Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a type of electronic cash that allows people to spend or trade via a peer-to-peer network without the involvement of banks or other intermediaries. It is a cheap, efficient way of transferring funds or holding value, which can be converted back into sterling at any time. I had used it before to buy treatment online for my mother after she was diagnosed with cancer. I had also tried investing in it in 2013, and made and lost some money: bitcoin is prone to sudden fluctuations in value. But the market seemed to have moved on, and I decided it could be a good way to make some profit on my savings.
At first I deposited £5,000; at the time, January 2017, bitcoins were about $600, so I bought seven or eight and spent the rest on other cryptocurrencies. But over the next few weeks I became hooked and invested a large amount of money – £23,000 in all. I remember telling people, “I really think the value of bitcoin could rise to $2,000 this year.” I could never have predicted it would peak at ten times that. By the middle of spring 2017, my investment had risen to about $300,000, and by the summer it was at half a million. Media interest in bitcoin was growing and friends kept asking how they could get into it, so I started a Facebook group, then a website and finally a podcast devoted to the subject. As excitement built, more and more people got involved, forming the conditions for a bubble; but many of us were too caught up in the hype to exercise caution.
At the end of 2017, bitcoin had reached almost $20,000 and my portfolio had ballooned to about $1.2 million. I was travelling the world doing interviews for my podcast, taking friends out to expensive restaurants and buying extravagant gifts for my family. That is when I got a little out of control. I estimated I could reach £5 million within six months. It might have been more sensible to buy a couple of houses, but I became overambitious.
At the end of January 2018 the bubble burst and bitcoin’s value suddenly fell. There had been a few drops during 2017 but it had bounced back, so I was not too worried. But over the rest of the year, I watched it sink lower and lower, all the time thinking, “Well, there’s no point selling now…” That was my attitude throughout last year, as bitcoin’s value continued to fall. Pretty much everything I had built up was wiped out.
There are many who invested a lot more than I did and ended up with far greater losses. I wish I had taken everything out before the bubble burst, but I do not waste too much time on regret. I have earned money in the past through hard work and enjoyed it more. At the moment, I am enjoying making my podcast, which provides more than enough money to live on. I have sold most of my bitcoin, which is currently worth about $4,000 apiece, to give me a cushion in case the business has a bad month. But if I had to choose between the $1.2 million and the podcast, I would let the money go again – I love what I do now.
I still believe that bitcoin is a force for good. It helps people living in authoritarian regimes to prosper – for example, women in Afghanistan who are not allowed to open bank accounts can still work and get paid in bitcoin. It is a step in the right direction. My main focus now is exploring how bitcoin could help stabilise an increasingly volatile world.