Last month, I found myself sitting next to a multimillionaire in the 56th-floor Horizon Club Lounge of the Island Shangri-La Hong Kong. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he was swimming in cash; I just wouldn’t have guessed he had made it all from Bitcoin. This is how he did it.
Mr. Smith—who asked me to conceal his real name—has been traveling the world in ultra-luxurious style for the past four years. He only flies first class, stays exclusively in 5-star suites, and hasn’t cooked since Thanksgiving. In the past thirty days he’s visited Singapore, New York City, Las Vegas, Monaco, Moscow, back to New York City, Zurich and now Hong Kong. “Never a dull moment,” he says, lifting his glass of champagne in a Gatsby-esque salute. Then he shared his story.
After finishing college in 2008, Smith landed a respectable job as a software engineer for a large technology company in Silicon Valley. He was a good employee, close with many of his co-workers. It was through one of these “equally geeky” friends in July 2010 that Smith first heard about Bitcoin, shortly after its first major price increase, when the cryptocurrency appreciated tenfold from $0.008 to $0.08 over the course of five days. Smith’s response, though intrigued, was measured: “That price jump really got my attention, but I still waited a few more months before investing. I wanted to learn more about the underlying technology first.”
By October 2010, Smith was ready to jump in. “I had no idea how much to invest, but I was getting paid pretty well at the time, so I decided on $3,000.” He paid just over $0.15 per Bitcoin, giving him slightly under 20,000. At the time, expecting any sort of return was a moonshot; even in Silicon Valley, simply mentioning “Bitcoin” was en...