A coder with a controversial past, the India-born crypto king says he bought the Beeple artwork at Christie's to show to 'Indians and people of colour that they too could be patrons' of the arts.
Indian-born blockchain entrepreneur Vignesh Sundaresan, who also goes by the crypto name MetaKovan, grabbed the spotlight earlier this year when he paid a record $69.3 million (around Rs 520 crore) to buy a digital image by artist Beeple. Now he wants everyone to download a copy of the non-fungible token (NFT) Everydays: The First 5000 Days for free. Reason: He believes the beauty of an NFT is when everyone gets to enjoy it, Bloomberg reported.
Sundaresan, a programmer based in Singapore, had said he bought the artwork at the blockbuster price to “show Indians and people of colour that they too could be patrons” of the arts.
Little was known about Sundaresan when he bought the NFTs. He had immigrated from Chennai to Canada, he wrote in his blog after the Christie’s auction where he won the $69-million Beeple piece.
His bid is evidence of the “equalising power” of cryptocurrencies that was enabling the rise of the ‘Global South.’
Who is Vignesh Sundaresan?
In a podcast in 2020, Sundaresan said his family in Chennai wanted him to get a stable job like his mechanical engineer father. “Society had a plan for me,” the 33-year old said.
As a youngster, Sundaresan drew inspiration from former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s book Ignited Minds.
Sundaresan learnt coding at high school and helped his friends develop websites for local companies after school. The work fetched them $20 per job, which was spent on computer parts, school friend Neela Muhil Vannan told Reuters.
In 2006, MetaKovan shifted to Dubai to study mechanical engineering. He stumbled on Bitcoin in 2012 while researching on how to design a code to automate bank transfers.
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Sundaresan quit his job at a newspaper in 2013 and launched an online crypto exchange called Coins-E. Coins-E enabled customers to buy and sell cryptocurrencies.
Despite his focus on Coins-E, he took up a technology innovation master’s programme at Ottawa’s Carleton University at the age of 25.
According to a Reuters report, while accumulating his assets Sundaresan had disappointed several customers and investors who lost millions of dollars. Reuters had interviewed around 40 people engaged with Sundaresan at different times and also reviewed corporate records and a previously unreported whistleblower complaint to chart the rise of MetaKovan, which means ‘King of Meta’ in his native Tamil.
In 2014, around 50 traders reported that Coins-E had not returned their funds despite repeated requests. Four traders who had complained said they never received the money, Reuters reported. Those who spoke to Reuters said they had lost around $5,000 in total.
Agreeing that he had faced “setbacks” in his career, Sundaresan denied any wrongdoing. “It is very hard to be an entrepreneur. I would never do something to hurt someone financially,” he had told Reuters.
“I’ve been lucky to be part of various projects that, you know, blossomed,” he said, adding that he had financed the Beeple purchase with his personal investments in cryptocurrencies.
In June, Financial Times quoted him as saying that the Beeple purchase was “much less” than 10 percent of his net worth, which was almost entirely in crypto.
The true net worth of cryptocurrency kings like Sundaresan is obscure because unlike bank accounts, their assets exist mostly on the semi-anonymous blockchain, a kind of digital ledger that underpins cryptocurrencies.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: IST