The two lifelong friends from Florida never sought the limelight, but then they built a multi-million-dollar empire selling digital art and people wanted to know who they were.
Under the pseudonyms “Gargamel” and “Gordon Goner”, they created the “Bored Ape Yacht Club”, a collection of 10,000 cartoons of apes with various hairstyles and outfits.
US news outlet BuzzFeed did some sleuthing earlier this month and uncovered their true identities — sparking an outpouring of anger among fans on social media.
The story has refocused attention on anonymity in the world of cryptocurrencies.
“Using a pseudonym does not make you anonymous,” says Alexander Stachtenko, a cryptocurrency expert for the firm KPMG.
It is unclear why the Bored Apes founders wanted to stay anonymous — they had given several interviews under their pseudonyms.
Fans though revel in being part of a community where NFT ownership is often a gateway to games and other perks.
“I don’t need the public in crypto to know who I am, what I look like, my origins,” says a creator who goes by the name “Owl of Moistness”.
He co-founded Yield Guild Games, a startup focused on NFT video games in the Philippines, where the NFT craze has taken hold across the population.
So linking his crypto and real-world identities would allow anyone to find out his wealth.
“It becomes more difficult if you’re going to expand your team,” says Soona Amhaz of Volt Capital, a cryptocurrency-focused fund.
One of the favored ways of remaining anonymous in the crypto world is to form a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization).
Anyone extracting profit would still need to pay tax, but linking real-world individuals to these entities is a much trickier task than, say, searching public records to reveal the Bored Apes founders.
However, plenty of people use the expectation of anonymity for nefarious purposes.
AnubisDAO was one such entity, created by pseudonymous programmers last October with little more than a Twitter account and a logo.
And it seems the tide is turning against anonymity in the crypto world.
But Soona Amhaz believes there are still positives to the DAO idea, arguing that they are policed by the blockchain.
There is also another major advantage, she says.
“It’s just your work that’s being evaluated and your reputation. And that truly is one of the fairest ways to evaluate someone.”