We don’t know the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin. We don’t know if Nakamoto is a singular person or a group of people. We don’t even know if Nakamoto is alive or dead.
But if Nakamoto is a single person, they’re currently the 52nd richest person in the world when measured against Forbes’ list of billionaires. And judging by the way Bitcoin’s price has exploded, they might soon sit on top of that list, potentially as the world’s first trillionaire.
Here’s the basics: Nakamoto is estimated to hold nearly 1 million bitcoins, giving him a net worth of more than $17 billion based on bitcoin’s price as of Tuesday. That would slot Nakamoto around 52nd near German retail overlord Dieter Schwarz.
Satoshi’s actual fortune isn’t easy to sum up, as his bitcoins — the first coins created on the Bitcoin network — are scattered over hundreds or thousands of addresses. But according to research by Sergio Demian Lerner, the figure is likely around 980,000 bitcoins (a debate on the Bitcointalk forums on this topic hasn’t reached a consensus, but most people agree the figure is around 1 million coins).
There’s plenty of skepticism around the future of Bitcoin’s price and whether or not Nakamoto will ever be able to cash out for even a fraction of that amount. Bitcoin proponents, however, are predicting that the 2017 explosion is just the start.
If they’re right, the notion that Nakamoto could become the world’s first trillionaire is suddenly not inconceivable.
A person of incredible restraint
The projection that Nakamoto could become the world’s first trillionaire comes with several caveats.
Save for some early test transactions, Satoshi’s bitcoins have never moved. For all we know, he’s never spent a single bitcoin. In his communication on forums and emails, they mostly focused on the development of Bitcoin, and they definitely never talked about Lamborghinis or yachts. And he’s been completely silent after his last email to former Bitcoin developer Mike Hearn in April 2011.
Are pseudonymous people eligible for the Forbes Billionaires list? Because Satoshi Nakamoto is now comfortably in the top 100 richest people in the world.
— Timothy B. Lee (@binarybits) December 7, 2017
But there’s still a very real possibility that there is a Satoshi Nakamoto out there that’s very much alive. While sitting on $17 billion and never spending any of it would show a restraint few people possess, Nakamoto is probably better off being anonymous. Craig Wright, an Australian entrepreneur, “outed” himself as Nakamoto in May 2016, only to have his house raided by the authorities within hours.
Volumes were written about Nakamoto’s possible identities, and no theories have proven conclusive. And new theories arise all the time, especially as the price of bitcoin — and Satoshi’s potential fortune — skyrockets.
The first trillionaire?
What seemed impossible just a year ago, when the price of Bitcoin was $1,000 (after a stellar 500 percent growth), is suddenly a very real possibility.
Who’s to say the price of Bitcoin won’t hit $88,000? That would make Satoshi the richest man in the world, ahead of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, who sit atop Forbes‘ current billionaire list with net worths around $86 billion.
Bitcoin’s price would have to be a little over $1 million per coin for Satoshi to become the world’s first trillionaire.
In fact, I set out to write this very text just months ago and gave up after a few sentences. It seemed preposterous — yes, the price of Bitcoin was in the thousands, but for Satoshi to even enter the 500 richest people list (it takes about $3.7 billion to enter that club), it’d have to rise to $3,880. I didn’t think that would happen for quite a while.
Fast forward to today, and the price of Bitcoin is up 1,800 percent this year, far beyond the predictions of even the most bullish Bitcoin experts.
The way things are looking now, I’d be surprised if Satoshi didn’t break the top 10 list next year. But let’s, for a second, take this a step further. Bitcoin’s price would have to be a little over $1 million per coin for Satoshi to become the world’s first trillionaire.
It’s a crazy figure but one that has been thrown around before, for example, by hedge fund manager James Altucher. And Cameron Winklevoss recently called Bitcoin a “multitrillion-dollar asset,” which would imply a price of at least $100,000 per bitcoin (with the current coin supply).
If that sounds impossible, remember that one bitcoin was worth a dollar in 2011 and just $200 two years ago. This type of sustained growth does not happen often — even the most successful companies such as Apple or Google grew at a much slower pace. Sure, maybe Bitcoin’s price will plummet before it comes anywhere near the price of $1 million.
But look at that Forbes list and name one other person other than Nakamoto who has a better chance of becoming a trillionaire soon. Or later. Or ever.
The other Bitcoin billionaires
Satoshi is not the only person who owns enough bitcoins for his fortune to become noticeable. Recently, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who invested around $11 million into Bitcoin in 2013, became Bitcoin billionaires as its price reached $11,500. Assuming they haven’t sold any of their bitcoins, their crypto-fortune is probably well over $1.5 billion right now.
I now own 0.0007 Bitcoins. When do I become a Bitcoin Billionaire?
— Jonathan O’Callaghan (@Astro_Jonny) December 8, 2017
Prominent Bitcoin investors Barry Silbert and Tim Draper, both of whom bought a significant amount of bitcoins from the U.S. government at an auction, are also good candidates for that billionaires list based on their estimated bitcoin holdings.
And in an unusually amusing case, the Bulgarian government is likely sitting on roughly $3 billion worth of Bitcoin, which was seized from criminals in May. Whoever made the decision not to auction those bitcoins right away (or perhaps it was the slow grind of bureaucracy) potentially earned the Bulgarian government billions of dollars.
At some point, the price of Bitcoin will stop rising — or it will at least slow down considerably. But its growth in the last two years has been so extraordinary that no prediction seems entirely impossible.
And with each price jump, Satoshi’s possible fortune becomes more incredible — and more dangerous. What happens if Satoshi decides to move some of his coins? No one knows — but Bitcoin did, in part, thrive due to its founder’s anonymity. A single transaction, a fraction of a bitcoin sent from Satoshi’s address to some other address, could cause major ripples in the cryptocurrency world.
And therein lies the catch. If Satoshi tries to spend any of his fortune, they might cause irreparable damage to Bitcoin. Suddenly, there would be a head to cut off — or at least disagree with. And if they want to remain anonymous, all they get from his invention is watching as his potential fortune increases, a fortune that they cannot spend.
Given Satoshi’s silence in the last six years, it’s quite likely that we may never hear from him or her again. And it’s not unimaginable that one day the richest man in the world — perhaps even the first trillionaire — will head Forbes’ billionaires list with a placeholder photo.