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My $250,000 Bitcoin Gamble

I am what many would consider a successful entrepreneur, and like most successful entrepreneurs, I am not done. I have that need, desire, drive, urge, maybe even frustration -- call it what you want; it is always there.
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If feasibility and certainty were the litmus tests for world changing ideas, there would never be any.

I am what many would consider a successful entrepreneur, and like most successful entrepreneurs, I am not done. I have that need, desire, drive, urge, maybe even frustration -- call it what you want; it is always there. It is the feeling that there is always something else out there for me to do. My work is not done here and there are new dimensions in my entrepreneurial existence waiting to be explored. I tend to surround myself with people who feel the same way. Price Givens, a long-time business partner and friend is one of them. For over half of our lives, we have celebrated each other's successes, supported each other in times of failure, and above all, pushed each other to put our ideas (some would say hallucinations) into action.

Many have been surprised that we have chosen to explore, make a significant investment in, and launch just such a hallucination into a reality that centers on Bitcoin.

Yes, Bitcoin.

The two of us have been fascinated with Bitcoin for years. Like many, we have both invested in the currency, and like many, we have both done well -- but just being an owner was not enough for either of us. The two of us are fascinated by the implications of what Bitcoin is and what it may become. To a life long opportunity seeker and dreamer, the effect that a payment system that is capable of acting as an instantaneous-universal-trading-mechanism may have is overwhelming, exciting and can be argued will change the world. Many would argue it already has.

Is Bitcoin Really "There" Yet?

The arguments are varied from: Yes, it is everything it needs to be; to no, it is simply a pyramid or Ponzi scheme and it will eventually be exposed then disappear. It is difficult to say exactly where it is today since it is a technology that is evolving, however, it has and will continue to shift the world paradigm on value, transaction costs and wealth transfer. It also will become an incredibly powerful mechanism for commerce that has and will continue to open doors and opportunities previously thought impossible.

I find it interesting that any new idea or concept, specifically those that challenge the status quo in a profound way (like Bitcoin) are held to standards that the idea or concept occupying the status quo could never meet. The world is resistant to change, skeptical and critical of new ideas and in some ways it is difficult to understand how change is ever created.

Lets be honest: If feasibility was the litmus test for any world-changing entrepreneurial idea, most would be discarded before they began.

In 2004, a niche website company was formed to allow people to connect with each other online. Limited at first to just Harvard students, Facebook expanded to include other Boston-area colleges then over time to include anyone. The site was and has been called a passing fad, a diversion, or just a place for people to pass the time. It has also been called invasive and dangerous. Facebook's critics have been and continue to be relentless and I will admit that, at one point, I was critical of the IPO valuation however today Facebook has solidified itself not as a platform, website or app but as a part of our lives. It is not uncommon for someone to refer you to Facebook, rather than repeat themselves, for the latest news about their lives.

For perspective, the company value created by this "fad" in just 10 short years exceeds that of many established companies. In fact the Gap, Campbell's Soup, Harley Davidson and Best Buy are all valued at less than not just Facebook but What's App -- the 50-person company Facebook just purchased for $19 Billion. Facebook today has a value higher than icons like McDonalds, Home Depot and Intel.

Bitcoin has been called a fad by some of the same people who ascribed this label to Facebook. Perhaps, this is actually confirmation that there is more here. I am inclined to think there is.

A few years ago, I was waiting in a Fox News green room before a live appearance with another contributor also waiting for his live spot. As with most green rooms, the live show was playing so we could both see and hear what was going on. A small start-up car manufacture, Tesla, was mentioned on the live broadcast as we watched. His response startled me. "Those idiots are out of business and they don't even know it!" he said more to the screen than to me. "No one will buy an electric car that takes hours to charge and there is no way anyone will pay more than they would for a golf Cart!"

Today, Tesla, with one model, is outselling Mercedes, Porsche and Volvo and Tesla's stock could collectively be traded for Fiat Corporation that owns Chrysler with enough left over to buy Porsche (not a Porsche, the company itself).

What Elon Musk and his team have done is nothing short of awe-inspiring and the show continues as they rack up awards and recognition like the rating they received from consumer reports as the safest car they had ever tested. The Model S actually caused one of the testing machines to fail before the car did.

On average, there are 17 car fires in the U.S. every hour. The last time I thought about a car fire was about seven years ago when I drove by a car that was engulfed in flames. Recently, there has been a tremendous amount of interest in a few car fires, four Teslas, all in collisions, have been lost to fires. All the occupants survived yet there is now an investigation into the safety of the Model S. Of course, there is. It may change everything so it has to live up to a higher standard than the status quo are we to believe that a Tesla should not only be the structurally safest vehicle in history, it should also be fireproof?

Bitcoin has had its share of controversy recently as well. Not the least of which is the failure of one of the largest exchanges in the world with losses in excess of $400,000,000. This is terrible and a huge financial blow to it's clients and to the Bitcoin community. Some have signaled this is the definitive end to this experiment and Bitcoin will surely fizzle away.

From 2008 to 2011, in the United States alone, there were 665 bank failures with assets in excess of $669,035,000,000. The losses due to these failures is estimated to be somewhere around $40 billion. Yes, there have been those who have said these endemic failures would be the end of the U.S. banking system, yet really to no one's surprise, U.S. banking is alive and well. We have not heard about bank failures in the media because they have become so commonplace. They are no longer newsworthy, but they have not stopped. This year (yes, 2014) there have been five failures (so far) with losses over $90 million, or about double the Gox losses. The majority of these depositor losses will be covered by FDIC insurance that was put in place in 1934 during the great depression to reassure consumers that the US banking system was safe.

No such safety net existed for Gox exchange users; however, who is to say that one will not be created and put in place?

Bitcoin has been criticized for it vulnerabilities and lack of universal fail proof security. Is this really the standard that financial instruments should be held to?

Recently, a sophisticated data theft at Target exposed the financial data of 40 million patrons and the personal information of up to 70 million. The collective losses that will be caused by this theft are estimated to be anywhere from over one billion to several billion dollars. While Target, and the associated companies affected by this loss, will experience significant costs and consumer have experienced significant inconvenience and some losses not one credible organization has decried the end of Target, debit cards, electronic payments or retail shopping.

What critics of Tesla, Facebook, the U.S. banking system, Target and Bitcoin have failed to recognize is that in each represents more than just a car, website, a financial system or an alternative payment method. In each case, there are not just customers; there is a community.

Tesla presold cars that had never existed before with 100 percent down payments and wait times that were simply unreasonable some said embarrassing. Facebook is a complex site with hundreds of thousands of user options and over a billion users however there is not customer service department one can call. The U.S. banking system is not just a set of financial institutions but also a representation of the confidence and belief in the United States itself. And Target has a community of 22 million plus on Facebook I will stop here lest my references become all together circular.

Bitcoin has quietly done something that international corporations, government agencies and educational institutions around the world strive to do daily. It has created a passionate, dedicated community. In the case of Bitcoin this is not just any community, Bitcoin has attracted the fascination and efforts of many of the most brilliant minds in the world who see this not as just a currency but a way to make the world better, more accessible and more connected one person at a time.

This new paradigm created by Bitcoin where currency, capitalism and community intersect has the potential to be far more powerful than what any of it's critics have the vision to recognize.

Communities have the capacity to drive adoption, create value and increase usage in a way that most don't understand.

Our investment is not only in Bitcoin, a payment system or a new financial paradigm. It is an investment in and a ratification of our belief in this fledgling community that has already changed far more paradigms than most will ever understand. It is our confirmation that we believe in the power of individuals to connect with each other and shift what we know of our world in comparatively no time when examined in historical perspective. It is our public confirmation that we are passionate capitalists who have glimpsed just a sliver of what Bitcoin will do to empower capitalists around the world. is our contribution to this passionate community and through the technology and ease of use we have created, our submission to the community at large that we may solidify our approval and inclusion.

Was this investment a speculation? Absolutely. As entrepreneurs, it is our role to seek opportunity, speculate as to how we can contribute and profit and take action.

We have.


Alex Charfen is the CEO of the Charfen Institute, he can be followed on twitter @alexcharfen