The mysterious creators of the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), an NFT collection of 10,000 gorilla avatars that has permeated online celebrity culture, were finally unmasked on Friday: A BuzzFeed report identified Greg Solano, 32, and Wylie Aronow, 35, who both grew up in Florida, as the brand’s founders. Solano, a writer and editor, was previously only known by the pen name “Gargamel,” while Aronow used the pseudonym “Gordon Goner.” The duo confirmed the reveal of their real names on Twitter: “Got doxxed against my will. Oh well,” wrote Aronow, sharing a real photo of himself alongside the NFT avatar that he uses as his profile picture—a meme known as “Web2 me vs. Web3 me.” Solano followed suit with a picture of himself and his own version of the meme, adding, “Got doxed so why not.”
While Solano and Aronow claimed that BuzzFeed “doxed” them, that term refers to the public release of an individual’s private information, such as their home address or phone number, by a bad actor—particularly one trying to foment a harassment campaign. BuzzFeed’s unmasking of the BAYC cofounders, in contrast, was motivated by the belief that the public should know who is actually running a company that could soon receive a multibillion-dollar valuation.
Katie Notopoulos, the BuzzFeed News reporter who authored the piece, initially identified Solano and Aronow by sifting through publicly available records for Yuga Labs, the company behind the Bored Apes brand. Yuga Labs CEO Nicole Muniz later confirmed her reporting. While Aronow and Solano are not the artists responsible for creating their brand’s NFTs, the two came up with the idea for BAYC and are its public leaders. A creator known as “Seneca” is the lead designer of BAYC’s original collection; all the digital art pieces share a nearly identical base look but differ in accessories, facial expressions, and colorization. Two other BAYC cocreators are still only known by their online handles: “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” and “No Sass.”
Solano and Aronow’s unmasking has implications that stretch beyond fans of the trendy and controversial gorilla avatars. Writing about BuzzFeed’s decision to report on their identities, Notopoulos pointed out that “there are reasons why in the traditional business world, the CEO or founder of a company uses their real name and not a pseudonym.” She continued: “The people behind BAYC are courting investors and running a business that is potentially worth billions…. How do you hold them accountable if you don’t know who they are?” (One day before BuzzFeed published its report, news broke that Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley–based venture capital firm founded by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, had expressed interest in buying a stake in Yuga Labs, one that could give it a valuation between $4 billion and $5 billion, according to the Financial Times. Andreessen declined F.T.’s request for comment.)
But the public-interest argument did not stop the crypto community from attacking Notopoulos. Adam Hollander, the founder of Microsoft’s Incent Games and self-proclaimed “owner of #BAYC 3987,” wrote that BuzzFeed’s reporting was “not only unprofessional – it was downright dangerous.” Hollander went on to write that “Buzzfeed should apologize” and cover the costs for Aronow and Solano to hire personal security guards. (Notopoulos did not immediately respond to Vanity Fair’s request for comment.) Another BAYC fan appeared to threaten to retaliate against the journalist herself, vowing to “post a bunch of your personal info like you did to bayc founders. Starting with location, place of work, parents home, siblings addresses…Your parents suburbs are not that far away actually.”
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Maxwell Strachan, an editor and writer at Vice’s Motherboard, characterized the backlash to Notopoulos’s reporting as a microcosm of what “the next 5 years will look like” as the so-called Web3 movement continues to gain steam. “This is a brand raising millions of dollars from one of the world’s most powerful VC firms at a $4 billion valuation. Yet, people believe they are just like them,” he tweeted. “It’s hard right now to think through the ramifications of a new Web 3 world where people who head some of the more influential organizations remain wholly anonymous—and are vigorously defended for doing so.” Jeff Bercovici, the deputy business editor at the Los Angeles Times, echoed Strachan’s sentiment: “The backlash isn’t surprising but it betrays deep ignorance about the function of journalism and an entitled belief that crypto must be covered on its own terms,” he wrote. “If you’re mad about Buzzfeed naming the BAYC founders, your beef is with journalism.… If you’re OK with billionaire lists and locker-room reporting but outraged today because crypto, that’s called special pleading.”