Lamborghinis. Diamond-encrusted jewelry fashioned into the shape of the bitcoin logo. Large homes converted into communal living spaces. These are just some of the things that the newly minted bitcoin millionaires of San Francisco spend their fortunes on – well, the comparatively small fragment that they feel comfortable spending.
In a feature story for the New York Times, longtime tech reporter Nellie Bowles chronicles the lives of some of bitcoin’s earliest and most fanatical devotees. Many of these people – men in their earlier 20s (men control more than 90% of extant bitcoin wealth, the Times notes) – are committed to furthering the “blockchain revolution” that they believe will reshape the world.
But for now, at least, many of them are hunkered down in living spaces with nicknames like “The crypto castle”, where they’re working on startups and telling anybody who will listen to invest.
At “the Crypto Castle”, a popular nickname for the house in San Francisco owned by 25-year-old Jeremy Gardner lives. Garder, who helped found the well-known crypto startup Augur, specializes in ICOs, he told the Times.
“I do ICOs, it’s my thing,” he said. “It’s me, a couple VCs and a lot of charlatans.”
Gardner recently led an ICO for Augur, one of the first wave of crypto startups. The company’s initial mission was to build a decentralized forecasting market that is supposed to run on top of Ethereum’s platform. For a time, the token’s market capitalization exceeded $1 billion.
Crypto Castle is exactly what one might expect: One of the bedrooms has a stripper pole. The denizens appear to live on snacks like Cheez-Its and jars of Nutella.
At the home, there’s talk about moving to Puerto Rico, where bitcoiners can more easily shield their riches from the federal government.
“They’re going to build a modern-day Atlantis out there,” he said. “But for me, it’s too early in my career to check out.”
The other trappings of tech wealth are immediately evident: For example, Gardner wears a bracelet from his Burning Man camp.
Gardner says he’s gotten offers to star in his own reality TV show. But he’s skeptical about accepting.
“I literally have a date with Bella Hadid not having a reality show,” he said, referring to the model and daughter of “Real Housewives” star Yolanda Hadid.
When the price of bitcoin exploded in December, eventually peaking at around $20,000, Gardner says things started getting weird: People started making pilgrimages to the crypto castle, hoping Gardner could teach them how to invest.
All of this hype has led Gardner to believe that the massive correction-crash could be imminent.
“Nothing feels real, it doesn’t feel real,” he said.
“I’m ready for crypto assets to go down 90%. I’ll feel better then, I think. This has been too insane.”
A few blocks away, is another communal living space known as the crypto crackhouse.
Grant Hummer, who runs the San Francisco Ethereum Meetup, lives there. Long hallways called Bitcoin Boulevard and Ethereum Alley lead to communal bathrooms. Mr. Hummer and his co-founder committed $40 million of their own crypto-made money to their new $100 million hedge fund, Chromatic Capital.
“My neurons are fried from all the volatility,” Mr. Hummer said. “I don’t even care at this point. I’m up to it. I’ll lose a million dollars in a day and I’m like, OK.”
His room is simple: A bed, a futon, a TV on a mostly empty media console, three keyboard cleaning sprays and a half dozen canisters of Lysol wipes. His T-shirt read, “The Lizard of Wall Street,” with a picture of a lizard in a suit, dollar-sign necklaces around its neck. He carries with him a coin that reads, “memento mori,” to remind himself he can die any day. He sees the boom as part of a global apocalypse.
“The worse regular civilization does and the less you trust, the better crypto does,” Mr. Hummer said. “It’s almost like the ultimate short trade.”
Every individual interviewed by Nellie Bowles for the story, it seemed, was in the process of starting their own crypto hedge fund.
Another interesting commonality is the significance that Lamborghinis have within the San Francisco crypto clique.
One member, Joe Buttram, a former MMA fighter, told Bowles that his interests in purchasing vintage pornography and frequenting message boards like 4Chan eventually led him to cryptocurrency.
They talk about buying Lamborghinis, the single acceptable way to spend money in the Ethereum cryptocurrency community. The currency’s founder frequently appears in fan art as Jesus with a Lamborghini. Mr. Buttram says he’s renting an orange Lambo for the weekend. And he wears a solid gold Bitcoin “B” necklace encrusted with diamonds that he had made. Otherwise, HODL.
This is one of the core beliefs in this community: HODL, “hold” typed very fast, as if in a panic. HODL even if you feel FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. If you show wealth, it means you don’t really believe in the cryptocurrency revolution, a full remake of the financial system, governments and our world order that will send the price of ether up astronomically.
“HODL when everyone has FUD,” Mr. Hummer said quietly, to explain why he still lives in a dorm room. “This will change civilization. This can 100x or more from here.”
James Fickel, 26, is widely recognized within the crypto community for investing $400,000 when Ethereum was at 80 cents.
Now, with a fortune he says is in the hundreds of millions, his parents have retired and sent his younger sister to live with him.
“I’m taking over her education,” Mr. Fickel said, sitting on a white leather sofa, Mr. Bigglesworth asleep in his impossibly skinny arms.
Today, Mr. Fickel is outlining the endgame for cryptocurrency true believers.
Many members of the clique, including Fickel and Buttram, firmly believe that blockchain will revolutionize the world.
Others are more skeptical.
“All I know is the price of Ethereum is going up,” Hummer said.
* * *