t’s been a wild twelve months for the world of cryptocurrencies, from the Elon Musk-fueled ascent of Dogecoin, to Web3 innovations and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), to the wild swings in Bitcoin and other crypto tokens.
Amid all the action, there’s also no shortage of money to be made in the $2 trillion crypto economy. Just ask the record 19 billionaires—7 more than last year—on Forbes’ annual World’s Billionaires list, published Tuesday, who made their money from cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
Newcomers to the list include the founders of Web3 infrastructure company Alchemy and the founders of OpenSea, a marketplace for nonfungible tokens. The three richest on the list–Changpeng Zhao, Sam Bankman-Fried and Brian Armstrong–all helm cryptocurrency exchanges.
Net worths are as of March 11, 2022.
Photographer: Bryan van der Beek/Bloomberg
Crypto’s richest person, Binance founder and CEO “CZ” is the 19th richest person in the world. Forbes estimates that he owns at least 70% of Binance, the leading global platform for crypto trading. Last year, the company reportedly facilitated about two-thirds of all trading volume handled by centralized changes, generating estimated revenue north of $16 billion. Based on those estimates, Forbes has raised its evaluation of CZ’s wealth from $1.9 billion last year. The 44-year-old also holds a small chunk of Bitcoin and an undisclosed amount of BNB, Binance’s native token. Binance plans to make a major investment in the parent company that will own Forbes following Forbes’ previously-announced public listing transaction.
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The 30-year-old moved from Hong Kong to the more crypto-friendly Bahamas in late 2021 alongside his exchange FTX, which raised $400 million in January at a $32 billion valuation. The startup’s backers include crypto VC shop Paradigm (headed by Coinbase founder Fred Ehrsam, another crypto billionaire), venture capital firm Sequoia, buyout firm Thoma Bravo and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board. FTX’s U.S. operations were also recently valued by investors, at $8 billion. A professed adherent of effective altruism–the utilitarian-inflected notion of doing the most good possible–Bankman-Fried has vowed to give away his entire fortune over his lifetime. He owns around half of FTX and more than $7 billion worth of FTT, the platform’s native token.
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The CEO and founder of Coinbase took the crypto exchange public through a direct listing in April 2021 at a stunning $100 billion valuation. Its market capitalization is about half that today, still good enough to make Armstrong–with his 19% stake–the third wealthiest person in crypto. A recognizable figure for his plain T-shirts and bald pate, Armstrong raised eyebrows in 2020 after demanding his employees to refrain from political discussion at work. In January, the 39-year-old dropped $133 million on a Bel-Air mansion, one of the city’s priciest home transactions to date. More recently, Armstrong has been advocating against the EU Parliament’s proposed crypto legislation.
The cofounder and chief technology officer of FTX, the press-shy Wang launched the crypto exchange with Bankman-Fried in 2019. Wang holds a 16% stake in FTX’s global business and over $600 million worth FTT, the native token of FTX. Before going into crypto, Wang was a software engineer at Google, where he helped build online booking platform Google Flights. He studied math and computer science at MIT.
The cofounder and executive chairman of blockchain company Ripple, whose XRP token is currently the 8th largest cryptocurrency, Larsen has kept busy fighting against a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit–first filed in December 2020–that alleges Ripple’s initial coin offering was an unlawful offer and sale of unregistered securities. Still winding its way through federal courts, the case is perceived by many crypto watchers as a landmark one for future token sales. Larsen and Ripple have denied wrongdoing. Separate from his legal challenges, the 61-year-old Larsen has partnered with climate groups to launch a campaign–“Change the Code, Not the Climate”–to pressure the Bitcoin community to reduce the digital asset’s heavy carbon footprint.
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The twin brothers–best known as Mark Zuckerberg’s college nemeses (as immortalized in Hollywood film The Social Network)–have turned their $65 million settlement with Zuck into digital gold, amassing crypto fortunes of roughly $4 billion apiece. The siblings, who began buying bitcoin in 2012, have since diversified their digital assets portfolios, acquiring other cryptocurrencies and launching crypto exchange Gemini. The duo also own digital art auction platform Nifty Gateway, a beneficiary of last year’s NFT craze (and the target of a lawsuit filed by art collector Amir Soleymani in October 2021, who accused the platform of changing its terms of sale; Nifty Gateway alleges Soleymani owes them $650,000).
The founder of South Korea’s leading crypto exchange, Upbit, Chi-hyung has cashed in on South Korea’s booming, $46 billion crypto market. He’s estimated to own about a quarter of Upbit’s parent company, Dunamu, which was valued at $17 billion last November when Hybe, the agency behind K-pop sensation BTS, bought a 2.5% stake. Qualcomm, the U.S. semiconductor giant, previously held 6% of Dunamu.
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The founder of investment group Digital Currency Group, Silbert has built a diversified crypto conglomerate. His investment firm controls Grayscale, which manages some $28 billion of crypto assets, as well as CoinDesk, a popular crypto news and events company. Through numerous subsidiaries, Silbert’s DCG has invested in more than 200 crypto startups. Prior to crypto, Silbert was an investment banker and entrepreneur who sold stock trading platform Second Market to Nasdaq in 2015 for an undisclosed amount.
McCaleb made most of his fortune from Ripple Labs and XRP, the payments-focused cryptocurrency project he cofounded in 2012; McCaleb left the project in 2013 after a falling out with Larsen and other team members. Since then, McCaleb has sold much of his XRP in periodic increments, adhering to a 2014 separation agreement he struck with Ripple Labs. He’s the founder and chief technology officer of cryptocurrency Stellar.
The cofounders of blockchain decacorn Alchemy, Viswanathan and Lau first met in 2011 at Stanford while serving as TAs for a computer science class; they have since built over 10 products together. Their first hit, meetup app Down To Lunch, was briefly the Apple App Store’s top social networking app in April 2016. After discovering crypto, the duo started Alchemy in 2017 as a toolkit for blockchain entrepreneurs and developers. Today, Alchemy is a leading development platform for Web3 applications, including NFT powerhouse OpenSea and decentralized exchange Kyber. In February, the company raised $200 million at a $10.2 billion valuation, less than four months after it was valued at $3.5 billion in a fundraising round.
The 30-somethings cofounded blockchain startup OpenSea, an early player in the booming NFT market. OpenSea serves as a peer-to-peer platform for users to create, buy and sell non-fungible tokens. In 2018, the duo entered the Y Combinator accelerator program with the idea of paying people in crypto to share their Wi-Fi hotspots. After discovering CryptoKitties–the Ethereum-run collectibles which attracted a cult-like following–they pivoted to the idea of a marketplace for nascent NFTs, which exploded in popularity last year. OpenSea raised capital in January at a $13.3 billion valuation—up from $1.5 billion just six months earlier. Finzer and Atallah each hold an estimated 18.5% stake in the company.
A cofounder of Coinbase, Ehrsam now runs Paradigm, which invests mainly in crypto companies and new tokens. In January, Paradigm invested in Citadel Securities, one of the largest market-makers in U.S. equity trading markets. The 34-year-old Ehrsam left Coinbase in 2017 but remains on the board and still holds a 6% stake in the company. Before discovering crypto, Ehrsam worked as a foreign exchange trader at Goldman Sachs. The young mogul partly credits his crypto success to being a “hardcore gamer” in highschool.
The executive vice president of South Korea’s Dunamu, Hyoung-nyon owns an estimated 13% of South Korea’s leading crypto exchange, which he cofounded a decade ago with fellow crypto billionaire Song Chi-hyung.
Saylor has turned MicroStrategy, the business software company he cofounded in 1989, into a Bitcoin proxy. In 2020 alone, the crypto enthusiast oversaw MicroStrategy’s purchase of over 70,000 bitcoins–at a cost of roughly $1.1 billion–using cash reserves and borrowed funds. The bet has paid off as Bitcoin’s value has soared. MicroStrategy’s stock has quadrupled the last two years, returning Saylor to the three-comma-club. (A dot-com era billionaire, the 57-year-old Saylor saw his fortune plummet during the dot-com crash and in the wake of an accounting scandal.) Ever hungry for bitcoin, Saylor’s MicroStrategy announced in late March that it took on a $205 million loan to buy more of the leading cryptocurrency.
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Roszak began buying bitcoin in 2012 and participated in early initial coin offerings, buying up tokens such as Mastercoin, Factom and Maidsafe in 2013. Roszak has also invested in various crypto startups, including popular exchanges Coinbase and Kraken. Prior to crypto, Roszak worked as a venture capitalist at firms like SilkRoad Equity (where he settled SEC charges of insider trading) and in private equity for Advent International in the United Kingdom. A true believer, Roszak recently co-led an initiative to give every member of Congress $50 worth of digital assets and says he gave Richard Branson and Bill Clinton their first bitcoins.
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A venture capitalist by trade, Draper first invested in Bitcoin in 2012. Two years later, in 2014, he bought 29,656 bitcoins for $18.7 million–or just $632 per coin–from the U.S. Marshals, in an auction of tokens it had confiscated from the Silk Road, the infamous online market for illicit goods and services. Earlier this year, Draper told Forbes he believes Bitcoin would hit $250,000 by the end of 2022; it currently trades under $50,000.
From left-to-right: Sam Bankman Fried, Changpeng Zhao, Brian Armstrong