Kyri Andreou, 62, a blockchain entrepreneur who lives in Malaysia and pumps iron every day, had no idea that a photo of him standing next to a young woman at the gym would end up in him becoming famously known as the “gym friend.”
That photo, taken around four years ago, catapulted him to fame when it appeared in a meme Joshua Davis, who goes—or went—by the name @karbonbased, posted on Twitter in early December. The meme showed an image of Samson Mow, the CSO of Bitcoin development firm Blockstream, hugging a box with a large toy inside. It was a Transformer, from an ‘80s cartoon/toy series turned Michael Bay film franchise about an alien robot war. Its fan base has been connected with geekdom for decades.
Juxtaposed against this shot of Mow was one of his girlfriend, Lina Seiche, and a scarily ripped Andreou at a gym. Seiche, the global marketing director of digital asset trading platform BTSE, is also an executive in the cryptocurrency industry.
Above the photos was the well-known meme: You vs the guy she tells you not to worry about.”
A troll should know better
In the bitter Twitter feud that ensued, Mow brushed off the then unknown male in the image with Seiche as just a “gym friend.” Things blew up from there. After a lot of snarky comments, the self described “toxic bitcoin maximalist” troll Mow went on a righteous twitter rant, calling the image sexist and a slur on his girlfriend’s character. Predictably, that was like pouring gasoline on a fire.
Ultimately @karbonbased was suspended from Twitter after his account received seven fake DMCA notices.
Since then, Mow has gone eerily silent. And since our first story on the topic, both he and Leiche have blocked this author from viewing their Twitter accounts. (The irony worth pointing out here is that bitcoin was designed to be anti-censorship.)
Still, people began to wonder about the “gym friend”—that striking standout symbol of masculinity in the picture. Who was that bulging, ripped man?
That’s when someone discovered Andreou’s Instagram account @kyriandreou. It contained hundreds selfies and photos of Andreou pumping iron in the gym, showing off his monstrous legs, biceps, and six-pack abs.
Andreou doesn’t mind the attention—he is proud of his physique—but he doesn’t quite understand the fuss that erupted around the gym friend meme.
‘Photo wasn’t sexist’
How does Andreou feel about the response to the meme? Did he find it amusing, sad, funny? “Probably all those things,” he told Modern Consensus on Wednesday, speaking via Skype. Again predictably, he was wearing a tank top with all his muscles on display. It was after midnight for him, and he had just returned from where else, the gym.
Despite what Mow and others have claimed, Andreou doesn’t think the photo was sexist. “It’s really more of a slur on masculinity rather than being sexist,” he said, alluding to the juxtaposition of himself and the image of Mow clutching a toy.
Andreou maintains he truly is nothing more than a gym friend. He stumbled into Seiche at the gym years back when she was living in Malaysia. The relationship was purely non-physical, he repeatedly stressed. They were both part of a tight knit group of pals at the gym who called themselves “heathens.”
“We were kind of like the odd balls, but we all clicked together so we’d meet up for coffee and things like that,” he said. Other than that, Andreou had nothing but kind, respectful things to say about Seiche, calling her a “gem” and “wonderful.”
The two both got involved in the bitcoin community. “I wasn’t the one that got her into the Bitcoin thing or blockchain. We both moved into it practically about the same time,” he said. It was an interest they shared.
As for Mow, Andreou said he had to look him up on Google after the hubbub began. “I know that he’s a player in the Bitcoin community, so he’s obviously a smart guy,” he said. “If that’s who Lina has chosen to be with then he’s gotta be someone of caliber.”
But he believes Mow could have reacted better to the meme.
“He should have laughed it off,” he said. “And I think that’s the way it should be, you know. I mean, there was some inference in terms of like, dismissing me as just the ‘gym friend,’ and everything else.”
Discovering you’re the ‘gym friend’
Andreou first learned about the gym friend meme when Sieche sent him a message, trying to explain that something embarrassing had happened.
“It didn’t really lodge in at that time,” he said. Still, he asked what he could do to help. “She said, ‘You can file a complaint with Twitter.’ And I said, ‘I don’t have a Twitter account.’ And so I left it at that and she said, ‘Okay, I’ll see what I can do.’”
It’s not clear if that means Seiche was behind the DMCA takedown notices that got Davis booted off Twitter. Her name was on one of them, but she has publicly denied having had anything to do with it. So did the other high-profile “complainant” like “What Bitcoin Did” podcaster Peter McCormack and Kraken CEO Jesse Powell.
A little while after that, Andreou began hearing mutterings from friends that he was famous in the bitcoin community. But it wasn’t until he actually got an email from Modern Consensus with a link to our story that he got the full picture of what had transpired.
“I didn’t really have the context for everything up until then,” he said. “So I read your (article) and I read a few others.” He also stumbled across a video in which the narrator, Vin Armani, said that the bitcoin community needs more gym friends, more masculinity.
That doesn’t mean more muscular blockchain executives. According to the video, “Toxic masculinity is not the domain of the alpha-male. The alpha-male is a builder, a protector of society.”
“There’s a lot of truth in that. It’s sad to see that the community bickering, fighting over trivial things,” Andreou told us, adding that bitcoiners should be focused more on building a new financial system, “one that’s more inclusive.”
The real gym friend
Andreou was born in Greece but grew up in London. He moved to Malaysia in 1984 when he followed a woman over there. He ended up marrying her. The marriage didn’t work out, nor did his next two marriages. Three children later, he is now single, and still living in the country.
After an early career in advertising, he ventured into high tech. Eventually, he and two partners formed Ata Plus in 2015. It is a regulated and licensed operator for “blockchain based” equity crowdfunding, which allows companies to do “mini IPOs,” he said.
“You couldn’t do a public solicitation of funds previously in Malaysia, but now you can, but you have to use a licensed platform like mine.”
The company went on to become the first equity crowdfunding platform in the world that allowed investors to make contributions in Bitcoin, he said.
He sees a lot of opportunity in Bitcoin.
Looking at Andreou, it’s hard not to stare at his enormous muscles and all the veins popping out of them. He was a long-distance runner and a soccer player in London, where he would play several times a week. But when he moved to Malaysia he couldn’t find a team to play with, so he found a small gym and started lifting weights. He noticed he was able to build muscle rapidly. “I’ve been training more or less consistently for about, well that’s, what is it now, 36 years,” he said.
When he reached the age of 50, he doubled down, getting more focused on his training and his diet. “I have what I call the Holy Trinity, which is sleep, training and food diet,” he said. Every year, he strives to improve in all three areas.
“I’m making the best progress in my 60s,” he said. The “gym friend” photograph was a few years back, and he says, now he is “much more defined,” which is kind of hard to imagine.
He trains, on average, two hours a day, five to six days a week. He won’t touch bread, rice, or pasta. Insead he eats a lot of eggs and fish, especially salmon. He also admitted to us that he takes human growth hormone in moderation.
“There are no major side effects if taken in low dosages,” he told us, adding that “Like all drugs, if abused they can problematic.”
A real man
What is Andreou own view of masculinity?
“There’s no perfect man,” he told us. “Yeah, I got big muscles, but I probably don’t have as big a bank account,” he said. “There is always a trade off in life, but you gotta be comfortable with yourself.”
But, he added, “It doesn’t matter how big your bank account is or how big your muscles are—it’s who you are as a person.”