Who is Tyler Durden? How a bitter fight unmasked the men behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street's renegade blog
Colin Lokey, also known as “Tyler Durden,” is breaking the first rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club. He’s also breaking the second rule of Fight Club. (See the first rule.)
After more than a year writing for the financial website Zero Hedge under the nom de doom of the cult classic’s anarchic hero, Lokey’s going public. In doing so, he’s answering a question that has bedeviled Wall Street since the site sprang up seven years ago: Just who is Tyler Durden, anyway?
The answer, it turns out, is three people. Following an acrimonious departure last month, in which two-thirds of the trio traded allegations of hypocrisy and mental instability, Lokey, 32, decided to unmask himself and his fellow Durdens.
Lokey said the other two men are Daniel Ivandjiiski, 37, the Bulgarian-born former analyst long reputed to be behind the site, and , 45, a well-known credit derivatives strategist.
Ivandjiiski confirmed that the men had been the only Tyler Durdens on the payroll since Lokey came aboard last year, but he criticised his former colleague’s decision to come forward.
He called Lokey’s parting gift a case of sour grapes. Backshall, meanwhile, declined to comment, referring questions to Ivandjiiski. A political science graduate with an MBA and a Southern twang, Lokey said he had a checkered past before joining Zero Hedge. Earlier last month, overwork landed him in a hospital because he felt a panic attack coming on, he said.
“Ultimately we wish Colin all the best, he’s clearly a troubled individual in many ways, and we are frankly disappointed that he’s decided to take his displeasure with the company in such a public manner,” Ivandjiiski said.
Ivandjiiski worked for a hedge fund before being barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in 2008 for insider trading.
The schism between the men sheds light on a website popular among market professionals, one that mixes detailed financial analysis with sensational headlines such as “The Coming War Will Solve Our Unemployment & Growth Problem” and “Exposed—How Two Janet Yellen Phone Calls Saved The World.”
Since being founded in the depths of the financial crisis, Zero Hedge has grown from a blog to an Internet powerhouse. Often distrustful of the “establishment” and almost always bearish, it’s known for a pessimistic world view. Posts entitled “Stocks Are In a Far More Precarious State Than Was Ever Truly Believed Possible” and “America’s Entitled (And Doomed) Upper Middle Class” are not uncommon.
The site’s ethos is perhaps best summed up by the tagline at the top of its homepage, also borrowed from Fight Club: “On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” A paean to populism, the 1999 film is filled with loathing for consumerism and the financial system. Brad Pitt portrays Tyler Durden as hell-bent on bringing down the corrupt system of the global elite—an attitude often reflected in Zero Hedge’s content.
A former “director of contributor success” at website Seeking Alpha, Lokey said he joined Zero Hedge for $6,000 a month and received an annual bonus of $50,000, earning more than $100,000 last year. His salary helped pay the rent on a “very nice” condominium on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, he said. Despite the compensation, he contends that he left because he disagreed with the site’s editorial vision. “Reality checks are great. But Zero Hedge ceased to serve that public service years ago,” Lokey wrote. “They care what generates page views. Clicks. Money.”
Zero Hedge founder Ivandjiiski defended the site, adding that it’s designed to be a for-profit entity. “Obviously, every publisher’s mission is to maximise revenue and page views, and we think that we do it in a way that is appropriate.”
Working at Zero Hedge was also exhausting, Lokey said, and typically involved early morning starts and writing as many as 15 posts a day of as many as 1,500 words each. The work didn’t stop on the weekends, either. Text messages exchanged between Lokey and Ivandjiiski paint the picture of a work environment that ranged from exhilarating to exasperating.
For instance, Lokey says he’s “scared to even ask for an hour off,” while Ivandjiiski replies that “if you ever need time off for whatever reason, never hesitate to just ask.” In February, Lokey says, “I love this company and this website,” and tells Ivandjiiski “you saved my life,” expressing thanks for the job.
By April 2—the day Lokey left Zero Hedge—their relationship had deteriorated significantly, according to the messages provided by Ivandjiiski.
“I can’t be a 24-hour cheerleader for Hezbollah, Moscow, Tehran, Beijing, and Trump anymore. It’ s wrong. Period. I know it gets you views now, but it will kill your brand over the long run,” Lokey texted Ivandjiiski. “This isn’t a revolution. It’s a joke.”