Steven McKie, a writer, developer, and cryptocurrency investor, first came across bitcoin BTCUSD, -0.11% in 2012 when he was 21 and it was worth $60 per coin. But at the time he couldn’t afford food or textbooks for college — let alone invest in a mysterious cryptocurrency he found online.
McKie, 27, grew up in the conservative South in a multiracial family, with a mom who worked as a waitress at a local Waffle House and a dad who was a construction worker — a “humble background,” he said. The investor was the first in his low-income family to go to college, and while in school he put dollar menu items on a credit card and survived on dietary supplements, he said.
Today, he won’t say how much money he has made from cryptocurrency or his net worth, but he isn’t hurting for funds, having paid off $48,000 in school-related debt from his profits. “I’ve definitely started from the bottom,” McKie told MarketWatch.
He previously worked at Purse, a bitcoin shopping website, and recently co-founded a crypto hedge fund called Amentum. The venture, which is seeking to raise $10 million in funding, celebrates the diversity of its co-founders. Three of the four are African-American — a unique level of representation in the crypto world, which is 66% white, according to a 2015 study.
MarketWatch spoke with McKie about his early investments, and what it has been like to watch cryptocurrencies evolve from what some thought was a crackpot idea — some still think it is — to the investment that everyone’s talking about.
MarketWatch: How did you first get involved in bitcoin?
Steven McKie: I was just trolling around online and I came across it being mentioned somewhere on [download site] Pirate Bay. It seemed interesting to me when I heard of it because someone was asking for donations in it. I looked up what it was and tried to understand it and see if there was a way it could benefit me, but I couldn’t afford it at the time.
In 2013 I got a job working as a Genius at an Apple store near the university. One of the tech workers there was into bitcoin mining [the process of using computer power to verify bitcoin transactions — miners are given a monetary prize for contributing], and when I heard of that I introduced him to another friend of mine who was also into bitcoin. I worked with him to get altcoin miners built and we started flipping them. We would mine a bunch of alt coins like Litecoin early on and then trade them when the price went up — mind you at that time the market cap was still at 5 million and these currencies were going from a couple cents to 50 cents.
MarketWatch: What drew you to the bitcoin community?
McKie: It has some of the brightest people in the world working on these projects because it’s so interdisciplinary — you need to know software, economics, finance, and more. It’s the amalgamation of so many skills that draws a very particular type of person to these spaces.
Coming from a low-income background I wanted to actualize myself and benefit others at the same time. If I could make money and also build a tool that helps other people, that seemed like a win-win for me.
MarketWatch: Why do you think bitcoin has taken off lately the way it has?
McKie: The reason we’ve been having this explosion is the NASDAQ bitcoin futures— which is basically Wall Street saying hey we are still relevant — you can tell people you made money on bitcoin even though you never touched it. They are fighting to maintain relevance but what is funny is the more you try to claim you have control over bitcoin the more you show you do not quite understand the theoretical mechanisms at play here.
MarketWatch: How much do you think bitcoin will be worth next year?
McKie: There are a lot of things that can affect it. We need to see if better alternatives continue to show up over time that reduce the electricity used to create bitcoin. So a year from now I do not know what the price will be but I know collective market caps will be 2-3 times greater than what they are now.
MarketWatch: Could you talk more about your financial background and the role it played in your crypto career?
McKie: When I decided I needed to put myself through college, I was the first one to go in my family. My mom was jobless at the time, so I had to do her taxes, and apply for student loans to attend college. I was not able to get enough money in federal grants to be able to afford text books so I did all my classes without textbooks and tried to learn the best I could. It was very hard — you do a lot of unsavory things when you are trying to survive.
When I discovered bitcoin I felt I had become a part of something that was going to be huge, and since I had a very poor background and poor family, bitcoin and the crypto community kind of became my family.
MarketWatch: What do you think of people who look at those who got rich off of bitcoin as lucky?
McKie: [My success] did not come as an accident, I worked my ass off. There were periods of time in college where I only ate Muscle Milk protein and Clif bars and every bit of cash I had went into crypto. Any time I could I would skip meals and be back on my computer trying to invest and dig myself out of this hole. I knew with the right amount of input I could get something out of it. I didn’t know what the timeline would be — all I knew is once I started working on it I couldn’t stop
McKie: All I will say is that I’ve eradicated all my debt and now I have the flexibility to start a hedge fund. Everything else I just tell the IRS, and that is the only person who needs to know.
I know personally many people who will become billionaires by next year. There have been a lot of multimillionaires who have been created in the past year. I can say the network I am in is now very wealthy.
MarketWatch: Are these potential billionaires you know actually billionaires or are they just holding that in bitcoin?
McKie: A little of both. There are those that just held egregious sums of bitcoin — every year for the past 5 years they have been accumulating all these assets and holding on to those funds in crypto because they don’t want to pay capital-gains tax.
And then there are those who have sold a lot off out to fiat [exchanged the bitcoin for dollars] and paid taxes on it. There are some who have made enough post tax where it makes sense to sell it, but there are others who want to wait until there is more clarity on taxes so they have more money post tax.
MarketWatch: What is the biggest risk to bitcoin right now?
McKie: The biggest risk to bitcoin is the exchanges and services that are acting as liquidity providers and on-ramps like Coinbase — as they take custody of larger and larger amounts of funds and as bitcoin continues to grow in value, there is huge counterparty risks when it comes to these exchanges [risks that the exchange will not come through with the funds it is holding]. I could see some exchange being held hostage. But as the space matures we will get more tools [to reduce this risk].
MarketWatch: What do you think is the highest value bitcoin will go to?
McKie: Technically there is no ceiling on bitcoin price potential. It’s a standard supply and demand market. Crypto as a whole is basically a siphon for fiat wealth, and as the value grows, the incentive to put your money in crypto continues to grow.
So from a price standpoint, bitcoin has no ceiling — it’s infinite. When people ask about price target, we say “to the moon” — and nobody knows what that means. When bitcoin hit 10,000 I thought “Is this the moon?” but as the price goes up, we get happier. There is also no ceiling on happiness and we will see that continue to grow.