Staring Down the Rabbit Hole
I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was a cold, dark, early morning in late 2016. I typically wasn’t awake and out the door this time of morning, but had begrudgingly agreed to "do a solid" for one of my company's biggest customers. I needed to, as he put it, “look after” their most important property, a medical building in the heart of midtown Toronto, while his superintendent was off on sick leave. This job, he explained, unfortunately could not be entrusted to one of my employees as this property was where his company’s founder went twice a week for physiotherapy.
I stepped out the back door of the condo building where I lived, allowing it to shut and lock quietly behind me. A trail of steam flowing from the metallic, travel coffee mug in my right hand as I held the keys for “the Mule” in my left. “The Mule” was a moniker given to a beat up old Dodge Grand Caravan my business partner and I used occasionally to transport equipment and supplies. The Mule didn’t have much useful time left at this point but I often drove it so I could leave the family SUV at home for my wife. The mule also didn’t have the same creature comforts as the SUV so I would not be enjoying heated seats or bluetooth audio this morning but I was used to these minor inconveniences. As the mule warmed up, I scrolled through the podcasts I had downloaded in my podcast app and settled on an episode of We Study Billionaires. I had been listening to this show for a while now and was working my way through all the old episodes while also listening to the current ones. I pressed play, turned the volume of my phone all the way up, placed it in the plastic holder clipped to the dash, and put the mule in reverse.
It was a fairly easy drive that morning, with little traffic and mostly green lights. About halfway through the drive, I heard one of the podcast hosts, Preston Pysh, mention something called Bitcoin. I didn’t know much about Bitcoin but I knew it was some sort of digital gold ponzi. At least I thought I knew that. I had been a collector of gold for some years but digital gold sounded absurd to me. On the drive that morning, for the first time I reconsidered that “knowledge”. If Preston, who I respected and thought was smart, had a different opinion of Bitcoin than I did, maybe what I knew of Bitcoin was actually wrong. I wasn’t completely sold on this Bitcoin thing but as I pulled into the underground parking garage of the building I would soon be “looking after”, I began to think maybe I should just buy bitcoin. But how the hell could one do that?
At this point, “looking after” the building really didn’t mean much more than walking the property, checking it for any obvious issues, filling out some checklists and sitting in the superintendent’s dump of an office for hours on end waiting for a problem or a tenant phone call. Eventually our business offered on-call superintendent services that covered a wider scope of work to fill in for absentee supers, but on this occasion I was merely a property babysitter in case the owner showed up. This was fortunate for me, as on this day I had a lot of free time on my hands to search the internet and find out how to buy bitcoin. I settled into my cold, shoebox of a temporary office, and began my research. I discovered a service called Coinbase and also happily learned you didn’t have to buy a whole bitcoin. This later became a bittersweet discovery as Bitcoin was trading around 1,000 USD at this time. Between the odd phone call, and guilt riddled walk of the property to make sure it was “looked after”, I managed to sign up for a Coinbase account and buy my first 0.1BTC with my Mastercard.
A Decent Proposal
The sun peaked through a cluster of clouds floating across a blanket of blue sky as I sat alone at a four person table on an outdoor patio of an upscale bar in the West end of Toronto. It was a beautiful, spring afternoon in 2017 and I was early for a meeting that would shape the next four plus years of my business life. I fiddled anxiously with a folder in front of me, excited to discuss the contents inside. My business partner should have been the next to arrive but in typical fashion he was running late. A friendly, attractive, young waitress checked in on the table just as our guest, Don, arrived. Good timing for him.
Don had been a good friend and mentor to my business partner and I for a number of years. We had worked on a handful of projects together and he had introduced us to a network we would not have been invited to otherwise without his help. He was in his mid 60s now, but still in great shape and health. He commented that my business partner was late again and wasn’t surprised but mentioned he was not concerned because the way he saw this “deal” working moving forward, I had to be the managing partner and my business partner had to focus on business development only. If I had disagreed with his vision the “deal” would never have gone through but the proof was in the pudding, one of the most important meetings in our business’ history and the guy was late again.
My business partner, Martin, arrived in standard fashion with a bright smile and sheepish shrug of the shoulders relaying his awareness that he shouldn’t have been late. He was not overly content with Don’s vision for how everything would work moving forward and probably less content that I agreed, but eventually acquiesced. A handshake deal was struck over a selection of appetizers and wine (sparkling water for me- since I had quit drinking 2.5 years prior).
Over the next six months my life was highly chaotic as our business merged with Don’s business and I took over as Managing Partner. Don assisted me through the transition and then acted as silent partner, lobbing the occasional lead or joining me for meetings with clients he had relationships with for many years. Martin settled into his role as glorified salesman who retained 25% of the profit share. Not a bad deal for him. Actually, a much better deal than mine time would reveal.
By the time fall of 2017 rolled around, It had been many months since I thought of my Bitcoin purchase the previous winter but I had heard it being mentioned more on cnbc and on podcasts. Other cryptocurrencies like litecoin, eth and BCash were also starting to get attention. It was mostly all noise to me as the day to day grind of merging and running the two businesses took most of my focus. One day in late 2017 that changed after talking about the current “crypto” craze with one of my new clients after I mentioned I owned Bitcoin. He showed me coinmarketcap on his laptop and said something to the effect of “people are making millions”. I was smart enough to know to be skeptical when your taxi driver, or in this case, your client's property manager has investment advice for you, but I couldn’t help getting caught up in the FOMO. I bought more bitcoin, it was almost 15,000 at this point, and bought a bunch of other coins too. Bitcoin was great but what if all these other coins were going to be the next Bitcoin? I’ll be rich.
Winter returned in full swing, not only in terms of weather but also in the market. It was mid January 2018 and I was procrastinating, sipping coffee with one eye focused on my laptop answering emails and the other on the tv, which as usual was locked on CNBC. I should have been on the road, in the mule 2.0, checking in on an employee I had trained who was “looking after” a building for the first time, but it was a bitterly cold Canadian winter day and I wanted to “work” from home for as long as possible. As I was getting ready to go, my wife stopped me in my tracks with a “we need to talk”. I thought I might have done something wrong, so I tried to weasel my way out of this talk with excuses of how busy I was. However, my wife who had witnessed my last hour of procrastination was having none of it and hit me with the news that made the day's business, weather and market movements completely irrelevant. Surprise! She was pregnant.
With a joyous bounce in my step, I ventured off and completed my visit to see how my newly trained employee was doing “looking after” that building and headed off for a meeting with my business partner Martin.
In true Canadian style, we met at a Tim Hortons, but not just any Tim Hortons. This one was located in the city’s west end near the airport and just happened to be owned by Martin’s uncle. A very busy place and it was always a bit of a to-do when we met there, as he needed to greet the staff he knew and his cousin who managed the restaurant. I would have preferred to meet elsewhere but it was a convenient spot halfway between both our homes. As he made his rounds, I sipped a coffee and thought of my recent great news. After Martin settled back in at our small, two person table, he smiled and sipped at a steeped tea, I shared my news with him. He was ecstatic and with good intentions, promised to help out in any way I needed running the day to day of the business. I knew he meant well but also knew that it would never happen. After a celebratory hug we moved on to discussing business. Tension had grown between us over the years due to Martin’s lapses in work ethic and frequent tardiness but we were still good friends who enjoyed each other’s company. It was commonplace that when we got together, we would stay chatting for much later than expected and this day was no exception. We ended up eventually discussing the markets, which he was mildly interested in due to his brother in law in finance, and he mentioned his brother in law made a lot of money in Bitcoin but lost a lot when it “crashed”. The price had gone from almost 20,000 at the peak to around 13,000. I explained to him that it reminded me of the Biotech crash of 2015 and I thought Bitcoin might go as low as 2,000.
Despite my confidence that we had a long way down to go for some reason I bought more Bitcoin that day and continued to buy all the way down. It never got to my 2,000 target but it got pretty close.
The wicked winds of winter did not fade as the calendar turned to February. A couple weeks had passed since my day of great news and meeting with my business partner. I had settled in well to my new reality as “firefighter” and “captain of the ship” of the new business entity but while content I was a bit dismayed with the prospect of not being as present for my wife and forthcoming child as I hoped. My son’s early years were very challenging as we managed a life traveling back and forth between Toronto and LA until finally settling permanently in Toronto, so I could focus on my business. I didn’t want my second child to experience the same unsettling early years. I would wrestle with the “am I doing the right thing for my family” question for years to come.
The Bitcoin price had continued to recede towards my 2,000 target, now having sunk below 10,000, but something much bigger was stirring along the fault lines of the financial system. The first, but not the last, foreshock hit the system in early February 2018 when the short VIX trade completely blew up in essentially a day. I was beginning to come around to the idea that the entire financial system was held together by duct tape and gum. With this new perspective, the first real steps of my journey into the bitcoin rabbit hole began. Although I had owned bitcoin for 15 months at this point, I still didn’t really know what I owned.
The fault lines would tremble again around 18 months later with the Sept 2019 repo crisis. I began to conclude that something was definitely wrong and I better figure out how to protect myself and my family from whatever it might be. This is where I really started digging into Bitcoin. I sold all my other cryptos for bitcoin, except the small amount of eth I had. Bitcoin podcasts, books, twitter were my go to sources of information. I started to DCA more aggressively and learned about self custody. It would be another year before I sold my eth and ditched coinbase, but I was well on my way to traversing the hard road of the Bitcoiner’s journey.
The Fiat Pathogen
March 2020, was a month that felt like it lasted a year. Uncertainty was swirling everywhere. The pandemic had begun but another pathogen would take the world by storm in the coming months and change the paradigm of money and my view of the world forever.
Lockdowns came quick and in full force to Canada. On March 17th I was shocked by a call from one of my employees saying he could not access the Hudson’s Bay store where he worked nightly for us. They had shuttered the entire building. For context, this store takes up an entire prime downtown city block, has a 20 story office tower attached and a bridge that connects to the busiest shopping mall in Canada. It’s not a small operation and it was all shut down without any notice. They just locked the doors and put up a sign “closed for 15 days to stop the spread”. 15 days became 5 months.
Almost instantly my business revenue dropped nearly 90% for a number of months. It felt like 15 years of hard work had been pulled from beneath my feet. It felt like theft. I was angry, I was bitter. I had no idea what would become of my business, customers, income, investments and property value. Would we have to sell our home to make ends meet? Who was going to buy it when the entire economy was shut down? We had a few months worth of savings both personally and for the business but would that be enough? My thoughts swirled.
Then the fiat pathogen hit.
My business was an utter shell of itself but the fiat pathogen was spreading rapidly. The first wave hit the stock market, and then the crypto market, then the housing market. The shuttering of businesses and people’s jobs was papered over by the fiat pathogen. Can’t pay your mortgage, rent, student loans, don’t worry the fiat pathogen will make you whole. Need money for food or gas, don’t worry the fiat pathogen will make you whole. For now.
My income was plummeting rapidly but the value of my assets were skyrocketing. Nothing made sense. Everything was corrupted. Everything was broken. Bitcoin seemed like the only true, non manipulated, non controlled, non corrupted thing left. I dove straight into the rabbit hole. Sold my eth, the final vestige of my “crypto” curious days and began to see my life, my business, my finances through a bitcoin lens. A once prosperous business was now in tatters due to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats, fueled by the ever rotating spindle of the money printer. Something needed to change. A new path needed to be charted, a path based on different ideals, different values, different principles. A bright orange path awaited.
Further Down the Spiral
The start of the bright orange future was delayed a couple of days.
After over a year of planning and many months of work, I was set to depart the city of Toronto on January 6th 2022. The sale of my shares of the business had closed, the sale of our property was closing in 4 days. Every loose end had been tied up. I was exhausted but looking forward to the next phase of life and not looking back.
A winter storm had other ideas and I was stuck in the city two more days. A fitting end to a chapter of life that was mired with struggle, sacrifice, chasing (always chasing), and all the tradeoffs a fiat life demands. But the storm eventually cleared, as did the road from the past to the future.
There are a lot of adages surrounding what Bitcoin is. Some say, Bitcoin is hope. Some say, Bitcoin is freedom. All are apt, but Bitcoin is something different for everyone. For me, Bitcoin is a bridge from where you are in life and where you want to be.
The spiral of the rabbit hole is deep and the Bitcoin bridge is long. But with one foot in front of the other I continue to travel towards a bright orange future.