Five former team members and several Harmony ecosystem developers have alleged that CEO and founder of Harmony Stephen Tse reneged on promises and was “controlling” to staff, contributing to Harmony’s steep decline in users and developers over the past 12 months.
Stephen Tse, is founder and CEO of Harmony.one. Harmony is a blockchain-based open source development project with its own cryptocurrency. Stephen has been obsessed with protocols and compilers since high school. He reverse-engineered ICQ and X11 protocols, coded in OCaml for more than 15 years, and graduated with a doctoral degree in security protocols and compiler verification from the University of Pennsylvania.
Prior to founding Harmony, he has worked a researcher at Microsoft, a senior infrastructure engineer at Google, and sold his startup, Spotsetter, to Apple. In this conversation, Stephen and Aaron discuss how a blockchain project is like a traditional startup, the technical tradeoffs of blockchains, and how Stephen expects future projects to work together.
One former member of staff described Tse’s typical behaviour: He shut the staffer’s laptop in the middle of work to command attention, and the employee was forced to play over an hour of basketball “every single day… despite how busy or productive you’re trying to be.” A different source even wondered if they might lose their job if they didn’t play basketball with Stephen as requested.
Another ex staff member relaid multiple stories of how Tse treated team members. He described how he would grab staff by the arm – sometimes mid-conversation – and “move them around like chess pieces” at company events, talk behind their backs, and belittle them in front of colleagues and associates.
“He is known to interrupt employees and say, ‘You have my time for a few minutes. What questions do you have for me?’ If you had no questions for Stephen, he would be disappointed and say he would come back in a few minutes and expect you to have a question when he returns,” the source said.
Harmony is one of several “Layer 1″ blockchains that soared in value during the 2021 crypto bull run. It is a smart contract-enabled chain, allowing ecosystem developers to build DeFi protocols, crypto games and NFT projects. Harmony’s biggest draw is that its transaction fees are much cheaper than those on the more dominant Ethereum blockchain.
Last year, Harmony’s total value locked – a measure of assets deposited into DeFi protocols on the chain – hit a high of $1.42 billion. Harmony’s flagship app, a fantasy RPG game called DeFi Kingdoms, was all the rage among crypto “degens,” and the chain’s native token, ONE, was trading close to records. Things looked good.