I’ve covered the cryptocurrency market as a journalist since 2010 or so. I remember when it was an interesting idea, and Bitcoin was the only available cryptocurrency. Since then, thousands of cryptocurrencies have come into being, and blockchain technology is used for a number of purposes beyond payments.
However, I became really interested in cryptocurrencies when someone offered to pay me a single bitcoin for an article in 2011. While I had been following some of the developments on the crypto market, this made it more personal for me. I went through the process of setting up a digital wallet, received my bitcoin, and wrote a brief article about how things went.
Bitcoin: Then and now
At the time, Coinbase, one of the world’s leading cryptocurrency exchanges (it was founded in 2012), didn’t exist. Kraken (founded in 2011) and Mt. Gox (founded in 2010) were two places to buy and sell Bitcoin, but I didn’t use either. Since then, Mt. Gox has ceased to exist, while Kraken has continued to do well. Now, there are many cryptocurrency exchanges and multiple ways to buy, sell, and trade cryptocurrencies.
Today, the cryptocurrency market has grown from being worth 27 cents in July of 2010 to the top 48 cryptocurrencies having a combined value just shy of $1 trillion at the end of June 2021. More than 5,000 different cryptocurrencies are now available.
And I have done reasonably well because of my lucky positioning at the beginning.
Bitcoin in 2011: What I thought then
In 2011, when I received 1 bitcoin for my article, I was fascinated by the idea of a decentralized medium of exchange. Additionally, at the time, I liked the idea of sending global person-to-person payments without all the hassle and expense of wire transfers and PayPal fees. I didn’t really think of Bitcoin in terms of how to invest money or as something that could potentially help me see portfolio gains.
But, when someone offered to pay me what amounted to about $4 to write an article about Bitcoin, I accepted. At the time, it was the lowest fee I’d ever received for my writing. However, I wanted to try it out, and it seemed like an easy way for me to get Bitcoin at the time.
In the course of my research, I discovered mining and, after receiving my article payment, I did a little mining experiment. It didn’t amount to anything. Even back then, without the need for a graphics card to mine cryptocurrency effectively, I still didn’t have the computing power to accomplish anything with crypto mining.
Even though not a lot happened in the years immediately after receiving my single bitcoin, I still followed developments in blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. When cryptocurrency exchanges became more commonplace, I transferred my Bitcoin from my old digital wallet to an exchange. I also bought another bitcoin sometime in 2012 or 2013 for around $100.
By following blockchain technology, I learned about other tokens and other blockchain platforms. I became interested in Ethereum for its multiple uses, including blockchain app development and its use in executing smart contracts. In 2016 and 2017, when the price of ether was between $10 and $20, I bought several coins.
After the end of 2017, when Bitcoin nearly reached $20,000 and then crashed, I began looking into cryptocurrencies again. Intrigued by Monero, I bought a bit in 2018 (around $150) and also purchased some Litecoin (around $100) at the same time.
After completing these purchases, I sent the bulk of my holdings to a newly-purchased cold wallet and locked it away in my document safe.
Bitcoin in 2021: What I think now
Today, while I still find the idea of decentralized finance interesting, I feel that, in many cases, Bitcoin isn’t practical as a medium of exchange. The block sizes are limited with Bitcoin, and it can take nearly an hour to complete a transaction because the ledger has become so big. However, Bitcoin is still the first and most well-known cryptocurrency. As a result, many people see it as a store of value or as an alternative investment.
Earlier, in 2021, I sold off some of my Bitcoin. First, a fraction of a coin when the price reached the $30,000 range and another fraction when the price was approaching $55,000. I still have some Bitcoin left, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with it. I might just hold onto it. My other crypto holdings have seen fairly spectacular gains, and that one article that paid me $4 back in 2011 has paid off more than anything else I’ve ever written.
3 lessons I learned along the way
1. Luck and time can make a difference
I got lucky with Bitcoin. My background as a science and technology writer before getting into financial writing meant that I was interested in cryptocurrency and blockchain and their intersection with mainstream money, so I was well-placed to write an article about the subject. And, rather than expecting my usual fee, I went out on a limb and accepted a new form of payment.
Then I just sat there with it. However, those that got in later haven’t seen the same returns — and some have lost money since getting in while it was high and then giving up and selling after it dropped.
In the end, it can be difficult to figure out “winners” and “losers” when something is new, whether it’s a new stock or a completely new asset class. So, even though I hold crypto, I still rely mainly on dollar-cost averaging into index funds to grow my long-term wealth.
2. Speculation can pay off, but it can also result in losses
My small amounts of capital originally put into cryptocurrency — even accepting a single bitcoin for an article — amounts to speculation, not investing. For me, the speculation paid off, mainly because I was willing to take profits at some point. When it became apparent that Bitcoin was popular enough to draw the masses, I sold some of my holdings. As a result, even if I never make another penny on any cryptocurrency, I still came out very far ahead of what I put in.
However, it’s been a wild ride, with gains and losses over time. Those who speculated while following the crowd were more likely to end up with losses, especially if they became disappointed and sold their crypto assets. I know people who bought Bitcoin at $15,000 in 2017 and then became disappointed in late 2018 and sold when the price had cratered below $4,000. There’s no way to know if cryptocurrencies are truly here to stay or if new technology will eventually replace blockchain technology.
As a result, I’m careful about limiting my portfolio in terms of alternatives and speculative assets. It’s important to risk only what I can afford to lose and what I’m comfortable with losing.
3. Take profits when you can if you’re speculating
While I probably should have taken some Bitcoin profits in 2017, if I was following my own advice, I was too lazy to go through the process of digging out the cold wallet and moving the coins. However, after seeing the huge gains in early 2021, I decided that it was time to take some gains.
When speculating, it can make sense to take profits, especially when you’re ahead. Yes, I still have Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. But I’ve taken profits, and if everything goes to zero, I’m still ahead. I do the same thing with individual stocks I experiment with. When I reach a certain threshold of gains, I take some of the profits, usually keeping the amount of my original investment intact while locking in gains.
As a result, I don’t usually experience investing FOMO. Could I have made more on Bitcoin if I had waited until $60,000 to sell? Sure. But I still made a decent profit and captured gains, which is good enough for me. That’s money in the bank — it’s just on paper until you actually reap the gains.
How to invest in Bitcoin
Today, unlike when I received my first bitcoin, there are several easy ways to buy Bitcoin. Many exchanges, including Kraken, Coinbase, Gemini, and others make it easy to invest with as little as $2 and buy a fraction of a Bitcoin. You can learn how to buy cryptocurrency and even trade cryptocurrency pairs through many exchanges.
If you decide to learn how to buy Bitcoin, though, it’s important to carefully consider why you’re doing so and figure out if it makes sense for your portfolio — and if you have a high risk tolerance in the event of a loss.
Additionally, you need to be aware of the capital gains consequences. Many crypto traders will receive an unpleasant surprise at tax time because these assets are treated similarly to stocks by the IRS. If you buy Bitcoin and then sell it in less than a year, you’ll pay short-term capital gains taxes rather than receiving the favorable long-term capital gains rate. I’ve had cryptocurrencies long enough that most of them (barring my recent Dogecoin experiment) are considered long-term assets.
The bottom line
It’s been a wild ride with Bitcoin, and I expect cryptocurrencies to continue to be volatile for some time yet, thanks to the fact that it's a new asset class and blockchain still isn’t mainstream. On top of that, it will be interesting to see what’s next as central banks launch their own digital currencies and countries introduce regulations. If you’re going to invest in Bitcoin and other cryptos, be sure you’re aware of the risks and can handle the losses.