The Problem with Protos

The Problem with Protos

Villains who twirl their moustache are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged… Vigilance Mr. Worf, that is the price we have to continually pay.

Jean-Luc Picard, The Drumhead


On May 18, 2023, the independent academic publisher De Gruyter hosted an online discussion about Bitcoin. Professor Micah Warren had just written ‘Bitcoin: A Game-Theoretic Analysis’, and to promote the book’s release, a panel had been assembled to talk about his work specifically, and Bitcoin more generally.

I was excited to watch the pending conversation, in part because I’m interested in the consequences of Bitcoin’s Proof-of-Work implementation, but more so because De Gruyter had selected Bennett Tomlin as one of its panellists, and I was looking forward to hearing a crypto critical voice speak on the subject.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with his work, Bennett Tomlin co-hosts the Crypto Critics Corner podcast with Cas Piancey. The pair are well known in the crypto community, and in August of 2022 they were hired by Protos Media Inc“a news organization focusing on the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency sector” — Piancey as Head of Investigations, and Tomlin as Head of Research.

Much of their work has focused on exposing crypto cons, and of all the podcasts critical of cryptocurrency, theirs is by far the most popular and influential; the work of the Crypto Critics has informed commentators, journalists, and interested parties the world over.

Suffice to say, as I tuned in on May 18th 2023, I was excited that a self-labeled crypto critic would be sharing their views. The stream began, and I watched in earnest.

When the anticipated critical perspective failed to emerge during the main segment, I was puzzled, but assumed that Tomlin was being diplomatic. A lighter touch was perhaps in order as this wasn’t his show to run or, like Twitter’s Sunday crypto mass with Reverend John Reed Stark, he was likely being considerate to those with pro-Bitcoin views in an attempt to foster a more productive conversation.


You might think the phrase negative sum game would have crossed a pair of critical lips during an hour long six person discussion on game theory and Bitcoin, but as the panel described the 15 year old speculative digital token with no cashflow, product, or connection to real world economic production, the words failed to fall from the mouth of any participant. Slightly shocked, I resolved to ask a few questions, hoping that they might spur Tomlin into challenging his co-panellists’ uncritical acceptance of Bitcoin as a legitimate financial instrument.

I was fortunate enough that three of my questions were answered by Tomlin. The first, asked at 1:04:34, attempted to highlight the fact that Bitcoin is designed to disproportionately advantage early adopters, it incentivizes early investment and subsequent recruitment efforts by participants. The way in which Bitcoin demands money up front, and only allows returns to be claimed from the funds contributed by later investors is eerily similar to various forms of investment fraud.

In a meandering reply, Tomlin made the nonsensical and factually incorrect claim that the halving schedule halves Bitcoin’s energy spend as denominated in Bitcoin:

In a sense the halving schedule halves the cost, like, halves the energy spend denominated in bitcoin every 4 years. Its not doubling it, because, like, the amount of new bitcoin being issued or going down by half.[sic]

Tomlin is correct that the halving schedule halves something approximately every four years, however, it is the amount of bitcoin rewarded to Miners which is cut in half, not the energy spend. This halving of rewards has a simple logical conclusion, the amount of electricity required to mine a single bitcoin doubles. Assuming that mining participation remains roughly the same, Miners would need to double the amount of electricity they consume in order to win the same amount of bitcoin as before. “Denominated by” has a specific meaning, the denominator is what we divide by, so if we divide the energy usage by the number of bitcoin produced, we can correct Tomlin’s original assertion: The halving schedule doubles the energy spend as denominated in bitcoin.

While similar attempts to confuse Bitcoin’s energy demands are often pushed by rabidly pro-Bitcoin sources, it was odd to see a critic such as Tomlin stumble over Bitcoin basics. Describing the halving of Bitcoin’s efficiency as a halving of the energy spend was not the response I was expecting. After this bizarre error, Tomlin continued with his response, however, he simply restated the facts brought up by the question, instead of interrogating their implications. An odd response, but perhaps it had been a poorly posed question, I thought.

I attempted to be more direct with my second and third questions, asking about price manipulation in Bitcoin and the role of Tether and collusion in the crypto industry, pointing out that we knew with certainty that exchanges had been using price manipulation to trade against their own clients.

The reader should listen to Tomlin’s responses to form their own opinion, however, I was entirely unprepared for his defense of Bitcoin. Why would exchanges be willing to scam and front run their existing clients with price manipulation, but unwilling to fleece new investors using the same practice? As many crypto exchange operators, and executives, own large quantities of cryptocurrency, we would expect the same profit motive to produce similar behaviours.

Moreover, given the role of Tether as a synthetic substitute for fiat liquidity, and the fact that no credible evidence has been supplied to support the claim that billions of Tether tokens are backed with either assets or deposits, the defense of cryptocurrency markets would seem to be as shallow and weak as their depth and demand. Here one is reminded of Hitchen’s Razor.

At the conclusion of the event, I felt uneasy. Something about the tenor and the tone of the responses was off, especially given Tomlin’s intimate understanding and extensive research into the cartel that controls and operates Tether.

Disappointed, I set the matter aside, and proceeded to forget all about it.


In December of 2023, Jackie Sawicky, founding member of the Texas Coalition Against Cryptomining (TCAC), alerted me to an article published on The piece, ‘BBC mocked for ‘unfair’ Bitcoin mining article‘, written by Tomlin, attempted to push back against a recently released study by economist Alex de Vries into ‘Bitcoin’s growing water footprint‘.

Bitcoin’s incredible wastefulness is a well known quantity. Outside of pro-cryptocurrency circles, the carbon pollution, e-waste, and water consumption caused by Bitcoin mining are widely acknowledged, condemned, and measured as best they can be. Tomlin’s choice to criticize researchers for the accuracy of their energy consumption data, rather than crypto mining firms who conceal their energy consumption, seemed like another odd choice for a critic.

By this time, I had grown skeptical of Protos as a neutral media company, calling it a “crypto industry propaganda outlet” in my response to Tomlin, ‘Pushing Back on Protos‘. I felt there was enough evidence to support this claim based on Protos’ content alone, but wondered about the source of their seeming editorial bias. Was the crypto media landscape just too lucrative a market to pass up, or were other factors at play?

I began to dig.

Who was behind Protos? What was their background? Did they have a history with crypto? How was Protos Media Inc able to pay its employees? More specifically…

How does Protos make money?

Thus our journey begins.

"Unshakable Integrity"

Publicly launched in January of 2021 by co-founder Peter Rujgev, Protos Media Inc casts itself as an honest actor, an unbiased crypto media organization, stating:

Protos does not accept compensation nor sponsorships for any content. Protos does not accept guest contributions. Protos does not syndicate nor re-blog content.

According to the Masthead section of their website, they also take pride in their "principles of trust and integrity regarding all reporting." Going as far as binding their staff and contractors to a strict editorial policy, "Protos prohibits all writers, staff, and associates from undisclosed beneficial interests in any topic on which we report."

The branding of as an independent crypto media outlet run in the interests of its readers has been consistent throughout its short history, as evidenced by the landing page put up in November of 2020:

Protos is launching soon. Yep, this is another crypto media brand. But this one puts the reader first. There’s something the other crypto sites aren’t telling you. But we’ll give it to you straight, every day of the week.

Moreover, the hiring of the Crypto Critics as, presumably, full time employees is a point in favour of Protos’ image as an unbiased media organization. Thanks to Rujgev, Tomlin and Piancey have been able to transition from amateur crypto sleuths into professional investigative journalists, indicating that Protos is willing to employ people whose views differ from those of the standard crypto bro or Bitcoin maxi.

Tomlin, Head of Research, and Piancey, Head of Investigations, also seem to fall in line with Protos’ policy prohibiting “undisclosed beneficial interests”. Both critics have “Holds no crypto investments” listed under their names on the Masthead section of and, more specifically, Tomlin has been very vocal in stating that he does not have beneficial interests in any cryptocurrency, going so far as to have a financial disclosure featured prominently on his personal website.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the lack of cryptocurrency investments in no way proves the absence of a financial stake in Bitcoin or the larger crypto industry. Most, if not all, lobbyists working on behalf of companies like Coinbase or Ripple prefer to be paid in fiat currency.

Reservations and skepticism aside, everything appears to be above board for Protos and their Crypto Critic brand ambassadors. All that remains then, in regards to Research and Investigations into undisclosed beneficial interests, is to ask that same straightforward question as before.

How does Protos make money?

Protos Media Inc

To better understand Protos' business model and revenues, we should first inspect all publicly available information. By discovering its articles of incorporation, associated directors, financial statements, or other documents of the boilerplate corporate variety, we can paint Protos' financial portrait. Unfortunately, capturing the media outlet's likeness is rather difficult.

Searching for the address listed on the Protos website, "Protos Media Inc, 10 Regent Street, London, SW1Y 4RG, United Kingdom", in the UK Companies House registry doesn't yield any relevant results. A bit more research reveals that Regus, an international office rental company, occupies space at Rex House (10 Regent St.), so its likely that the Protos address is a virtual office, something that would make sense for a "remote-first global newsroom".

We can't assume that the Regent Street address is related to the registered corporate address, so our next best option is searching for the listed company name, Protos Media Inc. However, once again our efforts prove futile as there are no results in the UK registry for Protos Media. Maybe this isn't such a surprise though. Protos' co-founder, Peter Rujgev, is a Bulgarian national, so it's possible that he incorporated Protos in a different country.

Expanding our search to the continent, the business registry portal casts a wide European net, but we can't seem to catch our subject, all we reel in are doppelgangers. While Protos Media AS (registration number 826533382) is listed in Norway, the company was dissolved in July of 2023, and nothing in its 'Memorandum of Association' or 'Annual Accounts' connect it to or Peter Rujgev.

A search of EDGAR in the US isn't any more fruitful, and though the Dubai Department of Economic Development lists a Protos Media L.L.C., its business license status was cancelled in July of 2019, over a year before launched.

Shell Games Inc

It's unclear if the company Protos Media Inc is a registered entity in any jurisdiction at all. The corporate entity who owns and operates is likely registered under a different company name, however, lists no other name, nor do they specify a parent or holding company.

There doesn't seem to be any easily accessible public information about Protos Media Inc. Our canvas remains blank, our pallet of evidence dry, and our curiosity unsatisfied. More bizarre than frustrating though, is the unspoken secret hidden in plain sight.

Who is Protos' other co-founder?

There's no information about who they are. They're never talked about or mentioned. Is(Are) their identity(ies) a secret? Why would Rujgev bother to call himself a co-founder if it was?

It was all so strange that it made my head hurt. I asked around to other crypto critics and journalists who cover the space as I'm no 'Head of Research', and was likely missing the obvious. To my amazement, the mystery partner was confirmed. No one knows who co-founded Protos, there's only rumours that don't even rise to the level of speculation. The person is a ghost.

While I may not be a detective, or a 'Head of Investigations', the only path forward that I could see for the case was a winding one. If the company wouldn't sit for a portrait, then maybe I could sweep away the curtain to reveal something about those sitting at the controls.


Peter Rujgev, pronounced Ruzj-gehv, grew up in Belene, a small town that runs along the southern bank of the Danube in northern Bulgaria. It's unclear if he lived in Sofia prior to moving to the UK, but in 2008 he began attending the University of Worcester (named after the world's preeminent steak sauce) to study journalism and media.

AI Global Media

After graduating in 2012, and a brief stint as an editor, Rujgev found himself in the employ of AI Global Media, a British vanity awards organizer and publisher of online trade magazines. AI Global Media is what the trustworthy Blue Checks on Twitter would call a marketing firm, or what their cynical Mastodonian cousins might refer to as a corporate propaganda outlet.

The company has run afoul of the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on more than one occasion, most recently in October of 2021, but more famously in August of 2018 when a complaint was upheld by the ASA in regards to awards associated with the AI Global magazine 'Build'. It would appear that many regard these trade publications and corporate awards to be fraudulent, and complaints about AI Global Media aren't hard to find. Nor are their reviews doing them any reputational favours.

In the words of one former employee:

The whole thing is a scam, cold email selling asking people to buying to a fake awards program and articles, if they don't buy into them they don't happen.

From January 2013 to December 2017, it's here that Rujgev would hone his craft, developing the very particular set of skills needed to run an independent crypto media outlet. While we don't have Rujgev's exact job description, his LinkedIn bio lists "Executive / Publisher" as his title.

What's clear is that Rujgev wore many hats, various websites list his title as both 'Awards Coordinator' and 'Marketing Manager'. Based on the way his name is plastered across the internet during this time period, we can speculate that he may have been an 'Account Executive'. Working with existing clients, and perhaps new ones, to execute campaigns or drum up business.

While there's evidence that some businesses were convinced to pay thousands of dollars for an award under less than transparent circumstances, others would no doubt have approached AI Global directly. The appeal is obvious, advertising can draw in more customers, and the public is more susceptible to suggestion when they don't realize they're being sold to. Paid promotions that look like an unbiased magazine article, or an independent award, can be a great marketing channel.

Why pay any old run of the mill business, when you could invest in the "Best Fixed Income Mortgage-Backed Fund", frequent "the Best Latvian law firm for Startup Legal Advisory services", or deal with the "Best Africa Focused Investment Manager". Do you even dare get a job through anyone but the "Best-in-Class European IP Recruiter", I wouldn't.

Whatever his exact role, the examples of his work recorded online make it clear that Rujgev was involved in delivering what clients had paid for, while AI Global's product offerings made it look like no one had spent a dime.

We can only wonder if it was Rujgev's desire to avoid the mistakes of the past that led to the ironclad commitments on Protos' About page.

Protos is independent

When it comes to our content, journalistic rigour and unshakable integrity dictate what we publish.

We’re not in the pocket of any advertiser or sponsor. This means our editorial decisions are made without commercial or political interference, allowing us to avoid conflicts of interest.

Our sponsored or paid media will always be clearly framed as such and kept entirely distinguishable from our editorial content.

After a five year tour of duty with"Wealth & Finance magazine's best of the best", South Africa's most innovative solutions provider, and the world's top risk analysis firm, we shouldn't be surprised that Rujgev's hedge fund associations eventually led him into a life of… crypto.

Though there's little evidence in his Twitter history to suggest a preoccupation with Bitcoin or cryptocurrency prior to the founding of CoinPM, Rujgev credits his growing interest in the industry to his time spent working with financial firms and publications at AI Global Media. This interest prompted Rujgev to leave the firm and found his crypto media startup in December of 2017. Described as "An independent media providing daily news bulletins and interviews", not only broadcast the latest crypto goings on, but also produced a podcast on the industry.

When attempting to follow the path of CoinPM's corporate history, we run into the same dead ends as for Protos. It would appear that like Rujgev's later creation, his first foray into crypto media is perhaps also registered under a different company name. The website is still up and running, but its former content has been removed, instead a static landing page remains informing the public that the company has been sold and is shutting down operations.

From day one, we’ve believed that any successful business has to be prepared to move at the speed of opportunity, which is why we’re incredibly excited to be able to announce that, following many months of discussion and negotiation, CoinPM has been officially acquired!

This news means that, as of today, Friday 26th June 2020, CoinPM will be ceasing all its activities. However, we truly believe that there’s still a huge gap to fill when it comes to delivering high-quality industry coverage in a timely, professional, and ultra-accessible manner, which is why our team have already shifted their focus to a new and exciting project that will build on what we’ve already achieved and allow us to truly compete with the world’s leading crypto and finance-focused media outlets.

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be adding to this already formidable team and launching a brand new platform that we hope to have ready to share with you by the end of the year, so keep your eyes peeled for this exciting announcement.

Stay safe and HODL.

Yours Truly,

Peter Rujgev
Founder of CoinPM

No mention is made of CoinPM’s buyer in the announcement and, as far as can be ascertained, there’s no public record of the sale. Rujgev would go on to Launch Protos just three months later, in November of 2020.

As far as selling media companies go, buyers are usually interested in one of two things, either the audience or the content, as those are the assets which drive engagement, which in turn generate revenue. Generally speaking, investors like to make money on their investments. However, in the case of CoinPM, the website was never redirected anywhere, and its content and digital assets were scrubbed from the internet.

It’s unclear as to why Rujgev would have removed the 533 CoinPM podcast episodes that he hosted and produced on an almost daily basis. All that remains is the tantalizing archaeological record of its RSS feed. What could we learn about Rujgev if we could hear his interview with Alex Mashinsky of Celsius fame, or his discussion with Alon Goren of crypto VC fund Draper Goren Holm? Unfortunately, all of the recordings have been removed from Soundcloud and the episodes in the RSS feed appear to have been deleted on August 30, 2021.

Mr. Crypto

While the podcast might be another dead end, I couldn't help but wonder if Rujgev had appeared on other programs. Are we able to hear directly from the man who co-founded Protos to independently cover the crypto industry with "unshakable integrity"?

After some DuckDuckGoing, we discover that the mobile marketing company MobileGroove made a Facebook post on January 3, 2020, promoting their top podcasts of 2019.

Top 12 most listened to #MobilePresence Podcasts of 2019, thank you Peter Rujgev Producer CoinPM for your very popular interview on What Marketers Need To Know About Blockchain And Bitcoin

Frustratingly, unlike the other 11 interviews listed in the Top 12, the URL for Rujgev’s podcast appearance brings us to a blank page on the MobileGroove website. However, the internet archive comes through for us yet again and we can see that his guest appearance was posted on April 24th, 2019.

Searching through the Mobile Presence podcast on streaming websites, however, doesn’t turn up the episode. If we inspect the Mobile Presence podcast RSS feed directly, we can see that there’s an episode for April 17th and one for May 3rd, but nothing for April 24th. Not only have the CoinPM podcasts been removed, but Rujgev’s appearance on an entirely different program has also been memory holed.

Luckily for us, however, the podcast audio URL is still active:

It’s here that we’re able to learn something about Rujgev’s history, as well as his stated motivations. The conversation with the host is quite revealing and I’d strongly recommend having a listen if you’re interested understanding the person signing paycheques at Protos.

During the course of the first half of the discussion, Rujgev, who’s referred to as “Mr. Crypto”, calls the crypto industry “super super exciting” and states that Bitcoin is relevant to mobile marketers. Continuing, he recommends the crypto company, argues that there are many crypto use cases including for supply chain, and even calls Ethereum the “new Google”.

During the latter half, Rujgev advocates that crypto news sites are important as they help businesses reach new customers. When, at 17:55, the host talks about the need to be skeptical when dealing with crypto insiders and asks Rujgev about what “sets off a red flag”, he first suggests looking into a project’s team and roadmap, but continues, saying:

… most of my internet friends are basically, you know, people that I don't know their real names of. They have an image of, I don't know, of broccoli on so, you kind of have to trust these people eventually.

Moving on from the issue of broccoli based integrity, Rujgev addresses the related topic of his influences. Among those who have had an effect on him are Ryan Selkis, CEO of crypto intelligence firm Messari, and Mike Dudas, founder and former CEO of The Block. For information about crypto, he recommends Laura Shin, Peter McCormick, and Anthony Pompliano. All three are well known Bitcoin evangelists.

Expanding on his opinions, Rujgev lets listeners know that crypto backed by gold (, Brett Richey’s crypto sports betting platform BlitzPredict, and Kin, the now defunct Kik messenger launched shitcoin, are all great. About Bitcoin ETFs, he says that institutional investors will pour money into crypto, and in regards to his new (now failed) joint crypto startup, the thing that grabbed him was the fact that it didn’t have a concrete use case, “we don’t actually have a specific focus”.

From a single podcast episode, it’s obvious that Rujgev has travelled deep down the cryptocurrency rabbit hole. The Founder’s statements make his enthusiasm for Bitcoin and the ‘industry’ plain as day. Moreover, it’s publicly declared on the Masthead section of that he owns more than $1000 of Bitcoin. We aren’t told the extent of his beneficial financial interest, only that there is one.

In researching this piece, there’s a feeling that I’ve come to recognize and resent. The pull towards the unanswered, potentially dooming me to hours of wasted web sleuthing. Much like Rujgev, I’m through the looking glass and follow him further into crypto wonderland by asking…

What other connections exist between Rujgev and those with a “beneficial interest” in Bitcoin?

Draper Goren Holm

Originally founded by Alon Goren and Josef Holm as Goren Holm Ventures, the firm rebranded itself to Draper Goren Holm (DGH) in 2019 after partnering with billionaire Tim Draper. According to its now shuttered website, the venture studio specializes in crypto investments.

The firm is a venture studio focused on accelerating and incubating blockchain and crypto startups, while simultaneously producing leading blockchain and cryptocurrency events, Security Token Summit and Crypto Invest Summit (CIS). Portfolio companies include Totle, Ownera, Innovesta, LunarCrush, Giftz, Vertalo, Coinsquad, CasperLabs, Element Zero and more.

Draper, a third generation venture capitalist, is a well known figure in the nebulous world of cryptocurrency. In 2014 he bought 29,656 bitcoins at auction from the US government for $18.74 million, ~$632 apiece, as part of the sale of assets seized from the Silk Road). Aside from his vested interest in Bitcoin, Draper has a laundry list of crypto investments, including Coinbase, Ethereum, Etherscan, Gemini, Ledger, OpenNode, Polygon, Rise, Tezos, Unocoin, among many others.

Buying crypto tokens is one thing, making money from them is quite another. The alchemical ingredient required to transform magic cryptographic beans into a sound speculative investment is nothing less than the lifeblood of media outlets the world over. To sell your tokens, you'll need to entice and entrance buyers, and for that you'll need advertising.

In the world of cryptocurrency, marketing is the means of speculative production. Cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, have no cashflow or product, which means that a crypto VC firm can't 'make an exit' by selling their holdings to a business that cares about revenue. Nor can they make good on their investment through dividends which are the result of profits derived from the sale of goods and services. Instead, crypto VC firms like DGH must stimulate demand through promotion, then sell their tokens to buyers who believe they'll also be able to sell the tokens at a profit to an even later entrant.

Given Draper, Goren, and Holm's extensive cryptocurrency investments, we shouldn't be surprised that they maintained partnerships with heavy hitting media organizations. As Rujgev discussed in the Mobile Presence podcast, 'news' media can be an excellent promotional channel for cryptocurrency as it helps recruit new 'customers', and those new customers are crucial, as cryptocurrencies require that returns come from the money contributed by later investors.

To boost their portfolio, DGH cultivated relationships with Bloomberg, Fox, CNN, CoinTelegraph, and many others. In fact, DGH's "media family" was featured prominently on their website.

Media outlets are essential in allowing billionaires like Draper to reap huge returns from the public in exchange for their useless cryptocurrency holdings. Adding to the "media family" then is just good business, and on May 4th, 2020, DGH did exactly that, announcing the addition of eight new partners and influencers.

The press release lists CoinPM as the eighth and final partner, and comes complete with a quote from Rujgev:

Knowing the team at LA Blockchain Summit, we didn’t have to think twice when making a decision on this partnership,” says Peter Rujgev, CEO at CoinPM. “We look forward to working with them to produce and publish valuable, informative, and exclusive content that will help people to keep up-to-date with and increase their knowledge of the latest industry trends.

While we don't know the exact nature of the business relationship between the Bitcoin billionaire venture fund DGH and Peter Rujgev's independent crypto media outlet CoinPM, we do know that there was one. Rujgev's quote can be fairly interpreted to mean that would publish content related to DGH's investments in exchange for payment, and the partnership was announced just six months before Rujgev co-founded Protos.

Did Rujgev, upon selling his crypto media startup to an unknown buyer, terminate all business connections with Tim Draper and DGH? While it's possible, it doesn't absolve Rujgev of the fact that his past dealings fly in the face of his claims. CoinPM cannot be said to have been independent if it established, or solicited, direct financial ties to an organization who's controlling partners had, and continue to have, a beneficial interest in boosting crypto tokens like bitcoin to as high a price as possible.

Currently, Draper Goren Holm's website is offline and their social media has been silent since April 2023. Tim Draper and Alon Goren, along with David Bleznak, seem to have moved on to greener pastures, founding the crypto VC fund Draper Goren Blockchain in June of 2023. While DGH appears to have ceased operations, Tim Draper remains an incredibly powerful and well resourced individual who's undoubtedly motivated to make good on his crypto investments.

"Do You Expect Me to Talk?"

Despite the factual morass surrounding Peter Rujgev and his twin media outlets, we’ve managed to find some firmer footing.

Rujgev is a Bulgarian national who studied in the UK and, after graduating, worked for AI Global Media, a company that specialized in obscuring corporate marketing as independently run awards and trade publications. Having no prior crypto industry experience, he founded the cryptocurrency media outlet in 2017. While we don’t know how CoinPM was funded, evidence exists of a direct business relationship between crypto VC fund Draper Goren Holm and CoinPM as of May 2020. Rujgev’s sold CoinPM in June of 2020 for an undisclosed sum to an undisclosed buyer. In the sale announcement posted to the CoinPM website, Rujgev references a new project, and a few short months later was born. Founded by Rujgev, and an anonymous co-founder, Protos claims to be an independent crypto media outlet, but has provided no information regarding how, or by whom, it is funded. Moreover, we have been unable to discover public documents related to Protos Media Inc or CoinPM as legal entities.

Of Rujgev’s Bitcoin investments, stated crypto opinions, and potential financial connections to parties with beneficial crypto interests, any single one would be a cause for concern. All three combined with Protos’ claims, and financial connection to the Crypto Critics, raise the spectre of disinformation and potential conflicts of interest. While it’s possible that I’ve misinterpreted Rujgev’s historical record, I’d argue that even if this were the case, the questions raised demonstrate the need for increased financial transparency from Rujgev, if only to guarantee that conspiratorial fantasies remain the province of Ian Fleming spy thrillers.

Luckily, our fears of a conflict of interest can be easily dismissed by releasing information detailing Protos’ finances. Proof in the form of legal documents, attestations, financial disclosures, and independent audits could be supplied in short order by Rujgev. Even more fortunate is the fact Protos employs two individuals who are familiar with the process of gathering and analyzing exactly these types of materials! Tomlin and Piancey’s skills as crypto investigative journalists are proven, and I’m sure their extensive experience with Tether will come in handy when Rujgev decides to disclose the details surrounding Protos’ finances.

Of the vortex of questions that swirl about Rujgev, the ones which buffet our curiosity most violently are:

Who bought CoinPM?

Who else co-founded Protos?

And as always…

How does Protos make money?

Enemy Action

Earlier in January, Protos posted a piece by Tomlin which argued for the creation of Bitcoin Spot ETFs.

As discussed in his celebratory addendum, Tomlin’s wish was granted on January 10th, 2024, when the SEC announced their split decision to approve the investment product:

My dreams have come true and the SEC has finally decided to approve spot bitcoin ETFs. This ends the SEC's nonsense surrounding the distinction between futures-based and spot-based products.

While Tomlin introduces the approval announcement satirically in his follow up, his original article, '🙏Please just approve a spot Bitcoin ETF', provides serious justifications as to why he feels a Bitcoin spot ETFs should be allowed. He points out that futures based ETFs are meaningfully worse for users as they add additional costs, that if CME based market surveillance is adequate for futures ETFs then its equally valid for spot ETFs, and that the SEC's own justifications about investor protections are inconsistent.

Most of Tomlin's argument boils down to calling out the SEC's shakily constructed disapproval justifications. While criticism of the SEC doing the right thing for the wrong reasons might be valid, it's hard to understand how that leads to the conclusion that spot ETFs should be approved. In fact, the argument from technicalities completely misses both the spirit and the letter of the SEC's mandate, and plants Tomlin firmly in the same camp of public opinion as Coinbase, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink, and Tim Draper.

To Draper, approval seems to be a matter of time: “I am surprised it has taken so long. I’m not sure why the SEC approved futures and not spot trading. It seems capricious,” Draper said.

Not everyone agrees with Tomlin and Draper's point of view however. Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw voted against the approval and posted a must-read statement about her dissenting opinion, writing:

These Commission actions are unsound and ahistorical. And worse, they put us on a wayward path that could further sacrifice investor protection. I cannot agree that these actions serve either our statutory or foundational investor protection mandates and, as such, I dissent from today’s Order.

Crenshaw doesn’t mince words in her dissent and eviscerates the justifications put forward by the SEC for their spot Bitcoin ETF approval. She argues that despite existing surveillance sharing agreements, Bitcoin markets are marred by fraud and manipulation which can and does occur in places outside the SEC’s jurisdiction. That ownership of bitcoin is heavily concentrated, which may impact price movements in unpredictable ways. That futures exchange traded products are not the same as spot ETPs, and shouldn’t be considered like products.

She points out that an approval based on correlation between price movement in the futures and spot markets establishes a dangerous precedent, and that even if futures and spot market prices are correlated, it doesn’t impact the ability to detect or prevent any underlying manipulation. Not only does the correlation argument rely on unchallenged assumptions regarding price manipulation, but it was advanced by the spot ETF applicant Greyscale, who used an analysis by Cathy Wood’s ARK Investments to support their claim.

Just as Tomlin highlighted the inconsistencies in the SEC's disapprovals, Crenshaw has demonstrated the failures of logic and reasoning which led to the SEC's approval of Bitcoin spot ETFs. Much to her credit as a responsible civil servant, Crenshaw is raising the alarm and pointing to the gaping regulatory hole that's been carved into the SEC's mandate, a wound through which institutional legitimacy will bleed until cauterized.

To me, the role of the SEC seems quite clear. It's primary goal is always listed first whenever it's described by the US Government.

Why a crypto critic would base their opinion on technicalities, rather than the purpose of the institution in question, is something I cannot answer. In my naive view, the role of a technology critic isn't to simply render judgement, push an opinion, and serve themselves. Rather, like the SEC itself, their actions must be grounded in the promotion and protection of the public interest.

With vultures now being drawn to the carrion of retirement savings, I fail to see how arguing in favour of spot Bitcoin ETFs protected the vulnerable, or advanced the common good. While Tomlin can't be convinced that contango or Saylor are good for investors, he seems certain that Bitcoin is.

Odd Job

Bennett Tomlin and Cas Piancey label themselves as Crypto Critics, and benefit from that branding. Moreover, their loud and frequent disclosure statements, asserting the absence of a beneficial financial connection to the crypto industry or Bitcoin, have supported the view that they can be trusted. That public trust means that their opinions and statements carry a great deal of weight, not only among Bitcoin's boosters, but also in the community of skeptics, critics, and activists opposing crypto's spread.

While those interested in trivialities like "journalistic rigour", "unshakable integrity" and "beneficial interests" undoubtedly find the assurance that "They have money" comforting, it would be illuminating if the reasons for this confidence were shared. Protos' dual Heads of Research and Investigations should explain to their audience how accepting a salary from Rujgev — who owns Bitcoin, has a history of crypto promotion, and business connections to crypto venture capitalists — is in any way consistent with their past statements or the spirit of financial disclosure.

When it comes to our content, journalistic rigour and unshakable integrity dictate what we publish.

We’re not in the pocket of any advertiser or sponsor. This means our editorial decisions are made without commercial or political interference, allowing us to avoid conflicts of interest.

When deciding for yourself whether the evidence presented in this case can be reconciled with the statements and actions of Protos and the Crypto Critics, ask yourself, how far can you trust the opinion of Boeing's CEO on aviation safety, or that of Raytheon's Marketing Director on autonomous weapons systems. As the great 20th century muckraker Upon Sinclair remarked:

It’s difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on their not understanding it.

Can we see the exploitative forest if our focus remains on the trees of ancillary crypto cons and the salacious branches hewn from the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried? What purpose does criticism serve if it critiques the symptoms and protects the disease? What interests are being advanced when critics defend the market price of Bitcoin, push back against criticism of Bitcoin's energy usage, and argue in favour of Bitcoin based investment products? Can we say they're engaged in good faith criticism, or deserving of the label critic?

It's reasonable to ask questions given the facts of the case, including ones about the extent to which Rujgev's influence has had on Protos and the Crypto Critics. The evidence suggests that there may be a grave conflict of interest. An axis of mutual benefit has existed between powerful Bitcoin interests and Rujgev, and while we don't know if these, or other, relationships have persisted and affected Protos, they can be exposed by further research and investigation into Protos' ownership and funding by citizens and journalists.

In Rujgev, Tomlin, Piancey, and Protos' defence however, it can be argued that the statement "Protos prohibits all writers, staff, and associates from undisclosed beneficial interests in any topic on which we report." is not a misrepresentation, in that Rujgev is not a writer, staff, or an associate, but the owner of Protos, while Tomlin and Piancey's beneficial interest would not have been undisclosed to Protos as Rujgev would have, allegedly, been aware of his own actions.

Once again, the argument from technicalities wins the day.

That the pair's excellent citizen journalism has helped expose crypto criminals and con-artists is undeniable, but this only makes Tomlin and Piancey's failure to research, investigate, and disclose Rujgev's history and beneficial interests all the more baffling. We find ourselves in the unenviable position of being forced to consider if the sum total of their work has served the public interest, or been carefully positioned to undermine it. Nothing that's been presented in this piece has been difficult to discover, in fact, the findings stem from asking basic questions about the nature of Protos' business.

Why two prominent Crypto Critics would hitch their wagon to a token news rodeo without performing even cursory due diligence is yet another unanswerable question among the deeply disturbing herd corralled from the shadows.

6 thoughts on “The Problem with Protos”

  1. Kyle Gibson

    Bro you’re setting an impossible standard for the “crypto critics” that zero media institutions meet anywhere. Do you see how fucking ridiculous this post is?

    1. Hi Kyle,

      Thanks for reading and responding. I’m quite explicit in the article, this isn’t unexpected from a crypto media outlet, and as we can see from the Draper Goren Holm website, even media brands like CNN, Fox, and Bloomberg are on the crypto take.

      However, with a company like Coindesk, we all know what it is and what perspective they push. In many cases their journalists are quite clear about what their opinions are. Moreover, we understand the history of ownership of Coindesk, there’s no ambiguity there. We know that it was owned by Digital Currency Group and was eventually sold to Bullish. In these cases, even if we don’t agree with the goals of the owners, we at least know who they are, and we can get a sense as to how the publication is funded. We can adjust our informational filters for whatever suspected bias there may be.

      Protos on the other hand makes very specific and strong claims about journalistic integrity and beneficial interests. So it isn’t any one thing about Protos, rather its the combination of their claims with Rujgev’s connections to Draper Goren Holm, the employment of the Crypto Critics by Protos, their seeming pro-bitcoin perspectives, and the crypto critic brand and its implications.

      This is to say nothing of all of the mysteries that surround Rujgev and Protos, like who was sold to and for how much, or who co-founded Protos, or how are employee salaries paid? Is it through advertising? But if Protos is reporting on companies that advertise on their website, how can they claim not to be in the pocket of advertisers?

      “We’re not in the pocket of any advertiser or sponsor. This means our editorial decisions are made without commercial or political interference, allowing us to avoid conflicts of interest. “

      I think the issues are pretty clear from inspecting the evidence here. If individuals or an organization is attempting to present propaganda as fact, I think that type of disinformation should be called out, but we first need to look at the evidence and ask questions about intent and motivations. To do that we need to interrogate people’s histories and viewpoints.

      At the very least we should ask the questions, and those questions are justified by the lack of information about Protos in conjunction with its owner’s history. If you think it’s unfair to ask these questions about Protos and its associates, then you are entitled to your opinion.

      Though perhaps you should examine if your own involvement in promoting the crypto industry has influenced your ability to think critically and evaluate objectively:

  2. Kyle Gibson

    You end this with the claim that Cas and Bennett did “no cursory due diligence,” did you think of asking them?

    1. Hi Again Kyle,

      Thanks for responding, since you blocked me on twitter, its nice that you’ve decided to continue the discussion here.

      I’m a bit stunned that you would accuse the Crypto Critics of accepting money from Rujgev while being aware of his past connections. I think my assumption, that they had no idea about their boss’ crypto connections to Bitcoin billionaire Tim Draper and his VC firm Draper Goren Holm, is much more likely if there is no conflict of interest, and I’m sure that Tomlin and Piancey will confirm this eventually. While that might be sloppy for a Head of Investigations and a Head of Research, it is certainly understandable, given that we’re human and we all make mistakes.

      So while you might insist that they took money from Rujgev while KNOWING about his past, I would caution you that this is a very serious accusation, but it’s not one that I will make as I have no evidence for it.

      I wouldn’t want to have you accuse me of not asking you questions directly, so perhaps you could explain to any readers if you feel that your own previous work promoting the cryptocurrency industry has coloured your ability to view this issue objectively?

  3. I’d like to start by saying that this is a great post and a great job at investigative journalism.

    It’s important that people get called out when they don’t old up to the moral standard they firmly claim to strive for, but, I don’t think that Cas and Bennet deserve the treatment they are getting now from the people who held them previously as Mesiahs and the only source o trustworthy information.

    You really did a great job here, and all you’ve found should have been disclosed from day one by the owner(s) of Protos, but, again, Cas and Bennet do not deserve the treatment they are getting now, IMO the whole thing wasn’t a way to sell propaganda, but a way for the owner(s) to find accurate information on market risks and to know what doesn’t sell anymore (of course, I’m just speculating, we might never know he truth).

    I really find sad how they are being treated by the Buttcoin subreddit, they were the heroes of the sub, now, they are the enemies, the sub now hates them and claim they are being mocked for not sharing the collective opinion that Bitcoin is a ponzi [1], when they have stated on their own Podcast that they don’t hate Bitcoin, they simply do not support it as money because they don’t support the whole scarce money idea [2], the thing has gone to the such level that now even politics are part of the discussion “I think Bennett is a true leftist & he knows he’s selling out.” if part of the top comment on the post on Reddit [3] which, is ironical since a big portion of the sub claims they aren’t political at all, while also they claim to find American Liberatarianism idiotic [4][5], just like everyone else around the world does [6].

    If this is whats going for Bennett and Cas for what their boss did, I can’t imagine what will happen to David Gerard and David Golumbia when somebody discovers that not all Bitcoiners are carnivorous conservative conspiranical nutjobs a la Saifedean Ammous [6] or what will happen to Coffezilla when they discover that he owns some Bitcoin [7].

    Anyways, great job, I hope the discussion becomes civil again, Bennet and Cas have done a great job for a long time when it comes to investigating financial fraud


    1. Hi Pako,

      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. Also, thank you for being up front about the fact that you’re pro-bitcoin, as per your Substack, I think that kind of transparency goes a long way toward being able to have a good faith discussion.

      In regards to the article, and the concerns it raised, I would have preferred a more civil discussion as well. This would have been more productive, and would have allowed the Crypto Critics to clear up any misunderstandings. However, when they were approached directly, Tomlin was evasive, and Cas did not respond well.

      I’ve summarized some of this information in a tweet if you’d like more details:

      While initial questions about the pair’s integrity and misrepresentations were in no way settled, their response speaks volumes. Let’s not forget that these concerns were raised by the Crypto Critic’s own actions and associations.

      Tomlin and Piancey have also banned me from their discord, and blocked me on twitter. They are also only allowing approved users to view their tweets. That hardly seems transparent, or like a good faith attempt to discuss the serious issues that their employment at Protos brought up.

      Moreover, in regards to civility, do you feel that any of this is civil?

      Is this how good faith actors respond to legitimate criticism and questions about their past dealings?

      Once again, you should decide for yourself.

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