There are now thousands of cryptocurrencies in use around the world. Together they have a mind-blowing total value of $1.87trn.
The first and most important crypto, Bitcoin, appeared under mysterious circumstances in 2009. Since then, there have been many fascinating stories about regular people who founded cryptocurrencies that quickly grew to be worth billions of dollars. Here are five stories behind the world’s top cryptocurrencies. After that you can have a look at our guide on how to make money with cryptocurrency.
How did cryptocurrency come about?
Bitcoin was the first true cryptocurrency, but it wasn’t invented out of thin air: the ideas and technology behind Bitcoin were in development long before the Bitcoin white paper was released in 2008.
Digital cash systems like Flooz.com and Digicash had already been invented by that time. Even the famous proof-of-work algorithm that’s at the core of Bitcoin was previously in use in a program called Hashcash to prevent email spam.
Bitcoin was the first project to put these ideas together in a way that worked well. It was also launched at the perfect time: in 2008, the global financial crisis was hitting the world economy hard, and many people were looking for a financial alternative to governments and big banks.
Now Bitcoin is so big that cryptocurrency can be divided into two types: Bitcoin and the rest, also known as altcoins. To this day, we know who created every cryptocurrency except for Bitcoin. Let’s take a look at the stories of some of the most popular coins today.
1. Satoshi Nakamoto: creator of Bitcoin
The original Bitcoin white paper was published under the name ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’. However, it soon became clear that Satoshi is not a real person. It’s a pseudonym used to hide the identity of the real person or group who invented Bitcoin.
Satoshi Nakamoto launched the genesis block of the Bitcoin blockchain in 2009. Then he continued working on the Bitcoin project until 2010 when he handed over control to other developers.
During the early stages of Bitcoin, it was much easier and cheaper to mine it. We can see on the blockchain that Satoshi owns around one million Bitcoins from that early mining, worth around $45bn today. Whoever Satoshi Nakamoto is, he (or she) is one of the richest people in the world.
There are many contenders for who the real Satoshi Nakamoto might be. Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto was a man revealed to have a surprisinging amount in common with the Bitcoin founder. His birth name is Satoshi Nakamoto, and he is a physicist and engineer with ties to the US military. When asked if he was the Bitcoin founder in an interview, he replied “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it”; however, he later claimed that he misunderstood the question.
Nick Szabo is a computer scientist and cryptographer who was heavily involved in the digital currency projects before Bitcoin. Many algorithms he was working on were used in the Bitcoin protocol, so it’s been speculated that he’s likely Satoshi. However, he adamantly denies these claims.
Craig Wright is perhaps the most controversial option. His public claims that he is Satoshi Nakamoto have been dismissed by experts – but he did manage to privately convince a member of the Bitcoin Foundation. Wright remains a highly controversial figure to this day.
2. Vitaly Buterin: creator of ethereum
Vitaly Buterin, also known as Vitalik, is the co-founder of Ethereum and Bitcoin Magazine. He’s Russian-born but founded Ethereum in Canada, and is the embodiment of a prodigy. He was immensely gifted as a child and started getting interested in cryptocurrency early on. In 2011, he participated in the launch of Bitcoin Magazine becoming its lead writer.
In 2013, Buterin first published the whitepaper for Ethereum, the first smart contract platform. After a rocky launch involving hacks and project in-fighting, Vitalik has come out victorious. He’s now one of the world's youngest billionaires at just 27. Moreover, the Ethereum project seems to be just getting started, as Ethereum 2.0 is working its way into the market.
3. Charlie Lee: creator of litecoin
Charlie Lee was a computer programmer working for Google when he discovered Bitcoin in 2011. He quickly became obsessed, and soon started thinking about launching his own cryptocurrency. He thought that Bitcoin was fantastic, but not suitable for every application. Lee thought there needed to be a ‘lighter’ version of Bitcoin for smaller transactions.
He launched Litecoin in 2011, which has grown to become one of the most popular cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin. Lee is known for being practical and fair as he sold all his litecoins in 2017 to stop unintentionally affecting the price of the currency.
4. Jed McCaleb: creator of ripple and stellar
Jed McCaleb is a serial founder who created some of the most important projects in cryptocurrency history. In 2010 he started the world’s first Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox. Then he moved on to invent Ripple and recruit the leadership team to run the company. In 2014, McCaleb co-founded the Stellar Development Foundation and created Stellar, where he now serves as Chief Technology Officer.
McCaleb is clearly passionate about blockchain and is one of the most prolific founders of the decentralized movement.
5. Evan Duffield: creator of dash
Evan Duffield is another computer programmer that became obsessed with Bitcoin in the early days. Duffield thought there should be a version of Bitcoin that supported instant and anonymous payments, so he invented it. After deliberating over names for the new privacy-focused cryptocurrency, such as ‘XCoin’ and ‘DarkCoin’, he finally settled on ‘Dash’.
Committed to the long-term success of Dash, Duffield set up a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to govern the growth of the cryptocurrency over time. This proved to be a good move, and Dash is now one of the top privacy coins in the world.
Cryptocurrency is one of the most fascinating inventions of this century, and we still don’t know the true identity of its initial inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto. However, we do know the stories of many people who contributed to the technological development of cryptocurrencies before and after Bitcoin was first launched.
One thing all these crypto-founders have in common, is that they are smart, talented technology experts that have used their passion to change the world — and get rich in the meantime.
The crypto industry still has a long way to develop. The question is, who will invent the next big thing in cryptocurrency?