7 People Set to Make a Killing from the Bitcoin Boom

May 30, 2017

You've probably heard about bitcoin's incredible bull run and how, if you'd bought some a few years ago, you would be a lot richer. Well, it turns out some people did just that.

Those who bet big on bitcoin in recent years are now presiding over the digital equivalent of Scrooge McDuck's money bin. The currency has given up some of its crazy gains from last week, but is still sitting at around $2,300 as of Monday morning—up about $1,000 from a month ago, and over 300% from a year ago.

No one knows for sure who has the most bitcoin since the digital currency is hard to trace. But here is a list of those who have a big stake in bitcoin, and are set to clean up if the boom continues.

Tim Draper, Venture Capitalist

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Tim Draper Photograph by Danny Moloshok — Reuters 

In 2014, billionaire Tim Draper made the sort of bold bet that is the hallmark of famous venture capitalists: he bid for and won all 30,000 bitcoins up for grabs in an auction run by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Draper did not reveal how much he made for the bitcoins, which were seized from the drug lord Ross Ulbricht, but the market price at the time was around $600. Today, the 30,000 bitcoins are worth around $70 million and most of that is profit for Draper. (*Correction: an earlier version of this story mistakenly said $7m)

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, Investors

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Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss in Austin, Texas in March 2015. Photograph by Alli Harvey—Getty Images 

For the longest time, it looked like the Winklevoss twins fate in life was to be known for losing out to Mark Zuckerberg for control of Facebook. But their successful second act (aside from those weird pistachio ads) as bitcoin entrepreneurs mean Cameron and Tyler are now most likely to remembered as cryptocurrency pioneers —and very wealthy ones at that.

While they lost their initial bid to create a bitcoin ETF, the twins are likely to win over regulators in the long-run. In the meantime, their 2013 investment of $11 million worth of bitcoin (which reported amounted to 1 percent of all bitcoins in circulation) would now be worth more than 20 times that amount.

Barry Silbert, Venture Capitalist

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Fortune Photograph by Kevin Moloney/Fortune Brainstorm  

Barry Silbert is another long-time player in the bitcoin scene, who made big bets when most people laughed that the currency was for kooks. One of his bets saw him obtain 48,000 bitcoins in a second auction held by the U.S. Marshals Service in 2014. At that time, bitcoin prices had fallen to around $350, which means Silbert's stake could now be worth around $110 million.

Silbert is currently focused on building a rival financial product to the Winklevoss ETF, and likely owns a lot more than the 48,000 bitcoins he won at auction.

Charlie Shrem, Entrepreneur and Felon

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Charlie Shrem Photograph by Craig Ruttle—AP 

Shrem is a colorful figure from the wild west early days of bitcoin. Once a member of the Bitcoin Foundation—a group that was supposed to govern bitcoin but saw several of its members end up on the lam or in jail—Shrem received a two-year prison sentence for charges related to money laundering.

Since late 2016, he has been back on the cryptocurrency scene and appears as enthusiastic as ever about its prospects. Shrem hasn't said how many bitcoins he owns, but he is rumored to have acquired thousands of them back they cost $3 a pop and his new venture, a startup involving crypto-investments, suggests he still has a very big stake.

Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin Inventor

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Faceless man Michael Murphy Getty Images 

Since his 2008 white paper, which described a new type of software tied to a digital currency, the man known as Satoshi has stood as the soul of bitcoin.

But no one can say for sure he is.

Satoshi has not spoken publicly for years, but he is believed to control large numbers of bitcoin wallets from the currency's early days. Some reports say he controls more than 5% of all bitcoin in circulation, which means his net worth could be in the billions.

It remains to be seen if Satoshi will emerge one day and distribute that wealth (maybe by endowing a bitcoin university?) or if Satoshi and his riches will remain invisible and out of reach forever.

Uncle Sam

The early idealists of bitcoin saw it as an anarchy-currency free of the control of national governments. Alas, the U.S. government didn't get the memo. Since 2016, the Internal Revenue Service has been stepping up a campaign to identify bitcoin investors and slap them with capital gains tax.

Right now, the agency is locked in a legal fight with the popular cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, and is demanding information about millions of customer accounts. The IRS is annoyed because it says only 802 people declared bitcoin income in 2015—even though the value of the currency has increased dramatically from its 2013 value of $13.

The dispute is now before the courts and, even though Republicans in Congress told the IRS to back off, the tax man usually wins in the end.

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