Meet Bitcoin millionaire Charlie Shrem

The constant attention is getting to Charlie Shrem. “I’m having dinner with my family and people come up to me and say, ‘You’re the Bitcoin guy.’ I get a lot of free drinks but it’s annoying, I never talk about anything else.”

Shrem doesn’t need free drinks. At 23, he is among the handful of Bitcoin millionaires who bought up the digital currency in its early stages, when units were below $10 US and the circulation was tiny. As bitcoins shot up to over $200 US each, he became CEO of premier exchange forum BitInstant, and vice chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation, his vehicle for domination.

“It’s the largest socio-economic change since democracy,” Shrem tells Metro, talking by phone from his offices in New York. “We are in a digital age and the only thing that is not digital is money, so every cash exchange requires you to trust a middleman company and pay high transfer fees. With Bitcoin it’s instant and the transfer fee is under one per cent.”

But how to take it out of its tech ghetto into everyday life? “When normal people realize the advantages they will be attracted. And it’s not niche anymore — millions of people around the world are using it, and the people that are not using it have heard of it,” says Shrem.

It’s a long way from 2011, when Shrem, a finance graduate from City University of New York–Brooklyn College, bounced from rejection to rejection in his efforts to launch the company with his partner, the Welsh software developer and Asperger syndrome sufferer Gareth Nelson.

Shrem met Nelson on a forum — and they have still not met in person. Eventually a $10,000 US loan from Shrem’s mother, and an investment from so-called Bitcoin Jesus, Roger Ver, got BitInstant on its feet.

“It was about surviving to the next day, never sleeping,” Shrem says of the beginning. “There is a strong community culture with Bitcoin as there is not much consumer protection — it’s difficult to win trust and easy to lose it. You live on your reputation.”

The currency has itself struggled with image, best known for facilitating drug and gun deals at first. But with increased scrutiny from authorities, Shrem wants to make it respectable. “We’re all trying to take it away from the negative. A lack of professionalism could derail it at this point.”

And that’s his mission. More than getting rich, Shrem is an evangelist. “I’m a purist. I believe technology can change the world. We just need to share the same vision.”

Bitcoin basics

  •  Unlike the loonies and toonies in your pocket, a Bitcoin is not issued by a national government’s central bank. A Bitcoin is created by a computer program, which uses a complex cryptographic algorithm to prevent people from fabricating their own counterfeit coins.
  •  Anyone with an Internet connection can trade Bitcoins, making it a free alternative to PayPal or credit cards for online purchases.
  •  To safeguard against fraud, anyone can view every Bitcoin transaction ever made. But the virtual wallets in which Bitcoins are stored are not linked to any personal information.
  •  Because there are a fixed number of Bitcoins in existence, their value fluctuates as they are bought and sold on open exchanges, similar to a commodity such as gold.- Torstar News Service

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