Bitcoin, amirite? 

Technically, I should probably say virtual currency. 

Because it's this broader category, not bitcoin specifically, that vaulted a guy I'm willing to bet you've never heard of near the top of the pile--"net worth-wise," at least. 

In fact, at one point on Thursday, he was briefly the fifth-wealthiest person in the world.

I'll name him in a second, but to be clear, that put him in front of Mark Zuckerberg, the Koch brothers, and the co-founders of Google.

It put him way ahead of Donald Trump. (Far and away the heck ahead of me, too. And you, I'm guessing.)

His name: Chris Larsen, co-founder of Ripple, which the New York Times calls an "upstart virtual currency," and which also did the math. Because Larsen also also happens to be the world's largest holder of Ripple tokens.

So what happened to pump him up so much in a day? I feel like you already know the story, if not the specific details.

A month ago, more or less, a single Ripple token was apparently worth about 22 cents. Yesterday, it maxed out at $3.84.

In other words it was worth 17.5 times more yesterday than it was a month ago. It's also up 49,500 percent over the last year. Why? That's a subject for another column. But set the cause aside for a moment.

Because sometimes I worry that numbers don't make things clear.

Because a lot of us are, if not innumerate, less "numerically perceptive" than we are "visually perceptive."

So let's put it in terms that might make more sense. The increase in the price of Ripple means that if you were to take a single Ripple token, and imagine it was worth this much one year ago: 

$.

It would now be worth this, after a year of hypergrowth: 

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

What will it be worth a year from now? I have literally no idea. If it continued at that rate of growth the rest of this column would appear to be an almost never-ending parade of dollar signs. More than 240,000 of them, to be precise.

But with that, Larsen's net worth has risen as well: to a peak of $59 billion on Thursday, enough to leapfrog him over many of the icons we spend a lot of digital ink writing about here on the digital version of Inc.

Yes, later in the day the price of Ripple dropped, and with it Larsen's net worth and his position on the virtual ladder.

But this stuff is so volatile, and on such a trajectory, that I can only imagine I might well be here a week from now writing that he's passed Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos.

Look, I'm the last person to advocate that you buy virtual currency. I'm no expert. I'm not sure who is. 

I don't think of myself as risk-averse, but having watched friends and family get burned in several smaller bubbles--real estate, the dot-com craze--I haven't bought in.

Even as I've watched the price go up.

Even as a friend of mine posted on Facebook that he can't believe he once owned 60 bitcoin, and decided (apparently a while ago), to sell. I guess that would be worth just under $1 million today. 

Even as, while I write this, I wonder if I'm missing out.

At this point in my life however, my personal investment strategy is basically FANG plus "Bet on Bill." The latter phrase may be corny, but it's my shorthand for reminding myself, in moments of doubt, that I should always rely first on my own entrepreneurial efforts.

Because I like to bet on stuff I can control--or at least, where I can at least control some of the inputs (like my own effort and resourcefulness).

Bitcoin? Ripple? Virtual currency?  For now, I'm still skeptical.

And I guess that at this stage in life, at least on this kind of bet, I'd rather risk being a spectator than a sucker.

Even when I realize that someone most of us has never heard of until a day ago suddenly has a net worth that equals the gross domestic product of the entire country of Costa Rica.

Published on: Jan 5, 2018
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