Whether cryptocurrencies are the future of money—or even a legitimate investment asset—is still up for debate. But at least one of the early winners of the Bitcoin boom has already cashed out enough to join the ultra-wealthy league of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Elon Musk to self-label as a billionaire philanthropist.
Last week, Brian Armstrong, the 35-year-old co-founder and CEO of cryptocurrency trading app Coinbase, signed the Giving Pledge, started by Buffett and Gates in 2010, to give away the bulk of his net worth to philanthropic causes.
Armstrong, a first-time entrepreneur, was the first crypto entrepreneur to sign the pledge, which has recruited more than 180 billionaire philanthropists, including Ray Dalio, Bill Ackman and Michael Bloomberg, among others.
Armstrong co-founded Coinbase in 2012 (when Bitcoin was less than $10) with former Goldman Sachs banker Fred Ehrsam. The company was recently valued at $8 billion, putting Armstrong’s net worth at $1.3 billion, according to Forbes.
At the peak of the Bitcoin bubble in early January of this year, Forbes estimated Armstrong’s net worth at between $900 million and $1 billion. Since then, Bitcoin’s dollar value has plummeted by more than 80 percent. But that crash didn’t stop Coinbase from growing, hence Armstrong’s personal wealth.
In the months of Bitcoin’s sharp decline this year, Coinbase added users at a faster speed than before the cryptocurrency’s 2017 peak. According to data studied by Bitcoin evangelist Alistair Milne, Coinbase signed up 25,000 users a day in the period between February and October. These users pay a 1.5 percent commission fee on every transaction performed on the exchange.
“Once a certain level of wealth is reached, there is little additional utility from spending more on yourself. One’s ambition begins to move outwards,” Armstrong said in a blog post on the Giving Pledge website. “I’ve always admired founders and leaders whose ambition to improve the world supersedes any goal related to personal wealth.”
In addition to the Giving Pledge, earlier this year Armstrong started a separate philanthropic effort called GiveCrypto.org, which makes direct cash transfers to people living in poverty. This platform could help donors who don’t want to reveal their real identities convert crypto contribution into cash without having the benefactor set up a digital wallet.
GiveCrypto.org has so far raised $4 million worth of cryptocurrencies from donors.
“I’m excited about the potential for this organization to help people, but I’m still early on my journey of discovering how to have the most impact via philanthropy,” Armstrong wrote.