “If crypto still needs founders and token whales to stick around, then crypto as a whole has just failed,” Christensen said
Enigmatic Maker founder Rune Christensen has long intimated his plans to step away from running the DeFi protocol behind the DAI stablecoin. This time, Christensen says, he’s serious.
Following months of paralysis caused by Maker’s increasingly decentralized structure, Christensen laid out his so-called “endgame” — a plan for the DAO to become self-sustaining without its founder.
Part manifesto and part proposal, the plan would shift Maker’s war chest into ether and create meta-DAOs which can make quick decisions about the protocol.
Christensen is deeply concerned with a world he sees as being led toward a climate crisis by increasingly dysfunctional governments, which only permissionless DeFi protocols like Maker can resist. In his view, the endgame is the last chance for Maker — and maybe for humanity, too.
Crypto and the Apocalypse
Christensen’s apocalyptic outlook drew him to invest in Bitcoin in 2011.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, Christensen realized “the authorities that are meant to watch over us are actually the most irresponsible and most careless of all,” the Maker founder told Blockworks.
This distrust of the governing elite led Christensen to found Maker in 2014. As a fledgling DeFi protocol, Maker became the first automated crypto lending platform, allowing users to lock up ether as collateral for the yield-bearing stablecoin dai (DAI).
Christensen’s “doomer” worldview makes him a folk hero for segments of MakerDAO, some of whom fear government tyranny while others worry over the looming climate crisis.
“All of his doomer-isms appeal to a different subset of the community,” Greg di Prisco, who was the head of business development at the Maker Foundation, said. “By appealing to all of them, he technically appeals to everybody.”
Fast forward to 2018, Christensen’s Maker Foundation had over 50 employees, and Maker’s MKR governance token price more than quadrupled following its release. Crypto venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz made a $15 million investment in MKR. Then, Christensen’s protocol did what relatively few protocols have actually managed to pull off — it decentralized.
Christensen dissolved the Maker Foundation in 2021, handing over control to so-called Core Units run by the community and accountable to MakerDAO.
As a parting message to Maker, Christensen published “The case for Clean Money” on Maker’s governance forum, prophesying the climate-fueled collapse of industrial society and calling on Maker to position itself as the peer-to-peer currency for renewable energy. He then stepped back to become an ordinary DAO member.
But when the DAO failed to follow through on his clean money vision, Rune decided to return to a more active involvement in the DAO, publishing the first pieces of his endgame plan in mid-2022.
The Tornado Cash sanctions, which seemed to point towards a potential kill switch for dai, prompted Christensen to re-enter Maker governance in force, leveraging his persona in pursuit of his endgame plan and even encouraging the DAO to “Yolo” the protocol’s USDC into ether.
Bold proclamations are common for Christensen, who weighs decisions based on how he sees Maker moving the needle of history rather than creating short term stability.
“He’s really good at saying exactly where the world is going to be in ten years, but he has no idea where it’s going to be in two days,” di Prisco said.
A Reluctant Savior
Christensen “hates running Maker,” according to di Prisco, calling Christensen a “reluctant savior” for the gridlocked DAO.
DeFi protocols often struggle to become fully decentralized and move past the influence of their founders, a trend of which Christensen is well aware. But he sees his continued involvement as a necessary evil, for now.
While Maker’s Core Units were able to establish the first DeFi-traditional bank credit line with Huntingdon Valley Bank this year, Maker’s post-Foundation governance has been largely slow-moving and inefficient. The DAO’s chaotic rejection of a proposal creating a lending oversight Core Unit was emblematic of what many believed Maker had become — a rudderless DeFi giant unable to make important decisions.
“If crypto still needs founders and token whales to stick around, then crypto as a whole has just failed,” Christensen said.
Christensen hopes the endgame can put the finishing touches on a fully decentralized Maker and “prevent all of the work we’ve put into DAOs over the last many years from being for nothing.”
The Face of Maker
Christensen speaks his mind when it comes to Maker. His uncapitalized multi-message threads in Maker’s Discord governance channel have made headlines on multiple occasions. This level of access to a leader’s thoughts could only happen in crypto.
“In private companies, these types of things are normally discussed privately,” Sam McPherson, an engineer at MakerDAO, said.
“In a DAO you see everything out in the open, so you kind of see the odd thoughts that people may have,” he added.
Christensen was known to pitch ambitious ideas in private meetings while the Maker Foundation existed, relying on his coworkers to rein in his excesses. The Maker founder has now crowdsourced what was once person-to-person feedback. His colleagues aren’t particularly worried.
“The context a lot of people missed about Rune is that he’s Danish. This is how Denmark works: everybody has a voice. Everybody just says what’s on their mind and then they come to a consensus,” di Prisco said.
But not everyone in Maker has been willing to laugh off Christensen’s excesses as a symptom of his nationality. Christensen owns a bit under 10% of the MKR supply, and he delegates his votes to members of the DAO who agree with his positions, creating sticky conflicts of interest.
“Delegates are paid according to how much MKR is delegated to them, so there really is a monetary reason for delegates to behave like a sycophant,” Joshua Pritikin, the head of Maker’s security Core Unit, said.
In typical Christensen fashion, the endgame plan is being proposed all at once, creating a sweep of simultaneous potential changes. Pritikin hopes to see the DAO take a more piecemeal approach when it comes to potentially risky moves like buying staked ether with leverage.
But Christensen wants each piece of the endgame to pass. After years of tinkering with MakerDAO, he believes this final governance push will let him leave for good.
“Over the years I’ve [made] that same mistake again and again and again of thinking ‘oh, it’s just this one next thing, and then that’s enough, and then the community can figure it out,’” Christensen said. “If we can’t make it work now, I don’t think that it’s actually likely that it’s possible at all.”
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