Bitcoin is a digital asset and payment system with a market capitalization of around $881.85 billion as of Jan. 3, 2022.1 It is considered by many to be one of the most successful digital currencies ever created. The first-ever bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) was launched in October 2021, pushing the cryptocurrency to new all-time highs.2
Bitcoin’s stratospheric rise since 2009 has created a surprising and diverse set of millionaires. These millionaires have made money by creating products to grow Bitcoin’s still-nascent ecosystem. For example, some have created exchanges for trading the cryptocurrency and its derivatives. Others have used it to create financial products and tokens that have minted millions. Their products and services have benefited from a surge in popularity and price for Bitcoin.3
Of course, Bitcoin was—and still is—a risky asset class. The absence of regulatory guardrails and the cryptocurrency’s price volatility have attracted criminals and investors alike.4 But those drawbacks only serve to highlight the achievements of Bitcoin millionaires because they not only were early adopters but also predicted its economic opportunity.
- Launched in 2009, Bitcoin is the first and remains the most successful blockchain-based cryptocurrency in the world.
- The price of Bitcoin is volatile, ranging from under $10 in 2010 to $47,284 on Jan. 3, 2022.1
- Most top Bitcoin billionaires became rich by creating products and services to grow the cryptocurrency’s ecosystem.
- This overall price increase has also created Bitcoin billionaires. These are the early adopters who recognized a lucrative opportunity, started accumulating or mining in the early days, and held on.
Sam Bankman-Fried’s ascent to crypto billionaire status has been fairly rapid. The 29-year-old MIT grad founded FTX, one of the world’s most popular crypto exchanges, in 2019 and he was estimated to be worth $26.5 billion in October 2021 by Forbes.5 FTX differentiates itself from competition by offering a slate of innovative products unavailable at other exchanges. This mix includes sophisticated derivatives, digital tokens of physical stock, and pre-initial public offering (IPO) contracts.Bankman-Fried generated headlines when he made a donation of more than $5 million to current U.S. President Joe Biden’s campaign in 2020. He is a California native and vegan who calls himself an effective altruist—someone who maximizes his social impact across a broad range of societal initiatives.
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss parlayed the millions that they earned from their lawsuit against Facebook into cryptocurrencies. They became the first billionaires in the crypto ecosystem after the late 2017 surge in Bitcoin prices. Forbes estimates their net worth at $5 billion each.
While most of their estimated wealth comes from investments in cryptocurrencies, the Winklevoss twins are also entrepreneurs who started the Gemini cryptocurrency exchange. The exchange was valued at $7.1 billion after its $400 million fundraising in November 2021.9 They also own Nifty Gateway, a platform to buy and sell non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
The company’s mission is to accelerate the development of the global financial system. It does this by building and supporting Bitcoin and blockchain companies.12 Through DCG, Silbert has broadened his reach across various industries.
One is media. In January 2016, DCG acquired CoinDesk, a leading source of Bitcoin news, which runs the annual Bitcoin industry conference, Consensus.13 Silbert’s company also owns Genesis, a market-making and trading firm focused on digital currencies, and Grayscale, a company focused on digital currency investing. Silbert also started Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC), an ETF that tracks the price of Bitcoin.
The total number of assets under management (AUM) for Grayscale surged to more than $20 billion during the pandemic. Analysts at J.P. Morgan have even said that the trust’s holdings are key to determining Bitcoin price. Silbert has invested in more than 100 Bitcoin- and blockchain-related companies, landing himself the enviable nickname “The King of Crypto.”
Brian Armstrong is the founder of Coinbase, North America’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume. He co-founded the exchange in 2012 after quitting his job as a software engineer at Airbnb. Armstrong has a 19% stake in Coinbase and is estimated to be worth $10.4 billion by Forbes in January 2022. In its billionaire index, Bloomberg had Armstrong’s net worth as $9.69 billion in the same time period.
Due to its easy-to-use interface and credibility, Coinbase is considered the gateway for retail investors to join the crypto ecosystem. The exchange has suffered many hiccups, such as halts in trading, while attempting to scale operations in the midst of crypto volatility. The exchange went public in April 2021 and had a total market capitalization of $65.961 billion at the close of trading on Jan. 3, 2022.18 Armstrong has said that he started Coinbase because he wanted the world to have a “global, open financial financial system that drove innovation and freedom.”
Bitcoin has attracted numerous unconventional investors over the years. None, however, has the zeal and enthusiasm of Michael Saylor, CEO of software firm MicroStrategy Inc. (MSTR). The firm began acquiring the cryptocurrency in August 2020 by snapping up Bitcoin worth $250 million. At that time, the firm said it was buying the cryptocurrency to make better use of the cash holdings on its balance sheet.1920
Over time, Saylor has become a fierce supporter of Bitcoin and appeared on news and cryptocurrency conferences to evangelize its benefits and use cases.21 By December 2021, MicroStrategy had increased its holdings in Bitcoin to $3.5 billion, swooping in to buy the cryptocurrency during price dips.22 The strategy has served Saylor and his company well.
MicroStrategy’s stock price has skyrocketed by more than 337% (as of December 2021) since it announced the Bitcoin acquisition. Meanwhile, Forbes estimates Saylor’s net worth to be $2.2 billion as a result of his bet on Bitcoin.