For someone who devotes so much of his life to Bitcoin and finance — and who has made and lost a small fortune twice now — podcaster Peter McCormack doesn’t actually seem to care that much for money.
“I did have a lot of money in my life a couple of times,” says the 42 year old on a call from his home in Bedford. “But the wealthiest time of my life was the most miserable. I had a company in London that turned over three million a year. Big team. Money in the bank, good salary,” he says.
“My marriage broke up and I couldn’t have been in a worse place. Money didn’t make a difference. Even if I’d been really rich, I still would have had the panic attacks and anxiety. I still would have been miserable.”
McCormack is in a much better place now, and the anxiety has long since subsided. He’s looking fitter and healthier than he has in years, after giving up drinking and riding his Peleton bike around digital courses for miles and miles during lockdown.He’s also become one of the most well known and successful crypto podcasters in the industry, with the What Bitcoin Did show downloaded 7.2 million times in total, including a record 569,000 in January alone. As a true adherent to Bitcoin philosophy he transparently reports his finances online, showing the business — including his other podcast Defiance — turning over $71,000 a month and clearing $16,000 in profit.
“We’re not rich, I don’t have a flash car, we don’t have a big house. But we have everything we need. Everything else is just like, more stuff.”
While he’s still amassing piles of Bitcoin, McCormack places a much higher value on his time and independence than he does on making money — being able to do what he likes, when he likes, and to spend his days engaged in creative and satisfying work.
“Time is like the most valuable resource you have,” he explains. “I get to wake up every day and decide what I want to do.” After our interview he’s off to do a personal training session in the middle of the day, then he’ll maybe pick up the kids at 4pm and hit the shops. (He has a 16 year old son he lives with and a 10 year old daughter he shares custody for.)
“I just do what the f— I want — and that is the best thing that you can have, complete control over your time. Would I swap that for more money? No, I wouldn’t at all. I also really enjoy my job. Like I f—ing love what I get to do. So I’m content. I mean, apart from having a good wife, I have everything I need in life, and money is not going to get me more of what I need.”
There are a bunch of apparent contradictions when it comes to McCormack. He’s a big muscly Bitcoiner with tatts and a beard who nevertheless sees major benefits in yoga, meditation and veganism.
He comes across like a Bitcoin maximalist, but when he hosted a debate between Blockstream’s Samson Mow and Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin, he went out of his way to try and be impartial and fair. In person, he’s considered and thoughtful, while on Twitter he is adversarial, or a bit “punchy” as he describes it. “I’m just f—ing winding people up,” he says. “I just think Americans don’t understand the humour.” McCormack says he also uses Twitter as a sounding board to work through his ideas.
“People often say my Twitter personality is not like my podcast — it’s because my podcast is me. My Twitter is just like a tool. Twitter’s a tool.”
I can’t resist: “And are you a tool on Twitter?”
“I am a definitely a tool on Twitter,” he laughs.
Not left or right or in the centre
He’s also difficult to pin down politically. Despite his crypto libertarian sympathies he can see the arguments in favour of lockdowns, especially given the UK has one of the worst death rates in the world. A self described socialist in his youth, he says he went “through a phase of being like conservative” and now says he just takes each issue on its merits.
“That kind of f—s with people because I’m conservative on some issues and I’m liberal on others. It’s just the way I think. I’m a bit bolshie because I just see through a lot of bullshit.”
He’s willing to change his mind too. A year or two ago he tweeted that he’d probably vote for Trump if he was American. But by the end of Trump’s term he’d put out a podcast series called Chaos about what an utter disaster his presidency had been. He says he was initially drawn to Trump as a loose cannon, challenging the status quo and trying to drain the swamp.
“What I realized over time is just that he is not a stable enough or rational enough character to deal with the nuance. So for example, there are problems with the media, but to call all media which disagrees with you fake and then retweet Breitbart articles, this is not really an honest position. When I started looking into [former Treasury Secretary] Steven Mnuchin I realized he didn’t drain the swamp he just did exactly the same. And now I realize he’s just a complete f—ing moron.”
Of course, this sort of attitude doesn’t go down well with the red meat eating, guns and freedom subculture of Bitcoiners and he says his anti-Trump stance lost him up to 500 followers a week. “What I realized is there are a lot of secret Bitcoin Trump fans. People who I thought were anarchists now seem to be Trump fans.”
He puts it down to a lack of trust in institutions and the media, enabling seemingly rational people to believe conspiracy theories about a stolen election. “They’re so easily debunked. But people just distrust so much that they will believe any nonsense.”
Music magazine mini mogul
McCormack got an early start in the media as a teenager, putting out his own music fanzine with friends and trying to flog it at concerts. He even scored interviews with Korn, Pantera, Biohazard and Skunk Anansie, but shuttered the mag after four issues due to the workload.
When he started a music management course at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College around the turn of the millennium, he considered resurrecting it as a website. But unable to afford to buy a site, he spent a summer working in a pub during the day for three British pounds an hour and learning to build his own sites from a book at night.
It was a smart move, leading to contracts for 1,000 pounds a week building websites, and eventually to the founding of his own web building, social media and marketing agency with a friend, called McCormack and Morrison in 2007. It grew to turnover 2.7 million pounds a year at its peak. “It did quite well, grew to 35-40 staff with a big office in Covent Garden,” he says.
Crash and burn
But in 2014, his life went off the rails spectacularly. Three months after marrying the mother of his two kids, he discovered she’d been having an affair with his best friend for a year. “My marriage breakup was awful,” he says. “I haven’t had another relationship since and that was seven years ago.”
He suffered severe anxiety for a couple of years after — best characterized as feelings of terror and existential dread combined with panic attacks where you’re sure you’re going to die. “These panic attacks were awful,” he says. “Like every time you think you’re dying. Like once I collapsed on a tube, I thought I was dying:
“Any little pain in your stomach it’s like I’ve got f—ing cancer. That’s it. It was awful, I had it for like two to three years quite bad.”
Drugs will fix it
McCormack also fell down a rabbit hole of heavy drinking and cocaine use. He first used Bitcoin to buy drugs via mail order from Silk Road, scanning the reviews for the highest quality gear.
“It was Amazon for drugs and it was brilliant. I remember being so excited when a package would come,” he says. One time a package arrived in the middle of the day, and he thought he’d just try a cheeky line to see if it was any good.
“I ended up doing the whole lot, about three grams in a day, and I was a f—ing mess,” he says. He was carted off to hospital in an ambulance, his heart beating at 200 beats per minute with a suspected heart attack. Fortunately it was the much less serious supraventricular tachycardia brought about by his next level drug consumption.
But this was the rock bottom point he needed to turn his life around. He remembers lying in a hospital bed thinking that six months earlier he’d been married, in charge of a company and that everything had been great.
“And now I haven’t got any of it. And I’m essentially a drug addict and an alcoholic, and a terrible father and my company is collapsing. And yeah, so the company ended up folding, but then everything kind of just started getting better.”
“I cleaned up my act instantly”
Reluctant to take medication, he asked his doctors for alternatives and they suggested running, meditation and yoga. So he got addicted to that instead and became a vegan for good measure.
“I pretty much ran every day for a year, lost loads of weight, I was in great shape, running up 40 miles a week,” he says. “Now I don’t get anxiety, I mean, very occasionally, maybe like, once every six months, something happens but very minor.”
His mother got very sick from cancer, and he volunteered at her hospital. It was while buying her some cannabis as medication on Silk Road that he rediscovered Bitcoin.
“I was about ready for what I was going to do next in life. And then Bitcoin happened, it was just a weird chain of events.”
That was December 2016 and he ploughed 23,000 pounds into Bitcoin and crypto over the course of the following year which grew into $1.2M during the all time high and all of a sudden his fantasies about buying the Bedford Town football league and turning around their fortunes seemed eminently possible. He admits his conversion to Bitcoin came about simply because he was making bank. “I was making lots of money. That was really it. It’s only when I started to do the podcast that I started going beyond the money side, and got very excited about what it meant.”
The Ice Man commeth
Of course, everything came crashing down in Crypto Winter and he ended up committing Maxi-blasphemy by selling most of his Bitcoin for the sake of his business. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t want to talk about any of this, having been mercilessly trolled for an article he wrote about it in The Guardian.
For that matter, he also doesn’t want to discuss Satoshi claimant Craig Wright suing him for defamation, for fear of giving Wright’s lawyers more ammunition. “I’m purposefully suffocating them,” he says. “I’m fine. It’s just another thing on my to do list every day that I have to think about.”
What Bitcoin Did came about through his friendship with vegan podcaster Rich Roll, who he’d met a vegan retreat in Italy. The first episode came out in November 2017 and he’s recorded more than 300 episodes now with everyone who is anyone in the Bitcoin world, from Brian Armstrong to Andreas Antonopolous and pioneering cypherpunk Whitfield Diffie. He stopped covering altcoins after getting enormous grief for interviewing Bitcoin Unlimited’s Peter Rizun in April 2019.
McCormack also has grander ambitions than just talking about crypto, and has branched out into other areas with his Defiance podcast series, which covers everything from the war on drugs, to the employment prospects for former inmates. He’s also told the story of the aftermath of a fatal crash involving band The Ghost Inside in the podcast 1333 Days and investigated Ghislaine Maxwell and Steven Mnuchin
“I think Bitcoin is great. But I just have a creative curiosity to work on other ideas,” he says. “We have journalists and storytellers. And then you have this strange place in the middle where you can be a little bit of both.
“Serial was, I think, one of the first great podcasts that did it. It was journalism, but it was entertainment as well. I kind of like that stuff. I’m really drawn to doing it. You know, trying to craft a story in a way that people are engaged, I find a real challenge.”
The eventual goal is to move towards filming documentaries, and he made a couple of “mini-documentaries” in Venezuela and Turkey immediately prior to lockdown.
“I want to make films,” he says. “I don’t know if I can make the jump to it. That’s the goal. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, I can see a path to it — but it’s getting there.”