We Got a Bitcoin Performer to Feed Motherboard Bananas to Wild Monkeys
'San' lost all his savings. Now he performs small stunts for Bitcoin.
He calls himself "San Spades," and he scrapes by performing small acts like filming himself feeding bananas to wild monkeys, eating a sandwich, or posting a photo of a cobra, for Bitcoin tips from strangers on the internet.
San calls these his "free services" (tipping is appreciated, but not required), and he advertises them on his website and on a forum called Bitcointalk. Bitcointalk is where I discovered San, and asked him to make a monkey video especially for Motherboard.
Some of San's services are relatively benign, like the examples above, but most are outright bizarre. For example, San wrote in a Bitcointalk post that he will "pretend we are a landlord and ask ourself [sic], did you pay your rent yet?" for Bitcoin tips. "Fortunately," he continued, "as we are both the landlord and the tenant both yes and no will be acceptable answers."
Most of San's "free" services will cost you anywhere from $5 to $8 in Bitcoin. He's even amassed a bit of a following, most of whom hang out in a Skype group together where they brainstorm new services to offer for tips. A few people have even started performing similar services themselves.
Why does San do it? He was driven to it, he told me, after a Bitcoin exchange he frequented was hacked, taking all of his money with it. He lost everything.
"I don't have a job, no car, no family, no health insurance, hardly any food money, cannot afford clothing, do not have any position in non-Bitcoin society, stuff like that," San wrote me in an email. "Many people, especially non-entrepreneurial people could find that crazy, although I guess I thought it was worth the risk as I have made these decisions."
"I will not and cannot easily go back to non-Bitcoin society"
San's tale is an all too familiar one in the world of Bitcoin trading. When Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox was allegedly hacked in 2014, its users lost hundreds of millions of dollars altogether. Last week, a popular darknet market disappeared along with its anonymous administrators and everyone's money in an apparent heist that net tens of millions of dollars in Bitcoin.
By all accounts, San is just a normal person responding to an unfortunate situation with a little creativity. But some of his ideas for what services people would reasonably pay for are, without a doubt, a little out there. How does he come up with them?
"I was into meditation when I was younger," San explained. "I tried to understand what is possible to do with the mind. I tried to learn how to focus on the creative process and the logical process in a conscious way, at will. I did a lot of thought experiments. I think something came out of that. I can come up with ideas like these at will, I don't sit and wait for inspiration."
Despite his best efforts, however, San hasn't made much. "I'm embarrassed to say," he wrote, in response to a question about how much he's netted with his services. "Pittance. Peanuts. Well, my monkey pals would like that. Or, wait, is it the elephants that like peanuts?" At least nobody can accuse San of not having a sense of humor.
Underlying San's mission of making Bitcoin tipping a viable career choice is a deep commitment to the technology's ethos—an alternative currency that opens new possibilities for decentralized community and business. That's why he's gathering "cryptotreneurs," as he calls them, into a Skype group to brainstorm off-kilter ideas for how to get tips.
In our conversation over email and Skype, it became clear that he's trying to turn this idea into some sort of a business model, although it hasn't "scaled" yet, as he put it. Will he ever quit?
"I will not and cannot easily go back to non-Bitcoin society," San wrote. "There is nothing for me there."