Crypto billionaires are becoming a rare breed. When Vitalik Buterin revealed he was no longer a billionaire in May, the Ethereum cofounder spoke for many of the ultra-rich in cryptocurrency. A number of the wealthiest founders have lost billions of dollars in net worth to the 2022 bear market, or “crypto winter”.
According to Forbes, the number of crypto billionaires on The Forbes 400 list of the richest people in the U.S. dropped from seven in 2021 to four this year. Their combined wealth fell similarly, from $55.1 billion to $27.3 billion, it says.
It comes as cryptocurrency holdings have been hit hard by a sharp decline in prices following the collapse of the Terra blockchain in May. Bitcoin (BTC) is down more than 70% from its record closing high of $69,000 in Nov. 2021.
Every other cryptocurrency of significance fell alongside bitcoin. Ethereum (ETH), the second-largest digital asset, has slumped 75% from its all-time high. Solana (SOL), Cardano (ADA) and Binance Coin (BNB) are all in the red.
In total, the value of all crypto assets has dropped from over $3 trillion in November to $967 billion as of writing, per Coinmarketcap data. This year’s bear market is unprecedented in some ways.
It represents a combination of difficult macroeconomic conditions, geopolitical tensions, and dubious projects/decisions by crypto founders. The Bitcoin Fear and Greed Index, a tool that tracks momentum levels in the industry, is currently reading “extreme fear.”
Crypto billionaires and their declining fortunes
In June, bitcoin dropped to under $18,000 – and with it the fortunes of a few crypto founders and backers.
Sam Bankman-Fried, the cofounder and CEO of crypto exchange FTX, is down 23% since his fortune hit $22.5 billion over the past year, according to Forbes. With a net worth of $17.2 billion, Bankman-Fried remains the richest person in crypto. He is ranked at number 41 on The Forbes 400 list.
The 30-year old made big moves this year. He gave away $16 million to super PACs in April, making him one of the top donors. He also plans to give between $100 million and $1 billion during the next U.S. presidential election to support Democrats.
In crypto, Bankman-Fried has become some sort of messiah. In June, he loaned $400 million to BlockFi through FTX. There was an option to buy the troubled crypto lender outright for up to $240 million.
He also provided a $500 million loan to bankrupt lender Voyager Digital through one of his companies Alameda Research. Bankman-Fried is planning more acquisitions, according to industry media, cheered on by a cashpile of around $2 billion at FTX.
Ripple’s Chris Larsen
Chris Larsen, cofounder and chairman of crypto payments firm Ripple Labs, saw his wealth fall from $6 billion to $2.8 billion over the last year. The 62-year-old’s net worth slumped after Ripple’s XRP native token crashed by 75% since last year.
Ripple has also been impacted by its long-running legal battle against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It won the case a few days ago. Over the past two weeks, the price of XRP has soared more than 30% to $0.4595 at press time.
Larsen stays on Forbes’ rich list at number 380. The business executive and angel investor has shied away from making public comments on the SEC lawsuit, although he continues to engage publicly about Bitcoin.
Considered Bankman-Fried’s right-handman, Gary Wang cofounded both Alameda Research and FTX. The 29-year-old software engineer is worth $4.6 billion. He makes the Forbes 400 rich list at number 227.
Wang owns 16% of FTX, where he is chief technology officer. He worked at Google “where he formulated systems that were meant to aggregate prices for millions of flights.” While Wang maintains a private life, he is credited with spearheading FTX’s growth as much as Bankman-Fried.
The fall from grace
Coinbase Global’s Brian Armstrong, 39, and cofounder Fred Ehrsam, 34, were once worth a combined $15 billion. They have seen their fortunes collapse to $2.7 billion and $1.1 billion as shares of the firm plunged 80% since its initial public offering in April last year.
While Armstrong retains his place in the Forbes 400 rich list at number 388, the founder may have seen one of the biggest declines in fortunes. Last year this time he was worth $11.5 billion. Ehrsam, who left Coinbase in 2017, dropped from the rich list after his worth fell from $3.5 billion.
The bear market has taken a toll on Coinbase, the largest U.S. crypto exchange. Quarterly trading volume almost halved to $277 billion during the fourth quarter of 2021, compared to the previous three months. The exchange makes money from charging fees on trades.
Coinbase also laid off 18% of its workforce in June, citing the possibility of a recession that could lead to a prolonged bear market. “We grew too quickly,” Armstrong said at the time.
“Our employee costs are too high to effectively manage this uncertain market. The actions we are taking today will allow us to more confidently manage through this period even if it is severely prolonged.”
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss saw their fortunes fall to $2.2 billion each, from as high as $4.3 billion apiece. With markets crashing, the 40-year-old twin founders of crypto exchange Gemini have taken on music. They’ve gone on tours with their rock band, Mars Junction.
Both have dropped from the Forbes 400 rich list. Gemini announced in June that it would cut around 10% of its stuff due to unfavourable market conditions.
Crypto billionaires: Will they recover their wealth?
There are several crypto tycoons who remain billionaires not included on Forbes 400 list of wealthy people. Founders such as Changpeng Zhao of Binance, Mike Novogratz of hedge fund Fortress Investment Group and others, have lost billions from the market downturn.
However, bear markets are not a rare occasion in the digital markets spectrum. Therefore, it’s not surprising that crypto fanatics maintain that the events are only temporary – just as much they remain hopeful things will turn for better in the near future.
Buterin, the Ethereum confounder, has previously suggested he would welcome lower crypto prices. In February, he told Bloomberg News: “The people who are deep into crypto, and especially building things, a lot of them welcome a bear market.”
Fred Ehrsam, the Coinbase cofounder and board member, tweeted: “One thing most people don’t fully grasp: it takes years, often decades, to go from a new infrastructure-level technology breakthrough (like crypto) to a vibrant ecosystem of mainstream applications.”
The Winklevoss twins, say their investments are long term. “It’s all about perspective and HODLing for the long game,” Cameron Winklevoss wrote on Twitter in May.
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