Caroline Ellison is a math whiz, trader, and the shadow figure behind FTX's collapse — here's how a devout Harry Potter fan came to take part in crypto's biggest implosion

·7 min read
Shattered FTX logo
NurPhoto/Getty Images
  • Caroline Ellison was the CEO of Alameda Research, a trading firm launched by Sam Bankman-Fried.

  • She oversaw many of the risky bets Alameda took with FTX customers' crypto tokens.

  • Here is her background story.

Over the past few weeks, a mushroom of secrets about the inner workings of Sam Bankman-Fried's crypto exchange, FTX, have come to light.

From that, the once shadowy figure of Caroline Ellison has emerged as an important character behind FTX's seeming success and surprising downfall.

Ellison was the head of Alameda Research — the trading firm through which Bankman-Fried moved crypto tokens in tandem with running FTX. Amidst the revelation that FTX borrowed money from customer accounts to fund bets via Alameda, Ellison has become a subject of online speculation.

Ellison's virtual presence, however, is dwindling by the day. Her LinkedIn, online photos, and contact information have largely disappeared over the past couple of weeks. That's left journalists, investors, and voyeurs of all types scrambling to find information about her.

The curiosity has only heightened since CoinDesk reported via anonymous sources that she was in an on-and-off relationship with SBF.

Right now, the most reliable information about Ellison has been sourced from her Tumblr account, and the handful of media interviews she's given over the years. The bones of her virtual self suggest that Ellison is extraordinarily bright and highly educated as well as a math whiz and a big reader. She speculates often about gender roles and shifts in culture and society on Tumblr.

Here's what we know about Caroline Ellison.

December 22, 2022: This story has been updated to reflect the details of Ellison's plea deal.

Ellison grew up in the suburbs of Boston.

Skyline of Boston, Massachusetts.
Skyline of Boston, Massachusetts.Getty Images.

Source: Forbes

Her father, Glenn Ellison, is the department head of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He once reported directly to Gary Gensler, the current chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ellison's mother Sara Fisher Ellison, is a senior lecturer in economics at MIT. "We definitely got exposed to a lot of economics," Ellison once told Forbes in an interview.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
William B. Plowman/Getty Images

Source: Cryptoslate and Forbes

When she was eight years old, Ellison reportedly wrote her father an economics paper analyzing stuffed animal prices at Toys 'R' Us.

stuffed animals shutter stock

Source: Forbes

Ellison, who attended Newton North High School, had a special aptitude for mathematics. She would flex her skills in competitions like the Math Prize for Girls, which bills itself as "the largest math prize for girls in the world."

math mathematics
Pixabay via Google Images

Source: Gawker and Math Prize for Girls.

In 2012, Ellison enrolled at Stanford University, where she studied mathematics. Ruth Ackerman, a math professor who taught Ellison, described Ellison to Forbes as "bright, focused, very mathy."

People walking next to columns and arches on the campus of Stanford University.
People on the Stanford University campus in California.Ben Margot/AP

Source: Forbes

Like her future colleague, Bankman-Fried, Ellison began exploring effective altruism in college. It's a philosophical movement that uses calculations to understand how people can use their time, money, and resources to best help others. She eventually joined Stanford's Effective Altruism Club.

Orbon Alija/ Getty Images

Source: Forbes

After college, Ellison went to work for the trading firm Jane Street. There, she met Bankman-Fried, and the two supposedly bonded over their interest in effective altruism.

The Dow was up in morning trading following a drop on Monday of over 800 points, which sent the market into bear territory as fears of a possible recession loom.
People walk by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on June 14, 2022 in New York City. The Dow was up in morning trading following a drop on Monday of over 800 points, which sent the market into bear territory as fears of a possible recession loom.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Source: Forbes

By 2018, Bankman-Fried, also known as SBF, had launched a crypto trading firm called Alameda Research, and persuaded Ellison to join him. "This was very much like, 'oh, yeah, we don't really know what we're doing,'" Ellison told Forbes of her initial impressions of Alameda.

Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of FTX and Alameda Research
Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of FTX and Alameda ResearchFTX

Source: Forbes

Aside from Ellison, the Alameda Research crew included SBF's close friends Nishad Singh, Gary Wang, and Sam Trabucco. They moved from Berkeley to Hong Kong in 2018 where they lived like college students and fiercely traded crypto. Ellison was the only female on the team. While the others played video games, she'd be watching the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

meghan markle and prince harry in their wedding carriage
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in their wedding carriage on May 19, 2018.Aaron Chown/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Source: Forbes

After SBF established FTX in 2019, Ellison began taking more responsibility at Alameda Research. She and her colleague, Sam Trabucco, were featured in Forbes' 30 Under 30 in 2022.

Ellison Forbes 30 Under 30
Screenshot of Caroline Ellison and Sam Trabucco on Forbes 30 Under 30.

Source: Forbes

Ellison maintained an active online persona. She tweeted under the handle @carolinecapital. She supposedly had two Tumblr accounts — worldoptimization and worldoptimization-lifeadvice — according to Gawker.

The Tumblr app went down.Shutterstock

Source: Gawker

Still, Ellison largely remained out of the limelight as FTX rose to fame. FTX employees told Forbes that Ellison was content staying behind the scenes.

Michael Blann/ Getty Images

Source: Forbes

In April, Trabucco stepped down as CEO. Since then, Ellison has been solely running Alameda.

Catherine McQueen/ Getty Images

Source: Forbes

Now, amid the fallout of FTX, online investigators ranging from the Twitter account, @Autismcapital, to media outlets like Gawker have rushed to unearth information on Ellison.

Detective glass
Boris Zhitkov/ Getty Images

Source: Gawker

CoinDesk, the crypto publication, reported through anonymous sourcing, that Ellison was among the 10-person crew of FTX and Alameda employees who all lived together in the Bahamas. CoinDesk noted that all 10 members were paired off in relationships with one another at some point. Ellison reportedly had an on-and-off relationship with SBF.

Leaf Cay, Bahamas
Leaf Cay, BahamasDamianos Sotheby’s International Realty

Source: Insider and CoinDesk.

On what is assumed to be her Tumblr account, Ellison likened the polyamory in the Bahamas house to an "imperial Chinese harem." She supposedly noted that there was an established hierarchy and everyone knew where they fell within it.

Dimitri Otis/ Getty Images

Source: Screenshot of the Ellison's supposed Tumblr provided by Twitter handle @OxHonky.

Ellison along with the other housemates reportedly shared a therapist named George Lerner.

Couple sitting on couch talking to therapist
Getty Images

Source: Gawker citing Sequoia Capital's profile of SBF, which was removed after the fallout.

Ellison is a reader and often posted book reviews on her Tumblr. The most recent titles she reviewed include The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik and Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beuman.

Stack of books
Raimund Koch/Getty Images

But her literary tastes range far and wide, from the Harry Potter series…

The Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7) from Amazon.

Source: Ellison's worldoptimization Tumblr.

…to the Substack of Matthew Yglesias, a blogger who writes about economics and politics.

Matthew Yglesias
Matthew Yglesias, co-founding editor of Vox and author of "One Billion Americans."Moshe Zusman

Source: Ellison's worldoptimization Tumblr.

As of 2021, her favorite color was gray.

zhengshun tang/ Getty Images

Ellison's worldoptimization Tumblr.

She often talks about her relationship as being a "trad," which can be understood as one who adheres to conventional gender roles and traditions. Ellison contended on her Tumblr that over time, she's moved away from being a "trad" to becoming "a bit more agnostic on culture/society."

Gender Roles
Busà Photography/ Getty Images

Ellison's worldoptimization Tumblr.

The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia reportedly lived in her former home.

antonin scalia

Source: Ellison's worldoptimization Tumblr.

Ellison's online presence — including her LinkedIn — is dwindling by the day. She last posted online on November 6 tweeting in defense of Alameda's balance sheet.

Caroline Ellison's Twitter
Screenshot of Ellison's twitter, @carolinecapital.

Source: Caroline Ellison's Twitter, @carolinecapital.

Ellison pleaded guilty to seven charges in the collapse of FTX, including fraud, according to her plea agreement with the Southern District of New York filed on December 18. She faces up to 110 years in jail, but has struck a plea deal with the Department of Justice and is cooperating with authorities.

Hands holding a file with cover titled "United States Attorney Southern District of New York."
Hands holding a file with cover titled "United States Attorney Southern District of New York."Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Source: Insider

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