For someone who has devoted so much of his life to bitcoin and finance – and who has already made and lost a small fortune twice – podcaster Peter McCormack doesn’t really seem to care about money.
There have been a few times in my life when I had a lot of money, the 42-year-old said by phone from his home in Bedford. But the richest period of my life was the most miserable. I had a business in London that made over three million a year. Great team. Money in the bank, a good salary, he says.
My marriage was falling apart and I couldn’t have been in a worse position. Money didn’t change anything. Even if I were really rich, I would still have panic attacks and anxiety. I’d still be unhappy.
McCormack is much better now, and the fear is long gone. He looks fitter and healthier than he did a few years ago, after he stopped drinking and rode his platoon bike for miles on digital trails during the blockade.
He has also become one of the most successful and well-known crypto podcasters in the industry, with What Bitcoin Did having been downloaded a total of 7.2 million times, including a record 569,000 in January alone. He is an avid supporter of the Bitcoin philosophy and transparently communicates his finances online, showing his business – including another Defiance podcast – with $71,000 in monthly revenue and $16,000 in profit.
We’re not rich, I don’t have a nice car, and we don’t have a big house. But we have everything we need. Everything else is just superfluous.
Although he continues to amass piles of bitcoins, McCormack values his time and independence far more than he values making money – he can do what he wants, when he wants, and he spends his days doing creative and fulfilling work.
Time is like the most precious commodity you have, he says. I wake up every day and decide what I want to do. According to our interview, he goes to a personal training session in the middle of the day, and then probably picks up the kids at 4pm and runs errands. (He has a 16-year-old son with whom he lives and a 10-year-old daughter with whom he shares custody).
I just do what I want to do, and that’s the best thing you can have, total control over your time. Would I trade that for extra money? No, I wouldn’t do it at all. I love my job too. Like I love what I do. So I’m satisfied. I mean, aside from a good wife, I have everything I need in life, and money doesn’t give me more than I need.
There are some glaring inconsistencies regarding McCormack. He is a tall, muscular bitcoiner with tattoos and a beard, who nevertheless sees great benefits in yoga, meditation and vegetarianism.
He comes across as a bitcoin maximalist, but in the debate between Blockstream’s Samson Mau and Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin, he tried to be impartial and fair. In person he is thoughtful and deliberate, while on Twitter he is hostile, or a little nonchalant, as he describes it himself.
I just attract people, he says. I don’t think Americans understand humor. McCormack says he also uses Twitter as a sounding board to work on his ideas.
People often say that my Twitter persona doesn’t look like my podcast – that’s because I am my podcast. My Twitter as a tool. Twitter is a tool.
I can’t resist: Are you a Twitter user?
I’m definitely a tool on Twitter, he laughs.
Not on left, right or centre
It’s also hard to pin down politically. Despite his crypto-libertarian sympathies, he can understand the argument for closures, especially since Britain has one of the worst mortality rates in the world. In his youth he was a self-proclaimed socialist, but he says he has outgrown conservatism and is now content to judge each issue on its own merits.
It resonates with people because I’m conservative on some issues and liberal on others. I just think so. I’m a little more because I just see through a lot of crap.
He’s also willing to change his mind. He tweeted a year or two ago that he would probably vote for Trump if he were an American. But toward the end of Trump’s tenure, he released a series of podcasts called Chaos about the disaster that was his presidency. He says he was initially attracted to Trump because he challenged the status quo and wanted to drain the swamp.
Over time, I realized he wasn’t stable or rational enough to deal with the nuances. There are problems with the media, for example, but calling every media outlet that disagrees with you fake and then reading Breitbart’s articles isn’t exactly a fair position to take. When I started watching [former Treasury Secretary] Steven Mnuchin, I realized that he wasn’t draining the swamp, he was just doing the same thing. And now I realize he’s just a complete idiot.
This position obviously doesn’t fall well with the subculture of red meat, guns and bitcoin freedom, and he says his anti-Trump stance has lost as many as 500 followers a week. I realized there are a lot of Trump Bitcoin fans in the closet. The people I thought were anarchists now seem to be Trump supporters.
He attributes this to a lack of trust in institutions and the media, which allows seemingly reasonable people to believe in conspiracy theories about stolen elections. They are so easy to refute. But people have so many doubts that they are willing to believe any nonsense.
Music magazine Mini Mogul
As a teenager, McCormack first got involved with the media: He published his own music fanzine with friends and tried to sell it at concerts. He even managed to do interviews with Korn, Pantera, Biohazard and Skunk Anansie, but quit the magazine after four issues due to work overload.
When he started a music management course at Buckinghamshire University College Chilterns at the turn of the millennium, he thought about reviving it in the form of a website. But he couldn’t afford to buy a website, so he spent the summer working in the pub for £3 an hour during the day and learning to make his own websites by taking classes at night.
This wise choice led to him getting contracts for £1,000 a week to design websites and then setting up his own web development, social media and marketing agency with a friend in 2007: McCormack and Morrison. At its peak it was worth £2.7 million a year. It has done well, growing to 35-40 employees and has a large office in Covent Garden, he says.
Destroy and burn
But in 2014, his life derailed dramatically. Three months after marrying the mother of his two children, he discovered that she had been having an affair with his best friend for a year. The breakup of my marriage was terrible, he says. I haven’t been in a relationship since, and that was seven years ago.
A few years later, he suffered from severe anxiety, described as a sense of dread and existential angst, combined with panic attacks in which one is certain to die. Those panic attacks were terrible, he says. Like every time you think you’re gonna die. When I fell on the pipe, I thought I was going to die:
Every little pain in my stomach feels like I have cancer on my finger. Here’s how. It was terrible, I had two or three pretty bad years.
Drugs will solve it
McCormack also fell down the rabbit hole due to heavy alcohol and cocaine use. He first used bitcoins to buy drugs through the Silk Road mail order business and to analyze valuations of expensive computer equipment.
It was Amazon for drugs, and it was brilliant. I remember being so excited when the package arrived, he says. One day the package arrived in the middle of the day, and he thought he would just taste it to see if there was anything good in it.
I ended up taking it all, about three grams a day, and I was a wreck, he says. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, his heart was beating at 200 beats per minute, a heart attack was suspected. Fortunately, it was a much less severe supraventricular tachycardia caused by his next level of drug use.
But it was the most important thing he had to do to change his life. He remembers lying in his hospital bed thinking he was married six months earlier, running a business and everything was fine.
And now I don’t have one. And I’m basically a drug addict and an alcoholic and a terrible father, and my business is falling apart. And yes, the company eventually went bankrupt, but then went back into business.
I cleared right away.
Not wanting to take medication, he turned to doctors who offered him alternatives: Running, meditation and yoga. Instead, he got hooked and became a vegan for a change.
I ran almost every day for a year, lost weight, was in great shape, ran 40 miles a week, he says. Now, I’m not worried, I mean, very rarely, maybe once every six months, something happens, but very unimportant.
His mother was seriously ill with cancer and he volunteered at her hospital. While buying cannabis as medicine on Silk Road, he discovered bitcoin.
I was almost ready for what I wanted to do next in life. And then Bitcoin happened, it was a strange sequence of events.
That was in December 2016. The following year he invested £23,000 in bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, which reached an all-time high of $1.2 million over the course of the year, and suddenly his fantasies of buying the Bedford Town Football League and turning his fortune around seemed entirely possible.
He admits that his move to bitcoin was simply because he was a banker. I made a lot of money. That’s right. It wasn’t until I started doing the podcast that I started to look beyond the financial aspect and get excited about what it meant.
Of course, everything fell apart during the cryptowinter, and he ended up committing Maxi-blasphemy by selling most of his bitcoins for his business. No wonder he doesn’t want to talk about it after being mercilessly criticized for the article he wrote about it in the Guardian.
He also won’t talk about the Satoshi case, in which prosecutor Craig Wright is suing him for defamation, for fear of giving Wright’s lawyers more ammunition. I sanded it on purpose, he said. I’m fine. It’s just another thing on my to-do list that I have to think about every day.
Bitcoin Did was born out of his friendship with vegan podcaster Rich Roll, whom he met at a vegan retreat in Italy. The first episode appeared in November 2017, and he has since recorded over 300 episodes with everyone from Brian Armstrong to Andreas Antonopolis to crypto pioneer Whitfield Diffie. He stopped covering altcoins after coming under heavy criticism for his April 2019 interview with Bitcoin Unlimited’s Peter Rizyun.
McCormack also has bigger ambitions than just talking about crypto, and has moved into other areas with his Defiance podcast, which covers everything from the war on drugs to job prospects for ex-offenders. He also discussed the aftermath of The Ghost Inside’s fatal crash on the podcast 1333 Days, and addressed Ghislain 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 that weird spot in the middle where you can be a little bit of both.
The show was, I think, one of the first major podcasts to do that. It was journalism, but also entertainment. I love that kind of thing. I’m really attracted to it. You know, putting together a story in a way that engages people, I think that’s the real challenge.
The ultimate goal is to make documentaries. Just before closing, he made some mini-documentaries in Venezuela and Turkey.
I want to make movies, he says. I don’t know if I can jump on it. That’s the goal. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, I see a way to do it – but it’s coming.
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