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Crypto Billionaires: How Anonymity, Resourcefulness, and Pure Luck Helped Big Players Get Rich

Last Updated 6 days ago
Teuta Franjkovic
Last Updated 6 days ago
By Teuta Franjkovic
Verified by Peter Henn

Key Takeaways

  • Cryptocurrency’s value has skyrocketed since its launch in 2009, with a current market capitalization of about $2.37 trillion.
  • The anonymity of most crypto transactions allows investors to amass significant wealth without revealing their identities.
  • Billionaires have emerged from various sectors of the cryptocurrency industry, with factors, ranging from resourcefulness to anonymity and pure luck, helping make them rich.

Since its inception in 2009, Bitcoin has seen a meteoric rise in value and influence, making it one of the most notable financial phenomena of the modern age. As of April 24, 2024, Bitcoin boasts a market capitalization  of approximately $1.35 trillion. Meanwhile, cryptocurrency as a whole had a market cap of around $2.37.

As with anything, some people have made a lot of money via crypto.  A factor of hard work, a degree of anonymity and some old-fashioned good luck has helped some people get very rich indeed.

Bitcoin’s Rich List: Anonymity Breeds Wealth in Crypto

The launch of the first-ever Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF)  in October 2021 significantly boosted BTC’s profile, helping the cryptocurrency reach an all-time high of $69,000.

The anonymous nature of Bitcoin transactions, where wallet addresses only reveal the identity of their owner if voluntarily disclosed, makes it challenging to pinpoint who holds the most Bitcoin.

However, several entrepreneurs and investors have visibly contributed to and benefitted from the Bitcoin ecosystem. They hae also amassed considerable wealth in the process. These individuals typically have not only invested in Bitcoin but have also founded companies and created products that enhance the cryptocurrency’s infrastructure and accessibility, such as exchanges and trading platforms.

This blend of anonymity and wealth creation forms a unique aspect of Bitcoin’s allure. It serves as a testament to its groundbreaking impact on personal fortunes and the broader financial landscape.

How Binance’s and Coinbase’s Crypto Kings Built Their Fortunes?

Since the emergence of cryptocurrencies, a handful of key figures have made significant contributions to the sector, accumulating vast wealth along the way.

So, who are the top earners from Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency investments and how did they make it?

Changpeng Zhao – $33 Billion Net Worth

Changpeng Zhao founded Binance, which is the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world by trading volume. As of April 2024, Forbes estimated Zhao’s net worth to be $33 billion. Zhao, who moved to Canada from China at age 13, was introduced to Bitcoin through a poker game with friends. He subsequently dedicated himself fully to cryptocurrencies, even selling his apartment for Bitcoin in 2014. Launched in 2017, Binance processes billions of dollars in transactions daily. Although it might not be as recognizable as Coinbase to US consumers, Binance surpasses its main competitor in both the variety of coins offered and the availability of derivatives.

The rapid growth of the exchange has not been without challenges, particularly in terms of regulatory compliance. Binance has faced scrutiny from regulators in various financial jurisdictions and has had to operate without a fixed headquarters. Indeed, Zhao could spend up to three years in an American jail when he is sentenced later this after pleading  guilty to breaking money laundering laws.

Brian Armstrong – $10.7 Billion Net Worth

Brian Armstrong co-founded Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in North America by trading volume, after leaving his software engineering job at Airbnb in 2012. As of April 2024, Armstrong held a 19% stake in Coinbase and had a net worth of $10.7 billion according to Forbes.

Known for its user-friendly interface and reliability, Coinbase serves as a primary platform for retail investors entering the cryptocurrency market. Despite its successes, the exchange has faced challenges, including trading interruptions during periods of high volatility in the crypto markets. Coinbase went public in April 2021 , and by April 9, 2024, it boasted a market capitalization of $60.1 billion. Armstrong has stated that his motivation for starting Coinbase was to create a “global, open financial system that drove innovation and freedom”.

Bitcoin Trust vs. Ripple Labs: Billionaires Battle for Crypto Supremacy

Barry Silbert – $10 Billion Net Worth

Barry Silbert is an American entrepreneur and investor who founded and serves as CEO of Digital Currency Group (DCG), a venture capital company specializing in the cryptocurrency industry. Silbert’s finance career began at investment banking firm Houlihan Lokey, where he focused on distressed debt. In 2004, he launched SecondMarket, an online marketplace for trading illiquid assets, including shares of private companies.

Early on, Silbert saw the potential in Bitcoin and, in 2013, established the Bitcoin Investment Trust (BIT), which allowed accredited investors to invest in Bitcoin without the need to manage the digital currency themselves. BIT became the first publicly traded Bitcoin investment vehicle and significantly contributed to mainstream acceptance of Bitcoin.

In 2015, Silbert transformed SecondMarket into Digital Currency Group, broadening the firm’s scope to encompass a wider range of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies. DCG has since emerged as a prominent force in the cryptocurrency trading sector, boasting a vast investment portfolio and subsidiaries such as Grayscale Investments, Genesis, and CoinDesk.

Chris Larsen – $3.2 Billion Net Worth

Chris Larsen is an American entrepreneur and business executive who set up a string of crypto businesses, including Ripple Labs. That company is known for its blockchain-based payment protocol, Ripple, which has sparked considerable debate.

Ripple’s cryptocurrency, XRP, quickly rose to prominence, becoming one of the largest coins by market capitalization. Studies suggest XRP is among the cryptocurrencies most likely to generate substantial returns for investors.

Larsen has become very rich as a result of his links to Ripple. Recognized by Forbes  as one of the wealthiest individuals in crypto, his net worth was estimated at $4.6 billion at the height of XRP’s market value in early 2018.

Ehrsam’s Coinbase Legacy and McCaleb’s Stellar Vision

Fred Ehrsam – $2.9 Billion Net Worth

Fred Ehrsam is an American entrepreneur and investor who, together with Brian Armstrong, co-founded Coinbase in 2012.

Ehrsam embarked on his path to wealth at Goldman Sachs, where he worked as a trader in the firm’s foreign exchange (forex) division. His growing interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, however, prompted him to leave Goldman Sachs and establish Coinbase.

Under his co-leadership, Coinbase quickly became a key player in the cryptocurrency market, attracting millions of users and handling billions of dollars in cryptocurrency transactions.

Although Ehrsam departed from Coinbase  in 2017, his early involvement in the company significantly contributed to his financial success.

Jed McCaleb – $2.7 Billion Net Worth

Jed McCaleb is an American programmer and entrepreneur renowned for co-founding Ripple and creating the decentralized cryptocurrency Stellar Lumen (XLM).

McCaleb’s journey into cryptocurrency began in 2010 when he founded Mt. Gox, the first major Bitcoin exchange, which at its peak managed over 70% of all Bitcoin transactions worldwide.

Despite its success, Mt. Gox encountered serious security issues and was ultimately hacked, leading to a substantial loss of Bitcoin. McCaleb sold the platform to Mark Karpeles in 2011 and stepped back from its operations.

After his experience with Mt. Gox, McCaleb shifted his focus to developing new cryptocurrency solutions. He co-founded Ripple in 2014 and served as its CTO until 2013. Post-Ripple, he concentrated on Stellar, launched in 2014, which aims to connect financial institutions and improve cross-border transactions for the unbanked.

Through his pioneering work with Ripple and Stellar, Jed McCaleb has amassed significant wealth and is recognized as one of the leading figures in the cryptocurrency industry.

Finzer and Atallah Conquer NFTs

Devin Finzer – $2.2 Billion Net Worth

Devin Finzer co-founded OpenSea, one of the premier marketplaces for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and digital assets. OpenSea rose to prominence alongside the burgeoning popularity of NFTs, which are distinctive digital assets secured by blockchain technology.

Before starting OpenSea, Devin Finzer was a software engineer at Pinterest. In 2017, he partnered with Alex Atallah to launch OpenSea, which rapidly became a leading platform for the purchase, sale, and trading of NFTs.

The platform attracted considerable attention in 2021 as NFTs entered the mainstream, drawing both high-profile buyers and sellers. OpenSea has reported handling billions of dollars in transactions, earning a commission on each sale.

Through his involvement with OpenSea, Finzer has accumulated substantial wealth.

Alex Atallah – $2.2 Billion Net Worth

Alex Atallah is a technology entrepreneur and co-founder of OpenSea, the leading marketplace for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and digital assets. Atallah’s career began in investment banking at J.P. Morgan, after which he ventured into the startup world.

In 2010, he co-founded Sensopia, a mapping technology startup that developed MagicPlan, a popular app that utilizes augmented reality to allow users to create floor plans. The app’s success marked an early triumph in Atallah’s entrepreneurial journey.

Shifting his focus to the burgeoning field of blockchain technology and NFTs in 2017, Atallah, along with Devin Finzer, launched OpenSea. This platform quickly ascended to prominence as a major hub for buying, selling, and trading digital assets, especially NFTs.

Atallah’s significant contributions to OpenSea have established him as a key figure in the NFT industry.

New Faces Join the Ranks

Kim Hyoung-Nyon – $1.95 Billion Net Worth

Kim Hyoung-Nyon  is a prominent South Korean fintech entrepreneur and the co-founder and executive vice president of Dunamu, which operates South Korea’s leading cryptocurrency exchange.

Hyoung-Nyon established Dunamu with Song Chi-hyung in 2012. The platform has since evolved into the most popular cryptocurrency exchange in South Korea, drawing significant investments from prominent firms such as Kakao Ventures  and Altos Ventures.

Thanks to his role in Dunamu, Hyoung-Nyon has emerged as one of South Korea’s first cryptocurrency billionaires.

Nikil Viswanathan and Joe Lau – $1.5 Billion Net Worth Each

Nikil Viswanathan and Joe Lau  co-founded Alchemy, a technology company that provides essential infrastructure for blockchain developers, in 2017. Their goal was to give developers the necessary tools and services to create decentralized applications (dApps) on the blockchain.

Alchemy delivers a suite of solutions designed to enhance the performance, scalability, and user experience of dApps. Both Viswanathan and Lau come from strong technology and engineering backgrounds. Their expertise has, therefore, been crucial in propelling Alchemy’s growth and prominence within the blockchain sector.

In February of the previous year, Alchemy raised $200 million at a valuation of $10.2 billion. This funding round catapulted Viswanathan and Lau into the billionaire category.

Winklevoss Twins – $1.4 Billion Net Worth Each

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, American entrepreneurs and investors, are known for their early involvement with Facebook and their substantial investments in the cryptocurrency sector.

In 2012, the Winklevoss twins started investing extensively in Bitcoin. They acquired about 1% of the total circulating supply at the time, which amounted to roughly 100,000 BTC. This early investment ended up making them Bitcoin millionaires when the cryptocurrency’s value soared.

In addition to their cryptocurrency investments, in 2014, Cameron and Tyler co-founded the Gemini exchange. Gemini has since grown to become one of the foremost exchanges in the United States, further enhancing their financial success. However, it refunded customers more than $1 billion after a settlement with New York state financial authorities earlier this year.

Crypto Boom or Bust? Billionaires, Volatility, and the Future of Crypto

The possibility of a new crypto bull run generating a fresh cohort of crypto billionaires  is an intriguing prospect. While the crypto market teems with potential lucrative investment opportunities, it’s crucial to acknowledge that success varies widely among participants.

Additionally, the inherent volatility of cryptocurrencies, coupled with a shifting regulatory environment, underscores the need for investors to approach this market with caution.

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