Back in August 2011, when bitcoin was trading at $10, a US-born businessman, Roger Ver, made an open bet on YouTube for anyone that was prepared to take him up.
“I’m willing to bet ten thousand US dollars or equivalent in bitcoins, that over the next two years, bitcoin will not only outperform the stockmarket, gold, silver, and the US dollar, but bitcoin will do it by more than 100 times.
“This means that I am willing to bet that if silver is up by 100% over the next two years, I think bitcoin will be up by more than 10,000%.
“I’m confident that bitcoins will change the world,” he added. “And I’m excited to be a part of that.”
It seemed like an absurd bet at the time.
But, oh, how right he was.
Even today, the video has not even had 23,000 views on YouTube. I bet you wish you were one of the few who did watch it – and who heeded his advice.
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The seemingly ridiculous thing is, even a year later, in August 2012, bitcoin was only up 11% – trading at $11 and change. It was beating the US stockmarket, gold, silver and the US dollar, but it wasn’t beating them by 100 times. He posted another video to mark the halfway point of the bet.
He was just as bullish.
“In regards to my bet, I think I am on the right path”, he said. “I’m confident that bitcoin is the most important invention in the history of humankind since the internet itself. Just as in 1990, most people didn’t know what was coming with the internet, but by 2000 it was an integral part of our lives, the same will be true with bitcoin.”
If only we’d all listened, none of us would ever have to work again.
“For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’”.
Or, as my dad says: “Woulda, shoulda, coulda”.
I met up with Roger for the first time this week at the World Blockchain Summit in London – I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to meet him – to interview him for my podcast.
Roger made a big name for himself as an early investor and early champion of bitcoin. He was so evangelical about the new technology, he came to be known as “Bitcoin Jesus”, a name he’s not actually that keen on because, he told me, “things didn’t work out that well for the original Jesus”.
He remains as bullish about the sector as ever, though much less about bitcoin itself – “the usefulness that made bitcoin popular in the first place has gone”. He’s much more excited about its offshoot bitcoin cash, where, he argues, that usefulness “is alive and well.”
(I was delighted to hear this from Roger, I must say, as bitcoin cash sponsored my gameshow in Edinburgh and lots of the audience won some of the cryptocurrency in prizes. I hope he’s right.)
One of the questions I had for him was about bitcoin regret. For every person that’s made a mint in bitcoin, there must be a dozen that missed out. There are the early critics – usually economists or writers for The Economist – who decided it would not catch on, would not work or was a scam (then watched in horror as they were proved wildly wrong).
There are the investors who didn’t buy in because the price had doubled or tripled and they didn’t want to get caught out (that happened to me when bitcoin was $2). There were those who, simply, couldn’t get it together to buy the coins; perhaps they were just too busy to spend any meaningful time on it, or couldn’t get the tech to work.
Worse is the regret felt by the guys who did get in, but then missed out somehow. Perhaps they sold too early. Or, worse yet, lost their coins or had them stolen.The Mt Gox heist alone saw something like 900,000 coins pilfered. At today’s prices that’s a $5bn heist – probably the biggest in history.
There are plenty of other exchanges, which suffered similar, though not such infamous, fates. As regular readers may know, I once got hacked and had my stash stolen (long story and one for another day).
“I learnt my lesson the hard way”, says Ver, “in another event that a lot of people will not have even heard of: Bitcoinica. I think a couple of hundred thousand bitcoins were stolen and hacked.
“I think I had 28,000 bitcoins of my own stolen and, granted, at the time the price was about $5 each, so about $125,000. But every time the bitcoin price has gone up it’s bittersweet because I’m reminded of those 28,000 bitcoins and what they could have been today.”
How much would they have been worth? $196,000,000 is how much.