Bitcoin is a digital asset and payment system with a market capitalization of around $452.1 billion as of Feb 4, 2023.1 It is considered by many to be one of the most successful digital currencies ever created. The first-ever bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) was launched in October 2021, pushing the cryptocurrency to new all-time highs.2
Bitcoin’s stratospheric rise since 2009 has created a surprising and diverse set of millionaires (and billionaires). But who owns the most bitcoin? It is tough to say for sure who owns the most bitcoin, as wallet addresses are anonymous in that they are not associated with the account owner’s name. The only way to tell is if the owner has publicized their holdings.
Many bitcoin holders have made their wealth by creating products to grow Bitcoin’s still-nascent ecosystem. For example, some have created exchanges for trading cryptocurrency and the derivatives that have emerged from it.3
Of course, Bitcoin was—and still is—a risky asset class. The absence of regulatory guardrails and the cryptocurrency’s price volatility have attracted criminals and investors alike.4 But those drawbacks only serve to highlight the achievements of Bitcoin millionaires because they not only were early adopters but also predicted its economic opportunity.
Changpeng Zhao (CZ)
Changpeng Zhao is the founder of Binance, the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume. According to Forbes, Zhao’s net worth was $4.5 billion in February 2023.6
Song Chi-hyung is the founder of Dunamu, the parent company of the leading cryptocurrency exchange Upbit in South Korea. Chi-hyung launched Upbit in 2017—within three months it was South Korea’s top crypto exchange. According to its third-quarter report, the exchange netted ₩219.3 billion (won), or $175 million in income. In 2021, it had a total comprehensive income of ₩2.15 trillion (won), or $1.73 trillion.89
According to the Forbes Real-Time Billionaire list, Chi-hyung is worth more than $3.7 billion.10
Brian Armstrong is the founder of Coinbase, North America’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume. He co-founded the exchange in 2012 after quitting his job as a software engineer at Airbnb. Armstrong has a 19% stake in Coinbase and is estimated to be worth $2.7 billion by Forbes in February 2023.11
Due to its easy-to-use interface and credibility, Coinbase is considered the gateway for retail investors to join the crypto ecosystem. The exchange has suffered many hiccups, such as halts in trading while attempting to scale operations amid crypto volatility.12 The exchange went public in April 2021 and had a total market capitalization of $17.08 billion at the close of trading on Feb. 17, 2023.13 Armstrong said he started Coinbase because he wanted the world to have a “global, open financial system that drove innovation and freedom.”11
Jed McCaleb is a well-known figure in cryptocurrency, as he was the founder of the notorious exchange Mt. Gox. He sold the exchange in 2013, one year before hackers stole nearly $460 million worth of cryptocurrency.
McCaleb went on to assist in launching the cryptocurrencies and blockchains Ripple and Stellar. He still holds about 3.4 billion XRP, which at February 2023 prices, sets him at close to $2.4 billion in total worth.14
After launching Stellar in 2014, McCaleb founded the Astera Institute, a 503(c)(3) non-profit for developing technology for human advancement, and Vast, a company reportedly working on artificial gravity technology.15
Cris Larsen is another well-known figure in the cryptocurrency arena, having co-founded Ripple alongside Jed McCaleb. He is still the executive chairman of the company. Before cryptocurrency emerged, Larsen co-founded the online mortgage lender e-Loan, which was later sold to Yahoo.
Larsen, referring to cryptocurrency and blockchain, told Forbes, “The internet of value is more than just laying out a new way of doing finance. I think, fundamentally, this represents the final step in globalization.”
Forbes placed Larsen’s worth at $2.2 billion in February 2023.16
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss parlayed the millions they earned from their lawsuit against Facebook into cryptocurrencies. They became the first billionaires in the crypto ecosystem after the late 2017 surge in Bitcoin prices. Forbes estimates their net worth at $1.1 billion each.1718
While most of their estimated wealth comes from investments in cryptocurrencies, the Winklevoss twins are also entrepreneurs who started the Gemini cryptocurrency exchange. The exchange was valued at $7.1 billion after its $400 million fundraising in November 2021.19 They also own Nifty Gateway, a platform to buy and sell non-fungible tokens (NFTs).20
Bitcoin has attracted numerous unconventional investors over the years. None, however, has the zeal and enthusiasm of Michael Saylor, CEO of software firm MicroStrategy Inc. (MSTR). The firm began acquiring the cryptocurrency in August 2020 by snapping up $250 million of bitcoin. At that time, the firm said it was buying the cryptocurrency to better use the cash holdings on its balance sheet.2122
Over time, Saylor has become a fierce supporter of Bitcoin and appeared at news and cryptocurrency conferences to evangelize its benefits and use cases.23 By December 2021, MicroStrategy had increased its holdings in Bitcoin to $3.5 billion, swooping in to buy the cryptocurrency during price dips.24
MicroStrategy’s stock price skyrocketed by more than 337% (as of December 2021) after it announced the Bitcoin acquisition. Meanwhile, Forbes estimates Saylor’s net worth to be $1.6 billion as a result of his bet on Bitcoin.25 In December 2022, Microstrategy again made a bitcoin purchase, adding 2,500 more to its holdings. As of February 2023, Microstrategy holds about 132,500 bitcoin—close to $3.2 billion.26