the money game

A Trip to the Meme-Coin Casino

“I think this is all stupid and absurd. But I’m not going to complain.”

Illustration: Simoul Alva
Illustration: Simoul Alva

In 2021, we learned we could speculate on anything. Through NFTs, investors traded on emoji, tweets, jpegs, and farts. And in the meme-coin market, a lot of people made a lot of money on inside jokes. For the uninitiated, a meme coin is a crypto asset based on a meme or an internet joke. Unlike other cryptocurrencies, which try to serve a real-world purpose, the point of most meme coins isn’t really to do anything. Instead, they’re largely vehicles for speculation, their value driven by hype. Meme coins generally begin at a price of a few cents or less but can quickly soar to hysterical highs, making them beloved by the Robinhood crowd. Here, a student turned crypto trader in his mid-20s shares his frenzied journey through the meme casino and what it was like to make his first million.

I first bought Bitcoin in 2019 in order to buy drugs. I put in $500 and forgot about it, and when I checked at the end of 2020, I had $2,000. So I started putting my savings in little by little. I was doing really boring stuff, just buying coins and holding them. Then, this past August, Visa bought a CryptoPunk, which is a very blue-chip NFT, and I thought, Shit, maybe I should look at NFTs. I got lucky — I ended up minting the rarest type of one NFT, which was worth more than $200,000 at its peak.

I was feeling good and decided to put all the money I had in crypto into NFTs, which by then was about $75,000. Half of it was mine — it was basically all my savings after I maxed out my 401(k). The other half was from my dad, and the plan was to split the profits with him. But two weeks later, halfway through October, NFT prices dropped. And NFTs just kind of died.

That’s when I decided to try meme coins. A meme coin is a cryptocurrency that has almost no value and doesn’t do anything interesting. It’s just a coin, like Shiba Inu or dogecoin. Meme coins are basically just culture coins, and people trade them because they like memes. For example, there was a congressional hearing about crypto­currency in December, and Representative Brad Sherman said something like, “Will mongoose coin kill crypto coin?” Mongoose coin is not real — he made it up. But people thought it was funny. And like two hours later, a coin called mongoose was launched. Because they have no value, meme coins only pump (meaning the price goes up) as long as people are willing to buy them. Plenty of people in crypto hate meme coins out of principle: They think, This thing is stupid; why’s it worth $500 million? But I’m not that idealistic. I have no loyalty to crypto. If you want quick money, you go to meme coins, and I’m in the market to make money.

When I was doing NFTs, I would spend 12 to 16 hours a day camping out on Discord to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I wasn’t getting much sleep. But when I started doing meme coins, it was more chill. I followed a few meme-coin influencers on Twitter and turned on notifications for them. And recently, all these influencers ended up making their own groups on Telegram, which is another messaging app. In the Telegram groups, the influencer will post, “Buy this thing,” or “Look, this other thing pumped 10x.” Telegram is easier than Twitter because you don’t have to filter out the random stuff. I also found some of these influencers’ wallets, and I have alerts set up so when they make a purchase, it notifies me and I can look at it.

I have no idea who these influencers are. That’s standard: In crypto, you almost never want to reveal who you are. A lot of the coin developers won’t even reveal their Twitter handles. But these influencers have been in meme coins for a long time — I think all of them got into shiba inu before it got big. They’re really cocky, and they don’t know much when it comes to mainstream crypto, but it doesn’t matter: They’re good at meme coins, and that’s why I keep them around.

I slowly began moving most of the money I have in crypto into meme coins. I’d probably buy three to five coins a day, and I’d be in and out pretty fast. Once, I bought a coin, and two hours later the price went up fivefold. I sold some of my tokens and then it dropped a lot. But the $2,000 I put in still became $5,000, which wasn’t terrible.

At first, the meme-coin thing was a bit of a grind. I was making some money, but my stuff was not doing so hot. Then in early November, some developers launched GM coin. In crypto, there is this thing called GM, which stands for “good morning,” and crypto people always say that as a greeting to one another on Twitter. So someone took that and made it into a coin. I bought some GM when it was at a super-low market cap, around $300,000. Early on, I saw some signs that GM coin could do well: I went to the coin’s Telegram group and noticed pretty big influencers in it — not just people I follow but other influencers I recognized from the space. Then an hour later, it soared to a $4 million market cap; in another hour, it dipped to a $2 million market cap, and I doubled down and bought more. I put about $7,500 in total into GM. When there were only a few thousand holders of GM, I was in the top 30, so I guess that made me a GM whale. At one point, I owned more GM coins than any exchange, which is crazy.

When my GM coins hit $1 million two days later, I was pretty euphoric. The first thing I did was send some of my friends money. They had wallets, so I sent them about $1,000. One of them was a friend I’d met on Discord — I don’t know him, but I know his wallet address. I also helped one of my friends pay off a loan. She was young and didn’t know how credit cards worked, so she had about $10,000 in credit-card debt that was charging 25 percent interest. So I said, “We can do a payment plan, and you can pay me instead of the credit-card company.” I didn’t really buy anything else. Once, I did think, I made some money, so I’m gonna treat myself to a smoothie. But the smoothie was $8 and not worth it. I texted my parents and said, “Hey, I’m actually a millionaire on paper now.” And my mom was like, “Oh, very good, son.” They were pretty chill about it. One day later, my GM coins were worth $2.5 million.

The next morning, I woke up and saw that a big crypto influencer — a guy known for calling out scammers — had tweeted that the developers behind GM coin had been shady in the past. It can be hard to figure out if posts like that are legit, but the tweet caused the price to drop more than 50 percent in three hours — people were just selling because they were afraid. I was panicking as well. So I sold a lot of my coins, then I sold a little more, but I definitely missed out on selling at the tippy-top. I didn’t play it very well, but I learned my lesson: A meme coin that looks unstoppable could dump tomorrow, so you have to get in and get out. My investment in GM coin went from $2.5 million to $1 million, and I ended up taking out about $500,000, which is now in Coinbase or invested in other crypto­currencies. (And because I owned so much GM, the price dropped 10 percent when I sold mine.)

At this point, I definitely play the game differently than people who don’t have much in crypto. I mostly spray and pray: If I see an influencer saying, “You should buy this coin,” and it doesn’t look like a scam, I’ll just buy $1,000 worth. If you buy ten meme coins and eight drop 50 percent, one goes up tenfold, and one goes up fivefold, you’re already up a lot. Recently, I made $2,000 in an hour on one small coin, and two days ago I made $30,000 in 24 hours. I think this is all stupid and absurd. But at the same time, I’m not going to complain — I don’t want my life to change too much. But if I do make it out with a lot of money, it would be easier to justify taking a job that is not as competitive, as opposed to feeling the need to go for the most high-pressure, high-paying job. I don’t really want to work that hard.

This whole thing is definitely isolating. I spent September doing nothing for school, and October was rough too, though I’m doing okay with grades now. I’ll see friends sometimes, but I’m not always looking to hang out because I did that once and missed out on something huge. But I’m not planning on doing this for that much longer. I want to slowly get out of the market before everything crashes again. I’d like to get back to normal life. But give me a second — I’m gonna go ape into something right now.

Striking It Rich in the Meme-Coin Casino