Jay is the Bitcoin OG who created a meme by buying a Lamborghini with the cryptocurrency. He went from a poverty-level existence to enjoying a well-off lifestyle in a gated community thanks to mining Bitcoin in the early days — but not without having to worry for his family’s safety.
As BTC first broke the $1,000 milestone in December 2013, former Chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan suggested that Bitcoin could not actually be used to buy anything of value.
That’s when Jay (not his real name), then in his early 30s, and with the help of his wife who is also a Bitcoiner, used almost 217 BTC to purchase what is believed to be the original Bitcoin Lamborghini at the Lamborghini Newport Beach dealership. He then provided the evidence on the anonymous imageboard 4chan.
This proved that Bitcoin had real value — who would accept fake money for a Lamborghini? A meme was born that launched a million other memes.
“It’s kind of overwhelming as an individual — I created a meme.”
An archetypal Bitcoin OG, Jay got his start around 2010. Despite being broke and supporting a family on very low earnings in Southeast Asia, he ended up setting up 20 GPUs, resulting in electricity costs that were six times his rent.
“I was really poor — I made like $8,500 per year while supporting a family, and babies cost money. I had businesses and savings before, but going to university and starting a family got me damn close to $0,” he recalls, bewildered.
“It’s amazingly hard to HODL bitcoin when you eat pasta every day and make fuck-all, and spend what you do have on computers and miners. But I had that faith, I knew this was world changing.”
Today, Jay lives in a gated community within a small city of under 100,000 in Southeast Asia with his wife, three children, and three dogs — one of them a professionally trained and imposing guard dog whom I had no doubt was ready to rip my face off on command when I visited.
His home actually consists of two houses on two streets, discreetly connected in the middle, creating an understated facade. Whereas the front garage contains “normal” luxury vehicles, the back holds none other than Bitcoin Lamborghini 2.0.
“Sadly because I was so close to $0 and had kids, I had to sell so much BTC so early because I wanted some safety net. I could add at least one zero to my net worth if I had no family — but it’s a paradox because family is why I do it.”
Jay’s fortune is crowned by a loaded 1,000 BTC Casascius “physical Bitcoin” gold coin of which only a few exist. It is, in fact, the most valuable coin in the world, with a face value of approximately $60 million dollars and a collector premium of many millions more.
This is how we came to meet, as I act as a broker of such rarities and wrote the Encyclopedia of Physical Bitcoins and Crypto-Currencies. For Jay, owning such coins can, however, prove stressful “if someone connects me to holding tens of millions of dollars in what are effectively bearer bonds.” Such coins hold the private key to the stated amount of Bitcoins under a tamper-proof label, making them comparable to bearer bonds, gold or cash.
Such privilege is “difficult to deal with” on the family front, Jay says. Living in a country with a huge wealth disparity, he explains that money can be metaphorically used to build either a bigger wall to separate himself from the masses, or a bigger table in order to bring them to his side. “Honestly, I have to do both, but I want to build a bigger table,” he says. He feels that he faces very real threats, including the kidnapping of family members by international criminals.
“I had issues with some Russian oligarchs in the past, but I don’t think I’m a target now.”
Still, it’s hard to put worry or paranoia aside — states of mind that Jay considers natural to him. Late one night, as we enjoyed beer and burgers on the edge of town, Jay’s merriness suddenly turned to keen attention as he spied a vehicle loitering near his Lamborghini. “It’s been there over 30 seconds,” he said, appearing still nervous after the car drove off. “They were probably just admiring the car — but what if?” He was visibly uneasy.
Jay describes a normal childhood in an average lower-middle-class family in the U.S. midwest. Money was sometimes tight, but basic needs were covered and school was OK. He excelled in geography, which simply came naturally to him without the need to study.
He started working at the age of 12, stapling large boxes together at a warehouse owned by a family friend. The work was repetitive and it was actually illegal to employ such a young child, but Jay was there willingly and feels that he gained a valuable perspective from socializing with business owners at such a young age.
After high school, Jay enrolled in a university close to home to study international relations and computer engineering. He, however, became disillusioned, believing that “a lot of what the university was teaching me was absolute bullshit” and mostly aimed at making him into “a good wage slave.” As he studied money, “it blew my mind that fiat money was based on nothing — it was debt.” He dropped out to run his own book-selling business, which he later sold to a firm that itself went on to be acquired by Amazon.
“The realization of the financial system and money being bullshit helped motivate me to drop out of university in the U.S.A. and do my own thing.”
Jay used the money to travel, first heading to Mongolia, which he felt might be a “missed gem” and might hold economic opportunities. Later in Kazakhstan, he spent time with a group that “trained golden eagles to hunt wolves,” and he heard high praise of Southeast Asia from other passing travelers — knowledge he filed away for later. His money ran low, and he soon returned to the U.S. where he found some success trading oil futures from home.
“When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia on Boxing Day 2004, I realized that sitting around doing the bullshit nothing I was doing was bad and jumped on a plane to help.”
Jay decided to stay and attended a local university, this time choosing to study business administration. Years after graduating and struggling financially, he came across the Bitcoin white paper in 2010 via the infamous Cypherpunks mailing list, where it was discussed in the early days of the cryptocurrency. He had read a book about cryptography before — he loved reading — and the project caught his eye. He found it brilliant, “but I thought there was a very low chance it could become worldwide money — it was too crazy.”
The biggest draw was not the money aspect, but the idea that “this breaks censorship.” He recalls someone putting Bible verses into the blockchain early on — forever indelible. With Bitcoin, anyone could write freely on the wall of eternity.
The Bitcointalk Forums
The Bitcointalk forum was an interesting place in the very early 2010s, a time when Jay remembers a collection of seemingly “random people with random ideas.” Bitcoin was then a primarily intellectual pursuit, and it attracted socialists and communists in addition to the libertarians who became more associated with the movement’s history.
One idea discussed around that time included the canceling and reissuing of coins after two to five years of inactivity at an address, while others suggested that mining rewards could be adjusted based on individual need or national income. As there was no firmly established value, the Bitcoin idea was considered quite malleable and not necessarily set in stone — it could become anything.
Jay was confused by some of the discourse. “I wasn’t quite well-read in the philosophy then, so I didn’t really understand what the leftists saw in the idea,” he recalls.
The culture of the forum evolved as waves of discourse and new users followed news coverage of Bitcoin. There was a loose “core group” of enthusiasts who considered each other close to the project; “some new people would be added every now and then, and some would leave.” The culture, however, grew more toxic.
Though he first reasons that the toxicity was due to a “Wild West culture” that naturally forms in a gold rush of sorts, Jay notes that people in the contemporary WallStreetBets community, “seem to be incredibly polite and welcoming.” He adds that while he “does not want to say anything bad about anyone,” he assigns some responsibility for the culture upon the Bitcointalk forum’s administration.
“I think that the leadership of a community helps shape it. The person running Bitcointalk was quite inexperienced and pretty much fell into the role — I wonder if it could have been different.”
By contrast, the early Ethereum community seemed friendlier at the time, possibly due to the credit of Vitalik Buterin acting as a visible community leader. Buterin reached out to Jay during the process of launching Ethereum, but Jay was unimpressed.
“I told Vitalik over Skype that Ethereum was going to fail because it was too centralized.”
Despite his concerns, Jay owns some Ethereum and is not an extreme Bitcoin maximalist like some of his peers.
“There shouldn’t be people who hold keys to the internet. It should be entirely math-based, because it can be,” he reasons, referring to what he sees as unnecessary centralization and reliance on human figures within the Ethereum community.
Already an old-timer, little more than a decade after stumbling upon Bitcoin, Jay is cautious about newer developments, calling DeFi “definitely risky” due to the risk of the leadership of some projects having the power to unilaterally take control of your funds. He has a similar take on NFTs, saying that “99% of them will become worthless, but some might become cult classics,” a line of thinking that was especially prominent regarding ICOs in the 2017 boom.
All considered, Jay is doing well in life and is focused on his family, but there is a certain unease — a restlessness about him, even unrelated to physical safety.
As with many people who reach their goal, he has everything he could ever dream of, but it’s not exactly clear what he should do next, considering he feels that he has enough to financially cover his descendants to the 4th generation. One thing’s for sure — he’s not looking for fame. “I don’t really want this article out there, but I think overall it is fair and the story should be told,” he says.
“I have reached my goal, so now what? I have accomplished my life goals but I’m not dead yet, so I have to do something. No idea what — but something…”