Bitcoin’s Recent Surge Creates New Billionaires

From the Winklevoss twins and a veteran VC to the CEO of publicly traded Microstrategy, the investors smart enough to hold onto their crypto through its ups and downs are riding high once again.

Pictured Above (L-R): Cameron Winklevoss, Michael Saylor, Matthew Roszak, Vitalik Buterin, Tyler Winklevoss. All but Buterin are now billionaires.

By: Michael del Castillo, Jeff Kauflin, Steven Ehrlich & Antoine Gara

In the investing world, money talks. On rare occasions, however, vindication is even better than a giant mountain of cash. Over the past decade, the true believers of the cryptocurrency revolution have turned what was once considered an oddball peanut gallery in the financial world into the next trillion-dollar asset class. And as they count their digital coin, they’re ready to take a bow.  

Take Cameron Winklevoss, the cryptocurrency entrepreneur who alongside his twin brother Tyler sued Facebook, claiming Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for the social networking site. In 2012, the Winklevii took the relative pittance Zuckerberg flicked at them to go away and stashed it in Bitcoin. They were mocked for years. Two Harvard-educated rowers seeking fame and fortune in digital currencies—alongside nerds, anarchists, speculators and worse. Now Bitcoin is soaring to new highs and pulling in a stampede of followers from mainstream finance and society. As Zuckerberg has become more controversial, the Winklevii have something to say about moving on from Facebook: Good riddance.

“Bitcoin has surpassed Facebook $FB in market cap,” tweeted Cameron Winklevoss as Bitcoin soared over $40,000 per coin, then $41,000 and beyond, on Friday. Added Winklevoss, “Makes sense that a money network would be more valuable than a social network.” Sure, the Winklevii still have a lot of catching up to do—Mark Zuckerberg is worth $94 billion—but the bravado isn’t exactly misguided: the recent surge in crypto means that Forbes estimates each of the Winklevii owns $1.4 billion in digital assets, as of Monday morning, more than double what they were worth just a month ago.

Over the past year, the gravity-defying stock market has given most investors a reason to grin, but none are smiling wider than bitcoin holders. While the S&P 500 has jumped 17% from the start of January 2020 through January 11, 2021, bitcoin has spiked 400% in that same time, breaching $40,000 a coin and sweeping other digital assets into its rising tide. All cryptocurrencies are now collectively worth more than $920 billion, according to crypto research site Messari, down from roughly $1 trillion on Friday.

One key factor driving the frenzy: As Covid led the Federal Reserve to print trillions of dollars to stimulate the economy and head off a recession, investors increasingly saw bitcoin as a hedge against inflation. Unlike the 2017 price rally from $1,000 to $19,000, which was driven by retail investors, the recent uptick has been propelled by large institutional investments and a proliferation of ways to buy and store crypto. 

In 2020, payments giant Square used $50 million of its corporate treasury to buy bitcoin—an investment now valued at $161 million. Hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones said as much as 2% of his assets were in crypto, and private equity giant Northern Trust revealed plans to make it easier for its clients to store bitcoin, ethereum, XRP, litecoin and bitcoin cash. PayPal lets its 300 million customers buy bitcoin and spend it at any of the 26 million merchants it supports.

Along the way, some crypto investors have gotten very rich. At least five have recently crossed into the billionaire ranks, possibly quite a few more. Using everything from publicly available digital wallets to old-fashioned reporting, we set out to identify some of the biggest winners of this latest crypto boom. It is by no means a complete ranking but captures just how much some fortunes have soared.

All cryptocurrency values are as of January 11, 2021 at 8 am ET. For Forbes’ last cryptocurrency billionaires list from February 2018, we calculated the value of entrepreneurs’ company stakes and their cryptocurrency investments. For this list, we only included their cryptocurrency investments.

Cameron & Tyler Winklevoss

Est. cryptocurrency net worth apiece: $1.4 billion

The cofounders of cryptocurrency exchange Gemini, which now does about $300 million a day in digital asset trades, were among the first recognizable names to buy bitcoin. By April 2013 the entrepreneurs, who initially rose to fame for hiring Mark Zuckerberg to build a precursor to Facebook (and later sued Facebook for stealing their idea), reportedly owned $11 million worth of bitcoin, then valued at about $120 per coin. Assuming they’ve held onto most of those coins and their ether tokens, they’d each hold more than $1.4 billion in digital assets. (The brothers declined to comment.)

Matthew Roszak

Est. cryptocurrency net worth: $1.2 billion

In the late 1990’s and early 2000s, Roszak worked in venture capital and as an entrepreneur (he also settled insider trading charges in 2006) before buying his first bitcoins in 2012. Today his day job is cofounder and chairman of Bloq, a five-year-old blockchain technology startup with clients like Citigroup and Discover. Bloq consults on everything from payment processing for “stablecoins”—or cryptocurrencies pegged to a traditional currency’s value—to helping banks store digital assets securely. Roszak has long been a crypto evangelist and recently co-led an initiative to give every member of Congress $50 worth of digital assets. Forbes estimates his crypto net worth is $1.2 billion, up from roughly $300 million a year ago. “This is going to be the Roaring 20’s for bitcoin,” he told Forbes.

Tim Draper

Est. cryptocurrency net worth: $1.1 billion

Part of the Silicon Valley-based Draper family investing dynasty, in 1985 he became a founding partner of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a venture capital firm that has made hundreds of investments in companies ranging from Tesla to the now-defunct blood testing company Theranos. In 2014, he says, he bought 29,656 bitcoins that had been confiscated by the U.S. Marshals from the shuttered Silk Road black market for $18.7 million (price: just $632 per coin). “Dollars are the currency of the past,” Draper told Forbes in an email. “Bitcoin is the currency of the future. What we are seeing now is the global anthropological transition from dollars to bitcoin. Seeing this, I continue to be a HODLer and a BUYMOREer.” Draper declined Forbes’ requests for an interview. Assuming Draper has held onto everything he bought in 2014, his crypto would be worth $1.1 billion.

Michael Saylor

Est. cryptocurrency net worth: $600 million

The CEO of business analytics firm MicroStrategy exploded onto the bitcoin scene in 2020, leading MicroStrategy to invest more than $1.1 billion in the cryptocurrency at an average price of about $15,964 (those coins are now worth $2.4 billion). He cited concerns about the devaluation of the U.S. dollar as a result of the Federal Reserve printing trillions of dollars, and is now leading an effort to customize his company’s software to analyze bitcoin data. MicroStrategy’s stock has quadrupled since it announced its first bitcoin purchase on August 11. In October, Saylor revealed that he had personally spent about $175 million on 17,732 bitcoins; —today, they’re worth $600 million. Add that to his $1.2 billion stake in MicroStrategy and we’ve got another new billionaire.“The American Dream requires that the currency be sound,” says Saylor.

Mike Novogratz

Est. cryptocurrency net worth: $478 million

After a series of bad investments evaporated much of his wealth, this hedge fund titan from Goldman Sachs and Fortress Group has been reborn a crypto guru. Novogratz is the founder and CEO of Galaxy Investment Partners, which specializes in investing and developing cryptocurrency-related services. In 2013 he reportedly personally invested $7 million in bitcoin, later using those assets as Galaxy’s seed funding. Based on disclosures from September 2020, Forbes estimates Galaxy’s crypto assets are worth about $621 million, a 300% jump in four months. Since Novogratz owns 77% of the company, that makes his stake worth $478 million. This does not include cryptocurrency he might personally own, which he declined to disclose.

Vitalik Buterin

Est. cryptocurrency net worth: $360 million

The inventor of Ethereum—the second-largest cryptocurrency network, now valued at $123 billion—has also gotten a big bump lately. He is better known for his academic and social interest in cryptocurrency than for being an investor. But that doesn’t mean he’s a martyr for his cause. He currently owns more than 333,000 ether, worth roughly $360 million. One year ago, those same digital coins would have been worth just $45 million.

With additional reporting by John Hyatt.


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Bitcoin (BTC) $ 27,920.48 0.78%
Ethereum (ETH) $ 1,756.02 0.71%
Litecoin (LTC) $ 79.65 2.69%
Bitcoin Cash (BCH) $ 131.21 2.15%