In the universe of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, Sarah Blincoe says she’s one of a kind.
Her hair pulled back tightly through a black Callaway hat as she sits at the head of an ornate wooden table, Blincoe tells her largely male audience on the second floor of NextSpace in downtown Santa Cruz that “girls in bitcoin are like unicorns.”
She isn’t the only woman in the room, though. First-timer Karen, a massage therapist, shyly tells the group that she’s a “non-technical person trying to do this.” Christina Prince, who attended the meetup with her husband, is curious about the “mysterious bitcoin” she’d been hearing about.
Blincoe looks happy to see Karen and Christina at the meeting, and makes sure they feel comfortable. As an industry vet and CEO of her own cryptocurrency company—Dual Stream Technology Inc.—the under-35 co-organizer of the monthly Santa Cruz Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Meetup says her main goal for 2017 “was to get more women involved in bitcoin.” She succeeded.
Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are going mainstream, attracting millions of people and billions of dollars. And since that August meeting, which drew 18 people, bitcoin has begun making bigger and bigger headlines. It broke through the $4000 barrier for the first time later that month—which, at the time, was a historic high.
Four months later, the price of a single bitcoin has more than quadrupled, briefly rising above $18,000 before stabilizing around $13,500, where it sits today. The attendance of the Santa Cruz Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Meetup has also quadrupled, overwhelming the medium-sized conference room at Nextspace. The group’s 45th official meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17 at NextSpace.
Bitcoin, the world’s first decentralized cryptocurrency, has jumped more than 1,300 percent in value in the past year. Almost overnight, it has gone from an obscure speculative investment idea to a mainstream phenomenon and coveted commodity; a $50 investment made in 2010 would be worth be worth several million today. The total market capitalization for bitcoin now exceeds $231 billion, and the total global market value of all cryptocurrencies is more than $700 billion.
More than 1,000 merchants accept Bitcoin, including Microsoft, Overstock.com, New Egg, Expedia and Dish Network. Some companies, like Starbucks, let customers switch the currency onto what’s called a “Gyft Card,” while others convert cryptocurrencies to dollars for a fee. The currency is far from perfect, however, as certain fees run high, and it can take hours for a single transaction to go through.
The rise of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has mirrored the growth of Santa Cruz’s cryptocurrency meetup.
“Interest is coming in from all over the place,” Blincoe tells GT in a recent email. “Healthcare, investing, distributed systems, nonprofits, financial institutions, and average everyday people join us each month. We are an extremely diverse group, with ages ranging from 9 years old to 80.”
There are no age limits on bitcoin, and one teenager invested birthday money from his grandmother six years ago. Now at 18, CNBC has reported that he’s a millionaire.
NextSpace’s intimate second-floor conference room, which hosted more than three years of pizza- and wine-fueled gatherings, can now barely hold the ever-growing meetings. Blincoe says she would love to host meetings in a new space that can hold a couple of hundred people, and do beginners sessions to help educate the people Santa Cruz County.
When Sean Gilligan co-founded the Santa Cruz Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Meetup with his two friends in July of 2014, he says he could have never anticipated the sudden explosion of interest in bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, or his Meetup.
Locals, Gilligan tells me, are starving for good information about bitcoin and other digital, virtual or alternative currencies. Beginners have begun to overwhelm his monthly gatherings, and he gladly welcomes “crypto-newbies,” as he calls them.
The majority of attendees, says Gilligan, are still those with technical backgrounds, like computer science, engineering and web development. But activists and those hoping for economic change are begun to come to the monthly meetings in large numbers as well. The fastest growing group at the Santa Cruz Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Meetups, he says, are investors, traders, and speculators.
“Seasoned cryptocurrency specialists and the crypto-curious are all more than welcome to the group,” Gilligan explains in an email.
Part of bitcoin’s value is that only 21 million will ever exist, a decision that was largely made to prevent inflation. Each coin’s divided into 10 million smaller parts, called Satoshis. The Satoshi is named for the mysterious creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. The secret identity of Nakamoto, the man who designed and launched the world’s first cryptocurrency in 2009, remains a growing legend. On exchanges like Coinbase or GDAX, investors or speculators can buy any percentage of a bitcoin that they wish, and have exposure to the cryptocurrency without having to pony up the more than the $13,000 it costs to buy an entire coin.
As bitcoin has soared in popularity, so has its notoriety. Skeptics have noted that bitcoins aren’t regulated like normal money. Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz called for it to be outlawed for its “lack of oversight.” Others have decried bitcoin’s exorbitant energy use and called into question its volatility, the motives of its creators and its ability to remain insulated from fraud, but it’s been garnering more respect from economists.
The topic of fraud is one that comes up in the weekly meetings at NextSpace. There are many other intricacies to digital currency that Blincoe and Gilligan explore, like legal issues, fees, tax laws, where to buy cryptocurrencies, and setting up digital wallets.
“The future will be so much fun, and cater to a wide span of people no matter their exposure to technology,” writes Blincoe. “We are just getting started!”
Santa Cruz Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Meetup will be held from 6:30-8:30 for “Q&A Night and 2018 Kickoff” on Wednesday, Jan. 17 at NextSpace at 101 Cooper St., Santa Cruz.