Crisis as Opportunity
In Amsterdam, Mr. Brown described Praxis as his response to being trapped inside his apartment during Covid, mixed with his longstanding interest in colonial America. “Ready to join America in 1776?” reads a company pitch deck.
In 2022, Mr. Brown had been more specific about his motivation to build a city from scratch, telling a speechwriter that he got the idea for Praxis after witnessing looters break shop windows in SoHo during the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd.
(Mr. Brown gave detailed biographical information to the speechwriter, Webster Stone, during hours of recorded meetings in 2022, of which The New York Times has reviewed a transcript. In an email response to a detailed list of questions, Mr. Brown disputed several of his own statements to the speechwriter, without offering any clarification.)
According to the transcript, Mr. Brown described himself to Mr. Stone as neurotic and ambitious. He said he was home-schooled in Santa Barbara so that he could pursue competitive surfing. Exposed to the classics by his tutor, Mr. Brown read Ayn Rand and the Austrian economists in high school. He said he was drawn to the idea of the charter city — a kind of special, decentralized economic zone championed by libertarians, in which a poor host country leases a piece of land to a third party, which then governs it as it sees fit. (As of 2023, the most advanced of these projects is Próspera, on the Honduran island of Roatán.)
Applying only to Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, and Cambridge, Mr. Brown was rejected by them all, he told Mr. Stone. He ended up at N.Y.U., tried to transfer to Stanford, and was rejected again. Eventually, he stopped attending college and was hired as an analyst at a hedge fund. There, he met Charlie Callinan, a former Boston College wide receiver who is Mr. Brown’s co-founder at Praxis.
Per the transcript, Mr. Brown was fired from his job at the hedge fund, but he had never dropped his dream of building a city. With several thousand dollars that Mr. Callinan had won in a golf tournament, the two traveled in 2019 first to Nigeria and then to Ghana, talking their way into a room with Ghana’s vice president, in which they proposed building a financial center. But the pandemic derailed those plans.