September 24, 2023

When Glauber Contessoto decided to invest his savings in Dogecoin last February, his friends had concerns.

“They were all like, you’re crazy,” he said. “It’s a joke coin. It’s a meme. It’s going to crash. “

Your skepticism was justified. After all, Dogecoin is a joke – a digital currency launched in 2013 by two programmers who decided to fake the cryptocurrency craze by creating their own virtual money based on a meme about Doge, a talking Shiba Inu puppy. And investing money in obscure cryptocurrencies has historically been akin to throwing it on a campfire.

However, 33-year-old Contessoto, who works for a hip-hop media company in Los Angeles, is no ordinary buy-and-hold investor. He is among the many exciting amateurs who have jumped headlong into the markets in the past few months, using stock trading apps like Robinhood to pursue oversized wins on risky, speculative bets.

After reading a Reddit thread about the potential of Dogecoin in February, Mr. Contessoto decided to go all-in. He took advantage of his credit cards, borrowed money using Robinhood’s margin trading feature, and spent everything he had on digital currency – around $ 250,000 total. Then he obsessively watched his phone as Dogecoin became an internet phenomenon, the value of which dwarfed that of blue-chip companies like Twitter and General Motors.

The value of his Dogecoin holdings today? About $ 2 million.

On the surface, Mr Contessoto, who dropped out of college and has no formal financial education, seems indistinguishable from a lucky gamer who walks into a casino, puts all of his chips on a single roulette spin, and leaves a millionaire.

But it also represents a new breed of hyper-online investor who is winning by applying the skills of the digital attention economy – sharing memes, cultivating buzz, producing endless streams of content for social media – to financial markets .

These investors, mostly young men, are not behaving rationally in the old-fashioned homo economicus sense. They don’t choose investments based on their underlying fundamentals or Wall Street analyst estimates, but rather on loose criteria such as how funny they are, how futuristic they look, or how many celebrities tweet about them. Their philosophy is that in today’s media-saturated world, attention is the most precious commodity of all and that whatever attracts a lot of it has to be worth something.

“Memes are the language of millennials,” said Contessoto. “Now we’re going to have a meme that matches a currency.”

Mr. Contessoto, a sociable, bearded hip-hop fan known by the nickname Jaysn Prolifiq, is a first-generation immigrant whose parents came to the United States from Brazil when he was 6. As a child in suburban Maryland, he saw his family struggling with money and he vowed to get rich. As a teenager, he discovered a taste for hip-hop music and after school moved to Los Angeles, where he made $ 36,000 a year as an entry-level video editor while trying to book gigs for a burgeoning company. Upcoming rapper he knew.

His dream was to save enough money to buy a house – one where he and his hip hop friends could make music together.

But that kind of cash was hard to come by, and he spent several years crashing into couches trying to save enough for a down payment.

In 2019, he started buying stocks in Robinhood, the commission-free trading app. He stuck to big, well-known companies like Tesla and Uber, and as those deals made money, he bought more. And in January 2021, he watched with fascination as a group of Reddit vendors successfully boosted GameStop’s share price, pressuring the hedge funds that had bet against the video game retailer, and making millions for themselves in the process. (He tried to get into GameStop trading but was late and lost most of his stake.)

Shortly after the GameStop saga, Mr. Contessoto was browsing Reddit when he saw a post about Dogecoin. He had heard of the currency before. (Elon Musk, who is roughly what Pope Francis is to Catholics to Dogecoin fans, had called it the “folk crypto”.) When he did more research, however, he was convinced that Dogecoin with its funny, approachable image was it next GameStop.

“Dogecoin has the best branding of any cryptocurrency,” he said. “If you show me all the symbols of Ethereum, Bitcoin, Litecoin, everything just looks super high-tech and futuristic. And Dogecoin just looks like this: Hey guys, what’s up? “

He envisions that newbies to investing in cryptocurrency for the first time will be interested in something fun and recognizable, and Dogecoin could eventually become something of a surge into the larger world of virtual money.

“I have a feeling that at some point we will all buy and sell things with memes, and Dogecoin will lead the way,” he said.

As strange as his investment thesis may seem, the results are hard to argue with. Even after a recent crash after Mr. Musk’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” (where he joked about Dogecoin as “the hustle and bustle”), Dogecoin remains a very lucrative trade. A dollar invested in Dogecoin on Jan. 1 would be worth $ 203 today – much more than a comparable investment in Bitcoin, Ethereum, or a share of the S&P 500.

The stratospheric rise of Dogecoin has also led to a lot of grumbling from cryptocurrency fans, who view it as a touchy sideshow that overshadows more serious uses of cryptocurrency. One of the original creators of Dogecoin rejected the coin, and even Mr Musk warned investors not to speculate too much on cryptocurrency. (Mr Musk recently roused the crypto markets again after announcing that Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin.)

Then what explains the shelf life of Dogecoin?

There is no doubt that the Dogecoin mania, like the GameStop mania before it, is at least partly due to a combination of boredom in the pandemic era and the eternal attraction of programs that get rich quick.

However, there may be more structural forces at work. In recent years, rising housing costs, record student loan debt, and historically low interest rates have made it harder for some young people to imagine financial stability by slowly climbing the career ladder and saving money on paychecks – their parents did.

Instead of ladders, these people are looking for trampolines – risky, volatile investments that can either result in a life-changing windfall or send them straight back where they started.

Mr. Contessoto is a prime case study. He now makes $ 60,000 a year at work – a decent livelihood, but nowhere near enough to afford a home in Los Angeles, where the middle house is nearly $ 1 million. He drives a beaten up Toyota and lived frugally for years. But in his 30s, still with no house by name, he decided to look for something that could change his fortune overnight and ended up on Dogecoin’s door.

When Mr. Contessoto remembers the way he used to seek wealth – work hard, cut expenses, save money on every paycheck – he sees evidence of a system directed against ordinary people.

“I feel like these experts on TV, the older generation of old money and wealth trying to get people to stay safe so no one gets too rich,” he told me.

His new motto was: “Fear of money doesn’t make money.”

There are many things about Mr. Contessoto’s investment philosophy that would turn the stomach for a traditional financial advisor. What is wildest, however, is that despite his spectacular winnings, he has not yet paid off his Dogecoin millions. He believes the price of the currency will continue to rise and he doesn’t want to miss out on future profits by selling too early. (He plans to sell 10 percent of his stake next year once his earnings are classified as long-term capital gains and taxed at a lower tax rate.)

Instead, he branded himself a Dogecoin expert, adopted nicknames like “The Dogefather” and “Slumdoge Millionaire”, and made YouTube videos promoting Dogecoin to others.

“I’m optimistic about how they get into the Dogecoin community,” he said. “If this has exceeded my expectations of Dogecoin and I haven’t gotten to it for two months, imagine where it will be in a year.”

Of course, as with any volatile investment, there is a real chance that Mr. Contessoto’s Dogecoin holdings will lose most or all of its value and that his dream of home ownership will become unattainable again. The price of Dogecoin has already fallen nearly 50 percent from its all-time high, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Contessoto’s portfolio.

But players rarely leave the table the first time they lose, and Mr. Contessoto’s dedication to “HODLing” – an acronym preferred by cryptocurrency traders that stands for “Hold for For Dear Life” – has propelled him through the recent market turmoil at. Earlier this week, he posted a screenshot of his cryptocurrency trading app showing that he had bought more. And on Thursday, when the value of his Dogecoin holdings fell to $ 1.5 million, roughly half what it was at its peak, he posted another screenshot of his account on Reddit.

“If I can HODL, you can HODL!” the label read.