Kyle Collier is either the ultimate optimist, or a glutton for punishment. Or both.
The 33-year-old is the CEO of a cryptocurrency company called Phaze, for which he’s securing “somewhere between one and three million dollars” in funding according to him––meaning “the money is committed but the cheques haven’t started rolling in.”
He’s “living a decentralized lifestyle” which means he hasn’t had a place to call home for more than a year.
It all started on the last day of 2017, when his gym locker was broken into and the thief swiped everything inside it––car keys, winter coat, wallet, tickets to the New Year’s event he was planning to attend with his girlfriend. He spent New Year’s day on a buddy’s couch, with no money. “It was a shit-show. But it was an eye-opening experience,” he says, adding that it inspired him to remain without a “home base” for as long as he could hack it.
Most New Year’s resolutions involve getting in shape or starting a diet. Collier’s New Year’s challenge prompted him to be “homeless for more than a year” and he says he has no regrets. It allowed him––or forced him––to focus on building his company, where he typically puts in 80-hour weeks.
By living like a nomad (with the help of his trusty blow-up mattress), Collier was able to bypass one of the major hurdles for anyone trying to hack it in a major city, since, as he says, “the cost of living in Toronto is nuts.” The median price of a one-bedroom apartment rental in the city is $2,260, with the average monthly rent pegged at more than $2,300. By not having that expense––or the added costs of furnishing and maintaining a place––he figures he’s saving $25,000 a year. That means he’s been able to get by without taking a salary.
Sure, it comes with sacrifices. Like showering at the gym, which he does after his daily workout. He says he’s mastered the art of couch and bed-surfing. Most of his meals aren’t home-cooked, so he’s eating take-out all the time but on the flipside, he says he doesn’t have to sweat the small stuff like whether the food in his fridge is going bad.
His colleagues say he’s always the first one in and the last to leave at work. His co-worker Ksenia Vendrova, who is a layout and technical designer at Phaze, says she doesn’t think her boss’ approach is that weird. “Kyle doesn’t make a big deal out of not having a place. He’s just got into the groove of the lifestyle and he’s rocking it.”
Collier has taken this notion of doing more with less to the next level––he’s opted for an “ultra-minimalist” lifestyle to ditch “all the decisions that can bog a person down throughout the day.” He owns 124 things (including just 2 pairs of jeans, a few shirts and a blow-up mattress) and he’s parted with some of his most valuable possessions like his XBox, which he sold when he decided to live “decentralized.” Collier says this simplified lifestyle gives him an edge. “Once you take away the normal human comforts, you actually start to think really differently. It forces a fight-or-flight mentality where you’re thinking super strategically.“
His commitment and drive has been likened to CEOs like Tesla’s Elon Musk, who was described by Google CEO Larry Page as “kind of homeless” in 2015 because he didn’t have a home in Silicon Valley (where rents are notoriously inflated) and chose instead to crash with friends on a rotating basis. “Living like this gives you laser focus,” says Collier.
He spends most of his waking hours working on Phaze, a system which allows users to convert their cryptocurrency, like bitcoin and ether, into digital gift cards to places such as Starbucks and Amazon. The timing for this kind of venture seems less than ideal: bitcoin and other major cryptocurrencies have lost more than 60 percent of their value from a year ago. This downward spiral of prices has been dubbed ‘crypto winter.’
Another chilling factor on the industry is the QuadrigaCX debacle, which saw the incredible collapse of what was Canada’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. Ever the optimist, Collier sees an opportunity and says ultimately, the Quadriga fiasco will drive more people and more transactions to reputable exchanges like Coinsquare. In fact, Phaze is working on the details of a deal to allow people in Canada to use its technology on Coinsquare, in the next few months. He’s also in talks with a tech giant, but he can’t share those details yet.
Phaze’s first investor is Sunil Sharma, the managing director of TechStars Toronto, which is one of the city’s most well-known accelerators. He invested in Phaze as part of his personal portfolio but he works closely with Collier, who puts in a lot of volunteer hours mentoring other startups for TechStars.
The two have known each other for about five years and this is now Collier’s third attempt to build a successful company. Sharma says even though the first two companies “didn’t result in financial gain for anyone involved,” he’s convinced they played a part in Collier’s current hustle and devotion to the company. “Kyle is a genuine person who really has big ideas and swings for the fences.”
Collier’s ultra-pared back approach is at odds with the flashy, over-the-top lifestyles showcased by some nouveau riche crypto CEOs. Some of his well-capitalized peers made headlines and took to social media with their lavish parties, luxury cars and flashy lifestyle, giving rise to the “crypto bro” image that many say is a disservice to those in the industry who are actually working on life-changing, disruptive technology.
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