When Stephen Findeisen was in college at Texas A. & M., a friend presented him with a business opportunity. He was vague about the details but clear about the positive potential. “It was like, ‘Don’t you want to be financially free, live on a beach somewhere?’ “Twenty-eight-year-old Findeisen recently recalled that after attending a weekend presentation, Findeisen realized that he was being hired to join a multilevel marketing company.” I was, like, that are you talking You are not financially free! You’re here on a Sunday! “He declined the offer, but a couple of his roommates signed up. They also got a subscription to a personal and professional development magazine. “I remember clearly thinking: We have four copies of Success magazine and no one succeeds. Something’s wrong here. “
Findeisen has been wary of high school scammers since his mother was diagnosed with cancer. “They sold her a lot of snake oil, and I think she believed everything,” she said. She recovered, but Findeisen was disgusted by people who market false hopes. After graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, he sold homes to a local builder. In his spare time, he began uploading to his YouTube channels, where he put his denial instinct to work on short videos such as “Corporate Jargon: Lying by Obscurity” and “Is Exercising Worth Your Time?” Initially, the subjects included time management tips and pop science topics, but their content really took off when it started criticizing poor quality financial gurus. These days, your Coffeezilla channel has over a million subscribers, and YouTube is your full-time job.
We live, as many have pointed out, in a golden age of fraud. Much of the attention has been focused on schemes aimed at women, from romance scammers to multilevel marketing companies that deploy the language of brotherhood and empowerment to hire people to sell leggings and essential oils. But Findeisen was interested in the self-proclaimed finance gurus who target people like him and his college friends: young people adrift in the post-financial crisis world, wary of the traditional financial system but hungry for some kind of advantage. In their proprietary courses, they promise gurus, teach the secret habits of rich people, or the path to passive income or the millionaire mentality. Watch a YouTube video like this and your sidebar will be filled with suggestions for more information: “HOW I PASSED FROM BROKE TO MILLIONAIRE IN 90 DAYS!”; “How to MAKE MILLIONS in the next market crash”; “How to make 6 figures in your twenties”.
Coffeezilla has become one of the most prominent dissident voices. Findeisen’s videos featured quick edits, a digitally rendered Lamborghini and the jargon of hustle and bustle culture, albeit unfurled with a raised eyebrow. While Coffeezilla, Findeisen kept his real name a secret for years, he said, after being the target of harassment campaigns, he dissected the tricks of the gurus: the countdown timers they used to create an illusion of scarcity, their relentless sales. In one of his most popular videos, he spends an hour interviewing Garrett, a man in his twenties who left his job as a teacher to take self-marketing courses from a flashy Canadian named Dan Lok. As he draws the story of Garrett’s increasingly expensive immersion in this world, Findeisen’s expression shifts from joy to bewilderment and genuine anger.
“When I interviewed Garrett, I thought this was an absolute parody,” Findeisen told me. “And then when I first discovered crypto, it was like,‘ Oh, that guy lost five hundred thousand on Tuesday, ’” he said. “Cryptographic scams are like discovering fentanyl when you’re used to Oxy. It’s a hundred times more powerful, and much worse. And there weren’t many people talking about it.” Findeisen is an inveterate skeptic. “I always want to go where people don’t go,” he said. “I think if I was watching only negative cryptographic stuff, I would start a pro-crypto channel. But I’m watching the opposite.” (Dan Lok’s team said he “refutes all allegations and allegations made against him by ‘Garrett’ in Coffeezilla”).
Last summer, when bitcoin’s valuation was approaching record highs and the world was going crazy for non-fungible tokens, Findeisen spent months revealing the story of Save the Kids, a cryptocurrency project promoted by a handful of high-profile influencers, some of which. they were affiliated with the FaZe Clan, the popular e-sports collective. Findeisen’s research focused on one of the influencers, Frazier Kay, who promoted the crypto token Save the Kids among his followers, promoting it as an investment with a vaguely defined charitable component that “would help children around the world.” Shortly after the project was launched, the value of the token plummeted. Findeisen heard that a crucial piece of code, intended to protect the project from pumping and unloading schemes, had been modified before release. (It is unclear who ordered that change).
In a series of videos, Findeisen reassembled clues, including DM, interviews with whistleblowers, leaked recordings, and photographs sent by an anonymous source. He tracked the funds as they came in and out of several digital wallets. Wearing suspenders and a white shirt, Findeisen sat in front of what he called his conspiracy board – a digital representation of a bulletin board featuring the main actors connected by a maze of wires – and claimed that Kay had a pattern of involvement in questionable crypto offers. The Save the Kids series marked Findeisen’s transition from a sarcastic YouTube critic to something more like an investigative journalist. After an internal investigation, FaZe Clan fired Kay. The collective issued a statement saying that “it had absolutely no involvement with the activity of our members in the cryptocurrency space, and we strongly condemn its recent behavior.” In a tweet published after Findeisen’s initial investigation, Kay wrote: “I want you all to know that I had no ill intentions of promoting any alternative cryptocurrency. I honestly and naively thought we all had a chance to win, which is not the case. none of this with my FaZe team and now I know I should. ” Kay did not respond to a request for comment from The New Yorker, but in a message to Coffeezilla, said he did not profit from the crypto token Save the Kids and explained that “the purpose of the project is charitable donation. In that spirit and with that intention I got involved and put capital into it.” In a later video, Kay said he was “tricked” into participating in the scheme.
When I visited Findeisen this spring, in the neat and tidy house he shares with his wife and his two dogs, Barney and Nala, he occupied another great story. (He asked me not to mention the city where he lives, because he had been doxed before.) This referred to SafeMoon, a cryptocurrency token that was intended to be a “safe” investment vehicle that would nevertheless go “to the moon.” , the cryptographic language for a dramatic increase in valuation. Since its release last spring, SafeMoon has been briefly everywhere, on a billboard in Times Square, and has been tweeted by celebrities like Diplo and Jake Paul. (Diplo’s team said the tweet “was a joke.” Jake Paul’s team did not respond to a request for comment.) “You have to understand how big it was,” Findeisen told me. “It had a market cap of $ 4 million within months of launch.” Months later, however, SafeMoon had lost a significant percentage of its value. Findeisen made it his mission to understand how that happened, whether it involved something illegal and who was profiting from it along the way.
The day I visited, Findeisen was releasing a video about Ben Phillips, a former member of SafeMoon’s marketing team. Phillips is a YouTuber whose videos, mostly of jokes he makes to his half-brother (“Trousers VIBRATING MY BROTHER IN AUDIENCE ** JOKE! **”; “Pick beer glasses for my brother! JOKE!”) – they have over a billion views. In April 2021, in a tweet now deleted, Phillips encouraged his fans to buy him something from Starbucks, linking it to what he said was his cryptocurrency wallet. Findeisen tracked the transactions of several wallets over the next eight months and found that while in public Phillips promoted SafeMoon, in private it appeared to be selling. (Phillips did not respond to several requests for comment.) Findeisen told me that people think their cryptocurrency transactions are anonymous, but that is not the case. If you can find out who owns a wallet, transactions are easy to track. “You don’t need a citation, you can be a random guy in Texas who finds out,” he said.