“While stories abound of regular people making fortunes in crypto, the world’s richest crypto and bitcoin-billionaires are primarily the people making the pans and shovels in the digital gold rush.”
During the past few years, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have experienced a meteoric rise – from obscurity to mania. The innovative potential of decentralized systems is creating value and disruption in myriad ways across a wide range of industries. Excitement and passion continues to drive pioneers and entrepreneurs to create new ways of doing things and highly efficient blockchains that solve past challenges.
But it’s not all rosy for the cryptocurrency space in general. 2018 has been a challenging year for investors, with bitcoin dropping close to 80% in value from its January peak. Whilst many people have become disillusioned with the state of the market, it is important to take a step back and look at where we have come in the past few years.
Exponential technologies don’t achieve mass adoption in a linear fashion, nor does their price necessarily reflect the value created at any point. During 2018, we have seen many technological advances in the world of cryptocurrency that are poised to help bring bitcoin to the masses.
As our beloved cryptocurrencies filter into the hands of people all around the world, we can expect to see more fortunes made by investors, innovators and service providers in this space. It is still early days for blockchains, but we have already seen some serious wealth created by those closest to the fire.
To wrap up the year that was, we have put together a list of the most affluent people in cryptocurrency: the official 2018/2019 Cryptosaver Rich List.
Comments on compiling the rich list
Unlike the wealth of traditional investors (which is normally measured in dollars), there are a few challenges that arise when determining who has the most cryptocurrency:
- People tend to stay quiet about how much they own/control.
- It is almost impossible to definitively prove which wallets any given individual or group controls unless they voluntarily disclose their assets with proof to confirm such claims.
- The dollar value of any cryptocurrency experiences extreme fluctuations on a daily basis, making it nearly impossible to pin an accurate ‘net worth’ figure on any cryptocurrency holder.
With this in mind, we have decided to place less emphasis on the net worth of people on the rich list, as dollar values are somewhat irrelevant. Instead, we have focused on how they attained such wealth and the contributions they have made/involvement within the crypto community to date.
You might be wondering how we created a rich list, given the lack of publicly available information connecting people with their wallets? To solve this issue, we did what any good digital journalist would do – we sifted and sorted through countless documents, reports and articles about who owns the most cryptocurrency, and explored the trends. Throughout our research, a handful of names were mentioned multiple times – these are the people on our rich list.
Why do people take active measures to hide their crypto wealth?
- Hackers: the moment you start boasting about your wealth on Reddit or telling people how you have made so much money, you become a target. Stealing cryptocurrency is a very prosperous and relatively safe way for hackers to make money – transactions are irreversible, and many people don’t have solid security measures in place. Our guide on keeping your crypto safe and secure can help you to prevent such attacks from occurring.
- Personal safety: people have been kidnapped, mugged and attacked for their bitcoin. You don’t want to be tortured in the name of a few satoshis. Although this might seem extreme, bitcoin is like gold in many respects – you wouldn’t tell the world if you had a block of gold sitting under your house.
A closer look at the numbers
Although it is nearly impossible to pin the exact ownership of cryptocurrencies to specific individuals, we can use publicly available blockchain data to gain a better understanding of how crypto wealth is distributed.
By looking at how much of any given coin supply is held by the top wallets, we can have a better idea of where the wealthiest sit in the market, and how much influence they have over the price.
Top Bitcoin addresses:
- Source: BitInfoCharts @ 17th December, 2018
At the time of writing, the top 100 addresses held almost 16% of all bitcoin in circulation. The top 0.66% of addresses held 87.42% of all minted bitcoin.
Top Bitcoin Cash addresses:
- Source: BitInfoCharts @ 17th December, 2018
At the time of writing, the top 100 addresses held roughly 13% of all bitcoin cash in circulation. The top 0.68% of addresses held 92.7% of all minted/forked bitcoin cash.
Top Litecoin addresses:
– Source: BitInfoCharts @ 17th December, 2018
At the time of writing, the top 100 addresses held close to 41% of all litecoin in circulation. The top 0.16% of addresses held 71.55% of all minted litecoin.
Top Ethereum addresses:
- Source: EtherScan @ 17th December, 2018
At the time of writing, the top 25 Ethereum addresses held 19.13% of all Ethereum in circulation.
Through analyzing the distribution of cryptocurrency, we can get a better idea of the influence that major players can have on the market. As an extreme example, if Satoshi Nakamoto (the founder of Bitcoin) sold his/her/their coins, this would most likely cause a selling frenzy and result in the price of bitcoin being devalued. Whilst exchanges provide investors with liquidity to enter and exit positions at will, the public nature of blockchains means that anybody can monitor the top addresses and buy/sell accordingly.
Many of the early adopters and cypherpunks that helped to develop bitcoin when it was in its infancy are the owners of large crypto positions. This tight-knit community of hackers, libertarians and cryptography enthusiasts represent a significant proportion of the crypto rich that aren’t mentioned in this article.
The current top 5 largest bitcoin addresses are held as cold storage for major exchanges: Bitfinex, Binance, Huobi, Bitstamp and Bittrex. These wallets contain the savings of many different investors and traders.
The 2019 Cryptocurrency Rich List
We have separated this list into three overarching categories, based on their main source of crypto wealth:
- Blockchain masterminds and early adopters – people who have developed blockchains, and people that got in on the ground floor (e.g: Cypherpunks).
- Investors – people who have made phenomenal gains from getting in early, and funding startups such as venture capitalists.
Blockchain masterminds and early adopters
1. Satoshi Nakamoto
Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? That’s the million bitcoin question…
Although it is not publicly known who Satoshi is, we do know that the inventor(s) of bitcoin went by the name Satoshi Nakamoto to maintain anonymity. By publishing the initial white paper, Satoshi effectively kicked off this wild ride towards decentralization. Click here to learn more about the history of bitcoin.
How much bitcoin does satoshi own? Estimates for this figure vary greatly:
- On the lower end, a study by BitMex estimates Satoshi’s holdings as being closer to 600,000 – 700,000 bitcoin.
In 2013, Sergio Lerner from rsk.co estimated Satoshi’s bitcoin mined at around 1 million (980,000 to be more precise).
- This calculator by Coin Call assumes that Satoshi mined 1,148,000 bitcoin and tracks his net worth based on this figure.
The following chart shows Satoshi’s estimated net worth in USD over time (based on owning 1,140,000 bitcoin):
If the price of bitcoin continues to appreciate at a similar rate (around four times growth in the past 2 years), the value of Satoshi’s coins would place him/her/them as the wealthiest ‘person’ in the world within a few years.
However, this is based on a range of assumptions. For starters, we don’t know whether Satoshi is a single person or group of people. We also don’t know if he/she/they still have access to the private keys.
The coins that were supposedly mined by Satoshi haven’t been spent – however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can even be accessed at all. Until transactions are made using these original addresses, there is no way of genuinely knowing if anybody controls the private keys. Anyone claiming otherwise is just guessing.
3. Vitalik Buterin
Primarily known for co-founding the Ethereum project and Bitcoin Magazine, Vitalik is a Russian-Canadian programmer, inventor and philanthropist. At the age of 17, he learned about bitcoin from his father, which sparked his interest in blockchains. Soon after, he wrote the initial Ethereum white paper, and subsequently dropped out of university to focus on the project full time after winning the Thiel Fellowship in 2014.
Forbes estimated Vitalik’s crypto net worth at around $400-500 million as of January 19th, 2018. Vitalik has contributed his time and resources to a range of meaningful projects such as Omise Go (decentralized exchange), the Machine Intelligence Research Institute and the Internet Archive.
4. Joseph Lubin
Joseph is a Toronto-based Canadian entrepreneur. Before entering the world of cryptocurrency, he was an executive at Goldman Sachs. Not only did Joseph help to establish Ethereum, but he also co-founded Swiss-based EthSuisse and founded Consensys – a pioneering blockchain technology firm that employs more than 900 people.
Forbes estimated Joseph’s crypto net worth to be around $1 – 5 billion as at January 19th, 2018.
5. Anthony Di Iorio
“I got the concept of bitcoin right away.”
As an early adopter of bitcoin, Anthony established the Toronto Bitcoin Meetup in 2012. He met Vitalik Buterin at this event – and proceeded to help fund the development of Ethereum’s initial codebase.
“I was looking at alternative ways of thinking about economics, and I really started understanding learning about what money really is – that whole liberterian thinking about sound money.”
Forbes estimated Anthony’s crypto net worth to be around $750,000 – $1 million as at January 19th, 2018.
6. Chris Larsen
As a seasoned business executive and angel investor, Mr. Larsen has spent his career working in industries dedicated to financial technology.
In 1996, he co-founded the online mortgage lender, E-Loan, which was sold as a going concern 9 years later in 2005. In 2006, he co-founded Prosper Marketplace, which was the first ever peer-to-peer lending marketplace in the United States. Larsen served as CEO until 2012.
He then went on to co-found Ripple Labs Inc., which subsequently developed Ripple (the cryptocurrency). With an estimated fortune of $2.1 billion as of October 2018, Forbes places Chris Larsen as one of the top 400 wealthiest people in America. It is estimated that he owns around 5.2 billion XRP.
7. Brad Garlinghouse
As the CEO of Ripple, Brad brings an impressive breadth and depth of experience to the cryptocurrency community. Prior to working with Ripple, Brad was the CEO and Chairman at Hightail (cloud file sharing service) and played important roles within AOL, Yahoo!, Silver Lake Partners and a range of other companies.
As of January 19th, 2018, Forbes estimated Brad’s crypto net worth to be around $400 – $500 million.
8. Charles Hoskinson
Based in Colorado, Charles is a tech entrepreneur and mathematician who specializes in cryptography. Hoskinson was the CEO of Ethereum for a brief stint before falling out with the rest of the board. He then went on to co-found IOHK, an engineering company that builds blockchains for academic institutions, governments and corporations.
Through IOHK, Charles and his team designed and developed Cardano, a third generation blockchain. As of January 19th, 2018, Forbes estimated Charles’ crypto fortune to be worth around $500-600 million.
9. Charlie Lee
Informally known as Satoshi Lite, Charlie Lee was an early adopter and evangelist of bitcoin from its infancy. He is a computer scientist and serves as the managing director of the Litecoin Foundation.
Prior to his involvement in cryptocurrency, Charlie worked for Google. In this role, he wrote source code for Chrome OS, among other things. In October 2011, he publicly launched Litecoin as a ‘silver’ to the gold that is bitcoin. His intention for Litecoin was that it could be used for smaller, everyday transactions that weren’t suitable for payment in bitcoin.
In December 2017, Charlie sold out of Litecoin due to a perceived conflict of interest as the managing director of the Litecoin Foundation. He has been widely criticized for selling Litecoin at its peak, netting roughly $200/coin according to reports.
10. Daniel Larimer
As a software programmer and cryptocurrency enthusiast, Daniel has been involved in a range of prominent blockchain projects over the past few years. He created BitShares in 2014, co-founded blockchain based social platform Steemit in 2016 and is the chief technology officer of Block.One.
Block.One was the original developer of EOS.IO, a heavily funded blockchain-based startup. Larimer also invented the delegated proof of stake (DPOS) consensus algorithm and created Graphene technology.
Forbes estimated Daniel’s crypto net worth to be around $600 – 700 million as at January 19th, 2018.
11. Brendan Blumer
From an early age, Brendan took an interest in virtual assets. At the age of 15, he founded Gamecliff, which provided a platform for gamers to buy and sell accessories such as weapons and skins. This company was later acquired and Brendan went on to establish a few other tech startups.
In 2016, Brendan met Dan Larimer. Working together, they started Block.One and launched EOS.IO – breaking records for the most money ever raised from an ICO in the process.
Forbes estimated Brendan’s crypto net worth to be around $600 – 700 million as at January 19th. 2018.
Entrepreneurs and business people
1. Brian Armstrong
“In this digital gold rush, Armstrong is the guy making the big money selling the pans. He founded Coinbase, the nerve center and most popular entry point for cryptocurrency trading in the U.S. in 2012.”
Coinbase is the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States. As an early entrant on the crypto scene, Coinbase was able to capture a large share of bitcoin trading as it exploded into the mainstream.
Brian owns a stake in Coinbase estimated to be worth roughly $1.3 billion. He also personally owns a great deal of cryptocurrency – that Forbes estimated to be worth close to $1 billion earlier this year.
2. Tony Gallippi
In 2011, Tony co-founded BitPay with Stephen Pair. This company has developed into the largest bitcoin checkout processor globally, facilitating transactions between cryptocurrency and fiat in a way that makes life easier for vendors and people that want to shop with Bitcoin.
BitPay is used by highly reputable organizations such as Microsoft, Shopify, WordPress and Virgin.
3. Changpeng Zhao
Mr. Zhao founded Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by registered users (capable of 1.4 million transactions per second). Prior to starting Binance, Zhao built a company called Fusion Systems. This organisation constructs some of the fastest high frequency trading systems available for brokers.
Changpeng has risen to prominence in the world of cryptocurrency over a very short period of time. As of January 19th, 2018, Forbes estimated his crypto net worth to be around $1.1 – 2 billion. Much of his wealth is tied up in BNB tokens, the native cryptocoin used on the Binance exchange.
4. Li Lin (Leon Li)
Mr. Lin founded Huobi, an asian cryptocurrency trading exchange in 2013. Prior to this venture, Li was a computer engineer at Oracle. Huobi has consistently performed as a major global cryptocurrency exchange. In November 2016, the total transaction volume reached 1.7 trillion yuan, accounting for more than 60% of the global bitcoin exchange market.
In September 2017, China banned trading cryptocurrencies – which forced Huobi to expand globally. This helped to fuel their growth, and in August 2018, they became publicly listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange through a reverse takeover of electronics manufacturer, Pantronics Holdings.
5. Song Chi Hyung
“Chi-Hyung grew his cryptocurrency exchange UpBit into South Korea’s largest just three months after its launch in Oct. 2017. The platform, held by Song’s Dunamu, handled about $4.7 billion in daily transactions in one of the world’s most important markets for crypto at the end of last year.”
Song founded Dunamu in 2012 as a news aggregator, but they soon after ventured into the world of fintech. In 2013, Dunamu started working with Kakao (operator of Korea’s most popular instant messaging app) and received financial backing from its holding company, K Cube Ventures.
This partnership resulted in the creation of KakaoStock, a stock trading app for playing the financial markets. KakaoStock now has more than 300,000 users and leverages Kakao’s instant messaging base of 50 million.
Earlier this year, Forbes estimated Song’s crypto net worth at around $350 – 450 million.
6. Valery Valivov
After growing up in Latvia during the 1980s, Valery attributes his faith in decentralized systems to experiencing the collapse of the Soviet Union first hand.
“Money became paper. Patents became worthless”
In 2011, Mr. Valivov co-founded Bitfury – a startup that mines bitcoin. It was very difficult to raise outside capital for the first four years because investors didn’t believe in the technology. In the early days, they were forced to sell bitcoin in order to pay the bills.
Fast forward to 2018, and Bitfury is now a dominant player in the bitcoin mining market. They employ over 400 staff and have operations throughout the world. Alongside their mining activities, Bitfury also makes and sells mining hardware. They have developed a product called Blockbox – a mobile bitcoin mining machine that normally retails for more than $1 million.
As of January 19th, 2018, Forbes estimated Valery’s crypto net worth to be around $500 – 700 million.
7. Blythe Masters
As a former executive for J.P. Morgan Chase, Blythe has spent many years supporting financial technology and innovations in the field. She is often recognized as the creator of the credit default swap financial instrument, which played an important role in the 2008 global recession.
Masters serves as chairman of the governing board of the Linux Foundation’s open source Hyperledger project. She also advises Satander Group and holds an advisory role on the board for the US Chamber of Digital Commerce.
More notably, Blythe is also the CEO of Digital Asset Holdings – a company that builds products based on distributed ledger technology for regulated financial institutions. As an influential woman in the blockchain space, Blythe has achieved a range of incredible feats during her focused career.
1. Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss
You might remember these twins from the Hollywood hit The Social Network. Whilst at university, the created a university social network called HarvardConnection (later renamed ConnectU). In 2004, Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss sued Mark Zuckerberg after claiming that he stole their idea and made it into Facebook. This netted them $65 million dollars, which they later used to purchase a large amount of bitcoin. As of January 2nd, 2018, they were estimated to control 91,666 bitcoin.
“In April 2013, the brothers claimed they owned nearly 1% of all bitcoin in existence at the time”
Commonly referred to as the Winkelvii (plural for Winkelvoss), they competed in the men’s pair rowing event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
They are now venture capitalists, having successfully invested in a range of promising fintech startups. Alongside their investing activities, they also founded the New York-based Gemini cryptocurrency exchange.
Forbes estimated their crypto net worth to be around $900 million – $1.1 billion each as of January 19th, 2018.
2. Barry Silbert
Prior to his involvement in digital currencies, Barry became known on Wall Street for developing SecondMarket – an exchange for illiquid and hard to trade assets such as stocks in private tech companies.
SecondMarket was later renamed Nasdaq Private Market when he sold his stake in 2015. By this time, Mr. Silbert was already working on his most notable venture to date, Digital Currency Group
Dubbed as “the epicenter of the bitcoin and blockchain industry”, Digital Currency Group operates in 3 core areas:
- Venture capital – investing in prominent projects such as Ripple and Blockchain.com.
- Digital currency speculation and asset management – through their Grayscale venture.
- Crypto media – through CoinDesk, their digital journalism organization.
Barry Silbert purchased 48,000 seized bitcoin from the US Marshals office in 2014.
“Bitcoin was then worth $350, which means Silbert’s haul has climbed about 16 times, from approximately 16.8 million to $268.8 million.”
Earlier this year, Forbes estimated his crypto net worth to be around $400 – 500 million.
3. Tim Draper
Mr. Draper is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Best known for his early investment in Skype, Tim lives and breathes the tech scene.
“He says he started thinking about digital currencies 15 years ago when he met a guy in South Korea who had bought a virtual sword for his son with regular cash… The moment Draper heard about bitcoin, he was in.”
He purchased $250,000 worth of bitcoin when the price was just $6. However, he lost all of this in the Mt. Gox Hack. Later that year, he purchased roughly 30,000 bitcoin (29,656 to be exact) from the same FBI auction that Barry Silbert attended.
Earlier this year, Forbes estimated Draper’s crypto net worth at around $350 – 500 million.
4. Michael Novogratz
Before the 2007 recession, Mike was a very successful macro hedge fund manager – becoming a billionaire prior to the financial crash.
He started buying cryptocurrencies in 2013, and began focussing on this space full time in 2015. Aside from owning a significant amount of digital currency, he is also working to develop Galaxy Digital – a merchant bank dedicated to distributed ledger technologies and their mainstream potential.
“Our mission is to institutionalize the space, and promote the growth and advancement of the underlying ecosystem and technology behind digital assets and blockchain.”
Mike has combined his deep trading expertise with entrepreneurial drive and technological innovation to build a modern bank, and ultimately an immense fortune. In January 2018, Forbes estimated his crypto net worth to be around $700 million – $1 billion.
5. Matthew Mellon
As heir to the Mellon banking fortune, Matthew was an early supporter of the Ripple project due to their collaboration with the banks. He purchased $2 million worth of XRP tokens before they became popular – which multiplied into a $1 billion fortune at its peak.
“I am pro-America, pro-business and pro-bank. That’s why I went with Ripple.”
The Mellon family, originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania established Mellon Bank in 1869. Through this organization, they financed a range of industries and global corporations such as General Motors, U.S Steel and H. J. Heinz.
Unfortunately, Matthew had troubles with drug addiction, and passed away in April 2018 due to an overdose just before he was about to enter a rehab in Cancun, Mexico.
6. Matthew Roszak
Living at the intersection of silicon-valley venture capitalism and cryptocurrency entrepreneurship, Matthew discovered bitcoin in 2011 and became actively involved from then on.
He was one of the first ever investors to participate in initial coin offerings (before the term existed), contributing to projects such as Mastercoin and Maidsafe. As more people discovered the disruptive power of bitcoin, Roszak sponsored meetups and gathered people together to discuss cryptocurrency, spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars on steak and wine for people in the space to talk about this stuff.”
As a community evangelist, Matthew is always looking for people to get onboard – he gave Bill Clinton and Richard Branson their first bitcoins.
Forbes estimated his crypto net worth to be roughly $900 million – $1 billion as of January 19th, 2018.
7. Brock Pierce
From an early age, Brock has been no stranger to the limelight. He appeared in commercials as a toddler, and played his first major role in The Mighty Ducks (1992).
Moving on from his star-struck younger years, Pierce retired from acting at the age of 17 to co-found Digital Entertainment Network, an online media company that preceded YouTube. This well-funded venture disappeared during the dotcom bust, and Brock moved on to greener pastures.
In 2013, he teamed up with Bart and Bradford Stephens to create the venture capital firm, Blockchain Capital. Brock has contributed funding to a range of projects such as Ethereum, Coinbase, Bitfury and Block.One.
He holds a position as chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation, and advises Block.One. As of January 19th, 2018, Forbes estimated his crypto net worth at around $700 million – $1 billion. Mr. Pierce now resides in Puerto Rico for tax purposes.
8. Dan Morehead
In 2003, Dan founded Pantera Capital – an investment firm that was originally established to focus on global macro hedge-fund investments.
“Pantera shifted its focus exclusively to bitcoin and other digital currencies when it partnered with Fortress Investment Group, Benchmark and Ribbit Capital to launch an investment fund, Pantera Bitcoin Partners LLC. Pantera controls the fund while the other firms became minority equity partners.”
Pantera Capital has invested in notable crypto projects such as BitStamp, BitPesa and Augur. Prior to his involvement in Pantera Capital, Dan held executive roles in a range of major banks. He also founded Atriax, an electronic foreign exchange programme which closed in 2002.
Who else owns large sums of cryptocurrency?
Our rich list focuses on individuals that have amassed significant fortunes through their involvement in cryptocurrency. However, some of the largest positions in this game are controlled by more than just one person.
We mentioned previously that the 5 largest bitcoin wallets are controlled by exchanges. As business entities, digital currency exchanges manage extremely large volumes of bitcoin and other tokens. However, it is very difficult to determine what proportion of these coins are owned by the exchange vs. being held on behalf of their clients.
During the past few years, hedge funds have injected large amounts of capital into the cryptocurrency markets. These investments are made in a variety of ways such as opening positions in bitcoin futures and purchasing tokens (either directly or through exchange-traded funds). It is uncertain exactly how much crypto is controlled by hedge funds due to the fact that their stakes may not necessarily result in direct ownership of the tokens themselves.
2017 was the year of ICO mania. Initial coin offerings (both unregulated and regulated) raised large amounts of capital by swapping their newly-minted tokens for established cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum. Whilst these projects might own a significant proportion of the coins in circulation, their coin balances will ultimately diminish as they sell tokens to fund their development.
It is not uncommon for people to associate hackers and scammers with bitcoin. After all, the fact that transactions are irreversible makes it an attractive target for thieves to poach. There have been some high profile hacks (such as that of Mt. Gox), and countless smaller events that don’t warrant media attention. Although it is hard to definitely say that hackers own large amounts of cryptocurrency, the degree to which scams have occurred during the past few years would suggest that this is the case.
Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin provide users with complete autonomy over how they manage their money. Whilst there is lots to be said about the benefits of being your own bank, the main drawback is that if you lose your private keys, any coins held within the wallet are gone forever.
A significant proportion of the largest bitcoin addresses have not been touched in years. Whilst it is likely that most of them are probably controlled by long-term investors and early adopters, some of them will inevitably be lost forever due to people forgetting or losing their private keys… Ouch!
Although the financial loss of forgetting your private keys can be quite significant, this reduces the total amount of coins in circulation, and essentially increases the value of everyone else’s coins.
It’s still early days!
During the past decade, huge fortunes have been made by those who have seized the opportunities at hand. The formidable players mentioned above are in a unique position to guide this nascent industry in the right direction.
But that’s not to say that there are less opportunities than before. In fact, quite the opposite is true. If you’re considering working with blockchains to build a brighter future or investing to make money, now is the time to get involved.
“Fortune favours the bold”
Cryptosaver is an online bitcoin broker and savings platform based out of sunny Australia. We help you to get involved in this thrilling market by providing an easy way to buy, sell and save bitcoin from the comfort of your own home. Click here to learn more.