Bitcoin, the decentralized electronic currency that may or may not be a libertarian fantasy, has had a rollercoaster of a week. Its value peaked at a staggering $266 on Thursday before plummeting to $71 Friday, according to Mt. Gox, one of cyberspace's leading Bitcoin exchanges. (Watch a three-minute Bitcoin explainer here.)
At the beginning of this year, a single Bitcoin was worth just $13. And when the virtual currency launched in 2009, each coin traded for mere pennies. That means a lot of early buyers have gotten very, very rich.
Here, in no particular order, are 5 people who ended up making a lot of money by investing in the digital currency everyone's talking about:
1. Charlie Shrem
Occupation: CEO of BitInstant, a service that transfers cash to Bitcoins
Shrem was a senior at Brooklyn College when he first learned about Bitcoin in 2011. Instead of "mining" for coins himself, he purchased several on Tradehill, a digital currency exchange like Mt. Gox. His first purchase of 500 Bitcoins was for $3 to $4 each, and then thousands more when the value hit $20. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, "Shrem wears a ring engraved with a code that gives him access to the electronic wallet on his finger. Friends tease him that a thief could cut off his finger to get the ring." Hence his nickname, "Four-finger Charlie."
2. Jered Kenna
Occupation: CEO of Tradehill Bitcoin exchange
Tradehill, which at one point was second only to Mt. Gox, suspended service in 2012, but reopened on March 18 of this year. Its young CEO, Jered Kenna, accidentally deleted 800 Bitcoins when he wiped his computer clean in 2010, losing a commodity that today would be worth tens of thousands of dollars. It wasn't too big a deal, though; as one of Bitcoin's first investors, his initial purchase of 5,000 coins was for 20 cents each. Nowadays, he's one of the world's foremost Bitcoin authorities. "Before, you only had people that were only willing to spend $500 or so," he tells the International Business Times, "but now you have people that are putting down [as much as] $1 million."
3. Roger Ver
Occupation: Investor and former politician
Ver ran for California State Assembly in 2000 as a libertarian. (He lost.) A subsequent dust-up landed him in federal prison, and after a 10-month sentence, he relocated to Tokyo, where he lives today. Ver became infatuated with the promise of the decentralized crypto currency soon after it launched, and was an early evangelizer of Bitcoin's potential. "I didn't leave my house and spent every waking moment reading about Bitcoin," he tells Bloomberg Businessweek. A self-described "angel investor in several Bitcoin startups," Shrem affectionately calls Ver "Bitcoin Jesus" for the way he used to give coins away freely.
4 and 5. Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss
The Winklevoss twins are back in the spotlight. According to the New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg's old Harvard nemeses "have amassed since last summer what appears to be one of the single largest portfolios of the digital money," owning 1 percent of all Bitcoins currently in circulation. Before the big plummet this week, their portfolio was reportedly worth over $11 million... because they're the kind of guys really strapped for cash.