Meet the bitcoin investors who got insanely rich off crypto
It’s the revenge of the tech nerds.
“I got my first bitcoin in December 2012, as a gift,” said John Ratcliff, a video game developer who lives near Pikes Peak in Colorado. Back then, the novel token was worth a measly 13 bucks. “I sort of dismissed it, then checked back in in 2013 and saw it was worth $72. So I took my wife out for a nice dinner.”
That date actually cost him thousands, if you consider the current value of the digital currency, which made headlines last week for topping $40,000. The record valuation made millionaires out of those who have stood by the cryptocurrency since the early days.
Ratcliff, 59, invested $15,000 in 150 bitcoin at $100 in 2013. Now, he’s overseeing the construction of a new $1.4 million “dream house” with a view of the mountains, and waiting for his new $250,000 Tesla Roadster to go into production. For the latter, he put down a deposit using proceeds from the sale of six bitcoin. He also purchased a house for his nephew, paid off his kids’ student loans and has set aside some of his crypto-fortune for charity.
Bitcoin is an infamously volatile decentralized currency, which means there’s no bank or institution that guarantees investments. Instead, it relies on an anonymous peer-to-peer distribution network called the blockchain, which initially raised eyebrows because it was a favorite of criminals on the dark web looking to make untraceable payments. But since its most recent bull run, bigger financial players such as Square and PayPal are looking to get in on the action.
And seasoned crypto investors are celebrating their recent windfalls.
“I just got back from a vacation in Miami, and have another planned to Cancun,” said Nikki Beesetti, a Chelsea-based crypto trader who initially invested $2,000 in 2017. Since then, the 24-year-old has paid off $19,000 in college tuition, as well as the car loan for her $35,000 Tesla Model 3.
Beesetti keeps her day job as a product manager, but invests on the side and blogs about her finances. Her goal is to help other millennial women get rich. “For me, crypto is a source of financial freedom,” she said.
Niko Dalagelis, 42, a Queens-based jeweler, bought crypto in 2011, and accepts the payment at his store through Shopify. “I see it as my retirement fund for myself,” said Dalagelis, who doesn’t plan to touch his earnings for years to come. He said clients who pay with crypto are mostly dudes buying jewelry for wives and girlfriends, adding that it’s a “small percentage” of his clientele, but nonetheless “exciting.”
Although it’s currently an asset more akin to gold, a growing number of retailers are happy to accept bitcoin as payment, in addition to cash. Crypto Emporium accepts currencies such as bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin for luxury products including Patek Philippe watches and high-end electronic bikes. This past weekend, Patrick Hughes, an NYC-based barman, put a pair of Hell’s Kitchen watering holes on the market for 25 bitcoin or 800 ethereum tokens.
Giovanni Mendez, 33, a tax attorney based in Puerto Rico, works with “OG” bitcoin investors looking to take advantage of the territory’s tax incentives, including zero capital gains taxes.
“One guy bought a Rolls-Royce, and I’ve seen some impressive penthouses all over the world bought with bitcoin,” said Mendez, who opened his own firm in 2017 based on his personal crypto investments.
Still, the ultimate status symbol for the crypto-riche just might be the Tesla.
“I’m driving a spaceship,” said Ratcliff of his current Tesla Roadster. “I’ll never go back.”
The investors closely follow Elon Musk, who surpassed Jeff Bezos as the richest man on Earth last week after his Tesla stock topped $800, and see his cars as the transportation of the future.
“I’m really interested in buying a Tesla Cybertruck when it comes out,” said Jim, 41, a utility worker in Long Island. He keeps his bitcoin, which he started buying last year and says is now worth north of seven figures, in a few different unhackable hardware wallets in a safe in his bedroom.
He has plans to upgrade from his small condo to a big house — “4 or 5,000 square feet, with a pool” — plus take trips to Japan and Hawaii once the bitcoin price hits six figures, which he expects to happen by the end of the year.
“At first I kept it a secret at work, because it’s so nerdy,” said Jim, who declined to give his last name for security reasons.
Now, his co-workers, family members and old acquaintances are clogging his inbox. “Each week there’s a different cousin or work guy asking how they get in.”
Crypto bros, most of whom are in it for the long haul, are confident that they will have the last laugh, though they’re not looking to rub it in.
“My wife wanted to call our new house Bitcoin Manor,” said Ratcliff, whose digs will boast floor-to-ceiling windows and an elevator. “But I said that’s too tacky.”