The possibility of a windfall lures many who see themselves in a financial rut.
He had invested in bitcoin almost two years earlier, so now Jacob Melin had a new house, a new truck, a new consulting business and a line of people coming into his office, trying to become wealthy as quickly as he had. One person said he expected to use a modest investment to “retire in 12 to 18 months.” Another said he wanted to use the proceeds to start a business. And a father of two talked about paying off his own student loans and buying several acres of land — all the things he did not see a chance to do with his income as a software salesman.
“Us little guys working our butts off, we can’t get ahead,” Cedric Knight, 35, told Melin. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change my life.”
Knight and others visiting Melin were pinning their hopes on a new form of currency whose potential value the world was only beginning to recognize. Millions of people around the world are chasing after fortune by investing in bitcoin — which has soared by more than 2,500 percent in value in the past two years — and other digital instruments known as cryptocurrencies.
Bitcoin and its rival currencies were not originally intended as a way to make money, only as a new and technologically savvy way to buy and sell goods and services outside the normal system of cash and credit cards. But bitcoin has been transformed into something else, a way to strike it rich for some, and for others, a hedge against a deeper anxiety about financial security and the economic future. For many, investing in bitcoin is a bit of both.
Created nearly 10 years ago by a pseudonymous computer programmer, bitcoin is unlike other kinds of money: It takes no physical form and is not issued by a government. Instead, bitcoin can be purchased on online exchanges, using checking accounts and credit cards. A publicly visible ledger called a blockchain records transactions. As a result, no one person runs the bitcoin network. It is collective and outside government control.
In Louisville, for those who believe in bitcoin, Melin, 22, is one of the most important guides. “A visionary,” Knight called him. “Not afraid to step into the unknown.”