"A very pale, chubby, bookish child"
In the picturesque city of Cape Town, South Africa, Andre Cronje's upbringing was unique. Born into a traditional family, his father was a natural science teacher and his mother was a librarian. His older sister Tanja, five years his senior, remembers him as a "sweet little brother" who loved animals and outdoor activities. Despite occasional external judgments that worried Tanja, they seemed to have little impact on Andre's childhood.
However, Cronje's memories of his childhood are bittersweet. He described himself as a "very pale, chubby, bookish child" who was bullied at a school that valued sports. But it was in this environment that he found solace in programming. He began exploring the world of programming by creating small games like Hangman using the Pascal programming language. However, in his first computer science class, he already encountered a problem that would become a recurring theme: no one could keep up with his pace, including the teacher.
The path to growth was not always smooth, but each stage laid the foundation for his future career.
Completing three years of computer courses in six months
As a teenager, Cronje entered Stellenbosch University in Cape Town to study law, with dreams of becoming a lawyer and arguing in court. However, he quickly lost interest in law due to its dryness and lack of practicality. The only aspect that excited him was the simulated courtroom exercises, which made up a small portion of the course. This led him to reconsider his future.
Just as he was feeling lost in the field of law, a chance encounter led him into the world of programming. His roommate needed to attend computer science classes at the Computer Training Institute (CTI), and Cronje started providing him with transportation. Gradually, he developed an interest in computer science and began attending classes at CTI. Within a short period of time, he made the decisive switch to the field of computer science and completed three years of coursework in just six months, eventually becoming a lecturer at the Computer Training Institute.
Over the next decade, he ventured into various fields, including telecommunications, big data, mobile security, and fintech companies, taking on roles in software development and engineering management. Each project, each role, honed his skills and broadened his perspective.
In 2017, the Bitcoin bull market caught his attention, and he began to focus on blockchain technology. By this time, he was already an experienced software developer with a deep understanding of distributed networks. He started delving into GitHub repositories and cryptocurrency whitepapers in his spare time, gradually becoming fascinated by the decentralized principles behind blockchain and the potential societal changes it could bring. However, he quickly realized that the "token culture" in the cryptocurrency field seemed to overly emphasize trading and financial elements, neglecting the value of technology and products. This disappointment sparked his determination to explore more possibilities and laid the groundwork for his future creation of Yearn Finance.
The uncle of the crypto field
With the end of the Bitcoin bull market in 2017, Andre Cronje's life underwent irreversible changes. While his business partner temporarily left him to go on a honeymoon, Cronje began researching blockchain technology on his own, immersing himself in various whitepapers and GitHub repositories. He recalled, "If he hadn't gotten married and gone on a honeymoon, I might still be doing what I had been doing for the past five years." This turned out to be an opportunity that introduced him to a whole new field.
In September 2020, during a podcast interview with Laura Shin on "Unchained," he reflected on the end of 2017 as a turning point because "that was the first time there was enough capital, enough protocols, enough tools." Looking at his LinkedIn profile, Cronje is older than most people in the cryptocurrency field, having studied law before learning coding. However, once he developed an interest in coding, he quickly mastered the skill at an incredible speed and soon found work in the telecommunications sector, gaining familiarity with distributed (though not decentralized) systems.
When cryptocurrencies caught his attention, he began conducting code reviews for Crypto Briefing and eventually joined an ICO-funded project called Fantom, a directed acyclic graph (DAG) blockchain project from South Korea. Even at that time, he was frustrated with the "token culture." In a YouTube show called "Oh Hey Matty" in March 2019, he expressed his feelings, saying, "Too much time, effort, and capital are being put into tokens rather than products, and in the long run, products benefit tokens."
However, he still accepted the challenge of helping people earn more cryptocurrency through cryptographic tokens.
The birth of iEarn
Cronje recalled that the initial idea behind Yearn was quite simple. He had a small stablecoin investment portfolio and wanted to manage it like a savings account. "90% of DeFi is figuring out how these protocols interact," he said. His preference for stablecoins stemmed from his dislike of the potential permanent loss of non-stablecoin liquidity pools. Understanding the cryptocurrency market was too complex and risky for him.
On February 4, 2020, he wrote an article on Medium about launching iEarn (later renamed Y.Earn), describing how he had to personally bear thousands of dollars in fees to get it up and running. At the end of the month, he wrote another article detailing the various obstacles encountered during the launch process. Despite facing numerous challenges, he found the process "incredibly fun," with each challenge making the entire ecosystem stronger.
However, reality soon dampened his enthusiasm. One user suffered a loss due to frontend issues after exchanging a large amount of assets. Cronje wrote an article titled "Building in #DeFi sucks," honestly expressing his feelings: "To be honest, it sucks. It's expensive, the community is hostile, and users feel entitled."
Faced with ongoing community criticism and unrealistic user expectations, he felt immense pressure. Cronje realized that he did not want to become a "bank" that provided 24/7 technical and customer support.
Yield Farming 101
In 2019, the cryptocurrency market was in a deep bear market, and people were only willing to hold stablecoins and wait for opportunities to buy at lower prices. This created a significant demand for risk-free yield on stablecoins. Initially, only currency markets like AAVE, Compound, and dYdX offered risk-free returns through lending.
iEarn gained popularity for its automated yield optimization. Users could earn substantial income by investing their cryptocurrencies in lending or trading within DeFi protocols, especially during prosperous times in the cryptocurrency market. However, this strategy, known as "yield farming," could be labor-intensive.
Research firm Nansen found that most yield farmers gave up on protocols after two to three days. Timing was crucial. The best yield farmers knew when to "farm" in one protocol and when to switch to the next. iEarn automated this process, allowing users to pool their cryptocurrencies into a smart contract called the vault and rotate them among protocols like dYdX, Aave, and Compound.
Subsequently, a liquidity incentive war began. Compound was the first to fire with its COMP token. The battle for liquidity ensued. Balancer launched BAL, mStable introduced MTA, Fulcrum released BZX, while Curve awaited the unveiling of CRV in the trenches.
However, this made yield farming more complex, and simple profit-switching decisions were no longer sufficient.
In a subsequent iteration, iEarn was renamed Y.Earn (from "I earn" to "You earn"), and a month after the release of COMP, Cronje wrote "Yield Farming 101" on Medium, excitedly explaining how yield optimization became more complex when stablecoin deposits also earned volatile growth tokens.
The liquidity incentive war led to a significant increase in locked funds for yEarn, and this was just the appetizer before the main course. What truly made yEarn a powerhouse was the launch of YFI.
Typically, project founders reserve a portion of the tokens for themselves, but Cronje's approach was groundbreaking. He introduced the concept of a "Fair Launch," a token distribution method that does not reserve initial tokens for the founders. Scott Lewis, from the team behind DeFi Pulse, commented, "Andre invented a new way to launch projects without needing funding. He proved that you can launch a DeFi project by building something, building a community, and using the revenue generated by what you built to fund the team."
On July 17, 2020, Cronje revealed his plans for his own growth token, YFI. His reputation soared because he did not reserve any tokens for himself. On Yearn, anyone who provided liquidity in certain pools had the opportunity to receive YFI tokens, with no pre-mining, no reserves, and no advance notice to insiders. It can be said that Bitcoin did the same thing, rewarding hash power instead of deposits, but it still comes down to contributing the most desired resources to a specific project.
Lewis said, "Dozens of projects inspired by Yearn have launched in the same way. The success of YFI significantly lowered the barrier for builders to release their work."
Kulechov, the founder of AAVE, said that team allocation is not just about extracting wealth from decentralized applications but also about maintaining relevance. He said, "Many founders are always thinking: What if governance doesn't want to support me? What if they want to get rid of me? They have these fears."
Within just two months, TVL (Total Value Locked) skyrocketed to nearly $1 billion, and four months later, it reached an astonishing $7 billion, while the price of YFI increased by thousands of times, reaching $40,000. It was a tremendous success.
The success of YFI made many people wealthy, and a market for Cronje-related tokens emerged. Even a casual like on his Twitter account could cause a surge in related token prices, and risks began to accumulate.
In September 2020, Cronje revealed a new Web3 project called Eminence, describing it as a DeFi protocol for a game multiverse. The night before he went to bed, he posted a vague announcement on Twitter (just an artwork image with no hyperlink).
As the morning sun filled the room, Cronje woke up from his sleep and discovered shocking news—despite Eminence not having a user interface or frontend, users had deposited $15 million worth of DAI into the project. He couldn't help but laugh, but his laughter was bitter. Users had found his open-source smart contract in the digital jungle and directly exchanged tokens into the contract.
However, the good fortune didn't last long. At the same time, another user discovered a vulnerability in the code and stole the entire $15 million. Cronje stared at the screen, feeling a mix of emotions. Shortly after, the mysterious user returned $8 million to a Yearn Finance contract. This made the situation even more mysterious.
The failure of Eminence caused a huge uproar in the community. Many questioned and criticized Cronje's decisions, as his incomplete and untested application resulted in losses for investors. He had hoped Eminence would be a pioneering project that combined non-fungible tokens (NFTs) with collectible card games. His love for games and exploration of new things led him to reveal information about the game on Twitter, sparking a frenzy of searches by fans.
However, the sudden flash loan attack turned the $15 million into nothing, and Cronje's heart seemed to be pierced by the cold reality.
In a later article titled "Decoding My Relationship with DeFi," Cronje wrote, "The openness of these systems is a double-edged sword. I need to think more about it." This seemed to indicate his uncertainty about the future and his deep understanding and reflection on open systems. In his exploration and experimentation in the digital space, each step seemed to showcase the infinite possibilities and challenges of the unknown world.
"We are inventing a new Ponzi scheme and giving away these worthless tokens for free"
In the rapidly evolving world of decentralized finance (DeFi), Andre Cronje's presence shines like a twinkling star. His unconventional personality and unpredictable creativity have become topics of fascination. However, behind every hero lies their untold monologue, their unspoken confusion and anxiety.
In that tumultuous September, Andre had a live conversation with Chainlink's Sergey Nazarov, during which he solemnly said, "People are making envy-inducing wealth through a new Ponzi scheme we invented, which is governance tokens. We are giving away these worthless tokens for free, and for some reason, people are willing to buy them, and then the next wave of people comes along to buy the tokens from the previous wave."
Clearly, Andre's words reveal a conflicting mindset towards the industry and its culture, even though he himself has contributed highly valuable governance tokens to the field. He is well aware of this fact, and yet, it leaves him perplexed. Whenever someone asks him why the YFI token has such high value, he always chooses to evade the question.
His Twitter bio succinctly showcases his approach: "I test in prod." "Prod" refers to the production environment, the final stage of the software development lifecycle where code is exposed to the real-world usage environment after multiple testing environments. In these few words, Cronje summarizes his operating style—he rapidly builds software solutions to address the ever-emerging challenges in the DeFi field, often accompanied by warnings to those brave enough to venture into his projects.
He once expressed his philosophical thoughts in a tweet: "Disclaimer: When I build software, it's for me. If you do want to interact with it, be careful, there will be bugs. The UI is there to make my life easier. I will make mistakes. If you don't understand it, don't use it."
In these few sentences, Cronje opens the window to his worldview and work philosophy. He is not a programmer bound by fixed rules; his purpose is clear—to solve problems, even if it means his methods may disrupt traditional software development principles. In his world, confronting problems and responding quickly is more important than spending time in a perfect testing environment.
Upon closer examination, this approach is surprisingly consistent with Elon Musk's five-step work method. Over time, each decision, each action, becomes a piece of the puzzle that forms Cronje's unique picture in the DeFi world. Each twist adds color to his legendary story, and each reflection becomes the driving force behind his continuous progress. In the boundless digital realm, his journey is far from over.